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GRACE WORKS BY PROVIDENCE.
means. And these means are diverse, sometimes this, sometimes that; for God is at liberty to work, by which, and when, and how he will. But let the means be what they will, and as contemptible as may be; yet God that commanded the light to shine out of darkness, and that out of weakness can make strong, can, nay, doth oftentimes, make use of very unlikely means to bring about the conversion and salvation of his people. Therefore you that are come to Christ (and by unlikely means), stay yourselves, and wonder; and wondering, magnify almighty power, by the working of which the means have been made effectual to bring you to Jesus Christ.
What was the providence that God made use of, as a means either more remote, or more near, to bring thee to Jesus Christ ? Was it the removing of thy habitation, the change of thy condition, the loss of relations, estate, or the like? Was it the casting of thine eye upon some good book, the hearing of thy neighbors talk of heavenly things, the beholding of God's judgments as executed upon others, or thine own deliverance from them, or thy being strangely cast under the ministry of some godly man? O take notice of such providence and providences! They were sent and managed by mighty power to do thee good. God himself, I say, hath joined himself to this chariot; yea, and so blessed it, that it failed not to accomplish the thing for which he sent it. God blesseth not to every one his providence in this man
How many thousands are there in this world, that pass every day under the same providences. But God is not in them, to do that work by them which he hath done for thy poor soul, by his effectual working with them. Oh, that Jesus Christ should meet thee in this providence, that dispensation, or the other ordinance! This is grace indeed ! At this, therefore, it will be thy wisdom to admire, and for this to bless God.
Give me leave to give you a taste of some of those providences that have been effectual, through the management of God, to bring salvation to the souls of his people.
(1.) The first shall be that of the woman of Samaria. It must happen, that she must needs go out of the city to draw water (not before nor after, but) just when Jesus Christ her Saviour was come from far, and set to rest him (being weary) upon the well. What a blessed providence was this! Even a providence managed by the almighty wisdom, and almighty power, to the conversion and salvation of this poor creature. For by this providence were this poor creature and her Saviour brought together, that a blessed work might be fulfilled upon the woman, according to the purpose before determined by the Father. John iv.
(2.) What a providence was it, that there should be a tree in the way for Zaccheus to climb, thereby to give Jesus opportunity to call that chief of the publicans home to himself, even before he came down therefrom. Luke xix.
(3.) Was it not wonderful, that the thief, whom you read of in the gospel, should by the providence of God, be cast into prison, to be condemned, even at that sessions that Christ himself was to die; nay, and that it should happen too, that they must be hanged together, that the thief might be in the hearing and observing of Jesus in his last words, that he might be converted by him before his death? Luke xxiii.
(4.) What a strange providence was it, and as strangely managed by God, that Onesimus, when he was run away from his master, should be taken, and, as I think, cast into that very prison where Paul lay bound for the word of the gospel; that he might there be by him converted, and then sent home again to his master Philemon ! Behold “all things work together for good, to them that love God; to them who are the called according to his purpose.” Rom. viii.
Nay, I have myself known some that have been made to
A CAUTION TO SINNERS.
go to hear the word preached against their wills; others have gone not to hear, but to see and to be seen; nay, to jeer and flout at others, as also to catch and carp at things. Some also to feed their adulterous eyes with the sight of beautiful objects; and yet God hath made use of even these things, and even of the wicked proposals of sinners, to bring them under the grace that might save their souls.
7. Doth no man come to Jesus Christ, but by the drawing of the Father? Then let me here caution those poor sinners, that are spectators of the change that God hath wrought in them that are coming to Jesus Christ, not to attribute this work and change to other things and causes.
There are some poor sinners in the world, that plainly see a change, a mighty change, in their neighbors and relations that are coming to Jesus Christ. But as I said, they being ignorant, and not knowing whence it comes, and whither it goes (for “so is every one that is born of the Spirit;" John jii. 8), therefore they attribute this change to other causes : as, 1. To melancholy; 2. To sitting alone; 3. To overmuch reading; 4. To their going to hear too many sermons; 5. To too much studying, and musing on what they hear.
Also, they conclude on the other side, 1. That it is for want of merry company. Or, 2. For want of physic. And therefore they advise them to leave off reading, going to sermons, keeping the company of sober people; and to be merry, and to go a gossiping, to busy themselves in the things of this world; not to so sit musing alone, and the like.
But come, poor ignorant sinner, let me deal with thee. It seems thou art turned counsellor for Satan. I tell thee, thou knowest not what thou doest. Take heed of spending thy judgment after this manner; thou judgest foolishly, and sayst in this, to every one that passeth by, thou art
What! count convictions for sin, mourning for sin, and
repentance for sin, melancholy! This is like those that on the other side said, “These men are drunk with new wine," or, as he that said, Paul was mad. Acts ii. 13; xxvi. 24.
Poor ignorant sinner! canst thou judge no better? What! is sitting alone pensive under God's hand, reading the scriptures, hearing sermons, and the like, the way to be undone ? The Lord open thine eyes, and make thee to see thine error! Thou hast set thyself against God, thou hast despised the operation of his hands, thou attemptest to murder souls. What! canst thou give no better counsel touching those whom God hath wounded, than to send them to the ordinances of hell for help? Thou biddest them be merry and lightsome; but dost thou not know that “the heart of fools is in the house of laughter." Eccles. vii. Thou biddest them shun the hearing of thundering preachers. But is it not “ better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools ?” Eccles. vii. 5. Thou biddest them busy themselves in the things of this world; but dost thou not know that the Lord bids them “first seek the kingdom of God, and the righteousness thereof?” Matt. vi. 33.
Poor ignorant sinner! hear the counsel of God to such, and learn thyself to be wiser. “Is any afflicted ? let him pray: Is any merry ? let him sing psalms." « Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates.” “Save yourselves from this untoward generation.” “Search the scriptures." “Give attendance to reading.” “It is better to go to the house of mourning.” James v. 13; Prov. viii. 34; Acts ii. 40; John v. 39; 1 Tim. iv. 13; Eccles. vii. 1, 2. 3.
And wilt thou judge him that doeth thus ? Art thou almost like Elymas the sorcerer, that sought to turn the deputy from the faith? Thou seekest to pervert the right ways of the Lord. Take heed lest some heavy judgment overtake thee. Acts xiii. 8–13.
What! teach men to quench convictions; take men off
EVIL COUNSELLORS REBUKED.
from a serious consideration of the evil of sin, of the terrors of the world to come, and how they shall escape the same? What! teach men to put God and his word out of their minds, by running to merry company, by running to the world, by gossiping, and the like? This is as much as to bid them say to God, “ Depart from us, for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways;" or, “What is the Almighty that we should serve him? or, what profit have we, if we keep his ways ?” Here is a devil in grain! What ! bid men walk “according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience." Eph. ii.
Object. “But we do not know that such are coming to Jesus Christ; truly we wonder at them, and think they are fools.'
Answ. Do you not know that they are coming to Jesus Christ? Then they may be coming to him, for aught you know; and why will you be worse than the brute, to speak evil of the things you know not? What! are you made to be taken and destroyed ? must you utterly perish in your own corruptions ? 2 Peter ii. 12.
Do you not know them ? Let them alone then. If you cannot speak good of them, speak not bad.
6 Refrain from these men, and let them alone : for if this counsel, or this work be of men, it will come to nought; but if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it, lest haply ye be found even to fight against God." Acts v. 38, 39.
But why do you wonder at a work of conviction and conversion ? Know you not that this is the judgment of God upon you, 'ye despisers, to behold, and wonder, and perish?' Acts xiii. 40, 41.
But why wonder, and think they are fools ? Is the way of the just an abomination to you? See that passage, and be ashamed, “He that is upright in the way is an abomination to the wicked.” Prov. xxix. 27.