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have often poured out my heart in prayer over a dying friend, when the force of his distemper has rendered him incapable of joining with me; so I will now apply myself to God for you, O unhappy creature! And if you disdain so much as to read what my compassion dictates; yet I hope, they who have felt the power of the gospel on their own souls, as they cannot but pity such as you, will join with me in such cordial, though broken petitions, as these.
A Prayer in Behalf of an Impenitent Sinner, in the Case described above.
"ALMIGHTY God! with thee all things are possible :* To thee therefore do I humbly apply myself in behalf of this dear immortal soul, which thou here seest perishing in its sins, and hardening itself against that everlasting gospel, which has been the power of God to the salvation of so many thousands and millions. Thou art witness, O blessed God, thou art witness to the plainness and seriousness, with which the message has been delivered. It is in thy presence that these awful words have been written; and in thy presence have they been read. Be pleased therefore to record it in the book of thy remembrance, that so if this wicked man dieth in his iniquity, after the warning has been so plainly and solemnly given him, his blood may not be required at my hand, nor at the hand of that christian friend, whoever he is, by whom this book has been put into his, with a sincere desire for the salvation of his soul. Be witness, O blessed Jesus, in the day in which thou shalt judge the secrets of all hearts, that thy gospel hath been preached to this hardened wretch, and salvation by thy blood hath been offered him, though he continue to despise it. And may thy unworthy messenger be unto God a sweet savour in Christ, || in this very soul, even though it should at last perish!
"But, Oh that, after all his hardness and impenitence, thou wouldst still be pleased, by the sovereign power of thine efficacious grace, to awaken and convert him! Well do we know, Oh, thou Lord of universal nature, that he who made the soul, can cause the sword of conviction to come near and enter into it. Oh that, in thine infinite wisdom and love, thou wouldst find out a way to interpose, and save this sinner from death, from eternal death! Oh that if it be thy blessed will, thou wouldst immediately do it: thou knowest, O God, he is a dying
Mat. xix. 26. + Ezek. xxxiii. 8, 9.
Rom. ii. 16.
|| 2 Cor. ii. 15.
creature: thou knowest, that if any thing be done for him, it must be done quickly thou seest, in the book of thy wise and gracious decrees, a moment marked, which must seal him up in an unchangeable state: Oh that thou wouldst lay hold on him, while he is yet joined with the living, and hath hope! Thy immutable laws in the dispensation of grace forbid, that a soul should be converted and renewed after its entrance on the invisible world: O let thy sacred spirit work, while he is yet as it were within the sphere of its operations! Work, O God, by whatever method thou pleasest; only have mercy upon him! O Lord have mercy upon him, that he sink not into those depths of damnation and ruin, upon the very brink of which he so evidently appears! Oh that thou wouldst bring him, if that be necessary, and seem to thee most expedient, into any depths of calamity and distress! Oh that with Manasseh, he may be taken in the thorns, and laden with the fetters of affliction, if that may but cause him to seek the God of his fathers+."
But I prescribe not to thine infinite wisdom. Thou hast displayed thy power in glorious and astonishing instances; which I thank thee, that I have so circumstantially known, and by the knowledge of them have been fortified against the rash confidence of those who weakly and arrogantly pronounce that to be impossible, which is actually done. Thou hast, I know, done that by a single thought in retirement, when the happy man reclaimed by it hath been far from means, and far from ordinances, which neither the most awful admonitions, nor the most tender intreaties, nor the most terrible afflictions, nor the most wonderful deliverances had been able to effect.
Glorify thy name, O Lord, and glorify thy grace in the method which to thine infinite wisdom shall seem most expedient! Only grant, I beseech thee, with all humble submission to thy will, that this sinner may be saved! or if not, that the labour of this part may not be altogether in vain; but that if some reject it to their aggravated ruin, others may hearken and live! That those thy servants, who have laboured for their deliverance and happiness, may view them in the regions of glory, as the spoils with which thou hast honoured them as the instruments of recovering; and may join with them in the hallelujahs of heaven to him who hath loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us, of condemned rebels, and accursed polluted sinners, kings and priests unto God; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever! Ament.",
* Eccles, ix. 4.
+2 Chron. xxxii. 11, 12.
Rev. i. 5, 6.
An Address to a Soul so overwhelmed with a Sense of the Greatness of its Sins, that it dares not apply itself to Christ with any Hope of Salvation.
The Case described at large, §. 1-4. As it frequently occurs, §. 5. Granting all that the dejected Soul charges on itself, §. 6. The Invitations and Promises of Christ give Hope, §. 7. The Reader urged, under all his Burdens and Fears, to an humble Application to him, §. 3. Which is accordingly exemplified in the concluding Reflection and Prayer.
§. 1. I HAVE now done with those unhappy creatures who
despise the gospel, and with those who neglect it. With pleasure do I now turn myself to those, who will hear me with more regard. Among the various cases, which now present themselves to my thoughts, and demand my tender, affectionate, respectful care, there is none more worthy of compassion, than that which I have mentioned in the title of this chapter; none which requires a more immediate attempt of relief.
§. 2. It is very possible some afflicted creature may be ready to cry out, "it is enough: aggravate my grief, and my distress no more. The sentence you have been so awfully describing, as what shall be passed and executed on the impenitent and unbelieving, is my sentence; and the terrors of it are my terrors. For mine iniquities are gone up unto the heavens, and my transgressions have reached unto the clouds*. My case is quite singular. Surely there never was so great a sinner as I. I have received so many mercies, have enjoyed so many advantages, I have heard so many invitations of gospel grace; and yet my heart has been so hard, and my nature is so exceeding sinful, and the number and aggravating circumstances of my provocations have been such, that I dare not hope. It is enough, that God hath supported me thus long; it is enough, that after so many years of wickedness, I am yet out of hell. Every day's reprieve is a mercy, at which I am astonished. I lie down, and wonder that death and damnation have not seized me in my walks the day past. I arise and wonder, that my bed hath not been my grave: wonder that my soul is not separated from flesh, and surrounded with devils and damned spirits."
§. 3. I have indeed heard the message of salvation; but alas, it seems no message of salvation to me. There are happy
Rev, xviii. 5.
souls that have hope; and their hope is indeed in Christ, and the grace of God manifested in him. But then they feel in their hearts an encouragement to apply to him, whereas I dare not do it. Christ and grace are things, in which, I fear, I have no part, and must expect none. There are exceeding rich and precious promises in the word of God; but they are to me as a sealed book, and are hid from me as to any personal use. I know, Christ is able to save: I know he is willing to save some. But that he should be willing to save me, such a polluted, such a provoking creature, as God knows, and as conscience knows, I have been and to this day am; this I know not how to believe: and the utmost that I can do towards believing it, is to acknowledge that it is not absolutely impossible, and that I do not yet lie down in complete despair; though alas, I seem upon the very borders of it; and expect every day and hour to fall into t."
§. 4. I should not perhaps have entered so fully into this ease, if I had not seen many in it; and I will add, reader, for your encouragement, if it be your case, several who are now in the number of the most established, cheerful, and useful christians. And I hope divine grace will add you to the rest, if out of these depths, you be enabled to cry unto God; and though, like Jonah, you may seem to be cast out from his presence, yet still, with Jonah, look towards his holy templet.
§. 5. Let it not be imagined, that it is from any neglect of that blessed Spirit, whose office it is to be the great comforter, that I now attempt to reason you out of this disconsolate frame; for it is as the great source of reason, that he deals with rational creatures; and it is in the use of rational means and considerations, that he may most justly be expected to operate. Give me leave, therefore, to address myself calmly to you, and to ask you, what reason you have for all these passionate complaints and accusations against yourself? What reason have you to suggest, that your case is singular, when so many have told you, they have felt the same? What reason have you to conclude so hardly against yourself, when the gospel speaks in such favourable terms? Or what reason to imagine, that the gracious things it says are not intended for you? You know indeed more of the corruptions of your own heart, than you know of the hearts of others; and you make a thousand charitable excuses for their visible failings and infirmities, which you make not for your own. And it may be, some of those, whom
Psal. cxxx. 1.
+ Jonah ii. 4.
you admire as eminent saints when compared with you, are on their part humbling themselves in the dust, as unworthy to be numbered amongst the least of God's people, and wishing themselves like you, in whom they think they see much more good, and much less of evil, than in themselves.
§. 6. But to suppose the worst, what if you were really the vilest sinner that ever lived upon the face of the earth? What if your iniquities had gone up unto the heavens every day, and your transgressions had reached unto the clouds; reached thither with such horrid aggravations, that earth and heaven should have had reason to detest you, as a monster of impiety? Admitting all this, is any thing too hard for the Lord+? Arc any sins of which a sinner can repent, of so deep a dye, that the blood of Christ cannot wash them away? Nay, though it would be daring wickedness and monstrous folly, for any to sin that grace may abound, yet had you indeed raised your account beyond all that divine grace has ever yet pardoned, who should limit the Holy One of Israel? or who should pretend to say, that it was impossible that God might for your very wretchedness chuse you out from others, to make "you a monument of mercy, and a trophy of hitherto unparelleled grace? The apostle Paul strongly intimates this to have been the case, with regard to himself: and why might not you likewise, if indeed the chief of sinners, obtain mercy, that in you, as the chief, Jesus Christ might shew forth all long-suffering, for a pattern to them who shall hereafter believe§.
§. 7. Gloomy as your apprehensions are, I would ask plainly, do you in your conscience think, that Christ is not able to save you? What! is he not able to save even to the uttermost, them that come unto God by him? Yes, you will say, abundantly able to do it; but I dare not imagine that he will do it. And how do you know that he will not? He has helped the very greatest sinners of all that have yet applied themselves to him; and he has made the offers of grace and salvation in the most engaging and encouraging terms. If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink**: Let him that is athrist, come; and whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely++ Come unto me all ye that labour, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest‡‡ and once more, him that
*Rev. xviii. 5.
+ Gen. xviii. 14.
§ 1 Tim. i. 15, 16. tt Rev. xxii. 17.
Rom. vi. 1.
¶ Heb. vii. 25.
+ Mat. xi. 28.