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Again. Sinners do not like the conditions of the Gospel, now would they be satisfied, if they were altered. The conditions are, repentance and faith: but to these, the sinner's heart is opposed. To hate his sins; to trust in Christ, for salvation; is asking too much, to obtain the consent of his heart. But suppose the Gospel offered to pardon and save, without repentance and faith: tho this the sinner's conscience, and his common sense would object. What, he would say; shall the Gospel offer pardon while they continue their rebellion? Shall men be saved in their sins? It is absurd and impossible. And shall men be saved without faith in Christ? Shall they be received and pardoned, while they make God a liar? Shall they go to heaven without believing there is a heaven? Shall they escape hell when they do not believe there is a hell? Shall they ever find their way to everlasting life, when they have no confidence in the testimony of God; and will not walk in the only way that will conduct them there? Impossible. A Gospel that pretends to save on such conditions must be from hell.
Now suppose you let the conditions of the Gospel remain as they are, or alter them in any possible way; and the sinner is not satisfied. They commend themselves to his conscience as they are, but they are a great offence to his heart. Alter them, so as to conciliate his heart, and you offend his conscience; and while the sinner remains unrepentant, there is no conceivable alternation that would please him.
The fact is, that sinners are at continual war with themselves. Their hearts and consciences are in perpetual opposition to each other. One view of a subject will please their hearts, and offend their consciences; and another view of it, will satisfy their consciences, but arouse the enmity of their hearts; and while they are in this state, it is plainly impossible to please them.
Again. Sinners do not like the means of grace, as they are, nor would they be satisfied, if any other means were used to save them. They do not like the doctrines that ministers preach, when they preach the truth, now would they be satisfied if they preached error.
If they come out with the pure doctrines of the Gospel, and bear down upon the hearts and consciences of men with the claims of God, their hearts arise in instant rebellion. This say they, is an abominable doctrine. But if the minister lets down the high claims of the Gospel, their conscience is dissatisfied; and the sinner if he is well instructed says, that the minister is afraid to tell the truth; that he is daubing with untempered mortar; that he is deceiving the people and leading them down to hell.
Now, whether the minister preaches the whole truth, and nothing but the truth; or error, and nothing but error; or a mixture of truth and falsehood; in just as far as he preaches the truth; the sinner's heart opposes: and whenever he preaches what the sinner knows to be error, his conscience condemns it. So let the minister preach what he will; while the sinner is unrepentant, he will not upon the whole be satisfied.
Again. Sinners do not like the manner of ministers preaching as it is, nor would they be satisfied if their manner was different. If the minister's manner is rousing, and pointed; pungent and impressive; the sinner's heart rises up against it. If it is lazy and cold and dry, his conscience condemns it. In the first case, the sinner says, he is an enthusiast, and a madman, that he appeals to the passions, and excites a great deal of animal feeling; that he frightens the women and children, and will drive people to madness. In the latter case, he says that he preaches the people all to sleep. That he is prosing, and dull, and does not believe the Gospel himself. Now let the minister's manner be wholly right, or wholly wrong, or a mixture of right and wrong; and the sinner is not satisfied. In so far as the manner is right, his conscience takes sides against it: and while the sinner is so inconsistent with himself, it is vain to hope to please him.
Again. Sinners do not like the lives of ministers, as they are, nor would they be satisfied if they lived differently. If the minister is determined to know nothing among his people, save Jesus Christ and him crucified: if he make religion his entire business; and introduce his message on all occasions; the sinner's heart is filled with indignation: Says he is a great bigot; full of superstition; or a canting hypocrite; that he is not sociable, and affable as a minister ought to be; that he takes no interest in the common concerns of men; that he is entirely unacquainted with human nature; that he is always intruding his religion upon every body: and he thinks, for his part, that a minister would do a great deal more good, to be a little more like other people. But if on the other hand, the minister associates with the world like other people; takes an interest in the passing occurrences of the day: if he interests himself in politics; reads secular news, and books: relates anecdotes, and is cheerful, and companionable; and at home among his people, on all occasions; then the sinner's conscience condemns him. O he says, I don't see that he is any better than any body else; he is not what a minister should be, but is fond of politics, and as much interested in the business of this world, as other people are. I like to see a minister confine himself to the duties of his office. Now, let the minister live as he will; wholly right, or wholly wrong, and the sinner is displeased. But suppose there be a mixture of consistency and inconsistency, or right and wrong, in a minister's life; then they say, he is not at all what he should be; that he is sometimes very hot, and sometimes very cold; that he is sometimes all religion, and sometimes no religion; that sometimes his conversation is all upon religious subjects, and sometimes all upon the world; they think this inconsistency calculated to do a great deal of hurt: for their part, they like to see a minister consistent and be always the same. Now, it is evident, that while the sinner is so inconsistent with himself, he will be displeased with the lives of ministers, let them live as they may. As far as the minister lives as he ought, the unrepentant heart, loathes him; and in as far as he lives as he ought not; the conscience condemns him.
Again. Sinners do not like the conduct of Christians, as it is, nor would they be satisfied if it were different. When Christians are very much engaged in religion, have a great many meetings, and make great efforts to save souls of men, the hearts of sinners are very much disturbed. They call them enthusiasts, and hypocrites, and think they had much better attend to their worldly business, lest their families should come upon the town. They do not thank them for their impertinence in visiting from house to house, and intruding their religion upon all their neighbors: and if Christians are opposed to balls and parties, and all kinds of sinful amusements; then they say they are morose and sour, and misanthropic; are opposed to all the sympathies, and courtesies of life; and that they want to render every body else, as morose, and sour, and unhappy in themselves--that they had better be engaged in something else, than in muttering their prayers, running to meetings, and exhorting their neighbors to repent, as if nobody had any religion but themselves. But, if on the other hand, Christians say but little about religion, attend meeting but seldom, except on the Sabbath; engage as deeply in business as worldly men; and appear to enjoy parties of pleasure, and time-killing amusements; now they say, these professors of religion are all hypocrites: what do they more than others? They care nothing about the souls of their neighbors. They neither warn, nor exhort them; nor live as if they believed there was a heaven or a hell. If these are Christians, I want no such religion as this. So that is Christians live right or wrong, sinners are not satisfied. Of if there is a mixture of good and evil in their lives, they are no better pleased. If sometimes Christians are awake, and at other times asleep; if sometimes they do their duty, and at other times neglect it; sinners say, that their inconsistency is a great stumbling-block; that they don't like this periodical religion; that is one day all zeal, and the next all coldness and death. The truth is, if they are engaged, the sinner's heart is disturbed; and if they are cold, his conscience gives sentence against them. If they are neither cold nor hot, in just as far as they are warm, their hearts oppose; and in as far as they are cool, their consciences condemn; and who can please them?
Again. Sinners are displeased if the church exercise discipline, and turn out unworthy members; and they are also displeased, if they do not do it. If a church suffer disorderly and wicked persons in their communion, their consciences are opposed to this. They say these church members are all hypocrites, to sanction such conduct as this. What! Have fellowship with such persons? The church can never prosper while they retain in their communion such hypocrites. By having fellowship with them, they show that they approve their deeds. But, if on the other hand, the church rise up and excommunicate these offending members, then their hearts are disturbed. They maintain that the church are persecuting some of its best members. They think that the proceedings of the church are very uncharitable to deal thus with persons, who for aught they can see, are as good as any persons in the church. Cases of this kind have occurred, where the excommunicated members have been advised, by the ungodly, to prosecute the church for slander. The truth is, that while sinners continue to be so inconsistent with themselves, nothing, upon the subject of religion, can please them. What is right offends their hearts; and what is wrong offends their consciences.
I shall conclude this subject with several remarks:
1st. From what has been said, you can see why it is that sinners find it impossible to rest in any form of error, until their consciences become seared as with a hot iron. It is affecting to see, how many persons there are, who are making continual efforts to hide themselves behind some refuge of lies. These errors are congenial to their feelings, and they want to believe them: and in the excitement of debate, or in view of some glowing exhibition of their error, when it is exhibited, as if it were sober truth, they feel as if they did believe it; and while the excitement lasts they seem to rest in it. But when the tumult of feeling subsides, and an enlightened conscience can gain a hearing, it gives forth the sentence of condemnation against their favorite heresy. Conscience comes forth and writes "falsehood" upon the very head and front of it. This leads the heart to mutiny, and an internal struggle and war is created, from which it would seem that the sinner can only escape by working himself into such an excitement, as to lose sight of Scripture, and reason and common sense: and thus in the wild uproar of his tumultuous feelings drown the voice of conscience, and for the time being feel measurably quiet in his sins. Thus you will see Universalists, and errorists of almost every description courting debate; they seem to be unhappy unless they can be engaged in some exciting conversation that will drown the voice of conscience. But until by utter violence they have put conscience to silence, they can never rest quietly in any form of error when they have been rightly instructed. It is in vain for them to expect to bring an enlightened conscience to take sides against truth, and against God. God has not left himself without a witness in the sinner's breast; and however much his warring passions, and his desperate heart, may mutiny against high heaven, he may rest assured, that conscience will write out, and sign and seal his death-warrant; and often in anticipation of coming retribution, hand him over to the executioner of eternal justice.
Again. You can see, from this subject, why it is that sinners will at one time praise, and at another censure the same thing. There is a sinner goes to hear a minister preach who daubs with untempered mortar; whose velvet lips utter the honied words of deceitfulness and guile; who puts darkness for light, and light for darkness; who makes falsehood appear like truth, and truth like falsehood; and whose flowing eloquence is like one who has a pleasant voice, and can play well upon an instrument. He conceals the sinner's danger. He says nothing of his guilt. "He strengthens the hands of the wicked that he shall not turn from his wicked way, by promising him life."O, says the sinner, what a charming preacher. His feelings are enlisted; he is almost in a rapture. He goes home pouring forth the most enthusiastic commendations of the sermon. But let his feelings subside; let him have time for reflection; and when he has thought, he will change his tune: and when speaking the sober dictates of his conscience, he will condemn the preacher and his sermon, as calculated to bewitch and deceive, rather than to reform and save.
Again. Let him hear a minister who brings the truth of God to bear with the most impressive pungency upon the hearts and consciences of men, and his heart rises in rebellion; and while under the excitement, he will pour out execrations upon the minister and his sermon, and declare that he will never hear him preach again. He is ready to quarrel with every body that will justify the sermon or the preacher. But let him have time to cool; let the lawless perturbations of his bosom cease. Let conscience gain a hearing, and you will find him speaking a different language. Let the same preacher have an appointment in his neighborhood, and you will find him at the house of God. He will say, after all, I may as well go; the man preached the truth, and I may as well hear it as not. Though I was angry at his doctrine, I cannot but respect his honesty; I will go once more and hear what he has to say. Now in one of these cases the sinner speaks the language of his heart; and in the other the language of his conscience.