Are you a Christian?
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II. From this subject, you can see, that a minister whose preaching pleases the hearts of sinners, cannot commend himself to their consciences in the sight of God. Many ministers seem to aim at conciliating the feelings of the unrepentant part of their congregation. They seem to consider it an evidence of their wisdom and prudence, that their preaching has so much favor with the ungodly. Now let these sinners be converted, and they will lose their confidence in such a minister. Their consciences, if enlightened, have never been satisfied with him. They have praised his preaching, and loved to hear him, because he has commended himself to their hearts, and not because he has commended himself to their consciences. If then, they are ever truly converted, and their hearts are brought over to take sides with their conscience, it is highly probable that they will go away and join some other congregation, if another is within their reach; and where in such cases they do not do this, there is reason to fear that they are not truly converted. But where a ministry preaches to the conscience, and sinners get angry and go away, if ever they are converted they will desire to come back again, and set under the preaching that used so to disturb them while in their sins.
III. From this subject, you can see, that where Christians try to gain influence with sinners, by bringing down their religion so as to conciliate their feelings while in their sins, they will never by this kind of influence do the sinner any good. For while by this course they please the heart of sinners their consciences condemn them; and while their consciences condemn the course they take, it is impossible that this course should do them any good.
Many persons are attempting to gain influence with people in high life, by imitating them, and conforming their lives and habits, and equipage, to their taste and mode of living. In this way they seem to think that they shall gain access to them, and influence over them. But it is certain, that the access and influence they will thus gain, will never do the sinner any good; because this whole course of conduct, by which this influence is gained, is condemned by the sinner's conscience. It is not a religious, but a worldly influence, that is thus gained. It is not a sanctified, but a sinful influence. And instead of giving the person's character who takes this course, weight, as a Christian, it has directly the opposite effect; and destroys the confidence of the sinner, that he is a Christian. By taking this proud and worldly course to gain influence, he may conciliate the sinner's feelings, and commend himself to his heart, but the sinner's conscience repels and condemns him.
IV. God, so speaks and conducts, as to commend himself to every man's conscience. The sinner's heart is entirely opposed to God; but God pursues such a course, as not to leave himself without a witness in the sinner's breast. Conscience will testify for God. Now, it is certain, that the sinner's heart must be reconciled to God, or he is eternally miserable; his judgment and conscience, will always bear witness that God is right; and unless the heart is brought over to take sides with conscience, it is self-evident that the sinner must be damned.
If we live so as to have the sinner's conscience on our side, however much he may hate us now, it is certain, that he must love us, or he must be damned. If we have done that which his conscience approve, he must be reconciled to us, or God will never be reconciled to him.
VI. You see from this subject, why it is that where persons are converted, they often manifest the greatest attachment to those Christians whom they most hated, previous to their conversion. Those Christians that lead the most holy lives, are most apt to be hated by unrepentant sinners; and it often happens, that the more they reprove and warn and rebuke them; the more sinners will hate them. But if those sinners become truly converted, you will always see that they have the most confidence in those very persons; the reason is, their hearts are changed. Their conscience took part with the faithful Christian before; and now they are converted, both heart and conscience approve his character.
VII. You see, from this subject, why it is that when persons are converted, they manifest the least attachment for, and the least confidence in, those professors of religion with whom they were most intimate while in their sins. Those persons with whom they were most pleased, while in this state of impenitency; were agreeable to them, not because they had so much piety, but because they had so little. Not because they did their duty to them so faithfully, but because the neglected it. Now when they are converted, they cannot have much confidence in the piety of those professors with whom they used to have this kind of worldly intimacy. They cannot, for their lives, help suspecting that they have no piety. In some cases a husband or wife, who was a professor of religion, has so lived, and so concealed their light as to please their unconverted companion. If, in such a case, the husband or wife becomes truly converted, rest assured, there will be but little Christian confidence between the young convert, and the old professor in this case. In some cases, husbands have said, after their conversion, that they have very little confidence in their wife's religion, because she never manifested religion enough to disturb them in their sins.
VIII. You see, from this subject, that temporising with sinners; letting down, concealing, or evading the claims of the Gospel, can do them no good. To attempt to please them, while in their sins, is but to ruin them, if we succeed. Their hearts must be changed; and the only way to effect this, is by taking the deepest hold upon conscience, that is possible. Instead of expecting to change the heart, by concealing the offensive features of the Gospel, we need only expect to change it, by spreading out before the conscience, the claims of God, in all their length and breadth. The heart is to be brought over, through instrumentality of conscience, and the more fully the claims of God are represented to the conscience, the more likely the sinner is to be converted. To conceal the truth from conscience, and attempt to win the sinner over by a lovely song; is but to lull him with a syren's voice, until he plunges into eternal death.
IX. You see from this subject, why it is that convicted sinners often manifest the greatest opposition, just before they submit to God. It is often the case, that the more conscience is pressed, the more the sinner is fretted, and the more he will rebel; and when the conscience is thoroughly enlightened, and has obtained a firm footing, so as to exert its utmost power upon the heart; a desperate and outrageous conflict often pursues; and in the madness of his exasperated feelings, the sinner is sometimes almost ready to blaspheme the God of heaven. And it is often observed, that sinners will be the most high-handed in the outbreakings of their enmity, while conscience is taking its most thorough lessons, from the truth and Spirit of God. But when feeling has in a measure exhausted its turbulence, the power of truth, presented by the Spirit of God, exerts upon the heart such tremendous power, through the conscience, as to make the sinner quail ---throw down his weapons, and submit to God.
X. From this subject, you can see the long-suffering of God in sparing sinners. How amazing it is, that he spares them so long, nevertheless all their unreasonable fault-finding and rebellion. Nothing that he does pleases them, and nothing that he can do would please them. What would you think of your children, if they should conduct in such a manner towards you. Suppose they had never obeyed you, and had never so much as meant to obey you. When you have conducted in such a way as to commend yourself to their consciences, their hearts opposed you; and when you have commended yourself to their hearts, their consciences opposed you; so that upon the whole you have not, and cannot please them. They are always displeased, and murmuring at whatever you do. O how little patience would the kindest earthly parents have with their children, when compared with the long- suffering of the blessed God.
XI. You see that it is of no use for God to try to please you, sinner, while you are in your sins. He cannot please you if he would, and he would not please you if he could while you remain in sin. Sinners often seem to imagine, that if God was such a being, as they would have him, they should love him. They do not realize, that if they framed a God to suit their hearts, they would fail of appeasing their consciences. Sinner, your conscience approves of the character of God as it is. If his character could be altered in any conceivable degree, it would upon the whole please you no better than it does now, while you are in your sins; for if you could alter his character so as to satisfy your heart, you would only outrage your conscience; and the only possible way for you to be happy is, to change yourself, instead of expecting or desiring that God should change.
XII. The necessity of a change of heart is self-evident. It is a fact of universal experience that the consciences and hearts of sinners are opposed to each other; and this is true even where the light of the Gospel has never shone. That men in following the inclination of their hearts, have violated their consciences, is known and acknowledged by every nation under heaven. This they have acknowledged in the most public manner by the expiatory sacrifices which they have offered to appease their offended gods. However absurd and foolish their ideas of God have been, yet their sacrifices show that they have violated their consciences; and there is probably not a man on earth who can honestly say, that in the indulgence of his heart he has not violated his conscience.
An enlightened conscience will never change. Its testimony will be louder and louder in favor of truth for ever. There must be a change or there can be no inward peace; and this change must plainly be in the heart, and not in the conscience.
Most sinners are waiting to hear some different kind of preaching; and sometimes they will pass through one revival after another, because the means, as they think, are not adapted to their case. Sometimes they hear preaching that pleases their hearts, but then their consciences are not enough impressed, to do them any good. And then again, they hear preaching that impresses their consciences; but their hearts rise up in rebellion.
Now if they could only hear some preaching, or God could use some means, that they would please both their conscience and their heart, they think they should be converted. But such means cannot possibly be used while the heart, and conscience are opposed to each other. Sinner, there is no use in your waiting. To expect God, or any body else, to satisfy you before you are converted, is vain; and if you wait for such an event you will wait, until you are in the depths of hell.
XIV. Sinners ought not to desire that means should be used to please their hearts, while they are in their sins. If any preaching, or means, make you feel pleasantly; if your heart is delighted with it, rest assured, that these means will do you no good. They will only deceive you, and make you overlook the necessity of a change of heart.
XV. You can see the nature of hell torments. Sinners are often thrown into great agony in this life, by the internal struggles, and janglings of their consciences and hearts. Now let them go into eternity with their hearts unchanged. Let the full blaze of eternity's light be poured upon their consciences; and with a heart at enmity against God, what horrible rebellion, what insupportable conflicting, and quarreling with self, and with God, will the sinner experience.
Lastly. Sinners should not follow their feelings, but obey the voice of conscience. In other cases, where sinners find their feelings, opposed to their better judgement, they will often set down their foot, and resist the current of their feelings. They will say, I am not going to be carried away, and throw up the reins to my feelings, I must exercise my judgment. I must act like a reasonable being. But oh, on the subject of religion, how perfectly men give themselves up to their wicked hearts. Sinner, you ought this moment to come forth promptly, and act like a man, and say you will not go another step in the way of death. Why throw up the reigns, and give loose to passion? Why drive with such furious haste to hell? Why suffer yourself to be carried hither and thither, by every gush of feeling, and by every breathe of emotion that passes over the surface of your soul? Why sinner, if you do not exercise your reason; if you do not listen to the voice of conscience; if you do not gather up the reigns; gird up your loins, and address yourself to the work of your salvation like a man. If you do not make up your mind to resist the whole tide of your carnal feelings, and put yourself under the clear blaze of heaven's light; and when conscience gives forth its verdict, unless you will promptly obey, you must die in your sins; and now will you here, in the house of God, while your character, and danger are before you; while mercy waits to save, and death brandishes his weapon to destroy, while heaven calls, and hell groans; while the spirit strives, and Christians pray, will you have the moral courage; the decision of character, the honesty, and manhood, to resolve on immediate submission to Jesus Christ?