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mercies, in a special manner to humble them, and make them sensible of their misery and helplessness in themselves, and of their vileness and unworthiness, either by some remarkably humbling dispensation of his providence or influence of his Spirit. We are come now,
II. To show particularly that it is God's manner to make men sensible of their misery and unworthiness before he reveals his saving love and mercy to their souls. The mercy of God, which he shows to a sinner when he brings him home to the Lord Jesus Christ, is the greatest and most wonderful exhibition of mercy and love, of which men are ever the subjects. There are other things, in which God greatly expresses his mercy and goodness to men, many temporal favours. The mercies already mentioned, which God bestowed upon his people of old : his advancing Joseph in Egypt, his deliverance of the children of Israel out of Egypt, his leading them through the Red Sea on dry land, his bringing them into Canaan, and driving out the heathen from before them, his delivering them from time to time from the hands of their enemies, were great mercies; but they were not equal to this of bringing his people from under the guilt and dominion of sin. Several of them were typical of this ; and as God would thus prepare men for the bestowment of those less mercies by making them sensible of their guilt and misery, so especially will he so do, before he makes known to them this great love of his in Jesus Christ. When God designs to show mercy to sinners, it is his manner thus to begin with him.
He first brings them to reflect upon themselves, and consider and be sensible what they are, and what condition they are in. What has already been said proves this. There is a harmony between God's dispensations. And as we see that this is God's manner of dealing with men when he gives them other great and remarkable mercies and manifestations of his favour, it is a confirmation that it is his method of proceeding with the souls of men, when about to reveal his mercy and love to them in Jesus Christ.
1. God makes men consider and be sensible of what sin they are guilty. Before, it may be, they were very regardless of this. They went on sinning, and never reflected upon what they did ; never considered or regarded what or how many sins they committed. They saw no cause why they should trouble their minds about it. But when God convinces them, he brings them to reflect upon themselves; he sets their sins in order before their eyes. "He brings their old sins to their minds, so that they are fresh in their memory-things which they had almost forgotten. And many things, which they used to regard as light offences which were not wont to be a burden to their consciences, nor to appear worthy to be taken notice of, they are now made to reflect upon. Thus they discover of what a multitude of transgressions they have been guilty, which they have heaped up till they are grown up to heaven. There are some sins especially, of which they have been guilty, which are ever before then, so that they cannot get them out of their minds. Sometimes when men are under conviction, their sins follow them, and haunt them like a spectre. God makes them sensible of the sin of their hearts, how corrupt and depraved their hearts are.
And there are two ways in which he does this. One is by setting before them the sins of their lives. They are so set in order before them, they appear so many and so aggravated, that they are convinced what a fountain of corruption there is in their hearts. Their sinful natures appear by their sinful lives. There is sin enough, which every man has committed, to convince him, that he is sold under sin, that his heart is full of nothing but corruption, if God by his spirit leads him rightly to consider it.
Another way, which God sometimes makes use of, is, to leave men to such internal workings of corruption under the temptations which they have in their terrors and fears of hell, as shows them what a corrupt and wicked heart they have. God sometimes brings this good out of this evil, to make men see the corruption of their nature by the workings of it under temptations, which they have in their terrors about damnation. God leads them through the wilderness to prove them, and let them know what is in their hearts, as he did the children of Israel, as we have already observed. By means of the trials, which the children of Israel had in the wilderness, they might be made sensible what a murmuring, perverse, rebellious, unfaithful and idolatrous people they were. So God sometimes makes sinners sensible what wicked hearts they have by their experience of the exercises of corruption, while they are under convictions. Not that this will in the least excuse men for allowing such workings of corruption in their hearts, because God sometimes leaves men to be wicked, that he may afterwards turn it to their good, when he in infinite wisdom sees meet so to do. We must not go and be wicked on purpose, that we may get good by it. It will be very absurd, as well as horridly presumptuous for us so to do. Though God sometimes in his sovereign mercy makes those workings of corruption, and a spirit of opposition and enmity against God, a means of showing them the vileness of their own hearts, and so to turn to their good. So God oftentimes is provoked thereby utterly to withdraw and forsake them after the example of those murmurers, whose carcases fell in the wilderness, of whom God sware in his wrath that they should never enter into his rest. And they, who allow themselves therein are the most likely so to provoke God. But it is God's manner to show men the plague of their own hearts by some means or other, before he reveals his redeeming love to their souls. While sinners are unconvinced sin lies hid. They take no notice of it. But God makes the law effectual to bring men's own sins of heart and life to be reflected on, and observed. Romans vii. 9. “I was alive without the law once, but when the commandment came, sin revived." Then sin appeared and came to light, which was not before observed. Joseph's revealing himself to his brethren is probably typical of Christ's revealing himself to the soul of a sinner, making known himself in his love, and in his near relation of a brother, and a Redeemer of his soul. But before Joseph revealed himself to them, they were made to reflect upon themselves, and say,
we are verily guilty."
2. God convinces sinners of the dreadful danger they are in by reason of their sin. Having their sins set before them, God makes them sensible of the relation which their sin has to misery. And here are two things of which they are convinced about their danger.
1. God makes them sensible that his displeasure is very dreadful. Before they heard often about the anger of God, and the fierceness of his wrath ; but they were not moved by it. But now they are made sensible that it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. They are made in some measure sensible of the dreadfulness of hell. They are led with fixedness and impression to think what a dismal thing it will be to have God an enraged enemy, setting to work the misery of a soul, and how dismal it will be to dwell in such torment for ever without hope. Isaiah xxxiii. 14. “ The sinners in Zion are afraid. Fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire ? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?" Other sinners are told of hell, but convinced sinners often have hell, as it were, in their view. They being impressed with a sense of the dreadfulness of its misery, is the cause why it works upon their imagination oftentimes; and it will seem as though they saw the dismal flames of hell; as though they saw God in implacable wrath exerting his fury upon them; as though they heard the cries and shrieks of the damned.
2. They are made in some measure sensible of the connexion there is between their sins and that wrath, or how their sin and guilt exposes them to that wrath, of the dreadfulness of which they have such lively apprehensions, and so fear takes hold of them. They are afraid that will be their portion. And they are sensible that they are in a miserable and doleful condition by reason of sin. Many things in the scriptures make it evident that this is God's method. The account we have of our first parents confirms it. They had a sense of guilt and danger, before Christ was revealed to them. They were guilty, and were afraid of God's wrath, and ran and hid themselves. They were terribly afraid when they heard God coming. And doubtless their sense of their guilt and fear, when they were brought before God, and were called to an account, and God asked them what they had done, and whether they had eaten of that tree, whereof he commanded them that they should not eat, prepared them for a discovery of mercy. God made them sensible of their guilt and danger before he revealed to them the covenant of grace. And it is probable that their reflecting upon what God said about the Seed of the woman bruising the serpent's head, soon wrought faith ; that it was not long before that discovery God made of a merciful design towards them, was a means of true consolation and hope to them. Joseph's brethren were brought into great distress for fear of their lives before Joseph revealed himself to them. Those who were converted by Peter's sermon, were first pricked in their hearts in a sense of their guilt and their danger. Acts ii. 37. And Paul, before he had his first comfort, trembled, and was astonished. Acts ix. 6. And continued three days and three nights, and neither ate nor drank, which expressed his great distress. The jailer, before he was converted, was in terror. He called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas. Acts xvi. 29, 30. Christ's invitation is made more especially to the weary and heavy laden ; which doubtless has respect, at least partly, to labouring and being weary with a sense of guilt and danger. We read when David was in the cave, then every one who was in distress, was gathered unto him. 1 Samuel xxii. 1. This doubtless was written as typifying Jesus Christ, and the referring of those who were in fear and distress unto him. The expression of flying for refuge, by which coming to Christ is signified, implies, that before they come, they are in fear of some evil. They apprehend themselves in danger, and this fear gives wings to their feet. Proverbs xviii. 10. “ The name of the Lord is a strong tower.” The voice of God to a sinner, when he gives him true comfort, is a still small voice. But this voice is preceded by a strong wind, and a terrible earthquake, and fire, as it was in Horeb when Elijah was there. 1 Kings xix. 11, 12. “And behold the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind ; and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake, a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.”
Another thing in the scriptures, which seems to evince this, is the frequent comparison made between the church spiritually bringing forth Christ, and a woman in travail, in pain to be delivered. John xvi. 21. and Kevelation xii. 2. The conversion of a sinner is represented by the same thing. It is bringing forth Christ in the heart. Paul speaks of man's regeneration as of Christ being brought forth in them. Galatians iv. 19. And therefore Christ calls believers his mother. Matthew xii. 49, 50. “ And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father, which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother."
Hosea v. 15. “I will go and return to my place till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face; in their affliction they will seek me early.” (Till they shall be guilty, in the original.)
Doctrine. That it is God's manner to make men sensible of their misery and unworthiness, before he appears in his mercy and love to them.
III. They are made sensible of the desert of their sin; that their sin deserves that wrath of God to which it exposes them. They are not only sensible of the dreadfulness of God's wrath, how fearful a thing it would be to fall into the hands of the living God, and to sustain the eternal expressions of his fierce anger, as well as of the connexion between their sins and this wrath, and how their sins expose them to it; but God is also wont, before he comforts them, to show them that their sins deserve this wrath. By a clear discovery of the connexion between their sin and God's wrath, they are sensible of their danger of hell; of which many are in a measure sensible, who are wholly insensible of their desert of hell. The threatenings of the law make them afraid indeed, that God will punish their sins; yet they have no thorough apprehension of their desert of the punishment threatened, and therefore many, who are afraid, murmur against God. They charge him foolishly with being hard and cruel. But it is God's manner before he speaks peace to VOL, VIII.