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The Inability of the Sinner to comply with
the Gospel, his inexcusable guilt in not complying with it, and the consistency of these with each other, illustrated, IN TWO DISCOURSES,
ON JOHN vi, 44.
SERMON I. Man's - Inability to comply with the Gospel.
JOHN vi, 44. No man can come to me, except the Father which hath
sent me, draw him.
, should be convinced and made thoroughly sensible of their impotence and helplessness in themselves, and their entire dependence on divine grace for salvation. So long as sinners think they can recommend them. selves to the favour of God by their own righteousness, they will never come unto" Christ “ that they may have life.” For the whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick.” And so long as persons imagine they labour under no insuperable inability to
comply with the gospel, they will never feel their dependence on Him who alone is able to work in them “ the whole good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power." Nor will they feel disposed, or see the occasion they have, to “ give unto God the glory,” which is indeed “due unto his name,” in their salvation. Accordingly, the depravily, blindness and deadness of mankind, in things of a spiritual nature, and their utter inability to comply with the gospel, as well as to obtain salvation by the deeds of the law, are much inculcated and insisted on in the sacred scriptures.
But then, there is a difficulty in the minds of many, how to reconcile this total helplessness of sinners with the sincerity of the gospel call, or with the justice of men's being condemned and punished, for their impenitence and unbelief. And indeed it does seem as if men could not be to blame, for not doing impossibili. ties: nor should we, in other cases, think there was much kindness or sincerity in offering a favour on conditions that were known to be impracticable.
There is scarce any one, I believe, that has ever thought much about religion, but what has, at one time or other, felt himself pinched with this difficulty. And it is wont to have a most pernicious influence upon
the minds of sinners in general; but more especially when they come to be under awakenings, and begin to enquire, “ what they shall do to be saved.” According to what they hear in sermons, yea, and according to what they read in their bibles, they are at a loss to see how the ways of the Lord can be equal.
" The carnal mind," they are told, “is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” And that, “they that are in the flesh cannot please God." They are therefore under a necessity of sinning, yea, of doing
nothing else but sin. And yet, “every transgression and disobedience,” is to receive a most dreadful 6 compence of reward,” the wrath of God being “revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men." And no relief, no deliverance from wrath, is to be hoped for through the gospel, but upon impossible conditions : Such conditions as no natural men, no one who is dead in trespasses and sins ever did, ever will, or can comply with. And yet a non-compliance with these conditions exposes to an amazingly aggravated, additional condemnation ; insomuch that it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah, in the day of judgment, than for those who enjoy the light of the gospel, and do not embrace the salvation it offers.
But how these things are consistent with reason ; how they can ever be reconciled with the goodness or the justice of God, they are greatly at a loss. Such a view of the matter seems to them to make the most high indeed, what the slothful servant said, a hard master, “ reaping where he has not sown, and gathering where he has not strewed.” Or, like the cruel Egyptian task-masters, requiring the full tale of brick without allowing the necessary straw; requiring that of his creatures which he knows exceeds their utmost strength, and then they are beaten; yea, must be punished with everlasting destruction, for not doing what they would do with all their hearts; but it is no more in their power, than it is to make a world.
Now, until this difficulty can be fairly got over in the minds of people, it seems impossible they should, in their consciences, justify God, or condemn themselves as he condemns them. Or that they should understand, either the justice of the divine law, or the grace of the gospel. It is therefore certainly highly nécessary, that what the scripture says upon this subject, should be set in a consistent light, so as to commend itself to every man's conscience in the sight of God.
There are several ways, in which this has been at. tempted. Some account for God's suspending our salvation upon impossible conditions, and condemning men for not doing what it is not in their power to do, by observing, that we lost our power by the fall. Our present weakness and blindness was brought upon us as a i'ighteous punishment for the disobedience of Adam ; and God, they say, has not lost his right to command, because man, by his own folly and sin, has lost his ability to obey. That is, we ought, it is our present real duty to exert, not only all the strength we actually have, but all we should have had, had it not been for the original apostacy.
But to this it will be objected, that we never reason and judge in this manner, in any other case. We do not think those who have lost their eyes, are still to blame for not seeing; or those who have lost their reason, for not understanding; or that it is the duty of those to labour with their lands, who have no hands to labour with. Nol, though we suppose they were deprived of those faculties in a righteous manner, for their sins. Or, suppose a servant, by his own folly and bad conduct, has brought a fit of sickness upon himself, do we think it reasonable for his master still to require him to go out into the field every day, and do as niuch work as if he was well? And is the ser. vant to blame, in not obeying such commands ? Docs lie daily commit new sin, in not working, when perhaps he now wishes, with all his heart he was able to co it; but has not strength to go a step, or bear his weight?
It must, I think, be granted, that we do generally suppose a man's present duty cannot exceed his present strength, suppose it to have been impaired by What means it will. We never hear even a good man, pretend to repent or blame himself, that he has not seen the light of the sun all day, and resolve not to be guilty of the same sin to-morrow, when he has been stone blind for twenty years, I shall not therefore undertake the defence of this, as any solution of the difficulty to the apprehension of reason and common
Nor can I think that any one was ever convinced of the sin of unbelief in this way. However well meant it might probably be, by the inventors of it, it seems rather calculated to ease the consciences of men, by casting all real blame back upon the first sin only.
Others (and those who would not be thought, and are not suspected to lean in any measure towards Arminianism) have supposed it necessary to soften matters a little, as to the sovereignty of grace, and the helplessness of sinners, if we would avoid the above inconsistency, or reflection on divine justice. They would have it maintained, indeed, that sinners are unable to do much, if any thing, towards their salvation, merely of themselves. Nor do they suppose that any one is ever brought to true repentance and faith in Christ, without the bestowment of special grace. But then they apprehend, it may, and must be, admitted, that sinners are able, by the help of common grace, to do those things which are connected with, and may be considered as a sort of preliminary conditions of salvation; conditions upon which regeneration, and an ability to come up to the actual terms of the gospel, are promised, or however, will undoubtedly be bestowed