Will any one still reply that although it is true that the sinner's wilful inconsideration and diverting his attention lays the only foundation for the necessity of the Spirit's influences, yet, is it not His great business to remove this ignorance occasioned by the sinner's wilful rejection of light? What does consideration do, but to bring the sinner to a juster knowledge of himself, of God, and of his duty, and thus, by force of truth, constrain him to yield? If by ignorance be meant a wilful perverse rejection of light and knowledge, I suppose that it is this state of mind which is not merely the cause of his sin, but it is his sin itself. The Apostle views the subject in this light: in speaking of sinners, he says, "Having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart."
It is indeed the pressing of truth upon the sinner's consideration that induces him to turn. But it is not true that he is ignorant of these truths before he thus considers them. He knows he must die -- that he is a sinner -- that God is right and he is wrong -- that there is a heaven and a hell -- but, as the prophet says, "They will not see" -- and again, "My people will not consider." It is not mainly then to instruct, but to lead the sinner to think upon his ways, that the Spirit employs his agency. I have already shown why he will not be converted when truth is forced upon him in hell.
11th. But here some one may say, Is not this exhibition of the subject inconsistent with that mystery of which Christ speaks, when he says, "The wind bloweth where it listeth, thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh nor whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit?"
Says the objector, I have been in the habit of considering the subject of a new heart, as a very mysterious one: but you make it very plain. How is this? Does not Christ, in the text I have quoted, represent it as mysterious? In answer to this I would ask, Wherein does Christ, in that text, represent the mystery of the new birth as consisting? Not in the effects which the Spirit produces, for the effects are matters of experience and observation. Not in the instrumentality used, for this is often revealed in the Bible. But the mystery lies in the manner of the Spirit's communicating with mind. How disembodied spirits communicate with each other, we are unable to say -- or how a disembodied spirit can communicate with one that wears a body, we do not know. We know that we communicate with each other through the medium of our bodily senses. The particular manner in which the Spirit of God carries on his debates and strivings with the mind, is what, in this life, we shall probably never know. Nor is it important that we should. Every Christian knows that in some way the truth was kept before his mind, and made to bear, and press upon him, and hedge him in, until he was constrained to yield. These are matters of experience; but in what particular manner the Holy Spirit did this, is just as mysterious as millions of other facts, which we daily witness, but cannot explain.
12th. But here perhaps another objection may arise -- If the sinner is able to convert himself, why does he need the Spirit of God? Suppose a man owed you one hundred dollars, was abundantly able, but wholly unwilling to pay you; you obtain a writ, and prepare, by instituting a suit against him, to ply him with a motive that will constrain him to be honest and pay his debts. Now suppose that he should say, I am perfectly able to pay this hundred dollars, of what use then is this writ, and a sheriff, and a lawsuit? The answer is, It is to make him willing -- to be sure, he is able but he is unwilling. Just so with the sinner -- he is able to do his duty, but is unwilling, therefore the Spirit of God plies him with motives to make him willing.
13th. Again -- You see that sinners should not content them selves with praying for a new heart. It has been common for those who believe that sinners are unable to change their own heart, when sinners have inquired what they should do to be saved, to substitute another requirement for that contained in the text, and instead of commanding them to make to them a new heart, have told them to pray that God would change their heart. They have used language like the following: "You must remember that you are dependent on God for a new heart. Do not attempt to do any thing in your own strength -- attend to your Bible, use the means of grace, call upon God to change your heart, and wait patiently for the answer."
A few years since, a lawyer, under deep conviction of sin, came to my room to inquire what he should do to be saved. He informed me that when in college, he, with two others were deeply anxious for their souls; that they waited on the president, and inquired what they should do. His directions were, in substance, that they should read their Bibles, keep clear of vain company, use the means of grace, and pray for a new heart, and that ere long they would either be converted, or would give up reading their Bibles and using means for their salvation. On being questioned how the matter terminated, he replied, that it turned out as the president told them it would; they soon gave up reading their Bibles, and using means. He said that the directions of the president relieved his mind, and that the more he prayed and used the means, the less distress he felt. That as he thought he was now doing his duty, and in a hopeful way, the more he read his Bible and prayed, the more acceptable he thought himself to God, and the more likely to be converted. The more diligent he was in using means, the more self-complacent and contented he became -- and thus prayed and waited for God to change his heart till his convictions had entirely worn away, and with a burst of grief he added, thus it turned out with us all. The other two are confirmed drunkards, and I have well nigh ruined myself by drink. Now if there is any hope in my case, tell me what I shall do to be saved. On being told to repent, and pressed to the immediate performance of the duty, he, to all appearance, yielded up himself to God upon the spot. Now the result of the directions given by the president, was strictly philosophical. The advice was just such as would please the devil. It would answer his purpose infinitely better than to have told them to abandon all thoughts of religion at once, for this would have shocked and frightened them, and, anxious as they were, they would have turned with abhorrence from such advice; but setting them upon this sanctimonious method of praying and waiting for God to do what he required of them, was soothing to their consciences; substituting another requirement in the place of the command of God, fostering their spirit of delay, confirming them in self-righteousness, and one of two results must have been expected -- either that they would embrace a false hope, or no hope at all. For it was perfectly natural and reasonable, if this was their duty, to pray, and use the means, and wait for God, for them to suppose that, as they were doing what God required of them, they were growing better. That the more diligent they were in their impenitent endeavours, the more safely might they rely upon God's converting them. Therefore of course the further they proceeded in this way, the less knowledge would they have of themselves, their danger, and their deserts; and the more certainly would they grieve away the Spirit of God.
Sinner! instead of waiting and praying for God to change your heart, you should at once summon up your powers, put forth the effort, and change the governing preference of your mind. But here some one may ask, Can the carnal mind, which is enmity against God, change itself: I have already said that this text in the original reads, "The minding of the flesh is enmity against God." This minding of the flesh, then, is a choice or preference to gratify the flesh. Now it is indeed absurd to say, that a choice can change itself; but it is not absurd to say, that the agent who exercises this choice, can change it. The sinner that minds the flesh, can change his mind, and mind God.
14th. From this subject it is manifest that the sinner's obligation to make to himself a new heart, is infinite. Sinner! your obligations to love God is equal to the excellence of his character, and your guilt in not obeying him is of course equal to your obligation. You cannot therefore for an hour or a moment defer obedience to the commandment in the text, without deserving eternal damnation.
15th. You see it is most reasonable to expect sinners, if they are converted at all, to be converted under the voice of the living preacher, or while the truth is held up in al its blaze before the mind. An idea has prevailed in the church, that sinners must have a season of protracted conviction, and that those conversions that were sudden were of a suspicious character. But certainly "this persuasion cometh not from God." We nowhere in the Bible read of cases of lengthened conviction. Peter was not afraid on the day of Pentecost that his hearers had not conviction enough. He did not tell them to pray and labour for a more impressive sense of their guilt, and wait for the Spirit of God to change their hearts, but urged home their immediate duty upon them. If he had suffered them to escape, to go from under his voice while yet in their sins, it is probable that hundreds, if not thousands of them had not be converted at all. It is as reasonable and philosophical to expect the sinner to turn, if he does it at all, while listening to the arguments of the living preacher, as it is to expect a juror to be convinced, and make up his mind, under the arguments of the advocate. The advocate expects if they are convinced at all, that they will be so while he is addressing them. He does not act upon the absurd and preposterous supposition, that it is more likely they will be convinced and make up their verdict in his favour when they shall have retired, and calmly considered the subject. His object is so thoroughly to convince, so completely to imbue their minds with the subject, as to get their intellect, and conscience, and heart to embrace his views of the subject. This is wise, and verily, in this respect, "the children of this world, are in their generation wiser than the children of light." And now, sinner, if you go away without making up your mind, and changing your heart, it is most probable that your mind will be diverted -- you will forget many things that you have heard -- many of the motives and considerations that now press upon you may be abstracted from your mind -- you will lose the clear view of the subject that you now have -- may grieve the Spirit, defer repentance, and push your unbroken footsteps to the gates of hell.
16th. You see the importance of presenting those truths, and in such connexions and relations, as are calculated to induce the sinner to change his heart. Few more mischievous sentiments have ever been broached, than that there is no philosophical connexion between means and end in the conversion of sinners; that there is no natural adaptedness in the motives of the Gospel to annihilate the sinner's selfishness, and lead him to submit to God. This idea is a part of the scheme of physical depravity. It considers regeneration as a change in the substance of the mind; as effected by the direct physical agency of the Spirit of God, irrespective of truth. If this were a correct view of regeneration, it would be manifest that there could be no connexion between the means and the end. For if the work be a physical creation, performed by the direct and physical power of the Holy Ghost, then certainly it is effected by no means whatever. But so far is this from truth, that no sinner ever was or ever will be converted, but by means wisely and philosophically adapted to this end.
The Spirit selects such considerations, at such times and under such circumstances, as are naturally calculated to disarm and confound the sinner; to strip him of his excuses, answer his cavils, humble his pride, and break his heart. The preacher should therefore acquaint himself with his refuges of lies, and as far as possible take into consideration his whole history, including his present views and state of mind; should wisely select a subject; so skillfully arrange, so simply and yet so powerfully present it, as to engage the sinner's whole attention, and then lay himself out to the utmost to bring him to yield upon the spot. He who deals with souls should study well the laws of mind, and carefully and prayerfully adapt his matter and his manner to the state and circumstances, views and feelings, in which he may find the sinner at the time. He should present that particular subject, in that connexion and in that manner, that shall have the greatest natural tendency to subdue the rebel at once. If men would act as wisely and as philosophically in attempting to make men Christians, as they do in attempting to sway mind upon other subjects; if they would suit their subject to the state of mind, conform "the action to the word and the word to the action," and press their subject with as much address, and warmth, and perseverance, as lawyers and statesmen do their addresses; the result would be the conversion of hundreds of thousands, and converts would be added to the Lord "like drops of the morning dew." Were the whole church and the whole ministry right upon this subject; had they right views, were they imbued with a right spirit, and would they "go forth with tears, bearing precious seed, they would soon reap the harvest of the whole earth, and return bearing their sheaves with them."
The importance of rightly understanding that God converts souls by motives, is inconceivably great. Those who do not recognize this truth in their practice at least, are more likely to hinder than to aid the Spirit in his work. Some have denied this truth in theory, but have happily admitted it in practice. They have prayed, and preached, and talked, as if they expected the Holy Spirit to convert sinners by the truth. In such cases, notwithstanding their theory, their practice was owned and blessed of God. But a want of attention to this truth in practice has been the source of much and ruinous error in the management of revivals and in dealing with anxious souls. Much of the preaching, conversation and exhortation have been irrelevant, perplexing and mystical. Sufficient pains have not been taken to avoid a diversion of public and individual attention. Sinners have been kept long under conviction, because their spiritual guides withheld those particular truths which at the time above all others they needed to know. They have been perplexed and confounded by abstract doctrines, metaphysical subtleties, absurd exhibitions of the sovereignty of God, inability, physical regeneration, and constitutional depravity, until the agonized mind, discouraged and mad from contradiction from the pulpit, and absurdity in conversation, dismissed the subject as altogether incomprehensible, and postponed the performance of duty as impossible.
17th. From this subject you may see the importance of pressing every argument, and every consideration, that can have any weight. And now, sinner, while the subject is before you, will you yield! To keep yourself away from under the motives of the Gospel, by neglecting church, and neglecting your Bible, will prove fatal to your soul. And to be careless when you do attend, or to hear with attention and refuse to make up your mind and yield, will be equally fatal. And now, "I beseech you, by the mercies of God, that you at this time render your body and soul, a living sacrifice to God, which is your reasonable service." Let the truth take hold upon your conscience -- throw down your rebellious weapons -- give up your refuges of lies -- fix your mind steadfastly upon the world of considerations that should instantly decide you to close in with the offer of reconciliation while it now lies before you. Another moment's delay, and it may be too late for ever. The Spirit of God may depart from you -- the offer of life may be made no more, and this one more slighted offer of mercy may close up your account, and seal you over to all the horrors of eternal death. Hear, then, O sinner, I beseech you, and obey the word of the Lord -- "Make you a new heart and a new spirit, for why will ye die?"