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God has not lost his right to command. For then any man might shake off the yoke of God's sovereignty by disabling himself through his own sin for the duties of obedience. Second, though man has not sufficient power, yet there is in him an intolerable pride, which fills him with a conceit that he has what he has not, and can do what he cannot. The command is therefore of great use to check this pride, and to convince man of his weakness. Rev. 3:17. Third, every man can do more than he does towards his conversion. And therefore it is good for men to be urged by commands to all the duties in the use of which Christ comes into the soul by a supernatural power.
7. This doctrine furnishes a powerful incentive to all within the sound of the gospel, especially to such as feel some power accompanying the word to their hearts, diligently to hearken to the voice of Christ, and obey his call without further delay. “He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear." Rev. 2:7. It is a dreadful and dangerous thing to turn away the ear from him that speaks from heaven : “See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven.” Heb. 12:25. See that ye refuse not. The caution implies the matter to be very weighty, and a neglect or refusal to be highly dangerous. Turn not away your ear, be not guilty of neglect in so important a concern.
Truly this caution is no more than is needful; for Satan is never more busy with the souls of men than when Christ first effectually calls them to himself. O what a thick succession of discouragements impetuously assault the soul at this time! Art thou young ? then he insinuates that it is too soon for thee to mind the serious things of religion ; that this will extinguish all thy pleasure in a dull melancholy; that thou mayest have time enough hereafter to mind these matters. This temptation Augustine confesses kept him off many years from Christ. But certainly, if thou art old enough to be lost, thou art not too young to receive Christ and salvation. There are graves just of thy length, and young as well as old are found in eternal perdition. Besides, all those godly youth who turned to the Lord betimes, as Josiah, Abijah, Timothy, and many more, will be your judges, and condemn you in the great day. None ever repented that they opened to Christ too soon : thousands have repented that they kept him out so long. Art thou old ? then he alarms thee with the manifold sins of thy youth, and places them as obstructions in thy way to Christ. And whether young or old, he will present the sufferings and persecutions of godliness, to discourage thee from hearkening to the voice of Christ. But what are the sufferings for Christ here, to the sufferings from Christ hereafter ? What are the pains of mortification to the pains of damnation ? Besides, all the promises of Christ, promises of strength, comfort, and success, go with the command of Christ to believe, and shall surely be performed to the obedient soul. See, therefore, that thou refuse not his voice.
But you will say, All that hear this voice of Christ are said to live. John 5:25. Now I am much in the dark whether this vital voice of Christ has sounded into my soul. Alas, I feel little, if any thing, of the spiritual life in my soul. I am dead and dark. Let us then improve the doctrine by way of TRIAL.
QUESTION. By what signs does the life of Christ show itself in the souls of men ?
ANSWER. There are diverse signs of spiritual life, and blessed is the soul that finds them.
(1.) There is a spiritual feeling accompanying the spiritual life. I speak not only of the sense of comfort, for many a soul in Christ feels little of that; but there is a
sense and feeling of the burden of sin. Rom. 7:24.. And it is well that we can feel that; for there are multitudes in the world that are past feeling. Isa. 6:9, 10. It is a sign Christ has spoken to thy heart, if sorrow for sin begins to load it.
(2.) Spiritual motions towards Christ are a sign of spiritual life ; at least, that God is about that quickening work of faith upon thy soul : “Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me." John 6:45. The effectual voice of God sets the soul in motion towards Christ; the will is moving after him ; the desires are panting for him. The voice of God makes the soul that hears it restless. As for others, their wills are fixed, there is no moving them. John 5:40. Now consider how it is with thee, reader. Art thou weighing and pondering the terms of the gospel, struggling through discouragements and temptations to come to Christ upon his own terms, lifting up thy heart to him for power to believe, crying with the spouse, Draw me, we will run after thee ? Sol. Song 1:4. This is a comfortable sign that Christ has spoken to thy heart.
(3.) A spirit of prayer is an evidence of spiritual life, as the effect of Christ's voice to thy soul. As soon as Christ had spoken effectually to Paul's heart, the first effect that appeared in him as a sign of spiritual life, was the breath of prayer. Behold, he prayeth! Acts 9:11. God has no still-born children. Measure thyself by this rule; time was when thou couldst say a prayer, and wast very well satisfied with it, whether thou hadst any communion with God in it or no; but is it so still? Is there not a holy restlessness of spirit after God, since the time that his word came home to thy heart ? Surely thou canst remember when it was not with thee as it is now.
(4.) There is a spiritual relish resulting from the spiritual life, which is also an evidence of it. If God has spoken life to thy soul, there will be in it an agreeable pleasure and delight in spiritual things : “My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness.” Psa. 63:5. Now thy thoughts can feed with pleasure upon spiritual things which they disliked before.
(5.) Spiritual aversions as well as spiritual inclinations indicate a spiritual life. Every creature has an aversion to what is destructive to it. Now there is nothing so destructive to spiritual life as sin; that is the deadly poison which the renewed soul dreads. “Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins." Psa. 19:13. It cries out as a man who finds himself upon the brink of a pit, or the edge of a precipice : “Keep back thy servant.” Such aversion to sin, and trembling under temptations tending to sin, are comfortable signs that Christ has spoken life to thy soul.
(6.) Heavenly tendencies and longings after God are excellent signs that thy soul has heard his voice, and been quickened with spiritual life by it. Sanctification is a well of water springing up into everlasting life. John 4:14. If thou hast seen the beauty, felt the power, and heard the voice of Christ, thy soul, like a body which has lost its centre, will still be gravitating and inclining Christward. When thou hast once heard the effectual call, Come umto me, Matt. 11:28, thy soul will continually echo the voice of holy love: “ And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come.” Rev. 22:17. Thou wilt say in reply, “ Come, Lord Jesus.” Rev. 22:20. A sweeter sign of hearing Christ's voice can hardly be found in a soul, than a longing to be with Christ in the state of perfect freedom from sin, and full fruition of the beloved and blessed Jesus.
THE OPENING OF THE HEART TO CHRIST BY FAITH THE GREAT DESIGN OF THE GOSPEL.
“IF ANY MAN HEAR MY VOICE AND OPEN THE DOOR, I WILL
COME IN TO HIM.” Rev. 3:20. THE powerful voice of Christ is the key that opens the door of the soul to receive him. The opening of the heart to receive Christ is the main design in all the external and internal administrations of the gospel and the Holy Spirit.
The gospel has two great designs. One is, to open the heart of God to men, and to show them the everlasting counsels of grace and peace which were hid in God from ages and generations past; that all men may now see what God has been designing and contriving for their happiness in Christ before the world was: “To make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ; to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God.” Ephes. 3:9, 10. The other intention of the gospel is, to open the hearts of men to receive Jesus Christ, without which all the glorious discoveries of the eternal counsels and gracious contrivances of God for us, would signify nothing to our real advantage. Christ's standing, knocking, and speaking by his Spirit, of which we have before treated, receive their success, and attain their end, when the heart opens itself by faith to receive him, and not till then. Hence we see our ninth doctrine is,
The opening of the heart to receive Christ by faith, is the great design of the gospel.
This is the mark to which all the arrows in the gospelquiver are levelled—the centre into which those blessed