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ousness, alas it is but as filthy rags, that rather defile than justify him ;* and thus he cries out, Lord, now at last I see my own nakedness and wretchedness, I abhor myself, and all I am and have, therefore thou mayest justly abhor me;t I must have a righteousness better than my own to justify me; as for my own, the bed is shorter than that a man can stretch himself on it, and the covering narrower than that a man can wrap himself in it.[ When I think of my past wicked life, and this wicked heart within me, and God's strict justice against sinners, and that I have nothing to screen and shelter me from it, I then say with David, “ If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand ?" || But I hear good news of a Saviour who is become a surety, an advocate, a propitiatory sacrifice for sinners : 9 O that God would give me Christ! O for an interest in his Son! None but Christ, none but Christ, what would I give for him ? Lord, shew me this favour, and I will ask nothing else; if I had Christ, I shall have enough, but how shall I come by him? only by believing, receiving the favour is the condition of receiving benefit by the favour. O but faith is the gift of God; I cannot believe, my unbelief kills me; I sometimes think I will embrace Christ, but I want arms; I would run and come to him, but I want feet; I cannot reach him, many things beat me off my hold of him, I am not able to believe; the Spirit hath fully convinced me of my unbelief, hath broken down all my own faith, and told me I must have another manner of faith, even the faith of God's elect, an unfeigned faith, for without
* Isaiah lxiv. 6. + Horreo quicquid de meo est.---Luth. #Isaiah xxviii. 20. || Psalm cxxx. 3. ş Heb. vii. 22. 1 John ii. 2. Rom. iii. 25.
John i. 12. Eph. ii. 8.
such a faith, no Christ, without Christ, no hope of pardon, or heaven. O that God would graciously work this work of faith with power,* it is only an almighty power that can do it. O Lord, draw my unbelieving heart to thee with the attractive beams of thy favour and grace. I adhere to these promises for thy grace in this case, Jer. xxxi. 33. Ezek. xxxvi. 26, 27. John vi. 37, 40, 44, 45. Rom. viii. 32.
(4.) One thing more a penitent wants of God on his first return to him, which is a favourable entertainment, a kind reception of the soul into favour. O! this would be worth all the world. Here the poor returning prodigal is at a loss, and dares not approach, but being conscious to himself of many misdemeanours, trembles to draw near to so glorious and dreadful a Majesty; with the publican he stands afar off, siniting his breast, saying, “God be merciful to me a sinner;"+ or with the prodigal, when returned to himself, his language on approaching God is, O Lord, guilt appals me, wrath alarms me, Satan and my own misgiving heart would drive me from thee, but the sense of my necessity puts me on to look for a remedy, and there is no help but in thyself; but how can such a wretch expect any relief from provoked Majesty ? “I have sinned against heaven and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son, yet make me as one of thy hired servants;”I let me but be taken into thy favour and family, and I am well pleased, though I be thrust down into the lowest place and office. O! what shall I say? Is there yet any mercy for a poor sinner? Will God ever look towards a rebel? Shall I ever obtain favour in his eyes? There is yet a possibility, there is yet room for a may be; it may be I shall be hid in the day of the Lord's anger, it may be the Lord
Eph. i. 19, 20. + Luke xviii. 13. # Luke xv. 17-19.
will be gracious to me; who knoweth but God will return to me in mercy ? yea, who can tell but he will return and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that I perish not ?* who can tell but that God hath thus long kept me out of hell that he may at last do my soul good, and bring me to heaven ? Christ died for sinners, I am a sinner, he hath even had mercy on great sinners, Manasseh, Mary Magdalene, and Saul obtained mercy,t as patterns of future grace to others, I am much tossed betwixt hopes and fears, and cannot tell how it will be; if I look at myself I see nothing but grounds of despair, for I have grievously sinned ; to me belongeth confusion of face, but to the Lord my God belong mercies and forgivenesses.[ Here is all my hope, this is the only ground of my expectation. And is there any hope for a forlorn wretch ? O! the very possibility of obtaining his favour, raiseth my soul into an extacy, the least hint of hope is worth a world. But will God be pacified towards me? Is not this too good news to be true? Have I any warrant from God for this hope? O yes, I read in the scriptures of truth, abundance of gracious promises, upon which I will venture my soul's everlasting state, and while I have a word of promise from heaven to secure God's favour and pardon to a penitent sinner, I cannot, I must not consider it presumption to entertain hope. The promises are these, Isa. lv. 7, 8. Jer. xxxi. 34. Isa. xliii. 25. xliv. 22. Psal. xxv. 11. Luke xxiv. 46, 47. Matt. xi. 28. Acts x. 43. xiii. 38, 39. Rom. iv. 5—7. Titus iii. 5.
2. I proceed to another class of persons and seasons wherein God's children feel the truth of this text, " That in God's favour is life;" and that is returning
* Zeph. ii. 3, Amos v. 15. Joel ii. 14. Jonah iii. 9.
# Dan. ix. 8, 9.
backsliders, when the souls of God's children have fallen into acts of open scandalous sinning, or a secret course of remissness, unwatchfulness, and decays of grace; in such a day God usually hides his face from the soul, and leaves it in a woful plight, under a measure of desertion, and alas the soul is now under a convincing sense of the importance of God's favour in four respects :
(1.) The poor backsliding soul wants and longs for a gracious reception into God's favour again. Ah! saith the poor humbled penitent, my case is sad and desperate; when I first entered into covenant with God, I promised constancy, I said, “Come, and let us join ourselves to the Lord, in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten;"* but alas, how soon have I forgotten it! how soon have I forsaken the Lord! how quickly am I turned aside after vain things that cannot profit! woe is me, ungrateful wretch that I am! my unkind dealing with God is unparalleled ! who ever returned unto folly as I have done? O my wanderings from God! my guilty conscience accuseth me, God frowns on me, all my former sins stare me in the face, even the sins of my unregeneracy; I may even question, whether ever there was a saving change, for did ever any of God's children go on at this rate ? surely my spot is not their spot ? May not such a backslider in heart and life expect to be filled with his own ways? Am I not bordering upon the unpardonable sin against the Holy Ghost ? Seeing I have been once enlightened, and now fallen away at this rate, is it possible that ever I should be renewed again to repentance ? may I not rather fearfully look for fiery indignation, † than a gracious acceptance into favour? yet, if my sin have not reached to that degree, of this I am sure, it hath been Jer. 1. 5.
+ Heb. vi. 1.
fearfully aggravated by light and love received, by frequent relapses, striving of the Spirit, and conscience resisted and stifled, which makes my very heart ache, and fills my face with shame and blushing, so that I am not able to look up; I have no ground to expect God's favour, as I cannot expect such favour from men; but what saith God? I will study and plead these encouraging texts, Jer. xxxi. 12, 14. Hos. xi. 7-9. xiv. 4.
(2.) The backsliding soul wants God's favour for reviving the dying graces of the spiritual life. Alas! saith the Christian, by my carelessness or sinning I have not only lost God's favour, but have defaced his image in my soul, I feel sensible decays of grace, my faith flags, my love cools, my repentance is arrested, all the springs seem to be dried up, or the streams run faintly, the fire of grace is buried under the ashes of sloth or corruption, and I would fain have stirred up the gift of God in me, but I cannot, I see it will not be, all my rubbing will not fetch heat into my benumbed joints, my heart is smitten and withered as grass,* nothing but a shower of God's grace, and the sunshine of his countenance can again renew the face of my soul. In the spring I see the Lord alone renew the face of the earth;f O that he would renew his work in my heart, and cause the fruits of righteousness again to bud forth. By idleness of the hands the house droppeth through, by my carelessness and sloth I have made wounds in my conscience, and by the same opening by which sin hath come in, grace hath gone out, and now God's wrath drops into my heart, and follows me. O that God would again recruit his own work in my heart, which is almost dwindled away to nothing! O that his Spirit would restore my decaying graces, and * Psal. cii. 4.
+ Psal. civ, 30.