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care is taken to leave their children rich, and how little to further the work of God, or their own accounts, that they may hear the “Well done, good and faithful servant, thou hast been faithful over a few things; I will make thee ruler over many things; enter thou into the joy of the Lord;" Matt. xxv. 21, 23.
O sirs, if you would be good husbands, and provident indeed for your souls, see that your hearts prove not false to you in this, and make no secret reserves for yourselves, but that God have yourselves first, and all things with yourselves; as Christ first gives himself to you and all things with himself; Rom. viii. 32. Never think your hearts right, but when they can readily say, “We are not our own;" 1 Cor. vi. 19. Think not that you come aright to God in any duty, if you do not heartily devote yourselves to him, and entreat him to accept you as wholly his, who neither are nor desire to be your own; and entreat him accordingly to use you for himself. Say not that any thing is your own that you possess, (Acts iv. 32.) in respect to God, and a communion of charity; though it be your own (as a talent that God doth intrust you with) in respect of men, by a legal propriety.
And then trust God boldly, for you are his own: serve him cheerfully, and draw near him believingly, for you are his own. In poverty, sickness, temptations, and the approach of death, rejoice in him confidently, for you are his
Into his hands commend your departing spirits, for they are his own. What reason of distrustful fears can you now have? Do you fear lest God will yet hate you? Why remember that " no man ever yet hated his own flesh ;" Ephes. v. 29. Nay, for shame, think not the blessed God to be worse than the wicked world ; and Christ saith of the world, (John xv. 19.) “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own.' And will not God then love his own do you think? And if you are willing to be his own, Christ is certainly willing that you should be his own, and will own all that own not themselves, but him. “ He calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out: and when he putteth forth his own sheep he goeth before them and the sheep follow him; for they know his voice ;” (John x. 3, 4. xiii. 1.) “ Having loved his own which are in the world, to the endhe loved them."
If you are but truly willing to be his own people, he is certainly willing to be your own Saviour and your own God. Not that you can have such a propriety in him, as he hath in you. But in these relations he will be your own; and glory, and help, and salvation shall be yours. And you may well conclude that “ God, even our own God shall bless us;" Psal. Ixvii. 6. There is much comfort may be fetched from that in Luke xv. 31. though parables must not be stretched too far: “Son thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine."
And upon this ground it is that we have the greater encouragement, to believe that God accepteth of our very infants themselves; because it is his will that they should be devoted, engaged, and dedicated to him: and that which he would have us dedicate and offer to him, he will surely accept in that relation to which he would have it offered.
I beseech you therefore remember what it is to be truly converted : it is to be called from things common and unclean, and separated to God; it is to be brought nigh to him, as the children of his household, that are themselves, and all that they have, in his hands : it is to be taken off yourselves and your own, and to lose yourselves and all you have in God, by the most gainful loss; lest indeed you lose yourselves and all, while you persuade yourselves you save or gain. It is a taking God in Christ for your all, and so being content to have nothing but him and for him. It is a changing of your old master self, for God, a better master : and your old work, which was self-seeking and pleasing, to self-denial, and to the seeking and pleasing of God. See now that this be done, and that your treacherous hearts hide nothing for themselves, as Rachael under pretence of necessity, hid her idols, but say, 'Here I am, to be thine, O Lord, and to do thy will.'
More I would have said on this point, but that I have written of it already, in a sermon on 1 Cor. vi. 19, 20. of the absolute dominion of Christ, and our self-resignation; which I desire you here to peruse, to set this further home.
Direct. VIII. My next advice that the work of conversion may not miscarry, is this ; 'Take heed, lest you mistake a mere change of your opinions, and outward profession, and behaviour, for a true saving change.'
Wicked opinions must be changed, and so must evil
fessions, and outward practices; but if no more be changed, you are wicked still. I have great cause to fear that this is the most common damning deceit, that iseth to befal professors of godliness, and that it is the case of most hypocrites in the church. A man may be brought to hold any truth in Scripture as an opinion ; and so far be sound and orthodox, and yet never be indeed a sound believer, nor have his heart possessed with the life and power of those sacred truths. It is one thing to have a man's opinion changed, and another thing to have his heart renewed, by the change of his practical estimation, resolutions, and dispositions. It is one thing to turn from loose, profane opinions, to strict opinions; and think the godly are indeed in the right, and that their case and way is safest and best ; and it is another thing to be made one of them in newness, spirituality of heart, and life. A lively faith differs much from opinion, and that which is in unsanctified men, which we call faith, and is a kind of faith indeed, it is but a mere opinionative faith : I call it an opinionative faith, because it differs from saving faith, much like as opinion doth from knowledge. Merely speculative it is not; for some intention of practice there is; but the practical intention of such persons differs from the predominant intentions of the sanc. tified; even as their opinionative faith differs from the saving faith.
And it is no wonder if there be abundance of these opimionative believers in the world. For the truths of God
. have very great evidence; especially some of them; and men are yet men, and consequently reasonable creatures; and, therefore, have some aptitude to discern the evidence of truth. Some truths will compel assent even from the unwilling. Many a thousand ungodly men believe that to be true which they would not have to be true, if they could help it; because they do not heartily take it to be good in respect to themselves. Truth as truth, is the natural object of the understanding; though the same truth, as seeming evil to them, may be hated by them that are forced to assent to it. I know that sin hath much blinded men's understandings, and that the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit, because they are foolishness to him, and must be spiritually discerned ; 1 Cor. ii. 14. But though he cannot savingly receive them without the special illumination of the
Spirit, nor 'opinionatively receive them without a common illumination of the Spirit, yet he may have this opinionative conviction and an answerable reformation, by the common grace of the Spirit, without the special grace. An unsanctified man may have something more than nature in him; and every unregenerate man is not merely, or only natural. Many are far convinced, that are far from being savingly converted. I can make you know that you shall die; that you must part with all your wealth, and fleshly pleasures, and divers such truths, whether you will or not. And one of these truths doth let in many more that depend upon them. So that as dark , as the minds of natural men are, they yet lie open to many wholesome truths.
And as the understanding is thus far open to conviction, so the will itself, which is the heart of the old man, will far sooner yield to the changing of your opinions than to the saving change of heart, and life. It is not the bare opinion that your fleshly interest doth fight against, but the power and practice of godliness is it; and opinions, as they lead to these. It is one thing to be of opinion, that conversion is necessary, that sin must be forsaken, and God preferred before all the world, and it is another thing to be indeed converted, and to forsake sin, and to prefer God before the world. It is a far easier matter to convince a worldling that he should not love the world, than to cure him of his worldly love: and to convince a drunkard that he should leave his drunkenness, and the whoremonger that he should abhor his lusts, than to bring them to do these things, which they are convinced of. It will cost them dear (as the flesh accounts it) to deny themselves, and cast away the sin; but it costeth not so dear to take up the opinion that these things should be done. It will cost them dear to be downright for God, and practically religious; but they can take up an opinion that godliness is the best and necessary course at a cheaper rate. Strict practices pinch the flesh, but strict opinions may stand with its liberty. O what abundance of our poor neighbours would go to heaven, that are now in the way to hell, if an opinion that godliness is the wisest course, would serve the turn. If instead of conversion God would take up with an opinion that they ought to turn; and if, instead of a holy, heavenly life, God would accept of an opinion, that such are the happiest men that live such a life;
and if, instead of temperance, and meekness, and self-denial, and forgiving wrongs, God would accept of an opinion, and confession, that they should be temperate and meek, and self-denying, and should forbear others, and forgive them; then O what abundance would be saved, that are now in little hope of salvation! If instead of a diligent life of holiness, and good works, it would serve turn to lie still, and be of a good opinion, that men should strive, and labour for salvation, and lay out all they have for God, how happy then were our towns, and countries, in comparison of what they
I am afraid this deceit will be the undoing of many, that they take a change of their opinions for a true conversion. Have not some of you been formerly of the mind, that the best way
is to eat and drink, and be merry, and venture your souls, and follow your worldly business, and never trouble yourselves with any deep and searching thoughts about your spiritual state, or your salvation? Have you not thought that this diligent godliness is but a needless strictness, and preciseness ? and have you not since been convinced of your error, and perceived, that this is the wisest course, which you before thought to be needless, and thereupon have betaken you to the company of the godly, and set upon a course of outward duties? and now you thiuk that you are made new creatures, and that this is regeneration, and the work is done. I fear lest this be all the conversion that many forward professors are acquainted with ! but woe to them that have no more.
And because the face of our present times, doth plainly shew the commonness and prevalency of this disease, and because it is a matter of so great concernment to you, I shall here give you (but as briefly as I well can) some signs by which a true conversion may be known from this mere opinionative change.
1. The true convert is brought to an unfeigned hatred of the whole body of sin ; and especially of those secret or beloved sins, that did most powerfully captivate him before ; 1 Cor. vi. 11. Tit. iii. 3.5. Col. v. 3.5.7, 8. But the opinionative convert is still carnal, and unmortified, and inwardly at the heart, the interest of the flesh is habitually predominant. He is not brought to an unreconcilable hatred to the great master sins that ruled him, and lay deep