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steady course of Providence a complete refutation of the scheme?
Finally ; It will be asked, Do not sinners grow worse under convictions of conscience, and in the use of means ?
To this question I answer, that I do not know ; neither do my objectors. I do not believe the publican was justified rather than the pharisee, because he grew worse under his conviction. Individuals may grow worse ; and in one respect all certainly do; for they continue to sin so long as they are sinners; and that, whether they are convinced or unconvinced.
Whether their characters and conduct are more guilty in any given instance, and during the periods immediately preceding, I am ignorant ; and shall remain so, until I can search the heart, and measure the degrees of depravity. As this is beyond the power of man, the whole inquiry is idle and vain.
Whenever sinners commit the same sins against greater light, they are more guilty than when they are committed against less light. But no man can determine whether this, or any thing like this, is the case with a sinner under conviction in a given instance ; unless perhaps sometimes the convinced person himself. I see no good reason why this question should ever be introduced into theological discourses. The only tendency of such introduction is to perplex and distress.
I have now, unless I am deceived, considered this objection in all its parts, and in all the forms in which it is customarily alleged. I shall now examine how far the objectors are consistent with themselves, in their other conduct towards sinners.
Many of these objectors have children, and educate them religiously, as well as prudently. These children in many instances they know to be sinners, so far as this character can be known in any case. Now all these parents advise, and exhort, and command their children to obey them, that is, in their external conduct; to attend their family prayers, to be present at public worship, to learn and repeat prayers to God, and to be earnestly and solemnly attentive to these religious duties. They teach them, in the same manner, to speak truth, to do justice, and to show kindness to all with whom they are concerned. They require them also to labour, to preserve their property, to go 'regularly to school, to perform errands, and to do many other services. In a word, by the whole weight of their own authority, and that of the Scriptures, they require them to do every useful and desirable act, and to imbibe every useful and desirable habit.
Now it is to be remembered, that these children are sinners, and are known to be sinners. Of course, whatever conduct they adopt, they will commit sin. Of course also, whatever conduct they are advised to adopt, they will, according to the general principle on which the objection is founded, be advised to commit sin. They will as probably, or as certainly, commit sin in executing the commands of their parents, attending public or family worship, going to school, or performing an errand, as other sinners do in praying, or performing any other act, not in itself sinful.
How then can these parents, particularly such of them as are skilled in this controversy, advise their sinful children to pursue these kinds of conduct? Nay, more: how can they exhort and command them, reward them for obeying, and punish them for disobeying ? The bare advice or exhortation given to other sinners, and prompting them to pray and strive that they may be saved, is, in the view of these parents, unlawful, and they refuse to give it. But to their own sinful children they not only give advice of the same uulawful nature ; but add to it their exhortations and commands, their rewards and punishments.
Suppose the child of such a parent should refuse to obey such a command, or any other, because he was, and because his parent knew he was, a sinner, and could not therefore lawfully do the thing commanded, nor his parent lawfully command him to do it; what could the parent answer, consistently I mean with his own principles? Plainly, he could not reprove the child for his refusal ; nor afterwards advise, exhort, nor command him to do any thing, until after the child should have hopefully become a Christian.
But in this case what would become of children, and ultimately of the world? If children were not advised, what useful thing could they know? If they were not exhorted and commanded, what useful thing would they do? what useful habit would they establish, or even imbibe? Without VOL. IV.
such habits, what valuable end of their being could they answer? They would evidently become mere beasts of prey, and make the world a den of violence and slaughter.
In the same manner, and on the same principles, no person entrusted with the government or instruction of mankind, can advise, exhort, or command them, while sinners, to do any thing, except to repent and believe. Civil rulers and instructors are daily called upon by their offices to advise, or otherwise direct, such as are plainly sinners. Every law and regulation of a state, or seminary of Science, is possessed of this nature ; and is a greater transgression on the part of the lawgiver or ruler, than advice can be; because it contains a stronger expression of his will, and a more powerful inducement to the conduct which is prescribed. When parents therefore, or others, advise, they are according to the objection, guilty. When they exhort or command, they are more guilty. When they reward, or punish, they are most guilty.
As civil rulers and instructors are obliged, equally with ministers, to do what is right, and avoid what is wrong ; they can no more be justified than ministers in advising, exhorting, or commanding sinners to do any thing which is uplawful. Hence, unless their subjects or pupils should first repent and believe, they cannot require them to do any thing, antecedently to their repentance. The world, of course, must be uninstructed and ungoverned until the millennium : and, what is still more to be lamented, the millennium itself, according to the usual course of God's providence, will never arrive.
Among the regulations which exist in all literary institutions, one, ever esteemed of high importance, is the establishment of public prayers. At these, students universally bave hitherto been required to be present. But, on the scheme which I oppose, this requisition is altogether unlawful. In every such institution, there is conclusive reason to believe that the great body of the members are impenitent. None of these therefore can, according to this scheme, be lawfully required to attend this worship, nor the public worship of the Sabbath. But what would become of a literary institution, if this attendance were not required? What would these very parents say, if it were to be dispensed with in the case of their own children ?
A Christian is the master of a family ; but, as is sometimes the fact, is obviously the only Christian in the family. According to this scheme, it is plain, he cannot set up family worship; because he can neither require nor advise the members of his household to be present at this religious service.
Ministers, usually at least, preach more or less to sinners; and customarily endeavour to suit their sermons to the circumstances of impenitent men. But they can never lawfully advise sinners to be present, that they may hear them preach. Nor can a parent be justified in directing his children to be present or to stand up to worship, or to listen, that they may learn and perform their duty; for in all these things they are still sinners, and will commit sin. Nor can a minister advise his sinful parishioners to support him, or to build or repair a church; or to do the external acts of charity, justice, or truth; or to arm in defence of his country; or to obey its laws, and magistrates. In all these things, when done antecedently to regeneration, they are as really sinful, as in praying and in striving for salvation.
The very persons who rely most upon this objection, rejoice universally when mankind are in any place awakened to solemn consideration concerning their guilt and danger. But every awakened sinner prays; and no person can by any ordinary means prevent him from praying. Why do these men rejoice? Certainly not in the sin which the persons awakened are supposed to commit. Certainly not in the abominable character which these prayers have in the sight of God. In what then do they rejoice? Undoubtedly in the prospect of the sinner's sanctification, and return to God. Of course, there is such a prospect. In this angels would also rejoice.
3. It is objected, that advising sinners to pray will encourage them to sloth, and quiet them in sin.
That this consequence may follow, I shall not deny. But it will follow only from an abuse of the doctrine which is here taught. A bad man may pervert a good doctrine to bad purposes ; but this is no objection against the doctrine itself. These very consequences have, I verily believe, flowed from the doctrine of my objectors in ten instances, where in one they have flowed from that which I am supporting.
It is the duty of all men immediately to repent of their sins, and turn to God, with faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. These things I would always preach; and wish my hearers always to believe and feel. For this end I would exhort them to be present, that they might bear and feel them. For the same end I would exhort parents to teach them to their children in the morning of life, that they may know and feel them from the beginning. Nor am I less desirous that they should read the Scriptures, that they may find and feel the same things in them, as uttered by the mouth of God; that my own errors may in their minds be corrected, and the truths which I preach enforced, by that holy book. For the same reasons I wish them to mark the lives, and enjoy the conversation of Christians; that they may be enlightened by their views, and deeply affected by the excellency of religion, manifested in their conduct. The religious writings of others I recommend for the same important purposes. I preach and write in hope of doing some real good to mankind. That others, with the same design, possess more ability to accomplish this interesting purpose, I cannot entertain a doubt. The same reasons therefore which make me wish that the congregation allotted to me may be present to hear my discourses, must with enhanced force render me desirous that they should also read the writings of others.
Finally: Whatever is thus taught, enforced, and gained, I urge them to make by solemn meditation a part of their own habitual course of thought; compare with their own moral condition; and bring home to their hearts, by asking God to sanctify them, and to bless the means of knowledge and amendment which he has been pleased to put into their hands.
In all this I see no natural cause of sloth, or quiet in sin. On the contrary, there is here, if I mistake not, more done to awaken, engage, and encourage men to seek salvation, than on the scheme of the objector. When I remember, that divines of the first reputation and the greatest success have thus preached, and that in the use of these very means, the great body of mankind, who appear to have been, or to be now, Christians, have become Christians, I feel assured that this is the proper manner of persuading others to assume the same character, and placing them in the way to a blessing from God.