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2. The only efficient cause of a sinner's being brought to repentance, and so to forgiveness, is the almighty and sovereign influence of the Holy Spirit; and the only hope that is left for such characters, must arise from the exertion of His power, with whom all things are naturally possible: But of Him they are given up! “They have done despite to the Spirit of grace," and he hath utterly abandoned them to perish in their own delusions! See Heb. vi. 7, 8.
V. The cases which, in our times, appear to approach the nearest to this sin, are, those of persons who apostatize from the truth, after having enjoyed great religious advantages, obtained much light, felt strong convictions, and made considerable prograss in reforming their conduct. The apostasy of such characters, as of some amongst the Hebrews, is sometimes sentimental. Having long felt the gospel way of salvation to grate upon their feelings, they fall in with some flesh-pleasing scheme; either that of open infidelity, or some one of those which approach the nearest to it; and now their conduct, becoming equally loose with their principles, when reproved by their friends, they keep themselves in countenance by professing to have changed their sentiments in religious matters. In them is fulfilled what was predicted of some by the apostle Paul: “They receive not the love of the truth, that they may be saved; and for this cause God doth send them strong delusions, that they may believe a lie, and be damned,” 2 Thes. ii. 10, 12.
The apostasy of others, like those described in the Second Epistle of Peter, is more of a practical nature. Having long felt the yoke of religion gäiling to their VOL. III.
inclinations, they burst the bonds, and let loose the reins of lust, and, to ward off reproof, and keep themselves in countenance, affect to treat all religion with contempt; raking together the faults of professing people, as an excuse for their own iniquities. Such characters are commonly the worst of all, and the most dangerous to society; nor do I recollect any instance of their having been "renewed again unto repentance:” twice dead, they seem doomed “to be plucked up by the roots.” In them is verified what our Lord speaks, of a man out of whom should be cast an unclean spirit, which going forth in search of a new habitation, “seeking rest, but finding none,” at length resolves on a return to his old abode. “And when he is come, he findcth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with him seven other spirits, more wicked than himsclf, and they enter in, and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first!”
I am afraid, that to the above might be added a great number of characters, who in early life were of a decent and grave deportment, and who, possessing promising abilities, were encouraged by their friends to engage in the work of the ministry. Their main study being to cultivate their powers, they have at length attained the art of conveying truth and virtue in a style of pleasing energy. But as they have never loved nor lived upon the truth which they have communicated, so neither have they practised the virtues which they have recommended. Slaves to popularity, avarice, or lust, they pass through life under a mask of disguise: and bei: conversant with Divine things, as surgeons and soldiers are with the shedding human blood, they cease to have any effect upon them, with respect to their own souls. I would not presume to pass sentence upon all such characters; but neither would I be in their situation for the whole world!
The chief difficulties which attend the account of the unpardonable sin, affect ministers in their praying for and preaching to sinners and dejected souls, who are apt to draw dark conclusions against themselves. With respect to prayer, we have directions given us on this head, 1 John v. 16. We are not to pray that God would forgive men this sin, because this would be contradicting the revealed will of God; but, as we cannot tell with certainty who are the subjects of it, we may pray for sinners, without distinction, that God would give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; always submitting our petitions to the sovereign directions of unerring Wisdom. But it may be asked, with respect to preaching; how can a minister proclaim the mercy of God to his auditory in an indefinite way? How can he invite them to a participation of the blessings of the gospel? How can he declare that if any one of them, even the greatest sinner amongst them, return to God. by Jesus Christ, he will be accepted, when, for aught he knows, there may be persons in his presence who may be in the situation above described, and for whom no mercy is designed? To this I answer, the same objection might be made against the doctrine of election; and is made by the adversaries of that doctrine. Let a minister pursue his work, and leave the effect to God. What he declares of the willingness of Christ to pardon and receive all who return to him, is true; and it might be said of any man, in truth, that if he returned to God
by Jesus Christ, he would be forgiven. The impossibility with respect to those who have committed the unpardonable sin, respects their repentance as well as their forgiveness; and even that is not a natural but a moral impossibility.
With respect to dejected minds, let it be observed, that no person, let his crimes have been what they may, if he be grieved at heart for having committed them, and sincerely asks forgiveness in the name of Christ, needs to fear that he shall be rejected. Such grief is itself a proof that he has not committed the sin against che Holy Ghost, because it is a mark of that sin to be accompanied with a hard and impenitent heart. Such characters may feel the remorse of a Cain, a Saul, or a Judas, but a tear of godly sorrow never dropped from
ON THE FALL OF MAN.
T'as the fall of Adam foredetermined, or only foreseen
The concern which the decrees of God have with the fall of man, has often been the subject of inquiry. I do not see the reason, however, why this particular fact should he singled out from others. There is nothing revealed, that I know of, concerning the fall of man being an object either of the Divine foreknowledge or decree. The Scriptures declare, in general, that God knoweth the end from the beginning; from which we may conclude, with certainty, that he knew all the events of time, all the causes and effects of things, through all their multiplied and diversified channels: The Scriptures also ask, Who is he that saith, and it cometh to pass, when the Lord commandeth it not? which intimates that the providence and purpose of God aro concerned in whatever cometh to pass. The volitions of free agents, the evil as well as the good, are constantly represented as falling under the counsels and conduct of Heaven. Never did men act more freely, nor more wickedly, than the Jews, in the crucifixion of Christ; yet in that whole business they did no other than what God's hand and counsel determined before to be done. The delivery of Christ into their hands to be crucified, as performed by Judas, was a wicked act, yet was he delivered according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. The proof of the fall of man being an object of Divine foreknowledge, is merely inferential; and from the same kind of proof we may conclude, that it was, all things considered, an object of predetermia nation.
That this subject is deep and dificult, in the present state, is admitted; and wicked men may abuse it to their own destruction; but the thing itself is no less true and useful, if considered in the fear of God. There is a link, as some have expressed it, that unites the purposes of God, and the free actions of men, which is above our comprehension; but to deny the fact, is to disown an all-prevailing Providence, which is little less than to disown a God. It is observable in one of the foregoing passages, that Peter unites the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God together, and seems to have had no idea of admitting the one without the other. It is also worthy of notice, that in his manner of introducing