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by the influences of the Holy Spirit; that Spirit to which probably it has done despite. If our Gospel be hid, says St. Paul, it is hid to them that are lost ; in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them."
The predisposing then of the heart, to hear the words of God, is the work of the Holy Spirit himself, by whose inspiration the words were originally spoken. But the Spirit does not compel assent to the evidences of Christianity, nor obedience to its precepts. It removes or diminishes those obstacles of natural corruption and infirmity, which prevent a meek and candid investigation of divine truth; turns the mind towards the contemplation of God's word and will; assists it, in overcoming the pride of reason, and the prejudices of an erring wisdom; and, when the Gospel is at length embraced with the full assent of the heart and understanding, imparts a strength, sufficient for the ends of obedience.
The heart of Lydia was opened by grace, not in the first instance to believe in Jesus Christ; but to attend to the words that were spoken
"2 Cor. iv. 3.
by Paul. If those words had been found unreasonable, inconsistent with the known attributes of God, she would probably have rejected them; and that too by the aid of the Spirit, which can never lead to an acquiescence in
The Holy Spirit, therefore, incites and prepares the mind to exercise a sound and unbiassed judgment on the doctrines proposed for its acceptance; and when they are accepted, as of divine authority, then we have further to look to him for the grace of obedience, that is, for the desire and the ability to obey.
Upon subjects, which concern our spiritual relation to God, I know how dangerous it is, to trust to what is called experience; and how apt our feelings are to deceive us. appeal to every one, who has been brought, from a state of carelessness and indifference, to a real knowledge of Gospel truth, a convincing, comforting, sanctifying knowledge, whether the change in his habits of thought, and principles of action, be not so great ; his convictions of the nature and necessity of religious wisdom so different from his former sentiments, so opposed to what once appeared to be the natural
But I may and resistless current of his thoughts and wishes, that nothing could have effected such a change, but the influence of the Spirit of God himself, first predisposing him to think seriously of such things, and then enabling him to make them his rule of action. And yet it was not a sudden, constraining force, which brought him, all at once, to a right sense of spiritual things; but a gentle impulse, the different periods and gradations of which cannot perhaps be distinctly traced, urging, seconding, and crowning his endeavours; not overpowering, but preventing and cooperating with his will.
12 See Lectures on the Acts of the Apostles, p. 169.
This doctrine, be it reasonable or not, is clearly asserted in Scripture ; but it is in fact reasonable, because it is altogether consistent with the experience which we have of our own defects and infirmities; and full of consolation to him, who has been made to feel the helplessness of his natural state. But there is a difficulty which arises from it, of too serious a nature to be overlooked.
If not only the ability to do the will of God, but also the very desire of learning it, must come from God himself, of what use are any efforts of our own ? or what praise is there in believing or obeying ?
Now considering mankind as being by nature dead in trespasses and sins, two things appear necessary, in order to lift them out of that depth of misery and helplessness; first, an authoritative declaration that God has pardoned their sinfulness; and, secondly, the power of applying that declaration to themselves, and making its assurances their own. That declaration is made in the Gospel; and it is accompanied with an invitation to all, without exception, to hearken to it, and to find in it rest for their souls. The fountain of living waters is set open, and all are invited to take of them freely. But that, which God invites and intreats all men to do, he will certainly enable them to do: and it is therefore manifest, that whosoever has heard the message of peace in the Gospel, has also received the power of attending to it, whatever use he may have made of that power. As for those, who are actually members of Christ's Church, I consider it certain, that every person, in covenant with God, has grace enough given him, to incline him to pray for more.
But the grace, so given, may be rejected, or resisted, or not improved: for although it is sufficient, it is not irresistible. Those persons, who are spoken of in Scripture
as resisting the Spirit of God, can resist him only when he is present. That he comes to us in different degrees, according as we improve the opportunities which he affords, and that he abides with us, and in us, according as we strive to retain him, is evident from the different expressions used by the Apostles, of growing in grace,13 abounding more and more, adding one virtue to another. 15
We conclude, therefore, that God gives to all his servants what may be termed an initial, or inceptive grace, a seminal principle of good, enabling them to turn to him, and seek for a more abundant supply : and so larger and larger measures are successively vouchsafed to them, who use and improve what has already been imparted to them, till they possess that degree of knowledge and strength, which is sufficient for the ends of their calling : whereas the neglect and non-improvement of spiritual aid and influence, are the causes of their being at length wholly withdrawn. Such appears to be the meaning of our Saviour's words, when, speaking of the spiritual privileges belonging to the children of God, he said, Whosoever
13 2 Pet. jïi. 18.
14 1 Thess. iv. 1.
15 2 Pet. i. 5.