Master Sermon List
Departing from the Living God
by William Gurnall
"Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you, an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God." Hebrews 3:12
Unbelief is the prince of sins. As faith is the radical grace, so is unbelief a radical sin,, a sinning sin. As, of all sinners, those are most infamous, who are ring-leaders and make others sin, which is the brand which God has set upon Jeroboam's name, "Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who, sinned, and made Israel to, sin" (1 Kings 14:16), so among sins they are most horrid that are most productive of others, such is unbelief above any other: it is a ring-leading sin, a sin-making sin. The first poisonous breath which Eve sucked in from the tempter, was sent in these words, "Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?" (Gen 3:1). As if he had said, Consider well on the matter; do you believe God meant so? Can you think so ill of God, as to believe he would keep the best fruit of the whole garden from you?
This was the traitor's gate at which all other sins entered into her heart; and it continues to this day of the same use to Satan, for the hurrying souls into other sins, called therefore "an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God." The devil sets up this sin of unbelief, as a blind between the sinner and God; that the shot which come from the threatening, levelled at the sinner's breast, may not be dreaded by him; and then the wretch can be as bold with his lust as the pioneer is at his work, when he has got his basket of earth between him and the enemies' bullets: nay, this unbelief does not only choke the bullets of wrath which are sent out of the law's fiery mouth, but it damps the motions of grace which come from the gospel; all the offers of love which God makes to an unbelieving heart, they fall like seed into dead earth, or like sparks into a river, they pare out as soon as they fall in.
"The word" (it is said, Heb. 4:2) "did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it." The strength of the whole body of sin lies in this lock of unbelief. There is no mastering of a sinner, while unbelief is in power; this will carry all arguments away (whether they be from law or gospel) as easily as Samson did the door, posts, bar and all, from the city of Gaza (Judges 16:2). It is a sin that does keep the field; that which the sinner is last convinced of, and the saint ordinarily last conqueror of. It is one of the chief strengths and fastnesses into which the devil retreats when other sins are routed. O, how oft do we hear a poor sinner confess and bewail other sins he has lived in formerly, with tears, but will not hearken yet to the offer of mercy in Christ!
Bid him believe on Christ, and he shall be saved, which was the doctrine Paul and Silas preached to the trembling jailer; alas! he dares not, he will not; you can hardly persuade him it is his duty to do, so. The devil has now betaken himself to this city of gates and bars, where he stands upon his guard; and the more strongly to fortify himself, he has, the most specious pretences for it of any other sin. It is a sin that he makes, the humbled soul commit, out of a fear of sinning, and so stabs the good name of God, for fear of dishonoring him by a presumptuous faith. Indeed, it is a sin by which Satan intends to put the greatest scorn upon God, and unfold all his cankered malice against him at once. It is by faith that the saints have all obtained a good report; yea, it is by the saints' faith, that God has a good report in the world; and, by unbelief, the devil does his worst to raise an evil report of God in the world, as if he were not what his own promise and his saints' faith witness him to be. In a word, it is a sin that hell gapes for of all other.
There are two sins that claim a preeminence in hell; hypocrisy and unbelief; and therefore other sinners are threatened "to have their portion with hypocrites" (Matt 24:51), and "with unbelievers" (Luke 12:46); as if those infernal mansions were taken up principally for these, and all others were but inferior prisoners. But of the two, unbelief is the greatest, and that which may, with an emphasis, be called above any other, the damning sin. "He that believes not is condemned already" (John 3:18). He has his warrant already to jail; yea, he is in it already in a sense; he has the brand of a damned person on him. The Jews are said, to "be shut up in unbelief" (Rom 11:32). A surer prison the devil cannot keep a sinner in. Faith shuts the soul up in the promise of life and happiness as God shut Noah into the ark.
It is said, "The Lord shut him in" (Gen. 7:16); thus faith shuts the soul up in Christ, and the ark of his covenant, from all fear of danger from heaven or hell; and, on the contrary, unbelief shuts a soul up in guilt and wrath, so that there is no more Possibility of escaping damnation for an unbeliever, than for one to escape burning that its shut up in a fiery oven; no help can come to the sinner, so long as this bolt of unbelief is on the door of his heart. As our salvation is attributed to faith, rather than to other graces, through there are none wanting in a saved person; so sinners' damnation is attributed to their unbelief, though other sins are found with it in the person damned. The Spirit of God passes over the Jews' hypocrisy, murmuring, rebellion, and lays their destruction at the door of this sin of unbelief, "They .could not enter in because of unbelief" (Heb. 3:19).
O, sinners, who live under the gospel, if you perish, know before-hand, what is your undoing,, it is your unbelief. If a malefactor be offered his life by the judge, upon reading a psalm of mercy, and he reads it not, we may say, his not reading hangs him. The promise of the gospel is this psalm of mercy which God offers in his Son to law-condemned sinners; believing is reading this psalm of mercy. If you believe not, and are damned, you go to hell rather for your final unbelief, than any of your other sins, for which a discharge is offered you upon your receiving Christ, and believing on him. Let this cause us all to rise up against this sin, as the Philistines did against Samson, Whom they called the destroyer of their country (Judg 16:24).
This is the destroyer of your souls, and that is worse; yea, it destroys them with a bloodier hand than other sins, which are not aggravated with this. We find two general heads of indictments, upon which the whole world of sinners shall be condemned at the great day (2 Thess 1:8), where Christ's coming to judgment is expressed; and those miserable, undone creatures, that shall fall under his, condemning sentence, are comprised in these two,, such as "know not God," and such as "obey not the gospel of Jesus Christ." The heathens' negative unbelief of the gospel, shall not be charged upon them, because they never had it preached to them. No, they shall be sent to hell for not knowing God, and so shall escape with a lighter damnation by far, than Jews or Christian Gentiles, to whom the gospel has been preached (though to some of these, with a stronger and longer continued beam of light than others).
The dismal charge which shall be brought against these, is, that they have not obeyed the gospel of our Lord Jesus; that is, not believed on Chirst, called therefore "the obedience of faith" (Rom 16:26). And certainly we cannot but think, that there shall be a torment proper to these gospel refusers, which those that never had shall not feel in hell. And among those that obey not the gospel, the greatest vengeance awaits for them have had the longest treaty of mercy allowed them. These are they who put God to the greatest expense of mercy, and therefore must necessarily expect the greatest proportion of wrath and vengeance to be measured to them; yea, their unbelief puts Christ and the grace of God in him, to the greatest shame and scorn that is possible for creatures to do; and it is, but righteous that God should therefore put their unbelief, and themselves with it, to the greatest shame before men and angels.
Is faith the chief of graces? Let this make us the more careful we be not cheated in our faith. There are some things of so inconsiderable worth, that they will not pay us for the pains and care we take about them; and there to be choice and scrupulous is folly. But there are other things; of such worth and weighty consequence, that none but he that means to call his wisdom in question, can be willing to be mistaken in. Who, that is wise, would pay for a precious stone, and have a pebble, or, at best, a Bristol-stone put upon him for his money? Who, when his life is at stake, and knows no way to save it, but by getting a rich drug which is very scarce, would not be very careful to have the right? O, my dear friends, does it not infinitely more concern you, to be careful in your merchandise for this pearl of precious faith! Can you be willing to take the devil's false ware, a mock faith, which he would cheat you with, rather than the faith unfeigned, which God has to give unto his children; called, therefore, the faith of God's elect?
When you go to buy a garment, you ask for the best in the shop. In the market you would have the best meat; when with the lawyer, the best counsel; and of the physician, the best directions for your health. Are you for the best in all, abut for your soul? Would you not have a faith of the best kind also? If a man receives false money, whom does he wrong but himself? And if you are gulled with a false faith, the loss is your own, how will you be confounded! When at God's bar you produce your faith, and hope to save yourself with this, that you believe on the Lord Jesus, but shall have your confidence rejected; and God tells you to your teeth, it is not faith, but a lie in your right hand and therefore he will not accept the payment, though it be Christ himself you offer; nay, that he will give you up into the tormentor's hand, not only for not believing, but also for counterfeiting the King of heaven's coin, which you do by pretending to faith, when it is a false one;, this were enough to awaken your care in the trial of your faith. But to give (farther weight to the exhortation, note these three considerations.
1. As your faith is, so are all your other graces: as a man's marriage is, so are all his children legitimate or illegitimate. Thus, as our marriage is to Christ, so all our graces are. Now, it is faith by which we are married to Christ. "I have espoused you to one husband," says Paul to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 11:2); how, but by their faith? It is faith whereby the soul gives its consent to take Christ for her husband. Now, if our faith be false, then our marriage to Christ is feigned; and if that be feigned, then all our pretended graces are base-born, how goodly an outside soever they have (as a bastard may have a fair face), our humility, patience, temperance, all bastards; and you know, "A bastard was not to enter into the congregation" (Deut 23:2). No more shall any bastard grace enter the congregation of the just in heaven. He that has children of his own, will not make another's bastard his heir. God has children of his own to inherit heaven's glory, in whose hearts he has by his, own Spirit begotten those heavenly graces, which truly resemble his own holy nature; surely he will never settle it upon strangers, counterfeit believers, that are the devil's brats.
2. Consider, the excellency of true faith makes false faith so much the more odious. It is by faith we become the sons of God (John 1:12): what a high presumption is it then, that by a false faith you pretend yourself to be a child of God, when no heaven-blood runs in your veins, but have more reason to look for your kindred in hell, and derive your pedigree from Satan, "I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews, and are not but are the synagogue of Satan." (Rev 2:9) God loaths such with his heart. A false friend is worse than an open enemy in man's judgment; and a hypocritical Judas more abhorred by God than a bloody Pilate: either, therefore, true faith, or pretend to none. The ape because he has the face of a man, but not the soul of a man, is therefore the most ridiculous of all creatures, and of all sinners, none will be put more to shame, at the last day, than such as have aped the believer in some exterior postures of profession, but never had the spirit of a believer, so as to perform one vital act of faith.
The Psalmist tells us of some, "whose image God will despise" (Psalm 73:20). It is spoken chiefly of the wicked man's temporal prosperity, which, for its short continuance, is compared to the image or representation of a thing in the fancy of a sleeping man. This God will despise at the great day, when he shall not give heaven, by the estates and honors, that men had in the world, but tumble them down to hell, if graceless, as well as the poorest beggar in the world. But there is another sort of persons, whose image God will, at that day, despise more than these, and that is, the image of all temporary believers and unsound professors, who have a fantastical faith, which they set up like an image in their imaginations, and dance about it with as many self-pleasing thoughts as a man does that is dreaming himself to be some great prince; but this great idol shall then be broken, and the worshippers of it hissed down to hell with the greatest shame of any other.
3. None stand at greater disadvantage for the obtaining a true faith, than he who flatters himself with a false one. "Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit? there is more hope of a fool than of him" (Prov 26:12); that is, more hope of persuading him; of all fools, the conceited fool is the worst. Pride makes a man incapable of receiving counsel. Nebuchadnezzar's mind is said to be hardened in pride (Dan 5:20). There is no reasoning with a proud man; he castles himself in his own opinion, and there stands upon his defence against all arguments that are brought. Bid a conceited professor seek for faith, or he is undone; and the man will tell you, that you mistake. It is the ignorant person, or profane, you should go to on that errand; he thanks God he is not now to seek for a faith, and thus he blesses himself in his good condition, when, God knows, "he feedeth on ashes; a deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his own soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?" (Isa 44:20).
The ignorant, profane person, like the Psalmist's man of low degree, is plain vanity. It is not hard to make them acknowledge, that they have nothing, deserve nothing, can look for nothing, as they are, but hell and damnation; but such as pretend to faith, and content themselves with a false one, they are (like men of high degree) a lie, which is vanity as well as the other, but with a specious cover over it, that hides it; therefore the devil is forward to put poor silly souls on believing, that he may forestall the Spirit's market, and prevent the creature's obtaining of a true faith, by cheating it with a counterfeit, like Jeroboam's wicked policy, who, to keep the Israelites from going to Jerusalem, and hankering after the true worship of God, set up something like a religious worship nearer hand at home, in the golden calves; and this pleased many so well that they missed not their walk to Jerusalem. O, friends, take heed, therefore, of being cheated with a false faith! Every one, I know, would have the living child to be hers, and not the dead one. We would all pass for such as have true faith, but be not your own judges: appeal to the Spirit of God, and let him, with the sword of his word, come and decide the controversy, which faith is yours, the true or false.
By this, time you may be solicitous to know what your faith is, and how you may come to judge of the truth of it. Take these directions taken from the manner of the Spirit working faith:
It is incomparably the greatest work that passes upon the soul from the Spirit of Christ; it is called, "The exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe" (Eph 1:19); observe with what a heap of expressions the Spirit of God loads, our weak understandings, that, laboring under the weight of them, and finding the difficulty of reaching the significancy of them, we might' be the more widened, to conceive of that power, which can never be fully understood by us, (being indeed infinite, and so too big to be inclosed within the narrow walls of our understandings), power, greatness of power, exceeding greatness, and, lastly, exceeding greatness of his power, that is, of God. What angel in heaven can tell us what all these amount to? God (with reverence be it spoken) sets his whole force to this work. It is compared to, no less than "the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power," (verse 20, 21).
To raise any one from the dead is a mighty, an almighty work; but to raise Christ from the dead, carries more wonder with it, than to raise any other; he had a heavier grave-stone to keep him down than any besides,, the weight of a world's sin lay upon him, yet, notwithstanding this, he is, raised with power by the Spirit, not only out of the grave, but into glory. Now the power God puts forth upon the soul in working faith, is according to this of raising Christ; for, indeed, the sinner's soul is as really dead in sin, as Christ's body was in the grave for sin. Now speak, poor creature, are you any way acquainted with such a power of God, to have been at work in you; or do you think slightly of believing, and so show yourself a stranger to this mystery?
Certainly, this one thing might resolve many, if they desired to know their own state, that they have no faith, because they make it so trivial and light a matter as if it were as easy to believe, as to say they do; and it were of no more difficulty to receive Christ into their souls by faith, than to put a bit of bread into their mouths with their hand. Ask some, whether ever such a day or time of God's power came over their heads, to humble them for sin, drive them out of themselves, and draw them effectually unto Christ; and they may answer you as those did Paul, when he asked, whether they had received the Holy Ghost since they believed; "they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost" (Acts 19:2); so these might say, We know not whether there be any such power required to the working of faith.
But, to a more particular consideration of this powerful work of the Spirit upon the soul for the production of faith, it will be necessary to consider what posture the Spirit of Christ finds the soul in before he begins this great work; and then how he makes his addresses to the soul; and what acts he puts forth upon the soul for the working faith.
1. For the posture of the soul. The Spirit finds the creature in such a state, as it neither can nor will contribute the least help to the work. As the prince of this world, when he came to tempt Christ, "found nothing in him," to befriend and further his tempting design; so when the Spirit of Christ comes, he finds as little encouragement from the sinner; no party within the castle of the soul, to side with him, when he comes first to set down before it, and lay siege to it; but all the powers of the whole man in arms against him: hence it is that so many scornful answers are sent out to the summons that are given sinners to yield. "He came unto his own, and his own received him not" (John 1:11). Never was, any garrison more resolved to stand out against the batteries of an assailing enemy, than the carnal heart is against all means that God uses to reduce it to his obedience. The noblest operations of the soul are "earthly, sensual, and devilish" (James 3:15); so that, except sensual and spiritual please one palate, God and the devil agree, there is no hope that a sinner, of himself, should like the motion Christ makes, or that with any argument he should be won over to like it, so long as the ground of dislike remains in his earthly, sensual, and devilish nature.
2. How the Spirit makes his addresses to the soul, and what acts he puts forth upon it for the working faith. Now the Spirit's address is suited to the several faculties of the soul; the principal of which are, understanding, conscience, and will; these are like three forts, one within the other, which must all be reduced before the town be taken, the sinner, I mean, subdued to the obedience of faith; and to these the Spirit makes his particular addresses, putting forth an act of Almighty power upon every one of them, and that in this order; first, the Spirit makes his approach to, the understanding, and on it he puts forth an act of illumination: the Spirit will not work in a dark shop; the first thing he does in order to faith, is to beat out a window in the soul, and let in some light from heaven: hence believers are said "to be renewed in the spirit of their mind" (Eph 4:23); which the same apostle calls being "renewed in knowledge" (Col 3:10).
By nature we know little of God, and nothing of Christ, Or the way of salvation by him. The eye of the creature therefore must be opened to see the way of life, before he can by faith get into it. God does not waft souls to heaven, like passengers in a ship, who are shut under the hatches, and see nothing all the way they are sailing to their port; if so, that prayer might have been spared, which the Psalmist, inspired, of God, breathes forth in the behalf of the blind Gentiles (Psa 67:2), "That thy way may be known upon earth, and thy saving health among all nations." As faith is not a naked assent without affiance, and resting on Christ, so neither is it a blind assent, without some knowledge. If, therefore, you continue still in your brutish ignorance, and know not what Christ is, and what he has done for the salvation of poor sinners, how they are interested in him, you are far enough from believing. If the day be not broke in your soul, much less, is the Sun of Righteousness arisen in your soul.
When the Spirit of God has sprung with a divine light into the understanding, then he makes his address to the conscience, and the act which passes upon that is an act of conviction. "He will reprove the world of sin" (John 16:8)., Now this conviction is nothing but a reflection of the light that is in the understanding upon the conscience, whereby the creature feels the weight and force of those truths he knows, so as to be brought into a deep sense of them: Light in a direct beam heats not, nor does knowledge swimming in the brain affect. Most under the gospel know that unbelief is a damning sin, and that there is no name to be saved by but Christ's yet how few of these know this so as to apply it to their own consciences, and to be affected with their own deplored state. He is a scriptural, convinced sinner, who, upon the clear evidence of the word brought against him by the Spirit, is found by his own conscience to be so. Speak now, poor creature, did ever such an act of the Spirit of God pass upon you as this? Which, that you may the better discern, try yourself by these few characters.
A sinner truly convinced, is not only convinced of this or that sin, but of the evil of all sin. It is an ill sign, when a person seems in a passion to cry out at one sin, and to be senseless of another. A parboiled conscience is not right; soft in one part, and hard in another: the Spirit of God is uniform in its work.
The convinced sinner is not only convinced of acts of sin, but of the state of sin also; he is not only affected with what he has done (this law broken and that mercy abused), but with what his state and present condition is. Peter leads Simon Magus from that one horrid act he committed, to the consideration of that which was worse, the dismal state that he discovered him to be in; "I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity" (Acts 8:23). Many will confess, they do not as they should, who will not think by any means so ill of themselves, that theirs is a state of sin and death; whereas, the convinced soul freely puts himself under this sentence, owns his condition, and dissembles not his pedigree. I am a most vile wretch, saith he, a limb of Satan, as full of sin as the toad is of poison. My whole nature lies, in wickedness, even as the dead, rotten carcass does in its putrefaction. I am a child of wrath born to no .other inheritance than hell-flames; and if God tread me down thither, I have not one righteous syllable to object against his proceedings, but there is that in my own conscience which will clear him from having done me any wrong.
The convinced sinner does not only condemn himself for what he has done and is, but he despairs as, to any thing he can do to save himself. Many, though they go so far as to confess they are vile wretches, and have lived wickedly, and for this deserve to die; yet, when they have put the rope about their neck by a self-condemning act, they are so far from being convinced of their own impotency, that they hope to cut it, with their repentance, reformation, and a bundle of good works, which they think shall redeem their credit with God, and recover his favor: and this comes to pass, because the plough of conviction did not go deep enough to tear up those secret roots of self-confidence, with which the heart of every sinner is woefully tainted; whereas every soul, thoroughly convinced by the Spirit, is a self-despairing soul; he sees himself beyond his own help, like a poor, condemned prisoner, laden with so many heavy irons, that he sees it is impossible for him to make an escape, with all his skill or strength, out of the hands of justice.
O, friends, look whether the work be gone thus far in your souls! Most that perish, it is not their disease that kills them, but their physician; they think to cure themselves, and this leaves them incurable. Speak, soul, did the Lord ever ferret you out of this burrow where so many earth themselves? Are you as much at a loss what to do, as sensible for what you have done? Do you see hell in your sin, and despair in yourself? Had God got out of this Keilah, and convinced you, if you should stay in the self-confidence of your repentance, reformation, and duties, they would all deliver you up into the hands of God's justice and wrath, when they shall come against you? Then indeed, you have escaped one of the finest snares that the wit of hell can weave.
The convinced sinner is not only convinced of sin, so as to condemn and despair of himself, but he is convinced of a full provision laid up in Christ for self-condemned and self-despairing ones: "He will reprove the world of sin and of righteousness (John 16:8). And this is as necessary an antecedent to faith, as any of the former. Without this, the soul, convinced of sin, is more likely to go to the gallows with Judas, or fall on the sword of the law, as the jailer attempted to do on his, when he thought his condition desperate, than think of coming to Christ.
The third and last faculty to be dealt with is the will, and on this (for the production of faith) the Spirit puts forth an act of renewing whereby he does sweetly but powerfully incline the will (which before was rebellious and refractory) to accept of Christ, and make a free, deliberate choice of him, for his Lord and Savior; I say a free choice, not pounded into him with apprehensions of wrath, as one may run under an enemy's roof in a storm, whose door he would have passed by in fair weather. Speak, soul, do you go to Christ, not only for safety, but delight? So the spouse, "I sat under his shadow with great delight" (Song 2:3).
As Ruth, who, when Naomi spake the worst she could to discourage her, yet liked her mother's company too. well, to lose it for those troubles that attended her. Speak, soul, has the Spirit of God thus put his golden key into the lock of your will, to open the everlasting door of your heart to let Christ, the King of Glory, in? Has he not only opened the eye of your understanding, as one awoke from sleep in prison, and caused the chains of senselessness and stupidity to fall off your conscience, but also, opened the iron gate of your will to let you out of the prison of impenitency, where even now you were fast bolted in; yea, brought you to knock at heaven's door for entertainment, as Peter did at the house of Mary, where the church was met? Be of good comfort; you may know assuredly, that God has sent, not his angel, but his own Spirit, and has delivered you out of the hand of sin, Satan, and Justice.
Is faith so precious a grace? Let it Provoke you, who want it. Can you hear of this pearl, and not wish it were yours? Wherefore has the Spirit spoken such great and glorious things of faith, but to make it the more desirable? Is there any way to have Christ, but by faith? or do you not think that you need Christ as much as any other? There is a generation of men in the world, who would almost make one think this was their judgment, because their corruptions have not broke out into plague-sores of profaneness, and left such a brand of ignominy upon their name, as some others; their conversation have been strewed with some flowers of morality, whereby their names have kept sweet among their nieghbors; therefore they do not at all listen to Christ, neither do their consciences, much check them for this neglect.
And why so? Surely it is not because they are more willing to go to hell than others, for they do that to escape it which many others will not; but because they think the way they are in will bring them to heaven without any more ado. Poor, deluded creatures! Is Christ then sent to, help only some more dehauched sinners to heaven, such as drunkards, swearers, and of that rank? And are civil, moral men left to walk thither on their own legs? The word tells but of one way to heaven for all who mean to come there. As there is but "one God," so but "one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim 2:5); and if but one bridge over the gulf, judge what is likely to become of the civil, righteous man (for all his moral life), if he miss this one, and goes on in the road he has set out in for heaven. O, remember, proud man, who you are, and cease your vain attempt! Are not you of Adam's seed? Have not you traitor's blood in your veins.
If every mouth be stopped (Rom 3:19,20), how dare you open yours? If all the world become guilty before God, that, by the deeds of the law, no flesh can be justified in his sight; where then shall you stand to plead your innocency before him, who sees your black skin under your white feathers, your foul heart through your fair carriage? It is faith on Christ that alone can purify your heart, without which your washed face and hands (external righteousness, I mean) will never commend you to God; and, therefore, you are under a horrible delusion if you do not think that you need Christ, and faith in him, as much as the greatest sinner in the world.
Let me, therefore, again and again, beseech all that are yet destitute of faith, to endeavour for it speedily. David resolved not to give sleep to his eyes, nor slumber to his eyelids, till he found out a place for the Lord, an habitation for the mighty God of Jacob (Psa 132:4;5). The habitation which pleases God most, is a believing heart, "that Christ may dwell in your heart by faith" (Eph 3:17). O, how dare you sleep a night in that house where God does not dwell! and he dwells not in you, if you carry an unbelieving heart in your bosom. There is never a gospel sermon you hear, but he stands at your door to be let in. Take heed of multiplying unkindnesses in denying him entertainment. How know you but God may, finding your heart so often shut by unbelief against his knocks, suddenly seal you up under final unbelief?
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Question: But how can unbelief be so great sin, when it is not in the sinner's power to believe?
Answer: By this reason, the unregenerate person might wipe off any other sin, and shake off the guilt of it with but saying, It is not my fault that I do not keep this commandment or that, for I have no power of myself to do them. This is true; he cannot perform one holy action holily and acceptably: "They that are in the flesh cannot please God" (Rom 8:8): but it is a false inference, that therefore he does not sin, because he can do no other.
Because this inability is not created by God, but contracted by the creature himself. "God made man upright, but they sought out many invention" (Eccl 7:29). Man had not his lame hand from God. No, he was made a creature fit and able for any service his Maker would please to employ him in; but man crippled himself; and man's fault cannot prejudice God's right. Though he has lost his ability to obey, yet God has not lost his power to command. Who among ourselves thinks his debtor discharged by wasting that estate whereby he was able to have paid us?
Man's present impotency to yield obedience to the commands of God, and, in particular, to this of believing, where it is promulgated, does afford him no excuse: became it is not a simple inability but complicated with an inward enmity against the command. It is true, man cannot believe; but it is as true, man will not believe: "Ye will not come unto me, that ye might have life" (John 5:40). It is possible, yea, ordinary, that a man may, through some feebleness and deficiency of strength, be disabled to do that which he is very willing to do, and this draws out our pity: such an one was the poor cripple who lay so long at the pool (John 5:5). He was willing enough to have stepped down, if he could have but crept thither, or that any other should have helped him in. But what would you think of such a cripple, that can neither go himself to the pool for healing, nor is willing that any should help him, but flies in the face of him that would do him this friendly office?
Every unbeliever is this cripple: he is not only impotent himself, but a resister of the Holy Ghost, that comes to woo and draw him unto Christ. Indeed, every one that believes, believes willingly; but he is beholder, not to nature, but to grace for this willingness: none are willing till the day of power comes (Psa 110:3), in which the Spirit of God overshadows, the soul, and, by his incubation (as once upon the waters), he new forms and moulds the will into a sweet compliance with the call of God in the gospel.
Take heed of resisting or opposing the Spirit of God. If ever you believe, he must enable you; take heed of opposing him. God makes short work with some in his judiciary proceedings; if he finds a repulse once, sometimes he departs, and leaves a dismal curse behind him as its punishment: "I say unto you, that none of those men which were bidden, shall taste of my supper" (Luke 14:24). They were but once invited, and for their first denial this curse clapped upon their heads. It is not said they shall never come where the supper stands on the board, but they shall never taste. Many, sit under the ordinances, where Christ in gospel dishes is set forth admirably, but through the efficacy of this curse upon them, never taste of these dainties all their life; they hear precious truths, but their hearts are sealed up in unbelief, and their minds made reprobate and injudicious, so that they are not moved at all by them. There is a kind of madness, in which a man will discourse soberly and rationally, till you came to speak of some particular subject that was the occasion of his distemper; here he is quite out, and presently loses his reason, not able to speak with any understanding of it.
O, how many men and women are there among us, frequent attendants on the Word, who, in any matter of the world are able to discourse very understandingly and rationally; but when you come to speak of the things of God, Christ, and heaven, it is strange to see how soon their reason is lost, and all understanding gone from them; they are not able to speak of these matters with any judgment. Truly, I am afraid, in many (who have sat long under the means, and the Spirit has been making some attempts on them), this injudiciousness of mind in the things of God, is but the consequence of that spiritual curse which God has passed upon them, for resisting these assays of his Spirit. I beseech you, therefore, beware of opposing the Spirit. Does he beam any light from his word into your understanding, whereby you (who were before an ignorant sot) come to know something of the evil of sin, the excellency of Christ, and can discourse rationally of the truths of the Scripture? Look now to it, what you do with this candle of the Lord, that is lighted in your mind: take heed you are not found sinning with it, or priding yourself in it, lest it goes out in a snuff, and you, for rebelling against the light; come at last to die without knowledge, as is threatened (Job 36:12).
Again, may be the Spirit of God goes yet farther, and does not only dart light into your affections: my meaning is, he from the word displays Christ so in his own excellencies, and the fitness of him in all his offices to your wants, that your affections begin to work after him; the frequent discourses of him, and the mercy of God through him to poor sinners, are so luscious, that you begin to taste some sweetness in hearing of them, which stirs up some passionate desires, whereby you are, in hearing the word, often sallying forth in such breathings as these: O, that Christ were mine! Shall I ever be the happy soul whom God will pardon and save! Yea, possibly in the heat of your affections, you are cursing your lusts and Satan who has held you so long from Christ, and sudden purposes are taken up by you, that you will bid adieu to your former ways, and break through all the entreaties of your dearest lust, to come to Christ. O, soul! now the kingdom of God is nigh indeed unto you.
You are, as I may say, even upon your quickening: and therefore, above all, beware lest you miscarry; if these sudden desires did but ripen into a deliberate choice of Christ, and these purposes settle into a permanent resolution to renounce sin and self, and so you cast yourself on Christ, I durst be the messenger to congratulate you on the birth of this babe of grace (faith, I mean) in your soul. I confess, affections are up and down; yea, like the wind,, how strongly soever they seem to blow the soul, one way at present, they are often found in quite the contrary point soon after. A man may be drunk with passion and affection, as really as with wine or beer. And as it is ordinary for a man to make a bargain, when he is in beer or wine, which he repents of as soon as he is sober; so it is as ordinary for poor creatures, who make choice of Christ and his ways in a sermon (while their affections have been elevated above their ordinary pitch by some moving discourse), to repent of all they have done soon after, when the impression of the word (which heated their affections in hearing) is worn off, and then they come to themselves again, and are what they were, as far from any such desires after Christ as ever.
Content not, therefore, yourself with some sudden pangs of affection in an ordinance, but labor to preserve those impressions which the Spirit then makes on your soul, that they be not defaced, not rubbed off (like colors newly laid on, before they are dry) by the next temptation that comes. This is the caveat of the apostle, "Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip" (Heb 2:1). May be, at present, your heart is melting for your sins, and you think, surely now I shall never give my lust a kind look more: indeed one might wonder, when we see the solemn, mournful countenances under a sermon, which of these could be the man, or woman, that would afterwards be seen walking hand in hand with those sins they now weep to hear mentioned. But, as you love your life, watch your soul, lest this prove but as the early dew, none of which is to be seen at noon. Do you, therefore, betake yourself to your closet, and there labor to take the advantage of your present relenting frame, for the more free pouring out of your soul to God, now the ordinance has thawed the tap, and with all your soul beg of God, that he would not leave you short of faith, and suffer you to miscarry, now he has you upon the wheel, but make you a vessel unto honor.