THE GUILT AND DOOM OF IMPENITENT HEARERS.*
Matthew Xiii. 14. By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand: and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive.
THIS is a tremendous threatening of long standing, first denounced by Jehovah himself in the days of Isaiah, and frequently cited by Christ and his apostles in the New Testament, as being still in force, and capable of application to various periods of the world. It is a threatening from God, not that he would recall the commission of his ministers, or remove them, but that he would give them a commission in wrath, and continue their ministry, as a judgment upon their hearers. It is a threatening not of the loss of the means of salvation, but of their being con-, tinued as the occasions of more aggravated guilt and punishment: a threatening to those that have abused the means of grace; not that they shall attend upon them no more, but that they shall* attend upon them, but receive no advantage from them : a threatening that they shall hear, that is, that their life and rational powers, the ministry of the word of God, and all things necessary for hearing, shall be continued to them ; but . by all their hearing they shall not understand; they shall not receive instructions that will be of any real service to them: they shall not understand any thing to a saving purpose. Their knowledge may be increased, and their heads filled with bright notions and speculations : but all their improvements will be of no solid or lasting advantage to them; so that their hearing is equivalent to not hearing, and their understanding to entire ignorance.—" Seeing ye shall see, and not perceive;" you shall have your eyes open, or the usual exercise of your rational powers; and the sacred light of instruction shall shine around you; but even in the midst of light, and with your eyes open, you shall perceive nothing to purpose: the good you see, you will not choose: and the evil and danger you see, you will not shun, but run into it, willingly and obstinately. And certainly such seeing as this does not deserve the name.
* Hanover, Nov. 12, 1758.
The connection in which Christ introduces these words, is this: As he had clothed his discourse in the eastern dress of parables or allegories, his disciples, apprehending that this was not the plainest method of instruction, and that the multitude did not understand him, put this question to him, " Why speakest thou to them in parables?" " He answered and said unto them, because unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but unto them it is not given ." This informs us, there is a dreadful distinction made, even in this world, between the hearers of the gospel, though they mingle in the same assembly, hear the same preacher, and seem to stand vipon the same footing. Thus the disciples of Christ and the unbelieving crowd were upon a par; but, says Christ, to you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, or the glorious doctrines of the gospel ; and therefore you will easily perceive them through the veil of parables, which will be an agreeable medium of instruction to you. But to the unbelieving crowd, it is not given to know these mysteries; though they attend upon my ministry, it is not intended that they should be made wiser or better by it: and therefore, I. involve my instructions in the obscurity of parables, on purpose that they may not understand them —Alas! my dear brethren, what if such a distinction should be made between us, who meet together for the worship of God from week to week in this place!
The reason of this distinction will shew the justice of it; and that is assigned in the next verse: "For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance : but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away, even that he hath :" the meaning is, whosoever improves the privileges he hath, shall have those privileges continued to him with a blessed addition—whosoever makes a good use of the means of grace, he shall have grace given him to make a still better use of them. Whosoever has opened his mind to receive the light from past instructions, shall have farther light and farther instructions: to him it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven ; and they shall be conveyed to him in such forms of instruction as he will be able to understand. "But whosoever hath not," whosoever makes no more improvement of his privileges, than if he had none given him to improve, from him shall be taken away those neglected privileges. He that has obstinately shut his eyes against the light of instruction in times
past, shall be punished with the loss of that light for the future— though the light still continue to shine round him, yet he shall be left in his own chosen darkness, and divine grace will never more open his mind. He is given up as unteachable, though he may still sit in Christ's school. It is no longer the design of the gospel to shew him the way to eternal life, though he may still enjoy the ministry of it: and God in his providence may order things so, as to occasion, though not properly to cause, his continuance in ignorance and infidelity.
Here, by the bye, I would make a remark to vindicate this dreadful instance of the execution of divine justice, which is more liable to the cavils of human pride and ignorance than perhaps any other. The remark is, that God may justly inflict privative as well as positive punishment upon obstinate sinners; or, in plainer terms, he may with undoubted justice punish them by taking away the blessings they have abused, or rendering those blessings useless to them, as well as by inflicting positive misery upon them. This is a confessed rule of justice; and it holds good as to spirituals as well as temporals. May not God as justly take away his common grace, and deny future assistance, to an obstinate sinner, who has abused it, as deprive him of health or life? Why may he not as justly leave him destitute of the sanctified use of the means of grace he has neglected and unimproved, in this world, as of the happiness of heaven, in the work! to come? This is certainly a righteous punishment: and there is also a propriety and congruity in it: it is proper and congruous that the lovers of darkness should not have the light obtruded upon them; that the despistrs of instruction, should receive no benefit from it; that those who improve not what they have, shoold have no more, but should lose even what they have. Thus their own choice is made their curse, and their sin their punishment—But to return.
"Therefore," says Jesus, "I speak to them in parables;" therefore, that is, acting upon the maxim I have just laid down, that those who abuse the light they have, shall have no more, I speak to them on purpose in this mystical form, that they may still remain in darkness, while I am communicating instruction to my teachable disciples: "because they seeing, see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand;" because, though they have the exercise of their senses and intellectual powers, and have enjoyed my instructions so frequently, they still obstinately persist in ignorance and infidelity; and in that, lej them continue: it is no longer the design of my ministry to teach or convert them. with so much ease as he does now; but will be constrained to yield to its power, and be made a willing captive to the obedience of faith. Who could live without some little hope of this kind? For can any of you bear the thought, that not only veteran sinners should persist in their obstinacy, and perish, but that a new set of immortals, I mean the crowds of youth and children among us, should grow up, and never see a day of divine power and grace? Alas! if this should be the case, they will only grow up in guilt, and ripen for punishment; and the little religion that is to be found among us, will die away with its present subjects. Let us therefore not only wish and pray for such a visitation from on high, but let us also humbly hope for it. We indeed do not deserve it: but oh! God is merciful and gracious; and whenever he has bestowed this favour, it has always been upon the undeserving. If such a happy period should come, before my eyes are shut in death, I should have my hands full of business once more—Business of the most agreeable and benevolent kind—directing broken-hearted, trembling, desponding sinners to the all-sufficient Saviour, Jesus Christ; after whom but very few are now inquiring, as if he were antiquated, or become a superfluity.
"And in them, says he, is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, which saith, by hearing, ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing, ye shall see, and shall not perceive." And then follow the reasons of this tremendous judgment: "For this people's heart is waxed gross and insensible, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their hearts, and should be converted, and I should heal them:" they seem afraid of their own conversion, and therefore do all they can to prevent the efficacy of , the means of grace upon them. Such must be given up as desperate; and though they may still live among the means of grace, it is no longer the design of thera to be of any service ta them.
You see, as I observed at first, this is a denunciation of long standing—about two thousand five hundred years old. It was accomplished in Isaiah's time, when God looked out for a messenger to send to the Jews, not to convert them, but to leave them inexcusable in their impenitence, and so aggravate their guilt and punishment. "Whom shall I send?'"' says Jehovah; "and who shall go for us ?"* As if he had said, I do not intend to deprive this obstinate people of the ministry of my servants, but am about to send them another: and where shall I find one that will accept so thankless and fruitless an office? Isaiah offers his service as a volunteer: "Here am I, says he, send me." And then his commission is made out in these terrible terms, expressive rather of the office of an executioner, than of a messenger of peace: "Go, and tell this people, hear ye indeed, but understand not: and see ye indeed, but perceivenot. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes, lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed." About seven hundred years after, we find this denunciation applied to the Jews by Christ himself in my text. It was applied to the same people some time after by the evangelist John.f "Therefore they could not believe," says he, "because that Esaias said again, he hath blinded their
* Isaiah vi. a f Chap. xii. 39, 40:
eyes and hardened their hearts; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, and be converted, and I should heal them." Some years after, it was applied by St. Paul to the unbelieving Jews in Rome; upon his preaching the gospel to them, " some believed the things that were spoken, and some believed not :" and with respect to the latter, he says, "Well spake the Holy Ghost by Isaiah the prophet unto our fathers, saying, go unto this people, and say, hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive."*
Thus we can trace the accomplishment of this old denunciation in various periods. And is it antiquated and without force in our age? May it not reach to Virginia and Hanover, as well as. to Judea and Jerusalem? Yes, my brethren, if the sin of the Jews be found among us, that is, the abuse of the means of instruction, then the curse of the Jews lies in full force against us. The ministry of the word may be continued among us, but many that attend upon it, may not receive any advantage from it: nay, their advantage may not be so much as intended by its continuance among them, but rather the aggravation of their sin and ruin. A dreadful thought! which I would willingly avoid, but some late occurrences have forced it upon my mind: and since I cannot exclude it, I will endeavour to make the best use of it for your warning.
After some weeks of anxious perplexity, unknown before; and after using all the means in my power to discover my duty with all the impartiality I was capable of, I came at length to a determination to send a final absolute refusal to the repeated application of the trustees of the college of New-Jersey. Had interest been my motive, I should undoubtedly have preferred two hundred a year, before a scanty hundred. Had honour been my motive, I should have chose to have sat in the president's chair in Nassau-hall,t rather than continued a despised and calumniated new-light parson in Virginia. Or had ease been my motive, I should have preferred a college life, before that of a hurried, fatigued itinerant. But you that have known me for so many
* Acts xxviii. 24—27.
f Mr. Davies, it appears, had received an invitation to the college at
Princeton-, in New-Jersey; but at that time refused accepting it.
Vide the following sermon.
years, I dare affirm, do not need this new evidence to convince you, that these are not the governing motives of my behaviour: and as for those who are determined at all adventures not to think well of a presbyterian, the most conspicuous disinterestedness and integrity of conduct will not be free from their malignant censures and constructions; and it is likely to be an article of their creed, living and dying, that I am not an honest man, but a designing, artful impostor.
And now, my dear people, as far as I know or expect, we shall live and die together: and if I may judge of you by what I feel myself, the shock we have received, will unite us the closer together for the future. The warm opposition you made to my removal, was indeed somewhat surprising to me: for I did not imagine I appeared of so much importance to any society upon earth, as I found I did to you: and though no man can well be offended with so generous an error as the excess of love, yet I must tell my dear friends, that I hope religion in this place is supported by a stronger pillar than such a feeble mortal as I: otherwise, it is a very sorry religion indeed. The eternal God, the rock of ages, is the foundation that supports it: and we should always remember, even in the ardour of friendship, that he is a jealous God; jealous of his honour, and warmly resents it, when any of his poor servants are made the idols of his people, and draw off their regard from him. And I am afraid, some of you are in danger of this idolatry. I have indeed been shocked at the high character I have heard of myself on this occasion. What am I at best, but an unworthy minister of Christ, by whom some of you have believed? I have planted and watered the word among you: but God alone gave the increase. « So then neither is he that planteth any thing, nor he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase."* He is all in all; and let none of his creatures be complimented as his rival, lest he degrade the idol, and render it despicable in the eyes of all. "Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils; for wherein is he to be accounted of ?"t—But to return.
It is likely I shall live and die with you, my dear people. And I cannot but hope, some of you will flourish in the courts of the Lord, and bring forth the fruits of holiness, even under the cultivations' of so unskilful a hand as mine—that you will under
* 1 Cor. iii. 6, 7. t Isa i»• 22. * Matt. xiii. 16.
Stand the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, though you should have no better teacher than I: for blessed are your eyes for they see; and blessed are your ears for they hear.* Having presided in the worship of God among you, in the church upon earth, I shall, if the fault does not lie on my side, join your glorious concert in heaven, and bear some humble part. in the more exalted worship of the church triumphant in glory. Well, my brethren, let us help one another by our mutual prayers, and all the assistance we can give each other: let us go on unanimously like fellow-pilgrims, through the wilderness, like fellowcandidates for the same glory, and fellow-heirs of the inheritance of the saints in light. The wilderness does not extend very far before us. May you not ken Immanuel's land, even from where you now stand? A few weary steps more, and our pilgrimage will end in everlasting rest. Our fellow-pilgrims are dropping off one after another every year; and some of them have got the start of us within a few weeks past. Well, we shall soon overtake them; and in a little time the hindmost in the procession will get safe through the wilderness. All hail! to this class of my hearers. But my present discourse is intended for persons of a different character; and therefore you must not expect to hear any thing more addressed to you to day. As to those, to whom my labours for above ten years have been of no real service for their conversion to God; I must own I have very discouraging thoughts of them. It is most likely, either that God will let them alone, and suffer them to run on into the burning; or that he will make use of some other hand to pluck them out. All the means that I can use with them have been so often tried in vain, that there is but little reason to hope, they will ever have any efficacy upon them. Yet I must not entirely despair even of these: I have some little hope, sinners, that the happy time is coming, when some word spoke by that feeble breath, which has hitherto only reached your tfars, will be enforced with almighty power upon your hearts, and bring you to the knee as broken-hearted penitents before God. I cannot part with the little hope I have, that we shall yet see a day of the Son of Man in this place; and then the old gospel, even from the lips of your usual minister, will be quite a new thingthen the hardiest sinner among you will not be able to resist i|
* Matt. xiii. 16.
But whatever hopes I entertain of this nature, I cannot but fear that my ministry will continue useless to some of you. I am afraid some of you will still have your usual opportunities of attending upon it, without receiving any real benefit from it: or, "that hearing, you shall hear, and not understand ; and seeing, you shall see, and not perceive." I know no better method to guard you against this danger, than to warn you of it in time: and this is my principal design at present. For this purpose,
I shall mention the presages and symptoms of the approach of this tremendous judgment—the judgment of having the ministry of the gospel continued, not as the mean of salvation, but as the occasion of more aggravated sin and punishment.
Now the presages and symptoms of the approach of such a judgment, are such as these—The abuse or neglect of the ministry of the gospel in time past—Incorrigible obstinacy under chastisements—Growing insensibility, or hardness of heart—Repeated violences to the motions of the holy Spirit, and convictions of conscience, or obstinate sinning against knowledge—The withdrawing of divine influences—And, as the consequence of alJ, a general decay of religion. In the first place,
One constant presage of this judgment is, the abuse or neglect •of the ministry of the gospel in time past.
This is implied, as you have seen, in the maxim on which divine justice proceeds in the infliction of this judgment, namely, that "from him that hath not,"—who improves not what he hath, "shall be taken away, even that which he hath."* This was the character of the Jews, against whom this judgment was denounced: they had long enjoyed the ministry of the prophets, of Christ and his apostles; but had hardened themselves against the good effects of it, and continued unreformed and impenitent. In short, all the judgments of God of every sort are inflicted upon mankind only for their sin; and consequently this judgment in particular proceeds from this cause. But then it must be remembered, that this particular judgment is not inflicted for every sin: for who then can escape? but for one particular kind of sin, the neglect or non-improvement of the means of grace, and particularly the ministry of the gospel. It is because men have heard so often without advantage, that they are condemned to hear without understanding. It is because they have had the use of their eyes, and the light of divine instruction shining around them, a long time, without their becoming wiser or better, that they are doomed to see and not perceive. This in particular, and not their sins in general, is the cause of this tremendous curse.
And is there no such sin as this to be found among us? Have not some of you been favoured with the means of grace for a length of years, yet you are still unconverted, ignorant, and impenitent? Do not your consciences tell you that you still persist in the neglect of those duties, of which you have been convinced, and to which you have been persuaded a thousand times? And do you not still indulge some favourite sin, though you have been warned, reproved, dissuaded, and reasoned with, for years together? What repeated, lively representations have you had of divine tilings? and yet, are you not still unaffected with them ? AH that you have heard of the evil and danger of sin, has not turned you from it, nor struck you with a just abhorrence of it. All that you have heard of the reasonableness, obligation, happiness, and blessed consequences of a life of religion, has not turned you to it; but you act as if you were afraid you should be converted, and God should heal you. The very means which have broken
• Mark iv. 25.
the hearts of others into ingenuous repentance, you have had as well as they ; and yet your hearts are hard and insensible ; nay, are they not growing harder and harder every day? The discoveries of Jesus Christ made in the gospel have attracted the love of thousands to him : and the very same discoveries have been exhibited to you, and yet you remain thoughtless of him, and disaffected to him. To be a little more particular: you have had sufficient means to convince you of the duty of family religion ; of the evil of drunkenness, lying, sabbath-breaking, covetousness, pride, carnal security, indifferency in religion; of the depravity of your nature; and the absolute necessity of the righteousness of Christ for your justification, and of the influence of the Holy Spirit for your sanctification, and yet these means have had no suitable effect upon you. And have you not then reason to fear that this judgment hangs over your heads, " that hearing, you shall hear, and not understand; and seeing you shall see, and not perceive? Perhaps the judgment, near as it is, may be averted, if you take warning: and now begin with all your might to improve the means of grace. But oh! if you delay, and trifle on, the curse may light upon you and never be removed : and then you are as certainly and irrecoverably undone, as if the gates of eternal despair were now shut upon you.
Secondly, incorrigible obstinacy under the chastisements of the divine hand, is another dreadful presage of the approach of this judgment.
The various afflictions, public, domestic ard personal, with which our heavenly Father chastises the sons of men, are excellent means of repentance and reformation: and they have often effect upon those, with whom all other means had been used in vain. But when even these wholesome severities, which, one would think, would awaken the most secure to some sensibility, are obstinately disregarded, and men sin on still, even under the angry hand of God, lifted up to smite them, it argues an incorrigible hardness of heart; and they incur the same curse with those that misimprove the ministry of the gospel. The affliction may be removed; but it may be removed in judgment; as a father gives over correcting an incorrigible child, and leaves him to himself. But oh! how much better to lie under the roti, than to be given up as desperate, and for that reason, dismissed from the discipline of our heavenly Father!
I need not tell you, my brethren, that we have of late years been under the chastisements of Heaven of various kinds. You all know, we live in a country ravaged by a savage war ; the seasons of the year have been unfavourable to the fruits of the earth : and contagious and deadly diseases have raged with unusual violence in our neighbourhood, and made painful breaches in some of our families. But who has been awakened, who has been reformed, who has been converted to God, by all these chastisements? If you know any, they are certainly very few. If,this then be a prognostic of the impending judgment threatened in my text, is there not reason to fear that it is ready to fall upon some of us • God may say of such, "Let them alone; why should they be stricken any more? they will revolt more and more."* Or he may continue afflictions as the executioners of his vengeance, while he denies his sanctifying blessing to them, and no more afflicts by way of fatherly chastisement for our amendment.
Growing insensibility or hardness of heart, is, thirdly, a most threatening presage of the near approach of this awful judgment.
This indeed is the very beginning of the judgment, and the first perceivable effect of it; and as the sinner improves in hardness of heart, this curse falls heavier and heavier upon him, and is the cause of this horrid improvement. Hence you find in scripture, a hard heart, a stiff neck, a reprobate mind, a seared conscience, a soul past feeling, are mentioned as the dreadful characteristics of a soul judicially given up of God.
And is every heart among us free from this alarming symptom? Can every one among us say, " I am as easily and deeply affected with eternal things, and the ministry of the gospel has as much effect upon me now, as it had five or ten years ago?" Alas ! must not some of you say, on the other hand, "Once I remember I was deeply concerned about my everlasting state; some years ago I was alarmed with a sense of my sin and danger, and earnestly used my utmost endeavours to obtain an interest in the Saviour: but now it is all over: now I lie secure and unconcerned, except that now and then I am involuntarily seized with pangs of despairing'horror, which wear off, without any good effect. But though I am now so easy and careless, I cannot pretend that my state is really more safe now, than it was when I was so anxiously concerned about it." May not this be the language of some of you .?
* Isaiah i. 5.
If so, I must honestly tell you, you are near unto cursing. Your hearts are waxen fat, and your ears dull of hearing: and therefore you have great reason to fear, the dreadful God, whose grace and patience you have so long ungratefully abused, is'about to pronounce the sentence upon you, "Hearing ye shall hear,, and not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive :" you shall enjoy the means of grace, as usual, but you shall receive no advantage from them. Must not your hearts meditate terror, while this heayy curse hangs over you? And will you not fly from it, and use all means possible to escape?
Fourthly. Repeated violences to the Spirit of God, and your own consciences, or an obstinate continuance in sin against knowledge, is an alarming symptom of the approach of this judgment.
Though a distinction may be made in some instances between those restraints and good tendencies which proceed from the Spirit of God, and those wbich proceed from your own consciences, it is not to my present purpose to make the distinction. They both tend to restrain you from sin, and excite you to a religious life ; and therefore their tendency is the same. And I doubt not but the Spirit of God and your own consciences have repeatedly striven even with the most hardened sinner among you: and it has often cost you violent struggling to make effectual resistance. Have you not had some thoughtful, pensive, solemn intervals, notwithstanding all your preposterous endeavours to live a life of dissipation, and to continue in your thoughtless career? Have you not had strong convictions of your guilt and danger, and the necessity of a new heart and a new life, and dismal misgivings and forebodings of heart, as to the consequences of your present conduct? Have you not, in these solemn moments, formed many good resolutions and vows, and determined you would live no longer as you have done? Have you not found yourselves, as it were, weary and surfeited with a course of sin, and your desires going out after Christ? Has not some sermon, or passage of scripture, or alarming providence, roused you for awhile out of your security, and had a strange irresistible force upon your hearts? Well, in such seasons as these, the Holy Spirit, and your own consciences were striving with you: and had you cherished these sacred motions, you might ere now have been sincere converts, and heirs of heaven. But alas! have you not rebelled and grieved the Holy Spirit, and done violence to your own consci
ences? Have you not talked, or laughed, or trifled, or laboured away these thoughtful hours, and done your utmost to recover yqur stupid security again? Alas! in so doing, you trod in the very steps of those desperate sinners, who have been abandoned of God, and sealed up under his irrevocable curse. Many indeed, who have done this, have at length been subdued by the power of God, and happily constrained to forego all their resistance : but oh ! this has not been the blesstd end of all, who have thus fought against God : no, many of them have been given up, and allowed to gain a victory ruinous to themselves. Therefore, as you have reason to hope, you have also reason to fear: and you have undoubtedly good reason to give over your resistance, and submit to God and conscience, lest he abandon you to yourselves. . And then, though you may still enjoy the gospel and its ordinances, they will be of no service to you: Nay, this will not be the end God has in view in continuing these privileges: his design is the benefit of others, who mingle with you in the same assembly, and enjoy these means in common with you. They may be converted, and healed by them: But as for you, " hearing ye shall hear, and not understand ; and seeing ye shall see, and noC perceive;" and this will be " your condemnation, that light is come into the world, and you have loved darkness rather than light."*
Under this head I must add, that every instance of wilful sinning against knowledge, is the most dangerous and provoking manner of sinning. The language of such a practice is, " Lord, I know this is displeasing to thee; and yet I will do it." What insufferable insolence is this in a worm of the earth ! How provoking must it be to the supreme Majesty ! and what ravages must it make in the conscience! The wretch that can venture upon this, may venture upon any thing. Surely such a course of wilful sinning against knowledge, must expose the daring sinner to the heaviest judgment of Heaven. And according to the course of nature, it tends to harden him in impenitence: for the only way in which a sinner may be wrought upon for his conversion, is by letting him know his duty: but when he puis this knowledge at defiance, and obstinately does his pleasure in spite of it, what service can instruction do to him? what benefit can he receive from the ministry of the gospel? It is time such a one should be
• * John iii. 19.
left " to hear, and not understand; and to see, and not perceive." Indeed, this is in a great measure his character already. He run s into ruin with his eyes open, and wittingly rejects the means of his salvation.
Fifthly, the withdrawing of divine influence, is a dismal symptom of this judgment.
Whatever proud and self-conceited notions men entertain of their sufficiency for the purposes of religion, it is a certain truth, confirmed both by the testimony of Scripture, and the experience of near six thousand years, that the blessed Spirit of God is the sole author of all that little religion that has been among men in every age : and when he withdraws, then religion withers, like the fruits of the earth without sun and rain. It is also evident, both from scripture, and the history of the church, that there are certain seasons, in which the Spirit is plentifully poured out; and then multitudes of sinners, that had sat under the gospel unmoved from year to year, are converted; and religion wears another aspect, in a country, or a congregation, according to the extent of the showers of divine influences. Then the case of sinners is hopeful; and it is a blessing to be born in such a day of the Son of man: for God works effectually within; and there are many peculiar helps and advantages for conversion without; then ministers preach, and christians pray, converse, and do every thing in another manner—a manner peculiarly adapted to strike conviction, to lead the convinced to Christ, and to bring down blessings upon the world. But when the abuse of so great a blessing provokes a jealous God to withdraw his influences, then the affairs of religion put on another face: offences happen ; a spirit of contention begins to rise ; sinners grow insolent; the gospel loses its force upon the consciences of men; ministers grow languid and faint-hearted, and though their compositions may be even more judicious and masterly, than when they had more effect, yet the spirit, the life, the energy, the unknown something that gave them their irresistible efficacy, is wanting. But few sinners are awakened; and the impressions of such are superficial, and they seem to halt, and make but slow progress, in returning to God; and as to the crowd of sinners, they go on careless, unawakened and unreformed under the preaching of the gospel, and harden themselves more against it. It is comparatively: an easy thing for them to keep down their censcience, to resist the Spirit, and to sin away the week, though they have heard the gospel on Sunday. Now, in such a season, the case of sinners is very discouraging: there is but a very dull chance* if I may so speak, for their conversion. They may " hear indeed, but they do not understand: they may see indeed, but not perceive." And from the brief description I have given you of such a season, have you not reason to tear, that it is your lot to live in such a time—a time when the blessed Spirit, that has long been striving with Hanover, has, in a great measure, left it. And if he has left it, you may be sure he has left it in displeasure, and in judgment: he has left it, because he has been ill treated, and could bear it no longer. And he is gone !—Then the glory is depart' ed !* You may still have your favourite minister; you may still have sermons, and all the ordinances of the gospel: but alas '. "hearing you shall hear, and not understand; and seeing you shall see, and not perceive:" and the very means that ripen others for heaven, will only cause you to rot and putrify, till you drop, as it were by your own weight, into hell.
When the Spirit is withdrawn, it is not only a sign that the judgment threatened in my text is near, but that it is actually executed: for the absence of the Spirit is the great reason why sinners attend upon the ministry of the gospel without any real advantage. The curse is actually fallen: but Oh! I hope it may be removed, at least, from some of you: and now is the time for you to make the trial.
Lastly, A general decay of religion is a symptom, and indeed a part, of this judgment.
This is the consequence of the foregoing particulars: and when this is the case, it is evident, the judgment has fallen upon some, and is likely to fall upon many. When a people enjoy the ministry of the gospel, and yet religion does not gain ground, but decline, then it is evident, some " hearing, hear not, and seeing, see not ."
And I leave you to judge, whether this alarming symptom be not upon us. Religion is evidently declining among us in some instances; and how little ground does it gain in others?
To conclude; Let such of you as have reason to apprehend, that you are " near unto cursing,"t pay a proper regard to this Consideration, that if it be possible to escape it, now is the most
* 1 Sam. iv. 22. t Heb. vi.28.
likely time you will ever see; and the longer you delay, t'Kfe greater will be your danger. Therefore now endeavour with all your might, to hear to purpose, when you do hear; and to see to advantage, when you do see.—" Behold, now is the accepted time : behold, now is the day of salvation."*