That Gods Grace of Conversion, is sometimes vouch∣safed to the worst of men.
1 COR. 6. 11.
WE are now to consider a second kinde of Argument, the Apostle useth to dehort them from all gross wickedness, and that is the admira∣ble and wonderful change that is now made upon them by convert∣ing Grace: They are not Swine any more, but sheep, and therefore must not wallow in the mire and filth of sin as formerly: So that the scope of the Apostle is, to compare their former black and foul life, with the present glorious light they are now translated into. And such were some of you. He had reckoned up beasts rather then men, monsters rather then men of reason; and yet, Such were some of you. He saith 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, Some of you, to shew, that every one of them had not all those filthy sores: Every one was not guilty of all the enumerated sins (ex∣cept idolatry, which all were guilty of) unless in the seed and root, which is original corruption; but it is to be understood distributively, some were for∣nicators, some effeminate, some drunkards, some extortioners. Corinth was wicked, even to a proverbial speech, It seemed an hospital of diseased sick men, in respect of their moralities. And further, the Apostle saith in the neuter gender, 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, not 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, not such persons, but such sins, emphatically demon∣strating their wickedness, that they were not so much Peccatores, as ipsa peccata, sinners, as the very sins themselves: We may then stand and behold the wonder∣ful work of Grace, that raiseth children up to Abraham out of stones; that maketh Blackamores to change their skins. The Corinthians, while Idolaters, changed the image of God, into the likeness of an Ox, or any other beast; but now God changeth these who were become like bruit beasts, into the image of the holy and pure God.
That the grace of God converting, is sometimes vouchsafed even to the worst and*vilest of men. God many times takes the most crooked trees, and makes them pillars in his Temple; the most rugged and unpolished stones, and pollisheth them for his building; even as Christ while he was upon the earth, for the most part cured those diseases which were desperate, that no art, nor no Physicians could cure: So many times, the grace of God changeth those who are hope∣less men, upon whom no art can do any good, upon whom spiritual Physicians for a great while have lost all their labor. This is much prophesied of as the fruit of the Gospel, that the savage, cruel and poysonous natures of wicked men, shall be strangely taken away, Isa. 35. 5, 6, 7. The eyes of the blinde shall Page 370 be opened, &c. No Lyon shall be there, &c. Isa. 55. 11. 13. Instead of the bryar shall come up the mirt le tree.
Let us observe the grounds, why the grade of Conversion is sometimes vouchsafed to these incurable men, in all humane apprehensions, such as Manasseth, Paul, Mary Magdalen, with many others: And
First, It is to demanstrate the power of the word of God, animated and inlivened*by the spirit, above all H•mane Eloquence, or Moral Philosophy; wherein men have much labored to make men better; but those endeavors did prove like the washing of a brick, which did not cleanse, but more defile. The Scripture doth often take notice of this peculiar effect of Gods word, that by it We are sorewarned from sin, Psal. 19. the simple receive understanding, Psal 119. By it we are be go〈…〉 again, 1 Pet: 1. That is the sword which entereth into the secret thoughts and imaginations of mens hearts, That captivateth and beateth down all the strong holds of sin and Satan, and dispossesseth Satan out of his strongest Castles: Now this fiery vertue of the word preached, is never more manifested, then when it meets with such moyst, green wood, such indisposed materials, as gross, prophane men are. The Apostle calls the word preached, The power of God to salvation, 1 Cor. 1. when the G•ecians, men of parts and learning, judged it foolishness; and the same Apostle saith, He came not in the intising words of hu∣mane eloquence, lest the power of Christ should be obsoured, 1. Corinthians 2. 4. When therefore by the simple, plain and pure demonstration of Divine truths, and of Gods Word, you see the hearts and consciences of flagitious men awakened; you see them changed into holy, godly, heavenly men, of pro∣phane, foul and ungodly. What glorious praite doth hereby redound to the word preached? This is like Davids little stone, slung into the head of great Goliah. If men of wisdom, eloquence, ingenuity, and excellent Morality, if these onely were the men converted? it would quickly be thought that it was some excellency in them, rather then the power of Gods word without; but in these gross livers it cannot be attributed to any thing in the world, but the word preached: Despise not therefore the plain and powerful preaching of Gods word; for that is the mustard seed, which though little in quantity, is in operation mighty: You see twelve men indued with ability to preach this, did quickly leaven this whole world.
Secondly, God makes his grace to come to such great sinners sometimes, that his*tender mercies and compassions may be made the more illustrious: As it was Christs pitty to cure that cripple, that lay thirty years by the pools side, and had no man to help him; so these sinners that are bound in stronger chains then others, whom the Devil detaineth in surer chains then others, its a greater act of pitty and grace to rescue them: Thus Paul being sensible of himself, as the greatest of all sinners, how passionately doth he break out to admire the mercy and grace of God to him: So that when we see a wretched obstinate sinner, who careth for nothing, feareth nothing, is not able to pitty himself, converted and inlightned by the grace of God; here are tender bowels, God pittieth him more then man doth himself. As Hierom said of the poor dumb man that cannot speak or beg for an alms, Maxime rogat, dum non potest rogare, The more un∣able he is to speak, the more he doth speak, moving compassion and pitty. Thus a wicked man, who is indeed dumb spiritually, cannot speak, cannot pray, cannot utter any one word in his behalf, is thereby an object of pitty with God, because so miserable: If then you ask, Why are such mens eyes opened? why do such men understand what they did not? Christ in mercy hath said un∣to them, Arise and walk.
Thirdly, Grace converts sometimes notorious sinners, to confound the pride and swelling thoughts of self-righteous men. There are a generation of men, whose ways*are clean in their own eyes, Prov. 16. 1. men who justifie themselves, blessing God they are not like other men; now when the grace of God comes and worketh Page 371 upon the most profligate sinners, leaving others to their own pride and conceited righteousness, hereby they are confounded and ashamed: Thus it was discovered by our Saviour, he tells the Pharisees, That the publicans and harlots should go into the kingdom of heaven before them; and, He came not to call such righteous as they were, but sinners to repentance; Mat. 9. 13. There are none commonly further off true grace, then those who please themselves with the conceit of their own goodness and righteousness. The emptiest ear of corn growes up highest, and holds its head above others; but those who have true grace, are deeply sensi∣ble of their own insufficiency and imperfections; their righteousness, is to be∣wail their own unrighteousness: It falls out therefore, that there is sometimes more hope of a gross sinner, then a civilized Pharisee; for the one is sooner convinced, his conscience is easier awakened; but the other being already false∣ly perswaded of his own worth, can hardly be changed: Ille morbus vix est sanabilis qui sanitatem imitatur, That disease which is like health, is hardly cured; and thus a man living a life like godliness, when it is not so indeed, is seldom truly reformed.
Fourthly, God will have some of the worst of men sometimes converted, that the Ministers of God, who are sometimes cast upon such a people, might not sow without*hope, nor preach without hope: Even a wilderness may become a pleasant river, even a Mary Magdalene, a Publican, may be converted by preaching; What then may not the Ministers of God expect? though their soul (as David saith) lyeth down among Lyons: We may not always say, Wo be to us, because we live in the tents of Kedar, for God may make that like Jerusalem. A place where nothing but bryars and thorns came up, may be made a pleasant garden: Christ told his Disciples, He sent them like sheep amongst wolves, Mat. 10. 16. and yet these sheep made many wolves sheep like themselves: Though therefore we catch no∣thing, when we cast our nets; yea, though we catch scorpions instead of fishes, yet these scorpions may be made fishes: With God all things are possible, saith our Savior, Mat. 19. 26. speaking of this very thing, to convert men, which is to make a Camel go through the eye of a needle: Though therefore humane reason may tell a man, there is no success to be expected, no good to be done, because a peo∣ple so and so vicious; yet we must not regard the dead womb, but the power of God: Its he that opens the barren womb, and makes those that were fruitless to bring forth.
Fifthly, Therefore God will have some of these Beelzebub sinners converted, that so grace may be acknowledged to be a real, manifest, powerful work, and that in the*eyes of all the world: Men are prone to judge godliness, nothing but the Melan∣choly, and the tender constitution of some mens bodies, or their black imagina∣tions or fancies which arise within; but now when such, who have been so long, so continual in evil and ungodly ways, they shall love and delight in what they once loathed: This makes godliness a palpable visible thing: When Paul a blasphemer, a cursed opposer of the ways of Christ, is converted, and sets up that which he once pulled down, this makes all men see Gods Grace is not a notion, but a real lively work upon a man. That as the whole world won∣dered, when they saw Christ work such palpable miracles, making the blinde to see, the deaf to hear, the dead torise, they concluded he was God; here could be no imposture or deceit, the things were so manifest: Thus when God calls some wicked men, and makes them forsake all the pleasures and profits, leave the custom receipt immediately, deny their parents, friends, and all that might work upon natural affections; all the prophane and carnal company to whom their souls was once glewed; this must make every man say, Here is more then no∣tions, here is a real fire. The Poets taught much of Circe's cup, which turned men into beasts, but here is a change of beasts into men, yea into Angels; and we may say, This work of the Lord is marvellous in our eyes.
Of incouragement to the spiritual husbandman, though he sow even upon the hardest*Page 372rocks, and preach to beasts rather then men; For who knoweth but that God may turn a noysom dunghil, into a mine of gold. That of our Saviours should be wings to us in our race, With God all things are possible; and that of God, I will take away the heart of stone, and give an heart of flesh: Oh that we might say of all wicked men, that which the Apostle speaketh here in the Text, And such*were some of you, but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified: God will not have any wicked man despair in himself, that he is so wicked that God cannot or will not ever give him a better heart; nor yet the minister to despair, though there be no visible hopes of ever doing good upon such unworthy men. Onely you may have this objection in your hearts:
Why do we not see God working thus as wonderfully to the change of men, * as he hath done heretofore? there the Corinthians, the Ephesians, and other Heathens, wallowing in Idolatry, and all moral vices, yet found the word of God assimilating them to its own nature; it made men leave their corrupt and defiled natures, and come to imbrace that which formerly was so contrary to them: But now we see no such things done, no not among Christians; in those days an Heathen Adulterer, an Heathen a Drunkard, became washed and cleansed by the word; but now a Christian thus polluted, notwithstanding his Christianity, and the word frequently preached unto him, doth not reform and make him leave his former impieties.
To this the answer may be, That wicked men living in their sins, under the daily*exercise of the word, quickly provoke a spiritual censure and judgement to be inflict∣ed upon them; by which means, as the clay under the Sun, they become more obdurate; wonder not then, if as miracles, so this wonderful work of conver∣sion ceaseth (at least its not so frequent) for rebellion and unfruitfulness under the means of grace, enjoyed so long a time, hath deserved this: but I added (not so frequently) because even to this day in several places, God still goeth out with this Omnipotent power upon some few, some firebrands there are pul∣led out of the fire, some Tygers are made Lambs, although this is very rare in comparison of what hath been formerly; not but that Gods arm is as strong, and the word we preach as powerful, but as it is said of one place, Christ could do no miracles there, because of their unbelief, Mat. 6. 6. He conld not (that is) he would not, because he saw their unbelief made them so wretched a people; so it is here, our ministery can do no good, our preaching cannot convert; not that mens lusts are stronger then Gods grace, but because they put such bol•s and bars, such obstructions in the way of grace, that thereby God will not make it ef∣fectual to them. O then be afraid, if thou, though still before this fire of the word, yet art always cold and chill, feeling no spiritual heat at all.
In the next place, let us observe from the words of opposition, And such were some of you, but ye are washed: They are not the same they were once.
That where converting grace is vouchsafed to a man, it makes a great change, he is not the man he was once.*
We may say of every regenerate man, Such wicked men you were once, pro∣phane as others, negligent as others, senseless of sin and Gods wrath as others, but now this dark night is turned into a glorious day. The Prophet spake of some, Amos 6. 12. That they turned righteousness into hemlock and wormwood: That was a wicked turning, but this turneth hemlock into righteousness. The Pro∣phet complained of Jerusalem, fallen from her mercies, That her gold was become dross, and her wine water, Lam. 4. but here is the contrary, dross is become gold, and water wine. Ego non sum ego, said an unclean person once converted, to the whore that sollicited him to the same courses still: So do thou say to all thy former wickedness, catching hold on thee as Josephs mistress did on him; I am not I, I have not the same judgement, the same affections, the same desires that once I had, and therefore cannot imbrace what I once so dearly loved. The exact handling of this point will be, when we come to those Texts that call it Page 373 conversion, or a change, or a turning to God; then the term from which, and the term to which, may more largely be considered: Onely I shall now give you some qualities of this turning, and change from our evil ways, truly to stir you up immediately to the practise thereof. We see God hath wrought many changings and turnings of things in our days: O how happy, if in all these, we might see this spiritual change, men formerly prophane, now holy; men here∣tofore guilty of notorious sins, now as exemplary and zealous of what is godly.
And first, Therefore this change is a necessary one: It must be said of every one * that would be saved, Such an one thou once wast, but now thou art sanctified. Even the man who hath always lived civilly and unblameably, that hath no gross sin to be turned from, yet he hath the soul-uncleanness, and the heart-•eprosie up∣on him, from which he must be washed; so that this turning from what once we were, is indispensibly necessary in yong and old, in rich and poor, either inwardly or outwardly: Consider of this therefore, you whose Motto is, Sem∣per idem; though that be a glory in a good thing, yet for a man to be always the same he was from the womb, is certain and irrecoverable death; When then will you bethink your selves? when shall the time be, that thou wilt become another man? think not that flesh and blood can inherit the Kingdom of hea∣ven: This undoeth many, that as they never dream of a change, which death will one day make upon them, so they never desire a change, that Grace in this present life should work on them: Therefore as Job said of the change by death, He would every day wait till his change came, Job 14. 14. (as some expound it:) do thou say of this change by grace, I will every day pray, hear, read, meditate, mourn and roar out before God all the day long, till this spiritual change come.
Scondly, Its a rational change: Its the highest act of reason, for a man to * become another man: For seeing the Scripture, which cannot lye, informeth us both of original and actual pollution, whereby we become no more qualified for heaven, then Toades to be made Angels: This being granted, its the great∣est reason in the world, that thou shouldst immediately arise, and go out from thy own self; For how wilt thou, who art but stubble and dry wood, be able to indure this consuming fire of Gods wrath? Again, its rational, because its for the better: Though men do not love to change, yet when its for the bet∣ter, then they are glad; How do men thus change, in all their outward affairs? but herein turning from sinto grace, we transcendently have the advantage; we change corruption for glory, coals for gold, lust and sin, for the enjoyment of God, and communion with him: So that if men would set judgement on work, and consider what that is they were once; and what that is to which God now cal∣leth them, they would make no delay, but rise up and be doing. Again, its the greatest reason thus to change, because we our selves are subject to a total change by death: We cannot always live and abound in our pleasures, and our jollities, but death will at last come and make a wonderful change: Oh there∣fore be changed spiritually, before thou art changed corporally; the time will come, when it will be said of thee, Thou livedst in such advantages, in such comforts, but now thou art not, death hath swallowed up all thy temporal joy, and life it self: Oh let it be for the present said, Thou didst live once in such wickedness, in such impieties, but now all is altered: I beseech you as pilgrims, abstain from the lusts of the flesh, 1 Pet. 2. 11. Remember you are pilgrims and tra∣vellers, you have no abiding place in this world.
Thirdly, Its a profitable change: What profit have you of those things, whereof*you now are ashamed, Rom. 6. 1. Alas, thy sins are no ways profitable to thee, for all the curses of God both temporal and spiritual do accompany them; but godliness is profitable for all things: Though it would not profit a man, to gain the whole world, and lose his own soul, yet it would exceedingly profit a man, to Page 374 gain his soul, though he lost all the world: Though he said, Miserum est illud verbum fuisse, yet here, Faelix & beatum verbum est fuisse: Its a blessed and happy word, to say, Such an ungodly man once, but now not at all; such an one that scorned and despised the ways of God, but now he loveth and rejoyceth in them; even as the Prodigals Father rejoyced over his re∣penting son, He was dead, but now is alive; he was lost, but now is found: Thus mayest thou, with joy and thanksgiving, say, I was lost, but grace hath found me; I was dead, but grace hath inlivened me.
Fourthly, Its an honorable change: For those that honor God, God will honor, 1 Sam. 2. 30. As those that serve base and vile lusts, the Lord giveth them * upto contempt and scorn before others. Its true, in the eyes of the world, to set upon this change, its many times object of disdain, To leave thy lusts, thy wantonness, thy pride, thy jolly companions, and to betake thy self to a more accurate and exact way of godliness, makes a man the drunkards song, Psal. 69. 12. as David complained he was: But as David was then more honorable, when he danced so Religiously before the Ark, then when he conquered and subdued so many Philistims, although Michal despised him and scorned him at her very heart: Thus it is here, since thou hast for∣saken thy sinnes, feared an oath, been constant in Private and Family Prayer, zealously sanctifying Gods Sabbaths, which he hath commanded: Since this (I say) thou art become truly honorable, and art born of God.
Use of Exhortation, To raise and awaken your selves out of your former im∣pieties:* Oh that once we might say, You were dead, but now are made a∣live: Oh that at last we might say this Text, Such and such hainous offen∣ders some of you have been; but now ye are washed, now ye are sanctified through the blood of Christ. Call thy self to an account, say, Oh my soul, doest thou minde to be thus always? Are there no purposes or resolutions to become another man? Why doth not he that used to swear, swear no more? Why doth not he that used to be lustful, be lustful no more? Let him that stole (saith the Apostle) steal no more, Ephes. 4. 28. Oh that God would make this blessed change in your lives! What should hinder it? Can your sinnes be better then GOD to you? Can your lusts be more then Heaven to you?