Sheweth that all Persons have need to turn unto God, and sets forth the true acceptable Motives to Repentance.
JER. 18. 11.
IN this exhortatory conclusion hathbeen considered, 1. The duty, (Return) 2. The adjunct time (Now.) 3. The subject to whom, with the appropriation of it, Every one from his evil way: This latter part admits of a sub-division; 1. The general term from which a man must turn, and that is, An evil way. 2. The restriction of it, His evil way: The restriction hath also been absolved. There remaineth onely one thing more in this Exhortation, and that is the gene∣ral term, (Evil way.) Conversion is a motion; and as local motions have a term from which, and a term to which; Thus it is here in spiritual Conversion; and you cannot clearly understand the nature of this duty, unless it be consi∣dered in both the terms: and of the term from which, at this time from this Text.
The Observation, The term from which we are to turn in our Conversion unto God, is the evil and sin we live in.*
That which we are to move from, yea run and fly from, is the impiety and transgression of our lives. Every one that lieth in any sin, must be turned up∣side down, as it were; his love must be where his hatred was; his grief where his delight was; his back, where his face was; and his face and affections upon that, on which his back and all contempt and scorn was. To turn and change from a mans former sins, is no disgrace, but a necessary duty, and a great dignity: Thus Conversion is a motion from sin, not like the turning of a door upon the same hinge, never moved out of his place. Wonder not that I am long on this subject; for I am not yet near the bottom of this excellent Foun∣tain of matter, and we shall draw up new and fresh water, not troubling you with the same matter that hath already been handled. For the discovery of this point; Consider
First, Who they are that are in sin, or live in sin, and therefore need conversion:* For many a man is eternally undone, because he doth not see a necessity of his turning to God; he either takes for granted, that he is already converted, or * he thinks conversion is onely for Pagans or Hereticks, to the true Christian faith, or some notorious gross sinners, whose sins are of a crimson colour. There∣fore to undeceive and convince you herein, know and consider, what it is to be in sin, or who may be said to be in sin, and every such person needs conver∣sion.
First therefore, Every one by nature is in the damnable state of sin, although he Page 465 never committed any actual impiety: Thus sin was unknown to Heathens, and denyed by some Heretiques; but the Scripture doth plainly assert it, concluding us To be children of wrath by nature Ephes. 2. he doth not say, by actions, by custom, by practice, but by nature: This is the first stone, and the deep foundation that must be laid: This is called native, original, natural, and hereditary sin. Till a man be inwardly and powerfully convinced of this, he cannot ever think of turning unto God; so that conversion is requisite to every one that hath this birth-sin. We come naturally with our back to heaven, and face to hell; now here must be a conversion unto God: Begin here, and study here, How were it possible that men should sit and hear so much of turning to God, and never be∣gin to move towards him, but because they feel not this natural averseness in their whole man from God, and what is holy? Let no man, free from gross sins, and walking in an orderly civil way, think this duty of conversion doth not belong to him; for if thou hadst no more sin in thee then the childe new born, thou wert yet to turn unto God, as being in a dangerous path of death and destruction; yea, this conversion and turning from this innate corruption, is far more difficult, then from any actual impieties, for this is more closely bred in thee, and setled in thy bowels: The Scripture calls this thy body, thy flesh, thy members, as if thou wert turned into this sin: This is the fountain, this is the root, this walketh with thee, riseth with thee, dwells in thee, as in its pro∣per possession: so that in your turning from sin, be sure you go as deep as to this native filthiness: Its not to turn thy coat, or thy skin, but thy very heart and inwards, when you are to turn unto God: We shall shew in time, of many turnings to God, but they laid no good foundation, they laid not the ax to the root of the tree; they cut off Sampsons hair, but plucked it not up by the root, and so the strength of corruption prevailed over them again; so that this turn∣ing from sin, is to turn from thy own self, to leave thy own self, and joyn with God, to be one with him: As iron put into the fire a long while, loseth its coldness, and its black colour, and looks like fire. Its a true and good saying of Am∣brose, Homo recedens malè a Deo, cecidit in seipsum, Man falling from God, fell into his own self: So that he is as a beast tyed up in a close dungeon; his thoughts, his affections, his designs are onely for himself, original corruption hath brought this perverse distemper on a man; look then that thou break this Dragons head: Thou wilt finde thy self within (how glorious soever in thy externals) like Ezekiels wall, whereon were pourtrayed the forms of all creeping and abo∣minable things; or like Peters sheet, that had all the kindes of unclean beasts within, Thus thy heart hath all manner of vile and foul lusts cleaving unto thee; and therefore though thou wert as innocent from actual sins, as once in thy cradle, yet thou art to turn to God, and to forsake that present condi∣tion.
Secondly, That man is still in sin, and so needs conversion unto God, who*hath daily inward delights and lusts after sin, though it may be, fear, and shame, and outward punishment keep them from acting the evil they would do. It was a received opinion among the Pharisees, and many Heathens, that the meer will and pur∣pose to sin, did not deserve punishment, no not from God: From man indeed it cannot: but to think thoughts, desires, and inward purposes of sin, are free also with God, is to deny the Law to be a spiritual law, forbiddin, all the in∣ward motions and affections of sin; it is to deny God to be a father of spirits, who beholdeth and tryeth the inward man, and doth most abhor spirit-filthi∣ness. Hence Peter, 2 Pet. 1. Beseecheth as strangers to abstain from those lusts that war against the soul: Grant therefore, that still thy life be unspotted from all the gross sins of the world, yet as long as unruly lusts prevail in thy heart, as long as inward secret motions of sin prevail over thee, thou art far off from God, and therefore needest turning to him: Oh how well were it, if all thy filthy lusts within were discovered to thee! if thou didst judge thy self a serpent, which Page 466 though it hath a glittering, glorious skin, yet is full of poyson and venom within.
Thirdly, He is still in his sins, and so needeth turning to God, that doth con∣stantly and daily live in the committing of gross and known sins: This is as clear * as that thou livest and breathest; and to this man properly the Text speaks, Re∣turn from his evil way. An evil way, is the trade, custom, and ordinary practice of a man: Oh then if we behold the lives of most men, who is there that doth not need conversion? who doth not walk in one evil way or other? who doth not live in the practice of one known sin or other? Then what an heavy judge∣ment is this of God, that no more are converted? that so few ever turn from their wicked way, but live and dye in it? How often, as the Scripture cryeth out, Return, O Shunamite, Return, Return, have the Ministers of God cryed aloud to such, Return, O return, and yet men go on desperately in paths of rebellion against God! Oh why is it, that when so many in our Congregations need this grace of conversion, so few obtain it! Know, thou that livest in the customary commission of any known gross sin, thou art speedily to get out from it, as Lot was out of Sodom, when fire and brimstone were ready from heaven to de∣stroy him.
Lastly, They live still in their sin, and so need conversion to God, Who though * now they do not commit their sins they once did, yet never have truly and unfeign∣ed lyrepanted of them: Oh its again and again to be considered, upon what terms men leave their sins; Thou wast such and such a prophane wretch once, but now thou art not; How comes this forbearance of time? if it be not from godly sor∣row, and a true apprehension of Gods displeasure, thou art still in thy sins, though they were committed many years ago. Its one thing not to commit sin again, and another thing to turn from sin: The former may be done upon many grounds that are not heavenly and gracious; but the latter is onely upon pure grounds: But of this more in the counterfeit work of conversion.
Thus you see how every Auditor is not to let these sermons pass as general things, like a tale that is told, wherein they are not concerned; but to consi∣der, Is not all this spoken to me? am not I in the number of those, who yet need conversion? was it ever done upon me? when did God ever make this change upon me? Oh this undoeth you! notwithstanding all preaching, and all your hearing, no man saith, What have I done? am I turned to God? you see every man by nature is a Blackamore, that must be made white: If thou hast not outward wickedness to turn from, thou hast that inbred pollution, yea, thy own self to turn from. Thus you see who are to turn from sin.
Secondly, Which is the quintessence of this point, Let us consider what are the motives and grounds which are acceptable with God, when we turn from * sin; for, as you heard, Men have left their sins, they have not so much turn∣ed from them, but even run from them. Ahab, the Israelites, Judas, those turned from their sins, would do so no more, at least as their present condition was; yet they never truly turned from any one sin: Therefore consider, that every kinde of forsaking sin, is not presently a turning unto God. That you may understand this, consider what are the right motives with a true convert to leave sin; he will never do or live as he hath done, no, not for all the world; And
First, There are inferior or lesse principal motives, which do lawfully work upon a man, to make him turn from sin, so long as they are in the second place; And that is the * Argument in the Text, Gods framing and bringing evil upon men for their sins: When God complaineth that he had thus and thus scourged them, yet they did not return unto him; this argueth, That its lawful to turn from sin, because of the fear of punishment, and Gods judgements accempanying it: And commonly this is the first motive in place, though the last in dignity and worth: Let then all the threatnings, all the wrath of God denounced against sin, make thee speedi∣ly turn from it, for God (as the Magistrate) doth not bear his sword in vain, Page 467 neither doth the Scripture threaten in vain; but if there be no more reason then this, if this be the principal and the onely, then thou lovest sin still in thy heart; thou art kept from it, as the Dog by a clog on him, from doing his mis∣chief. The godly, though they may be first awakened to turn from sin by these thorns in their sides, and yokes on their necks, yet they stay not in these; but they have more Noble and Divine grounds why they turn from sin; And they are:
First, The offence and just displeasure that is given God, by their iniquities: Oh * this prevaileth with them, more then all external punishments in the world: Alas, what is sword, or death, or hell it self, to Gods frowns, to Gods dis∣pleasures? Thus David in his conversion to God, after his grievous relapse, is affected with this, Against thee, thee onely have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight, Psal. 51. It was not loss of childe, and many other sad chastisements that followed him and his posterity, did so much affect him as this; He had displeased God, and done evil in his sight: This is a sure and everlasting ground, those that walk by this rule, will never prove a deceitful bow.
Secondly, They turn from sin, because of the contrariety it hath to the pure, spiri∣tual*and holy Law of God: And this is a sure sign of a true convert, when a man turneth from his sin, because of the enmity and repugnancy it hath to the holy Commandment of God: This is to leave sin, because of the nature of it, and for its selfs sake. Hence though God had not confirmed his Law by any threat∣nings, or made it penal in such an high way of punishment, yet the heart of him, who thus turneth to God, could not close with it, or imbrace it. The Apostle maketh the very nature of sin to lie in this, that it is a transgression of the Law: Now then when a man shall leave sin, not onely because it hath the curses and the punishment of the Law, but because its the transgression of the Law; this is a good sign. You may behold this excellent disposition in Paul, Rom. 7. What is that which makes him so sadly bewail his captivity and thral∣dom to sin? see the motive, Because the Law was holy and spiritual, and he was carnal: The purity of the Law, and the impurity of his spirit, made such an∣guish and conflicts in his soul: Oh then consider, what is that which sets thy soul on turning from sin, is it meerly an external punishment, not the loathsom and contrary nature of sin, to Gods pure commands? this is not compleat and sincere; it doth not argue thy turning to be from a true inward principle, but from external violence: Even as the wheel in the mil, moveth as long as the force of the waters compell it, but when they cease, then the wheel ceaseth; all see this motion is not natural, but violent; so it is here, as long as the waters of afflictions are upon thee, they set the wheel of thy heart moving in prayer and other duties, but when these are dryed up, then thou standest immoveable in thy sins. Oh then hunger and thirst for this frame of a true convert, that thou mayest say, O Lord, though sin hath so many inticements of pleasure and carnal advantage on one hand; and though it hath so much wrath and terror on the other hand, yet neither of these prevail so much with me, as because sin is contrary to so exact a rule, opposite to so heavenly a principle: He that can upon good grounds say this, needeth not doubt of the integrity of his heart.
Thirdly, The true Convert leaves his sin and turneth from it, because of love to God, and those graces which sin doth thwart: Ye that love the Lord, hate evil; hate that*which is evil, and cleave to that which is good, Rom. 12. Men may turn from sin, and yet love it for all that; they part with it, because sin is either taken from them, or they from it: Who can say, but that Pharaohs dismission of the people of Israel, was wholly against his will? had it not been for the sharp rod on his back, he would never have yileded; now all these things are by force and con∣straint: But as God loves a willing giver, so he loveth a willing forsaker of his sins, one that doth it with love and delight in him. When two things are fro∣zen and congealed together, they may either be violently separated by forcible Page 468 breaking the ice, or kindely by the thawings and meltings of the Sun: Thus it is here, when men and their sins are congealed together, the Devil hath mar∣ried them together; now these may be separated violently, by some forcible judgements of God, that they cannot sin, though they would, as they have done; or else in a kindely, gracious manner, and that is by the love of God shed abroad in their hearts; for whatsoever is not done out of love to God, is not thank worthy, neither doth God accept it: But the bypocrite, when he is forced to leave his sin, it is with him, as it was with the Devils that possessed bodies, they came out indeed when Christ commanded, for they could do no otherwise, but sore against their wills, therefore they were vexed, and tore and rent the possessed party as they went out; thus they leave sin as unwillingly: Therefore let the love of God be kindled like a fire in thy breast, and that will separate thee from sin.
Fourthly, He turneth from sin, because of the unkindeness and ingratitude that is in every transgression: All sin hath rebellion in it, against God as our Soveraign, * and unkindeness against him, as a merciful father, and the fouutain of all the good we have: Now he that doth truly turn from sin, is much moved thereunto, because of the unkindeness therein to all Gods mercies, because God was so ill recompensed after his love to us: Thus God aggravates Davids sins, by enume∣rating the several mercies that were bestowed on him, If all this had been too little I would have given thee more, saith God; so many mercies, so many hot coals of fire, and this makes a man escape from his sins. We might also shew, that be∣cause these grounds of turning from sin, hold in every particular transgression, therefore their conversion is universal; but of that hereafter.
Now let us instance in those things that hinder this motion or turning unto God: And *
First, Want of spiritual life: You wonder not if the dead carcass lie always in the same place, and do not stir it self; neither is it strange to see men dead in sin, and buried in the grave of it, never taking one step forward to heaven.
Secondly. As in corporal motion, there are two things requisite, the eye to * direct, and the feet to walk; so for the soul to turn from sin, there must be a right and pure eye, and there must be sound and good feet. The eye is under∣standing, especially faith, which is the pupil of the eye; that discovers the dan∣ger we are in, the judgements imminent over us, and this will make us rise up and walk. When that thick Egyptian darkness was, the people sate still, and did not stir out of their places for several days together; and thus men in darkness of minde, that know nothing of God, Heaven, or their own damnation, they sit still and see none of this evil coming on them.
Again, Affections are often called the feet of the soul; by these we turn from sin, when we are converted, love to God, grief for sin, and hatred of it, desire * and hope of pardon, and enjoyment of Gods favor: But the natural man is like the poor Cripple, that lay thirty years by the pool of Bethesda, he cannot move himself to be healed: As the poor bed-ridden man, he cannot stir or move himself; so neither can such, who lie sin-ridden, under the power and command of all foul iniquities.
Use of instruction, how much this Text, and this point of Conversion, con∣cerneth most of our hearers; for who is not in one evil way or other? Con∣version is not onely to be preached to those that are in the High-ways, Gentiles and Heathens, but to you who frequent the solemn assemblies; yet what hear∣er goeth home, and thinketh with himself, I am yet to be converted, I am yet to turn from my evil way? Do not easily perswade your selves, that the work is done already; no, such a change as this would make more noise in thy conscience, it would make more alterations in thy life; thy soul would have been in travel and pangs ere this manchilde had been brought forth: How art thou turned from that, which thou art committing every day? how art thou turned from Page 469 thy prophanenesse when it is still in thy mouth, in thy words, in thy hands, and act∣ions. Oh if you did consider you had to do with God, and scripture Truths will a∣bide so, when sin hath cursed and damned thee into hell, thou wouldst not let these things passe away as thou dost. You will know that conversion hath been preached unto you, and that all thy destruction and damnation is of thy self.