The Impediments and Obstructions of Conversion; And what kinde of persons are most unlikely ever to be converted, not to drive them to despair, but to awaken them out of their Security.
EZEK. 33. 11.
THe particulars that clear the nature of conversion are dispatched: Let us now consider, what are the impediments and obstructions of conversion. That conversion now adays is very rare, comparatively to former times, experience evidenceth; and yet how much reason, and what unanswerable ar∣guments may be pressed on every mans conscience? Therefore its worth the while to consider, what are those causes that make men continue in their ac∣customed sins, when God and his Ministers do thus importune to leave them. Now although it be true, that in every unregenerate man, there is a natural im∣possibility to turn unto God, and so no hopes of any man in the world, if we respect humane power and strength; yet there are many, who besides this natural impossibility, have contracted on themselves a voluntary impossibility of turn∣ing unto God; so that their conversion, is not the taking away the stone of the heart, but the stones; for they have laid one upon another: We shall then ex∣amine, * what persons they are, that have the Symptomes and visible Characters of difficulty to be converted, rather then other men.
And first, Ignorant and stupid people, that have no knowledge or understanding about God or themselves: These are notoriously indisposed to turn to God; the reason is plain, because understanding goeth before conversion, and is initial or introductory to it; as Isa. 6. 10. So that if there be no knowledge, there is no hope of any turning to God; therefore Laodicea is counselled to buy eye-salve, Rev. 3. 18. as that which would be the first means to help her; and this Prayer is still to be continued, for those whose conversion we desire, That God will give them eye-salve: Its ordinarily said, As God in the first Creation wrought light, before other things; so in man, who by nature is a miserable Chaos and confusion, God causeth light to shine out of darkness. The bruit beasts are not capable of conversion, because they have no reason; and although our rea∣son be naturally corrupt, and so a great enemy to God, yet there is by it a passive capacity, though not an active of conversion. Hence the Gospel at first did take the best and most glorious effects in cities, where men were bred up in more knowledge and understanding: It's true, Paul saith, Not many learned are called, 1 Cor. 1. and, God chooseth the foolish things of the world, to confound the wise; and our Saviour Christ giveth thanks to God, That he had hid the things of salvation from the wise, but revealed them to babes: But by Wise and Learned, are meant Page 415 such, that with their learning are also pufft up with pride; and by babes, were not meant those that have no knowledge or understanding, but that are lowly and weak, comparatively to others: Howsoever, where conversion comes, it giveth light and knowledge, if there were none before. The consideration of this, should much startle and amaze many of you, for how woful and lamen∣table is the ignorance of most? how little is known about original and actual sin, which is their disease? and how little about Christ, who is the Physitian? God would have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth, 1 Tim 2. The knowledge of the truth must be first attained; and on the contrary, Its a people of no understanding, therefore he that made them, will not save them, Isa. 27. 11. Christ told the woman, If thou hadst known the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink, thou wouldst have asked of him, John 4. 11. If thou hadst known; and this we may say to those, who lie still in the dungeon of their sins, If thou hadst known what thy condition is, what the curses of the Law are, how terrible God is, how few shall be saved, and such like, thou would•t not stand idle, as thou doest, but like the Hart, pant after the blood of Christ, as that after the waters: Oh then that God at last would perswade ignorant peo∣ple of their damnable estate. To whom is the word without profit? to whom is it a savor of death, but to ignorant people? Where may the Ministers make their sad complaints, They have labored in vain, and none believe their report, so much, as where this darkness, this night is upon mens hearts? You old men then, that know nothing, that understand very little, why are ye not afraid, being you are in such darkness? and you fathers, whatsoever you fail in, fail not here, about instructing your Children, though you cannot leave them wealth and estates, yet let them have the knowledge of God out of the Scriptures: How much would it affect you, to have children bodily blinde? would you not heal them, if you knew any remedy in the world? but to your childrens ignorance and spiritual blindeness, you are voluntarily accessary, and you willingly are the cause of it.
Secondly, Men far from conversion, are such as have a Pharisaical Self-conceit*of their own Righteousness and good Works; by which means, they never think of going back, for none can perswade them, but they are in the right way already: This is a generation, that will sooner dye in their sins, then ever turn to God; and our Congregations have such, as well as the former. Observe our Saviours Sermons, and you shall finde, that he did least good, upon those that iustified themselves; insomuch, that he tells them, Publicans and harlots entered the king∣dom of heaven, before such as they were; and again, I come not to call the Righte∣ous, but sinners to repentance, Luke 5. 32. so we preach, not to convert those who think themselves Righteous already, who applaud themselves in their good Mo∣ralities, or plausible lives; but to those who are convinced of their sinfulness, and groan under it: I know it is a very unpleasing thing for a man, to be found a sinner, to judge himself and condemn himself upon that account; he had ra∣ther sit down with a false, dawbed peace, and cozen his own soul, then arraign and terrifie himself after that maner; but it is a vain thing to hide and exte∣nuate, when we have to do with God; we must judge our selves, else God will judge us. It was the Churches bold presumption, that would at last destroy her, to say, She was rich, and clothed, and wanted nothing, when indeed she was miserable, and naked, and wanted all things; yet in such a foolish Paradise do many place * themselves, They be converted, they become changed, they are as good as any others already, they have as good an heart as any other: These men are most incureable, and are in the greatest danger, because they feel no danger: O then know, That quietness and security which thou hast in thy breast, and all that * confident presumption in thee about thy self, will at last be like the cobweb, not serve to cover thee, when the tempests of Gods wrath shall arise.
Thirdly, They have but little hope of conversion, who have been long accustomed Page [unnumbered] to sin, whose iniquities for many years together have been taking a deep root. If a Blackamoor may change his skin, then may you do good, who have been accustomed to evil, Jer. 13. 23. Hos. 9. 9. When Israel had deeply corrupted themselves, then God would remember their iniquity. A man that hath been a long while given to his lusts and ungodliness: Oh who can give hopes that ever he will turn to God! Take heed then of custom in any sinning, it is like a milstone about thy neck, it will, like Pharoah, oppress thee, and keep thee down, that thou mayest never leave Egypt. The Devils that possessed a man from his youth up, were more dif∣ficultly cast out, then any others: The husbandman hath little hope of a crop in sowing, when the soil hath a continual wont to miscarry. Custom in sin, makes men like the tall grown Oaks, which cannot be removed, they have got such deep hold in the earth; whereas at first sin is more timorous, and less impudent, the conscience of a man is not so hardened: A continual use in sin, takes away all the sense and feeling of it, all the horridness and terror of it: Thus men that are accustomed to cursing and swearing, they minde it not: Men given to lust∣ful and filthy ways, have no horror upon them, after their unclean practices; and why? custom is like a great stone laid upon a man, already dead and buried in the grave of sin: And therefore a sinner, habituated in an evil way, is compared to Lazarus, who was dead and buried, and even putrified ere he was raised again.
Fourthly, Those that have enjoyed the means of grace for a long season, and yet are bryars and thorns: These give little hopes of conversion. The ground that * hath often received rain, and brings forth nothing but weeds, is nigh unto cursing, Heb. 6. 7. Those that refused the Prophets, The dust of their feet was to be shaken off, in testimony against them, Mat. 10. 14. The word of God doeth most good, and hath the greatest effects, at its first coming to a place; as you may read in the several plantations of the Church at first, whereas the longer men live under it, the authority and majesty of the word is abated: Ye did for a ••a∣son rejoyce in his light, as our Saviour told the Jews concerning John Baptist, John 15. 35. When God hath sent his Ministers and Prophets one after another, ad∣monishing, instructing, and vehemently exhorting and charging you, to part with your lusts, saying, You cannot have them and Christ too; you cannot hold them an heaven too: Its a sad presage, (and yet thou hardenest the neck against all these reproofs) that Christ hath said of thee, as of that fig-tree, Never fruit grow more on thee. As there are ears of corn that are blasted, that never thrive, or come to any good; so there are many blasted sinners, impenitent and obsti∣nate, which after many remedies applied, yet continue under the power of their disease: O then, consider how much this concerneth you! you may by your unfruitfulness and barrenness under the means of grace, make your conversion less possible, then that of Pagans and Heathens. Did not our Saviour say? Mat. 11. 21. That the Tyrians and Sodonians would have shewed more effects of a conversi∣on, then the Jews to whom there had been so much preaching, if God would have vouch∣safed the Gospel to them? Certainly you are in a more dangerous estate, then any people that sit in darkness, and have no light: If so many Sermons, so many Sabbaths, so many Exhortations, have done no good? who can but think it is in vain to plant and water any more?
Fifthly, Those that have accustomed themselves to rebel against the light, and to live against the convictions of their conscience: As the Mariner used to storms and * tempests, is not afraid; so these continually used to the whips and scourges of their conscience, at last are not afraid at all, yea, quite put it out: The Apostle calls this A cankered conscience, seared with an hot iron, 1 Tim. 4. 2. or Quite cut off, as some expound it; and certainly, this must be a desperate presage: for see∣ing conversion is let into the soul, by that needle of conviction; if this be resisted, and continually beaten back, what hope is left at the bottom? There∣fore this is the inlet to the sin against the Holy Ghost, from which never any Page 417 was, or shall be converted, of whom if we had certainty, we might no more preach to their conversion, then to the Devils and damned in hell. But whence comes this impossibility of turning to God? it arose at first from rebelling against light, living in those sins, which the spirit of God convinced thee of by the word, and so in some measure, Doing despite unto the Spirit of Grace: This makes thee at last insensible; even as frequent walking barefoot, brings a senselesness of pain upon the feet: Now whether this light be natural, ingrafted in thy con∣science; or supernatural, revealed by the grace of God, it is a woful hardness, to resist any of them: This indisposition to conversion, is very common; for what man is there, that liveth in gross palpable sins, that doth not rebel against his conscience, and rebel against the light of Gods word: Oh! this must ar∣gue, thou hast devilish wickedness in thee, that thou doest the things, thou know∣est are sins: I say, Devilish, because the Devils have great light in their under∣standings, but malicious enmity against God in their wills: If therefore thou wouldst prepare the way for God in thy heart, and have the gates of thy soul unbolted, that the King of Glory may come in, be sure, let thy conversation answer thy conviction; let thy heart in affections and practice, be proportion∣able to thy light and judgement; be so blessed, that when thou knowest, thou doest also: Therefore you that live under much preaching, are often in hearing, and ministerial admonitions, you had need take heed to your selves, for as often as thou sinnest, thou goest against the instructions of thy own heart: Thou knowest otherwise, thou hast been taught otherwise, thou hast heard other∣wise; This is kicking against the prick: This daily use to the noise and sound of conscience, will at last take away the terribleness thereof.
Sixthly, Those also are very far from turning unto God, even without any hope,*that are by Gods just judgement, forsaken and given up to the power of their sins, to sin with all greediness, wilfulness, and without any remorse at all. There are such who have this incurable disease upon them; and which is more terrible, it is to be found chiefly in the Church of God, and amongst them, that have en∣joyed the best means: Thus Isa. 6. 10. Many of the people of Israel are to have their eyes shut, and their ears made deaf, and their hearts senseless or fat, lest they should understand and be converted. To make the heart fat, is a metaphor from beasts, that by the fattest pastures, are soonest prepared for the Shambles; so many people by the choicest and most excellent means of grace, are ripened for this heavy judgement of a senseless spirit. Wo be it to those persons, that are smitten with this spiritual blindeness: Behold then the severity and ter∣ror of God, to several persons, who for a long while receive his grace in vain, and resist his spirit; God in his anger sweareth, This people shall never enter into his rest, give them blinde eyes, a deceived heart, a stupid conscience, let no Mi∣nistry trouble them, let no judgement awaken them: Therefore howsoever thou boastest in thy boldness and impudency in sinning, and bravest it towards God and man, yet thou art more terribly cursed then Cain, for he went trembling about under his curse, and thou goest securely in all jollity and mirth.
Seventhly, A people of frequent resolves and purposes to amend, while judgements*are upon them, but when they are removed, returning to their former sins again: Such discover their inconstancy and hypocrisie so often, that they give little hopes of a true and right turning to God. Pharaoh, while the hand of God was heavy on him, how ready then for his duty! then he will let the people go, then he cryeth out of his sin; but no sooner is the rod taken off his back, but he is in the mire as before. The people of Israel are also a pregnant instance for this, while they were in fears of enemies, or under any of Gods sore judgements, that they sought and cryed mightily to God; but let them have respit, they fall from God again: Hence are they so often condemned for hypocrisie and backsliding, 〈◊〉 such whom God would wholly forsake at last; this is too often to be found. Page 418 There are many people in times of fear, and dangers of death, are as soft as wax; but when recovered, as hard as iron: Men of aguish dispositions, sometimes very hot, and again very cold; sometimes in great fears, straights and troubles of soul, ready to roar out like Bears, for the anguish upon their souls, because they have sinned against God; and other times as bold, and ready for the same sins they complained of, as if they were not the same men. As they say of long ague fits, they end at last in a consumption; so these changes and vicissitudes upon thy soul, will at last end in final Apostacy: O then be sure to keep up all those Engagements and Obligations thou hast taken upon thy self: Be the same in health, as sickness; in joy, as fear; after a sermon, as when thou art hearing one, that fills thy heart with fears.
Eighthly, Such also seem remote from conversion, that are scorners and deriders*at godly and holy things: The prophane scoffer, is seldom turned an humble lover of the things he so despised: Hence he is a blessed man, That sitteth not in the seat of scorners, Psal. 1. 1 that hath nothing to do with them: The Apostle Peter speaks of some men, 2 Pet. 3. 3. whose damnation is of old ordained for them, and they are scoffers and deriders at the day of judgement, and Christs coming. Solomon doth often sentence a scorner, for a man that shall perish in his wickedness. I know not why it is, but it falls out, that godliness and true holiness is the ob∣ject of scorn, derision and contempt to carnal and wicked men: Thus David was the song of drunkards; and what is more ordinary, then to despise and de∣ride the practical power of godliness? Now what hopes can such give of turn∣ing to God? wilt thou come and be in the number of those, whom thou mock∣est and despisest? wilt thou eagerly pursue that way, thou didst so deride? though this be too common, yet it argueth high prophaneness. Many wicked men, as Herod, though they did not turn godly themselves, yet they reverenced and honored it in others; And wilt thou be so arrogantly wicked, as to scorn at that, which thou shouldst renown and imbrace? Who can think that these Dogs and Swine (for so the Scripture calls such prophane wretches) should ever be turned into Lambs?
Ninthly, As scorners are far off from this priviledge, so proud and haughty men, th•y seldom are converted: The humble and meek he will teach his way Psal. 15. * These high Mountains are always barren of good: God resisteth the proud; How is that? By not giving grace to them. Pride is a divers shapen sin, it emptieth it self into many channels: There is pride of Parts and Abilities, pride about Birth, Estate, and External Greatness; which way soever pride vents it self, common∣ly Christ will not come into that heart, and dwell there: They were the proud persons, that did not care what Jeremy told them from the Lord: The Humble, the Meek, the Poor, the Hungry, the Empty, the Naked, these are drawn home to Christ; but the proud and the full are sent empty away: Take heed therefore of any kinde of pride, for this will always make thee at distance with God: This will make thee contemn the Word of God, and the voice of his Messengers. Oh! think the mountain of thy heart must be made a plain, ere Christ will own thee.
Tenthly, Apostates and Revolters from former zeal and forwardness in the ways of God: when these fall away, there is little hopes for such to turn unto God: The * Scripture is clear, Heb. 6. and Peter compareth such, To the Dog returning to his vomit, and the Sow to the mire; and that their latter end is worse then their be∣ginning; yea, that it had been better they had never known the way of Righteousness, 2 Pet 2. 21. yet such instances of Apostacy and Backsliding, all times do sadly af∣ford; and truly, such Prodigals, seldom go home to their fathers house again: Its true, the work of grace was never sound and right in them, no, not when they most flourished; for if they had been of us, they had not gone from us: Oh then! take heed how you abate of your former love and zeal; you once were more forward for God, once you delighted in holy duties, and holy com∣panions; Page 419 now thy heart is become like a dryed wilderness; the world, and thoughts of the world hath choaked all: Oh sit and tremble, lest this be but the beginning of thy sorrows.
Lastly, Those are difficultly brought home to God, who are insnared and intangled*in wicked and ungodly company, who have ungodly relations, live in ungodly fami∣lies: For whensoever such are invited to turn to God, then their carnal friends become impediments in their way. Paul consulted not with flesh and blood in his conversion; if so, he had not turned to Christ: And this undoeth you, God and your conscience calls upon thee, Turn to God, why wilt thou dye and be damned in these sins? but then thou consultest with flesh and blood, some ungod∣ly friends and acquaintance, and thus they hinder thee: Oh thou shouldst say to the dearest friend in the world that stops thee in this course, Get thee behinde me Satan, for thou savorest not the things of God: Hence our Saviour is so per∣emptory, He that loveth not me, more then father or mother, cannot be my disciple; neither would our Saviour have one that would follow him; so much as go back to bid his friends farewel, or bury his dead father: Oh then consider, that when a right eye, or a right hand offends thee, these must be parted with: The Queens daughter must forget her fathers house; when thy soul is espoused to Christ, thou must forsake all thy former lovers.
Use of Examination, put thy self upon this severe and impartial tryal, whe∣ther * thy name be not in one of these black scrols or no: Art thou not to be found among the ignorant and stupid, or proud and prophane scoffers? or among those that rebel against their conscience, or change in their resolution, as good or evil floweth upon them? Hast not thou a long while accustomed thy self to an evil haunt or custom of sinning? If these, or any of these; Satan and sin hath bound thee in such strong cords, that are not easily broken: while therefore there is any hope, though there be not so much probability; yet while God hath not de∣clared an utter impossibility, Go and commune with your own hearts, and stand in awe; yea, cry out, Lord turn me, and I shall be turned; say, I am weary of my former courses, they are a shame, a torment, an heavy burthen upon me: Oh! (say) I dare not go one step further in the way I was in, I see Hell gaping to de∣vour me; and never let that trouble thee, to think how the world will wonder and laugh to see thee become a new convert: Thou hadst better have frowns from men then God; thou wilt leave the company of wicked and ungodly wretches, to enjoy God and good men: There is a necessity of this turning, that wickedness thou livest in, must be turned from, or else wo unto thee that ever thou wast born: If death and judgement finde thee with them, no mountains or hills can cover thee from the wrath of God: Hearken what thy own conscience sayeth, It is high time to leave off from being such a beast any longer; take Manasses, take Mary Magdalen, take Paul for examples, they ran far in a foul and dangerous way, but at last they turned: Oh this was there happiness, they turned from their evil ways. Why do ye not take off all your cares and thoughts from other things, and fix them upon this business?