And the LORD said unto Satan, The LORD rebuke thee, O Satan; even the LORD that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire? Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and stood before the angel. And he answered and spake unto those that stood before him, saying, Take away the filthy garments from him. And unto him he said, Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment.
~ Zechariah 3:2-4
They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away.
~ Luke 8:13
And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
~ Matthew 18:3
Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.
~ Psalm 51:12-13
When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer. Selah. I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah. For this shall every one that is godly pray unto thee in a time when thou mayest be found: surely in the floods of great waters they shall not come nigh unto him.
~ Psalm 32:3-6
The Subjects of a First Work of Grace May Need a New Conversion, by Jonathan Edwards.
But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren. Luke 22:32.
Christ is here foretelling Simon his shameful fall in an hour of temptation that night; for Christ said this to him the same night wherein he denied him thrice. He says to him, in the verse before the text, “Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat.” And then follow the words of the text: “But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.”
In these words I would observe two things:
1. Something that implies that Peter was already converted: and that is what Christ says of his praying that his faith might not fail. Which implies that he had faith to be tried, and that faith which is not a temporary faith, but a true faith, that is, a persevering faith. For though it might have failed if Christ had not prayed this, and promised that it should not fail, yet that he did pray that it should not fail shows that it was not a persevering faith: for no faith is a persevering faith any other way than by Christ’s prayer and power. The faith of the best saint would soon be overthrown if it were not for the intercession and strength of him who is the object of faith.
There are many things that make it very manifest that Peter was truly savingly converted before now. On occasion of Peter’s professing his faith in Christ as the Son of God, when he asked the disciples who they thought that he was, Christ replied to him, “Blessed art thou Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven”; and on that occasion gave him the honorable name of “Peter,” or a rock, and tells him that on this rock he would build his church, and the (gates of hell would not prevail against it), as in the sixteenth chapter of Matthew (vv. Matthew 16:17-18). And upon another occasion, when many of the seeming disciples of Christ went back and walked no more with him, and Christ said to the twelve, “Will ye also go away?” Simon Peter answered, “To whom should we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art Christ, the Son of the living God,” as John 6:67-69.
All the twelve disciples, excepting Judas only, were savingly converted before this time, as appears by Christ’s prayer in the seventeenth (chapter) of John, particularly vv. John 17:6-08: “I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word. Now they have known that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee. For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me.” And v. John 6:12, “While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled.” Peter was not only a true convert before this, but he seems to have been one of the most eminent of them. Peter, or Cephas, and James and John, that the apostle Paul speaks of (as) the pillars after Christ’s resurrection (Galatians 2:9), seemed to have been upon many occasions distinguished from the rest by Christ before his death. So it was these that were admitted to be present at Christ’s transfiguration. And it was these three only that were admitted to be present when he raised Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:22-43), and it was these three that Christ took with him in the time of his agonies (Mark 14:32-33); which plainly showed a preference of Peter and James and John above the rest of the disciples. But,
2. We may observe something in the text that implies that Peter would yet need to be converted. Christ speaks of a future conversion that he should be the subject of, that should be granted in answer to his prayer for him.
Those that have true grace in their hearts may yet stand in great need of being converted.In speaking to this doctrine, I would do three things:
I. (I would show) that there are changes that the godly sometimes pass under, through a work of the Spirit of God upon them, that are spoken of in Scripture under like terms as the first work of grace on their hearts.
II. I would show what godly persons they are that stand in need of such a work of God’s Spirit.
III. Show upon what accounts. I. I would show that the first work of grace that is wrought in the hearts of the godly, is sometimes in Scripture called their “conversion.” Psalms 51:13, “Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.” And Isaiah 6:10, “Lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.” And Acts 3:19, “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out.” And the like in other places.
But yet we find in the text that a change that Peter was the subject of, long after the work of grace, is called conversion.
Again, the first work of grace in the heart is in Scripture called a “new creation,” as Ephesians 2:10, “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus.” And a putting a new spirit within ’em, as in Ezekiel 11:19. So the like terms are used in Scripture concerning a work of God that the godly may be the subjects of after the first work of grace. Thus David, in the fifty-first Psalm, tenth verse, long after the first (work of grace in his heart), prays to God to create in him a clean heart, and to renew in him a right spirit.
Again, the first work of God’s grace in the heart is in Scripture called a putting off the old man and putting on the new man, Colossians 3:9-10. The Apostle says there to the Christian Colossians, “Ye have put off the old man and put on the new man.” And yet the Apostle in his epistle to the Ephesians, in which he wrote to those that he had charity for as saints and faithful in Christ Jesus, as appears by the first verse of the epistle, still exhorts, in the fourth chapter, twenty-second, twenty-third, (and) twenty-fourth verses, to put off the old man, and to be renewed in the spirit of their mind, and to put on the new man.
So conversion is called in many places in Scripture an enlightening the eyes of the blind, and a raising the dead. Thus the Apostle expresses his charity for the Christian Ephesians, that they were already raised (from the dead). Ephesians 2:1, “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins.” (Verse) Ephesians 2:5, “Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ.” And yet the Apostle, in this same epistle, earnestly prays that they might have their eyes enlightened in the knowledge of Christ, and be raised from the dead as Christ was, as though it had not been yet done; as you may see in the first chapter, vv. Ephesians 2:16-20: “Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places.”
So the Apostle, in the beginning of his epistle to the Romans, says that he writes to those at Rome that were “beloved of God, called to be saints” (Romans 1:7), and yet he exhorts ’em to be transformed by the renewing of their mind. Romans 12:1-02, “I beseech you therefore, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed unto this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
The epistles to the Corinthians are written to those that the Apostle had charity for as saints, “sanctified in Christ Jesus” (1 Corinthians 1:2), as appears by the beginning of the epistles, and yet the Apostle earnestly beseeches ’em to be “reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20). Now the soul is reconciled unto God in conversion, but still the Apostle exhorts them to be reconciled to God. So Christ tells his disciples, in the beginning of the eighteenth (chapter) of Matthew, (v. Matthew 18:3), “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven,” as though they had not been converted already.
The changes and works of God’s Spirit in the hearts of those that have before had grace in their hearts, that are called in Scripture by the same names as the first work of grace, are these following:
First. Any remarkable work of God’s Spirit carrying grace to higher degrees in their souls, are in Scripture sometimes so called. If grace has before been weak and the actings of it low, and God comes in upon the soul with much more powerful influences and clear discoveries, raising grace to a much higher pitch in the soul, this is in Scripture sometimes represented as a work of conversion. Sometimes, when grace is first infused, it is but as a small dawning of light, like the first beginnings of the light in the dawning of the day; and the first actings of faith are feeble, appearing chiefly in holy desires after Christ and holiness, but are not attended with clear satisfaction. The convert is not yet enabled to rejoice in Jesus Christ as his Savior and Redeemer, but only to thirst after him from some sight of his excellency, to long that he were his Savior. And faith appears more in a strong hope of what Christ will do for him than in rejoicing in what he has done, and the soul remains so for some time before it has such discoveries as are satisfying. And then, afterwards, God comes in with greater power and brighter light, giving abundantly more clear discoveries that scatters the darkness that there was till then in the soul, and fills it with comfort; which, though it be the first remarkably clear discovery, yet is not really the first work of grace.
But yet converts are often wont to date their conversion from this first clear and remarkable discovery; and the Scripture does sometimes call it by the same names that it does the first conversion. So it is in the thirtieth chapter of Deuteronomy, at the beginning, vv. Deuteronomy 13:1-03: “And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shalt call them to mind among all the nations, whither the Lord thy God hath driven thee, and shalt return unto the Lord thy God, and shalt obey his voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thine heart, and with all thy soul; that then the Lord thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the Lord thy God hath scattered thee.” Verse Deuteronomy 13:6, “And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.” Here God promises the children of Israel that in case they shall return to the Lord their God, and obey his voice with all their heart and with all their soul, that then God would circumcise their heart, to love the Lord their God with all their heart and with all their soul.
Here is two works of God’s Spirit or two changes in their hearts mentioned, and one to be before the other, and one the condition of the other. The first change is that mentioned in the second verse, viz. their returning to the Lord their God, to obey his voice with all their heart (and with all their soul). This was their first conversion. For a man to return (to the Lord) is to be converted (a first time).
But then, in the sixth verse, is mentioned another change that God would work in them, consequent upon the former and upon condition of the former: and that is, that then he would circumcise their heart to love (the Lord their God) with all (their heart and with all their soul). This also is their conversion. The circumcision of the heart is the conversion of the heart. ‘Tis one of those names by which a work of regeneration is called in many places of Scripture.
The first work of grace in the heart sometimes appears in holy thirstings after grace and believing cries to God for it, with a full belief that Christ is sufficient to bestow it; and then, after such desires and cries, there is an answer given to those cries in more large and satisfying communications of grace. This was represented in the blind man, in the tenth (chapter) of Mark, (vv.) Mark 10:47-52. He cries earnestly to Christ that he might receive his sight, which was a type of a man’s crying for converting grace; and yet he acted faith in that request: “Jesus, thou son of David,” says he, “have mercy on me.” He believed that Christ was the son of David before he obtained his request, which was to have his eyes opened, an emblem of the opening of the eye in the conversion of the soul. And Christ tells him that his faith had made him whole (v. Mark 10:52).
So the leper that came to be cleansed of his leprosy, which was a type of that cleansing of the soul of its spiritual leprosy in conversion, he comes in faith and says, “Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean” (Matthew 8:2-03).
Many Christians, though they derive spiritual influences from Christ at first to enable ’em to come to him by faith, yet when they are first enabled to come, they come to him for that end, viz. that Christ would renew their hearts. As David, after he began to repent and his heart began to be renewed after his great fall, the first beginning of this renewing of his heart appeared in his earnest crying to God, as he does in the fifty-first Psalm, that God would renew his heart. “Create in me a clean heart,” says he, “O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (v. Psalms 51:10).
And so, if there be any remarkable work of God upon the soul long after its first conversion, whereby the heart is raised up to much higher degrees of grace, it goes in Scripture by the same names as the first conversion itself. Sometimes those that have long had a seed of grace in their souls, but have had that seed in a great measure as it were buried in the ground, do experience a blessed work of God in their hearts, causing a great alteration in their souls, very much delivering it from its former darkness, and also setting it much more at liberty from corruptions that before, through the weakness of grace, used much to entangle and ensnare the soul, giving the soul a new and much clearer understanding of divine things, and remarkably putting it under new advantages for the exercises and fruits of the divine life. And when it is so, such a work in Scripture is represented in like manner with the work of God in first conversion. This probably was the case of John’s two disciples that followed Jesus (John 1:33-35), and also of several other of Christ’s disciples, who seemed to have been good men before they came to Christ in that manner that they did, when Christ saw ’em and bid them follow him, when straightway they left all and followed him— though that is represented as their coming to Christ at his effectual call.
This seems also to have been the case with Cornelius. He was a good man before Peter came and the Holy Spirit was given him by his preaching in those more clear discoveries and distinct knowledge of Christ. I say he was a good man before this, otherwise God would never have said to him as he did by his angel, in Acts 10:3-04, “Cornelius, thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God.” And yet that new and more clear light that he had by Peter’s preaching afterwards is represented as his conversion and as the beginning of the calling of the Gentiles, in the eleventh (chapter) of Acts, eighteenth verse. ‘Tis said on this occasion, “Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.”
Second. When the godly are recovered and renewed after great decays and falls, this is in Scripture called by the same names as the first conversion. The godly, after they have grace in their hearts, many times do gradually sink down into very ill frames through their unwatchfulness: they insensibly get into carnal frames; their hearts are overcharged with the cares of this life; their lusts prevail and get ground more and more, and their grace is buried up. The good seed is overgrown with weeds.
Sometimes they get by degrees into a very bad frame through difficulties they have with their neighbors, or by public difficulties that lead ’em into contention. It is with many as it is with a sheep that wanders from the shepherd and flock: at first it goes a little way from the shepherd, being tempted by the feed that it sees and has an appetite to, but yet at first keeps within sight of the shepherd and within the hearing of its voice; and as it sees those herbs that are pleasing to the sight, it is tempted yet further, being more led by its appetite than the prudent guidance of the shepherd, till at length it gets quite out sight and out of hearing, and wanders deep into the wilderness. In such a case, the recovery of the lost sheep is like the conversion of a sinner (Luke 15:3-07).
Sometimes the godly fall into gross and heinous sins, by which the Spirit of God is grieved and his influences quenched, and the exercise of grace is to a dreadful degree extinguished. But God won’t leave ’em thus, but is wont, by a renewed work of his Spirit upon them, to bring them to repentance and to look to Christ for pardon. When he does so, such a work is in Scripture called their conversion. So Peter’s recovery after his great fall is called his conversion in the text (Luke 22:61). So David, after his great fall, prays that God would create in him (a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within him) (Psalms 51:10).
The following reasons may be given why such changes and works of God’s Spirit in the hearts of the godly are called in Scripture by the same names with the first work of God’s grace.
1. All is but a carrying on of the same work that is begun in conversion. Sometimes regeneration is spoken of in a more limited sense, as signifying only the first saving work of God upon the soul, which is wrought in an instant. But sometimes regeneration is spoken of in Scripture as a continued thing, as ’tis in the nineteenth (chapter) of Matthew, twenty-eighth verse: “Ye that have followed me, in the regeneration.” ‘Tis all spoken of as the same work of God. Philippians 1:6, “He that hath begun a good work in you will carry it on to the day of Christ.” ‘Tis all one work of sanctification, that is begun in the first infusing of grace and is not finished till death. Both the beginning and the progress of the work are included in the word “sanctification,” as ’tis used in the Scripture. Then sometimes the saints are spoken of as already sanctified in their effectual calling, as in 1 Corinthians 1:2, “To them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.” And sometimes they are spoken (of) as remaining yet to be sanctified, long after they have begun to be saints. So Christ prays for his true disciples, in John 17:17, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.”
The whole work of God, from the first dawning of grace in the soul until death, may be looked upon as one work of renovation, whereby the soul is brought back from that state of sin into which we fell by the apostasy of mankind, and restoring it to its former state of holiness. ‘Tis all only a bringing back the wandering sheep by several steps. ‘Tis all only the gradual restoration of that image of God that we once had and was lost by the fall.
The destruction and death that the nature of man fell under by Adam’s sin, and which it is subject to by the first birth, is restored by the second Adam in a work of grace.
As our fall and losing of spiritual life by the first Adam was one destruction and ruin, so the renewal of it in the second Adam is by one work of restoration, which is not finished till the destruction and death that came by the first Adam is wholly removed at the conclusion of this life.
Conversion is in Scripture represented as a new creation of that which had been destroyed: but the work of sanctification, in the whole progress of it, is a work of creation. In every step and degree of that restoration, something is brought out of nothing, and there is the very same almighty creating power needed and exerted in every step of the work, as in the first beginning of this work in first conversion; and the new creature is not fully made till all that creature is remade which was destroyed by the fall, which was the destruction of the old creation.
Conversion is in Scripture represented as the raising of the soul from the dead: but the whole sanctifying work of God’s Spirit, from the first beginning of grace till death, is a raising the soul from the dead. In every step of this work, the same exceeding greatness of power is exerted that wrought in Christ Jesus when he was raised from the dead.
After a saving work is begun, still a body of death remains. There is but a little life. And every step of the whole work is out of death; ’tis as it were a raising the soul from its grave.
All that death which came upon the soul when it died in the fall is removed in the spiritual resurrection that it has in Christ, and therefore that resurrection is not finished till the soul is thoroughly and completely sanctified.
Conversion is a dying to sin and living to righteousness: but a Christian is so doing as long as he lives, and the whole work, in every step of it, is by the dead’s hearing the voice of the Son of God and living. The apostle Paul still earnestly sought that he might attain to the resurrection of the dead, not as though he had already attained, long after he was an eminent saint (Philippians 3:11-12).
Conversion is putting off the old man and putting on the new man: but the Christian is doing this as long as he lives. After the beginning of a saving work of God in his soul, he has both the old and the new man, the flesh and spirit. There is the old man still in a sense entire, with all his members: though all those members have received a duster’s wand, yet none of them art wholly dead; there is not one lust that belongs to the corrupt nature but what remains in the godly. Though there be the new man also in a sense entire with all its members: for neither is there one grace that belongs to the new nature but what it is in the heart of a godly man, though no one member be come to full maturity, but is very imperfect.
Conversion is a crucifying the flesh with the affections and lusts. This also is a-doing as long as the Christian lives. And during the whole conflict that he has with sin, there is as it were an unregenerate part still in a godly man that yet needs to be regenerated. The work is but begun at first infusing of grace.
Conversion is an opening the eyes of the blind and causing light to shine out of darkness. And so, in every part of the work of sanctification, Christians, after they are become true Christians, may still complain that they are blind, exceeding blind; they may complain still of gross darkness, darkness that may be felt; and the light God gives ’em from time to time is like the shining of the light out of darkness when God said, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3). And ’tis all an opening the eyes of the blind.
Conversion is a turning from sin to God: but the work of sanctification, in the whole progress of it, is a turning from sin to God. And there is scarce anything in God’s first work on the soul peculiar to that that can’t be attributed to what is done in progressive sanctification, excepting that, that ’tis the beginning, first in order of time, and immediately after total corruption.
2. The manner of God’s mercy in bringing about those particular changes, whereby he either strengthens or restores the souls of the saints, is oftentimes very much like the manner of his working in their first conversion, and especially in renewing and restoring the soul after great falls, or after it has gradually sunk into carnal frames and has been of long continuance.
When God is about to convert a sinner that never had any grace in his soul, the principle that is first wrought upon is natural conscience and self-love; and that affection which first influences them and sets them to work, is fear. And so it is found by experience commonly to be, when God is about to work some new work that is remarkable on the hearts of the saints that have hitherto been weak and low in grace, they are first awakened. Oftentimes ’tis so that they are in great darkness and full of fears about their state, and this puts ’em upon more earnestly seeking God, and then he comes in with more than ordinary light.
And so especially is (it) found commonly to be in those that (are) fallen into gross sins, or into long-continued evil frames and ill ways. When God is about to recover them, he first awakens them; the first that is wrought upon in them is natural conscience, and the terrors of the law and threatenings of punishment are set home upon them. This is the method God took with Hezekiah to recover him from the proud frame he had got into, and his foolish ostentation of his riches and grandeur to the messengers of the king of Babylon. God sent Isaiah with an awful message and threatening of God’s judgments to awaken him and work on a principle of fear and natural conscience, as you may see in the twentieth chapter of the second (book) of Kings.
‘Tis God’s usual manner, before the first conversion, to convince of sin, to set in order before the soul its sins, to set before it its great guilt, by representing the aggravations of its sins. And so God is also wont to do when about to work a new work in the heart of a saint after falls and ill frames. This is the method God took with David after his shameful fall in the matter of Uriah. He first sent Nathan (to David, to) set his sin in its true colors before him, in the parable of the (poor man’s lamb); and then bringing all home to his own conscience by telling him, “Thou art the man,” and setting the aggravations of his sin before him, telling him of the mercies he had received (II Samuel, twelfth chapter).
‘Tis God’s manner, when he converts a sinner, to humble him before he comforts him or manifests his pardoning mercy to him. So ’tis also (with the) saints. So he dealt with David. When Nathan first began to set his sin before him, David was not humbled, (but was) angry with the man (who took the poor man’s lamb); but then God went on with convictions, setting his sin more and more before him, bringing it closer to his conscience, testifying God’s awful displeasure, denouncing God’s anger, till at length David was humbled, was brought to lie in the dust as a sinner and to cry out, “I have sinned.” And then God comforted him with a sense of pardon, and told him that he had put away his sin. Verse 2 Samuel 12:13, “And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the Lord. And Nathan said unto David, The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.”
‘Tis God’s usual manner, before he comforts a sinner in his first conversion, to make him sensible that he deserves no mercy and, for matter of any desert that he has, God might justly (reject him), and brings him to submit to the will of God.
So in the case of Hezekiah, God, by Isaiah, brought him to a submission to his will, with respect to those awful threatenings that God had denounced for his sin. 2 Kings 20:17-19, “Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store unto this day, shall be carried into Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith the Lord. And of thy sons that shall issue from thee, which thou shalt beget, shall they take away; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon. Then said Hezekiah unto Isaiah, Good is the word of the Lord which thou hast spoken. And he said, Is it not good, if peace and truth be in my days?”
God, in the first conversion of a sinner, brings him to repent of sin. So (’tis also with the) saints. So Peter.
(God, in the first) conversion of a sinner, brings ’em to look to Christ as a Mediator, and to come to Christ as a Savior. Which is represented in Jonah’s looking again towards God’s holy temple after (he had fled from the presence of the Lord), and in David’s looking to God from the hill Mizar, after he had wandered from the land of Canaan, and deep had called unto deep at the noise of God’s waterspouts (Psalms 42:6-07).
All this is remarkably exemplified in Job (in his afflictions), and in the Psalmist, in (the) thirty-second Psalm. The Psalmist declares in what manner he received comfort after some great fall, in the thirty-second Psalm, at (the) beginning, which is very much like that which is to be observed in sinner’s first conversion: “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.”
Upon these accounts it seems to be that the work that God sometimes works in the saints, is in Scripture called by the same names as the first saving work of God in their souls.
II. I proposed to show what godly persons they be that stand in need of such a work of God’s Spirit, or that thus stand in great need of being converted.
First Answ. All the saints in this world do stand in need of it. Grace is very imperfect in all, and all do stand not only in need of some addition of grace to mend some small defects, but they all stand in need of a great change, very much altering them from their present state.
All are capable of it, and such is the distance of the very best in this world that there is room enough for a very great change to pass upon their souls for the better, and yet to be left far short of perfection.
The best have a body of sin and death that they are in a degree of bondage to, and stand in need of a kind of work of conversion to deliver them. The apostle Paul, though so eminent a saint, was sensible that he greatly needed (it), and therefore is brought to cry out for it, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver (me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:23)). And he therefore earnestly sought conversion, or a spiritual resurrection, as though he had not yet attained it (Philippians 3:11-12). (And so) Job, though so eminent a saint. There are none of those in this world that are already converted but that God can still work a new change in them by his grace, so great that it shall make ’em new men and in a (sense) new creatures, not only from what they once were while they were natural men but also from what they are now. Thus the apostles, though some of them seemed to have been eminent saints before Christ’s resurrection— particularly we have reason to think this of the apostle John— yet they passed under such a remarkable change after his resurrection, when the Spirit of God came to be so remarkably poured out upon them at the day of Pentecost, that they appeared, spoke and acted quite like new men, as if they had been made over again or had not been the same persons that they were before.
The best have so little spiritual life and such remainders of death, are so dead and lifeless to what they are capable of being and to what they should be, that there is still room enough for them to pass under such a change as shall be like rising from the dead.
There is so much remaining darkness and blindness, that they still need to pass under a change that shall (be) like opening the eyes of the blind.
The godly still need to be more convinced of sin, and see more of its guilt and danger and dreadful nature; for those that have seen most of the danger of sin have never seen but little. They all need still to see a great deal more of their own hearts. They have a great deal of self-righteousness left. They need to be brought off from their own righteousness. They still need to come to repentance of their sins, and still need to come to Christ. They still need to have old things to pass away and all things in a sense to be become new in them.
Second Answ. They do especially stand in need of it who are weak in grace. Indeed, all are weak in comparison of that perfection which they shall arrive at in heaven. The saints are all children, infants in holiness in this world; but some are weak in comparison of others. The Apostle often speaks of weak brethren and “babes in Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:1).
Many, through their weakness in grace, have their grace scarce visible to themselves or others, unless it be at some special seasons of enlivening. Corruption in them, though it don’t reign, yet prevails so far as greatly to disturb and disquiet and darken their mind, and causes ’em to behave themselves after such a manner as is much to the dishonor of God and religion.
They therefore do especially need to pass under a new work of God’s Spirit upon their hearts, to lift ’em above their difficulties, to set ’em now at liberty, to cause them to live more as becomes saints. The Apostle tells the Corinthians that they were but babes, and through the weakness of their grace behaved like carnal unconverted men in many things. 1 Corinthians 3:1-04, “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?” And so he tells the Christian Hebrews that they were but babes, and therefore needed to lay the foundation of faith and repent anew. Hebrews 5:12-13, “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.” Because they were babes, they needed to be taught again the first principles, i.e. they need to be converted anew, to lay the foundation of faith and repentance anew; as the Apostle explains himself in the beginning of the next chapter: “Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God.”
Third Answ. Above all, they stand in need of a new conversion that have fallen in foul transgression, or are by degree got into very ill frames and ill ways. Such as are thus fallen, do especially need help.
‘Tis with godly men in such circumstances as ’tis with wicked men: they are for a season in the way of wicked men, and in such circumstances, that continuance in them is inconsistent with a state of grace. Therefore such, above (all), seem to stand in need of being converted from the error of their way. The lambs of the flock that are feeble may much need the help of the shepherd, but the sheep that has fallen into a pit, or is in the jaws of the lion and bear, above all needs help. Peter, above all the disciples, needed the help of his Lord to convert him when he so shamefully fell that night wherein Christ was betrayed: for he began to sink, and if his Lord had not put forth his hand to help him, he would have been utterly overwhelmed, as when he was walking on the water and began to sink, of which we have an account in (Matthew 14:22-33).
I come now to the —
III. (Third) thing proposed in the doctrinal handling of this subject, which is to show upon what accounts those that already have a principle of true grace in their hearts may stand in great need of such a change as has been spoken (of).
First. They may greatly need it in order to God’s having of them the glory of his grace in making them saints. When God infuses grace into the hearts of any, and so makes ’em saints, it is a wonderful effect of his free grace. And God, when he makes a man a saint, does a thousand times as much for him as if he made him a prince. And certainly much honor is due to him from such as have been the subjects of such a wonderful favor.
But some that have a principle of grace through the weakness or decays of grace and prevailing of corruption, behave themselves so for a season as greatly to dishonor this grace; as David gave great occasion to the dishonor (of God’s grace in the matter of Uriah). Men, from what they see in them, are ready to question whether there be any such work of God as conversion, yea, even to question the truth of all religion.
And if they don’t, they conceive ill thoughts of religion and of the grace of God that has no better effects, as though it were only an encouragement to sin.
Therefore some godly persons do greatly need to be the subjects of a new conversion, that this reproach may be wiped off, that others, seeing their good work, may glorify (the honor of God’s grace). By their becoming the subjects of a new work, grace, that was much obscured, may come to shine and appear amiable in its holy fruits; and when it is thus, this is greatly to the glory of God’s grace in conversion.
That which is needed in the saints in order to God’s having the glory of his grace in making them saints, is very needful indeed: for to that end were they elected and converted and justified, that they might be to the praise of the glory of God’s grace. Ephesians 1:5-06, “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.”
Second. ‘Tis sometimes needful in order to their having the comfort of their conversion. Some that are converted, through the weakness of grace and the prevailing of corruption, can’t take the comfort of it. They meet with abundance of difficulties, temptations, doubts and darkness.
And so it is with those that have fallen into great sins, or very bad frames and ways. They are like a poor lost sheep that has no comfort of the shepherd’s fold. And there is no likelihood that ever they will be delivered without a new work of the Spirit causing as it were a new conversion. While they are as they are now, it is vain to endeavor to remove their doubts and difficulties. Let what signs of grace soever be laid down for them to try themselves, they won’t satisfy them. Let ’em advise with whom they will, let them be persons never so skillful, they can’t remove their troubles. But a new work of God’s Spirit as it were raising their dead souls and causing light to shine out of darkness, would soon remove their difficulties, so that they might rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
Third. The case may be so with those that have a real principle of grace in their hearts, that a new conversion may be necessary to their salvation. Christ’s words, in the text and context, seem to intimate that it was necessary to Peter’s salvation that he should be converted after his fall. Christ says to him, “Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren”; which implies that, if he had not been converted, his faith would have failed and Satan would have had him. If Peter had not been converted after his fall, he would not have persevered in the faith and profession of Christ. He would have fallen under that threat, Luke 12:9, “He that denies me before men (shall be denied before the angels of God).” ‘Tis necessary to our salvation that we should with our mouth make confession of Christ (Romans 10:10). They don’t believe to the saving of the soul, but draw back. Hebrews 10:38-39, “Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them.”
Though God has promised that the righteous, when they are cast down, shall rise again and not fall into mischief, yet that don’t hinder but that their rising again should be necessary to their salvation as the established invariable way to it. Repentance, after such falls, seems by God’s constitution to be necessary in order to forgiveness, and their forgiveness to their salvation.
And so a new conversion may not only be necessary to salvation, as a recovery from a way of sin may be necessary prerequisite to salvation by divine constitution, but also as the way of growth in grace is the established way to salvation. God has been pleased to appoint that the saints shall come to Zion in a way of going from strength to strength (Psalms 84:7).
And therefore the work of God’s grace that is sometimes wrought in the hearts of those that before were very weak in knowledge and grace, or in whom grace was under peculiar disadvantages, is in order to their salvation. So the work that was wrought in the heart of Cornelius by Peter’s preaching was in order to his salvation, though he was a good man before, as appears by Acts 11:12, Acts 11:14; and he showed us how he had seen an angel in his house, which stood and said unto him, “Send even to Joppa, and call for Simon, whose surname is Peter, who shall tell thee words by which thou and all thy house shall be saved” (Acts 10:1-07).
Application.(Use) I. Of Instr.
First. Hence we may learn how far godly persons should be from looking upon it that their work is done. They must be in a very great error, and must act very absurdly, who think it is proper for them to strive earnestly in religion, to watch their hearts, and be very strict in their walk, and laborious in reading and hearing and praying, till they hope they have obtained something of a saving nature; but then look upon it, that they have no more need of such striving in religion, as though all their purpose is attained, and that they have nothing further to strive after. If they have obtained a saving change, yet they are at a very great distance from what they should be; the kingdom of heaven within them is but as a grain of mustardseed. They still need to pass under a very great change, and ’tis what they should therefore still be seeking after with no less diligence than they sought the first saving change.
And indeed, for persons, as soon as they have obtained an hope that they are converted, presently to grow more slack in religion, less engaged in their minds about it and more remiss in their endeavors, is the way for ’em soon to come to those circumstances wherein persons, above all others, stand in need of a renewed conversion. For ’tis the way for ’em by degrees to sink into a very dead, carnal, unchristian frame of spirit and have their corruptions prevail more and more, till they carry them away as a flood.
There is sometimes a great deal of talk of conversion amongst us— meaning the conversion of natural men— but ’tis pity there is no more said of godly persons’ conversion. There is doubtless a great deal of need of it, by the general appearance of the state of religion in this town. There are a great many that have some grace in their hearts, that do stand in very great and special need of being converted; and ’tis pity that such a conversion is not more thought of, and talked of, and sought after.
Second. Hence we may learn how that godly persons may apply to themselves, and improve for their own good, what they hear preached especially to natural men. There is but little that is said in sermons to natural men but what godly men may very properly hear for themselves. There are but few exhortations that are given to natural men from the pulpit but what godly men may apply to themselves as in many respects suiting their case. If the minister endeavors to show natural men the dreadful guilt that sin brings, and the dreadfulness of the wrath of God, to awaken them, godly persons need to be awakened as well as they. They also need to be convinced more of the great evil of sin and the dreadfulness of God’s wrath.
If that be delivered in a sermon that is to convince natural men of the utter insufficiency of their own righteousness, this the godly may take to themselves. For they also need to be convinced of the insufficiency (of their own righteousness).
(The godly also need to be convinced of their) utter helplessness.
If they are exhorted earnestly to seek conversion, (the godly also need to be exhorted to seek conversion).
If they are exhorted to strive, in order to it, to be violent for the kingdom of heaven, to follow on to know the Lord, (the godly also need to be exhorted to strive).
There are but few of those directions that are given from the pulpit to natural men, in order to their conversion, but what are proper for the godly to attend and follow in seeking a renewed conversion.
Christ and his apostles commonly were not wont to make any distinction between saints and sinners in those exhortations and directions that they gave to seek God’s grace and the salvation of their souls. In the eighteenth (chapter) of Matthew, Christ says to his disciples, “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of God.” He did not direct himself only to Judas. So when he says, in the fifth (chapter) of Matthew, twentieth verse, “Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven,” he speaks to his disciples; as you may see by the beginning of the chapter. So he says to ’em again in the twenty-sixth (verse), “Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing”; which is a direction in order to escape hell. So again, twenty-ninth (and) thirtieth verses: “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.”
So Christ in the same sermon, wherein he is still speaking to the disciples, in the seventh chapter, thirteenth (and) fourteenth verses: “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”
And so the apostles, from time to time in their epistles, give directions what those that they write to should do for their salvations; and yet write to those that they have charity for as saints, and faithful in Christ Jesus.
Third. Here we may learn that there are but few petitions that are proper to be put up to God by natural men but what are also proper for the godly. Some persons that have had hope that they were converted, but are full of doubts and fears, complain that they are at a loss how to form their petitions: whether they should pray to God as those that are unconverted, or as those that are converted. But the difficulty is not so great as some imagine; for whether they are converted or unconverted, most of those requests that are proper to be put up by an unconverted man are proper for them. Let ’em pray that God would give them his Spirit to awaken them; this is proper for them, whether they have any true grace or not. And so let (’em) pray that God would enable to strive for salvation, and that he would help ’em to enter in at the strait gate. Let ’em pray earnestly that God would show ’em their own hearts; (that God would) bring (’em) off from own righteousness; (that) God would convert ’em; (that God would) give a true sight of Christ, and enable ’em sincerely to close with him and trust in him alone for salvation. Let ’em pray that God would open their blind eye; (that God would) cause light to shine out of darkness; and that he (would) raise their dead souls to life.
Such petitions are proper to be put up to God by a minister, as one that speaks as the mouth of a congregation; and they are proper petitions to be joined in by the whole congregation, both saints and sinners.
Fourth. Hence we may learn what is the proper course for them to take in order to satisfaction that are much exercised with doubts about their good estate through their having been long in dead and carnal frames, viz. earnestly to seek that they may be converted. When those that are truly godly have fallen into such frames and have long continued in them, the almost certain and infallible consequence of it (is) great doubts about their good estate. When grace is so buried with corruption, it won’t be easily seen, and there will be many doubts whether there be any.
Now the proper course to be taken in such a case, in order to satisfaction about their good estate, is to strive to enter in at the strait gate and to be violent for the kingdom of heaven; to strive and cry to God for his converting grace; to cry after wisdom and lift up their voice for understanding.
Very commonly, the course that is taken in such cases, in order to a resolution of the doubts that arise, is to try themselves by signs. And indeed, that ought not to be left undone. But when that course alone is taken, it almost universally proves in vain. Unless there be a new work of God’s Spirit to lift the soul out of its dead carnal frame, all the best signs and the most searching trying discourses are found in vain; the doubts will remain.
The properest and best course for all such persons to take to be delivered from their doubts, is immediately, without delay, to apply themselves, to seek the grace of God opening their blind eyes and quickening their dead souls, as earnestly as if they knew they never yet had received anything of it. And if this course wa=s more earnestly taken instead of spending a great deal (of) time in examining and looking over the first work and past experiences, there would be fewer complaints of difficulties, doubts and fears among professors than now there is.
Use II may be of Exhortation to such as have had hope that they have been the subjects of a saving change yet, notwithstanding, earnestly to seek that they may be converted. I would direct this exhortation to all such— for as has been shown, ’tis proper for all— but especially exhort such to it in whom grace, if they have any, is very low, and such as have been long in dead and carnal frames of spirit, and have not behaved themselves as becomes Christians. Consider what has been said of the great need you stand in of a new change. And further to stir you up to seek it, consider two things:
First. When the godly are thus, through God’s grace, the subjects of a new change, it commonly brings ’em into much more happy circumstances than their first change. When God works a second work, it shall not be for nothing; he commonly thereby carries the soul to a much greater height in holiness than ever it was brought to before: to much greater degrees of the knowledge of God, to a firmer faith, to be more rooted and grounded in love; to have more (of) the mastery of the corruptions of the heart, and to have greater strength against temptation and to serve God in a more steady even manner; and to enjoy a more settled peace of conscience, to live more constantly (and) comfortably in the enjoyment of much more of the light of God’s countenance.
What a blessed alteration was there in Peter after that conversion that is spoken of in the text. He that was then so cowardly, so afraid to own his Master: how courageous does he appear after his recovery, how bold in the cause of Christ, and how full of the Spirit of God does he appear to be, by what we read of him in the second and following chapters of the Acts.
Second. Godly persons, after such a renewed work of God’s Spirit upon them, are commonly not only in a much happier state themselves, but much more able to help others. Hereby their knowledge and experience and strength is greatly increased, and, having been tempted and delivered, they are the more fit to help others under temptation. And by the great access which they have received of light and strength themselves, they are abundantly the more fit to instruct and strengthen others. Hence the direction that Christ gives to Peter in the text: “When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” So that if you obtain such a change by a new work of the Spirit of God upon your heart, you are not only likely to be a much happier man yourself, but to be a much greater blessing to all that are about you; and others are like to be the happier for it, as well as you.