Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
~ Matthew 23:26-28
But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart, and hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said.
~ Exodus 8:15
Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.
~ Matthew 12:45
But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, selfwilled, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities. Whereas angels, which are greater in power and might, bring not railing accusation against them before the Lord. But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption; And shall receive the reward of unrighteousness, as they that count it pleasure to riot in the day time. Spots they are and blemishes, sporting themselves with their own deceivings while they feast with you; Having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; beguiling unstable souls: an heart they have exercised with covetous practices; cursed children: Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; But was rebuked for his iniquity: the dumb ass speaking with man’s voice forbad the madness of the prophet. These are wells without water, clouds that are carried with a tempest; to whom the mist of darkness is reserved for ever. For when they speak great swelling words of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness, those that were clean escaped from them who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage. For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.
~ 2 Peter 2:10-22
Wicked Men, Though they May Seem Outwardly To Forsake their Wickedness, yet if their Natures Are Not Changed, they will be very Liable to Return to their Old Wickedness Again, by Jonathan Edwards.
As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.
~ Proverbs 26:11
Our text is part of the description of the fool, by which in Scripture is meant the same as the wicked man. Wickedness is the greatest folly, and folly and wickedness are used as convertible terms in Scripture. It is supposed in the text that a fool, though he is a fool, may refrain from his folly for a while, and seem to forsake it, but if he retains his old principle of folly and wickedness in his nature, he will return to it again, as a dog returns to his vomit.
A dog is a creature of a filthy nature, delighting in that which is most filthy for his food. He feeds on carrion. His food may offend his stomach, so that he will vomit it up, but he returns and licks up his vomit. This is a most lively emblem of a wicked man who for a time reforms his ways, and seems to be religious, and then returns to his wickedness again. Men are of an impure nature; they delight in spiritual filth, and to feed on loathsome food. The impure delight of sin is sweet food to them and therefore they are called dogs in Scripture; and when a wicked man seems to turn from his wickedness, refrains and outwardly forsakes his sins, if his nature is not changed, he will return to it again as a dog. Thought his stomach for the present nauseates his food, yet, being a dog, still not having his nature changed, he will return to it again. This seems to be the proverb quoting by the apostle (2 Peter 2:20-22) and applied to the apostates of his days. The apostle, there speaking of those who had professed themselves to be Christians, and had turned heretics, and had fallen away to the course of a wicked life, says it happened to them according to the true proverb, ‘the dog returns to his vomit.’
The next half certainly signifies the same thing: ‘and a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.’ If a pig is washed never so clean, yet retaining still the nature of the pig, it will still delight as much as ever to wallow in the mire.
1. Wicked men, though they may seem outwardly to forsake their wickedness, yet if their natures are not changed, they will be very liable to return to their old wickedness again.
I. Men, without a change of nature may seem for a while to forsake their sins and become religious. They may reform past ways of wickedness that they used to live in. If vicious, they may be come moral, if profane, they may become religious. They may restrain the gratification of their lusts; they may escape the pollutions of the world through lust; they may curb violent appetites; they may seem to be very thorough in the cutting off of a carnal and vicious and sensual life; they may put on a face of religion, and may attend religious duties with constancy; they may seem devout and zealous; they may attend secret prayer and reading and giving heed to preaching and watching over their thoughts to avoid sinful thoughts, and walk very strictly and exactly, not only openly and when seen by men but also in secret.
II. Men, without any change of nature, may seem for a while to have a great sense of the weight and importance of eternal things, and may be earnest in seeking salvation. When John the Baptist came before Christ, preparing the way for His public ministry, there were multitudes that seemed to be greatly awakened; they went out to him. All Judea and Jerusalem came to be baptized by him saying ‘what shall we do?’ Yet when Christ came the godly were found very thinly sown.
And how often it is to be seen now adays that persons may seem for a while to be very distressed about the conditions of their souls! They will seem to have a very great sense of the danger of damnation, and their need of getting into a better state, who yet soon lose their convictions and do not give any evidences of a change of their nature.
III. Men, without any change of nature, may be affected with sorrow and grief for their sins. They may be affected with the injustice and unreasonableness, or of the ingratitude of the things they have done, or the folly of them. So it was with Saul once and again. Upon hearing David plead about the unreasonableness and folly of what he did, Saul lifted up his voice and wept and said to David, ‘thou are more righteous than I, for thou hast rewarded me good, whereas I have done thee evil.’ (1 Samuel 24) So again in chapter 26, upon hearing David’s talk again he cried, ‘I have sinned! Return my son David, for I will no more do thee harm, for my soul was precious in thy eyes this day. Behold, I have played the fool and have erred exceedingly.’ He seems to have a great sense how unreasonably and foolishly he had done. So, many other have, without any change of nature, been affected with thinking of their folly in such and such practices, and have accused themselves and been angry with themselves that they have been so exceedingly foolish. They have shed tears as well as Saul, who lifted up his voice and wept; he wept aloud – he wept very bitterly. So Ahab in 1 Kings 21, upon the preaching of Elijah; he seemed to be exceedingly affected with sorrow for his sins. ‘It came to pass when he heard these words, that he rent his clothes and put sackcloth on and fasted and lay in sackcloth, and went softly.
IV. Men, without any change of nature, may seem to believe the truths of religion. Their assent may for a while be gained by arguments that may be offered. It may seem to them from these arguments that there is a God, and that the Scripture is His word. It may seem that these arguments prove what they allege. Or their assent may be gained for a while by the testimony God gives in His providence to the truth of His word, or by an extraordinary pouring out of the Spirit of God, or by severe judgments inflicted on notoriously wicked men, or by the exemplary lives of the godly, or by the amazing terrors of some wicked upon their deathbed, or upon some instance of a godly man’s triumphing over death. Some such instances as these may persuade for a while, and may make it seem to them that there is something in religion. So many in Christ’s time seemed to be overcome by Christ’s miracles. Their assent was gained that He was the Christ. They believe in Him with a temporary faith without any change of nature. In John 2 when He was at Jerusalem at the Passover, at the feast many believed in His name because of the miracles that He did, but Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men and did not need that any should testify of Him, for He knew what was in men. So the young man that came running to Christ to ask what he should do to be saved seems to have been convinced by Christ’s miracles that He was a teacher come from God, and the one who offered to follow Christ wherever He went, to Him Christ said, ‘foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.’
V. Men, without a change of nature, may for a while seem to have an affection for God and Christ, and therefore may be affected in prayer, and have an affection for ministers – those who preach the word, and have an affection for good people and a zeal in religion. He showed an affection for Christ who told Him that he would follow Him wherever He went. The stony ground hearers showed an affection for God and religion for a while. So, men who do not have their natures changed may have an affection for the ministers of Christ, as did the Galatians (4:15), ‘wherein is this blessedness you spoke of, for I bear you record, if possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me;’ yet Paul doubted them as in v. 11 ‘I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain.’ The Israelites in the wilderness had an affection for God at the Red Sea. So at mount Sinai, when Moses read the book of the Covenant in the presence of the people they replied, ‘all that the Lord has said we will do, and we will be obedient!’ but what did God say when Moses returned to God with their words? ‘Oh, that there were such a heart in them that would fear Me and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them and with their children forever!’
Thus far may men go without their natures being changed, but —
2. They will be very liable to lose things and return to their old wickedness again.
If men who have lived wickedly begin to reform their lives, it is not common to persist in a thorough reformation of all sins unless their natures are changed. Their lusts may be restrains and held in for a while, but unless they are mortified they will break out again. They must have some vent. Men will after a while will get into the same or other ways of gratifying their lusts. There is a difference between refraining from sin and taking leave of it. Those who do not have their natures changed may refrain from sin, but they never forsook and abandon it.
The apostle Peter speaks of them in his time who had escaped the pollutions of the world through lust and were entangled again their in, and applies to them this proverb, ‘a dog returns to his own vomit.’ Judas, for a while, restrained his covetous dispositions. He seems, with the rest of the disciples, to have forsaken his temporal goods to follow Christ. When Peter said (Matt. 19:27), ‘behold, we have forsaken all and followed Thee,’ he included Judas. But Judas’ covetousness, not being mortified, his nature not being changed, his covetousness broke out again and therefore he was vexed that Christ allowed Mary to spend the precious ointment upon His head, and the reason is given for it, ‘that he was a thief.’
And though Judas had seemed to sell all to follow Christ at first, at the last, he sold Christ for thirty pieces of silver. If men have a sense of the importance of spiritual and eternal things; if they have had great convictions, they will cease after a while if their natures are not changed. Men may have fears, and be exercised about the state of their souls a long time, but it is seldom that men have great convictions hold unless they are converted. It is not common for strong convictions to be perpetual unless they issue in a change of men’s natures. So if men seem violent for the kingdom of heaven, and are very much engaged in this work, this does not ordinarily hold unless God changes their natures.
Objection. We see some who are for a long while seeking salvation. Some seek for twenty years together; some seek all their lives, and that without any change of nature.
A. It is true that some continue to do something a long while without any change of nature, but this they do with a slack hand. Their convictions are not thorough, nor are they violent. It is to be noted that few are violent in their convictions and pressing into the kingdom unless their natures are changed. They are want after a while to grow weary and slack. They become partial and slack. They are tired of walking through a dry and thirsty wilderness, and begin to think after a while after of turning back into Egypt. Some temptation or snare comes upon them to allow themselves more ease and liberty. It may be they are discouraged and begin to think it all in vain. They being to doubt whether there is any such thing as conversion, and why should they strive for that? They do not seem to have gotten any further than when they first set out. The labor seems to be in vain. They think it is not worth the while to deprive themselves of that ease and pleasure that others enjoy for nothing, and so they begin to think again of the pleasures of the world, or it may be that they flatter themselves that it is well with them, and they think that something they have experienced is conversion, and there is no need to take any further care about it.
3. That faith, or belief in the word of God in men, won’t hold unless their natures are changed. If their assent is gained for the present by some argument, or remarkable providence of God testifying to its truth, the force of that will soon be over unless men’s natures are changed. Unbelief is yet in its principle whole in them, and as soon as the first impressions of belief are over, that will return upon them. They won’t steadily realize the great truths of religion so as to be governed by such a belief. If under the fresh impression of something remarkable, they assent, yet their doubts and objections will soon return and prevail. We read of some in Luke 8:13, who for a while believed, but in a time of temptation fell away. We read of many in Christ’s time who were said to believe; who were persuaded by Christ’s miracles, but we read of none continuing in their faith but those who were true disciples and converts. Many of them had their faith overthrown only by Christ’s own teaching. They could not understand about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, John 6:66. So many went back and walked no more with Him.
So men’s sorrow for their sins, though they may be much affected, and may seem much to condemn themselves, won’t last unless their natures are changed. Saul wept bitterly for unreasonably treating David, and yet the next news that we hear of him is that he is pursuing after David again. So natural men’s affections and illuminations are not lasting things. The children of Israel were greatly affected at the Red Sea, but they soon fell to murmuring against God. They were affected in mount Sinai when they see the miraculous displays of God’s presence there, and yet in a few days were found making a golden calf (Ex. 32). So the stony ground hearers receive the word with joy and endure for a while, but by and by they are offended. A man without a change of nature, may seem to have a love for God and Christ and zeal for Him, but such love will soon fade away and turn to hatred. Thus it is with all unconverted men, it is not lasting. Hosea 6:4: ‘Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? For thy goodness is as the morning cloud and as the early dew it passes away.’
The Reasons for this Doctrine.
I. The Power of Unmortified Corruption. Nature is a more powerful principle of action than anything that opposes it. Nature, whether it is corrupt or sanctified nature, is powerful, and will overcome other things. If nature is not change, it is a difficult thing to overcome. Nature may be resisted and restrained for a while, but it will not be conquered. The stream of a river may be stopped for a while with a dam, but it cannot be stopped always; it will have a course, there or somewhere else. When natural men reform their lives, deny their lusts, and live a strict and religious life, and are painful and earnest in their duties, it is not natural, but it is against nature. It is forced against nature. Now it may be observed in all cases that a force that is against nature is not constant. It may be maintained and kept up for a while, but nature at last will get the victory. So natural men may, while under an impression, and while the strength of a resolution lasts, restrain corrupt nature, but that will carry them away at last.
i. Nature is a Thing that is more Constant and Permanent than outward acts of Reformation and Righteousness.
If a natural man has received an impression by something in the word or providence, that impression, though it may seem to be deep at first, it continually grows less and less until it begins to wear out, but nature remains still in its full force. If natural men are under conviction and have a sense of hell and God’s wrath, and of the shortness of life, such a sense won’t be constant, unless it has its foundation in nature. It is only upon occasion that a lively sense of these things is revived, and there may be other times when a man will seem senseless; he won’t have the idea seem lively. He will be in a senseless frame as long as his nature prevails, and is only carried into a lively sense of divine truths by passing convictions. If men have taken up resolutions also, if their natures aren’t changed, that will prove a more steady thing than their resolutions; it will outlive them and take an advantage against him when his resolution is decayed and weakened, and will overcome him. Nature is a more steady and permanent thing than Affections. Affections are transient, vanishing things. They are like a blast of wind, and vanish like a shadow, and when men’s affections are over, then nature returns in its full force. As long as corrupt nature is not mortified, but the principle remains whole in a man, it is a vain thing to expect that it should not govern.
ii. If Men’s Natures aren’t Changed, they will be very Liable to return again to sin, because God has not promised to assist such, and if God does not assist, men’s resolutions will signify but very little. If God does not sustain men’s reformations and convictions by His Spirit, they will vanish away. But there is no promise of any such thing to any unregenerate man. God has promised to lend His support to the godly to persevere, and they shall persevere, for His sheep shall never perish, nor shall any pluck them out of His hand, but He shall confirm them to the end that they may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, Who will not allow them to be tempted above what they are able, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that they may be able to bear it, and so He that has begun a good work in them will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who will establish them and keep them from evil; but there are no such promises that are made to the unconverted. We will show in some instances that nothing will keep a man from returning to his old wickedness again unless his nature is changed.
I. The Most Powerful Outward Means won’t do it. Let a man live under never so powerful a ministry, and have hell set before him after never so awakening a manner, or if he has never so many warnings from his friends, or see never so many warnings from providence; if they see others die, those who have been their companions and acquaintances; if they see instance of sudden death; if they have been warned by such upon their deathbeds, reproving their wickedness and their neglect of their souls; such things as these may have an effect upon him, and for the present may awaken them, and make them afraid to go on in sin, but this is no security against their returning again to their wicked ways. This is shown by very frequent experiences of the apostles, and of Christ Himself. Yes, if men should see miracles, that would not do. Hearing God may make them avoid their sins for a while, but it would not secure them from returning to them again. Such things have often been tried and have often been found unsuccessful. How many miracles did the children of Israel see in Egypt? In what a wonderful manner did God deliver them from their bondage their? And how were they delivered at the Red Sea when God dried up the Red Sea from before them and drowned Pharaoh and the Egyptians in it who pursued them? Yet all this had no lasting effect upon them, but they presently fell to murmuring and repenting that they had left Egypt. And then what a wonderful sight did they see at mount Sinai? What a wonderful manifestation of the awful presence of the majesty of God! They were greatly affected for the present by it, but they quickly turned away again, and made a moulded calf, worshiped it and said ‘these be thy gods, o Israel.’ And how did they continually provoke God in the wilderness, though they were led from time to time and maintained by a continual series of miracles. They had the pillar of fire and cloud going before them constantly. They live upon manna and water out of the rock. In Joshua’s time they saw the sun sand still, but when Joshua was dead, thy returned to their wickedness. And we have examples again in Christ’s time. How many miracles did they see then that He wrought? And yet many that believed in Him returned and walked no more with Him. How many miracles did Judas see of Christ’s working, and yet that did not keep him from backsliding? If men should see one rise from the dead, or if men should here God speaking with an audible voice warning them against their sins and telling them of their danger, this might make them afraid to commit sin for a while, but it would not secure them.
The children of Israel heard God speaking to them out of the midst of the fire with an awful and majestic voice that made them to tremble, yet they quickly turned aside and went after idolatry (Ex. 20:19).
If men should see never so great, terrible, and miraculous judgments upon others; if God should strike notoriously wicked men down in a miraculous manner, when they are in an act of their wickedness, and they should be eyewitnesses of it, this might make them afraid for a little while to go on, but it would not secure them without a change of nature. What judgments did the children of Israel undergo in the wilderness when from time to time God severely afflicted them for their sin? They saw how dreadfully God punished those who made the golden calf when He commanded everyone to slay his brother, and they did so, yet they fell immediately to murmuring again. At Taberah, the fire of the Lord burned among them, yet the next news we hear of them is that they fell a lusting and loathed their manna. Then they saw the great judgment of God when He smote them, and a great plague ravaged them while the flesh was between their teeth. Yet soon after they murmured again, and behaved themselves exceedingly provokingly at the testimony of the spies, and then see how God swore in His wrath that they should never enter into the land, and God executed this by bidding them turn back by way of the Red Sea, yet even this did not cure them, but we read next of the rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, and that the children of Israel see how the earth opened her mouth and swallowed some of them up (Num. 16:31), and others were consumed by a miraculous fire that God kindled among them; yet these did not cure them, for on the morrow we are told that all the congregation murmured against Moses and Aaron saying, ‘you have killed the people of the Lord,’ and though they saw how God smote many of them down dead with a miraculous plague, they murmured yet again against Moses and Aaron, and God sent fiery serpents amongst them; yet after all this, and after they had seen that God caused them to wander forty years in the wilderness for their sin, and had in the meantime consumed all the men of war that came out of Egypt with a great mortality, yet how guilty were they still in the matter of Peor! Numbers 21 and these things make it abundantly evident that the most awful judgments won’t do to secure men from returning to the way of wickedness unless their natures are changed. Very agreeable to these are the accounts we have of the children of Israel afterwards, in the time of the judges, and before the destruction of the land by the Assyrians and Chaldeans. How they were warned by the prophets! The children of Israel saw that God had destroyed their brethren of the ten tribes, but this did not avail to keep Judah from the like wickedness, and from doing worse than they.
II. There are no Providences, either Merciful or Afflictive, that will do it.
Without a change of nature, no marvelous providences of God will secure a man from returning to his wicked ways, be they good or very hard.
What great mercies had God bestowed on the children of Israel? He brought them out of Egypt, he divided the Red Sea for them, He led them by a pillar of cloud and fire, He fed them manna and water out of the rock, made them His peculiar people, brought them into Canaan, subdued the nations before them, made the sun stand still for them, yet when they grew fat, they kicked, and lightly esteemed the Rock of their salvation (Deut. 32:13-16). He made him ride on the high places of the earth, that he might feed upon the green hills, and He made him to suck honey out of the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock; butter of kine and fat milk of sheep…then he forsook God Who made him and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation. They provoked Him to jealousy with strange gods; they angered Him with the works of their hands.’ Let what mercies so ever be bestowed upon wicked men, though they may be affected with gratitude for the present, yet it will never prevail to thoroughly teach them righteousness. ‘Let favor be shown to the wicked, yet he will not learn righteousness. In the land of uprightness he will deal unjustly, and will not behold the majesty of the Lord.’ Men are sometimes affected a while when God has in some way remarkably spared their lives, delivered them from a fit of sickness, or spared the lives of their children; but they return again to their old wickedness. If God corrects men and brings judgments upon them; brings them into great danger of their lives, it will not secure them from going on in sinning. God may bring some judgment upon them, and it may make them careful and serious for a while, but there is no dependence on its lasting unless the nature is changed. Isaiah 1:5, ‘why should you be stricken anymore? You will revolt more and more! The whole head is sick and the whole heart is faint.’ So it is with wicked men.
III. A Sense of the Danger of Sin will not do it.
For example, though they may be old, and according to the course of nature have but little time to live, yet without a change of nature they will be liable after refraining to return to ways of wickedness. The common work of God’s Spirit will not secure them from returning to their old course, and therefore there are many instances of aged persons, ready to die, living in a carnal and worldly way.
IV. The Terrors of Hell will not do it.
Though men be never so impressed with lively fears of the torments and endless miseries of hell, yet that will not secure them from returning to their sins without a change of nature. The greatest terrors of men are liable to pass away, and those who have had the sharpest sense of the danger of damnation and torment can be found now living secure and quietly in sin. This is often seen in those who have been sick; when their lives are hanging in doubt they will seem to be in an amazement of terror, yet if, beyond their expectations they are restored, you will often seem them as calm and careless as ever again. That corrections and judgments and terrors will not secure men from their sins is agreeable to the saying of the wise man in Proverbs 27, ‘though you should grind a fool like grain in mortar with a pestle, yet his foolishness will not depart from him.’
V. Men’s own Promises and Resolutions will not do it.
Unless their natures are changed and his resolution arises from that, then his resolution may be steady, for it has a strong foundation to stand upon; but if nature opposes it, it will appear to be a building on the sand. Nature will be likely to undermine it. This also is often seen in those who are sick, who will take up resolutions in their extremity, and will make many promises if God will spare their lives to live better, and make the salvation of their souls the great care of their lives, but often break them upon recovery.
Application of this Doctrine.
I would now proceed to make use of this doctrine, but first let us note that it is often seen that men may, without any change of nature, reform a particular sin finally, and finally reform all ways of open and notorious wickedness, and so may continue as long as they live. So they may appear to the world what appears to be orderly, moral, and religious, but it rarely if ever happens that men persist in a thorough and serious reformation, in abstinence from every way of wickedness. Their sin and corruption will have its vents and outworkings one way or other. Men who seem to be moral and orderly will have their ways of wickedness for all that. If the channel they are used to be stopped up, yet that water of sin will run in another. It will have a new channel if the old is stopped up. There are many ways a man may live in that prove the rottenness of their hearts, and yet they may be in no way vicious as the term is generally used. They may be orderly and moral according to the standard of the world. There are many spots that mark them who are not God’s children, which are yet hidden from the eye of the world that they may be known. Men may seem to go on in a thorough, outward righteousness, until there comes a notable trial, as God is wont to give all men their trials. Yes, they may stand a trial or two, as those who have the better at the beginning of a war and at the onset, but they will not conquer in the heat of the battle. They will yield at last.
All Natural Men, However Reformed or Affected, are under the Dominion of Sin.
See what bondage natural men are under to sin, showing Christ’s meaning in John, ‘he that commits sin is a slave of sin.’ And that of the apostle in Romans 7, ‘I am carnal, sold under sin.’ And we have the prophet in Jeremiah 17, ‘the heart is desperately wicked.’ It is so under the power of sin that the case is desperate as to their ceasing from sin unless their natures are changed! ‘Can an Etiopian change his skin?’ As long as an Ethiopian is an Ethiopian and his nature hasn’t changed, he will have that skin; as long as a leopard is a leopard and has not changed into some other sort of creature, he will have his spots. So wicked men, until their natures are changed, won’t forsake sin. Wicked men are ready to look upon a life of holiness as a bondage. They look upon it as a hardship to live under such and such rules, and abstaining from all the gratifications of their lusts, but what we have heard shows us who is under the real bondage – their lusts are their master, and they are too strong for them; they are bond to them by chains that will not break; they are kept by them in slavery in which they will surely perish if God does not give them liberty. Such men are greatly mistaken when they imagine that the godly are in bondage, and that they enjoy their liberty. The Jews were greatly mistaken when they told Christ that they were Abraham’s children and had never been in bondage to anyone, John 8:33.
Hence learn that it must be the work of God, not of sinners, to make men holy, for it cannot be done without a change of nature. But it is impossible that man should change his own nature. This is as impossible as that which Nicodemus spoke of John 3, that a man should enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born when he is old. Man can no more renew or change his nature than he can be the cause of his own being, or that a child should effect his own birth. That which changes a man’s nature must be something distinct from that nature which is changed; it must be something above nature. There must be something exercised of the power of Him Who gave man his nature at first to change him from sin to holiness.
How little worth the religion of men is who never experienced a changed of nature. If men are acting upon natural motives to be moral and just in their dealings, faithful and exact to their word, honest to fulfil their bargains, careful to live on their own substance, if they are good neighbours, and kind to all who want their help, generous to the poor, if they are public spirited men – such things as these men are apt to put their trust in, but they are of little significance unless men have experienced a very change of nature. So if men are close and circumspect in their homes and families, and dutiful in religious services, and forward to promote any religious design, and have a zeal against wicked men, and labor against the wicked to promote what is good, there is no great account of those things unless men can tell of experiencing a great change of their hearts, and a conversion of their natures. Unless there is such a change passed upon them – that old things have passed away, and all things have become new to them, being carnal, have become spiritual, being earthly, have become heavenly – unless they have experienced the power of God within, giving them new hearts, it is worth little, because it is of no sure foundation. There can be no dependence upon it. Such a man, despite his outward righteousness, is liable to be the most wicked and perverse man who ever lives. Those who live for natural principles, from a sense of honor, from education, from love to their temporal interest, from conscience, have gone a great way. There were many of the heathen philosophers who went a great way in moral principles. Many professing Christians also seem to go the same way, and are but washed swine that have the same filthy swinish nature still within them, who are liable again to return to wallowing in the mire. Let none therefore amongst us think anything of their reformation or righteousness who know nothing of any such change in their nature and conversion of their hearts. Men may be greatly altered outwardly in their lives without any change of nature. Reason and conscience may have great effects, but there is a difference between a change of custom arising from reason and a change of habits arising from nature. This change of nature appears —
i. In a change of men’s understandings. There is a new principle of perception. Things that were hidden before are now exposed to the open eye of their understandings. When this change of nature is wrought the eyes of one who was born blind are now opened, and the excellence of spiritual objects is seen, which appeared once without any divine glory. The understanding also receives new conviction. Things appear true and real which before appeared fabulous and uncertain, or at best probable. There are many marks of truth seen by the heart which are enough to convince and satisfy it of divine doctrine. These doctrines will now be seen for true and real, and there is a light shining from the word of God that evidences itself to be His word. All the arguments for the truth now have their weight and force, and a man is not so prone to doubt the truth of God’s word as the natural produce of his mind. He indeed sees the doctrine of God as such that they need no arguments.
ii. A change of nature appears in a new set of appetites and tastes, and in those things that men relish. Things become very sweet and pleasant to men that were once contrary to them before. The way of salvation they once had so many misgivings about and which grated upon them now tastes very pleasant to them. They have a relish of those things that were once strange or perfectly insipid to them. They have a relish for the word of God, for the holy and sublime and spiritual doctrines of it. They are agreeable to them as a mother’s milk is agreeable to a hungry babe. They who have a new nature have these new appetites, and the things they naturally had an aversion to they are now naturally inclined to. Their soul hungers and thirsts for them, as for more of the truth of God, more closely walking in holiness, more near fellowship with God and bearing His likeness, living to the glory of God, and bringing forth more fruit. They delight in new things; they delight in religious duties; they delight in the word of God and in ordinances as means of conversing with Him; they delight in those things which have close affinity to God. They delight in holy actions and speeches, in God’s ways; it seems a pleasure to them to do justly and righteously, and as God commands. A holy life is pleasant to them which before seemed a bondage, and now they always loathe and abhor sins for that reason – because they are sinful and against God. A change of nature therefore consists in this change of taste or appetite. If a pig should appear to relish wallowing in the mire, or a raven to feed on carrion, why should we argue that their natures had changed?
iii. The change of nature appears in a new principle of action, by what they are enabled to do. They have a principle of action by which they are enabled to do those things that they were utterly dead to before. They are sometimes enabled to venture their souls upon Christ, exercise their love for God and delight in God, to seek the glory of God; they are enabled to abase themselves and exalt God in their heart, to make themselves nothing and God all.
IV. How Little those Pretences are to be Regarded of those who Talk of a work of Conversion and Return to Wicked Ways.
This evidences that they are rather of the sort of those that are dogs, and return to their own vomit again. It shows them to be of those that endure for a while, but in time of temptation quickly fall away, or of those that are choked by the pleasures and riches of the world. Their work that they tell of was no change of nature; it left them in the same skin that it found them in. The apostle John speaks of such sort of persons, ‘they went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained.’ Consider what God has said, ‘if any man draw back, My soul shall have no pleasure in him.’ They are one of those who began to build but were not able to finish. See what God says of them Ezek. 18, “when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations of the wicked, shall he live? All his righteousness that he has done shall not be mentioned. In his trespass that he has trespassed, and in his sin that he has sinned, in them he shall die.”