And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;
~ Matthew 19:28, Titus 3:5
Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. ~ John 3:3-5
And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.
~ 1 Corinthians 6:11, 1 Peter 3:21, Revelation 21:5
That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:
~ Ephesians 5:26, Colossians 3:10
Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.
~ Psalm 51:10
The Door of Salvation Opened by the Key of Regeneration, and the Sinner’s Last Sentence, by George Swinnock. An Excerpt from Chapter 17.
The second help to regeneration: An observation or knowledge of those several steps whereby the Spirit of God reneweth other souls, and a pliable carriage and submission to its workings and motions.
The Spirit of God convinceth the sinner of four things.
First, The Spirit convinceth him of his great and innumerable corruptions. The man before knew in the general that all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God, and would confess himself a sinner formally and slightly; but now he feels himself a sinner, and finds experimentally that he is a polluted, poisoned creature. The Spirit of God holdeth the glass of the law before the eyes of his soul, and makes him, whether he will or no, see what dirt and deformity is in the face of his heart and life. Without the law there is no transgression, and without the knowledge of the law there will be no conviction. As one of the persecutors in the days of Queen Mary, searching a house for a protestant, asked an old woman in the house, Where is the heretic? She points to a chest of linen, uj)on which stood a looking-glass, and bid him look there and he should see him. He looked there, and still asked, Where is he? She meant that he himself was the heretic, and in the glass he might see himself. So before the Holy Ghost came to convince this sinner, if the minister at any time had preached against pride, unbelief, carnal-mindedness, hypocrisy, and the like, his voice was. Where are these men? Surely the minister meets with such and such in his sermon! But now the Spirit in his conscience speaketh to him, what Nathan did to David, Thou art the man. Thou art the proud, carnal, hypocritical, cursed sinner, which the word of God meaneth, and the man cannot deny it. The Holy Ghost pulls off his rags and plasters, and makes him see all his nakedness and sores; it lanceth his wounds before his eyes, and now he beholdeth the venomous matter and corruptions which is in them, that he little thought of before.
Formerly he esteemed himself to be sound, comparing himself with them that were worse, or not minding the inward meaning and extent of the law of God; but now by the law the Spirit brings him to the knowledge of sin, Rom. vi. 7. It sheweth him the depravation of his nature, how full it is of pollution, even as full as ever toad was of poison; how empty it is of all good; nay, what an enemy it is to God and godliness. It sheweth him the abominations of his heart, how the imaginations and thoughts of his heart have been evil, only evil, and that continually; the provocations of his life, how full that hath been of lusts and sins, even as the firmament of stars. It sheweth him the evil of his thoughts, of his words, of his deeds; his omissions in his closet, in his family; his commissions abroad, at home. It sheweth him his idolatry, in setting up self as his God, in bowing down to it, and worshipping it; his adultery in going a-whoring after the creatures, loving, fearing, and trusting them more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. It sheweth him how he hath dishonoured the name of God, grieved the Spirit of God, undervalued the Son of God, violated every command of God; how he hath sinned against the first command, in not worshipping and glorifying God as the only true God and as his God, and in giving that honour to others which is due to him alone; against the second, in not worshipping God according to the word, but according to the traditions of others, or his own inventions; against the third, in not reverencing the name, word, and works of God; against the fourth, in not sanctifying the Sabbath to God’s service, but profaning it, either by idleness, or worldly labours, or omission of duties and ordinances; against the fifth, in not carrying himself according to his duty towards them that are above him, equal to him, or below him; against the sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth, in wronging his neighbours, either in regard of life, chastity, goods, name, relations, either in thought, words, or actions.
It sheweth him the darkness of his understanding, the stubbornness of his will, the disorderedness of his affections, the hardness of his heart, the searedness of his conscience, the mis-improvement of his outward parts; how his eyes have beheld vanity, his ears been open to iniquity, all his senses been thoroughfares to sin, all the members of his body instruments of unrighteousness; how from the crown of the head to the soles of his feet there is no sound part in him, nothing but wounds, bruises, and putrified sores. It is not one or two sins that trouble this sinner, but innumerable evils compass him about; whole swarms of these bees fly in his face and sting his conscience. It may be one sin did first set upon him, some sin against the light which God had given him, and now that creditor hath cast him into prison, all the rest come and clap their actions upon him to keep him there; his sins in his dealings with men, in his duties to God; his sins against seasonable corrections, against merciful dispensations; his sins against the motions of God’s Spirit, against the conviction of his own spirit, against light, love, purposes, promises; they all compass the sinner round that he cannot escape. Now he sees the ugly loathsomeness of his lusts, how they are against an infinite God, against a righteous law, against a precious soul; how by reason of them he is wholly unlike God, and become the very picture of the devil; and truly now he is far from having those flattering thoughts of himself, and favourable thoughts of his sins, which formerly he had. For sin’s part, it is abounding, polluting, poisonous, sinful sin. He seeth the wrinkles of this Jezebel’s face under her paint; and oh how ugly is she in his eyes! And for himself, he is more out of love than ever he was in love with himself. Some say after they have had the small-pox, that they come to see themselves in a glass, they look so ugly by reason of their spots that they cannot endure to see themselves. Truly this poor sinner, beholding him- self in the glass of the law, and viewing those hellish spots of sin all over his soul and body, he abhorreth himself in dust and ashes.
This is the first thing the Spirit convinceth the soul of, and that is sin: ‘When he is come, he shall convince the world of sin,’ John xvi. 8. God never cured a spiritual leper but he caused him to fall down first and cry out, Unclean, unclean.
Secondly, The Spirit convinceth him of his miserable and dreadful condition. Now the commandments of God come to the soul, sin reviveth, and the sinner dieth. He thought before that he was whole, a sound man, to have little need of a physician; but now he both seeth his sores and feeleth his wounds. Ministers before had frequently told him of his dangerous, damnable estate, but he had a shield to keep off all their darts. He was not so bad as they took him to be; somewhat they must say for their money. And besides, though he were as bad as such precise, censorious preachers would make him to be, yet God was a merciful God, and Jesus Christ died for sinners, and he hoped to be saved as well as the best of them. But now God comes to him as he did to Adam after his fall, ‘Adam, where art thou? Hast thou eaten of the tree of which I said unto thee thou shalt not eat? ‘ Sinner, where art thou? Dost thou know what thou art doing, and whither thou art going? How darest thou profane my day, blaspheme my name, scoff at my people, neglect my worship, cast my laws behind thy back, and hate to be reformed? Darest thou provoke the Lord to anger? Art thou stronger than he?
How will thine heart endure, or thine hands be strong, in the day that I shall deal with thee? Dost not know, poor dry stubble, that it is a fearful thing to fall into my hands? for I am a consuming fire. Now the sinner heareth the voice of God, and is afraid. Alas, alas! thinks lie, I am a dead, a damned man; the almighty God is angry; the weight of my sins at present is heavy; but the sufferings which I am every moment liable to, are infinite and eternal. Oh that I should ever be born to do as I have done! Now the lightnings of divine fury flash in his eyes, and the cannons of the law’s curses thunder in his ears; he seeth a sharp sword of pure wrath hanging by a slender thread of life over his head; he feeleth the stingings of his sins, those fiery serpents, at his heart. There is no rest in his flesh because of God’s anger, nor quietness in his bones because of his sins. The arrows of the Almighty are within him, and the poison thereof drinks up his spirit; the waves and billows of God go over his soul, and he sinketh in deep waters; God writeth bitter things against him, and makes him to possess the sins of his youth. Now the man is calmed, he will hear what God speaketh: before, though God himself had told him out of his word what a wicked wretched man he was, he would not mind it, but storm and rage at it; he was like a wild ass snuffing up the wind, and as an untamed heifer impatient of the yoke; he would kick and fling like a madman. What! he give credit to the doctrine, and submit to the severe discipline of a few whimsical puritans, that must be wiser than all their neighbours! No, not he, though they shewed him the very hand of God in Scripture to those warrants which they desired him to obey. But now he is of another mind, for the law hath shut him up under sin and guilt, Gal. iii. 22. The law hath pent him in and shut him up that he cannot possibly get out. As lions, bears, and wild beasts are tamed by being shut up and kept in, so the law causeth wrath, Rom. iv. 15, shuts the sinner up under it, and keeps him in, that his former starting-holes cannot help him; and thereby tames him.
While he was convinced of his sins and misery, his conscience was seared, not troubled at all the threatenings which were denounced against him; but now his conscience is sore, touch it which way you will, you put him to pain; tell him under this conviction of his drunkenness, or swearing, or atheism, or eagerness after this world, and heartlessness about the things of the other world, his neglecting God in secret, of not instructing and praying with his family; tell him how cold and customary he was in his devotion, saying to others that they took more pains for heaven than they needed to do; of his justifying himself in his transgressions, and taking part with Satan against his own soul; he crieth, guilty, guilty, when such bills of indictment are read against him; but every word in them is a deep wound to him; the wolf in the breast, and worms in tlie belly, do not cause half that pain which his wickedness doth by gnawing in his conscience. Tell him of the gospel, how infinitely merciful God is, and how inconceivably meritorious Christ is, and how freely the glad tidings of the gospel are offered to all. Oh, this toucheth him to the quick! the sword of the gospel cuts him more to the heart than the sword of the law. Oh, saith he, this, this is my death; were it not for this, I should have some hopes of life; but, alas! T have abused mercy, which is the only friend I have left; I have despised Christ, and neglected the great salvation which was tendered to me in the gospel. Vile creature that I am! mercy, love, and grace came many a time wooing me. How did Jesus Christ himself with pardon and life come beseeching me, begging of me to open my heart and let him in; and yet, cursed wretch that I was, I denied him! When the world could lie warm in my bosom all night, and sin get a good room in my soul, yet my Saviour must stand without, and not be thought worthy to be let in! I have most unworthily spurned against his bowels of compassion, scorned his sweetest and most affectionate persuasions, most desperately refused the only means of my recovery; and therefore I, what shall 1 do? whither shall I go? If one man sin against another, the judge shall judge him; but if a man sin against the Lord, who shall entreat for him? 1 Sam. ii. 25. If I had sinned only against my Creator, my Redeemer might have satisfied for me; but I, wretched I, have sinned against my Redeemer, and therefore who shall entreat for me? Oh the frights, and fears, and horrors, and terrors, which this poor creature suffereth under the sight and sense of his sins and guilt! but the forethoughts of an everlasting miscarriage in the other world sinks him quite down, that he is able to hold up no longer. Thus the Spirit first plougheth up the fallow-ground of the heart, before he casteth into it the seed of grace. He first captivates the sinner, and brings him into a spiritual dungeon, under chains of guilt and horror, that the very irons enter into his soul, before he proclaimeth liberty to the captive, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound, Isa. Ixi. 1, 2. Some indeed are brought lower than others with legal terror; but surely not a few have sailed to heaven by the very gates of hell. God is resolved that men shall feel sin either here or hereafter.
Thirdly, The Spirit convinceth him of the impotency and weak- ness of all the things in the world to help him, that in the whole garden of nature there is never an herb which can make a salve to heal his wounded conscience. Now the sinner is scorched with the lie at of God’s wrath; he is like a man in a burning fever, full of pain, and he tumbleth and tosseth from one side of the bed to the other, trying and hoping for ease; he goeth to this carnal comfort, or that human help, to have his pain abated, and his sores cured; but none of them will do; as fast as he claps on those carnal plasters, the Spirit causeth his conscience to rub them off. It may be first the man uses foreign drugs; he being troubled in conscience, goeth with Cain to the building of cities, to earthly employments, that the noise of the hammers might drown the voice of conscience; that his mind and body being occupied about other things, conscience might have no time nor leisure to proceed in preaching its cutting lectures; or else, like Saul, he runneth to his music, to carnal contentments, to merry meetings, jovial companions, his preferment or pleasures in the world, or some carnal diversion, if it be possible to turn the water of his thoughts into another channel, and so keep that mill from going which makes such a clacking dreadful noise in his ears, and threateneth to grind him to powder. Thus sinfully foolish is man; as soon as ever a fire is kindled in his soul, Which would aspire to heaven, he runneth with his buckets to earthly springs, and fetcheth water thence to quench it; the throes of the new birth do no sooner come upon him, but he, like some simple woman, takes cooling things, which cause his labour to go back again. But the Holy Ghost (for I am now speaking of one in whom the Spirit goeth through with the work) makes all these things empty to him; the virtue of those poor cordials is soon spent, and now the man is as sick as before. Conscience, for all these interruptions, still follows him with this hue and cry by a warrant from heaven, for the breach of God’s statutes, that the sinner can house nowhere in any of these worldly comforts, but conscience is at his heels, raising the town upon him, and giveth him no rest; the man finds this physic but like hot water to one in a cold fit of an ague, which warms a little at present, but makes his hot fit the more violent.
When the sinner finds that his exotical drugs will not cure him, he will try in the next place kitchen physic; he will be his own both doctor and apothecary; he hopeth that his praying, and grieving, and trouble of mind, and resolution to be better, will satisfy God’s justice, and pacify his own conscience, and heal it thoroughly. Oh, how the man endeavours to lick himself whole! Man is a proud creature, unwilling to beg or borrow of his neighbours, very solicitous rather to make a poor shift with what he hath of his own. The mariners will row hard in a storm to get to shore by their own power, before they will awake Jesus with Save us, Master, or we perish. But the Spirit convinceth him of the insufficiency of all his prayers, and tears, and duties to appease God, or satisfy his law; the Spirit sheweth him the narrowness and shortness of all his rags, how they cannot possibly cover his nakedness; conscience telleth him that, by his very duties, he is so far from paying his old score, that he runneth further in debt. Alas! saith conscience, thy very duties may damn thee; he who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity seeth a thousand holes in thy best coat; the holy God seeth sins enough in them to send thee into hell for them. Canst thou, poor beggar, with thy counterfeit farthings, think to pay an infinite sum? Can thy poor finite performances satisfy infinite justice for the violation of his righteous precepts? And for thy resolutions of better obedience, canst thou think that future obedience can satisfy for former disobedience? No, though thou couldst offer thousands of rams, and ten thousands of rivers of oil, nay, though the first-born of thy body, all these could not be a propitiation for one of the least sins of thy soul. No, no, the redemption of a soul is more precious; for all these it must cease for ever. Thus God ferrets the sinner out of all his burrows, and causeth the poor prodigal, while he is wandering from his father, to find a famine in all the creatures. As a general that besiegeth a city, doth not only play in upon it with his cannons and grenades, but also secure the several passages, stop all provision, that no relief can come to it, then they will yield upon his terms; so when the Spirit besiegeth the soul, it often plieth it hard with the batteries of the law, and always stoppeth relief from coming in, either from the world or a man’s own righteousness; and then, and not till then, will the creature yield upon the terms of the gospel. Fourth, The Spirit convinceth him of the willingness, suitableness, and all-sufficiency of Jesus Christ to help and heal him. The sinner now in his burning fit is very thirsty; like Hagar, he sits weeping, for his bottles are empty, and his creature-comforts are found by experience to be broken cisterns which can hold no water; he knoweth not what to do; how can I see the death of my soul? thinks he. When the sinner is brought to this strait, the Spirit of God openeth his eyes to see a well of salvation, even Jesus, who delivereth from the wrath to come. The Spirit discovereth to the sinner, that though his wound be dangerous, because the God whom he hath provoked is resolved either to have his law satisfied, or his eternal wrath endured, yet that it is not desperate, for there is balm in Gilead, and a physician in Israel, that can heal his soul. It convinceth him that Christ is a suitable help — bread to the hungry, water to the thirsty, rest to the weary and heavy-laden; that he hath a precious salve made of his own blood, which is a proper and peculiar remedy for his sores. It convinceth him that Christ is an all-sufficient help; that he can supply all the soul’s wants, be they never so many, and bear all the soul’s iniquities, be they never so weighty; that he is able to save to the uttermost those that come unto God by him, Heb. vii. 25. It presenteth to the soul his fitness and fulness in regard of his natures and offices, and the impossibility of his being unfaithful to this great work of saving poor sinners, for which he came into the world. It sheweth the sinner the infiniteness of Christ’s merits, and his omnipotency to help, because he is God; the examples of other wounded diseased persons, who surrendered themselves to the care of this physician and were cured. He shall convince the world of righteousness, ‘ because I go to the Father, and ye see me no more,’ John xvi. 10; that is, the world shall be convinced that there is righteousness enough in me to satisfy both the law and lawgiver, in that I shall appear in my Father’s presence, and that with acceptance. He would not send an angel as his officer to roll away the stone, and release the surety out of prison, the grave, and bring him before the judge with so much credit and countenance, if the law were not satisfied and the debt fully discharged. Heaven could never have held me; ye would have seen me upon earth again, if I had not done that work perfectly which the Father gave me to do. ‘ He shall convince the world of righteousness, because I go to the Father.’ It convinceth him that Jesus Christ is exceeding willing to save poor sinners; that he is joyful that any will accept him for their Saviour; that he came from heaven to earth, was born meanly, lived miserably, and died shamefully, merely upon this errand, that he might seek and save them that are lost; that he inviteth him to come to him, and promiseth that he shall be welcome; that he calleth them that go from him, but casteth away none that come to him.
Thus when the prodigal is in a far country, and cannot fill his belly so much as with husks, that he is ready to perish for hunger, he is shewed and convinced that there is bread enough in his father’s house. When the sinner is, like the Israelite in the wilder- ness, beholding the curse of the law like the Egyptian behind him, and pursuing him hard, the red sea of divine wrath before him, into which he is hastening, his crimson and bloody sins like mountains on each side of him, encompassing him round, that he know- eth not what to do, then the Spirit biddeth him look up to Jesus, and he shall see the salvation of God.
The third step which the Spirit takes is anhelation, to cause the soul of the convinced sinner to breathe and pant after Jesus Christ. Breath is the first effect of life. Conviction hath emptied his stomach of creature confidence, and self-righteousness made him poor in spirit, and oh how hungry he is after the righteousness of Jesus Christ, the bread which came down from heaven! As the thirsty ground cleaves and opens for drops, as the hart panteth after the water-brooks, so panteth his soul after Jesus Christ, God blessed for ever: thinks he. Oh when shall I come and appear before him! His voice is, like Rachel, Give me children or I die; give me the holy child Jesus or I die; or like Abraham, Lord, what wilt thou give me if I go childless? Oh what wilt thou give me if I go Christless! or like the Jews to Philip, Sir, we would fain see Jesus. If the angel should meet him, he might bespeak the soul as he did the woman, I know what thou seekest, thou seekest Jesus which was crucified.’ Oh the ardent desires, the vehement longings, the unutterable groans, which this poor creature hath after his Saviour! as David, he crieth out. Who will give me to drink of the water of the well of Bethlehem! Where is tliat blessed guide that can lead me, and help me to drink of the water of life! Methinks I see how Jesus Christ presents himself to the eye of the dejected soul’s understanding, in all his glory and gallantry, in his suitableness unto the sinner’s indigencies, and sufficiency for all his necessities, with the freeness of his mercy, the fulness of his merits, the sweetness of his love; how he appears before the soul with his retinue and train of graces, comforts, his blood, his Spirit, the favour of God, freedom from sin, wrath, hell. On the one hand of him there stand his gracious promises of pardon, peace, adoption, sanctification, heart-cheering love, and everlasting life; on the other hand of him there stands his precious precepts of self-denial, crucifying the flesh, walking after the Spirit, despising the sensual pleasures, honours, and profits of this world, and delighting in God, walking with him, having the conversation in heaven, and rejoicing in hope of glory. In the middle there stands the fairest of ten thousands, adorned as a bridegroom with his richest attire, glistering with the jewels of those graces with which his humanity is adorned, in a greater degree than the heavens could, though every star in it were a glorious sun; but oh how the diamond of his deity sparkleth in the soul’s account, that millions of worlds would be but a muck-heap to it! Ah how lovely is he in the sinner’s eye! How infinitely ravishing to his heart! How blessed are those souls, thinks this sinner, that are interested in such a Saviour! Inconceivably happy is that spouse which hath so beautiful, so accomplished, so lovely, so loving a husband; God is hers, earth is hers, heaven is hers, all is hers; holiness is her nature, and happiness is her jointure. Oh that I, oh that I might be so blessed as to be called to the marriage-supper of the Lamb! Who can express the vehement, violent longings of this man after Christ, as the load- stone of his affections, as the only centre of his soul, the proper remedy for all his maladies; had he the beauty of Absalom, the renown of Solomon, the wealth, the worth of the whole world, like the wise merchant, he would sell all to buy this pearl of price, and think it the best bargain that ever he made; nothing is so dear to him but he will give it; nothing is so difficult but he will do or suffer for Christ; he is of the same mind with the martyr. None but Christ, none but Christ. It is reported of a woman that was in these throes, that she should say, I have brought nine children into the world with as much pain as most women, yet I would bear them all over again, and bear them all my days for Christ. There is mention made of a bird in Egypt, near Nilus, called the bird of paradise, which they say, if it be once ensnared, is unquiet and mournful till she be delivered: so is this convinced sinner, now he feels himself entangled in the bond of iniquity and snares of the devil, he is unquiet till he be delivered. Talk to this man of his respect, and friends, and riches in the world, they are as the white of an egg, or a dry chip, without any savour, relish, or nourishment to him; but tell him of Jesus Christ, an able surety to discharge all his debts, oh that is the savoury meat which his soul loveth. As a man that is sick and extremely pained, when you talk to him of his calling or estate, he heareth not, he regardeth not; but tell him of one that can cure him of his disease, and ease him of his pain, then he will hearken to you; thus it is with this sinner; all his delight is in hearing of Christ, all his longing is to hear from Christ. The poor prisoner that is condemned to be hanged, and hath sent a messenger to sue for a pardon, never longed so much for his return with joyful news, as this poor creature for an interest in the Mediator. Thus the Spirit having convinced the soul of its beggary and nakedness, bondage, and misery, causeth it to breathe and long after the riches, liberty, and righteousness which is in Christ.
The fourth step is lamentation. The soul that breatheth after a Saviour is truly broken for his sins; his groans after liberty are accompanied with grief for his slavery. Now the clouds gather and thicken over the soul, and fall down in tears; his sorrow under the conviction of his misery was legal, but now it is for his abuse of mercy, and so evangelical. His heart before was as a cloud broken by a thunderbolt, being torn in pieces violently, and making a mighty noise; but now, like the cloud melted by the shining of the sun upon it, it dissolves down sweetly into a fruitful shower. He looked on sin before as it was damning, as that which would cast his soul and body into hell; but now he looks on sin as it is defiling, as that which makes him unlike to God, and as that by which he hath abused love and mercy; and the consideration of this warmeth his heart, and kindly thaweth it. The man hath now some small hope of mercy, and that, like the nearer approach of the sun, softeneth that earth which was hardened under the frost of legal terror.
The pump of the sinner’s heart was dry, till the water of gospel- grace, apprehended and hoped for, was poured in, and then it sendeth forth abundantly. He returneth now to God with supplication, weeping, and mourning; as Joseph, so this sinner seeketh for a place to weep in; he goeth into his chamber, falleth down before God, and poureth out his heart at his eyes and tongue; he accuseth, shameth, condemneth, abhorreth himself because of his sins. He doth not dissemble his birth, but acknowledgeth the pollution of his conception: ‘ Behold I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me, Ps. li, 5; he confesseth the transgressions of his life, that he hath gone astray from the womb, Ps. Iviii. 3, that ever since he was able to go, he went astray; he acknowledgeth his transgressions, and is sorry for his sins; with Ephraim, he smites upon his thigh, saying, What have 1 done? with the publican he beats on his breast, crying out, ‘ God be merciful unto me a sinner; ‘ with the prodigal, he is ashamed to look up to God, yet sighs out, ‘ Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee, and am unworthy to be called thy child.’ He throweth himself down at God’s feet, bemoaning himself thus: Lord, I am the great- est of sinners, less than the least of all thy mercies; I have defaced thine image, broken thy laws, sinned against thy majesty; against thee, thee I have sinned, and done evil in thy sight; I have done the work of Satan thine enemy, and my wages is nothing but death; how thou pleasest to deal with thy worthless creature I know not; Nemo possit poenitentium agere, nisi qui speraveritindulgentiam. — Amb. but however thou deal with me, thou art righteous, and I will lay my hand on my mouth; if thou say thou hast no pleasure in me, lo, here I am, do with me what seemeth good in thy sight; yet oh save my soul! Ten thousand hells are my portion; but if out of thy bottomless mercy thou shalt pluck my feet out of this bottomless misery, my soul shall admire thy free grace, my tongue shall sing aloud of thy rich mercy; and oh the obligation which this vile wretch shall have to be faithfully and uprightly serviceable to thy Majesty!
His contrition runneth all along parallel with his confession; his heart worketh more than his lips and hands; his affections are much more self-abasing and humbling than his expressions. He seeth him whom he hath pierced, and mourneth; Calvary is a Bo-chim, a place of weeping to him; his eyes are so full, that though Christ be nigh him, yet, like Mary, he cannot see him for tears. Never fountain sent forth water more freely than this sinner doth godly sorrow; when he considereth what he hath done, how he hath sinned, what a God he hath grieved, sorrow and grief over- whelm his spirit.
The fifth step is implantation into Christ; the Spirit now leadeth the child by the hand unto Christ, nay, grafteth him into Christ. The soul being convinced of the necessity it stands in of Christ, of the endless misery which it must undergo without Christ, of the all-sufficiency that is in Christ, how willing, how able he is to bind up the broken heart, and to save the sinful soul, doth by the help of the Holy Ghost venture itself, and its everlasting estate, upon Jesus Christ, resolving to stand or fall, live or die, at his feet. The sinner is now between hope and fear, not knowing how he shall fare. As the four lepers that were shut out of the city in the famine of Samaria, considered with themselves, ‘ If we enter into the city, the famine is in the city, and we die there: and if we sit still here, we die also. Now therefore come, and let us fall into the host of the Syrians: if they save us alive, we shall live; and if they kill us, we shall but die,’ 2 Kings vii. 3, 4; and accordingly they went to the Syrians’ camp, found food there, and lived; so the sinner pondereth in his heart: If I go to the world, and lying vanities thereof, I perish; vanity of vanities is written upon all its enjoyments; the famine is there, there is nothing that is bread; its whole shop cannot afford a plaster which can heal my wounded conscience; if I sit still in this condition, under the weight of mine iniquities, I perish; they will unquestionably sink me into hell.
Now therefore I will fall into the hands of the Lord Jesus; if he save my soul I shall live; if lie deny to receive such an unworthy wretch as I am, I shall but die, I can but perish: I will therefore venture. And accordingly the soul goeth to him, and findeth life in him. I have sometimes thought that when the sinner is come thus far, he carrieth himself much like Esther. When the king had made an irrevocable decree for the destruction of herself and people, what doth she do? she fasteth and prayeth, and sendeth word to Mordecai, ‘ I will go in unto the king, which is not accord- ing to the law; and if I perish, I perish,’ Esther iv. 16. Thus the poor broken-hearted sinner, perceiving that the King of kings hath made a decree that the soul that sinneth shall die eternally, and he is a grievous sinner, he fasteth, he mourneth, he prayeth, and at last resolveth. Well, I will go in unto the King, though it be not according to the law, which shutteth me up under guilt and wrath: if I perish, I perish; possibly he may hold out the golden sceptre of grace, and I may live in his sight. Thus the poor creature goeth, maketh supplications believingly, and prevaileth.
The devil now layeth all the blocks he can possibly in the soul’s way to hinder its journey to Christ. As when the woman talked to her husband of going to the prophet for the enlivening of her dead child, he presently endeavoureth to dissuade her, that it would be to no purpose. Why wilt thou go? it is neither new moon nor Sabbath. But yet she went, and had her child restored to life. Thus to what purpose shouldst thou go to Christ? saith the devil to the penitent sinner. Canst thou think that so holy and righteous a God will have the least respect for such a wicked, notorious, hellhound as thou art? I tell thee, he hath sent thousands, that never sinned as thou hast done, into hell; and canst thou have any thoughts of heaven? Thou hast done my work all thy days, and now lookest for a reward from God. No, no, I will pay thee thy wages in blackness of darkness for ever. If thou hadst intended for life, thou shouldst have minded it sooner; thou hast days without number broken the law, and many a time rejected the gospel, and now it is too late. God called, and thou wouldst not hear; now thou mayest call long enough, for he will not hear thee. He tells thee as much with his own mouth, Prov. i. 25-32. Therefore thou mayest spare thy pains and prayers, for all will be to no purpose. Surely thou hast an impudent face and a brazen forehead to expect such choice blessings as pardon and life from that Christ whom thou hast persecuted in his people, rejected in his laws, preferring the world and the flesh before him, and daring him to his very face. Thus he that was the sinner’s tempter to those sins, turns his tormentor for them; and lie that, when the soul was posting to hell, bade it not doubt of heaven, doth, now the creature is creeping towards eternal life, persuade him that it is impossible to escape eternal death. But notwithstanding these discouragements, the sinner will go to the great Prophet of the church for the life of his dead soul. He thinks, it is true I am a grievous sinner, but I know that he is a gracious Saviour. I see nothing but misery and hell in me, but I see mercy and heaven in him; for my warrant I have his precept, Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden,’ Mat. xi. 28; for my encouragement I have his promise, ‘I will give you rest.’ ‘ Him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out,’ John vi. 37. I will therefore go, whatever come of it, and lay myself at his feet; if he condemn me, and spurn me into hell, I will justify him; perad venture he may lend me his hand, and raise me up with hope of heaven; others have gone to him, and he hath bid them welcome. Oh the rings and robes, the kisses and embraces, which many returning prodigals have had of him! Who knoweth but he may be gracious to me? If he had not been willing that poor sinners should live, he would not have died; if he had been unwilling that I should come, why doth he call me? Well, whatever come of it, I will go; it may be I may be hid in the day of the Lord’s wrath. Thus faith at first standeth but on one weak foot.