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yours; and if you thought he did consent, you would consent willingly ; if this be it, you do truly believe while you think you do not; for you do consent (and that is all on your part to make the match) and Christ doth certainly consent, though you do not understand it. In this case it concerneih you, to understand better the extent of the new covenant, and then you will be past doubt of the willingness of Christ, and see that wherever the match breaks, it is only for want of consent in men; for Christ is the first suitor, and hath long ago in the covenant proclaimed his consent, to be the head and husband of every sinner, on condition they will but consent to be his.
If your mistake be from any false apprehension of the nature of Christ, as if he were not a sufficient Saviour, or were an enemy to your comfort, that he would do you more harm than good ; if these mistakes are prevalent, then you do not know Christ, and therefore must presently better study him in the Gospel, till you have prevailed over such ignorant and blasphemous conceits (but none of this I suppose is your case.)
If then the reason why you say you cannot believe, be from any thing that is really in Christ (and not upon mistake,) then it must be either from some dislike of his saving work, by which he would pardon you, and save you from damnation (but that is impossible, for you cannot be willing to be damned or unpardoned, till you lose your reason :) or else it is from a dislike of his work of sanctification, by which he would cleanse your heart and life, by saving you from your sinful nature and actions ; some grudging against Christ's holy and undefiled laws and ways will be in the best, while there is that flesh in them which lusteth against the Spirit, so that they cannot do the things they would. But if truly you have such a dislike of a sinless condition, through the love of any sin or creature, that you cannot be willing to have Christ to cure you, and cleanse you from that sin, and make you holy : I say, if this be true, in a prevailing degree, so that if Christ and holiness were offered you, you would not accept them, then it is certain you have not true faith. And in this case it is easily to discern, that your first work lieth not in getting comfort or ease to your troubled mind; but in getting better conceits of Christ and a holy state and life, that so you may
be willing of Christ, as Christ is of you, and so become a true believer. And here I would not leave you at that loss as some do, as if there were nothing for you to do for the getting of faith ; for certainly God hath prescribed you means for that end. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God preached;" Rom. x. 17. i. Therefore see that you wait diligently on this ordinance of God. Read the Scriptures daily, and search them to see whether you may not there find that holiness is better than sin. ü. And however some seducers may tell you, that wicked men ought not to pray, yet be sure that
lie knees before God, and importunately beg that he would open your eyes, and change your beart, and shew you so far the evil of sin, and the want and worth of Christ and holiness, that you may be unseignedly glad to accept bis offer.
Object. • But the prayers of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord.'
Answ. (1.) You must distinguish between wicked men, as actually wicked, and going on in the prosecution of their wickedness; and wicked men, as they have some good in them, or are doing some good, or are attempting a return to God. (2.) You must distinguish between real prayer and seeming prayer. (3.) You must distinguish between full acceptance of prayer, when God delighteth in them, and an acceptance only to some particular end, not intimating the acceptance of the person with his prayer : and between acceptance fully promised (as certain) and acceptance but half promised (as probable). And upon these distinctions I shall answer your objections in the conclusion.
1. When wicked men pray to God to prosper them in their wickedness, yea, or to pardon them while they intend to go on in it, and so to give them an indulgence in sin ; or when they think with a few prayers for some good, which they can endure, to put by that holiness which they cannot endure, and so to make a cloak for their rebellion, these prayers are all an abomination to the Lord.
2. When men use the words of a prayer, without the desire of the thing asked, this is no prayer, but equivocally so called, as a carcase is a man; and therefore no wonder if God abhor that prayer, which is truly no prayer.
3. God hath not made a full promise, ascertaining any wicked man, while wicked, that he will hear his prayer; for all such promises are made to believers.
4. God doth never so hear an unbeliever's prayer, as to accept his person with his prayer, or to take a complacency in them. So much for the negative.
Nor for the affirmative, I add ; 1. Prayer is a duty which God enjoined even wicked men (I could prove it by an hundred Scripture texts.)
2. There may be some good desires in unbelievers, which they may express in prayer, and these God may so far hear as to grant them, as he did in part to Ahab.
3. An unbeliever may lie under preparing grace, and be on his way in returning towards God, though yet he be not come to saving faith ; and in this state he may have many good desires, and such prayers as God will hear.
4. Though God have not flatly engaged himself to unbelievers, so as to give them a certainty of hearing their prayers, and giving them true grace on the improvement of their naturals, yet he hath not only appointed them this and other means to get grace, but also given them half promises, or strong probabilities of speeding, so much as may be a sufficient encouragement to any such sinner to call on God, and use his means. For as he appointeth not any vain means to man, so no man can name that man who did improve his naturals to the utmost, and in particular, sought God in prayer, so far as a natural man may do, who yet missed of grace, and was rejected (this is the true mean between Pelagianism and Antinomianism in this point).
5. When God calls unbelievers to prayer, he withal calls them to believe. And when he works their heart to prayer by that call, he usually withal works them to believe, or at least towards believing. If he that was unwilling to have Christ, do pray God to make him willing, it is a beginning of willingness already, and the way to get more willingness. In prayer God useth to give in the thing prayed for, of this kind.
6. Prayer is the soul's motion God-ward : and to say an unbeliever should not pray, is to say he should not turn to God; who yet saith to the wicked, “Seek the Lord while he may be found, and call upon while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way;" &c. Isaiah lv. 6, 7.
7. Prayer hath two parts ; desire is the soul of it, and expression is the body. The soul can live separated from the body, but so cannot the body separated from the soul. So can desire without expression, but not expression without desire. When our blind Antinomians (the great subverters of the Gospel, more than the law) do rail against ministers for persuading wicked men to pray, they are against us for persuading men to desire that they pray for ; prayer having desire for its soul. And do not those men deserve to be exterminated the churches and societies of the saints, who dare say to a wicked unbeliever, Desire not faith? Desire not to leave thy wickedness ? Desire not grace? or Christ? or God? And that will proclaim abroad the word (as I have oft heard of them with zealous reproaches) that our ministers are legalists, seducers, ignorant of the mysteries of the Gospel, because they persuade poor sinners to pray for faith, grace, and Christ ; that is to desire these, and to express their desires; which in effect is to persuade them to repent, believe, and turn to God. Indeed, if these blind seducers bad ever heard our ministers persuading wicked men to dissemble and lie to God, and ask faith, grace and Christ with their longues, but not desire them in their hearts, then had they sufficient grounds for their reviling language. But I have been too long on this. I may therefore boldly conclude, that they that find themselves unbelievers, that is, unwilling to have Christ to deliver them from sin, must use this second means to get faith, even earnest frequent prayer for it to God.
iii. Let such also see that they avoid wicked seducing company and occasions of sin ; and be sure that they keep company with men fearing God, especially joining with them in their holy duties.
iv. Lastly, let such be sure that they use that reason which God hath given them, to consider frequently, retiredly, seriously, of the vanity of all those ihings that steal away their hearts from Christ; and of the excellency of holiness, and how blessed a state it is to have nothing in us of heart or life that is displeasing to God, but to
be such as he taketh full delight in; also of the certainty of the damnation of unbelievers, and the intolerableness of their torments; and of the certainty and inconceivable greatness of believers' everlasting happiness. If wicked unbelievers would but do what they can in daily, serious, deep considering of these things, and the like, they would have no cause to despair of obtaining faith and sanctification. Believing is a rational act. God bids you not to believe any thing without reason, nor to accept or consent to any thing without full reason to cause you to consent. Think then often and soberly of those reasons that should move you to consent, and of the vanity of these that hinder you from consenting, and this is God's way
to obtain faith or consent. Remember then, that when you have understood and improved general grounds of comfort (nay before you can come to any full improvement of them) your next business is to believe ; to consent to the match with Christ, and to take him for your Lord and Savjour. And this duty must be looked to and performed, before you look after special comfort. But I said somewhat of this before under the sixth head, and therefore will say no more now.
Direct. X. When you have gone thus far, your soul is safe, and you are past your greatest dangers, though yet you are not past your fears; your next work therefore for peace and comfort is this ; To review and take notice of your own faith, and thence to gather assurance of the certainty of your justification, and adoption, and right to glory.'
The sum of this direction lieth in these things :
1. See that you do not content yourself with the forementioned general comforts, without looking after assurance and special comforts. The folly of this I have manifested in the third part of my Book of Rest, about Self-examination.
2. See that you dream not of finding assurance and special comfort from mere general grounds. This is the delusion of many Antinomians, and most of our profane people (who I find are commonly of the Antinomian faith naturally, without teaching.) For men to conclude that they shall certainly be saved, merely because God is merciful, or Christ is tender-hearted to sinners, and would not that any should perish, but all should come to repentance; or