A sermon by Thomas White
Come we now closer to the point: toward the opening of which, I shall entreat your attention to the resolution of Sundry QUESTIONS.
QUESTION I. What is this “calling?”
ANSWER. It is the real separation of the soul unto God; and a clothing it with such gracious abilities, whereby it may be enabled to repent of its sins, and to believe in his Son. It is our translation from the state of nature—which is a state of sin, wrath, death, and damnation—to a state of grace, which is a state of holiness, life, peace, and eternal salvation. This translation is wrought,
1. By strong convictions of the mind,
(1.) Of the guilt and filth of sin, of the danger and defilement of sin, of the malignity of sin, and the misery that attends it.—“Once,” saith the soul that is under this dispensation of God’s grace, “Once I looked upon sin as my wisdom: now it is madness and folly. Once I accounted it my meat and drink to ‘fulfill,’ τα θεληματα, all the wills of the flesh (Eph. 2:3); sin was a sweet morsel; I drank iniquity like water: now it is a cup of trembling to me, and I fear it may prove a cup of condemnation. Once I hugged, embraced, and delighted in sin as the wife of my bosom: now I clearly see that the fruit and issue of the impure copulation of my soul with her is nothing else but the shame of my face, the stain of my reputation, the rack and horror of my conscience, and (which is more than all these) the provocation of the Almighty; and therefore I begin to think within myself of an eternal divorce from her. I slept securely in the lap of this Delilah; she robbed me of my strength; she delivered me up to the Philistines, that dealt unworthily with me, that put me upon base and low employments: what now should I think of, but (if it please the Lord to give new strength) the death and destruction of them all?”
(2.) Of the vanity and emptiness of the creature which we have idolized.— Confiding in it, as the staff of our hopes; breathing and pursuing after it, as the perfection of our happiness.
(3.) Of the absolute need of Christ.—That if he does not save us, we must perish.
(4.) Of the absolute “fulness” of Christ, and that “in him we may be complete” (Col. 2:10.)—If we be guilty, he can justify us; if we be filthy, he can purge us; if we be weak, he can strengthen us; if we be poor, he can enrich us; if we be base, he can ennoble us; if we be deformed and ugly, he can make us beautiful and lovely; if we be miserable, he can bless us, and that “with all blessings in heavenly places.” (Eph. 1:3.)
(5.) Of the clemency, goodness, meekness, sweetness, graciousness of his disposition; that if any man come to him, he will in no wise reject him. (John 6:37.)—These things the mind is strongly convinced of: yet if there be not a farther work, a man may carry these convictions to hell with him. Therefore,
2. In the second place, this translation is wrought by a powerful inclination and conversion of the will to close with Christ upon his own terms.—To embrace him as Sovereign, as well as Saviour; to take him, as men use to do their wives, “for better for worse, for richer for poorer;” to stick to him on Mount Calvary, as well as Mount Tabor; to welcome him into thy bosom by bidding an everlasting farewell to thy sins: in a word, to make a voluntary tender and resignation of thyself unto him; solemnly avouching that, from this time forward, thou wilt count thyself more his, than thou art thine own; and the more thy own, because thou art his. This work is carried on with a most efficacious sweetness; so that the liberty of the will is not infringed, whilst the obstinacy of the will is mastered and overruled.
If you ask me “How can these things be?” I never studied to satisfy curiosity; but if you can tell me “how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child,” (Eccles. 11:5,) I also will tell you how the parts of the new man are formed in the heart. But, I suppose, silence and humble admiration will be best on both sides: if there be so great a mystery in our natural generation, surely there is a far greater in our spiritual regeneration: if David could say of the former, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made;” (Psalm 139:14;) much more might he say of the latter, “I am fearfully and wonderfully renewed.”
QUESTION II. Who are “the called?”
ANSWER 1. Among creatures, none but men are of the number of the called.—“The angels that kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation,” are never recalled, but “reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.” (Jude 6.) Lord, “what is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou so regardest him?” (Psalm 8:4.)
2. Among men, none but the elect are capable of this grace.—The call is limited by the “purpose:” “Whom he hath predestinated, them he also called.” (Rom. 8:30.) Touching these elect persons, divers things fall under our observation; as,
(1.) In regard of their internal condition.—Before this call, they are dead in sins and trespasses, blind in their minds, stony in their hearts, corrupt in their ways, even as others.
(2.) In regard of their outward condition.—Both before and after this call, they are, for the most part, poor and vile and contemptible in the eye of the world. God puts not the greater value upon any man for a gold ring for “goodly apparel,” though the world doth: he hath chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him.” (James 2:2, 5.) “Ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:” (1 Cor. 1:26): some, it may be; but not many. God so orders his call, as that it may appear, “there is no respect of persons with him,” (Rom. 2:11.)
(3.) Whatever the outward condition of these men be, there are but very few that are effectually called.—Few, I say, in comparison of those that are left under the power and dominion of their lusts: “One of a city, and two of a tribe.” (Jer. 3:14.) I tremble to speak it, but a truth it is, and must out:—Satan hath the harvest, God the gleanings, of mankind. Which, by the way, may serve to convince them of their vanity and folly, that make the multitude of actors an argument to prove the rectitude of actions; as if they could not do amiss, that do as the most: whereas a very Heathen could say, Argumentum pessimi turba, “The beaten tract is most deceitful;” sheep go the broad way to the shambles, when a more uncouth path might lead them to fresh pastures.
QUESTION III. Who is he that calleth?
ANSWER. Who but God, that “calleth things that are not as if they were?” (Rom. 4:17.) All heart-work is God’s particular work—the restraining and ordering [of] the heart. He withheld Abimelech, “not suffering him to touch” Sarah, Abraham’s wife (Gen. 20:6): and the heart of Pharaoh, while it was least conformable unto the rule of his law, was absolutely subject unto the rule of his providence. And well it is for us, that it belongs to God to restrain and order hearts: otherwise, sad would be the condition of this nation, of the whole world. But now if it be God’s particular work to restrain and order hearts, much more, surely, to turn, change, break, melt, and new-mould hearts. It is his sovereign grace which we adore as the only Verticordia, as the real “Turn-heart." Therefore we may observe that,
1. God doth especially challenge this unto himself.—You know whose expressions those are: “I will give you a new heart;” and again: “I will take away the heart of stone.” (Ezek. 36:26.) Are they not God’s? Who dares make any challenges against the Almighty? Hath not he a sceptre strong enough to secure his crown? Those that will be plucking jewels out of his royal diadem, and ascribe that to themselves or any creature which is his prerogative, shall find him jealous enough of his honour, and that jealousy stirring up indignation enough to consume them. But,
2. As God may justly challenge this work to himself, so it is altogether impossible [that] it should be accomplished by any other.—For,
(1.) This effectual vocation is a spiritual resurrection of the soul.—While we are in a state of nature, we are dead; not sick or languishing, not slumbering or sleeping, but quite “dead in trespasses and sins.” When we are called into a state of grace, then are our souls raised to walk with God here, as our bodies at the last day shall be raised to walk with the Son of God unto all eternity. Now, if it be not in the power of any creature to raise the body from the grave of death, (upon which account it is used as an argument of the Divinity of Christ, that he raised himself,) much less is it in the power of any creature to raise the soul from the grave of sin. And therefore do all true believers prove the power of God, even that “exceeding greatness of his power,” that “might of his power,” as the Greek hath it, του κρατους της ισχυος αυτου, whereby “he raised up Christ from the dead.” (Eph. 1:19, 20.)
(2.) This effectual vocation is a new creation of the soul.—Whence we are said to be “created in Christ Jesus,” when we are called unto an experimental knowledge of him, and unfeigned faith in him. Upon which account it must needs be “God’s workmanship;” (Eph. 2:10;) for power of creating is not, cannot be, communicated to any creature. Though the “angels excel in strength,” (Psalm 103:20,) and wonderful things have been performed by them, when they have as ministers executed God’s pleasure in the punishment of the wicked and protection of the righteous; yet the mightiest angel cannot create the lowest worm: that is the product only of infinite power. And let me tell you, if infinite power be manifested in the creation of the world, it is more gloriously manifested in the conversion of a sinner. There is a worse chaos, a worse confusion, upon the heart of man, when God undertaketh his new creation, than there was upon the face of the earth in the old creation. In the earth, when it was “without form and void,” (Gen. 1:2,) there was only indisposition; but in the heart of man, there is both indisposition and opposition.
Well, then, I peremptorily conclude that the work is God’s; God’s by the way of a principal efficiency, and not only by way of motion or persuasion, as some would have it; wherein I fear a piece of cursed bargaining for their own glory. For, were it so, they would be but very shabby acknowledgments that does belong to God for the change of a most miserable and unhappy estate. Suppose I should go to some wealthy citizen, and present him an object of charity, using the most cogent considerations which my art and wit could invent to enforce a liberal contribution; thereupon he freely parts with his money for the relief of that indigent person: tell me now, To which of us is he mainly engaged to return thanks? To me, the mover; or to him, the bestower? I make no question but your judicious thoughts have made an award of the chief acknowledgment to the latter. The case would plainly be the same betwixt God and us, if his only were the motion, ours the act, of conversion; his the persuasion, ours the performance: and if we go to heaven, we should have more cause to thank ourselves, than to thank God, for all the happiness we meet with there.
Beloved, I beseech you, take heed of such an opinion as this: it hath blasphemy written over it. If it be rooted in your minds, it will breed in your hearts a confidence of your own power and abilities; and that is no better than a finespun idolatry, and shall find little better response from God than if you worshipped stocks and stones.