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All these grateful acknowledgments imply the conviction of entire dependence on God for the blessings received. Prayer, and especially prayer in the name of Christ, as all prayer ought to be, implies our entire dependence. It is this deep sense of dependence which gives to prayer that character of humility and earn. estness without which, however eloquent and appropriate may be the words, it will be, in the ear of God, worse than a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. If any thing was due to us on the ground of merit, or as the reward of service, we might demand it of God on the principle of justice; but this demand would not be prayer. Many other passages with clearness teach the same truth. Who maketh thee to differ? and what hast thou, that thou didst not receive? is language which can be used, in its true sense, by those only who feel and acknowledge their entire dependence on God.
3. If the promise implies that we need all the blessings included in the new heart, and that God alone can bestow them, and of course that we are entirely dependent on his good pleasure for these blessings; the fact is also clearly implied that we are help. less in ourselves, as it regards the accomplishment of this work. If it be admitted, as we presume it will, that God does nothing in vain; that when he produces an effect, this effect could not be produced without his power; that when he promi. ses to accomplish any purpose, this purpose could not be accomplished without his agency; then it will follow, that the promise, solemnly made, to give us a new heart, implies that we are helpless, that we could not possess this heart in any other way; for if we could, then the promise of God, and the agency of God in performing this, would be in vain. It is perfectly accordant with the common sense of all men, that that which we receive as a gracious gift, as an unmerited favor, cannot be the product of our own efforts; that which is the work of God, cannot, in the same sense, be our work. Regeneration is ascribed to God, as his work, and as his alone, in language so clear, so unequivocal as to exclude all other agencies. If we are born of God, then it is neither of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man. If we are his workmanship, then we are not our own. The new heart includes faith; and faith is the act of our own mind; yet this act never would be performed without divine aid. It is both the gift and the work of God.
But a truth of such deep interest ought not to rest on the common sense or the common opinion of men. What saith the scriptures? How readest thou?' Without me, said the Saviour, ye can do nothing. The truth is doubted by no man, that the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine: no more can ye, except ye abide in me. No man can come to me except the Father which hath sent me draw him. Can a work, which requires divine power to accomplish it, be done by those who are without strength? Our prayers to God are nothing but mockery, unless they imply our helplessness. When we ask God to help us, to cleanse our hearts, to strengthen, protect, defend, deliver, guide, and save us, do we believe that we ourselves can do these things? or do we believe that our sufficiency is of God; that he is our strength, our support, our defence, our salvation?
Let it not, for a moment, however, be supposed, that this helplessness is insensibility or hardness of heart, as it regards spiritual things. Whenever you hear a man say that he is helpless, and see him remain as unmoved as the rock, be assured that man neither understands nor believes what he says; he is merely alleging this as an excuse for his neglect of duty, and for the love of sin which he does not intend to forsake. The truth that we are without strength, is one of those things of the Spirit which the natural man neither understands nor believes. It is the real feeling produced by this truth, that completes the work of preparation for the reception of Christ; that humbles us in the dust, that brings us, with entire submission, to the foot of the cross. The want of this belief and of this feeling is the cause of that insensibility which so much prevails. Bring sinners to feel that they are guilty and that they are helpless, and it is impossible for them to remain unmoved. The more deeply conscious we are of our helplessness, the more earnestly will we pray that we may receive the help of God. If we pray with the Spirit and with the understanding, we pray for that, and that only, which we do not possess, which we need, which God has promised to give.
Nor, let it, for a moment, be supposed, that there is the shadow of excuse for this inability. It is a criminal inability. So far as we are helpless, so far we are criminal. That we cannot, without divine assistance, believe in Christ, love God, and repent of our sins, is, at once, the measure and the proof of our guilt. To say that we cannot believe in Christ, who has died for us, and whose atoning blood is essential to our salvation; is to say, that we cannot believe and confess that we are sinners. To say that we cannot love God, is to say, that we cannot cease to hate him. To say that we cannot repent, is to say, that we approve of sin, and are determined to persevere in the prac. tice of it. That is, though the plain and positive declarations of God have decided otherwise, yet that it is right to reject the only Saviour, to hate and disobey God, to love and pursue sin.
These are two facts, therefore, the conviction of which should exist and operate together in our minds; that, as it regards the work of our own salvation, we are utterly helpless; and that this helplessness in its very nature, is sinful. Both of these facts are pressed upon our minds by the testimony of clear and numerous passages of scripture. Nor can we, for a moment, admit the painful suspicion, that any intelligent Christians will doubt either of them; or will not say from the heart, that they accord with their own experience.
III. Finally; in securing the great interests of eternity, what course should we pursue, under the influence of that instruction derived from this command and this promise of God?
The command, if we mistake not, teaches us, that he has a right to all the spiritual exercises of our hearts; that this is our imperious duty; and that we are guilty, in not thus giving him our hearts. The promise teaches us, that we need divine assist. ance in making this new heart; that for this we are entirely dependent on God; and that without this aid we are utterly helpless. The course of safety is marked out by the combined instruction and influence of both together. What God has joined we must not separate. We cannot receive the one, as it ought to be received, without the other; we must receive both, or we receive neither. If from a professed regard to the one, we forget and neglect the other, we only prepare for ourselves the cup of bitter disappointment.
The course, then, seems to be this: as guilty and helpless sinners, we should go immediately and directly to God, confessing, most humbly and sincerely, our sins, and pleading most earnestly for his mercy. By confessing our sins, we acknowledge the authority, the justice, the goodness of the law which we have transgressed, and by which we are condemned for these transgressions. By pleading for his mercy, we acknowledge our need, our dependence, and our helplessness. This is the way pointed out in scripture. He that covereth his sins shall not prog. per; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them, shall have mercy. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. The confession flows from the belief and feeling that sin is an evil, which deserves the punishment of eternal death. Confessing our sins, with this contrition of soul, we will forsake them. By pleading for mercy, we admit that the justice of God would be eternally glorified in our condemnation; that we do not deserve the blessings for which we pray; that if we are saved it will be to the praise of the glory of his grace. The more deep and vivid these convictions of our guilt and helplessness become, the nearer we should approach the cross of Christ, and with the more humble importuni. ty should we pray. If we feel so much of the old heart of stone, that we can neither confess nor pray as we ought, this is but the clearer proof of our perishing need, of our dependence and helplessness; and presents to us the more urgent motives to come to God, that he may give a new heart and a new spirit. If it appears impossible to feel, even in the faintest degree, the desire that God would give us a new heart; it is but the still more clear and alarming proof, flashing into the soul, of our great and imminent danger. We should come to Christ as we are; guilty, that we may be forgiven; helpless, that we may receive strength; vile and polluted, that we may be purified; insensible, even dead in sin, that we may be quickened and made alive. The sick, not the whole, need the physician; need him, because they are sick, and cannot help themselves.
Were we not both guilty and helpless sinners, we would not need the Saviour. Without the deep conviction of this truth, we never will come to the Saviour; because the motives to bring us would not operate on the mind.
The Psalmist pursued the very course pointed out by this command and this promise. No person can read, in the 51st Psalm, the confessions which he makes, and the prayers which he offers up, without perceiving that they flow from a very deep and humbling sense of his need, his dependence and his helplessness. The sins of his nature and his life are confessed with shame and contrition. “ For I acknowledge my transgressions; and my sin is ever before me.” In whatever pursuit he was engaged, to whatever object he turned his attention, his sin met his view, occupied his thoughts, grinding him down into the very dust before God. Does he behold the robes and the throne of royalty? he is reminded of his vileness, his need of cleansing. Does he reign over an extensive empire? sin has had dominion
over him. Does he receive the adulation of his subjects? his conscience reproaches him with his own baseness. Does he sit in judgment on the different cases brought before him? his own case is decided, and he is condemned by the Judge of all the earth. He renounces all merit of his own, from any source, in any sense, or in any degree, and pleads for mercy according to a rule of proportion entirely different, according to the loving kindness and tender mercies of God. The very blessings which God has promised to bestow, are the blessings of which he feels his perishing need, and for which he prays. The Lord has promised to give a new heart and a new spirit; his prayer is, “ Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” “ Then, saith the Lord, will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean from all your filthiness, and from all your idols will I cleanse you;" his prayer is, “ Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean, wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.” Taught by painful experience his own weakness, when left to himself, his earnest prayer to God is, take not thy holy Spirit away from me, but uphold me with thy free Spirit.
Such is then the course we should pursue under the combined influence and instruction of this command and this promise of God; that is, to come directly and immediately to Christ, and to God through him. Coming to Christ is a movement of the mind, under the deep conviction of our guilt and helplessness. While the command requires us to make a new heart, the promise assures us that God will give this heart. As the Lord fulfills his promise in us, then do we obey his command. As the Lord takes away the heart of stone, then does the heart of flesh, that is the new heart, cherish its spiritual and devout affections. As the Lord draws us, then do we run after him. When the Lord turns us, then are we turned. When the Lord exerts his gracious power, then are we his willing people. This is the new and the living way, the only way of safety for guilty and helpless sinners to return to God. If we attempt to obey the command to make a new heart, in our own strength, without dependence on divine aid, nothing but disappointment and final perdition will be the result. No man, says the Saviour, cometh to the Father but by me; and him that cometh I will in no wise cast out. We cannot call into exercise those affections included in the new heart by an act of volition; suitable objects alone can produce this effect. These objects are found concentrated in the cross of Christ.
1. From this subject, we see how thankful all Christians should be. . For that faith which unites us to Christ, through whom we