JOHN vi. 44. “No man can come to me, except the Father, which hath sent me, draw him.”

IT is good for us to be humbled and God has declared it to be a leading design of the Gospel, to stain the pride of all human glory. Every part of this wonderful scheme, in its origin, in its progress, in its consummation, tends to exalt God and to lay man in the dust ! We cannot turn to a page of the Gospel record, without finding something of this character. Do we glory in the dignity or strength of our natural powers, in our acquisitions, or in our enjoyments? The Gospel teaches us that we have nothing but what we have received, and that it is God alone who causes us to differ. Do we think favorably of our moral dispositions, or secretly flatter ourselves with our virtues? The Gospel declares that we are, by nature, children of wrath and disobedience, having no power to please God; because, with all our good qualities, we possess nothing in our unrenewed state which he dignifies with the name of virtue. Do we think ourselves safe because the Word of life is preached to us–or because we hear the voice of our Redeemer calling to us to come unto him and be saved? Our Lord confounds this self-deluding imagination, with all the vain hopes attached to it, by declaring, as in the words before us: ‘ ‘ No man can come to me, except the Father, which hath sent me, draw him.”

But will not many object to this declaration? Will they not say, “If we cannot come to Christ, how are we to blame for not coming? And if we can come, what need of being drawn by the Father? Are not these things strange and contradictory?” Strange and contradictory as they may seem, the Divine Teacher will not take back his words, nor soften their import. He lays down his doctrine with great clearness and strength: He speaks with the authority of one who came forth from God, and who is God himself. Whatever may be our opinions or our feelings, his Word will stand in broad and legible characters when the fire, which consumes all things, shall have dissolved this earth and these heavens. It is in vain to contend against what is written; the reck will not be removed out of its place for us. But though we may not contend, we may lawfully inquire; and sure I am, the more diligent and humble our inquiry, the more cheerfully shall we subscribe to what God has revealed.

In attending to the words before us, I propose, in the First place, briefly to consider what it is to come to Christ.

Second. To notice our Lord’s assertion, that no man can come to him unless drawn by the Father.

First. What is it to come to Christ? This is a question of great practical importance, and requires often to be discussed. To come to Christ, is but another expression for believing on Christ, and is so expounded by our Lord in the chapter before us. After stating to the Jews that he was the true bread, which came down from heaven, and which gives light to the world, he says: “He that comes to me shall never hunger, and he that believes on me shall never thirst;” as if coming to him, and believing on him, were one and the same thing. And again: “All that the Father gives to me shall come to me; and he that comes to me I will in no wise cast out; and this is the Father’s will that hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me, I should lose nothing, hut should raise it up again at the last day.” Which he explains hy what follows: “And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one that sees the Son, and believes on him, may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” He that comes to Christ, and he that believes on Christ, performs one and the same act, and is entitled to the same promise, the promise of eternal life.

A like use of these terms is found in the following chapter: “In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink;” and immediately subjoins, “He that believes on me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water;” alluding to the Spirit which they who believe on him should receive.

But what is it to believe on Christ? It implies,

1st. That we credit the Divine record concerning him; that he is very God as well as very man; that in this mysterious union, he sustains the office of Mediator, and has performed a glorious work of obedience and suffering, by which he hath expiated sin and brought in everlasting righteousness, so that God can extend pardon to the penitent and believing, without derogating from the honor of his government, and in a way which both glorifies his attributes, and secures and illustrates the rights of his throne; that as Mediator, Christ is now exalted to the right hand of his Father, and sways the scepter of universal dominion; while as an omnipotent Savior, he proclaims to all, through the medium of the Gospel, that whosoever will may come to him, and that he that comes to him he will in no wise cast out.

This is the record which God has given of his Son. But it is one thing to believe it, as we believe any other doctrine or fact, upon creditable testimony; and another, to believe it with the heart, or with corresponding dispositions: which leads me to remark,

2d. That to constitute true faith in the Savior, there must be a cordial approbation of this record. It is with the heart that man believes unto righteousness; and hence, true faith is described as an active moral principle which works by love, and gives us the victory over the world. The devils believe and tremble, but they have no love. They are compelled to yield assent to the truths of the Gospel, but they have no approbation of these truths. Their hearts are constantly and powerfully set against them. So it may be with unrenewed men; their reason and judgment may be gained, while their hearts, with all their strength, stand opposed to the Redeemer. If this were not the case, why do many, who have no speculative doubts of the truths of the Gospel, so utterly disregard them? And why is it that faith is represented as the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and one of the evidences of a renewed heart? But we need not urge: There is no truth better established, than that faith is a principle to be referred to our moral as well as to our intellectual powers, and is a joint exercise of the understanding and the heart. They who believe in Jesus, so as to receive him, and become united to him, must, of necessity, approve both of his character and work. But

3d. To complete our idea of faith in the Savior, there must be a cheerful reliance upon him for pardon and eternal life. This naturally flows from assenting to the truth of the Divine testimony concerning him, and from an approbation of that testimony. Before faith is imparted, we are strangely inclined to rest upon something we have done, or can do, as the ground of our acceptance with God; and nothing is more difficult than to remove our self-righteous hopes. But when we are brought firmly to believe in the divinity of our Lord, and steadily to regard his great work of obedience and suffering, as that which lays a foundation for God to be just, and yet the justifier of him that believes; when we are not only persuaded of the truth of this method of justification, but in our hearts approve of it, as calculated to exalt God and to abase the sinner, we cannot but renounce our own righteousness, and cleave to that of Christ alone. The language of our hearts will be, “Lord, I will make mention of thy righteousness, and of thine only.” On this I cast all my hopes for pardon and acceptance. To this I trust as my covering for guilt, my refuge from thy wrath, and my title to eternal life. This is faith in Christ, or, in the language of the text, coming to him. But the assertion of our Lord, and which we are next to consider, is,

Second. That no man can thus come to him, unless drawn by the Father. By the drawing of the Father, is intended that work of the Holy Spirit upon the heart, which is not only necessary to bring the sinner to Christ, but which never fails of this effect. It is a sovereign operation, issuing in a new and holy nature, and which secures the subjection of the soul to the Redeemer.

This sentiment is supported not only by the tenor of our Lord’s reasoning in this place, but by two circumstances which are particularly worthy of notice. The first is, that they who are drawn by the Father, and they who hear and learn of the Father, are one and the same class of persons; while it is distinctly asserted, that every one that hears and learns of the Father comes unto him. The second is, that this agency of the Father is, in every instance, connected with a joyful resurrection. “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him; and I will raise him up at the last day;” implying that all who shall be thus drawn will not only come to Christ, but constitute a part of that mystical body, which shall never be separated from him as its head, but raised up in honor and glory at his second coming.

Let it not be supposed, however, that any constraint is put upon the faculties of those who are thus efficaciously drawn to the Savior. The whole effect of this operation consists, not in causing them to act against their will, but in making them willing; agreeably to a promise given to the Messiah, “Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power.”

But the principal point before us is, That no man can come to Christ, unless he be drawn by the Father. An impediment is here supposed, and declared, to be universal. Men may differ as to the nature of this impediment, and the cause to which it is to be ascribed. They may consider it either as a misfortune, or as a crime; but they cannot differ as to the fact, if they credit the testimony of the Lord Jesus. No man can come to me, except the Father, which hath sent me, draw him. Nothing in the circumstances, and nothing in the nature of the case, limits the assertion to one class of men more than to another. It was true of the Scribes and Pharisees, who were full of their own righteousness, and who could not come to Christ while they felt no need of him, and while they disliked both his character and doctrine. It was true of the Sadducees, that philosophical and reasoning sect, whose skeptical hearts and voluptuous lives rendered them the decided enemies of all true religion. It was true of the common people, who avowed their friendship to Jesus as a prophet and teacher come from God, and who, from sinister and earthly motives, followed him in the wilderness for days and nights together. It was true of that whole generation, however distinguished or denominated. Not one of them could come to Christ without being drawn by the Father. The same is the case still. Men cannot come to the Saviour without the special interposition of Divine power. This is just as certain, as that all men are, by nature, in a state of total alienation from God; and that faith is the work, or fruit, of the Holy Spirit.

But why cannot men come to Christ?

It is not, we remark in the first place, for the want of opportunity. We speak of those who enjoy the light of the Gospel, and to whom Christ is made known. As to the heathen, who have never heard of his precious name, the case is different. Whatever difficulties of a moral kind they may labor under, they cannot come to Christ for want of opportunity. But all who sit under the sound of the Gospel, may come if they will; a thousand and a thousand times have they been invited and commanded to come, and receive the gift of eternal life.

Nor, in the next place, is it the want of natural powers: By which I mean those powers and faculties which belong to them as men, and which are necessary to constitute them moral agents, or free and accountable beings–such as an understanding, to perceive the difference between right and wrong, and a will, to determine their own actions in the view of motives.1 Destroy either of these faculties, and they would no longer be accountable, nor their actions subject to any moral regulation. Without understanding, they would hold no higher place in the scale of being than the birds of the air and the beasts of the field; and without will, or the faculty of determining their own actions, they would be incapable of freedom, and bound by no law. We want no proof of this statement; the bare mention of the case is sufficient.

The true reason, then, why men cannot come to Christ, is not the want of opportunity; nor yet a deficiency in their natural powers; but altogether because they are destitute of right moral dispositions, or of a good heart. This is the only difficulty in the way of their salvation; and yet this is so deep and radical, that, without Divine interposition, it will never be removed.

I have three reasons for saying, that the whole of a man’s inability to come to Christ consists in the want of a heart.

The first is, That if it consisted in any thing else, God would not command him to come; for, in the whole compass of the Divine commands, not an instance can be found, where God has required a creature to perform a natural impossibility; that is, a thing for which he has no natural faculties, or none which are adequate to the thing required. God often, indeed, requires men to do things which they have no heart to do; but he never did, and never will, require them to do things which they could not do, if they had a heart. Christ’s saying to the sick of the palsy, “Arise, take up thy bed and walk,” is no exception to this remark. He said to Lazarus, while in his grave, “come forth“–and who can doubt that a power went with his word, which, if not prior to, was at least co-existent with obligation? We wish this great and important principle of the Divine government to be kept in view, that more is never required than there is natural power to perform–because, on the one hand, it demonstrates that God is a reasonable Being, and suits his commands to the natural capacities of his creatures; and, on the other, that all disobedience is an unreasonable violation of a most righteous law.

But another reason we have for saying that a man has no other inability to come to Christ but his want of a heart, is, that Christ himself has placed the difficulty here, and here alone. Thus, when he saw how pertinaciously the Scribes and Pharisees rejected his doctrine and ministry, he said, “Ye will not come unto me that ye might have life!” And again, when he wept over Jerusalem, that incorrigible city, and charged her with shedding the blood of the prophets, he said, “How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and ye would not.” Their own unwillingness to become his disciples was the only reason which Christ assigned for their rejecting him: and hence, the justice of the awful sentence which he pronounced, “Behold your house is left unto you desolate.”

Our third reason, for saying, that a man has no other ability to come to Christ but what consists in the want of a heart, is, the obvious fact, that if he had a heart nothing could prevent his coming for a single moment. The great work of his salvation would instantly be performed by believing on Him whom the Father hath sanctified and sent into the world. This is so certain, that it is out of our power to conceive of any difficulty remaining where the heart is once gained. It will be understood, that we speak of those who live under the light of the Gospel, and who have had their duty on this subject faithfully expounded. Besides, if it were not so, how would the drawing of the Father, which consists in giving a right temper, remove the impediment? How could men come if they were drawn, unless being made willing to come on God’s terms was all that was requisite to make their coming certain?

But here a question presents itself. Why is it said, that we cannot come to Christ, if, after all, the whole truth is, we have no heart to come; or, which is the same thing, that no other impediment lies in the way, but what consists in the want of a heart? The question is important, and the answer plain. The Scriptures often speak of our being unable to do a thing, when all that is intended is, that we are utterly disinclined to do it so disinclined, that it is certain we shall not do it while this disinclination remains. Thus it was said of Joseph’s brethren, that they could not speak peaceably to him. Not that they had not as much natural or physical power to speak peaceably as contentiously, if they had been so disposed; but, being destitute of brotherly affection, and under the reigning power of envy and malice, it was incompatible with their state of mind to speak peaceably to their brother. Their cruel and reproachful language followed as naturally and certainly from their envy and malignity, as any effect from its cause. Yet every one can see, that they labored under no other inability but what consisted in the perverseness and wickedness of their hearts.

The Scriptures abound with similar examples. They speak of some, whose ears were uncircumcised, and who could not hearken; of some, who, when they had committed abomination, were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush; of those who have eyes full of adultery, and cannot cease from sin. They declare, that the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God, and that he cannot know them, because they are spiritually discerned; that the carnal mind is at enmity with God, is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be; and that they that are in the flesh, cannot please God.

All this is agreeable to language in common use. We often say, that we cannot do a thing, when all we mean is, that we are without all inclination, or utterly averse to it. Of one man we say, that he cannot govern his temper; of another, that he cannot govern his tongue; of a third, that he cannot refrain from his companions or his cups; and, we are in no danger of being misunderstood, when we make use of these expressions. Everybody knows that we mean to speak of an inability, which consists in the want of right dispositions–not in the want of natural powers; of an inability which does not in the least excuse the subject of it, but which forms the very essence of his sin. In like manner we are to understand the Scriptures, when they speak of the sinner’s inability to come to Christ. They adopt a style agreeable to common usage, and mean no more than that sinners are so deeply alienated from Christ so utterly disinclined to his service–that they never will come to him while in this state of mind; and that this state of mind will continue until it is removed by Divine power.

There is no need of any abstruse reasoning on this subject. You will conceive of the matter justly, if you consider that sinners cannot come to Christ, for the same reason precisely, that they cannot do anything else while their hearts are altogether opposed to it. There is a law for mind as well as matter; and it would be as absurd to suppose that a man could freely do a thing which he had no mind to do, as to go north and south at the same instant. Nor does it make any difference as to the principle, whether this want of mind be stated or occasional; for no man can choose to act against his present choice, unless he could choose to do a thing and not do it at the same time, which would be a contradiction.

As to the case before us, it is admitted and maintained that sinners have a strong and settled aversion to their duty, and that they will never come to the Savior until this aversion be subdued by the sovereign grace of God. Still there is nothing in the way, but that stubborn and rebellious heart, whose language is, “We will not have this man to reign over us.”

But I hear it asked, does this accord with experience? Do not sinners often feel a willingness to come to Christ, and think they would give worlds to come, if they had them, and after all, find that they cannot come, without power received from above? There is not the least doubt that this is often their impression. But what is the true state of the case? Are they willing to come in the manner, and for the purposes which God has required? The testimony of our Lord is directly against them. He said to sinners, “Ye will not come unto me that ye might have life.” And again: “How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and ye would not.” And at the great and last day, he tells us he will give commandment concerning all those who shall have finally rejected the Gospel. “Bring hither these, mine enemies, that would not that I should reign over them, and slay them before me.”

The fact is, that awakened sinners, who have a knowledge of the Gospel, very often desire to come to Christ, as a deliverer from the wrath of God; but they wholly mistake their own case, if they suppose that* they are willing and desirous to come to him as a holy Savior, who is the friend of God as well as the friend of man, and whose design is to save his people from their sins, and not in their sins; and to save them in subserviency to the Divine honor and glory. In this view of his character, “There is no form nor comeliness in him, nor any beauty why they should desire him.” They have not a particle of that holy love which is essential to the act of closing with Christ upon the terms of the Gospel. The whole of their desires amounts to nothing more than a desire to be saved, come what will of God’s honor, and the interests of his everlasting kingdom. Be their own apprehensions, therefore, what they may, we are authorized in saying that they have no heart to come to Christ; and that, in the want of a heart, lies all their hindrance to this duty. At the same time, we consider it important to keep to the language of our blessed Lord, and to say that no man can come to him, without being drawn by the Father. This is a language well fitted to express both the guilty and helpless state of the sinner, and seems plainly designed to prostrate his self-righteous hopes, and to lead him to the power and grace of God as his only remedy. If men abuse this language to exculpate themselves, they do it at their peril; it is sufficiently plain to guide the sincere and humble inquirer; and more God has not promised, nor is more to be expected or desired. We conclude this discourse with some application. From what has been said, we infer, in the

1st place, that the common excuse of sinners, that they are unable to come to Christ, or to comply with the terms of the Gospel, is utterly without foundation, and will not avail them at the bar of God. If they could not come to the Savior for the want of opportunity, or because they are destitute of natural powers, the plea of inability might well be urged; an impediment would then exist, which could not be consistent with guilt or blame. But since the fact is otherwise, since the whole of their inability lies in the want of a right heart; or, which is the same thing, in their opposition to the terms of the Gospel, all heaven will acknowledge the justice of that sentence which consigns them to eternal pains for their unbelief. For, reflect a moment: If I cannot come to Christ, because I do not love Christ; if I cannot come to Christ, because my heart is, in every view, opposed to him; this is surely so far from affording me any justification, that it is the very foundation of my guilt; and the greater my inability the greater my crime, because it manifests a more deep and inveterate opposition to the Son of God.

A rebellious son has left his father’s house, and, upon a proposal of reconciliation, finds it difficult to return; and his difficulty arises wholly from his disaffection to his father’s character and government, both of which are excellent. He is urged and entreated, and every motive set before him which is calculated to operate upon a reasonable and ingenuous mind. His disaffection, however, i s so deeply and strongly rooted, that all persuasion is vain; he had rather die in poverty and disgrace, an alien from his father’s heart, than to return, and take the place of an affectionate and dutiful son. In this state of feeling, his return is impossible; but is there a person in the world who would attempt to excuse him, by saying he could not help it?

The principle is the same in the case of the sinner. His rebellion against God is, in every circumstance of it, unreasonable; his refusal to return to God, through Christ, at the call of the Gospel, is the most unreasonable and unjustifiable rebellion of all. And shall his obstinacy in sin be made an excuse for sin? Shall his ingratitude to the Savior be pleaded as an apology for rejecting him? Nothing can be more irrational. As well might the drunkard or the thief allege the strength of their evil dispositions as a justification of their crimes; for their inability to a correct and virtuous course arises wholly from the prevalence of evil propensities, or from the want of good ones.

We know it is often said, that this is not a parallel case–that persons charged with these out-breaking sins, could refrain from them if they would–that there is no natural necessity which compels them to intemperance or dishonesty. But is there any natural necessity which compels the sinner to a course of impenitence and unbelief? Could he not repent and believe the Gospel if he had a heart so to do? Did ever a man make the attempt with a willing heart, and fail? Is not the whole difficulty plainly the want of such a heart? “But the thief and the drunkard may refrain from their evil courses without that thorough change of disposition, which is necessary to salvation.” Be it so: This only shows, that their propensities to their particular crimes are not so strong and settled as the sinner’s aversion to repent and believe the Gospel. It does not show, that their propensities may not, with equal propriety, be pleaded as their excuse, and that the greater their propensities the less their sin.

The only reason why persons perplex themselves on this subject is, they do not make a distinction in their minds between a natural and moral inability–that is, between an inability which arises from the want of natural powers, and one which arises solely from the want of right moral dispositions. The first always excuses from obligation; the last, never. And let no one say, this is a distinction frivolous in itself, or hard to be understood. It is a distinction founded in the reason and nature of things, and is as plain and undeniable as the distinction between day and night. There is not a man on earth who does not make it every day of his life, if the question of duty or obligation so often occur. None of us are so bereft of reason as to blame a child for not exercising the strength of a man; or a man, because he cannot stop the sun in his course, or blot out the stars. And yet, there are none of us who would not blame a refractory and disobedient child, however obstinate or unyielding his temper; nor should we hesitate to condemn, with unabating severity, a malicious and revengeful person, though his malice and revenge had become uniform and settled principles of action.

The truth is, that where our own personal conduct is not involved, we always go upon the principle, that the want of natural or physical strength is no crime; and the want of a good disposition, or the prevalence of a bad one, no excuse. But charge home upon a man the sin of impenitence and unbelief, and how soon will you hear–”I have no heart to these duties, nor can I have, till God shall give me a new heart.” If you answer, “This is your sin–your evil heart of impenitence and unbelief is the very thing which condemns you; it is against this that all the threatenings of the Gospel are leveled–”what will be his reply? “Why, I did not make my own heart. It came into the world with me, as the fruit of the original apostasy, and how can I help it. Let it be regarded as my misfortune, not as my crime. If there be any fault in it, it must be placed to the account of our first parents, who, by one transgression, involved their posterity in the same mighty ruin with themselves.” But if men are not to blame for their hearts, what are they to blame for? They cannot surely be to blame for expressing what is in their hearts; for, by the supposition, there is nothing blameworthy there; and to attach blame to actions, w7hich are merely external, unconnected with the state and disposition of the mind, would be as irrational as to attach it to the blowing of the wind, or the motion of a clock. Besides, if men are not to blame for their hearts, howT shall the justice of God stand vindicated in their future condemnation? His word is, “He that believes, shall be saved; and he that believes not, shall be damned.” Nay, he has declared all unbelievers in a state of condemnation already, believe not on the name of the only begotten Son of God.” He has threatened to punish with everlasting destruction, from the presence of the Lord and the glory of his power, all who do not finally believe and obey the Gospel. But is God unrighteous who takes vengeance? Dare we load his sacred name with this shocking imputation? And yet, there is no other alternative, if we deny that sinners justly deserve eternal condemnation for their unbelief.

We do not wish to have it concealed, that man is a dependent being, and that such is his sinful state by nature that he will neither repent nor believe without the interposition of almighty grace. Yet, so far is this from pleading his excuse, that it only demonstrates the depth of his depravity, and shows it to be capable of resisting everything but Divine power. We infer,

2d, That since the sinner’s inability to come to Christ is wholly of a moral nature, and, therefore, inexcusable, there is no impropriety in exhorting him to this duty, notwithstanding his inability.

It is often said, that there is a great inconsistency in exhorting sinners to come to Christ, and admitting, at the same time, that they cannot come without the special grace of God. An inconsistency there would be, if they could not come for the same reason that they cannot make a world, or for the want of natural powers; for, on this supposition, all obligation would cease. But, as there is no other impediment except the want of a heart, they are most justly and fitly required to come, and bound by all the weight of the Divine authority and of their own everlasting interest to obey. This will appear plain if we advert a moment to the true foundation of obligation. What is it which binds a man to a particular action? It is not that he once had, or now has, a disposition to perform it; but the fitness of the action itself, with whatever gives it interest or importance, and its falling within the compass of his natural powers. These things being supposed, his obligation is complete. No matter whether his disposition be for or against it; this is a circumstance never to be brought into the account, as having any influence upon the question of obligation. But suppose it were otherwise; suppose that the want of disposition would diminish our obligation, to what degree would it diminish it? To the same degree, no doubt, in which this want should be found; and of course , where a disposition is wholly wanting, there all obligation is canceled . But who does not see that this is to make our dispositions the measure of our duty, and to overturn all law and government at once, by licensing every man to act according to his own inclination? On this supposition there never has been, and never can be, any sin in the universe. Every moral agent will obey the law under which he is made as long as he has a disposition to obey, and the moment he ceases to have a disposition he ceases to be bound; the law under which he is placed is no longer a law to him, and there being no law, there can be no transgression. We push the principle into these absurd consequences to show that the state of the heart can have no influence in determining the law of duty. Duty arises out of other circumstances–out of our natural powers, interests and relations–and will remain what it is whether the heart concur with or oppose its demands. Sinners, therefore, may justly be exhorted to come to Christ, notwithstanding their utter aversion to this duty, because their aversion makes no difference as to the nature of the duty itself, nor as to the force with which it binds them. They are just as much bound to come to the Savior, and to perform all that the Gospel requires, as if they possessed a ready and willing mind; and though it is known beforehand that they will not yield to the Gospel call unless moved to it by the sovereign power and grace of God, still this alters not the fact that it is their duty to yield, nor the propriety of urging them to this duty. Why then should not the whole truth be told? Why should we not proclaim in their ears that they are under the most sacred obligations to come to Christ that they may be saved, and yet that their depravity is such that they never will come and never can come without the special grace of God?2

This was the way in which our Lord himself treated the subject. He exhorted sinners, of all descriptions, to come to him that they might have life, and assured them that they would certainly and eternally perish, unless they obeyed his call. At the same time he did not scruple to say, “No man can come unto me except the Father, which hath sent me, draw him, and I will raise him up at the last day.” He condemned the Pharisees for their hardened unbelief, and yet he said, “How can ye believe, who receive honor one of another? And why do ye not understand my speech? Even because ye cannot receive my word.”

The same mode of presenting this subject is observable in the prophets. Ezekiel says to the rebellious house of Israel, “Cast away from you all your transgressions whereby you have transgressed, and make you a new heart and a new spirit; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” At the same time he intimates that they would certainly continue in their guilty course till God should undertake for them and renovate them by his power. This is implied in the promise, which he delivers in God’s name: “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you and you shall be clean: a new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh; and I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments to do them.”

There is no danger in following these examples in presenting Divine truth to mankind. He who was truth itself could not err, and they who spake by his Spirit must have spoken according to his will.

3d. If the sinner’s inability to come to Christ be wholly of a moral nature, then it is fit not only to exhort him to come to Christ, but to come without delay. This is his next or immediate duty; he cannot neglect it another moment, without violating a solemn command, and incurring enormous guilt. The reason of this is not difficult to perceive. There is nothing in the way of his coming to the Savior but a depraved heart; and as this can have no effect in releasing him from obligation, the command to believe reaches him at once, and his obligation is full and perfect, notwithstanding his depravity. He is bound to come to Christ immediately, for the same reason that he is bound to come at all.

Plain as this deduction seems, many are not aware of it, but treat the subject as if the sinner’s obligation to repent and believe rested on a promise of spiritual strength to be received in consequence of attending to certain means. That is, they suppose that he is not bound to repent and believe the Gospel now, but only to use means that he may hereafter repent and believe. But why not repent and believe now? No other reason can be given, but that the state of the sinner’s heart is incompatible with these duties. Are these duties therefore to be suspended for the time being, and something else placed in their stead? This is a doctrine very agreeable to the sinner’s heart–because it admits that he is not bound to perform any duty in a spiritual manner while unrenewed. This is what he loves to hear when disturbed by the spirituality of the Divine law, or when urged to an immediate compliance with the demands of the Gospel. It shifts from his conscience a heavy weight of obligation, and leads him to hope that through his own unsanctified endeavors he shall, sooner or later, obtain the gift of the Spirit and the promise of eternal life. It is, in effect, saying to him, Since you cannot repent and believe, you must do as well as you can; since you cannot love God, you must endeavor to love him; since you cannot give him your heart, you must keep up a fair exterior in the use of means, and eventually he will bestow his grace upon you. How shocked should we be to hear this language from the great God himself; because we should instantly perceive, not merely relaxation, but an absolute abandonment of his law, the first and great commandment of which is: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might? What a justification would it be of the sinner’s rebellion against God, by admitting that he is not bound to render to him the sincere and unequivocal homage of his heart? But no such language ever proceeded from Jehovah; and, with reverence be it spoken, no such language ever can proceed from him without renouncing his government over the world. All his commands are spiritual, and have an immediate respect to the heart. Nothing is done which he approves, or which he makes the condition of his favor, but what flows from right affections, and is of the nature of true holiness, or real conformity to his law. What then is to become of the sinner who has no heart to repent and believe who is without spiritual strength, and without a promise that he shall receive strength, on the condition of anything which he will ever perform in the unrenewed state? The answer is not difficult. He will inevitably perish, if Almighty grace do not interpose. He is in God’s hands, as the clay is in the hands of the potter, and it depends on his sovereign will, whether he shall be drawn to the Savior by the effectual operations of the Holy Spirit, or left to reject Christ, and to bring upon himself a just and aggravated punishment.

But in this perilous condition, are there no advices or counsels to be given? None, I answer, which shall be a compromise between Jehovah and the sinner none, which shall lower the standard of the Divine commands to the level of the carnal mind–and which shall imply a promise, that if the sinner continue to attend upon the means of grace with such a heart as he has, God will, in the end, become propitious, and grant him the renewing operations of his Spirit. We find nothing which approaches to this in the preaching of Jesus Christ, or of his apostles. They laid before men their duty and the motives which urged their compliance; they expounded, reasoned, exhorted and entreated; and if sinners would not hear, they left it upon their consciences, that their guilt would be aggravated in proportion to the light and advantages they enjoyed. They did not conceal that men are dependent for right affections on the influence of the Holy Spirit; they ascribed to him every good thought and desire. But they did not, therefore, put their hearers upon a course of heartless obedience, with the promise, that their successive endeavors should be rewarded with new strength, until they should be enabled to serve God with sincerity. They directed to such things, only, as implied the exercise of a right temper, and which connected with them the promise of eternal life.

Would we tread in their steps, we must call upon the sinner to pause, and reflect upon the criminal and dangerous course he is in–to open his eyes to his real character, as a wanton and, presumptuous rebel against God–to search the Scriptures, and receive instruction wherever it may be found, watching daily at wisdom’s gates, and waiting at the posts of her doors. We must direct him to cry after knowledge, and to lift up his voice for understanding–to worship God both in secret and in public–and earnestly to importune the gift of the Holy Spirit with all the blessings of life and salvation. But we have no authority for saying that he may perform these duties with an impenitent and unbelieving heart, or that God will accept him if he does.

All this, it may be said, brings him no relief, for his great difficulty is, that he has no heart to perform any duty in a spiritual manner. Why is he not told how to get a heart? In what page of the sacred volume shall we look to find such a direction? The Scripture requires the sinner to possess a right heart–but does not prescribe a course of means by which it is to be obtained; nor could such a course be prescribed without yielding to him an important point by admitting that he is not bound immediately to repent and believe the Gospel. Should this be thought discouraging, whom, let me ask, will it discourage? None but those who either want an excuse for doing nothing, and perhaps are altogether idle, or those who are secretly trusting to around of unholy duties, as the means of obtaining the Divine favor. The former read their condemnation in the character and fate of the slothful servant, who hid his Lord’s money, on the principle that he served a hard master, and that it was impossible to please him. The latter are compassing themselves about with sparks of their own kindling, and the sooner they are discouraged with their labors the better. It is time for them to see how the matter stands between them and God–that they are utterly polluted and helpless, and that if sovereign grace do not interpose to slay the enmity of their hearts, they will not only persevere in their opposition to. Jehovah till they die, but remain his enemies through eternity.

Have we, then, no more hope of the salvation of those who attend upon the means which God uses with sinners, than of those who neglect them? Certainly we have; but this hope does not arise, in any degree, from their approximating to holiness, nor from a promise made to the performances of unsanctified men–but from what occurs in the course of Divine providence, and from the natural presumption that God will smile upon his own institutions. There is more hope for a man under Gospel light, than for one sitting in pagan darkness–for one well instructed in evangelical truth, than for one in a state of ignorance–for him who is moral, than for him who is debauched–for him who statedly attends upon the institutions of religion, than for him who neglects them for him who is awakened to a lively sense of his lost and guilty state by nature, than for him who, notwithstanding the most faithful admonitions, slumbers in security.

This hope may, and ought to be, a motive with men, to avoid those things which threaten their eternal interests, and to pursue those which increase the probability of their salvation. Nor can we perceive any evil in presenting this hope, provided nothing be said to weaken a sense of obligation to an immediate compliance with the terms of the Gospel, or which shall exhibit a stronger connection than the Word or providence of God will justify, between the circumstances of the sinner and the salvation of his soul.

4th. If none come to Christ but those who are drawn by the Father–and all come who are thus drawn–it is manifestly the grace of God alone, which makes the difference between those who embrace and those who reject the Gospel, according as it is written, “It is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy.” Nor is it less certain, that none will embrace the Gospel but those whom God has purposed or decreed should embrace it. Men embrace the Gospel in consequence of Divine interposition; but if God interpose, he intended to interpose, and that from everlasting; for he can have no new intention. The conversion of a sinner to Christ is pre-eminently his own work–”And known unto God are all his works from the foundation of the world: He works all things according to the counsel of his own will.”

5th. How rich is that grace which triumphs over the opposition of the human heart, and brings the soul to the Redeemer. It was great mercy which provided a Savior, and freely offered salvation in his name great mercy which continued this offer from year to year, notwithstanding the unkindness or contempt with which it was received; but, O believer ! had mercy stopped here, thou had never been united to Jesus; nor indulged the pleasing hope of seeing his face, and of rejoicing in his presence forever. That hardened heart which so long resisted his calls would still have resisted. It was the secret energy of the Holy Spirit which enlightened thy darkness, subdued thine enmity, and made thee a willing captive to Him who had previously bought thee with his blood. He loved thee with an everlasting love, and therefore, by his loving kindness has he drawn thee. O let not this love, this discriminating love, be forgotten; live for him who died for thee; for him, who, of his own self-moving goodness, has transfused his blessed spirit into thy bosom, and made thee heir of that glory which shall never fade away. AMEN

James Richards, Lectures on Mental Philosophy and Theology (New York: Published by M.W. Dodd, 1846), 476-501.


1Understanding, and will, are here taken in a large and popular sense, and designed to include both the intellectual and active powers of the mind, as perception, reason, memory, conscience, volition and affection.

2It is well known that different sentiments are advanced upon the subject of moral obligation.

First. Some suppose that we are bound to yield obedience both to the law and to the Gospel, because man, in his original state, had a moral or spiritual power to obey his Creator in all things, and because this power was lost to him through his own fault, or by the fall. The maxim commonly repeated on this topic is, that God has not lost his right to command, though man has lost his power to obey. We cannot adopt this sentiment

1st. Because it goes upon the principle, that man’s having a heart to obey God in his original state was essential to his moral agency, and that he would not, and could not, be bound to obey God without this. Of course, it was a very wicked thing for man to disobey God when he had a good heart; but would have been no sin at all, if his heart had not been good.

Besides the absurdity involved in this principle, it is difficult to see how sin could exist, if man’s obligation to be holy depended on his being holy, since the obligation and the foundation of it must needs run parallel with each other. And

2d. Though the Scriptures in various ways recognize the fact, that man was made upright, they nowhere ground his obligation to the Divine law upon his primitive rectitude, but upon the reasonableness and equity of the Divine law itself–upon God’s supremacy and transcendent excellence–upon the favors he has conferred upon man, and upon what man has yet to hope or fear from him. “And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul; to keep the commandments of the Lord, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good? Behold, the heaven and the heaven of heavens is the Lord’s thy God; the earth also, with all that therein is. Circumcise, therefore, the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiff-necked; for the Lord your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords a great God, a mighty and a terrible, which regards not persons nor taketh reward. He doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and the widow. He is thy praise, and he is thy God.” Deut. x. 12, 13, 14, 16, &c.

3d. On this subject it is evident that the voice of conscience accords with the testimony of Scripture. No man condemns himself, when he has broken the Divine law, upon the principle that his progenitor, six thousand years ago, had a disposition to obey God, but lost it. This is a consideration too remote to strike the eye of conscience. Conscience points him to thy law itself as holy, just and good, and pronounces the verdict, GUILTY, on the ground that he has done that which he knew ought not to be done, and which he was bound by many weighty considerations to avoid–considerations distinct from his own moral state, or the moral state of Adam before he fell. Conscience has no occasion to travel back to years beyond the flood, to find a solid reason for self-condemnation and reproach. It has only to measure our actions by the law of duty expressed in the Word of God, or written on the table of the heart. Certainly, it must be thus with the consciences of the heathen, who know nothing of the primitive state of man, and yet whose thoughts the meanwhile accuse or excuse one another.

Second. Others suppose that men are bound to obey the Gospel, because God has given them grace whereby their depravity is so far counteracted, “that the conditions of salvation become possible, and may, therefore, most justly be required.” But if grace be the ground of obligation, it is no more grace but debt; it is that which must be imparted to make it just in God to require obedience from the sinner. Besides, if the sinner, in consequence of his depravity, owe nothing to God–as must be admitted, if depravity destroy obligation–his depravity becomes no depravity, he must, therefore, be guiltless. God has nothing to demand of him, and has nothing to render to God. Being innocent in the sight of his judge, what need of a Saviour, or of grace through him?

Third. There are those, again, who found obligation, not upon what man once was, antecedent to the fall, nor upon what he is now supposed to be, in consequence of grace received, but upon the promise that he shall receive grace if he carefully attend to the use of means. This, equally with the two former schemes, supposes that depravity excuses from obligation. For if no grace be received, and none promised, man, according to this opinion, is not bound; and why is he not bound, but because his depravity is supposed to render obedience impracticable, and therefore not obligatory.

This opinion also supposes a promise made to the actions of unconverted men nowhere to be found in the Scriptures; that is, that God has engaged to grant converting grace upon the diligent endeavors of persons who are yet in the flesh, and who, he has expressly assured us, are incapable of pleasing him. This topic is resumed in a subsequent part of the sermon.

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