|What Can the Sinner Do To Recover Himself?
...What can the sinner do to recover himself in the way of the Gospel? It may be you think that you cannot do all by yourself alone, yet Jesus Christ offering you help, you can of yourself embrace it, and use it for your recovery. But, 0 sinner, be convinced of your absolute need of the grace of Christ: for truly, there is help offered, but you cannot accept it: there is a rope cast out to draw shipwrecked sinners to land, but, alas! they have no hands to lay hold of it. They are like infants exposed in the open field, who must starve, though their food be lying by them, unless some one put it in their mouths.
Why do you then preach Christ to us, call us to come to Him, to believe, repent, and use the means of salvation?
Answer: Because it is your duty so to do. It is your duty to accept of Christ, as He is offered in the Gospel, to repent of your sins, and to be holy in all manner of conversation; these things are commanded you of God; and His command, not your ability, is the measure of your duty. Moreover, these calls and exhortations are the means that God is pleased to make use of, for converting His elect, and working grace in their heart.
... Finally, though you cannot recover yourselves, nor take hold of the saving help offered to you in the Gospel, yet even by the power of nature you may use the outward and ordinary means, whereby Christ communicates the benefit of redemption to ruined sinners, who are utterly unable to recover themselves out of the state of sin and wrath. You may and can, if you please, do many things that would set you in a fair way for help from the Lord Jesus Christ. You may go so far on, as not to be far from the kingdom of God, as the discreet scribe had done (Mark 12:34), though, it should seem, he was destitute of supernatural abilities. Though you cannot cure yourselves, yet you may come to the pool, where many such diseased persons as you are have been cured; though you have none to put you into it, yet you may lie at the side of it: Who knows but the Lord may return, and leave a blessing behind Him, as in the case of the impotent man recorded in John 5:5-8? I hope Satan does not chain you to your houses, nor stake you down in your fields in the Lord's day; but you are at liberty and can wait at the posts of wisdom's door if you will.
Objection: But all this is needless, seeing we are utterly unable to help ourselves out of the state of sin and wrath.
Answer: Give not place to that delusion. which put asunder what God has joined, namely, the use of meansand a sense of our own impotency. If ever the Spirit of God graciously influence your souls, you will become thoroughly sensible of your absolute inability, and yet enter upon a vigorous use of means. You will do for yourselves, as if you were to do all, and yet overlook all you do, as if you had done nothing. Will you do nothing for yourselves because you cannot do all! Lay down no such impious conclusion against your own souls. Do what you can; and, it may be. while you are doing what you can for yourselves, God will do for you what you cannot. Understandest thou what thou readest? said Philip to the eunuch. How can I, said he. except some man should guide me (Acts 8:30.31)? He could not understand the Scripture he read, yet he could read it: he did what he could. He read and while he was reading. God sent him an interpreter. The Israelites were in a great strait at the Red Sea; and how could they help themselves, when on the one hand were mountains, and on the other the enemy in pursuit; when Pharaoh and his host were behind them, and the Red Sea before them? What could they do. Speak unto the children of Israel, said the Lord to Moses, that they go forward (Ex. I4:15). For what end should they go forward? Can they make a passage to themselves through the sea? No; but let them go forward, saith the Lord: though they cannot turn the sea to dry land, yet they can go forward to the shore. So they did; and when they did what they could, God did for them what they could not do.
Question: Has God promised to convert and save those who, in the use of means, do what they can towards their own relief?
Answer: We may not speak wickedly for God; natural men, being strangers to the covenants of promise (Eph. 2:12), have no such promise made to them. Nevertheless. they do not act rationally unless they exert the powers they have, and do what they can. For, it is possible this course may succeed with them. If you do what you can, it may be, determine that one still to do his best with his board. Why then do not you reason with yourselves, as the four lepers did who sat at the gate of Samaria (2 Kings 7:3,4)? Why do you not say, if we sit still, not doing what we can, we die, let us put it to a trial; if we be saved, we shall live, if not, we shall but die? It is probable this course may succeed; God is good and merciful; He loves to surprise men with His grace, and is often found of them that sought him not (Is. 65:I). If you do this, you are so far in the road of your duty, and you are using the means, which the Lord is wont to bless for mens spiritual recovery: you lay yourselves in the way of the great Physician, and so it is probable you may be healed. Lydia went, with others, to the place where prayer was wont to be made, and the Lord opened her heart (Acts I6:13,14). You plough and sow, though nobody can tell you for certain that you will get so much as your seed again: you use means for the recovery of your health, though you are not sure they will succeed. In these cases probability determines you; and why not in this also? Importunity, we see, does very much with men. Therefore pray, meditate, desire help of God, be much at the throne of grace, supplicating for grace, and do not faint. Though God regard you not, who in your present state are but one mass of sin, universally depraved. and vitiated in all the powers of your soul, yet He may regard prayer, meditation, and the like means of His own appointment, and He may bless them to you. Wherefore, if you will not do what you can, you are not only dead, but you declare yourselves unworthy of eternal life.