Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Losing the conviction of sin

A portion of Jonathan Edwards sermon on Hosea 5:15

Hos. 5:15. — I will go and return to my place, till they
acknowledge their offence, and seek my face; in their affliction they
will seek me early.

Doctrine, It is God’s manner to make men sensible of their misery and
unworthiness, before he appears in his mercy and love to them; particularly
before he appears in his redeeming love and mercy to their souls.

Second use. To exhort those, who have some convictions of sin and
danger, that they do not lose them. If you have the strivings of God’s
Spirit, God has met with you, led you to reflect upon your sins, and
sensible that you are in danger of hell; and so made you concerned about
your soul, and put you upon seeking salvation. Take heed that you do not
lose your convictions, and grow senseless of eternal things, and negligent
of your soul’s concern, that you do not return to your former careless way
of living, that you do not return to your former sins. Here consider,

1. That there is danger of it. It is not all who are under concern for their
souls, and who, by the strivings of God’s Spirit, are put upon seeking and
striving for salvation, who hold out. There are many more, who set out at
the beginning of the race, who do not hold Out to the end. Many things
intervene between the beginning and the end of the race, which divert, and
stop, and turn back many who commenced well, There are many, who
seem to be under strong convictions, and to be very earnest in seeking,
whose convictions are but short-lived. And some, who seem to be much
concerned about salvation for a considerable time, it may be for years
together, yet by degrees grow careless and negligent, There is much in
your own heart, which tends to stupify you. It is the natural tendency of sin
and lust, to stupify the conscience. And as corruption is reigning as yet in
your heart, it will ever be ready to exert itself in such acts, as will have a
great tendency to drive away your convictions. And Satan is doubtless
diligently watching over you, striving in all ways to abate, and to take off,
your convictions, he joins in with the sloth and lusts of your heart to
persuade to negligence, and to turn your mind to other things. And the
world is full of objects, which tend to take off your mind from the soul’s
concern, and are constantly, as it were, endeavouring to take possession of
your mind, and to drive out the concerns of another world.

2. Consider, if you lose your convictions, it will be no advantage to you
that ever you had them, as to any furtherance of your salvation. Whatever
terrors you have been under about damnation, to whatever reflections you
have been brought upon your sins, whatever strong desires you have had
after deliverance, and whatever earnest prayers you have made, it will all
be lost. What you have suffered of fear and concern will turn to no good
account; and what you have done, the pains you have taken, will be utterly
lost, When you have strove against sin, and laboured in duty, have
stemmed the stream, and have proceeded a considerable way up the hill,
and made some progress towards the kingdom of heaven, when once you
have lost your convictions, you will be as far from salvation as you were
before you began; you will lose all the ground you have gained; you will go
quite down to the bottom of the hill; the stream will immediately carry you
back. All will be lost; you had as good never have had those convictions, as
to have had them, and then to lose them.

3. You do not know that you shall ever have such an opportunity again.
God is now striving with you by his Spirit. If you should lose the strivings
of his Spirit, it may be that God’s Spirit would never return again. If you
are under convictions, you have a precious opportunity, which, if you knew
the worth of it, you would esteem as better than any temporal advantages.
You have a price in your hands to get wisdom, which is more valuable than
gold or silver, It is a great privilege to live under means of grace, to enjoy
the word and ordinances of God, and to know the way of salvation, It is a
greater thing still to live under a powerful dispensation of the means of
grace under a very instructive, convincing ministry. But it is a much greater
privilege still to be the subject of the convincing influences of the Spirit of
God. If you have these, you have a precious advantage in your hands. And
if you lose it, it is questionable whether you ever have the like advantage
again, We are counselled to seek the Lord while he may be found, and to
call upon him while he is near. Isa. 55: 6. A time in which God’s Spirit is
striving with a man by convictions of his sin and danger, is especially such
a time, that is a sinner’s best opportunity. It is especially a day of salvation.
God may be said to be near, when he pours out his Spirit upon many in the
place where a person dwells. It is prudence for all then to be calling upon
God as being near at such a time. But especially is God near, at a time
when he is pouring out his Spirit in immediately convincing and awakening
a man’s own soul. If therefore God’s Spirit is now at work with you, you
have a precious opportunity. Take heed that you do not by any means let it
slip. It may doubtless be said concerning many, that they have missed their
opportunity. Most men, who live under the gospel, have a special
opportunity, that there is a certain season, which God appoints for them,
which is, above all others, a day of grace with them, when men have a very
fair opportunity for securing eternal salvation, if they did but know it, and
had hearts for it. But the misery of man is great upon him; for man
knoweth not his time. The wise man tells us, Ecc. 8: 6, 7. that “To every
purpose there is time and judgment, therefore the misery of man is great
upon him. For he knoweth not that which shall be.” And again, Ecc. 9:12.
“Man knoweth not his time.” If the Spirit of God is now striving with you,
it may be it is your time; and it may be your only time. Be wise, therefore,
and understand the things which belong to your peace, before they are hid
from your eyes. You have not the influences of the Spirit of God in your
own power. You cannot have convictions and awakenings when you
please. God is sovereign as to the bestowment of them. If you are ready to
flatter yourself, that although you neglect now, when you are young, yet
you shall be awakened again; that is a vain and groundless presumption. It
is a difficult thing for a man who has been going on in a sinful course, to
reform. There are a great many difficulties in the way of thorough
reformation. If you therefore have reformed, and returned again to your
former sin, you will have all those difficulties to overcome again.

4. If you lose your convictions, and return again to a way of allowed
sinning, there will be less probability of your salvation, than there was
before you had any convictions. Backsliding is a very dangerous and
pernicious thing to men’s souls, and is often spoken of as such in God’s
word; which was signified in that awful dispensation of God in turning
Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt, to be a standing emblem of the danger of
looking back after one has set out in a way of religion. The ill to which
they are subject, who lose their convictions, is not merely the loss of their
convictions. Their convictions are not only a means of no good to them,
but they turn to much ill. It would have been better for them that they had
never had them. For they are now set more remote from salvation than
they were before. For having risen some considerable way towards heaven,
and falling back, they sink lower, and farther down towards hell, than ever
they were. The way to heaven is now blocked up with greater difficulties
than ever it was. Their hearts now are become harder for light, and
convictions being once conquered, they evermore are an occasion of a
greater hardness of heart than there was before. Yea, there is no one thing
whatsoever, which has so great a tendency to it. Man’s heart is hardened
by losing convictions, as iron is hardened by being heated and cooled. If
you are awakened, and afterwards lose your convictions, it will be a harder
thing to awaken you again. If there were only that you are growing older,
there would be less probability of your being awakened again; for as
persons grow older they grow less and less susceptible of convictions; evil
habits grow stronger and more deeply rooted in the heart. You greatly
offend God by quenching his Spirit, and returning as a dog to his vomit,
and as a sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire. And there is
danger that God will say concerning you, as he did concerning Jerusalem,
Eze. 24:13.
“Because I have purged thee, and thou wast not purged, thou shalt
not be purged from thy filthiness any more, till I have caused my
fury to rest upon thee.”
If you return again to your wicked course, if you should go to hell at last,
you will lament that ever you have had any convictions; you will find your
punishment so much the heavier. And if you should be hereafter awakened,
and set about striving for salvation, yet you will probably find harder work
in it; you do but make work for yourself by your backsliding. You will not
only have all to do over again which you have done, and which you must
have done, if you had gone on, but there will be new work for repentance.
There probably must be greater and more dreadful terrors; and it may be, a
much longer time spent in seeking and striving, a more difficult work with
your own headstrong corruptions. If you were but sensible of one half of
the disadvantages of backsliding, and the many woes and calamities in
which it will involve you, you would be careful not to lose your

5. Consider the encouragement there is in Scripture to persevere in seeking
salvation, as in Hos. 6: 3. “Then shall we know if we follow on to know
the Lord.” Thence we may gather, that God usually gives success to those
who diligently, and constantly, and perseveringly seek conversion. And that
you be the better directed in taking care not to lose your convictions, it is
convenient that you should be aware of those things which are common
occasions of persons losing their convictions, I shall therefore briefly
mention some of them.

1. Persons falling into sin is very often the occasion of their losing their
convictions. Some temptation prevails, so that they are drawn into some
sin. Some lust upon some occasion has been stirred up, and they have been
overcome by their sinful appetites, and have provoked God to anger. It
may be they have been drawn into some criminal act of sensuality, and so
have quenched the Spirit. Or they have got into some quarrel with some
persons. Their spirits are disturbed, and heated with malice and revenge,
and they have acted sinfully, or have sinfully expressed themselves, and
have driven away the Spirit of God. These are the most ready ways to put
an end to convictions.

2. Sometimes there happens some diverting occasion; there is some
incident which for the present diverts their minds. Their minds are taken off
from their business for a short time. They are drawn into company. It may
be they see something which revives a desire of worldly enjoyments and
entertainments; or they are engaged in some exercise and business, which
diverts their minds. And so afterwards they are more careless than they
were before. They are not so strict in attending private duties; and
carelessness and stupidity by degrees steal upon them, till they wholly lose
their convictions.

3. Some change in their circumstances takes off their minds from the
concerns of their souls. Their minds are diverted by the new circumstances
with which they are attended; or are taken up with new pleasures and
enjoyments, or with new cares and business, in which they are involved. It
may be they grow richer. They prosper in the world, and their worldly
good things crowd in, and take possession of their minds. Or worldly cares
are increased upon them, and they have so many things to look after, that
their minds are taken up, and they have not time to look after their souls.

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