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    This year I will be sharing brief excerpts from the articles, sermons, and books I am currently reading. My posts will not follow a regular schedule but will be published as I find well-written thoughts that should be of interest to maturing Christian readers. Whenever possible, I encourage you to go to the source and read the complete work of the author.

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Samuel DaviesQuoting Samuel Davies:

Consider how earnest and active men are in other pursuits. Should we form a judgment of the faculties of human nature by the conduct of the generality in religion, we should be apt to conclude that men are mere snails, and that they have no active powers belonging to them. But view them about other affairs, and you find they are all life, fire, and hurry. What labor and toil! What schemes and contrivances! What solicitude about success! What fears of disappointment! Hands, heads, hearts, all busy. And all this to procure those enjoyments which at best they cannot long retain, and which the next hour may tear from them. To acquire a name or a diadem, to obtain riches or honors, what hardships are undergone! What dangers dared! What rivers of blood shed! How many millions of lives have been lost! And how many more endangered! In short the world is all alive, all in motion with business. On sea and land, at home and abroad, you will find men eagerly pursuing some temporal good. They grow grey-headed, and die in the attempt without reaching their end; but this disappointment does not discourage the survivors and successors; still they will continue, or renew the endeavor. Now here men act like themselves; and they show they are alive, and endowed with powers of great activity. And shall they be thus zealous and laborious in the pursuit of earthly vanities, and quite indifferent and sluggish in the infinitely more important concerns of eternity? Continue reading

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The Power Of Grace And The Necessity Of It

Samuel Davies had a keen appreciation of grace and understood its importance. In the excerpt below, he discusses its application:

“So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.” (I Corinthians 3:7, Hanover County, Virginia, Nov. 19, 1752)

Have you not found that the very same things have very different effects upon you at different times? Those truths, which at one time leave you dull and sleepy, at other times quicken all your powers to the most vigorous exercise. Sinners, do you not return from the house of God in very different frames, though the service there has been substantially the same? At one time you sweat and agonize under a sense of guilt and make many resolutions to change your course of life; and at another time there is a stupid calm within, and you matter not all the concerns of eternity. Some indeed have lain so long under the rays of the Sun of Righteousness, that they are hardened, like clay, and hardly susceptive of any deep impressions at any time, after they murdered their conscience, and silenced all its first remonstrances. These may go on serene and placid, till the flames of hell give them sensation; and this is most likely to be their doom; though it is not impossible but that this gospel, this stale, neglected gospel, which now makes no impression on their stony hearts, may yet be endowed with almighty power to break them into the tenderest contrition: and I pray God this may be the happy event. . . .

How essential and important the doctrine of divine influence is to the church of God. The very life, and the whole success of the gospel depend upon it. And since this necessity supposes the utter depravity and spiritual impotence of human nature in its fallen state, that doctrine also must be frequently and plainly inculcated.

Alas! The great defect of the system of theology too fashionable in our days, and one great cause of the languishing state of religion in our age, and of the prevalence of vice and impiety! Since it has been the mode to compliment mankind as able to do something very considerable in religion, religion has died away. Since it has been the fashion to press a reformation of men’s lives, without inculcating the absolute necessity of divine grace to renew their nature, there is hardly such a thing as a thorough reformation to be seen; but mankind are evidently growing worse and worse. . . .

We are apt to think, if we had but such a minister among us, how much good would be done! It is true, that faithful and accomplished ministers are singular blessings to the places where they labor, because it is by their instrumentality that the Lord is wont to work: but still let us remember that even a Paul or an Apollos is nothing, unless the Lord gives the increase. One text of scripture, one sentence will do more execution, when enforced by divine energy, than all the labors of the ablest ministers upon earth without it. For this divine energy therefore let us look; for this let us cry; cursed be the man that trusteth in man, etc. When we depend upon the instruments, we provoke the Spirit of God to leave us. . . .

That we should ascribe all the success of the gospel to God alone, and not sacrilegiously divide the honor of it between him and the instruments of it, or between him and ourselves, the ministers of Christ are ready to answer you, in the language of Peter, if we be examined of the good deed done to impotent sinners, by what means they are made whole; be it known unto you, that by the name of Jesus do they stand whole before you, Acts 4:9-10. Why do ye look so earnestly upon us, as if by our own power or holiness we had done this! (Acts 3:12). It is a very shocking compliment to them to be accounted the authors of your faith. God’s ministers love to be humble, to lie in their proper sphere, and would have God to have all the glory, as the great efficient; and when we ascribe the work of God to the instrument, we provoke him to withdraw his influence, that we may be convinced of the mistake. Let us also take care that we do not assume the honor of the work to ourselves.

Hence also we may learn, whither we should look for grace to render the gospel successful among us. Let us look up to God. Saints, apply to him for his influences to quicken your graces, and animate you in your Christian course. Sinners, cry to him for his grace to renew your nature and sanctify you. Not all the men, nor all the means upon earth, can be of any service to you without him. Carefully attend upon the gospel, and all its institutions; but still be sensible, that these alone will not do; more is necessary; even the supernatural agency of divine grace. . . .

We observe that whatever excellent outward means and privileges a church enjoys, it is in a most miserable condition, if the Lord has withdrawn his influences from it: and whether this be not too much our own condition, I leave you to judge. Some of you, I doubt not, are even now, when others are withering around you, flourishing in the courts of the Lord, and feel the dews of heaven upon you: such I heartily congratulate. But in general, it is evident that a contagious lukewarmness and carnal security have spread themselves among us . . . and is it not time for you to cry mightily to God that he would pour out his Spirit upon you! (“The Success of the Ministry of the Gospel, Owing to a Divine Influence”)

The Success Of The Harvest Is Due To Divine Grace

Samuel Davies

Mankind has always thought too highly of itself and scorns to be dependent on divine grace. God looks on and suffers their arrogant experiments to improve mankind. He withholds his displeasure to let them attempt to carry out their boasts through the powers of their degenerate nature and in so doing, they fail. Today, we are blessed with the instruments to see, hear, and read many sermons. There are churches everywhere. Yet sin is triumphant; and very few people are earnestly seeking to live the true Christian life of holiness. I fear that this condition will continue until our ministers and elders are humbled in the dust before God, acknowledging their own weakness, and professing their entire dependence upon Jesus Christ. Samuel Davies points to preaching as a case in point:

“So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.” (I Corinthians 3:7, Hanover County, Virginia, Nov. 19, 1752)

Our observation furnishes us with such instances as these: Sometimes a minister who is an universal scholar, a masterly reasoner, and an accomplished orator, and withal sincerely engaged for the conversion of sinners, labors in vain, and all his excellent discourses seem to have no effect; while another of much inferior accomplishments is the successful instrument of turning many to righteousness. This cannot be accounted for without ascribing the distinction to the peculiar concurrence of divine grace; for if it depended upon the instruments, it would be quite the reverse. Sometimes a clear, convictive, and withal solemn and warm discourse has no effect; while at another time the same doctrines, delivered in a weak, incoherent manner, have strange efficacy, and reach the heart.

Sometimes the reading of a sermon has been the means of awakening careless sinners, when at other times the most solemn and argumentative preaching has been in vain. Sometimes we have seen a number of sinners thoroughly awakened, and brought to seek the Lord in earnest; while another number under the very same sermon, and who seemed as open to conviction as the former, or perhaps more so, have remained secure and thoughtless, as usual. And whence could this difference arise but from special grace?

We have seen persons struck to the heart with those doctrines which they had heard a hundred times without an effect. And indeed there is something in the manner of persons being affected with the word, which shows that the impression is not made by the word itself, or by any other power than divine. The truths that make such deep impressions upon their hearts are no new discoveries; they are the old common repeated truths of the gospel, which they had heard before a thousand times; and the manner in which they are represented by the minister may not be clearer than usual. But, to their surprise, these familiar doctrines flash upon them as new discoveries; they appear to them in a quite different light, as though they had never heard them before: and they reach the conscience, and pierce the heart with such amazing energy, that the sinner is cast into a consternation at his own stupidity, that he never had such apprehensions of things before. He was wont to regard the word as a speculation, or a pleasing song, but now he finds it living and powerful, etc., the secrets of his heart are laid open by it, and he is obliged to own that God is with it of a truth.

Thus a believer also discerns the doctrines of the gospel in a quite different light at one time than at another: he sees new glories in them. Hence one sermon leaves him cold and hard- hearted, while another, no better in itself, sets him all on fire. Hence also one receives advantage from a discourse which had no effect upon another: and from this proceeds the difference in judgment about the excellency of sermons, which we may observe among Christians. Every one forms a judgment according to his own sensations and not according to the discourse in itself. And indeed when we hear an exercised Christian expatiate in praise of a discourse, it is a happy sign that it was made of special service to him. Many such instances as these familiarly occur in the sphere of our observation; which prove, by matters of fact, which the success of the gospel depends upon the influence of divine grace. But we need not look about us to observe others. Turn your eyes inward upon what has passed in your own minds, and you shall find that your own experience proves the same thing. (“The Success of the Ministry of the Gospel, Owing to a Divine Influence”)

The Holy Spirit And Ministry

Samuel Davies

Have you ever noticed that one minister who is a scholar, an excellent orator, and is sincere in his passion for the conversion of sinners, preaches and works in vain; while another, who is less qualified, is successful in bringing many more to Christ? This cannot be accounted for except by divine grace; for if salvation was dependent upon the talents of men then the most talented would always reap the harvest. History teaches us that sometimes the reading of a sermon has been the means of awakening sinners, while at other times the most argumentative preaching moves no one at all. Where in this does the difference arise but in the grace of God? Samuel Davies offers the following explanation:

“So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.” (I Corinthians 3:7, Hanover County, Virginia, Nov. 19, 1752)

[T]he different success of the same means of grace in different periods of the church, sufficiently shows the necessity of gracious assistances to render them efficacious. The various states of the church in various ages are but comments upon the sacred pages, and accomplishments of scripture.

Now we find that religion has flourished or declined, not so much according to external means, as according to the degree of divine influence. Alas! What could Noah, that zealous preacher of righteousness do, during the 120 years of his ministry? He might warn, he might persuade, he might weep over a secure world, in vain: they would rush upon destruction before his eyes; and he could only persuade his own family; and even among them there was a cursed Ham. How little could Moses, the favorite messenger and intimate of God, prevail to make his people dutiful! Alas! after all the astonishing wonders he wrought before their eyes, they continued obstinate and rebellious; for the Lord had not given them an heart to understand, etc., Deuteronomy 29:4. This heart to understand Moses mentions as something beyond his power and that could be effected by omnipotence only. What inconsiderable success had that zealous prophet Elijah, the eloquent Isaiah, or that tender-hearted, mourning, weeping prophet Jeremiah! Surely, many feeble servants of Christ, in all respects inferior to them, have been crowned with more extensive success!

Nay, when the Son of God descended from heaven to be a teacher to the world, who spake as never man spake, who carried omnipotence along with him to attest his doctrine by the most astonishing miracles, how few, during his life, were brought seriously to regard his doctrine! He was pleased to deter the remarkable effusion of his Spirit till his return to his native heaven. And when the Spirit was poured out, what a glorious alteration followed! Then Peter, a poor fisherman, is the happy instrument of converting three thousand with one short sermon; which is more perhaps than his divine Master had done by a hundred. Then, in spite of the united opposition of earth and hell, the humble doctrines of the cross triumphed over the nations, and subdued millions to the obedience of faith. Then the doctrines of Jesus, who was crucified at Jerusalem like an infamous malefactor, between two thieves, became the mighty, all-conquering weapons, through God, to demolish the strong-holds of Satan, II Corinthians 2:4. And whence this strange alteration? It was from the more abundant effusion of the Spirit upon the minds of men; upon their minds, I say; for as to the external evidences from miracles, prophecies, etc., they were sufficiently clear before this happy season. But there was not the same degree of internal illumination by the Spirit. It is often intimated by Christ, in his last discourses with his disciples, that the Holy Spirit was not yet given; and hence it was that he and they labored so much in vain. But upon his ascension he performed the promise he had so often repeated, and sent the Spirit both upon them and their hearers; and then the aspect of affairs was happily altered: then the word had free course, and was glorified. Then the world was convinced of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment.

This point might be illustrated farther by a history of the various periods of the church from the apostolic age to the present time; but it would be too tedious; and what has been offered is sufficient to convince us that it is not by power, nor by might, but by the Spirit of the Lord of Hosts, that the interests of religion are carried on, Zechariah 4:6. . . . (“The Success of the Ministry of the Gospel, Owing to a Divine Influence”, Hanover County, Virginia, Nov. 19, 1752)

Samuel Davies: The Necessity Of Divine Influence On Man

Samuel Davies

Divine influence is necessary for the gospel to be effectual in saving sinners. Consider the success of the Gospel: A minister may preach two times on Sunday in the same church, using the same sermon for two practically identical groups of people. Yet, in one service a large number of the congregation prayed for the personal forgiveness of their sins and some even gained assurance of their personal salvation. In the second service, using the same message, the congregation seemed to be totally unconcerned with the state of their souls. Samuel Davies provides us with an explanation of such events:

“So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.” (I Corinthians 3:7 – Preached in Hanover County, Virginia, Nov. 19, 1752)

The necessity of divine influences is asserted in the plainest terms in scripture. No man, says Christ, can come unto me, except the Father draw him, John 6:44. He that hath heard and learned of the Father, and he only, will come to him, verse 45, and this influence is not purchased by our endeavors, but it is the free gift of grace. Hence Christ varies his former declarations into this form; no man can come unto me, except it be given unto him of my Father, verse 65, and the agency of divine grace is necessary, not only to draw sinners to Christ at first, but also to make them fruitful afterwards. Hence Christ represents even the apostles as dependent upon him as the branch upon the vine; and tells them plainly, that “without him they can do nothing,” John 15:4-5. Through all the stages of the Christian life, we depend entirely upon him; and without his influences, we should wither and die like a blasted flower, however blooming and fruitful we were before. Hence, says God to his people, in me is thy fruit found, Hosea 14:8. Since then this is the case, it will follow, that when God is pleased to withhold his influences, all the means of grace will be unsuccessful.

The unsuccessfulness of the gospel is often resolved into the withholding or withdrawing of the influences of grace, as one cause of it. Thus Moses resolves the obstinacy of the Israelites under all the profusion of wonders that had attended them, into this, as one cause of it: The Lord hath not given you an heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day, Deuteronomy 29:2-4. If none believe the report of the gospel, it is because the arm of the Lord is not revealed, Isaiah 53:1. “If the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven are hidden from the wise and prudent, while they are revealed to babes; it is because God in his righteous judgment and sovereign pleasure, hides them from the one, and reveals them to the other,” Matthew 11:25-26. Nay, the evangelist speaks in yet more forcible terms, when speaking of the unbelief of the Jews, who were witnesses of Christ’s convictive miracles and discourses; therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said, he hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their hearts, John 12:39-40, and in the same strain Paul speaks: He hath mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy, Romans 9:18, etc.

These passages are so opposite to the prevailing theology of this age, that they are dangerous weapons to meddle with; and it is well they are the very words of scripture, otherwise we should be charged with blasphemy for mentioning the truth contained in them. We must indeed be cautious that we do not infer from these scriptures any such horrid doctrine as this, that men are compelled to sin, or that, though they were disposed to turn to God they are judicially kept back and hindered by the divine hand. This would be contrary to the whole current of scripture, which charges the sin and ruin of sinners upon themselves; but these passages mean, that God denies to obstinate sinners those influences of his grace which are necessary to convert them, and which, if communicated, would have subdued their utmost obstinacy; and that in consequence of this denial, they will rush on in sin and irreclaimable impenitence, and perish; but yet that God, in denying them his grace, does not act merely as an arbitrary sovereign, but as a just judge, punishing them for their sin in abusing the blessings he has bestowed upon them, by judicially withdrawing the aids of his grace, and withholding farther influences. (“The Success of the Ministry of the Gospel, Owing to a Divine Influence”)

Samuel Davies: Can A Man Create Himself Or Raise Himself From The Dead?

Samuel Davies

Christ says, “No man can come unto me, except the Father draw him.” (John 6:44) Therefore, the agency of divine grace is necessary to draw sinners to Christ. Afterwards, it is this grace that also makes them fruitful. Samuel Davies provides an excellent explanation of this process:

“So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.” (I Corinthians 3:7, Hanover County, Virginia, November 19, 1752)

We may infer the same thing from the many passages of sacred writ ascribing the success of the gospel upon sinners, and even upon believers, to the agency of divine grace. If even a well- disposed Lydia gives a believing attention to the things spoken by Paul, it is, because the Lord hath opened her heart, Acts 16:14. Thus the Philippians believed, because, says the apostle, to you it is given on the behalf of Christ to believe, Philippians 1:29. Thus the Ephesians were spiritually alive, because says he, you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins, Ephesians 2:1. Faith is not of ourselves; but is expressly said to be the gift of God, Ephesians 2:8. Nay, the implantation of faith is represented as an exploit of omnipotence, like that of the resurrection of Christ. Hence the apostle prays, Ephesians 1:19-20, that the Ephesians might be made deeply sensible of the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward that believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead.

Repentance is also the gift of God: Christ is exalted to bestow it, Acts 5:31. When the Jewish Christians heard of the success of the gospel among the Gentiles, they unanimously ascribed it to God: then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life, Acts 11:18, and it is upon this encouragement that Paul recommends the use of proper means to reclaim the obstinate: if God, peradventure, will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth, II Timothy 2:25. Regeneration, also in which faith and repentance and other graces are implanted, is always ascribed to God. If all things are made new, all these things are of God, II Corinthians 5:17-18. If while others reject Christ some receive him, and so are honored with the privilege of becoming the sons of God, it is not owing to themselves, but to him. They are born, not of blood, nor of the will of man, nor of the will of the flesh, but of God, John 1:11-13. He begets such of his own sovereign will by the word of truth, James 1:18, and every good and perfect gift with which they are endowed is not from themselves, but from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, who is the great origin of all moral excellency, as the sun is of light, verse 17. Hence this change is expressed by such terms as denote the divine agency, and exclude that of the creature; as a new birth, John 3:3, a new creation, II Corinthians 5:17, Colossians 3:10, the workmanship of God created in Christ Jesus, Ephesians 2:10, a resurrection from the dead, John 5:25, Ephesians 2:1, Colossians 3:1. Now it is the greatest absurdity to speak of a man’s begetting, of his creating himself, or raising himself from the dead.

Thus we find that the first implantation of grace in the heart of a sinner is entirely the work of God; and, lest we should suppose that, when it is once implanted, it can flourish and grow without the influence of heaven, we find that the progress of sanctification in believers is ascribed to God, as well as their first conversion. David was sensible, after all his attainments, that he could not run the way of God’s commandments unless God should enlarge his heart, Psalm 119:32. All the hopes of Paul concerning his promising converts at Philippi depended upon his persuasion, that he that had begun a good work in them, would perform it until the day of Christ, Philippians 1:6. Nay, it was upon this he placed his own entire dependence. We are not sufficient of ourselves, says he, to think anything as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God, II Corinthians 3:5. If I am faithful, it is “because I have obtained mercy of the Lord to make me so,” I Corinthians 7:25. By the grace of God I am what I am; and if I have labored more abundantly than others, it is not I, but the grace of God that was with me, I Corinthians 15:10. I can do all things through Christ that strengtheneth me, Philippians 4:13. (“The Success of the Ministry of the Gospel, Owing to a Divine Influence”)

Blessings And Human Effort

Samuel Davies

The necessity for God’s blessing is clearly asserted in the Scriptures. Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” (John 6:44) This is not just a blessing of enablement, but also a blessing of free grace accomplished by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For once the inclination of the heart has been changed by grace: “All that the Father gives me will come to me,” says Jesus, “and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” (John 6:37) On November 19th, 1752, Samuel Davies preached on the need for divine influence upon all the works of men at a church in Hanover County, Virginia:

So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. (1 Corinthians 3:7)

[T]he promises of God to bestow blessings upon us, do not render needless our most vigorous endeavors to obtain them; and, on the other hand, that our most vigorous endeavors do not supersede the influences of the Spirit to work in us the dispositions we are laboring after. . . .

This may be illustrated by various instances. God commands us strictly to circumcise the foreskins of our hearts, to make ourselves new hearts and new spirits, Jeremiah 4:4, and to cleanse ourselves from mortal pollution, Isaiah 1:16, as if this were wholly our work, and he had no efficiency in it. In the meantime, he promises us absolutely to circumcise our hearts to love him, to give us new hearts, and to purge us from all our filthiness, and from all our abominations, as though he performed all the work without our using means. Now we are sure these things are consistent; for the sacred oracles are not a heap of contradictions. And how does their consistency appear? Why, thus: It is our duty to use the most vigorous endeavors to obtain these graces promised, because it is only in the use of vigorous endeavors that we have reason to expect divine influences. And yet those endeavors of ours do not in the least work those graces in us, and therefore there is certainly as much need of the promised agency of divine grace to effect the work, as if we should do nothing at all. Our utmost endeavors fall entirely short of it, and do not entitle us to divine assistance; and this we must have an humble sense of, before we can receive the accomplishment of such promises as the effect of free grace alone. But we should continue in these endeavors, because we have no reason to hope for the accomplishment of the promises in a course of sloth and negligence.

This point may be illustrated by the consistency of the use of means and the agency of providence in the natural world. God has peremptorily promised, that while the earth remaineth, seed time and harvest shall not cease, Genesis 8:22. But this promise does not render it needless for us to cultivate the earth; nor does all our cultivation render this promise needless: for all our labor would be in vain without the influence of divine providence; and this influence is to be expected only in the use of labor. Thus, in the moral world, the efficacy belongs to God, as much as if we made no use of means at all; and the most vigorous endeavors are as much our duty as if we could effect the work ourselves, and he had no special hand in it. Were this remark attended to, it would guard us against the pernicious extremes of turning the grace of God into wantonness, and pleading it as an excuse for our idleness; and of self-righteousness, and depending upon our own endeavors. In this guarded manner does Paul handle this point: Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do, of his good pleasure, Philippians 2:12-13. (“The Success of the Ministry of the Gospel, Owing to a Divine Influence”)

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