October 15, 2007

The Revealed Will in Nathaniel Vincent's (1638–1697) The Conversion of a Sinner: Part 1

Nathaniel Vincent was the younger brother of Thomas Vincent (one chosen to be the catechist to John Owen). In 1672, Nathaniel was licensed as a Presbyterian preacher. He was one of the ejected ministers of 1662, but returned to London after the fire of 1666 and preached to large multitudes in the ruins of the city. He spent many years in prison and under persecution for his nonconformity. He died at the age of 53 on June 21, 1697, and was buried in Bunhill Fields in London, the non-conformist's burial ground.

The Conversion of a Sinner
Explained and Applied
from Ezekiel 33:11,
"...Turn ye, turn ye, from your
evil ways, for why will ye die,
O house of Israel?"

by Nathaniel Vincent,
Minister of the Gospel

(First Published in 1669)

Oh, let Your special love be more generally manifested! Let Your healing and Your saving grace run in a much broader channel and let your tents be enlarged and let them stretch forth the curtains of Your habitation!
Nathaniel Vincent, "The Conversion of a Sinner" in The Puritans on Conversion, ed. Don Kistler (Ligonier: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1990), 72–73.
Conversion is a nail which the prophets of old were hammering upon perpetually. Our Lord and His apostles endeavored to drive this nail home, and God of late has not only sent His ministers to ply this business but has taken the hammer of judgments to make this nail to enter. Now the stronger the resistance is that we make, we must expect more strokes from this hammer. We have seen lately days of great calamity and affliction, and yet they have, in some sense, also been days of grace. Therefore, temporal judgments have been sent that spiritual mercies might be prized and eternal judgments might be prevented.

God has had a design of love at the bottom of all His severities.
Ibid., 77.
But the Lord, besides whom there is no Saviour, may call, and call with frequency, with earnestness, yet call in vain. Their hearts are dull, their ears are deaf, they will not hearken to Him.
Ibid., 79.
It seems there was a controversy about at whose door the destruction of sinners was to be laid. The house of Israel very peremptorily and boldly laid the blame on God, saying that the way of the Lord is not equal. But the God of mercy and truth vindicates Himself from that undeserved imputation, professing that if sinners were not perversely ben on their own ruin, destruction would be escaped. By His life, He swears that the death of the wicked pleases Him not. Therefore in the text, His voice is loud and doubled, "Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways," and the saddle is set upon the right horse. Men's own wills are the cause of their own woe, "Why will ye die, O house of Israel?" The words express a very pathetic and serious call...
Ibid., 80–81.
There are several paths in the broad way, but in death, the second death, they all conclude and meet. Therefore, the Lord is brought in, pitying sinners and pleading with them.
Ibid., 81.
How often have I sent My prophets that you might be brought to believe, to repent, and to obey? But still your neck is an iron sinew. You are resolved to rush on in sin. If you perish, you may thank yourselves. If you are destroyed, it is because you choose destruction.
Ibid., 82.
Besides, the Lord presents Himself to a sinner if he will forsake his evil ways and thoughts. Now if the sinner rejects that offer and prefers not only the empty world but the vilest lusts before the blessed God, let reason judge if it is not just that he should be eternally separated from Him. And this loss of God is properly the death spoken of, it is the very hell of hell.
Ibid., 85.
They cannot plead, either, that they knew not their Master's will, or that they were ignorant of the penalty following their rebelling against it. How often have those that enjoy the light of the gospel been informed that it is the will of God that they should sorrow and rend their hearts for sin? That it is the will of God that they should believe in His Son? That it is the will of God even their sanctification, I Thess.4? Nay, how often have they been foretold of the many stripes that must be endured by those that continue in willful disobedience? It is not unequal, then, since they made the Lord a liar by their unbelief, that He should vindicate His truth and cause them to feel those plagues and torments which thousands of times they were warned of but had no faith or fear concerning them.

C. As sinners are threatened because of their evil ways, so they are shown which is the way of life and peace and are very much preferred to walk in it. Assisting and strengthening grace is presented to them, but if neither that glory and immortality at the end of the way nor that help and grace which they have in the way are regarded, but the paths of destruction and misery (as they are called), Rom.3:16, are preferred, they indeed wrong their own souls. But God is righteous in destroying them.
Ibid., 85–86.
How often has the Lord called but you have refused? How often has He stretched forth His hand all the day long, but all the day long you have been disobedient and contrary? How speechless will this make you when He comes to judge the world in righteousness?...The offender that refuses a pardon offered justly, nay doubly deserves to have judgment executed, both because of his offense and because he slights mercy.
Ibid., 95.
How many millions have died and been taken away in their iniquities that were as fully resolved upon repenting hereafter as any that are now alive? Take heed of this rock upon which so many have split and have been cast away forever. God's will is for the present. He says, "Today if you will hear My voice, harden not your hearts," Heb.3:7-8. But if now, when God is willing to give you life, you are unwilling, He may be hereafter unwilling when you would have it. When death and destruction come upon you as a whirlwind, He has threatened that you shall call upon Him for life and salvation, but it shall be far from you. "You shall seek Him early, but you shall not find Him, if now you have knowledge, and do not choose the fear of the Lord," Prov.1:28-29.
Ibid., 97–98.
A. Judge yourselves because of your nature of perverseness. Until you are sensible of this, you cannot be humbled in a right manner. That you have sinned so much, so long, should very much affect and afflict you before God, but that you have a will to sin ten thousand times more, were it not for the restraints of grace, nay, to sin unto eternity, oh, what confusion and sorrow should this cause!
Ibid., 99.
1. He calls upon them from Mount Ebal. That was the Mount from whence the curses were denounced. He tells them in His Word of the cursedness and woe of the unconverted state. He sends the Law as a schoolmaster to teach them a sad lesson, that because of their frequent transgressions, they are just upon the brink of eternal misery. And His design is that thereby they may be awakened and stopped in their destructive way and not flatter themselves with hopes of peace, though they still walk on after the imagination of their own heart.

This voice of the Lord by the Law is loud and terrible, uttered on purpose to rouse and startle them that are dead asleep.
Ibid., 100–101.
Satan, by tempting us to sin, has taken away our blessing from us, yet we ought not to despond for the Lord has more than one blessing. That which the first Adam forfeited, the second Adam was sent to restore, Acts 3:26, "God having raised up His Son Jesus, sent Him to bless you in turning every one of you from iniquity." The Lord takes sinners up, as it were, into Mount Gerizzim. He shows them His kingdom and the glories of it. He tells them of His store of blessings, of the inestimable benefits which His Son has purchased: justification, adoption, sanctification, glory, and assures them that all shall be theirs if they will but turn indeed. And truly, these are other kinds of offers than Satan ever did or possibly can make.

3. God calls upon sinners to turn by the most passionate pleadings and pressing expostulations. His design in expostulating is to make them sensible of their unreasonableness in pursuing deceitful vanities, fulfilling their defiling lusts, and refusing to convert unto Him who can both sanctify them from their defilements and satisfy them with His all-sufficiency. He expostulates the matter with Judah, Is.55:2-3, "Why will you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which cannot satisfy? Since upon your coming to Me, the Life of your souls and the sure mercies of an everlasting covenant may be obtained."

The Lord pleads with the ungodly by the ministry of the Word after this manner: "What! Though you are told of sin's deceitful, defiling, and damnable nature, will you still embrace and hold it fast to My dishonor and your own destruction? Though you are forewarned of the heat and heaviness of My anger, will you not flee from it? Though you are informed so often how little hell will be for your ease, will you run thither and burn there forever? Though you are told of a kingdom that cannot be moved, will not you be moved with desire after it, will you not be persuaded to strive for it? Are grace and glory of no worth at all? Is not a Saviour to be prized by them who, by sin, have enslaved and lost themselves, and are in danger of being lost unto eternity? Consider these things, and show yourselves men, oh, you transgressors." Thus the Lord pleads that He may prevail with sinners for their own good.
Ibid., 102–104.
5. God calls upon sinners to turn to Him by the internal voice and motions of His Spirit. The Spirit often suggests concerning the sinful and false way, "This is not the way, and therefore turn out of it." But concerning the way of holiness which leads to God, "This is the way, and therefore turn unto it," and without declining, "walk in it," Is.30:21. All the other calls will be to little purpose unless the Spirit accompanies them. Without His conviction, the denunciation of curses will not awaken. Without His illumination, the blessings proffered will be undervalued. Without His setting an edge upon them, the most pathetical expostulations will not have the least efficacy to persuade. The loudest words will be no more regarded than if they were a whisper. Unless the Spirit joins His teaching and instruction, the rod will be mute and insignificant. Nothing will be learned, either by personal affliction or by national judgments. it is dangerous, therefore, to be heedless of, and resistant to, the Holy Ghost, since the efficacy of all depends upon Him.

There is a twofold call of the Spirit: more common and more special.

1. More common, and so many are called which never are thoroughly converted. It was the common work of the Spirit which made Felix tremble, which brought Agrippa within a step of Christianity and caused Herod to do many things. Multitudes of unregenerate ones have felt the waters stirred, the Holy Ghost moving them to conversion, and have readily proffered His aid and assistance, and perhaps, for awhile, they have been led by Him. But then they have refused to let go of some lust or vanity which He has bid them abandon. They would not turn their spiritual sloth into serious diligence about the concerns of their immortal souls, and so by disregarding His motions, and by slighting His help, they have made the Spirit to go away in grief who came in love to work upon them.

2. There is a call of the Spirit which is more special and efficacious, and when He moves them to turn to God, sinners are not only almost, but altogether, persuaded.
Ibid., 105–107.

One can clearly see the universal saving will of God, the universal love of God, common grace and the well-meant offer (a "serious call") in Vincent. All of these things are interrelated in his theology.

For Part 2, click HERE.

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