His Conviction of Sin, and the Pharisaical Exercises of his Mind under the Same

IN the parish adjoining the one in which I was born and raised, resided a clergyman of the High Church, by the name of Flockton, who was settled as a pastor over the people of that dioceses; and a vague loose man he was, and much given to sport and revelry, but held a high estimation by his parishioners as a man lively and sportive out of the pulpit, and a very good preacher in it; and thus they considered themselves well suited every way.

But poor things, they knew not themselves, nor their Maker, nor the bitterness of sin, nor the sweetness of the gospel: and sad to tell, the same was true of their preacher; and hence it was equally as true in this parish, as in the one in which I lived; the blind led the blind. But blind and ignorant of spiritual things as Mr. Flockton was, in the first part of his ministry in that parish; God I trust, had a secret love in his heart for him, and at last it broke forth and discovered its flame; for in the year 1797, he was brought to see and to feel himself a sinner lost and undone, and in the gospel I hope he found a sovereign remedy. And when he had undergone this blessed change, he changed in his preaching, and the most of his parishioners changed in their feelings towards him; for in a very short time, their high esteem of him was turned into gall and vinegar, and they in their hearts despised the man they once esteemed. They once esteemed him because he was carnal and like themselves; and they now despised him because he was spiritual, and different from what they were. Their conduct to­wards him was in perfect accordance with the malice and rage in their hearts against him, for they shewed themselves more like the “bulls of Bashan,” than like men of honor.

I have a perfect recollection of that gentleman and of his manners and ways; and he appeared to be of a meek and quiet spirit and full of zeal and courage, and withal he was very affable. He also seemed to be deeply sensible of his great ignorance of the gospel before he was enlightened from above. I was eye and ear witness to some of the great things which he suffered from his carnal and brutish parishioners, for the sake of a good conscience and the honor of God. The hatred and indignation of those men against him was so great that they viewed him as a nuisance in the parish and as a pestilent fel­low and a mover of sedition. And as they viewed him, so they treated him, and lodged many heavy complaints against him to the bishop, so that he was actually driven from the place and I saw him no more. I heard him preach his farewell sermon, and the following are the words of his text; “But the Jews stirred up the devout and honorable women, and the chief men of the city, and raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them out of their coasts. But they shook off the dust of their feet against them, and came unto Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy, and with the Holy Ghost” Acts, 13. 50, 51, 52.

By the preaching of this Mr. Flockton a very considerable excitement was created in the minds of many people, both in the parish where he was located and in parishes round about; and under God, a foundation seemed to have been laid for the word of life to be preached in that region of county in future days. And this merciful providence, direct­ed as it was by the Lord of hosts, was made to my soul “as the light of the morning when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds,” 2 Sam. 23. 4; and hence I have yet a pleasing remembrance of that auspicious event, and the name of Flockton is embalmed in my memory; and an important epoch in my life that whole circumstance makes; and the Lord grant that the relation of it, and things connected with the same, may be ren­dered serviceable to the children of men at large.

Under the preaching of Mr. Flockton, the Lord was pleased to send down upon me his most Holy Spirit, by whose agency I was convinced “of sin and of righteousness, and of judgment,” John 14. 8. I was here brought to see and to feel in some small degree, that my condition was by no means a safe one, and that it was necessary something should be done in order to make my situation more secure, lest I at last should be lost forever; but what that something could be which would improve my condition was more than I knew. At last however, I concluded it must certainly be a reformation in my life and manners. I saw I had made myself vile, and I thought I could make myself holy every whit, and if I did so, my state as a sinner be­fore God would be improved; and as I saw an abundance of work before me necessary to be attended to, and I capable of attending to it; I with all readiness of mind commenced a reformation, being certain in my own mind that I thereby should recommend myself to the favor of God. And as conviction had not as yet made a very deep furrow in my soul, so I fondly imagined that I should soon obtain peace and quietude of conscience and all would be well. And with regard to the correctness of this pharisaical sentiment of mine, I had no question, for the case was as plain to me as the sun at noonday, and hence I was in right good spirits about the issue of all. In the main I mean I was in good spirits about all ending well with me; but there were times and seasons that I felt considera­ble disquietude within, and especially if I was a little off my guard, and this often was the case with me. But yet I was very assiduous in duty, and I calculated on great things arising from it, and fancied my condition was already improved.

But when at any time my prospects darkened, and the safety of my state became doubtful, I used to weep over my hard fate, and felt so pensive and sad that I would have been glad to have hid myself from the sight of men and the light of the sun, or crept into some dark corner and there set and grieved alone. But as I was closely wedded to a covenant of works, so beyond its tenor I could not venture to go; nor could I calculate on receiving any thing profitable only by its prescribed rules: for to inc it appeared an unreasonable thing that I should expect a blessing from the hand of the Lord, which I did not in some measure deserve by the labor done by me; and hence when I fell short in labor, or found my great industry not to yield me as much profit as I looked for, I viewed my case a pitiable one, and I mourned greatly and wept often.

All this was the fruit of a pharisaical spirit, which spirit always engenders bondage and slavish fears, and is repugnant to the genius of the gospel: and this spirit n those days wrought powerfully in me, and a religion of the same stamp suited my taste and the frame of my mind. And although I clearly saw that I fell short in doing all that was necessa­ry for me to do, yet I was pleased with the working system, and verily thought I should be able after awhile to manage things better than what I had done, and then be so well off and be in so safe a condition, that I should have nothing to disquiet my mind, nor any thing to make me afraid. This thing I cal­culated on with as much certainty as I cal­culated on death. When at any time I heard of there being a great difficulty in get­ting to heaven on the working system, it would alarm me and put me to a sad stand; for no other way could I see how I was to be saved but by my own doings; and if any one would seem to encourage me a little on this ground, it would be to my pharisaical spirit as excellent oil. And unfortunately for me, some of the preachers which I was then in the habit of hearing, were of a pharisaical cast, and their preaching tended much to feed and pamper my self-righteous soul, and to be­wilder my mind, and to keep me in bondage. And yet I was pleased with those very preach­ers and with their doctrine; and I could have laid myself down at their feet, they appeared in my eyes such good and blessed men, and follow them I did from place to place, and thought it an honor so to do. Those preach­ers however, were Dissenters and not of the High church, nor did I now go to the High Church; for as the Rev. Mr. Flockton was gone, there was no preaching in any of the churches round about those parts, of the es­tablished order that I could in any wise hear; and hence there was no opportunity for me to hear any thing like the gospel, but among the Dissenters; and even there, the preaching was but, as Mr. R. Erskine calls it, the gospel hid in a legal mind. But this fault in the preaching I then could not see, and hence under such preaching I sat with considerable satisfaction.

Although I was convinced of sin and of my being a sinner in the sight of a holy God, and also of my condition being a very dangerous one; yet at the same time, the great fountain of sin in my heart was not broken up nor discovered to me. It was but very faintly that I saw the turpitude of my nature and the heinousness of sin. Indeed it was through a glass darkly that I saw any mat­ters relating to the old and to the new natures, and to the law and to the gospel; and hence my trouble was in proportion to the discovery made to me of what I was as a sinner, and of the perilous state I was in. At times however, my conscience was considerably disquieted, for a load was there, and it was a load of sin and it annoyed me much, nor knew I how to get rid of it but by the system of works, or doing my best; and yet do what I would, I still found the load there, and it brought upon me sor­row of heart; and I would often wander about from field to field in a solitary way, but could find no relief: and very hard things would be at times suggested to my mind by “the accuser of the brethren,” Rev. 12. 10; such as there being no ground for me to hope for, or to expect relief from, but from my doing better than I hitherto had done; and this was very afflicting to my mind, and what to do I knew not, or where to go I could not tell; so that I would on such occasions, be in a great strait and much cast down in soul.

But not being willing to give up all hope of obtaining salvation by the deeds of the law, and still wishing to retain a good opi­nion of my own doing powers; I would startle up afresh and make a new effort to release my captive mind from the embarrassment it was laboring under, and would feel tolerably easy until a fresh discovery was made to me of my defects and short comings, and of the very little probability there was of my ever being able to come fully up to all and every thing which the covenant of works required of me. From this discovery I would again be thrown on the back ground and feel much discouraged, and my soul would gradually sink down into a sad gloom, and despairing thoughts would break in upon me and pro­duce much disquietude.

Most of those exercises were from old na­ture; for my great mortification arose from my being defeated in my pharisaical enter­prise: or, in plain English, because I could not go to heaven by works of my own. Such is the native pride and ambition of the human heart, that it disdains to submit and to bow to sovereign grace alone in the bu­siness of salvation so long as it hath a fig leaf to hang by. And every thing which tended to tarnish my glory and to invalidate my own religious acts and doings, was to my phari­saical spirit, worse by far than gall and vine­gar. And hence it came to pass, that in those days, every thing which tended to feed my working spirit, was by me eagerly caught at and thought much of; and thus all books, and all conversations, and all preaching of a linsey-woolsey kind, suited exceedingly well, and would greatly brace me up and encou­rage me.

From the circumstance of my mind being so much under the influence of this phari­saical spirit, and of all writings and preach­ing, which fall short of the spirit and genius of the gospel, being so congenial to the frame of my mind at that time; I am tho­roughly convinced that all writings, conver­sations, and preaching, which savor of the law of works, and tend to lead and keep the soul under a legal covenant, and also holds out any encouragement to hope for heaven on the ground of human merit, and human doings, and sayings, and vows, and promises; is beside the gospel of Christ, and beguiling to the soul, and disparaging to divine truth, and dishonoring to God, and subversive of the covenant of grace. And yet there was much of this sort of preaching going on in the days of my youth, but much more at this present time; and it was then and is now, greatly admired and followed by all men whose spirits are pharisaical, as was mine at the time now alluded to. And this sort of preaching is nothing better than the ancient doctrine of the Pharisees, which Christ cautioned his disciples against, Matth. 10. 12.

By those preachers of the law, my sad case was still made worse, and my mind more and more enthralled; though I at that time suspected it not, so that I continued one of their warm disciples till God’s time was come for me to be delivered. But while I adhered to those men and to their preaching, I found they wrought hard, and I wrought with them; and they admired my industry, and I admired their preaching; and they sounded my trumpet, and I sounded theirs; and at times I felt a very high degree of self-importance, and I thought I was doing good business, and making much greater advances in the divine life than were most other people. I also waxed bold, and my zeal became rather blazing and noisy; and I would secretly say, “see my zeal for the Lord,” 2 Kings, 10. 16: and a zeal I most assuredly had, only it was under the old covenant bias; and hence it did not, and could not carry with it a right gospel twang; nor was I acquainted with the gospel in the letter, nor yet with its power and sweetness. Those things I had yet to learn, and to learn them too by the inward teaching of the Holy Spirit, who teacheth to profit, and as never man teacheth, for he receiveth the things which are Christ’s and sheweth them unto quickened souls, John, 16. 14.

And by this Holy Spirit, all the true born sons and daughters of Zion are taught, sooner or later, and so we read; “All thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children,” Isa. 54. 13. But of this teaching I knew but very little in those my early days; only I verily believe that by this Spirit I was then quick­ened and made alive, but a legal spirit held me fast and wrought powerfully in me, and hid most or all of the gospel from my view, so that I knew but very little of any one thing belonging to, or connected with the christian life. I was closely wedded to the doing covenant and a listener to what it said; and accordingly as I attended to its divine injunc­tions, so were my future prospects: but to hope for any thing more than what was to come to me through the medium of that covenant, I dared not; so that of course my future prospects could not have been very flattering.

A corrupt ministry is a snare sufficient to entangle any mind, and especially a mind under conviction of sin, and con­cerned about a world to come; and in such a state was my mind, and such was most of the preaching that I then heard; for be­fore the date which I am now on, my good friend Flockton had left the place, and preachers from among the Dissenters preach­ed in private houses round about in different parishes nearby, and those I heard; and as I said before, I heard them gladly, as their preaching well suited my pharisaical spirit. And there was one thing which I was foolish enough in those days to think was of great help to me; and it was the high opinion that most professors had of me and of my religion and my religious zeal: this I say was to me as a feast of fat things, it well suited my legal spirit, and hence I was pleased with it.

Now this thing at once proves what a stock of pride there is lurking at the bottom of a self-righteous spirit. Whatever a man of this cast may say or do in matters of reli­gion, and in serving God, pride is somewhere at the bottom of it. He will be proud of his own religious conversation, and of his prayers, and of his zeal, and of his assiduity, &c. Indeed it matters not what show of piety this man may put on, it is certain and I sure that pride will be lurking within, which makes it most evident of all things below the sky, that this very pharisaical spirit is con­trary to the whole genius of the gospel. And as this spirit tends to keep a quickened soul in bondage when it ought to be at liberty, it is contrary to the whole genius of the gospel. And as this spirit also tends to disquiet the conscience, and to becloud the mind of an awakened sinner, it is contrary to the whole genius of the gospel.

And in every heart where this pharisaical spirit dwells and rules with any kind of sway, there is sure to be found an evident want of true and solid peace and rest: and so I found it to be with my soul, when under my first awakenings to a sense of sin and my lost state. Go where I would, or do whatever I would, I still found little or no true gospel peace and rest. There was always some­thing wanting and something wrong; and hence a pharisaical spirit is contrary to the genius of the whole gospel; and the man who possesses this spirit is far off from gos­pel peace and rest. And I am verily per­suaded that many professors of religion, and such too who pretend to be opposed to this spirit, are under its powerful influence, but know it not. Indeed all pretenders to devo­tion are under it, who are not dead to the law by the body of Christ, and divorced from that legal covenant, to which they by nature are wedded and held fast, Rom. 7. 4, 5, 6. Nor can any man get from under its domi­nion of his own accord, nor at his will and pleasure; and even those who say and think they can, are “blind and cannot see afar,” off, 2 Peter, 1. 9; for Paul says, “it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy,” Rom 9. 16. This pharisaical spirit, therefore, is not so easily run from, nor this yoke of bondage so easily cast off as many people think. * Part 2-continued ... *

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Elder James Osbourn--Part 2