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How a Sinner Becomes a Believer

by Ralph Erskine (1685-1752)

The following selection is taken from the first chapter of Erkine's Gospel Sonnets as found in The Sermons and Practical Works of Ralph Erskine (Glasgow: W. Smith and J. Bryce Booksellers, 1778) vol. 10, pp. 59-71. The original title of this piece appears as follows: "The Manner of a Sinner's Divorce from the Law in a Work of Humiliation, and of his Marriage to the Lord Jesus Christ; or, the Way How a Sinner comes to be a Believer." The electronic edition of this text has been scanned and edited by Shane Rosenthal for Reformation Ink. In numerous cases antiquated characters have been replaced and the spelling has been modernized. In some instances sections have been edited for clarity. This particular version therefore is not in the public domain. It may be copied and distributed only for personal or educational use.

F E A T U R I N G :
Section I. Of a LAW-WORK, and the Workings of Legal Pride Under It.
Section II. Conviction of SIN and WRATH, Carried on More Deeply and Effectually in the Heart.
Section III. The Deeply Humbled Soul RELIEVED with Some Saving Discoveries of CHRIST the Redeemer.
Section IV. The Workings of the Spirit of Faith in Separating the Heart from All Self-Righteousness, and Drawing Out Its Consent to, and Desire After CHRIST Alone and Wholly.
Section V. Faith's View of the freedom of grace, cordial renunciation of All Its Own Ragged Righteousness, and Formal Acceptance of and Closing with the Person of Glorious CHRIST.
Of a LAW-WORK, and the Workings of Legal Pride Under It.
So proud's the bride, so backwardly dispos'd;
How then shall e'er the happy match be clos'd?
Kind grace the tumults of her heart must quell,
And draw her heav'nward by the gates of hell.
The bridegroom's Father makes by's holy Spirit
His stern command with her stiff conscience meet;
To dash her pride, and shew her utmost need,
Pursues for double debt with awful dread.
He makes her former husband's frightful ghost
Appear and damn her, as a bankrupt lost;
With curses, threats, and Sinai thunder claps,
Her lofty tow'r of legal boasting saps.
These humbling storms, in high or low degrees,
Heaven's Majesty will measure as he please;
But still he makes the fiery law at least
Pronounce its awful sentence in her breast,
'Till through the law convict of being lost,
She hopeless to the law gives up the ghost:
Which now in rigour comes full debt to crave,
And in close prison cast; but not to save.
For now 'tis weak, and can't (through our default)
Its greatest votaries to life exalt.
But well it can command with fire and flame,
And to the lowest pit of ruin damn.
Thus doth it by commission from above,
Deal with the bride, when heav'n would court her love.
Lo! now she startles at the Sinai trump,
Which throws her soul into a dismal dump;
Conscious another husband she must have,
Else die for ever in destruction's grave.
While in conviction's jail she's thus inclos'd,
Glad news are heard, the royal mate's propos'd.
And now the scornful bride's inverted stir
Is racking fear, he scorn to match with her.
She dreads his fury, and despairs that he
Will ever wed so vile a wretch as she.
And here the legal humour stirs again,
To her prodigious loss and grievous pain:
For when the Prince presents himself to be
Her Husband, then she deems; Ah! is not he
Too fair a match for such a filthy bride?
Unconscious that the thought bewrays her pride,
Ev'n pride of merit, pride of righteousness,
Expecting Heav'n should love her for her dress;
Unmindful how the fall her face did stain,
And made her but a black unlovely swain,
Her whole primeval beauty quite defac'd,
And to the rank of fiends her form debas'd,
Without disfigur'd, and defil'd within,
Incapable of any thing but sin.
Heav'n courts not any for their comely face,
But for the glorious praise of sov'reign grace,
Else ne'er had courted one of Adam's race,
Which all as children of corruption be,
Heirs rightful of immortal misery.
Yet here the bride employs her foolish wit,
For this bright match her ugly form to fit;
To daub her features o'er with legal paint,
That with a grace she may herself present.
Hopeful the Prince with credit might her wed,
If once some comely qualities she had.
In humble pride, her haughty spirit flags;
She cannot think of coming all in rags.
Were she a humble, faithful penitent,
She dreams he'd then contract with full content.
Base varlet! think she'd be a match for him,
Did she but deck herself in handsome trim.
Ah! foolish thoughts! in legal deeps that plod;
Ah! sorry notions of a sov'reign God!
Will God expose his great, his glorious Son,
For our vile baggage to be sold and won?
Should sinful modesty the match decline,
Until its garb be brisk and superfine;
Alas! when should we see the marriage-day?
The happy bargain must flee up for ay.
Presumptuous souls, in surly modesty,
Half-favours of themselves would fondly be,
Then hopeful th' other half their due will fall,
Disdain to be in Jesus' debt for all.
Vainly the first would wash themselves, and then
Address the fountain to be wash'd more clean;
First heal themselves, and then expect the balm:
Ah! many slightly cure their sudden qualm.
They heal their conscience with a tear or pray'r;
And seek no other Christ, but perish there.
O sinner, search the house, and see the thief
That spoils they Saviour's crown, thy soul's relief,
The hid, but heinous sin of unbelief.
Who can possess a quality that's good,
'Till first he come to Jesus' cleansing blood?
The pow'r that draws the bride, will also shew
Unto her by the way her hellish hue,
As void of ev'ry virtue to commend,
And full of ev'ry vice that will offend.
'Till sov'reign grace the sullen bride shall catch,
She'll never fit herself for such a match.
Most qualify'd they are in heav'n to dwell,
Who see themselves most qualify'd for hell;
And, ere the bride can drink salvation's cup,
Kind Heav'n must reach to hell and lift her up:
For no decorum e'er about her found,
Is she belov'd; but on a nobler ground.
JEHOVAH's love is like his nature, free;
Nor must his creature challenge his decree;
But low at sov'reign grace's footstool creep,
Whose ways are searchless, and his judgments deep.
Yet grace's suit meets with resistance rude
From haughty souls; for lack of innate good
To recommend them. Thus the backward bride
Affronts her Suitor with her modest pride.
Black hatred for his cover'd love repays,
Pride under mask of modesty displays:
In part would save herself; hence, saucy soul!
Rejects the matchless mate would save in whole.

Conviction of SIN and WRATH, Carried on More Deeply and Effectually in the Heart.
So proudly forward is the bride, and now,
Stern Heav'n begins to stare with cloudier brow;
Law-curses come with more condemning pow'r,
To scorch her conscience with a fiery show'r,
And more refulgent flashes darted in;
For by the law knowledge is of sin.
Black Sinai, thund'ring louder than before,
Does awful in her lofty bosom roar.
Heaven's furious storms now rife from ev'ry airth,
In ways more terrible to shake the earth,
'Till haughtiness of men be sunk thereby,
That Christ alone may be exalted high.
Now, stable earth seem from her center tossed,
And lofty mountains in the ocean lost,
Hard rocks of flint, and haughty hills of pride,
Are torn in pieces by the roaring tide.
Each flash of new conviction's lucid rays
Heart-errors, undiscern'd till now, displays;
Wrath's massy cloud upon the conscience breaks,
And thus menacing Heav'n in thunder speaks;
"Black wretch, thou madly under foot hast trode
"Th' authority of a commanding God;
"Thou, like thy kindred that in Adam fell,
"Art but a law-reversing lump of hell,
"And there by law and justice doom'd to dwell."
Now, now, the daunted bride her state bewails,
And downward furls her self-exalting sails;
With pungent fear, and piercing terror brought
To mortify her lofty legal thought.
Why, the commandment comes, sin is reviv'd,
That lay so hid, while to the law she liv'd;
Infinite majesty in God is seen,
And infinite malignity is sin:
That to its expiation must amount
A sacrifice of infinite account.
Justice its dire severity displays,
The law its vast dimensions open lays.
She sees for this broad standard nothing meet,
Save an obedience, sinless and complete.
Her cob-web righteousness, once in renown,
Is with a happy vengeance now swept down.
She who of daily faults could once but prate,
Sees now her sinful miserable state.
Her heart, where once she thought some good to dwell,
The devil's cab'net fill'd with trash of hell.
Her boasted features now unmasked bare,
Her vaunted hopes are plung'd in deep despair.
Her haunted shelter-house in bypast years
Comes tumbling down about her frighted ears.
Her former rotten faith, love, penitence,
She sees a bowing wall, and tott'ring fence.
Excellencies of thought, and word, and deed,
All swimming, drowning in a sea of dread:
Her beauty now deformity she deems;
Her heart much blacker than the devil seems.
With ready lips she can herself declare
The vilest ever breath'd in vital air.
Her former hopes, as refuges of lies,
Are swept away, and all her boasting dies.
She once imagin'd Heav'n would be unjust
To damn so many lumps of human dust,
Form'd by himself; but now she owns it true,
Damnation surely is the sinner's due:
Yea, now applauds the law's just doom so well,
That justly she condemns herself to hell;
Does herein divine equity acquit,
Herself adjudging to the lowest pit.
Her language, "Oh! if God condemn, I must
"From bottom of my soul declare him just.
"But if his great salvation me embrace,
"How loudly will I sing surprising grace?
"If from the pit he to the throne me raise,
"I'll rival angels in his endless praise.
"If hell deserving me to heaven he bring,
"No heart so glad, no tongue so loud shall sing.
"If wisdom has not laid the saving plan,
"I nothing have to claim, I nothing can.
"My works but sin, my merit death I see;
"Oh! mercy, mercy, mercy! pity me."
Thus all self-justifying pleas are dropp'd,
Most guilty she becomes, her mouth is stopp'd.
Pungent remorse does her past conduct blame,
And flush her conscious cheek with spreading shame.
Her self-conceited heart is self-convict,
With barbed arrows of compunction prick'd:
Wonders how justice spares her vital breath,
How patient Heav'n adjourns the day of wrath;
How pliant earth does not with open jaws
Devour her, Korah-like, for equal cause;
How yawning hell, that gapes for such a prey,
Is frustrated with a further hour's delay.
She that could once her mighty works exalt,
And bast devotion fram'd without a fault
Extol her nat'ral pow'rs, is now brought down,
Her former madness, not her pow'rs, to own.
Her present beggar state, most void of grace,
Unable even to wail her woful case,
Quite pow'rless to believe, repent, or pray;
Thus pride of duties flies and dies away.
She, like a harden'd wretch, a stupid stone,
Lies in the dust, and cries, Undone, undone.

The Deeply Humbled Soul RELIEVED with Some Saving Discoveries of CHRIST the Redeemer.
WHEN thus the wounded bride perceives full well
Herself the vilest sinner out of hell,
The blackest monster in the universe:
Pensive if clouds of wo shall e'er disperse.
When in her breast Heaven's wrath so fiercely glows,
'Twixt fear and guilt her bones have no repose.
When flowing billows of amazing dread
Swell to a deluge o'er her sinking head;
When nothing in her heart is found to dwell,
But horrid atheism, enmity, and hell;
When endless death and ruin seems at hand,
And yet she cannot for her soul command
A sigh to ease it, or a gracious thought,
Though heaven could at this petty rate be bought.
When darkness and confusion overcloud,
And unto black despair temptations crowd;
When wholly without strength to move or stir,
And not a star by night appears to her:
But she, while to the brim her troubles flow,
Stands trembling on the outmost brink of wo.
Ah! weary case! But, lo! in this sad plight
The sun arises with surprising light.
The darkest midnight is his usual time
Of rising and appearing in his prime.
To shew the hills from whence salvation springs,
And chase the gloomy shade with golden wings,
The glorious Husband now unveils his face,
And shews his glory full of truth and grace;
Presents unto the bride in that dark hour,
Himself a Saviour, both by price and pow'r:
A mighty helper to redeem the lost.
Relieve and ransom to the uttermost;
To seek the vagrant sheep to desert driv'n,
And save from lowest hell to highest heav'n.
Her doleful case he sees, her bowels move,
And make her time of need a time of love.
He shews, to prove himself her mighty shield,
His name is JESUS, by his Father seal'd:
A name with attributes engrav'd within,
To save from every attribute of sin.
With wisdom sin's great folly to expose,
And righteousness its chain of guilt to loose,
Sanctification to subdue its sway,
Redemption all its woful brood to slay.
Each golden letter of his glorious name
Bears full deliv'rance both from sin and shame.
Yea, not privation bare from sin and wo,
But thence all positive salvations flow,
To make her wife, just, holy, happy too.
He now appears a match exactly meet,
To make her every way in him complete,
In whom the fullness of the Godhead dwells,
That she may boast in him, and nothing else.
In gospel-lines she now perceives the dawn
Of Jesus' love with bloody pencil drawn;
How God in him is infinitely pleas'd,
And Heaven's revenging fury whole appeas'd:
Law-precepts magnify'd by her belov'd,
And ev'ry let to stop the match remov'd.
Now in her view the prison-gates break ope,
Wide to the walls flies up the door of hope;
And now she sees with pleasure unexpress'd
For shatter'd barks a happy shore of rest.

The Workings of the Spirit of Faith in Separating the Heart from All Self-Righteousness, and Drawing Out Its Consent to, and Desire After CHRIST Alone and Wholly.
THE bride at Sinai little understood,
How these law-humblings were design'd for good,
To enhance the value of the Husband's blood.
The tow'r of tott'ring pride thus batter'd down,
Makes way for Christ alone to wear the crown.
Conviction's arrows pierc'd her heart that so
The blood from his pierc'd heart to hers might flow.
The law's sharp plough tears up the fallow-ground,
Where not a grain of grace was to be found,
Till straight perhaps behind the plow is sown,
The hidden seed of faith, as yet unknown.
Hence now the once reluctant bride's inclin'd
To give the gospel an assenting mind,
Dispos'd to take, would grace the pow'r impart,
Heaven's offer with a free consenting heart.
His Spirit in the gospel-chariot rides,
And shews his loving heart to draw the bride's
Though oft in clouds his drawing pow'r he hides,
His love in gracious offers to her bears,
In kindly answers to her doubts and fears,
Resolving all objections, more or less,
From former sins, or present worthlessness.
Persuades her mind of's conjugal consent,
And then empowers her heart to say, Content.
Content to be divorced from the law,
No more the yoke of legal terms to draw.
Content that he dissolve the former match,
And to himself alone her heart attach.
Content to join with Christ at any rate,
And wed him as her everlasting mate.
Content that he should ever wear the bays,
And of her whole salvation have the praise.
Content that he should rise, though she should fall,
And to be nothing, that he may be all.
Content that he, because she nought can do,
Do for her all her work, an in her too.
Here she a peremptory mind displays,
That he do all the work, get all the praise,
And now she is, which ne'er till now took place,
Content entirely to be sav'd by grace.
She owns that her damnation just would be,
And therefore her salvation must be free:
That nothing being hers but sin and thrall,
She must be debtor unto grace for all.
Hence comes she to him in her naked case,
To be invested with his righteousness.
She comes, as guilty, to a pardon free;
As vile and filthy, to a cleansing sea;
As poor and empty, to the richest stock;
As weak and feeble, to the stongest rock;
As perishing unto a shield from thrall;
As worse than nothing, to an all in all.
She, as a blinded mole, an ign'rant fool,
Comes for instruction to the Prophet's school.
She, with a hell-deserving conscious breast.
Flees for atonement to the worthy Priest.
She, as a slave to sin and Satan, wings
Her flight for help unto the King of kings.
She all her maladies and plagues brings forth
To this physician of eternal worth.
She spreads before his throne her filthy sore,
And lays her broken bones down at his door.
No mite she has to buy a crumb of bliss,
And therefore comes impov'rish'd as she is.
By sin and Satan of all good bereft,
Comes e'en as bare as they her soul have left.
To sense, as free of holiness within,
As Christ, the spotless Lamb, was free of sin.
She come by faith, true; but it shews her want,
And brings her as a sinner, not a saint;
A wretched sinner flying for her good
To justifying, sanctifying blood.
Strong faith no strength nor pow'r of acting vaunts.
But acts in sense of weakness and of wants.
Drain'd now of ev'ry thing that men may call
Terms and conditions of relief from thrall;
Except this one, that Jesus be her all.
When to the bride he gives espousing faith,
It finds her under sin, and guilt, and wrath;
And makes her as a plagued wretch to fall
At Jesus' footstool for the cure of all.
Her whole salvation now in him she seeks,
And musing thus perhaps in secret speaks,
"Lo! all my burdens may in him be eas'd;
"The justice I offended, he has pleas'd;
"The bliss that I have forfeit, he procur'd;
"The curse that I deserved, he endur'd;
"The law that I have broken, he obey'd;
"The debt that I contracted, he has paid:
"And though a match unfit for him I be,
"I find him ev'ry way most fit for me.
"Sweet Lord, I think, would thou thyself impart,
"I'd welcome thee with open hand and heart.
"But thou that sav'st by price, must save by pow'r;
"O send thy Spirit in a fiery show'r,
"This cold and frozen heart of mine to thaw,
"That nought save cords of burning love can draw.
"O draw me, Lord; then will I run to thee,
"And glad into thy glowing bosom flee.
"I own myself a mass of sin and hell,
"A brat that can do nothing but rebel:
"But didst thou not, as sacred pages shew,
"(When rising up to spoil the hellish crew,
"That had, by thousands, sinners captive made,
"And hadst in conqu'ring chains them captive led)
"Get donatives, not for thy proper gain,
"But royal bounties for rebellious men;
"Gifts, graces, and the Spirit without bounds,
"For God's new house with man on firmer grounds?
"O then let me a rebel now come speed,
"Thy holy Spirit is the gift I need.
"His precious graces too, the glorious grant,
"Thou kindly promis'd, and I greatly want.
"Thou art exalted to the highest place,
"To give repentance forth and ev'ry grace.
"O giver of spiritual life and breath,
"The author and the finisher of faith;
"Thou Husband-like must ev'ry thing provide,
"If e'er the like of me become thy bride."

Faith's View of the freedom of grace, cordial renunciation of All Its Own Ragged Righteousness, and Formal Acceptance of and Closing with the Person of Glorious CHRIST.
The bride with open eyes, that once were dim,
Sees now her whole salvation lies in him;
The Prince, who is not in dispensing nice,
But freely gives without her pains or price.
This magnifies the wonder in her eye,
Who not a farthing has wherewith to buy;
For now her humbled mind can disavow,
Her boasted beauty and assuming brow;
With conscious eye discern her emptiness,
With candid lips her poverty confess.
"O glory to the Lord that grace is free,
"Else never would it light on guilty me.
"I nothing have with me to be its price,
"But hellish blackness, enmity, and vice."
In former times she durst presuming come,
To grace's market with a pretty sum
Of duties, prayers, tears, a boasted set,
Expecting heav'n would thus be in her debt.
These were the price, at least she did suppose,
She'd be the welcomer because of those:
But now she sees the vileness of her vogue,
The dung that close doth ev'ry duty clog,
The sin that doth her holiness reprove,
The enmity that close attend her love,
The great heart-hardness of her penitence,
The stupid dulness of her vaunted sense,
The unbelief of former blazed faith,
The utter nothingness of all she hath.
The blackness of her beauty she can see,
The pompous pride of strain'd humility,
The naughtiness of all her tears and pray'rs;
And now renounces all her worthless wares;
And finding nothing to commend herself,
But what might damn her, her embezzled pelf;
At sov'reign grace's feet doth prostrate fall,
Content to be in Jesus' debt for all.
Her noised virtues vanish out of sight,
As starry tapers at meridian light;
While sweetly, humbly, she beholds at length
Christ, as her only righteousness and strength.
He with the view throws down his loving dart,
Imprest with pow'r into her tender heart.
The deeper that the law's fierce dart was thrown,
The deeper now the dart of love goes down:
Hence, sweetly pain'd, her cries to heav'n do flee;
"O none but Jesus, none but Christ for me!
"O glorious Christ! O beauty, beauty rare!
"Ten thousand thousand heav'ns are not so fair.
"In him at once all beauties meet and shine,
"The white and ruddy, human and divine.
"As in his low, he's in his high abode,
"The brightest image of the unseen God.
"How justly do the harpers sing above,
"His doing, dying, rising, reigning love?
"How justly does he, when his work is done,
"Possess the center of his Father's throne?
"How justly do his awful throne before
"Seraphic armies prostrate, him adore;
"That's both by nature and donation crown'd,
"With all the grandeur of the Godhead round?
"But wilt thou, Lord, in very deed come dwell
"With me, that was a burning brand of hell?
"With me, so justly reckon'd worse and less
"Than insect, mite, or atom can express?
"Wilt thou debase thy high imperial form,
"To match with such a mortal, crawling worm?
"Yea, sure thine errand to our earthly coast,
"Was in deep love to seek and save the lost:
"And since thou deign'st the like of me to wed,
"O come and make my heart thy marriage-bed.
"Fair Jesus, wilt thou marry filthy me!
"Amen, Amen, Amen; so let it be."

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