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Secondly, An unexpected earthquake burst the prison doors, and unbolted the chains of the prisoners. In this astonishing alarm, what was the effect upon the awakened and frighted jailor ? He saw the doors open, and supposed the prisoners fled, and knowing the strict charge the court had given him, “ to keep " them safely," he instantly concluded the escape would be imputed to his connivance or neglect. The consequence he knew was either the loss of his place and living, or the loss of life.The thought struck him, instant death is better than suffering poverty, or an ignominious exit. In the noise, hurry, and disetraction of passion, he drew his sword and stood in the awful attitude of plunging it into his Lowels, when St. Paul's voice, arrested his attention, “ Do thyself no harm, for'we are all here.” Suicide was not a matter of disapprobation among the Romans, nor condemned by their laws. .
Every tling rushed upon the mind of this unhappy man, their doctrines, the causes of their imprisonment, his beating them, thrusting them into the inner prison, acting with cruelty, up to the extremity of his orders. All this perhaps was contrary to his judgment and the dictates of his conscience. And he might conceive the decrees of the court a sufficient plea for all his severity. But these apologies, from whiatever high authority they might arise, they instantly vanish at the reproaches of an awakened conscience. It is not the orders or judgments of mortals that can calm the terrors of an awakened mind. Conscience will bring and hold the sinner to the rule, that God is to be obeyed, rather than man.
Thirdly, We observe, being stopped in his purpose, lie appears at once under deep concern about his state and future salvation. He was immediately stung with the guilt of all his sins. What the Apostles said to him were the words blessed to his conviction. “ Do thyself no harm,” reached the heart, and penetrated the inermost recesses of his soul, and harrowed up all the clods of his iniquities; and in despairing anguish of mind he cries, out,
" What must I do to be saved ?" God liere shows his power in the conviction of an hardened sinner. What an earthquake could not effect, he causes a simple word to accomplish.
When Saul was grown mad in persecution, divine grace arrests him in his hellish career. God could have done this at any other time, before he had made such havock of the church, but this period of extremity is chosen to give a greater lustre to the efficacy of his mercy. So here this jailor is saved, in the moment of the attempt of suicide, on the very brink of ruin. Thus in the moment of difficulty, God often displays his interposing power, and marvelous grace.
Fourthly, It is further observable; tie remarkable effects of pe genuine conviction. How does it bring down the haughty and stubborn spirit ? Behold this proud officer, a little before glorying in the lashes inflicted on the Apostles, now prostrate and trembling at their feet, begging for forgiveness and mercy. Strange the change, reduced from contemning them, to hold himself in abhorrence.
Thus an anxious and distressing concern about salvation, is involved in the very nature of true convictions There are many qualms of conscience, misgivings of heart that all is not right, purposes of amendment and reformation, fears of hell, and wishes for heaven, prayers, confessions and enquiries, that do not amount to what is properly called conviction.
The author of genuine convictions, whatever the termination of them inay be, is the Spirit of God by a common agency and operation. I call it common, in distinction from that special operation, which is exerted in the regeneration of the sinner, or the production of an holy temper in the heart. The frequent fears, and occasional apprehensions of sinners, arising from a pious education, and from the means of the gospel, and living under a faithful ministry, are hardly of importance enough to be stiled convictions. All the effect of these desultory feelings, un. less something more takes place, will only render their fature condemnation more terrible.
That conviction which is likely to be productive of a good issue, and which I conceive to be real convictions of the Spirit of God, consist of two things, and they may both come to pass, and conversion not follow.
- First, They command the vain mind of the sinner, to a serious consideration of the nature, tendency, and dreadful cònsequences of sin. The best adap:ed means of instruction and gospel education, will not bring a person to this without some application of the Holy Spirit. When the Spirit applies the gospel and its instructions, it fixes the mind, fills it with anxious thoughts; he cannot but think about his unhappy and dangerous condition.
This matter governs and engrosses his whole mind. The world and all its pleasures, become indifferent to him while this concern continues. Wide is the difference between fits of temporary thoughtfulness, which falls in the night, vanishes with the morning cloud, and evaporates with the early dew, and real and substantial convictions. Though, I do not mean, that t?ie Latter always issue in a saving conversion. It would take more than a lecture to delineate its various events. Many terminate well; many issue in a different event. Perlaps these will be miatter of future consideration.
Secondly, True convictions fix on the consciences of sinners, a sense of his demerit, the misery contained in its nature, and the wrath and punishment annexed thereto. The bare contemplation of sin, and that we are sinners, however serious in the business, cannot bring us forward to a state of conviction. A sense of guilt, and an horror of misery, impressed on the conscience and affections, seem to be the lowest means for the production of this event. T'he convinced sinner feels and acknow. Jedges the connection between sin and death, between his present state and eternal destruction. Some drops of divine wrath le
feels dropping upon his soul, and the arrowg of the Almighty seem fastening within hiin. He perceives what he never viewed before, that without Christ be must perish forever. He feels, what was altogether incredible to bim in times of security, that if sovereign grace does not interpose, he must be lost forever; he confesses the propriety of his being sent to hell ; acknowledges divine justice, and that the only ground on which a hope can be suggested, is the mere mercy of God in Christ Jesus.
Can any person hesitatc, that a sinner seeing and feeling hiniFelf in such hopeless and forlorn circumstances, must be in the utmost anxiety, inquisitive for relief? His awful concern must naturally involve such things as the following.
First, A dissatisfaction with and a renunciation of all earthly enjoyments, while this eternal concern is in danger. The convinced soul sees very clearly he must perish forever, and that it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, and unless he can obtain an interest in Christ, to which he can have no claim, his eternal doom is irreversably settled. Persons who believe this to be their situation, is it possible for them to enjoy themselves or the world? The most prosperous earthly circumstances give no comfort to their hearts. They feel themselves perishing amidst all their wealth. However they may be sursounded with an abundance of the good things of this world, they afford no real enjoyment. These rather aggravate bis misery, that he must go away into torment from all the circles of happiness, and taste them no more. All those things which the car. nal and secure mind admire, their value vanishes in the view of the awakened soul, contemplating himself, just ready to be swal. lowed up of the wrath of God.
Secondly, The greatest thoughtfulness about their state and condition employ their minds. Their dangerous condition comBands their habitual attention. The concerns of the world, vibich formerly gave them the greatest pleasure, low yield irksomeness and painful uneasiness. This solemn thoughtfulness turns on such things as these ; his awful guilt and sinfulness; his daily exposure to the everlasting vengeance of heaven ; and tlie consideration whether there be any way of escape, or avoidence of the divine wrath. These are things which run out his thoughts into innumerable conjectures and imaginations. When they see sin in the glass of the law, and the deplorable condition in which they are, they are ready to spend themselves in contrivances to escape eternal punishment, and to embrace any measures of escaping the wrath impressed upon their minds.
Thirdly, This concern implies, an application to every mean subservient to their deliverance. This is the matter which engrosses their hearts. How they shall escape the wrath to come, is their great enquiry. Every thing that opens a glimmering of success, becomes an object of attention. From hence spring their prayers, cries, fastings, reading, hearing, reformations, resolutions of amendment, &c. Every thing they ever heard of, as practised for relief in their case, will be now eagerly applied. Every method that wears the aspect of assistance in their case, and throws any favorable appearances upon their condition, how. ever delusive, is grasped at with avidity. It is the nature of man, when sorely pressed with the apprehension of approaching evil, to fly at every floating straw of relief.
Fourthly, A diligent attention to the use of rational and scriptural imeans, is involved in the very nature of true convictions. A sinner, under proper concern, becomes in earnest about his salvation. Therefore, he sticks at nothing which in his opinion, is calculated to answer this end. A partially convinced sinner, is easily diverted and comforted. A few flimsy apologies can readily throw his mind back into its wonted security and tranquility. If strong difficulties arise, he bounces back, saying, “ There is a lion in the way; he shall be slain in the streets.” Or he has a multiplicity of business on hand, and cannot con