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sake but for the sake of example to his family and to others : such a man is regarded as an unconverted character, and the endeavour, on the part of the zealous, though mistaken, advocates of the popular faith, is to convince him that he is in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity; that the wrath of God is hanging over his head ; that he has merited the eternal vengeance of the Almighty, and is as much under the curse of God's broken law as the vilest criminal; that the purest actions of his life, when brought to the standard of God's holy law, are as offensive to divine justice as the blackest crimes. In order to arouse him into such a degree of anxiety as is thought requisite for producing the desired change, tracts are put into his hands, in which, in striking language, he is warned of the awful consequences awaiting his continuance in his unconverted state ; he is prevailed upon to go and hear some powerful preacher, whose vehement declarations, terrific denouncements, and dreadful descriptions of God's anger, interspersed with niisunderstood quotations froin scripture, begin to terrify him ; not having acquainted himself with the true doctrines of the Word concerning the Lord and the way of salvation, his fears are effectually wrought upon, and he feels alarıned for the safety of his soul; believes himself to be exposed to the sentence of condemnation, and trembles lest the stroke of vengeance should cut him off, and send him with bis sins unpardoned into the lake that burns with fire and brimstone. While he is the subject of these horrors, bis new religious friends regard him as a subject of divine grace, and consider his fears, which they call strong conviction of sin, as the commencement of his change from nature's darkness into God's marvellous light; and, if they are Calvanists, look upon his new feelings as the early evidences of his belonging to the favoured number of the elect. He is then exhorted to wait for the gift of faith, or at once to believe in what they call the doctrine of atonement. He is told that his salvation will be secure to him if he can but believe that God the Father has forgiven him his sins for the sake of his son's merits and sufferings ; he has only, as it is sometimes expressed, to go to the Father, carrying in the arms of his faith the merits and sufferings of his Son as his substitute ; and the Father is bound by his own proniise and oath to accept him, to impute to bim the merits or the sufferings of his Son, to reckon him as righteous, to view him as cleansed from all the guilt of sin, and, according to some, as being without spot or blemish, not because he has become so, but because his surety is so. When this faith, as it is called, is effected, then he rejoices in his supposed safety from hell and his imaginary title to heavenly bliss, exults in the thought of being adopted into the chosen family of God, and as having passed from death unto life as converted or regenerated.
But let us look a little further into the process that his mind has undergone, and, by endeavouring to ascertain wherein the state it has brought him into is better than his former condition, see if it be worthy to be regarded as the saving operation of the spirit of God or not.
He had thought of God as a merciful and beneficent Father, always ready to compassionate and forgive his weak and erring children, but now he has learnt to think of him as a partial and vindictive sovereign, who first terrifies them with the threatenings of his vengeance, and then extends his pardon to some of them only, on account of having already executed it upon their substitute. Little as he knew about God before his imagined conversion, surely his ignorance was preferable to the notions he now forms of the divine character. His thoughts may be more employed about God than before, but is not the God he now thinks of a being of his own imagination, instead of the God of the Bible ? Before his supposed conversion, a trinity of divine persons was a doctrine that he neither attempted to understand or to define. He thought of God as one, but how he could be three, he left others to enquire. Now he necessarily addresses himself to the Father as a distinct being from the Son, thinks of one as admitting him into favour for the sake of what the other has done, and also of a third divine being as communicating unto him the blessings of the others. He feels quite persuaded that there are three distinct beings, each of whom is God, and can think of them as such without much difficulty, but how these three can be one, is a mystery which he cannot at all look into, but only assents to, finding it to be altogether beyond his comprehension, because, in fact, it is in direct contradiction of his trinity. Thus his conversion has brought him away from an acknowledgment of one God, with something obscure in his mind about three persons, into the definite belief of three distinct divine beings, accompanied with some obscure and mysterious notion about the three being one God.
Again: in what way has his conversion improved his feelings of love to God. His emotions of gratitude may be more lively, in proportion to the excitement of his hopes and fears about his eternal safety; but these have too much of self in them to be properly regarded as affections of heavenly love, for gratitude is a
virtue that can exist where true love or charity could find no admission. In what respect does he better perform his duties tban before? His motives for doing so are not strengthened. He had expected to be judged according to his deeds, but he now expects to be tried by his faith. His own salvation he looks upon as secured, not by works, but by faith. It is merely the gratitude he feels for the pardon of his sins, which induces him to yield some return of obedience unto God. He regards his works as of no use at all, either to God, to himself, or to his neighbour, unless indeed (as is doubtless the case with many), he lives as though he did not believe his own doctrines; for he says, the best of them cannot be pleasing to the Lord, since their imperfection renders them worthy of his just indignation; and what can be their use to himself, if, as he believes, his salvation is secured without them, and his fitness for heaven is to be miraculously completed when he is called to quit the body, however deficient he may then be as to a state of sanctification. Of wbat use can his good works be to others, if, as he believes, omnipotence can at any time work its will, regardless of all laws and circumstances. His gratitude may, while its energy continues, lead him to a stricter performance of the duties which he has now learnt to regard as the peculiar duties of a Christian ; he may abstain also from such kind of amusements as have happened to be proscribed by the religious authorities of the day, and thus retain, to the satisfaction of himself and his friends, the supposed marks of his true conversion : but his conversion, surely, is not a change from nature's darkness into spiritual light; it must rather be regarded as a removal from natural obscurity into gross darkness from the deficiency of natural goodness into the evils of spiritual selfishness. And what is the effect when this sort of conversion takes place with the vile and profligate, the sensual and covetous? They may exchange their outward irregularities for some more hidden indulgences, but as to the selfishness or worldly-mindedness of their hearts, this can remain with them throughout the whole of such a change as is popularly regarded as conversion. How often are individuals to be found whose general conduct, in the domestic circle and in their business with the world, evinces the gross sensuality of their affections, the pride, covetousness, and self-love of their hearts, who, nevertheless, are regarded as having been the subjects of this change; who can relate, and truly so too (for I am not speaking now of designing hypocrites), the awful terrors they have experienced under their conviction of sin, the happiness and delight
with which they received in their souls the fancied tokens of forgiveness ; can speak of enduring, sometimes, what seems to them the hidings of God's countenance, and at other times receiving his smiles, and hearing him whisper peace to their troubled consciences. Is it not proverbial among the class of Christians who profess these views of conversion, that to meet with real kindness, and just and upright dealing, we must go to men of the world, (meaning the rest of mankind,) and not to the professors of religion?
Do not these things prove that what is so generally regarded as conversion or regeneration, is not such in reality, but a delusion effected, probably, by the influence of enthusiastic spirits, who find in the selfishness of the human heart sufficient ground whereon to operate with their phantasies; and in the ignorance of the human understanding, opportunity for imposing their influence upon men as the power of the Holy Spirit. It will argue nothing against this conclusion to adduce the gratifying fact, that numbers, who are in the belief of these things, are really the subjects of a change from the love and practice of evil to the love and practice of sincere goodness and true righteousness; this only proves that whatever may be a man's doctrines of faith, in proportion as he seeks to become truly righteous, the mercy of the Lord is ever ready to enable him, by the influences of goodness from himself, to become so. Still it is impossible that their progress can be so facilitated, as if the doctrines of truth, instead of these fallacies, could find their way into their minds. And as for the changes which have been wrought in individuals who were previously in a state of gross immorality and wickedness, it is not improbable that such may, in some instances, have been arrested in their wild and evil course, by hearing some dreadful denouncement which has brought them to a stand, as it were, and frightened them into a consideration of their danger. What more natural than this? Men who live in the love and practice of wickedness are often very much the subjects of fear and cowardice, and when the reality of their danger is pressed upon their notice, may be wrought upon to forego many of those practices which they still cherish in their affectious.
The providence of the Lord is much to be admired in this, that when the love of evil so much prevails, that men are not to be restrained from the commission of the grossest deeds, and consequent injury to each other, but by operating upon their fears, he then permits them to make use of their fallacious reasonings, and misapprehensions of sacred truth, to terrify one another into some kind of regard to morality and religion, that so society may be held together, and a degree of preparation effected for advancing towards a state of true morality and religion.
But let us not, my Christian friends, be content with such low motives for our conduct, as those of fear and dread ; let it be rather our endeavour to rise into the principles of true spiritual life, that the love of pure goodness and truth may be the inmost affection of our life, moving us to every action of our external conduct. To reach a state like this, is truly to be regenerated or born again : for as the Lord is himself pure love and wisdom, his desire is that his creature, man, should become righteous from the love of goodness within his heart, and not that he should continue to yield an external obedience from a principle of slavish fear within.
But as man is born into the world in the evils of self-love and the love of the world, so much so that the very principles of his life are essentially evil, it is necessary, in order to his reaching a state of love to God and his neighbour, that he pass through the process of regeneration. To enable him to do this, the Lord has provided whatever is needful for its accomplishment, and is continually supplying him with every necessary aid. It is but for man to turn himself, in his wishes, thoughts, and endeavours, towards the Lord, and the divine influence is ready to flow into his heart and mind, according to their condition, to enable him to proceed in the way of life. Accordingly, in the Holy Word, it is written, “Turn unto me,—why will ye die, O house of Israel,Look unto me, saith the Lord, and be ye saved, for I am God, and there is none else.—Let the wicked forsake his way, and I will have mercy on him.-Ask, and ye shall have ; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. Behold I stand at the door and knock : if any man open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” No one in this life can say that he has not power to turn himself towards the Lord, for the Lord giveth this power to all men liberally, and upbraideth not. He giveth power to the faint; and to him that hath no might, he increaseth strength.
Yes, my friends, in all the dispensations of God to man, through all the conditions into which he had fallen, it has ever been the grand object of the divine mercy to preserve to him the possibility of returning to his God, to supply him with the divine influences, in a degree adapted to the peculiarities of his state, in