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ON SUDDEN CONVERSIONS.
[Concluded from p. 139.] While we maintain that such sudden, such powerful, and • striking conversions, are neither unreasonable nor unscriptural,
we universally admit that the proof of their reality depends on the future behaviour in which those principles on which the first effect depends, expand, operate, and produce that conduct which we call the full-formed character of the Christian convert. Where such effects are not produced, we certainly cease to consider it a conversion; and are sufficiently acquainted with the philosophy of the human inind, to know the causes to which such transient impressions may be ascribed. I think that our inestimable Whitefield, in his earlier days especially, was far too hasty and peremptory in deciding on conversions. With a guileless heart and little experience of mankind, he could hardly conceive it possible that any but a real convert should feel so strongly as many really felt under his preaching; and so readily adopt, as many professed to adopt, his evangelical views of divine trath ; and even in Iris more advanced age, when, by a maturity of understanding, and a extent of observation and experience, he gained inore wisdom, still he was not quite dispassionate enough to inake the calm and sober decision. To his ardent passions we are indebted, under God, for his uncommon labours and success ; lrut that very torrent of passion to which his eminent usefulness was owing, was unfavourabe to that discrimination which is most acute where passion is to be associated with, and controuled by a strong, preponderating judgment.
Bat, my good friend, is it not fair to ask, whether the accounts of death-bed repentance, which have been so liberally and incautiously presented to the public, have not led such men to form their views of what they term sadden conversions ? On reading in our popular works the obituaries of those who are said to have been converted in their last days, I have asked, 'Supposing sueh conversions real, what good can their public cation do? I deny, however, that you can have full proof that such repentances are sincere. We have seen, in our experiAnce, persons as apparently converted as any there recorded, who have, upon recovery, lost all traces of seriousness. And what proof can you have that the repentance of those who die is not equally unsound? In many eases, I grant, the evidence may rise high; it may afford us all the hope that such a cir
cunstance is eapable of affording; but it fails, in all cases, far > below that proof which a course of uniform holiness, under less
suspicious circumstances, would give; and why we should obtrude on the public, as unquestionable verities, accounts of. Conversions which are liable to such serious doubts, I know
not. It is, I suppose, to magnify the grace of God. I think its natural tendency is, to make our enemies despise us as presumptuous, in determining without the means of forining a judgment; - and to encourage men in health to put off to a dying moment the vast concerns of an eternal world.
Should any adduce the dying malefactor in proof of the propricty of publishing these reports, I beg leave to say that this case is not to the purpose. We have, first, no proof that the general or previous character of the malefactor was bad. It has been supposed, with no great share of improbability, that he was crucified for some conspiracy or rebellion against the Roman governinent, which the most conscientious Jews did not consider unlawful in the sight of God; and his acknowledgement of suffering justly, is capable of a fair interpretation in this view of his character ; but admitting that he was previously a very bad man, there were some striking peculiarities in his case, which cannot take place now: and tirere is this especially, that of his conversion there was no doubt, there could be none; and, unless we have equal certainty of the fact, and there be equal cause for its publication, the instance of the dying malefactor will avail us little.
The munner in which some of these sudden and late conversions are stated, is dreadfully exceptionable. One would imagine, that in visiting a condemned malefactor, whose whole life has been marked with crimes of the deepest die, the only. object was to make hiin contented and happy. I should feel inuch more satisfied in reading that such a man died under deep impressions of guilt, and with trembling anxiety for his eternal happiness, than that he went to the gallows with all the triumph of a martyr ; and at the place of execution sung louder than all others, From thee, my God, my joys shall rise, &c. An eminent minister of Edinburgh, once of Sa, informed me some years ago, that a man, imprisoned at SCastle, was under sentence of death. He and others visited him, and were delighted with the extraordinary, and, as it appeared to them, unquestionable marks of a saving change. The night before the expected execution he spent in prayer, praise, and exhortation. ' He seemed fully prepared to say in sight of the gallows, 'I am happy! I am going to die!' The next morn-ing a pardon arrived. He was soon discharged. The night after his discharge he spent in rioting and drunkenness; and in about twelve inonths' he was again tried, convicted, condemned, and executed. Why don't we learn prudence and modesty from such lessons as these? My two gr ai objections, then, to such publications, are, That we decide with certainty where it is impossible to ascertain the fact; and that, admitting the fact, the circulation may do much barm, and can do but little, it'any good.
The extraragances which have attended somo real or sup
posed conversions, may have produced on many minds impres. sions utterly unfavourable to the idea of sudden conversions, It is not of great importance to enquire minutely into the causes of these extravagances; it is sufficient to remark, that they have uniformly happened among the weak and illiterate; and have generally been encouraged by none but preachers of mean attainments, and still meaner understandings. I am far from wishing to impeach their principles, or call in question their integrity; but am certainly obliged to discharge their hearts, by ascribing it to a cause which pride will last of all acknowledge, the imbecility of a weak, or the uncontrolled fervours of a vigorous understanding. They have, in England at least, had existence, with a few, very few exceptions, among one class of Christians only: a class, I acknowledge, to which real Christianity is unspeakably indebted; and on whose labours and success I never look without equal wonder and gram titude. Such extravagances have certainly been fashionable in that society, though many of their most judicious preachers have opposed them. Mr. W-y, whom no man will charge with a weak understanding, seems to have favoured them. With all his acuteness, he possessed no small share of enthusiasm ; and this may account for his tolerating and even admiring such irregularities. It was the weakness of a great and good man: 'and no one, after reading his Juvenile Letters (unhandsomely published by Dr. Smith, and his Journals, in more advanced life) can doubt that he had a weak as well as a strong side.
These extravagances are unhappily published, under the implied or avowed sanction of some leading persons in our different connections. Some aspiring curate accidentally runs his eye over our pages, and it is struck with this account. His memory, sufficiently strong to retain its leading features, is not sufficiently retentive of particulars to prevent his adding seve ral aggravating circumstances, which, though not strictly true, give more point and force to the description. It soon reaches his Lordship's ears; and as it serves, in its improved form, as a ground of'eloquent harsangue, of bitter incentive, or of Episcopal caution and advice, 'tis eagerly caught, blazoned, and, if possible, aggravated. Though all this is infinitely unjust, yet who can cease to regret that any practices should be tolerated which can, by the uppearance of legitimate construction, afford the slightest foundation for charges which, I grant you display, after all, a mixture of malignity and ignorance; of which, in common things, a man of ordinary candour and information would be ashamed.
It would be unfair in us not to acknowledge that many things existing among the more serious professors of religion, have had their share in generating improper notions in some minds on this subject. But what shall be said to the crude
opinions and illiberal reflections of men who mingle in one mass all that are attached to evangelical doctrines, and preach them with an earnestness which a sense of their infinite ime portance produces ? His Lordship must be ill-informed indeed, not to have known that thousands, equal to any men in sobriety of mind, in ardent piety, in strength of reasoning powers, and in extent of learning, have steadily maintained and acutely delended those sentiments which he and his companions seem to consider the exclusive and unenviable possession of the fanatical, the hypocritical, the weak, the ignorant of mankind. Both you and I have the happiness of intimately knowing, among these supposed enthusiasts, men who equal in eloquence, in chaste genuine eloquence, the most eloquent in the senate or at the bar; and who certainly would deem it no honour to put forth any thing, as a merely literary production, in such a guise,' as that charge on which you have requested my remarks. I am well aware that numbers, and even majorities, of good and great men, cannot change the nature of things :
;-no talents, no piety, can convert nonsense into sense, or error into truth. But it is a pride, as contemptible as it is unjust, to mount an Episcopal throne, or join a particular party, and then claim an exclusive title to learning, solidity of mind, and even Christianity itself!
I remain your obedient servant, F. D.
CONSOLATION TO THE SAINTS
AGAINST THE FEAR OF DEATH. DEATH is a change to which all men must submit; and there are few, in whatever manner they live, but wish to close their days in comfort and peace. Even the wicked and profane have been heard to use the prayer of the prophet,
Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his. When nature begins to fail, and this clay-tabernacle is loosening to decay, — when the ordinary streams of earthly comfort are dried up, who does not then wish to be furnished with such resources of comfort as shall fortify the soul against the terrors of the change, and enable it to fix its hope with confidence on the objects beyond it! Though life may have passed most delightfully away, - though men may have been much intoxicated with its pleasures, these cannot lessen the gloom of death, nor convey any comfort to the mind in the prospect of it. On the contrary, the joy of such men, on the approach of death, is turned into wormword and gall; and they envy the Christian those delightful hopes with which he so calmly meets the hour of bis departure.
As death is usually an object of terror, it is certainly of importance to enquire by what means these terrors are lessened or removed. We have heard of many braving death in the • field of battle, in the face of determined and formidable enemies; and of others, under their adversities, longing for death, and desiring a release from this world of misery : My soul is weary of my life, I loath it, I would not live always: - but to something else than natural courage, foolhardiness of character, or impatience of suffering, we must look for those resources of comfort which preserve the souls of the saints peaceful and unmoved on the approach of their change. It is in religion alone, and through faith in God, that those consolations arise, which are sufficient to do away all the fears which usually haunt the mind on the confines of the grave. “ Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee, because he trusteth in thee.”
The saints are furnished with resources of comfort, in the character of him whose presence they hope to enjoy when they come to die. It is not the presence of every one that will minister comfort to those who are in trouble; and as persons are not indifferent who they have with them in the time of their distress, far less are they indifferent who they have with them when they come to die: - but, alas! the passage through the valley of the shadow of death' is so Lonesome, that none of their friends can accompany them in it, nor give them any relief against those fears which usually overtake men when they enter in it. To God only they can look with confidence, that he will support them in the hour of their dissolution; and from his gracious character, which, in a thousand instances, they have proved to their comfort, they entertain the hope of his presence with them in that time of need. He who has been kind, exceeding abundantly above all that they could ask or think, in cases far less distressing than they apprehend dying will prove to them, will not forsake them. "When I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
A friend who is distinguished for compassion, is a charactep well adapted to the circumstances of the disconsolate and fearful. Such is the character which God sustains; he is full
, of compassion and tender mercy, and as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him.'' He considers their frame, he remembers they are dust, --- he knows their feeble nature is ill able to sustain the shock which its dissolution, or the immediate prospect of it, must give them; and he is ready to afford them the confort which such an efflicting event necessarily requires. From what he is, and from what they have experienced, they have every reason to expect the presence at that season when they are moss