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“ and who shall be able to stand ? ” (f) while the meek and humble and upright followers of Jesus, rejoicing that at length “ they are indeed becoming like “ him, for they see him as he is,” will exclaim in grateful triumph, “ Lo, this is our GOD; we have 6 waited for him, and he will save us : this is Tile “ LORD, we have waited for him ; we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation !” (8)
(f) Rev. vi. 16, 17. (g) 1 John iii. 2. Is. xxv. 9.
On the Nature of Conversion, and its Necessity.
The subject which I have selected for discussion in the present letter is one of the highest moment, and yet, unfortunately, is one, respecting which the greatest and most lamentable mistakes have prevailed. Some have imagined that religious conversion, or regeneration, is effected by baptism, so that whoever is baptized is, of necessity, regenerated. This, however, is neither consistent with Scripture nor with fact, except in those very rare instances in which the “bap“ tism with water,” and that “ with the Holy Spirit," occur at the same moment. Gibbon and Hume were baptized in their infancy, but lived and died infidels : Simon Magus was baptized, but certainly not regenerated, for he was subsequently declared by an apostle to be “in the gall of bitterness and bonds of ini« quity :” and you and I have known some who, though they were baptized when adults, on a profession of faith, afterwards relapsed into an open denial of the truth, and a daily neglect of the duties, of Christianity: from which it is evident, that baptism and regeneration are not necessarily connected. Others have considered repentance to be regeneration ; but
neither is this correct. True repentance often termi· nates in regeneration, and, indeed, is commonly connected with it; but it is not the thing itself.' Others, again, regard reformation and regeneration as synonymous; but this notion is as incorrect as either of the former. Regeneration may accompany baptism, repentance, or reformation ; but it is more than either of them. Saul became “ another man,” without becoming a new man: Ahab “ humbled himself,” yet became not truly humble: many repent of some great iniquity, but relapse again into evil courses: and some reform their conduct, because the state of their health, or perhaps the monitions of conscience, lead them so to reform; though they still remain ignorant of “ the " one thing needful,” and have hearts as unimpressed as the “ unwedgeable and gnarled oak.”
To guard you against these and other erroneous views of conversion, to which your attention may sometimes be called, I shall endeavour to describe it concisely as it is pourtrayed in Scripture, our only unerring guide with respect to this and every other Christian doctrine.
And here you cannot fail to remark, for it must be evident to every impartial reader of the word of God, that the mutation, which we are now to contemplate, can neither be slight, nor transient, nor, in general, slow. In the principal texts, where it is delineated, it seems either named or characterised in reference to one or other of two modes or circumstances of change, both of which are important and usually rapid, compared with the corresponding duration of existence: these are conversion and regeneration ; the one indicating frequently a turning from one thing towards another,
and in theology, according to Dr. Johnson's definition,
a change from a state of reprobation to a state of “ grace ; ” and the other, a new, creation, or a new birth; or, according to the same lexicographer, “birth 6 by grace to a Christian life.” The selection and classification of a very few texts will show that the two general terms I have just mentioned, are not artificially forced into the technology of theologians, but are those which most naturally convey the idea of the change they are chosen to describe.
The prophet Jeremiah had manifestly something more in view than a mere nominal passage from one religion to another, when he fancied Ephraim, after bemoaning himself, to pray—“ Turn thou me, and I “« shall be turned; for thou art the Lord my God.” (h) And again, in his faithful exhortation to the Jews “ Turn ye again now every one from his evil way, 6 and from the evil of your doings.” (i) More expressive still is the language of Joel—“ Rend your hearts, “ and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord 6 your God, for he is gracious and merciful.” (k)
The language of our Lord to his disciples was, “ Except ye be converted, and become as little chil“ dren, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” “ He that heareth my word, and believeth on him “ that sent me, hath passed from death unto life.” (1)
The apostles speak of this change as equally momentous: their divine Master taught them to preach
(h) Jer. xxxi. 18. See also Lam. v. 21.
(k) Joel, ii. 13.
to the Gentiles, that they might “turn them from “ darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto " God, that they might receive forgiveness of sins by “ faith.” How great must be the transformation from the darkness of ignorance and vice to the light of knowledge and holiness; how delightful the emancipation from the thraldom of the devil to be placed under the merciful government of God! They therefore acted under the persuasion that “if any one erred from the “ truth, and one converted him, that he, which con“ verted the sinner from the error of his way, saved a “soul from death :” and considered this conversion as “ a deliverance from the power of darkness, and a “ translation into the kingdom of God's dear Son." (m)
Among the numerous texts which evince this great change to be no less than an entire renovation of character, the following deserve notice. “ Create in me a ” clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit “ within me.”(n) “ I will put a new spirit within them; 16 and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, " and give them a heart of flesh; that they may walk " in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do “ them." (0) “ Unless a man be born again, he can“ not see the kingdom of God.” (p) “ Born, not of ” blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of “ man, but of God." (9) Though they are “ dead," they shall “ hear the voice of the Son of God, and " they that hear shall live." () " In Jesus Christ
(m) Acts, xxvi. 18. Jam. v. 19. Col. i. 13. (n) Ps. li. 10. (0) Ezek. xi. 19, 20. .
(p) John, iii. 3. (9) John, i. 13.
(r) John, v, 25.