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* which worketh all in all.” (1) Through the blessing of God upon early instruction, the seeds of grace have been sown in the hearts of many during infancy. God ordains 6 strength out of the mouths of babes and “ sucklings,” (m) and enables them to give evidence at six or seven years of age that their hearts are principally fixed on “ Christ and things divine.” These, of course, cannot assign the period of their conversion. Others again, and perhaps the greater number of those who have had the benefit of a religious education, are led on by the suasive influence of Divine grace through such insensible gradations that they are unable to specify any remarkable circumstances attending their conversion, or to point out the particular time when it occurred. But others, and especially those who have passed their lives without any internal religion, or those who have allowed themselves in the course and habit of some particular sin, who must undergo in maturity a complete revolution of principle, or a total change of conduct, are commonly roused by some alarming or some afflictive dispensation of Providence, to “ flee 66 from the wrath to come,” and eagerly inquire “ what " they must do to be saved ?” (n) To such persons, says Dr. Paley, “ Conversion is too momentous an “ event ever to be forgot. A man might as easily for“ get his escape from a shipwreck.” And though, says good Bishop Taylor, “ after the manner of this life as our recollection is imperfect, yet the greatest changes “ of our state of grace or sin are always present, like “í capital letters to an aged and dim eye.” “ It may : (1) 1 Cor. xii. 6. (m) Ps. viii. 2. (n) Acts, xvi. 30.
“ not be necessary (says Paley again) for a man to “ speak of his conversion, but he will always think of “ it with unbounded thankfulness to the Giver of all “ grace, the Author of all mercies, spiritual as well as “ temporal." (0)
3dly. Is this important change ever sudden?
Most, if not all, of the instances of conversion recorded in the New Testament were sudden. This operation of God on the souls of men was then frequently instantaneous, and they were transformed from unbelievers to believers at once : “ the Spirit fell on 45 them while they heard the word:” (p) and in consequence of this miraculous effusion, they who had just before professed Judaism or Polytheism, and neither knew nor loved Jesus Christ, at once confessed his name and felt the power of his religion. But many moderns contend that sudden conversions, such as those to which we now advert, were confined to the apostolic times; as if the common operations of the Spirit were not sufficient to produce any rapid change. Yet I conceive it requires but slight reflection, to see that this their opinion comports neither with the declarations of Scripture, nor with the usual phenomena of intellect or rules of action. Does not “ God work in us both “ to will and to do” now as well as in the primitive times? Cannot the eyes of our understanding be as effectually and as speedily “enlightened by the Spirit “ of wisdom” now as then ? Was the promise of
(0) Paley's Posthumous Sermons, pp. 123, 124. Taylor's Holy Living, ch. i. $ 3.
(p) Acts, X. 44.
66 bestowing a new Spirit, and taking away the stony “ heart,” confined to the early ages; or is God's arm “ shortened,” or weakened, that he cannot reach and at once turn our spirits now, as he has done with others before us ? And, with regard to operations upon the mind, do men yield to them while the impressions are strong, or do they wait till they become weaker, and then give way? When a man is thoroughly persuaded that the course in which he is persevering is imminently dangerous, does he not immediately quit it? When he is convinced that the road in which he travels is conducting him from the place he wishes to reach, and is besides infested with robbers or beset with difficulties, does he not immediately come to a stand ? And if a path be pointed out which is both direct and safe, will he not with cheerfulness and alacrity pursue his journey in that newly-discovered path, and press forward to regain the time lost in the wrong road? Apply this reasoning to religion, and you will perceive that conversion not only may be, but in many cases is necessarily, sudden.
“ Some men (says Tillotson), by an extraordinary “power of God's grace upon their hearts, are suddenly “ changed, and strangely reclaimed from a very “ wicked and vicious, to a very religious and virtuous, « course of life ; and that which others attain by “ slower degrees, and great conflicts with themselves, 66 before they can gain the upper hand of their lusts, “ these arrive at, 'all of a sudden,' by a mighty revolu66 tion wrought in them by the power of God's grace,
“ and, as it were, by a new bias and inclination put “ upon their souls.” (9)
The inclination to deny this seems to have arisen from the confounding of two very distinct things, regeneration and sanctification. The former of these is the commencement of spiritual life, the other is spiritual or religious growth : the former is “ a passing from “ death unto life,” the latter a “changing from glory “ to glory ;” and both “ by the Spirit of the living “ God.” If this distinction were duly attended to, I think the question would be set at rest.
4thly. May a person always know when he is in a converted state ?
Probably not: but he may always with perfect ease (9) Tillotson's Works, vol. ii. p. 341, fol. ed. While the fourth edition of these Letters was going through the press, I met with the fol. lowing in Richard Baxter's Directions for Spiritual Peace.
“ When you are weighing things in the balance, you may add grain to “ grain, and it makes no turning or motion at all, till you come to the “ very last grain ; and then suddenly that end which was downward is “ turned upward. When you stand at a loss between two highways, 6 not knowing which way to go, as long as you are deliberate, you stand “ still; all the reasons that come into your mind do not stir you; but “ the last reason which resolves you, setteth you in motion. So is it in “ the change of a sinner's heart and life. He is not changed (but pre6 paring towards it) while he is but deliberating, whether he should o choose Christ or the world ? But the last reason that cometh in and “ determineth his will to Christ, and makes him resolve and enter a firm “ covenant with Christ, and say, I will have Christ for better or worse, 6 this maketh the greatest change that ever is made by any work in this 6 world.” “For how can there be greater than the turning of a soul from
the creature to the Creator ? So distant are the terms of this change. “ After this one turning act Christ hath that heart, and the main bent 66 and endeavours of the life, which the world had before. The man hath “ a new end, a new rule, a new guide, a new master.”
ascertain the contrary. If he cherish worldly-mindedness or an unholy disposition, if he allow himself in the practice of any known sin, if he habitually neglect public worship or private communion with God, if allusions to conversion by others either excite his ridicule or provoke his wrath, he need no more waste time to inquire whether his religious state be safe, than to ask whether heavy bodies fall downwards when left to themselves, whether opium is soporific, or ardent spirits productive of intoxication. On the other hand, if, as Paley remarks, 6 he allow himself in no sin what66 ever, but, cost what it may, contends against and “ combats all sin :" if he sedulously cultivate a holy disposition, and “grow in grace, in the knowledge 66 and love of Jesus Christ,” and in the steady practice of all the relative duties, he may hope that his spiritual life is commenced. Still, as we live in times of much religious delusion and infatuation, let him not be satisfied, let him cherish nothing like assurance, unless he uniformly feel tenderness of conscience, and a desire to increase his religious attainments. Let him then “ examine himself whether he be in the faith.” Let him seriously endeavour to ascertaim whether he has “ eternal life wrought in his heart;" whether he has ever felt a penitent sense and hatred of sin, a sincere and anxious desire to be delivered from it, an ardent love of the Saviour and his salvation, an unreserved determination to obey his commands from the heart; whether he finds any satisfaction of soul in drawing near to God through a Mediator ; whether he has an increasing love to God; whether he has a rooted aver