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to undergo the same alterations. This injunction, like all the other precepts of religion, is to be understood with a reference to the particular character and circumstances of the persons immediately addressed.
The condition, attainments, views, and morals of men, are extremely various. The change of character which took place when a Pagan or a Jew was converted to Christianity, must have been different from any which can be experienced by one educated under the light of Christianity, made acquainted with the holy scriptures from his youth, and trained to an habitual attendance on the institutions of Christian worship. The Heathen in embracing Christianity must alter entirely his sentiments of the Deity. In the place of many, he must acknowledge only one God. Instead of his confi. dence in idols of wood and stone, made to assume any shape which his wild imagination might suggest, he was called to the belief of one indivisible and universal spirit, in no respect an object of sense, and who dwelt in light which was inaccessible. Instead of the superstitious, cruel, licentious, or unmeaning rites, with which he was accustomed to honour or appease the objects of his idolatry, he was to learn to worship God in spirit, and to serve him in the beauty of holiness. His moral sentiments must pass through a revolution hardly less considerable than his religious opinions; and in the disclosures which Christianity made to him concerning a resurrection and a consequent state of immortality and moral retribution, a world and a condition of being, of which, before, he had scarcely entertained a thought, much less possessed a serious expectation, was presented to his faith and hopes. The Pagan, in fine, was called to renounce a religion of endless superstition, mystery, and magnificence, in whose rites he had been trained from his childhood, and to adopt one altogether new to him, a religion of perfect simplicity and of the most unostentatious character; which openly condemned the folly and criminality of his former worship; which peremptorily commanded him to come out from among those with whom he was associated, and forever to be separated from them; and which was as different from the religions of his country, as light from dark
The Jew, in embracing Christianity, was called to an alteration of sentiments, manners, profession, and conduct, but little less than that which we have now described. It was for him in future to think of God, not as exclusively the patron and friend of his own nation, but as no respecter of persons, and the common father and the equal friend of all mankind.
was no longer to regard the temple at Jerusalem, the object of his earliest and deepest veneration, the central point of some of his strongest associations, as the only place from whence an acceptable offering could be presented to the God of his fathers, but to learn that the ear of God was always open to the prayers of his children, and that he was accessible to all, at all times, in all places, and under any circumstances. He was to learn that the magnificent and imposing ritual of his religion was to be superseded, and in place of splendid and costly sacrifices, and whole burnt-offerings, the Deity required above all things the tribute of a spiritual worship, of pure and kind affections, and of virtuous and pious lives. His sentiments concerning the Messiah, the long desired and expected blessing of the Jewish nation, must be wholly altered. In place of those magnificent anticipations in which he had been educated, and which he so fondly indulged respecting the reign of the Messiah on earth, the advent of a temporal prince and conqueror, and the future glories and felicities of his nation, his pride must be humbled to the reception of a despised Nazarene, reputed an outcast by the world, and condemned and put to the ignominious death of the cross; whose kingdom was in no respect of this world; whose cause displayed no ensigns of power, was marked with no brilliancy of display, held out no rewards of rank, or honour, or wealth, to avarice and ambition, promised no future conquests, and proffered in this life to its faithful adherents only ignominy, persecution, and death. He was to renounce those deep-rooted prejudices in favour of his own nation and countrymen, which led him to regard the rest of mankind with contempt and hatred, and to receive the Gentiles as brethren of the same community and family as himself. He was to adopt a new rule of life; and so far from considering his duty as comprised in a round of mere ritual observances, he was to receive a law which extended to the heart as well as the conduct, which took cognizance of the thoughts and affections equally as of the manners and actions, and which required that his righteousness should far exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Phari sees, whom he had been accustomed to reverence as models of extraordinary virtue and piety. Such as we have described, were, in some degree, the nature of those changes which were implied in conversion to the Pagans and the Jews. Of men, in whose habits of sentiment and conduct such revolutions took place, it might very well be said, that they were born again; that they became new creatures; that they were translated out of darkness into God's marvellous light.
But is it not apparent, that such alterations are not expected, indeed cannot take place, with those persons, who have always enjoyed the benefits of Christian instructions, who have been trained to the rules of life which the gospel inculcates, and have been the regular attendants on the institutions of christian worship? Nor even to persons, who are thus situated, does conversion always imply the same thing. All men are not involved in the same ignorance; all have not the same defects; all do not labour under the same errors; all are not habituated to the same sins. In some minds there are scarcely the elements of religious knowledge; in others, who are yet without God and without hope in the world, there are lucid and enlarg ed views of nature and of christianity. In some sensuality triumphs over the whole soul and pollutes it with its grossness: they are men, whose God is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame. In others, avarice enslaves the heart. Over some, ambition rules with despotic sway. The sin, which most easily besets some men, is drunkenness; in others, it is fraud; in others, cruelty. The characters of men are as various as possible. While some are wretched, sold under sin, in the gall of bitterness and bond of iniquity,' of others we have reason to hope that they are almost persuaded to become christians' that they are not far from the kingdom of God,' or that having kept all the commandments from their youth up,' they lack but one thing,' and are objects of the love of Jesus and of the Father. In short, repentance and conversion require, that you repent of and that you forsake wrong sentiments which you hold, and sins of which you are guilty. They do not require you to renounce errors which you do not hold, to quit sins with which you are not chargeable. You are to judge of the command by what you know of yourself. You are to call in the aid of an enlightened and awakened and faithful conscience to apply the injunction. You are to learn what you have to do, by seriously and strictly considering what is possible to be done. The field is given you to clear and cultivate. Inquire into its state and condition; into the uses to which it may be best applied, and the labour which it most requires. Build up the hedges which are thrown down; turn up the waste places; pluck up by the roots, and utterly exterminate the noxious and poisonous weeds. There may be among them valuable plants which you must protect and cherish; trees, which, if you will dig about them and manure them, will bring forth fruit; the deep places must be filled, the rough places made smooth. While you thus prepare it for the word of God, and receive the good seed, which
is cast upon it, do not doubt that the Great Husbandman, without whose aid and blessing Paul may plant and Apollos water in vain, will dispense his rain and sunshine in due proportions, that it may spring up and bring forth fruit unto everlasting life. Though before, its hedges were broken down, the boar out of the wood did waste it, and the wild beast of the field did devour it, though it was burnt with fire and was cut down, yet it becomes the vineyard which God's right hand hath planted, and the branch that he has made strong for himself. He prepares for it room, he causes it to take deep root, and it fills the land.
4. We add, that the business of conversion may proceed in different ways, and occur under different circumstances. This must necessarily be the case in regard to individuals, whose views, habits, sentiments, and condition are various. It may take place when persons have advanced but just within the confines of guilt, or not until they have proceeded to the excess of depravity. After having passed the boundaries of duty, and while, as yet, the conscience is not benumbed, it may rise upon us in all its strength, and utter its admonitions so loudly, and pierce our hearts so deeply, and disclose to us in such vivid colours our guilt and danger, that we suddenly fly from the polluted grounds, and with trembling steps regain the path of duty and safety from which we had wandered. Or we may, with a deplorable infatuation, venture at once so far that the obstacles in the way of our return appear insuperable. Having often neglected and silenced our conscience, it 1 ceases to importune or admonish us. Our passions bear impetuous sway. The blind leading the blind, we proceed to the farthest limits of guilt and presumption; and not until we have drunk the cup of sin to the dregs, and feel the desolation and misery in which we have involved ourselves, while the retrospect inspires regret and agony, and the prospect throws up, in distant succession, only the cloudy forms of wretchedness and despair, it is not indeed until some dark hour like this arrives, that we drink in the last ray of hope; and, collecting the few remnants of resolution that are left us, and the scattered powers which remain as monuments of what we once were, we conceive the noble purpose to turn and live. Aided by Him, who is ready to help the weak-hearted, we' free ourselves from the shackles of vice, and become the friends of virtue and the servants of God.
Our conversion may be sudden, or gradual. A resolution of amendment may be suddenly conceived, and firmly maintained; or it may be the result of long and mature reflection. New Series-vol. 1. 46
We may break off our criminal indulgences at once and entirely, or we may advance gradually to the work. by lopping off one after another the offending members. The resolution to attempt the work may rise up in our minds, we know not how; under a concurrence of circumstances, the connexion of which we cannot distinctly trace; or it may be inspired by some remarkable event, by some affecting dispensation of Providence towards ourselves or others. But although the resolution may be suddenly taken and maintained, and the work of conversion not only begun but pursued, we must not, in any case, regard it as at once effected. Criminal desires will move and struggle long after we think that we have destroyed them; like the serpent, that ancient and most apt emblem of vice, whose tail can strike a deadly blow, and his fang inflict the fatal wound, even after the head has been separated from the trunk. The disease may remain in the blood. The appetites and passions, accustomed to flow in one direction, will, with difficulty, be turned and kept in a different channel. The well-known call of temptation will often waken them into life and action, while you imagine that they are sleeping the sleep of death. The descent to vice is easy; it is only floating with the stream, and spreading the sails to the breeze, and allowing the bark to drive where the winds and waves may carry her; but to return is like struggling against wind and tide, where, encountering some whirlpool, the vessel is wrested from your control, or falling within some unexpected current, you are hurried back with impetuous velocity, and night shuts in upon you, weary, exhausted, and disheartened, while the objects around report no progress. The best man's virtue is never secure. Let him, who thinks he stands, take beed lest he fall. The rewards of virtue are not to be purchased without toil and conflict. The character cannot be rescued from vice, and formed to the standard of the gospel, without study and labour, prayer and vigilance, and that divine aid which we have ground to hope for in the faithful use of the means of holiness with which God favours us.
The change may be apparent, or in some degree concealed. It may proceed in so open a manner, that you can date its commencement, and trace its course; or in so noiseless and gradual a progress, that its different stages may not be easily distinguished; like a voyage by night, you find yourself at your destined port without being conscious of a change of place. Sometimes you can recollect, when, after a long silence, conscience spake in an audible language to your soul; conviction flashed upon your mind a piercing and inextinguishable light, and, coming suddenly to yourself, you set out at once on the