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ON THE DELAY OF CONVERSION.
ISAIAH lv. 6.
Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him
while he is near.
HAT is a singular oath, which is recorded in the tenth chapter of the Revelation. St. John saw an angel; an angel clothed with a cloud; a rainbow encircled his head, his countenance was as the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire. He stood on the earth and
He sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, that there should be time no longer. By this oath, if we may credit some critics, the angel ana nounces to the Jews, that their measure was full, that their days of visitation were expired, and that God was about to complete, by abandoning them to the licentious armies of the Emperor Adrian, the vengeance he had already begun by Titus and Ves. pasian.
We will not dispute this particular notion, but consider the oath in a more extended view. This angel stands upon the earth and on the sea; he speaks to all the inhabitants of the world; he lifts his voice, my brethren, and teaches a most awful, but most
important truth of religion and morality, that the mercy of God, so infinitely diversified, has, howe. ver, its restrictions and bounds. It is infinite, for it embraces all mankind. It makes no distinction between the Jew and the Greek, the Barbarian and the Scythian. It pardons insults the most notorious, crimes the most provoking ; and, extricating the sinner from the abyss of misery, opens to him the way to supreme felicity. But it is limited. When the sinner becomes obstinate, when he long resists, when he defers conversion, God shuts up the bowels of his compassion, and rejects the prayer of those who are hardened against his voice.
From this awful principle, Isaiah deduces the doctrine which constitutes the subject of our text. Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, and call ye upon him while he is near. Dispensing with minuteness of method, we shall not stop to define the terms, Seek ye the Lord, and call ye upon him. Whatever, mistakes we may be liable to make on this head, and however disposed we may be to confound the appearance of conversion with conversion itself, this, it must be acknowledged, is not the most destructive. We propose to-day to investigate the true cause, to sound the depths of our depravity, to dissipate, if possible, the illusive charm which destroys so many of the Christian world, and of which satan so successfully avails himself for their seduction, This delusion, this charm, I appeal to your consciences, consists of I know not what, confused ideas we have formed of the divine mercy, fluctuating purposes of conversion on the brink of futurity, and chimerical confidence of success whenever we shall enter on the work.
On the delay of conversion, we shall make a series of reflections, derived from three sources. From man; from the scriptures ; and from experience. We shall have recourse in order, to religion, histoty, and experience, to make us sensible of the dan
gerous consequences of deferring the work. In the first place, we shall endeavour to prove from our own constitution, that it is difficult, not to say impossible, to be converted after having wasted life in vice. We shall secondly demonstrate that Reve. lation perfectly accords with nature on this head; and that whatever the Bible has taught concerning the efficacy of grace, the supernatural aids of the Spirit, and the extent of mercy, favour in no respect the delay of conversion.... Thirdly, we shall endeavour to confirm the doctrines of reason and revelation, by daily observations on those who defer the change. These reflections would undoubtedly produce a better effect delivered at once than divided, and I would wish to dismiss the hearer convinced, persuaded, and overpowered with the mass of argument ; but we must proportion the discourse to the attention of the audience, and to our own weakness. We design three discourses on this subject, and shall confine ourselves to-day to the first head. Seek
the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near. On this subject, to be discussed in order, shall our voice resound for the present hour; if Providence permit us to ascend this pulpit once more, it shall be resumed ; if we ascend it the third time, we will still cry, Seek
the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near. If a Christian Minister ought to be heard with attention, if deference ought to be paid to his doctrine, may this charge change the face of this church ! May the scales fall from our eyes ! and may the spiritually blind recover their sight!
Our mind, prevented by passion and prejudice, requires divine assistance in its ordinary reflections; but attacking the sinner in his chief fort and last retreat, I do need thy invincible power, O
my God, and I expect every aid from thy support,
I. Our own constitution shall supply us to-day with arguments on the delay of conversion. It is clear that we carry in our own breast principles which render conversion difficult, and I may add, impossible, if deferred to a certain period. To com. prehend this, form in your mind an adequate idea of conversion, and fully admit, that the soul, in or. der to possess this state of grace, must acquire two essential dispositions ; it must be illuminated; it must be sanctified. It must understand the truths of religion, and conform to its precepts.
First, You cannot become regenerate unless you know the truths of religion. Not that we would preach the gospel to you as a discipline having no object but the exercise of speculation. We neither wish to make the Christian a philosopher, nor to encumber his mind with a thousand questions agitated in the schools. Much less would we elevate salva. tion above the comprehension of persons of common understanding ; who, being incapable of abstruse thought, would be cut off from the divine favour, if this change required profound reflection, and refined investigation. It cannot, however, be disput. ed, that every man should be instructed according to his situation in life, and according to the capacity he has received from Heaven. In a word, a Christian ought to be a Christian, not because he has been educated in the principles of Christianity transmitted by his fathers, but because those principles came from God.
To have contrary dispositions, to follow a religion from obstinacy, or prejudice, is equally to renounce the dignity of a man, a Christian, and a Pro.. testant :.... The dignity of a man, who, endowed with intelligence, should never decide on important subjects without consulting his understanding, given to guide and conduct him :.... The dignity of a Christian ; for the gospel reveals a God who may be
known, John iv. 22; it requires us to prove all things, and to hold fast that which is good. 1 Thess. v. 21. The dignity of a Protestant: for it is the foundation and distinguishing article of the Reformation, that submission to human creeds is a bondage unwor. thy of him whom the Son has made free. Inquiry, knowledge, and investigation are the leading points of religion, and the first paths, so to speak, by which we are to seek the Lord.
The second disposition is sanctification. The truths proposed in scripture for examination and belief, are not presented to excite vain speculation, or gratify curiosity. They are truths designed to produce a divine influence on the heart and life. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar. If you know these things, happy are you, if you do them. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father, is this, to visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction. i John ii. 4. John xiii. 17. James i. 27. When we speak of Christian obedience, we do not mean some transient acts of devotion ; we mean a submission proceeding from a source of holiness, which, however mixed with imperfection in its efforts, piety is always the predominant disposition of the heart, and virtue triumphant over vice.
These two points being indisputably established, we may prove I am confident, from our own consti. tution, that a tardy conversion ought always to be suspected ; and that, by deferring the work, we risk the forfeiture of the grace. Follow us in these arguments.
This is true, first, with regard to the light essential to conversion. Here, my brethren, it were to have been wished, that each of you had studied the human constitution ; that you had attentively consi . dered the mode in which the soul and body are united, the close ties which subsist between the intelligence that thinks within, and the body to which it