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Our first business, in presenting to you a treatise upon conversion, must be to explain what, according to our judgment, the word of God intends by conversion. When you are in possession of the true notion, that is, the scriptural and divine idea of this important subject, you will labour under no uncertainty or obscurity as to the change you are required to undergo before you can hope to escape perdition and enjoy everlasting life. We observe, therefore, that it is a change, or a turning about of our mind or heart, and signifies a reversing of our moral and religious state, a complete transformation of the character—from irreligion to piety, from sin to holiness, from unbelief to faith, from impenitence to contrition and confession, from the service of the world to the service of God, from uneasiness to peace, from fear to hope, from death to life. It is important you should observe that this is mainly, though not exclusively, an inward change. It must begin in the heart and extend to the whole character. You must become, in a moral and religious sense, a new creature. You must not limit your notion to that which is merely external and visible, 0: imagine that any mere change of conduct or pro fession is conversion. There are frequently con siderable changes wrought in external behaviour
and these even much for the better, when there is no real change of heart, no conversion. A man may change from being a drunkard, become strictly sober, and yet not be converted. He may turn from any vicious course to the observance of the strictest rules of virtue, and not be converted. He may relinquish irreligious habits, and observe the sabbath, be regular at public worship, and attend to all the rites of religion, and not be converted. He may turn from infidelity to a firm belief in the divine authority of the Bible, and not be converted. He may turn from one sort of religion to another, and yet not be converted. A Papist may become a Protestant, or a Protestant a Papist, and yet be, in God's sight, unconverted. Although that lying church tells all that embrace its creed and practice its superstitions, that it will answer for their salvation, yet it can offer no guarantee but its own impious presumption; and that will be detected when it will be too late for those who have heedlessly trusted it, either to reject its delusions, or demand, what they ought first to have demanded, divine authority for their faith, and not the bare assertions of frail and fallible men.
Conversion is something more inward, spiritual, and peculiar; more closely in contact with the inmost soul, more thoroughly and deeply seated in the heart, than any of the changes already named. It may indeed involve and require a turning from some of these states, from some of these practices and habits, to others quite opposite ; but, in itself, it consists in none of them. It is a change of the natural and carnal mind, wrought by the Spirit of God, and raising it from the degradation of things seen and temporal, to the desire and pursuit of those
that are divine and spiritual. It begins in the heart and mind, in serious and sorrowful reflection upon our sinful state, as destitute of the supreme love of God, alienated in desire and in practice from his aoliness, with the heart devoted to sin or worldly .rifles, and in consequence under divine displeasure, and condemned by the terms of God's perlect law. When such convictions are deeply codged in the mind by the Spirit of God, it is made anxious for the pardon of sin, and it searches the Scriptures with this view. Then Christ appears as the one Mediator, the one Sacrifice, through which “whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”* Conversion is effected when, on account of the burden of our sins, we feel our need of Him, and, through his grace given unto us, we believe the precious promise, which says, “ Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved,”'t and, “ Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely." I Man by nature loves sin in some of its degrees and forms, or so loves and pursues innocent and lawful things as to exclude the supreme love of God. But, in conversion, he turns with disgust from all direct iniquity, and looks with comparative indifference upon natural joys, under the sense of possessing, in the promise of the gospel, a far higher good. Hence the Scripture represents conversion as a new birth, a new life, a new nature, a new creation, effected by the Spirit of God. “Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new."'S
We must observe again; conversion does not
* John iii. 16.
Rom. x. 13.
consist in a mere feeling of alarm, nor of hope; it is not mere conviction of sin, nor mere knowledge of the gospel. Neither is it a mere desire to be converted : but it is a real, conscious turning unto God; a clear, and decided, and entire belief of his testimony, accompanied, as all sincere belief must be, with a permanent change of heart. The sinner, if converted, perceives that he is a lost and helpless rebel against God; that his guilt requires pardon, his pollution needs cleansing. He becomes sensible that he is dead in sins, and needs quickening grace; he even then feels that grace effectually working in his heart. In fact, conversion expresses the entire change which a vivid and practical belief of the gospel produces in the soul.
But, perhaps, you have not a clear notion of what the Scripture requires, when it demands faith in Christ for salvation, saying, “Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed."* What is it then to believe? The idea conveyed by that term requires only to be presented in its proper simplicity. Persons have very vague, confused, and mystified notions of believing. Yet the term is one of the plainest that can be used. We all know perfectly well what it signifies when it is used in common life. Its meaning is the same when it is used in religion. It does not express any act of the mind different from that which is intended when we fully confide in the testimony of a fellow-creature of known and tried veracity. It is the confidence the mind places in the truth of the words spoken, whether those words convey a statement of some past fact, or a promise of something to be done. If a friend, of whose
veracity you not only have no reason to entertain a doubt, but of whose integrity you have proof sufficient to warrant an unwavering confidence, imparts any piece of intelligence, and says he
you then feel warranted in placing entire reliance upon his word ; and if it is a matter that requires you to act, you do not hesitate to give practical proof of your faith in the word of your friend. And yet in all such cases there is a possibility that this friend may deceive you; he may be deceived himself. There is a possibility, and however bare that possibility, yet the admission of it is all that I require for my present purpose.
Suppose a friend to proceed beyond the mere announcement of some fact, and makes us a promise of some future, important benefit he means to confer; we should then admit some other considerations before we entirely confided in his promise. For instance, we should inquire, Is he a man of benevolence? Has he any particular friendship for us? Is he in the habit of performing generous actions? Can he fulfil this promise without serious sacrifice or loss? If we found every inquiry of this kind could be satisfactorily answered, we should then have valid ground for believing his promise, and we should feel no hesitation in anticipating its fulfilment. We should be especially encouraged in such an anticipation, if we knew that he was in the habit of conferring such favours. In proportion to the magnitude of the promise, would be our anxiety to weigh well every consideration that could contribute to the ascertainment of his sincerity, ability, veracity, benevolent habits, and such like. But if all these points are satisfactorily seuieu, tuen