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56

le they are not sensible of any such religious al.
ention having taken place with them, at any par-
alar time, as can properly be called a conver.
a. They are not unconverted, because that im.
ita a state of reprobation, and because if we call
yen them to be converted (which, if they be an-
waverted, we ought to do, they will not well un-
derstand what is we mean them to do; and, in-
stead of being edified, they may be both much and

OF THE DOCTRINE
homes holier, and happier, and better; and last-
ly, what greatly enhances its value to every anxious
Christian, it affords to himself a proof that his
heart is right towards God; when it is followed
up by a good life, by abstinence from sin, and en-
deavours after virtue, by avoiding evil and doing
good, the proof and the satisfaction to be drawn
from it are complete.

SERMON VII.
OF THE DOCTRINE OF CONVERSION.
I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to

repentance:-Matt. ix. 13.
It appears from these words, that our Saviour
in his preaching held in view the character and
spiritual situation of the persons whom he address-
ed: and the differences which existed amongst
men in these respects; and that he had a regard
to these considerations, more especially in the
preaching of repentance and conversion. Now I
think, that these considerations have been too
much omitted by preachers of the gospel since
particularly in this very article ; and that the doc-
trine itself has suffered by such omission.

It has been usual to divide all mankind into two classes, the converted and the unconverted; and, by so dividing them, to infer the necessity of con version to every person whatever. In proposing the subject under this form, we state the distinction, in my opinion, too absolutely, and draw from it a conclusion too universal : because there is a class and description of Christians, who, having been piously educated, and having persevered in those pious courses, into which they were first brought, are not conscious to themselves of ever. having been without the influence of religion, of ever having lost sight of its sanctions, of ever hav. ing renounced them; of ever, in the general course of their conduct, having gone against them. These cannot properly be reckoned either converted or unconverted. They are not converted,

unnecessarily distarbed, by being so called uponi.

There is in the nature of things, a great varietrof religious condition. It arises from hence, that exhortations, and calls, and admonitionis, which are of great use and importance in ther"htes, and very necessary to be insisted upon, are, devertheless, not wanted by all, are not equally pplicable to all, and to some are altogether inap pliable. This holds true of most of the topics of persuasion or warning, which a Christian teacher can talopt. When we preach against presumption, for instance, it is not because we suppose that all sve presumptuous; that it is necessary for all, or every one, to become more humble, or diffident, or sprehensive, than he now is: on the contra15, there may amongst our hearers be low, and tumorons, and dejected spirits, who, if they take to themselves what we say, may increase a disposition, which is already too much ; or be at a loss to know what it is herein that we would enjoin upon them. Yet the discourse and the doctrine may, nevertheless, be very good; and for a great portion of our congregation very necessary. The like, I think, is the case with the doctrine of conversion. If we were to omit the doctrine of conversion, we should omit a doctrine, whichi, to mawy, must be the salvation of their souls. Tothem ill calls without this call, all preachings without this doctrine, would be in vain and it may be

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We, that a great part of our hearers are of this
leseription. On the other hand, if we press and

upon conversion, as indispensable to all to

I being saved, we should misle

for they are not sensible of any such religious al. teration having taken place with them, at any par. ticular time, as can properly be called a conversion. They are not unconverted, because that implies a state of reprobation, and because, if we call upon them to be converted (which, if they be unconverted, we ought to do,) they will not well understand what it is we mean them to do ; and, instead of being edified, they may be both much and unnecessarily disturbed, by being so called upon.

There is, in the nature of things, a great variety of religious condition. It arises from hence, that exhortations, and calls, and admonitions, which are of great use and importance in themselves, and very necessary to be insisted upon, are, nevertheless, not wanted by all, are not equally applicable to all, and to some are altogether inapplicable. This holds true of most of the topics of persuasion or warning, which a Christian teacher can adopt. When we preach against presumption, for instance, it is not because we suppose that all are presumptuous; that it is necessary for all, or cvery one, to become more humble, or diffident, or apprehensive, than he now is : on the contrary, there may amongst our hearers be low, and timorous, and dejected spirits, who, if they take to themselves what we say, may increase a disposition, which is already too much ; or be at a loss to know what it is herein that we would enjoin upon them. Yet the discourse and the doctrine may, nevertheless, be very good; and for a great portion of our congregation very necessary. The like, I think, is the case with the doctrine of conversion. If we were to omit the doctrine of conversion, we should omit a doctrine, which, to maniv, must be the salvation of their souls. To them

calls without this call, all preachings without doctrine, would be in vain : and it may be is that a great part of our hearers are of this ciption. On the other hand, if we press and I upon conversion, as indispensable to all for vurpose of being saved, we should mislea

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58

OF THE DOCTRINE some, who would not apprehend how they could be required to turn, or be converted to religion, who were never, that they knew, either indiffe. rent to it, or alienated from it.

In opposition, however, to what is here said, there are who contend, that it is necessary for every man living to be converted, before he can be saved. This opinion undoubtedly deserves serious consideration, because it founds itself upon Scripture, whether rightly or erroneously interpreted is the question. The portion of scripture upon which they, who maintain the opinion, chiefly rely, is our Saviour's conversation with Nicode. mus, recorded in the third chapter of St. John's Gospel. Our Saviour is there stated to have said to Nicodemus, “ Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God ;” and afterward, as a confirmation, and in some sort an exposition of his assertion, to have added, “except a man be born of water, and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." It is inferred from this passage, that all persons whatever must undergo a conversion, before they be capable of salvation ; and it cannot be said that this is a forced or strained inference; but the question before us at present is, is it a necessary inference? I am not unwilling to admit, that this short, but very remarkable conversation, is fairly interpreted of the gift of the Spirit, and that, when this Spirit is given, there is a new birth, a regeneration; but I say, that it is no where determined, at what time of life, or under what circumstances, this gift 15 imparted; nay, the contrary is intimated by com paring it to the blowing of the wind, which, in its mode of action, is out of the reach of our rules and

1: “ the wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” The effect of this uncertainty is, that we are left at liberty to pray for spiritual assistance, and we do pray for it, in all stages, and under all circumstances,

OF CONVERSION
iour existence. We pray for it in baptisma for
De who are baptized; we teach those who are
techised, to pray for it in their catechisme ; pl-
ats pray for its aird and efficacy to give effect to
beter parental instructions ; to preserve the ob-
staof their love and care from sin and wicked-
es, and from every spiritual enemy. We pray
for its particularly in the office of confirmaation,

as young persona just entering into the tempta.
tions of life. Thertore spiritual assistance may be

imparted at any time, from the earliest to the lac
1 test period of our existence; and, whenever it is
imparted, there is that being born of the Spirit, to

which our Saviour's words refer. And, consider
d the subject as a matter of experience, if we

panot ordinarily distinguish the operations of the
gjirit frora those of our own minds, it seerus to
allow, bat neither can we distinguish when they
BEDIENER : 80 that spiritual assistance may be
imparted, and the thing, designated by our Lord's
discourse, satisfied, without such a sensible con.
recien, that a person can fix his memory apon
some great and general change, wrought in him
at an assignable time. This consciousness of a
great and general change may be the fact with
many. It may be essentially necessary to many,
I only allege, that it is not so to all; so that every

person, who is not conscious of such a change,
must set himself down as devoted to perdition.

This, I repeat, is all I contend for, for I by no
means intend to 895, than any one is without sin,
and in that sense not to stand in need of conver-
sion; still less, that any sin is to be allowed, and
not, on the contrary, strenuously and sincerely
resisted and forsaken. I only maintain, that there
may be Christians, who are, and have been, in
such a religious state that no such thorough and
radical change, as is usually meant by conversion,
S or was necessary for them: and that they need
hot be made miserable by the want of conscious
ness of such a change.

I do not, in the smallest degree, mean to under.

of our existence. We pray for it in baptism for those who are baptized; we teach those, who are catechised, to pray for it in their catechism ; parents pray for its aid and efficacy to give effect to their parental instructions ; to preserve the objects of their love and care from sin and wickedness, and from every spiritual enemy. We pray for it, particularly in the office of confirmation, for young persons just entering into the temptations of life. Therefore spiritual assistance may be imparted at any time, from the earliest to the latest period of our existence; and, whenever it is imparted, there is that being born of the Spirit to which our Saviour's words refer. And, considering the subject as a matter of experience, if we cannot ordinarily distinguish the operations of the Spirit from those of our own minds, it seems to follow, that neither can we distinguish when they commence : so that spiritual assistance may be imparted, and the thing, designated by our Lord's discourse, satisfied, without such a sensible conversion, that a person can fix his memory upon some great and general change, wrought in him at an assignable time. This consciousness of a great and general change may be the fact with many. It may be essentially necessary to many. I only allege, that it is not so to all; so that every person, who is not conscious of such a change, must set himself down as devoted to perdition.

This, I repeat, is all I contend for, for I by no means intend to say, than any one is without sin, and in that sense not to stand in need of conversion; still less, that any sin is to be allowed, and. not, on the contrary, strenuously and sincerely resisted and forsaken. I only maintain, that there may be Christians, who are, and have been, in such a religious state, that no such thorough and radical change, as is usually meant by conversion, is or was necessary for them; and that they need not be made miserable by the want of conscio ness of such a change.

I do not, in the smallest degree, mean to un

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OF CONVERSION.
of the Apostles, we read incessantly of the
watching of repentance, which I admit to mean
tersion-St. John the Baptist's preaching set
twith it. Our Lord's own preaching set out
hit. It was the subject, which he charged
ya his twelve apostles to preach. It was the

bijeet, which he sent forth his seventy diseiples to
Tycach. It was the subject, which the first mis-
ionaries of Christianity pronounced and preached

every place, which they came to, in the course
their progress through different countries.
Whereas, in the epistles, written by the same
persons, we hear proportionably much less of re-
patance, and much more of advance, proficien-
progress and improvement in holiness of life;

frules and maxims for the leading of a holy
tak godly life. These exhortations to continual
apstenent, to sincere, strenuous, and continual
eartbeatours after improvement, are delivered una
der a variety of expressions, but with a strength
and eamestness sufficient to shew what the apos-
tha thorght of the importance of what they were

Non the reason of the difference is, that the
preaching of Christ and his apostles, as recorded
in the gospels and in the Acts of the Apostles, was
addressed to Jews and Gentiles, whom they cal.
led upon to become disciples of the new religion.
This call evidently implied repentance and con-
Tersion. But the epistles, which the apostles,

and some of which the same apostles wrote after-
ve ward, were addressed to persons already become

Christians, and to some, who, like Timothy, had
been such from their earliest youth. Speaking to
hese, you find they dwell upon improvement,
proficiency, continued endeavours after higher
ad greater degrees of holiness and purity, instead
I saying so much about repentance and conver-
10. This conduct was highly rational, and was
a adaptation of their instruction to the circumstan-

3 of the persons, whom they addressed, and
may be an example to us, in modelling our ex

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