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and devotion, are frequently held up by their admirers in favour of their cause.
These observations may be thought by some, instead of clearing the subject, to involve it in greater difficulties, and to render it almost impossible to judge of the tendency of principles by any thing that is seen in the lives of men. The subject it is allowed, has its difficulties, and the foregoing observations are a proof of it : but I hope to make it appear, whatever difficulties may, on these accounts, attend the subject, that there is still enough, in the general spirit and conduct of men, by which to judge of the tendendency of their principles.
You need not be told, that being born again-created in Christ Jesus-converted—becoming as a little child, &c. are phrases expressive of a change of heart, which the scriptures make necessary to a life of holiness here, and to eternal life hereafter. It is on this account that I begin with conversion, considering it as the commencement of a holy life.
A change of this sort was as really necessary for Nicodemus, whose outward character, for ought appears, was respectable, as for Zaccheus, whose life had been devoted to the sordid pursuits of avarice.
suppose, will deny this to be the doctrine taught in the New Testament. But, should this be questioned, should the necessity of a change of heart in some characters be denied, still it will be allowed necessary in others. Now, as a change is more conspicuous, and consequently more convincing, in such persons who have walked in an abandoned course, than in those of a more sober life, I have fixed upon the conversion of profligates, as a suitable topic for the present discussion.
There are two methods of reasoning which may be used in ascertaining the moral tendency of principles. The first is, by comparing the nature of the principles themselves with the nature of true holiness, and the agreement or disagreement of the one with the other. The second is, by referring to plain and acknowledged facts, judging of the nature of causes by their effects. Both these methods of reasoning, which are usually expressed by the terms a priori, and a posteriori, will be used in this and the following Letters, as the nature of the subject may admit.
True conversion is comprehended in those two grand topics on which the apostles insisted in the course of their ministryRepentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us, then, fix upon these great outlines of the apostolic testimony, and examine which of the systems in question bas the greatest tendency to produce them.
Repentance is a change of mind. It arises from a conviction that we have been in the wrong; and consists in holy shame, grief, and self-loathing, accompanied with a determination to forsake every evil way.
Each of these ideas is concluded in the acconnt we have of the repentance of Job.* Behold, I am vile ; what shali I answer thee? I will lay my hand
mouth. Once have I spoken, but I will not answer ; yea twice, but I will proceed no farther. -I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes. It is essential to such a change as this, that the sinner should realize the evil nature of sin. No man ever yet repented of a fault, without a conviction of its evil nature. Sin must appear exceedingly sinful, before we can, in the nature of things, abhor it, and ourselves on account of it.
Those sentiments which wrought upon the heart of David, and brought him to repentance, were of this sort. Throughout the fifty-first Psalm, we find bim deeply impressed with the evil of sin, and that considered as an offence against God. He had injured Uriah and Bathsheba, and, strictly speaking, had not injured God; the essential honour and happiness of the divine nature being infinitely beyond his reach : yet, as all sin strikes at the divine glory, and actually degrades it in the esteem of creatures, all sin is to be considered, in one view, as committed against God : and this view of the subject lay so near his heart as to swallow up every other Against THEE, THEE ONLY have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight! It follows, then, that the system which affords the most enlarged views of the evil of sin, must needs have the greatest tendency to promote repentance for it.
Those who embrace the Calvinistic system believe, that man was originally created holy and happy ; that of his own accord he departed from God, and became vile; that God, being in himself infinitely amiable, deserves to be, and is, the moral centre of the intelligent system ; that rebellion against him is opposition to the general good ; that if suffered to operate according to its tendency, it would destroy the well-being of the universe, by excluding God and righteousness, and peace from the whole system ; that, seeing it aims destruction at universal good, and tends to universal anarchy and mischief, it is, in those respects, an infinite evil, and deserving of endless punishment ; and that, in whatever instance God exercises forgiveness, it is not without respect to that public expression of his displeasure against it which was uttered in the death of his Son. These, brethren, are sentiments which furnish us with motives for self-abhorrence : under their influence millions have repented in dust and ashes.
* Chap, xl. 4. xlii. 6.
But those, on the other hand, who embrace the Socinian system, entertain diminutive notions of the evil of sin. They consider all evil propensities in men (except those which are accidentally contracted by education or example) as being, in every sense, natural to them ; supposing that they were originally created with them : they cannot, therefore, be offensive to God, unless he could be offended with the work of his own hands for being wbat he made it. Hence, it may be, Socinian writers, when speaking of the sins of men, describe them in the language of palliation ; language tending to convey an idea of pity, but not of blame. Mr. Belsham, speaking of sin, calls it, “ human frailty;" and the subjects of it," the frail and erring children of men. The follow ing positions are for substance maintained by Dr. Priestly, in his treatise on necessity : " That, for any thing we know, it might have been as impossible for God to make all men sinless and happy, as to have made them infinite ;" that all the evil there is in sin, arises from its tendency to injure the creature ; that, if God punish sin, it is not because he is so displeased with it as in any case to “take vengeance” on the sinner, sacrificing his happiness to the good of the whole : but, knowing that it tends to do the sinner harm, he puts him to temporary pain, not only tor the warning of others, but for his own good, with a view to correct the bad disposition of him ;
* Sermon on the importance of truth, pp. 33, 35.