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and too often he in an unchristian manner censures those, who from diffidence are restrained from rising to his lofty pretensions. The case of St. Paul may, perhaps, be mentioned as an instance of instantaneous conversion. But this case cannot be applied to men generally. He was appointed by God to be the distinguished apostle of the Gentiles, and a miracle was wrought in his favour. His conversion was from a mistaken notioa of the Jew. ish religion to a consistent belief of Christianity. He informs us, that as a Jew, he had lived in all good conscience before God; and that, even in his persecution of Christians, he thought he was doing God service. In this transaction he was inflamed by an honest, though mistaken zeal. In what de. gree he was culpable in rejecting the proof of the divine mission of Jesus Christ, till conviction in a miraculous manner was forced upon him, is not our province to determine. But clearly the differ. ence between Paul, who was actuated by an honest though erroneous zeal, and the man who wilfully and habitually violates the commands of God, is so great, that no comparison can be made between them. After his conversion to Christianity, this apostle declared "I count not myself to have apprehended; but this one thing I do, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."* Contemplating his danger, he forms a solemn resolution to persevere, lest having been a preacher of the gospel, he should himself be a cast-away. It does not then appear, that Paul rested on his instantaneous conversion, and thought himself thereby assured of heaven.
Phil, iü. 13, 14.
Our text has often been adduced in proof of the doctrine of instantaneous conversion. But does it support the position ? Nicodemus at first under. stood our Saviour in a literal sense ; but the subsequent verses show that the language is figurative, and illustrate the meaning of the passage. “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdoin of God.” · Unless a man, under the influence of the Spirit of God, be formed to moral purity, he cannot enter my kingdom, of which baptism by water is the initial sign.-" That which is born of the flesh, is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Was it possible for a man to be born literally a second time, he still would be born a man, and would mind animal things; but he who is born of the Spirit is formed into a likeness of the divine image, and he regards his spiritual, his moral improvement. “Marvel not that I said unto thee, ye must be born again. 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 wind is not visible, nor can its origin be explored ; but its effects are apparent : and in moral life, the influences of the Spirit are not to be discerned by us; but when cherished, their fruits are evident. In religious concerns, you cannot distinguish between the influence of the Spirit of God and the suggestions of your own minds. But though you be not certain that particular feelings and actions originated in divine impulse, yet if you perceive that the love of vice is subdued in your hearts, and you be conscious of a sincere endeav. our to live in the habitual exercise of all Christian graces and virtues, you may with safety rest in the persuasion, that the influences of the Divine Spirit have been effectually cherished.
The Jews were accustomed to immerse in water a convert from paganism to their religion. They considered this change as being born again, and denominated the proselyte a new man.* The knowl. edge of this custom enables us to perceive the force of the question of our Saviour to Nicodemus“ Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things ?”
Conversion, in the scriptural sense of the phrase, signifies a change of the mind, placing the affections on new objects, altering the conduct, adopt. ing a new course of life. The sinner, in his conversion, loses his fondness for vice, and acquires the love of goodness. In the original language, the same word which in our translation is rendered convert, or conversion, is frequently used to express the action of a man turning himself about, altering the course of his steps, going out of one path into another. That every reader may judge of the correctness of this remark, I will mention a nunber of places, where the same Greek word expresses these several affections and actions. Matt. xiii. 15, our Saviour, speaking of the Jews, repeats the prophecy of Isaiah—“This people's heart is waxed gross, and their eyes they have closed, lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their
See Goadby's illustration, and Whitby on John iii. 3, &c.
hearts, and should be converted, and I should heal them.” The word here translated converted, is the same, the difference of mode and tense excepted, which in Luke xvii. 31, is rendered return.--" He that is in the field, let him likewise not return back.” The same word is used in Acts xxvi. 18, and translated to turn to" To turn them from darkness to light.” In Matt. xviii. 3, we read, “ Jesus said, Except ye be converted, and become as little children.” The word here translated converted, is, in Luke xiv. 25, rendered turned, that is, to turn the body—“Great multitudes were with him ; and he turned, and said unto them.” In Acts iii. 19, Peter exhorts his hearers to repent and be converted. The word here translated converted, in 2 Cor. iii. 16, is rendered turn" When it shall turn to the Lord.” In 2 Peter ii. 21, the same word is rendered turn from—" It had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. In these passages the same word is translated to be converted, to turn the body, to turn to the Lord, and to turn away from him, or from his holy commandment. In James v. 19, 20, this apostle observes “ Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him, let him know, that he who con. verteth a sinner from the errour of his way, shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins." The word rendered convert and convert. eth, in 2 Peter ii. 22, is rendered turned—“ It has happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again."
Other examples might be adduced; but these are sufficient, I trust, to show that conversion, or regeneration, in the New Testament, means a change of the affections from vicious to virtuous objects, altering the course of one's life, the formation of Christian habits. The man who has given an un- . controlled indulgence to irregular passions, and formed habits of vice, under divine influence corrects the disordered affections of his mind, and sub. dues the corrupt propensities of his heart. He ceases to do evil, and learns to do well. By the diligent study of the truths, and by the serious observance of the directions of the gospel, he acquires the qualifications of the Christian character. By adding to his faith the graces and virtues of his religion, he makes his calling and election sure. Having learned how he ought to walk and please God, he abounds more and more in every good word and work. From the commencement of the Christ. ian life, he makes constant progress in the path of goodness ; and with quickened steps he presses towards the goal of perfection. Such is the conversion and sanctification which the sacred writers declare to be essential to our acceptance with God. These are the attainments which are the moral purpose of a probationary state. This purpose cannot instantaneously be accomplished. Christian qualifications are slowly acquired.
Many providential occurrences may take place to stop a sinner in his course of iniquity, and to induce him to form the resolution to amend his life ; but it requires time, care, and labour, to wean the affections from vicious indulgences, to break the