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ciples, “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven,” Matt. xviii. 3. Concerning the great body of professing persons in that day, God had before testified by the prophet Isaiah, that though they frequented his courts, and admitted his authority over them, yet they drew near to him with their mouths, and with their lips did honour him, while they had removed their hearts far from him ; therefore he denounced all their services as vain and unacceptable, and their persons as abominable in his sight, Isa. xxix. 13. Hence, too, in calling their attention to that kingdom of Christ, which was to be established among them, he expressly enforced upon them a change of heart.
* I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh,” Ezek. xxxvi. 26. The whole of our Saviour's ministry among them proceeded upon this important principle, that mere forms and privileges, profession and ordinances, did neither constitute nor evince that kind of piety which he required, and for the promotion of which he enforced the doctrine of conversion.
It was manifest in the treatment he himself received from them, that, notwithstanding all their rigid observance of the law of Moses, and all their glorying in the only religion revealed from heaven, they had not the love of God in them, and, consequently, no sound claim to the character of true and spiritual believers. Their rejection of Christ, and especially the cruel and impious manner of that rejection, both show, that, with all their pretensions to godliness, they were utterly mistaken, and stood in need of an entire change of heart. The case of Paul before conversion was precisely
that of a person firmly believing in the authority of revelation, zealous for the religious law of his fathers, and strictly conformed to the ceremonies of his religion, and that a Divine one; and yet he was undoubtedly an unconverted, unregenerated man. Now, this case seems to make it certain, that the mere profession of Judaism was not true piety, nor a state of conversion ; and that it is, therefore, just as possible for a professed Christian to be in an unconverted state, as for a professed Jew; since both these forms of religion may be externally professed by those, whose hearts have never experienced a change from the love of sin to the love of the Divine law, or from the love of the world to the love of God.
2. There is another class of the mistaken, who are equally in danger of missing a sound conversion : they are those who admit
that conversion is required, and that it is essentially a change of heart; but they conclude that it has passed upon themselves, simply because they have been the subjects of occasional and partial convictions, or even of strong ones; or, because they are still frequently agitated in a powerful manner under the preaching of the word. They have heard that a great change is included in conversion ; that it is often accompanied with strong excitement, and deep inward convictions of sin They have had some such impressions wrought upon their minds, and, without looking further into the subject, they have hastily inferred that they are converted. But how superficial and inadequate their views are, may be evinced by the fact, that they have not become new creatures in Christ Jesus; and by observing what is said in Scripture concerning a class who “receive the word with joy,” Luke viii. 13, yet have no root in themselves; also by the case of Felix, who trembled while the apostle Paul reasoned of temperance, righteousness, and judgment to come, Acts xxiv. 25; as well as by many, both in the days of Christ and his apostles, who assented to the truth as preached, and even felt it to a certain degree in their hearts, yet, subsequently, lost their convictions, and became increasingly hardened in their sinful state. So that it is clear they never experienced true and thorough conversion, though they were the subjects of temporary awakenings and convictions.
Let not the reader, therefore, suppose he has undergone the essential change for which we plead, unless he can show before the heart-searching God, that he is a new creature, the opposite of what he was when sin had the dominion over him. For it is certain, whatever degree of excitement he has felt, or whatever temporary concern for the forgiveness of his sins, or whatever resolutions he may have formed to amend his life, if he is not really acting by faith, and living by faith, under the commanding influence of love to God through Christ, he is yet an unconverted person, and, as such, under all the condemnation in which the unpardoned and the guilty are involved. It behoves him to look upon all he has taken for conversion, as mere alarm, or excitement of natural feeling ; and however much he may think it resembles the experience of the converted and the true believer, he may rely upon it there is as essential a difference, as between a shadow and a sub.. stance, a painted fire and a real one. to learn what that conversion is, without which he can possess no scriptural hope of heaven. 3. There are some who fall into a mistake of
He has yet another kind. Because they are using the means ordinarily denominated the means of grace, they quiet their consciences, and comfort themselves with the notion, that they are in the way to conversion. They imagine themselves to be like sick persons in the hands of a skilful physician, whose cure has already begun. Or, they are like travellers, who have entered a road that will lead to a certain place. But here the unconverted is surely practising collusion with sin and unbelief. The cure is not yet begun, if you have not yet believed with the heart; the progress is not yet commenced, if you have not entered at the “strait gate.” Do not compare yourself with the lame man who was waiting at the pool of Bethesda. No sinner ever really waits for Christ. All such as do not at once believe with the heart unto righteousness, are in the way
to be lost instead of saved. There is no greater delusion than this of waiting for grace, or being in the way to be saved. What would you think of that person, who, after you had made him some benevolent promise of a valuable gift, should say, I am in the way to believe you; I do not believe you now, but I think I shall come to believe you by and by? Does the solemn pledge of a benevolent and truthful person deserve such treatment? How very absurd and insulting would such conduct appear! How justly might it entitle the insulted party to say—Then, if you are only in the way to believe me, but do really reject my promise now, I shall consent to no such an acceptance of my kindness. Come to a point with me. Either say at once you believe my word, or you do not ; for I cannot conceive how you can be in the way to believe me at all, if I am not worthy of your immediate confidence. The question then comes to this, Is the gospel worthy of all acceptation, or is it not? If it is admitted to be in all respects worthy, then why is it not instantly believed, in all its fulness of grace and love? If it is not worthy of instant credit, it never will be. Ah, beloved reader, beware of deluding yourself, or of being deluded by Satan, into the notion of being in the way to believe the gospel, when you are really in a state of unbelief. The plain fact is, and we must not hesitate to announce it, if you do not at once and cordially believe the testimony God has given of his Son, you are in the direct way to be lost. You are here, then, summoned once more, in the name of the Sovereign Lord, in the name of the Divine Saviour, either at once to believe in Jesus, or resign that false notion of being in the way to believe ; for if you cherish it, it will keep you from Christ, instead of bringing you to him. Either now say, “ Lord, I believe, or resign all pretensions even to a desire to believe, and admit that you are still in the bonds of sin and unbelief. There is no medium state between believing and disbelieving. If you do not heartily believe the gospel, you must be treated as an unbeliever. See, then, that your way to believe is all a mistake.