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Scripture means by conversion, but it is in a spirit of self-sufficiency; they are labouring to heal themselves. It is a very common case, when persons become anxious to obtain salvation, that they seek it by efforts at personal reformation; we mean, as to their external conduct-breaking off bad habits -abstaining from sinful indulgences; and connecting with these efforts some directly religious observances, such as reading the Scriptures, prayer, attendance upon public worship. Now, upon these cases we wish to speak with caution, yet with decision and plainness. So far as these things go, they are in themselves good and commendable ; but they do not necessarily include the scriptural idea of conversion. They may all take place, and do all frequently take place, without the conversion of the soul; and if they have been placed by the awakened mind as the ground of its confidence, as the realizing of its notion of conversion, and so fill it with the false persuasion that it is really and divinely converted; then this becomes an obstacle to the true conversion or change of heart, inasmuch as the mind settles down under this idea into a state of selfcomplacency, and thereby is made deaf to all further appeals. It says, like the congregation at Laodicea, mentioned Rev. iii. 17,“ I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing;” while the Spirit of God says of such, “ Thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.”
Let us look carefully into such a case. You suppose, that by attention to the perfect law of God, and a watchful endeavour on your part to conform to its requirements, you may work yourself gradually into a tolerable, if not into a perfect
conformity to it, so that you will be left, according to your own calculation, with only a very small amount of transgression or deficiency ; against which you place, as a last resource, the mercy of God and the grace of Jesus Christ. In this spirit most persons,
under their first serious awakenings, go to work. But, let me ask, is this the full and free salvation which the gospel offers to sinners ? Was this the gospel which St. Paul taught? He says, “ Ye are not under the law, but under grace," Rom. vi. 14. " There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus. The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death,” Rom. viii. 1, 2. “I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died,” Rom. vii. 9. What the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh : that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit,” Rom. viii. 3, 4. How, then, should that law of God which was not given till after man had become a sinner, and which can impart no. thing but the knowledge and conviction of sin, become the means of giving life to those who are already under its sentence of condemnation ? St. Paul
says, “Sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence,” Rom. vii. 8. How, then, should it ever work a true and acceptable holiness in you? How should it enable you to procure forgiveness for the sins already committed ? Certainly, it never can.
As. suredly, then, you have been looking to the law of God for that which you should seek from the grace of the gospel ; for it is the free forgiveness of sins through the precious blood of Christ, which can alone make you, or any one else, free from the law of sin and death. But we may refer to the experience of those who have tried this method of procvring health and life to their soul. Has it succeeded? Has it not been often testified, that every attempt to sanctify and save ourselves, as it were, “ by the deeds of the law,” instead of “ the righteousness which is by faith,” has utterly failed? Do not such attempts at self-renovation prove sources of disappointment, bondage, and despair ? The soul, yet without strength, finds sin unconquerable, holiness unattainable, and peace yet disturbed by the murmurings of an accusing conscience. And so it must be, because this is not God's method of saving and renovating sinners : so it must be, because " the law worketh wrath,” Rom. iv. 15; but the word of the oath (or promise of the gracious covenant) which has come since the law, presents to the convinced, entangled, and labouring soul, Christ crucified, as “ made of God unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption,” 1 Cor. i. 30. This is the one object that must engage the faith of the awakened ; and till this is apprehended for complete salvation, there is neither life nor grace in the soul. He that works, therefore, for life and salvation in the way of bringing himself to a perfect obedience to God's law, is working in the fire. This is a reason, a valid reason, and will for ever remain such, why no self-sufficient sinner can be saved. Every such person needs conversion as much as the vilest profligate. He stands upon his own obedience. He takes the law as his foundation and rule of salvation, forgetting that if he
“offends in one point, he is guilty of all,” James ii. 10; or that the same condemnation impends in the case of one transgression as in that of many. Consequently, if he has offended only in one point, he is a transgressor; and from the guilt of that one transgression, the law could no more release him, than from ten thousand. Therefore, he still needs, after all he has done, or can do, a Redeemer from sin and guilt: he must still be a debtor to sovereign grace, or perish in his vain effort to obtain life by the law. It were surely, therefore, better at once to renounce self-dependence, and say,
I quit the hopes I held before,
To trust the merits of thy Son.” It is certain, from the whole tenor of the gospel, that the salvation of sinners must be of God's pure, undeserved mercy, and through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. If there had been any possibility of a sinner's restoring and saving himself“ if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness (justifying) should have been by the law,” Gal. iii. 21 ; but then there would have been no need for the work of Christ. But if these things are so, does not the self-sufficient need conversion ? For what is he trying? It is for salvation. But if he strives till the day of death-or if that were deferred till the day of doom-if he strives to renew his heart and save his soul by the power of the law of God, he will strive in vain, and worse than in vain-it will but prove the aggravation of his guilt; because he has turned away from free grace to strict justice; has renounced Christ's righteousness for his own; and has preferred the chance of saving himself by his own efforts, to the infallible certainty of the Divine promise.
BECAUSE all men must have to do with the world while in it, some men will have to do with nothing else. Our present business is with that numerous class whose heart is in the world, or who have the world in the heart. It is certain from Holy Scripture, that all those who are seeking their portion in this life need conversion. And, alas, how vast is the multitude! What pity, what tender concern, what unwearied assiduity to convince them, should their immin danger excite in all who understand true religion! These lines may meet the eye of some worldlings who may attempt to evade their force, or their point, by disclaiming the character of a worldling. They may not be of this class or
but the question is, do they not love the world, that is, supremely love and prefer it, in some of its forms, before their salvation, their interests in the eternal world, their God and their Saviour? Reader, here be kind to yourself, and practise no self-deception. Did you ever take as much delight in your Bible, as in some earthly object ? Did you ever do as much to enjoy salvation, as you have done to enjoy pleasure in worldly scenes ? Did you ever sacrifice as much to obtain the knowledge of salvation, as you have to please yourself and others with earthly things ? Have you not manifested a stronger bias to the things