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ON REPENTANCE AND CONVERSION.
James. I feel desirous of information respecting some of the principal doctrines of Christianity ;-for the great variety of opinions which prevails among the professors of religion, and the bitterness which some of them appear to feel towards others, have had a tendency to weaken my faith, and I have no doubt they have produced discouragement in the minds of many others.
Father. It must be acknowledged that a great diversity of opinion does exist upon many points of doctrine; but this should not weaken our faith in the reality of vital religion; for a great variety of opinions may be found among men in most departments of knowledge. The greatest philosophers have often been mistaken by founding their systems upon speculations and conjectures, instead of watching the operations of nature and reasoning from facts: and it is in this way that many professors of religion continue to 'err, by attach*ing ioo much importance to the conjectures they have formed about religion, and by attending too little to the operation of the Spirit of Truth in their own minds, by obedience to which they might become experimentally acquainted with vital religion, and “renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created them.” Notwithstanding the great variety of doctrines among the professors of Christianity, I could easily prove to you from pious and experienced writers of every sect that I am acquainted with, that they all agree in regarding true religion as a work of the heart rather than of the head; and the experience of all ages proves that "the grace of God which bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world." The operation of this Divine power, when it is submitted to, brings about in our minds the great change, which begins with repentance for our past sins, and ends in conversion or regeneration.
John. These are subjects on which I wish for information, for I have lately thought much about them, and I trust my heart has been in some measure weaned from the world, and engaged in the pursuit of that inheritance, incorruptible and undefiled, that fadeth
Father. I am rejoiced to hear that the Lord has been so gracious to thee, my son, and that he is calling thee out of darkness into his marvellous light. He has, I trust, granted thee "repentance unto life," which is the first step in the path of righteousness. Like the passage of the children of Israel through the Red Sea, the baptism of repentance separates us from the land of Egypt, saves us from a host of our enemies, and fills the soul with joy, so that we can sing the song of Moses, and make melody in our hearts unto the Lord.” But the Israelites, after their first deliverance and rejoicing, had a great many trials to encounter, and a long journey to perform through the wilderness, until that crooked and perverse generation which was born in Egypt, was wasted away or consumed: and then there was a captain raised up in the midst of them, who led the new generation through Jordan (the river of judgment) into the promised land. The work of repentance was also typified by the watery baptism of John,-but true saying
Baptism is “not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience towards God.” 1 Peter iii. 21. And this saving baptism is administered by the Holy Spirit, which comes into the heart, and purifies, or sprinkles it, from an evil conscience.” Repentance is the gift of God,-and it is offered to the acceptance of all men; for all are visited with seasons of calm reflection and serious thoughtfulness, when their sins are set in order before them," and all the pleasures of sense and the riches of this world, seemas nothing and vanity,” compared with that peace of mind which they have lost while pursuing after shadows. This state of mind is sometimes experienced by those who are the most eager in pursuit of pleasure and worldly glory; but they too generally put it from them, and fly to amusements or business to drive it away. Yet this very thing which is so much shunned, is nothing less than a visitation of Divine Love, which if yielded to would lead to eternal salvation. It is indeed the voice of Christ, who says, “Behold I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup
with him and he with me." Rev. iii. 20. Those who yield obedience to this heavenly vision, .not consulting with flesh and blood, will experience the baptism of repentance to take place in their souls, for “godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation;" and the only sure evidence of sincere repentance, is bringing forth fruits “meet for repentance.”
James. Does not repentance often take place without any fruits? It appears to me that I have been sinning and repenting for many years, without much, if any, amendment.
Father. There is a spurious kind of repentance that hardly deserves the name;- it does not proceed from a true sense and hatred of sin, but from a dread of punishment, which induces men very often to feel a transient regret for what they have done, and to take up resolutions to do better in future; but these resolutions, when made in man's own strength, and with a reliance upon his own arm for their execution, will not stand in the hour of temptation; the first gust of passion will blow them away. True repentance implies not only a godly sorrow for sin, but a turning away from it. It implies a returning again to him from whom the soul has revolted. "Repent," says the prophet, “band turn yourselves from all your transgressions: so iniquity shall not be your ruin.” Ezek. xix. 36.
John. I have no doubt that true repentance is a work of the divine Spirit in the soul, and that it is accompanied by forgiveness of sins through the mercy of God. But I have been led to believe that the joy and peace which I have found springing up and abounding in my heart, was an evidence not only of forgiveness, but of conversion and regeneration.
Father. The term conversion is often used as equivalent to regeneration, and then it signifies a change of heart, from a state of sin to a state of holiness,-a putting off the old man with his deeds, and putting on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge “after the image of Him that created him." It was used in this sense by Jesus himself, when speaking to Peter, just before he was delivered up.“Simon," said he, “satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not; and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” Luke xxii. 31, 32. John. It
appears from this passage, that Peter had not yet been converted, and it becomes an interesting inquiry for us all to know what was then the state of his experience, and how far a man may progress in religion without being thoroughly converted.
Father. Yes, it is a very interesting subject for inquiry, and there are a number of passages in the New Testament that will throw some light upon it.