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THERON TO ASPASIO.
New-England, March 12, 1759. DEAR ASPAS10, My melancholy letter of December last, with a copy of the substance of the conversation I had with Paulinus, at three several times, you have doubtless received long ago, as it is now three months since I wrote. If you have been impatient at bearing nothing from your friend for so long a time, I more: tossed to and fro, for months togetber, like a feeble ship at sea, in a tempestuous night, ready every moment to sink.
· At first, (I mean after I had left Paulinus, and retired, as I had determined to spend much time in meditation and prayer,) I called in question a maxim, he seemed to take for granted; that“ we are all, by nature, under a law, requiring perfect obedience, on pain of eternal damnation :" Which he so insisted was a glorious law, holy, just, and good. Thus I thought with myself; “ Perfect obedience ! That is more than we can yield. And am I for ever lost for the first offence? How can that be just ! Can the kind Father of the universe require more of his creature, man, than he can do? And then punish him with eternal damnation, for not doing! Can this be right?” Indeed I now felt I had an Arminian heart.
But on a certain evening, as I was reading Saint Paul's Epistle to the Romans and Galatians, in which he affirms, that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men ; that the very Heathen themselves are without excuse ; that the whole world stand guilty before God, and every month stopped,: that the law curscth every man who continueth not in all things written in the book of the law, to do them ; and that Christ was made a curse for us, to redeem us from the curse of that very law; I was
gteatly shocked and confounded. One while I said, this law cannot be right.” But again, I said, " why then was it not repealed? Why did the Son of God bear its curse, and die to answer its demands ?" I looked through the Old Testament, I looked through the New; and this notion of the law I saw was so inwrought into both, that it must be granted; or the whole of divine Revelation given up. I felt the heart of an infidel; I was full of doubts and scruples as to the truth of the bible. And when I reflected on the external evidence of divine Revelation, as represented by our late writers, particularly by Doctor Leland, whose view of Deistical writers I had lately read, I was drove even to Atheism. For if there is a God, the bible must be true. But if the bible is true, the law in all its rigour is holy, just, and good.
Thus I was unsettled in all my principles, and set afloat as on a boisterous ocean, like a ship without a compass or an helm; in great anxiety and deep perplexity, ready many times to conclude to go back, at all adventures, to my old hope, as the only way for rest : thinking, I had as good live and die on a false hope, as live and die in despair.
Till on a certain time, I began thus to reason in my heart" whence all these doubts, O my soul! Whence all these Arminian, Socinian, deistical, atheistical thoughts! Whence have they all arisen! From viewing the law of God, as requiring perfect obedience, on pain of eternal damnation. But why ? Had I rather turn an Infidel, than approve the law as holy, just, and good ? Is this my heart ! Once I thought I loved God, and loved his law, and loved the Gospel. Where am I now !” Those words of the Apostle seemed to picture my very case—The carnal mind is enmity against God, and is not subject to his law, neither indeed can be. Rom. viii. 7. This text engaged my attention, and fixed my thoughts. And looking into my heart, more and more, I found the spirit of an enemy to God and to his law, in full possession of my soul.
Till now I had entertained, at least sometimes, a secret hope, that my state was good; although it seemed as if I had quite given it up. But now I began in a new manner to see, or rather to feel, I was dead in sin. A realizing sense of God, as the infinitely great being, the VOL. II.
almighty Governor of the world, holy and just, a sin-revenging God, a consuming fire against the workers of iniquity, daily grew upon my heart, and set home the law in all its rigour. A fresh view of all my evil ways from my youth up, continually preyed upon my spirits. ETERNITY! ETERNI. TY! Oh, how dreadful it seemed ! I watched, I prayed, I fasted. I spared no pains to obtain an humble, broken, contrite heart. But notwithstanding my greatest efforts, my heart grew worse; my case more desperate : till in the issue, I found myself absolutely without strength; dead in sin ; lost ; condemned by law ; self-condemned ; my mouth stopped; guilty before God: I was forced to be silent; as it was but fair and right, that God should be an enemy to me, who was an enemy to him ; and but just, if he should for ever cast me off. And in this case I had perished, had not mere sovereign grace interposed. But in the midst of this midnight-darkness, when all hope seemed to be gone, at a moment when I least expected relief, (for, the commandment came, sin recived, and I died,) even now, God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, shined in my heart. Thus was the case.
It was in the evening, (after the day had been spent in fasting and prayer,) as I was walking in a neighbouring grove, my thoughts fixed with the utmost attention on God, as a consuming fire against his obstinate enemies; on the law, as cursing the inan that continueth not in all things written therein to do them ; on my whole life, as one continued series of rebellion ; on my heart, as not only dead to God, and to all good, but full of enmity against the divine law and government, and (shocking to remember !) full of enmity against God himself. Feeling that my whole heart was thus dead in sin, and contrary to God, I felt it was a gone case with me. There was no hope ; no, not the least, from any good in me, or ever to be expected from me. I lay at God's mercy, forfeited ; justly condemned, lost, helpiess, undone! And I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, I clearly saw, was the fixed resolution of the Almighty. Thus stood my case ; a poor, wretched, sinful, guilty creature, completely ruined in myself! I retired to the most remote part of the grove ; where, hid under the darkness of the evening, and the shade of spreading trees, no eye could see me. First, I smote on my breast; but could not look up to heaven, nor speak one word. I fell on my knees. But I could not speak. I fell prostrate on the ground; and felt as one ready to sink into eternal ruin ; having no hope, unless from the sovereign good pleasure of my angry Judge. As I lay prostrate on the ground, a new scene gradually opened to my view. It was new, and it was exceeding glorious! God appeared not only infinitely great, and infinitely holy, as the Sovereign of the whole UNIVERSE; but also infinitely glorious : even so glorious as to be worthy of all the love and honour which his law requires. The law appeared holy, just, and good. I could not but approve it, from my very heart : and said within myself, ere I was aware, “ Let all heaven for ever love and adore the infinitely glorious MAJESTY, although I receive my just desert, and perish for ever!" Next came into view the whole Gospel-way of life, by free grace through Jesus Christ; the wisdom, glory, and beauty of which, cannot be expressed. The law did bear the divine image, and was glorious; but the Gospel exhibited all the divine perfections in a still brighter manner, and far exceeded in glory. 1 saw God might, consistently with his honour, in this way, receive the returning sinner, however ill-deserving. I saw he was ready to do it: that all might come, even the vilest and the worst, encouraged by the self-moving goodness and boundless grace of God, and the mediation, merits, and atonement of Christ; I looked up to God through Jesus Christ for mercy, and through Jesus Christ gave up myself to the Lord, to be for ever his, to love him and live to him for ever. Here prostrate on the ground, I thus lay above an hour, contemplating the ineffable glories of God, the beauty of his law, and the superabundant excellency of the Gospel-way of life, by free grace through Jesus Christ. I believed the Gospel, I trusted in Christ, and gave up myself to God through him, to be for ever his, with a pleasure divinely sweet, infinitely perferable to the most agreeable sensations I had ever before experienced. What I enjoyed this bour, did more, unspeakably more, than overbalance all the distresses
of months pasto. To relate how I spent the night, and how I have spent my days and nights ever since, I shall omit. But you shall soon hear again, my dear Aspasio, from
e Theron's Narrative of his former supposed conversion, (Let. I.) and of his experiences, (here,) is not designed to suggest, that either false or true converts all experience things, in every circumstance, just alike : but only to point out the general nature of these two kinds of conversion, in a manner so familiar, that the weakest Christian may see the difference. And if any Christian cannot recollect so exactly the particulars of his first conversion, yet as all after-acts of grace are of the same nature with the first, a clear understanding of the true nature of saving grace, may help him to discern his true state.
N. B. What is the true nature of saving grace, is not to be decided by the experiences of this or that man, or party of men ; but only by the word of God..