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law, its views are often, perhaps generally, just in a certain degree; but are loose, careless, and inefficacious; having no other effect on the mind than to produce, at seasons rare and solitary, some reproaches of conscience, and a degree of regret and fear, feeble, momentary, and easily forgotten.
But when the man becomes a subject of religious conviction, he feels, for the first time, that sin is a real and dreadful evil. For the first time, the law of God is seen to be a righteous and reasonable law, demanding nothing but what ought to be demanded, and forbidding nothing but what ought to be forbidden. Ils precepts and its penalties are both yielded to, as just; and God is acknowledged to be righteous in prescribing the former, and inflicting the latter.
Himself he readily pronounces to be a sinner, universally debased, utterly blameable, justly condemned, and justly to be punished. Instead of self-justification, and self-flattery, he is now more ready to pronounce the sentence of condemnation on himself, than on any other person; and is hardly brought to admit the pleas, advanced by others in palliation of his guilt, or in the defence of his moral character. Sin, and his own sins especially, now appear as things new, strange, and wonderful; as evils aw. fully serious and alarming. The law of God is now applied to himself as his own rule of duty; and obedience to it is confessed to be reasonable, indispensable, and immensely important. Every violation of its precepts, therefore, is regarded by him as a sore and dreadful evil; as guilt, which he perceives no means of wiping away; and as danger, which he finds no opportunity of escaping. An accumulation of crimes innumerable, and of guilt incomprehensible, is thus seen to have been formed by the conduct of his whole life, which, to the anxious and terrified eye of the criminal, has already swollen to the size of mountains, and ascended to the height of heaven.
These views, it is to be remembered, are wholly new to the sinner. Their novelty, of course, greatly enhances, in his eye, the terrifying and oppressive magnitude of the subject. All new things affect us more, when new, than when by frequent repetition they have become familiar. Before, he never in sober earnest believed himself to be a sinner. To find himself, therefore, to be not only a sinner, but a sinner of so guilty and blameable a character, naturally overwhelms him with anguish and dismay.
His mind, also, is now exceedingly alarmed, and distressed, by this aflicting discovery. On an agitated mind all things, with which it is concerned, make deep impressions ; deeper far than when it is at ease; and especially those things which produced the agitation. Such, particularly, is the fact in this state of religious agitation. For both these reasons, as well as from the real greatness and nature of his guilt, the convinced man is often ready to believe, that no sinner was ever so guilty as himself.
It is not uncommon to hear persons, of no singular depravity, declare, that they are doubtful whether Judas was
equally a transgressor with themselves. I have heard doubts expressed by persons, of more than common decency and amiableness, whether Satan was not less odious to God than they were : and this reason has been alleged for the doubt, that he had never sinned against forgiving and redeeming love. It is not to be wondered at, that the soul, to which these awful subjects are thus new, and which is thus terrified by its first views of them, should be even excessive in its self-condemnation.
With the greatness of its guilt, the greatness of its danger keeps an equal pace. Scarcely any thing more naturally, or more commonly, occurs to the mind in this situation, than doubts, whether such guilt, as itself has accumulated, can be forgiven. The Mercy of God, which is declared in the Scriptures to be greater than our sins, to be above the heavens, to extend to all generations, and to endure for ever, is often doubted, so far as the sinner himself is concerned; admitted easily with regard to others, and with regard to all or almost all others, it is still doubted so far as he is concerned, and is easily believed to be incapable of extending to him. Often he is strongly tempted to believe, that he has committed the unpardonable sin; and often, and much, is he busied in examining what is the nature of that sin. Instead of self-flattery, the only employment which he was formerly willing to pursue, with respect to his spiritual concerns, and which he indulged in every foolish and excessive degree, he is now wholly engaged in the opposite career of self-condemnation; and not unfrequently pursues it to an excess, equally unwarranted by the Scriptures. Nor is he at all prone to feel, that he is now equally guilty of new sin in limiting the mercy of God, and in forming new kinds of unpardonable sins, as before, in presuming, without warrant, on the exercise of divine mercy towards his hardened heart.
All these emotions are also greatly heightened by the remembrance of his former stupidity, unbelief, and hardness of heart, his light-mindedness and self-justification, his deafness to instruction, his insensibility to the calls of mercy, the reproofs of guilt, and the warnings of future wo. What before were his favourite pursuits he now considers as the means of his ruin ; what before was the object of his delight is now the object of his abhorrence. That which was once his support, is now his terror : that which he accounted, and boasted of, as his wisdom, he now considers as the mere madness of Bedlam. Nor can he explain to himself how such sottishness could ever have been his conduct, or his character.
The Bible, now, its threatenings and promises, its doctrines, precepts, and ordinances, assume an aspect wholly new;, for the first time real, solemn, important; the only ground of his distress; and the only source of his possible comfort. The same truth and reala ity, the same solemnity and importance, at once invest the prayers, sermons, and other religious instructions, which he has heard from his parents, from ministers, and from other persons of piety. Why they did not always, and of course, wear these characteristics, is now his astonishment; why he did not covet them, listen to them, and obey them. Madness, entire and dreadful, he now readily acknowledges was in his heart from the beginning; and has hitherto constituted his only moral character.
It is not here to be supposed, that this is, in form, an exact account of the state of every convinced sinner. In substance, it may be considered as universally just. Some such sinners are subjects of far more deep and distressing convictions, than others ; convictions much longer continued ; respecting some of these objects more, and others less; producing more erroneous conclusions, greater self-condemnation, deeper despondency, and, universally, more distressing agitation. Some minds are naturally more exquisitely capable of feeling, than others; more prone to sink ; less prepared to hope, to exert themselves, to reason, and to admit the conclusions, which flow from reasoning ; less ready to receive consolation; and more ready to yield to these, as well as other, temptations. Some have been better instructed in early life ; have been more conscientious, amiable, and exemplary; and have less to reproach themselves with in their past conduct. The Spirit of God, also, may choose to affect, and probably does affect different minds in different manners. Finally; some minds may be more surrounded by temptations and dangers, and at the same time furnished with friends less accessible, counsels less wise, and directions less safe, in this season of trial and sorrow. From these and many other concurring causes it happens, that in form, degree, and continuance, convictions operate very differently on different minds: nor can any human skill limit them in these respects.
It ought by no means to be omitted here, that there are persons, especially of a steady, serene disposition, educated in a careful, religious manner, and habitually of unblameable lives, in whom the process of conviction is conformed in a great degree to their general character. These persons, to the time of their conversion, have, not uncommonly, no remarkable fears or hopes, sorrows or joys. Conscientiously, but calmly, they oppose sín; evenly, but mildly, they sorrow for it; and steadily, but with no great ardour of feeling, they labour in the duties of a religious life. In the account, which they give of their religious views, and emotions, there is little to excite any peculiar degree of comfort in themselves, or of hope concerning them in others. Still their lives are often distinguished by uncommon excellence. Their progress is not that of a torrent now violent, now sluggish and stagnant, but that of a river silently, and uniformly, moving onward, and never delaying its course a moment in its way towards the ocean. In these persons a critical eye may discern a fixed, unwarping love of
their duty, a perpetual repetition of good works, a continual advance towards the consummation of the Christian character.
In substance, however, this work is the same in all minds. All really discern the importance, reasonableness, and justice, of the divine law; their own violations of its precepts; the guilt, which they have in this manner incurred; the righteousness of God, in punishing them for it; and the extreme danger, to which they are therefore exposed. No sinner can turn from sin to holiness, without seeing the evil and danger of the one, and the excellence and safety of the other. No sinner can turn from sin to holiness, without knowing, and acknowledging, his own sin and danger; the reasonableness of the divine law; and the justice of God in punishing his transgressions.
III. The immediate consequences of this conviction next demand our attention.
On this subject it is necessary to observe in the beginning, that the sinner is still altogether a sinner. The only difference between his present and former character is, that, before, he was an unconvinced, and now, a convinced, sinner. Before, he was ignorant of his true character: now he understands it clearly.
Hence, it will be remembered, all his resolutions, efforts, and conduct, will partake of his general character; and will of course be sinful. Between his conscience and his affections, there is now a more complete and open opposition, than ever before. His conscience justifies God, approves of the divine law, and in spite of himself acquiesces in his condemnation; but his heart is still utterly opposed to all these things, and usually more opposed to them than ever.
He is, indeed, afraid to sin ; but it is because he dreads the punishment annexed to it; not because he hates the sin. Nor is it an unknown, nor probably a very unfrequent, case, that these very fears become to him motives to continue in sin, and even to give himself up wholly to sinning. Under the influence of his fears, he is not unfrequently disposed to conclude, that there is no hope for him; and that, therefore, he may as well, and even better, indulge himself in wickedness, than attempt a repentance and reformation, which his deceitful heart, and probably all his spiritual enemies, represent as too late, and therefore fruitless. From this danger, some, it is not improbable, never escape; but return, like the dog to his vomit, and like the sow, that was washed, to her wallowing in the mire. Still, I apprehend, this is very far from being a common case. A A very small number only, as I believe, compared with the whole, yield themselves up to ruin in this deplorable manner. Perhaps no one, who persisted in his efforts to gain eternal life, was ever finally deserted by the Spirit of grace.
To such, as perseveringly continue in their endeavours, the next natural step in their progress, the first great consequence of conviction of sin, is to inquire most earnestly what they shall do to be
saded. Of the anguish, produced by such conviction, the text fur. nishes us with a very forcible example. No picture was perhaps
a ever more striking, than that which is given us of the extreme agitation of the Jailer, in the text. He called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas; and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved ? An agitation, not unlike this, frequently occupies the hearts of others; and prompts them with the same earnestness to make the same solemn and affecting inquiry
Antecedently to this period, the sinner has, in many instances, lived without a single sober thought of asking this question at all. Go thy way for this time ; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee; has been his only language to repentance and reformation. The subject has never become seriously interesting to him before. Before, he has never seen his guilt, nor his danger. Before, he has not wished for salvation ; has found good enough in the world, in sin, and in sense, to prevent all anxiety about future good; considered this as present and real ; and regarded that as distant, doubtful, and imaginary. But now his danger of ruin, and his necessity of deliverance, appear in their full strength. In this situation, he makes this great inquiry with all possible solicitude. His happiness, his life, his soul, in the utmost danger of being lost for ever, are felt to be suspended on the answer. He beholds God, his own enemy, and an unchangeable enemy to sin and impenitence, now rising up to destroy him utterly, and to pour out upon him his wrath and indignation. In the deepest anguish he searches with prying eyes for a place of safety.
Here he first finds himself at a total loss concerning what he shall do. Here he first discovers his own ignorance of this great subject. Before, he was rich, and had need of nothing ; had eyes, which saw clearly all wisdom; understood all that he needed to know, or do; and wanted no instruction nor information from oth
Now he first finds himself to be, and to have been poor, and zuretched, and miserable, and blind, and naked, and in want of all things. Now, instead of deciding on questions of the greatest moment, and difficulty, in Theology, and deciding roundly without examination, or knowledge, he is desirous of being instructed in small and plain things ; and instead of feeling his former contempt for those, who are skilled in them, he becomes humble, docile, desirous of being taught, and disposed to regard with sincere respect such as are able to teach him.
At the same time, he especially betakes himself to the source of all instruction in things of this nature : the Word of God. This book he searches with all anxiety of mind, to find information, and hope. The threatenings and alarms, which before hindered him from reading the Scriptures, now engage him to read them. His own danger and guilt he now labours thoroughly to learn; and is impatient to know the worst of his case. Whatever he finds there