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In this article we propose some helps to success, in the application of truth for the conversion of men.
We do not here attempt a general survey of the principles on which the cause of Christ should be prosecuted, and the truth maintained on the earth; but confine our attention to a single point, the application of truth to impenitent mind for its conver. sion, and to some helps in that appropriate effort.
1. An enlightened view of the state of impenitent mind, as to its powers and susceptibilities.
It is not mind destitute of reason, or conscience, or susceptibility to motives. It can reflect on religious subjects, and be influenced by moral considerations. It is capable of being moved by truth and by all the considerations of the gospel, as really as any mind can be. Man by the fall lost none of the constiiuent elements of his intelligent nature, but retains them now as a rational, accountable agent-capable of being approached, and legitimately approached and influenced, by all the considerations and truths to which rational intelligence is open; and the practical conviction of this, is an aid in preaching the gospel. The reason and conscience of impenitent men are with the truth, so far as they get possession of it. The preacher may feel that he has a coadjutor, in the constituent principles of the being of those he addresses. It is to the reason and the susceptibility of morally right emotions, in view of the truth of God, that he constantly appeals, and it is ground on which he should stand with no misgivings or distrust.
The objection to impenitent mind is its wrong action. Temptation succeeded with Adam, and“ he fell from his estate of holiness by transgressing the divine command.” All that is wrong in man,-all that the law charges against him, is of the nature of transgression. It is some feeling, emotion, or action, of which he is conscious, and in which he violates law. In this state of unrecorered rebellion impenitent mind now is.
impenitent mind now is. There is a misdirection of its powers, susceptibilities, and course. It follows other lords and other gods than the true Jehovah. The sinner has become vain in his imaginations, and his foolish heart is darkened. Self, the world, pleasure, pride, self-sufficiency, and various lusts, have crowded into his imagination, absorbed his attention, and characterized his affections, and he is now wholly astray from God, in the spirit, the habit, and the degeneracy of sin. He is like the disobedient, apostate child in a family, or the rebel province of an empire. All that is predicable of him, which has relation to the law of God, is counter to that law.
We do not say that sinful indulgence has no eventual tendency to weaken and depress the constitutional powers of the soul, that the heathen have not lost intellectual stature in this way, or that all sinners have not, or that the gospel has not this result of sin to encounter, more or less, wherever it is sent; but that we are not called to dispense it, under the disheartening impression that there is in it no inherent applicability to the sinner's mind—that the great elements of his moral being embody no power of responding to it ;-that when the truth gets his attention, pierces the veil that sinful indulgence has cast over the mind, it still finds no intelligence, no reason, no divinely constituted moral nature to address there, and to move in accordance with its communications ;—that the mind is physically disabled, and incapable of apprehending, feeling, and yielding to the claims of God, presented in the gospel ;—that there is no correspondence between the truth and the properties of the mind it addresses, and no direct and perceived relation between preaching it and the submission and obedience it requires. It is our privilege, and for our help, to feel that all truth is adapted to mind, and all mind to truth. There is no statement in the gospel, which may not legitimately be made to man in apostacy, and no motive it contains, which he is not inherently able to feel and appreciate. Motives to repentance may be drawn for his use, and be pressed upon bim, with the hope of direct influence and success, from the holy nature, and intrinsic excellence of God-from the inherent wrong of sin—from the loveliness of piety-from the purity of heaven, and the elements and blessedness of the rest that remaineth there. Indeed those very considerations which keep angels in their spheres, and fill heaven with joy, often have the most influence with the sinner, in convincing him of his guilt, folly, and wretchedness, and in leading him to Christ. We may come to him, then, with the messages of truth, and reason with him on the great subjects of “ righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come,” with as direct an aiin and hope of conviction and persuasion, and all the happy issues thereof, as on other subjects than those of religion. The subject matter of the gospel, stands related to the needed and intended issue of it, in the conversion and salvation of men, at the same point as truth on other subjects does to its action on mind. Other truth does not have influence, if it fails to secure attention, or is neutralized by prejudice, or is rendered inoperative by unbelief or any other cause; and the object of this position is to place divine truth on the same parallel with all truth in physics or morals, as to its action on the constituent principles of mind, and that it should ever be dispensed with this full conviction and encouragement. Indeed, if it were not so, why is the revealed will of God given at all to apostate man!-- why send for Paul into Macedonia, or to Rome?—why give the gospel to the heathen, or preach it at home ?—why seek to per. suade men, as did the apostle, or use his inspired exhortations
as though God did beseech you by us, we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God.”
II. A discriminating view of what conversion is.
Conversion is the change, which occurs in the sinner, in becoming reconciled to God, in passing from impenitence to penitence; from entire sinfulness to incipient holiness. It implies a knowledge of the facts of revelation, to some extent, or their equivalent, and appreciation of them; a conviction of the truthprevailing, successful conviction of it,-conviction in the judgment, compunction in the conscience, contrition for disobedience, and acquiescence of spirit in the claims and will of God. It is the sinner yielding to the truth, and in view of it repenting of his sins, and returning in penitence and submission, from the error of his ways, to his legitimate objects, and relations, and feelings, as an intelligent and responsible agent and creature of God. It does us injury to feel that there is some unappreciable enigma about conversion; some occult, theological mystery, from which we are warned to stand aloof, on pain of the penalty of presumption or sacrilege. There is nothing in this event which is monstrous or unaccountable--nothing which infringes or suspends the conscious and rational action of the mind--nothing but what is according to the laws of mind obtaining on other subjects. Its occurrence is, indeed, the highest reason in the universe. It is the sinner yielding to reason, and conscience, and truth, and duty, and God, from the best considerations which can move mind,--any mind, human or angelic. It is his giving up sin for the wrong and unprofitableness thereof, and falling in with right from the constraining and appreciated obligations thereof. There is no more difficulty in accounting for the sinner's repenting, than for Adam's sinning. Mutability of purpose and character, is an attribute of finite minds. One who has acted wrongly hitherto, is not therefore incapacitated to act rightly. He is not obliged to continue in his wrong. He need not always sin and hate God and his neighbor. And so we reason in common life. So the Bible treats the subject of the sinner's return to God. Its exhortations to repentance are uneinbarrassed with any philosophical objections at this point. Hinderances there are, as we shall see, but they lie not here. The means, the object, and end of conversion, all instruct us that it is an intelligent, rational process of mind, involving the highest exercise of its powers of thought and feeling. Many of the conceptions, which are wont to hover about and encumber this subject, are the coinage of a scholastic age. The mists that settle upon it are from times previous to that of Bacon and the inductive philosophy, and they show themselves in the raried forms of an antinomian theology, or in the more subtle insinua. tions and effects of a professedly by-gone “ taste-scheme.”
“Non tali auxilio, nec defensoribus istis,
Tempus eget”The conversion of the sinner is his repentance. So Peter preached, in the great revival at the pentecost. “Repent and be baptized, for the remission of sins,”—“Repent and be converted,” (turn yourselves, active voice,)“ that your sins may
be blotted out.” The appeal of Christ to the sinner was in like form, as was that of Old Testament prophets : “Repent and believe the gospel ;” “Turn, for why will ye die;" and James, addressing the disciples, says “ He that converteth the sinner from the error of his way, shall save a soul from death, and hide a multitude of sins."
In a theological sense, the word conversion describes the event under consideration, contemplated in the aspect and from the direction of the divine influence employed therein, and repentance, from that of the sinner's agency and compliance therein; but neither is the one without the other in this event, nor is it accomplished without the concurrence of both. Truth and the Spirit influencing the sinner, and his repenting under this influence, make it predicable of him that he is a converted man; that he is changed from nature to grace, from a state of apostacy to a state of reconciliation, and hence issues that event which we rightly term conversion. See its type in the compunction, mental agony, and submission of the prodigal son, and his return to his father; in the moving of the multitudes under the preaching at Pentecost, when three thousand were turned to the Lord; and see, also, a striking resemblance to it, when a disobedient, refractory child sinks upon the knee of its parent, convinced of its wrong, confessing, forsaking it, and returning to its duty in the family again.
Agencies from without do not constitute conversion. They are seen at the point of inducing and securing it. The sinner is not converted before he repents. He is in no way changed in moral character or condition, until penitence occurs. Conversion is a result through influences inducing right action, in an intelligent being, from and in view of considerations adapted to the issue. So far as appears, the process is in the highest sense rational, and need not be encumbered and scandalized by a technical and abstract phraseology, tending to make it less so, and to weaken the conscious responsibility of men in relation to it.
III. A just apprehension of the agency of the Holy Spirit in conversion.
This feature of the subject has been to some extent involved in the previous discussion, but it merits further attention. The gift of the Holy Ghost is superadded to the other provisions of grace, and to the grounds of success, which truth has on other subjects than that of religion. It is wholly a superadded economy, all in the grace of God, to give efficacy to the gospel on the minds of men, and sway them, in view of the truth, ** 1o apply the merits of redemption purchased by Christ.” Its need has grown out of the apostacy of man ; its indispensableness out of the obstinacy of his heart, and bis utter alienation from God prevailing against all the influences of the truth, unaided by the Spirit. Truth is obligatory on us without the Spirit's agency. We should be bound to believe and obey God, and become all that the gospel requires, if the economy of the Spirit had never been granted. Its agency God may now forego in any instance, and yet hold us responsible for the improvement we make of his truth, and for the success of those communications of the gospel which are made to us. We know not that angels have the Spirit's agency, or need it, and we do know that its dispensation on earth adds new responsibility to men, and affixes the characteristic of a peculiar desperation, and recklessness, and guilt on him who to other sins adds this, that “ he does despite unto the Spirit of grace.”
That the agency of the Spirit is co-ordinate with the truth, to give it success, and secure the issues which it is adapted to have on mind, if more than the statement of the position