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and strong! Ah! unhappy people, even to a man is more than converted; and, in that mention difficulties of this nature. If you rash conclusion, you would have us offer him were already stretched on a dying bed; already the highest place in the mansions of the blessed. come to the close of a criminal course; if hell But wo, wo to those ministers, who, by a had opened beneath to swallow you up; if you cruel lenity, precipitate souls into hell, under had no resource but the last efforts of an ex- the delusion of opening to them the gates of piring soul, then you would be worthy of pity. paradise. Wo to that minister, who shall be But you are yet alive; grace is offered; all the so prodigal of the favours of God. Instead avenues of repentance are open to you; "the of speaking peace to such a man, “I would Lord may yet be found:” there is not one cry aloud; I would lift up my voice like a among you, but may call upon him with suc- trumpet; I would shout,” Isa. lviii. 1. "I
Yet you devote the whole of life to the would thunder; I would shoot against him the world; you confirm the habits of corruption; arrows of the Almighty; I would make him and when we warn you, when we unmask your "suck the venom," Job vi. 4. Happy, if I turpitude, when we discover the abyss into might irradiate passions so inveterate; if I which you precipitate yourselves by choice, might save by fear; if I might pluck from the you complain that it is driving you to despair! burning, a soul so hardened in sin. Would to God that our voice might be exalted But if, as it commonly occurs, this dying like thunder, and the brightness of our dis- man shall devote to his conversion but an excourse be as that which struck St. Paul on the bausted body, and the last sighs of expiring road to Damascus; prostrating you, like that life; wo, wo again, to that minister of the gosapostle, at the feet of the Lord! Would to pel, who, by a relaxed policy, shall, so to spcak, God that the horrors of despair, and the fright- come to canonize this man, as though he had ful images of hell, might fill you with salutary died “the death of the righteous!" Let no fear, inducing you to avoid it! Would to God one ask, What would you do? Would you that your body might, from this moment, “ be trouble the ashes of the dead? Would you delivered to Satan, that the spirit might be drive a family to despair? Would you affix a saved in the day of the Lord," 1 Cor. v. 3. brand of infamy on a house?—What would I
It rests with you, my brethren, to apply these do? I would maintain the interests of my truths; and to profit by the means which Pro-Master; I would act becoming a minister of vidence this day affords for your conversion. Jesus Christ; I would prevent your taking an If there yet remains any resources, any hopes anti-Christian death for a happy death; I would for the man who delays conversion, it is not profit by the loss I have now described; and with ministers of the gospel to point them out. hold up this prey of the devil as a terror to We are not the plenipotentiaries of our reli- the spectators, to the family, and to the whole gion; we are the ambassadors of Christ; we church. have explicit instructions, and our commission Would you know, my dear brethren, which prescribed. God requires that we publish his is the way to prevent such great calarnities? covenant, that we promise you every aid of Would you know what is the accepted time to grace, that we open the treasures of mercy, implore forgiveness, and to derive the Holy that we lead you to heavenly places by the Spirit into your heart? It is this moment, it is track, sprinkled with the blood of the Saviour now. “Seek ye the Lord while he may be of the world. But each of these privileges found.” Yes, he may be found to-day: he has conditions annexed, the nature of which may be found in this assembly; he may be you have heard. Comply with them, repent, found under the word we are now speaking; give your conversion solid, habitual, and effec- he may be found under the exhortations we tive marks; then the treasures of grace are give in his name; he may be found in the reyours. But if you should persist in sin (to tell morse, the anguish, the emotions, excited in you truths to-day, which, perhaps, would be your hearts, and which say, on his behalf, useless to-morrow,) if you should persist dur-seek ye my face.” He may be found in your ing life, and till the approaches of death, and closets, where he offers to converse with you the horrors of hell shall extoçt from you proles in the most tender and familiar manner: he tations of reform, and excite in you the sem- may be found among the poor, among the sick, blance of conversion, we cannot, without doing among those dying carcases, among those livviolence to our instructions, and exceeding our ing images of death, and the tomb, which solicommission, speak peace to your souls, and cit your compassion; and which open to you make you offers of salvation.
the way of charity that leads to God, who is These considerations must exculpate minis- charity itself. He may be found to-day, but ters of the gospel, who know how to maintain perhaps to-morrow he will be found no more. the majesty of their mission, and correspond Perhaps, to-morrow you may seek in vain; perwith their character. And if they exculpate haps, to-morrow your measure may be full; us not in your estimation, they will justify us, perhaps, to-morrow grace may
for ever at least, in the great day, when the most secret withdrawn; perhaps, to-morrow the sentence things shall be adduced in evidence. You are which must decide your eternal destiny shall not properly acquainted with our ministry.- be pronounced! You call us to the dying, who we know to have Ah! who can estimate the value of a mobeen wicked, or far from conforming to the ment so precious! Ah! who can compare his conditions of the new covenant. This wicked situation with the unhappy victims, that divine man, on the approach of death, composes him- vengeance has immolated in hell, and for whom self; he talks solely of repentance, of mercy, “time is no longer!" Ah! who, on withdrawand of tears. On seeing this exterior of con- j ing from this temple, instead of so much vain version, you would have us presume, that such conversation and criminal dissipation, would
not prostrate himself at the footstool of the Di- to-day in this pulpit. In illustrating the words vine Majesty; weeping for the past, reforming of the text, it was not sufficient that we demonthe present, and taking salutary precautions for strated, in our preceding discourses, from reathe future. Ah! who would not force him by son and Scripture, the folly of the sinner, who broken sighs, by fervent prayers, by torrents of delays his conversion; it was not sufficient that tears, never to depart! Who would not say, philosophy and religion have both concurred to and more with his heart than with his mouth, prove, that in order to labour successfully at “Stay with me, Lord; I will not let thee go, the work of salvation, we must begin in early until thou hast blessed me," Gen. xxxii. 20; life, in the time of health, and in the days of until thou hast vanquished my corruption, and youth. We will prove it by experience; we given me the earnest of my salvation. The will demonstrate it by sad tests and instances time of my visitation is almost expired; I see it, of the truths we have delivered; we will proI know it, I feel it; my conversion requires a duce to you awful declarations of the wrath of miracle; I ask this miracle of thee, and am re- heaven, which cry to you with a strong and solved to obtain it of thy compassion.
tender voice, “ Seek ye the Lord while he may My brethren, my dear brethren, we have no be found, call ye upon him while he is near." expressions sufficiently tender, no emotions suf These witnesses, these tests, these examples ficiently pathetic, no prayers sufficiently fer- shall be adduced from persons, who once stood vent, to draw you to these duties. Let your in your present situation; acquainted with the zeal supply our weakness. If we have bran- will of God, warned by his servant, and living, dished before your eyes the sword of divine as St. Peter expresses himself, “at a period, in vengeance, it is not to destroy you, but to save which the long-suffering of God awaited them,” you; it is not to drive you to despair, but to in- | 1 Pet. iii. 20. And you, even you, Christians, duce you "to sorrow after a godly sort, and must one day become what they now are, with a repentance not to be repented of," 2 awful examples of the wrath of God; eternal Cor. ii. 10. It is incumbent on each of you monuments of his indignation and vengeance; who hear, and regard what I say, to participate unless your eyes, opened by so much light, unin these advantages. May you, from the pre- less your hearts, impressed by so many motives, sent moment, form a resolution to profit by an unless your consciences, alarmed by the dreadopportunity so precious. May the hour of your ful judgments of God, shall take measures to death, corresponding with the sincerity of your prevent the sentence, already prepared in his resolutions, and with the holiness of your lives, eternal counsels, and whose execution is at the open to you the gates of heaven, and enable door. you to find in glory that God, whom you shall But does it not seem to you, my brethren, have found merciful in this church. God grant that we undertake a task too arduous, when you grace so to do. To Father, Son, and Holy we engage to prove, from experience, that the Spirit, be honour and glory for ever. Amen. long-suffering of God is restricted; and that, by
delaying conversion, we risk the total frustraSERMON LXXXI.
tion of the work? You have already alleged, I am aware, an almost infinite number of sinners,
who apparently subvert our principles; so many ON THE DELAY OF CONVERSION. servants, called at the eleventh hour, so many
hearts, which grace has changed in a moment; so many penitents, who, in the first essays of
repentance, have found the arms of mercy open; Isaiah lv. 6.
and whose happy success consoles, to the preSeek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye sent hour, the imitators of their crimes. upon him while he is near.
We shall hear your reasons, before we proEXPERIENCE, my brethren, is a great teacher; pose our own. We would leave nothing beit is a professor which adduces clear, solid, and hind, which might occasion a mistake, in which indisputable proofs. Reason is an admirable it is so dangerous to be deceived. Our disendowment, given us as a guide in our re course shall turn on these two points: first, we searches after truth. Revelation has been happi- shall examine the cases of those sinners which ly added to reason, to correct and guide it; but seem to favour the conduct of those who delay both have their difficulties. Reason is circum- conversion; then we shall allege, in the second scribed, its views are confined, its deviations place, those which confirm our principle, and frequent; and the false inferences we perceive make a direct attack on security and delay. it deduces, render doubtful its most clear and I. We shall examine the case of those sinevident conclusions. Revelation, however ve- ners, which seem to militate against what we nerable its tribunal, however infallible its de- have advanced in the preceding discourses. cisions, “is foolishness," says the apostle, “to All that we then advanced, may be comprised the natural man;" it is exposed to the glosses under two heads. We said, first, that in order of erroneous critics, to the difficulties of here to acquire the habit of piety, there was but one tics, and the contradictions of infidels. But way, the daily exercise of all its duties. We experience is without exception; it speaks to affirmed, secondly, that the period of mercy, the heart, to the senses, and the understand is restricted; and that we risk a total exclusion ing; it neither reasons nor debates, but carries when we offer to God only the last
groans of conviction and proof. It so commands the expiring life. We founded our first proposition consent of the Christian, the philosopher, and on the force of habits, and on the nature of the even the atheist, that nothing but mental de Holy Spirit's economy, who, for the most part, rangement can revoke its decisions in doubt. abandons to their own turpitude, those that re
This is the grand instructer that must preach / sist his grace. This was the subject of our first
sermon, and the second part of the other. We power, which converted them in a moment? established our second proposition on the new Why should I make myself a perpetual martyr covenant, which offers us mercy, solely on con- to forward a work, which one of those happy dition of repentance, faith, and the love of God; moments shall
perfectly consummate? These consequently, which renders dubious the state are the first difficulties, and the first examples, of those, who have not bestowed upon those you adduce. virtues, the time adequate to their acquisition. You oppose, in the second plea, the case of These are the two principal heads, which com- ; those sinners, who, after committing the greatprise all that we have advanced upon this sub- est crimes, have found, on the first efforts of ject.
repentance, the arms of mercy open for their You may also oppose to us two classes of reception. Of this class, there are many in the examples. In the first class you may arrange Scriptures; the principal are that of David; those instantaneous conversions and changes, that of St. Peter; that of St. Paul; and that of which grace bas effectuated in a moment by a the converted thief, which has a nearer con single stroke; and which apparently destroy nexion with our subject than any of the others. what we have advanced on the force of habits, These are names, which the wicked have conand the nature of the economy of the Holy tinually in their mouths; and it must be acSpirit. In the second class, you will put those knowledged, that they are distinguished monuother sinners, who, after the perpetration of ments of divine mercy. It would seem that enormous crimes, have obtained remission by a you may deduce from them this consequence, sign, by a prayer, by a few tears; and who af- that to whatever degree you may have carried ford presumptive hopes, that to whatever ex- vice, there is some ground to expect pardon cess we may have carried our crimes, we shall and salvation. never exceed the terms of mercy, or obstruct After so many examples of divine mercy, reception at the throne of grace. Let us con- sinners will readily say, how is it that you sider the difficulties which may be drawn from alarm us with so many fears' Why draw so both these sources.
many terrific portraits of the justice of God? You adduce first those sudden conversions, And why exclude the sinner, however corrupt, those instantaneous changes on the spot, with from the throne of grace? I who may have a out difficulty, labour, and repeated endeavours. secret intrigue, scarcely suspected, very far of this class, we have various examples in from being known to the world, shall I have Scripture. We have Simon, we have Andrew, more difficulty in obtaining mercy than David, we have James the son of Zebedee, and most who committed adultery in the face of all Isof the apostles, whom Jesus Christ found cast-rael? I who may have absented myself for a ing their nets into the sea, and engaged in the time from the true church, shall I have more humble trade of fishing, or collecting the tri- difficulty in obtaining mercy than St. Paul, bute; and who were instantaneously, and on the who persecuted the saints; or St. Peter, whó spot, endued with divine thoughts, new desires, openly denied his Master, and in his Master's and heavenly propensities; who, from the mean- presence? I who have not directly robbed, but est artisans became the heralds of the gospel; have been contented with acquiring goods by formed the noble design of conquering the uni- means clandestine indeed, but at the same time verse, and subjugating the whole world to the sanctioned by example, by custom, by the empire of their Master.
usages of fraud, and art; by palliated lies, and With this class, may also be associated the oaths contrary to truth, bui essential in the example of Zaccheus; who seems to have been employment to which I am providentially callrenovated in a moment, and to have reformeded; shall I be more culpable than the converton the spot, and without the previous duties ed thief who robbed on the highway? What of piety, a passion the most obstinate, which should hinder me then from following those grows with age, and from which scarcely any personages in vice during life, reserving time one is converted. He assumed a language un to throw myself into the arms of mercy, and heard of in the mouth of a merchant, and es- imitate their repentance, in my last hours? pecially a covetous merchant: “The half of Have you, sinners, said enough? Are these my goods I give to feed the poor; and if I have all your hidden things of dishonesty, and all the taken any thing from any man by false accusa- frivolous pretences in which you are cradled tion, I restore him fourfold,” Luke xix. 8. To by the demon of socurity? See then to what the same class you may add those thousands tends your religion, and the use you make of of persons who changed their faith and reform- our Scriptures. The Holy Spirit has there ed their lives, on the first preaching of the delineated the lives of those illustrious men apostles.
who once were vessels of honour in the Lord's After so many trophies erected to the power house; he has “surrounded you with a cloud of grace, what becomes of your arguments, you of witnesses," for animation in your course, say, on the force of habits, on the genius of the by the example of men like yourselves, who Holy Spirit's economy? Who will dare to main- have finished it with joy. He has also left lain, after the adduction of these that habits of you a history of their defects, to excite you to piety may not be acquired without labour, fa- vigilance, saying to every sinner, take care, if tigue, and the duties of devotion? Why may I those distinguished saints stumbled, what will not promise myself, after devoting the most of thy fall be when thou shalt relax? If those my life to pleasure, to have the same power main pillars have been shaken, what has not over my heart as Zaccheus, the apostles, and the bruised reed to fear? If the cedars of Lefirst converts to Christianity? Why may í not banon have been ready to tumble, what shall expect the irradiations which enlightened, the be the destiny of the hyssop of the wall? To aids which attracted, and the omnipotent | those reflections you are deaf; and to deceive
the Eternal Wisdom, and “to be wiser in your man struck with death, that his first concern is foolish generation,” than the Father of lights for the health of his body, that he calls both himself, you draw from these examples, design- nature and art to his assistance; but his hopes ed to make you wise, motives to confirm you being lost, with regard to the world, he turns in your crimes. We shall endeavour to ex- his attention towards religion; he makes a amine the whole of your sophisms.
mighty ado about conversion; he weeps, he We shall first make this general observation; groans, he prays; that he discovers to us the that when we said in the preceding discourse, semblance of repentance and conversion: we we must, in order to acquire the habit of piety, aver that this man's state is doubtful, and experform its duties, and to obtain admission at ceedingly doubtful. But we speak according the throne of grace, we must demonstrate our to the ordinary course of religion: knowing faith by a course of virtuous actions, we told that God is almighty, we exclude not the ocyou only what commonly occurs in the course currence of miracles. Hence all the cases you of religion. We did not include in our re- adduce are prodigies of conversion, in which marks, the overpowering and extraordinary God has exceeded ordinary laws, and from operations of grace. For God, who was pleas- which no conclusions can be drawn; and all ed sometimes to supersede the laws of nature, that you add on the power of God, on the irsupersedes also, on some occasions, the laws of resistible, renovating, and victorious efficacy religion, by graciously enlarging the limits of of grace, however solid on other occasions, the new covenant. The laws followed in na- when applied to this subject, are empty deture are wisely established. He has assigned a clamations, and foreign to the point. pavilion to the sun, and balanced the earth on But are all those examples of conversion and its poles. He has prescribed boundaries to the repentance miracles? No, my brethren, nor is sea, and obliged this impetuous element to re- this the whole of our reply: and had we provspect the commands of its Creator. “ Hither- ed that they are all such in effect, we should to shalt thou come, but no farther; and here indeed have done little, and you might have
shall thy proud waves be stayed,” Job xxxviii. returned home, Aattered, perhaps, that God • 11. We have likewise seen him supersede the would work the same prodigies for you in a
laws of nature, and discover as much wisdom dying hour. Let us enter into a more minuto in their suspension as he manifested in their discussion; let us remark,-and this is our establishment. We have sometimes seen the grand solution, let us reinark, that among all earth quake; the sun stop and suspend his the sinners whose conversion you adduce, there course; the waters of the sea advancing before, is not one, no not one, in the condition of the or retiring behind,“ divide themselves as a Christian, who neglecting his salvation, prewall on the right hand, and on the left,” Exod. sumes to offer to God only the dregs of life, xiv. 22, as well to favour his chosen people, as and the last groans of expiring nature. No; to confound the rebellious nation. Just so the of all those sinners, there is not one who was laws of religion, and the conditions of his in the situation of such a man; consequently, covenant, are also perfectly wise, and equally there is not one, no not one, who can afford founded on goodness and equity; meanwhile the shadow of a rational excuse to fatter the God is pleased sometimes to suspend them, men we now attack. Let us illustrate this reand to enlarge the limits of grace.
flection; it is of the last importance. You This thought aptly applies to many of the may remark five essential distinctions. They cases you adduce, and particularly to instanta- differed—either with regard to their light-or neous conversions. They are not the usual with regard to their motives—or with regard way in which the Holy Spirit proceeds; they to the duration of their crime-or with regard do not occur in the ordinary course of religion. to their virtues—or with regard to the certainThey are exceptions to the general laws; they ty of their repentance and conversion: five are miracles. Instead, therefore, of judging considerations, my brethren, which you cannot of the general laws of religion, by these parti- too deeply inculcate on your minds. Some of cular instances, you should rectify your notion them apply to the whole, others to a part. of them by those general laws. Ah! temporiz- Let each of you apply to himself that portion ing directors, apostate casuists, pests of the of our remarks on these conversions which public, you compose your penitents with de- corresponds with his case. ceitful hope. This is our first solution.
Speaking first of the illumination of those When a physician, after exhausting all the two classes of sinners, we affirm that there is powers of art to restore the sick, finds his pre- an essential difference between the men whose scriptions baffled, his endeavour without effect, example is adduced, and the Christians who and his skill destitute of resource; when he delay conversion. Of all those sinners, there finds the brain delirious, the circulation of the was not one, who possessed the light which blood irregular, the chest oppressed, and na we have at the present day. Zaccheus, the ture ready to fall under the pressure of disease, apostle, the prophets, David, and all the perhe says, it is a lost case. He presumes not to sons at the period in question, were in this resay, that God cannot heal him; nor that he has spect inferior to the most ignorant Christian. never seen a recovery in similar circumstances; Jesus Christ has decided, that “the least in he speaks according to the course of nature; the kingdom of heaven is greater than they," he judges according to the rules of art; he de- Luke vii
. 28. St. Peter had not seen the recides as a physician, and not as a worker of surrection of his Master, when he had the miracles. Just so, when we see a man in the weakness to deny him. Tho converted thief, church, who has persisted thirty, forty, or fifty had, perhaps, never heard his name, while years in a course of crimes; when we see this / abandoned to his crimes; and St. Paul, while
persecuting the church, followed the old pre- which constitutes a second difference; that is, judices of Judaism," he did it ignorantly,” as the motives which press you to conversion he himself affirms, 1 Tim. i. 13
were scarcely known to the others. You are This is the first consideration which aggra- pressed more than they by motives of grativates your condemnation, and renders your tude. What were all the favours which they salvation doubtful, if you defer the work. received of God, in comparison of those which “The grace of God has appeared to all men. are heaped on you; you are born in "an acYou are born in so enlightened an age, that cepted time, in a day of salvation,” i Cor. vi. the human mind seems to have attained the 2; in those happy days “ which so many righthighest period of perfection to which its weak- eous men, and prophets had desired to see,' ness will permit it to arrive. Philosophy has Matt. xiii. 17. You are pressed more than been disencumbered of all ambiguous terms, they by motives of interest, "you have receivof all useless punctilios, and of all the pom- ed of his fulness, and grace for grace," John i. pous nothings, which confused, rather than 16; you to whom Christ has * revealed imformed the minds of youth; and our systems mortality and life,” 2 Tim. i. 10; who having of moral philosophy seem to have attained per- received such promises you ought to be the fection. Theology is purged, at least on most more separated" from all filthiness of the flesh subjects, and would to God that it was alto- and of the spirit,"'--more than they, by mogether purged of the abstruse researches, and tives of fear, " for knowing the terrors of the trifling disquisitions, which amused our fathers. Lord,” you ought to be the more obedient to If some weak minds still follow the former no- his will. More than they by motives of emutions, they only render themselves ridiculous, lation; you have not only “the cloud of witweary the people, disgust the learned, and are nesses,” but the grand pattern, the model of left to detail their maxims to the dusty walls perfection, who has left us so fine an example of their half deserted schools.
that we should tread in his steps; who has How clearly have they proved, for instance, said, “ Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly the being of God? On how many clear, easy, of heart,” Matt. xi. 29. Looking unto Jesus and demonstrative evidences, have they esta- the author and finisher of your faith; you blished this fundamental article of religion ought, according to St. Paul's exhortation, to How clearly have they illustrated the doctrine be induced “not to cast away your confiof the immortality of the soul? How admira- dence,” Heb. x. 35. More than they by the bly has philosophy coincided with religion on grandeur of your heavenly birth; "you have this article, to disengage spirit from matter, to not received the spirit of bondage unto fear, mark the functions of each substance, to dis but the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, tinguish which belongs to the body, and which Abba, Father,” Rom. viii. 15. to the mind? How clearly also have they What is the result of all these arguments? proved the truth of religion With what in- If you have more motives, you are more culdustry have they investigated the abyss of an- pable; and if you are more culpable, the mercy cient literature, demonstrated and rendered which they have obtained, concludes nothing palpable the prodigies achieved seventeen cen- in your favour; and the objection, which you turies ago?
derive from example, is altogether sophistical. I speak not this to make an eulogium on our And what is worse, this superabundance of age, and elevate it in your esteem. I have, motives renders your conversion more ditficult, my brethren, views more exalted. All the and thereby destroys the hopes you found on knowledge of this period is dispensed by that their example. For though the Holy Spirit wise Providence which watches over your sal- has a supreme power over the heart, nothing, vation, and it will serve for your refutation. however, is more certain, that in promoting The economy of the Holy Spirit, who illumi- our conversion, he acts with us as rational benates your mind, has been fully discussed. If, ings, and in conformity to our nature; he protherefore, it be true, that the atrocity of sin is poses motives, and avails himself of their force, proportionate to the knowledge of the delin- to induce us to duty. Consequently, when the quent;—if it be true, that those “who know heart has long resisted the grand motives of their Master's will, and do it not, shall be conversion, it thereby becomes obdurate. punished with more stripes than those who How were those miraculous conversions efare ignorant and negligent,” Luke xii. 47;—if fectuated to which you appeal? It was in a it be true, that the sin of such persons remains, way totally inapplicable to you. The first as Jesus Christ has affirmed, John ix. 41;—if time Zaccheus saw Jesus Christ, he received it be true, that "it were better not to have the promise of salvation. Zaccheus feeling, known the way of righteousness, than to turn by the efficacy of grace, the force of a motive from the holy commandment," 2 Pet. ii. 21;— which had never been proposed before, yielded if it be true, that God will require five talents immediately without hesitation. The converts, of those who have received five, while those on the day of Pentecost, were in suspense conwho have received but two shall be account- cerning what opinion they should form of able but for two, Matt. xxv.-If it be true, that ) Jesus Christ: they had crucified him in ignoit shall be inore tolerable for Tyre and Sidon, rance, and Jerusalem remained undecided what than for Chorazin and Bethsaida;—it is also to think of him after his death. The apostles true, that your arguments are sophistical; that preached; they proved by their miracles the the example of those sinners can afford you truth of his resurrection. Then those men, nothing but deceitful hopes, which flatter the being struck with motives never before prodelay of conversion.
posed, yielded at once. Thus the Holy Spirit From this last consideration arises another, I operated in their hearts; but in a inanner con