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Unless the Spirit of God pleases to operate, we find it as impossible to persuade them to seek the Lord by prayer, to mortify their corruptions, and set their affections on heavenly things, as persons of the most forbidding and unamiable tempers.
We discover a rooted and invincible antipathy to whatever is spiritual. There are others who, by the influences of
ON CONVERSION, AS ILLUSTRATED BY THAT
OF ST. PAUL.
Gal. i. 15, 16. — But when it pleased God, who separated
me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood.
Of all the events which can befall us in this transitory state, there is none which deserves equally to be devoutly reflected upon with our conversion to God. This is an event by far the most important and the most beneficial. In looking back upon it, the strongest motives arise to humility, to gratitude, and to “a patient continuance in well doing.” We find the holy apostle frequently adverting to it; always in terms that bespeak the lively impression the review of it made on his mind. In the case of St. Paul, there were many circumstances not paralleled in the general experience of christians; but in its essential features, in the views with which it was accompanied, and the effects it produced, it was exactly the same as every one must experience before he can enter into the kingdom of God.
As things of an internal and spiritual nature are best understood by examples, so we shall be at a loss, in the whole records of the church, to find a more striking and instructive example of the efficacy of divine grace in conversion, than that of St. Paul, to which he directs the attention of the Galatians, in the passage under present consideration. In this instructive passage he gives us a view of his conversion in its causes, its means, and its effects.
I. Its causes. “ He separated me from my mother's womb." Thus he styles [himself] “ separated to the Gospel of God.*” It is possible he may
allude to the revelation to Jeremiah on his appointment to the prophetic office: “ Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and ordained thee to be a prophet to the nations.”+
While he, Paul, was running a career of persecuting fury, the Saviour entertained designs of mercy towards him, agreeable to what he declared to Ananias :-" he is a chosen vessel to me to confess my name before nations, and kings, and the people of Israel.” I * Rom. i. 1. † Jer. i. 5.
Acts ix. 15.
We cannot suppose the purposes of God to be of recent date, or to have taken rise from any limited point of time. What he designs, he designs from eternity. Whatever he accomplishes is agreeable to his eternal purposes and word : “ Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purposes and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus, before the world began. Did he separate the apostle from his mother's womb ? was he a chosen vessel ? and must we not affirm (the same] of every one who is made partaker of the grace that is in Christ Jesus? Are not all genuine christians addressed as “elect of God,” or chosen of God, “ through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ ?” op Why should not the real christian give scope to those emotions of gratitude which such reflections will inspire ? Why should he not adore that mercy which preserved him in his unregenerate state, spared him while in his sins, and waited to be gracious ?
The next cause, the more immediate one, to which the apostle ascribes his conversion, was his call by divine grace.
“Whom he predestinated them he also called.”I There is a general call in the gospel, addressed to all men indiscriminately. Gracious invitations are given, without exception, far as the sound of the gospel extends ; but this, of itself, is not effectual.
* 2 Tim. i. 9. † 1 Pet. i. 2. I Rom. viii. 30.
There is, in every instance of real conversion, another and inward call, by which the Spirit applies the general truth of the gospel to the heart.
By this interior call, Christ apprehends, lays hold on the soul, stops it in its impenitent progress, and causes it to “ hear his voice.”
The methods of the divine operations in this inward and effectual calling are very various ; sometimes alarming and awakening providences are made use of for this purpose. The solemnities of death and judgement are forcibly presented to the attention : judgement appears nearly to commence, and the awful scenes of eternity appear near; the careless creature is awakened to perceive his guilt and danger, and is compelled to cry out, “ What must I do to be saved ?” —as when the earthquake, and the opening of the prison-doors, accompanied with unspeakable terrors, impressed the obdurate mind of the jailor, and made him fall down at the feet of his prisoners, trembling and amazed. Of the three thousand, at the day of Pentecost, we read, that “ they were pricked in their heart.” Others, like the eunuch, and Lydia, are wrought upon in a more gentle manner-drawn with the “cords of love, and the ties of man."
That there is such a change produced by the Spirit of God, will not be questioned by a diligent and attentive peruser of the Scriptures: he will observe, the Spirit is always affirmed to be the author of a saving change; and the regenerate are particularly affirmed to be “ born of God,"* “ born of the Spirit.” op In applying the term called, to such persons in a peculiar sense, we have the clearest authority of the Scriptures : “ To them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” I “ All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate. Moreover, whom he did predestinate, them he also called,” J &c. This calling is by grace: “ Who hath called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace." ||
II. The means by which conversion is effected: Revealing his Son in me.” The principal method which the Spirit adopts in subduing the heart of a sinner, is, a spiritual discovery of Christ.
There is an attractive force in the Saviour, when beheld by faith, which commands. Christ crucified possesses a drawing power : “When the Son of Man is lifted up, he will draw all men unto him.”[ No radical and saving change is effected, without the exhibition of this object; nor are the terrors of the law alone ever sufficient for that purpose: they are sufficient to shew the heinousness of sin, and the extreme danger to which the sinner is exposed, but have no tendency to produce a complete renovation. By the law is the knowledge * 1 John iv. 7.
+ John iï. 5. I 1 Cor. i. 24. § Rom. viii. 28—30. || 2 Tim. i. 9. John xii. 32.