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ON THE DELAY OF CONVERSION. (SER. LXXXI. not, however, be disputed, that every man in the veins, and a cloud of darkness envelopes should be instructed according to his situation all the faculties. Hence the drowsiness of in life, and according to the capacity he has aged people: hence the difficulty of receiving received from heaven. In a word, a Christian new impressions; hence the return of ancient ought to be a Christian, not because he has objects; hence the obstinacy in their sentibeen educated in the principles of Christianity ments; hence the almost universal defect of transmitted by his fathers, but because those knowledge and comprehension; whereas peoprinciples came from God.
ple less advanced in age have usually an easy To have contrary dispositions, to follow a mind, a retentive memory, a happy concepreligion from obstinacy or prejudice, is equally tion, and a teachable temper. If we, thereto renounce the dignity of a man, a Christian, fore, defer the acquisition of religious knowand a Protestant:-The dignity of a man, who, ledge till age has chilled the blood, obscurendowed with intelligence, should never de- ed the understanding, enfeebled the memory, cide on important subjects without consulting and confirmed prejudice and obstinacy, it is his understanding, given to guide and conduct almost impossible to be in a situation to acquire him: The dignity of a Christian; for the gos- that information without which our religion pel reveals a God who may be known, John iv. can neither be agreeable to God, afford us solid 22; it requires us to prove all things, and to consolation in affliction, nor motives sufficient hold fast that which is good," 1 Thess. v. 21. against temptation. The dignity of a Protestant; for it is the If this reflection do not strike you with suffifoundation and distinguishing article of the cient force, follow man in the succeeding peReformation, that submission to human creeds riods of life. The love of pleasure predomiis a bondage unworthy of him whom the “Son nates in his early years, and the dissipations of has made free.” Inquiry, knowledge, and in the world allure bim from the study of relivestigation, are the leading points of religion, gion. The sentiments of conscience are heard, and the first step, so to speak, by which we are however, notwithstanding the tumult of a to “seek the Lord.”
thousand passions: they suggest that, in order The second disposition is sanctification. The to peace of conscience, he must either be relitruths proposed in Scripture for examination gious, or persuade himself that religion is altoand belief, are not presented to excite vain spe- gether a phantom. What does a man do in culations, or gratify curiosity. They are truths this situation? He becomes either incredulous designed to produce a divine influence on the or superstitious. He believes without examiheart and life. "He that saith, I know him, nation and discussion, that he has been eduand keepeth not his commandments, is a liar. cated in the bosom of truth; that the religion If you know these things, happy are you, if of his fathers is the only one which can be you do them. Pure religion and undefiled be good; or rather, he regards religion only on fore God and the Father, is this, to visit the the side of those difficulties which infidels opfatherless and the widows in their affliction," pose, and employs all his strength of intellect 1 John ii. 4; John xiii. 17; James i. 27. When to augment those difficulties, and to evade we speak of Christian obedience, we do not their evidence. Thus he dismisses religion to mean some transient acts of devotion; we mean escape his conscience, and becomes an obstia submission proceeding from a source of ho- nate Atheist, to be calm in crimes. Thus he liness, which, however mixed with imperfec-wastes his youth, time flies, years accumulate, tion in its efforts, piety is always the predomi- notions become strong, impressions fixed in the nant disposition of the heart, and virtue tri-brain, and the brain gradually loses that supumphant over vice.
pleness of which we now spake. These two points being so established, that A period arrives in which these passions no one can justly dispute them, we may prove, seem to subside; and as they were the sole I am confident, from our own constitution, that cause of rendering that man superstitious or a conversion deferred ought always to be sus- incredulous, it seems that incredulity and supected; and that, by deferring the work, we perstition should vanish with the passions. Let risk the forfeiture of the grace.- Follow us in us profit by the circumstance; let us endeavour these arguments.
to dissipate the illusion; let us summons the This is true, first, with regard to the light man to go back to the first source of its errors; essential to conversion. Here, my brethren, let us talk; let us prove; let us reason; but all it were to have been wished, that each of you is unavailing care; as it commonly happens had studied the human constitution; that you that the aged talk of former times, and recolhad attentively considered the mode in which lect the facts which struck them in their youth, the soul and body are united, the close ties while present occurrences leave no trace on the which subsist between the intelligence that memory, so the old ideas continually run in thinks within, and the body to which it is their mind. united. We are not pure spirit; the soul is a Let us farther remark, that the soul not only lodger in matter, and on the temperature of this loses with time the facility of discerning error matter depends the success of our researches from truth, but after having for a considerable after truth, and consequently after religion. time habituated itself to converse solely with
Now, my brethren, every season and every sensible objects, it is almost impossible to atperiod of life are not alike proper for disposing tach it to any other. See that man who has the body to the happy temperature, which for a course of years been employed in auditleaves the soul at liberty for reflection and ing accounts, in examining the nature of trade, thought. The powers of the brain fail with the prudence of his partners, the fidelity of his years, the senses becomie dull, the spirits eva- correspondents; propose to him, for instance, porate, the memory weakens, the blood chills the solution of a problem; desire him to inves
tigate the cause of a phenomenon, the founda- , truths before the world has engrossed its cation of a system, and you require an impossi-pacity. bility. The mind, however, of this man, who This truth is susceptible of a much clearer finds these subjects so difficult, and the mind demonstration, when we consider religion with of the philosopher who investigates them with regard to practice. And as the subject turns ease, are formed much in the same way. All on principles to which we usually pay but the difference between them is, that the latter slight attention, we are especially obliged to has accustomed himself to the contemplation request, if you would edify by this discourse, of mental objects, whereas the other has vo- that you would hear attentively: There are luntarily debased himself to sordid pursuits, subjects less connected, which may be compredegraded his understanding, and enslaved it to hended, notwithstanding a momentary absence sensible objects. After having passed our life of the mind; but this requires an unremitting in this sort of business, without allowing time attention, as we lose the whole by neglecting for reflection, religion becomes an abyss; the the smallest part. clearest truth, mysterious; the slightest study, Remember, in the first place, what we have fatigue; and, when we would fix our thoughts, already hinted, that in order to true converthey are captivated with involuntary deviations. sion, it is not sufficient to evidence some par
In a word, the final inconvenience which re- tial acts of love to God: the principle must be sults from deferring the study of religion, is a so profound and permanent, that this love, distraction and dissipation proceeding from the though mixed with some defects, shall ever be objects which prepossess the mind. The va- the predominant disposition of the heart. We rious scenes of life, presented to the eye, make should not apprehend that any of you
would a strong impression on the soul; and the ideas dispute this assertion, if we should content ourwill obtrude even when we would wish to di- selves with pressing it in a vague and general vert the attention. Hence distinguished em- way; and if we had no design to draw conclu. ployments, eminent situations, and professions sions directly opposite to the notions of many, which require intense application, are not and to the practice of most. But at the close commonly the most compatible with salvation. of this discourse, unable to evade the conseNot only because they rob us, while actually quences which follow the principle, we are employed, of the time we should devote to strongly persuaded you will renew the attack God, but because they pursue us in defiance of on the principle itself, and deny that to which our efforts. We come to the Lord's house with you have already assented. Hence we ought our bullocks, with our doves, with our specu- not to proceed before we are agreed what we lations, with our ships, with our bills of ex- ought to believe upon this head. We ask you, change, with our titles, with our equipage, as brethren, whether you believe it requisite to those profane Jews whom Jesus Christ once love God in order to salvation? We can scarcechased from the temple in Jerusalem. There ly think that any of our audience will answer is no need to be a philosopher to perceive the in the negative; at least we should fear to force of this truth; it requires no evidence but speak with much more confidence on this the history of your own life. How often, when point, and on the necessity of acquiring instrucretired to the closet to examine your conscience, tion in order to conversion, than to supersede have worldly speculations interrupted your the obligation of loving God, because it would duty! How often, when prostrated in the pre- derogate from the dignity of man, who is obsence of God, has this heart which you came liged to love his benefactor; from the dignity to offer him, robbed you of your devotion by of a Christian, educated under a covenant pursuing earthly objects! How often, when which denounces anathemas against those who engaged in sacrificing to the Lord a sacrifice love not the Lord Jesus; from the dignity of a of repentance, has a thousand flights of birds Protestant, who cannot be ignorant how all the come to annoy the sacred service! Evident divines of our communion have exclaimed proof of the truth we advance! Every day we against the doctrine of Rome on the subject of see new objects: these objects leave ideas; these penance. ideas recur; and the contracted soul, unable to Recollect, my brethren, that we are agreed attend to the ideas it already possesses, and to upon this point; recollect in the subsequent those it would acquire, becomes incapable of parts of this discourse, that, in order to converreligious investigation. Happy is the man de- sion, we must have a radical and habitual love scended from enlightened parents, and instruct- to God. This principle being allowed, all that ed, like Timothy, in the Holy Scriptures from we have to say against the delay of conversion, his infancy! Having consecrated his early life becomes self-established. The whole question to the study of truth, he has only, in a dying is reduced to this; if in a dying hour, if at the and retired age, to collect the consolations of a extremity of life, if in a short and Reeting, moreligion magnificent in its promises, and incon- ment, you can acquire this habit of divine love, testable in its proofs.
which we have all agreed is necessary to salvaHence we conclude, with regard to whatever tion; if it can be acquired in one moment, then is speculative in our salvation, that conversion we will preach no more against delay: you act becomes more difficult in proportion as it is de- with propriety. Put off, defer, procrastinate ferred. We conclude with regard to the light even to the last moment, and by an extraordiof faith, that we must “ seek the Lord while nary precaution, never begin to seek the pleahe may be found, and call upon him while he suros of piety till you are abandoned by the is near!” We must study religion while aided I pleasures of the world, and satiated with its inby a collected mind, and an easy conception. famous delights. But if time, if labour, are reWe must, while young, elevate the heart above quired to form this genuine source of love to sensible objects, and fill the soul with sacred | God, the necessity of which we have already proved, you should frankly acknowledge the see, after a short interval, each return to those folly of postponing so important a work for a vices he had regarded with horror, and neglect single moment; that it is the extreme of mad- those virtues which had appeared to him so ness to defer the task to a dying hour; and that amiable? Whence proceeded so sudden the prophet cannot too highly exalt his voice changer What occasioned a defection which in crying to all who regard their salvation, apparently contradicts every notion we have " Seek ye the Lord while he may be found; formed of the human mind? It is here. This call ye upon him while he is near.”
piety, this devotion, those tears proceeded from This being allowed, we proceed to establish a transient cause, and not from a habit formed on two principles, all that we have to advance by a course of actions, and a fund acquired by upon this subject. First, we cannot acquire labour and diligence. The cause ceasing, the any habit without performing the correspondent effects subside! the preacher is silent, and the actions. Language, for instance, is a thing devotion is closed. Whereas the actions of extremely complex. To speak, requires a life, proceeding from a source of worldly affecthousand playful motions of the body, a thou- tions, incessantly return, just as a torrent, obsand movements to form the elements, and a structed by the raising of a bank, takes an irthousand sounds to perfect the articulation. regular course, and rushes forth with impetuAll these at first are extremely difficult; they osity whenever the bank is removed. appear quite impossible. There is but one way Farther, we must not only engage in the ofto succeed, that is, to persevere in touching the fices of piety to form the habits, but they must keys, articulating the sounds, and producing be frequent; just as we repeat acts of vice to the movements; then what seemed at first im- form a vicious habit. Can you be ignorant, possible becomes surmountable, and what be- my brethren, of the reason? Who does not feel comes surmountable is made easy, and what is it in his own breast? I carry it in my own wickonce easy becomes natural: we speak with a ed heart; I know it by the sad tests of sentifluency which would be incredible were it not ment and experience. The reason is obvious; confirmed by experience. The spirits flow to habits of vice are found conformable to our nathe parts destined for these operations, the tural propensity; they are found already formed channels open, the difficulties recede, the voli- | within, in the germ of corruption which we tions are accomplished; just as a stream, whose bring into the world. “We are shapen in iniwaters are turned by the strength of hand and quity, and conceived in sin,” Ps. li. 7. We aid of engines, falls by its own weight to places make a rapid progress in the career of vice. where it could not have been carried but with We arrive, without difficulty, at perfection in vast fatigue.
the works of darkness. A short course suffices Secondly, when a habit is once rooted, it be- to become a master in the school of the world comes difficult or impossible to correct it, in and of the devil; and it is not at all surprising, proportion as it is confirmed. We see in the that a man should at once become luxurious, human body, that a man, by distraction or in- covetous, and implacable, becauso he carries in dolence, may suffer his person to degenerate his own breast the principles of all these vices. to a wretched situation; if he continue, his But the habits of holiness are directly oppos. wretchedness increases; the body takes its ed to our constitution. They obstruct all its mould; what was a negligence, becomes a ne- propensities, and offer, if I may so speak, viocessity; what was a want of attention, becomes lence to nature. When we wish to become a natural and an insurmountable imperfection. converts, we enter on a double task: we must Let us apply these principles to our subject, demolish, we must build; we must demolish and avail ourselves of their force to dissipate, corruption, before we can erect the edifice of if possible, the mistakes of inankind concern- grace. We must level mortal blows at the old ing their conversation and their virtues. Habits man, before the new can be revived. We of the mind are formed as habits of the body; must, like those Jews who raised the walls of the mental habits become as incorrigible as Jerusalem, work with “the sword in one hand, those of the latter.
and the tool in the other,” Neh. iv, 17, equally First, then, as in the acquisition of a corpo- assiduous to produce that which is not, as to real habit, we must perform the correspondent destroy that which already exists. actions, so in forming the habits of religion, of Such is the way, and the only way, by which love, humility, patience, charity, we must ha- we can expect the establishment of grace in the bituate ourselves to the duties of patience, hu- heart; it is by unremitting labour, by pentevemility, and love. We never acquire these vir- rance in duty, by perpetual vigilance. Now, tues but by devotion to their influence: it is not who is it; who is there among you that can sufficient to be sincere in wishes to attain them; enter into this thought, and not perceive the it is not sufficient to form a sudden resolution; folly of those who delay their conversion? We we must return to the charge, and by the con- imagine that a word from a minister, a prostinued recurrence of actions pursued and re- pect of death, a sudden revolution, will instanpeated, acquire such a source of holiness as taneously produce a perfection of virtue o may justify us in saying, that such a man is wretched philosophy! extravagance of the sinhumble, patient, charitable, and full of divine ner! idle reverie of self-love and imagination, love. Have you never attended those power- that overturns the whole system of original ful and pathetic sermons, which forced convic- corruption, and the mechanism of the human tion on the most obdurate hearts. Have you frame! I should as soon expect to find a man, never seen those pale, trembling, and weeping who would play skilfully on an instrument assemblies? Have you never seen the hearers without having acquired the art by practice affected, alarmed, and resolved to reform their and application; I should as soon expect to find liver And have you never been surprised to a man who would speak a language without
having studied the words, and surmounted the quence from these reflections, which may apfatigue and difficulty of pronunciation. The pear unheard of to those who are unaccustomspeech of the one would be a barbarous subject ed to examine the result of a principle; but of derision, and unintelligible; and the notes of which may perhaps convince those who know the other would be discords destitute of soft- how to use their reason, and have some knowness and harmony. Such is the folly of the ledge of human nature. It seems to me, that, man who would become pious, patient, hum- since habits are formed by actions, when those ble, and charitable, in one moment, by a sim- habits are continued to an age in which the ple wish of the soul, without acquiring those brain acquires a certain consistency, correction virtues by assiduity and care. All the acts of serves merely to interrupt the actions already piety you shall see him perform, are but emo- established. tions proceeding from a heart touched, indeed, It would be sufficient in early life, while the but not converted. His devotion is a rash zeal, brain is yet flexible, and induced by its own which would usurp the kingdom of heaven ra- texture to lose impressions as readily as it acther than take it by violence. His confession is quired them; at this age, I say, to quit the acan avowal extorted by anguish which the Al- tion would be sufficient to reform the habit. mighty has suddenly inflicted, and by remorse But when the brain has acquired the degree of of conscience, rather than sacred contrition of consistency already mentioned, the simple susheart. His charity is extorted by the fears of pension of the act is not sufficient to eradicate death, and the horrors of hell. Dissipate these the habit; because by its texture it is disposed fears, calm that anguish, appease these terrors, to continue the same, and to retain the impresand you will see no more zeal, no more chari- sions already received. ty, no more tears; his heart, habituated to vice, Hence, when a man has grovelled a considewill resume its wonted course. This is the con- rable time in vice, to quit it is not a sufficient sequence of our first principle; we shall next reform; for him there is but one remedy, that examine the result of the second.
is, to perform actions directly opposed to those We said, that when a habit is once rooted, which had formed the habit. Suppose, for init becomes difficult to surmount it, and alto- stance, that a man shall have lived in avarice gether insurmountable, when suffered to as- for twenty years, and been guilty of ten acts sume an absolute ascendancy. This principle of extortion every day. Suppose he shall afsuggests a new reflection on the sinner's con- terward have a desire to reform; that he shall duct who delays his conversion; a very impor- devote ten years to the work; that he shall tant reflection, which we would wish to impress every day do ten acts of charity opposite to on the mind of our audience. In the those of his avarice; these ten years (considercourse of vice, we sin with a power by which ing the case here according to the course of we could abstain, were we to use violence; nature only, for we allow interior and superhence we fatter ourselves that we shall pre- natural aids in the conversion of a sinner, as serve that precious power, and be able to eradi- we shall prove in the subsequent discourses,) cate vice from the heart, whensoever we shall would those ten acts be sufficient perfectly to form the resolution. Wretched philosophy eradicate covetousness from this man? It seems still; another illusion of self-attachment, a new contrary to the most received maxims. You charm of which the devil avails himself for our have heard that habits confirmed to a certain destruction. Because, when we have long con- degree, and continued to a certain age, are tinued in sin, when we are advanced in age, never reformed but by a number of opposite when reformation has been delayed for a long actions proportioned to those which had formcourse of years, vice assumes the sovereignty, ed the habit. The character before us has lived and we are no longer our own masters. twenty years in the practice of avarice, and but
You intimate to us a wish to be converted; ten in the exercise of charity, doing only ten but when do you mean to enter on the work? acts of benevolence daily during that period; To-morrow, without farther delay.—And are he has then arrived at an age in which he has you not very absurd in deferring till to-mor- lost the facility of receiving new impressions. row? To-day, when you wished to undertake We cannot, therefore, I think, affirm that those it, you shrunk on seeing what labour it would ten years are adequate perfectly to eradicate cost, what difficulties must be surmounted, the vice from his heart. After all, sinners, you what victories must be obtained over your still continue in those habits, aged in crimes, selves. From this change you divert your eyes: heaping one bad deed upon another, and flatto-day you still wish to follow your course, to tering yourselves to reform, by a wish, by a abandon your heart to sensible objects, to fol- glance, by a tear, without difficulty or conflict, low your passions, and gratify your concupis- habits the most inveterate. Such are the
But to-morrow you intimate a wish reflections suggested by a knowledge of the huof recalling your thoughts, of citing your wick- man frame with regard to the delay of convered propensities before the bar of God, and pro- sion. To this you will oppose various objecnouncing their sentence. O sophism of self- lions which it is of importance to resolve. esteem! carrying with it its own refutation. You will say, that our principles are contraFor if this wicked propensity, strengthened to dicted by experience; that we daily see persons a certain point, appears invincible to-day, how who have long indulged a vicious habit, and shall it be otherwise to-morrow, when to the who have renounced it at once without repeatactions of past days you shall have added those ing the opposite acts of virtue. The fact is of this day! If this sole idea, if this mere possible, it is indeed undeniable. It may hapthought of labour, induce you to defer to-day, pen in five cases, which, when fully examined, what is to support you to-morrow under the will be found not at all to invalidate what has real labour? Farther, there follows a conse- 1 already been established.
1. A man possessing the free use of his facul- not sufficient time to form a counterpoise to ties, may by an effort of reflection extricate the force of their criminal habits. himself from a vicious habit, I allow; but we This difficulty naturally presents itself to the have superseded the objection, by a case appa- mind; but the solution we give does not so rently applicable. We have cautiously antici- properly accord with this discourse; it shall be pated, and often assumed the solution. We better answered in the exercises which shall speak of those only, who have attained an ad- follow, when we shall draw our arguments vanced age, and have lost the facility of acquir- from the ures. We shall then affirm ing new dispositions. Have you ever seen per- that when a sinner groans under the burden of sons of sixty or seventy years of age renounce his corruption, and sincerely desires conversion, their avarice, their pride; some favourite pas God affords his aid, and gives him supernatural sion, or a family prejudice?
power to vanquish bis sinful propensities. But 2. A man placed in a hopeless situation, and we shall prove, at the same time, that those aids under an extraordinary stroke of Providence, are so very far from countenancing the delay may instantly reform a habit, I grant; but that of conversion, that no consideration can be does not destroy our principles. We have not more intimidating to him who presumes on so included in our reflections those extraordinary awful a course. For, my brethren, our divinity visitations which Providence may employ to and morality give each other the hand, the one subdue the sinner. When we said that the re- being established upon the other. There is a formation of a vicious habit would require a wise medium between heresy, and I know not number of acts which have some proportion to what absurd and extravagant orthodoxy; and those which formed it, we supposed an equality as it is a bad maxim so to establish the precepts, of impressions in those actions, and that each as to renounce the doctrines of Jesus Christ, it action would be equal to that we wished to de- is equally pernicious to make a breach in his stroy.
precepts, to confirm the doctrines. 3. A man may suddenly reform a habit on The aids of the Holy Spirit, and a consciousthe reception of new ideas, and on hearing ness of our own weakness, are the most powersome truths of which he was ignorant before, I ful motives which can prompt us to labour for also acknowledge; but this proves nothing to the conversion without delay. If conversion, after point. We spoke of a man born in the bosom a life of vice, depended on yourselves, if your of the church, educated in the principles of heart were in your power, if
you had sufficient Christianity, and who has reflected a thousand command to sanctify yourselves at pleasure, and a thousand times on the truths of religion; then you would have some reason for flattery and on whom we have pressed a thousand and in this delay. But your conversion cannot be a thousand times the motives of repentance effectuated without an extraneous cause, withand regeneration; but, being now hardened, he out the aids of the Spirit of God; aids he will can hear nothing new on those subjects. probably withhold, after you shall have despised
4. A man may, I allow, on the decay of his his grace, and insulted it with obstinacy and faculties, suddenly reform a bad habit; but what malice. On this head therefore, you can form has this to do with the renovation which God no reasonable hope. requires. In this case, the effect of sin vanishes You will draw a third objection from what away, but the principle remains. A particular we have already allowed, that a severe afflicact of the bad habit yields to weakness and ne- tion may suddenly transform the heart. To cessity, but the source still subsists, and wholly this principle, we shall grant that the prospect predominates in the man.
of approaching death may make an impression 5. In fine, a man whose life has been a con- to undeceive the sinner; that the veil of cortinued warfare between vice and virtue; but ruption raised at the close of life, may induce with whom vice for the most part has had the a man to yield at once to the dictates of conascendancy over virtue, may obtain in his last science, as one walking hastily towards a presickness, the grace of real conversion. There cipice, would start back on removing the fatal is, however, something doubtful in the case; bandage which concealed the danger into which conversion on a death-bed being difficult or im- he was about to fall. possible; because between one unconverted man On this ground, I would await you, brethand another there is often a vast difference; the ren. Is it then on a death-bed, that you found one, if I may so speak, is within a step of the your hopes? We will pledge ourselves to grave, but the other has a vast course to run. prove, that so far from this being the most The former has subdued his habits, has already happy season, it is exactly the reverse. The made a progress, not indeed so far as to attain, reflections we shall make on this subject, are but so far as to approach a state of regenera- much more calculated to strike the mind than tion: this man may, perhaps, be changed in a those already advanced, which require some moment: but how can be, who has already penetration, but it suffices to have eyes to perwasted life in ignorance and vice, effectuate so ceive the force of those wbich now follow. great a change in a few days, or a few hours? We will not absolutely deny the possibility We have therefore proved our point that the of the fact on which the objection is founded. first objection is destitute of force.
We allow that a man, who with composure of You will, however, propose a second: you mind sees the decay of his earthly house, and will say, that this principle proves too much, regards death with attentive eyes, may enter that if we cannot be saved without a fund and into the requisite dispositions. Death being habit of holiness, and if this habit cannot be considered as near, enables him to know the acquired without perseverance in duty, we ex- world, to discover its vanity, emptiness, and toclude from salvation those deeply contrite sin- tal insufficiency. A man who has but a few ners who having wasted life in vice, have now I moments to live, and who sees that his honour,