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iniquity, and conceived in sin,” all must undergo a total change if they would
see God” with joy. The reason of this is obvious, both from the nature of God, and from that of man. All sin is uncleanness in His eyes; it is “that abominable thing which His soul hateth." Even if an unregenerate soul could be admitted into heaven, the admission would yield it no delight; such a spirit would be incapable of relishing the happiness of another world. The knowledge there communicated—the enjoyments there experienced, are of a kind quite alien from its taste; the holiness of heaven, the sight and service of God, and of a glorified Redeemer—the society of angels, and of saints made perfect—the singing “the song of Moses and the Lamb,” would all be uninteresting and insipid, if not repellent, to one who had been a stranger to the employments and gratifications of religion while on earth. To believe otherwise, would be to believe that a man could be regenerate and unregenerate at the same time.
“ The happiness of heaven,” said Richard Baxter, “is holiness ; and to talk of being happy without it, is as palpable a want of sense, as to talk of being well without health, or of being saved without salvation.”
From the passages already adduced from Scripture, and from the statements connected with them, it will be most obvious that this change is to be attributed solely to one agency—that which is Divine. It is the Holy Ghost who, by enlightening the mind, and quickening the conscience, and influencing the affections, brings about that one act in which the will is determined for God, and in which the soul really turns to Him. Conversion itself is not progressive, but instantaneous.
As there was a time when the renewed heart was not really yielded up to God, so there must have been some instant at which this change took place. Holiness, which is the following out of the right direction given to the heart, is progressive, but conversion is not. The precise period of conversion, it may
be difficult, nay, in some cases impossible, to ascertain ; nor is such knowledge, however interesting, indispensably necessary as evidence of its reality; the progressive result manifested in holiness, being the most satisfactory proof. There was a moment, however, up to which the soul was unpardoned, unrenewed, and unblessed; and that it continues not in this state, is to be ascribed solely to the gracious operation of the Holy Spirit. He applies scriptural truths-and especially those truths which refer to our lost condition as sinners, and to the love of God in sending his Son to die for sinners with such force to the heart, as that it yields to the claims of God, and to the motives suggested by divine authority and compassion; the pride of the natural man is humbled; he becomes a little child; he would have no will but his Maker's; and his anxious inquiry is, “ Lord, what wilt thou have me to do ?” Would
you know whether you are converted to God or not, examine whether you have ever felt a penitent sense and hatred of sin ; whether the great facts of the redemption which Jesus Christ wrought out, have ever been so pressed upon you,
that you were humbled by a recollection that he was wounded for your transgression, and bruised for your sin; and melted into an ardent love of the Saviour and his salvation ; into an unreserved determination to obey his commands from the heart : whether you find any satisfaction of soul in drawing near to God through a Mediator ; whether you have an increasing love to God; whether you have a rooted aversion to whatever is inconsistent with purity of heart; whether you are overcoming the world, in its tendency to draw away your thoughts from things which are unseen and eternal; whether your desires to escape from the miseries of hell, however strong, are weaker than your desires after holiness and heaven; whether you are zealous for God's service, aim at his glory, and delight in his presence ; whether unholy tempers and states of mind, contrary to the Saviour's example, are being subdued, so that you can forgive your enemies, and sincerely return blessing for cursing : whether, in fine, you are anxious in every respect, to “run in the way of God's commandments.”—Psalm cxix. 32.
Should such an inquiry be satisfactory with respect to the habitual tenor of the thoughts, and the fixed direction of the will, the genuine convert will perceive nothing that is meritorious in the change, but will ascribe it all to the unmerited mercy of God, who by the Holy Spirit produced it. And feeling, that notwithstanding all that has been done in him, he is far from having yet attained to a complete resemblance to his Lord and Master ; and that, by reason of indwelling sin, he daily, hourly offends against the choice to which his own heart has been led, he will continually acknowedge his need of that atonement which is in the gospel provided “for sin and for all uncleanness.” His daily prayer will be, that the Holy Spirit, who has begun the good work in him, will carry it
on, and bring it to perfection.
But should such an inquiry terminate in the absence of any satisfactory evidence that the reader has ever known a change of heart; then let him recur to all that has been said of its absolute necessity- let him weigh well the positiveness with which that necessity is affirmed by the word of Him “ that cannot lie" and let him think of the reason of the case as founded on the absolute impossibility of communion between a holy God and a creature, the tendency of whose thoughts and desires is the very opposite to his own, and on the equally obvious impossibility of heaven presenting enjoyment to the soul which has nothing in common with a state whose atmosphere is that of the most exalted purity. Let him remember that God's gracious promise of those influences of the Holy Spirit which renew the heart, implies the necessity of possessing them on the part of his creatures ; and that if a man disregard these, he is in all reason bound to prove that he is an exception to the rule. But will the reader undertake to do this ? Can he, with the Bible before him—will he, with God as a witness against him, and with the prospects of eternity opening upon him ? Rather let him offer the prayer, " That which I know not, teach thou me;" and receive with gratitude the promises which assure him that, great as the blessing is – unspeakably valuable as is the change of heart by the Holy Spirit -- it will not be denied in answer to prayer, if it be presented sincerely in the all-prevailing name of Jesus Christ. Encouragement of the highest kind, and responsibility of the most affecting nature, alike stand intimately connected with such promises as these : “ Ask, and ye shall receive-seek, and ye shall find-knock, and it shall be opened unto you." being evil
, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father, which is in heaven, give his Holy Spirit to them that ask ?” “ A new heart also will I give you,
and a new spirit will I put within you, and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh ; and I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments and do them.” Who would not embrace such offers,—who would not adopt the Psalmist's prayer, “ Create in me a clean heart, O God; renew a right spirit within me?"—Who, conscious of the uncertainty of life, would not adopt it at once, lest the summons into eternity should arrive, while yet the heart is unchanged ? Wherefore, as the Holy Ghost saith, “ To-day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts."
66 If ye,
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THE FORGIVENESS OF SIN.
OBEDIENCE to the law of God is authoritatively enjoined, and solemnly enforced, on men. “ Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” Transgression thus renders us guilty, and liable to undergo the penalty threatened by the law. Now to forgive a transgressor, is to declare that his liability to suffer the threatened penalty is cancelled, and that he shall be exempted from the fatal effects of his transgression. The value of such a blessing to those who have broken the divine law, cannot be over-estimated, nor can we attach too much importance to the inquiry, whether or not it is attainable, accompanied, as pardon ever is, by that justification in virtue of which the offender is made to stand in the position of one who is innocent, and is treated as though he had never sinned. To the man, indeed, who has never seriously reflected on his state and character in the sight of the supreme Judge—to the worldly-minded, whose thoughts and affections are engrossed by the objects and enjoyments of time and sense to the “fool, who makes a mock of sin,” regarding it as a trivial thing, that should occasion no serious concern—to those who are living “ without God in the world,” and laughing at judgment and eternity, as the dreams of enthusiasm or superstition—the solemn inquiry, “ Is there forgiveness with God?" may possess but little interest, and seem to be of small moment: but to the serious and reflecting man-to him who knows that he is formed for immortality, and is responsible to God for every action, and word, and thought; to him who is aware of the purity and justice of the supreme Lawgiver, and of the awful threatenings with which his law is sanctioned; to him who feels that he is a sinner, chargeable with repeated and aggravated transgressions, and lying under a sentence of condemnation,—the question appears of paramount importance-one, in comparison with which every other is absolutely insignificant. Convinced that he is justly obnoxious to the wrath of an omniscient and almighty God, from whose eye this wide universe can furnish no hiding-place, and whose power he could not resist, though all the inhabitants of earth, and all the armies of hell were to muster in his defence, he can feel no peace, he can take no interest in the objects that