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-Ephes. iv. 21–24. “ Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature : old things are passed away ; behold, all things are become new.”—2 Cor. v. 17. “ That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.”—John iï. 6, 7.
From these passages it must appear that the great change we are now contemplating is not ideal, nor does it consist merely in enlightening and convincing the understanding ; nor in a change of sentiments, nor of outward conduct, though it often includes all these. A man may change his religious opinions, or his outward conduct, without experiencing a change of heart; and, on the other hand, a person may experience a genuine and complete change of heart, (and the heart, it must never be forgotten, is the seat of true religion,) without being able to trace the slightest difference in any one article of his creed. Every one knows that in a certain sense the world is vanity; that he must die; that in the hour of death riches will not profit him; that time is precious ; that the portion of it allowed us to prepare for
eternity is uncertain, and often short ; that a death-bed repentance is not an infallible passport to heaven ; and many know that they are sinners; that “Christ Jesus came to save sinners ;" that there is one, and only one way of salvation. Yet though these are known and received as truths, they are not felt as such ; the agency of Him who alone can effectually reach the soul, is needed, to render them living, operative, efficacious sentiments.
In regeneration, so much of the light of heaven is let into the soul, as enables us to know (or at least to begin to know) ourselves aright; to know God in his most awful and lovely manifestations; to see the enormity of sin, the “ beauty of holiness," the worth of the gospel, the “riches of divine grace." It is a light accompanied with warmth and vigour, that produces an internal and permanent change; a change that is universal, reaching to the heart, and evinced in the life; that renovates the powers of the spirit; dissipates folly, guilt, darkness, and despair ; introduces holiness, joy, and hope ; and creates in the soul an ardent, unquenchable desire to enjoy the life-supporting rays of the Sun of Righteousness, and to be altogether holy, altogether heavenly, altogether full of affection towards God.
This change is rightly called conversion ; not (as we have sometimes known it represented) because it converts the subject of it from vivacity to lifelessness, from cheerfulness to gloom, from kindness and affability to churlishness and reserve, but because it converts him “from the error of his way;" from the
abuse to the proper use of the blessings with which he is surrounded ; from a false to a true hope; from indifference to zeal; “from the power of Satan unto God.” It is also as rightly denominated regeneration; for it brings the person who experiences it, not under the influence of the mechanical transports of animal nature, or the blind impulses of a heated imagination, or into the delusive paths of enthusiasm, but into a new state, through the operation of the Spirit of God upon the spiritual part of man. Surely there can be nothing essentially chimerical, nothing contrary to reason, nothing that is not highly ornamental and infinitely beneficial to our natures, in having the powers of our mind thus changed by energy imparted from God, and having our pursuits directed after such objects as are most worthy the attention and regard of intelligent, accountable, immortal creatures! “ To have our apprehensions of divine and spiritual things enlarged, and to have right conceptions of the most important matters; to have the stream of our affections turned from empty vanities to objects that are proper to excite and fix them; to have our resolutions set against all sin, and a full purpose formed within us, of an immediate reformation and return to God, with a dependence on his grace to help us both to will and to do ;'—to have our labours steadfastly applied to conquer sin, and to promote religion in ourselves and others; to have our entertainments founded in a religious life, and flowing in upon us from the sweet intercourse we have with God in his word and ordinances; and finally, to have our hopes drawn off from earthly things, and fixed upon eternity: where is there any thing which can be more honourable, or more desirable, than thus to have the darkness of our understandings cured, and the disorders rectified that sin had brought upon our nature ?"
That such improvements of character often have occurred, and are often taking place now, cannot be denied by any philosophic observer of human nature: to disregard them, or to neglect an investigation of their cause, is to neglect one of the most interesting and remarkable classes of facts observable among mankind. Who has not heard of, or with
d, the same extraordinary changes of conduct produced through the infiuence of scriptural motives ? instances of men running eagerly the career of folly and dissipation, who have been suddenly arrested, and changed from “ lovers of pleasure” to “ lovers of God?" of men who have been strong and high-minded, professing never to be subdued but by force of argument, and dexterous in evading any argument calculated to exhibit the reasonableness and advantages of scriptural holiness, yet becoming convinced that religion is the “one thing needful;" and testifying, from an experimental acquaintance, to the excellence and efficacy of the gospel of Christ. Recollect the recorded instances of the conversion of Lord Rochester, of Colonel Gardiner, of the Rev. John Newton, and of the Rev. Thomas Scott; with
others which might be mentioned. It may not be uninstructive to fix our attention upon the leading particulars of some remarkable and well-authenticated instance of this affecting change. For the first of those already adduced, that of the Earl of Rochester, we are indebted to the pen of Bishop Burnet, a writer whom no candid reader will accuse of
the least proneness to fanaticism.
His lordship was distinguished, through the active part of his life, as a great wit and a great profligate, an open and unwearied advocate of atheism. He had, however, especially during the last year of his life, strong convictions of the folly of his conduct; and once, after he had been arguing vehemently against the existence of a Supreme Being, he exclaimed, on retiring from the company,
6 Oh! that a man who walks upright, who sees the works of God, and has the use of his reason —that such a one should bid defiance to his Creator.” But impressions like these soon wore off; so that it was not till his last illness, which continued about nine weeks, that he appears to have undergone the change to which we refer. Now it was, according to his own account, that he first saw the enormity of sin, and learnt the value of the atonement, on which his hopes of pardon could alone be founded. “ Shall the joys of heaven," exclaimed he, “ be conferred on me? O mighty Saviour-never, but through thy infinite love and satisfaction-o never, but by the purchase of thy blood !"
The Scriptures, which had so often been the subject of his merriment, now secured his esteem, and impressed him with delight, for they had spoken to his heart. The seeming contradictions, on which he had so often argued, vanished; and he thenceforth not only received the truth, but adhered to it. It appears to have been the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, the repeated reading of which to him was principally instrumental, under the teaching of the Holy Spirit, in producing the change. Comparing that portion of the Scripture with the history of our Saviour's sufferings, he saw the fulfilment of a prophecy written several ages before, and which the Jews, who rejected Jesus Christ, still kept in their hand as an inspired book. He confessed to Bishop Burnet, that, as he heard it read, “ he felt an inward force upon him, which did so enlighten his mind, and convince him, that he could resist it no longer; for the words
had an authority which did shoot like rays or beams in his mind, so that he was not only convinced by the reasonings he had about it, which satisfied his understanding, but by a power which did so effectually constrain him, that he did ever after as firmly believe in his Saviour, as if he had seen him in the clouds.
He had this chapter read so often to him, that he could repeat the whole of it accurately; on its varied passages he would sometimes enlarge, and would apply them to himself, as well for humiliation as encouragement. “O my God!” he
can such a creature as I, who have denied thy being, and contemned thy power, be accepted by thee? Can there be mercy and pardon for me? Will God own such a wretch as I am ?”.
His faith now rested on Christ alone for salvation, and often would he entreat God to strengthen it, crying out, “ Lord, I believe ; help thou mine unbelief.” He gave numerous proofs of the genuineness of his repentance ; amongst which his earnest desire to check and diminish the evil effects of his former writings, and too uniform example, deserves particular recollection. His abhorrence of sin was now as extraordinary as his former indulgence in it: he said more than once, she would not commit a known crime to gain a kingdom." He expressed no desire to live, except that he might, “ by the change of his manners, in some way take off the high scandal his former behaviour had given." To his former friends he sent messages, which plainly indicated the depth of his contrition and the reality of his conversion ; and gave, with his dying breath, a charge to publish any thing concerning him which might be a means of reclaiming others; praying God, that “ as his life had done much hurt, so his death might do some good.”
With such an instance before us, do we not perceive a state of mind and heart produced, in every way corresponding to the description given in the passages of Scripture already quoted. Do we not perceive a new spirit," " the new man, created according to God in righteousness, and true holiness ?” Is it not evident that “old things have passed away ? behold all things are become new;" that there has been a “turning from darkness to light ?” In adducing such a case, however, it is important that we should observe, that it is defective in one respect. The death of its subject permitted him not the opportunity he desired of giving that proof of the genuineness of the change which is supplied by a holy and consistent life. While, therefore, from the very remarkable circumstances already described, we do not hesitate to adduce this
history as affording us an illustration of what genuine conversion is, and cannot but express the conviction, that had Lord Rochester lived, the genuineness of his spiritual transformation would have been proved; yet does faithfulness to the reader's best interests require that a solemn caution should be expressed against the conclusion, that every instance of professed repentance on a dying bed is to be taken as indicating regeneration. To use the words of Bishop Burnet himself on this subject :-" It is scarcely possible to know certainly whether our hearts are changed, unless it appears in our lives ; and the repentance of most dying men, being like the howling of condemned prisoners for pardon, which flows from no sense of their crimes, but from the fear of approaching death, there is little reason to encourage any to hope from such sorrowing; yet, certainly, if the mind of a sinner, even on a death-bed, be truly renewed and turned to God, so great is His mercy that He will receive him then, even in that extremity.” It is a fatal mistake to suppose that conversion is a state chiefly desirable in our last moments. There are facts which prove that even at the eleventh hour God's power and mercy may show themselves in imparting this new state: yet these are few in comparison with those which teach us that men ordinarily die as they live. And even should the dying hour become the period of conversion, however unspeakably great the manifestation of Divine grace, which condescends to interpose then for the salvation of the soul, yet must there ever be connected with such circumstances a deep and poignant regret; and the more sincere the repentance, the more poignant will be the grief, that no opportunity should have been afforded of giving evidence of the reality of the change in that only form which is placed quite above suspicion—in a holy, humble, and devoted life.
The uniform tenor of Scripture, it is of the highest importance to observe, decides that this spiritual transformation is absolutely and universally necessary. All men “ are by nature the children of wrath;” the hearts of all by nature are “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Whether men bow down to idols of wood and stone, or are immersed in the cares, or idolize the amusements of this world, they are equally distant from God, and equally need an entire change of heart to bring them to the enjoyment of his spiritual presence, and restore them to his favour. The necessity for this change is doubtless as extensive as that great moral declension, from which it is the object of the Christian dispensation to restore mankind;
; so that since “all have sinned,” and all are “ shaped in