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a disposition, which is already too much; or be at a loss to know what it is herein that we would enjoin upon them.
Yet the discourse and the doctrine may, nevertheless, be very good; and for a great portion of our congregation very necessary. The like, I think, is the case with the doctrine of conversion. If we were to omit the doctrine of conversion, we should omit a doctrine, which, to many, must be the salvation of their souls. To them all calls without this call, all preachings without this doctrine, would be in vain: and it may be true, that a great part of our hearers are of this description. On the other hand, if we press and insist upon conversion, as indispensable to all for the purpose of being saved, we should mislead some, who would not apprehend how they could be required to turn, or be converted to religion, who were never, that they knew, either indifferent to it, or alienated from it.
In opposition, however, to what is here said, there are who contend, that it is necessary for
every man living to be converted, before he can be saved. This opinion undoubtedly deserves serious consideration, because it founds itself upon scripture, whether rightly or erroneously interpreted is the question. The portion of scripture upon which they, who maintain the opinion, chiefly rely, is our Saviour's conversation with Nicodemus, recorded in the third chapter of St. John's gospel. Our Saviour is there stated to have said to Nicodemus, “ Except a man he born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God;" and afterwards, as a confirmation, and, in some sort an exposition of his assertion, to have added, “ except a man be born of water and of the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. It is inferred from this passage, that all persons whatever must undergo a conversion, before they be capable of salvation; and it cannot be said that this is a forced or strained inference; but the question before us at present is, is it a necessary inference? I am not unwilling to admit, that this short, but very remarkable conversation, is fairly interpreted of the gift of the spirit,
and that, when this spirit is given, there is a new birth, a regeneration; but I say, that it is no where determined, at what time of life or under what circumstances, this gift is imparted; nay, the contrary is intimated by comparing it to the blowing of the wind, which, in its mode of action, is dut of the reach of our rules and calculations : « the wind bloweth
" where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the spirit,” The effect of this uncertainty is, that we are left at liberty to pray for spiritual assistance, and we do pray for it, in all stages, and under all circumstances of our existence. We
pray for it in baptism for those, who are baptized; we teach those, who are Catechised, to pray for it in their catechism; parents pray for its aid and efficacy to give effect to their parental instructions ; to preserve the objects of their love and care from sin and wickedness, and from every spiritual enemy. We
pray for it, particularly in the office of confirmation, for young persons just entering into the temptations of life. Therefore spiritual assistance
may be imparted at any time, from the earliest to the latest period of our existence; and, whenever it is imparted, there is that being born of the spirit to which our Saviour's words refer. And, considering the subject as a matter of experience, if we cannot ordinarily distinguish the operations of the spirit from those of our own minds, it seems to follow, that neither can we distinguish when they commenee: so that spiritual assistance may be imparted, and the thing, designated by our Lord's discourse, satisfied, without such a sensible conversion, that a person can fix his memory upon some great and general change, wrought in him at an assignable time. This conscious- . ness of a great and general change may be the fact with many. It may be essentially necessary to many. I only alledge, that it is not so to all, so that every person, who is not conscious of such a change, must set himself down as devoted to perdition.
This, 1 repeat, is all I contend for, for I by šo means intend to say; that any one is with
out sin, and in that sense not to stand in need of conversion; still less, that any sin is to be allowed, and not, on the contrary, strenuously and sincerely resisted and forsaken. I only main, tain, that there may be christians, who are, and have been in such a religious state, that no such thorough and radical change, as
is usually meant by conversion, is or was necessary for them; and that they need not be made miserable by the want of consciousness of such a change.
I do not, in the smallest degree, mean to undervalue, or speak lightly of such changes, whenever or in whomsoever they take place; nor to deny, that they may be sudden, yet lasting; (nay, I am rather inclined to think that it is in this manner that they frequently do také place) nor to dispute what is upon good testimony alledged concerning conversion brought about by affecting incidents of life; by striking passages of scripture; by impressive discourses from the pulpit; by what we meet with in books, or even by single touching sentences or expressions in such discourses or