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supremely he may know it; and when he knows it, he has no right to wander in the wide, dark and boundless field of possibility. But some poor, gloomy christians have undoubtedly walked in this dark field, until their feeble faith has been swallowed up in vision. But it may be farther observed,
4. That it may be owing to the manner of their conversion, that some, who have experienced a saving change, are weak and feeble minded christians. Though regeneration is the same in all who experience it, yet the previous attendant and concomitant circumstances of it are often very various. Some are much longer under awakenings and convictions than others, before they are converted. Some have a much greater sense of danger than of guilt, before they are converted; and others
er sense of guilt than of danger, before they are converted. Some are converted in the view of one divine truth, and some in view of another. Some are converted in the view of one part of the divine character, and some in the view of another. These various circumstances lay a foundation for a great diversity in the degrees of light and joy which attend genuine conversions. All the previous attendant and concomitant circumstances of regeneration which have been mentioned, never did, nor could, meet in the conversion of any particular person; so that there never was a perfect similarity in any two conversions. Now, not only young, but aged converts, are apt to judge of their own experiences by the experiences of others; and especially by the experiences of those whom they esteem the most judicious and pious christians. And this often proves an occasion of darkness and doubts to those who pay more attention to the circumstances of regeneration, than to the nature of it. But our Saviour has told us, “ The wind bloweih where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, or whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” It remains to show,
III. That Christ is ready to receive and comfort all such penitent, broken hearted, feeble minded persons as have been described. “A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory.". In the sixty-first of Isaiah, he is predicted as saying of himself, “ The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach good tidings to the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to comfort them that mourn ; to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” This prediction he punctually fulfilled, while he preached and conversed among men.
Once he said, 32
“ Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” At another time he said, “ All that the Father giveth me shall come to me, and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” And in the last day, that great day of the feast, he stood and cried, saying, “ If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink.” Christ is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. He feels the same tenderness and compassion towards the broken hearted and feeble minded now he is in heaven, as he did while he was here on earth. Since his ascension he says, “ Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me." These gracious and unlimited invitations to distressed, broken hearted penitents, give them the strongest assurance that Christ is ready to receive and comfort them, if they will only come to him, and cast themselves unreservedly upon his mercy. And this will farther appear, if we consider that Christ has thrown them into this dark, doubtful, distressing state, to prepare them for the more sensible and grateful reception of pardoning mercy and divine consolation. The longer and deeper sense they have of their guilt and wretchedness, the higher sense they will have of light and comfort when it is granted. It has been observed, that those whose conversion has been attended with peculiar darkness and doubts, have eventually made some of the brightest christians. Darkness prepares for light, despondency for hope, and humiliation for exaltation. The more effectually the stony heart is bruised, and the longer the sparks of grace are kindling into a flame, the more steady and lasting it may be expected the fire will burn. Whatever grows very gradually in nature's garden, generally grows longer than that which grows rapidly. And this, perhaps, holds equally true in respect to the trees of righteousness, which grow in the garden of grace. We are more frequently disappointed in regard to what are supposed to be clear, plain, sudden, surprising, and very joyful conversions, than in regard to conversions attended at first with less promising prospects. There is reason to think that Christ views with peculiar complacency those who have the deepest sense of unworthiness and ill desert, and come to him the most meekly, humbly, submissively and diffidently. Such, therefore, may be assured that Christ will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax, but bind up the broken hearted, strengthen the feeble minded, comfort them that mourn, and give them the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.
1. It appears from the description which has been given of the feeble minded, that there is reason to think that many are converted sooner than they suppose they are. True converts generally date their conversion at some time when they found some peculiar light and joy. But a submission to divine sovereignty, or a willingness to be in the hands of God, generally takes place in the heart before sensible repentance, or faith, or joy, or hope. After the heart is changed, and its enmity is slain, and it becomes reconciled to God, it may be destitute of repentance, faith, joy, and expectation of heaven; and in this feeble, comfortless state it may remain some time, a long time, and we cannot say how long. Probably some are converted days, or weeks, or months, or years, before they entertain a hope of being renewed, sanctified and adopted into the family of God; and possibly some are in bondage, through fear of eternal death, all their days. The doubts of christians often arise from their not knowing the best marks of conversion in their favor. They consider joy as a better evidence of being converted, than submission, humiliation, godly sorrow, or a hungering and thirsting after righteousness. But that which is the most contrary to selfishness, is always the best mark of a change of heart; and what is more directly contrary to selfishness than submission, humiliation, godly sorrow, and every species of self denial ? These are the peculiar marks which Christ has given of his true disciples. But these are not the marks which many preachers propose to their supposed converts, to try their sincerity by. They pronounce those to be converted, who have no other views and feelings than such as may arise from the most selfish heart. When they see sinners in deep distress under a sense of their guilty and perishing state, and then rejoice in the hope of escaping future misery, they are ready to pronounce them real converts; without inquiring whether they have seen the justice of the divine law, the amiable sovereignty of God, and felt a willingness that he should dispose of them, both in time and eternity. Such exercises of self denial and disinterested love to God, they are so far from representing as evidences of grace, that they pronounce them inconsistent with it. It is true that joy and rejoicing may flow from submission, repentance, faith and hope; but it is the submission, the repentance, the faith and humiliation, which are surer marks of conversion, than joy and rejoicing. Real converts, therefore, might find satisfactory evidence that their hearts are renewed, much sooner than they commonly do, if they would attend to the best evidence they have of being
born again. They really have the evidence of reconciliation to God, self condemnation, self abhorrence, godly sorrow, self abasement, self denial, and unreserved submission to God; and these are the best marks they can have, that they have passed from death unto life.
2. It appears from this description of the feeble minded, that men may easily think that they are converted, before they are.
They may imagine they are feeble minded, while they are really stout hearted. They may be bowed down under a deep sense of their danger and guilt, walk softly, cry ardently to escape the wrath to come, and be willing to do any thing and every thing, except exercising supreme love and unlimited submission to God. While in this situation, they are often told, and are willing to believe, that they are doing all they can do and ought to do; that they are the bruised reed and smoking flax, and feeble minded, whom Christ is ready to receive and comfort. This fills them with joy, and they are pronounced converted. But they are like the way side, the stony ground, and thorny ground hearers, whom Christ represents as self deceived, and destitute of every mark of a sound conversion. They precipitately and presumptuously imagine they are converted before they are. They are like one and another who inconsiderately said that they would follow Christ, though they were not prepared to take
up the cross and follow him. Or, they are like those who followed him for the sake of the loaves and fishes, whom he rejected and condemned.
None have a right to think they are converted, until they find some marks in them of pure, disinterested love, and real self denial, which are exercises diametrically opposite to every selfish affection. Search the Bible through, and you will not find a single mark of grace or vital piety, but what has the nature of disinterested love, and real self denial. And if you consult
. your own reason and conscience upon the subject, you cannot discover a single mark of saving grace in your hearts, which does not appear, to your own judgment, an exercise or action diametrically contrary to every species of selfishness. It is always owing to self deception, therefore, that any suppose they
, are converted before they are. They do not judge of their spiritual state by the marks of grace which 'Christ and other inspired teachers have given. They suffer their own selfish hearts, and erroneous teachers, to lead them astray. There have been, and still are, many erroneous teachers, who ignorantly teach for doctrines the opinions of men, which are directly opposed to, and subversive of, the doctrines and spirit of the gospel. A false hope is extremely dangerous, and all ought to guard themselves against it. Let those who are in doubt and darkness, exercise the strictest self examination.
3. If the feeble minded have been justly described, then it is very difficult to strengthen and comfort them. They are generally disposed to keep themselves in darkness and doubts, and refuse to be comforted. Their feebleness principally arises from ignorance; and it would be easy to remove their ignorance, if it were not voluntary ignorance. It would be easy to distinguish regeneration or a change of heart from all previous attendant and concomitant circumstances, in which it does not consist, and clearly show that it wholly consists in a change of heart from selfishness to pure, disinterested benevolence. There is no pure and holy love in the servile fear of punishment felt by the awakened. There is no pure, disinterested love in a sense of guilt, or mere conviction of sin. There is no pure, disinter
. ested love, in seeking and striving to escape the wrath to come. There is no pure, disinterested love, in the joy which springs from the mere hope of future and eternal happiness. Regeneration, therefore, does not consist in any of these things, but in pure, disinterested love, which every real convert possesses. Why then does any such person doubt, and fear that he has not experienced a saving change? It must be owing to volun
? tary ignorance. He has been told, or been used to think, that it consists in something else. Though he has submission, he has no faith; or though he has submission, faith and hope, yet he has not such great joy as some converts have, and such as he supposes is necessary to remove doubts and create confidence of his good estate.
Such feeble minded christians overlook and disregard the highest and best marks of saving grace, and wait in doubt and darkness for some better evidence of a saving change, than cordial reconciliation to God, unreserved submission to his will, godly sorrow for sin, self loathing, self abasement, supreme love to Christ, and a resolution to live a holy, obedient, self denied life. These scriptural marks of grace, they dare not depend upon; but imagine that some such things as have given others singular light, and joy, and hope, would remove all their doubts and fears, and give them complete satisfaction and confidence. But if the best scriptural marks of grace will not strengthen and comfort their feeble minds, it is impracticable to remove their voluntary ignorance, doubts and fears, by any human means. They refuse to be comforted by gospel motives, and seek for light where there is no light to be found, and pursue a course which commonly increases their darkness, and diminishes their exertions to grow in knowledge, and to do their duty. There is reason to fear that there are some who never will enjoy the consolations of the gospel, which they ought to enjoy, until their dying hour.
4. If the feeble mindedness of christians be generally owing