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in his so happy fall, Acts ix. 4. Thou hast sent me, as Abraham did Eliazer, to take a wife unto my master, thy Son, Gen. xxiv. 4. But my discouraged soul is ready to fear the woman will not be willing to follow me. 0 Lord God of my master, I pray thee send me good speed this day, and shew kindness to my master, and send thine angel before me, and prosper my way, that I may take a wife unto thy Son, Gen. xxiv. 12, that as thy servant rested not till he had brought Isaac and Rebekah together, so I may be successful to bring Christ and the souls of my people together before we part."
But I turn me unto you. Some of you do not know what I mean by conversion, and in vain shall I persuade you to that which you do not understand; and therefore for your sakes, I shall shew what this conversion is. Others do cherish secret hopes of mercy, though they continue as they be; and for them I must shew the necessity of conversion. Others are like to harden themselves with a vain conceit, that they are converted already; unto them I must shew the marks of the unconverted.Others because they feel no harm fear none, and so sleep upon the top of the mast; to them I shall shew the misery of the unconverted. Others sit still, because they see not their way out; to them I shall shew the means of conversion. And finally, for the quickening of all, I shall close with the motives to conversion.
SHEWING THE NEGATIVE, WHAT CONVERSION IS NOT, AND CORRECTING SOME MISTAKES ABOUT IT.
LET the blind Samaritans worship they know not what, John iv. 22, let the heathen Athenians superscribe their altar unto the unknown God, Acts xvii. 23, let the guileful Papists commend the mother of destruction, Hos. iv. 6, for the mother of devotion: they that know man's constitution, and the nature of the reasonable soul's operation, cannot but know that the understanding having the empire in the soul, he that will go rationally_to work must labour to let in the light here. Ignorantis non est consensus. And therefore, that you may not mistake me, I shall shew you what I mean by the conversion I persuade you to endeavour after.
It is storied, that when Jupiter let down the golden chaplets from heaven, all of them but one were stolen; whereupon (lest they should lose a relic of so great esteem) they made five others so like it, that if any were so wickedly minded as to steal that also, they should not be able to discern which was it. And tru. ly, my beloved, the devil hath made many counterfeits of this conversion, and cheats one with this, and another with that: and such a craft and artifice he hath in this mystery of deceits, that (if it were possible) he would deceive the very elect. Now, that I may cure
the damnable mistakes of some, who think they are converted when they are not, as well as remove the troubles and fears of others, that think they are not converted, when they are; I shall shew you the nature of conversion, both negatively, or what it is not, and positively, what it is.
We will begin with the negative.
4. It is not the taking on us the profession of Christianity. Doubtless Christianity is more than a name. If we will hear Paul, it lies not in word but in power, 1 Cor. iv. 20. If to cease to be Jews and Pagans, and to put on the Christian profession, had been true conversion, (as this is all that some would have to be understood by it) who are better Christians than they of Sardis and Laodicea? These were all Christians by profession, and had a name to live, but because they had only a name, are condemned by Christ, and threatened to be spewed out, Rom iii. 1. 16. Are there not many that name the name of the Lord Jesus, that yet depart not from iniquity? 2 Tim. ii. 19, and profess they know God, but in works deny him? Tit. i. 16. And will God receive these for true converts, because turned to the Christian religion? What! converts from sin, when yet they do live in sin? "Tis a visible contradiction. Surely if the lamp of profession would have served the turn, the foolish virgins had never been shut out, Matt. xxv. 3. 12. We find not only professors, but preachers of Christ and wonderworkers, turned off, because evil workers, Matt. vii. 22, 23.
2. It is not the being washed in the laver of regeneration, or putting on the badge of Christ in baptism. Many take the pressmoney, and wear the livery of Christ, that yet never stand to their colours, nor follow their leader. Ananias and Saphira and Magus were baptized, as well as the rest. How fondly do many mistake here, deceiving and being deceived! dreaming that effectual grace is necessarily tied to the external administration of baptism, (which, what is it, but to revive the Popish tenet, of the sacrament's working grace ex opere operato?) and so every infant shall be regenerated, not only sacramento tenus, sacramentally, but really and properly. Hence men do fancy, that being regenerated already, when baptized, they need no farther work.
But if this were so, then all that were baptized in their infancy must necessarily be sayed; because the promise of pardon and salvation is made to conversion and regeneration.
Acts iii. 19. 1 Pet. iii. 4. Matt. xix. 28, our calling, sanctification (as to the beginnings of it) or conversion, (which are but the same things, under different conceptions and expressions) is but the middle link in the gol den chain, fastened to election at the one end, and glorification at the other; Rom. viii. 30, 2 Thes. ii. 18, 1 Pet. i. 2. The silver cord may not be broken, nor the connection between sanctification and salvation, between grace and glory, impiously violated, Matt. v. 8. If we were indeed begotten again, it is to an
inheritance incorruptible, reserved in heaven for us, and the divine power is engaged to keep us for it, 1 Pet. i. 5. And if the very regenerate may perish at last in their sins, we will no more say, that he that is born of God his seed remaineth in him, and that he cannot sin, 1 John iii. 9, i. e. unto death, nor that it is impossible to deceive the very elect, Matt.
And indeed, were this true, then we need look no farther to see our names written in heaven, than only to search the register, and see whether we were baptized: then I would keep the certificate of my baptism, as my fairest evidence for heaven, and should come by assurance of my gracious state with a wet finger: then men should do well to carry but a certificate of their baptism, under the register's hand, when he died, (as the philosopher would be buried with the bishop's bond in his hand, which he had given him, for receiving his alms in another world) and upon sight of this there were no doubt of their admission into heaven.
In short, if there be no more necessary to conversion or regeneration, than to be turned to the Christian religion, or to be baptized in infancy, this will fly directly in the face of that scripture, Matt. vii. 14, as well as multitudes of others. For, first, we will then no more say, Straight is the gate, and narrow is the way; for if all that were baptized, and of true religion, are saved, the door is become heavenly wide; and we will henceforth say, Wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that