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gradual, it was effected (and the fruits will prove that), it was a true conversion : and every such person may justly both believe and say of himself that he was converted at a particular assignable time. It may not be necessary to speak of his conversion, but he will always think of it with unbounded thankfulness to the Giver of all grace, the Author of all mercies, spiritual as well as temporal.
Secondly; The next description of persons, to whom we must preach conversion, properly so called, are those who allow themselves in the course and habit of some particular sin. With more or less regularity in other articles of behaviour, there is some particular sin which they practise constantly and habitually, and allow themselves in that practice. Other sins they strive against; but in this they allow themselves. Now no man can go on in this course consistently with the hope of salvation. Therefore it must be broken off. The essential and precise difference between a child of God and another is not so much in the number of sins into which he may fall (though that undoubtedly be a great difference, yet it is not a precise difference : that is to say, a difference, in which an exact line of separation can be drawn), but the precise difference is, that the true child of God allows himself in no sin whatever. Cost what it may, he contends against, he combats, all sin ; which he certainly cannot be said to do who is still in the course and habit of some particular sin; for, as to that sin, he reserves it, he compromises it. Against other sins, and other sorts of sin, he may strive ; in this he
; allows himself. If the child of God sin, he does not allow himself in the sin; on the contrary, he grieves, he repents, he rises again : which is a different thing from proceeding in a settled self-allowed course of sinning. Sins which are compatible with sincerity
are much more likely to be objects of God's forgiveness than sins that are not so ; which is the case with allowed sins. Are there then some sins in which we live continually ? some duties, which we continually neglect ? we are not children of God; we are not sin
; cere disciples of Christ. The allowed prevalence of any one known sin is sufficient to exclude us from the character of God's children. And we must be converted from that sin, in order to become such. Here then we must preach conversion. The habitual drunkard, the habitual fornicator, the habitual cheat, must be converted. Now such a change of principle, of opinion, and of sentiment, as no longer to allow ourselves in that in which we did allow ourselves, and the actual sacrifice of a habit, the breaking off a course
a of sinful indulgence or of unfair gain, in pursuance of the new and serious views which we have formed of these subjects, is a conversion. The breaking off of a habit, especially when we had placed much of our gratification in it, is alone so great a thing, and such a step in our Christian life, as to merit the name of conversion. Then as to the time of our conversion, there can be little question about that. The drunkard was converted when he left off drinking; the fornicator, when he gave up his criminal indulgences, haunts, and connexions; the cheat, when he quitted dishonest practices, however gainful and successful : provided, in these several cases, that religious views and motives influenced the determination, and a reli. gious character accompanied and followed these sacrifices.
In these two cases, therefore, men must be converted, and live; or remain unconverted, and die. And the time of conversion can be ascertained. There must that pass within them, at some particular assignable time, which is properly a conversion ; and
will, all their lives, be remembered as such. This description, without all doubt, comprehends great numbers; and it is each person's business to settle, with himself, whether he be not of the number; if he be, he sees what is to be done.
But I am willing to believe that there are very many Christians who neither have in any part of their lives been without influencing principles, nor have at any time been involved in the habit and course of a particular known sin, or have allowed themselves in such course and practice. Sins, without doubt, they have committed, more than sufficient to humble them to the dust; but they have not, to repeat the same words again, lived in a course of any particular known sin, whether of commission or neg. lect; and by deliberation, and of aforethought, allowed themselves in such course. The conversion, therefore, above described, cannot apply to, or be required of, such Christians. To these we must preach, not conversion, but improvement. Improvement, continual improvement, must be our text, and our topic; improvement in grace, in piety, in disposition, in virtue. Now, I put the doctrine of improvement, not merely upon the consideration, which yet is founded upon express Scripture authority, that, whatever improvement we make in ourselves, we are thereby sure to meliorate our future condition, receiving at the hand of God a proportionable reward for our efforts, our sacrifices, our perseverance, so that our labour is never lost, is never, as Saint Paul expressly assures us, in vain, in the Lord; though this, I say, be a firm and established ground to go upon, yet it is not the ground upon which I, at present, place the necessity of a constant progressive improvement in virtue. I rather wish to lay down upon the subject this proposition: namely, that continual improvement is essential in the Christian character, as an evidence of its sincerity ; that, if what we have hitherto done in religion has been done from truly religious motives, we shall necessarily go on; that, if our religion be real, it cannot stop. There is no standing still: it is not compatible with the nature of the subject; if the principles which actuated us be principles of godliness, they must continue to actuate us; and, under this continued stimulus and influence, we must necessarily grow better and better. If this effect do not take place, the conclusion is, that our principles are weak or hollow or unsound. Unless we find ourselves grow better, we are not right. For example, if our transgressions do not become fewer and fewer, it is to be feared that we have left off striving against sin ; and then we are not sincere.
I apprehend, moreover, that with no man living can there be a ground for stopping, as though there was nothing more left for him to be done. If any man had this reason for stopping, it was the apostle Paul. Yet did he stop? or did he so judge? Hear his own account: “ This I do, forgetting those things that are behind (those things whereunto I have already attained), and looking forward to those things that are before (to still farther improvement), I press towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” This was not stopping ; it was pressing on. The truth is, in the way of Christian improvement, there is business for the best : there is enough to be done for all.
First; in this stage of the Christian life it is fit to suppose that there are no enormous crimes, such as mankind universally condemn and cry out against, at present committed by us; yet less faults, still clearly faults, are not unfrequent with us, are too easily excused, too soon repeated. This must be altered.
Secondly; we may not avowedly be engaged in any course or habit of known sin, being at the time conscious of such sin; but we may continue in some practices which our consciences cannot, and would not, upon examination, approve, and in which we have allowed the wrongness of the practice to be screened from our sight by general usage, or by the example of persons of whom we think well. This is not a course to be proceeded in longer. Conscience, our own conscience, is to be our guide in all things.
Thirdly; we may not absolutely omit any duty to our families, our station, our neighbourhood, or the public, with which we are acquainted ; but might not these duties be more effectively performed, if they were gone about with more diligence than we have hitherto used ? and might not farther means and opportunities of doing good be found out, if we took sufficient pains to inquire and to consider ?
Fourthly, again ; even where less is to be blamed in our lives, much may remain to be set right in our hearts, our tempers, and dispositions. Let our affections grow more and more pure and holy, our hearts more and more lifted up to God, and loosened from this present world; not from its duties, but from its passions, its temptations, its over-anxieties, and great selfishness; our souls cleansed from the dross and corruption which they have contracted in their passage through it.
Fifthly ; it is no slight work to bring our tempers to what they should be; gentle, patient, placable, compassionate ; slow to be offended, soon to be appeased; free from envy, which, though a necessary, is a difficult, attainment; free from bursts of anger ; from aversions to particular persons, which is hatred ; able heartily to rejoice with them that do rejoice; and, from true tenderness of mind, weeping, even when we