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is scarcely possible that you can remain in utter uncertainty of your character.
Should you be an entire stranger to this duty, notwithstanding your religious profession, you have too much cause to fear that you are destitute of vital piety. Wherever this divine principle exists, it produces a holy jealousy about the state of the soul, and excites to a deep and restless concern about an interest in Christ's salvation. The consequence of this must be, therefore, some endeavour to know what is the real character.-Let me beseech you, without farther delay, to begin this trial. Do not for another day continue uncertain, whether you have nothing more than the name and semblance of godliness, or are indeed a son or daughter of the Lord Almighty. The speedy determination of this question is of infinitely higher importance to you, than any other business which can demand your attention. To assist you in this, is the aim of the two following chapters.
FALSE MARKS, FREQUENTLY MISTAKEN AS EVIDENCES OF A GRACIOUS STATE.
1. Sharp and painful convictions.-2. Some kind of sorrow for sin.-3. A temporary, or a partial forsaking of sin.-4. The non-appearance of vicious affections, mistaken for their non-existence.-5. A strict observance of religious duties.-6. Religious gifts, viewed as effects of the Holy Spirit's saving operations.-7. Natural mildness of temper, taken for Christian meekness.-8. A naturally merciful and beneficent disposition.-9. Some kind of delight in the ordinances of the gospel.-10. Some kind of love to the people of God.-11. Some kind of love to Christ.-12. A spurious zeal in the cause of religion.-13. A formal and written self-dedication to the Lord. -14. Confident and boasting assurance of salvation.
THERE is nothing respecting which mankind are more prone to deceive themselves, than the state of their souls, and their prospects for eternity. If they seriously think about these things at all, as it is natural for them to wish the best of themselves, so they are frequently credulous of what they wish. On very slender and fallacious evidence, they often hastily conclude that all is well with them, while yet they stand on the brink of everlasting ruin. Scrupulously as they examine, and re-examine, the validity of that tenure by which they hold their worldly property, and difficult as it is to persuade them that their right to it is secure; they usually manifest a very different turn of mind, in matters which per
tain to their salvation. Here they are soon and easily satisfied. Here they are readily and willingly deceived. The slightest apparent foundation of hope, delusive and false though it be, is eagerly grasped at, and too often relied on with confidence.
To prevent any, who may peruse these pages, from deceiving themselves in a matter of such magnitude, I shall endeavour to expose those false marks, which are frequently laid hold of, as sure indications of a gracious state. I cannot pretend to enumerate them all. What I purpose is, shortly to consider the most common and dangerous.
The first which I shall mention is, sharp and painful convictions.-There are few, if indeed any, except those who have been inured to open impiety from their childhood, or brought up in the most stupid ignorance of divine things, who have not, on some occasions, felt their heart alarmed with a sense of their guilt and danger. Particularly this is the case with those who are in early life, and whose consciences have not yet become obdurate by wilful persistency in sin. In youth the mind is most easily susceptible of religious impressions,-most easily affected with shame and sorrow for what is evil, and excited to form purposes of following what is good. At this early period, therefore, convictions of sin are most common, most distressful in their operation, and most permanent in their effects. When young persons attentively peruse these parts of the Bible, or of other religious books, which describe the evil nature and ruinous consequences of sin; when they
hear them plainly and faithfully set before them in the preaching of the gospel; when they are called to witness the death of relations or acquaintances; or when they are visited with bodily afflictions, or brought apparently to the brink of the grave; it often happens that they are filled with deep alarm. Their sins, marshalled in dreadful bearray, rise up fore them, and loudly tell them, that "for all these things God will bring them into judgment." In some cases their convictions are so painful and terrifying, that they are overwhelmed with dismay, and driven to the very brink of despair. Day after day they fill them with apprehensions of the wrath which is to come,-deprive them of rest at night,-unfit them for the ordinary business of life, and make them forget to eat their daily bread. In the emphatic language of Job, "the arrows of the Almighty are within them, the poison whereof drinketh up their spirit: the terrors of God do set themselves in array against them."*
Many who have experienced the distress arising from an awakened conscience, have regarded it a sure evidence of a gracious change in their souls. Hearing of the extreme anguish which some of God's children have endured at the time of their conversion, they imagine what they have felt, must have been of the same nature; and consequently conclude that they are partakers of the new birth. Especially they are confirmed in this belief, when their painful convictions are followed, by some degree of reformation in their general practice.
* Job vi. 4.
Here I wish it to be clearly understood, that no convictions of sin, how painful soever, and protracted, and frequently repeated they may have been, are in themselves sure indications that the Spirit of God has operated a saving change on the heart. The saying is not less true because it is common, "Conviction is not conversion." Though usually the former does precede the latter; yet alarming convictions often pass away, without being attended by a gracious and effectual change. Many, like Felix, tremble under a sense of their guilt and danger; but, like him too, hold fast their darling iniquities. And others, like Herod," do many things," in the way of temporary and partial reformation, while yet they remain unrenewed in heart.-Trust not, therefore, to your convictions, as evidences of a gracious state. Whatever may have been their degree, or continuance, unless they have led you to a permanent hatred of all known sin, and an unreserved relinquishment of it, they are to be regarded as harbingers of God's wrath, rather than the tokens of his favour. It is to the effects of convictions, and not to convictions themselves, that you ought to look in judging your religious character. Unless you have been turned by them from the love and practice of sin, to the love and practice of holiness, you are a stranger to the saving operations of the Spirit of God.
2. The next false mark which I shall specify is, some kind of sorrow for sin.-Some degree of sorrow is a necessary consequence of conviction. Men who are distressed with an alarming view of