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pressed with a sense of their own total depravity, and presently are brought to repent of their sins, and to exercise a strong and affectionate confidence in God, through the merits of Christ, which fills them with peace and joy, and secures a walk and conversation, according to godliness;persons, of adult years, who had lived in utter ignoranco and thoughtlessness about divine things, are suddenly affected with the same characteristic exercises, producing the same results;-violent opposers and persecutors of religion, through the same inward process of conviction and faith, are suddenly transformed into its most zealous friends and advocates:-proud, audacious, and blaspheming infidels, cold and speculative sceptics, become humble and devoted believers: moralists and religionists, and even acknowledged ministers of Christ, externally free from blame, are awakened,, and confessing that they had been deceiving themselves, with outward forms, and utterly ignorant of a change of heart, evince a deep and heart-felt experience of the truth:--and all professing the same eppressive sense of personal guilt, a pacifying confidence in God, through the merits of the blessed Saviour, and the deep feeling of repentance for their sins, and that too, neither in one country, nor among a particular people, nor in a peculiar combination of circumstances, but throughout the world, under a different ministry, and missionaries of dif ferent sects, savages of our forests, Hottentots, Caffres, Hindoos, natives of the Sandwich and Society Isles, Greenlanders, Kamtschadales, "all speaking the wonderful works of God," and telling "what He has done for (their) souls." Other classifications of facts might be made, but these are sufficient for our purpose, as they may serve to assist us, in tracing the particular hypotheses, by which the infidel formalist in religion, attempts to waive, the force of the pret they furnish, in favour of the Spirit's work.
1. It is objected, that in citing the conversion of children and others, as proof of the Spirit's special and direct agency, we attribute to a supernatural influence, both feelings and conduct, which should, more appropriately, be regardel, as THE EFFECTS OF VERY EARLY EDUCATION. A very ingenious and plausible writer, whose object was, to disprove that there was any regeneration, “distinct from Baptism," and to show, that the high church principles and ultraism of the established Episcopacy in England, were the only safe interpreters and promoters of religion, has endeavoured to expose, what he has gratuitously called, "the evils of making religion consist in abstraction, imaginations and feelings," and thinks that he has found, in the mel. ancholy and occasional hallucinations of Cowper's mind, an ample warrant for his hostility to vital religion, and his most invidious classifications. “The Essene and the Evangelical,” he says, "appeal to their natural feelings as to a divine sanction,” and “concur in diverting religion from influencing men's conduct, in the business of life, by supplying their consciences with false, or exaggerated principles of self-approbation and acceptance with God.” Now this is false, as regards the matter of fact, and betrays, altogether, unpardonable ignorance on a subject, on which the writer, and those that retail his ingenious trifling, ought to be better informed.
The Evangelical does not appeal to his natural feelings, as to a divine sanction, though he does regard feeling, appropriately characterized and estimated, by the infallible standard of Bible truth, to be an essential and indispensable part and evidence of true religion. To trace the influence of natural feelings and susceptibilities, which the Spirit employs and excites, in the conversion of a sinner, ot, to discern some remote analogies between them and other transformations of character which take place, and
are, confessedly, not religious, are not sufficient to disprove the fact of the Spirit's special agency in producing them, in opposition to the plain and solemn declarations of the word of God.
That religious education, in eliciting and directing the natural susceptibilities of a child, may have an influence in shaping its character and feelings, we freely admit. And so important is that influence, as we believe, that no christian parent can neglect the religious instruction of his children, without subjecting himself to the charge of worse than murderous barbarity, towards the souls of his offspring. But, in making this admission, we affirm, that whatever influence it has in the permanent formation of truly christian character, is owing to the special agency of the divine Spirit, and not to any general law of nature, by which that agency is universally and equally diffused. For, if it be a general influence, according to a fixed and undeviating law of nature, on the result of an appeal to it, we may cálculate with the utmost certainty. We may, undoubtedly, and most legitimately expect, that, in all cases, the same appeals will secure the same results. This, however, is not the fact.
But, even on the supposition of the efficiency of a religious education, should we admit that on its result in the conversion of children, we may calculate with the utmost certainty, it behooves" the objector to shew, whence that efficiency is derived, and whether it is not wholly from the ageney of the gracious Spirit of God. The truths of the Bible, constitute the materiel of a religious education. But these truths constitute the instrument of the Spirit's agency
It is " by the word,” we are begotten to a lively hope, and it is “through the truth,” the Spirit sanctifies. It is, therefore, begging the question, to refer the conversion of children ta religious education, as the appropriate efficient cause, when the sacred Scriptures so explicitly declare, that the truths of the Bible which constitute the materiel of a religious education, are rendered efficient, wholly by the agency of the Spirit; the very thing for which we plead.
That, in itself considered, what is ordinarily called a religious education is inefficacious, there are abundant facts to prove. It fails under the very same circumstances precisely in which it takes place. It takes effect in others, where less advantages are had than where it fails. Of the former we may refer to an Ishmael in the family of Abraham, and an Absalom in that of David;--and of the latter, to a Samuel among the sons of Eli, and a Josiah in the wicked house of Amon. And similar instances occur in almost every direction. How many pious parents have to bemoan the froward, ruinous conduct of some one or more of their children, notwithstanding all their care, and all the impressions of an early religious education! And how many lovely youth, like plants of paradise, may be seen flourishing and yielding the fruits of holiness, in direct opposition to parental influence or domestic example! It is a miserable begging of the question-an involuntary currender of the point in dispute, to talk of delicacy of organization, sensitiveness of mind, puriency of imagination, precocity of understanding, irritability of nerves, constitutional malady, and such like things, as being peculiar in the case of this, and the other child renewed by the blessed Spirit, and urge them as satisfactory solutions of the change. Will any one, can any one, making the least credible or decent pretensions tn a belief in the sacred Scriptures, undertake, by such means, to account for the powersul and revolutionizing impressions which religious truth often makes on the heart of children and youth? The blessed Saviour's own solution of it is plain agad satisfactory, though it does offend the pride of
such as disbelieve the special agency of the Divine Spirit, in the work of conversion. “ I thank thee, O Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them urto babes; even so Father, because it seemed good in thy sight."
And if the vivid imaginations, and warm feelings, and what some are pleased to call the false associations, of childhood, cannot satisfactorily account for the conversion of children, much less will a sound logician be satisfied with an attempt to account for those which take place in more advanced life, by saying that they are but the revival of early associations, which had long faded from the mind, and " which disappear from the memory at one period, to re-appear at another."
2. To resist the evidence which this second class of facts affords, in favour of the special influence of the Spirit in the conversion of the sinner, the philosophic formalist summons to his aid, “THE DISCIPLINE OF CIRCUMSTANCES.” It is sometimes asserted, that there is a wise and salutary provision, in the established system of Providence, for correcting any preponderance of evil, which may arise out of imperfections, in the work of nature, or process of education;—and that this provision, is nothing but such a general disposition of the course of human events, as “to produce an experimental conviction of the ill effects on the individual himself, of conduct which is mischievous to others.” To this is attributed, by some, the sudden conversions which take place in men of dissipated habits. It is somewhat singular however, to hear a strenuous opponent of human depravity, impeaching the perfection of nature's works. Nature and education are not sufficient. It would be folly to expect so much from these "architects of the
1, Mat. si, 25, 26.