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Grace in many persons, through this ignorance of their state, and their looking on themselves still as the objects of God's displeasure, has been like the trees in winter, or like seed in the spring suppressed under a hard clod of earth; and many in such cases have labored to their utmost to divert their minds from the pleasing and joyful views they have had, and to suppress those consolations and gracious affections that arose thereupon. And when it has once come into their minds to inquire whether or no this was not true grace, they have been much afraid lest they should be deceived with common illuminations and flashes of affection, and eternally undone with a false hope. But when they have been better instructed, and so brought to allow of hope, this has awakened the gracious disposition of their hearts into life and vigor, as the warm beams of the sun in the spring, have quickened the seeds and productions of the earth : Grace being now at liberty, and cherished with hope, has soon flowed out to their abundant satisfaction and increase.
There is no one thing that I know of that God has made such a means of promoting his work amongst us, as the news of others conversion ; in the awakening sinners, and engaging them earnestly to seek the same blessing, and in the quickening of saints. Though I have thought that a minister's declaring his judgment about particular person's experiences, might from these things be justified, yet I am often signifying to my people how unable man is to know another's heart, and how unsafe it is depending merely on the judgment of ministers, or others; and have abundantly insisted on it with them, that a manifestation of sincerity in fruits brought forth, is better than any manifestation they can make of it in words alone can be ; and that without this, all pretences to spiritual experiences are vain; as all my congregation can witness..... And the people in general, in this late extraordinary time, have manifested an extraordinary dread of being deceived, being exceeding fearful lest they should build wrong, and some of them backward to receive hope, even to a great extreme, which has occasioned me to dwell longer on this part of the narrative.
Conversion is a great and glorious work of God's power, at once changing the heart, and infusing life into the dead soul; though that grace that is then implanted does more gradually display itself in some than in others. But as to fixing on the precise time when they put forth the very first act of grace, there is a great deal of difference in different persons ; in some it seems to be very discernible when the very time 'of this was ; but others are more at a loss. In this respect there are very many that do not know the time (as has been already observed) when they have the first exercises of grace, do not know that it is the grace
of conversion, and sometimes do not think it to be so till a long time after : And many, even when they come to entertain great hope that they are converted, if they remember what they experienced in the first exercises of grace, they are at a loss
a whether it was any more than a common illumination ; or whether some other, more clear and remarkable experience, that they had afterwards, was not the first that was of a saving nature. And the manner of God's work on the soul is (sometimes especially) very mysterious, and it is with the kingdom of God as to its manifestation in the heart of a convert, as it is said Mark iv. 26, 27, 28. “ So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground, and should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring, and grow up, he knoweth not how ; for the earth bringeth forth of herself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear.”
In some, converting light is like a glorious brightness, suddenly shining in upon a person, and all around him : They are in a remarkable manner brought out of darkness into mar. vellous tight. In many others it has been like the dawning of the day, when at first but a little light appears, and it may be is presently hid with a cloud ; and then it appears again and shines a little brighter, and gradually increases, with intervening darkness, till at length, perhaps, it breaks forth more clearly from behind the clouds. And many are, doubtless, ready to date their conversion wrong, throwing by those lesser degrees of light that appeared at first dawning, and calling some more remarkable experience, that they had
afterwards, their conversion ; which often in great measure arises from a wrong understanding of what they have always been taught, that conversion is a great change, wherein old things are done away, and all things become new, or at least from a false arguing from that dactrine.
Persons commonly at first conversion, and afterwards, have had many texts of scripture brought to their minds, that are exceeding suitable to their circumstances, which often come with great power, and as the word of God or Christ indeed; and many have a multitude of sweet invitations, promises, and doxologies flowing in one after another, bringing great light and comfort with them, filling the soul brim full, enlarging the heart, and opening the mouth in religion. And it seems to me necessary to suppose, that there is an immediate influence of the spirit of God, oftentimes in bringing texts of scripture to the mind : Not that I suppose it is done in a way of immediate revelation, without any manner of use of the memory ; but yet there seems plainly to be an immediate and extraordinary influence, in leading their thoughts to such and such passages of scripture, and exciting them in the memory. Indeed, in some, God seems to bring texts of scripture to their minds no otherwise than by leading them into such frames and meditations, as harmonize with those scriptures; but in many persons there seems to be something more than this.
Those that while under legal convictions, had the greatest terrors have not al:ways obtained the greatest light and comfort; por have they always light most suddenly communicated ; but yet I think, the time of conversion has generally been most sensible in such persons. Oftentimes, the first sensible change after the extremity of terrors, is a calmness, and then the light gradually comes in ; small glimpses at first, after their midnight darkness, and a word or two of comfort, as it were, softly spuken to them ; they have a little taste of the sweetness of divine grace, and the love of a Saviour, when terror and distress of conscience begins to be turned into an humble, meek sense of their own unworthiness before God; and there is felt inwardly, perhaps, some disposition to praise
God; and after a little while the light comes in more clearly and powerfully. But yet, I think more frequently, great terrors have been followed with more sudden and great light, and comfort ; when the sinner seems to be, as it were, subdued and brought to a calm, from a kind of tumult of mind, then God lets in an extraordinary sense of his great mercy through a Redeemer.
The converting influences of God's spirit very commonly bring an extraordinary conviction of the reality and certainty of the great things of religion ; (though in some this is much greater, some time after conversion, than at first :) They have that sight and taste of the divinity, or divine excellency, that there is in the things of the gospel, that is more to convince them, than reading many volumes of arguments without it. It seems to me that in many instances amongst us, when the divine excellency and glory of the things of Christianity have been set before persons, and they have at the same time, as it were, seen and tasted, and felt the divinity of them, they have been as far from doubting of the truth of them, as they are from doubting whether there be a sun, when their eyes are open in the midst of a clear hemisphere, and the strong blaze of his light overcomes all objections against his being. And yet many of them, if we would ask them why they believed those things to be true, would not be able well to express, or communicate a sufficient reason, to satisfy the inquirer, and perhaps would make no other answer but that they see them to be true : But a person may soon be satisfied, by a particular conversation with them, that what they mean by such an answer, is, that they have intuitively beheld, and immediately felt, most illustrious works, and powerful evidence of divinity in them.
Some are thus convinced of the truth of the gospel in general, and that the scriptures are the word of God : Others have their minds more especially fixed on some particular great doctrine of the gospel, some particular truths that they are meditating on ; or are in a special manner convinced of the divinity of the things they are reading of, in some portion of scripture. Some have such convictions in a much
more remarkable manner than others. And there are some that never had such a special sense of the certainty of divine things impressed upon them with such inward evidence and strength, have yet very clear exercises of grace ; i. e, of love to God, repentance, and holiness. And if they be more pare ticularly examined, they appear plainly to have an inward, firm persuasion of the reality of divine things, such as they do not use to have before their conversion. And those that have the most clear discoveries of divine truth, in the manner that has been spoken of, cannot have this always in view. When the sense and relish of the divine excellency of these things fades, on a withdrawment of the spirit of God, they have not the medium of the conviction of their truth at command : In a dull frame they cannot recal the idea, and inward sense they had, perfectly to mind ; things appear very dim to what they did before : And though there still remains an habitual strong persuasion, yet not so as to exclude temptations to un. belief, and all possibility of doubting, as before : But then at particular times, by God's help, the same sense of things revives again, like fire that lay hid in ashes.
I suppose the grounds of such a conviction of the truth of divine things to be just and rational, but yet in some God makes use of their own reason much more sensibly than in others. Oftentimes persons have so far as could be judged) received the first saving conviction from reasoning, which they have heard from the pulpit ; and often in the course of reasoning, which they are led into in their own meditations.
The arguments are the same that they have heard hundreds of times ; but the force of the arguments, and their conviction by them, is altogether new; they come with a new and before unexperienced power : Before they heard it was so, and they allowed it to be so ; but now they see it to be so indeed. Things now look exceeding plain to them, and they wonder that they did not see them before.
They are so greatly taken with their new discovery, and things appear so plain and so rational to them, that they are often at first ready to think they can convince others, and are