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could easily prove to you from pious and experienced writers of every sect that I am acquainted with, that they all agree in regarding true religion as a work of the heart rather than of the head; and the experience of all ages proves that “the grace of God which bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world.” The operation of this Divine power, when it is submitted to, brings about in our minds the great change, which begins with repentance for our past sins, and ends in conversion or regeneration.
John. These are subjects on which I wish for information, for I have lately thought much about them, and I trust my heart has been in some measure weaned from the world, and engaged in the pursuit of that inheritance, incorruptible and undefiled, that fadeth not away.
Father. I am rejoiced to hear that the Lord has been so gracious to thee, my son, and that he is call. ing thee out of darkness into his marvellous light. He has, I trust, granted thee “repentance unto life,” which is the first step in the path of righteousness. Like the passage of the children of Israel through the Red Sea, the baptism of repentance separates us from the land of Egypt, saves us from a host of our enemies, and fills the soul with joy, so that we can sing the song of Moses, and “make melody in our hearts unto the Lord.” But the Israelites, after their first deliverance and rejoicing, had a great many trials to encounter, and a long journey to perform through the wilderness, until that crooked and perverse generation which was born in Egypt, was wasted away or consumed: and then there was a captain raised up in the midst of them, who led the new generation through Jordan (the river of judgment) into the promised land. The work of repentance was also typified by the watery baptism of John,--but true saving Baptism is not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience towards God.” i Peter iii. 21. And this saving baptism is administered by the Holy Spirit, which comes into the heart, and purifies, or "sprinkles it, from an evil conscience.” Repentance is the gift of God,--and it is offered to the acceptance of all men; for all are visited with seasons of calm reflection and serious thoughtfulness, when their sins are " set in order before them," and all the pleasures of sense and the riches of this world, seem“as nothing and vanity,” compared with that peace of mind which they have lost while pursuing after shadows. This state of mind is sometimes experienced by those who are the most eager in pursuit of pleasure and worldly glory; but they too generally put it from them, and fly to amusements or business to drive it away. Yet this very thing which is so much shunned, is nothing less than a visitation of Divine Love, which if yielded to would lead to eternal salvation. It is indeed the voice of Christ, who says, “Behold I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him and he with me.” Rev. iii. 20.
Those who yield obedience to this heavenly vision, • not consulting with flesh and blood, will experience the baptism of repentance to take place in their souls, for “godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation;" and the only sure evidence of sincere repentance, is bringing forth fruits “meet for repentance.”
James. Does not repentance often take place without any fruits? It appears to me that I have been sinning and repenting for many years, without much, if any, amendment.
Father. There is a spurious kind of repentance that hardly deserves the name;-it does not proceed from a true sense and hatred of sin, but from a dread of punishment, which induces men very often to feel a transient regret for what they have done, and to take up resolutions to do better in future; but these resolutions, when made in man's own strength, and with a reliance upon his own arm for their execution, will not stand in the hour of temptation; the first gust of passion will blow them away. True repentance implies not only a godly sorrow for sin, but a turning away from it. It implies a returning again to him from whom the soul has revolted. “Repent,” says the prophet, "and turn yourselves from all your transgressions: so iniquity shall not be your ruin.” Ezek. xix. 36. "
John. I have no doubt that true repentance is a work of the divine Spirit in the soul, and that it is accompanied by forgiveness of sins through the mercy of God. But I have been led to believe that the joy and peace which I have found springing up and abounding in my heart, was an evidence not only of forgiveness, but of conversion and regeneration.
Father. The term conversion is often used as equivalent to regeneration, and then it signifies a change of heart, from a state of sin to a state of holiness,-a putting off the old man with his deeds, and putting on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge “after the image of Him that created him.” It was used in this sense by Jesus himself, when speaking to Peter, just before he was delivered up. 6 Simon,” said he, “satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not; and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” Luke xxii. 31, 32. • John. It appears from this passage, that Peter had not yet been converted, and it becomes an interesting inquiry for us all to know what was then the state of . his experience, and how far a man may progress in religion without being thoroughly converted.
Father. Yes, it is a very interesting subject for inquiry, and there are a number of passages in the New Testament that will throw some light upon it,
It appears that Peter, long before this, had forsaken all, in order to follow Christ. He had been one of his disciples nearly three years. He had listened to his preaching and conversation, and beheld his miracles and holy example. He had himself been sent forth to preach, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand,” and he had been entrusted with the power of healing the sick and casting out devils. He had also been with his divine master in the hour of prayer, and stood by him on the mount of transfiguration, when “his face did shine as the sun, and his garment was white as the light,” and “there came a voice from the excellent glory, saying, This is my beloved Son, hear ye him." Nor was Simon's experience altogether of an outward character; for when he confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the son of the living God, his master replied, “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” Yet it appears that notwithstanding all his precious opportunities, and his ardent love for Christ, Peter had not yet been thoroughly converted.
John. I am almost ready to say, this is hard doctrine, who can bear it; for if Peter, after all this experience, had not been converted, how can one so young and weak as I, hope to attain that blessed state.
Father. Be not discouraged, my son. He who hath begun a good work in thee, is able and willing to carry it on and complete it. All he requires on thy part is, watchfulness to know his will, obedience to follow it, and patience to endure his righteous judgments. Every victory over sin, and every escape from temptation, is accompanied by an immediate reward of “joy in the holy spirit,” for “he feeds his flock like a shepherd, he gathers the lambs with his arm, and carries them in his bosom."
Conversion does not depend upon the abundance - of our knowledge, but upon the subjection of our wills
to the Divine government. This brings us into a teachable, humble, childlike state;—for “except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven."
John. Is there any evidence in the Scriptures that Peter was not in this state, except the passage alluded
Father. Yes, there are several circumstances related of him, which show that he was still governed by his own will, and had not been “transformed by the renewing of his mind;" –for instance, when his master said to him, “Whither I go, thou canst not follow me now, but thou shalt follow me afterwards," -Peter answered with much confidence, “Lord, why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thy sake.” But it appears that his confidence in hiinself was entirely misplaced, for when the hour of trial came, he not only denied his master thrice, but "he began to curse and swear, saying, I know not this man of whom ye speak.” Mark xiv. 71.
John. Perhaps this instance of humiliating weakness, came upon him in consequence of his having so much confidence in himself, that he did not continue in watchfulness and prayer.
Father. Yes, there is no doubt of it, and there is no safety for the most experienced Christian, but in a state of continual reliance upon Divine aid, which is always afforded when rightly sought for. “God is faithful,” says the apostle, “and will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able, but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” i Cor. x. 13.
James. Was there no other part of Peter's conduct that indicated the state of his mind ?
Father. Yes, there was. It appears that when Jesus began “to show unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the