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ordinarily the prelude to disappointment. If we begin our inquiries respecting any of the great doctrines of the Gospel, by a precise and minute adjustment of inferior topics; if we laboriously occupy ourselves in ascertaining, to a nicety, the degrees of probability on the one side or the other, in matters of doubtful disputation, whilst we pass slightly over the chief and controlling considerations connected with it, we are not very likely to arrive at a sound decision. Refinements are lost on the great bulk of mankind, and lost upon ourselves. It is by great and energetic principles that the affections of men are moved; principles which, derived manifestly from the unerring oracles of God, and acting powerfully on the consciences and lives of men, though they leave behind them untouched various points of smaller importance, yet at once gain and sway the heart.
I am aware, indeed, that powerful emotions demand powerful restraints. A greater evil can scarcely be named than that of a heated and turbulent vehemence, which leads a man to disregard the control of prudential considerations, and to follow more his own imaginations than the plain meaning of the written word of God-the standard of every doctrine, and the test of all our professions. It is one of the best consequences of a truly learned ministry, of men trained and formed to honest study, and
whose minds are balanced by sound general principles and enlightened piety, that they unite zeal and fervour with meekness and discretion. But still caution will not supply the place of feeling, nor a jealousy of excesses form a substitute for those grand and master virtues, in which all high exertions take their rise. The ripest scholar, if he be a sincere Christian, will be the first to allow that a cold and systematic hesitation on minute difficulties, to the neglect of those momentous truths, which can alone lead to deep and affecting piety of heart, is neither the way of arriving at substantial excellence ourselves, nor of impressing it upon others.
These general observations may perhaps be found of service in any theological question which may engage our attention: they relate to a principle, however, which will, I think, be allowed to be more than ordinarily applicable to the great subject involved in the passage from which my text is taken; to that spiritual and holy change in all the faculties of fallen man, by which he is to be restored to the moral image of God; and to the minor questions which are subordinate to it. If there is any point where main and governing principles are to be followed, to the comparative disregard of minute distinctions, it is here; because, as the change is the spring and commencement of repentance, faith, and obedience to God, rather than those graces
themselves; and, as it regards an interior and secret work of the Holy Spirit upon the heart, it must be involved in all the obscurity which hangs over the operations of the human mind, in addition to the still greater obscurity which rests on the mode in which the Spirit exercises his sacred influences; and, except as reference is made to its more obvious effects, can only be described and traced out by general and indefinite language. If, therefore, we begin by plain and unembarrassed principles, and understand clearly, and feel deeply, the real corruption of our nature, and the surpassing holiness of God, together with the necessity of the powerful, though imperceptible work of the Holy Spirit upon the heart, we shall arrive at substantial truth; whilst, if we first listen to captious objections, and attempt to solve all the difficulties which may present themselves at the outset, we shall be in danger of failing; we shall be apt to lower the mighty transformation of the heart to our own feeble views, dispose of its real force by some plausible evasion, and shall probably remain strangers to the substance of the blessing.
It is this conviction which has induced me to touch the present question: in doing which, I do not presume to hope that any thing I may offer will completely resolve the speculative difficulties of so extensive a topic; it will be rather my object so to apply the general prin
ciple I have laid down to the subject before us, as possibly to open the way, under the blessing of God, for repose and satisfaction as to the practical bearings of the doctrine. I say, under the blessing of God, because it is only by the influences of his Holy Spirit, that we can think those things that be good. It appears to me to be impossible that we should understand aright the importance of this subject, if we examine it merely by our natural reason. It is eminently a thing of the Spirit of God, which, after all our efforts, will appear as foolishness unto us, unless it be spiritually discerned'.
The great moral change, then, of which our Lord chiefly speaks in the conversation connected with my text, and which is repeatedly inculcated throughout the Scriptures, I consider to be the commencement of sanctification, the incipient principle of that holiness without which no man shall see the Lord: it is a spiritual frame or temper in the mind of fallen man, imparted by the Holy Spirit; the infusion of a new life into the heart, before dead in trespasses and sins. It is not a change of the essence of the soul, or the conferring of any new faculties, but a change in the direction and use of those faculties which sin had corrupted; the re-impressing on man that holy image of God,
11 Cor. ii. 14.
2 Ephes. ii. 1.
which he lost by the original transgression. When, therefore, the graces and duties which are the inseparable effects of this change, begin to appear, even in the smallest measure, we hope that the transformation under review is commenced: when they attain some consistency, we say, in the judgment of charity, that it has actually taken place; and, as it shows itself in growing sanctification, we hesitate not on the question of the real operation of the Holy Spirit in the change of heart, but transfer our solicitude to the permanency and abundant fruits of the blessing.
Such is the nature of that initial sanctification, on which I purpose to enlarge more particularly. Nor will any material difficulty present itself to us while we dwell upon it, from the more striking circumstances which attended it in the case of the first Christian converts. It will be immediately understood, that this conversion must have been more observable where all the previous habits had been idolatrous or superstitious, and where the hatred to the Christian name at once separated the disciple of Christ from his family and friends. But it will at the same time be recollected, that the broad and leading characteristics of conversion must be always the same. To restore a fallen sinner to the real love and service of God, is ever a work of infinite power. Pride, worldli