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They are not more absurd, than pernicious and degrading to the Christian character; they
proof that such repentances are sincere. We have seen in our experience persons as apparently converted as any there, who have upon recovery lost all traces of seriousness. And what proof can you have that the repentance of those who die is not equally unsound? And why we should obtrude on the public as unquestionable verities, accounts of conversions which are liable to such serious doubts, I know not. It is, I suppose, to magnify the grace of God. I think its natural tendency is to make our enemies despise us as presumptuous, in determining without the means of forming a judgment; and to encourage men in health to put off to a dying moment the vast concerns of an eternal world. The manner in which some of these sudden and late conversions are stated, is dreadfully exceptionable. One would imagine, that in visiting a condemned malefactor, whose whole life has been marked with crimes of the deepest dye, the only object was to make him contented and happy.
I should feel much more satisfied in reading that such a man died under deep impressions of guilt, and with trembling anxiety for his eternal happiness, than that he went to the gallows with all the triumph of a martyr'; and at the place of execution sung louder than all others, "From thee, my God, my joys shall rise," &c.
The writer then instances a criminal, in whom there were "extraordinary, and, as it appeared, unquestionable marks of a saving change: he seemed fully prepared to say in sight of the gallows, I am happy, I am going to die!' The next morning a pardon arrived; he was soon discharged.
The night after his discharge he spent in rioting and drunkenness; and in about twelve months he was again tried, convicted, condemned, and executed.
Why don't we learn prudence and modesty from such lessons as these? My two great objections then to such publications, are, that we decide with certainty, where it is impos
represent it under a mask, whose distorted features exhibit nothing but deformity. It may at
sible to ascertain the fact; and that admitting the fact, the circulation may do much harm, and can do but little, if any good."*
This paper was occasioned by the Bishop of London's primary charge. Had the author's opinion of conversions been generally received among the Methodists, his lordship would, in that respect, have had little ground of censure or complaint. But from the complexion of the Evangelical Magazine, it is very evident, that is not the case. The same extravagancies are still inserted, notwithstanding the judicious observations above mentioned. But what apology can be made for the evangelical editor, who, after giving a place in that publication to these well-grounded objections, still continues to circulate the extravagancies which they condemn. The story, for instance, of Captain Perry! Does he think it proper to infuse the bane, because he has applied the antidote? Does he not know that the most numerous class of his readers will swallow all the fanatic tales, which he disseminates, without attending to the remonstrance of his sensible correspondent? And does he think it consistent with his religion, to proselytize the credulous and ignorant by holy frauds? Surely, the Bishop of London had cause "to rank such sudden conversions among the follies of Methodism," not to call them by a harsher name.
The fact is, that the doctors of this sect do maintain the frequency and certainty of such absolute conversions, particularly at the close of life. "How many," says Dr. Hawker, "like the thief on the cross, or like the jailor at Philippi, have been surprised into grace at such seasons, by the sovereignty of Him, 'who calleth things that are not, as though they were!'"+
• Evangelical Magazine for May, 1811.
+ The Poor Man's Evening Portion, p. 456, cited in the Evangelical Magazine for June, 1811.
tract the staring wonder of the infatuated zealot, but disgusts the sober reason of those who worship God in spirit and in truth. Even the common feelings and natural apprehensions of mankind are outraged by these descriptions of wild and frenetic agitation. The temperate influence of religious wisdom is lost in the tumult of religious madness.
We see a number of guilty and accountable creatures entering into eternity, and going to appear before their Almighty Judge, without humble penitence or reverential awe; uttering their ejaculations more like the enthusiastic worshipper of a false God; Eva Bacche fremens! than rational believers in the true. It is indeed, most melancholy and distressing, to see this dance of death performed with such vehemence of tone and gesture; to view the professors of our holy faith, in the crisis of their dissolution, fluttering and singing like poetic swans. But alas! the subject is too serious for mythological allusion-sit Dicto Venia!
Those who have finished this period of trial, in whatever religious persuasion they may have lived or died, are summoned before that impartial tribunal; where, if they have nothing else to plead but their own confidence in their regeneracy, it may be feared, they are very ill prepared for the just decision that awaits them. When their Lord comes to reckon with them, and they are required to give an account of their
stewardship, it will not be enough to say, 'Lord, we have been washed in thy blood; we have been justified by thy death; and are clothed with thy righteousness: all this hast thou done for us, and therefore we could do nothing for ourselves. Lo! there thou hast that is thine.' If this be the only account which they can give of the improvement of those talents committed to their trust by God, may he not answer, "Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knowest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed; and in punishment of such passive and stupid negligence, may he not pronounce that dreadful sentence, "Cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness ?"
God forbid that we should anticipate such a judgment, with regard to any of our fellowchristians and fellow-sinners. We will hope that their hearts were sincere though their understandings were deluded, that the tempest of passion did not entirely extinguish the spark of repentance. Indeed, it is evident from what is said at times, of their "darkness of soul""their conflicts with Satan" and "his accusations of hypocrisy"-that the power of conscience was still active in some of these misguided persons, and excited those apprehensions of futurity which are natural to sinful man. "For the fears of another world will ever and anon be stirring and crowding themselves in, and will fret and gall the sinner sorely, and make his
thoughts troublesome to him. An uneasy bed, a broken sleep, a sudden afiliction, a "hand writing on the wall," will sometimes force us, whether we will or no, to smite upon our breasts, and reflect sadly upon our past dishonourable misdeeds and the fatal issue of them; and very often our own conscience will fly in our face, notwithstanding all our arts to divert it, and our charms to lull it asleep." *
But, the mischief is, and indeed it is most serious, that these pangs of an upbraiding heart, are coloured over by the new evangelists, with a false pretext, as if they were produced by the artifices of the tempter to lead us from Christ, and were not what they really are, the reproaches of conscience, which should lead us to him, with unfeigned repentance.
By this perversion of truth, the dying man is encouraged to reject and silence his bosommonitor; is deceived with vain assurances, that the terrors of the Lord are the machinations of the evil one; and, like an intoxicated criminal, enters into eternity unconscious of his danger. Thus is a death bed, on which the contrite penitent should lie, humbled, but not in despair, converted into a scene of mental disorder and turbulent exultation: The still voice of reason and reflection is drowned in this turmoil, and the delirious sufferer dreams that his salvation is thus accomplished.
Calamy's Seventh Sermon:-on a Death-bed Repentance.