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JAMES V. 20. HE WHICH CO TERTkTH THE SI ER FROM THE ERROR OF HIS WAT, SHALL SAVE A SOUL FROM DEATH. There are various modes of exerting a benevolent influence. They all have their claim upon our attention ; and he, who in any way lessens the sorrows and increases the happiness of man, is to be regarded, so far as his good influence extends, as a benefactor. But every kind of good influence cannot be exerted by each individual. The poor cannot build up by public bounty the institutions of learning and of charity. The unlearned cannot enrich others with treasures of wisdom, which they do not possess. This man cannot guide a nation's counsels, and that cannot wield a nation's strength. But all of every class, in their appropriate stations, may contribute their influence, be it small or great, to increase the amount of human happiness. Yet what is human happiness, if measured only by the span of man's earthly existence ? It is chequered at best with many sorrows, and soon passes away. The distress which is relieved by the hand of charity, could at the longest have weighed heavily upon the afilicted spirit but for a short time ; and the joy communicated in the same way, is but a dying pleasure. Yet it is the duty, 4
26 THE DUTY OF EXERTI G and it ought to be a part of the happiness of man, to exert
what influence he can to render the journey of life pleasant to his fellow travellers. But there is a charity, which in its influence may extend far beyond the narrow boundaries of human existence on earth. There is an influence, which may reach the undying soul. There is an influence, which may extend forward into eternity. It is of the highest dignity, and its result is permanent happiness. It is an influence which every man, however humble, may exert* There is no one, whose virtues may not be felt ; who may not communicate to others treasures, which will survive the wreck of all earthly objects, and constitute a part of the riches of the soul in its eternal home. There is no one who may not be instrumental in saving a soul from death. How interesting and solemn the consideration ! How heavy the responsibility resting upon every man ! How moving the arguments to employ his influence for good ! How deep his guilt, if a soul perish through his neglect ! Permit me then to call your attention to such remarks as are suggested by the words of the apostle ; and God grant, that we may each one of us be animated to a vigorous application to our duties. 1. What then are we to understand by a sinner; and what by converting him? A sinner is one, who acts without any constant reference to the government of God ; or to the sacred principles of virtue and religion. He is a man, who has never determined for himself, that he will serve the Lord. He acts under the influence of motives which belong mainly to the present life, and practically neglects the solemn consideration, that he is to stand bejR>re the judgment seat of Christ, and that his eternal happiness is most intimately connected with the habits which he is now forming. The love of God is not cherished by him as a powerful aflection of the soul ; and the precepts of Jesus Christ are not regarded as forming a rule of action, which admits of no exception, and allows no
A RELIGIOUS I FLUE CE. 27 eTasion. In one word, the sinner is one who has formed no fixed purpose of serving God. The distinction between the saint and the sinner, as we are taught by the scriptures to understand these terms, is not that the one never does right, nor the other wrong ; but that the sinner has no purpose of uniform obedience, and no habits of righteous* ness ; while the saint has determined, God's grace assisting him, to bring his hfe and character to the gospel standard, and has, in some good degree, conformed his habits to this holy resolution. The latter loves righteousness ; the former does not. ow it is evident, that, as there may be various degrees of goodness in those, who on the whole are to be acknowledged as pious, so there may be various degrees of wickedness in those, who are to be denominated sinners. Some may be merely indifferent to religion, while their general deportment is marked by no striking departures from the popular standards of moral conduct ; others may hate the truth, drink in iniquity like water, and have consciences seared as with a hot iron. Between these two extremes may be found every intermediate grade of transgressors. They tire, however unlike in other respects, alike in this, that they have no fixed pur« pose of devoting themselves to God, and of living for heaven, and that their habits are not formed with a constant reference to the account which must be given by every man at the bar of Jesus Christ. They agree in neglecting the one thing needful, in grounding their hopes of happiness exclusively on the earth, and in refusing to lay up for themselves treasures in heaven. To convert a sinner, is to turn him from the love and practice of sin to the love and practice of holiness. The change to be effected may be greater in some individuals than in others. Some may already need little or no change in their intellectual views. They know and acknowledge the truth ; but they are destitute of practical fiitth. Their hearts are untouched, and their lives uninflu-
28 THE DUTY OF EXERTI G enced by the truths, which they profess to believe. They need to have their consciences awakened, and their affections interested in religion. Others again have discarded the principles of a sound theology, and wandered far in the mazes of superstition. In order to their conversion, their errors must be corrected, their understandings must be disabused, they must be taught correct principles, and the h'ght of religious truth must be let in upon their minds. If their speculative errors have been adopted to render their vices less painful to them, they may be called upon even in the first instance to repent, and the principles of natural religion may be urged upon them to awaken their torpid consciences. If they have been bewildered by the false lights which have crossed their path, they are to be taught with greater simplicity 'the truths of the gospel. They are to be wholly changed. Their speculations are to receive a new direction, their affections to be directed to new objects, and their lives to be governed by new principles. In one word, to convert a sinner is to bring him to the love of God, to the faith and the spirit of Jesus. 2. To attempt this is the most benevolent work in which man can be engaged ; to effect it is to save a soul from death. It is exerting an influence, which is to dry up many of the sources of present misery, which is to diffuse happiness among men, which is to reach forward to the eternal world, and to fill the soul with joy, so long as the soul shall exist. To estimate the dignity and benevolence of converting a sinner, endeavor to bring before you one of this class, and to fix in your minds the tendency of his course of life. He 18 described by the sacred writers, as already dead ; dead to the happiness and hopes of a virtuous existence. He is living without God and without hope. Hopes indeed he may indulge ; but the slightest change may blast them all.
He has not that hope, which entereth within the veil, and which 18 an anchor to the soul. There is within him a
A REUGIOUS I FLUE CE. 29 moral feeling, which is struggling against the course which he is pursuing. Let the hurry of worldly pleasure and occupation be suspended, and you find him in a state of severe affliction with nothing to sustain him. Let sorrows press heavily upon him, and he sinks into despondency. Everything is against him. He does not look to God, or hope in his mercy. All his anticipations connected with religion are those of fear and dread. But the hour must come, when he must feel that his hold upon the world is breaking away, that, however unwilling or unprepared, he must enter upon an untried scene of being. Here his imagination will be busily employed in picturing, not the state of happiness to which he is to be introduced, but the scenes of wo which await bis guilty soul. O how melancholy is the course of him who estranges himself from God ! How wretched the condition of him who hath no hope in his death 1 But this guilty, wretched man is not without his influence, while he lives. His vices may be associated with many attractive qualities of character. He may be the father of an innocent family, the companion of the young and unsuspecting. Those who feel that religion imposes restraints upon the waywardness of passion, may easily yield to the influence of one, who seems to feel none of those restraints, and carries with him a seductive show of liberty. The unsuspecting may be corrupted by his society, and those who already have commenced their downward course, may be accelerated in their progress, and rendered less sensible to the admonitions of God's providence and word. This one sinner may do much to seduce others from the course of virtue. As he advances, he may find his companions multiplying, and virtue may weep over
the conquests of sin. How benevolent then that influence, which turneth such a man from the error of his way. It is drying up a source of moral contagion. It is saving many an unsuspecting
30 THE DUTY OF EXERTI G creature from threatening ruin. It is giving to a guilty, degraded man the joys of virtue. It is furnishing him with pure pleasures, inspiring him with cheerful confidence in God, giving him support under the trials of life, and preparing him to meet the last earthly trial with a hope full of immortality. It is sending him forth among men as an instrument of good, as a missionary of the cross of Christ, as one who will allure thoughtless men to a brighter world, and lead the way to heavenly happiness. O what a change is here produced, how benevolent is its aspect upon the present condition of man ! But our view ought to be extended beyond this world. Man is to live after he shall cease to be interested in earthly joys, cares and trials. He is to live beyond the grave, and his happiness in the future, as in the present life must depend upon his character. Read then the description given in the gospel of the future condition of the ungodly. That they are highly figurative descriptions, we readily admit; but the figures in which they are clothed are not without their meaning. If they mean anything, the threatenings of God uttered to deter men from sin are most fearful threatenings, and imagination cannot picture the future horrors of the sinner's doom. He must enter upon eternity the enemy of a God of love. He who converts him saves a soul from death, saves a fallen creature from final ruin. In saving one soul, he may rescue from eternal death a thousand souls, which might have been betrayed by the influence of this one. He may add to the happy society of heaven those who were fast approaching a world of wretchedness.
What a motive this to the exercise of Christian benevolence ! Do you wonder at the solicitude manifested by God for man's salvation ? Do you wonder that Jesus was willing to pour forth his blood in a cause like this ; and that his apostles readily exposed themselves to every trial and suffering, that they might carry forward the work of love, which their Master had commenced ? Are you not
A RELIGIOUS I FLUE CE. 31 amazed^ astonished, that those who call themselves Christians should be so little interested in this glorious work ; that they should see with so much indifference the work of destruction going on around them ; that they should so feebly labor to save souls from death ? Christians, I call upon you in the name of the Lord to engage in this work. You are surrounded by those who are strangers to Christian faith and hope. Will you make DO effort to direct their influence aright, to stay the moral contagion which rages around you ? Will you see souls ready to perish, and make no exertions to save them from death ? Do you ask how you are to engage in this work ? I answer. In the spirit of your Master, in a spirit of love. You yourselves are sanctified but in part. You are sinners, and, whatever be your virtues or hopes, you are to ascribe all to the grace of God. You are then to make his grace in your behalf appear for the purpose of attaching others to the Saviour whom you love. You are to go to them, not in the spirit of the Pharisee to boast of your superiority, but with sympathy and love to entreat them to accept the offered salvation. You are to put forth your influence in such a manner that they may feel the conviction, that you are interested for their welfare ; that you are pleading for their good ; that you are laboring for their souls, and not for the selfish purposes of party ambition. It is by gentleness, by kindness, by love unfeigned, by patience and perseverance, that you are to succeed in this work of benev-
olence. Your virtues, your Christian purity, submission, obedience and joy must speak for you in the cause which you would advocate. Your prayers also must ascend warm from the altars of your hearts to God, not only for those whom you would bless by your influence, but for yourselves also. Go to this work in earnest, animated by a spirit of love, and you will not labor in vain. Think, if each of you convert but one sinner from the error of his way, if each of you save but a single soul from death, how glorious will be your reward.
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