" Of some have compassion, making a difference; and others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire," Jude, ver. 22, 23. DEAR brethren, in setting before you the means to be employed for the conversion of sinners, we have dwelt in the first place upon the force of example ; an instrument of great power, and indispensable use. But we must not stop here. Other means are in our possession for the promotion of the same end, and they also should be put into operation. We proceed, therefore, to notice tfie direct means of converting sinners. I. We shall best advance to the consideration of our subject by making, in the first place, one or two general observations. 1. The first is that, whatever methods may be employed for its attainment, the object contemplated is simple and distinct. It is to effect, not a change of name or form, of religious profession or external conduct, but a change of character and of heart. o just satisfaction can be derived from anything else, or from anything less; inasmuch as all other changes may take place without in any measure rescuing a sinner, either from the dominion or the condemnation of his sins. We have but one aim, to form a new character, with whatever changes of conduct and profession the production of a new character may induce. 2. Our second observation is that, however the methods to be employed may vary, their essential character also is simple and uniform. They are only different ways of presenting divine truth to the understanding, and applying it to the heart. We have nothing to do with worldly methods of attraction on the one hand, or of intimidation on the

other; we acknowledge no weapons but those of instruction and persuasion. By any temporal inducement to allure a person to a place of worship, or by fear of temporal injury to keep him there, is to overlook entirely the nature of religion ourselves, and to generate the most mischievous

THE DIRECT MEA S. 269 misapprehensions of it in the minds of others. Efforts of this class, whatever may be their particular aspect or apparent force, have no adaptation to the effect designed ; and a false aim must have been taken before such inapplicable instruments could have been employed. The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, nor could such weapons affect the enemies with whom we fight. othing but divine truth can reach the heart, and subdue the love of sin; nor, in the use of any other means, have we either the sanction of God's authority, or the promise of his blessing. For this, however, we have both; and never shall we be without cause to say, with the apostle, that, though our weapons are not carnal, they are mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds. II. We may now turn to the contemplation of the various efforts by which instruction may be conveyed. The most natural and obvious of these, on the part of private Christians, is conversation ; whether with one person or with several, whether more particular or more general, whether with an avowed design or with a bearing more or less concealed. The same end may be pursued, however, by communications in writing; a method by which we may seek the benefit of some to whom we have not personal access, and by which we may acquire a more free and confidential intercourse with others. To these may be added an endeavour to induce profitable reading; either by the dispersion of religious publications, or by placing suitable works under the eye of those whose attention we wish to engage.

As to the method to be employed in any particular case, no specific direction can be given. Cases themselves are of infinite diversity; and, if they were not, the judgments formed of them would be so. What shall be done as opportunities arise must therefore be left to the determination of individuals; only let it be determined by Christian wisdom, and not by rashness on the one hand, or by mere prudence, or by general example, on the other. Rashness, no doubt, is possible, and should carefully be avoided; but, in relation to such efforts, the danger of backwardness and inaction is far greater and more common, and requires to be far more keenly and resolutely guarded against. Some warm advocates for caution need to be reminded that prudence is not wisdom, and will not bear to be deified. It is, in many cases,

270 I DIVIDUAL EFFORT. but another name for shame, timidity, or sloth ; and a cloak for the indulgence of these injurious tempers. Zeal, a resolved and courageous zeal, is as essential a part of wisdom as prudence, and constitutes, in fact, the impelling power which prudence is to control; while prudence by itself is rather like a fly-wheel apart from the engine to which it belongs, both useless, ridiculous, and mischievous. If Christian wisdom be taken for our guide, we shall arrive at three general rules for the improvement of opportunities, at once simple and important. 1. The first is that, at every opportunity, something should be done. Our perplexity should not be suffered totally to obstruct our action. This is a case by no means uncommon. If you ask a person why he did not use a specified opportunity for good, he will very probably tell you that he knew he ought to have done something, but he did not know at the moment what to do for the best ; and therefore he did nothing, but suffered the precious season to pass away alto-

gether unimproved. This feeling of perplexity may not only become a frequent occasion of neglect, but may at length be regarded as a justification of it; as though one should say, "I did not know what to do, and therefore I thought it better to do nothing." This pretext for inaction should be entirely abandoned. It is far better to attempt something, with the utmost wisdom you can command at the moment, than to throw precious opportunities entirely away. 2. The second rule is, that our efforts should be suited to the character of opportunities themselves, and not to our feelings merely. Our feelings will be our first and most favoured guides, but they will always be unsafe ones. Suppose, for example, that you have had an opportunity of pious conversation which you did not improve, and you are asked why; your answer perhaps may be, that you could open the subject so much more easily by letter. But did you come to this decision really because the opportunity was not suitable for conversation, or because you had not resolution and fidelity enough to embrace it? Was it truly to do more good to your companion, or to indulge your own timidity and worldlymindedness? What we deem fit to be done on any occasion should surely correspond with the nature of the occasion itself, and not with a disinclination to improve it. A little honesty in this respect is very necessary, and very reasonable.

THE DIRECT MEA S. 271 With what justice or satisfaction can we be making our intention to do good in one way an apology for the perpetual neglect of it in another? 3. The third rule is, that every opportunity should be fully, and not partially, improved. It is not that we should do something, but everything which can be properly done. If we have an hour which may be spent in profitable converse, we should not content ourselves with making an effort to say two or three useful things, while the rest of the time is

consumed on ordinary topics. Every moment of it is valuable, and much too valuable to be wasted. Were there before us fifty grains of gold, should we then confine ourselves to the gathering up of two or three, and heedlessly abandon the rest? III. Allow me to draw your attention, thirdly, to the manner in which our efforts for the conversion of sinners should be made. Great importance attaches to this branch of our subject, because upon the manner of our efforts depends almost the whole of our success. He that addresses himself to an ordinary occupation in an unskilful and heedless manner is likely to make no satisfactory progress ; still less can we expect a beneficial result from the most vigorous endeavours for the conversion of sinners, if we do not make them with scriptural wisdom and temper. i. Here it is needful to regard, first, the aim of our endeavours. (i). It should be direct: that is to say, we should aim at nothing short of the conversion of those we address. This is, indeed, the whole of our professed design ; and to suffer our efforts to fall short of it would seem almost to indicate a forgetfulness of the design itself. Yet this incongruity is often committed. The cases are too numerous in which nothing more is said to ungodly persons than may induce them to keep the Sabbath, and attend a place of worship. ow I am quite aware that, if a person can be brought to a place of worship, he may hereby be brought under the sound of the Gospel, and into the way of instruction. But why should his first kind instructor have stopped here 1 Had he no more to say? Was he unable, or was he unwilling, himself to publish the glad tidings for the lost? Did he think that they could be effectual only when uttered from the lips of an official minister, or within the walls of a consecrated


edifice] Was he sure, moreover, that his exhortation to public worship would be habitually, or even in a single instance, complied with? Or did he forget, finally, that, before the arrival of the Lord's day, his wretched fellowsinner might be in eternity, and in hell? Ah, brethren! let every one of your arrows be aimed at the heart; and part with no sinner on the brink of ruin without telling him what, if it should be the last sound of mercy which may ever enter his ears, is sufficient to make him wise unto salvation. (2). Our aim at the conversion of sinners should be pursued in conformity with scriptural truth. We go to them, of course, with the language of exhortation. We have to tell them of something which it is their duty, and their welfare, to be and to do. It is of great importance that this exhortation should be justly and scripturally framed; as it is manifest that the result of our labours must be expected to show an exact correspondence with it. In this respect the Scriptures are in the highest degree intelligible and explicit. " Turn ye at my reproof. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord. Make you a new heart. Wash thine heart from wickedness. Repent ye, and believe the Gospel. Repent and be converted. Be ye reconciled to God. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." In whatever respect the language held to irreligious persons differs from this, or comes short of it, it is plainly unscriptural and wrong. o person, however, can inquire far into the character of the conversation of those who do anything for the conversion of sinners, without perceiving that, in many instances, they painfully depart from the scriptural model. When, pressed with the importance and necessity of religion, a poor creature inquires, What must I do 1 the answer too often amounts to no more than a direction to pray. ow prayer is undoubtedly of the very highest value, and not a word should be suffered in depreciation of it, in its proper place, and for its proper end; but let the question be fairly asked, and scripturally answered, whether prayer is, or can

be, or ever was meant to be, the instrument of a sinner's salvation. To this I answer with an unhesitating denial; and I appeal, with the utmost confidence, both to the scriptural doctrine of salvation itself, and to the whole body of scriptural exhortations to the ungodly. In order to

THE DIRECT MEA S. 273 salvation it is necessary that the enemy of God should resign his enmity, and cherish friendship, and that the condemned rebel should submit himself to the righteousness provided for his justification. Whether he does this in the attitude of prayer or not is a mere accident, and altogether unimportant; reconciliation and submission are everything. Without them a sinner is inevitably lost; and these, therefore, in the very first instance should be pressed upon him. It is marvellous, almost to a miracle, how the tone and import of our addresses to sinners can have so widely deviated, not only from the principles, but from the express practice of the sacred oracles. We find them calling upen men to repent (that is to say, to change their hearts, for this is the English of fieravoew,* the meaning of which is most mischievously disguised by the term repent), to be reconciled to God, and to submit to his righteousness; while, though speaking to the same persons, many, both ministers and private Christians, say no such thing, but only call upon men "to read the Scriptures, and attend the house of God, and to pray." The source of this most remarkable difference may be traced, indeed, to the influence of a doctrinal perversion ; but not without leaving it equally wonderful that an error should ever have insinuated itself which leads to such a result. It has come to be imagined that men have no power to change their hearts, to cherish friendship to God, or to submit to the righteousness of his Son, and that therefore they cannot properly be exhorted to these things; while, being still able to read the Bible, to go to a place of worship, and to pray, these form the limits of all reasonable demands. And the

principle is undeniably just. If men cannot change their own hearts, it is absurd to call upon them to do so ; but then, in what a strange position do these modern discoverers place their Maker, and the old Book which he so long ago directed to be written? He bids men change their hearts; and, if these professed friends of his are asked why they do not do the same, they have only to say, in the language of the wicked and slothful servant, which their Master now repels not less indignantly than he did of old, "Lord, I knew thee, that thou wast an austere man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed." * MfravoffTf, immutate mentem vestram. See Schleusner in loc. T

274 I DIVIDUAL EFFORT. With such heedless and unscriptural notions, dear brethren, let us have no fellowship. You cannot be wrong while you follow inspired guides ; nor, if you depart from them, can you ever be right. You should remember, also, that, in conversing with an irreligious person, you speak in the name and on the behalf of your Maker : a most solemn and even an awful station, in which it is of infinite importance that you should speak the thing that is right. In what measure are you willing to give to a sinner an unfaithful or an inaccurate representation of his Governor and his Judge 1 ? What can be more imperative on you than to take his own words, to say nothing to which you cannot add "Thus saith the Lord," and to withhold no part of the whole counsel of God ? To do less than this is, in truth, to do melancholy mischief. You tell a sinner to read, to pray, and to go to chapel. Giving him no further view of his duty, you authorize him to imagine that this is the whole of it; or perhaps you tell him that nothing more is in his power, and that this is the reason you do not address to him any further exhortations. As he

supposes you to have a good understanding of these things, he takes this to be even truer than his Bible, and the more readily because he finds it more welcome; now and then he reads a little; in a formal or ignorant way he prays, perhaps, a great deal; he shows himself at the chapel; and remains just as wicked or as worldly as he was before only with this additional comfort, that he has now done all his duty (what, indeed, can he do more ?) and must wait till the Lord pleases to have mercy upon him, for if he is not converted it is not his own fault. This is the actual state in which our population may be found by hundreds and by thousands; a state, not of natural but of artificial ignorance, since it falsifies and puts to silence the very conscience of man ; and a state of ignorance and mischief the more deeply to be deplored, because it has been produced by a perversion of the truth which should have enlightened them, and a waste of zeal which might have saved them. Religious instruction, which should have become to the wanderers, like the pillar of fire to the Israelites, a luminous guide through the desert, has thus been made to exhibit the darkened aspect of the ancient symbol, by which the more wretched people are at once confounded and destroyed. It would have been better that they had been left in total darkness, than that so much pains had been taken to inculcate a

THE DIRECT MEA S. 275 sentiment, the prevalence of which presents at this moment one of the very chief obstructions to the awakening of salutary concern. Let it be your endeavour, dear brethren, not to aggravate this evil, but to labour for its cure. Having set before a sinner the nature and scope of his duty, it is but reasonable that you should point out to him the means of performing it. When you impress it upon him that it is needful his whole spirit should be changed, explain to him likewise how the heart is made to answer to the labour which is bestowed upon it. Encouragingly assure him (and you may easily substantiate it by facts with which

he is familiar) that meditation upon divine truths will effectually transform his feelings and his character. Do your utmost to lead him to his chamber with a pledge of fixed and earnest attention every day to the things of God. You will probably find it difficult to prevail in such a request, for such exercises are associated with too many painful concomitants not to be unwelcome; but on this account you should press it the more. In the order of means, it is everything to your success. ever was consideration divided from conversion. Should you, as you very probably may, be met by the allegation of difficulties in the sacred Scriptures, or by objections of any other kind, whether you feel that you could or could not remove them to your own satisfaction, the better way, as a general rule, is not to make the attempt ; but, ascertaining the principles which the objector really holds, to bind him to the just influence of these. The introduction of objections is almost invariably intended for no other purpose than to evade exhortation; and the answering of them, which is generally a fruitless, and almost always an endless, labour, serves to generate rather a spirit of dispute than of seriousness. or is it by any means necessary. Every irreligious man, even a deist or an infidel, will be found to hold truth enough to condemn himself : and our method should be to decline all controversy for the time, and, for the ake of argument, to admit every objection; to keep out of view every disputed sentiment; and to press home to the heart and the conscience that which a man acknowledges to be true. You will never find the man of the most meagre creed to be that which his creed is adapted to make him; nor will you ever find so effectual a method of inducing a man to

276 I DIVIDUAL EFFORT. advance in the way of knowledge, as persuading him to reduce to practice the truths which he already holds.

2. Secondly, the spirit of our endeavours should be watched with jealous anxiety. The best efforts made in a bad spirit are likely to be utterly fruitless. The temper in which we aim at the conversion of sinners should combine three principal features ; fidelity, affection, and importunity. (i). The most important of all these qualities is fidelity. If this be wanting, no good whatever can be expected to result; as no medicine, with however much assiduity and copiousness it might be administered, could be supposed to effect a cure if it was not adapted to the malady. It is indispensable, therefore, that, in every endeavour to convert a sinner, we should be most explicit as to the nature and amount of man's duty, together with the character and force of his obligations ; as to the extent and heinousness of sin, especially in the love of evil and the enmity to God which prevail in the carnal heart ; and as to the just desert of God's abhorrence and everlasting wrath, together with the utter inadequacy of any efforts of our own to secure, or to facilitate, our acceptance in his sight. These are doubtless unwelcome topics, and may occasion, not only pain, but resentment. It might be much more pleasant to converse at once about the precious blood of Christ and the blessed promises of the Gospel, but it would be far less safe; for instances have been known to occur, and similar ones are probably not unfrequent, in which addresses of this kind have been made the sanction of delusive hope and fatal consolation. (2). Fidelity being first in importance, affection is undoubtedly second. It would be strangely inconsistent, indeed, if an act of such substantial kindness as the saving of a soul from death should be effected in a harsh and uncharitable spirit. And more especially is the appearance of such a temper to be guarded against, in a case which involves the necessity of making painful disclosures, and adducing heavy accusations. When we tell a man what the Scripture declares him to be, we inevitably run the risk of setting all his

feelings of pride and self-complacency in arms against us, and so of closing up every avenue by which our further communications might find access to the heart; and, if there

THE DIRECT MEA S. 277 is any method by which so undesirable a result may be avoided, it is pre-eminently by kindness of manner, by letting it be seen that we are grieved to convey censure, that we carry it no further than is absolutely necessary, and that our design in it is not to wound the feelings, but to save the soul. A strong inducement to the cultivation of a tender spirit in efforts for conversion, may be derived from the fact that men universally are much more easily influenced by kind methods, than by austere ones. There is a false tenderness, however, against which we must be upon our guard. Like many other good names, that of gentleness has been used as a cloak for far less excellent things. You should hurt no person's feelings unnecessarily ; but, if it is necessary to their good, it is no real kindness to spare them. Were a surgeon to inflict a wound upon his patient without cause, it would be justly called barbarity; but, if the same, or a deeper wound, be needful to preserve life, the infliction of it is the most substantial kindness. o regard to the feelings of ungodly persons, therefore, should render us unfaithful. In this respect different cases may be differently treated. " Of some," says the apostle in our text, " have compassion, making a difference ; others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire." If we may sometimes prevail to allure by the kindlier topics of the Word of God, at others we must not shun to announce its utmost terrors. There are sinners in whose ears it is imperative to utter the sharpest rebukes, and the most tremendous denunciations, which the sacred oracles contain. I am well aware that such measures may expose us to the resentment of the ungodly, and to the censure of the pious.

Yet, even if a little unnecessary severity were now and then discoverable, one would think it might be easily forgiven. If, in drawing you out of the water or out of the fire, a person were to address you a little too much in the tone of authority to be quite consistent with good manners, or to drag you by your feet, or even by the hair of your head, so as to hurt you considerably, would you think of resenting it as an insult, or of demanding redress for it as an injury? Besides, when ungodly persons complain of harshness, they commonly mean only that you come too close in your appeals to the conscience, and show yourself too much resolved to disturb their self-destructive peace. When they say, "be

278 I DIVIDUAL EFFORT. gentle," or "speak comfortably," they mean only, "speak so softly that we need not listen, or that we may speedily forget." To indulge them in this wish is to destroy them. And, however unpleasant it may be to incur their resentment, or to forfeit their confidence, now, it is far better than to expose ourselves to their bitter reproaches at last. (3). Our addresses to irreligious persons should be characterized also by solemn importunity. We should not talk of religion as an ordinary thing, but should endeavour to show by our manner that we feel its value deeply, both for oui-selves and for them. either should we content ourselves with merely stating the things which relate to their peace in their presence. We should speak, not before them, but to them; and, having made them understand what it is we wish them to do, we should make them feel also that we very earnestly wish them to do it. This will be effected by representing to them the various motives to repentance with which the Scriptures abound ; by pleading with them the justice of God's requirements, the evil and misery of sin, the riches of his mercy, the blood of his Son, the terrors of his wrath, and the near approach of eternity. There is also a persuasiveness and importunity of manner which it is of

importance to ciiltivate. You will best perceive its character, perhaps, by calling to mind an occasion on which you have tried hard to obtain a request from an earthly friend ; just such, only as much more earnest as the object is more important, should be the urgency of your address, when you beseech a sinner to be reconciled to God. I cannot conclude withoxit a passing remark on the practice of praying with persons whose conversion we are endeavouring to promote. Most readily admitting the importance of following our exertions with fervent supplication for the divine blessing, and the eminent adaptation of prayer to the good of those with whom we converse in many cases, there are, nevertheless, instances in which the effect of it is highly prejudicial. The perpetual use of the forms prescribed for the visitation of the sick by the Established Church has generated an extensive and deeply -rooted feeling that there is some benefit, perhaps even a saving benefit, in having a minister, or other pious person, to pray by you. Hence you may often perceive that, while searching conversation is unpleasing, the prayer is highly gratifying, like the welcome

THE DIRECT MEA S. 279 opiate which is expected to allay all irritation, and to repress whatever might disturb the last hours of mortality. The very possibility of having our ministrations perverted to such an effect as this is unutterably dreadful. Too many people launch into eternity buoyed up by false hopes, without the melancholy number being thus increased. What we wish is to prevent them from appearing before their Maker with a lie in their right hand, and to induce wakefulness, rather than to cherish slumber. For this purpose the Word of God is our only resource, and our whole aim should be to secure its admission and application to the heart. Where we have reason to suspect that prayer will be abused, it will be better for us, having provided materials for consideration and pressed home divine truth to the conscience, to leave the

house without engaging in that exercise ; in which case the blessing which we are conscious that our labours need in order to give them success should the more earnestly be sought when we return to our chamber. Having submitted to you. these observations respecting the direct means of converting sinners, I have now to ask you, dear brethren, not so much whether they approve themselves to your understanding, as whether they have found their way to your heart. Are you prepared and resolved to employ them] Or am I merely presenting an instrument to a hand that is unapt and unwilling to use it ? I know that in you, as in myself, the active and Iiabitual pursuit of such measures as these is resisted by the corruption that remains, even in the renewed Jieart. Much is there of timidity, of self-indulgence, of carelessness, and of sloth. But the question is, Do you mean to mortify these feelings, or to pamper them ] A re they to be brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ] Or are they to resist his dominion, and to enslave and triumph over you? If the former, may God bless you in your deed! But, if the latter, what then is the force of the various motives which, for seven months, I have been employed in presenting to you 1 Is it nothing 1 ? othing that sinners perish around you; nothing that you have means to save, and are urged by every consideration of duty and of gratitude, of pity and of joy, to put them into operation] Can all these things have been weighed according to their magnitude, and yet have left you as indolent as ever] Was it needful that I should spend

280 I DIVIDUAL EFFORT. more time and more urgency in enforcing them, or that I should go in quest of more constraining topics? Or have you turned away from considerations so directly adapted to disturb the sleep which you have loved? Alas, dear brethren ! is this to be the issue of all endeavours to arouse you ? Then

what remains for you but to die ; to depart from the field of obligatory labour to the scene of permitted rest 1 ? For earth you are not fit, it is manifest ; and God only knows whether you are fit for heaven. Perhaps you will turn the efficacy of example into a plea for inaction. It will be sufficient, you imagine, for you to aim at an exemplary life, without making further endeavours for the good of souls. We have said already that the influence of example is great and indispensable. To those who are disposed to act for God it becomes yet more important, inasmuch as it is requisite to give the stamp of sincerity and consistency to their endeavours. But why should you confine yourself to the use of this instrumentality alone 1 ? There is as much to impel you to the employment of other means as of this ; and is there, in point of fact, any reason why you will not employ them but your disinclination to labour 1 ? If a man were drowning, and you had several means of attempting his recoveiy, you would either use them all at once, or try a second if the first did not succeed. It would be barbarity if you did not. And is the barbarity of neglecting any means of rescuing men from hell to be thought less criminal, or renounced with less horror? You possess a high sense of the value of example, and a willingness to make use of it to the utmost. But, by separating exemplary piety from personal labour, you deprive it of its principal efficacy. Strong as it is alone, it is far stronger in association with other methods of instruction. Its mightiest force is in giving effect to precept and importunity. The division of either from its companion is itself an inconsistency, and cannot but impair the efficacy of both. You may feel, possibly, that you do not know how to make these efforts. You have no command of conversation, you have no sufficient knowledge of the difficulties of theology, you have no skill in methods of persuasion. Melancholy and afflictive acknowledgment ! You are, then, a lamp without a light to shine, you are salt without a savour to diffuse, you

are leaven without energy to pervade the lump. It ought to break your very heart that these things should be said of you. You do not know how to persuade sinners to be reconciled to God ] Then you should learn. Did you ever try to learn it ? And how can you expect to acquire this heavenly art without learning 1 one of the ordinary arts, by which are acquired the livelihood of some and the wealth of others, were attained without effort ; yet which of us has taken as much pains to know how to persuade men, as we have to learn the methods of manufacture or of business 1 ? It is high time that such injurious and criminal ignorance should come to an end. The work of conversion, which is instrumentally intrusted to our care, is far too important for its obstruction on such an account to be looked upon with complacency; and, with the Scriptures in our hands, and the experience of religion in our hearts, it need be a very little while ere so grievous an evil is removed. To those of you who are disposed to employ yourselves for God and for the souls of men, I have only to say, The Lord inspire you with habitual resolution, and give you large success ! Take him with you to your work. When it is done lay it all at his feet. Mortify every feeling that interferes with its entire consecration to his glory. Cover it with exercises of humiliation and of prayer. And be not weary in well doing, for in due time you shall reap, if you feint not.



Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful