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THE GREAT CONCERN OF SALVATION.
must I do to be saved? This was the first effect of conviction with the jailer; and so it was with those awakened on the day of pentecost.
I. But before discussing this proposition, a few things may be premised to prepare the way.
First. Conviction of sin is that clear view which the Holy Spirit gives to sinners of sin and its consequences, in their nature and necessary connection. Unconvinced sinners discover sin only in the twilight of reason, education, or the external dispensation of the word; and therefore they are not affected by it; nor do they see any peculiar deformity in it. But when the Holy Spirit pours sufficient light upon the soul, sin appears in its exceeding sinfulness; and misery, its deserved and necessary consequence, is awfully aggravated by the dread of avenging wrath. The convicted sinner sees that God has linked sin and hell inseparably together. The Holy Spirit not only shows him the impossibility of separating guilt and its punishment, not only tells him, as Nathan in the parable did David, that a certain man has sinned, but applies the parable, and says, « Thou art the man.”
Second. Convictions are various in degree,
continuance, and results. Upon some they come like the faint rays of twilight ; upon others, like the full beams of the noonday sun, shining in its strength. Some discover a few sins; others, many. Light seems to break in upon some like a flash of lightning; and is almost as soon gone. Not, however, that any particular degree of conviction is necessary to conversion, or that conviction is always followed by faith; for those who seem to have faint convictions are sometimes converted, while
persons who suffer those that are most frequent, often return to a state of indifference.
Some wear off their convictions, whether they are more or less deep, and others do not; some lose them in despair; and some in the opiate of a false remedy. Nor do we maintain that all must be a long time under conviction, before they can believe. The jailer believed immediately, and so may others. If convictions continue a long time, as is often the case before conversion, it is not because a long time in the nature of the case is necessary, but because the rebellious heart refuses, till after a long struggle, to comply with the terms of the Gospel.
Convictions are followed by various consequences. Faint discoveries of sin, whether occasioned by awakening providences, or other
means, usually cause some faint desires for safety in Christ. If they proceed farther than this, it is only to produce a few good resolutions, which are soon forgotten. Brilliant flashes of light often dart into the minds of men, and suddenly disappear without effect. It is with them as with a man suddenly awakened from sleep by a peal of thunder; he starts up before he is fully awake; the light, unexpectedly enabling him only for an instant to see the things about him, fills his mind with great confusion; but soon the light is gone, and the sound has ceased; his agitation subsides, and the softness of his bed invites him to fresh repose. And so men hear the thunderings of the law in the preaching of the word; this often occasions a transient terror, or a half-felt cry for mercy; but before you are aware of it, they are again asleep. It has happened unto them according to the true proverb: “ The dog is turned to his own vomit again, and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.” Thus ends the religion of many who are at times a little concerned for their souls. No degree of conviction can change the heart. We naturally seek relief from pain ; and if convictions are not too deep
and clear, we are not wanting in means to banish them from the mind.
II. Let us now inquire what that salvation is, about which the awakened sinner is so anxious. Salvation, as every one knows, is deliverance from danger or evil. But as used in the Scriptures, it means more than this ; it signifies deliverance from sin and hell, and the final enjoyment of God in a future state, through the mediation of Christ. In other words, salvation includes freedom from sin, and a title to life. Hence the redeemed of the Lord are called “heirs of salvation.” The question of the jailer, then, includes two others.
First. It includes the question, "What shall I do to obtain freedom from sin ?” The sinner sees that sin threatens his destruction, and must be pardoned, or there can be no salvation. Pardon and salvation are plainly linked together in the Scriptures. 6 Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God ? Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings, with calves of a year old ? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil ? Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?"
This is the genuine language of conviction of sin. The sinner is willing to have pardon on
Second. The other question alluded to is, “What shall I do that I may inherit eternal "life? Pardon of sin, or freedom from wrath, first occurs to the awakened sinner, as the object of desire; but he wishes more than this. A rebel might be pardoned, and never made a favourite. Salvation would be incomplete without eternal life. God not only pardons sinners, but gives them gracious acceptance with him, and adoption into his family. “Take with you words, and turn to the Lord ; say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously.” Awakened sinners always seek for some righteousness, with which they may appear before God, sensible that mere pardon of sin cannot alone do it. This was the case with the Jews; for, “ being ignorant of God's righteousness,” they went about “ to establish their own righteousness ;” they felt their need, but were mistaken as to thn means of supplying it. A man convicted of sin, in a word, is one who is persuaded of a future state, and that the things of this world cannot insure happiness; therefore the question, “ What must I do to be saved ?" is equiva