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Lastly, and what has already been intimated, the spirit of devotion will cause our prayers to have an effect upon our practice. For exam. ple; if we repeated the confession in our liturgy with a true penitential sense of guilt upon our souls, we should not day after day be acknowledging to God our transgressions and neglects, and yet go on exactly in the same manner, without endeavouring to make them less and fewer. We should plainly perceive that this was doing nothing towards salvation; and that, at this rate, we may be sinning and confessing all our lives. Whereas was the right spirit of confessional piety, viz. thoughtfulness of soul, within us at the time, this would be the certain benefit, especially in the case of an often repeated sin, that the mind would become more and more concerned, more and more filled with compunction and remorse, so as to be forced into amendment. Even the most heart felt confession might not immediately do for us all that we could wish: yet by perseverance in the same, it would certainly in a short time produce its desired effect. For the same reason
we should not time after time pray that we might thence forward, viz, after each time of so praying, lead godly, righteous, and sober lives, yet persist, just as usual, in ungodliness, unrighteousness, and intemperance. The thing would be impossible, if we prayed as we ought.. So likewise, if real thankfulness of heart accompanied our thanksgivings, we should not pray in vain, that we might shew forth the praises of God, not only with our lips but in our lives. As. it is, thousands repeat these words without doing a single deed for the sake of pleasing God, exclusive of other motives, or refraining from a single thing they like to do out of the fear of displeasing him. So again, every time we hear the third service at church, we pray that God would incline our hearts to keep his commandments; yet immediately, perhaps, afterwards allow our hearts and inclinations to wander, without control, to whatever sinful temptation enticed them. This, I say, all proceeds from the want of earnestuess in our devotions. Strong devotion is an antidote against sin.
To conclude, a spirit of devotion is one of the greatest blessings; and, by consequence, the want of it one of the greatest misfortunes, which a christian can experience. When it is present, it gives life to every act of worship, which we perform: it makes every such act interesting and comfortable to ourselves. It is felt in our most retired moments, in our beds, our closets, our rides, our walks. It is stirred within us, when we are assembled with our children and servants in family prayer.
It leads us to church, to the congregation of our fellow christians there collected; it accompanies us in our joint offices of religion in an especial manner; and it returns us to our homes holier, and happier, and better; and lastly, what greatly enhances its value to every anxious christian, it affords to himself a proof that his heart is right towards God; when it is followed up by a good life, by abstinence from sin, and endeavours after virtue, by avoiding evil and doing good, the proof and the satisfaction to be drawn from it are complete.
OF THE DOCTRINE OF CONVERSION.
MAT. IX. 13.
“I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners,
appears from these words, that our Saviour in his preaching held in view the character and spiritual situation of the persons whom he addressed: and the differences which existed amongst men in these respects: and that he had a regard to these considerations, more especially in the preaching of repentance and conversion. Now I think, that these considerations have been too much omitted by preachers of the gospel since, particularly in this very article; and that the doctrine itself has suffered by such omission.
It has been usual to divide all mankind into
two classes, the converted, and the unconverted; and, by so dividing them, to infer the necessity of conversion to every person whatever. In proposing the subject under this form, we state the distinction, in my opinion, too absolutely, and draw from it a conclusion too universal: because there is a class and description of christians, who, having been piously educated, and having persevered in those pious courşes, into which they were first brought, are not conscious to themselves of ever having been without the influence of religion, of ever having lost sight of its sanctions, of ever having renounced them; of ever, in the general course of their conduct, having gone against them. These cannot properly be reckoned either converted or unconverted. They are not converted, for they are not sensible of any such religious alteration having taken place with them, at any particular time, as can properly be called a conversion. They are not unconverted, be. cause that implies a state of reprobation, and because, if we call upon them to be converted,