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members of His visible Church, there must be numbers in whose case these impressions and convictions, which seemed to be the beginnings of spiritual life, have proved abortive,-vanished like the morning cloud or the early dew.
But the fact of which we are speaking is not left to be certified by inference, however direct and clear that inference may be. There is no watchful pastor but has seen the sad process pass under his eyes many a time. Who of us has not had to deal with cases of conviction and anxiety, whose sincerity it was impossible to doubt, whose intensity mounted even to agony, which have, after all, disappointed our fond hopes, and read us new and humbling lessons of the deceitfulness of the heart, the power of sin and Satan, and the absolute dependence of our work for its success upon the influences of that Divine Spirit of whom it is true that we “hear His voice, but cannot tell whence He cometh or whither He goeth”? The cases of this sort which have come beneath our notice may have differed greatly as to circumstances, as to the apparent depth of the impression and the length of time through which it lasted; but they have been alike in this, that they have been all cases of "ineffectual conviction at the cross of Christ.”
The question, “How comes all this?” may be asked with two very different meanings and purposes. If it mean, “ What can be God's reason for permitting such things to take place ? ” it is a speculative question, the discussion of which is scarcely likely to be very fruitful of practical good. It is not very reverent for us to be evermore thrusting our querulous and importunate “ Why? ” in the very face of Infinite Wisdom, or to propose our notions of what God might have done as corrections of His actual procedure. One hint only it may be worth while to give in relation to this matter; a hint of wide applicability, and one which, rightly appreciated and used, might silence many an impatient question as to the wherefore of God's acts. We are in continual danger of prescribing to the Divine Omnipotence tasks which do not come within the scope of mere power at all; of calling in question the wisdom and goodness of the Supreme, because His almightiness does not summarily settle problems which belong to realms over which almightiness, as such, holds no sway. It becomes us to remember how little we know of the laws which guide—may we not reverently say, which limit ?—the dealings of God with intelligent, accountable, voluntary beings, especially when the difficulty and delicacy of those dealings are complicated by the tremendous fact of sin. It may be added, in order that we may not seem to ignore another question of deep interest in connection with our subject, that the distinction so often drawn between effectual and ineffectual convictions, as though the former alone were to be traced to the Holy Spirit, while the latter were the effect of merely natural causes, seems to us arbitrary and ill-founded. It is an evasion rather than a solution of the difficulty it is meant to answer. We should reverently ascribe all religious impressions and convictions to the mysterious but gracious working of the free Spirit of God.
But if this question be asked with a practical meaning and purpose, it is well worth an attempt to answer it. Inquiry as to the hindrances to effectual conviction which are found in the hearts of the hearers of the gospel themselves, has a direct and obvious bearing upon life and conduct. Of course every true answer to such an inquiry must presuppose the depravity of the human heart, and the power of those hostile influences which conspire to prevent the entrance of the truth into the heart, or to efface any impressions which that truth may have made there. But we may perhaps be guided to some more specific thoughts upon this question, by glancing at the examples of ineffectual conviction which have suggested our remarks.
Pilate, after a long hesitation, assented to the death of Christ. And why? How came it that his evidently overpowering conviction of the innocence and greatness of Christ did not issue in appropriate action? Pride kept him from yielding to the full force of the impression which the words and demeanour of the Saviour made upon his mind. How haughtily he repels each attempt which Jesus makes to win him to listen to words of truth and salvation! Shall he, the Roman governor, receive instruction from a Nazarene whom the Jewish sanhedrim have condemned to death? Considerations of worldly interest, fear lest an evil report of his loyalty should be sent to Rome, which would cost him his place and perhaps his head, predominated over fidelity to conviction. He loved his life, and so he lost it. See too how he vacillates, how he parleys with conviction and plays fast and loose with it, instead of acting on it at once; and how laboriously he endeavours to shift the responsibility of his deed to other shoulders than his own. Sure presages these that the convictions thus dealt with will be thrust aside and set at nought after all. And do not the same evil habits and malignant influences stifle conviction still? The pride that will not stoop to take His yoke who is meek and lowly of heart; the worldliness that would fain effect a compromise between the service of God and the service of mammon; the fear of man which is nearer and therefore mightier than the fear of God,—these are the blights beneath whose breath the buds of spiritual promise wither before they bloom. Procrastination, vacillation, evasion of personal obligation and personal danger, by endeavouring to share it with others,—these are the poisonous drugs which take the pith out of moral purpose, and debauch conscience into drowsy acquiescence in the neglect or defiance of her own dictates.
The case of the centurion may well teach us how little we can reckon on the permanence of the most powerful impression on the mere strength of its present force and vividness; and how the recurring habits of daily life tend to efface the impressions of spiritual truth: while the people, smiting their breasts at the sight of Christ's death, and then going home, too many of them, to forget it as a nine days' wonder, serve to multiply the enforcement of the same sad lesson.
The special sadness of these cases of ineffectual conviction lies in their disappointingness; in the melancholy contrast between promise and fulfilments, between what might have been—what indeed seemed 80 near being attained,—and what is. A wreck at the harbour's mouth is the most fearful wreck of all. And the sight of a soul just waking up to immortal life, and even then sinking back into the dull sleep of death, is more ghastly even than the sight of one whose spiritual slumber is not broken at all. One cannot help contrasting the salvation that was so nearly realized, with the perdition which now seems nearer and more imminent than ever. Ay! and more terrible than ever, too! For a soul cannot come thus near to the kingdom of God, and fail to enter, without fearfully aggravating alike its guilt and its final misery. Those are no words of arbitrary doom, but the enunciation of a deep, unalterable, spiritual law-“It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom, in the day of judgment, than for thee.” And then, convictions thus slighted and rendered abortive leave the mind and heart less susceptible of conviction and impression afterwards. They say that a broken limb, once set, seldom breaks again in the same place. The skin that gathers over a healed wound is often thicker and more callous than that which has never been wounded at all. These corporeal facts have their spiritual analogies. There are no cases, humanly speaking, so hopeless as those of spirits which have lost the freshness of their power to feel, to whom conviction of sin is a spent experience, in whose ears the story of a Saviour's love has lost its charm and spell, and to whom even the fear of hell has become less terrible, because it has been already resisted with success. It is fearful to think how the Fery power of the gospel to stir the heart thus becomes, by a judicial law, through men's perversity, the measure of its power to harden the heart. Those words which read so mysteriously upon the page of Scripture find their too frequent exposition and vindication in the facts of spiritual history,—"It is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance.”
How impressively do facts like these assert the necessity of the influence of the Holy Spirit, to render the truth of the gospel effectual to the salvation of those who hear it! Apart from His effectual working, the very cross of Christ, even though it may convince, cannot convert; so obdurate is the heart of sinful man. How wonderful the grace, the resolution to save, which has provided, not only an atoning Saviour, but a regenerating Spirit! And how rich the encouragement, and how imperative the obligation, to labour and pray for the salvation of men, while we can follow up our poor efforts with the cry,“ Come from the four winds, O Breath, and breathe upon the slain, that they may live;" and while the answer to that prayer is certified by the heart-convincing assurance, “If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him ?”
“STRENGTHEN THY BRETHREN.” “We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please
MR. CRAWFORD had read this first | all men. In my self-confidence and verse of the fifteenth chapter of Ro | pride I have greatly erred towards mans a hundred times in the course many whose infirmities should have of his forty years of life, but he had awakened my warmest pity; hencenever felt its truth or seen its beauty forth I will seek help from heaven until a certain stormy November to bear their burdens instead of innight, when, being unable to sleep creasing them, and so fulfil the law in consequence of the roar of the of Christ.” wind in the wide chimneys of his Mr. Crawford of Crawford was an old-fashioned and lonely house, he earnest and intelligent Christian; employed himself in turning over but having been early taught by the leaves of his Bible, and marking strong-minded and selfish parents such texts as appeared to contain to despise all mental weakness, and special injunctions to himself. He to mock at the eccentricities of unhad made a double pencil-mark at educated or over-educated men, he such commands as, “Quit you like had long been known amongst his men;" “Be strong, therefore, and brethren as a severe and unsparing very courageous;" “I can do all critic, whom it were wise for Messrs. things through Christ that strength Despondency, Feeble-mind, and eneth me;" but he came to a stand Ready-to-halt to shun. Not that at the words which we have quoted he really meant to be unkind-his above, pondering very gravely, and numerous charities testified to that, confessing at last within himself, —but he had not yet so loved Christ that this portion of God's truth was, as to catch His sympathizing spirit. to him at least, altogether new. To It is doubtless true that a man may support the weak had not hitherto be an old church-member, and yet been regarded as a duty which he, a babe in grace: Mr. Crawford had Robert Crawford, of Crawford Lodge, been a babe in regard to the in the county of Somerset, known to “crowning grace” of 'sympathy all around him as a man of strong up to the time of which I write. mind and iron will, -had to do. To | But on that occasion his eyes find fault with the weak, lecture were opened, the great fact that them, laugh at them, perhaps despise the Lord of glory had borne his them too, was within his province, weakness, and sympathised with his but-to bear their infirmities! Was infirmities, being brought before him it possible ?
in a new light, as it seemed, and with He transcribed the passage, mus a power that took his soul into ing the while, not without self-l possession as if by storm. He lay reproach, upon his past conduct to awake thinking of it till the day bethe brethren weak in faith. Then gan to dawn, and then fell asleep to he resumed his search for passages, dream that an angel had come down until at last meeting with Christ's from heaven to teach him the art of words to Peter, “ Strengthen thy ministry to the “ little ones” of the brethren,” he paused to pray over Saviour's fold. Was it altogether a them and adopt them for his own. dream ?
“God helping me,” he said within According to the custom of perhimself, “I will seek henceforth to l sons who have passed a sleepless comfort the feeble-minded, to support night, Mr. Crawford rose late that the weak, and to be patient towards I morning. He was sitting at break
fast with a shade upon his face-for, etc. It was enough. Instead of being a punctual man, he was vexed hurrying away to business, he sat at being so much behind his time down, explained to Martha his reawhen a servant who had lived for sons for contempt of dreams; and some fifty years in his family came finally, to convince her, as he said, with a sad face to his sitting-room to “by ocular demonstration,” that he present a petition. She was a Chris- was right, slipped a couple of sovetian women, this good old Martha, reigns into her hand, and gave her with one fault,-it was, in a different leave to go to Exeter, and see for sense, that of the Athenians of old herself that her children were alive she was "too superstitious”! She and well; as for his part he believed was now anxious to undertake a they were, her three dreams notwithjourney, simply because she had standing. This was Mr. Crawford's dreamed three nights following, that first essay at bearing the infirmity her dead husband—a young soldier | of a fellow Christian; and although who had gone out of existence some | he, for his part, thought but little of ten years before Mr. Crawford came it, it was doubtless a very fair beinto it—was alive again; a sure sign ginning. One thing is certain, that said she, of sorrow.
somewhere about the region of the "I could see him, sir,” exclaimed heart, as he walked townwards that Martha, with a burst of tears, "as November morning, he felt a glow plain as I see you now !”
such as he had seldom known be"I don't doubt it,” said her mas fore. Perhaps Martha's blessing ter, drily.
still rang in his ears, or, perhapsMartha looked at him steadily, and this is more likely-the sweet for she knew that, according to his love of Him for whose sake he had custom, he was laughing at her; and been kind was shed abroad, just then, 80 long as he did that she could very richly in his soul. scarcely hope to succeed in her en | An hour's walking brought the deavour to obtain permission to go merchant to his office. Thence, still to Exeter, and spend a few days with in humble obedience to his texts, he, her daughter's family. “I'm quite in his earliest moments of leisure, certain," she pleaded, " that there's passed to the home of one whom he something wrong with the dear had long regarded as almost too children, and I couldn't be satisfied weak in faith to be tolerated by the unless I went, sir, not after this.” Church of Christ in general, and by
“Tut, tut," exclaimed Mr. Craw himself, Robert Crawford of Crawford, as he finished his coffee and ford, in particular. gathered up his letters; “dreams Mr. Feeble-mind, in the "Pilgrim's are nothing, less than nothing, if | Progress," describes himself as being that be possible, and you, Martha, “so feeble a man as to be offended are a very stupid, weak old woman.” with that which others have a liberty
"Yes, I know I am weak,” she to do.” This was exactly the chareplied with all humility.
racter of the brother to whom Mr. Weak ? That word? Yes; no Crawford betook himself that mornother. He paused a moment, and ing. Had Mr. F- lived in Paul's then said, "Listen, Martha. I was time he would most assuredly have hasty just now, and I beg your par refused to eat the meat sold in the don.” Another pause, while he ran | shambles. In no self-righteous mood, over his string of passages-“ Sup- but as a point of conscience, he port the weak, comfort the feeble asked questions of himself, his Bible, minded, be patient towards all and his fellow - Christians, upon men;" “ Strengthen thy brethren;" | everything. Even in regard to the " Bear the infirmities of the weak," most trivial customs of the Church