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of hell, and under the guilt of all your sins; your life is a continued rebellion against God; you are employed every day in the destroying of yourselves, in kindling the flames that must everlastingly torment you, and laying in fuel for the perpetuating of your misery; and fighting against your friends, that would deliver you, and unthankfully abusing Christ, and grace, and ministers, and friends, that would save your souls. This is the condition that every one of you is in, till you are converted. And can you fear lest conversion would bring you into a worse condition than this? Sirs, these truths are sure and plain; and if yet you stick at it, your error is so palpably gross, that unless you are madmen, may be bold to say it is a wilful error. And if you love to be deceived, and wilfully choose a lie, you must take that you get by it.
3. Consider further, That half-conversions do often prove an occasion of deluding men's souls, and making them quiet in a miserable state, and so of keeping them from being converted to the last. If you had never done any thing in it, you would more easily be persuaded that your case is bad, and that there is still a necessity of your change. But when you have had some convictions, and troubles of mind, and fears, and sorrows, and so have fallen into an outside, partial reformation, and now are persuaded that you are truly converted, when it is no such matter, what a dangerous impediment to your conversion may this prove? And all because you slubber over the work, and cut it off before it reacheth to sincerity, and strive against the workings of the Spirit, and break away from your physician before he hath done the cure, and would not follow it on to the end. I know that a half-conversion, if it be known to be no more, is much better than none; and doth often prepare men for a saving work. But when this half-conversion is taken to be a true and saving change, as too commonly it is, it proves one of the greatest impediments of salvation. Whenever Christ shall afterward knock at your door, you will not know him, as thinking he dwells with you already. If you read any books that call on you to be converted, or hear any preachers that call on you to turn, you have this at hand to cozen yourselves with, and frustrate all. You will think, 'This is not spoken to me; for I am converted already.' O how quietly do such poor, deluded sinners, daily read and hear their own doom
and misery, and never once dream that they are the men that are meant, and therefore are never dismayed at the matter! This formeth you into a state of hypocrisy, and makes the course of your duties and your lives to be hypocritical. If another man that knows himself to be still unconverted, do but read the threatenings of the word against such, or hear of the terrors of the Lord from a minister, he may be brought to confess that this is his own case, and so to perceive the misery of his condition. But when such as you do read and hear these things, they never trouble you, for you think that they do not touch you: you are Scriptureproof, and sermon-proof: and all by the delusion of your half-conversion. O how zealously will such a man cry out against the sins of others! and tell them of their misery, and persuade them to turn, and shew them the danger that is near them if they do not: and in the meantime little thinks that it is his own case, and that he speaks all this against his own soul. How will such men applaud a sermon that drives at the conversion of a sinner, and that tells them their misery while they are unconverted! O thinks he, this touched such and such; I am glad that such a man and such a man heard it: and he little thinks that it as nearly touched himself. How smoothly will he go on in any discourse against wicked, unregenerate men, as David heard the parable of Nathan, and it never once entereth into their thoughts, that they speak all this against themselves; till the Judge shall tell them, when it is too late, "Thou art the man." It will turn not only the stream of your thoughts into hypocrisy and self-deceit, but also the stream of your speeches to others; yea, and the current of your prayers, and all the rest of your religious performances. When in confession you should acknowledge and lament an unregenerate, carnal state, you will only confess that you have the infirmities of the saints, and that you have this or that sin, which yet you think is mortified. When you should importunately beg for renewing grace, you will beg only for strengthening grace, or assurance; when you should be labouring to break your hearts, you will be studying to heal them; and will be hearkening after present comforts, when you have more need of godly sorrow. It will fill your mouths in prayer with pharisaical thanksgivings for the mercies of regeneration, justification, adoption, sanctification, which you never received.
Little doth many a soul know what sanctification, and the several graces of the Spirit are, that use to give God thanks for them there is many and many an one that must for ever be in hell, that were used in their prayers to give God thanks for their hopes of glory: and the common cause of all this deceit and misery, is, that men do run from under the hands of their physician, before he ever went to the bottom of their sore, and go away with a half-conversion, and so spend all the rest of their lives, in a mere delusion, as verily thinking they are converted, when they are not. How confidently will such receive the Lord's supper, and thrust themselves into the communion of the saints, as if they had as good right as others to be there, till the Lord of the feast shall take them to task, and say," Friend, how camest thou in hither, not having on a wedding garment?" and then they will be speechless; Matt. xxii. 12. How many false, deceiving comforts, and perhaps even seeming raptures and assurance, may these have in themselves, as verily thinking their case is good, when, alas, they never yet laid the foundation. Yea, and it is to be observed, that satan is a friend to the comforts of this kind of men, and therefore will do all that he can to promote them; for he would willingly keep his garrison in peace; Luke xi. 21. And therefore he may possibly be a comforting spirit to them himself, and imitate the Holy Ghost the Comforter of the saints; and, it may be, give them such raptures as seem higher than those which the Spirit of holiness doth give. He envieth the saints their peace and comfort, because he foresees how durable they will prove but he can be content that deluded hypocrites may have joy, because their comforts do not weaken but strengthen his kingdom within them, and he knows they are like to endure but for awhile.
And thus you may perceive, how hard it is to convert one of these half-converted men, that have strangled the new creature as it were, in the birth, and that are fortified against all the means of grace, by a false conceit that they are sanctified already. See therefore that you make sure work, and take not up in the middle, and with halves, but take your present time, and give up your souls to a total change.
4. Consider, If you take up short of a thorough conversion, you lose all your labour, and sufferings and hopes, as to the matter of your salvation.
And what pity is it that so much should be lost? Alas, to see many of our hearers touched at a sermon, and come to a minister and bewail their sin, and seem to be humbled, and promise to be new men, and yet all this to be lost; how sad a case is this to think of? To see them leave their company and former course of life, and come among the professors of holiness, and all men take them for real converts; and yet all this to be lost, and their souls lost after all: how sad a case is this! If you grow up to the greatest parts for outward duty, and be able to discourse, or pray, or preach, even to the admiration of the hearers; yet if you do not ground this on a thorough conversion, all is but lost, as to your own salvation. If you keep up the highest strain of profession, and get the highest esteem in the church, so that others depend on you as oracles; yea, if the pope with all his infallibility should canonize you for saints; it were all but loss. If you should keep up the most confident persuasion of your salvation, and hope to go to heaven, to the last hour of your lives; it were all but lost if you build not all on a thorough conversion. Yea, if you should be taken by persecutors for one of the party to which you join, and should suffer for the cause of religion among them; all were but lost, without a sound conversion; 1 Cor. xiii. 1—3.
It is a pitiful case to see some poor unsanctified souls, how they wander and change from one opinion to another, and from party to party, to find out that which they want within. They turn to this party first, and that party next, and then to another, and then think they are sure in the way to heaven, when they never thoroughly turned to God by Jesus Christ; and therefore are certainly out of the way, whatever party it be that they join with. Some go to the giddy sects that make the highest pretences to strictness : and some go to Rome, because they think that there they shall have more company, and hear the deluding sound of unity, universality, antiquity, succession, miracles, and such like: and then they think they have hit the way. Alas, poor souls! If God were but nearest and dearest to your hearts, and Christ and his righteousness exalted within you, and your souls unfeignedly turned from your sins, you would be in the certain way to heaven, in what country, or company, or church soever you were; supposing that you believe and do nothing there, which is inconsistent with this life of grace.
(Though yet every Christian should choose that particular society, if he can, where he may not only be saved, but most certainly saved, and find the greatest helps, and least hindrances, or else where he may do God the greatest service.) But choose what company you will in the world, the strictest, the most reformed, the most splendid in outward pomp and glory, or of whatever excellency else you may imagine, you will never be saved in it yourselves, as long as your hearts are unconverted. I know the Papists have found out many devices, by sacraments, and ceremonies, and the merits of the saints, to patch up the defect of a thorough conversion; but all are mere delusions that pretend to such a thing.
O then think of this, poor sinner: hast thou gone so far, and done so much, and shall all be lost because thou wilt not follow it to the end? Hast thou groaned, and wept, and confessed, and bemoaned thine own condition? Hast thou prayed, and read, and heard, and fasted, and changed thy company, and much of thy course of life? And shall all this be lost, for want of going to the bottom, and making a thorough work of it? What a loss will this be?
5. Consider also, What an admirable help and advantage it will be to you through the whole course of your lives, if the work of conversion be once thoroughly wrought. I will shew you this in some particulars.
(1.) It will be an excellent help to your understandings, against the grosser errors of the world, and will establish you in the truth much more than mere arguments can do; for you will be able to speak for the truth from feeling and experience: he that hath the law written both in his Bible and in his heart, is likely to hold it faster than he that hath it in his Bible alone. But of this I have spoken already in my "Treatise against Infidelity," Part ii.
(2.) If you be but thoroughly converted, you will have that within you which will be a continual help against temptations: you have not only experience of the mischief of sinning, and the folly of those reasons that are brought for its defence; but you have also a new nature, which is against the temptation, as life is against poison: and as it is a great disadvantage to the law of Christ, that it speaks against the nature of the ungodly; so is it a disadvantage to the temptations of the devil, that they would draw a Christian against