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If any of your acquaintances have turned . aside from the truth, it is your duty to seek opportunities for convincing them of their mistake. Although they should be equal, or even superior to you in abilities, you are not, on that account, to despair of success, unless they are scorners who cannot find the truth, even when they seek it, or pretend to seek it, because their pride hath blinded their eyes. Those who have truth on their side, especially those truths which are most clearly taught in the Bible, have this great advantage, that the goodness of their cause furnishes them with clear and strong arguments. The arguments by which error is supported, are found, on impartial discussion; to want solidity and force. A weak Christian, with the armor of righteousness on his right hand and left, may bring to the ground a gigantic adversary armed only with straw or rotten wood.
It is reported by an ancient historian, that when at a famous assembly of the doctors of the church, some self conceited philosophers had put to silence the learned divines, by sophistical arguments against the truth, an old man, of no learning, rose up, and repeating the most important articles of Christian doctrine in plain language, asked whether they as, sented to them or not. Their reply was, that when arguments of another kind were used against them, they would repel reasonings by reasonings; but that they had nothing to op
pose to the plain declarations of Scripture, and were compelled to yield to the truth.
2. If a man errs from the truth in his pracrice, successful endeavors may be used to turn him from the error of his ways,
Here, too, caution is requisite, When we hear that a man behaves ill, we are not authorized to go immediately and call him to account for his conduct, lest we give him reason to say, on better grounds than the contentious Israelite to Moses, “ Man, who made thee a judge over me?” Many reports are falsehoods, many are misrepresentations. If we believe them without examining whether they are true, we ourselves err from the truth. We are chargeable with a fault, perhaps, as bad as that which we impute to our neighbors. What answer will we be able to give him if he should say to us, “ Physician, heal thyself. Pluck the beam out of thine own eye, before thou pretend to pluck the mote out of thy brother's eye.'
There are, however, many whose behavior is so well known to be such as does not become the gospel of Christ, that it would be a ridiculous affectation of charity to entertain a favorable opinion of them. How shall we behave towards such persons ? That we ought to mourn for them is plain. Paul could not write to the Philippians, without blotting his paper with tears, for those men that were enemies to the cross of Christ, whose end was
destruction, whose God was their belly, whose glory was their shame, who minded earthly things. It is no less plain that they are enti-. tled to the benefit of our prayers. If we are to pray for the sick, that they may be preserved from death, ought we not to pray for sinners, that they may be redeemed from their iniquities, which threaten them with the second death?
We ought to bear testimony, by our own behavior, against their conduct, by the diligent practice of those virtues which they neg. lect, and by keeping at the utmost distance froin those evils which they practise. If they are habitual swearers, let us be careful to shew an habitual veneration for the holy name of God. If they are drunkards, let us be on our guard against the snares of intemperance. The children of light must have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. They that forsake the law praise the wicked, but they that fear the law contend with them.”
But these observations are not sufficient to explain the apostle's meaning, when he speaks of the conversion of a sinner by one of his brethren. All true Christians will mourn, will pray for offenders, will testify against them by their practice, and may by those. means have some influence in turning them from the error of their ways. God may hear their prayer for their unhappy neighbors. Sin.
ners may be ashamed when they see how much their conduct is abhorred, and may, by Di. vine mercy, be made sensible how much happier than themselves those persons are who fear God, and preserve their characters and comforts, by keeping the paths of upright. ness. But there are other means likewise that may be used with a happy effect, by those who are qualified to use them, or who enjoy favorable opportunities to deal with them.
1. Instruction may be given them fitted to rouse their attention to their danger,
It is common with sinners to think that they shall have peace in the end. Some of them are insensible of the evil of their own conduct; others of them think, that however bad their conduct is, they have much time before them to repent, and then all the evil consequences of their conduct will be prevented.
When you see your friends or your neigh. bors trusting to this dreadful uncertainty, puc them in mind, that our days on earth are' but a shadow, that to confide in the continuance of our life for another day, is to act far more foolishly than he who would build his house upon the sand. Remind them, that nothing is less to be trusted than men's own hearts, especially when their promises are at variance with their inclinations. Why do men defer their repentance ? Because repentance is unpleasant to them. How then can their promises of repentance deserve more credit than
those of a highwayman to restore your purse.
The grace of God affords many a pretence to hold fast their sins and refuse to let them go. Remind your erring friends, that there is justice with God as well as grace; that justice is a terrible avenger of the indignities done to the grace of God; and that there is not a surer indication of malignity and obstinacy in sin, than to turn the grace of God into licentiousness.
Many think that all are sinners like themselves, and that the best men in the world cannot be exempted from the common reproach,
Tell them that he that is born of God cannot commit sin, and that there is a difference as real between the behavior of a saint and a sin. ner, as between that of the profligate spend. thrist and the virtuous citizen, between the harlot and the respectable matron. God's children have all of them their spots. But sinners have spets that are not the spots of his children.
Thus, in your occasional converse with your erring friends, you should take every opportunity that presents itself of suggesting and inculcating those truths that are most likely to pierce into their minds, and to make them sensible of the danger of their conduct. Such truths may meet their eyes in the Bible, or their ears in the public preaching of the word, but pass unobserved in the multitude of other doctrines that leave no impression.