1. In ascertaining what are, and what are not, evidences of regeneration, we must constantly keep in mind what is not, and what is regeneration; what is not, and what is implied in it.
2. We must constantly recognize the fact, that saints and sinners have precisely similar constitutions and constitutional susceptibilities, and therefore that many things are common to both. What is common to both cannot, of course, be an evidence of regeneration.
3. That no state of the sensibility has any moral character in itself. That regeneration does not consist in, or imply, any physical change whatever, either of the intellect, sensibility, or the faculty of will.
4. That the sensibility of the sinner is susceptible of every kind and degree of feeling that is possible to saints.
5. The same is true of the consciences of both saints and sinners, and of the intelligence generally.
6. The inquiry is, What are evidences of a change in the ultimate intention? What is evidence that benevolence is the ruling choice, preference, intention of the soul? It is a plain question, and demands, and may have, a plain answer. But so much error prevails as to the nature of regeneration, and, consequently, as to what are evidences of regeneration, that we need patience, discrimination, and perseverance, and withal candor, to get at the truth upon this subject.
Wherein the experience and outward life of saints and sinners may agree.
It is plain that they may be alike, in whatever does not consist in, or necessarily proceed from, the attitude of their will; that is, in whatever is constitutional or involuntary. For example:
1. They may both desire their own happiness. This desire is constitutional, and, of course, common to both saints and sinners.
2. They may both desire the happiness of others. This also is constitutional, and of course common to both saints and sinners. There is no moral character in these desires, any more than there is in the desire for food and drink. That men have a natural desire for the happiness of others, is evident from the fact that they manifest pleasure when others are happy, unless they have some selfish reason for envy, or unless the happiness of others is in some way inconsistent with their own. They also manifest uneasiness and pain when they see others in misery, unless they have some selfish reason for desiring their misery.
3. Saints and sinners may alike dread their own misery, and the misery of others. This is strictly constitutional, and has therefore no moral character. I have known that very wicked men, and men who had been infidels, when they were convinced of the truths of Christianity, manifested great concern about their families and about their neighbors; and, in one instance, I heard of an aged man of this description who, when convinced of the truth, went and warned his neighbors to flee from the wrath to come, avowing at the same time his conviction, that there was no mercy for him, though he felt deeply concerned for others. Such like cases have repeatedly been witnessed. The case of the rich man in hell seems to have been one of this description, or to have illustrated the same truth. Although he knew his own case to be hopeless, yet he desired that Lazarus should be sent to warn his five brethren, lest they also should come to that place of torment. In this case and in the case of the aged man just named, it appears that they not only desired that others should avoid misery, but they actually tried to prevent it, and used the means that were within their reach to save them. Now it is plain that this desire took control of their will, and, of course, the state of the will was selfish. It sought to gratify desire. It was the pain and dread of seeing their misery, and of having them miserable, that led them to use means to prevent it. This was not benevolence, but selfishness.
Let it be understood, then, that as both saints and sinners constitutionally desire, not only their own happiness, but also the happiness of others, they may alike rejoice in the happiness and safety of others, and in converts to Christianity, and may alike grieve at the danger and misery of those who are unconverted. I well recollect, when far from home, and while an impenitent sinner, I received a letter from my youngest brother, informing me that he was converted to God. He, if he was converted, was, as I supposed, the first and the only member of the family who then had a hope of salvation. I was at the time, and both before and after, one of the most careless sinners, and yet on receiving this intelligence, I actually wept for joy and gratitude, that one of so prayer less a family was likely to be saved. Indeed, I have repeatedly known sinners to manifest much interest in the conversion of their friends, and express gratitude for their conversion, although they had no religion themselves. These desires have no moral character in themselves. In as far as they control the will, the will yielding to impulse instead of the law of the intelligence, this is selfishness.
4. They may agree in desiring the triumph of truth and righteousness, and the suppression of vice and error, for the sake of the bearings of these things on self and friends. These desires are constitutional and natural to both, under certain circumstances. When they do not influence the will, they have in themselves no moral character; but when they influence the will, their selfishness takes on a religious type. It then manifests zeal in promoting religion. But if desire, and not the intelligence, controls the will, it is selfishness notwithstanding.
5. Moral agents constitutionally approve of what is right and disapprove of what is wrong. Of course, both saints and sinners may both approve of and delight in goodness. I can recollect weeping at an instance of what, at the time, I supposed to be goodness, while at the same time, I was not religious myself. I have no doubt that wicked men, not only often are conscious of strongly approving the goodness of God, but that they also often take delight in contemplating it. This is constitutional, both as it respects the intellectual approbation, and also as it respects the feeling of delight. It is a great mistake to suppose that sinners are never conscious of feelings of complacency and delight in the goodness of God. The Bible represents sinners as taking delight in drawing near to Him. "Yet they seek Me daily, and delight to know My ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God: they ask of Me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching to God" (Isaiah 58:2). "And lo, Thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they hear Thy words, but they do them not" (Ezek. 33:32). "For I delight in the law of God after the inward man" (Romans 7:22).
6. Saints and sinners may alike not only intellectually approve, but have feelings of deep complacency in, the characters of good men, sometimes good men of their own time and of their acquaintance, but more frequently good men either of a former age, or, if of their own age, of a distant country. The reason is this: good men of their own day and neighborhood are very apt to render them uneasy in their sins; to annoy them by their faithful reproofs and rebukes. This offends them, and overcomes their natural respect for goodness. But who has not observed the fact, that good and bad men unite in praising, admiring, and loving, so far as feeling is concerned good men of by-gone days, or good men at a distance, whose life and rebukes have annoyed the wicked in their own neighborhood? The fact is, that moral agents, from the laws of their being necessarily approve of goodness wherever they witness it. Multitudes of sinners are conscious of this, and suppose that this is a virtuous feeling. It is of no use to deny, that they sometimes have feelings of love and gratitude to God, and of respect for, and complacency in good men. They often have these feelings, and to represent them as always having feelings of hatred and of opposition to God and to good men, is sure either to offend them, or to lead them to deny the truths of religion, if they are told that the Bible teaches this. Or, again, it may lead them to think themselves Christians, because they are conscious of such feelings as they are taught to believe are peculiar to Christians. Or again, they may think that, although they are not Christians, yet they are far from being totally depraved, inasmuch as they have so many good desires and feelings. It should never be forgotten, that saints and sinners may agree in their opinions and intellectual views and judgments. Many professors of religion, it is to be feared, have supposed religion to consist in desires and feelings, and have entirely mistaken their own character. Indeed, nothing is more common than to hear religion spoken of as consisting altogether in mere feelings, desires, and emotions. Professors relate their feelings, and suppose themselves to be giving an account of their religion. It is infinitely important, that both professors of religion and non professors, should understand more than most of them do of their mental constitution, and of the true nature of religion. Multitudes of professors of religion have, it is to be feared, a hope founded altogether upon desires and feelings that are purely constitutional, and therefore common to both saints and sinners.
7. Saints and sinners agree in this, that they both disapprove of, and are often disgusted with, and deeply abhor, sin. They cannot but disapprove of sin. Necessity is laid upon every moral agent, whatever his character may be, by the law of his being, to condemn and disapprove of sin. And often the sensibility of sinners, as well as of saints, is filled with deep disgust and loathing in view of sin. I know that representations the direct opposite of these are often made. Sinners are represented as universally having complacency in sin, as having a constitutional craving for sin, as they have for food and drink. But such representations are false and most injurious. They contradict the sinner's consciousness, and lead him either to deny his total depravity, or to deny the Bible, or to think himself regenerate. As was shown when upon the subject of moral depravity, sinners do not love sin for its own sake; yet they crave other things, and this leads to prohibited indulgence, which indulgence is sin. But it is not the sinfulness of the indulgence that was desired. That might have produced disgust and loathing in the sensibility, if it had been considered even at the moment of the indulgence. For example: suppose a licentious man, a drunkard, a gambler, or any other wicked man, engaged in his favorite indulgence, and suppose that the sinfulness of this indulgence should be strongly set before his mind by the Holy Spirit. He might be deeply ashamed and disgusted with himself, and so much so as to feel a great contempt for himself, and feel almost ready, were it possible, to spit in his own face. And yet, unless this feeling becomes more powerful than the desire and feeling which the will is seeking to indulge, the indulgence will be persevered in, notwithstanding this disgust. If the feeling of disgust should for the time overmatch the opposing desire, the indulgence will be, for the time being, abandoned for the sake of gratifying or appeasing the feeling of disgust. But this is not virtue. It is only a change in the form of selfishness. Feeling still governs, and not the law of the intelligence. The indulgence is only abandoned for the time being, to gratify a stronger impulse of the sensibility. The will, will of course return to the indulgence again, when the feelings of fear, disgust, or loathing subside. This, no doubt, accounts for the multitudes of spurious conversions sometimes witnessed. Sinners are convicted, fears awakened, and disgust and loathing excited. These feelings for the time become stronger than their desires for their former indulgences, and consequently they abandon them for a time, in obedience, not to the law of God or of their intelligence, but in obedience to their fear, disgust, and shame. But when conviction subsides, and the consequent feelings are no more, these spurious converts "return like a dog to his vomit, and like a sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire" (2 Peter 2:22). It should be distinctly understood, that all these feelings of which I have spoken, and indeed any class or degree of mere feelings, may exist in the sensibility; and further, that these or any other feelings may, in their turn, control the will, and produce of course a corresponding outward life, and yet the heart be and remain all the while in a selfish state, or in a state of total depravity. Indeed, it is perfectly common to see the impenitent sinner manifest much disgust and opposition to sin in himself and in others, yet this is not principle in him; it is only the effect of present feeling. The next day, or perhaps hour, he will repeat his sin, or do that which, when beheld in others, enkindled his indignation.
8. Both saints and sinners approve of, and often delight in, justice. It is common to see in courts of justice, and on various other occasions, impenitent sinners manifest great complacency in the administration of justice, and the greatest indignation at, and abhorrence of, injustice. So strong is this feeling sometimes that it cannot be restrained, but will burst forth like a smothered volcano, and carry desolation before it. It is this natural love of justice, and abhorrence of injustice, common alike to saints and sinners, to which popular tumults and bloodshed are often to be ascribed. This is not virtue, but selfishness. It is the will giving itself up to the gratification of a constitutional impulse. But such feelings and such conduct are often supposed to be virtuous. It should always be borne in mind that the love of justice, and the sense of delight in it, and the feeling of opposition to injustice, are not only not peculiar to good men, but that such feelings are no evidence whatever of a regenerate heart. Thousands of instances might be adduced as proofs and illustrations of this position. But such manifestations are too common to need to be cited, to remind any one of their existence.
9. The same remarks may be made in regard to truth. Both saints and sinners have a constitutional respect for, approbation of, and delight in truth. Who ever knew a sinner to approve of the character of a liar? What sinner will not resent it, to be accused or even suspected of lying? All men spontaneously manifest their respect for, complacency in, and approbation of truth. This is constitutional; so that even the greatest liars do not, and cannot, love lying for its own sake. They lie to gratify, not a love for falsehood on its own account, but to obtain some object which they desire more strongly than they hate falsehood. Sinners, in spite of themselves, venerate, respect, and fear a man of truth. They just as necessarily despise a liar. If they are liars, they despise themselves for it, just as drunkards and debauchees despise themselves for indulging their filthy lusts, and yet continue in them.
10. Both saints and sinners not only approve of, and delight in good men, when, as I have said, wicked men are not annoyed by them, but they agree in reprobating, disapproving, and abhorring wicked men and devils. Who ever heard of any other sentiment and feeling being expressed either by good or bad men, than of abhorrence and indignation toward the devil? Nobody ever approved, or can approve, of his character; sinners can no more approve of it than holy angels can. If he could approve of and delight in his own character, hell would cease to be hell, and evil would become his good. But no moral agent can, by any possibility, know wickedness and approve it. No man, saint or sinner, can entertain any other sentiments and feelings toward the devil, or wicked men, but those of disapprobation, distrust, disrespect, and often of loathing and abhorrence. The intellectual sentiment will be uniform. Disapprobation, distrust, condemnation, will always necessarily possess the minds of all who know wicked men and devils. And often, as occasions arise, wherein their characters are clearly revealed, and under circumstances favorable to such a result, the deepest feelings of disgust, of loathing, of indignation, and abhorrence of their wickedness, will manifest themselves alike among saints and sinners.
11. Saints and sinners may be equally honorable and fair in business transactions, so far as the outward act is concerned. They have different reasons for their conduct, but outwardly it may be the same. This leads to the remark:
12. That selfishness in the sinner, and benevolence in the saint, may, and often do, produce, in many respects, the same results or manifestations. For example: benevolence in the saint, and selfishness in the sinner, may beget the same class of desires, to wit, as we have seen, desire for their own sanctification, and for that of others, to be useful, and to have others so; desires for the conversion of sinners, and many such like desires.
13. This leads to the remark, that, when the desires of an impenitent person for these objects become strong enough to influence the will, he may take the same outward course, substantially, that the saint takes in obedience to his intelligence. That is, the sinner is constrained by his feelings to do what the saint does from principle, or from obedience to the law of his intelligence. In this, however, although the outward manifestations be the same for the time being, yet the sinner is entirely selfish, and the saint benevolent. The saint is controlled by principle, and the sinner by impulse. In this case, time is needed to distinguish between them. The sinner not having the root of the matter in him, will return to his former course of life, in proportion as his convictions of the truth and importance of religion subside, and his former feelings return; while the saint will evince his heavenly birth, by manifesting his sympathy with God, and the strength of principle that has taken possession of his heart. That is, he will manifest that his intelligence, and not his feelings, controls his will.
For want of these and such like discriminations, many have stumbled. Hypocrites have held on to a false hope, and lived upon mere constitutional desires and spasmodic turns of giving up the will, during seasons of special excitement, to the control of these desires and feelings. These spasms they call their waking up. But no sooner does their excitement subside, than selfishness again assumes its wonted forms. It is truly wonderful and appalling to see to what an extent this is true. Because, in seasons of special excitement they feel deeply, and are conscious of feeling, as they say, and acting, and of being entirely sincere in following their impulses, they have the fullest confidence in their good estate. They say they cannot doubt their conversion. They felt so and so, and gave themselves up to their feelings, and gave much time and money to promote the cause of Christ. Now this is a deep delusion, and one of the most common in Christendom, or at least one of the most common that is to be found among what are called revival Christians. This class of deluded souls do not see that they are, in such cases, governed by their feelings, and that if their feelings were changed, their conduct would be so, of course; that as soon as the excitement subsides, they will go back to their former ways, as a thing of course. When the state of feeling that now controls them has given place to their former feelings, they will of course appear as they used to do. This is, in few words, the history of thousands of professors of religion.
This has greatly stumbled the openly impenitent. Not knowing how to account for what they often witness of this kind among professors of religion, they are led to doubt whether there is any such thing as true religion.
Again: many sinners have been deceived just in the way I have pointed out, and have afterwards discovered that they had been deluded, but could not understand how. They have come to the conclusion that everybody is deluded, and that all professors are as much deceived they are. This leads them to reject and despise all religion.
Some exercises of impenitent sinners, and of which they are conscious, have been denied for fear of denying total depravity. They have been represented as necessarily hating God and all good men; and this hatred has been represented as a feeling of malice and enmity towards God. Many impenitent sinners are conscious of having no such feelings; but, on the contrary, they are conscious of having at times feelings of respect, veneration, awe, gratitude, and affection towards God and men. To this class of sinners, it is a snare and a stumbling block to tell them, and insist, that they only hate God, and Christians, and ministers, and revivals; and to represent their moral depravity to be such, that they crave sin as they crave food, and that they necessarily have none but feelings of mortal enmity against God. Such representations either drive them into infidelity on the one hand, or to think themselves Christians on the other. But those theologians who hold the views of constitutional depravity of which we have spoken, cannot, consistently with their theory, admit to these sinners the real truth, and then show them conclusively that in all their feelings which they call good, and in all their yielding to be influenced by them, there is no virtue; that their desires and feelings have in themselves no moral character, and that when they yield the will to their control, it is only selfishness. The thing needed is a philosophy and a theology that will admit and explain all the phenomena of experience, and not deny human consciousness. A theology that denies human consciousness is only a curse and a stumbling block. But such is the doctrine of universal constitutional moral depravity.
It is frequently true, that the feelings of sinners become exceedingly rebellious and exasperated, even to the most intense opposition of feeling toward God, and Christ, and ministers, and revivals, and toward everything of good report. If this class of sinners are converted, they are very apt to suppose, and to represent all sinners as having just such feelings as they had. But this is a mistake, for many sinners never had those feelings. Nevertheless, they are no less selfish and guilty than the class who have the rebellious and blasphemous feelings which I have mentioned. This is what they need to know. They need to understand definitely what sin is, and what it is not; that sin is selfishness; that selfishness is the yielding of the will to the control of feeling, and that it matters not at all what the particular class of feelings is, if feelings control the will, and not intelligence. Admit their good feelings, as they call them, and take pains to show them, that these feelings are merely constitutional, and have in themselves no moral character.
The ideas of depravity and of regeneration, to which I have often alluded, are fraught with great mischief in another respect. Great numbers, it is to be feared, both of private professors of religion and of ministers, have mistaken the class of feelings of which I have spoken, as common among certain impenitent sinners, for religion. They have heard the usual representations of the natural depravity of sinners, and also have heard certain desires and feelings represented as religion. They are conscious of these desires and feelings, and also, sometimes, when they are very strong, of being influenced in their conduct by them. They assume, therefore, that they are regenerate, and elected, and heirs of salvation. These views lull them asleep. The philosophy and theology that misrepresent moral depravity and regeneration thus, must, if consistent, also misrepresent true religion; and oh! the many thousands that have mistaken the mere constitutional desires and feelings, and the selfish yielding of the will to their control for true religion, and have gone to the bar of God with a lie in their right hand!
Another great evil has arisen out of the false views I have been exposing, namely:
Many true Christians have been much stumbled and kept in bondage, and their comfort and their usefulness much abridged, by finding themselves, from time to time, very languid and unfeeling. Supposing religion to consist in feeling, if at any time the sensibility becomes exhausted, and their feelings subside, they are immediately thrown into unbelief and bondage. Satan reproaches them for their want of feeling, and they have nothing to say, only to admit the truth of his accusations. Having a false philosophy of religion, they judge of the state of their hearts by the state of their feelings. They confound their hearts with their feelings, and are in almost constant perplexity to keep their hearts right, by which they mean their feelings, in a state of great excitement.
Again: they are not only sometimes languid, and have no pious feelings and desires, but at others they are conscious of classes of emotions which they call sin. These they resist, but still blame themselves for having them in their hearts, as they say. Thus they are brought into bondage again, although they are certain that these feelings are hated, and not at all indulged, by them.
Oh, how much all classes of persons need to have clearly defined ideas of what really constitutes sin and holiness! A false philosophy of the mind, especially of the will, and of moral depravity, has covered the world with gross darkness on the subject of sin and holiness, of regeneration, and of the evidences of regeneration, until the true saints, on the one hand, are kept in a continual bondage to their false notions; and on the other, the church swarms with unconverted professors, and is cursed with many self deceived ministers.
EVIDENCES OF REGENERATION
Wherein saints and sinners must differ.
1. Let it be distinctly remembered, that all unregenerate persons, without exception, have one heart, that is, they are selfish. This is their whole character. They are universally and only devoted to self gratification. Their unregenerate heart consists in this selfish disposition, or in this selfish choice. This choice is the foundation of, and the reason for, all their activity. One and the same ultimate reason actuates them in all they do, and in all they omit, and that reason is either presently or remotely, directly or indirectly, to gratify themselves.
2. The regenerate heart is disinterested benevolence. In other words, it is love to God and our neighbor. All regenerate hearts are precisely similar. All true saints, whenever they have truly the heart of the saints of God, are actuated by one and the same motive. They have only one ultimate reason for all they do, and suffer, or omit. They have one ultimate intention, one end. They live for one and the same object, and that is the same end for which God lives.
3. The saint is governed by reason, the law of God, or the moral law; in other words still, the law of disinterested and universal benevolence is His law. This law is not only revealed and developed in his intelligence, but it is written in his heart. So that the law of his intellect is the law of his heart. He not only sees and acknowledges what he ought to do and be, but he is conscious to himself, and gives evidence to others, whether they receive it and are convinced by it or not, that his heart, his will, or intention, is conformed to his convictions of duty. He sees the path of duty, and follows it. He knows what he ought to will, intend, and do, and does it. Of this he is conscious. And of this others may be satisfied, if they are observing, charitable, and candid.
4. The sinner is contrasted with this, in the most important and fundamental respects. He is not governed by reason and principle, but by feeling, desire, and impulse. Sometimes his feelings coincide with the intelligence, and sometimes they do not. But when they do so coincide, the will does not pursue its course out of respect or in obedience to the law of the intelligence, but in obedience to the impulse of the sensibility, which, for the time being, impels in the same direction as does the law of the reason. But for the most part the impulses of the sensibility incline him to worldly gratifications, and in an opposite direction to that which the intelligence points out. This leads him to a course of life that is too manifestly the opposite of reason, to leave any room for doubt as to what his true character is.
5. The saint is justified, and he has the evidence of it in the peace of his own mind. He is conscious of obeying the law of reason and of love. Consequently he naturally has that kind and degree of peace that flows from the harmony of his will with the law of his intelligence. He sometimes has conflicts with the impulses of feeling and desire. But unless he is overcome, these conflicts, though they may cause him inwardly, and, perhaps audibly, to groan, do not interrupt his peace. There are still the elements of peace within him. His heart and conscience are at one, and while this is so, he has thus far the evidence of justification in himself. That is, he knows that God cannot condemn his present state. Conscious as he is of conformity of heart to the moral law, he cannot but affirm to himself, that the Lawgiver is pleased with his present attitude. But further, he has also within the Spirit of God witnessing with his spirit, that he is a child of God, forgiven, accepted, adopted. He feels the filial spirit drawing his heart to exclaim, Father, Father. He is conscious that he pleases God, and has God's smile of approbation.
He is at peace with himself, because he affirms his heart to be in unison with the law of love. His conscience does not upbraid, but smile. The harmony of his own being is a witness to himself, that this is the state in which he was made to exist. He is at peace with God, because he and God are pursuing precisely the same end, and by the same means. There can be no collision, no controversy between them. He is at peace with the universe, in the sense, that he has no ill-will, and no malicious feelings or wish to gratify, in the injury of any one of the creatures of God. He has no fear, but to sin against God. He is not influenced on the one hand by the fear of hell, nor on the other by the hope of reward. He is not anxious about his own salvation, but prayerfully and calmly leaves that question in the hands of God, and concerns himself only to promote the highest glory of God, and the good of being. "Being justified by faith, he has peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1). "There is now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" (Romans 8:1).
6. The sinner's experience is the opposite of this. He is under condemnation, and seldom can so far deceive himself, even in his most religious moods, as to imagine that he has a consciousness of acceptance either with his own conscience or with God. There is almost never a time in which he has not a greater or less degree of restlessness and misgiving within. Even when he is most engaged in religion, as he supposes, he finds himself dissatisfied with himself. Something is wrong. There is a struggle and a pang. He may not exactly see where and what the difficulty is. He does not, after all, obey reason and conscience, and is not governed by the law and will of God. In not having the consciousness of this obedience, his conscience does not smile. He sometimes feels deeply, and acts as he feels, and is conscious of being sincere in the sense of feeling what he says, and acting in obedience to deep feeling. But this does not satisfy conscience. He is more or less wretched after all. He has not true peace. Sometimes he has a self-righteous quiet and enjoyment. But this is neither peace of conscience nor peace with God. He, after all, feels uneasy and condemned, notwithstanding all his feeling, and zeal, and activity. They are not of the right kind. Hence they do not satisfy the conscience. They do not meet the demands of his intelligence. Conscience does not approve. He has not, after all, true peace. He is not justified; he cannot be fully and permanently satisfied that he is.
7. Saints are interested in, and sympathize with, every effort to reform mankind, and promote the interests of truth and righteousness in the earth. The good of being is the end for which the saint really and truly lives. This is not merely held by him as a theory, as an opinion, as a theological or philosophical speculation. It is in his heart, and precisely for this reason he is a saint. He is a saint just because the theory, which is lodged in the head of both saint and sinner, has also a lodgment and reigning power in his heart, and consequently in his life.
As saints supremely value the highest good of being, they will, and must, take a deep interest in whatever is promotive of that end. Hence, their spirit is necessarily that of the reformer. To the universal reformation of the world they stand committed. To this end they are devoted. For this end they live, and move, and have their being. Every proposed reform interests them, and naturally leads them to examine its claims. The fact is, they are studying and devising ways and means to convert, sanctify, reform mankind. Being in this state of mind, they are predisposed to lay hold on whatever gives promise of good to man. True saints love reform. It is their business, their profession, their life to promote it; consequently, they are ready to examine the claims of any proposed reform; candid and self-denying, and ready to be convinced, however much self-denial it may call them to. They have actually rejected self-indulgence, as the end for which they live, and are ready to sacrifice any form of self-indulgence, for the sake of promoting the good of men and the glory of God. The saint is truly and greatly desirous and in earnest, to reform all sin out of the world, and just for this reason is ready to hail with joy, and to try whatever reform seems, from the best light he can get, to bid fair to put down sin, and the evils that are in the world. Even mistaken men, who are honestly endeavoring to reform mankind, and denying their appetites, as many have done in dietetic reform, are deserving of the respect of their fellow men. Suppose their philosophy to be incorrect, yet they have intended well. They have manifested a disposition to deny themselves, for the purpose of promoting the good of others. They have been honest and zealous in this. Now no true saint can feel or express contempt for such reformers, however much mistaken they may be. No: his natural sentiments and feelings will be, and must be, the reverse of contempt or censoriousness in respect to them. If their mistake has been injurious, h may mourn over the evil, but will not, cannot, severely judge the honest reformer. War, slavery, licentiousness, and all such like evils and abominations, are necessarily regarded by the saint as great and sore evils, and he longs for their complete and final overthrow. It is impossible that a truly benevolent mind should not thus regard these abominations of desolation.
The saints in all ages have been reformers. I know it is said, that neither prophets, Christ, nor apostles, nor primitive saints and martyrs declaimed against war and slavery, etc. But they did. The entire instructions of Christ, and of apostles and prophets, were directly opposed to these and all other evils. If they did not come out against certain legalized forms of sin, and denounce them by name, and endeavor to array public sentiment against them, it is plainly because they were, for the most part, employed in a preliminary work. To introduce the gospel as a divine revelation; to set up and organize the visible kingdom of God on earth; to lay a foundation for universal reform, was rather their business, than the pushing forward of particular branches of reform. The overthrow of state idolatry, the great and universal sin of the world in that age; the labor of getting the world and the governments of earth to tolerate and receive the gospel as a revelation from the one only living and true God; the controversy with the Jews, to overthrow their objections to Christianity; in short, the great and indispensable and preliminary work of gaining for Christ and His gospel a hearing, and an acknowledgment of its divinity, was rather their work, the pushing of particular precepts and doctrines of the gospel to their legitimate results and logical consequences. This work once done, has left it for later saints to bring the particular truths, precepts, and doctrines of the blessed gospel to bear down every form of sin. Prophets, Christ, and His apostles, have left on the pages of inspiration no dubious testimony against every form of sin. The spirit of the whole Bible breathes from every page blasting and annihilation upon every unholy abomination, while it smiles upon everything of good report that promises blessings to man and glory to God. The saint is not merely sometimes a reformer; he is always so.
8. The sinner is never a reformer in any proper sense of the word. He is selfish and never opposed to sin, or to any evil whatever, from any such motive as renders him worthy the name of reformer. He sometimes selfishly advocates and pushes certain outward reforms; but as certain as it is that he is an unregenerate sinner, so certain is it, that he is not endeavoring to reform sin out of the world from any disinterested love to God or to man. Many considerations of a selfish nature may engage him at times in certain branches of reform. Regard to his reputation may excite his zeal in such an enterprise. Self-righteous considerations may also lead him to enlist in the army of reformers. His relation to particular forms of vice may influence him to set his face against them. Constitutional temperament and tendencies may lead to his engaging in certain reforms. For example, his constitutional benevolence, as phrenologists call it, may be such that from natural compassion he may engage in reforms. But this is only giving way to an impulse of the sensibility, and it is not principle that governs him. His natural conscientiousness may modify his outward character, and lead him to take hold of some branches of reform. But whatever other motives he may have, sure it is that he is not a reformer; for he is a sinner, and it is absurd to say that a sinner is truly engaged in opposing sin as sin. No, it is not sin that he is opposing, but he is seeking to gratify an ambitious, a self-righteous, or some other spirit, the gratification of which is selfishness.
But as a general thing, it is easy to distinguish sinners, or deceived professors from saints by looking steadfastly at their temper and deportment in their relations to reform. They are self-indulgent, and just for the reason that they are devoted to self-indulgence. Sometimes their self-indulgent spirit takes on one type, and sometimes another. Of course they need not be expected to ridicule or oppose every branch of reform, just because it is not every reformer that will rebuke their favorite indulgences, and call them to reform their lives. But as every sinner has one or more particular form of indulgence to which he is wedded, and as saints are devising and pushing reforms in all directions, it is natural that some sinners should manifest particular hostility to one reform, and some to another. Whenever a reform is proposed that would reform them out of their favorite indulgences, they will either ridicule it, and those that propose it, or storm and rail, or in some way oppose or wholly neglect it. Not so, and so it cannot be, with a true saint. He has no indulgence that he values when put in competition with the good of being. Nay, he holds his all and his life at the disposal of the highest good. Has he, in ignorance of the evils growing out of his course, used ardent spirits, wine, tobacco, ale, or porter? Has he held slaves; been engaged in any traffic that is found to be injurious; has he favored war through ignorance; or, in short, has he committed any mistake whatever? Let but a reformer come forth and propose to discuss the tendency of such things; let the reformer bring forth his strong reasons; and, from the very nature of true religion, the saint will listen with attention, weigh with candor, and suffer himself to be carried by truth, heart, and hand, and influence with the proposed reform, if it be worthy of support, how much soever it conflict with his former habits. This must be true, if he has a single eye to the good of being, which is the very characteristic of a saint.
9. The true saint denies himself. Self-denial must be his characteristic, just for the reason that regeneration implies this. Regeneration, as we have seen, consists in turning away the heart or will from the supreme choice of self gratification, to a choice of the highest well-being of God and of the universe. This is denying self. This is abandoning self-indulgence, and pursuing or committing the will, and the whole being to an opposite end. This is the dethroning of self, and the enthroning of God in the heart. Self-denial does not consist, as some seem to imagine, in acts of outward austerity, in an ascetic and penance doing course of starvation, and mere legal, and outward retrenchment, in wearing a coat with one button, and in similar acts of "will worship and voluntary humility, and neglecting the body"; but self-denial consists in the actual and total renunciation of selfishness in the heart. It consists in ceasing wholly to live for self, and can be exercised just as truly upon a throne, surrounded with the paraphernalia of royalty, as in a cottage of logs, or as in rags, and in caves and dens of the earth.
The king upon his throne may live and reign to please himself. He may surround himself with all that can minister to his pleasure, his ambition, his pride, his lusts, and his power. He may live to and for himself. Self pleasing, self gratification, self-aggrandizement, may be the end for which he lives. This is selfishness. But he may also live and reign for God, and for his people. That is, he may be as really devoted to God, and render this as a service to God, as well as anything else. No doubt his temptation is great; but, nevertheless, he may be perfectly self-denying in all this. He may not do what he does for his own sake, nor be what he is, nor possess what he possesses for his own sake, but, accommodating his state and equipage to his relations, he may be as truly self-denying as others in the humbler walks of life. This is not an impossible, though, in all probability, a rare case. A man may as truly be rich for God as poor for him, if his relations and circumstances make it essential to his highest usefulness that he should possess a large capital. He is in the way of great temptation; but if this is plainly his duty, and submitted to for God and the world, he may have grace to be entirely self-denying in these circumstances, and all the more commendable, for standing fast under these circumstances.
So a poor man may be poor from principle, or from necessity. He may be submissive and happy in his poverty. He may deny himself even the comfort of life, and do all this to promote the good of being, or he may do it to promote his own interest, temporal or eternal, to secure a reputation for piety, to appease a morbid conscience, to appease his fears, or to secure the favor of God. In all things he may be selfish. He may be happy in this, because it may be real self-denial: or he may be murmuring at his poverty, may complain, and be envious at others who are not poor. He may be censorious, and think everybody proud and selfish who dresses better, or possesses a better house and equipage than he does. He may set up his views as a standard, and denounce as proud and selfish all who do not square their lives by his rule. This is selfishness, and these manifestations demonstrate the fact. A man may forego the use of a coat, or a cloak, or a horse, or a carriage, or any and every comfort and convenience of life, and all this may proceed from either a benevolent or a selfish state of mind. If it be benevolence and true self-denial, it will be cheerfully and happily submitted to, without murmuring and repining, without censoriousness, and without envy towards others, without insisting that others shall do and be, just what be does and is. He will allow the judge his ermine, the king his robes of state, and the merchant his capital, and the husbandman his fields and his flocks, and will see the reasonableness and propriety of all this.
But if it be selfishness and the spirit of self gratification instead of self-denial, he will be ascetic, caustic, sour, ill-natured, unhappy, severe, censorious, envious, and disposed to complain of, and pick at, the extravagance and self-indulgence of others.
Especially does the true saint deny his appetites and passions. His artificial appetites he denies absolutely, whenever his attention is called to the fact and the nature of the indulgence. The Christian is such just because he has become the master of his appetites and passions, has denied them, and consecrated himself to God. The sinner is a sinner just because his appetites and passions and the impulses of his desires are his masters, and he bows down to them, and serves them. They are his masters instead of his servants, as they are made to be. He is consecrated to them and not to God. But the saint has ceased to live to gratify his lusts. Has he been a drunkard, a rake, a tobacco user? Has he been in self-indulgent habits of any kind? He is reformed: old things are past away, and behold all things are become new. Has he still any habit the character of which he has either mistaken or not considered; such as smoking, chewing, or snuffing tobacco, using injurious stimulants of any kind, high and unwholesome living, extravagant dressing or equipage, retiring late at night and rising late in the morning, eating too much, or between meals, or in short, has there been any form of self-indulgence about him whatever? Only let his attention be called to it, he will listen with candor, be convinced by reasonable evidence, and renounce his evil habits without conferring with flesh and blood. All this is implied in regeneration, and must follow from its very nature. This also the Bible everywhere affirms to be true of the saints. "They have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts" (Gal. 5:24). It should be forever remembered, that a self-indulgent Christian is a contradiction. Self-indulgence and Christianity are terms of opposition.
10. The sinner does not deny himself. He may not gratify all his desires, because the desires are often contradictory, and he must deny one for the sake of indulging another. Avarice may be so strong as to forbid his indulging in extravagance in eating, drinking, dressing, or equipage. His love of reputation may be so strong as to prevent his engaging in anything disgraceful, and so on.
But self-indulgence is his law notwithstanding. The fear of hell, or his desire to be saved, may forbid his outward indulgence in any known sin. But still he lives, and moves, and has his being only for the sake of indulging himself. He may be a miser, and starve and freeze himself, and deny himself the necessaries of life; yet self-indulgence is his law. Some lusts he may and must control, as they may be inconsistent with others. But others he does not control. He is a slave. He bows down to his lusts and serves them. He is enslaved by his propensities, so that he cannot overcome them. This demonstrates that he is a sinner and unregenerate, whatever his station and profession may be. One who cannot, because he will not, conquer himself and his lusts this is the definition of an unregenerate sinner. He is one over whom some form of desire, or lust, or appetite, or passion has dominion. He cannot, or rather will not, overcome it. This one is just as certainly in sin, as that sin is sin.
11. The truly regenerate soul overcomes sin.
Let the Bible be heard upon this subject. "And hereby we do know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He that saith I know Him, and keepeth not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him" (1 John 2:3, 4). "And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He is pure. Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. And ye know that He was manifested to take away our sins: and in Him is no sin. Whosoever abideth in Him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen Him, neither known Him. Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous. He that committeth sin, is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for His seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil; whosoever doth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother" (1 John 3:3-10). "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God, and every one that loveth Him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not grievous. For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith" (1 John 5:1-4).
These passages, understood and pressed to the letter, would not only teach, that all regenerate souls overcome and live without sin, but also that sin is impossible to them. This last circumstance, as well as other parts of scripture, forbid us to press this strong language to the letter. But this much must be understood and admitted, that to overcome sin is the rule with every one who is born of God, and that sin is only the exception; that the regenerate habitually live without sin, and fall into sin only at intervals, so few and far between, that in strong language it may be said in truth they do not sin. This is surely the least which can be meant by the spirit of these texts, not to press them to the letter. And this is precisely consistent with many other passages of scripture, several of which I have quoted; such as these: "Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Cor. 5:17). "For in Jesus Christ, neither circumcision availeth anything nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love." (Gal. 6:6). "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature" (Gal. 6:15). "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" (Romans 8:1-4). "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? Therefore, we are buried with Him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection: knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him; knowing that Christ being raised from the dead, dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over Him. For in that He died, He died unto sin once: but in that He liveth, He liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in you mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law but under grace" (Romans 6:1-14).
The fact is, if God is true, and the Bible is true, the truly regenerate soul has overcome the world, the flesh, and Satan, and sin, and is a conqueror, and more than a conqueror. He triumphs over temptation as a general thing, and the triumphs of temptation over him are so far between, that it is said of him in the living oracles, that he does not, cannot sin. He is not a sinner, but a saint. He is sanctified; a holy person; a child and son of God. If at any time he is overcome, it is only to rise again, and soon return like the weeping prodigal. "The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way. Though he fall he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand" (Psalms 37:23, 24).
12. The sinner is the slave of sin. The seventh of Romans is his experience in his best estate. When he has the most hope of himself, and others have the most hope of his good estate, he goes no further than to make and break resolutions. His life is but a death in sin. He has not the victory. He sees the right, but does it not. Sin is his master, to whom he yields himself a servant to obey. He only tries, as he says, to forsake sin, but does not in fact forsake it, in his heart. And yet because he is convicted, and has desires, and forms resolutions of amendment, he hopes he is regenerated. O, what a horrible delusion! Stop short with conviction, with the hope that he is already a Christian! Alas! How many are already in hell who have stumbled at this stumbling stone!
13. The subject of regeneration may know, and if honest
he must know, for what end he lives. There is, perhaps, nothing of which
he may be more certain than of his regenerate or unregenerate state; and
if he will keep in mind what regeneration is, it would seem that he can
hardly mistake his own character, so far as to imagine himself to be regenerate
when he is not. The great difficulty that has been in the way of the regenerate
soul's knowing his regeneration, and has led to so much doubt and embarrassment
upon this subject, is that regeneration has been regarded as belonging
to the sensibility, and hence the attention has been directed to the ever
fluctuating feelings for evidence of the change. No wonder that this has
led conscientious souls into doubt and embarrassment. But let the subject
of regeneration be disenthralled from false philosophy, and let it be known
that the new heart consists in supreme disinterested benevolence, or in
entire consecration to God, and then who cannot know for what end he lives,
or what is the supreme preference or intention of his soul? If men can
settle any question whatever beyond all doubt by an appeal to consciousness,
it would seem that this must be the question. Hence the Bible enjoins it
as an imperative duty to know ourselves, whether we are Christians. We
are to know each other by our fruits. This is expressly given in the Bible
as the rule of judgment in the case. The question is not so much, What
are the man's opinions?, but, What does he live for? Does he manifest a
charitable state of mind? Does he manifest the attributes of benevolence
in the various circumstances in which he is placed? O, shall the folly
of judging men more by their opinions and feelings, by the tenor of their
lives cease? It seems difficult to rid men of the prejudice that religion
consists in feelings and in experiences in which they are altogether passive.
Hence they are continually prone to delusion upon the most momentous of
all questions. Nothing can break this spell but the steady and thorough
inculcation of the truth, in regard to the nature of regeneration.
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