« AnteriorContinuar »
Persons, who are determined, that no evidence, however glaring, shall produce conviction in favor of the doctrine contemplated, may observe,
1. That, in the case described, and in all those, which are similar, no real change of heart is produced.—I ask, if there be any other criterion, by which to judge of a man's heart, but his deportment? If there be not, the assertion now made by way of objection, falls at once. For, that there is a material alteration in behavior, is beyond dispute.
II. It may be said, that we should not judge hastily; and that present appearances, however flattering, may soon vanish. The remark here made is perfectly just. We ought by no means to be highly confident from present appearances. But, though the remark be true, it has no force, as an objection to the doctrine; because in numberless instances exhibited in every age, this professed conversion has been followed by a life of engaging and uniform virtue.
III. It may be said, that many persons, professing to have become regenerate, have afterwards returned to vice with new avidity.--Now if our doctrine were, that all, who profess to be renewed by the Holy Spirit, are in fact renewed, this objection would be unanswerable. But we assert only this, that many persons of sound judgment and good information, profess to have experienced a change of heart, whose subsequent lives well correspond with such a profession, and continue to the end, materially different from what they were previously to the time, at which this alteration is supposed to have been effected.
But there are others, you tell me, who after making these high professions, though they may not become openly vicious, render it sufficiently manifest, that they have no more virtue, than their neighbors. This is perfectly true. But do you conclude, that there is no such thing as truth and probity on earth, because some men of suspicious morals pretend to them? Do you conclude, that there was no sincere friend of Jesus Christ among his twelve companions,
because Judas was a traitor? Do you confidently infer, that there was never a piece of standard gold, because there have been many counterfeits? If not, can we be justified in denying the regeneration of those, (and the number is not small,) whose subsequent lives have done honor to religion and to the human race, because many others, professing to have had the same feelings, have supported a very indifferent character, or relapsed into open vice?
IV. There is another objection, which we must not leave unnoticed. It is this. The alteration contended for, is sometimes accompanied with great agitation of the passions. It is preceded by distressing anxiety, and followed by proportionate elevation. This, it may be said, is quite an ir rational thing, and therefore, must not be attributed to divine influence.
I answer, 1. That the strong emotions, now mentioned, are by no means, the universal accompaniments of regeneration. Some, it is believed, are renewed, at so early a period, that recollection does not extend to it. In most instances, perhaps, the precise period, at which a new disposition, was formed, is not capable of being ascertained. As that high degree of anxiety, specified in the objection, is far from being universal; so the joy, approaching to transport, is very uncommon.
Allowing the objection, therefore, all the force, to which it can possibly pretend, it will prove only against these instances : but nothing against the doctrine in general. But I will endeavor to show, that even in regard to these instances, the objection proves nothing.
Hope and fear are passions, common to our natures. The object of the former is some good, not certainly beyond our reach: the object of the latter, some evil, from which we are not secure. In any given instance, either of these passions will be excited to a degree, corresponding with the greatness of its object, its proximity, and the distinctness
, with which it is scen. We do not greatly fear a small evil, nor
one at a vast distance, nor one, which is viewed transiently. As these passions are common to our natures, we never think unfavorably of a man, on account of them, so long as they are not indulged to a degree, disproportionate to their objects. A very high degree of fear would not be thought unreasonable in a mother, whose infant was lying near the verge of a crumbling precipice. If some person were at that moment approaching the infant, very high hopes might for the same reason be justified. When this infant was actually snatched from the danger, what admantine philosophy is that, which condemns her unuterable joy?
Now there are eternal rewards for the righteous, and eterpal punishments for the wicked. So he hath declared, who will himself judge the world. It will not be asserted, that all are righteous. The contrary is too evident to admit a moment's doubt. Suppose then, that a person, either by the word or Spirit of God, or in any way whatever, is convinced, not superficially, but effectually and feelingly convinced, that he is himself in the class of the wicked, and exposed to eternal destruction; has this person, or has he not cause to be afraid? If great fears can, in any case, be justified, on what principle can it be asserted, that in the case supposed, they are unreasonable? If, after a time, this
per. son should be relieved from this anxiety, by perceiving in himself moral qualities, which distinguish the righteous; i. e, such persons, as will receive eternal life, would his cause of joy be less, than that of a mother, whose infant was snatched from the crumbling precipice ?—What now I demand is left, to justify, or even to render tolerable, that ridicule, with which appearances of this kind are often treated ?
But even if these distressing fears, and transporting joys, which, let it be still remembered, do not universally, nor even commonly attend regeneration; If, I say, these very strong terrors and joys were unreasonable, God is not answerable for them any further, than he is the author of our natures ; copformably to which nature, a sight of danger
rouses fear; and a perception of security, or advantage acquired, excites joy :--and as he gives to the wicked man a clear sense of what is indeed his character and his danger: and to the righteous man a perception of this fact, that he has indeed become the servant of righteousness. Though a man, on the recovery of a son from sickness, should erhibit a joy, which was unbecoming, it would not be the less certain, that the recovery itself was the result of divine power.
So much having already been said as to the necessity of regeneration, and of divine agency in producing it, we may, with good reason, feel anxious to ascertain the nature of the change, which it implies. That this change relates to the heart, and not to the intellects, was shown in a former lecture. It remains, that we briefly inquire, what is the charac. ter of the heart, after this change has been produced.
I. Though it is undeniable that virtue or holiness is our highest interest; and that lasting happiness can be obtained in no way, but that of virtue; it is not true that virtue consists in prosecuting our own interest, as such. If there he in this any appearance of paradox, it will vanish, I think, when we take into view the following consideration; integrity and courtesy of behavior are connected with permanent esteem. But let it once be ascertained, that such integrity and courtesy are supported by no better principle than a regard to public esteem, and even that object is not obtained. In like manner, though virtue and holiness is our highest interest, that is not virtue, the highest principle of which is a regard to ourselves. That we are allowed to regard ourselves I do not deny: that self love (which I conceive to