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If the righteous differ from the wicked only in their degrees of goodness, it is impossible for any person to ascertain, whether he belongs to one class or the other, unless that degree should be distinctly marked, which is on the dividing line.
No such degree is marked; and therefore no person can, if this doctrine be true, have assurance of salvation. It would follow then, that the scriptures require christians to perform impossibilities ; i. e. to know themselves,—to make their calling and election sure, without giving them a standard, by which to determine.
V. I see not why, in determining this question, the testimony of persons of integrity and good understanding should not be considered, as of some weight. There are many persons, whose judgment would on common subjects be highly valued, who are confidently and permanently pursuaded, that previously, to regeneration, they were wholly destitute of that principle, by which they have since been actuated. There have been in various christian countries, and in different ages, persons of acknowledged integrity and good discernment, thus fully persuaded concerning themselves. It is an opinion, in which they have continued with great firmness during the remainder of life. Nor has this persuasion been confined to those, the former part of whose lives was obviously immoral: but has been entertained by many, in whose visible deportment, there was little to reprehend.
Now, that self deception is not only possible, but easy, I readily grant. But it must be allowed, that no person has so good an opportunity of knowing what passes in the mind of a man, as he has himself. He can ascertain more accurately, than any other, what are his own intentions and motives. Let us view this matter a little more distinctly. Some of the persons, of whom I am now speaking, are acknowledged to possess great integrity; and to give as much evidence of piety, as any on earth. But it is not their opinion of their present piety, but of their former want of it, in
which we are now concerned. Grant, if you please, that self love may lead them to think too favorably of their present character; what imaginable reason can be assigned, why they should think too unfavorably of what they once were? I do not mention this argument, as alone conclusive; but that it has much weight, I think, can hardly be denied.
The way is now prepared for considering the question whether regeneration is instantaneous.
Though the arguments, which have been used, are, it is believed, fully sufficient to show, that the difference between the renewed and others, does not consist in degrees of that which is common to both, I would ask, whether even on that supposition, there would not be some instant, at which the necessary degree is acquired ? Even if regeneration were as gradual, as the apparent course of a star from east to west, the question must receive an affirmative answer: for, however long the star may be in gaining the meridiau, its transition is instantaneous: there is no conceivable duration, in which it is not cither in one hemisphere or the other. Neither is there any duration in a man's life, in which be has not, cither complied, or not complied with the terms of the christian covenant.
But is, as we have endeavored to prove, there is a radical, an essential difference between the saint and sinner, the matter will appear still more obvious. If the good man bas a moral quality, which he once had not, there must be some moment, when he began to possess it.
It is believed by many divines of much repectability, that the wickedness of the human heart is invariably progressive, till a change is produced.
That it never is so, I will not assert: but that such is universally the fact, cannot, I apprehend, be casily proved. The argument relied on is this. Impenitence is criminal in proportion to light, enjoyed by the impenitent person. is an unusual portion of this, which produces in the sinner conviction and anxiety. Therefore, while persons do not
submit to the terins prescribed in the christian religion, they are, in a higher degree, than formerly, criminal in the sight of God.
It is not to be denied, that wicked men, other things being equal are criminal in proportion to the clearness, with which duty is made known. But, 1. It is not certain, that all sons, immediately before their moral change, have greater degrees of light, than at any former period: nor, 2. Is it certain, that other things are equal. That all the individuals of a nation, supposed to enjoy an equal degree of religious knowledge, are precisely equal in moral character, is highly improbable; and is thereforc by no means to be assumed as true. Besides, if a sinner has increased in moral demer. it from ten to fifteen degrees, can it possibly be doubted, that Deity has the power of reducing him to his former state ? Now if it be undeniably possible for Deity to reduce, in some degree, the sinners obduracy, before a new principle is imparted, or a radical change produced, who can be confident, that he never in this way exerts his power ?
It is a fact admitting no question, that some are renewed at a time, not distinctly known to themselves. But if the opposition of the human heart to Christ and his gospel invariably increases until the moment, when supreme affection for these objects, and a consequent hatred of sin, commences, it is extremely difficult, to say the least, to account for the fact, just mentioned. Whereas, if God occasionally or frequently sees fit to reduce or diminish the rebellion of the heart, previously to that evangelical submission, which is the effect of renewing grace, the difficulty will be, in no small measure, diminished:-an opinion, which you will obserye, has no essential resemblance to that, against which we have contended, namely, that any thing of real holiness preceeds regeneration.
In the present lecture, an answer will be attempted to the following inquires.
1. Whether any thing more, than increased light is necessary to the production of a moral change in the human heart.
II. Whether that divine influence necessary to produce this change, is always bestowed according to previous character.
III. Whether any means or efforts used by the impenitent, render their conversion more probable.
IV. Whether it be right to direct persons of this description to the use of means with a view to regeneration.
That copious answers should be given to these inquires in the compass of a short discourse, will not be expected.
1. Is any thing more, than increased light necessary to the production of a moral change in the human heart?
To defend the negative of this question, has been undertaken, by individuals justly esteemed for talents, close investigation, and exemplary life. To support their belief the following arguments are used; 1. Men will pursue what appears to be conducive to their happiness ; if there.
fore they neglect that, which is really so, it is because they need to be shown, in what their greatest happiness, or their highest interest consists. Whenever this is shown, they will pursue it. 2. If men do not love Deity, whose character is perfectly amiable, it must be, that they do not know it to be such. When this ignorance is removed, God wil become an object of their love.
That these arguments are inadequate to the purpose, for which they are adduced, even on supposition, that virtue or piety implics nothing but external obedience, it will not be difficult to show. Does the intemperate man correct his habits, as soon as he is convinced, that his own interest re. quires such correction ? So far from this, there is an avowed conflict between his inclination and appetite. He knows what his health, and interest, and happiness require. Can it be believed, for a moment, that all profligate men consid. er vice, as conducive to permanent good, and virtue conducive to evil? Nothing is more common, than to hear them confess the contrary.
But you inquire, Do not men choose the greatest apparent good? I answer, that men do not always choose what in their setlled judgment, is the greatest good. But if the question be, whether the good, expected from a sinful action, does not, at the moment, when the will consents, appear greater, than the good, arising from abstinence, it is a ques. tion of so much difficulty, that I would not, with confidence, make a decision. In any event, the determination of an inquiry, so very abstruse and metaphysical, can have little weight in opposition to numerous and obvious facts. But let it be conceded, if you please, that the affirmative is true, namely, that at the moment, when the will consents to a sinful action, the good, thence resulting, appears greater, than the good, accruing from abstinence; still the action is against light,-it is against the settled judgment: The reason, why the advantage of sinning appears greater, than the advantage of abstinence, is, that the offender perversely