« PreviousContinue »
is in its nature opposite to that which before existed in the mind. The former disposition is sin, condemned and punished by the law of God; the new disposition is holiness, required and rewarded by the same law. The former disposition is hateful in the sight of God; the new one lovely, and ' of great price.'
The former disposition is frequently and justly styled selfishness; as being perpetually employed in subordinating the interests of any and all others to the private personal interests of the individual in whom it prevails. The new disposition is, with the same propriety, styled disinterestedness, love; goodwill, benevolence: a spirit inclining him in whom it exists to subordinate his own private interest to the general welfare, and to find his own happiness in the common prosperity of the divine kingdom. The part, the place, and the enjoyments which God assigns to him as a member of this kingdom, he is inclined to take, not with submission only, but with cheerfulness; as being that, which is ordered by infinite wisdom, and is therefore the best, and most desirable.
This new disposition is also opposed to the former, particularly as it regards our Maker. The former, or carnal mind is enmity against God,' opposed to his character and to his pleasure; the new one is conformed to his pleasure, and delighted with his character. He in whom it exists' delights in the law of God after the inner man; and esteems it as 'more to be chosen than the most fine gold, and sweeter than honey and the honeycomb.'
The former disposition is an impenitent devotion to sin; attended, at times, and after some of its grosser perpetrations, by remorse perhaps, and self-condemnation; but never by a real loathing of the sin itself, nor by that ingenuous sorrow for it, which is after a godly sort.' The new disposition is a real 'hatred of sin; a sincere, and, if I may so term it, an instinctive sorrow for every transgression of the divine commands, whenever such transgression is present to the view of the mind.
The former disposition was a general spirit of unbelief or distrust towards God, his invitations, promises, and designs; a distrust especially exercised towards the Redeemer, and towards his righteousness as the foundation of our acceptance with God. The new one is a humble, stedfast, affectionate
confidence in God, his declarations and designs; exercised particularly towards Christ, as the Saviour of mankind, the propitiation for sin, and the true and living way to eternal glory. This confidence, or, as it is most usually termed in the New Testament, this faith, is a vital principle in the soul, producing every act of real obedience, every act in man which is pleasing to God.
In all these particulars united the new disposition is termed godliness, or piety.
The former disposition is inclined to the indulgence of those lusts, or passions and appetites, which immediately respect ourselves; such as pride, vanity, sloth, lewdness, and intemperance. The new one is opposed to all these; is humble, modest, diligent, chaste, and temperate. In this view, it is styled, temperance, moderation, or self-government.
As in all these things the spirit communicated in our regeneration not only differs so greatly from that which we possess by nature, but is so directly opposed to it; it must be admitted, that, in all its operations it carries with it some evidence of its existence, in the same manner as our sinful disposition carries with it evidence of its existence. He who denies. that holiness in a renewed mind can be evidenced by its nature and operations, must also deny, either that any moral character whatever can be perceived to exist, or that a holy disposition is capable of the same proof as a sinful one. That this is philosophy too unsound to be adopted by a sober man, is so evident as to need no illustration. Indeed, it may be doubted whether any man will openly aver this doctrine; although multitudes assert that which involves it. Certainly, a sinner who examines his own heart and life must discern that he is sinful; with equal certainty an angel must discern that he himself is holy.
From what has been said of the nature of the renewed disposition it is clear, that the man, who repents of his sins, who believes in Christ, who loves and fears God, who disinterestedly loves his neighbour, and forgives his enemies, and who employs himself daily in resisting and subduing his own passions and appetites, must have some consciousness that he does these things. In this consciousness, as it continually rises. up to the view of the mind, consists the primary or original evidence that we are Christians. Indeed, all the evidence of
this nature which we ever possess, is no other than this consciousness, variously modified, and rendered more explicit and satisfactory by the aid of several things with which, from time to time, it becomes connected.
Having made these general observations, I shall proceed to state the following particulars, in which, I apprehend, this evidence will be especially seen.
1. The renewed mind relishes all spiritual objects.
Every man knows what it is to relish natural objects; such as agreeable food, ease, warmth, rest, friends, beauty, novelty, and grandeur. Every man knows that these objects are relished also in themselves, for their own sake, as being in themselves pleasant to the mind, independently of consequences, and of all other extraneous considerations. In the same manner, according to what is here intended, are spiritual objects relished by the renewed mind. A Christian regards the character of God, the character of Christ, the divine law, the Gospel, and his own duty, as objects pleasing in their own nature. Thus David, of the religious exercises of whose mind we have a more detailed account than we have of those of any other scriptural writer, says concerning the statutes of the Lord,' that they are right; rejoicing the heart: more to be desired than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter than honey, and the honeycomb.' And again,How sweet are thy words unto my taste! Yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth. I love thy commandments above gold, yea, above fine gold.' And again, Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is none upon the earth, whom I desire beside thee.' 'Oh taste, and see, that the Lord is good!' Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, ye righteous; and shout for joy all ye upright in heart!' With these expressions of David correspond all the declarations of the other divine writers, wherever they are made. Thus St. Paul says, ' I count all things but loss, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ.' Thus also the same apostle says, I delight in the law of the Lord after the inward man.'
This doctrine has been extensively illustrated in the Sermon lately delivered on the subject of joy in the Holy Ghost; and therefore will need the less illustration here.
It ought however to be remembered, that a delight in these
things because of some benefit which we have, or imagine ourselves to have, derived from them, or which we hope to derive from them immediately, or from the relish of them, whether it be the favour of God, comforting evidence of our Christianity, or any other benefit whatever, is not the kind of relish of which I speak. This is directed towards the things themselves, as being in themselves delightful to the taste of the mind. If the character of God is excellent, it cannot but be supposed that this excellence must be relished by a person suitably disposed; and that, although this person were to be ignorant of any manner in which he himself was to derive personal benefit from it.
Wherever this relish exists it will ordinarily show itself, not only in the manner in which the mind immediately regards spiritual objects, but in its remoter operations. Thus, if a man really relishes the worship of God, he will be apt to be regularly employed in it at all proper seasons. He will find himself inclined to ejaculatory prayer, to pray in his closet, in the family, and in the church. If he loves the Scriptures, he will be apt to read them regularly, much, and often. If hc relishes the company of religious persons, he will naturally frequent it, seek it, and derive from it, when enjoyed, a sensible pleasure.
To secret prayer there seems to be hardly any allurement, sufficient to keep the regular practice of it alive for a great length of time, beside a relish for communion with God. It is plain, that secret prayer cannot be continued with a view to be seen of men, or the hope of acquiring reputation. As in its own nature it cannot but be disrelished by every sinner, it seems as if it must, of course, be soon dropped where piety does not keep it alive. Thus Job seems to have reasoned, when he said concerning the hypocrite, Will he delight himself in the Almighty? Will he always call upon God?' Job xxvii. 10. As if he had said, He will not delight himself in the Almighty; and therefore will not always, or throughout life, continue to pray to God: but will cease from this practice, after the casual feelings and views which gave birth to it have ceased to operate. A continued relish for secret prayer furnishes therefore a strong and hopeful testimony that we are Christians.
St. John informs us, that the love of Christians also is a
satisfactory proof, that we are Christians. Hereby we know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.' As this subject was extensively considered in the Discourse on brotherly love, it will be unnecessary to dwell upon it here. It will however be proper to observe, that we áre not in the present case supposed to love Christians because they are our personal friends, or because they have been or are expected to be useful to us; but because they are Christians; and on account of the excellence and amiableness of the Christian spirit which they possess and manifest. For this reason God loves them; that is, with the love usually termed complacency; and for this reason only, since he can plainly receive no benefit from them. For the same reason they are loved by their fellow Christians.
In order to know whether we love them, it will be proper to ask ourselves the questions, mentioned in the Discourse alluded to. Do we love their goodness of character? Do we seek their company? Do we relish their conversation? Do we take pleasure in their Christian conduct? Do we pray for their prosperity, their holiness, and their salvation?
I will only add under this head, that with respect to all spiritual objects we are carefully to inquire whether we relish them at all; and whether we relish them for themselves: for the excellence, which they possess; or for some apprehended benefit which may be derived from them to ourselves.
2. Real religion is always accordant with the dictates of reason enlightened by Revelation.
By this I intend, that it is not, on the one hand, the mere result of passion, affection, or impulse, as in every case of enthusiasm; and that it is not, on the other, the result of mere philosophy, or the decisions of human reason, unenlightened by Revelation; as is the case with the professed natural religion of Deists. The good conscience of a good man is, on the one hand, purged from these dead works; and, on the other, exercises such a control over all the affections, as to direct their various operations steadily towards that which the Scriptures have pronounced to be true and right.
Religion, in the scriptural sense, is a reasonable, not a casual, nor an instinctive, service. Man acts in it, not as an animal under the mere impulse of animal affections; not as a subject of mere passion, not as a creature of mere imagina