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[III. WHAT NEEDS TO BE CHANGED IN ORDER TO CHANGE THE HEART. ]
To change your heart, as I have shown in the former discourse, and repeated in this, is to change the governing preference of your mind. What is needed, is, that your will should be rightly influenced, that you should reject sin, and prefer God and obedience to every thing else. The question is, then, how is your will to be thus influenced? By what process is it reasonable to expect thus to influence your mind? Until your will is right, it is vain to expect felt emotions of true love to God, of repentance and faith. These feelings, after which perhaps you are seeking, and into which you are trying to force yourself, need not be expected until the will is bowed, until the ruling preference of the mind is changed.
And here you ought to understand that there are three classes of motives that decide the will: First, those that are purely selfish. Selfishness is the preference of one's own interest and happiness to God and his glory. Whenever the will chooses, directly or indirectly, under the influence of selfishness, the choice is sinful, for all selfishness is sin,
A second class of motives that influence the will, are those that arise from self-love. Self- love is a constitutional dread of misery and love of happiness, and whenever the will is influenced purely by considerations of this kind, its decisions either have no moral character at all, or they are sinful. The constitutional desire of happiness and dread of misery is not in itself sinful, and the consent of the will to lawfully gratify this constitutional love of happiness and dread of misery is not sinful. But when the will consents, as in the case of Adam and Eve, to a prohibited indulgence, it then becomes sinful.
A third class of motives that influence the will, are connected with conscience. Conscience is the judgment which the mind forms of the moral qualities of actions. When the will is decided by the voice of conscience, or a regard to right, its decisions are virtuous. When the mind chooses at the bidding of principle, then, and only then, are its decisions according to the law of God.
The Bible never appeals to selfishness. It often addresses self- love, or the hopes and fears of men; because self-love, or a constitutional love of happiness, or dread of misery, is not in itself sinful. By thus appealing to the hopes, fears, and conscience, the mind, even of selfish beings, is led to such an investigation as to prepare the way for the enlightened and powerful remonstrances of conscience. Thus the investigation is carried on under the influence of these principles; but it is not the constitutional principle of self-love that finally determines the mind in its ultimate choice of obedience to God. When, under the combined influence of hope, fear, and conscience, the mind has been led to the full investigation and consideration of the claims of God, - when these principles have influenced the mind so far as to admit and cherish the influences of the Holy Spirit, as that it becomes enlightened, and is led to see whatduty is, the mind is then ripe for a decision; conscience then has firm footing; it then has the opportunity of exerting its greatest power upon the will. And if the will decide virtuously, the attentionis not at the instant occupied either with hopes or fears, or with those considerations that excite them. But at the moment when the decision is made, the attention must be occupied either with the reasonableness, fitness and propriety of its Maker's claims, or with the hatefulness of sin, or the stability of his truth. The decision of the will, or the change of preference is made, not mainly because, at the instant, you hope to be saved or fear to be damned, but because to act thus is right; [because] to obey God, to serve him, to honor him, and promote his glory, is reasonable, and right, and just. This is a virtuous decision: this is a change of heart. It is true, the offer of pardon and acceptance has a powerful influence, by more fully demonstrating the unreasonableness of rebellion against such a God. While in despair, the sinner would flee rather than submit. But the offer of reconciliation annihilates the influence of despair, and gives to conscience its utmost power.
Fourthly, You cannot change your heart by attending to the present state of your feelings. It is very common when persons are called upon to change their hearts, for them to turn their thoughts upon themselves, to see whether they possess the requisite state of feeling; whether they have conviction enough, and whether they have those emotions which they suppose necessarily precede a change of heart. They abstract their attention from those considerations that are calculated to decide their will, and think of their present feelings. In this diversion of their mind from the motives to change their heart, and fixing their attention upon their present mental state, they inevitably lose what feeling they have, and for the time being render a change impossible. Our present feelings are subjects of consciousness, they have a felt existence in the mind; but if they be made, for a moment, the subject of attention, they cease to exist. While our thoughts are warmly engaged, and intensely occupied with objects without ourselves, with our past sins, with the character or requirements of God, with the love or sufferings of the Savior, or with any other subjects, corresponding emotions will exist in our minds. But if from all these, we turn our attention to our present feelings and attempt to examine them, there is no longer any thing before the mind to make us feel; our emotions cease of course. While a man steadily looks at an object, its image is painted on the retina of his eye. Now, while he continues to direct his eye to the object, the image will remain upon the retina, and the corresponding impression will be upon his mind; but should he turn away his eye, the image upon the retina would no longer remain; and should he direct his attention to the mental impression instead of the object that caused it, the impression would at once be effaced from his mind.
Instead, therefore, of waiting for certain feelings, or making your present state of mind the subject of attention, please to abstract your thoughts from your present emotions, and give your undivided attention to some of the reasons for changing your heart.
[IV. THINGS TO BE CONSIDERED TO INDUCE THE STATE OF MIND WHICH CONSTITUTES A CHANGE OF HEART.] Remember, the present object is, not to call directlyinto existence certain emotions, but, by leading your mind to a full understanding of your obligations, to induce you to yield to principle, and to choosewhat is right. If you will give your attention, I will try to place before you such considerations as are best calculated to induce the state of mind which constitutes a change of heart.
1. Fix your mind upon the unreasonableness and hatefulness of selfishness. Selfishness is the pursuit of one's own happiness as a supreme good; this is in itself inconsistent with the glory of God and the highest happiness of his kingdom. You must be sensible that you have always, directly or indirectly, aimed at promoting your own happiness in all that you have done; that God's glory and happiness, and the interests of his kingdom, have not been the leading motive of your life; that you have not served God, but have served yourself. But your individual happiness is of trifling importance, compared with the happiness and glory of God and the interests of his immense kingdom. To pursue, therefore, as a supreme good, your own happiness, is to prefer an infinitely less to an infinitely greater good, simply because it is your own. Is this virtue? Is this public spirit? Is this benevolence? Is this loving God supremely, or your neighbor as yourself? No, it is exalting your own happiness into the place of God; it is placing yourself as a center of the universe, and an attempt to cause God and all his creatures to revolve around you as your satellites.
Your success, in pushing your selfish aims, would ruin the universe. A selfish being can never be happy until his selfishness be fully gratified. It is certain, therefore, that but one selfish being can be fully gratified. Selfishness aims at appropriating all good to self. Give a selfish man a township, and he covets a state; give him a state, and he longs for a nation; give him a continent, and he cannot rest without the world: give him a world, and he is wretched if there is nothing more to gain. Give him all authority on earth, and while there was a God to rule the universe, his selfish heart would rankle with insatiable desire, until the world, the universe, and God himself were prostrate at his feet his ambition could not be satisfied, his selfish heart could not rest. If, then, you could succeed in your selfish aims, your success would subordinate and injure, if not ruin every body else.
Is this right? But could you succeed in subduing the universe to yourself, then your happiness would not be obtained; for a selfish moral agent cannot be happy. Could you ascend the throne of Jehovah; could you wield the scepter of universal government; could you appropriate to yourself the honor and the wealth of the entire universe; could you receive the homage, the obedience of God and all his creatures, yet the very elements of your nature would be outraged, and while in the exercise of selfishness, conscience would condemn you, the very laws of your moral constitution would mutiny; self- accusation and reproach would rankle in your heart, and, in spite of you, you would be forced to abhor yourself.
Again. While you are selfish, all moral beings must hate and despise you; and it is impossible for a moral being to be happy under the consciousness of being deservedly hated and despised. The love of approval is a law of our nature, it is laid in the very constitution of the mind by the hand that formed it. It is, therefore, as impossible for us to be happy under the consciousness that we are deservedly hated, as it is that we should alter the very structure of our being. It is in vain, therefore, for you to expect to be happy in the exercise of selfishness. God, angels and saints, wicked men and devils, the entire universe of moral beings must be conscientiously and heartily opposed to you while you sustain that character - while conscience gives forth the verdict that you deserve their hatred, and pronounces you unfit for any other world than hell.
[2. Consider the guilt of selfishness.]
In the next place, look at the guilt of this. No thanks to you, if there is a vestige of virtue or happiness in the universe. If your example should have its natural influence, and not be counteracted by God, it would, like a little leaven, leaven the whole lump. If all your acquaintances copied your example, and their acquaintances theirs, and so on, you can easily see that your influence would soon destroy all benevolence, and introduce universal selfishness and rebellion against God. No thanks to you, if there is an individual in the universe that respects the government of God. You have never obeyed it, and all your influences have been against it; and if God had not been constantly wakeful in using counteracting influences, his government had long since been demolished, and virtue and obedience, and love to God and man had been banished from the world.
Again, your influence has tended to establish for ever the dominion of Satan over men. Selfishness is the law of Satan's empire. You have hitherto perfectly obeyed it; and as example preaches louder than precept, you have used the most powerful means possible to induce all mankind to obey the devil. If God has a virtuous subject on earth, if all men are not in league with hell, and, by their example at least, shouting forth, "O Satan, live for ever!" no thanks to you, for the legitimate tendency of your conduct had been to produce this horrible result. Again, no thanks to you, if all mankind are not for ever lost. You have done nothing to save them. Your whole life has had a natural tendency to destroy them. Your neglect and contempt of God have exerted the strongest influence within your power to lead them in the way to death. You have done nothing to save yourself, and, by neglecting your own soul, you have virtually said to all around you, your family and friends, to all who are near and afar off "let religion alone,"who is the Lord that we should obey him, or what profit should we have should we pray unto him?" You need not thank yourself, nor expect the thanks of God, nor of the universe, if any soul from earth is ever saved.
Now, look at the guilt of this. The guilt of any action is equal to the evils which it has a natural tendency to produce. Now look at this. Your selfishness has the natural, and, if unrestrained, the inevitable tendency to ruin the world, to destroy God's government, to establish Satan's, and to people hell with all mankind.
[3. Consider the reasonableness and utility of benevolence(to love your neighbor as yourself).]
Next, look at the reasonableness and utility of benevolence. Benevolence is good will. Benevolence to God, is preferring his happiness and glory to all created good. Benevolence to men, is the exercise of the same regard to, and desire for their happiness, as we have for our own. Benevolence to God, or the preference of God's happiness and glory, is right in itself, because his happiness and glory are infinitely the greatest good in the universe. He prefers his own happiness and glory to every thing else, not because they are his own, but because they constitute the greatest good. All beings, when compared with him, are less than nothing, and vanity. His capacity for enjoying happiness or enduring pain is infinite, not only in duration but in degree. If all the creatures in the universe were completely happy, or perfectly miserable to all eternity, their happiness or misery, though endless in duration, would be but finite in degree. But God's happiness is not only endless in duration but infinite in degree. His happiness is, therefore, just as much more valuable than that of all his creatures, as infinite exceeds finite. Then, is it not right - is it not according to the moral fitness of things, that all his creatures should value his happiness and glory infinitely above their own? Is it not right that he should do this, not because it is his own happiness, but because it is an infinitely greater good?
Does not moral fitness, does not the eternal law of right demand, that he should regard his own happiness according to its real value? Has he any right to prefer the happiness of his creatures above his own? Does not justice require that he should regard every thing in the universe according to its relative importance? and should he not regard his own happiness and glory infinitely above all things else; and should he not require all his intelligent creatures to do the same; would it not be a manifest departure from the immutable principles of right? Therefore, to have a supreme regard to your own happiness, to value it, and to desire it more than you do the happiness and glory of God, is to trample upon the eternal principles of justice and moral fitness which God is bound to maintain; to array yourself in the attitude of open and outrageous war against God, against the universe, against heaven, against the principles of your own nature, and against whatever is right, whatever is lovely and of good report.
Again. That you should love your neighbor as yourself is agreeable to the immutable law of right. That you should regard your neighbor's happiness according to its real value, and the happiness of all mankind according to the relative importance of each one's individual happiness, and the happiness of the whole as much above your own as the aggregate amount of theirs is more valuable than yours, is right in itself. To refuse to do this, is at once to sin against God, to declare war with all men.
But again look at the utility of benevolence. It is a matter of human consciousness that the mind is so constituted that benevolent affections are the source of happiness, and malevolent ones the source of misery. God's happiness consists in his benevolence. Wherever unmingled benevolence is, there is peace. If perfect benevolence reigned throughout the universe, universal happiness would be the inevitable result. The happiness of heaven is perfect, because benevolence is there perfect. They love God with all their heart, and soul, and mind, and strength, and their neighbors as themselves; and who that knows the joy there is in holy love, does not know that the full tide of benevolence is but another name for the full tide of happiness? Perfect benevolence to God and man would at once give us a share in all the happiness of earth and heaven. Benevolence is good will, or willing good to the object of it. If we desire the happiness of others, their happiness will increase our own, according to the strength of our desire. If we desire their welfare as much as we do our own, we are made as happy by good, known to be conferred on them as upon ourselves; and nothing but selfishness prevents our tasting the cup of every man's happiness, and sharing equally with him in all his joys. If we supremely desire the happiness and glory of God, the fact that he is infinitely and immutably happy and glorious, and that he will glorify himself, and that "the whole earth shall be full of his glory," will constitute our supreme joy. It will be to us a never failing source of pure, and high, and holy blessedness. And when we look abroad upon men, and see all the wickedness of earth; when, through the page of inspiration, we survey as with a telescope the deep caverns of the pit; when we listen to its wailings, and behold the lurid flashes of its fires, and contemplate the gnawings of the deathless worm; in all this we see only the legitimate results of selfishness. Selfishness is the discord of the soul: it is the jarring. and dissonance, and grating of hell's eternal anguish. Benevolence, on the other hand, is the melody of the soul. In its exercise, all the mental powers are harmonized, and breathe the sweetness of heaven's charming symphonies. To be happy, then, you must be benevolent. Selfishness, you see, is neither reasonable nor profitable. Its very nature is at war with happiness. It renders you odious to God, the abhorrence of heaven, the contempt of hell. It buries your good name, your ultimate self- esteem, your present and future happiness, in one common grave, and that beyond the hope of resurrection, unless you turn, renounce your selfishness, and obey the law of God.
[4. Consider the reasons why God should govern the universe.]
But again, consider the reasons why God should govern the universe. Perhaps, in words or in theory, you have never denied his right to govern, yet in practice you have always denied it. Your having never obeyed, is the strongest possible declaration of your denial of his right to govern you. The language of your conduct has been, "Who is Jehovah, that I should obey him?"I know not Jehovah, neither will I obey his voice." But have you duly considered his claims upon your obedience? Have you not only admitted the fact that he has a right to govern, but have you understood and thoroughly considered the foundation of this right? If you have never attended to this, it is not wonderful that you have refused obedience. The foundation of God's right to the government of the universe is made up of the three following considerations:
First, his moral character. His benevolence is infinite. Were he a malevolent being, and were his laws like himself, as they would be of course, he could have no right to govern. Instead of being under an obligation to love and obey him, it would be our duty to hate and disobey him. But his benevolence renders him worthy of our love and obedience. But his benevolence alone cannot qualify him for, nor give him a right to, the government of the universe. However benevolent he may be, if his natural attributes are not what they should be, he cannot be qualified to be the Supreme Ruler of all worlds. But a glance at his natural attributes will show that he is no less worthy to govern, in respect to these, than in respect to his moral attributes.
And, first, he has infinite knowledge, so that his benevolence will always be wisely exercised.
Again. He is immortal and unchangeable. Could he cease to exist, or were he subject to change, these would be fundamental defects in his nature as supreme Ruler of the universe.
But, again. Neither his moral nor natural attributes, when viewed separately or collectively, afford sufficient ground for his assuming the reins of government. For however good and great he may be, these constitute no sufficient reason for his taking upon himself the office of supreme civil officer, irrespective of the elective choice of other beings. But he is also the Creator, and holds by the highest possible tenure the entire universe as his own. Thus he is not only infinitely well fitted to govern, but by creation has the absolute and inalienable right to govern. He not only has this right, but it is his duty to govern. He can never yield this office, nor throw aside this responsibility.