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EVIDENCES OF REGENERATION - A, PREVIOUS LECTURE - NEXT SECTION - HELP - FACEBOOK
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 with candor, to get at the truth upon this subject.
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 unrepentant 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 nevertheless.