The GOSPEL TRUTH
Ill. WHEREIN SAINTS AND SINNERS OR DECEIVED PROFESSORS MUST DIFFER.
In discussing this branch of the subject, I will,
I. Make several prefatory remarks.
II. Point out the prominent characteristics of both.
1. Prefatory remarks.
(1.) The Bible represents all mankind as belonging to two and but two great classes, saints and sinners. All regenerate souls, whatever their attainments are, it includes in the first class. All unregenerate persons, whatever be their profession, possessions, gifts or station, it includes among sinners.
(2.) The Bible represents the difference between these two classes as radical, fundamental and complete. The Bible does not recognize the impenitent as having any goodness in them, but uniformly as being dead in trespasses and in sins. It represents the saints as being dead to sin, and alive to God, as sanctified persons, and often speaks in so strong language as almost compels us to understand it as denying that the saints sin at all, or to conclude that sinning at all proves that one is not a saint. It does take the unqualified ground that no one is a saint who lives in or indulges any sin.
(3.) The Bible represents the difference between saints and sinners as very manifest and as appearing abundantly in their lives. It requires us to judge all men by their fruits. It gives us both the fruits of regeneration and of an unregenerate state, and is exceedingly specific and plain upon this subject.
(4.) In treating this question I shall endeavor not to forget that I am inquiring after the evidences of regeneration, and that I am to speak not of high and rare attainments in piety, but of its beginnings., and of those things that must exist and appear where there is even the commencement of true holiness.
2. I will point out the prominent characteristics of both saints and sinners.
(1.) Let it be distinctly remembered that unregenerate persons all without exception have one heart, that is, they are selfish. This is their whole character. They are universally and only devoted to self-interest or self-gratification. Their unregenerate heart consists in this selfish disposition, or in this selfish choice. This choice is the foundation of, and the reason for all their activity. They do all that they do and omit all that they omit, for one and the same reason, and that is to gratify either directly or indirectly, either presently or remotely, themselves.
The regenerate heart is disinterested benevolence. In other words it is love to God and our neighbor. All regenerate hearts are precisely similar. All true saints, whenever they have truly the heart of saints of God, are actuated by one and the same motive. They have only one ultimate reason for all they do, and are, and suffer, or omit. They have one ultimate intention, one end. They live for one and the same object, and that is the same end for which God lives.
Now the thing after which we are inquiring is what must be the necessary developments and manifestations of these opposite states of mind. These opposite states are supreme and opposite and ultimate choices. They are states of supreme devotion to ultimate and opposite ends. In whatever they do, the saint, if he acts as a saint, and the sinner, have directly opposite ends in view. They do, or omit what they do, for entirely different and opposite ultimate reasons. Although, as we have seen, in many things their opposite ends may lead them to attempt to secure them by similar means, and may therefore often lead to the same outward life in many respects, yet it is always true that even when they act outwardly alike, they have inwardly entirely different ultimate reasons for their conduct. As it often happens that the saint in pursuing the highest good of being in general as an end, finds it necessary to do many things which the sinner may do to secure his selfish end; and as it often happens that the sinner in his endeavors to compass his selfish end, finds it necessary to use the same outward means that the saint does in his efforts to secure his end, it requires not unfrequently a good degree of candor and of discrimination to distinguish between them. And as saints and sinners possess the same or similar constitutions and constitutional propensities, their desires and feelings are often so much alike as to embarrass the superficial inquirer after their true spiritual state. As has been said, the sinner often in seasons of strong religious excitement, not only has desires and feelings resulting from the laws of his constitution similar to those that are experienced by the saints, but he also for the time being gives up his will to follow these impulses. In this case it requires the nicest discrimination to distinguish between the saint and the sinner; for at such times they not only feel alike but they also act alike. The difficulty in such cases is to distinguish between the action of a will that obeys the intelligence and one that obeys a class of feelings that are so nearly in harmony with the dictates of the intelligence. To distinguish in such cases between that which proceeds from feeling and that which proceeds from the intelligence requires no slight degree of attention and discrimination. One needs to be a close observer and no tyro in mental philosophy to make just discriminations in cases of this kind.
Let it be understood that the fundamental difference between saints and sinners does not consist in the fact that one has a sinful nature and the other has not, for neither of them has a sinful nature.
(2.) Nor does it consist in the fact that the saint has had a physical regeneration and therefore possesses some element of constitution which the sinner has not.
(3.) Nor does it consist in this, that saints are aiming or intending to do right while sinners are aiming and intending to do wrong. The saint loves God and his neighbor, that is, chooses or intends their highest good for its own sake. This choice or intention is right, though right is not the thing intended. The good, that is, the valuable to being, and not the right, is that upon which the intention terminates. The sinner chooses his own gratification as an end. This choice or intention is wrong; but wrong is not the end chosen or the thing upon which the intention terminates. They are both choosing what they regard as valuable. The saint chooses the good of being impartiality. That is, he chooses the highest good of being in general for its own sake and lays no greater stress upon his own than is dictated by the law of his own intelligence. His duty is to will the greatest amount of good to being in general, and promote the greatest amount of good within his power. From the relation of things every one's own highest well-being is committed to his particular keeping and promotion in a higher sense than that of his neighbor is. Next to his own well-being that of his own family and kindred is committed to his particular keeping and promotion in a higher sense than that of his neighbor's family and kindred. Next the interest and well-being of his immediate neighborhood and of those more immediately within the sphere of his influence, is committed to his keeping and promotion. Thus while all interests are to be esteemed according to their intrinsic and relative value, the law of God requires that we should lay ourselves out more particularly for the promotion of those interests that lie so much within our reach that we can accomplish and secure a greater amount of good by giving our principal attention and efforts to them than could be secured by our practically treating the interests of every individual, of every family and of every neighborhood as of equal value with our own. The practical judgment of all men always was, and necessarily must be that the law of God demands that every one should see to his own soul and should provide for his own household, and that the highest good of the whole universe can best be promoted only by each individual, each family, each neighborhood, and each nation taking care to secure those interests more immediately committed to them, because more immediately within their reach. This is not selfishness if the intention is to secure the highest good of being in general, and of these particular interests as a part of the general good, and because it falls particularly to us to promote these particular interests inasmuch as their promotion is particularly within our reach. The law of God, while it demands that I should will the highest good of being in general for its own sake, and esteem every interest known to me according to its intrinsic and relative value, demands also, that as a pastor of a church, I should give my time and influence and energies more particularly to the promotion of the good of the people of my own charge. More good will upon the whole result to the world from pastors taking this course than any other. The same is true of the family relation and of all the relations of life. Our relations give us peculiar facilities for securing good, and impose on us peculiar responsibilities. Our relation to our own highest well-being imposes peculiar responsibilities on us in regard to our own souls. So of our families, neighborhoods, &c. It should be well considered then, that the precept, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself," does not require every one to pay just the attention to his neighbor's soul that he does to his own, nor the same attention to his neighbor's children and family that he does to his own. He is bound to esteem his neighbor's interest according to its relative value, and to pursue his own interest and the interest of his family and neighborhood and nation in a manner not inconsistent with the interests of others, but in a manner as highly conducive to the promotion of their interests as in his judgment will upon the whole secure the greatest amount of good. If I have a life to live, and a certain amount of time and talent and money and influence to lay out for God and souls, I am bound to use all in that manner that in my honest judgment will upon the whole secure the greatest amount of good to being. I am not, certainly, to divide the pittance of my possessions among all men of present and coming generations. Nor am I to scatter my time and talents over the face of the whole globe. But on the contrary, benevolence dictates that I should lay out my time and talents and influence and possessions where and when and in a way, in my honest estimation calculated to secure to being the greatest amount of good.
I have said thus much, as might seem, by way of episode; but in fact it is necessary for as to have these thoughts in mind when we enter upon the discussion of the question before us; to wit: What are evidences of a truly benevolent state of mind? For example; suppose we should enter upon the inquiry in question, taking along with us the assumption that true benevolence, that is, the disinterested love of God and our neighbor, implies that we should not only esteem but also treat all other interests of equal intrinsic value with our own, according to their intrinsic and relative value. I say, should we in searching after evidence of disinterested benevolence, take along with us this false assumption, where should we find any evidence of benevolence on earth? No man does or can act upon such a principle. God has never acted upon it. Christ never acted upon it. Why did God select the particular nation of the Jews and confine His revelations to them? Why did Christ preach the gospel to the Jews only, and say that he was not sent, save to the lost sheep of the house of Israel? Why has God always acted upon this principle of accomplishing the greatest practicable good? He esteems the good of all and of each of his creatures according to its intrinsic and relative value, but does good when and as He best can. If the greatest amount of ultimate good can be secured by choosing Abraham from all other men, and making him and his posterity the objects of peculiar effort and spiritual cultivation, and the depositories of the holy oracles which He intended should ultimately bless all nations, why, He does it. He exercises His own discretion in His efforts to accomplish the greatest amount of good. Good is his end and He does all the good He can. In securing this He does many things that might appear partial to those who take but a limited view of things. Just so with all truly benevolent creatures. Good is their end. In promoting it, their intelligence and the law of God dictate that they should bestow their particular efforts, attention, influence, and possessions upon those particular interests and persons that will, in their judgment, result in the highest good of being in general as a whole. The whole Bible every where assumes this as the correct rule of duty. Hence it recognizes all the relations of life, and the peculiar responsibilities and duties that grow out of them, and enjoins the observance of those duties. The relation of husband and wife, of parent and child, of ruler and subject, and indeed all the relations incident to our highest well-being in this life, are expressly recognized and their corresponding obligations assumed by the inspired writers; which shows clearly that they understood the law of supreme love to God and equal love to our neighbor to imply an obligation to give particular attention to those interests which God had placed more particularly within the reach of our influence; always remembering that those interests are to be pursued impartially; that is, in consistency with the promotion of all other interests, by those to whom their promotion is particularly committed. For example: I am not to pursue my own good and that of my family or my neighborhood or my nation, in a manner inconsistent with the interests of my neighbor or his family or neighborhood or nation. But I am to seek the promotion of all the interests particularly committed to me, in harmony with, and only as making a part of the general interests of being.
Now let it be remembered that the saint is benevolent, and all his life as a saint is only the development of this one principle; or his outward and inward activity is only an effort to secure the end upon which benevolence fastens, to wit, the highest good of God and of being in general.
The sinner is selfish, all his activity is to be ascribed to an intention to secure his own gratification. Self-interest is his end. It is easy to see from what has been said that to an outward observer a benevolent saint may and often must appear to be selfish. and the selfish sinner may and will appear to be disinterested. The saint pursues his own good and the happiness and well-being of his family as a part of universal good and does it disinterestedly. The sinner pursues his own gratification, and that of his family, not as parts of universal good and disinterestedly, but as his own and as the interest of those who are regarded as parts of himself and whose interest he regards as identified with his own.
They are both busy in promoting the interests of self and family and neighborhood &c. And the difference between them lies in their ultimate intentions or the reasons for what they do.
There is, as I have intimated, special difficulty in ascertaining, for certainty, which is the saint and which the sinner, when the sinners selfishness is directed to the securing of a heavenly and eternal interest instead of a worldly and temporal one. He may and often does aim at securing a heavenly and an eternal interest both for himself, and family, and friends. When he does this his outward manifestations are so very like those of the true saint as to render it difficult if not impossible for an observer for the time being to distinguish accurately between them.
I have compared the saint and the sinner in my last lecture for the purpose of showing in what respect they may be alike.
I will now in a few particulars proceed to contrast them that it may appear in what they differ.
1. And fundamentally they are radically opposite to each other in their ultimate choice or intention. They are supremely devoted to different and opposite ends. They live to promote those opposite ends.
2. The saint is governed by reason, the law of God or the moral law; in other words still, the law of disinterested and universal benevolence is his law. This law is not only revealed and developed in his intelligence, but it is written in his heart. So that the law of his intellect is the law of his heart. He not only sees and acknowledges what he ought to do and be, but he is conscious to himself and gives evidence to others, whether they receive it and are convinced by it or not, that his heart, his will or intention, is conformed to his convictions of duty. He sees the path of duty and follows it. He knows what he ought to will, intend and do, and does it. Of this he is conscious. And of this others may be satisfied if they are observing, charitable, and candid.
3. The sinner is right over against this in the most important and fundamental respects. He is not governed by reason and principle, but by feeling, desire, and impulse. Sometimes his feelings coincide with the intelligence, and sometimes they do not. But when they do so coincide, the will does not pursue the course it does out of respect or in obedience to the law of the intelligence, but in obedience to the impulse of the sensibility which for the time being impels in the same direction as does the law of the reason. But for the most part the impulses of the sensibility incline him to worldly gratifications and in an opposite direction to that which the intelligence points out. This leads him to a course of life that is too manifestly the opposite of reason to leave any room for doubt as to what his true character is.
But he also has the law revealed in his intelligence. His head is right, but his heart is wrong. He knows what he ought to do and will and be, but he is conscious that his heart does not obey his reason. He is conscious that the law is in his intelligence but is not written in his heart. He knows that he is not in heart what he necessarily affirms that he ought to be. He knows that he is habitually selfish and not disinterestedly benevolent. Sometimes, as has been said, during seasons of special religious excitement when his sensibility and intelligence impel in the same direction, he thinks his heart and his head agree; that he is what he knows he ought to be; that the law is written in his heart. But as soon as this excitement subsides he sees or may see that it was not his intelligence but his sensibility that governed his will; that in the absence of religious excitement his intelligence has no control of his will; that he is governed by impulse and not by principle. This will also be manifest to others. If during religious excitement they have hoped too well of him, as soon as and in proportion as excitement ceases, they will clearly see that it was the impulse of feeling and not the law of the intelligence that governed him. They will soon clearly see that he has not and had not the root of the matter in him; that his religion was founded in the effervescence of the ever varying sensibility and not in the stable demands of his reason and conscience. As excitement waxes and wanes he will be ever fluctuating. Sometimes quite zealous and active and talkative, full of feeling, he will have the appearance of possessing most of the phases of christian character in a state of freshness and beauty. And anon his religious excitement ceases. His tongue is silent on religious subjects. His zeal abates apace. His attendance at the prayer and conference meeting is interrupted and finally ceases. A worldly excitement takes possession of his sensibility. His will is carried of course. Politics, business, amusement, no matter what, is for the time being his exciting topic, he is carried away with it, and remains in this state carried hither and thither by worldly engrossments until another religious excitement renews and confirms his delusion and that of his friends, who look upon him as a real christian but prone to backsliding.
4. The true saint is distinguished by his firm adherence to all the principles and rules of the Divine government. He is a reformer from principle, and needs not the gale of popular excitement or of popular applause to put and keep him in motion. His intellect and conscience have taken the control of his will, or the will has renounced the impulses of the sensibility as its law, and voluntarily committed itself to the demands of the reason. This fact must appear both on the field of his own consciousness, and also in most instances be very manifest to others. His zeal does not wax and wane with every breeze of excitement. He is not carried away by every change in the effervescing sensibility. The law of reason being written in his heart, he does not at one time appear reasonable and to be influenced by conscience and a regard to the law of love, and at another to be infinitely unreasonable and to have little or no regard to God or his laws. He fears and shuns popular excitements as he does all other temptations. He loaths and resists them. The excitements of politics and business and amusements, are regarded by him with a jealous eye. He dreads their influence on his sensibility, and when he feels them, it causes a deep struggle and groaning of spirit, because the will, adhering to the law of conscience, steadfastly resists them. Such like excitements instead of being his element and the aliment of his life, are a grief and a vexation to him. Instead of living, and moving, and having his being as it were in the midst of them and by them, he is only annoyed by them. They are not the moving spring of his activity, but only embarrass his spiritual life. His spiritual life is founded in the law of the intelligence, and supported by the light of the Holy Spirit poured upon his intellect through the truth. He steadily resists the flood tides of mere feeling on every subject and abides by truth and principle and moral law whatever may be the circumstances of worldly or religious excitement around him. Be it ever remembered, it is moral law, moral principle, the law of love, and not mere feeling, that governs him.
5. The sinner or deceived professor, for they are one, is right over against this. Excitement is his element and his life. He has truly no moral principle except in theory. He is never truly influenced by truth, law, reason, but always by excitement of some kind. His activity is based on this; hence he is not disturbed and embarrassed in his movements by excitements of any kind, any longer than it takes to put down one form of excitement and take on another. If when he is much interested and excited and carried away in one direction, a counter influence or excitement comes in his way, he is taken aback for the time being. He is disconcerted and embarrassed, perhaps displeased. But you will soon see him go about and fill away to the new excitement. Excitement is his life, and although like a ship at sea, he is thrown into temporary confusion by a sudden change of the winds and waves, so, like her whose life and activity are the breezes and the gale and the ocean wave, he readily accommodates his sails and his course to the ever changing breeze and currents of excitement in the midst of which he loves to live, and on the foaming surface of which he is borne along. If you wish to move him, you must strongly appeal to his feelings. Reason does not, can not govern him. 'Tis not enough to say to him, Thus saith the Lord. He will admit the right, but surely will not do it. He will not go that way, unless you can first make his feelings move in that direction. He holds the truth only in theory and in unrighteousness. It is not the law of his life, his heart, his warmest affections and sympathies. Present considerations to his intelligence: unless they excite his sensibility, and arouse his hopes, or fears, or feelings in some direction, you might as well attempt to change the course of the winds by your words. His imagination must be aroused and set on fire. His sensibility must he reached, enkindled. The gales of excitement must be awaked, and the mainspring of his action must be touched and directed to impel his will, before you can quicken him into life. His feelings are his law.
6. The saint is justified, and he has the evidence of it in the peace of his own mind. He is conscious of obeying the law of reason and of love. Consequently he naturally has that kind and degree of peace that flows from the harmony of his will with the law of his intelligence. He sometimes has conflicts with the impulses of feeling and desire. But unless he is overcome, these conflicts, though they may cause him inwardly and perhaps audibly to groan, do not interrupt his peace. There are still the elements of peace within him. His heart and conscience are at one, and while this is so, he has thus far the evidence of justification in himself. That is, he knows that God can not condemn his present state. Conscious as he is of conformity of heart to the moral law he can not but affirm to himself that the lawgiver is pleased with his present attitude. But further, he has also within the Spirit of God witnessing with his spirit that he is a child of God, forgiven, accepted, adopted. He feels the filial spirit drawing his heart to exclaim, Father, Father. He is conscious that he pleases God and has God's smile of approbation.
He is at peace with himself because he affirms his heart to be in unison with the law of love. His conscience does not upbraid, but smile. The harmony of his own being is a witness to himself that this is the state in which he was made to exist. He is at peace with God, because he and God are pursuing precisely the same end and by the same means. There can be no collision, no controversy between them. He is at peace with the universe in the sense that he has no ill-will and no malicious feelings or wish to gratify in the injury of anyone of all the creatures of God. He has no fear but to sin against God. He is not influenced on the one hand by the fear of hell, nor on the other by the hope of. reward. He is not anxious about his own salvation, but prayerfully and calmly leaves that question in the hands of God and concerns himself only to promote the highest glory of God and the good of being. "Being justified by faith he has peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." "There is now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit."
7. The sinner's experience is the opposite of this. He is under condemnation, and seldom can so far deceive himself, even in his most religious moods, as to imagine that he has a consciousness of acceptance either with his own conscience or with God. There is almost never a time in which he has not a greater or less degree of restlessness and misgiving within. Even when he is most engaged in religion as he supposes, he finds himself dissatisfied with himself. Something is wrong. There is a struggle and a pang. He may not exactly see where and what the difficulty is. He does not after all obey reason and conscience, and is not governed by the law and will of God. Not having the consciousness of this obedience, his conscience does not smile. He sometimes feels deeply, and acts as he feels, and is conscious of being sincere in the sense of feeling what he says and acting in obedience to deep feeling. But this does not satisfy conscience. He is more or less wretched after all. He has not true peace. Sometimes he has a self-righteous quiet and enjoyment. But this is neither peace of conscience nor peace with God. He after all feels uneasy and condemned, notwithstanding all his feeling and zeal and activity. They are not of the right kind. Hence they do not satisfy the conscience. They do not meet the demands of his intelligence. Conscience does not approve. He has not after all true peace. He is not justified; he can not be fully and permanently satisfied that he is. He is not for any length of time satisfied with his best performance. He is conscious after all of sinning in all his holiest duties, and he is the more sure of this in proportion as he is more enlightened. He thinks to be sure that this is the universal experience of all true saints; that although neither conscience nor God is satisfied with his obedience, not even in his best frames and states, yet he thinks to be sure he has some degree of holiness and conformity to the will of God, although not enough to bring out the approbation of conscience and the smile of God upon his soul. He imagines that he has some true religion; some half-way obedience. He is a true though an imperfect saint, whose best obedience can and does satisfy neither his own sense of duty nor his God. With him, justification is a mere theory, a doctrine, an opinion, an article of faith and not a living felt reality; not an experience, but an idea, a notion, and at best a pleasing and dreamy delusion.
8. The saint has made the will of God his law, and asks for no other reason to influence his decisions and actions than that such is the will of God. He has received the will of God as the unfailing index pointing always to the path of duty. His intelligence affirms that God's will is and ought to be law or perfect evidence of what law is; and therefore he has received it as such. He therefore expects to obey it always and in all things. He makes no calculations to sin in any thing; nor in one thing more than another. He does not cast about and pick and choose among the commandments of God; professing obedience to those that are the least offensive to him, and trampling on those that call to a sterner morality and to hardier self-denial. With him there are no little sins in which he expects to indulge. He no more expects to eat too much than he expects to be a drunkard; and gluttony is as much a sin as drunkenness. He no more expects to take an advantage of his neighbor than he expects to rob him on the highway. He no more designs and expects to indulge in secret than in open uncleanness. He no more expects to indulge a wanton eye than to commit adultery with his brother's wife. He no more expects to exaggerate and give a false coloring to truth than he expects and intends to commit perjury. All sin is an abomination to him. He has renounced ex animo. His heart has rejected sin as sin. His heart has embraced the will of God as his law. It has embraced the whole will of God. He waits only for a knowledge of what the will of God is. He needs not, he seeks not excitement to determine or to strengthen his will. The law of his being has come to be the will of God. A thus saith the Lord, immediately awakens from the depths of his soul the whole-hearted amen. He does not go about to plead for sin, to trim his ways so as to serve two masters. To serve God and Mammon is no part of his policy and no part of his wish. No: he is God's man, God's subject, God's child. All his sympathies are with God; and surely his fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ." What Christ wills, he wills; what Christ rejects, he rejects.
9. But right over against this you will find the sinner or deceived professor. God's will is not his law; but his own sensibility is his law. With him it is not enough to know the will of God; he must also have his sensibility excited in that direction before he goes. He does not mean nor expect to avoid every form and degree of iniquity. His heart has not renounced sin as sin. It has not embraced the will of God from principle, and of course has not embraced the whole will of God. With him it is a small thing to commit what he calls little sins. This shows conclusively where he is. If the will of God were his law--as this is as really opposed to what he calls little as to what he calls great sins, he would not expect and intend to disobey God in one thing more than in another. He could know no little sins, since they conflict with the will of God. He goes about to pick and choose among the commandments of God, sometimes yielding an outward obedience to those that conflict least with his inclinations, and which therefore will cost him the least self-denial, but evading and disregarding those that lay the ax to the root of the tree and prohibit all selfishness. The sinner or deceived professor does not in fact seriously mean or expect wholly to obey God. He thinks that this is common to all christians. He as much expects to sin every day against God as he expects to live, and does not think this at all inconsistent with his being a real though imperfect christian. He is conscious of indulging in some sins, and that he has never repented of them and put them away, but he thinks that this also is common to all christians, and therefore it does not slay his false hope. He would much sooner indulge in gluttony than in drunkenness because the latter would more seriously affect his reputation. He would not hesitate to indulge wanton thoughts and imaginations when he would not allow himself in outward licentiousness because of its bearing upon his character, and as he says, upon the cause of God. He will not hesitate to take little advantages of his neighbor, to amass a fortune in this way while he would recoil from robbing on the highway or on the high seas; for this would injure his reputation with man, and as he thinks, more surely destroy his soul. Sinners sometimes become exceedingly self-righteous and aim at what they call perfection. But unless they are very ignorant they soon become discouraged and cry out, O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death? They, however, almost always satisfy themselves with a mere outward morality and that, as I have said, not descending to what they call little sins.
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