Page images
PDF
EPUB

affections, then there is the same propriety in God's requiring sinners to make a new heart, as in requiring them to love him, instead of hating him. It is impossible to see the justice of the divine law, or the distinction between men's natural and moral inability to love God, without understanding wherein a good heart consists, and what God does in producing it.

If a good heart consists in good exercises, and if in producing it God produces nothing but good exercises, in which men are active, then it is easy to reconcile the doctrine of regeneration with the precepts of the divine law, and the moral obligation of all sinners to obey it. But the doctrine of passive regeneration is repugnant to reason, conscience, and every command in the Bible.

2. If a good heart consists in good affections, which are continually liable to be interrupted by affections of an opposite nature, then it is easy to see wherein the deceitfulness of the heart consists. It is a common complaint that the heart is deceitful, and scripture represents it to be extremely so; yea, as deceitful above all things. And on this account Solomon asserts that “ he that trusteth in his own heart is a fool.” The assertion is indefinite and unlimited, and applies to all men, whether saints or sinners. If the heart consisted in a mere dormant, inactive principle, it could not be deceitful, nor properly be called deceitful. But if it consists in moral, free, voluntary exercises, then it may be deceitful, and its deceitfulness may be discovered. Its deceitfulness consists in its mutability. It is as unstable as water. It is every moment liable to change. Good men never know beforehand how soon the best motions of their hearts may be interrupted by directly opposite exercises. They may feel right, intend right, resolve right to-day; but to-morrow their good feelings, good intentions and good resolutions may be superseded and excluded by direcily opposite views and motives. To-day they may form and resolve to execute some noble, benevolent, and extensively useful design; but to-morrow or next week, they may give it up, from low and mercenary motives. In this respect, St. Paul found his heart to be deceitful. “For," says he, "to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good, I find not. For the good that I would, I do not; but the evil that I would not, that I do." In the same

manner Peter's heart deceived him. When Christ expressly told his disciples that he must go up to Jerusalem, and be crucified and slain by wicked hands, Peter's love to him grew warm, and kindled into a flame of pious zeal. He felt the spirit of a martyr, and boldly declared that he would rather die, than that such things should be done to his Master. And there can be no doubt but, at that time, he would have fulfilled his resolutions, and laid down his life for Christ. For when Judas and his company arrested him in the garden, Peter drew his sword, and would have cut off the head, as well as ear, of the high priest's servant, had not Christ required him to exercise patience rather than courage, and to use spiritual rather than carnal weapons.

But after Christ was taken and carried before the tribunal of his mortal enemies, Peter's love and zeal failed him, and with a false tongue and a wicked heart, he profanely denied his Master. While Peter felt a pure love and zeal for Christ, he thought his love and zeal would continue; but the instability of his heart deceived him. And Paul, while in the exercise of good affections, was ready to imagine that his good affections would continue unshaken; but he found, by painful experience, that his good intentions and resolutions deceived him, by their mutability. In the same manner, it seems, Hazael's heart deceived him. When the prophet, with tears in his eyes, told him what evils he would do, he had no intention, nor expectation, that he should ever destroy his king and usurp his kingdom. But his good intention to find a remedy to preserve his king's life, was almost directly followed by his base and ungrateful intention to murder him. Both good and bad men are extremely apt to trust in their own hearts; and though they have often been deceived by them, yet they will hope against hope, and believe against evidence, that their hearts will not be so deceitful in time to come as they have been in times past. And so long as they retain this confidence in their hearts, they will certainly be disappointed. For so long as their hearts consist in discordant exercises, which alternately follow one another, they can have no solid ground of security against their instability and deception. Their own resolutions are like their other good exercises, liable to change, by all the objects with which they are surrounded, by all the scenes they pass through, and by the great adversary who lies in wait to deceive.

3. If the hearts of good men consist in free, voluntary exercises, then they ought to be perfectly holy in this life. For if they ought to have one holy exercise, then they ought to have another and another, in a constant, uninterrupted succession. They have no right to exercise one selfish, sinful affection. And they are just as capable of exercising good affections as bad affections. Accordingly, God requires them to love him supremely and constantly, and forbids them to exercise one single selfish affection. He does not, indeed, require them to put away any bad principle, for he knows that they have no bad principle to put away; nor does he require them to cultivate, cherish or improve any good principle, for he knows that he has never implanted any good principle in them. But he does require them to cease to do evil, and learn to do well; to cease to set their affections on things below, and to set them on things above. He does require them to serve him with a perfect heart, and with all the heart; and he does condemn them, whenever they do not serve him with a perfect heart. That is, he requires them always to exercise holy affections, and forbids them ever to exercise unholy affections. And this is the same thing as to require them to be perfectly holy in this life. The reason why many suppose that even good men are not bound to be perfectly holy, is, that they have derived a sinful principle from Adam, which they are under a natural inability to remove, and which no holy affections can destroy. But this is an unfounded and unscriptural opinion. They have no corrupt or depraved principle; they have only corrupt, sinful and selfish affections, which they might entirely remove from their heart by the exercise of holy affections. They are, therefore, altogether inexcusable for not putting away all their moral depravity, and becoming perfectly holy. All their remaining depravity is voluntary, depravity, which they might entirely banish from their hearts by the constant, voluntary exercise of pure, holy love. It is their constant and indispensable duty to keep themselves always in the love of God, and continually exercise perfect holiness in the fear of the Lord. There is nothing to hinder them from attaining sinless perfection, but their voluntary neglect of exercising the same holy affections at all times, which they do actually and cheerfully exercise at some times.

4. If a good heart consists in holy exercises, then the gospel as really requires perfect holiness, as the law. Some suppose there is a wide difference between the precepts of the law, and the precepts of the gospel. They allow that the precepts of the law require perfect holiness, but they imagine that the precepts of the gospel do not require perfect holiness. But if all holiness consists in the exercises of the heart, then every exercise of holiness is perfect holiness. Every exercise of true love is perfect love. Every exercise of true repentance is perfect repentance. Every exercise of true faith is perfect faith. And every exercise of true submission is perfect submission. The precepts of the gospel, therefore, require perfect holiness, as much as the precepts of the law. The difference between the law and the gospel does not lie in their precepts, but in their promises. The law promises eternal life to nothing short of the constant, uninterrupted exercise of holy affections, and condemns the man who indulges one selfish, sinful affection; but the gospel promises eternal life to every one who perseveres in holy exercises, though they are interrupted in a thousand instan

The gospel requires constant exercises of holy affections;

ces.

yet, nevertheless, it pardons in case of failure. The gospel does not allow, or approve of one sin; yet it pardons innumerable transgressions upon the condition of faith and repentance. The gospel has made no abatement in respect to the requisition and obligation of duty; but it has made provision for the salvation of those who do not yield that perfect obedience to God which his law requires. In this respect, the law and gospel differ; but not in their precepts, prohibitions and penalties. The gospel requires the same supreme and constant love to God that the law requires.

5. If the hearts of saints consist altogether in moral and voluntary exercises, then they never have any more holiness than they have holy exercises. Many suppose that good men are much better than their good exercises. For when their exercises are not good, still they have a good principle, or good heart abiding in them, which is indeed the essence of all goodness. But if they have no good principle or good heart distinct from their good exercises, then

they cannot have any more goodness than they have good affections. Some have supposed that christians may live days, and months, and even years, in a dull,

, stupid, lifeless state, their principle of grace continuing, but not in proper, sensible exercises. This is both a groundless and dangerous doctrine. It is groundless, because christians have no such principle of grace; all grace consisting in exercise. And it is dangerous, because it has a direct tendency to make men think they are christians who were never subjects of saving grace; and to make real christians imagine that they are better than they are, and sincerely doing their duty, while they live in the total neglect of it. It is probable that those Methodists who profess to believe that they have attained to sinless perfection, build their absurd opinion upon the supposition that grace essentially consists in principle, and not in exercise. For it is difficult to suppose that any man, in his right mind, can make himself believe that all his thoughts, words and actions are constantly and perfectly agreeable to the law of love. It is easy to conceive, however, that if holiness consists altogether in a holy principle, any one who believes this to be true may persuade himself that he has really ceased from sin, and attained to sinless perfection. Indeed, the doctrine that holiness, grace, or a good heart, consists in a principle, and not in exercise, is a fruitful source of many great doctrinal and practical errors.

6. If the hearts of saints consist altogether in free, voluntary exercises, then there is a foundation in their hearts for a spiritual warfare. The contrariety between their holy and unholy exercises, naturally produces a spiritual conflict. Sinners often

53

a

VOL. VI.

a

find a struggle between sin and conscience; but the warfare which christians experience, arises from the mutual opposition between holy and unholy affections. Their hearts are composed of holy and selfish exercises, which mutually hate and oppose each other. In the exercise of benevolence, they hate selfishness; and in the exercise of selfishness, they hate benevolence. And as they are sensible of the instability of their hearts, they feel a propriety, a necessity and moral obligation to keep them with all diligence, to repel the assaults and intrusion of sinful exercises. They dread the approaching ene

. my, and find occasion to watch and guard their hearts against every hostile affection, lest they should be brought into captivity to sin. Christians find two contending powers in their hearts, which subject them to a painful conflict, which will never cease, as long as their moral imperfection remains, or their hearts are composed of both holy and unholy affections. But we could not account for this spiritual warfare in christians, if their holiness consisted in a holy principle, and their sinfulness consisted in a sinful principle; for two dormant, inactive principles could never hate, resist and oppose each other, nor could one ever gain the ascendancy over the other. Christians know, by experience, that their spiritual warfare arises wholly from their discordant and conflicting exercises. In the exercise of holiness they hate and oppose all sin; but in the exercise of selfishness, they hate and oppose holy and benevolent exercises. When they love God they hate and oppose the love of the world; but when they love the world the love of God is not in them; or, as our Saviour says, while they serve God they hate to serve mammon; and while they serve mammon, they hate to serve God. The breast of every christian is a field of battle, where sometimes benevolence and sometimes selfishness gains the victory; but there is no solid peace till benevolence repels and excludes selfishness.

7. In the view of this subject christians may see their great moral imperfection. Though they sometimes love God supremely, and serve him with a perfect heart, and the whole heart; though sometimes their holy affections run on cheerfully and uninterruptedly; and though for a while they find a pleasure in doing the will of God; yet they often experience as long a series of unholy as holy affections, and find more pleasure in serving themselves than in serving God. Their hearts are bent to backsliding. They rarely find their hearts perfectly united in their best duties. They often wait upon the Lord with much distraction and confusion of thought. Were the whole train of their affections presented to their own view, as they appear to the omniscient eye of God, they would be

« PreviousContinue »