« PreviousContinue »
wo cease to reason concerning human nature and human conduct upon known and established principles, satisfy every candid inquirer. The conduct in both cases proceeds from the heart. The state of the heart, therefore, or its moral character, was in the one case as opposite to what it was in the other, as the conduct. The evil conduct proceeded from an evil heart; the good conduct from a good heart; and this change of the heart from evil to good, or from sin to holiness, is the very change which in the Scriptures is styled regeneration.
Among instances of this nature Col. Gardiner may be mentioned as one, and the Rev. John Newton as another ; both extraordinary, convincing, and, so far as I can see, unexceptionable. I have known a considerable number of instances scarcely less extraordinary; some of them by unquestionable information, others by personal acquaintance. Two of these were examples of habitual drunkenness, perhaps the most hopeless of all evil habits; and the reformation was so entire, and the piety so evident, uniform, and long continued, as to leave no doubts in the minds of sober men acquainted with the facts. A third instance, well meriting to be mentioned, was a young man of superior talents, formerly educated by me in this seminary. He devoted himself to the profession of medicine, and entered upon the practice with advantage. This youth was not only a determined infidel, but an open scoffer at the Bible, Christianity, Christians, and most other subjects of a religious nature. All these he exposed with a pungency of wit and keenness of satire which few men are capable of employing, and which very few are willing to employ in the same open, gross manner.
After some years, spent in this violent course of wickedness, he became seriously alarmed (I know not on what occasion,) concerning his sinful character and future destiny. If I remember right, he almost or entirely despaired for a time of the mercy of God, and considered his perdition as sealed. At length, however, he acquired hopes of salvation, and manifested in his conduct the spirit of Christianity so evidently and uniformly, as to excite a settled conviction in the minds of those around him that he was sincerely a Christian. With entirely new views and purposes, he then quitted the medical profession, and entered upon the study of theology. After some time he was regularly inducted into the ministry of the Gospel; and sustained to his death, which happened about twelve or fifteen years afterwards, the character of an able, faithful, and unblamable minister of Christ.
Instances of this nature generally I could multiply extensively; but the time forbids me to proceed any farther in this part of my subject.
4. The state of Christianity in the world at large may be fairly adduced as a convincing proof of the reality of this change.
The history of real Christianity is not to be sought for in the accounts given us of the life, policy, ambition, and violence of such rulers, statesmen, and warriors as have assumed the Christian name. The real nature, and influence, of the religion of Christ are not to be sought for in camps and cabinets, in courts and palaces. These are the seats of pride and luxury, ambition and cunning, wrath and revenge. Christianity here is only put on as an upper garment, to adorn the character, to comport with the fashion, or to cover unchristian designs. I do not intend that this is always the case. There are undoubtedly good men to be found even here. But I mean that it is much more generally the case than a good man would wish, or be willing it should be. When infidels take their accounts of Christianity from the proceedings of the great, from their luxury, statecraft, conquests, and persecutions, they do not, and probably intend not to do any justice to the subject. In these accounts they impose on their readers, and perhaps on themselves. But they deceive no man of common candour and tolerable information.
The real effects of Christianity on mankind are to be sought and found in still life, quiet society, peaceful neighbourhoods, and well-ordered families. Here a thousand kind offices are done, and a thousand excellencies manifested, of which the great and splended rarely form a conception; and which, nevertheless, present the human character to the view of the mind with an aspect incomparably more lovely than any other.
But, even on the great scale of examination, Christianity has meliorated the affairs of this unhappy world in such a degree as, if thoroughly examined, strongly to evince the truth of this doctrine. If we compare the state of the Christian nations, especially the most enlightened and virtuous of them,
with that of the most improved heathen nations, the only fair mode of instituting a comparison, we shall see ample proof of such a melioration of the human character as can be justly attributed to nothing but this important change of the human heart. Christianity has removed from among the nations who profess it, polygamy, the selling of children as slaves by their parents, the general and brutal degradation of women, the belief of the rectitude of slavery, the supposed right of masters to kill their slaves, the exposure of parents in their old age to be devoured by wild beasts, the same exposure of children by their parents, the sacrificing of human victims, the wanton destruction of human life for amusement in public games, the impure, brutal, and sanguinary worship practised in the regions of idolatry, together with many of the horrors of war and captivity, and many other enormous evils of a similar nature. At the same time it has introduced inilder and more equitable government ; established equitable laws, by which nations have in a considerable degree regulated their intercourse, given a new sanction to treaties, provided legal support for the poor and suffering, secured the rights of strangers, erected hospitals for the sick, and alms-houses for the indigent, formed with great expense a rich variety of institutions for the preservation and education of orphans, the instruction of poor children, the suppression of vice, the amendment of the vicious, and the consolation of the afflicted. It has made better rulers, and better subjects; better husbands, and better wives ; better parents, and better children; better neighbours, and better friends. It has established the rational worship of the one living and true God; built churches, in which all men do or may worship him, and learn their duty; and with immense expense has sent and is sending these blessings to the ends of the earth. Whence this difference? Not from the difference of light. The Greeks and Romans were sufficiently enlightened at least to have begun this progress. But they did not take a single step towards real reformation. All that can be said is, their wickedness was a little more polished than that of their barbarian neighbours. No, it has sprung from that ' honest and good heart,' which is not in man by nature, but is given him by the Spirit of God. Such hearts found here and there, like dispersed stars seen through the interstices of a clouded sky, diffuse a feeble radiance over Christian countries,
and prevent the otherwise absolute darkness. Howard, intensely illumined with the benevolence of the Gospel, shed a lustre over the whole Christian world. Inferior lights are everywhere scattered, and their combined influence is everywhere felt. Were the same character that of all men, the change in human affairs would be such as to demand no arguments to prove a change of heart. As the state of things is, it is plain that the spirit of the martyrs was not in their persecutors ; the spirit of Howard was not in Voltaire ; the spirit of Alfred was not in Frederic II. He who cannot see this, is unable because he will not; and may be well assured that, under the influence of his present temper, he has lost the power of moral discrimination.
JESUS ANSWERED AND SAID UNTO HIM, VERILY, VERILY, 1 SAY
UNTO THEE, Except A MAN BE BORN AGAIN HE CANNOT SEE THE KING DOM OF GOD.
JOHN III. 3.
HAVING in the preceding Discourse considered the necessity and the reality of regeneration, I shall now proceed, according to the plan proposed, to examine its nature.
1. This change of heart consists in a relish for spiritual objects, communicated to it by the power of the Holy Ghost.
By spiritual objects, I intend the Creator, the Redeemer, the Sanctifier, heaven, angels, the word and the worship of God, virtuous men, virtuous affections, virtuous conduct, and all the kinds of enjoyment found in the contemplation of these objects; the exercise of these affections, and the practice of this conduct. The existence of these objects every man admits; and every man, at all conversant with human life, must admit that a part of mankind profess to relish them, and to find in them real and sincere pleasure. A sober man must further admit, that as the Creator of all things is infinitely more excellent than any other being, so his excellence must be capable, in the nature of things, not only of being perceived, but also of being relished by intelligent creatures. No man who has any regard to his character, as a man of