The GOSPEL TRUTH
[The New Birth]
[by Charles G. Finney]
"Marvel not that I said unto you, ye must be born again."--JOHN chap. III, verse, 7.
In speaking from the words that I have read, I purpose first to show what the new birth is not; secondly, what it is; thirdlly, what is implied in it; and fourthly, that its necessity is a fact too plain to be called in question with the least reason.
I. I begin by stating what it is not, because I am well aware that many persons who have not well considered the matter are apt to form very false ideas concerning it. I observe, then, that the new birth here spoken of does not consist in the creation of any new faculties either of mind or body. Christians and sinners have the same powers or faculties of mind and body; sinners, therefore, do not need new faculties--they only need to use the faculties in the manner in which god requires them to use them. They need no other powers of mind and no other powers of body than those which they have; god requires them to have no other powers than those with which they are created.
Now, let me say, secondly, does the new birth consist in any change in the qualities or structure of any of the powers of body or mind? There is no change in the structure of the human faculties in regeneration, nor is there any change in the qualities of them so far as their substance is concerned; God requires no such thing, and no such thing is necessary. What change, pray, is needed in the substance or quality of any power of body or mind? I mean by quality, a quality that pertains to the substance of either soul or body. No such change is needed, and no such change takes place in the new birth.
I remark again that it does not imply any such change in the feelings of the mind as to produce, through the feelings, a change in the actions of the mind; that is, the change is not introduced into the sensibility or feelings so that individuals come to have new feelings spring up in obedience to which they yield themselves up. To be sure, there are new feelings in the mind, when regenerated; but, as I shall have occasion to show, these new feelings do not constitute regeneration. Nor does any action in obedience to these feelings produce regeneration.
I remark again, it does not consist in any change in which man is purely passive. I shall have occasion to enlarge upon this thought, in a moment, but I merely suggest that regeneration or the new birth, does not consist in any change whatever in which man is purely passive, in which he has no voluntary agency himself.
II. Secondly, I am to show what regeneration does consist in; here I must enlarge upon the thought last expressed--to wit, that regeneration does not consist in a change in which man has no voluntary agency. The Scriptures everywhere represent the new birth as a change of character, as a change from sinfulness to holiness. Now, if this be so, there must be some voluntary action on the part of the sinner in regeneration; for how can there be a change of moral character if he is entirely passive and not active in it? What do we mean by moral character? And what could a man suppose himself to mean by affirming that a man's character must change, while the attitude of his will, his voluntary state of mind was not changed--his moral character changed, so that he has ceased to sin, and has become holy; has passed from a state of entire sinfulness to a state in which at least, there is the beginning of holiness, and yet he has had no voluntary agency in it whatever? How much virtue would there be in such holiness as that? and what possible conception can be formed of such a holiness? The thing is impossible and absurd. Regeneration, then, must consist in something in which a man is something more than passive. It is true, as I shall have occasion to remark, that in regeneration he is the recipient, and, if you please, the passive recipient, in a certain sense, of a divine influence; but this divine influence, instead of superceding his own agency and his own action, is employed in bringing about that change in his own agency and in his own action, which, I suppose, constitutes regeneration.
I remark again, that the Bible represents regeneration not only as constituting a change of character, but as the beginning of a new and holy life. It is often spoken of as a creation, but not the creation, properly and literally, of a new nature, but, as I said, of a new character; it is not a change in the substance of the soul or body, but a change in the use of that. Pray how did Adam and Eve pass from a state of holiness to a state of sinfulness? It is admitted, I believe, on all hands that Adam and Eve were holy before they sinned, and that when they sinned they passed from a state of holiness to a state of sinfulness. Now, this was certainly a change of heart in them; it is impossible that they should have done this without their hearts being changed. There was a total change of moral character in them--this is admitted. Now, how did they pass from one state to another, and what was the change? Did it imply a change of substance, a change of their nature? or was it a voluntary change? was it a change of devotedness to God, to a state of devotedness to themselves and a gratification of their propensities? The Bible gives us a very plain account of it, from which we can easily infer what the change consisted in. If they were holy, they were devoted to God; they had regarded God's authority as supreme; they had yielded themselves up in voluntary obedience to him. God, for reasons that were infinitely wise, prohibited their eating of a certain fruit, but he created them with a desire for feeding--with a constitutional appetite for food; and in this appetite there was nothing sinful, nor was there anything sinful in the proper gratification of this appetite--in seeking the things that met this demand of their being. They had doubtless, multitudes of times, sought those fruits and things that satisfied their appetite--things that they were allowed to eat. They also had a constitutional desire for knowledge, and under certain circumstances, and upon certain conditions, it was lawful for them to gratify this desire, and to seek knowledge. Now, Satan suggested to them, that God was selfish in prohibiting their eating of that particular tree, saying to them, "God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, ye shall be as Gods, knowing good and evil." Now, it is said of Eve that when she saw that it was good to look upon for food, and withal, calculated to make one wise, "She took of it and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat." Now, what did they do? Was there here any change of their nature or constitution, or anything in this sin, but simply withdrawing their allegiance from God, and, despite of his requirements, giving themselves up to gratify their own appetites in a prohibited manner? From being devoted to God, and living to please him, they devoted themselves to pleasing themselves, and seeking the gratification of their own constitutional appetites and propensities in a prohibited manner; thus laying more practical stress on the gratification of their propensities than upon obedience to God--trampling on God's authority for the sake of gratifying their own propensities. Now, in themselves, these appetites and propensities were well enough; had they but regulated their gratification according to the law of God, all would have been well; but they changed their own hearts. For what was this but a change in the ruling disposition or preference of their minds? Instead of preferring God's authority to their own gratification, they come to prefer their own gratification to God's authority, his glory, and the highest interests of his kingdom.
Now, let me ask what would have been regeneration in Adam and Eve? Suppose God had come to them immediately, and required them to make to them a new heart, and told them, "You must be born again;" and suppose they had enquired, "Lord, what is it to be born again?" What would be the natural answer God would make to them? "That you must have some new faculty, some new implanted appetite or propensity, some change in your nature!" Why, what was the matter with their nature, pray? Just, but a moment since we saw them living in holiness and obedience to God; and who has changed their nature? They have withdrawn their voluntary allegiance from God, and consecrated themselves to their own pleasing, and the gratification of their own appetites. What does God require? That they should go back again, and undo what they have done, withdraw themselves from living to and for themselves, and consecrate themselves to God; in other words, that instead of committing themselves, as they did, by thus acting to their own gratification, and that in despite of the authority of God, they should change this ruling preference, and devote themselves again supremely and for ever to the service of the Lord. I remark, then, that regeneration must doubtless consist in a change of the ruling disposition of the mind; and by disposition I mean a voluntary choice. Observe, when they committed themselves in the face of God's authority, to the gratification of their own appetites, this constituted a fundamental change of their character. They could not do this thing without deliberately preferring their own gratification to obedience to God. Now, observe, that thus committing themselves to this end, must have constituted in them an entire change of character. I suppose regeneration to consist in a change in the ultimate intention or ultimate disposition. The mind, when it is regenerated, withdraws itself from seeking supremely to please and gratify self, and chooses a higher and another end, and commits itself intelligently to the promotion of that end--the glory of God and the highest interests of his kingdom; in other words, it is a change from supreme selfishness, where self-interest and self-devotion are preferred to all other interests, and set up in opposition to them. I say it is a withdrawal from this state of mind, and a voluntary devotion of the whole being to the great end for which God lives, and for which he made man to live. Regeneration, then, is a ceasing to live to and for self, and the commencement of living to and for God. No more on this part of the subject at present.
III. I pass on, thirdly, to show some things that are implied in this change. And first, in general, new and more impressive views of truth than the mind has had before, are implied in it, as the condition of it. It is supposed than when men are regenerated, they obtain, as the condition of their really and voluntarily doing this,--they obtain, through the agency of the Holy Spirit, a clearer and vastly more impressive view of their relations to God, of the real nature of sin and holiness, of what they ought to do, of all the great truths that are indispensable to their regeneration. This, I say, I suppose is implied in it as the condition of it.
But again, new views of truth, and of God, and of the great things of religion, are implied as resulting from it. For example, whenever individuals have withdrawn from their consecration to self, and devoted themselves to God, they take an entirely different view of the relative value of almost everything. Before they viewed everything in a selfish light; consequently, they laid but little stress upon, and cared but little for anything, only as it could contribute to their own interest or their own happiness in some way; indeed, they cared not for God, only as they had the prospect of making him in some way useful to themselves; they cared, I say, not for God for his own sake, but they sustained such relations to God that all their views were selfish, arising from the fear of being made miserable, or the hope of being made happy. In short, all the views that an unregenerate man takes of God, are purely selfish views; he views this thing, and that thing, and the other thing, and everything around him, in the light of his own particular interests, and estimates it accordingly. But when a man is born again, he has now come to lay supreme stress upon some other interests than his own private interest; he has now withdrawn himself from seeking his own particular gratification and interest as the supreme good, has elevated his views and aims, and consecrated himself to God and the promotion of his interests and glory. As a necessary result of this, his estimate of God, of his glory, of the interests of his kingdom, of his truth, of everything, will undergo a corresponding change. Now he views and values things according to their relations to God--his glory, his kingdom, his will; now God's will is come to be his supreme law, before his own lust, his own interest was his law, and, as I said, he knew nothing and valued nothing, except as a man that lives after the flesh. Now he has come into an entirely different state of mind. Having intelligently devoted himself to another end, regarded supremely, and consecrated himself to another interest, he now views everything in relation to that interest; God's will, God's glory. The good of his kingdom--these are the things around which his heart has entwined itself. Now he is a different man; but what constitutes the particular difference? No change in his body or soul, so far as substance is concerned, but the voluntary attitude of his mind is entirely and radically changed. This change in the voluntary attitude and devotion of his mind to an end, will, of course manifest itself, and cannot but manifest itself in his life; because, observe, the will always controls the actions of the body--it is connected with the outward life by a law of necessity. If I will to move my muscles, they must move, unless something be interposed of sufficient strength to overcome the force of my will; if I will to walk, I walk; if I will to sit, I sit; the outward life, then, of necessity results from the actions of the will. Let the will be devoted to a right end, and the life must be right; it cannot possibly be otherwise: which leads me to say (and this is only a repetition of what I have just said) that a new life results of course, and of necessity, from regeneration. The new outward life is not regeneration, but it results from it as an effect results from its cause. Now you see the man devoted in his outward life to other pursuits; or, if he is outwardly engaged in the same thing, he does it with a different spirit--with an entirely opposite intention to that which he had before. Was he a merchant? When he was a sinner, he aimed at promoting his own interest supremely by his merchandise; but now his merchandise, his store, his shop, whatever he has--all is God's; he recognizes it as God's; he becomes God's clerk or steward, and transacts the business for him; he does not cheat anybody, for he knows God does not want any of his clerks to do so; he knows God is honest--and what use would it be to cheat anybody? He will be an honest man now, of course; it will be natural to him to be honest. You go into his store, and you will find it so; if you do not, he is not a regenerate man. To suppose that it is not natural to him to be honest is to deny that his heart has become honest. His heart has become honest, and his life must be so too. So in everything else, let it be understood that regeneration carries with it the life by a law of necessity.
But let me mention that another thing that is implied in regeneration, is a new set of feelings. Before, the feelings and sympathies were all enlisted in one direction, and were developed but in a very slight manner in any other direction. You see a man supremely devoted to his own interest, and you can excite him easily on any subject touching his own interest. He has been thinking so much, and giving his mind the whole force and power of his being to that end, that he becomes tremblingly alive to everything respecting his own particular interests and character, and gratification. It is remarkable to see to what an extent the sensibility of the soul will become developed in its relations to things that pertain to self, and how tremblingly alive such a person will become to his own character and to his own interest. Make an appeal to his selfishness, and you may excite him and move the deepest foundations of his being; but talk to him about God, and Christ, and Heaven, and his obligation to God--his sensibility seems not to be developed in this direction; he has not been thinking about these things, and he has no sympathies in this direction at all. How unfeeling he is! He thinks of his sins without emotion, and you can hardly get him even to think of them. But, mark, when the voluntary state of his mind is changed, he has another interest, and is tremblingly alive in his feelings to that interest; now he has become devoted supremely to God, and the very name of God can reach his sensibility, and stir up the foundations of feeling within him; all the interests of his kingdom have become so dear, that a rapid development of his feelings goes on immediately in relation to the kingdom of God. Now talk to him about these interests; spread before him the world in its wickedness, ask him to feel and work for it--you have only to set these things before him on which he has set his heart, and, rely upon it, you will move him. You need not now appeal to his selfishness to get money to promote the kingdom of God. Before, if you expected to get any money, you must appeal to his selfishness, and place the subject in some such light that he might expect some temporal or external benefit from it; but now, you need make no such appeal; now he has made God's interest his own interest; he sympathises with God and with Christ, and has set his heart to promote these interests sincerely. Now, just show him the great value of any interest--just spread out before him the souls of men and their great value, the authority of God, and the glory of God, and you set him on fire with emotion; and more and more as he lives thus, and acts and sacrifices himself to this end, his sensibility becomes developed and his feelings mellowed in relation to these objects. I have been struck a great many times with the beautiful process that goes on as Christians grows in grace, to see how deeply mellow they become. I have looked at an old saint who had been many years thinking, and praying, and living according to the great truths of the gospel, who had had communion and sympathy with God, so mellow and so beautiful, so delicate, so kind, so Christ-like--often, I say, I have thus been charmed with the exceeding great beauty of the character of a ripe and thoroughly developed Christian.
But I remark again that the joys and the sorrows--and these are only different states of feeling; the hopes, the fears, and all that is implied in the sympathies of the soul--there is a great change in them all, and this change will manifest itself. How easily these feelings are often stirred within the mind that is consecrated to God. The joys are new; the individual rejoices in different objects. Before, he would rejoice in the prospect of some earthly good to himself; now, let him but see a revival of religion--let him but be told that God is pouring out his spirit, and that souls are brought to Christ, and you will see that he has entirely a new joy in this. Before, he could take up a newspaper, and if, in passing his eye over the columns, he saw any talk of revival in religion, he did not read it, and cared not for it; but now, let him but see the words "Revival of religion," and he will eagerly run his eye over the page, his heart will enkindle--the very bottom of his heart be moved. He now has new views of such subjects, and new sympathies; now he has a new source of joy. Just so with sorrow. Before, he sorrowed if he sustained a worldly loss--he sorrowed over certain things that related to his present interest and gratification; but now, let him but know that some professor of religion has disgraced the holy cause, and here is a new source of sorrow; he finds himself, perhaps to his own astonishment more grieved at this, than at all the earthly losses with which he ever met. He is now sorry when he sees professors of religion live in sin; yes, and more than all that, he is deeply, unutteerably wounded and sorrowful, when he sins himself.
Again, of course, regeneration implies repentance, for all have sinned; and it implies implicit confidence in God, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; so also, it implies peace of mind. Individuals which pursue a selfish course of life, can have no peace from the very law of their nature. There is a mutiny within themselves; their conscience reproves them for sins; and it is impossible they should have peace, because the elements of discord are stirring within them. But when they withdraw themselves from the course which their conscience rebuked, and go on in accordance with conscience and the will of God, and give themselves entirely to the end to which they were made to be consecrated, peace of mind results; it results as a thing of course--that is, there is inward harmony, and the workings of their mind are now harmonious; there are no deep accusations of conscience within them, no remembrances against their present course, but all is harmony within. In addition to this the fellowship they have with God, the communion they have with the Holy Ghost, do but increase and enhance the natural peace that results from restoring harmony to the actions of their own minds by voluntarily consecrating themselves to God. You see, my dear hearers, I can dwell but a few moments on each of these thoughts, my object being simply to render myself intelligible, if possible.
Again, let me say that regeneration implies of course, from what has been said, self-denial. Now, by self-denial, I do not mean the mere breaking off from some particular forms of self-indulgence, such as dressing a little more plainly, or throwing off some of their ornaments; nor do I mean merely their becoming a little more temperate, or a good deal more temperate in their habits. For, observe, self-denial, when properly understood, does not belong first to the outward life in any of its forms--it lies deeper; but by self-denial I mean that the mind denies itself, and renounces itself, just in the sense that Adam and Eve would have done, if God had called them back to a denial of their appetites, and to a preferring of his authority over their own indulgence in any form. Suppose he had required this, how easy it is to see what regeneration would have implied in their case: they had denied God in their act of rebellion--they renounced his authority; but to deny self, to deny the clamour of appetite, to deny self-interest, to set aside self as law, and self-interest as the great end for which we live--this would of course, have been implied in their voluntary consecrating themselves again to God. Thus self-denial consists in a total denial of our own appetites and passions--not that we are not to eat and drink, but our appetites and passions are not to be our law, and the end we seek is not to be their gratification. To be sure, it is right to eat and drink, but to eat and drink for the glory of God, and that we may have strength to serve him. So with respect to all appetites and propensities: to deny them--that is, to cease to make their gratification the end of life, is always implied in regeneration.
Lastly under this head, I observe that regeneration implies that the mind has come to have new motives of action--I mean its ultimate motive, its great motive, its ruling motive or intention. I use the term motive now in the sense of design or intention: we sometimes speak of a man's motive, and mean the objective reason for his action, and we sometimes mean his design or aim; in this last sense I use the word now. I say the regenerate man now acts from entirely different and opposite motives from what he did before. This is the great and radical change that has taken place: he is now pursuing a radically different end from that which he pursued before. Before, his own private gratification and interest and the gratification and interest of those that were considered by him as parts of himself--these were the ends for which he lived, and moved, and had his being. You might always know the end he had in view; and having this end in view was what constituted his natural depravity. Whatever he did from such an end as this must be wrong, entirely wrong; the end which he pursued being prohibited, and wrong, and unreasonable, must, of course vitiate all his conduct; and whatever particular thing he might do for the promotion of this end, although it might be to go to a meeting, or read his Bible, or pray, or anything else; if the end he had in view was private interest of his own, gratification of himself, something in which God was not, something which God did not require at his hands, no matter what it is, it is sin and only sin continually. But now he has become regenerated he has a different end; the ruling design of his mind is to promote another and radically different end; he has renounced himself, and lives, and moves, and breathes, and has his being for God.
Now I appeal to every person in this house, who knows what it is to be regenerated, if I have not given in substance that which must constitute regeneration. Suppose we should take an opposite view of the subject, and should affirm that regeneration really does imply and consist in a change of nature. I know that the Bible speaks strongly, and figuratively, as I suppose, in speaking of it as a new nature: we say of a man, "His nature it to do thus," by which we mean that he is really devoted to such an end, and consequently it follows by a natural law that his conduct will be thus. When he has another end we say he is a new man; his end being changed, his life is changed as a thing of course. But suppose we should understand that his nature is changed, the substance of his soul or body, something new infused into it, something that constitutes a really true change of nature, what must be the consequence? First, I would ask, has this particular change any moral character? or does it imply any change of character? If it is something which God, by a creative act, has created within, in which the man has had no more to do in reality than in the creation of the colour of his eyes or hair, is there any change of character? If there is a new appetite created, why should not this act as the appetite for food, and the man no more backslide from that than he would from an appetite to eat and drink? How could he fall from grace? I have been astonished to hear men maintain that regeneration consisted in a change of their nature, and in five minutes, maintain that they can fall from grace. Fall from a change of nature! God has created something which is holy and put it into them; and can they fall from it? Who will change their nature? who changed Adam's nature and Eve's nature? Did God or Satan change their nature when they sinned? It is true no doubt, that when Adam sinned, the natural consequence was, when he devoted himself to the service of himself, such a change in his feelings, his habitudes, and everything that would lead him to a selfish life, and die a selfish life. So it is with all sinners: whenever they have given themselves up to pursue a certain end, the result is, that their sympathies all flow in that direction; there is a great development of all their powers in that direction, and it becomes a kind of second nature for them to go in that direction. After all, the thing which they need is not a change of the substance in their mind, but a radical change in the manner in which they use this substance, or these powers with which God has endowed them.
But I pass on to make some remarks on the necessity of this change. That the necessity is self-evident, is implied in the text. When Christ taught Nicodemus the doctrine of the new birth, he was greatly surprised at it. Christ said, "Marvel not that I said unto you, ye must be born again;" this is not a surprising doctrine, you ought to know that this is so, instead of expressing your surprise at the announcement. Christ might as well have said to him, "It is no marvellous doctrine that I teach you; you ought to know it as a master in Israel, and everybody ought to know it; it is no matter to marvel at, that men should need to be born again."
In the first place, I may remark under this head, that the selfishness of the unregenerate part of mankind, is so self-evident that a man cannot practically deny it, without incurring the charge of insanity. Suppose a man were to deny that mankind are selfish, and deal with men upon his assumption. Would any man of business in London do this? assume that men are not selfish, and deal with them as benevolent men? Who does not know that if he made this assumption and acted upon it, everybody would say he was deranged? A commission of lunacy would probably be issued against him, and the court would not hesitate to pronounce him deranged if he assumed anything else than that the unregenerate portion of mankind are supremely selfish. All the arrangements of society, all the laws of man, and all the things we see got up for self-protection among men, all assume the notorious fact, that men are selfish and are devoted to their own interests, regardless of the interests of others any further than they find it best for themselves to regard them. There is no more notorious fact in the world than this; it lies everywhere on the face of society. Do you ask how it came to pass? Why it is a simple fact, that as soon as they come into being, the moment their appetites are developed and come into exercise, they immediately employ their will to seek the gratification of these appetites. The little one, as soon as it comes into being, gives up its will to the gratification of its appetites for food; and as one appetite after another comes to be developed, the will follows the same law. When God interposes his authority, and the child begins to understand it, he does not change the attitude of his will; he pursues the same course, and lives, and moves, and has his being for himself, and to himself. Now, that God is not selfish, I suppose will be universally admitted. That a selfish mind is not at rest within itself, and that men were not made to be selfish, will, I suppose, also be admitted; and that no man can be satisfied with himself while he is selfish, that no man can be at peace with himself, while he is pursuing his own interest regardless alike of the interest and authority of God, and the interest of his neighbour. Again, everybody knows that a community of selfish beings, if put together, and their selfishness unrestrained, cannot be happy; such a community in any part of the universe would be most miserable. Suppose they were selfish in heaven, and set up each one his own particular interests, and all other interests were conflicting, what would there be but the same cheating, the same difficulties that result here, only, perhaps, in a vastly higher degree. No company or community can have peace, only as they unite in seeking a common end; unless their sympathies cluster around a common end, unless they are devoted to a common interest, they will never have peace among themselves. If each one has a private end, and that inconsistent with the end of every other, you will need laws to restrain them, you will need ten thousand restraints to keep them from trampling on each others rights. Their sympathies and exertions do not blend; there is strife, collision, over-reaching, man at war with his brother. Now, that such a community as that could never compose heaven, must, I think, be self-evident. Men, being therefore selfish, (that is the first character of all unregenerate men), and continually selfish until pressed by the Holy Spirit, till they yield themselves up to God, every one knows that, in order to be saved and made happy, they must have a radical change in the end for which they live; they must recognize God's authority as supreme, they must recognize his interest as supreme, they must love their brother as they do themselves, they must set up a common interest and love it, and have a common God whom they love, or they cannot have peace among themselves. Who does not believe that heaven is just this place, where one will sways all wills, where all agree that God's will is universal law, and no one thinks of calling it in question, where God's interest is the supreme interest, and no one thinks of deviating a hair's breadth from promoting his glory and devoting himself to him? Now, it is easy to see that this course of conduct would entirely suit the very nature of men, and meet the very demands of their being; in such a devotion as this, their whole being comes to acquiesce, their conscience smiles a deep and perpetual approbation, God smiles, his approbation and a divine and universal harmony prevails; no robbing, and cheating, over-reaching, elbowing, but all is harmony, beautiful, and divine. Now, look at a world of selfish beings, with all the restraints of law and public sentiment, with ten thousand pulpits thundering against selfishness, with colporteurs running hither and thither with Bibles denouncing selfishness, with all the means that can be used, together with the influence of the Holy Spirit all abroad in the world--and just see the rampant selfishness of the human heart after all.
Now then, when men are told they must be born again, they do marvel at it? If they do, it is because they have the gross conception of it that Nicodemus had, that it is something fleshly; if they marvel at it, and do not see that that such a change is a necessity of human nature, it is because they are mad--I mean spiritually and morally so. They do not consider, that unless there be a radical change in the human character, they can be no such place as heaven where men are. Put selfish men in heaven, and what would they do there? Ask if there is any way to make money; who will show us any good? How can we make a speculation? What is to be gained? Tell us how we can find something that is good. Every angel in heaven might be astonished at the selfishness of such enquiries. Heaven is no place for selfish beings.
But how are men to get to heaven? Oh! forsooth, they think that this change of heart of which Christians speak, must be something fanatical and mystical, and no one but fanatics and revivalists could think of such a thing. Perhaps they think they need to mend their lives and so forth, need some little change; but to have a radical change of disposition they do not understand. O, dearly beloved, is there a single fact more certainly lying on the very face of all the world than this?--that unless men cease to be selfish, and become benevolent, there can be no such thing as heaven for them? Their very nature would cry out against them, if they were in heaven itself; the conscience would mutter and thunder disapprobation; and all heaven would turn pale to see them pursuing a selfish interest in the midst of holiness and benevolence of heaven. God is not selfish; angels are not selfish; the saints in glory are not selfish. And now let me ask the friends who are here, and who have lived always to please yourselves--is it not the most self-evident thing in the universe, that without a radical change in the end for which you live, you could never sympathize with the inhabitants of heaven, and could never enjoy heaven? Its employments would be drudgery. Suppose you were obliged with a selfish heart, to go and join in the worship of heaven, to go and live among those who were not selfish, but supremely and perfectly benevolent, what sympathy would you have there? What interest would you seek there? Would it be the delight of your heart to mingle in those holy symphonies, to mingle your song with theirs? Could you mingle in their joys and in their employments? Never. Your sensibility has not been developed in that direction, and your sympathies are not there. Methinks if you were there, it would be necessary to confine you there; or of your own accord would cry to the rocks and the mountains to cover you, or rush from the battlements of heaven, to the deepest hell to get out of the blaze of such holiness.
A few remarks must close what I have to say. You can see what a mistake those have made who make religion so hard and grevious a service. The difficulty is, their hearts are not changed. It is never grevious and hard to pursue that on which the heart is supremely set; it is liberty, the very course of which, of all others, an individual would pursue, would be the end on which his heart is supremely set. Hence Christ said, "That his yoke was easy, and his burden light." But a great many persons who profess to be religious, think his yoke exceeding grevious, and his burden exceedingly heavy, so that they cannot carry it. "Wisdom's ways," the Bible says, or the ways of piety, "Are pleasantness, and all its paths are peace." But, "No," says the legalist, "It is a hard service." The Bible says, "The way of the transgressor is hard," "No," says the legalist, who is whipped up by his conscience to perform so much of what he calls religious duties; "I have no heart to it, but I must do it, I must not stay from church, I must not omit this duty, I must perform that duty." And your heart is not in it--you have not relish, no satisfaction in it! Why, my dear Sir, the difficulty is, you made the mistake of attempting to serve God without giving him your heart; you have made the mistake of attempting to serve the Lord without really consecrating yourself, as he has done, to the promotion of the great end for which you ought to live. Just let your heart go first, and your life will follow without all this great trouble; if your heart is in it, you will not find yourself obliged to put strong reins upon yourself in order to keep yourself from cheating your neighbour. Love your neighbour as yourself, and the spontaneity of your mind will be to do him good; only love him as you do yourself, and it will be as natural for you to do him good as to do yourself good. When he comes to your store (if you are a merchant), you will not find you are almost persuaded to cheat him, or quite; no, nor will you find it such labour, such up-hill work to perform what you call your religious duties.
I have said that the difficulty with many is, that they start wrong at first, and pursue from the beginning a selfish end. Now what they must do, is just to go back again as it were, (and I suppose it is call the new birth for this reason), and start anew, begin a new life, retrace their steps in so far as literally to cease from the pursuit of the same end, to bring about a complete revolution in their mind in respect to the great end of life.
I remark again, those persons who call in question the necessity of the change the Bible speaks of, as being essential to salvation, are entirely unreasonable. I have heard that the necessity of the change is as much a doctrine of natural as of revealed religion. It is remarkable that almost all the truths of the Bible are nearly self-evident truths; they are announced because they have been overlooked, but when once announced and understood, the mind necessarily affirms their truth. In their own light they are seen to be true; therefore, men who reject the Bible, need not suppose that they escape from the doctrine of the necessity of regeneration; they must either deny a future state, the immortality of the soul, the existence of heaven and hell, or they must admit the reality and necessity of regeneration, in order to escape the one and enjoy the other. Natural religion, then, teaches that the change is needed: hence the heavings of the human mind, the restlessness of man in his sins. Who does not know that, with all the pains men take to engross themselves with worldly objects, they are ill at ease with regard to their moral character and conduct? There is a restlessness within them, and they assume the necessity of the change in their own characters. They never can rest; and hence the Bible represents them as being like the troubled sea, casting up mire and dirt. They have not clear perceptions I suppose, of what that particular change is; but that they need something; that they are not satisfied, that they are restless and agonized they know very well.
I pass on to say in the next place, that many persons have such ideas of regeneration, that when God calls on them to have a new heart and a new spirit, they think they must wait first for God to change their hearts--wait as for some electric shock, or something in which they are passive; instead of at once going to Christ, at once giving themselves up, breaking away from their selfishness, and consecrating themselves to God. How many there are who are waiting for God to do something other than draw them by the powerful persuasions of his spirit and of his soul. How it is the divine influence communicates with our minds we do not know; the context shows that there is a mystery in this. We know how we communicate to minds--through the external sense, through the ear and eye. God approaches the mind in an invisible manner; how it is he instructs and enlightens it, and leads men at once to perceive by the mind's eye, without the intervention of the bodily organ--this we do not know. Every Christian knows that when he was born again, he was thinking of certain truths and saw them in a light deeply affecting and convincing, and gave himself up to the influence of them. Now, the spirit of God is engaged in enlightening the mind and impressing upon it the great truths in view of which it is to act; and when he succeeds in producing regeneration, he really so persuades the soul that it lets go self-interest, and takes hold of the great interest of God and his kingdom, and yields the whole mind up to him.
I remark again, that when the truth is apprehended, we have no right for a moment to wait for anything. God requires them to act and turn immediately; "Turn ye," he says, "Turn ye, why will ye die?" Now, when they are waiting and looking back to see if there is any influence to be exerted, they overlook the fact that God is exerting now the very influence they need, he is teaching them, drawing them, enlightening, persuading them on every hand immediately to come to an intelligent decision.
This leads me to say that men are highly intelligent in regeneration: never, perhaps, so much so in any action of their lives before. Some persons have talked about it as if it could occur when they were asleep or even interested; but, beloved, the mind must be intelligent, or it is not virtuous in its act. In it regeneration acts more intelligently and rationally than ever before; indeed, this is the first rational, truly rational of all his acts--I mean that which is most in accordance with right reason. When he acts in view of the great truths of God, recognizing his authority and his influence, he bows himself to it, and commits himself for ever to that authority and that influence. Is this a thing to be called enthusiasm, fanaticism or mysticism--that is to be branded as something entirely unintelligible? I trust my hearers will not think so. Of all things this must be certainly the most intelligible. Every one knows what it is to be selfish, and every one can see what it is to abandon that course and to consecrate one's self to God, every one can see what it is to live for another end.
I must not detain you, my dear hearers, any further longer than to say to all who are in this house to-night, who never have been born again, who need to know that they need to be born again, and who are now ready to acknowledge that they have an agency to exert--to say that now is the time for action. Beloved, do you indeed see what is the exact thing to be done? that it is to cease to live for the end for which you have hitherto lived, and set your whole heart upon an end worthy of you, and the end for which God created you to live--to recognize his authority, his rights, his interests, and set your heart upon it? Do not wait for God to do what he calls on you to do; there must be an action of your own. I doubt not he is drawing you now; he draws you by his truth; he shows you the reasons why you should ask. Is not that drawing you? He persuades you: you need not suppose he is going to enter into a physical striving or scuffling with you; he debates, reasons, persuades, enlightens, draws the mind by those considerations that ought to influence you. Now, there is something for you to do; and what is that? When he draws, you are to yield; when he calls, you are to say, "Speak, Lord, thy servant heareth." He calls, and he only requires an answer, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" Why not, my dear hearers, make up your minds to act, and to act now? When will there be a better time? Why not renounce self now? Why not now make to you a new heart and a new spirit? Do you ask, "Can I do that?" Suppose when Adam and Eve had withdrawn their voluntary consecration from God, they had said, "What! can we make to ourselves new hearts?" God might have answered, "Did you not just do it?" A little while ago, you had a holy heart, you were consecrated to me; and now, forsooth, you have withdrawn your allegiance from me, and consecrated yourselves to your own interests; you have created a wicked heart; this was your own act. Do you ask whether you can come back and renounce it? whether you have power to do it? And what do you suppose they could have answered? Is there any difficulty in the way other than that the mind is voluntarily committing itself to self-interest? What else can be the matter? If you will withdraw this committal to self, and consecrate yourselves to God, God will not talk to you about regeneration back of that. Make up your minds completely to renounce your own interest as the end of life, and supremely devote all your powers to God--do that, and you need not trouble yourselves with anything that you may call regeneration or anything else. For this you need not wait, but act. I am not denying that God has anything to do with it. To be sure, God draws; and when he draws, I say again, you must yield to his drawing. Say, "Yes, Lord, I consent; yes, I see, I ought to live to thee; I sought* to take thy dear, sweet, easy yoke on my neck, and bow my will to thine, and, Lord, I will, I do it now; I do it at once for all, and for ever; I will renounce my own will, and take thy will as my everlasting and universal law."
*Probably should read "ought"--Ed.
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