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implied in the opinion, against which we contend. For if men, while unrenewed, have, strictly speaking, a holy or virtuous principle, which, if sufficiently increased, will constitute them holy or virtuous, their characters vary, as this principle recedes, or advances. At one time, a sinner may have one degree of virtue; at another, five hundred: and different sinners may at the same time be thus different. But between the sinner and the saint, i. e. between the renewed and the unrenewed person, there may be according to this opinion, but the difference of a single degree. Now, the scriptures speak of a broad line of distinction between the righteous and the wicked; between those, who serve God, and those who serve him not. Happiness without end is prepared for the one; and punishment, equally durable is reserved for the other. Can it rationally be supposed, that of those, who are obnoxious to this punishment, certain individuals are five hundred degrees better than others, and but one degree worse, than some, who shall inherit eternal rewards?
Besides, if such price of language;-such bold figures have been employed to describe a change, so inconsiderable as regeneration must be according to this supposition, how has it happened, that so very little is said, and that, in a very depressed style, concerning the far greater change, produced in the sinners character previously to regenera
IV. Whether it be common, or not, for believers to have assurance of their safety,such assurance is mentioned in scripture, as being attainable, and the want of it, as being a fault. "Give all diligence to the full assurance of hope to the end. Give all dilligence to make your calling and election sure. Know ye not your own selves? We know, that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren." St. John often speaks of knowing ourselves to be in Christ. Now, such knowledge is perfectly unattainable unless there be some standard, by which our characters may be tried
If the righteous differ from the wicked only in their degrees of goodness, it is impossible for any person to ascertain, whether he belongs to one class or the other, unless that degree should be distinctly marked, which is on the dividing line. No such degree is marked; and therefore no person can, if this doctrine be true, have assurance of salvation. It would follow then, that the scriptures require christians to perform impossibilities; i. e. to know themselves,-to make their calling and election sure, without giving them a standard, by which to determine.
V. I see not why, in determining this question, the testimony of persons of integrity and good understanding should not be considered, as of some weight. There are many persons, whose judgment would on common subjects be highly valued, who are confidently and permanently pursuaded, that previously to regeneration, they were wholly destitute of that principle, by which they have since been actuated. There have been in various christian countries, and in different ages, persons of acknowledged integrity and good discernment, thus fully persuaded concerning themselves. It is an opinion, in which they have continued with great firmness during the remainder of life. Nor has this persuasion been confined to those, the former part of whose lives was obviously immoral: but has been entertained by many, in whose visible deportment, there was little to reprehend.
Now, that self deception is not only possible, but easy, I readily grant. But it must be allowed, that no person has so good an opportunity of knowing what passes in the mind of a man, as he has himself. He can ascertain more accurately, than any other, what are his own intentions and motives. Let us view this matter a little more distinctly. Some of the persons, of whom I am now speaking, are acknowledged to possess great integrity; and to give as much evidence of piety, as any on earth. But it is not their opinion of their present piety, but of their former want of it, in
which we are now concerned. Grant, if you please, that self love may lead them to think too favorably of their present character; what imaginable reason can be assigned, why they should think too unfavorably of what they once were? I do not mention this orgument, as alone conclusive; but that it has much weight, I think, can hardly be denied.
The way is now prepared for considering the question whether regeneration is instantaneous.
Though the arguments, which have been used, are, it is believed, fully sufficient to show, that the difference between the renewed and others, docs not consist in degrees of that which is common to both, I would ask, whether even on that supposition, there would not be some instant, at which the necessary degree is acquired? Even if regeneration were as gradual, as the apparent course of a star from east to west, the question must receive an affirmative answer: for, however long the star may be in gaining the meridian, its transition is instantaneous: there is no conceivable duration, in which it is not either in one hemisphere or the other. Neither is there any duration in a man's life, in which he has not, either complied, or not complied with the terms of the christian covenant.
But if, as we have endeavored to prove, there is a radical, an essential difference between the saint and sinner, the matter will appear still more obvious. If the good man has a moral quality, which he once had not, there must be some moment, when he began to possess it.
It is believed by many divines of much repectability, that the wickedness of the human heart is invariably progressive, till a change is produced.
That it never is so, I will not assert: but that such is universally the fact, cannot, I apprehend, be easily proved. The argument relied on is this. Impenitence is criminal in proportion to light, enjoyed by the impenitent person. It is an unusual portion of this, which produces in the sinner conviction and anxiety. Therefore, while persons do not
submit to the terms prescribed in the christian religion, they are, in a higher degree, than formerly, criminal in the sight of God.
It is not to be denied, that wicked men, other things being equal are criminal in proportion to the clearness, with which duty is made known. But, 1. It is not certain, that all persons, immediately before their moral change, have greater degrees of light, than at any former period: nor, 2. Is it certain, that vince things are equal. That all the individuals of a nation, supposed to enjoy an equal degree of religious knowledge, are precisely equal in moral character, is highly improbable; and is therefore by no means to be assumed as true. Besides, if a sinner has increased in moral demerit from ten to fifteen degrees, can it possibly be doubted, that Deity has the power of reducing him to his former state! Now if it be undeniably possible for Deity to reduce, in some degree, the sinners obduracy, before a new principle is imparted, or a radical change produced, who can be confi dent, that he never in this way exerts his power?
It is a fact admitting no question, that some are renewed at a time, not distinctly known to themselves. But if the opposition of the human heart to Christ and his gospel invariably increases until the moment, when supreme affection for these objects, and a consequent hatred of sin, commen. ces, it is extremely difficult, to say the least, to account for the fact, just mentioned. Whereas, if God occasionally or frequently sees fit to reduce or diminish the rebellion of the heart, previously to that evangelical submission, which is the effect of renewing grace, the difficulty will be, in no smal measure, diminished:-an opinion, which you will observe, has no essential resemblance to that, against which we have contended, namely, that any thing of real holiness preceeds regeneration.
In the present lecture, an answer will be attempted to the following inquires.
I. Whether any thing more, than increased light is necessary to the production of a moral change in the human heart.
II. Whether that divine influence necessary to produce this change, is always bestowed according to previous character.
III. Whether any means or efforts used by the impenitent, render their conversion more probable.
IV. Whether it be right to direct persons of this description to the use of means with a view to regeneration.
That copious answers should be given to these inquires in the compass of a short discourse, will not be expected.
I. Is any thing more, than increased light necessary to the production of a moral change in the human heart?
To defend the negative of this question, has been undertaken, by individuals justly esteemed for talents, close investigation, and exemplary life. To support their belief the following arguments are used; 1. Men will pursue what appears to be conducive to their happiness; if there