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all men, are far from being pure and good; and that a moral change is desirable? What method more summary and conclusive than to seize the concessions of the very panegyrists of human nature, and to prove, from these concessions, enough for our present purposes ? All such eulogists, if they have written much, will be found to have conceded, first, that all history is virtually a record of the foibles, follies, and vices of men; and next, that, however pure the virtuous may pretend to be, they are, nevertheless, inwardly actuated by some secret bad motive. It is believed that no opposer of the scriptural doctrine of a depraved and bad heart, living or dead, could be named, who has not, an hundred times over, either in words or writing, deliberately or inadvertently, made admissions to the above effect. Must not, then, an incalculable number of convincing facts have extorted these confessions from the most unlikely quarters ? and must not that be obviously, as well as demonstrably, true, which even objectors cannot speak or write about, without admitting either virtually or expressly ? Sustained by this solitary argument, I fearlessly appeal to your candor at once to admit, that human nature is in such a disordered and depraved condition that improvement is manifestly possible and exceedingly desirable.
II. Our next inquiry is, supposing this most desirable change to be amply provided for, under the blessed government of God, whether it may be expected to be instantaneous and entire. An argument from the nature and reason of things, and from the analogies of the divine government, is certainly not the best method of demonstration ; nevertheless, it often serves an admirable purpose in predisposing and preparing the mind for demonstration. Reason and analogy, then, are decidedly against such an expectation. Barren and intractable portions of land cannot be instantaneously reclaimed, even by the best possible methods of cultivation. And uncivilized and barbarous hordes, cannot, by any process of civilization, be elevated, at once, from their condition of wretchedness. So far as we know, all ameliorating processes are, of necessity, gradual and slow. And there is nothing in Scripture, or in experience, to show that the moral benefits of Christianity, either in the case of nations or individuals, are dispensed by any
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other law. The apparent operation of these causes, may, in respect to the suddenness of the process, differ very considerably, and the real difference, indeed, between one case and another, may be very great; and yet the general law of a gradual progressive change may still prevail.
I do not speak thus of the turning point, or precise moment of time, when and where the moral changes may begin; but I speak complexly, and generally, of the change as a whole. And the Bible, experience, and observation, constrain me to believe that no good man was ever made perfectly good in a moment; indeed that no perfectly good man (save the LORD Jesus Christ alone, as far as he was man,) ever did exist upon earth. And I am, therefore, constrained to believe that the moral change, for which the Lord of the whole earth hath made ample provision in the Gospel, is not, in strict propriety of speech, either perfect or instantaneous. In looking for a changed man, then, we must not be looking for a faultless and perfect man; and in seeking for evidence that there is a reality in the moral change sometimes wrought by the influence of the Bible, we are not to look for a change which leaves no room for further amendment.
III. What, then ? it may be asked—is this change superficial, apparent, external only? a change from being notoriously vicious and bad, to being outwardly strict and exemplary; from living in the indulgence of personal and social vices; to a most pure and blameless moral deportment ? This question is easily answered by another; does a change of outward deportment necessarily involve a change of the inward feelings and motives of the heart ? Is it not possible for a man to cover up the basest principles and designs, under the graces of a moral and attractive exterior, just as he can hide many personal defects by his attitudes and his dress? If so, then a change of heart, as the very form of expression itself implies, is far more than a mere change of the outward conduct.
IV. This brings us to a nearer inspection of the real nature of a change of heart. And, to make the point more abundantly clear and convincing, some of the disorders of our moral natures will be recounted, both as it regards ourselves, our fellow creatures, and our moral Governor, and then the inquiry will be, whether the
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Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ contains the moral power correcting these disorders; or, in other words, of changing our hearts in these several respects.
1. I am persuaded that it is but too apparent to every one of you, that your impatience, irritability, pride, and passion, miserably impair and prevent your own happiness. In other words, that every man is his own worst enemy-far the worst. That he might be contented, cheerful, and happy, notwithstanding the frailties of his body, the disappointment of his hopes, and the afflictions and trials of his lot; if it were not for the wrong feelings, which live, and rule, and scatter wretchedness through all his in
His restless ambition ; his inordinate love of money; his unreasonable anxieties; his feverish, unfounded hopes and fears, constitute the real secrets of his dissatisfaction and unhappiness. Upon looking thus into your own bosoms, must you not at once admit, that any power which could regulate these internal disorders; dissipate the illusions under which you are sensible that you are led astray; correct what is inordinate and wrong; and purify what is unholy and bad, would be as welcome as the creative voice of the Omnipotent, in speaking life and harmony out of the dreariness of chaos; and the change that would follow would be as great, and real, and glorious, as that change which did attend the utterance of that creative voice? This power is faith in the ever blessed Son of God.
2. Are the inward feelings of our hearts towards our neighbors any better, or more under control, than those which have respect to our own immediate personal happiness? Are there, amongst us, no unholy strifes and emulations; no envious or slanderous thoughts; no covetings and hatreds ; no feelings of malice or revenge? Whilst there are, how utterly impossible it must be that men should live in quietness and peace together ; or that they should enjoy any real satisfaction in their own bosoms? From whence come party contentions and bitterness, wars and fightings; come they not hence even of the wrong and sinful feelings of the heart? From whence come theft and rapine, lying and chicanery, backbitings, strifes, and murders; do they not spring as naturally and spontaneously from a bad heart as water
from a fountain ? And let me ask, if by any means men could
a be brought always to tell the truth, to deal with honesty, and to do to others as they would have others do to them ; above all, if
1 they could ever be brought to do good to those who despitefully use them and persecute them, to love as brethren, and to pray for their persecutors and enemies; whether such a revolution in all the natural propensities and strong passions of our natures would not deserve to be called a change of heart, a new birth, or even a new creation ? Could any forms of expression, indeed, suffice to describe so great a change? And yet this the Gospel of Jesus Christ has often done, and is daily doing; and we shall see directly that He who designed that it should effect this change, implanted in it a power vast enough to produce it.
3. But the true secret of all the other faults and disorders of our moral natures evidently lies in our not having right feelings toward God, our most holy and rightful moral Governor. Who is there that habitually refers all his actions to the will of God? Who, before he acts, thinks of asking, not what is agreeable to himself, or what will exalt or benefit him amongst his fellow earthworms, but what is acceptable to God; what is well pleasing right, and in His eyes? And yet, though so few act as if the eye of God were upon them, and they strictly accountable to Him for every thought, and feeling, and desire, it is perfectly evident that no one can be sure of feeling and acting always as he should, unless he is in the habit of referring his actions to the will of God; and scrutinizing his motives, as they appear in His sight. Here it is, at the very source and centre of the motives of action, that every thing in the moral nature of man not only appears out of place, but positively sinful and wrong. Self-indulgence of any and of every kind appears most sinful of all, when regarded in the true point of light, as being an abuse of the gifts of God; as tending to the confusion and destruction of social happiness; as precipitating the ruin of the slaves of passion, when God willed their happiness. Lying, stealing, oppression, wrath, revenge, assume their appropriate hues of guilt, when regarded as breaches of the benevolent and gracious laws which our Creator hath placed as the safe guards of the best interests of his creatures ; and therefore are even less injurious to society than they are odious and offensive to the holy and good God. And surely the grand disorder of our moral nature; the forgetfulness of God; the dislike of his wholesome restraints; the hatred of his holy requirements; the idolatrous preference of self gratification, of honor, wealth or pleasure, to his favor; is that grand master-sin of the soul, which brings along with it the deepest degradation and misery, because it entails His sorest curse: and is that disorder which must, in the very first instance, be set right, before we can even begin to do as we ought. Here, therefore, it is that the inconceivable force of the Bible motives is brought to bear. This is the mountainous difficulty which Jesus Christ came to remedy and remove. Here it is that God places his healing touch ; or rather, manifests his new creating power.
The heart has new and right feelings implanted in it towards God, and towards His Son JESUS CHRIST through faith in His name, and by the power of the Holy Ghost. Herein the vital essence of the new birth consists. Herein the promise of the text is fulfilled. "I will be their God," is the new
“ relation formed; the immediate result is "the giving of a new spirit;" and the fruits are, that “they walk in his statutes, and his ordinances, and do them.” Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gifts; immortal praise, for the new creating grace of his Spirit !
V. The only point which remains to be discussed is, whether there is remarkable fitness in Bible considerations to produce these great and most desirable changes. That there is, might have been inferred from the benevolent design of the Gospel, and from considering who is its author ; it being self-evident that our moral Governor would not have provided a religion for a race of beings alienated from him, without infusing into it a power to restore them to his service and his favor. And the same result comes to us abundantly attested by observation : exceedingly bad men have been made radically better by the Gospel, but never by any other religion ; never by any other moral influence. But it has, throughout this discourse, been my aim, not so much to bring forward the strongest arguments, as the plainest exhibition in my power, of the real merits of the case before us. And I shall, therefore proceed to make my appeal to your understanding and your hearts,