This is the second installment on a series from the book with the above-named title. You may read the first installment here.
The Nature and Forms of Self-Deception (continued)
There may be also an intellectual approbation of the truth where its sanctifying power is
wholly unknown. The manifestation which God has made of himself in creation has sometimes called forth expressions of the highest admiration, while the heart has shown itself to be in a state of decided enmity against his character. It is related of a lecturer on philosophy that, in discoursing on the wisdom and power of God as displayed in the immensity of creation, he with his audience was wrought up into a rapture of apparent devotion, and yet in less than an hour’s time after leaving the room, he was heard to curse and swear, as was his usual manner of conversation.
Another common defect in that class of persons whose delusion we are now exposing, is,
that while they see the truth they are not affected by it. It is contemplated simply in the abstract, without any reference to its bearing upon themselves. Theology is studied as a science, and the head becomes filled with ideas, while the affections remain cold and unmoved. They know that God is a being of infinite perfection, but do not love him; that sin is an infinite evil, but do not hate it; that Christ is supremely glorious, but do not esteem him; that there is a heaven, but are not allured by it — a hell, but do not fear it. True religion respects not simply the understanding, but the heart; it requires love as well as light; feeling — deep, ardent feeling. “John the Baptist was a ‘burning and shining light.’ To shine is not enough, a glow-worm will do so; to burn is not enough, a fire-brand will do so. Light without heat does but little good; and heat without light does much harm. Give me those Christians who are burning lamps as well as shining lights.”
Further, the truth may be known and yet not obeyed. It is one thing to know that repentance is a duty, another, to exercise repentance; one thing to know that faith in Christ is indispensable, another, actually to confide in him as the hope of the lost; one thing to know that “men ought always to pray,” another, to “stir up ourselves to take hold on God. ” Religion is not mere speculation; it is obedience. “If ye know these things, happy are ye, if ye do them.” “To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.”
Humanity is often mistaken for christian benevolence.
Total as is the apostasy of man, there still remain in him certain feelings of kindness and
sympathy, which may attach to him a high degree of amiableness, and which answer important purposes in the present state of existence. To be “without natural affection” is represented by the apostle as the very climax of human depravity. Destitute as man is of love to God, there is notwithstanding a strong tendency in his nature “to weep with those that weep, and rejoice with those that rejoice” — to pity the miserable, and to relieve the needy. This sympathetic feeling is often regarded as proof of moral goodness, when, in fact, it may exist where there is an entire alienation from God. The feeling is simply constitutional or instinctive. It exists in irrational animals as well as in man. The former, it is well known, are often deeply affected in view of their suffering offspring, and to preserve them will even sacrifice themselves.
Nothing is more common than for persons to commiserate the temporal calamities of
others, while they manifest the most reckless disregard to their spiritual interests. We have seen the fond mother excited with intense emotion at the sight of an afflicted child, while that mother had no heart to feel for the soul of her offspring, exposed to eternal death, or to offer up one prayer to God for its redemption. We have seen men denominated philanthropists, prompt in lending their aid for the amelioration of human suffering, and yet not merely indifferent to the spiritual condition of the world, but actually hostile to that very Gospel which constitutes the only balm for the woes which sin has entailed upon our race. Even “he tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.”
Others are deceived by substituting mere animal excitement for holy emotion.
All our mental exercises produce more or less effect upon the body or the natural
affections. It is not to be wondered at therefore that high religious emotions should sometimes overpower the animal frame. When Daniel had a view of the glory of Christ, there remained no strength in him. And John, speaking of a similar manifestation, says, “when I saw him I fell at his feet as dead.” Such affections, however, afford no evidence either of the genuineness or the spuriousness of our religion. They are merely natural effects, evincing indeed a high degree of mental excitement without determining whether that excitement be produced by the agency of the Spirit, or whether it be a fire of our own kindling. No dependence, therefore, can be placed upon such appearances themselves as a test of our own piety or the piety of others. Men may be melted to tears, groan in anguish, tremble with fear, or be transported with joy, while the natural sympathies merely are excited, and the heart remains unchanged.
Remorse is often mistaken for repentance.
Remorse is that mental pain or anguish which is produced by a sense of guilt. This is widely different from true repentance; nor is there any necessary connection between the two. Cain, Pharaoh, Belshazzar, Judas, and thousands more whose sins found them out, and who were made to tremble in view of their consequences, remained entire strangers to the tenderness of contrition.
Perhaps the time was when the reader, like Gallio, “cared for none of these things.” The
subject of religion, if not treated with open contempt, was at least treated with criminal
indifference. Instead of asking, ”What must I do to be saved?” your incessant inquiry was, “What shall I eat, what shall I drink, or wherewithal shall I be clothed?” It is not so now. Your slumber has been broken. Light has been reflected upon your path; sin has revived; the world has lost its charms; and the salvation of the soul appears as “the one thing needful.”
This change is certainly desirable. The sinner must be convicted before he can be converted; and yet no degree of conviction is evidence of conversion. The understanding may be enlightened and yet the heart maintain its rebellion. Conscience may be aroused, and yet not pacified by “the blood of sprinkling.” Sin may be revealed, and yet not renounced. Obligation may be felt, and yet resisted. Conviction produces no change of character. It is light, but not holiness. It makes the sinner feel that he is lost, but does not necessarily secure his salvation. In the judgment of the great day, men will be overwhelmed with conviction, but there will be no repentance. In hell there will be conviction, deep and eternal conviction, but there will be no contrition — no pardon
— no hope.
Many confound selfish with holy affections.
It is not enough that the affections be moved on the subject of religion; they must be moved aright. It is not the degree of feeling we possess that determines our character, but the nature of that feeling. Under a conviction of the immense value of the soul and the fearful consequences of impenitence, the mind may be burdened with solicitude
while sin still maintains its sway. “Let me die,”said Balaam, “the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his.”
Unregenerate men may be as much excited on the subject of religion as true christians, but
the nature of the excitement differs essentially. The Israelites at the Red Sea appeared greatly affected with gratitude to God for their deliverance, but they soon “forgot his works” and rebelled against his dispensations. While the Savior was upon earth, going about doing good, many followed him for a time, not from a regard to his person and doctrine, but “for the loaves and fishes.”
We are far from intimating that men should have no “respect to the recompense of reward;” but we maintain that God must be the supreme object of our affection, and that he must be loved not simply for the favors he has conferred upon us, but for his own intrinsic excellency. “If ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even publicans the same?” An important distinction has been made between self-love and selfishness. The former consists in a proper regard to our own happiness. This principle is implanted in man by the Creator himself, and its operation is consistent with the highest degree of holiness. Selfishness is the inordinate love of our personal happiness, regardless both of the glory of God and the interests of our fellow-beings. This constitutes the very essence of sin, and, of course, no degree in which it is exercised, nor any modification it may assume, can afford evidence of a holy character. Men may be as supremely selfish in religion as they are in the world.