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Edmund Hamilton Sears

Part III, Chapter 3, of the book Regeneration (1854).

“I presuppose a humble and docile state of mind, and above all the practice of prayer as the necessary condition of such a state, and the best, if not the only, means of becoming sincere to our own hearts;- those inward means of grace, without which the language of the Scriptures, in the most faithful translation, and in the purest and plainest English, must nevertheless continue to be a dead language, —a sun-dial by moonlight.” —COLERIDGE.

It is an obvious condition of man's regeneration, that he know himself. He must see the evil that is in him, in order to its extrusion. And yet so manifold are the envelopments that infold him, that he bears about unscanned the mysteries that lie within. We live mainly in externals, and hence we are disguised from ourselves. Hence our imperfect view of human nature; hence our shallow culture, —so often the outside gilding that conceals a heart uncleansed; hence our surface moralities; hence our ignorance of the deepest springs of action in our own bosoms. What is inly wrong, in order to be apprehended and expelled, must come within the clear range of our inward vision. How shall we have these self-revealings? By what means is the book of our life to be opened? 

There is a way which is simple and direct, to him who earnestly desires to see himself as he is. It is by turning the soul towards God. It is by communing with the Eternal Purity, whose spirit ever broods over the chaos within us, and seeks to separate its elements into determinate form and order. Before the Divine nature, all that is wrong in our own is revealed by contrast, and appears black in the light. The Eternal. Law shines down through our being, and shows our desires and aims, in opposition to its own sanctity. It is the hatefulness of the selfish will in the presence of the All-Pure. Doubtless, the revelation is at first humiliating and painful. In that hour of self-conviction, the burden of our most inherent corruption hangs heavy on our souls. Two ideas, for the time, take sole possession of our minds, and fill the whole scope of our vision. Our inmost self how alienated! The Divine nature how dazzling and dreadful in its holiness! The contrast between these two makes us veil our faces in tears, and exclaim, “I shall die, for I have seen the Lord!” We cannot bear that “noon of living rays,” when searched and laid open beneath it. He who thought himself rich and in need of nothing, now finds himself poor and in need of every thing. He who before was complacent and satisfied with the shows of a seeming morality, is startled and dismayed, as a light from out of himself is let down through the central places of his being, and reveals the secret corruption that lurks through all its winding recesses. How false has been his standard of right, how low have been his aims, and what impurities have tainted the springs of his conduct! “I thought myself alive without the law,” said the great Apostle, “but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.” When the Eternal Law shone forth, the sin that was in me came full into the range of my consciousness, and instead of spiritual life, I found there a mass of death. Thus God, by his immanence in man, reveals, when invoked and welcomed, the afflicting contrast between human corruption and the Everlasting Purity.

What we have now described, is sometimes called “conviction of sin.” But it is more than that. Sin pertains only to what is wrong in our volitions and actions. But now the sources of sin, lying deeper than all volition and action, are shown to us; for the vain disguises of our self-love having withered away under the beams of the Divine countenance, the diseased mass whose hidden motions had swayed our volitions and conduct is disclosed, and makes us cry, “Who shall deliver us from this body of death?” The Apostle, as above quoted, is not using the words sin and death as the synonyma of moral guilt, but rather of moral disease, from which guilty conduct flows as from a turbid spring. How often had our endeavors after holiness been defeated and baffled! how had the means of grace been repeated till they had become state formalities! how had our vague dissatisfactions and our daily unrest prevented the peace of God and our sweet repose on the bosom of his love! The source of all our trouble has now been shown to us, as a new page in the book of our life has opened to our sight.


©2004 American Unitarian Conference