How Disinterested Benevolence
Relates to the
Heresy of Decisional Regeneration
Second and especially third generation American New Light Calvinists like Lyman Beecher and Asahel Nettleton looked for evidence of regeneration in the Inquiry Room using the BEST system. The gold standard for evidence of regeneration was what they called "disinterested benevolence". A succinct explanation of disinterested benevolence comes from Joseph Bellamy's 1750 book, True Religion Delineated : the regenerate person 1) SEES GOD GLORIOUSLY, 2) LOVES GOD SUPREMELY, 3) LIVES TO GOD ULTIMATELY, AND 4) DELIGHTS IN GOD SUPERLATIVELY with no motive of personal gain.
While Jonathan Edwards identified the signal evidence of regeneration as love of God and "benevolence to being in general", his disciples Joseph Bellamy and Samuel Hopkins especially, advanced a more abstract view. Hopkins went so far as to say that true disinterested benevolence would cause the regenerated person to be willing to go to hell for eternity if it be God's will.
Jonathan Edwards would not have liked the evolution of "disinterested benevolence" from being fruit of the indwelling Holy Spirit to the rational acceptance of God's decrees inherent in Hopkins' idea of going to hell if it be God's will. Indeed, the evolution of "disinterested benevolence", combined with the relentless assault of Scottish Common Sense Realism coming out of Princeton Theological Seminary had it's effect. Before the Civil War, the BEST system looked for evidence of religious affections as fruit of the Holy Spirit, but after the Civil War, ministers increasingly looked for acceptance of scripture truth as evidence of saving faith. The gradual shift from the BEST system to the BIST system in the Inquiry Room would pave the way for Billy Sunday in 1914 to eliminate the Inquiry Room altogether, and declare anyone who came forward in an altar call who agreed with salvation scriptures a "convert".
Here is Jonathan Edwards discussing evidence of regeneration before "disinterested benevolence" became the "gold standard".
LUST IS NOT EVIDENCE OF LOVE - SALVATION COMES FROM EXPERIENCE AND REASON AND NOT FAITH IN YOUR FAITH
"These two opposite principles of lust and holy love, bring hope and fear into the hearts of God's children, in proportion as they prevail; that is, when left to their own natural influence, without something adventitious, or accidental intervening; as the distemper of melancholy, doctrinal ignorance, prejudices of education, wrong instruction, false principles, peculiar temptations, etc.. Fear is cast out by the Spirit of God, no other way than by the prevailing of love: Nor is it ever maintained by his Spirit, when love is asleep. At such a time, in vain is all the saint's self-examinations, and dwelling on past experience, in order to establish his peace, and get assurance. For it is contrary to the nature of things, as God has constituted them, that he should have assurance at such a time.
They therefore, do directly thwart God's wise and gracious constitution of things, who exhort others to be confident in their hope, when in dead frames; under a notion of living by faith and not by sight, and trusting God in the dark and living upon Christ and not upon experiences; and warn them not to doubt of their good estate, lest they should be guilty of the dreadful sin of unbelief. And it has a direct tendency to establish the most presumptuous hypocrites".
EXAMINING THE FRUIT OF OTHERS IS THE ONLY BIBLICALLY SANCTIONED METHOD OF DETERMINING THEIR SPIRITUAL STATE
"I know of no directions or counsels which Christ ever delivered more plainly, than the rules he has given us, to guide us in our judging of others sincerity; that we should judge of the tree chiefly by the fruit: but yet this won't do; but other ways are found out, which are imagined to be more distinguishing and certain. And woeful have been the mischievous consequences, of this arrogant setting up men's wisdom above the wisdom of Christ. I believe many saints have gone much out of the way of Christ's word, in this respect: And some of them have been chastised with whips, and (I had almost said) scorpions, to bring them back again".
Editor’s note: When Edwards says “judging others sincerity”, he is not saying judging others desires”. A person who is sincere is genuine or authentic. Sincerity is only possible if God has regenerated the person. Desiring salvation is not the same as possessing salvation. Just because someone wants to be saved does not mean God has saved them. But if someone sincerely serves God, it can only be because God has saved him. THIS IS CONTRARY TO WHAT THE SCOTTISH COMMON SENSE REALISTS OF PRINCETON TAUGHT - THEY TAUGHT THAT SINCERITY IS A SUBJECTIVE TIPPING POINT WHERE THE PERSON REACHES A TIPPING POINT WHERE THEY SERVE GOD OVER SELF.
A SPIRITUAL MAN IS TOTALLY DIFFERENT THAN A NATURAL MAN BECAUSE OF THE PRESENCE AND ACTIVITY OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
"Thus the apostle Jude, speaking of certain ungodly men, that have crept in unawares among the saints, verse 4 of his epistle, says, verse 19, these are sensual, having not the Spirit. This the apostle gives as a reason why they behaved themselves in such a wicked manner as he had described. Here the Greek word translated “sensual”, is the same as the word in 1 Corinthians 2:1 translated “natural”. In the like manner, in the continuation of the same discourse, in the next verse but one, spiritual men are apposed to carnal men; which the connection plainly shows means the same, as spiritual men and natural men, in the foregoing verses; “and I, brethren, could not speak to you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal”; that is, as in great measure unsanctified. That by the carnal the apostle means corrupt and unsanctified, is abundantly evident, by Romans 7:25 and 8:1,4,5,6,7,8,9,12,13, Galatians 5:16, to the end and Colossians 2:18. Now therefore, if by natural and carnal, in these texts, he intended “unsanctified”; then doubtless by spiritual, which is opposed thereto, is meant sanctified and gracious.
And as the saints are called spiritual in scripture, so we also find that there are certain properties, qualities, and principles, that have the same epithet given to them. So we read of a spiritual mind, Romans 8:6-7 and of spiritual wisdom, Colossians 1:9 and of spiritual blessings, Ephesians 1:3".
EDWARDS CONDEMNS THE IDEA THAT THINKING A SCRIPTURE APPLIES TO ONE SELF IS THE “WITNESS OF THE SPIRIT” AND EVIDENCE OF REGENERATION
"Anyone of common knowledge of the principles of religion, knows that it is God’s manner to reveal His love to men, and their interest in the promises, after they have believed, and not before; because they must first believe, before they have any interest in the promises to be revealed. The Spirit of God is a Spirit of truth, and not of lies; He doesn’t bring scriptures to men’s minds to reveal to them that they have an interest in God’s favor and promises, when they have none, having not yet believed: Which would be the case, if God’s bringing texts of Scripture to men’s minds to reveal to them that their sins were forgiven, or that it was God’s pleasure to give them the kingdom, or anything of that nature, went before, and was the foundation of their first faith".
PERSONS THAT THINK THEY HAVE HAD A PERSONAL REVELATION OF SCRIPTURE (EDWARDS CALLS IT “IMMEDIATE DECLARING”) TO THEM THAT THEY ARE SAVED WITHOUT ANY OTHER EVIDENCE ARE DELUDED BY “FAITH IN THEIR FAITH” - THIS IS A DIRECT REPUDIATION OF THE BIST SYSTEM
"Some persons, under high affections, and a confident persuasion of their good estate, have that, which they very ignorantly call a seeing the truth of the word of God, and which is very far from it, after this manner; they have some text of scripture coming to their minds, in a sudden and extraordinary manner, immediately declaring to them (as they suppose) that their sins are forgiven or that God loves them, and will save them; and it may be have a chain of scriptures coming one after another, to the same purpose and they are convinced that it is truth, that is, they are confident that it is certainly so, that their sins are forgiven, and God does love them, etc.; they say they know it is so; and when the words of scripture are suggested to them, and as they suppose immediately spoken to them by God, in this meaning, they are ready to cry out, truth, truth! It is certainly so! The word of God is true! And this they call a seeing the truth of the word of God.
Whereas the Whole of their faith amounts to no more, than only a strong confidence of their own good estate, and so a confidence that those words are true, which they suppose tell them they are in a good estate: When indeed (as was shown before) there is no scripture which declares that any person is in a good estate directly, or any other way than by consequence. So that this, instead of being a real sight of the word of God, is a sight of nothing but a phantom, and is all over a delusion. Truly to see the truth of the word of God, is to see the truth of the gospel; which is the glorious doctrine the word of God contains, concerning God, and Jesus Christ, and the way of salvation by Him, and the world of glory that He is entered into, and purchased for all them who believe; and not a revelation that such and such particular persons are true Christians, and shall go to heaven. Therefore those affections which arise from no other persuasion of the truth of the word of God than this, arise from delusion, and not true conviction; and consequently are themselves delusive and vain.
But if the religious affections that persons have, do indeed arise from a strong persuasion of the truth of the Christian religion; their affections are not the better, unless their persuasion be a reasonable persuasion or conviction. By a reasonable conviction, I mean a conviction founded on real evidence, or upon that which is a good reason, or just ground of conviction".