« ПредишнаНапред »
equate to this change in the Jailer, must be admitted here: and this can have been no other, than that the Lord opened his heart, as he had before done that of Lydia, in the same place.
Generally, to what other cause can be assigned the universal success of the Apostles in preaching the Gospel? St. Peter has taught us to attribute this wonderful event to the peculiar and remarkable effusion of the Holy Ghost in the last days, or days of the Gospel, predicted by the Prophet Joel, and begun to be accomplished on the day of Pentecost. If this be not admitted as the true cause, it will, I apprehend, be very difficult to assign another, which will be found adequate to the effect, or which will in any measure satisfy a sober inquirer.
II. The Nature of this Agency next demands our consideration. Concerning this I observe,
1st. That it is the result of the mere good pleasure of God. Whatever other reasons may exist for the communication of this essential blessing, (and that the best reasons do exist can never be seriously questioned) it is plainly impossible, that it should be merited by any child of Adam. The very supposition, that we are regenerated, involves the necessity of our regeneration. But this necessity is the result of our sinfulness only; and this character plainly precludes, wherever it is found, the possibility of meriting to be regenerated. The agency of the Divine Spirit in this work is therefore, on the one hand, sovereign, and on the other, gracious; or, in other words, flows from the sovereign and unmerited mercy of our Divine Benefactor.
2dly. It is unresisted.
It has often been called irresistible. This language has given rise to very extensive, and, as I apprehend, to very unwarrantable, controversies in the Christian Church. Others, and among them men of great respectability, have more sanguine expectations concerning the issue of debates about metaphysical subjects, than I am able to form; and, perhaps, I should be unwarranted in saying that they are not more just. But, so far as my acquaintance with the views, and reasonings, of men extends, I entertain very faint hopes of seeing any solid good spring from speculations concerning the nature of causes, and the modes of their operation. The facts, that such and such causes exist; and that they operate to the production of such and such effects, we, in many instances, well understand. But the nature of the cause itself, and the nature and manner of its efficiency, are, in most instances, too subtile, or too entirely hidden from our view, either to be perceived at all, or to be so perceived, as to become the materials of real and useful knowledge. Hence, probably, has been derived the fact, that speculations on such subjects, though often satisfactory to the PhiJosopher himself, and to his own immediate friends and followers, have rarely satisfied others, or produced any lasting effects on mankind. The schoolmen were, perhaps, as able investigators of such
subjects, as the world has ever seen; and their speculations were, at times, proofs of sagacity, and discrimination, not inferior to what has been displayed in the most boasted efforts of succeeding ages. Yet how little are they studied, or remembered, at the present time! Scarcely are they mentioned, unless with pity or contempt; or as sources of astonishment, awakened by the sight of talents misapplied.
The success of these men should, one would think, furnish a lesson to such as follow after them. They too, had their day of reputation and splendour: of splendour, far superior to any thing, which modern writers can boast, or modern times will ever be disposed to give. But it was a vapour, which appeared for a little time, and then vanished away. The morning clouds of the present day will appear for a period still less; and the system, which for the moment attracts many eyes, will in another moment be forgotten. Neither the fame, acquired by the author, nor the stability, attributed to his system by his followers, should, therefore, induce us to rely on the desert of the one, or the permanency of the other.
When it is said, that the Agency of the Divine Spirit in renewing the heart of man is irresistible, it is probably said, because this agency being an exertion of Omnipotence, is concluded, of course, to be irresistible by human power. This seems not, however, to be said on solid grounds. That agency of the Holy Ghost, which, St. Stephen informs us, was résisted by the Jews, and by their fathers, was an exertion of the same Omnipotence; and was yet resisted by human power. I know of nothing in the regenerating agency of the same Spirit, except the fact, that it is never resisted, which proves it to be irresistible, any more than that, which the Jews actually resisted. That the Spirit of God can do any thing with man, and constitute man any thing, which He pleases, cannot be questioned. But that he will exert a regenerating agency on the human mind, which man has not a natural power to resist, or which man could not resist, if he would, is far from being satisfactorily evident to me. Indeed, I am ready to question whether this very language does not lead the mind to views concerning this subject, which are radically erroneous.
In the 110th Psalm, in which we have an account of Christ's being constituted a Priest for ever after the order of MELCHISEDEK, we have, in the 3d verse, this remarkable promise made to Christ: Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power. This promise respects the very subject, now under consideration; and is, I suspect, a more accurate account of it, than can be found in the language, which I am opposing. In the day of Christ's power his people are willing. The influence, which he exerts on them by his Spirit, is of such a nature, that their wills, instead of attempting any resist ance to it, coincide with it readily and cheerfully; without any force or constraint on his part, or any opposition on their own.
That it is an unresisted Agency, in all cases, is unquestionable; that it is irresistible, in any, does not appear.
III. The Necessity of this Agency, will, if I mistake not, be evident from the following considerations:
1st. It is declared in the Scriptures.
No man, saith our Saviour, can come unto me, except the Father who hath sent me draw him. This declaration will, I suppose, be allowed by the warmest opposers of this doctrine to have a meaning. There are but two meanings, which it can possibly have. One is, that it is physically impossible for any man to come to Christ, unless drawn by the Father: the other is, that it is morally impossible. The former of these will be denied by both parties; the latter must, therefore, be conceded. In other words, it must be acknowledged, that mankind are so opposed to Christ in their inciinations, that they will never come to him, that is, believe on him, unless drawn by the Father; or, which is the same thing, renewed by his Spirit. It will be remembered, that God is no where in the Scriptures exhibited as drawing mankind to Christ in any other manner, than by the influence of the Holy Ghost.
Except a man be born of the Spirit, says our Saviour, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Here it is obvious, that to be born of the Spirit is declared to be an event, without which it is impossible for men to see the kingdom of God. The necessity of the agency of the Spirit cannot be more strongly exhibited, than in the declaration, that without it, it is impossible to see the kingdom of God.
The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. If the natural man cannot receive the things of the Spirit of God; if he cannot know them; if they are foolishness to him; so long as he continues in his natural state: if they are spiritually discerned, and therefore incapable of being discerned without a spiritual taste, and character; if, at the same time, the discernment and knowledge of spiritual things is indispensably necessary to our attainment of salvation; then the agency of the Spirit of God in our Regeneration is absolutely necessary to us, in the same sense, and degree, in which our salvation is necessary. Our Saviour declares to Nicodemus, that that only which is born of the Spirit is spirit, or spiritual; while that which is born of the flesh; viz. all that is in man, and all that belongs to his natural character; is flesh; that is, of this very natural character, which receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God.
2dly. Reason teaches the same doctrine.
The question has been often asked, "Why, since a holy mind can become sinful, a sinful mind may not also become holy? No preternatural agency," it is observed, "is necessary to accomplish the former change: why is any such agency necessary to accomplish the latter? The extent of the change in both instances is exactly the same; the one being merely the converse of the other. It VOL. II.
would seem, then, that the same physical powers, which are sufficient for the accomplishment of the former, must be sufficient, also, for the accomplishment of the latter. But by most men it is acknowledged, that the physical powers of the same being, when holy, are exactly the same, as when sinful; both the understanding and the will remaining, in the physical sense, unaltered. Where, then, lies the impossibility, or even the difficulty, of the supposition, that man can regenerate himself; or, which is the same thing, turn, of his own accord, from sin to holiness ?""
All these questions are in my view fairly asked; and all the principles, suggested, true. Still the conclusion is unsound, and will not follow. This, however, I am bound to prove in a manner equally fair; and the more especially as a great multitude of serious, and, I hope, good men have found, and still find, no little difficulty in their contemplations on this subject.
That a holy being should be capable of sinning seems not, in the nature of the case, to be a supposition, attended with any great difficulty. All beings, holy and sinful alike, relish and desire natural good, or happiness. This can be found in an endless multitude of objects. Of these some may be enjoyed lawfully, or consistently with the will of God: while others cannot. These however, so far as they are supposed capable of communicating happiness, are, still, naturally the objects of desire to holy beings, as truly as to sinful ones. All natural good, when perceived, is, by itself considered, desired of course by every percipient being. Now it is plain, that this good may, in a given case, appear so great to a holy being; may so engross his whole attention; may so far exclude from his mind other considerations, and among them those of his duty; as to induce him to seek the good in view at the expense of his duty. In this manner, I apprehend, the Angels, who fell, violated their duty; and our first parents, theirs. Nor do I see how holy beings, so long as they love natural good, and are placed in a world, where it is variously and amply provided, can fail of being exposed to temptations from this source; nor, if these temptations be supposed to possess a given degree of power, or, which is the same thing, to contain a given degree of natural good, and to be set fully and exclusively before the mind, how such beings can fail, without peculiar divine assistance, of being exposed to fall.
In all this, however, there is nothing to countenance the supposition, that a sinner will in the same manner turn from sin to holiness. A sinner has no relish for spiritual good; that is, for the enjoyment furnished by virtuous affections and virtuous conduct. To apply the words of Isaiah concerning Christ, as regarded by the Jews, to this good, as regarded by sinners, When they see it, there is no beauty in it, that they should desire it. Is. liii. 2. Whenever this good, therefore, becomes an object of the sinner's contemplation, as his mind is wholly destitute of any relish for it, he will never desire it for its own sake; and will never make any such
efforts to gain it, as are absolutely necessary to accomplish the renovation of his heart. The relish for spiritual good is that state of mind, out of which all virtuous volitions spring. No volition is ever excited but by good; and by good, actually perceived, and relished. As spiritual good is never thus perceived by a sinner;" it will not excite a single volition in his mind towards the attainment of it; but will operate upon him as little, as harmony upon the deaf, or beautiful colours upon the blind.
But, the relish for spiritual good is the characteristical distinction of holy beings; their essential characteristic; without which they would cease to be holy. The want of it, on the contrary, is a prímary characteristic of sinful beings. In this lies the real difficulty of regenerating ourselves, and not in the want of sufficient natural powers: and, so long as this continues, an extraneous agency must be absolutely necessary for our regeneration.
IV. The Objections to the agency of the Divine Spirit in this work shall now be briefly considered.
1st. It is objected, that this doctrine infers partiality in the conduct of God.
That in the conduct of God, in this case, there are mysterious and difficult things, which I cannot explain, I readily acknowledge. What the particular reasons are, by which God is influenced in this dispensation, he has not been pleased to reveal; and we, therefore, are wholly unable to determine. It is sufficient for us, that we know all his conduct, in this and every other case, to be directed by the best reasons.
But this case presents no more difficulty, than a thousand others, in which we do not even think of starting this objection. We might as well complain of the common dispensations of God's providence, as of this." Why," we might ask, "was one child born of Popish parents, and educated in all the ignorance and superstition of the Romish religion; and another born of Protestant parents, and educated under the light and blessings of the Reformed religion? Why is one man destined by his birth to be a savage; and another to be a member of civilized, enlightened, and religious society? Why is one man a native of Sennaar; and another of New England: One a beggar; another a prince: One deaf and dumb; another endowed with hearing, and speech? Why are there any beggars; any savages? Nay, why are there any men; and why are we not all Angels?"
To apply the question to the very case in hand: Why, on the supposition that we regenerate ourselves, is one man furnished with those endowments both of understanding and will, and with those advantages, all of which, united, terminate in his regeneration; an ither, not?
It will be easily seen from these questions, that the objection of partiality lies with the same force against all inequalities of distribution in the Divine Government, as against this dispensation. In