Gambar halaman
PDF
ePub

fections are therefore required of him, whether regenerating grace bo given or withheld. When given, it is not for the purpose of creating an obligation to exercise such affections : but rather to cause him to act in conformity to the obligation which already rests upon him.

Ought a sinner (it will be asked) to think he can make himself a new heart, when the fact is, that if God does not help him do it, the thing will never be done? I reply, His thoughts on this, as well as on every other subject, should accord with the truth. He ought to know that it is not weakness, but wickedness, which hinders him from making a new heart, in conformity to the divine requirement. He ought also to know, that it is the gracious influence of the Spirit, which furnishes the least hope, that this guilty impediment to his salvation will ever be removed. That it is proper he should receive instruction on this point, may be learned from the example of a teacher, whose wisdom in win. ping souls can not be questioned. When the Savior preached the doctrine of regeneration to Nicodemus, who was then an unregenerate man, he taught him very distinctly such things as these : 1st. Its ab. solute and universal necessity. 2d. The agency of the Spirit in its production. 3d. The ground of its necessity, viz. man's native and entire depravity. 4th. The spirituality, or holy nature of the change. 5th. The imperceptibleness (except in its effects) of that agency by which it is produced. In using means to effect the conversion of this self-righteous pharisee, he very explicitly taught him his dependence on God for the change. John iii. 148.

Among those who acknowledge that depraved men need some agency beside their own to effect their conversion, there may be some who will think it strange that the writer has dwelt so long on the agency of the Spirit, when the scriptures speak of other agencies which are employed in effecting the same desirable change. I know that it is sometimes attributed to the inspired word, and sometimes to the gospel ministry, and to other dependent causes. David

says, “ The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul;” and Peter describes converts as being born of incorruptible seed, even the word of God, that liveth and abideth forever. James speaks of it as a practicable thing, that one man should convert another from the error of his ways; and Paul tells the Corin. thian Christians he had begotten them through the gospel. Thus it appears, that the conversion of sinners is attributed sometimes to the zoord, sometimes to men, and at other times to the Spirit of God. But can it be inferred from this, that there is such an equality between these different agencies, as to make it proper to consider each one as covering the whole ground? To make myself understood, I will state: The scriptures speak at one time of the Father, then of the Son, and again of the Spirit, as exerting an influence to draw, teach, and renew the hearts of depraved men. Now we shall all agree in the belief, that the whole of that work which one of these Divine Persons can do, the others can do likewise ; since they are all equal in power. But when Paul says to the Corinthians, “ I have begotten you through the gospel,” are we to understand him to assert, that he did it in as full a sense, as God did the same work, when it is said, “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth?” God had power to do his work without Paul; but Paul had no power to do his without God. Nor

[ocr errors]

should I dare to pronounce it an impossibility for God to do this work, if he saw fit, without making use of the word; but it is not possible for the word to do it without the accompanying agency of God. This matter may be illustrated by recurring once more to the resurrection of Lazarus. There were different agents made use of in bringing about this event. His sisters before his death had sent a request to Jesus for a visit. When they heard he was coming, they went to meet him. Their faith, imperfect as it was, had some influence in procuring the re. surrection of their brother. They took away the stone from the grave's mouth. Thus far their agency extended. But in his translation from death unto life, they stood still and saw the salvation of God. Their Master wrought alone, without any agency of theirs. His agency co. vered all the ground; since it was he who raised their faith, and gave them strength to take away the obstructing stone ; but theirs did not extend to the act of bursting the bands of death. Nor was this done by some occult power in hose words which were addressed to the dead. There was an energy accompanying the words, entirely distinct from any that the words themselves possessed ; and this was the thing which did the execution.

Par be it from me to undervalue the inspired word, or the ministry of reconciliation. Where these means are wanting, sinners usually remain in an unconverted state. • Where no vision is, the people perish.” On that wonderful day, when three thousand persons were converted in the city of Jerusalem, the effect was produced by the preached word, particularly from the mouth of Peter. It was the word preached by him, which convinced them of sin, and brought them to repentance. Nor is there reason to believe that those sinners, who did not come under the sound of the word, were thus wrought upon by the Spirit of God. The word of God is quick and powerful; it discerns the thoughts and intents of the heart. And when placed in the hands of the living teacher, its power is increased. The word of truth in the hand of an accredited ambassador, whose understanding is illu. minated, and whose heart is sanctified by its holy doctrines, constitutes the most important instrumentality in accomplishing that glorious object, the conversion of apostate men. But since both the word and its ministry are dependent agencies, there is an infinite disparity between them and the agency of God himself. He is honored in their legiti. mate use ; but when their influence is placed on a level with that of his own almighty Spirit, he is dishonored. Now he finds it necessary to withdraw his own agency, that he may give demonstrative proof of the powerlessness of all agencies except his

own. He suffers his ministers, whom he has made fishers of men, to toil all night (not play, but toil,) and yet take nothing, for the sake of preparing them to see and acknowledge their dependence on Him to fill their net. Luke v, 5. John xxi. 3. They decrease, that He may increase. They can baptize with water, but He with the Holy Ghost. After they have preached the gospel without effect, the Holy Ghost is sent down from heaven, and now it becomes the power of God to salvation.

It is a common remark, that we are always upon extremes. It seems hard for us to keep on the middle ground, between undervaluing and overrating those means which God makes use of to promote the salva

tion of men. There are some who hold them all in contempt, and therefore neglect their use; while others make such dependence on them, especially on means of a certain description, that the necessity of a divine efficiency is forgotten. This often renders it necessary foc God to withhold success from such idolized means. In the whole of our salvation, God designs that His hand shall conspicuously appear, and be acknowledged ; not only in furnishing proper means and instruments, but more especially in rendering them successful. Therefore it is, that we are made weak, preparatory to our being made strong. When they were without strength, was the due time for Christ to die for an ungodly world. The diminishing of Gideon's army was neces. sary to his victory over the enemy. The Lord repents himself for his servants, when he seeth their power is gone. He restores sight to the blind, when they have become convinced they can not see. He heals, when the patient is sensible he is sick and needs healing. If a sinner thinks himself to be alive, the commandment must first come, sin revive, and he see himself morally, and, in the eye of the law, to be nothing better than a dead man, before the way is prepared for him to be raised to spiritual life. 2 Cor. xii. 10. Rom. v. 6. Deut. xxxii. 36. John ix. 4i. Matt. ix. 12. Rom. vii. 9. Though revealed truth is made use of to excite an awakened attention, give instruction, and produce conviction, while the mind is in its unrenewed state; and also to draw forth its first renovated affections, still, as I am inclined to be. lieve, God is wont to give the sinner an experimental knowledge of this fact; That all the light contained in his word, if it could be concen. trated in one focal point, has not power enough to draw his heart into a compliance with the terms of salvation, unless accompanied by the special and transforming agency of the Holy Ghost. Yet when he yields the compliance which was required, he wonders why he did not do it sooner. In view of the reasonableness of the terms, he now wonders he withheld his compliance a moment; while in view of the ob. stinacy of his will, he admires the energy of that grace which has prevented him from holding on in his rebellion to the end of his probation.

Although this Article has already been protracted to an unusual length, still I wish, before I proceed to the harmonizing part, to detain the reader a moment longer, by presenting some remarks on a new theory, relating to the efficacy of the inspired word, or its complete suffi. ciency to effect the sinner's conversion. There is a sentiment, that is said to be gaining some belief at the present day, the purport of which is to make us believe, that we stand in need of no influence of the Holy Spirit, except that which is located or embodied in the scriptures. The argument to support the sentiment is, for substance, this: The scriptures contain a complete exhibition of the mind of the Spirit ; and we are perfectly free agents, to choose and act for ourselves. The Spirit, it is said, has inspired these holy writings, and given us full attestation of their truth ; and, having done all that was necessary for him to do, to effect our salvation, has now left it for us to employ our reason to understand, and our voluntary agency to accede to the terms on which salvation is offered us.

I am ready to acknowledge, that our not understanding and acceding to these terms is inexcusable, even in case the Spirit should do no more

to prepare the way for it, than what he has already done.

But I am far from believing that he had accomplished all he had to do on the earth, when, having furnished the church with a complete rule of faith and practice, he withheld his miraculous gifts. As to any new revelations of the divine will, his influences are no more required. To expect other similar communications to those of the Bible, exposes as to the curse which we find recorded at the close of the New Testa. ment: “If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book.” Rev. xxii. 18. This work of the Spirit was brought to a close before the end of the first century. But is there no sense in which we may yet look for com. munications from this Divine Agent? That there is an influence perfectly distinct from that which is inherently lodged in the inspired volume, (though by no means in contrariety to it,) is made evident by such considerations as these :

First. If it were not so, there would be a manifest impropriety in praying for the descent of the Holy Ghost, just as there would be in petitioning that Christ might yet be sent to make an atonement for our sins. As the atonement is already made, so the sacred volume is already filled out. No believer in the Bible makes this one of his peti. tions, that God would now make a revelation of his will, nor that he would give us a Savior; but every Christian prays that God would send down his Holy Spirit. And Christ has taught him so to pray. See Luke xi. 13. Were the sentiment, however, to become universal, that no influence is to be expected, except what was embodied and located in the Bible; is there not reason to believe that it would effect such a change in our prayers, that petitions for the descent of the Spirit would cease? For why should we wish the Third Person in the God. head to descend, and do over again the work which he has already completed, any more than to wish the Second Person to come and die again for our sins? If we believe that the Spirit of God has already done all which he can consistently do, to effect the conversion of sin. ners, why do we ask that he might do anything more? Such prayer, I think, must be made merely for the sake of producing an effect on sinners themselves. Why, then, is it not termed preaching, rather than prayer? If we have already received all that help from the Spirit of God which we deem necessary to our salvation, why do we ask for additional help? Remember, “God is not mocked.”

Secondly. "Passages are to be found, where there is a marked difference between the word and the Spirit. Peter speaks of the ministers of the word as preaching the gospel with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. 1 Pet. j. 12. Here we notice, the gospel was one thing, and the influence of the Holy Ghost which accompanied it, was another. Of the first sermon preached to a gentile audience, we have this record in the tenth chapter of Acts: “While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them that heard the word.” The next chapter gives an account of a great moral revolution at Antioch; and it is at. tributed to these two causes ; 1st. The preaching of the Lord Jesus by the ministers of his word. 2dly. The hand of the Lord that was with them. Who can read the history of the day of Pentecost, given in the second chapter of this book, and not distinguish between the word and

the Spirit ? Then was strikingly verified that declaration of Wisdom, “ Behold I will pour out my Spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you.” Prov. i. 23. Christ, the personal Wisdom of God, by pouring out his Spirit makes known his words unto us.

Thirdly. The distinction which I am contending for, and which I deem to be of vital importance to the religion of the gospel, is support. ed by the representations the scriptures make of the different ways by which the word and the Spirit are sent to us. The word is represent. ed as sent by human instrumentality, but the Spirit as coming immedi. ately from God; the word goes out of Zion, but the Spirit comes from heaven : “ The Lord shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion." “ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” Ps. cx, 2. Isa. ii. 3. But the Spirit is not represented to be sent from Jerusalem; but to be sent down from heaven. It is spoken of as “ poured upon us from on high.” i Pet. i. 12. Isa. xxxii. 15. Joel ii. 28.

Fourthly. The word of God, though it is called “the rod of his strength," is represented as being sometimes powerless, and as always needing the Spirit's influence to give it effect on the heart, either of sinner or saint. The apostle, with adoring gratitude to God, reminds the church at Thessalonica, that the gospel which had been preached in their city, did not come to them in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost. 1 Thess. i. 245. Did he not hereby establish a manifest distinction between the word and the Holy Ghost ? This clearly implied, that the word might have come to them without the Holy Ghost; and that in such case it would also have been without power.

[blocks in formation]

This Article harmonizes with the two which immediately precede it. Drop this from our series, and the gospel scheme would be utterly deficient. In the first of these two Articles we see salvation freely offered to all ; and in the other we are taught, that it is the fired char. acter of every sinner in the world to reject that offer. Yet we learn from the Bible and from what has transpired, that this offer has been accepted by many of our fallen race. The light which the present Article sheds on our system, reveals the cause of this fact. Here we learn how it came to pass that the son, who at first refused to go and work in his father's vineyard, afterwards repented and went. The new creation of the mind, enables us to account for wonderful phenomena in the moral world. It enables us to see why Saul, the persecutor, should preach the faith he once destroyed; why three thousand on the day of Pentecost believed in that Savior, whom but a few days before they had put to death; and why all the saved should embrace those kind offers, which they once obstinately refused. When God takes away their heart of stone, and gives them a heart of flesh, neither the holiness of the salvation, nor the humiliating terms on which it is of. fered, form any objection to their cordial acceptance of it. The gospel needs to undergo no change, in order to please that heart which is itself changed into the image of God.

« SebelumnyaLanjutkan »