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distinction which obtains between the manner in which the apostles speak to sinners as such, and to believers. The facts of the Gospel, or the testimony that Christ died to save sinners, even the chief, are addressed to all men ;-but the promise of salvation is limited to them that believe. The former are true and important, whether men receive or reject them; the enjoyment of the latter depends on believing. When they speak of God giving to us eternal life, they are addressing those whom they knew, or believed to be Christians. It is strange that in reasoning on such subjects, men should not have discriminated between the Gospel as preached to the world, and epistles addressed to professed believers. It is like confounding the distinction between men dying of the plague, and invited to submit to cure ; and those who have submitted to the curative process, and experienced some of its most important benefits.
Note [N]. page 63.
It has been too common among preachers and theological writers to speak of the word of God as a dead letter, answering scarcely any important purpose without the influence of the Spirit. I submit that this is neither the meaning of the passage of Scripture which is commonly quoted for this purpose, nor respectful to the revelation of God itself. In 2 Cor. iii. 5, the apostle is speaking not of the Scriptures, but of the legal dispensation, which he calls the letter, and the ministration of death and condemnation; in opposition to the Gospel, which he denominates the spirit, and the ministration of righteousness. He does not speak of the law even as dead, but as killing or inflicting death or condemnation ; which is certainly no evidence of its being dead.
It is readily admitted that the Gospel gives life only as it is attended by the Spirit's power upon the heart; but this detracts nothing from the power and suitableness of the Gospel itself, of which the apostles invariably speak in the most eulogistic terms. The importance of the Spirit's revelation appears in various ways.
Even when it fails in converting the sinner, it renders him altogether inexcusable. It places before him the way of escape, it warns him of his danger, and it invites and urges him to flee to the refuge. If he does not attend, he will carry with him to the bar of God, the condemnation of his own conscience; and into eternity, a conviction of his folly and guilt, which will never forsake him. It may now be regarded by many as a dead letter, against whom it will be a living witness for ever.
It is the constant instrument or associate of the Spirit, in his work of regeneration and conversion. Without adverting at present to the case of infants, or of the heathen, who have not a revelation, we are justified in asserting that under the ordinary administration of the divine government, none of those who have the opportunity of attending to the word, are ever turned to God without it. It is what God has always so honoured, that we are not warranted to expect any general good in the world, but in connexion with the word.
It is so admirably adapted to all the necessities and circumstances of the Christian life, that the Divine Spirit invariably carries on his work in the people of God by means of the word. It is the pabulum of the spiritual life, its food, its medicine, its stimulant, its comfort; its precepts guide the wandering steps; its promises cheer the fainting spirit ; its discoveries purify and elevate the soul ; its principles form the character and mature it for beaven.
It is the established rule of the future judgment, as well as the law and encouragement of the present state. It is the book of life, according to whose determinations, and the correspondence of our characters to it, we shall be deemed fit or unfit for immortality. And for aught that we know, it contains the elements and outlines of all the discoveries, which God shall through eternity disclose to his people.
Who would depreciate the light of day because the blind do not enjoy it, or the charms of music because the deaf cannot hear them? Why then speak disparagingly of the word of the Lord, because its discoveries are despised, and its beauties disrelished, by those whose spirit and conversation are altogether opposed to it? It is the treasure, out of which the man of God must draw his resources of argument and expostulation; the magazine of his spiritual weapons; the source of all his personal hopes; and the instrument of all his ministerial success. “ The words that I speak unto you,” said Jesus,
they are Spirit, and they are life.” John vi. 63.
Note [O] page 67.
“ The understanding of man is now under the power of his affections." While I make this statement, I am quite agreed with that acute metaphysician and theologian, Jonathan Ed. wards, that man's “understanding is always as the greatest apparent good.” In this view of the matter, the understanding may still be regarded as the governing power. But there is a wide difference between being determined by what is good, and by what appears to be so. The former implies a right state of the disposition as well as of the understanding, the latter does not. When I say, that the will is as the greatest apparent good,” says Edwards, or, (as I have explained it) that volition has always for its object the thing which
appears most agreeable; it must be carefully observed, that I speak of the direct and immediate object of the act of volition; and not some object to which the act of will has only an indirect and remote respect. Many acts of volition have some remote relation to an object, that is different from the thing most immediately willed and chosen. Thus, when a drunkard has his liquor before him, and he has to choose whether to drink it or no; the immediate objects, about which his present volition is conversant, and between which his choice now de. cides, are his own acts, in drinking the liquor or letting it alone ; and this will certainly be done according to what, in the present view of his mind, taken in the whole of it, is most agreeable to him. If he chooses to drink it, and not to let it alone, then this action, as it star the view of his mind, with all that belongs to its appearance there, is more agreeable and pleasing than letting it alone.”—Edwards's Works, vol. i.
President Edwards then proceeds to show that the man's thus choosing is quite consistent with his entertaining a general persuasion, that drunkenness may bring upon him eternal misery. That is not, however, the object immediately before him, and therefore his love of liquor prevails over his fear of future punishment. It all tends to show the power, which our inclinations or moral habits have over our understandings, and that depravity is not so much in the understanding as in the will or affections.
The sentiments of Dr. Owen are in full accordance with what has been expressed in the discourse. Speaking on the deceitfulness of man's heart, he says ;-" The rise of this is the disorder that is brought upon all its faculties by sin. God created them all in perfect harmony and union. The mind and reason were in perfect subjection and subordination to God and his will. The will answered, in its choice of good, the discovery made of it by the mind; the affections constantly
and evenly followed the understanding and will. The mind's subjection to God was the spring of the orderly and harmonious motion of the soul, and all the wheels of it. That being disturbed by sin, the rest of the faculties move cross and contrary one to another. The will chooseth not the good which the mind discovers ; the affections delight not in that which the will choosetlı; but all jar and interfere, cross and rebel against each other. This we have got by our falling from God. Hence sometimes the will leads, the judgment follows; yea, commonly the affections which should attend upon all, get the sovereignty, and draw the whole soul after them.”—Owen on Indwelling Sin, chap. iii. Works, vol. xiii.
If this view of the matter be correct, and I know not any scriptural objection that lies against it, then the regeneration of a sinner consists in the rectification of the disorder among his faculties, or the restoration of the balance which has been destroyed by the preponderating power of the affections. This must be done, therefore, by diminishing the power of the evil dispositions of the heart, and increasing the power of the understanding. The former is effected by the Spirit's operation on the heart, the latter by the influence of the divine word upon the understanding. When both work together, harmony is restored-the mind bears sway—the love of God is shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost, which is given to believers-and all is light in the Lord. Hence the vast importance of cultivating an increased acquaintance with the word of God, as well as praying for spiritual influence, that we may“ grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” We are then enabled to choose not only what appears to be good, but wha' really is so. There is both spiritual discernment of things that differ, and spiritual taste, which disrelishes the evil, and delights in the good.