صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

eternity, constitutes no essential change of character. The contrast which is made by sin and holiness, is not between a small and great selfish interest; or between one which is temporal and one which is eternal. It is between loving self supremely, and loving God supremely; between laying up treasure for one's self, and being rich towards God; between men's living to themselves, and their living to Him who died for them. Luke xii. 21. 2 Cor. v. 15. “Whosoever,” said Christ, “ will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.” But we have no promise of saving our life, because we lose it merely for the sake of saving it. To seek a holy salvation, is evidence of holiness in those who seek it; but where the impelling motives are of a selfish charac. ter, the greatest zeal in seeking it, indicates no better principle than that of unregenerate nature.

Having shown when a transformation of character is radical, and what is necessary to constitute such a change in the case of a totally depraved sinner, 1 proceed to bring scriptural proof to establish the point, that regeneration is such a change.

First. The words and figures by which it is represented, are adapted to make the impression on our minds, that the change is radical; not the mere pruning of an unfruitful tree, but the transforming of a corrupt into a good tree, by altering the very nature of its root. Re. generation (the word used in the Article) means the same as re-begotten; and when it is applied to men as moral agents, it must import a funda. mental change of character. The same is imported by the expression born again.

This supposes, that at the hour of his conversion there is an important sense in which a man begins his life a second time. The same radical change is implied in one's being called out of darkness into marvellous light. In the natural world, darkness and light are two of the most striking contrarieties. What, I would ask, can be more expressive of a change which is fundamental than a new creation ? “ If any man be in Christ he is a new creature ; old things are passed away, behold, all things are become new.” Again, how entire is the difference between death and life: “You hath he quickened who were dead.” “We have passed from death to life.” Tit

. iii. 5. John iii. 3. 1 Pet. ii. 9. 2 Cor. v. 17. Eph. ii. 1. 1 John, iii. 14.

Unrenewed nature is called the old man, and the renewed nature the new man, the new heart, the new spirit. The heart we have by nature, is termed a heart of stone, and that which is imparted by regeneration, a heart of flesh. Sione, which is hard and unfeeling, and flesh, which is tender and sensitive, when they are used to illustrate characters, indi. cate a radical difference. These, and other similar expressions found in the scriptures, refer to that transformation of character of which we speak; and do they not manifestly import, that it is not circumstantial, but radical ? The scriptures do not represent it to be the melioration of a heart already in some measure good, but as the giving of a new heart ; nor as imparting new degrees of vivacity; but rather life itself. Until born of the Spirit, we have not the breath of life; we are not spiritual, but carnal. Here spiritual life begins. I now appeal to ev. ery man who has read his Bible-Can you conceive of more express. ive terms and figures, to denote a radical change in the sinner's char. acter, than those made use of by the Spirit of inspiration for this purpose ?

a

a

Secondly. The names made use of to distinguish from other men, the individuals who have experienced this change, evidently imply its radical nature. The scripture calls them saints, while other men are called sinners. It calls them the righteous, and other men the wicked. They are denominated the godly, and other men the ungodly; they the friends, and other men the enemies of God; they the wheat, other men the chaf; they the gold, and others the dross; they something, others nothing. Ps. i. 4-6; xvi. 3; xlv. 13; cxix. 119. John xv. 14. Luke xix. 27. Matt. iii. 12. Gal. vi. 3. These, and many other discriminating names, are made use of to draw a line of demarkation which shall separate the regenerate from the unregenerate : and can they possibly imply any thing less than moral opposites ? If they can not, then regeneration is no circumstantial change, since the appellations and epithets, importing moral excellence, are wholly restricted to such as are regenerated.

Thirdly. That regeneration is a radical change, is made evident to all that are its subjects, by that conviction of sin which precedes it. Persons who have not thought intensely on religious matters, are apt to imagine, if any change be necessary to prepare them for heaven, it is nothing more than a circumstantial one. They suppose there are a few sinful practices which they need to abandon, and some neglected duties they must take up; and that as soon as they can bring their minds to adopt such amendments, they have passed through all the change that is necessary.

But while such incorrect views on this subject are entertained, men continue in unregeneracy. The God of our salvation intends we shall know, that to pass from a state of moral death to life, is a great transition ; and therefore by sharp convictions, whether of longer or shorter continuance, he makes us see and feel that we are not partially, but totally depraved; and that what we need is not some slight improvement, but a change of nature.

Fourthly. The radical nature of this change is made evident, by its leading its subjects to the exercise of new affections, and the performance of new duties. As soon as men are renewed in the spirit of their mind, and not before, they begin to love God, to repent of their sins, to put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, to delight in the character of his disciples, to exercise good will towards all men, and for. giveness towards their worst enemies. Those sinful practices which had been their delight, they now forsake, and those duties they had been wont to neglect through aversion, they now adopt as their chosen way of living. Being risen with Christ, they seek those things that are above. A life of godliness, uprightness, and self-government, is, for its own sake, now preferred to a life of impiety, dishonesty, and self-indulgence. The change must be radical which produces new

. affections, and renders pleasant that course of obedience to divine rules which was before painful.

Fifthly. That this change is radical, is proved by its continuance. Those changes which do not alter the nature of things, are not so apt to be permanent. This holds true both in the natural and moral world. Persons are seen to turn away their ears from the truth unto fables, and to turn away from a religious to an irreligious course. Nor is it unfrequent, that such apostacies happen among those who profess to be the subjects of regeneration : but where this change is real, where it imparts a new nature, the seed remaineth ; it is as permanent as life, yea, as permanent as existence. If regeneration were a circumstan. tial alteration in a man's life, such as the adoption of some new creed, or a new moral regimen, without any transformation of nature, no de. pendence could be made upon its abiding with us through all the vicis. situdes of life, and accompanying us into the world of spirits. But since, where it is real, it always proves to be an abiding change, it can be nothing less than a transformation of the depraved heart. By means

a of it we have a nature that is new ; yea, we become partakers of the divine nature, and henceforth live godly in Christ Jesus.

Sixthly. The radicalness of the change may be inferred from the influence it exerts, to place its subjects in an entirely new position under the divine government. On the one side of this line is condemnation, on the other, justification. Regeneration transforms us from a state of exposure to the curse of the law, to a state of freedom from the curse. The frowns of the Judge are exchanged for smiles. The regenerated, in distinction from all other men, enjoy the high privilege of communion with God. They are in a state of preparation for death, for which solemn event the unregenerated have no preparation. At the day of judgment a most important separation will be made between all the millions of our race, and the dividing line will be drawn, with a per. fect exactness, by the change which we are now contemplating. On the right hand of Christ will be the whole company of the regenerate, while all the unregenerate will go to the left. If the change were not radical, how could this separation be made ? The difference between rich and poor is too circumstantial to render it possible to draw such a line between them as to determine to which of these classes every man belongs. The same difficulty would attend the dividing of the healthful from the diseased; but to distinguish between the living and the dead, is attended with no such difficulty, for the difference is perfectly plain. And in His view who trieth the hearts, the difference between converted and unconverted men is no less plain and distinguishable. The number of the converted, to a unit, is known to Him; and He can separate them all from the residue of men; not as a shepherd divides the well fed from the lean of his flock, but with the same ease as he divides the sheep from the goats. Matt. xxv. 32.

The point being settled, as I trust, that regeneration is not a circumstantial, but radical change, and one which takes place in the sinner's heart, I shall proceed to consider,

II. Its efficient cause. The Article ascribes the regenerating change to the power of God. Though different causes operate to bring about the sinner's conversion, there is one which is pre-eminent. The power of God is the sole efficient cause of the change in question. The su. preme efficient cause may produce the effect, without the aid of those which are subordinate ; but the subordinate would be wholly ineffectual of themselves. God can produce bread without the labor of the husbandman, and even without the seed he sows, or any other subor. dinate cause; but neither of these, nor all of them combined, could produce it without Him.

The efficient cause in the sinner's regeneration differs from all other causes, in the directness or immediateness of its operation. There are only two conceivable ways by which he can be reached ? the one is by placing truth before him to attract his attention, the other by an imme. diate operation on his mind. The first serves to show him the thing he ought to be willing to do; the ther works in him both to will and to do. For the sake of distinction, we term the first indirect influence; for, though the mind is approached, it is not, in the most proper sense, touched This influence, though used with great thoroughness, may nevertheless fail of producing the desired effect. It is merely persua. sive, and therefore, to distinguish it from a direct influence, it has usu. ally been denominated moral suasion. In this way alone can created beings reach one another's minds, If there is no being who can reach them in any other way, then it will follow, that if moral suasion cannot collect strength enough to convert the sinner, his conversion is in every respect impossible.

I am aware that on the subject of the efficient cause of regeneration, the Christian world is not wholly united. I have reviewed this part of my doctrinal series with diligence, and with prayer for direction. If my former views have been wrong; if their tendency is to eclipse the glory of God, or hinder the salvation of men, it has been my earnest prayer that I might exchange them for those of a more favorable ten. dency. But, thus far, the result of my prayers and investigations has been to confirm me, in what, I believe, has been the commonly received opinion of the orthodox, namely; That the efficient cause of regenera. tion is not moral suasion, but a more direct influence of the Spirit of God on the mind.

I do not see how there can be more than two opinions on this controverted point. If there be no direct influence, then the sinner's con. version is effected by moral suasion alone. It matters not who makes use of it, whether it be a man, or an angel, or the Almighty God; if no direct influence be used, the conversion is wholly the effect of moral suasion; it must be ascribed exclusively to the power of motives. In favor of something more than moral suasion, even a direct divine influence, I would state,

1. That such influence is possible. It is not, in the nature of things, absurd ; and therefore cannot be impossible with God. He that “ formeth the spirit of man within him," must be able to have the most direct access to that spirit which he has formed. In originating an immate. rial substance, creative power must have been as direct on the thing produced, as in originating a substance which is material. And we should entertain unsuitable conceptions of the all-sufficiency of the Creator, were we to suppose that spirits, as soon as they are brought into being, are so beyond his control that he can no longer reach them by any influence more direct than what lies within the power of dependent agents. Is it any more incomprehensible that the Almighty, in distinction from all dependent agents, should have power to operate directly on our hearts, than that-he, in distinction from all others, should be able to search them, so as intuitively to discern all our unexpressed thoughts? I know that contradictions are not objects of power, even of unlimited power.

To some it may appear to be nothing less than a contradiction, to say that God by a direct influence gives us a character ; that the character should be ours, and yet be so directly from his forming hand. But why is this any more contradictory in the new creation, than in the first? When God made man he created him in his own image; he made him upright. Does not this imply, that as soon as man existed an intelligent creaturc he had a holy character, for which he was as immediately indebted to his Creator, as for his existence? That the image of God meant something more than those mental powers, by which he might form such a character for himself, is made evident by what is said concerning the new man that is re. newed after the divine image; and this image is declared to consist in righteousness and true holiness. Eph. iv. 24. Col. iii. 10. It is, I find, becoming with some a theological axiom, (as if it were too evi. dent to admit of contradiction,) That while to create moral agents is not too hard for the Lord, yet to create their character transcends his power. This, they say, must be formed by themselves, independently of any, creative act of His. But why should this position be considered as self-evident? Have the scriptures so represented it? If God's creating Adam in his own image, be explained to mean nothing more than his endowing him with a capacity for a holy character, how will such an explanation apply to the new creation ? "The sinner is said to be renewed after the image of him who created him. Yet long before this renovation, he has reason, and all the necessary capabilities for a holy character. He needs nothing of this sort more than he already possesses. A creation after the image of God, can therefore, in his case, imply nothing less than the imparting of a new and holy charac. ter; for in no other sense will his mind admit of a new creation.

Have facts shown it to be be self-evident, that while the Deity can create moral capacity, he can not create moral character ? He created an innumerable multitude of angels, and at the very commencement of their existence every individual of them possessed a holy character. He created two distinct individuals, to be the parents of mankind; and they were not both made at once : yet, on their first entrance into the intellectual system, they both took one way, and that was “the way of holiness.” If God did not give these creatures their moral nature, as well as their capability for it, how is it to be accounted for, that they all took such a course as they did ? Are we not taught by these speci. mens of the Creator's works, that he has power to fill the universe with worlds, and these worlds with intelligent creatures, and give to every one of these creatures a holy character: or, in other words, that it is as completely an object of his power, to endow intelligencies with a moral nature, as to impart to the different species of material substances their respective laws, or physical natures ? If the race of Adam had not by means of the fall received a moral nature, and one that was de. praved, it would be difficult to account for this striking fact, that among the innumerable millions who have been born into the world, they have all, with the exception of one individual, (I refer to that wonderful per. son called the SEED OF THE WOMAN,) inclined to a wrong course.

I know that the natural order of things requires, that we conceive of the faculties of the mind as preceding its character; but it is not neces. sary that we give them a precedence in the order of time. A planet is a moving body. If such a body did not exist, of course it could not

« السابقةمتابعة »