« VorigeDoorgaan »
next. We cannot conceive an angel in heaven to be actuated by such sentiments and feelings ; to balance accounts with his Creator, and to settle how much he owes to himself, and how much to the author of his being. This strange procedure is reserved for our world where the most helpless of all creatures, through a singular infatuation, boast of their powers; and, when the arm of Omnipotence is stretched out to assist them, deem their honour engaged scornfully to reject its aid. Such is the conduct of those who cavil at the doctrine of regenerating grace, and labour to prove, by an array of what they deem rational arguments, that man can attain, by his own efforts, the moral excellence which the Scripture pronounces to be the gift of Heaven.
ON THE APPLICATION OF REDEMPTION.
Farther Observations on the Spirit's Agency in Conversion-Divine Grace, its Mode of
Operation and its Invincibility—Its Effect, Regeneration–The Change Implied in Regeneration, Illumination of the Mind and Renovation of the Will-Consequences.
The application of redemption commences with the call of God, by which sinners are brought from a state of nature into a state of grace. This call is external by the gospel, in which salvation is offered to them, and they are invited and commanded to receive it; and internal by the Spirit, who persuades and enables them to comply. The former is ineffectual without the latter, as we showed from the corruption of human nature, which has sunk into a state of complete spiritual disability, and from the express and varied language of Scripture, which ascribes our conversion to the power of God, and represents iis influence upon our minds and hearts as indispensably necessary to our cordial reception of the truth.
The many passages to which we referred obviously teach, that the true cause of the efficacy of the external means is, the invisible power of God silently influencing ihe soul. Unless the Scriptures were intended to mislead us by the use of figurative and hyperbolical language, which means much less than meets the ear, or means something very different from what the terms naturally suggest, there can be no doubt that our doctrine is legitimately deduced from them. It may be asked in what other manner the inspired writers would have expressed themselves, if it had been their acknowledged intention to teach that, besides the external call of the word, there is necessary the internal call of the Spirit, and that this consists in an exertion of power, the object of which is not merely to assist us, as if we possessed a certain degree of strength, but to perform the whole work, and to leave us only the office of concurring in its progress ? Would they have made use of any other terms, or, in the whole compass of their vocabulary, could they have found terms more appropriate to their design, or which would have more definitely pointed out the exclusive operation of Omnipotence? What more could any person have said, who intended to signify that the spiritual change of the soul is the work, not of himself, but of God, than to call this change a creation out of nothing, and a resurrection from the dead?
We have seen that, notwithstanding the explicit testimony of Scripture, many attempts have been made to assign to men an important agency in the application of redemption. Pelagius, who denied original sin, attributed it wholly to ourselves, and spoke of Divine grace only in deference to the phraseology of Scripture, and in compliance with the common language of Christians. When he said that God enlightens us by his heavenly grace, he meant nothing more than that he has given an external revelation. All are followers of Pelagius, who maintain that man is by nature possessed of a power to comply with the call of the gospel. Some talk of sufficient grace, and others of concursive grace, understanding in fact the same thing, namely, an ability given to all men to believe, so that those who do actually believe are not more indebted to God than unbelievers, but may take praise to themselves for having made a better use of their power; in direct opposition to Scripture, which declares that it is not of him that willeth, but of God that showeth mercy.
We shall not be surprised at the attempts which have been made to bring forward man, as in whole or in part, the author of his salvation, if we reflect upon the pride of his heart, which prompts him, like our first parents, to aspire to be a God, possessing not only the knowledge of good and evil, but also the power to do the one as well as the other. To gratify this principle, Scripture is tortured and perverted, and is made to speak a language most foreign to its obvious design, and to the unquestionable sentiments of the writers. We may remark also in this, as in other cases, the unhappy influence of philosophy, falsely so called, upon the doctrines of revelation. The sentiments of the ancient sects of philosophers have been introduced into Christianity, and have produced the unhallowed compound of what is called rational theology. The power of man to make himself virtuous was held by them all: many professed disciples of Christ have chosen rather to adopt their proud and presumptuous conclusions, than to acquiesce in his humiliating lessons. When some divines talk of the human heart as the true source of virtue, and of the necessity of its originating in our independent choice, that it may possess the nature of virtue, we seem to be listening to a philosopher of the Porch, who described his good man as superior to the gods, because the latter were virtuous by nature, while the virtue of the former was derived from himself.
When we ascribe conversion to the grace of God, it is necessary to ascertain the meaning of the term grace, which, in Scripture, bears a variety of senses. It sometimes signifies the free favour of God, or his unmerited love, considered as the source of our salvation, and of all our blessings and privileges : “ Who hath saved us, and called us according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began."'* nifies again the gospel, in which the love of God is revealed, and by which the blessings flowing from it are communicated. This is the saving grace of God, which “hath appeared to all men,”t and the grace of God, which we are exhorted not to receive in vain.”! Lastly, the term is used to denote the operation of Divine love upon the soul, as when Paul says, “ By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain."'S It is in this sense that we speak of the grace of God, when we call it the efficient cause of the conversion of sinners.
In speaking of spiritual things, we are often under the necessity of employing terms originally intended to express material objects, and we are always in danger of transferring to the former, ideas borrowed from the latter. The grace of God is sometimes spoken of, and sometimes probably conceived, as if it were something substantial, something distinct from, and inherent in the soul, like a portion of matter mingled with another, by which its qualities are corrected or changed. But it is manifest, upon the slightest reflection, that such notions are improper when applied to a spiritual subject. The grace of God must be understood to signify simply his power freely exerted to produce
+ Tit. i. 11.
• 2 Tim. i. 9.
* 2 Cor. vi. 1.
$ I Cor. xv. 10.
a change in the moral state of the soul, or, by a metonymy, the change itself, the name of the cause being given to the effect.
It is not contrary to the analogy of nature, that the grace of God, as denoting the exertion of his power upon the soul, should be employed in the conversion of sinners. It is certain, from reason as well as from the express declarations of Scripture, that creatures are dependent upon their Maker for the continuance of their existence, and the exercise of their faculties. As the various parts of creation are linked together, and afford each other mutual support; as the heavens fertilize the earth, the earth supplies its inhabitants with food, its inhabitants propagate their kind, rear their offspring, and co-operate for the purposes of society; so the whole system is supported by the providence of God, as the Heathens acknowledged, when they represented it as suspended from the throne of Jupiter by a golden chain, and his energy as the primary cause of its movements. It is no objection that we cannot explain the manner in which God acts upon his creatures, if the fact is certain, that it is owing to his constant influence that we live, and think, and will, and move our limbs, and perform all our bodily and mental functions.“ In him we live, and move, and have our being." There is no such difference between this case and the conversion of sinners, that we should hesitate to concede in the one what we admit in the other. If the influence of Providence in upholding, exciting, and directing us, is not destructive of our rational nature, I should wish to know upon what ground the influence of grace, in giving us new moral inclinations and habits, is supposed to be subversive of it. The operation of the power of God in regeneration, may be considered as of the same kind with its operation in providence, although it is exerted for a different purpose. Some, indeed, may choose to say that it is of a different kind, lest we should confound nature and grace, and represent grace only as nature carried to a higher degree of perfection. But this danger is imaginary. There are two powers in God; but his energy is one, and is distinguished by the objects on which, and the ends for which, it is exerted. It is the same power which creates, and upholds in existence: the same power which forms a stone and a sunbeam : the same power which gives vegetable life to a tree, animal life to a brute, and rational life to a man. In like manner, it is the same power which assists us in the natural exercise of our faculties, and enables us to exercise them in a spiritual manner. Hence it does not appear that there is any reasonable ground on which we should reject the doctrine of regenerating grace, , any more than the doctrine of providential influence.
That the grace of God, in the application of redemption, is mighty, may be inferred from the effect. It is a change of the whole man, of his views, and principles, and inclinations, and pursuits. Now, this is a change which no means merely human have ever been able to accomplish. Not to mention the total failure of philosophy to reform mankind, or even in a single instance to inspire true virtue, we may remark, that the superior instructions, and precepts, and motives of Christianity, although employed with great diligence and earnestness, prove so often ineffectual, as to convince every person of reflection, that when they do take effect, their success should be attributed to a higher cause than their intrinsic excellence, or the eloquence of the teachers. The hand of God is clearly seen in the sudden, commanding, and lasting impressions which are often made upon the mind. When the thoughtless are compelled to think, and to think with an intenseness and seriousness which they never formerly felt; when the careless are in a moment affected with a sense of their most important interests; when the lips which were accustomed to blaspheme, learn to pray; when the proud assume the lowly attitude and language of the penitent; when those who were devoted to the world, give evidence that now the object of their desires and pursuits is a heavenly inheritance; and when
this rerolution, so wonderful, has been effected by the simple word of God, and by the word which the subjects of this change had often heard before unmoved, we must be convinced that some mighty influence has been exerted, and that that influence is divine. Here, if anywhere, we perceive the finger of God. Hence his power is represented as displayed in the success of the Gospel : “ The Lord shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion: rule thou in the midst of thine enemies. Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power."'*
The power of God, exerted in the regeneration and conversion of sinners, is invincible. I make use of this term rather than the word irresistible, because, when the latter is taken in its natural import, it does not express what is the fact. Resistance is made to the grace of God, not only by the finally impenitent, but also by those who ultimately yield to it. In particular, when they begin to feel convictions of sin, they often endeavour to suppress them, or resort to improper expedients for relief; "going about" for example, " to establish their own righteousness, and not submitting to the righteousness of God.”+ In these instances, they are chargeable with opposition to grace. Those, therefore, who speak of irresistible grace, mean that it cannot be finally resisted ; that it will overcome all the efforts of corrupt nature to counteract its design ; and that it will ultimately render sinners obedient to the faith. But this idea is more properly expressed by the term, invincible. Man must submit in the end to the power of God; and this will be more evident, if we consider that his power is not only sufficient to compel the most refractory to yield, although with the greatest reluctance, but that it can take away the spirit of opposition, and so influence the hearts of men, that this submission shall be voluntary.
Were we to say that the grace of God is not invincible, we should be under the necessity of adopting the opinion, which we have already proved to be unscriptural, that there is a power in man to comply or not to comply with the call of the Gospel. We should take the work of conversion out of the hand of God, and commit it to man himself. After God had done all that he could do for our salvation, it would depend upon ourselves whether the intended effect should follow. Hence the result of the dispensation of the Gospel would be altogether uncertain. It would not be known beforehand whether all would believe, or all would disobey. If the grace of God was effectually resisted in one case, it might be effectually resisted in every case ; and, consequently, although Christ shed his blood that he might bring sinners to God, and the whole economy of grace has been instituted with a view to carry the design of his death into effect, it might happen that not an individual of the human race would be saved. The very possibility of such an issue, by which the scheme of redemption would be frustrated, furnishes a strong presumption in favour of the doctrine, that the grace exercised in the conversion of sinners is not of such an equivocal character, that it may or may not accomplish its design, but that its operation is mighty and efficacious, bearing down all opposition, and “bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.
The great objection against the invincibility of Divine grace is, that it is subversive of the liberty of the will. It seems inconceivable to some, that a man should be free, and at the same time should be infallibly determined to a par
But, the objection proceeds upon a misapprehension of the mode of operation. The idea occurs of external force, by which a man is compelled to do something to which he is averse. It is not considered that the power of grace is not compulsive; that it puts no force upon our minds ; that, instead of disturbing our mental constitution, it goes along with it; and that, in a manner at once natural and supernatural, it secures the concurrence
• Ps. cx. 2, 3,
† Rom. x. 3.
of the will. True liberty consists in doing what we do, with knowledge and from choice ; and such liberty is not only consistent with conversion, but essential to it; for if a man turn to God at all, he must turn with his heart. God does not lead us to salvation without consciousness, like stones transported from one place to another; nor without our consent, like slaves who are driven to their task by the terror of punishment. He conducts us in a manner suitable to our rational and moral nature. He so illuminates our minds, as we shall afterwards see, that we most cordially concur with his design. His power, although able to subdue opposition, is of the mildest and most gentle kind. While he commands, he persuades; while he draws, the sinner comes without reluctance: and never in his life is there a freer act of volition than when he believes in Christ, and accepts of his salvation.
It is an important question on this subject, whether a sinner is merely passive in the first moment of his conversion, or his will co-operates with the grace of God? It will facilitate the answer to it, if we distinguish between regeneration and conversion. Those who, with Pelagius, deny original sin, and maintain that there is no depravity in us, but what has been contracted by our own acts, make regeneration to consist in a voluntary change and reformation of life ; and therefore hold that man is a worker with God from the commencement of it. Indeed, according to this scheme, God merely commands him to reform, and he obeys by his own power. But, according to the Scriptures, regeneration is a change effected by divine grace in the state of the soul, the supernatural renovation of its faculties, the infusion of a principle of spiritual life. It is evident that, if this is a just definition, the sinner is passive; for, till divine grace is exerted upon him, he is incapable of moral activity, and, in the language of inspiration, is “dead in trespasses and sins." He is in the same situation with a man who is literally dead, and who, when lying in the grave, cannot contribute in any degree to the restoration of his life. He is like Lazarus, who had no concern in his own resurrection, knew not that our Saviour had come to his sepulchre to deliver him from death, and could not have obeyed the voice which called upon him to come forth, if the power which accompanied it had not brought back his spirit from the invisible world, and re-united it to his body. Regeneration is the effect of preventing grace, or of grace which precedes our endeavours, and operates alone. Conversion is the turning of the soul to God, and is expressed by our seeking the Lord, our coming to him, our forsaking our evil ways, and turning to him, and by other phrases which import activity, and allude to the motion of the body in changing its place. It obviously implies the exercise of repentance and faith, the love of God, and the choice of his service; and these are positive acts of the soul. In this view, the sinner co-operates with the grace of God. He does not aid grace or render it effectual by the exertion of his own natural power, but he yields to it, goes along with it, and works under its influence. Let it be carefully observed that, while we say that the sinner, although passive in regeneration, is active in conversion, we do not ascribe to him any independent activity, or represent any part of the work as properly his own. His province consists solely in concurrence. He acts because he has been acted upon. The motion of his soul towards God is the effect of the Spirit of life, who has entered into him, as the motion of the body is the effect of his inward thoughts and volitions. His conversion is, therefore, wholly of grace, that is, to grace are owing both the power to turn to God, and the actual exercise of that power; and his own convictions on this subject accord with the sentiments of Paul, who says, “I laboured more abundantly than they all ; yet not I, but the grace of God which was in me."*
. i Cor. xv, 10.