Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

352

EVIDENCES OF REGENERATION.

“Is my obedience implicit? Is it really prompted by a regard to the authority of God, and does this appear by my practical regard to all the Divine precepts?

“Is my obedience habitual, and uniform,-not like a garment which is put on, and worn for an hour or two, and then cast aside ;-does it constitute my ordinary dress? Do the principles from which it springs, govern my conduct in all the relations I sustain—in my ordinary intercourse with society -in the domestic circle, and in the world ?"

While the reader is putting these questions to his own conscience, let him address God, in the language of supplication, “ Search me, O God, and know me, and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

LECTURE XXI.

REGENERATION.

THE CAUSE OF REGENERATION.

We have considered the term regeneration as denoting the whole of that moral change which is effected upon men by the instrumentality of the gospel. This definition unfolds, at once, the nature of regeneration, and the way in which it is effected. It exhibits Divine truth, when the Holy Spirit opens the heart to receive it, as the direct and proximate source of all the views or opinions we are brought to entertain of Divine things in general, and of all the holy affections which are awakened in the mind towards them; and it further exhibits the influence of the Holy Spirit, as the direct and proximate cause of that spiritual perception of the meaning and evidence of the truth, without which it can manifestly produce no more effect upon our minds than if it had never been communicated to the world. Thus the influence both of the word and of the Spirit of God are necessary to effect the renewal of a sinner in the spirit of his mind. By some operation, which we pretend not to explain, he is brought to perceive the true meaning, i. e., the spiritual meaning of Divine truth, and the evidence on which it founds its claims to be a revelation from God. Objective truth, to use rather antiquated phraseology, becomes subjective truth. The truth in the word is transferred to the mind. It forms the opinions and sentiments of the individual ; and operates in the production of that body of holy affections and desires, and hopes and fears, and joys and sorrows, which constitute unitedly the Christian character. Thus a distinction is made between the offices

Z

354

THE GOSPEL THE INSTRUMENTAL CAUSE.

of the truth, and of the Spirit, in the work of regeneration; yet the influence of both is necessary, and it may be fairly questioned whether, in the case of an adult, a single instance of conversion to God can be produced without their combined operation. Without the word, or the truth, we should be destitute of the means of renovation—there could be no love, at least rational love, to God, no choice of him as our portion, no selfdedication to his service; and without the influence of the Spirit, these means, even when skilfully employed, would be ineffectual; because man, left to himself, would uniformly reject the truth, and thus deprive himself of the holy influence it would exert upon his mind.

The two points, then, which I shall endeavour to establish, are the following:

I. That the truth, or the gospel, is the means or instrument, and may, therefore, be considered the proximate cause of regeneration.

II. That it is the especial agency of the Holy Spirit which ensures the success of this means or instrument; and, therefore, the Holy Spirit must be considered the ultimate cause of regeneration.

I. We have to show that the truth, or the gospel, is the means or instrument, and may, therefore, be considered the proximate cause of regeneration. In unfolding these general statements, there are two distinct points to which the attention of the reader will be directed:

First, that the truth is the instrument of conversion, to the exclusion of every other; and, Secondly, that it is in itself perfectly adequate to the production of the important effects which are attributed to it.

First, the truth is the instrument of conversion, to the exclusion of every other. To the exclusion of any additional communication from God; for when the Holy Spirit enlightens the understanding, it is not by imparting a new revelation, but by enabling us to perceive the spiritual, i.e., the real meaning of the old. He takes of the things of Christ, and shows them to us. It is the entrance of God's 'word that giveth light, that giveth understanding to the simple. In like

TO THE EXCLUSION OF ANY NEW REVELATION.

355

manner, when the Holy Spirit subdues the love of sin which had formerly reigned in the bosom, and kindles within it a flame of love to God, and holiness, he does not accomplish this by imparting to us a more awful view of the evil of sin than is exhibited in the inspired volume, or, in any respect, a different view; nor by surrounding the character of God with more irresistible charms than those in which the sacred writers have arrayed it: but by leading us to take that view of both, which is presented by the Holy Scriptures. The truth is thus the exclusive instrument of regeneration. To invalidate this statement, some have referred to the case of children dying in infancy; and who, as they are the subjects of original sin, need regeneration before they can be admitted to heaven. The proper answer is, I apprehend, that, in the full sense of the term

regeneration," the sense in which it is used in reference to an adult, comprehending the whole of that moral change which has been described, infants do not need, and are, indeed, incapable of, regeneration. In infants there are no mistaken apprehensions of Divine things to be corrected; no actual unholy affections towards them to be subdued, and removed: for, in the mind of an infant, there are, in reference to these things, no apprehensions and no affections of any description. There exists, doubtless, in the mind of every infant, the germ of that unholy fruit which, unless the grace of God prevent, will become at length visible; but the fruit itself has not as yet made its appearance. As far as they need regeneration, they are regenerated; i. e., an influence is exerted upon them, by the Spirit of all grace, which will ensure a holy exercise of the powers of their minds, when they become capable of moral perceptions and affections. Some change is produced upon them, of what nature I do not pretend to say, leading certainly to their subsequent devotion to God; but this, so far from being effected by an instrument different from the truth, is not effected by means at all; but by the direct agency of the Spirit of God. And if any one should reply, that, as this is not regeneration in the sense in which I have used the term, infants may be admitted to heaven without regeneration ; I would reply, without being very care

356

THE GOSPEL THE INSTRUMENTAL CAUSE,

be,

ful to defend the accuracy of the phraseology, that they are regenerated in the same sense in which they are depraved ;the germ of sin is removed,--the germ of holiness is introduced,--the only change that can be effected by any power upon

the mind of an infant. Others, again, refer to certain individuals in heathen lands, who, though they never heard the gospel, have given, as it is alleged, hopeful evidence of conversion to God. In reply, I would observe, in the First place, that it may possibly be doubted whether the alleged facts are sufficiently substantiated; or, Secondly, admitting that they are so, that they do not contradict the assertion that no instrumentality, save that of the gospel, is employed in the regeneration of men. For, in the instances referred to, where the hearts of individuals, in regions which have not been visited with the light of Divine truth, are savingly turned to God, if such instances there

it may prove to be the case that some supernatural revelation of the gospel was made to their minds, so that the instrument of personal renovation is the same—it is still the gospel; the only difference is in the mode in which the knowledge of the gospel was obtained. This is the best opinion I can form on the subject; it is, however, only an opinion. It seems to me impossible to conceive of renovated affections, in the full sense of the expression, as the result of an immediate and direct influence of the Spirit of God. While our physical constitution remains what it is, a spiritual perception of the Divine character must surely exist, in the order of nature at least, previously to the exercise of love to it. Were I to admit, then, that this perception may be the result of direct influence, somewhat in the same way with the inspiration of the ancient prophets, though I am aware there is difficulty even in this supposition, it would still remain a truth that the hearts of the persons, in the circumstances supposed, are affected through the medium of the understanding, as is the case with us. I can easily suppose, indeed, that there may be persons, amongst the heathen, who have undergone that change which I imagine is in all cases experienced, even in this country, as a precursor to regeneration in the full sense

« VorigeDoorgaan »