« PreviousContinue »
I leave it with reflecting minds to say, which are unagi tated by passion; and unblinded by prejudice, by party spirit, or the pride of opinion; and which can appreciate the necessity of correct, consistent, and intelligible evidence, in order to a rational, and a firm faith, How far denominations of religion conduce to the contempt of the christian interest, and the degradation, and reproach of Christ, and his cause amongst mankind, who reprobate the suitableness, and sufficiency, the competency, and credibility, of the divine evidence given by the Holy Spirit; and which are recorded in the scriptures as the mean established by God under his government of grace for producing the faith of the Gospel?
To those who oppose the evidence of the Spirit, as recorded, and as the established, and competent inean of faith, I would use the language of expostulation, a little varied, which Gamaliel used with the high priests, and others, upon a similar occasion-I say unto you, refrain from opposing this doctrine, and let it alone, for if this council, or this work, and form of evidence, be of men, it will come to nought: but if it be of God, and established by him as the order of his throne, ye cannot overthrow it; LEST HAPLY YE BE FOUND EVEN TO FIGHT AGAINST GOD. Acts 5
Paul, in his Epistle to the Galatians, chapt. 1. 8. reprobates every other plan of doctrine than that which the Apos tles had taught, and which I have, at great length, detailed from the Acts of the Apostles, in some of the preceding Sections of this Chapter; his words are these: "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other Gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him' be accursed." The preachers, and teachers in our day, cannot work miracles in the name of Jesus Christ, as did the Apostles, to prove the divine character of the Saviour, his resurrection, his supreme authority, &c. to make the Gentiles obedient in word, and deed; but they can employ the same signs, and wonders, and miracles, which were wrought, and are written for these purposes; so that the faith of their hearers should not stand in the wisdom of men, or their noisy declamation, but in demonstration of the Spirit, and power of God. The systematic neglect of, and of
ten violent opposition to, preaching of this kind, has beert equalled by nothing of a like nature more strikingly, than the oversight in the christian world, of the means which are necessary for the conversion of the Jews to christianity, viz. the sending of the Gospel to them in their own language. This has never been thought of until within a very few years; and all Christendom is lost in astonishment, that it should have been overlooked-See Buchanan's Asiatic Researches. This great oversight in respect to the means which are necessary for the conversion of the Jews, has arisen from the same cause, that the neglect in urging the evidences of the Spirit in signs, and wonders, as recorded in a proper manner, as the proofs by which the doctrines, and principles of the Gospel, can only be believed, has proceeded from. Divine, and supernatural things, are with greater difficulty believed, even with evidence, than natural ones; are, because of their absence, or their want of immediate sensible properties; and on account of their contrariety to natural objects. Without the evidence which God, by his Spirit, has given of their truth; and by which they support themselves, they cannot, consistently, and agreeably to the very nature of the human mind, and the analogies of truth, reason, and common sense, be believed. This source of error has consisted, and does consist, in the opinion that the Spirit of God, by an immediate physical agency, of a Lazarus raising like operation, either upon the essence of mind, or the organic structure of the body, or both, regenerates the soul; and thereby imparts to, or produces in it a capacity for second sight; which is a pre-requisite work to spiritual discernment, and faith: and that preaching, and hearing the word of God, is nothing more than a simultaneous operation, the Spirit sometimes working with, and often without the word. This doctrine has been proped by a resort to God's sovereignty, his decress, &c. Had those system makers have shown a way by which the souls of men could escape the burnings of tophet for believing their plan, and rejecting the Gospel; they would have extinguished the flames of a Gospel hell; having failed in that, however, their theories only crowd the gates of perdition by the souls of those who are lulled into a sceptical repose by the
impossibility of believing the Gospel according to their views. For the origin, in part, of these theories, see pages 100, 1-2, of this book. So long as such ideas of the ope rations of God's Spirit exist, the proper means, in their appropriate character, for imparting spiritual knowledge, and producing faith, must, of necessity, be overlooked, or neglected; and, when urged for these purposes, be opposed with a warmth, and intolerance, with unwarrantable charges of heresy, and inquisitorial denunciation, very unbecoming the meek, and lowly spirit of the Gospel-it cannot be otherwise; because passion, and imagination become the ruling principles of the mind: they dictate to the understanding, and consecrate every effusion of fancy, and delusive, transitory feeling, which are as changeable as the wind, with the name of the Spirit's own immediate operations. What heresies, distraction, and bloodshed, have afflicted the church, and people of God, from these causes!
Upon spiritual, and moral subjects, it is incalculable what evils arise from apparently trifling causes. A striking example of this, is found in the misapprehension of the expression of our Lord to Nicodemus: "The wind bloweth where it listeth and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh and whither it goeth: So is every one that is born of the Spirit." John 3. 8. The wind bloweth upon the face of nature; it being invisible, and only known by its effects, is thought to establish the physical operations of the Spirit in regeneration, in concomitance with, but distinct from, and independent of the word of God in the Guspel. This error has deprived the Gospel of its instrumental character, properly speaking, for the spiritual renovation of the understanding, will, and affections of men. The expression in the concluding part of the verse, "So is every one that is born of the Spirit," is rarely ever taken in connection with the preceding part of it-the hearing the sound of the wind. We hear the sound of the wind, but cannot tell whence it cometh or whither it goeth; so also we hear the Spirit through the word-he is no more an object of corporeal vision, than is the wind; and it is by the sound of his voice in words that he is known to exist, and by which the knowledge of spiritual, and eternal things, is communica
ted to the mind. The things of God are made known to the understandings of men by the words of God-those glorious things which the Gospel promises; among which, is the world to come, the pardon of sin, a glorious resurrection of the body from the dead by the power of the Holy Ghost, procured, and illustrated by the death, and resurrection of the Son of God; a happy immortality, &c. upon condition of repentance towards God, and faith in Jesus Christ. These things, believed by their proper evidence, constitute the new birth, as far as the term regeneration is applicable to man on this side of the grave. According to the absolute meaning of the term regeneration, I must needs think, that the glorious resurrection of the body from the dead, as Paul described it, is an essential part of it, which is hereafter to be realized. This being believed in through Jesus Christ as a fundamental article in the operations of God's Spirit, in the destiny of man, is a main principle in the intellectual, and moral regeneration of man in this life. The certainty of our future resurrection, and the truth, and authority of the Gospel, is resolvable into the divinity of Jesus Christ. Hence John says, that "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God." 1 John 5. 1. And Paul says that he was "declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead." Rom. 1. 4. And John, in another place, says that he wrought the miracles (by the Holy Ghost) that he might be believed the Son of God. God, in raising up Jesus Christ from the dead, is said thereby to have begotten him. Acts 13. 33. We are said, by the abundant mercy of God, to be begotten again unto a hope of life by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. 1 Pet. 1. 3. All of which prove, that it is by the grace of God through Jesus Christ, and the word of his Spirit, that life, and immortality are procured, and brought to light; as it is through the same medium, and by the same means, that God is revealed to man; for the scriptures saith, "Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved;" but, says Paul, "how then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?" (or some person to
instruct them by the word of God) "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." Rom. 10. 13
17. But, the Holy Ghost saith by Paul, there must be a distinction in the sound; the operations of the Spirit con, sisting in mere sound, like the wind blowing, or in an un, known tongue, can effect nothing towards regeneration; "for except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air. There are it may be, so many kinds of voi ces in the world, and none of them is without signification. Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me," &c. "If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unleaned or unbe lievers, will they not say that ye are mad? But if all prophesy, or teach intelligibly, and there come in one that believeth not or one unlearned, he is convinced of all (by the Spirit who speaks through them) he is judged of all; and thus are the the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God," (in the exercise, and by reason of the faith thus produced,) "and report that God is in you of a truth. 1 Corinth. 14. 9-25. He that cometh to God must believe that he is; this belief cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
As a solemn confirmation of the soundness, and truth of this doctrine Paul tells the Corinthians, "If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord-But if any man be ignorant let him be ignorant." 1 Corth. 14, 37-38-It is by the words of the Spirit of God through the Apostles, that we are taught the things of God, which man's wisdom teacheth not, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth explaining spiritual things in spiritual words-But the natural man receiveth not the things of God; for they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them, (as a natural man) because they are spiritually discern, ed. 1 Corinth. 2. 13. 14. The natural man discerneth things through, natural, and corporeal light, by the bodily organs; the spiritual man discerns the things of the Spirit through the