« AnteriorContinuar »
deed, the only way to remove this objection must be to make all beings exactly alike, and to confer on them exactly the same discributions. In other words, God, in order to remove this objection, must make all his conduct a mere repetition of exactly the same actions towards every creature.
2dly. It is objected, also, that this doctrine supposes man not to be a free agent in his regeneration.
To this objection I answer, that, if it be true, and be seen by us to be true, our knowledge of its truth must be derived either from some declaration of the Scriptures, or from the nature of the subject, philosophically investigated. From the former of these sources we cannot derive this knowledge; because no declaration of Scripture asserts any thing of this nature. All our knowledge with regard to it, therefore, must of course be derived from the latter. I ask, then, what knowledge does the nature of this subject furnish us of the truth of the objection? Is it derived from the fact, that this agency has been called irresistible? With the arguments derived from the use of this term, on either side, I have no concern. It is not used in the Scriptures, nor do I either discern, or admit, the propriety of using it. The task of defending the use of it, therefore, I shall leave to those who do.
Is it derived from the fact, that this Agency is extraneous ? It will not be pretended, that all extraneous influence on the mind destroys its freedom. We act upon the minds of each other, and often with complete efficacy; yet it will not be said, that we destroy each other's freedom of acting. God, for aught that appears, may act, also, on our minds, and with an influence, which shall be decisive; and yet not destroy, or even lessen, our freedom.
Does the truth of the objection appear in the particular kind of Agency here used. Let me ask the Objector, what is this particular kind of Agency? The only account of the subject in the Scriptures is, that it is renovating, regenerating, or sanctifying. So far as my knowledge extends, neither the friends, nor the adversaries, of the doctrine have added any thing to this account which explains the subject any farther. But it can be said, even with plausibility, that God cannot sanctify an intelligent creature without infringing on his freedom. If it be said, it should also be proved; and this, so far as my knowledge extends, has not hitherto been done. Until it shall be done, the mere assertion of our opponents may answered by a contrary assertion.
When God created Man, he created him in his own image. This St. Paul informs us, consists in knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness. But if God, without destroying, or rather preventing, his freedom of agency, could create him in this image ; it will be difficult to prove, or to conceive, that he cannot restore to his descendants the same image, after it has been lost, without destroying their freedom. The thing given is the same ; and the agency by which it is given is the same. Its influence on the freedom of the
creature must therefore be exactly the same. Its whole influence, in both cases alike, is successive to the agency itself; and must, of course, affect the freedom of the creature in precisely the same manner.
Does our experience furnish any knowledge of this nature ? Ask any Christian ; and he will tell you, if competent to answer the question, that he is conscious of no loss, nor change, in his own freedom of acting ; but on the contrary, he chose, and acted, in the same manner, as before, and with the same full possession of all his powers; and that the only difference between his former and present state is, that he now loves God, and obeys him voluntarily; whereas he formerly hated him and voluntarily disobeyed him.
The truth is, this objection is not derived from Revelation, nor from fact. It owes its existence only to the philosophical scheme of agency, which makes the freedom of moral beings consist in self-determination, indifference, and contingency; a scheme, in its own nature impossible, and self-contradictory; as any person may see completely evinced in an Inquiry concerning this subject by the first President Edwards.
Upon the whole, the plain declarations of the Scriptures are not to be set aside by the philosophy of men. Especially is this not to be done, where the subject of investigation lies, as in the present case, beyond our reach. What the precise nature of the Agency of the Holy Ghost, in regenerating mankind, is, in the metaphysical sense, man cannot know. It becomes all men, therefore, to be satisfied with the declarations of God, who does know; who cannot deceive us; and who has, of course, declared to us the truth.
REGENERATION. ITS NECESSITY AND REALITY.
JOns üi. 3.-Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Ex
cept a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.
HAVING considered the character of the Holy Ghost, and his agency in the work of regeneration, I shall now proceed, according to the plan originally proposed, to examine the work itself, under the three following heads:
1. The Necessity;
In the preceding discourse, I took the fact, that some men are regenerated, for granted; and on this ground, attempted to prove, that the agency of the Spirit of God was necessary for the accomplishment of our regeneration. The question concerning the necessity of regeneration itself, and the question concerning the necessity of that agency in producing it, are entirely distinct. Yet it will be readily perceived, that the arguments, adduced under the latter question in the preceding discourse, may with una bated force be, in several instances, applied to the former ; that, which is now under consideration. Particularly is this true concerning several passages of Scripture, then adduced. For example, John iii. 5, 6. Rom. viii. 6, 7. Gal. v. 19—23. 2 Thess. ii. 13. 1 Cor. vi. 11, connected with the context ; are all, together with several others, of this nature. On these, to avoid wearying my audience with repetitions, I shall not at present insist.
At the same time, the certainty, that there is nothing in our moral character, which will lead us to regenerate ourselves, as exhibited in that discourse, is one, and an important one, among the reasons, which evince, in connexion with other argument, the necessity of our regeneration; and is, therefore, with propriety, recalled to your remembrance on the
present occasion. But the great proof of the necessity of regeneration is found in the desravity of our nature. The universality, and the degree of this corruption, have been shown, if I am not deceived, in a manner, too evident to be rationally called in question. In the discourses, which I formerly delivered on these subjects, * I produced a long train of passages of Scripture, in which the natural charac
• See Sermons xxix. to xxxiv. ipclusive.
ter of man is, in the most unequivocal terms, declared to be corrupt, sinful, and abominable in the sight of God. This truth I elucidated, also, by arguments drawn from reason, and experience, which, to my own view, were unanswerable. Among these, I specified the opposition made by mankind to the Gospel; the testimo nies, which mankind have themselves given concerning the subject in their Laws; their Religion; their History; their Conversation; and their conduct, both in amusements, and in the serious business of life. From these, and several other things, I derived it as a consequence, flowing, in my own view irresistibly, from the premises, that in our flesh or native character there dwelleth no good thing.
This doctrine St. Paul teaches in the most explicit manner, in the three first chapters of the Epistle to the Romans; and commenting on his own words, says, We have proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin.
I shall consider this point as being actually proved; and on this basis shall found the following arguments, designed to show the Necessity of Regeneration.
1st. Ii is unreasonable to suppose, that God can admit sinners to the blessings of heaven.
God is perfectly holy, and therefore regards sin only with hatred and abhorrence. Every sinner opposes his whole character, law, designs, and government; loves what he hates; hates what he loves ; and labours to dishonour his name, and to frustrate his purposes. The designs of God involve the supreme and eternal good of the Universe. In the accomplishment of this Divine purpose his glory is entirely manifested ; because the best of all characters is thus displayed in the most perfect degree. But these designs, and the character discovered in accomplishing them, the sinner steadily hates, and opposes. Were it in his power, he would frustrate the accomplishment; and prevent the glory of God, and the supreme good of the creation.
This character of the sinner God discerns with clear and unerring certainty. Both his guilt, and its desert, are naked to the Omniscient eye. It is impossible, therefore, that he should not regard it with abhorrence. To suppose him, then, to approve, and love such a character, is to suppose him to approve of that, which he sees to be deserving of his absolute reprobation; and to love that which he knows merits nothing but his hatred. Should he in fact do this, he would invert his whole system of dispensations towards the Universe, and exhibit to his Intelligent creatures a character totally new, and directly opposite to that which he has displayed, hitherto, in his Law, and Government; especially in the work of Redemption. Of course, he would not only cease to be unchangeable, but would become a being of a totally opposite character to that perfect one, which he has hitherto challenged to himself. He would renounce his Deity: and cease to sustain the excellence, involved in the incommunicable name, Jehovah.
Further; should God, without approving of a sinful character, confer upon the unregenerated sinner the blessings, which are the proper rewards of virtuous creatures; he would equally desert his character, and government; and overthrow the wisdom, equity, and end, of his designs. Every external favour, shown to guilty beings after their probation is ended, is a testimony on the part of God, that he approves of their conduct during the probationary state, and a reward for that conduct. It is a definitive testimony; a testimony, given when all their conduct is before him; a solemn, judicial testimony; a testimony of action, the surest interpreter of the thoughts. In the present case, it would be the highest and most solemn of all testimonies; because he would bestow on them the greatest of all rewards, the blessings of heaven.
If, then, he did not feel this approbation, he would, in the case supposed, declare the grossest possible falsehood to the Universe ; viz. that impenitent sinners merited the highest rewards which it was in his power to bestow. He would declare, that such sinners deserved the same proofs of his favour, as his obedient children, and were, therefore, of the same character ; that rebels were faithful subjects; that enemies were friends; and that, although he had heretofore denounced them as objects of his wrath, they were still the objects of his infinite complacency. This would be no other than a final declaration on his part, that right and wrong, holiness and sin, were the same things; that his Law, and the Government founded on it, were introduced to no purpose, unless to excite wonder and fear in his intelligent creatures; that the redemption of Christ was accomplished to no end; and that all the Divine conduct, solemn, awful, and sublime as it has appeared, was wholly destitute of any object, and really of no importance in the view of the infinite Mind.
2dly. This change of heart is absolutely necessary for the sinner himself, in order to make him capable of the happiness of heaven.
Heaven is the seat of supreme and unmingled happiness; of enjoyment solid, sincere, and eternal. The foundation, on which, so far as creatures are concerned, this happiness ultimately rests, is their holy or virtuous character. All their affections, all their pursuits, all their enjoyments, are virtuous without a mixture. Hence heaven is called the high and holy place; and, from the dispensations of God towards these unspotted beings, is termed the habilation of his holiness. With such companions a sinner could not accord; such affections he could not exercise; in such pursuits he could not unite; in such enjoyments he could not share. This is easily and familiarly demonstrated. Sinners do not love virtuous persons here ; exercise no virtuous affections; engage in no virtuous pursuits; and relish no virtuous enjoyments. Sinners in the present world love not God; trust not in the Redeemer; delight not in