« AnteriorContinuar »
grace of God in the renovation of the heart, virtually subvert the whole gospel. For, by denying this doctrine, they put it out of their power 10 prove that one of mankind will be saved, or that the least good will be answered by the great work of redemption. Christ certainly died in vain, if none of mankind will be saved; and it is certain that none will be saved, if all are left to themselves, and never made willing, in the day of God's power, to embrace the offers of life. No two schemes of religious sentiments are more diametrically opposite to each other, than those of Calvinism and Arminianism. If Calvinism is scriptural, Arminianism is unscriptural; if Calvinism is fundamentally right, Arminianism is fundamentally wrong.
6. If God can make men willing to be saved by an act of his power, then we may see one reason why he usually suffers them to triumph in their wickedness, before a general revival of religion. This was God's usual conduct, under the Mosaic dispensation. We commonly read of great degeneracy and moral corruption among his people, just before any great and remarkable outpouring of the Spirit. And it appears to have been a time of deep declension, just before the revival of religion on the day of Pentecost, when the promise of the Father in the text was remarkably fulfilled. The same mode of divine conduct has been observed in these latter days. The christian history informs us that there was an uncommon prevalence of vice, irreligion, and carnal stupidity, just before the general revival of religion, about sixty years ago. Now this subject suggests one reason why God usually orders things in this manner. It is to make all men see that the revival of religion is his own work; that he can subdue the hardest hearts; that he can bow the most stubborn sinners; that though Paul plant and Apollos water, yet it his sole prerogative to give the increase. Who can deny the doctrine of special grace, or disbelieve that God is able, by an act of his power, to make men willing to be saved; when they see an uncommon revival of religion, and multitudes flocking to Christ, as doves to their windows before an impending storm? Such seasons as these are directly suited to shake the faith and hopes of those who deny the peculiar doctrines of grace. And it is becoming the only wise God to take this method to make his grace and power known, in the conversion of sinners and the enlargement of the Redeemer's kingdom.
7. If God is able, by an act of his power, to make men willing to be saved, then there is a propriety in praying to him for the revival of religion and the conversion of sinners. Those who disbelieve the doctrine of special grace, and maintain that sinners are converted by moral suasion, are generally very backward in praying for a special divine influence upon the hearts of men. The reason is obvious. They see no propriety in praying to God that he would change the hearts of men, when they really believe it is out of his power to do it. But if it be true that God has the hearts of all men in his hand, and can, with infinite ease, bow their wills to the sceptre of Christ, then there is great propriety in praying that he would take his own work into his own hands, and fulfil his gracious promises, to Christ and to his people, concerning the prosperity of Zion. Ezra, Nehemiah and Daniel prayed for the conversion of sinners in Babylon, and their prayers were heard. The apostles were incessantly praying for the outpouring of the Spirit, just before the day of Pentecost; and it was in answer to their prayers that so many were converted on that joyful occasion. And it is still the constant duty of the people of God to pray for his gracious influence upon the hearts of sinners, to draw them to Christ. God is abundantly able to pull down the kingdom of darkness, and build up the kingdom of Christ through the world. And probably he is only waiting for the fervent and united prayers of his people for this great and extensive blessing. “ Ye that make mention of the Lord," therefore, " keep not silence; and give him no rest, till he establish, and till he make Jerusalem a praise in the earth."
Finally, the subject which we have been considering naturally suggests a very serious question to every person: Are you pleased with the doctrine of special grace? If you only answer this question sincerely and truly, you will answer another of infinite importance; and that is, whether you are a saint or a sinner. However saints may differ in other respects, yet they all agree in this; that they are pleased with the doctrine of special grace. They have such a view of their own hearts, and of the hearts of all 'men, that they could not entertain any hopes of their own, or of any other person's salvation, were it not for the doctrine of special grace.
All good men therefore rejoice, that God is able, by an act of his power, to form his own glorious moral image in whomsoever he pleases. But, on the other hand, however sinners may differ in other respects, they all heartily agree in this: that they dislike the doctrine of special grace. There is no sentiment more grating to their feelings, nor more destructive to their hopes. They cannot bear the thought that all men are in the hands of God, as the clay is in the hands of the potter. The best and the worst sinners in the world are here perfectly of one mind. They cannot be pleased with the absolute sovereignty of God. Let the question, then, be repeated, and let no person evade an answer. Are you pleased with the doctrine of special grace ?
THE NATURE OF REGENERATION.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love. - GALATIANS, 7. 22.
Though christians generally believe that men must be born of the Spirit in order to enter into the kingdom of God, yet they are not so well agreed in respect to the nature of this new birth. Some suppose that the Spirit of God renews men by merely reforming their external conduct. Some suppose that he renews them by merely implanting a new principle of holiness in their minds, without producing any holy exercises. And some suppose that he renews them by shedding abroad the love of God in their hearts, and making them actively holy. Now this is the effect, and the only effect, which the apostle tells us the divine Spirit produces in the hearts of men, in regeneration. “ The fruit of the Spirit is love." Love is the fulfilling of the law, the bond of perfectness, and the essence of all true holiness. As soon as the Spirit of God produces love or true benevolence in the hearts of sinners, he makes them holy as their Father who is in heaven is holy, and enstamps upon them his moral image, of which they had been totally destitute before. The true meaning of the text may be properly expressed in this general observation:
That the Spirit of God, in regeneration, produces nothing but love.
I shall show,
I. That the Spirit of God, in regeneration, produces nothing but love.
II. That he does produce love.
III. That the love which he produces is the essence and source of all holy or gracious affections.
I. I am to show that the Spirit of God, in regeneration, produces nothing but love.
He does, indeed, often strive with sinners, and sometimes very powerfully, without softening or subduing their hearts in the least degree. He strove a long time with that ungodly and incorrigible generation who were finally swept away by the flood. He strove with the rebellious Israelites, who perished in the wilderness. He awakened and convinced many under John's and Christ's, and the apostles' preaching, whom he never renewed or converted. And he commonly alarms the fears and awakens the consciences of those sinners whom he intends to renew, some time before he effectually changes their hearts. This he does to prepare them for regeneration, in which he forms them vessels of mercy. The only question now before us is, whether, in the act of regeneration, he produces any thing besides love. And here we may safely say that he does not produce any thing besides love in regeneration, because there is no need of his producing any other effect in that saving change. Sinners possess all the natural powers and faculties which belong to human nature, and which are necessary to constitute them moral agents, before they are made the subjects of grace. They are capable of knowing God, of understanding the gospel, and of performing every duty which is enjoined upon them by divine authority. Our Saviour said of those who had not the love of God in them, “ they have both seen and hated both me and my Father.” Those in the state of nature stand in no need of having any new power, or faculty, or principle of action produced in them, in order to their becoming holy. They are just as capable of loving, as of hating God; and it is for this reason that he requires them to love him and forbids them to hate him, in his law, which is holy, just and good. Manasseh was as capable of doing good as of doing evil, before he was renewed; and Paul was as capable of promoting as of opposing the cause of Christ, before he was converted. This is true of all sinners, who are as much moral agents, and as proper subjects of moral government, before as after regeneration. Whenever, therefore, the divine Spirit renews, regenerates, or sanctifies them, he has no occasion of producing any thing in their minds besides love. This, indeed, he has occasion to produce, because their carnal mind is enmity against God, not subject to his law, neither indeed can be. In regard to the exercise of their minds, they need an essential change; but in regard to the powers and faculties of their minds, they need no change. All that the Spirit of God has
to do in regeneration, is to change the hearts of sinners from sin to holiness, or from hatred to love. And I now proceed to show,
II. That love is the effect which he actually does produce in regeneration. “ The fruit of the Spirit is love," says the apostle in the text. His words are very plain and emphatical. He does not say that the fruit of the Spirit is a new taste, or relish, or disposition, or principle; but is love, and nothing which is previous to it, or the foundation of it. And this representation of regeneration is agreeable to many others which we find in the New Testament, where this saving change is more clearly described than it is in the Old Testament; though even there, the circumcision of the heart is represented as the production of love. Moses tells the people that their hearts should be circumcised “to love the Lord their God." The description of the new birth, which Christ gave to Nicodemus, deserves particular attention. “Jesus said unto him, Verily, verily I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." "He proceeds to say farther, “ Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” And he immediately subjoins an explanation of this divine change. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” He here sets sin and holiness in contrast; for by flesh, he means sin; and by spirit, he means holiness. When the Spirit of God renews a sinner, he enstamps his own moral image upon him, which consists in holiness; and we know that all holiness consists in love. The holiness of God consists in love ; and therefore the Holy Spirit must produce love in those whom he renews and makes holy. Hence says the apostle John, “Love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God." And he expresses the same idea when he says again, “God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.” But the apostle Paul is still more explicit upon this point, in the fifth of Romans, where he asserts that he and other christians had a hope which made them not ashamed, “because the love of God was shed abroad in their hearts, by the Holy Ghost.” The nature of regeneration clearly appears from the necessity of it. The only reason why regeneration is necessary, is, because sinners are morally and totally depraved. And their total moral depravity altogether consists in selfishness. They are lovers of their own selves, and seek their own private, separate interest, in opposition to the interests of all other beings. This makes them enemies to God and to all righteousness, and disposes them to injure, and as far as they can, to destroy, all who appear to stand in the way of their selfish interests and designs.