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done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” God exercises his power in this work for the purpose of promoting the present and everlasting happiness of men. He first makes them holy, and then fills them with a peace which passeth understanding, and which is a foretaste of the blessedness of heaven.
The act of God's power in renewing the heart is an act of benevolence, not only to those who are renewed, but to others. It conduces to the happiness of God's holy kingdom. “ There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.” There is joy too among the saints on earth. By the conversion of sinners, God causes a tide of spiritual joy to roll through his holy empire. And God himself, being infinitely more benevolent than any of his creatures, enjoys a happiness infinitely superior to theirs, in the good which he bestows on the redeemed. In view, then, of the act of God's power in renewing sinners, we may well exclaim, behold what manner of love !
Sixth position. In renewing the hearts of sinners, God exerts his power in a manner perfectly congenial to their nature, as intelligent and moral beings.
Both reason and scripture teach, that the whole creation is the effect of God's power, and the sphere of his constant operation. But the most important sphere of his operation is the mind. This being of far higher moment than the material world, it is proportionably of higher moment that his dominion and control should be extended over it. The sacred writers teach, that God is perfectly qualified, by the glorious attributes of his character, to exercise such a dominion and control, and that he does in fact exercise it; particularly that he exerts an effectual influence in the kingdom of grace, renewing the heart, guiding the thoughts, rectifying the dispositions, and impressing the soul with the divine image. But it is the apprehension of some, that the human mind is in danger of being deprived of its proper agency, and thrown into a disordered state, by such an exercise as has been described, of the infinite power of God upon it or within it. But this apprehension is evidently one which did not occur to the inspired writers.
When they make the strongest representations of the divine power in the renovation of sinners, there is not the least appearance of their having ever thought or suspected, that such an operation of power is at all inconsistent with the intelligent nature of man, or with the perfect exercise of all his rational and moral powers. Infidel philosophers, and others who reason as falsely as they, may think they see an inconsistency; but the prophets and apostles saw none. And there is none in reality. The influence which we exert over our fellow creatures may indeed be such as to interfere with their proper agency, and to derange or shackle their intellectual and moral faculties. The minds of men may be discomposed and agitated and thrown into confusion by their own passions, or by the influence of injudicious or enthusiastical teachers, or the influence of the wicked one. But this effect is never produced by the influence of the Holy Spirit. The more powerful and efficacious that influence, the farther removed are they who experience it from all mental irregularities, and the more perfectly do they attain to intellectual and moral order.
That man's agency is not superseded but directly implied in conversion, is manifest.from the consideration that the change itself, which one class of texts represent as the effect of divine influence, is represented by another class as the duty of man, and is, with divine authority, required of him as his proper work. Make you a new heart and a new spirit;"—(the very same thing which God promises to give. Ezekiel, xi. 19.). “ Repent and be converted.” These are only a specimen. And there are other texts which directly assert the agency of those who are converted. Acts, ix. 35. “ All who dwelt at Lydda and Saron saw him, and turned to the Lord.” Acts, xi. 21. 66 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great multitude believed and turned to the Lord.” 1 Thess. i. 9. “How ye turned to God from idols." In the same manner repentance is represented as the act of the penitent. These representations correspond with the experience of Christians, who are conscious of repenting, believing, and turning to the Lord; conscious of actually performing these duties ; not indeed of themselves, independently of God, but as
influenced by his Spirit. In the affair of repentance or conversion, there are two agents concerned, God and
God is the supreme cause of conversion , man, the subject. God converts the sinner ; the sinner, thus influenced, turns to God. These two things are as perfectly consistent, as cause and effect in any other case. They neither interfere with each other, nor in the least detract from each other. The divine agency is perfect, and is the effectual cause of the sinner's conversion. While the sinner has, on his part, a real, though a dependent agency; but none the less real, and none the less complete, on account of its dependence ; because that dependence takes away nothing, and obstructs nothing, which belongs to moral agency.
He works out his salvation, while God worketh in him both to will and to do. A moral agent has various attributes, such as reason, conscience, affections, and the power of deliberation and choice ; is voluntary ; acts not from constraint, but from the influence of motives. These are the chief. Now the divine agency neither takes away nor diminishes any of these. To say that, if God's agency is the cause of holiness in man, then man cannot be a moral agent, is to say, that man cannot be a moral agent, unless he is independent; that is, unless he ceases to be a creature, and acquires the peculiar attributes of the Creator. But if we apply ourselves to the study of the scriptures with Christian candor and with the spirit of prayer, we shall be perplexed with no important difficulty on this subject. We shall clearly see, that while the agency of God in renewing the hearts of sinners is an everlasting honor to his grace, it is perfectly congruous to their intelligent nature, and perfectly consistent with the highest views of their agency.
It is the common, practical sentiment of Christians, that the manner of God's exerting his power in the work of sanctification is such as has now been represented. They never find any thing in their experience, which leads them to think that the influence of the Holy Spirit does the least violence to their moral nature, or that it ever interrupts or suspends their moral agency. How high soever the degree in which the power of God's Spirit has operated on them, they wish to experience its
operations in a still higher degree; being fully persuaded, that the omnipotence of the Holy Spirit is the only thing which can effectually deliver them from the slavery of sin, and restore their minds to freedom, regularity and vigor. They regard the renewing agency of the Spirit as a blessing of infinite value. They crave it as the life of their souls. Instead of setting limits to the divine influence which they would have exercised over their minds, they wish that all their dispositions, habits, thoughts, desires, active principles, faculties, yea, their whole character and state, may be constantly moulded, directed, and swayed by the almighty energy of God's Spirit. To that divine energy they yield themselves up without reserve, aspiring after higher and higher measures of it. They desire this healing, purifying influence to be exercised, not out of their minds, but, where it is needed, within their minds; and far from fearing that such an exercise of omnipotence, or the new spiritual affection which it imparts, may infringe their own agency, they feel that they never shall have any right agency without it, and that the mightiest operations of divine power will produce no other effect, than to remedy their spiritual diseases, and adorn them with the beauties of holiness.
Seventh position. In the work of regeneration, God exerts his
power in a manner perfectly consistent with the use of proper means. Indeed the means which God has appointed, are not only consistent with the special influence of the Spirit, but, when made effectual, they always evince the necessity of that influence, and illustrate its greatness. The means of conversion and sanctification are included in divine truth. Now when divine truth takes effect, it enlightens the minds of men, and, among other things, shows them the dreadful fact, that they are dead in trespasses and sins; that they are naturally averse to the holy service of God, and that this aversion is so strong, that it will never be overcome, except by that divine power which raised Christ from the dead. They learn, that the necessity of their being renewed arises from their natural depravity, and that the necessity of divine power to renew them, arises from the fact that their opposition to that which is good is so deep-rooted
and obstinate, that no human means can ever subdue it. But this conviction of the desperate wickedness of the heart is not the only effect of divine truth. When the sinner is renewed, the character of God and other spiritual objects, which before excited his aversion, excite all the variety of holy affections. And this is the same as to say, that divine truth, attended with the renewing influence of the Spirit in the heart of the sinner, is the means of bringing him to love God, to repent of sin, and to believe in Christ. No one, who makes the Bible his rule, can suppose, that the fittest means will ever be successful in turning men from sin to holiness, unless those means are accompanied with the power of the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. But when thus accompanied, they will be successful. The divine character, as exhibited in the word of God, is perfectly deserving of the supreme love of all men ; and it would universally excite their love, were it not for the desperate wickedness of their hearts. It is this, and this only, which prevents. It is in consequence of this deep depravity of the heart, that the preaching of the gospel and other means have no good effect upon sinners, without the special influence of the Spirit. But with that influence, they become efficacious. This is the common doctrine of evangelical Christians. In accomplishing the work of renovation, God ordinarily makes use of means, giving them efficacy by his own gra'cious influence on the heart. “Of his own will begat he us by the word of truth.” James, i. 18. Means are commonly used with sinners before they are renewed; and we well know what is the effect. Means are used with them, that is, divine truth in various ways is held up before them, when they are renewed; and then, the heart being influenced by the divine Spirit, the effect of the means used is the exercise of holy affection. Thus sinners are “born again of the word of God,” and “begotten through the gospel.” The word of God is the means of their renewal, the power which makes it effectual residing in God. This is the doctrine taught by experience, as well as by the scriptures. Accordingly we can have no ground to expect success in using means for the conversion of sinners, except from the special operation of the Spirit. But in this way we have ample ground