« PreviousContinue »
preme love to God: supreme love to God, is the very essence of true religion. Hence it is called the fulfilling of the law. Rom. xiii. 10. Our Lord mentions love to God and our neighbour as the sum and substance of the whole law. Mat. xxii. 37, 38, 39, 40. No action can be called true obedience, if it do not flow from love to God, and every exercise of true grace may be reduced to this as its principle.
Observation 6. The holy spirit makes use of the word of God as a mean in the work of regeneration, which he renders irtesistibly efficacious for that purpose.
I am far from thinking with the Arminians, that the only influence of the holy spirit in this matter lies in what they call moral suasion; that is, as I understand it, the holy spirit having sel before us the arguments and motives of the gospel in the word, both by his providence, and an influence upon the mind, excites its attention to these things, and assists the natural faculties in weighing those arguments and motives, and thus strives to persuade the sinner to a compliance with gospel overtures, but still leaves it with himself to yield to, or reject those arguments by a sovereign act of his own will. According to this, it is only an objective light that is set before the mind, as contained in the word; a representation of objects, as yet at a distance, of which the mind has no knowledge but by the report and description of the word; and perhaps the most, if not all the light, which is usually called common illumination, may be obtained this way.
Nor can I agree with some, even eminent Calvinistic divinės, that there is only a gradual difference between common and sav. ing illumination; I believe there is a specific difference; there is in regeneration a subjective light created in the soul, which, though it is the knowledge of a glorious object presented to the mind, yet may fitly be called subjective in respect of the manner of its cominunication, as contra-clistinguished from, though not opposed to the mere objective light of the word before described; it is an immediate intuitive sense, or knowledge of the moral perfections and character of God, not gained by way of conclusion from premises or by argumentation, but arising from the approach of God to the soul, by way of gracious presence; he thus takes possession of the heart, and fills it with a sense of himself by his presence in a peculiar manner; and this is a way of knowing, very different from that received merely by the description and report of the word; and therefore a different kind of knowledge, viz. by way of spiritual sense and experience. Though we cannot perceive or explain the manner of this divine presence or ac
cess to the soul, yet the fact is abundantly witnessed by the experience of God's people; notwithstanding, they have an habitual spiritual knowledge of God and divine truths, yet, at one season, they are distressed with darkness, and cannot get any proper views of God; at another, they shall be full of light, and astonished with the view of divine glory; now what is the reason of this vast difference? surely, not from any difference in the objective light of the word, or their capacity to meditate upon it. But the reason of it is, the absence of God in the one case, and his glorious presence in the other; therefore, their first such knowledge of God was from such an approach to the soul, or divine presence in it. And for the reality of this experience in God's people, I refer to the account the sacred scriptures give us, sometimes of their bitter complaints of God's hiding himself, and panting for him as the hart for the water brooks; at other times, of their rejoicing in his beauty and glory, with which they are, as it were, transported; and, I think these words of Job, xlii. 5. I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth thee, fully justify this distinction of objective and subjective knowledge; for admit that the design of the words is to represent the very lively views he had of the divine excellency, so that comparatively speaking, all his former, even experimental views were but like report; yet, by a parity of reason there is a vast difference between experience in the lowest degree and report; and he goes upon this principle, that report, or by the hearing of the ear, is a very languid and imperfect way of knowing, compared with sight and intimate acquaintance. These are very different kinds of knowledge, as different as the knowledge a man has of a country from an historical account and map of it, or the report of travellers, and that he has from travelling through, and seeing it himself. Thus then, by this presence of God in the soul, it has a knowledge of him, which it could not possibly have without it, by the most animated descriptions and representations of the word. It was thus, even innocent Adam knew the moral character and excellency of God, not only by objective evidence from without, but also by subjective evidence, from his experience of the divine presence.
But all this does not exclude moral influence by way of argument, the arguments contained in the word; but rather accounts for their irresistible efficacy. Though mere moral suasion will not do the business, yet it is not excluded; it is a moral effect that is to be produced; therefore, it is natural enough to expect that the power producing it should be exerted in a moral wav;
and consequently, a moral mean with great propriety be admitted.
That this matter may be better apprehended, I beg leave to observe, that the blessed God must be exhibited to the mind as an object of contemplation, in order to any act of the will towards him. The will approves him as most fit and worthy to be chosen, which must be founded upon the contemplation of him in the mind. Length of time is not, indeed, necessary for this purpose. The operations of the mind are very quick. Were we to suppose an adult, who had no opportunity of the word, to be regenerated; no doubt, a reflection upon his own intuitive perceptions would exhibit the blessed God to the mind, as an object of contemplation. For it is absurd to suppose a new heart to exist in an adult person without any ideas of God and divine things in the understanding; for that is to suppose a person regenerated, and yet altogether ignorant of God; to turn to God without any knowledge of him, which, I think, is a contradiction, and the same thing as to say, a man is changed without any alteration; the thief on the cross seems to be an instance of the contrary: though he lived in the land of Judea, and had opportunity of the word of God, it is not probable a man of his abandoned character sought any considerable acquaintance with it; yet bis speech to his fellow-criminal, and his address to Jesus Christ, showed very considerable discoveries of God, and the character of his Saviour.
But let it be considered, that with respect to sinners who live under the means of grace and enjoy the word of God, though, by reason of their estrangement from God, they have no proper, views of divine truths, yet their understandings are possessed of some general speculative knowledge of them: yea, convinced sinners have more, they have such an experimental knowledge of the law convincing them of sin, as is effectual to arouse them out of their fatal security, and confute their false notions, and awaken them to a very solemn attention to the word of God. Now in regeneration, the intuitive views, impressed on the mind by the divine presence, are exactly the same with the descriptions and delineations of the divine character in the word. The mind therefore, instead of reflecting immediately upon its own perceptions, looks forward to the word. Now the man's eyes are opened, and he understands the scripture in a manner he never could before; there he sees this glorious object represented as in a glass; from thence the reflection is so strong and lively as irresistibly, though in a moral way, to determine the will; for surely, it is very apprehensible, that the views of the mind may be so experimental,
strong, and full of evidence, that it is impossible for a rational being to withhold the approbation and consent of the will; and thus this divine temper is formed in the heart: in this point of light, I think, the apostle sets the matter, 2 Cor. iii. 18. But we all with open face, beholding, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord, are ch:inged into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the spirit of the Lord. Though these words comprehend the gradual perfecting the image of God, in the progress of the work of grace, yet certainly the first step of the process is in the same way with all the subsequent, in the whole series. Nor does the use of the glass at all derogate from the efficiency of the spirit, in causing and conducting this whole matter; and, indeed, there is as really an immediate agency of the spirit upon the soul, in every progressive perfecting of the image of God, and every instance of the quickening of grace in believers (where yet the concurring instrumentality of the word, notwithstanding, is acknowledged) as there is in the first begetting of the divine life.
Here I would take notice, how very different this view of divine illumination is from the wild conceits of enthusiasts; their pretended extraordinary discoveries and inspirations consist in unaccountable impulses without the word, the warm flights of imagination, and agitation of the passions; in all this they either have no reference to the word of God, but rather set light by it in comparison of their own great light, or else in pretending to the word, put inconsistent ridiculous constructions upon it; but these intuitive views of God, I mentioned as primarily arising from his presence in the soul, are but the impressions of such truths as the word of God describes; they lead to the scriptures, and give a rational consistent view of them; this light is tried and judged by the word of God: to the law and to the testimony, if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. Isa. viii. 20.
I cannot but think the instrumentality of the word in regeneration, in the view I have given of it, is once and again asserted in the sacred scriptures; thus, i Peter i. 23. Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God which liveth and abideth forever. The word, here rendered born again, is the same which is used, John iii. 3. of which new birth the word is declared to be an instrument or mean; in the same view, the same apostle tells the christians to whom he wrote, that by the great and precious promises, they were made partakers of the divine nature. 2 Pet. i. 4. and to be macle partakers of the divine nature is to be regenerated; another passage, is Jam. i. 18. Vol. II.
Of his own will begat he us with (or by] the word of truth. The word here used, cannot, with any propriety, I think, be understood of any thing else than the first infusion or begetting of spiritual life; when this is said to be done with, or by the word, it must intend that it is used as an instrument or mean; in this view, this blessed change is expressed, by putting God's law in the inward parts, and writing it in the heart. Jer. xxxi. 33.
Doubtless the holy spirit could as easily accomplish this great work without using any mean; yet as it appears very plain, he has chosen to do otherwise; we may not only suppose, but readily see great propriety in his making use of the word in this matter: this change is to be tried and judged of by the word; therefore must answer to the descriptions and characters there given, as the impression on the wax answers to the characters of the seal. The views of God in the mind must be such as exactly agree to the descriptions and representations of him in the word. It was, consequently very fit that these characters of the word should be impressed upon the soul, as a medium of determining the will in regeneration.
When the holy spirit takes the sinner in hand, in order to bring him home to God, the first step he ordinarily takes, is to convince him of sin, confute his false potions, and slay his legal hopes; in this he makes use of the law as a mean, as all acknowledge. Yet in order to this effectual access of the law to the conscience, there is as really an immediate exertion of power and influence upon the soul, as there is also in regeneration; and though this conviction does not make the sinner more worthy of the grace of God, yet the great design of it is to prepare the way for the opening of divine truths upon the mind with the brighter evi. dence, in its passing this saving change; which reflects the image of this glory upon the beholding soul, and determines the will. 2 Cor. iii. 18. Psal. cx. 3.
Observation 7. From this view of the mind, and determination of the will, or supreme regard to God, result the various exercises of heart, which are called the grace of the holy spirit, and distinguished by particular names, as their proper principle. . From this view of the divine character in the enlightened mind, naturally arises a discovery of the necessity of Christ's satisfaction to divine justice, and the fitness and glory of that way of reconciliation with God. Hence faith in Christ. This plan of mercy still more illustrates the glory of the divine character; for it shines in the face of Jesus Christ; by these views of faith, spiritual affections are excited, sorrow for, and hatred against sin