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4th. Again -- you see from this subject the NATURE of the Spirit's agency.
That he does not act by direct physical contact upon the mind, but that he uses the truth as his sword to pierce the sinner; and that the motives presented in the Gospel are the instruments he uses to change the sinner's heart. Some have doubted this, and supposed that it is equivalent to denying the Spirit's agency altogether to maintain that he converts sinners by motives. Others have denied the possibility of changing the heart by motives; and cannot the Spirit of God with infinitely higher motives exert as great power over mind as he can? Can the old serpent change a heart from a perfectly holy to a perfectly sinful one by the power of motives, and cannot the infinitely wise God, do as much as Satan did? Verily, to deny this, looks much like detracting from the wisdom and power of God. But that the Scripture abundantly declares that the Spirit converts sinners by the power of motive is most manifest -- "Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth," is one out of the many express declarations upon this subject. The philosophy of this subject is settled by the Bible; it is a subject upon which we are not at liberty to speculate, and from our own philosophical theories, and maintain that by direct physical contact, irrespective of truth, God interposes and changes the sinner's heart. When God says, "Of his own will he has begotten us with the word of truth," this settles the question; and is equivalent to saying, that he has not begotten us in any other manner.
The very terms used by our Savior in the promise of the Spirit to reprove the world of sin, of righteousness, and of a judgment to come, strongly imply the mode of his agency. The term rendered Comforterin our translation of the Bible, is Parakletos; it is the same term which, in one of the epistles of John, is rendered Advocate. The term is there applied to Jesus Christ. It is there said, "If any man sin, we have a Parakletos, or an Advocate with the Father, even Jesus Christ the righteous." In this passage Jesus Christ is spoken of as the Advocate of men with God. The Parakletos, or Comforter, promised by our Savior, is represented as God's Advocate, to plead His cause with men. The term rendered reprove or convince in our translation is a law term, and signifies the summing up of an argument and establishing or demonstrating the sinner's guilt. Thus the striving of the Spirit of God with men, is not a physical scuffling, but a debate; a strife not of body with body, but of mind with mind; and that in the action and reaction of vehement argumentation. From these remarks, it is easy to answer the question sometimes put by individuals who seem to be entirely in the dark upon this subject, whether in converting the soul the Spirit acts directly on the mind, or on the truth. This is the same nonsense as if you should ask, whether an earthly advocate who had gained his cause, did it by acting directly and physically on the jury, or on his argument.
Some persons, as I have already observed, seem disposed to be passive, to wait for some mysterious influence, like an electric shock, to change their hearts. But in this attitude, and with these views, they may wait till the day of judgment, and God will never do their duty for them. The fact is, sinners, that God requires you to turn, and what he requires of you, he cannot do for you. It must be your own voluntary act. It is not the appropriate work of God to do what he requires of you. Do not wait then for him to do your duty, but do it immediately yourself, on pain of eternal death.
6th. This subject shows also, that if the sinner ever has a new heart, he must obey the command of the text, and make it himself.
But here some one may interpose and say, Is not this taking the work out of God's hands, and robbing him of the glory? No. It is the only view of the subject that gives the glory to God. Some in their zeal to magnify the grace of the Gospel, entirely overthrow it. They maintain the sinner's inability, and thereby do away his guilt. Instead of considering him a guilty, voluntary rebel, and worthy of eternal death, they make him a helpless, unfortunate creature, unable to do what God requires of him. Instead of making his only difficulty to consist in an unwillingness, they insist upon his inability, and thus destroy his guilt, and of course the grace displayed in his salvation. For what grace can there be in helping an unfortunate individual? If sinners are unable to obey God, precisely in proportion to their inability, are they guiltless. But if they are unwilling, if their cannot is a will not, we have already seen that their guilt is in proportion to the strength of their unwillingness, and grace in their salvation must be equal to their guilt. Nor does it detract from the glory of God that the act of turning is the sinner's own act. The fact is, he never does, and never will turn, unless God induces him to do it; so that although the act is the sinner's own, yet the glory belongs to God, inasmuch as he caused him to act. If a man had made up his mind to take his own life, and you should, by taking the greatest pains, and at great expense, prevail upon him to desist, would you deserve no credit for the influences you exerted in the case? Though changing his mind and relinquishing his purpose of self-destruction was his own act, inasmuch as you was the sole cause of his turning, and as it was certain that had you not interfered he would have done the horrid deed, are you not entitled to just as much praise as if his own agency had not been at all concerned in turning? Might it not in truth be said that you had turned him?
The work of conversion is spoken of in the Bible as a work of exceeding great power; and I once heard a clergyman, expatiating upon the great powers of God in conversion -- although he appeared to view it as a physical alteration of the constitution of man, as the implantation of a new principle, or taste -- assert that it was a greater exertion of power than that which hung out the heavens. The reason which he assigned for its being such a great exertion of power was, that in the creation of the material universe, he had no opposition, but in the conversion of a soul, he had all the powers of hell to oppose him. Now this is whimsical and ridiculous enough. As if the opposition of hell could oppose any obstacle in the way of physical Omnipotence. The power which God exerts in the conversion of a soul, is moral power; it is that kind of power by which a statesman sways the mind of a senate; or by which an advocate moves and bows the heart of a jury; but which "David bowed the heart of all Israel, as the heart of one man." Now when we consider the deep-rooted selfishness of the sinner; his long cherished habits of sin; his multifarious excuses and refuges of lies; it is a most sublime exhibition of wisdom and of moral power to pursue him step by step with truth, to hunt him from his refuges of lies, to constrain him by the force of argument alone, to yield up his selfishness and dedicate himself to the service of God. This reflects a glory and a lustre over the truth of God and the agency of the Holy Spirit, that at once delights and amazes the beholder. 8th. But again -- The idea that the Spirit uses motives to change the heart, is the only view that gives consistency, and meaning to the often repeated injunction, not to resist the Holy Ghost -- not to strive with his Maker.
For if the Spirit operated upon the mind by direct physical contact, the idea of effectually resisting physical omnipotence is ridiculous. The same thought applies to those passages that caution us against grieving and quenching the Spirit.
9th. Again -- You see from this subject that a sinner, under the influence of the Spirit of God, is just as free as a jury under the arguments of an advocate.
Here also you may see the importance of right views on this point. Suppose a lawyer, in addressing a jury, should not expect to change their minds by any thing he could say, but should wait for an invisible and physical agency, to be exerted by the Holy Ghost upon them. And suppose, on the other hand, that the jury thought that in making up their verdict, they must be passive, and wait for a direct physical agency to be exerted upon them. In vain might the lawyer plead, and in vain might the jury hear, for until he pressed his arguments as if he was determined to bow their hearts, and until they make up their minds, and decide the question, and thus act like rational beings, both his pleading and their hearing is in vain. So if a minister goes into a desk to preach to sinners, believing that they have no power to obey the truth, and under the impression that a direct physical influence must be exerted upon them before they can believe, and if his audience be of the same opinion, in vain does he preach, and in vain do they hear, "for they are yet in their sins;" they sit and quietly wait for some invisible hand to be stretched down from heaven, and perform some surgical operation, infuse some new principle, or implant some constitutional taste; after which they suppose they shall be able to obey God. Ministers should labor with sinners, as a lawyer does with a jury, and upon the same principles of mental philosophy; and the sinner should weigh his arguments, and make up his mind as upon oath and for his life, and give a verdict upon the spot, according to law and evidence. But here perhaps some one will ask, If truth, when seen in all its bearings and relations is the instrument of converting the sinner, why will he not be converted in hell, where it is supposed that all the truth will burst upon his mind in all its burning reality? In answer to this, I observe, that the motive that prevails to turn the convicted rebel to God, will, in hell, be wanting. When the sinner is crowded with conviction and ready to go to despair, and ready to flee and hide himself from the presence of his Maker, he is met by the offer of reconciliation, which, together with the other motives that are weighing like a mountain upon his mind, sweetly constrain him to yield himself up to God. But in hell the offer of reconciliation will be wanting; the sinner will be in despair; and while in despair it is a moral impossibility to turn his heart to God. let a man in this life so completely ruin his fortune as to have no hope of retrieving it; in this state of absolute despair, no motive can reach him to make him put forth an effort; he has no sufficient motive to attempt it; so if his reputation is so completely gone that he has no hope of retrieving it, in this state of despair, there is no possibility of reclaiming him; no motive can reach him and call forth an effort to redeem his character, because he is without hope. So in hell, the poor dying sinner will be shut up in despair; his character is gone; his fortune for eternity is lost; there is no offer, no hope of reconciliation; and punishment will but drive him further and further from God for ever and ever.
I answer, No! Had Adam kept what truth he knew steadily before his mind, he doubtless would have resisted the temptation; but suffering his mind to be diverted from the reasons for obedience to the motives to disobedience, he failed, of course. When he had fallen, and selfishness had become predominant, he was averse to knowing and weighing the reasons for turning again to God; and if ever he was turned the Spirit of God must have pressed the subject upon him. So with every sinner: he at first sins against what knowledge he has by overlooking the motives to obedience, and yielding himself up to the motives to disobedience, and when once he has adopted the selfish principle, his ignorance becomes wilful and sinful, and unless the Spirit of God induce him, he will not see. He knows the truth to a sufficient extent to leave him without excuse, but he will not consider it and let it have its effect upon him.
But the objector may still ask, Is it not true, after all, if a full and sufficiently impressive knowledge of truth is all that is necessary to subdue the sinner, that he only needs to know the true character of God to love it, and that his enmity against God arises out of his false notions of him? Is it not a false and not the true character of God that he hates? I answer, No! it is the true character of God that he hates. he hates God for what he is, and not for what he is not. The sinner's character is selfishness: God's character is benevolence. These are eternal opposites. The sinner hates God because he is opposed to his selfishness. While the man remains selfish, it is absurd to say that he is reconciled to the true character of God. But is not his ignorance the cause of his selfishness? No! he knows better than to be selfish. It is true he does not, nor will he unless compelled by the Holy Spirit, consider the unreasonableness of selfishness. The work of the Holy Spirit does not consist merely in giving instruction, but in compelling him to consider truths which he already knows -- to think upon his ways and turn to the Lord. He urges upon his attention and consideration those motives which he hates to consider and fell the weight of. It is probable, if not certain, that had all the motives to obedience been broadly before the mind of Adam, or any other sinner, and had the mind duly considered them at the time, he would not have sinned. But the fact is, sinners do not set what truth they know before the mind, but divert the attention and rush on to hell.
Will any one still reply that although it is true that the sinner's wilful inconsideration and diverting his attention lay the only foundation for the necessity of the Spirit's influences, yet, is it not His great business to remove this ignorance occasioned by the sinner's wilful rejection of light? What does consideration do, but to bring the sinner to a juster knowledge of himself, of God, and of his duty, and thus, by force of truth, constrain him to yield? If by ignorance be meant a wilful perverse rejection of light and knowledge, I suppose that it is this state of mind which is not merely the cause of his sin, but it is his sin itself. The Apostle views the subject in this light: in speaking of sinners, he says, "Having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart."
It is indeed the pressing of truth upon the sinner's consideration that induces him to turn. But it is not true that he is ignorant of these truths before he thus considers them. He knows he must die -- that he is a sinner -- that God is right and he is wrong -- that there is a heaven and a hell -- but, as the prophet says, "They will not see" -- and again, "My people will not consider." It is not mainly then to instruct, but to lead the sinner to think upon his ways, that the Spirit employs his agency.
I have already shown why he will not be converted when truth is forced upon him in hell.
11th. But here some one may say, Is not this exhibition of the subject inconsistent with that mystery of which Christ speaks, when he says, "The wind bloweth where it listeth, thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh nor whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit?"
Says the objector, I have been in the habit of considering the subject of a new heart, as a very mysterious one: but you make it very plain. How is this? Does not Christ, in the text I have quoted, represent it as mysterious? In answer to this I would ask, Wherein does Christ, in that text, represent the mystery of the new birth as consisting? Not in the effects which the Spirit produces, for the effects are matters of experience and observation. Not in the instrumentality used, for this is often revealed in the Bible. But the mystery lies in the manner of the Spirit's communicating with mind.; How disembodied spirits communicate with each other, we are unable to say -- or how a disembodied spirit can communicate with one that wears a body, we do not know. We know that we communicate with each other through the medium of our bodily senses. The particular manner in which the Spirit of God carries on his debates and strivings with the mind, is what, in this life, we shall probably never know. Nor is it important that we should. Every Christian knows that in some way the truth was kept before his mind, and made to bear, and press upon him, and hedge him in, until he was constrained to yield. These are matters of experience; but in what particular manner the Holy Spirit did this, is just as mysterious as millions of other facts, which we daily witness, but cannot explain.
12th. But here perhaps another objection may arise -- If the sinner is able to convert himself, why does he need the Spirit of God?
Suppose a man owed you one hundred dollars, was abundantly able, but wholly unwilling to pay you; you obtain a writ, and prepare, by instituting a suit against him, to ply him with a motive that will constrain him to be honest and pay his debts. Now suppose that he should say, I am perfectly able to pay this hundred dollars, of what use then is this writ, and a sheriff, and a lawsuit? The answer is, It is to make him willing -- to be sure, he is able but he is unwilling. Just so with the sinner -- he is able to do his duty, but is unwilling, therefore the Spirit of God plies him with motives to make him willing.
It has been common for those who believe that sinners are unable to change their own heart, when sinners have inquired what they should do to be saved, to substitute another requirement for that contained in the text, and instead of commanding them to make to them a new heart, have told them to pray that God would change their heart. They have used language like the following: "You must remember that you are dependent on God for a new heart. Do not attempt to do any thing in your own strength -- attend to your Bible, use the means of grace, call upon God to change your heart, and wait patiently for the answer." A few years since, a lawyer, under deep conviction of sin came to my room to inquire what he should do to be saved. He informed me that when in college, he, with two others were deeply anxious for their souls; that they waited on the president, and inquired what they should do. His directions were, in substance, that they should read their Bibles, keep clear of vain company, use the means of grace, and pray for a new heart, and that ere long they would either be converted, or would give up reading their Bibles and using means for their salvation. On being questioned how the matter terminated, he replied, that it turned out as the president told them it would; they soon gave up reading their Bibles, and using means. He said that the directions of the president relieved his mind, and that the more he prayed and used the means, the less distress he felt. That as he thought he was now doing his duty, and in a hopeful way, the more he read his Bible and prayed, the more acceptable he thought himself to God, and the more likely to be converted. The more diligent he was in using means, the more self-complacent and contented he became -- and thus prayed and waited for God to change his heart till his convictions had entirely worn away, and with a burst of grief he added, thus it turned out with us all. The other two are confirmed drunkards, and I have well nigh ruined myself by drink. Now if there is any hope in my case, tell me what I shall do to be saved. On being told to repent, and pressed to the immediate performance of the duty, he, to all appearance, yielded up himself to God upon the spot. Now the result of the directions given by the president, was strictly philosophical. The advice was just such as would please the devil. It would answer his purpose infinitely better than to have told them to abandon all thoughts of religion at once, for this would have shocked and frightened them, and, anxious as they were, they would have turned with abhorrence from such advice; but setting them upon this sanctimonious method of praying and waiting for God to do what he required of them, was soothing to their consciences; substituting another requirement in the place of the command of God, fostering their spirit of delay, confirming them in self-righteousness, and one of two results must have been expected -- either that they would embrace a false hope, or no hope at all. For it was perfectly natural and reasonable, if this was their duty, to pray, and use the means, and wait for God, for them to suppose that, as they were doing what God required of them, they were growing better. That the more diligent they were in their unrepentant endeavors, the more safely might they rely upon God's converting them. Therefore of course the further they proceeded in this way, the less knowledge would they have of themselves, their danger, and their deserts; and the more certainly would they grieve away the Spirit of God.
Sinner! instead of waiting and praying for God to change your heart, you should at once summon up your powers, put forth the effort, and change the governing preference of your mind. But here some one may ask, Can the carnal mind, which is enmity against God, change itself: I have already said that this text in the original reads, "The minding of the flesh is enmity against God." This minding of the flesh, then, is a choice or preference to gratify the flesh. Now it is indeed absurd to say, that a choice can change itself; but it is not absurd to say, that the agent who exercises this choice, can change it. The sinner that minds the flesh, can change his mind, and mind God.
14th. From this subject it is manifest that the sinner's obligation to make to himself a new heart, is infinite.
Sinner! your obligations to love God is equal to the excellence of his character, and your guilt in not obeying him is of course equal to your obligation. You cannot therefore for an hour or a moment defer obedience to the commandment in the text, without deserving eternal damnation.
15th. You see it is most reasonable to expect sinners, if they are converted at all, to be converted under the voice of the living preacher, or while the truth is held up in al its blaze before the mind.
An idea has prevailed in the church, that sinners must have a season of prolonged conviction, and that those conversions that were sudden were of a suspicious character. But certainly "this persuasion cometh not from God." We nowhere in the Bible read of cases of lengthened conviction. Peter was not afraid on the day of Pentecost that his hearers had not conviction enough. He did not tell them to pray and labor for a more impressive sense of their guilt, and wait for the Spirit of God to change their hearts, but urged home their immediate duty upon them. If he had suffered them to escape, to go from under his voice while yet in their sins, it is probable that hundreds, if not thousands of them had not be converted at all. It is as reasonable and philosophical to expect the sinner to turn, if he does it at all, while listening to the arguments of the living preacher, as it is to expect a juror to be convinced, and make up his mind, under the arguments of the advocate. The advocate expects if they are convinced at all, that they will be so while he is addressing them. He does not act upon the absurd and preposterous supposition, that it is more likely they will be convinced and make up their verdict in his favor when they shall have retired, and calmly considered the subject. His object is so thoroughly to convince, so completely to imbue their minds with the subject, as to get their intellect, and conscience, and heart to embrace his views of the subject. This is wise, and verily, in this respect, "the children of this world, are in their generation wiser than the children of light." And now, sinner, if you go away without making up your mind, and changing your heart, it is most probable that your mind will be diverted -- you will forget many things that you have heard -- many of the motives and considerations that now press upon you may be abstracted from your mind -- you will lose the clear view of the subject that you now have -- may grieve the Spirit, defer repentance, and push your unbroken footsteps to the gates of hell.
16th. You see the importance of presenting those truths, and in such connections and relations, as are calculated to induce the sinner to change his heart.
Few more mischievous sentiments have ever been broached, than that there is no philosophical connection between means and end in the conversion of sinners; that there is no natural adaptedness in the motives of the Gospel to annihilate the sinner's selfishness, and lead him to submit to God. This idea is a part of the scheme of physical depravity. It considers regeneration as a change in the substance of the mind; as effected by the direct physical agency of the Spirit of God, irrespective of truth. If this were a correct view of regeneration, it would be manifest that there could be no connection between the means and the end. For if the work be a physical creation, performed by the direct and physical power of the Holy Ghost, then certainly it is effected by no means whatever. But so far is this from truth, that no sinner ever was or ever will be converted, but by means wisely and philosophically adapted to this end.
The Spirit selects such considerations, at such times and under such circumstances, as are naturally calculated to disarm and confound the sinner; to strip him of his excuses, answer his cavils, humble his pride, and break his heart. The preacher should therefore acquaint himself with his refuges of lies, and as far as possible take into consideration his whole history, including his present views and state of mind; should wisely select a subject; so skilfully arrange, so simply and yet so powerfully present it, as to engage the sinner's whole attention, and then lay himself out to the utmost to bring him to yield upon the spot. He who deals with souls should study well the laws of mind, and carefully and prayerfully adapt his matter and his manner to the state and circumstances, views and feelings, in which he may find the sinner at the time. he should present that particular subject, in that connection and in that manner, that shall have the greatest natural tendency to subdue the rebel at once. If men would act as wisely and as philosophically in attempting to make men Christians, as they do in attempting to sway mind upon other subjects; if they would suit their subject to the state of mind, conform "the action to the word and the word to the action," and press their subject with as much address, and warmth, and perseverance, as lawyers and statesmen do their addresses; the result would be the conversion of hundreds of thousands, and converts would be added to the Lord "like drops of the morning dew." Were the whole church and the whole ministry right upon this subject; had they right views, were they imbued with a right spirit, and would they "go forth with tears, bearing precious seed, they would soon reap the harvest of the whole earth, and return bearing their sheaves with them."
The importance of rightly understanding that God converts souls by motives, is inconceivably great. Those who do not recognize this truth in their practice at least, are more likely to hinder than to aid the Spirit in his work. Some have denied this truth in theory, but have happily admitted it in practice. They have prayed, and preached, and talked, as if they expected the Holy Spirit to convert sinners by the truth. In such cases, nevertheless their theory, their practice was owned and blessed of God. But a want of attention to this truth in practice has been the source of much and ruinous error in the management of revivals and in dealing with anxious souls. Much of the preaching, conversation and exhortation have been irrelevant, perplexing and mystical. Sufficient pains have not been taken to avoid a diversion of public and individual attention. Sinners have been kept long under conviction, because their spiritual guides withheld those particular truths which at the time above all others they needed to know. They have been perplexed and confounded by abstract doctrines, metaphysical subtleties, absurd exhibitions of the sovereignty of God, inability, physical regeneration, and constitutional depravity, until the agonized mind, discouraged and mad from contradiction from the pulpit, and absurdity in conversation, dismissed the subject as altogether incomprehensible, and postponed the performance of duty as impossible.
17th. From this subject you may see the importance of pressing every argument, and every consideration, that can have any weight.
And now, sinner, while the subject is before you, will you yield! To keep yourself away from under the motives of the Gospel, by neglecting church, and neglecting your Bible, will prove fatal to your soul. And to be careless when you do attend, or to hear with attention and refuse to make up your mind and yield, will be equally fatal. And now, "I beseech you, by the mercies of God, that you at this time render your body and soul, a living sacrifice to God, which is your reasonable service." Let the truth take hold upon your conscience -- throw down your rebellious weapons -- give up your refuges of lies -- fix your mind steadfastly upon the world of consideration that should instantly decide you to close in with the offer of reconciliation while it now lies before you. Another moment's delay, and it may be too late for ever. The Spirit of God may depart from you -- the offer of life may be made no more, and this one more slighted offer of mercy may close up your account, and seal you over to all the horrors of eternal death. Hear, then, O sinner, I beseech you, and obey the word of the Lord -- "Make you a new heart and a new spirit, for why will ye die?"