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  • PHILOSOPHICAL THEORIES OF REGENERATION - D,
    CHARLES FINNEY SYS. THEOLOGY

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    Again: there are many passages that represent God as opening the spiritual eyes, and passages in which petitions are offered to God to do this. It is by this theory assumed that such passages strongly imply a physical influence. But this assumption appears to me unwarrantable. We are in the habit of using just such language, and speak of opening each other's eyes, when no such thing is intended or implied, as a physical influence, and when nothing more than a moral or persuasive influence is so much as thought of. Why then resort to such an assumption here? Does the nature of the case demand it? This I know is contended for by those who maintain a constitutional moral depravity. But this dogma has been shown to be false, and it is admitted to be so by those who maintain the theory now under consideration. Admitting, then, that the constitution is not morally depraved, should it be inferred that any constitutional change, or physical influence is needed to produce regeneration? I can see no sufficient reason for believing, or affirming, that a physical influence is demanded or exerted. This much I freely admit, that we cannot affirm the impossibility of such an influence, nor the impossibility of the necessity of such an influence. The only question with me is, does the Bible plainly teach or imply such an influence? Hitherto I have been unable to see that it does. The passages already quoted are of a piece with all that are relied upon in support of this theory, and as the same answer is a sufficient reply to them all, I will not spend time in citing and remarking upon them.

    Again: A physical influence has been inferred from the fact, that sinners are represented as dead in trespasses and sins, as asleep, etc. But all such representations are only declaratory of a moral state, a state of voluntary alienation from God. If the death is moral, and the sleep moral, why suppose that a physical influence is needed to correct a moral evil? Cannot truth, when urged and pressed by the Holy Spirit, effect the requisite change?

    But a physical influence is also inferred from the fact, that truth makes so different an impression at one time from what it does at another. Answer: this can well enough be accounted for by the fact, that sometimes the Holy Spirit so presents the truth, that the mind apprehends it and feels its power, whereas at another time He does not.

    But it is said, that there sometimes appears to have been a preparatory work performed by a physical influence predisposing the mind to attend to, and be affected by, the truth. Answer: There often is no doubt a preparatory work predisposing the mind to attend to, and be affected by, truth. But why assume that this is a physical influence? Providential occurrences may have had much to do with it. The Holy Spirit may have been directing the thoughts and communicating instructions in various ways, and preparing the mind to attend and obey. Who then is warranted in the affirmation that this preparatory influence is physical? I admit that it may be, but I cannot see either that it must be, or that there is any good ground for the assumption that it is.

    4. The last theory to be examined is that of a Divine Moral Suasion. This theory teaches:

    (1.) That regeneration consists in a change in the ultimate intention or preference of the mind, or in a change from selfishness to disinterested benevolence; and:

    (2.) That this change is induced and effected by a divine moral influence; that is, that the Holy Spirit effects it with, through, or by the truth. The advocates of this theory assign the following as the principal reasons in support of it.

    (1.) The Bible expressly affirms it. "Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:5, 6). "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever" (1 Peter 1:23). "Of His own will begat He us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first-fruits of His creatures" (James 1:18). "For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel" (1 Cor. 4:15).

    (2.) Men are represented as being sanctified by and through the truth. "Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy word is truth" (John 17:17) "Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you" (John 15:3).

    (3.) The nature of regeneration decides the philosophy of it so far as this, that it must be effected by truth, addressed to the heart through the intelligence. The regenerate are conscious of having been influenced by the truth in turning to God. They are conscious of no other influence than light poured upon the intelligence, or truth presented to the mind.

    When God affirms that He regenerates the soul with or by the truth, we have no right to infer that He does it in some other way. This He does affirm; therefore the Bible has settled the philosophy of regeneration. That He exerts any other than a moral influence, or the influence of divine teaching and illumination, is sheer assumption.

    Remarks

    1. This scheme honors the Holy Spirit without disparaging the truth of God.

    2. Regeneration by the Holy Spirit through the truth illustrates the wisdom of God. There is a deep and divine philosophy in regeneration.

    3. This theory is of great practical importance. For if sinners are to be regenerated by the influence of truth, argument, and persuasion, then ministers can see what they have to do, and how it is that they are to be "workers together with God" (2 Cor. 6:1).

    4. So also sinners may see, that they are not to wait for a physical regeneration or influence, but must submit to, and embrace, the truth, if they ever expect to be saved.

    5. If this theory is true, sinners are most likely to be regenerated while sitting under the sound of the gospel, while listening to the clear exhibition of truth.

    6. Ministers should lay themselves out, and press every consideration upon the attention of sinners, just as heartily and as freely, as if they expected to convert them themselves. They should aim at, and expect the regeneration of sinners, upon the spot and before they leave the house of God.

    7. Sinners must not wait for and expect physical omnipotence to regenerate them. The physical omnipotence of God affords no presumption that all men will be converted; for regeneration is not effected by physical power. God cannot do the sinner's duty, and regenerate him without the right exercise of the sinner's own agency.

    8. This view of regeneration shows that the sinner's dependence upon the Holy Spirit arises entirely out of his own voluntary stubbornness, and that his guilt is all the greater, by how much the more perfect this kind of dependence is.

    9. Physical regeneration, under every modification of it, is a stumbling-block. Original or constitutional sinfulness, physical regeneration, and all their kindred and resulting dogmas, are alike subversive of the gospel, and repulsive to the human intelligence; and should be laid aside as relics of a most unreasonable and confused philosophy.

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