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to every man severally, as he would.''*

It is not of these that the apostle speaks in our text.
For neither, on the one hand, were these essential to a
man's being Christ's ; nor, on the other, did they certain-
ly prove to be his the person who possessed them. " Ma-
ny," says Christ himself, " shall say to me in that day,
Lord, Lord, liave we not prophesied in thy name ? and in
thy name cast out devils ? and in thy name done many
wonderful works ? And then will I profess unto them, I
never knew you ; depart from me, ye that work iniquity."f
Balaam, the son of Bosor, who " loved the wages of un-
righteousness," and who taught Balak how to seduce the
Israelites into sin, possessed, at times at least, the spirit of
prophecy. To Judas, ^^ the son of perdition," we have
no reason to doubt, " the devils were subject through the
name of Jesus," as well as to the other eleven apostles.
Nor does Paul make a mere supposition, which could
never be realized in fact, when he speaks of a man's pos-
sessing these supernatural gifts, even in the most eminent
degree, and yet being destitute of that love, whicli is the
most essential and comprehensive principle of the Chris-
tian character : *^ Though I speak with the tongues
of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become
as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And thougli
I have the gift of propliecy, and understand all mys-
teries, and all knowledge : and though I have all faith,
so that I could remove mountains, and have not love.
I am nothing.":}: That such, then, was, in various iu-

* 1 Cor. xii. r— 11. t Matdi. vii. 22, 23.

\ 1 Cor. xiii. 1, 2.



stances, the fact, that persons did possess miraculous
gifts, who were destitute of the grace of God, and of spir-
itual life, there can hardly, I should think, be a doubt.
Of the difficulty which the fact seems to involve, the sim-
plest ground of explanation, perhaps, lies in the obvious
distinction bet\\ cen the u'itness, and the testimony which
he delivers. The character of the witness may be repro-
bate, w bile his testimony is important truth. Now, mira-
cles were attestations, on the part of God, not of the moral
excellence of the prophet who delivered his message, but
of the truth of tiie message itself : evidences, not of char-
acter, but of commission. And whatever incongruity there
may appear to us, in the particular case of which 1 now
speak, between the instrument employed, and the nature
of his work ; yet we are at no loss to conceive, on the
ground of the distinction stated, how God should set his
seal to the testimony, while the witness himself, who de-
livered it, was disapproved, and rejected.

While the ^' Spirit of Christ," in our text, cannot, for
the reasons which have been assigned, signify miraculous
j)owers ; neither, 1 Avould further observe, can it be un-
derstood as meaning (according to a sense in which we
sometimes use the word splint J the disposition^ or mind
of Christ ; those holy tempers of soul which he possessed
and exemplified. Such holy tempers are elsewhere de-
nominated ^* the fruits of the Spirit:* and the sense in
w hich the Avord Sjjirit is used, both in the preceding and
subsequent context, completely precludes any such inter-
pretation. f

It is of the ordinary gracious influences of the Holy
Spirit, as the true and unequivocal evidences of a man's
belonging to Clnist, that I purpose, from this text, to treat :

* Gill. V. 22.
t See the Contexl, from the beginniug of the chapter to the 16th


— a subject, certainly, which, to every one who duly con-
siders the weight and solemnity of the declaration which
the text contains, must appear of preeminent importance.

The text would naturally lead me to an illustration of
the three following topics : — how believers may be said to
have, or to possess, the Spirit of Christ ; — the various influ-
ences of this Spirit, and the experienced and visible effects
thence resulting, as the evidence of such possession ; — and
the necessity of the possession of the Spirit, thus indicat-
ed, as a proof of their belonging to Christ.

In the present discourse, however, it is my intention to
confine myself to the first operation of the Spirit ; — that
operation by which he " opens tlie heart'' to the reception
of the truth as it is in Jesus, and commences the Divine
life in the soul : — his agency in what the Scriptures war-
rant us to denominate regeneration. All his subsequent
influence is only a continued exercise of the same power,
by which he prepares and takes possession of his temple.
By selecting, in the first instance, a single point, as the
subject of proof, the argument will, I think, possess a
greater measure of compactness and unity. And it must,
at the same time, be obvious to every one, thaft if this lead-
ing point is ascertained, the general question is settled.
If, from Scripture, and other legitimate sources of evi-
dence, we Can establish the reality, and the necessity, of
the direct energy of the Holy Spirit, in producing, ])y the •
faith of the gospel, tlie commencement of the Divine life ;
there will be little difficulty in procuring assent to the in-
ference that the same energy mast maintain and carry it
on to perfection. The satisfactory establishment of this
one point will clear the way for the remainder of the dis-
cussion, will divest it, in some measure, of its argumenta-
tive form, and impart to it more of the nature of illustration.

When considered in reference to the commencement of
the Divine life in the soul, the declaration, " If any man


have not tlic Spirit of C-hrist, lie is none ol" liis," may be
understood as expressins; the same important truth, which
our Lord liimself so emphatically declared to Nicodemus :
— *^ Verily, verily, I say onto thee, Except a man be
born again, he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven."*

It is my intention, with the supplicated aid of that Spir-
it, whose work I have undertaken to defend, to state what
appears tn be the doctrine of the Scriptures, with regard,
to the necessity of Divine influence in regeneration, and
to vindicate the doctrine from some leading objections.

In the one Godhead, although subsisting in three per-
sons, there has been, from eternity, infinite knowledge,
and consequently perfect and invariable unity of mind and
counsel. We are not to imagine any sort of distinction
to exist, such as admits of the communication, from one
to another, of any quality which was not possessed before.
As to knowledge, for example, it belongs alike, in infinite
perfection, to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as one God ;
and has so belonged from eternity, without the possibility
either of increase or of diminution. It cannot, in strict
propriety, be said, respecting any thought, or intention,
that it ever entered the Divine mind : — for entrance sup-
poses a period preceding, when it was not there. Nor
was any thought, or intention, ever present to the Father,
that was not equally present to the Son, and to the Holy
Spirit. The thoughts of one are the thoughts of all ; —
the designs of one the designs of all ; — underived — un-
rommunicated ; — the thoughts and designs of the God-

In the scheme of our redemption, however, as was
hinted towards the conclusion of the preceding Discourse,
the three persons in this one Godhead are represented as
performing, each his appropriate part of that glorious
work, in the eternal design of which they were necessari-
• John iii. 3, iJ, fi.


iy one. The Father may be considered, in the Seiipture
exhibition of it, as representing the Godhead : — so that
when He is said to be glorified by the work of the Son, it
is the Godhead that is glorified ; ^^ glory to God in the
lughest," as resulting from the voluntary mediation of
Christ, being glory to the one God, Father, Son, and
Holy Spirit. It is the peculiar work of the Son, by his
appearance in our nature and substitution in our room, to
render it consistent with the Dimne glory, that is, with
the glory of the Godhead, to pardon and to bless the
guilty children of men. The displeasure of the Father
against sin, to which sinners stand exposed, is the dis-
pleasure of the Godhead ; — and the reconciliation of the
Father is the reconciliation of the Godhead. And this
may serve to account for the fact, that in Scripture many
things, especially as to the bestowment of the blessings of
salvation, are represented, indiscriminately, as done alike
by the Father, by the Son, and by the Holy Spirit.

The ordinary distinction, however, pervades the account
which is given in the Scriptures of this wonderful scheme.
The Father appears, as sending, or commissioning the
Son : — ^the Son, as coming in the likeness of sinful flesh,
and finishing his work of atonement on the cross : — and,
the Father having declared his approbation of this finished
work — his aticeptance of this atoning sacrifice, by raising
the man Christ Jesus from the grave, and exalting him to
glory ; — then comes the appropriate work of the Spirit,
who is sent by the Father, in the name, and for the sake
of the Son, with the express view of giving eflTect, in the
souls of men, to the work of salvation, which the Son had
finished ; — or, which is much the same thing, by the Son
himself, in the exercise of that power, with which, as
Mediator, he is invested.

The person and work of Christ are the grand subjects
of the gospel testimony : — that testimony being just the


declaration of what he is, and of what lie hath done, and
of tlie Divine satisfaction in his work ; accompanied witli
a proclamation of free pardon, and a promise of eternal
life, to all, who, renouncing their proud rebellion, and
submitting at mercy, will receive these blessings as " the
gift of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord."

The great work of tlie Holy Spirit is to hear testimony
to Christ. He did so by all those supernatural powers,
of which he was the author, " in the beginning of the
gospel ;'' — and he did so then, and continues to do so
now, by his gracious influence on the minds of men. The
work of Christ and the work of the Spirit are mutually
necessary to each other's efficacy, and are tlius both alike
indispensable to the salvation of the sinner. Without the
work of Christ, the Spirit would want the means or in-
strument of his operation ; and without the work of the
Spirit, these means would remain inefficacious and fruit-
less. Without the work of Christ, there would not liavc
been, for any sinner, a foundation of hope towards God ;
— without the work of the Spirit, no sinner would have
been induced to build on this foundation. Christ has
opened the way of access to God ; — llie Spirit brings sin-
ners to God, in tlie way which Christ has opened.

I had occasion formerly to notice the double design of
the gospel — the restoration of men to the favour of God,
and, at the same time, to his image ; — -forgiveness of sin,
and renovation of heart. Both of these blessings, which,
when understood in their full extent, comprehend the
whole of salvation, are inseparal)ly connected witli the
faith of the gospel testimony. — Of the former of these
blessings — -justification from the guilt of sin — the truth
believed, or rather Jesus Christ, who is the subject of that
truth, is the ground; — while the belief of that truth, or
faith in Jesus Christ, is the medium of interest. As to the
latter blessing, the renovation of the heart, or sanctifica-


tion ; the same truth is the means by which this blessed
effect is produced : and the knowledge and belief of this
truth are essential to its renewing influence ; for it cannot
be supposed to have any truly gracious or saving efficacy,
except as it is understood and believed.

Here then, commences the work of the Spirit : — here is
his first operation : — the spiritual illumination of the un-
derstanding, in order to the conversion of the heart.

Let me illustrate this part of my subject, from the words
of the apostle in 1 Cor. ii. 14, ^^ For the natural man re-
ceiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are
foolishness unto him ; neither can he know them, because
they are spiritually discerned."

The " natural/' or animal, or sensual man,* cannot
here mean merely the sensualist, — the man who immerses
himself in the gratifications of animal appetite ; as oppos-
ed, either to the sober man, or to the man Avho devotes
himself to the cultivation of his mind, in the pursuits of
science and philosophy. For, in the first place, it stands
opposed to the " spiritual man,'^ and therefore must be
considered as comprehending all who are not spiritual,
in the sense in which this appellation is generally used by
this apostle. And no one, who is even superficially ac-
quainted with his phraseology, can fail to know, that he
designs to ex'press by it much more than either sober, or
intellectual, in opposition to sensual, in the ordinary gross
acceptation of that epithet. — '^dly. The matter of fact is,
that what is said in this verse applies with equal, if not
superior, emphasis, to the " wise and prudent" of this
world, — to the men of science and philosophy, — than
even to the sensualist. From the former has proceeded a
greater portion of pointed, and scornful, and bitter de-
rision, against what the apostle here denominates " the
things of the Sph-it of God," than from the latter. It \va^


been hy such men, generally speaking, above all otherSji
that these things have been disdained, and vilified, and
j)vonom\ce(\ foolishness. — Sdly, Notice the agreement of
this observation, with what the apostle had said before, in
this very epistle, respecting those who *' sought after wis-
dom .•" — ^' For the i)reaching of the cross is to them that
perish foolishness ; but unto us who are saved it is the
power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wis-
dom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understand-
ing of the prudent. Where is the wise ? Where is the
scribe ? Where is the disputer of this world ? Hath not
God made foolish the w isdom of this Avorld ? For after
that, in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew
not God, it pleased God, by the foolishness of preaching,
to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign :
and the Greeks seek after wisdom. But we preach
Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to
the Greeks foolishness ; but unto us, who are called,
both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and
the wisdom of God."* Have we not, in these words, an
express declaration, by the writer himself, to what de-
scription of men he especially referred, when he said, as
in the text on which 1 am now commenting, ^^The natural
man recciveth not the things of the Spirit of God ; for they
are foolishness unto himf^^ — that he meant the philoso-
pher at least as much as the sensualist ? — that, in short,
he meant all those, who remained under the influence of
such principles only as exist in the animal and rational
nature of man, independently of the renewing operation
of the grace or Spirit of God ?

By " the things of the Spirit of God,-' we must under-
stand the truths of the gosjiel ; those doctrines Avhich
were " revealed to the holy apostles and prophets ])y the
Spirit. — Respecting these it is here affirmed, that •• tin*.
* 1 Cor. i. 18—2*.


natural man receiveth them not ;" — that tliey are foolish-
ness toJiim ; that he cannot Icnoiv them.^'

To the light understanding of the passage, and of the
true nature of that operation of the Spirit of which it af-
firms the necessity, it is of great consequence to ascertain
the proper meaning of the last of these expressions —
neither can he know them.^' What is the nature of this
knowledge ? — Now to this question the passage itself fur-
nishes an immediate and satisfactory answer. To " know
them/' is, obviously, to know them in such a way that they
710 longer ajjpear foolishness : — and this implies nothing
less, than discerning them to be, what they really are,
" the wisdom of God ;'' — nothing less than a perception of
their truth, excellence, and glory. While tliey appeared
foolishness, they were not received : — whenever they are
thus known, thus discerned, they are received. In the
order of natufe, the discernment must precede the recep-
tion ; — yet between the one and the other there is no im-
aginable interval of time. The reception might rather be
said to accompany the discernment, than to follow it ; — to
be almost, indeed, involved in its very nature.

Now it is to this spiritual discernment of the things of
Grod, in their truth, and excellence, and glory, that the
enlightening influence of the Divine Spirit is declared to
be necessary. There is a kind of knowledge, whieli any
natural man may possess without the Spirit of God ;-uay,.
which every natural man, who hears the gospel, must pos-
sess, in order to his accounting it foolishness ; — a kind of
knowledge, without which he cannot, in the nature of
tilings, be guilty of disbelieving, rejecting, scorning, or
hating it. All these exercises of mind imply knowledge /
they suppose the capacity of understanding the meaning
of the several propositions, which are included in the gos-
pel testimony. These propositions are expressed in terms
abundantlv plain, and which anv man of ordinary intel-


lect is perfectly capable of comprehending. No man, fo?
instance, is at a loss to know what we mean, when we
tell him, that he has broken the law of God ; — that he is
consequently condemned by the sentence of that law ; —
tliat this sentence he can himself do nothing to avert ; —
that if he escapes and is pardoned, it cannot be on the
ground of any works of righteousness on his part, but by
an act of free and sovereign mercy on the part of God^
through the atonement and mediation of Jesus Christ, in
whom he must believe, in order to his being thus saved
from merited destruction. All this is readily enough un-
derstood ; and in proportion as it is understood, it is hated
by the carnal mind. Indeed the difference between dis-
cerning the truth and excellence of a proposition, and
merely understanding its meaning, is sufficiently obvious.
It cannot be the latter of these two kinds of knowledge
that is intended in the verse : — because, if no man could
possess this knowledge without spiritual illumination, no
man, unless spiritually enlightened, could be guilty of un-
belief, or hatred of the truth. It must, therefore, mean
such knowledge as has been described ; — a perception,
not merely of the meaning of gospel truths, but of their
wisdom, and excellence, their consistency, beauty, and

This, then, is what the apostle means by spiritual dis-
cernment: — and it is most clearly and emphatically af-
firmed to be the effect of the illuminating influence of the
Spirit of God : — " The natural nuin receiveth not the
things of the Spirit of God ; for they are focdishness unto
him ; neither can he Jvnow them, because tliey are spirit-
ually discerned.'' This spiritual discernment, as has
been already noticed, is immediately followed by the re-
ception of the truth ; which is the same tiling as the. faith
of the gospel. And, accordingly, the faitli of the gospel,
in exact coiiforniity Avith the representation which has now


been given, is ascribed, in the plainest terms, to divine in-
fliience. " No man can come to me,'' said Jesus hiuiself,
" except the Father who hath sent me draw him. It is
written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of
God. Every man, therefore, that hath heard and hath
learned of the Father, cometh unto me :" and afterwards,
in the same conversation with the Jews : — " Tlierefore
said I unto you, that no man can come to me, except it
w ere given unto him of my Father."* — ^* By grace are ye
saved through faith ;" says the apostle to the Ephesians,
^^ and that not of yourselves ; it is the gift of Grod ;*' and
again, to the Philii)pians ; " Being confident of this very
tiling, that he, who hath begun a good work in you, will
perform it until the day of Jesus Christ -y — " For unto
you ii is given, on the behalf of Christ, not only to believe
on him, but also to suffer for his sake.^f

These passages teach us, that the commencement of
the '^ good work," as the apostle terms it, takes place at
the time, when the sinner, by illumination from above,
discerns and receives the truth. It is then that lie is horn
again. And, with the same plainness and decision, his
regeneration, is described as the work of God ; — the work
of the Holy Spirit ; — and, at the same time, as effected
hy means of the truth. " Verily, verily, I say unto thee,
except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he can-
not enter into the kingdom of heaven :" — " After that the
kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man ap-
peared ; not by works of righteousness which we have
done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the
washing of regeneration, and renewing of tlie Holy
Ghost :" — ^^ To as many as received him, to them gave
he power (right or privilege) to become the sons of God,
even to them that believe on his name : who were born,
not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of
* John vi. 41, 45, 65. t %h. ii. 8. Phil. i. 6, 39.


man, but of God :" — ^^ Of his own will begat he us, with
the word of tmtli, that we should be a kind of first-fruits
of his creatures :'' — *' Beiug born, again, not of corrupti-
ble seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which
liveth and abideth forever : — and this is the w ord, which
by the gospel is preached unto you."*

This circumstance may readily account for the fact,
that regeneration is sometimes ascribed to God, and the
Spirit of God, and at other times to the truth. Such pas-
sages are perfectly consistent w ith each other. They in-
timate the necessity, in order to the effect being produced,
of the concurrence of the truth and the influence of the
Spirit : of the truth as the means, and the Spirit as the
agent. The one class of passages do not mean, that the
truth produces the effect without the Spirit ; nor the other,
that the Spirit produces it without the truth. It is quite
natural to expect, in such a case, that the effect should
sometimes be traced to the efficient agent ; and at other
times, to the necessary and invariable means of that
agent's operation.

It is by no means intended to affirm, that the word of
God, by itself, unaccompanied with the influence of the
Spirit, produces tio effects whatever. There are effects
which may be, and often are, produced by natural know-
ledge ; tliat is, by the mere acquaintance w ith the mean-
ing, and with some particulars of the evidence, of what is
testified : — such effects, for instance, as alarm of con-
science, and the perturbations of foreboding fear — as in
the case of Felix :t — partial reformation of conduct, ac-
companied with deUisive self-complacency — as in the case
of Herod :j: and the external semblance of some of the
Christian virtues — as in the case of multitudes, who, w itli

* John iii. 5. Titus iii. 6. John i. 12, 13. James i. 18. 1 Peter
i. 26 23.

+ Acts xxiv. 2i — -2ri. t Mark vi. 20,


melancholy inconsistency, make it evident, by other parts
of their conduct, that they are destitute of the " power of
godliness." But the spiritual illumination of which I
have before spoken, is accompanied with, or rather in-
cludes in it, the production of what may be termed a spir-
itual taste ; a sense of the beauty and excellence of the
object of knowledge revealed in the gospel. The sinner,
when spiritually enlightened, discerns wisdom — heavenly
wisdom, in what before he accounted foolishness ; — con-
summate propriety in what formerly offended and disgust-
ed him ; — and that Saviour to be " fairer than the children
of men," " the chief among ten thousand, and altogether
lovely," who before appeared in his eyes, as " a root out of
a dry ground, having no form nor comeliness, no beauty,
why he should be desired." This change of sentiments
and feelings, we affirm, is represented in the Scriptures,
as the effect of Divine influence ; of the influence of the

Online LibraryRalph WardlawDiscourses on the principal points of the Socinian controversy → online text (page 25 of 36)