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Spirit of God.

The passages before quoted might be considered as suf-
ficiently decisive on this point. I would further remark,
however, that it is strongly confirmed by those figures,
which are employed to represent the nature and magni-
tude of the change which takes place, when a sinner " re-
ceives the love of the truth that he may be saved." This
change is represented as a new birth, a resurrection from
the dead, a new creation. Of the first of these I have al-
ready quoted examples. Of the second and third the
following are instances : — " And (that ye may know)
what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us- ward
who believe : according to the working of his mighty
power, which he wrought in Christ when he raised him
from the dead :" — " And you (hath he quickened) who
were dead in trespasses and sins :" — " But God, who is
rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,
even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us to-


gether with Christ :" — " We are his workmanship, cre-
ated in Cluist Jesus unto i;ood works, to which God hath
before ordained us, that we should walk in them :'' —
*' AVherefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new crea-
ture : old things are passed away, behold all things are
become new."*

It is very evident, that such figures as these must ex-
press a change, not external, superficial, and partial, but
internal, radical, and total : — a change of mind, of heart,
and of life ; — of views, of principles, and of conduct.
And it is also not less evident, that, as the things in na-
ture to which the change is compared, require Divine en-
ergy for their accomplishment, so must the change itself.
This, indeed, in several of the passages quoted, is most
pointedly affirmed.

The whole of such language proceeds on the supposi-
tion of the deep and radical corruption of the human heart;
that corruption which, although it assumes a vast variety
of aspects, being modified, in its influence on the charac-
ters of men, by an inconceivable diversity of circumstan-
ces, is yet, in its general nature, the same, and operates
universally in opposition to that truth, which abases to
the dust the pride of man, and which " crucifies the flesh,
with its aifections and lusts."

Into any illustration or proof of this important doctrine,
it cannot be expected that I should at present enter. The
apostle Paul, it may in general be observed, has, in the
seventh verse of this chapter, summed up, in one expres-
sion, all the varieties of human corruption : — " The caimal
mind is ENMrrv against God." The whole context
shows, that by the carnal mind, or mind of the flesh, he
means the mind of juan previously to his being " renewed
in the spirit of his mind.^' In the first verse of the chap-
ter, " those, who are in Christ Jesus,''^ are characterized
• Ephes. i. 19, 20. ii. l, 4, 5, lo. 2 Cor. v. 17.


as " walking not after the flesh, but after the Spirit :" and
as this is what distinguishes them from others, all others
must be considered as " walking after the flesh," and
^' minding the things of the flesh. '^ This is the distinc-
tion which pervades the whole passage ; — the distinction
between the renewed and the unrenewed, — those wlio
have, and those who have not the Spirit of Christ, — those
who are after the Spirit, and those who are after the
flesh. Of the ^^ lusts of the flesh and of the mind," which
corrupt nature is prone to gratify, there is a prodigious di-
versity ; and from this diversity arises the variety that
appears in the external characters of ungodly and worldly
men. But the apostle, without entering into this variety,
divides mankind at once into two classes, determines eve-
ry one to be ^' after the flesh," who is not "^ after the
Spirit ;" — and all who are after the flesh to be under the
prevailing dominion of " enmity against God.^' This en-
mity is the sum of man'^s depravity ; the fountain of all
the polluted streams of human character ; the germ of the
poison-tree ; the great principle and concentrated essence
of all evil.

From this view of human corruption arises an obvious,
but cogent argument, for the necessity of Divine influence,
to change the Iieart : — I mean, the contradiction, which
seems to be involved in the supposition of self-change.
How can a principle of evil convert itself mto a principle
of good ? How can enmity ever cliange itself into love ?
How can hatred of Got!, of its own accord, choose to love
God ? — Is not this to suppose a principle operating in di-
ametrical opposition to its proper nature, and invariable
tendency ?

In answer to this it may be said, that certain views and
considerations are presented to the mind, which are, in
their nature, fitted to subdue enmity, and to inspire love :


— and that this is quite sufficient to account for the change
in question.

Let us examine this a little.

The principle upon which the answer proceeds, obvi-
ously is, that the enmity, of which I have been speaking,
has its source in ignorance; and that it requires only a just
cxhil)ition of the perfections of the Divine character, to
make the Being, who possesses these perfections, the object
of love. And so in general, those persons, against whom
chiefly I now reason, are accustomed to express them-
selves. The soundness of the principle, however, is more
than questionable. Observe respecting it,

ist, When the apostle speaks of '^enmity against Gudy-'
he must mean, if he means any thing that is evil, enmity
against his true character. If it were otherwise, if the
enmity arose from false views of God, and required only
the correction of tliese to make it give place to love, it
would not be enmity against God at all. It m^ouUI be
enmity against that which God is not. It would, there-
fore, in fact, be of the nature of love to God. For hatred
of w hat God is not, is negative or hypothetical love to
what God is ; — a just exhibition of the Divine character
to the mind lieing all that is requisite to call it into exer-
cise in a direct and positive state. This, certainly, was
not what Paul meant to express. Such, assuredly, were
not his views of the tendencies and likings of human

2dlif, On this supposition, the only guilt would lie in the
ignorance by wliicli the enmity had I)ihmi occasioned. But
simple ignorancPy that is, ignorance considered in itself,
as a deficiency purely intellectual, unconnected with the
state of the will and of the heart, and uninfluenced by it,
cannot be juslly conceived to involve in it anv sruilt at all.
It has nothing in it of the nature of moral turpitude. 1";-


iioranee is criminal, only in as far as it is voluntary, and
connected with disposition.

Sdlif, In exact accordance with tliese remarks, is the
fact, that, in the Scriptures, ignorance is so far from being
represented as the origin and cause of the enmity, that the
case is reversed ; the enmity being pointedly declared to
be the cause of the ignorance. The gross darkness, and
idolatrous superstition of the heathen world, are traced
immediately to this source by the inspired apostle of the
Gentiles : — " They did not like/' says he, " to retain God
in their knowledge.'''^ And in another place he speaks
of them as " having the understanding darkened, being
alienated from tlie life of God, through the ignorance that
is in them, because of the blindness (more properly hard-
ness or callousness-\) of their hearts.''^ That, which is the
case with reference to God himself, is the case also with
regard to his gospel ; — which, indeed, is the clearest and
fullest manifestation of his true character : — " This is the
condemnation, that light is come into the world, and that
men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds
were evil :" — *^ Why do ye not understand my speech ?
Even because ye cannot hear (that is, cannot hear J my
word.'^ — " He that is of God heareth God's words : ye,
therefore, hear them not, because ye are not of God^^ In
these and other passages, aversion of heart is clearly re-
presented as the source of ignorance. From which it in-'
evitably follows, that something else than mere know-
ledge, that is, than a mere apprehension of the meaning
of gospel doctrines, is necessary to its removal. I have
accordingly observed already, that the spiritual illumina-
tion, for the necessity of which I contend, includes in it
the production of a spiritual taste, by which the excellen-
cies of the character and truth of God are discerned and

* Rom. i. 28. ■\ Taoajs-iv. i Eph. iv. 18.

^ .Tohn iii. 19. viii. 43. 4r.


relished : and that this constitutes the difl'erence between
iiaiurul and spiritual knowledge. The eye of the man
Avho ])ossesses taste and sensibility, does not. as a mere
optical instrument, admit the landscape more fully, or
more correctly, than that of him who is entirely destitute
of these qualities. But the latter is blind to the beauties
and sublimities of the scene. He perceives them not. He
feels them not. While the former catches every feature
of the sublime and the beautiful, and is fixed in admira-
tion and delight. Somewhat akin to this is the difl'erence
which exists, between him who merely knows that, accord-
in;; to the Scriptures, God is possessed of certain attri-
butes, and that these Scriptures contain particular doc-
trines, and tlie man wlio, enlightened by the Holy Si)irit,
discerns, by a kind of new and spiritual sense, tiie glory
and the loveliness of these attributes, the truth, and ex-
cellence, and fitness of these doctrines.

'ithli/f This distinction is fully sufficient to account for
what seems to be clearly affirmed in Scripture — that alL
who are enlightened of God, do actually receive the truth
in the love of it ; that all, who know, believe. That such
is the fact, the following words of Christ himself, before
referred to, arc sufficient to determine : ** It is written in
the prophets. And they shall be all taught of God. Ev-
ery man, therefore, that hath heard and hath learned of
the Father, cometh unto 7«e.*'* On the same ])rinciple,
we can at once perceive tiie reason, why knowledge is at
times used as if it were synonymous \\\ih faith: for spir-
itual knowledge, i)eing a discernment of the truth and ex-
cellence of gospel doctrine, migiit very safely and proper-
ly be considered as imyhjing, because it is of necessity
accompanied by, faith and approbation. Perceiving a
proposition to be true, if it be not precisely a convertible
expression for belief or faith, is yet so inseparably accom-

■* .lohn vi. -I ."5.


panied by it, that we cannot for a moment imagine the one
to exist without the other : and the same is obviously the
case, with the perception of excellence, and the sentiment
of approhation.

It may, perhaps be objected to the view I am now giv-
ing of the necessity of the inward energy of the Holy Spirit
to the conversion of the sinner, that it is disparaging to
the word of God, implying, as it does, its inadequacy, by
its own independent operation, for the accomplishment of
this effect.

This objection has sometimes been urged by persons
who hold very different views of the foundation of hope
revealed in the gospel, from those whose sentiments I
have chiefly in view in these discourses. The following
observations may sufldce to evince its fallacy :

In the first place : We cannot justly be considered as
disparaging the word of God, when we give it, in this
matter, the place which it assigns to itself. If the Scrip-
tures represent the gospel as a means or instrument, we
do not underrate its value or its power, when we view it,
and speak of it in this light.

2dly, The word is not disparaged when, as an instru-
ment, it is acknowledged to be eminently ^^^e(i/o?' its end.
That cannot be considered as disparaged, which is repre-
sented as fiilly answering the purpose for which it is in-
tended. It is wrong, indeed, in point of accuracy of ex-
pression, to speak of the word of God as a dead letter.
For " the word of God is quick f living J and powerful,
sharper than any two edged sword, piercing to the divid-
ing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and mar-
row ; and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the
heart.''* Yet there is no inconsistency in saying, that
this view of the Divine word assumes, or supposes, the
accompanying influence of the Holy Spirit. The word
* Heb. iv. 12. r


of God is "^ tlic sword of the Spirit." And we no more
derogate from tlic cxcelk'ncc and efficacy of the word,
M lien we aifirni that it cannot pierce^ and divide^ and lay
open, except as used by the power of tlie Spirit, than we
should detract from the excellence of the best tempered
sabre, by sayiii!^, that it can do no execution, unless wield-
ed by the prowess of the warrior.

3dly, The disparagement attaches, not to the word of
God, but to the nature of man. That enmity of which I
formerly spoke, has, on many occasions, shown itself to
be capable of resisting the most convincing arguments, the
most affecting considerations, and the best adapted means.
Certainly no considerations can be conceived more pow-
erfully persuasive, none more admirably fitted for subdu-
ing to submission, and to grateful affection, the rebellious
heart of man, than the exhibition given in the gospel, of
the love and giace of the Godhead, in the mediation of Je-
sus Christ. This is, in every view, inconceivably more
touching, and melting, and overpowering to the heart, than
the views of the gospel (if according to these views it mer-
ited the name) which are held by our Unitarian opponents.
And when we admit that even this will not, of itself, un-
accompanied by Divine energy, overcome the obduracy of
the will and affections of unregenerate men, we throw no
disparaging reflection on the gospel of God ; but we free-
ly acknowledge, that it bears hard (alas ! that it should be
so justly hard !) on the nature which we possess in our
fallen state.

In connexion with this part of my subject, may be no-
ticed the sentiment of those, who, while they admit that
God is tlie rjithor of the change which takes place in re-
generation, deny that he effects it by any direct inward
influence ; affirming that he only places men in circum-
stances which tend to produce the change ; bringing them
nndcr the outward ministration of the gospel, and at the


same time arranging incidents in providence, in such a man-
ner as to aid and ensure its eificacy. The remarks which
have just been made with regard to the word of God, as
a means or instrument, are, it is obvious, applicable, in all
their force, to the arrangements of his providence. It is
at once admitted, that God, in infinite wisdom, does thus
arrange providential occurrences, and all outward means,
for the accomplishment of his gracious design. But there
is a wide difference between the admission of this, and
granting the sufficiency of these means to w ork out the
effect by their own unassisted influence.

The idea of the Spirit of God converting the sinner
without means, and particularly without the word, is an
idea to wliicli tlie Scriptures give no countenance ; — an
idea, which opens a wide door to all the extravagances of
wild enthusiasm. We have, I apprehend, sufficient war-
rant in the Bible, for refusing to acknow ledge any man as
a subject of the regenerating power of the Spirit, however
high his pretensions to Divine communications may be,
who is ignorant of the great truths made known in the
gospel. But to every candid mind it must be evident,
that the expressions of Scripture, which hkve been al-
ready quoted, imply much more, on the part of God, than
the mere exhibition of means, and arrangement of circum-
stances. Arid that more than this is necessary to the
production of the effect, while it is clearly declared in
these expressions, is abundantly confirmed by many strik-
ing facts in the history and experience of mankind. To
ancient Israel God gave his " lively oracles :'' and every
motive that could awaken their fears, or interest their de-
sires — every motive contained in the promises and the
threatenings, the favours and the judgments of God — was
employed, with reiterated and increasing vehemence, to
impress his truth upon their minds, and give it a permanent
influence in their hearts ; yet they continued a " stubborn


and rebellious gencratiou ;" to wlioni Moses said, with
melancholy truth, after all the kindness they had experi-
enced, and all the discipline they had endured — and in
the midst of the most propitious external circumstances ;
— '^ The Lord hath not given you a heart to perceive, nor
eyes to sec, nor ears to hear, unto this day." Still more
striking is the fact, at the period when the Messiah himself
made his appearance among them. He set before them the
clearest and most abundant evidences of his Divine mis-
sion. He accompanied these with an uninterrupted dis-
play of Jhe most unwearied benevolence, and of every
other possible excellence of character. No expectation
could be more reasonable than that of the husbandman in
the parable, '^ Tliey w ill reverence my Son." Yet what
was the mournful fact ? " When the husbandmen saw the
Son, they said among themselves. This is the heir : come,
let us kill him, and let us seize on the inheritance. And
they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and
slew him.*'* Instead of yielding to evidence, the irrita-
tion and violence of the Jews against the tnith increased,
in exact proportion as the proofs of it were multiplied ; —
a circumstance for which it is not difficult, on the ordinary
principles of human nature, satisfiictorily to account.
When any doctrine is the object of dislike, the struggle
between tlie conviction, which undeniable evidence forces
upon the judgment, and the rooted aversion which still
remains in the heart, must of necessity become, in such
circumstances, always the more violent. In the case of
the Jews, the expressions and acts of rage and madness
frequently indicated the fearful terai)est of conflicting sen-
timents and passions, which, from this cause, was agitat-
ing and tormenting tlieir bosoms. Nor, although accom-
panied witii some peculiarities, is the case of the Jews, in
the general principle of it, by any means a solitary one.

* Malth. xxi. 38, 39.


It is, I believe, the case of by far the greater number of
those, who reject the gospel among ourselves. '^ The
light still shineth in darkness, and the darkness admitteth
it not.''

Further. — It is a matter of fact in daily observation,
that circumstances which appear, in every respect the most
favourable that could be desired, frequently fail of any
salutary effect, to the great disappointment and grief of
those, who are anxious about the result in behalf of their
friends ; — while, in other instances, circumstances much
less promising are attended with converting efficacy. It
is also as frequently observable, that the very same cir-
cumstances, as far as human discernment can discover,
prove effectual in the conviction and conversion of one,
while another remains entirely unaffected by them, or is
even hardened in infidelity and sin.

Such facts, which are without number, immediately
suggest certain inquiries : — What is the cause of this re-
markable diversity of effect ? Does it proceed from better
previous dispositions in one than in another ? or (which
in effect, indeed, is much the same) from the better im-
provement, on the part of one than of another, of that
grace, which is supposed to be common to all ?

In reply to these questions, I would simply observe,
that every theory, which militates against a leading and
characteristic feature of the gospel, must be a false theory.
Now, throughout the Scriptures, the scheme of salvation
is uniformly represented as having been purposely so
constituted as to '^liide pride from man.^' The language
of the gospel is, " He that glorieth, let him glory in the
Lord:" — " Where is boasting ? It is excluded.'' Tiie
whole plan, then, in all its parts, must, in this respect, be
consistent with itself. The design of abasing liuman
pride, and precluding self-glorying, must be answered
throughout. It is not enough that " boasting" be^*ex-


eluded'* ill one quarter, while ground is retained for it in
another. It is not enough, for example, tliat this exclusion
be recognised only in i\\^ foundation of hope, or meritori-
ous ground ofaccejjtance. Any hypothesis which, while
it professes to do this, places, at the same time, in the sin-
ner hiniadf, wlio has been led to build on this foundation,
and has been " renewed in the spirit of his mind," the
reason of the difference between him and others, militates
directly against this characteristic feature of the gospel.
For in order to the effectual exclusion of boasting, it is
just as necessary that the cause of difference should not
be in us, as that the ground of hope should not be in
us. It alters not the case to say, " I still owe the differ-
ence to grace ; because, without communicated grace, the
difference could never have existed." For, if this grace
is imparted to me, in common with others^ who fail to im-
prove it ; then the difference between them and me is not
owing to the grace, (for with respect to it we are supposed
on a level) but evidently to my superior improvement of
the grace. And in the disjwsition so to improve it, I have
" whereof to glory. ^^

But the whole of this doctrine, it may now be said, pro-
ceeds upon the supposition of man's inability of himself to
believe the gospel, and turn unto God. And such inability,
it may be alleged, cannot exist, because it destroys human

This olijection is founded in a double mistake : —
Jn the first place: — It is founded in a mistake as to the
nature of the inability in question. This inability — (the
obserTation is trite, but ought never to be forgotten) — is
entirely of a moral kind. It does not at all consist in any
want of natural powers and capacities : — for, were there
a want of these, certainly men would not be " without ex-
cuse.^' It consists in aversion of heart ; in disinclination
to what is truly good: in dislike to "the things of the


Spirit of God." Our Lord confirms, what reason irresist-
ably dictates, that men could not be responsible, as sin-
ners and unbelievers, if they wanted natural faculties, and
capacities for knowledge — when, in reply to the self-con-
fident question of the Pharisees, " Are we blind also ?''
he assures them, '^Ifye ivere blind, ye should have no
sin : but now ye say? we see ; therefore your sin remain-
eth :"* — and when, speaking of the hatred and rejection,
which he had experienced from his countrymen in general,
he says to his disciples, " If I had not come and spoken
unto them, they had not had sin : but now they have no
cloak for their sin. If I had not done among them the
works, which no other man did, they had not had sin :
but now have they both seen, and hated both me and my
Father.''! The latter of these two passages teaches us
besides, that to render men ^^ without excuse," there must
not only be the possession of natural powers and capacities,
but also opportunities of knowledge, and adequate means
of conviction. In the case to which our Lord refers, all
these were enjoyed : — and the unbelief of the Jews, in
the midst of their high advantages, he traces at once to
the state of their hearts — to their hatred of himself and of
his Father. His language to them on another occasion
proceeds on the same principle : — " Ye will not come to
me, that ye might have life. I know you, that ye have
not the love of God in you :"$ — and it is also distinctly
recognised in his words to Nicodemus, formerly quoted :
— " And this is the condemnation, that light is come into
the world, and that men loved darkness rather than light,
because their deeds were evil : for everyone that doeth
evil hateth the light, neither cometh to 0^' ^^S^^^? ^^^^ '"^
deeds should be reproved. "§ " This kiL 1 of inability is
evidently wilful and vicious, and therefore culpable and

* John ix. 41. t John xv. 22, 31.

i John V. 40, 42. ^ John iii. 19, 20.



inexcusable. Every man's conscience, upon the least re-

Online LibraryRalph WardlawDiscourses on the principal points of the Socinian controversy → online text (page 26 of 36)