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"the gospel is preached unto you"." They who have endeavoured to explain away these texts, which plainly teach, that the word of the gospel is as the seed of regeneration, have deviated from scriptural simplicity : and should we attempt to shew the manner, in which the Holy Spirit uses this word of truth in regenerating the soul, we should fall into a similar fault. We know not what life is, or how it is communicated. We cannot explain the manner, in which animals or vegetables are produced according to the course of nature: how then can we comprehend the operation of God in the new creation? Where the truths of the Scripture are preached, or in any way attended to; there sinners are regenerated: where these truths are wholly unknown or disregarded; such effects do not follow. This suffices to direct our conduct: but if we depend on the means, or ascribe the effect to them, we shall be disappointed.
Man is capable of understanding, remembering, reflecting, hoping, fearing, and all other exercises of an intelligent mind, even while destitute of spiritual perception. The word of God is addressed to his understanding, heart, and conscience: and in general, even when it obtains the assent of the understanding, and the conscience is disquieted, the heart revolts, and in one way or other, manifests its aversion. But in some instances this aversion is overcome, nay, a state of the affections diametrically opposite takes place; and it is evidently scriptural to ascribe this change to regenerating grace; though we cannot explain the manner, in which the Holy Spirit uses divine truth to effect it; or determine how far that faith, of which natural men are capable, may in some cases be rendered subservient to it. It is, however, necessary to observe, that the Scriptures no where give the least intimation of our being regenerated by faith ; though it will be shewn in the sequel that we are sanctified by faith.
Adam, created after the image of God in holiness,
1 James i. 18. 1 Pet, i. 23-256
was capable of changing, and becoming unholy, without any positive divine interposition. Satan's insinuations, therefore, might, when believed, produce by their own efficacy his image in the soul : yet surely man had begun to fall at the moment when he favourably listened to the temptation; and his belief of Satan's lies was wicked in itself, as well as the principle of his subsequent wicked
But fallen man has no natural disposition to believe the holy truth of God: the progress therefore of sanctification
may be ascribed to the energy of faith, by which the Spirit carries on his work of renovation; but the disposition so to believe, as to be influenced by faith to holy obedience, must itself be the effect of special grace, and the beginning of the sinner's recovery from his fallen state. So that the argument, taken from the way in which Adam fell, to prove that faith precedes regeneration, is grounded on an evident misapprehension.
Under the notion, that faith precedes and is the subordinute cause of regeneration, schemes are formed concerning the best manner of preaching, and the subjects principally to be insisted on, in order to produce this active principle in the hearts of unregenerate men! And those parts of Scripture are commonly preferred, which speak most fully of evangelical subjects; under the persuasion, that a favourable opinion of the divine character, and an encouraging hope of mercy, have a tendency to produce a right temper of mind, and to reconcile the heart to God! But surely this arises from inattention to the testimony of the apostle, that “ the carnal mind is * enmity against God.” For this most certainly means, that the heart of unregenerate men is averse to the real character of God; and not to a mistaken notion concerning him, as these devices seem to suppose. The unholy heart irreconcilably hates the holy perfections of the Lord, and whatever bears the stamp of his holiness; and cannot possibly be pleased with a holy gospel, and nothing short of a total perversion of the truth can satisfy it. Hence unscriptural systems are devised, and propagated : for if the infinite justice and holiness of God, and his determination to take vengeance on all the workers of
iniquity, be kept out of sight; if his holy law be either misrepresented as to its demands and sanction, or spoken of as unreasonably strict and severe: and if the gospel be considered as a kind of compensation for the rigour of the law, that it might be dispensed with and set aside, instead of being honoured and established ;-then unregenerate sinners may be persuaded to embrace the system, to presume on God's mercy, and experience a variety of high, selfish, and transient affections. They will however continue unregenerate, and as much at enmity with the holy character, law, gospel, and service of the one, living, and true God, as ever: and more scriptural views of these subjects will most certainly and effectually destroy all their apparently good frames, and call forth all the latent enmity and rebellion of the heart, which were merely soothed and humoured, instead of being dethroned and crucified. So indispensably necessary is regeneration to a real belief of the uncorrupted gospel of Christ.
" I was," says the apostle, “ alive without the law
once: but when the commandment came, sin revived. " and I died.” “I through the law am dead to the law, " that I might live unto God !” “ For by the law is the “ knowledge of sin.” In general, the preaching of the holy law of God, in its spirituality, extent, excellency, and awful sanction, is the method which is most blessed, to bring sinners to renounce every kind of self-confidence, and to feel their need of Christ and his salvation: but that moral preaching, which is commonly called legal, is widely different both in its nature and tendency. It by no means exhibits the awful, perfect, and glorious law of God, “ the ministration of condemnation," to honour which, the eternal Son of the Father became incarnate, and was obedient even unto the death upon the cross : but on the contrary it calls men to practise duties, according to a scanty, imperfect, and indeterminate rule; which consequently leads to self-complacency and contempt of the gospel. Let any man thoroughly preach the holy law of God, with close application to the conscience, and a fair declaration of the sinner's condition according to it: and if he do not discover and preach
the gospel too, he will soon despair himself, and drive all who continue to regard him to despair likewise.
Sometimes, however, the Holy Spirit leads the sinner at once to the cross of Christ, and in that single object shews him both his guilt and his redemption.Here he learns the glory of the law itself, with the evil and desert of transgression: but he cannot thus learn all the particular requirements of the law; or clearly discover in what respect he needs repentance, forgiveness, and divine grace to enable him to a walk in newness of life.” The whole word of God should therefore be preached, and his whole counsel declared ; in proportion as the minister is enabled to get acquainted with it, and as the people are able to receive it; and then the Lord will bless what part of truth he sees good. But neither law nor gospel, precepts nor doctrines, threatenings nor promises, will change men's hearts or produce true faith, without the life-giving power of the Spirit. The same view of the divine perfections, and government is set before us in every part of Scripture: and facts prove, that sometimes one part, and sometimes another, are first made effectual to impress the minds of sinners with salutary convictions.
It is argued, that faith in Christ must precede regeneration, because spiritual life springs from union with Christ, and faith is the principle of our union with him. But I apprehend that this argument rests on no solid ground. The Holy Spirit is the Life, or animating Soul of that Body of which Christ is the Head. The Spirit of life in Christ Jesus quickens the dead in sin: thus they are made alive to God, and by this uniting Cause and Agent they become spiritually one with Christ, as living by his life,
frequently even before they have explicit knowledge of him. “He that is joined to the Lord is one
spirit.” By one Spirit we are all baptized into one
body." We become alive to God, not by our apprehending Christ, but by his apprehending us : and in consequence we are brought to believe in his name.
So that living faith in Christ is the effect, and not the cause of our union with him; if we would speak of the subject
in an exact argumentative manner. Faith constitutes our relation to Christ, as “ made the righteousness of “.God in him:” and till we are conscious of explicitly believing in him, we cannot know, or warrantably take any comfort from an union with him: and as this is the case, we generally speak of faith as uniting us to Christ, when discoursing in a popular style. But surely this is a feeble foundation, on which to rest a conclusion, that is evidently repugnánt to the constant tenor of Scripture ! “ Of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made “ unto us, Wisdom, Righteousness, Sanctification, and “Redemption." According to these words of the apostle, even the wisdom, by which we count all but loss for Christ, was derived from Christ by the grace of that Spirit, by whom we are baptized into him, and are One with him. Who then can think, with these words before his mind, that the faith of an unregenerate sinner is the uniting principle between Christ and his soul?
“ Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit “ of his Son into your hearts, crying Abba, , Father.” This and similar texts evidently refer, not to regeneration, but to that holy joy and confidence in God as a Father, by which “ the Holy Spirit witnesses with our
spirits that we are the children of God;" and which are connected with the lively exercise of all other filial affections.--It will hardly be maintained, that we are actually the children of God while unregenerate; whatever may have been the secret purposes or predestination of God respecting our future adoption : but we must be the children of God in very deed, when the Spirit of adoption witnesses that we are so; for he bears witness to nothing but the truth. Indeed the expression, “Be
cause ye are sons,” clearly marks this distinction: and our Lord confirms this, when he says to his disciples,
ye love me keep my commandments; and I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he
for ever." The apostles were certainly regenerate, when these words
John xiv, 15-18.