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mind,” as a character in which good preponderates over evil, and therefore the discipline of circumstances must supply the defect!
Now, admitting, for the sake of argument, the general position above noticed, —which we are by no means prepared to do, in its full and unqualified extent--it is a question of some moment, and one which our antagonist is bound to answer, whence does the discipline of circumstances derive its efficiency? That the Spirit of God operates on the human mind, in accordance with the natural exercise of its faculties, and the established laws of human thought;—that He adopts His influence to the qutward circumstances which, in the providence of God, are combined, and calculated to make impressions on the heart;that the whole process of thought and feeling which goes on in the mind of a sinner brought from darkness into light, may be shewn to be consistent with all the laws of association, which regulate the production of thought;and that the common means of moral improvement, are rendered efficient without that kind of agency which may be strictly termed miraculous, may be freely admitted. But what then? Does the admission of these things necessarily imply, that the efficiency of the whole, or any part of them, in bringing about the result, the conversion of the sinner, is not to be referred to a special agency of the Spirit? It is assuming the very point in dispute, to talk confidently of the discipline of circumstances as possessing an efficient power in changing the sinner's heart from a preference of sin, to a preference of holiness; from the love of the world, to the love of God. Especially so, when the instances, in which the salutary and saving issue of this discipline, are comparatively so rare. If it be a general law, or provision of providence for correcting the defects of nature and education, why are the effects so special and singular! We are in no wise concerned to answer
this. Let him that objects to the agency of the blessed Spirit do it, and do it satisfactorily, if he can.
So far from this sort of moral discipline, being in itself effectual to secure the sinner's conversion, it derives its whole virtue, from the co-operating and saving grace of the Divine Spirit. The objector is constrained !o admit, that there are different results flowing from the very same cause, for the diversity of which, by the way, he is bound to account. To say, that this discipline corrects, in
. some, only the offensive display of vice, leaving the principles unchanged, hat in others it grudually improves the heart, as well as the conduct,—that in a few, it produces an entire and sudden moral change, is saying just nothing at all to the purpose.
Whence this diversity? General laws have uniform results. And to refer us to differences in degree, or peculiarity in the combination of circumstances in special cases, is a mere begging of the question.
We deny the objector's assertion, however, in the broadest and most unqualified manner, and appeal to endless facts, in support of the negation. Hundreds and thousands perish, and are goaded to destruction, by this very disci- . pline of circumstances, In itself considered, there is nothing saving or salutary in it.
It only serves to enrage and exasperate, in a multitude of cases. “Why should yo be stricken any more?” said the prophet, to rebellious but afflicted Israel, “ye will revolt more and more:” Nay, if there is efficiency in such discipline, we must look to Hell for the most remarkable conversions—for there the sinner will know vastly more of the ill effects, on himself, of his conduct, which is mischievous to others, than is or can be known in this world. But if afflictive circumstances have no saving virtue, it is altogether absurd to allege, as is
1. Isai. i, 5.
sometimes done, that where the heart is debarred from worldly objects, the mind necessarily aspires after the bliss of communion with God, and exhausts its wasted energies in the deep love and ardent aspirations of a mystic Theopathy.
3. But the philosophic formalist is at no loss for causes to account for conversions. If either of the former will not suffice, we shall be referred to "THE POWER OF STRONG BELIEF, TO REALIZE THE THING BELIEVED;" as though the mere influence of natural faith, was adequate to solve all their phenomena. The reference, however, is most unfortunate. For, whatever invigorating influence there may be in that faith, which saves the soul, the Scriptures teach us, that it is itself the result of the Spirit's special agency. That there is an energy, inspired by strong desire and confident expectation, which, in its appropriate displays and efforts, has a natural tendency to secure the good contemplated, we shall not deny; as likewise the converse, that despondence and fear induce that degree of mental imbecility, which either disqualifies for, or prevents the requisite
The wisdom of God, who adapts His agency to the prin ciples of our nature, is very apparent, in His having seJected faith, as the grand means of bringing us to a participation of all the blessings of salvation. We may trace its influence, throughout, from the incipient step for the conversion of the sinner, to the last breathings of ardent love and desire, at the moment of triumph in death, which is to be succeeded by the bright visions of eternity. It is faith, or a belief of the testimony of God, as He proclaims his law, which overwhelms the conscience with convictions. It is faith in His testimony, as He proclaims the gospel of His grace, that fills the soul with peace and joy. It is faith in God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, as "a
present help in every time of trouble,” that gives us the victory over the world and our corruptions. It is faith, which brings the bright visions of futurity, the glowing realities of the eternal world, in rich and vivid display, before the dying saint, and enables him, in the hour of his sorest conflict, to come off more than conqueror, through Him that hath loved him, and hath given Himself for him.
But, in so saying, who will undertake to say, that we attribute to natural faith, such a potency? By natural faith, we mean that which goes current among men for faith, but which is nothing more, in most cases, than a strong and vivid and absorbing impression, not the intelligent and interested evidence, which is given to the testimony of another. The faith of which we speak, is not natural, for it is found, comparatively, in very few. The sacred Scriptures declare it to be “the gift of God." Its whole energy and influence, so far as it has any effect in pacifying the mind, quelling the passions, satisfying the desires, and transforming the conduct is referred to the influence of the Au bor and Finisher of our faith,"2 and “who fulfils all the gooil pleasure of His goodness, and the work of faith with power." Paul prayed for the Ephesian converts, that God would "grant (them) according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit, in the inner man. 14 Ile lifted up his heart in praise and thanksgiving to God, for “the power that worketh in us. ed believers to be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might."6 How do such expressions comport with the idea of the energy of a mere impression? Does not the apose tle actually deceive us, or speak nonsense, if this be all the energy of a believer, when he tells us that we “are kept by
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1. Eph. ii, 8.
2. Heb. xii, 2.
the power of God, through faith unto salvation?" Is there not an evident distinction, between faith in the mind of the believer, and a divine energy through that faith? The truth is, this objection, like the last, falls at the first touch. It is again begging the question; for all the transforming power of faith, which, it is alledged, is sufficient, in itself, to account for conversion, is, according to the sacred Scriptures, derived from the special and direct agency of the Spirit-the thing which he denies. "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 the Holy Ghost, which He shed on us abundantly, through Jesus Christ, our Saviour."2
It is unnecessary to examine, in detail, the many other methods, by which men, professing to believe the Scriptures, have endeavoured to account for a change of heart, and deny the interesting and solemn truth, of the Spirit's special agency in the work of conversion, such as the vehemence of oratory, the contagion of sympathy, the stupendous effects of an imagination, roused into action for the first time, and such like. We are willing to admit, that these things have their influence, in many cases, and that a variety of spurious conversions arc effected by these But, as is the cause, such is the effect. They are all faceting, momentary, evanescent.
These are not the facts on which our reasoning is based. Our reference has been, and is, to those conversions which are permanent, and which declare the adoption of new principles of action, and demonstrate themselves in an uniform life of holy obedience. However such conversions may be diversified, in respect of extraneous circumstances, the Scriptures assign them all to one cause. "Which were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh, nor of 2. Tit. iii, 5, 6.
1. 1 Pet. i, 5.