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THE METAPHYSICAL NATURE OF
Ta impossibility of speaking long on such a subject, without indicating
our peculiar philosophical views, as to the operations of the human mindNecessity, therefore, of dispassionate inquiry— The philosophy of divines of former centuries—The Shorter Catechism's metaphysical description of Regeneration—Its philosophy not binding on the conscience of any one, who adopts it as a confession of faith— Notice of different philosophical systems, and their influence on the current phraseology of their votaries, A brief view of our constitutional susceptibilities and capacities–Obrious results from it-The laws which regulate the exercise of our constitutional capacities—Analogical illustration-Spiritual objects not cognoscible by our senses--- The Bible disclosing spiritual objects to our view, and faith the medium of our knowledge of them— The different effects produced by these objects—Their saving and salutary impressions, referrible to the infiuence of the Holy Spirit — The christian's evidence of the Spirit's influence on him, not dclusive.
It is impossible to speak on the subject of the metaphysical nature of Regeneration, without betraying the peculiar philosophical views, which are taken of the operations of the human mind. How important, therefore, is it, that mutual forbearance, calm and dispassionate inquiry, and brotherly love should prevail, in order to the clear and accurate apprehension of each other's views, as to matters of fact, instead of zealous and animated contention, about points in philosophy, where, perchance, both may be equally far from the truth.
It is easy to perceive, that while the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the Larger and the Shorter Catechisms of the Presbyterian Church, have not defined Regeneration, or spoken explicitly on the subject, its metaphysi
cal nature is described, in the account which is given of “'EFFECTUAL CALLING.” This description was evidently influenced by the particular views, in mental science, entertained by the framers of that "form of sound words." The moral being, or rather the rational soul of man, is contemplated, as being endowed with various facullies or powers, which are, at least, virtually considered as distinct from the mind itself. The general classification of these powers, was into Understanding, Will, Affections, Memory and Conscience, and in some treatises on Regeneration, composed by Theologians of former centuries, we may trace the influence which their philosophy had, upon their Theological views of this subject. The “Understanding” being accounted the supreme und gererning faculty, men's aberrations from rectitude, and their disrelish of a life of holiness, were mainly referred to some obliquity in it, or to some injury it had sustained by the fall, which actually incapucitated it for clear and correct apprehensions of the truth. And, in support of this view, it was common to adduce those passages of the word of God, which intimate a darkness and blindness of the understanding.
The above distribution of the faculties of the mind, being assumed as correct, and the understanding being consislered as supreme,-as invested with authority, by the great Creator, to control the passions, and determine the vulitions, according to its peculiar views of truth or excellence,-it was concluded, that what was chiefly wanting towards the conversion of the sinner, was, to introduce into his understanding, correet views of divine truth. Hence, the chief attention was paid by ministers and parents, to the doctrinal instruction of their hearers and children. An undue importance was attached to the illumination of the mind, because it was thought, that, by means of enlightening the understanding, the Spirit renewed the heart.
The reader will at once perceive, from the answer to the question, “what is effectual calling,” how the views of the Westminster divines, as to the metaphysical nature of Regeneration, corresponded with, or were suggested by, the system of mental philosophy, adopted by them. “Effectual calling,” say they, “is the work of God's Spirit, whereby enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, He doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel." Now, so far as these words describe facts and acts of the mind, no one, who has experienced a saving change of heart, can question their correctness. The three most important facts stated, are illumination of mind, renovation of will, and the cleaving of the affections to the blessed Redeemer, as the object of supreme delight, love, and choice, &c.—and these are attributed to the Spirit's agency. That all these things, which imply acts and exercises of man, as a rational and feeling creature, are to be attributed to the agency of the Spirit, no one who admits the fact of Regeneration will deny. Nor does the answer in the Catechism, intimate any thing like an agency of that Spirit on the soul of man, changing its essence, or altering its constitutional properties, or laying any foundation in nature, by an act of creative power. These things did not seem to be a part of the philosophy involved in it. But from the order in which the different acts and exercises of the mind, which characterize the regenerate sinner, are enumerated, it would seein that the framers of the Catechism thought, that a mere intellectual perception of the truth, followed by a change in the faculty of the will, upitedly secured the giving of the heart to Christ, or bestowing of the affections on Him.
This is altogether philosophical theory. Will any man say, that it is a point of faith, and that, in adopting the
language of these divines as a confession of faith, our conseienees are bound to adopt the philosophy involved in it? We presume not. A man may entertain very different, and more correct views of the nature of the human mind, and mental operations generally, and yet hold the same facts with the Catechists. Shall he be condemned for this, and denounced as heretical? Shall ignorance, fostering itself in unwarranted prejudices against mental science, and, with a show of zeal and devotion for the truth, assail the reputation of a christian brother, and mar his usefulness, by branding him with heresy, merely because he takes a different method of exhibiting the same facts, and, instead of speaking in the technicalities of old Theologians, employs language more adapted to common sense, and to the advanced state of mental philosophy! Rather, let brethren concede to each other the utmost liberty of illustration, while they adopt the essential facts which Revelation teaches, than attempt to bind themselves to set forms of speech. The manifestation of fraternal confidence and regard, and the friendly intercouse and communion which will take place, whereever there is the unity of the Spirit, are a much more efficient means of preserving the truth, and a much more desirable and valuable bond of union, than ecclesiastical canons and theological technics, and demonstrations of heated zeal, though the latter may, with some, be had in estimation, as contending earnestly for the faith, once delivered to the saints.
Instead of contemplating the human mind, as possessing various faculties, analagous with the members of the human body, and practically conceiving of these things, as distinct and separate individualities in the mind itself, one thinks he can much more satisfactorily think and speak of states of the mind, and another of modes of action. All, certainly, have a liberty so to do; and even if they err, provided that they faithfully declare, and plainly teach the scriptural facts, which constitute what we may term the phenomena of Regeneration, let each one use his liberty, without impugning his brother.
We are in the habit of contemplating the human mind as one and indivisible,-a simple, uncompounded spirit or substance, endowed, by its Creator, with certain susceptibilities of emotion or feeling, and capacities for thought and action. Its susceptibilities are adapted to the various objeets which God has created around us, and on which we instrumentally depend for their exercise. Its capacities for action, are suited to the various exigencies of our nature and condition, all wisely arranged in the mind of our great Creator, and ordained, originally, in the very constitution of our being. Thus, for example, we are susceptible of impressions, from objects without us, which thus assume a sort of moving power over us,-a lovely object, exciting desire, –a disagreeable object, aversion,-a dangerous object, fear and such like. As 10 their exciting power over us, we can say no more, than that such is the constitution of things, which God has ordained-such the nature of our susceptibilities, that we are capable of being made to feel, or of being moved and excited, according to the varying character of the circumstances and objects, with which we are brought into contact.
In the mere impression or excitement, produced by things seen, heard, or related, we are involuntarily affected. It does not depend upon our will, whether to feel or not, no more than it does, whether the impression made on the retina of the eye, be thence transmitted to the sensorium, originate the sensation which we call seeing, or, on the tympanum of the ear, or any other of the organs of sense, producing the sensations appropriate. It depends entirely on .constitution.
Superadded to these constitutional susceptibilities, we possess a power of voluntary action. The modes of that action, which are various, depend also on the constitution