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On the first view of this subject, it would scem natural and right, that we should attempt to discriminate correctly, and inquire, in whose hands the means become effectual;whether in the Spirit's or the sinner's--and what are the particular agencies of the Spirit, and of the sinner, necessary to their being used successfully? We shall attempt a reply to these questions, in the confirmation and elucidation of a few simple propositions.
1. There are, strictly and properly speaking, such things as are called means of grace. If the phrase is not found in the bible, that is no reason why it should be rejected, provided that the thing it teaches or implies, is found therc. In the hand of Gud, the truth is unquestionably a means through which He displays and imparts His grace. In the experience of the christian, the consideration of the truth, to which his mind is led in the right performance of the duty of prayer, and in the reading of the scriplures, contributes greatly to the growth and perfection of the gracious affections, and principles of his character. As employed by the Lord's people, the various methods which they adopt for the exhibition of the truth, are conducive alike to their own spiritual improvement, and to the conversion of sinners. And as awakening and fixing his attention, even the unconverted sinner may make use of means, that have a salutary tendency. Whoever may be the immediate agent contemplated, there are appropriate means through which he may operate. God and man both work by means.
2. The means of grace are admirably adapted to the end designed by them. God's wisdom is infinite, and it were an impeachment of it, and of His character altogether to suppose that it were otherwise, as it respects the instrumentalities of His agency. Nature and Providence alike display proofs of this. We have already seen the adaption of the truths of scripture to the result sought, which
is the sinners conversion. They address His intellect and heart, and make their powerful appeals to conscience which unites both.
3. The means of grace, however, notwithstanding this natural tendency or adaption, do not possess any efficiency in themselves, to secure the end designed. For, if that were the fact, then must they differ from all other instrumentalities whatever. Instead of bcing called means, they should be styled causes. 4. The efficacy of the means grace,
docs not depend upon the agency of man entirely, in the use of them, for the exhibition of the truth. That man has a very important part to act, in co-operating with God, according to His plan, in the use of those means He is ordinarily pleased to employ and bless, we do not deny. Would that the whole church were more awake under a sense of the im-, portance and obligation of this thing! But our co-operation with God, however important and indispensible, according to the constitution. He has ordained, is not that which gives efficiency to the means. . Ile is the Mighty One who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will, and makes use of our agency as the channel through which He imparts His own energy. “Veither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.”
5. It is only as the use of the means of grace secures the divine
agency, that they become effective means of salvation. “I have planted,” says Paul,“ Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.")2 This, we presume will be denied by nonc. But what is that agency, and how is it secured? It is not a physical efficiency, as we have seen, but a moral power--a power given to the truth, which sways essectually the mind and heart of the rebel, and turns him from the error of his ways. If that power be exerted on the mind and heart of 1 1 Cor. Üï. 17
21 Cori jij, 6.
man, irrespectively of the truth, and to prepare by some creative process for the influence of the truth to be felt, then is regeneration altogether a physical work. We care not how it may be described, whether as creating a disposition, habit, taste, instinct, principle, or any thing else. If it be the product of simple immediate power on the soul, irrespectively of the truth, the work is not of a moral charaeter, but precisely in keeping with the great effects which transpire in the created universe, from the exercise of physical Omnipotence. Such energies are exerted uniformly, undeviatingly and infallibly, according to the fired and established constitution of things.
In the conversion of a sinner, the ageney of God is the result of special DESIGN, and not according to any fixed law, to which, as in the operations of nature, successful appeals may be infallibly made. Appeals are daily made to the divine agency in nature, as for example to the law of gravitation, with infallible success, by those who lose sight of God's design and providence altogether. It is not thus, however, with respect to the converting agency of His Spirit. It is true, that Faith has a wonderful potency, and may anticipate, with confidence, the final result in an appeal made to God, for the conversion of a sinner. But that is a very different thing, from the immediate success of an appeal made through the truth, at any given period to the mind and heart of the sinner. It is the agency of God, which gives that truth its efficacy, and although the ultimate result may be confidently expected, and there may be circumstances to authorize the expectation of immediate success; yet we do not, and cannot, partly from the very nature of moral agency, and partly from our ignorance of the mode and laws of the divine agency, anticipate, with as infallible certainty the issues of an appeal of this sort, as we do to what are termed the laws of nature.
We admit, that there may be, and are certain natural
laws, according to which, God govern's mind, and from which He no more deviates, than from the laws of nature. Yet is there, by virtue of that liberty of action, conceded to the will, a wide range for the combination and employment of the motives that may sway it. We cannot tell what peculiar class of motives will affect this or the other man, most powerfully. Nor can we always calculate, with absolute certainty, as to the decisions of the will. Different minds are differently affected by the very same considerations. One fears and trembles, another becomes uneasy. and wrathful, and a third is filled with delight, at the mention of God, and Christ, and religion, and a change of heart. Every variety of motive, has, through the agency of God, led ultimately to gracious results; and every variety of motive, has had at times quite the contrary effect. The thought which has disarmed one sinner, and dissolved him in love, has driven another to rage and desperation. A reason of this difference, is to be found in the particular state of heart at the time, which is a province beyond our research. But as God searcheth the heart, HE can, and does, combine and press motive, so adapted to the peculiar character, and
mental state of the individual, or exhibit truth through such external instrumentalities, and at such junctures, as that in His hands, when He specially designs, it becomes effecțual to the sinner's conversion.
But what is the appropriate result of special design, we cannot legitimately ac:count for, as eventuating through a fixed law: and therefore, the means of grace become not efficacious, as they are an appeal to a fixed and established mode, through which the Creator exercises His energies.
We sear, that much superstition prevails in the church on this subject, and, that the illustrations, and analogies, employed by many writers and preachers on this subject, have contributed no little, to induce and confirm it. Witiness the miserable votaries, and slaves of the papal hierar
chy, who rhyme their AVE MARIAS and PATER NOSTERS, and multiply their "vain repetitions,” with confident expectation of some beneficial result! See too the poor formalist-but a few degrees above the worshipper of the crucifix, and of the Virgin,—who somnolently reads his Bible on the Sabbath,-.floats to church with the crowd,-sits in the same seat from weck to week and year to year, in the house of God-partakes of the sacrament and goes through other religious duties, without an interested mind and heart, yet thinks, that he is using the means of grace, and that these dumb-shows-this pantomimical sort of religion, will eventually secure the grace of God! And hear the learned and philosophical illustrations, of the operations of grace, given by mystic divines, in their account of the husbandman's breaking up the fallow ground, preparing the soil, sowing his seed, and waiting patiently for a crop! they are all the ruinous, soul-destroying, practical mistakes begotten by a false philosophy in alliance with a mystic theology. For our parts, we discover very little, if any essential difference in these monstrous births. In point of safety, or of real intelligence, among the votaries of either of the above superstitious methods of appeal to the agency of God, there is unquestionably none.
Nor is their system any nearer the truth, who either theoretically or practically lalk of making efforts and asing the means of grace, so as to bring God under some sort of obligation to help them. It is truly deplorable to witness the soul-destroying influence of antinomian principles in the church of God. Here and there is to be met one, who, passes through certain forms and duties of religion-is a stickler for “Orthodoxy”-proclaims that he gives all the glory of his salvation to God,-and denounces every thing like zeul and feeling in religion, and pressing of the obligations immediately to repent and lead a holy life, as selfrighteousness and as denying the grace and work of the