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Whoever will carefully inquire, into the means by which he arrives at the knowledge of truth, not immediately falling under the cognizance of his senses, will presently discover, that he is entirely destitute of any original intuitive perceptions. All our knowledge, is, at first, derived through the avenue of our senses. The impressions made from sensible things, the mind combines in endless forms, and rising into loftier spheres, employs the ideas originally thence obtained as the representatives of unseen and spiritual verities;—and this it feels at liberty to do, by virtue of some assumed analogy between them.
It is in this way, we obtain our ideas of God, and of His perfections, and indeed of all the grand truths and facts of our religion. These are all as perfect realities as if they were perceptible through the medium of our senses. It is the great business of religion to bring us to the right apprehension of them.' The right apprehension of them 18 necessary,--to counteract and overcome the influence of sense, which binds us to earth and time,-and to connect us with the grand scenes of Heaven and Eternity. Iluman reason here impertinently volunteers its deductions, to lead Us away into the regions of abstraction; and we shall not have pursued this flattering guide far, till we shall be lost in labyrinths and worlds of our own creating. But faith affords a light, as much safer, as it is summarily, and more satisfactorily, given. The living God has in various ways reported to us the reality of His own existence, the attributes of His character and all that it is important, and necessary for our happiness here or hereafter, to know with regard to things unseen, spiritual and eternal. The
glories and faithfulness of His character, stand pledged for the truth of His communications.
It is our duty and blessedness to believe what He says. But, in so believing, we are, from the very depravity of our nature, constrained to take our ideas of the things He reports to us, according to the plain and natural import of the language in which He addresses us. In doing so, we are not aware of any obligation to believe things are literally and formally, as, His expressions, taken from sensible objects with which we are familiar, would, at first hearing, intimate. Our minds are so constituted, and such is the law by which God is pleased to govern them, in our present complex state, as that, while we apprehend as realities, the things He states, we apprehend them not as clearly and perfectly understood, but as bearing some analogy to those sensible things, from which we ourselves originally took the ideas by means of which we have formed conceptions of what we can neither see, hear, taste, touch, nor smell.
The vulgar, or commonly received acceptation of terms, is the only true one, when they are transferred to a Being, whose intrinsic attributes are as incomprehensible by us, as His essence, and to a world which lies too remote for our intuitive cognizance. And yet to understand them literally, and properly, as we do, in reference to beings like ourselves, and to things in this world, who does not see how egregiously we shall err? For example, we commonly talk of the Life of God; but who will say that it is of the same kind with ours, which consists in the circulation of blood through our veins and arteries, and of breath through our nostrils, and lungs, and in other well known actions of our animal frame? Yet do we believe that there is some incessant activity in God, suitable to His own ineffable essence, which bears a resemblance, sufficiently striking to our life, to be thus denominated. In like manner we do not conceive of the Life even of ourown
immortal spirits, as of the same kind with that of our bodies; but still we assume, that there is a resemblance, sufficiently striking to justify us, in analogically conceiving of the former by means of our idea of the latter. If this be so, and our knowledge of the spiritual realities reported to us by God, and received by faith, is had by means of analogical conceptions,-it will be at once apparent to every intelligent reader, that in order to the best, and most approximated ideas of the latter, we must have clear and accurate ideas of those sensible things which we employ as their representatives.
It has been under the influence of such views, that the following pages-a great part of which was originally intended to facilitate the author's own private studies,-wereprepared. The sacred scriptures represent the change produced by the Spirit of God, and called Regeneration, under the idea of a New Life. Now it is manifest, that if we have mistaken views, as to what Life is, in its more ordinary forms, and as it presents itself to the inspection of our senses, we shall necessarily be led into vague, mys→ tic, and indefinite notions of it in spiritual things-which lie beyond the sphere of our senses. Any and every false, or imperfect view of life, in the former, must and will eventuate in analogical error. It is well that the vulgar apprehensions on this subject, are practically correct. Common sense, invariably associates the idea of action and enjoyment with that of life, in its more obvious and imposing forms; and following these, as its guide, it will never be found far from the truth, in that high and wondrous exhibition, viz. the life of God in the soul. Philosophy however has here done incalculable mischief. It has come with one, and another theory, and with one or more associated, and having laid a false metaphysical or philosophieal basis in its definitions of life, has reared a mass of emptiness and mysticism only to bewilder and perplex.
In the early period of his theological studies, the author felt the extreme perplexity of this subject; but, having imbibed the philosophy of the schools, for several years after the commencement of his ministerial life, was wont to define and illustrate Regeneration, according to philosophical views, which he is now persuaded were incorrect. They were never Cully satisfactory to him, but he comforted himself, as he had learned to do, from the authors whose views he had embraced, by identifying the mist of that philosophy, with the scriptural facts in the case,—which, like all other facts, he was prepared to believe, in their intimate nature, to be inexplicable. He regrets deeply the influence which they had on his early ministrations among the people of his charge,—being convinced that they seduced him from that simple testifying to matters of fact, and contemning the theories and deductions of philosophy, which should characterize the preaching of him who desires to be blessed by the Spirit of truth. And for this he knows no more suitable atonement that he can offer, than to give to them, in a volume, the result of investigations which he is convinced, are not appropriate to the pulpit.'
In adventuring, some things to aid their researches, he regrets that a state of things should have arisen in the Presbyterian church, entirely unforeseen, at the period when he censented that they should pass into the printer's hands. The spirit of party prevalent at the present day, is exceedingly prejudicial to candid investigation;-and this is the more to be regretted, because the contention is not so much for the facts of revelation, as-if not for something still worse—for the philosophieal theory employed in the explanation of those facts,-a theory, so consecrated in the theological writings of former days, and so interwoven in their technics, as to be mistaken, by those who have had access to none other, for the very truths of Scripture itself. All agree as to the facts of the reality and necessity of
Regeneration and of the Spirit's influence to secure it.) Here then, let brethren caress each other, and co-operate in giving their testimony to the truth. Why should any follow the light of philosophy, which beguiles from the simplicity of faith, and causes christian ministers and
people to diverge further and further from each other?
If the following disquisitions will, in any measure contribute to heal divisions,—to correct suspicions,—to promote the unity of the Spirit,—to lead any to see the essential accordance in faith, of those who are at war with each other in philosophy, the author will consider himself amply rewarded. They have been submitted to the press as they were prepared, in moments redeemed from many pressing engagements;—and they have been conducted through it, in the midst of the cares, anxieties, labours, watchings and interruptions incident to a season of the powerful and gracious effusions of the Spirit of God, among the people of his charge, and others whom he has been called occasionally to visit. The author therefore claims the indulgence of the reader for whatever diffuseness and desultoriness and other imperfections he may notice, while he commends the whole to God, with earnest prayer for His blessing to accompany it.