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will be convinced that there is as much nced of the renewing influence of the Holy Spirit at present, as ever there was to dispose mankind to regard and receive the truth as it is in Jesus. Without this divine operation, it is evident that the clearest and inost familiar acquaintance with the doctrines of the gospel, even in persons whose education has disposed them to take its divine authority for granted, produces no genuine love to God in the heart, no evangelical holiness in the conduct; and with respect to a Jew, or a Heathen, a divine influence is at least as necessary now to their conversion, as it was when the preachers of the gospel were capable of enforcing the doctrine they delivered, by the irresistible evidence of miracles.
The internal work of the Holy Spirit is usually connected with the use of outward means; but it may subsist where outward means are scarcely accessible. It is reasonable and scriptural to expect that those religious sentiments, which are derived from the clearest and most comprehensive view of divine revelation, being the fittest medium for producing an effectual change of heart, will be inost commonly found in connexion with that divine operation; but the satisfactory evidences that appear of such a change in individuals belonging to various denominations of Christians, whose religious systems are widely different, may convince us, that a comparatively small portion of divine truth, when effectually applied by the power of the Holy Spirit, is adequate to the conversion of a sinner's heart toward God.
It is worthy of observation, that the professed experience or desire of the important change is usually limiteri, among us, to those parties of Christians who, in common, rest their hope for salvation upon the atoning sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. Nor, perhaps, can any instance be adduced of a person affording satisfactory proof of a renewed mind, who was not, sooner or later, brought to the belief of this important doctrine; but if we could, in general, trace the order of the Holy Spirit's operation on the human mind, it would probably be found, that a dependence on Jesus Christ for salvation, is more usually the subsequent effect than the instrumental cause of spiritual conversion. Nothing indeed is more evident, than that a conviction of the need of salvation must precede a trust in Jesus Christ for the attainment of it; and that such a conviction again implies a previous belief of other truths, as of the being and perfections of God, on which all religion is necessarily founded. There is, therefore, room to apprehend, that the Holy Spirit may begin the new creation in the human inind with an ellectual application of this grand doctrine to the conscience, while tbe understanding remains dark or confused, with respect to Jesus Christ, as the way, the truth, and the life, by whom the Holy Spirit is imparted, to bring us to the Father.
That some deathens, who afterwards attained to the knowledge of Christ, were renewed in the spirit of their minds, without any other means than the visible works of God, appears from the narratives by Cotton Mather and Crantz, of the introduction of the gospel in Martha's Vineyard and Greenland. Before they heard of Christ, they had been impressed with such ideas of the existence and perfections of God, that, as lost creatures, they longed, and in some degree hoped, for salvation. Whether many others who, having never heard the gospel, have remained unknown to us, were wrought upon in a similar manner by the Holy Spirit, can only be a subject of probable conjecture. The supposition secms, however, less strange, than that any one, already well acquainted with the letter of the Scriptures, and with various systems of sivinity founded upon them, should be regenerated solely by means of a clear and powerful conception of the being and perfections of the Godhead. Yet the annexed statement will probably be allowed to demonstrate, that the operation of the Holy Spirit has produced, at least, one instance of so remarkable a mode of conversion.
A pious and zealous Dutch minister, who died about ten years ago, aipidst his useful labours at the Cape of Good Hope, addressed to the Rev. J. Newton, of London, several Latin epistles, descriptive of the Lord's dealings with bim, both externally and spiritually. These letters were translated by the late Mr. Cowper, at the request of his friend Mr. Newton; and were published by Johnson, in 1762, in a small octavo volume. The Dutch minister, whose naine I believe to have been Vanleer, pathetically describes his state of infidelity previous to his conversion. That event occurred at the very crisis when he was reading the Meditations of a Socinian, or sceptical writer, on what are commonly called, The Principal Truths of Natural Religion. “ I read," says Mr. Vanleer, " with a close attention ; and was absorbed in the meditations that he suggested. Suddenly awakened, as I may say, out of these musings, I thought on God and his works. An idea, altogether extraordinary of the glory and majesty of God, struck me. I had never, in such manner, represented God to myself as now. I observed (the eyes of my understanding being enlightened) and admired, in all his works to which I adverted, his stupendous power, wisdom, and goodness. I had in my mind an apprehension of the splendor of his glory and presence, — perfectly new to me. It was not so much a notion, that my illuminated intellect entertained of his infinite Majesty and perfections, as it was a sense of thein; they were to present to me, that I felt them. The glory of his infinite Godhead and presence filled me with delight; and I saw sa
clearly his supreme worthiness of all my love and obedience, that my mind' was carried, by a sweet and irresistible force, to love him with sincerity; and my heart, broken at the sight, abhorred its former ingratitude *"
Instead of proceeding with Nr. Vanleer's account of the experimental and practical fruits of this signal operation of the Holy Spirit, the reader must be referred to the volume froin which the preceding paragraph is taken, which will amply repay
his most serious attention. It can only be added, That the anthor, who afterwards became an established Calvinist in his judgment, never questioned the certainty of his regeneration from the period above mentioned, although he declares that his views of the Lord Jesus remained, some time afterwards, very obscure. “ In the days," says he," that immediately followed my regeneration, I thought not much of Jesus; and if any ideas of him presented themselves to my soul, they were deeply tinctured with the opinions either of the Arians or Socinians. Just notions of his divinity, of the satisfaction made by hiin, and of the life of faith in him, - I had none; but on these subjects roved at randoin t."
Perhaps, the following inferences froin this subject may not be deemed unreasonable or unprofitable:
1. That the modes in which the Holy Spirit operates to bring sinners to Christ, are unspeakably various.
2. That the officacy of his operation is equal to the conversion of a sinner, by the very first and simplest principles of revealed truth.
3. That it behoves ministers of the gospel to aim at en. forcing, upoir the consciences of their hearers, the being and perfections of God, as the foundation of all religion !
4. That it is of great importance to urge the proper experimental and practical effects of those doctrines which bearers most readily assent to, and are supposed already to understand most clearly.
5. That the necessity of the Holy Spirit's operation, in order to the effectual beliet of any doctrine whatever, should never be forgotten nor neglected,
• Sce the Power of Grace illustrated, in Six Letters, &c. p. 93, 94. + Page 105.
THE POWER OF THE GOSPEL,
In every point of view, the gospel of Christ is worthy of admiration. If we consider its origin, it is evidently divine; - if we examine its nature, it appears to be adapted to our deplorable condition, and calculated to promote the best interests of men ;- if we deliberately contemplate its effects, they fill us with holy astonishment. The gospel is the rod of God's strength. The Old Testament prophets predicted its powerful infuence; and, under the Christian dispensation, we see these predictions fulfilled. Nothing has ever produced such mighty, such salutary effects, as the gospel of Christ has !
What energy attended its first proinulgation! It withstood the most powerful opposition ; --it surinounted the greatest obstacles; - it spread, in every direction, with unparalelled rapidity;;— it triumphed over all the policy and all ihe power of idolatry and superstition, converting whole nations to a professed acknowled ment of the Christian faith; - it produced the most extraordinary changes and the happiest eflects wliereerer it caine.
In succeeding ages, the power of the gospel has been eminently displayed. It has maintained its throne in spite of all the attacks of its adversaries; it has defeated the treachery of its pretended friends; - it has risen from under the ponderous load of Popish superstition. In every age, it has raised up its witnesses ; - emboldened them to inake an open profession of its distinguishing truths, and solemnly to protest against encroaching antichristian errors. Afier the darkest eclipses, it has burst forth with fresh vigour; and shone ia full splendor again upon an astonished world!
The same excellency of power attends the dispensation of the gospel, in the present day. What wonderful effects it sometimes produces in a neighbourhood! What a change it frequently makes in a family! With what energy it is often accompanied to the hearts of individuals! It sometimes very terribly alarms even those whom it does not convert, as Fe. lix; -- it very often converts the inost obstinate persecutors,as Saul of Tarsus ; - it produces an entire revolution in the views, the affections, and the conduct of all its converts : it is the effectual mean of subduing the most powerful lusts; of emboldening the soul in the face of the most terrible persecutions; of supporting and comforting the mind under the heaviest loads of trouble; -- and of inspiring hopes, the most Tapturous transports of joy, in the immediate prospect of death! We have innumerable testimonies of the wonderful power of the gospel in all these respects.
The power of the gospel appears, especially in producing these admirable effects, by the most insignificant means. It does not demand the sword of the Magistrate, the aid of Philosophy, the charms of Eloquence; but operates by what its adversaries term “ The Foolishness of Preaching.” Some of the ministers employed in dispensing the gospel, are, indeed, eminent in gifts and graces. Compared with their fellowmen, they are not inferior, either in natural or acquired abilities, to the most respectable characters; but, compared with
the greatness and importance of their office, the most eminent among them are mere carthen vessels, subject to numerous infirinities, natural, moral, accidental, and very soon broken, worn out, or laid aside by disgrace, by afiliction, or death. Yet, by these carthen vessels, the gospel produces its admirable effects, and often, by those ministers who possess the weakest talents, and who, of all their brethren, appear to be the least promising for usefulness.
This is not an accidental circumstance, but wisely ordained to shew that the power with which the gospel is accompanied, is truly and eminently divine. “We have this treasure in earthen vessels,” says the apostle, “ that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us." Had God employed angels, or men of first-rate abilities only, to dispense the gospel, we should have been in danger of attributing its efficacy to the instruments. He, therefore, commits the dispensation of the gospel 10 men of like passions with ourselves ; and often makes these who possess but a moderate share of abilities, the most ellectual means of converting and editying the souls of men. Hereby God puts a divine bonour on the gospel, ---- sliews that its energy and influence are independent of human aid, -- and secures to himself the unrivalled glory of all its admirable etlects! We shall see this idea exemplified, if we recall our attention to the first promulgation of the gospel.
“ Sinners, tax-gatherers, tent - makers, without Letters, without arins, without power, without intrigues, withont buman help, without philosophy, without eloquence, contemptible, persecuted people; in one word, earthen vessels triumphed over the whole world by the sound of their voice! Ido's tell, temples were demolished, oracles struck dumb, the reign of the Devil abolished, the strongest inclinations of nature diverted froin their course, people's ancient habits changed, old superstitions annihilated; all the Devil's charms, with which he had stupilied mankind, were dissolved; people focked in crowds to adore Jesus Christ; the great and the small, the learned and the ignorant, kings and subjects, whole provinccs, presented theinselves at the foot of the cross; and every thought was captivated to the obedience of Christ. It is not enough to say, “ This is the finger of God!" We must rather exclaim, “ This is the outstretched arın of the Lord!" () lappy carthen vessels ! glory in that ye were only dust and ashes. Your weakness, brittleness, and nothingness, display a thonsand times more the glory of the great Master who employed you, than the greatest dignity could have displayed it; - more than if ye had been golden vessels, angels, or cherubims, doininions, or thrones * !"
Se laithful ministers of Christ, what encouragement you