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my Father.” The doctrine of Christ, as to the guilt of men, is, that they have light enough, but love darkness. The theory of moral suasion is, that they have no love of darknes, but such as light and motives will remove.
I object, in the third place, to this theory, because it subverts the Scriptual doctrine of special grace.
"In regeneration," it has been said, "the sinners heart is changed by the influence of truth and motives, presented by God ;-just as one man's mind is changed in any case, by the persuasion of another.” How does the orator persuade his hearers? By appeals to their understanding, conscience, passions, interest, &c.; that is by addressing principles that are in the men already,--principles that are in all men.
He operates on their minds by an objective intluence; by the presentation of external motives, adapted to sway their purpose. This is all he can do. But is this all that God can do? He addresses men by the solemn motives of the Gospel, through preaching, and other modes of presenting external means of persuasion. But is this all that he can do ? Certainly not; for besides the presentation of motives through the instrumentality of second causes, he can exert an immediate influence on minds, such as no man has the power of exerting on another man; and this is the influence which he does exert in regeneration. To deny this is to deny special grace. For if regeneration is produced by an influence the same as that employed by one man on the mind of another, in common persuasion, certainly it is not in any sense a supernatural work. It takes place according to the laws of nature, in the ordinary course of cause and effect.
Why then is one sinner in an assembly regenerated, rather than others, who possess the same powers and principles of moral agency as he ? An event occurs in this case, for which, according to the theory in question, there is no reason. A hundred men, of essentially the same intelligence and moral character, listen to the same sernion. God addresses them all by the voice of the preacher; but only one of the hundred is savingly renewed, and he by just the same influence, which is applied to all the rest without effect ! On the theory of special grace, a good reason, (namely the immediate influence of the Holy Spirit,) is to be assigned for this difference of result; but on the theory of moral suasion it is absolutely without any reason.
The Scriptural representations of Christians as " begotten through the Gospel," and " born again by the word of God," are in no measure inconsistent with the doctrine of immediate, divine influence on the heart. "God wrought miracles " by the
rod of Moses," and " by the hand of Paul;" but the instrumentality employed, surely did not supersede his own supernatural agency.
But it has been said, “The power of God which creates and governs matter, is a very different thing from that which is applied to minds. One is physical, the other can operate only ihrough moral suasion.” It is very true, that the laws of matter are different from those of mind; but it does not follow that the power of God by which different effects are produced, must be of different kinds, according to the nature of those effects. “ Are we to conceive that the power proper to create inanimate matter could never create a thinking mind !—that angels and the souls of men were persuaded into being, by arguments and motives; and that the material world was forced out of nothing, by the power of attraction !**
Great perplexity has arisen in recent discussions as to divine influence, from a very indefinite use of the term physical ; and from the assumption that a direct agency of God upon the heart in regeneration, must be a physical operation. The power of one man to influence the mind of another man, is solely of the mediate kind, through motives. But it is neither becoming nor logical to infer, as some have done, that the power of God is restricted in the same manner. His access to the heart may be immediate, and in regeneration must be so. The change in this case is moral; it is wrought in a moral agent; the effects produced are moral effects. But the power producing the change, or the work itself, is not moral,-it is not physical, but supernatural.
I know that there are good and respectable men, who have adopted the theory of moral suasion, and still do not mean to deny special grace. This latter doctrine they find sanctioned by the whole current of the Bible and of Christian experience. Hence they attempt to make out a complex theory; and seem to maintain that besides the moral power of motives, (such as the orator brings to bear on his hearers,) there is super-added, in the regeneration of a sinner, a divine influence on his heart, which still is not a direct influence. What is it then? Not a mediate influence, through the power of truth and motives. Not an immediate influence on the heart. What is this influence ? Not a few, I apprehend, who have begun to slide downward from the faith of our Calvinistic churches, but who have been accustomed to use the current language of Orthodoxy, as to divine influence, and verily suppose that they mean what this language imports ;-if they would look carefully at the ground on which they stand, must be convinced that their favorite theory of moral suasion, and the doctrine of special supernatural influence in regeneration, cannot both be true. I have spoken thus freely, becaus? I regard all speculations, which tend to exalt human instrumentality, and diminish a humble reliance on God, as fundamentally erroneous, and fatal to the spirit of genuine revivals.
Another topic, which I would class under the general head of incorrect views concerning divine influence, is the theory which amounts to regeneration by self-love.
Paul says “the carnal mind is enmity against God." He did not mean against an imaginary and false character of God, such as ought to be hated; but against his true character. How is this enmity to be removed ? Paul says, by such a change in the "carnal mind," that it shall love holiness, and become “reconciled to God," as he is ; in other words, by bringing up the human heart to the standard of the Bible. Another mode of removing this enmity, is, to bring down the character of God by such a modification of his attributes, that the “enmity" of the carnal mind towards it shall cease, without any radical change in this mind); that is, with no change but such as will spontaneously occur in the sinner, from a change in his views as to the relations and feelings of God, towards himself. It was by appealing to the principle of self-love, and a correspondent modification of the gospel, that the Romish Missionaries in Eastern Asia, seemed likely to convert the whole heathen world. But after a fair experiment, it turned out that the converts were no better men than before ; because “it was one thing to Christianize heathen, and quite another thing to humanize and heathanize Christianity."
Paley resolved virtue into,-“doing good to mankind in obedience to the will of God, for the sake of everlasting happiness." Bolingbroke, and the school of infidels to which he belonged, maintained that the “chief principle of action in every man must be regard to his own interest.” The same sentiment has been, at different periods, maintained by theologians, professedly of the Arminian, as well as of the Antinomian school. But it has been a subject of no small surprise to many, that the following statement should be made by a professed Calvinist, at this day ;-“This self-love or desire of happiness, is the primary cause or reason of all acts of preference or choice, which fix supremely on any object.” Again, “the being constituted with a capacity for happiness desires to be happy; and knowing that he is capable of deriving happiness from different objects, considers, from which the greatest happiness may be derived, and
as in this respect he judges, or estimates their relative value, so he chooses, or prefers the one or the other, as his chief good.” Again, the feelings of the sinner under the influence of selflove, are represented during a process adapted to excite intense interest, till at last," he is willing to fix, and does in fact fix the eye of contemplation upon the object of holy affection, and does, with such glimpses of its glories as he may obtain, feel their attractions, and summon bis heart to that love of God his Saviour, which is the only condition of his mercy."
This language certainly is not so precise as one could wish; but it seems unavoidable to understand it as meaning ; 'That regard to his own happiness is the primary and proper spring of action, in every man ; that his moral character is determined solely by the object of his choice, or bis estimate of his own interest, as correct or incorrect; that if he chooses the world, as his chief good, from self-love, he is an unholy man; but if he chooses God, from self-love, he is a regenerate man. And by that voluntary act in which he first prefers God to the world, from regard to his own interest, he becomes regenerate.
Now I have always supposed that where a man chooses one thing for the sake of another, as when he “eats or drinks for the glory of God,” the latter is the chief, and the other a subordinate object of regard. In some cases the subordinate is not chosen at all for its own sake, as where a bitter drug or the amputation of a limb, is chosen to save life. At the most, therefore, if he who loves God, does so with an ultimate regard to his own happiness; and if he "who chooses the happiness of others, does so for the happiness he expects in seeing obers happy," (as the above mentioned writer believes ;) he makes God and his neighbor the secondary, and himself the primary and chief object of his regard.
What then is the standard of duty ? We have been accustomed to answer, the divine law. What does this require ? “ Thou shalt love,” (not THYSELF, but) “the LORD THY God,-- with all thy heart.” Say that I exercise love to God, not because he requires it, not because he deserves it, but from the same motive as that with which I have loved wealth or worldly honor, namely, a desire of my own happiness, will God allow it, will common sense allow it to be a fulfilment of this great command ? Plainly, this would be to fix my supreme love not on God but on myself.
But is it the object, or is it the motive of a voluntary affection, that determines its character ? Its motive certainly. This is coincident with its supreme object, but not with its subordinate. I might choose to be burnt at the stake; but who could
say whether this subordinate choice is holy or sinful, without knowing the ulterior motive ;-whether it is to get honor to myself, or to do honor to Christ? So if I choose God, the state of my heart is determined by the governing motive; is it because I love his holy character? Then my choice is holy. Is it because he can make me happy? The ultimate regard of my heart, (my motive) is not to God but myse f.
But is it wrong for me to regard my own interest ? No,--I am commanded to do it, by Him who made me the special guardian of my own life and happiness; and required of me duties to my own soul, and my immediate connexions, which no one else can perform. But my self-love must be regulated by a proper regard to God, and the interests of the universe; and of course must not be be the “primary cause” of my woral preferences ; it must not exalt myself above the creation around me, and the Creator too.
Any man may use language so as not to express his own meaning. But deliberately to admit that self-love must be the primary ground of moral affection, is to supersede all intelligent discussion, about regeneration, or any of the kindred doctrines of grace. This one principle sweeps the whole away. There remains no radical distinction of character between the saint and the sinner. The most depraved individual on earth, or even among apostate spirits, doubtless is the centre of his own affections. And though he may have perverted views of what is his real interest, he means notwithstanding to act, and does act from a "primary" regard to himself. And if this is the highest principle of action to a boly being, then an angel and a devil stand on the same ground, as to moral character ;-in other words, there is no distinction between holiness or sin.
Besides, this theory would split the moral system into as many jarring parts, with as many centres of primary" affection as it contains individuals.
It would set every moral
agent at variance with every other moral agent, and with God hiinself. Whereas, the simple precept, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart," --sets up another standard in every bosom. It establishes a common centre of moral affection to the universe of moral agents; and binds the hearts of all to each other, and to the throne of Jehovah.
I intended to analyse the "self-love theory," in its practical bearings on revivals, and its tendency to subvert all correct views as to special divine influence. I intended to show how easy it is for a man, who has been thoroughly alarmed with fears of hell, to become persuaded that God is his friend, and will make him happy; and thus to feel that he loves God, when