Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

no spiritual change whatever has taken place in his heart. I intended to show how easy it is for such a man to mistake his “ love of happiness," and bis choice of heaven for conversion, while he has no “love of holiness." But I must forbear to extend these remarks.

You will perceive, gentlemen, that in giving you my thoughts on so many points of prominent importance, in this day of revivals, I have been drawn into a train of observations, which could not well be res ricted to narrow limits. Still there is one more head of remark, under which I will call your attention, to a few things in our theological and pulpit phraseology, which I fear tend to obscure, if not to subvert the scriptural doctrine of special divine influence.

Probably there is some significance in the fact, that many preachers of the younger class, often mention in their sermons repentance, conversion, &c., while they rarely if ever use the word regeneration. They consider these words, however, as synonymous, though the authority of biblical and of theological usage decide otherwise. It is agreed on all hands, that the sinner is under immediate obligation to love God and repent; and that the only obstacle to his doing this, is his supreme love

Now when this obstacle is removed, and the love of God begins in his heart, by what agency does it begin? Is it his own agency or that of God, in wbich the change originates ? The Bible ascribes it to God, and the change it calls regeneration ; distinguishing by this term that beginning of holy affection in the heart by divine influence, from the contrivance and developement of holy affection, under the same influence, which it calls conversion, sanctification, &c. we say, as the Bible Coes, concerning a man, who repented ;but the Bible never teaches us to say, and we never presume to say, he regenerated himself." "The words are no more

exactly synonymous in Christian experience, than in technical theology. To illustrate my meaning by an analogy which is certainly imperfect, -(as analogies must be on this subject,) in the call “ Lazarus come forth,”--the voice, the re-animating influence was of God ;--the rising, and coming forth, was the act of Lazarus. Substantially the same difference exists between regeneration and repentance. Regeneration, the work of God on the heart, is done, but once; repentance is needed daily. God's breathing into Adam the breath of life, so that he became a living soul, was done but once ; Adam's breathing and living was a continuous exercise of his vital functions. Man is created but once, born but once, but lives and walks daily. The

Hence

[ocr errors]

Christian is "created anew," and " born again" but once, but repents every day of his life.

The practical bearing of these remarks is this; some preachers speak of the sinner's “conversion," "making himself a new hear" &c. (for regeneration, as I said, is a term they avoid) by a formal act of his own will, resolving to do it. Accordingly conversion is put on a footing with any common transaction in which a man changes his mind. And the representations of a change of heart, as being a great, and serious, and difficult thing, are treated with an air of flippant severity, sometimes approaching to profaneness. But this loose, indefinite mode of describing conversion, be the preacher's motive ever so good, is certainly liable to great and dangerous misapprehension ? Regeneration, in its grave and scriptural import, may be synonymous with conversion, but not with conversion as thus described. It is holiness and heaven begun in the soul by the Spirit of God. No regenerate man will be lost. But a man may be converted from Mahometanism to Christianity, and be lost. He may be converted from Unitarianism to Calvinism, and be lost; converted from levity to thoughtfulness, and from thoughtfulness to deep anxiety,--and yet be lost. Nay, he may be converted from perfect indifference, or violent opposition to the Gospel, into a joyful believer that he is an heir of salvation, and yet be lost.

Now when I hear a sinner told from the pulpit, that “ version is a mere volition, -a mere making up of his mind to embrace religion ;-that the change of his heart is wholly an affair of his own will” &c. I am not sure that the sentiment intended to be taught is wrong; but I am quite sure that the practical tendency of such language is to mis-lead this sinner as to his dependence on the Holy Spirit, and to cherish in him a presumptuous reliance on himself. Especially is it so, when, to give prominence to his own voluntary agency in his conversion, the change of heart is represented as a thing perfectly easy to himself, but entirely beyond the reach of omnipotence, except as effected by the spontaneous movement of his own will; God being unable to control his moral exercises, consistently with his freedom as a moral agent. Edwards, speaking of views similar to these, says, “Thus our own holiness is from ourselves, as its determining cause, and its original and highest source.--Man is not dependent on God, but God is rather dependent on man in this affair; for he only operates consequentially in acts, in which he depends on what he sees we determine and do first.

- What can more effectually encourage the sinner in present delays and neglects, and embolden hini to go on in sin, in a pre

con

a

sumption of having his own salvation at all times at his command.”

When it is said, “ It is as easy for a sinner to repent, as to remain impenitent," the meaning may be right, but the language is not proper for the pulpit. There is no difficulty for a man to choose that to which his whole heart is inclined; but is it as easy for him, to counteract all the moral habils, affections and inclinations of his heart, as to comply with these? The doctrine of free-agency is to be maintained by appeals to consciousness, experience, and common sense ;—not to absurdity. Gabriel is a free-agent; but who would think it proper to illustrate his free agency, by affirming that, “it is as easy for him to blaspheme God, as to praise him?"

As to the expression which represents conversion as consisting in “the sinner's making up his mind to serve God;" though the preacher's meaning may be correct, (as it certainly may be);--the effect is that of a colloquial caricature of a sacred, scriptural truth. I mean that such is the effect, when this and other forms of expression are so employed, as virtually to leave out of view the Holy Spirit, and reduce the sinner's moral renovation to the familiar level of an ordinary transaction. During those revivals which I have described in the foregoing pages, a certain minister, in a serinon on the new-birth, summed up his statement of the doctrine thus ; - All I know concerning regeneration is, for one to draw up strong resolutions to keep the commandments of God.” This man was an avowed disbeliever in special, divine influence. At that day no one anticipated, that in thirty years, substantially the same language would be enoployed by revival preachers," to describe a change of heart.

The ample scope given to my remarks, in the foregoing letters, has arisen froni a deep conviction that the doctrines of grace, embraced by our Pilgrim fathers, and regarded as fundamental, in the churches which they established, must owe their preservation and perpetuity amongst us, in no small degree, to the influence of Christian ministers. Just so far as these doctrines are modified, from a love of philosophical theories, or from conformity to a vitiated taste, the sanctifying influences of the spirit will forsake our churches, and our ministrations will cease to be the power of God unto salvation to perishing souls. All who wish to see an uncorrupted Christianity handed down to coming generations, should guard against open attacks on its vital truths, and against equivocal forms of expression by which the simplicity and power of these truths may be obscured, and gradually subverted.

[ocr errors]

I must however add one caution in closing these Letters. While it has been my object to call your attention to several things which I think doubtful, and to others which I think decidedly wrong, in modes of preaching and conducting revivals -I would by all means advise you to avoid that hesitating and paralysing apprehension, which leads a minister to be so much afraid of being wrong, as to do nothing. Under God, the ministers of the nineteenth century have a mighty work to accomplish. Our own vast country is to be brought under the influence of the Gospel. The wide world is to be evangelized. The day of slumber is past. The sacramental host of God's elect are marshalled in arms, and wait for ministers to lead them on to victory. Grd on your armor then, soldiers of the cross ! The Captain of salvation heads the van, having on his vesture and on his thigh a name wri ten, King of Kings, AND LORD of Lords! Tle has gone forth in the triumphs of his grace, conquering and to conquer. Stubborn bearts

, in numbers unexampled, bow before the all subduing influences of his Spirit. From the east and west, from the north and south, glad voices are heard to mingle in songs of salvation. " Awake ( Zion, put on thy strength !"_" Arise, shine, for thy light is come; and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee!" The great battle of God Almighty will succeed these wonderful effusions of his Spirit. Wo to those inhabitants of the earth, who shall withstand all the overtures of the Reedeemer's mercy, and be found at last, among the incorrigible despisers of his grace !-whom the Lord will destroy with the breath of his mouth and the brightness of his coming ! Affectionately, yours &c.

E. PORTER. Walterboro, S. C. Jan. 1833.

From Committee of Hampden Association to Rev. LEON

ARD Woods, D. D., Chairman of Committee of Pastoral Association.

DEAR BROTHER,

The questions which the Committee of the Pastoral Association submit for our consideration, we will endeavor to answer, in accordance with the resolution of that body. The subject to which they refer, we consider of vital importance to the prosVOL. VI.-NO. VIII.

38

perity, union, purity and glory of the churches; and that it ought to be examined thoroughly, in the light of Scripture and experience. And we hope that the result of the proposed examination of it will be, a more Scriptural and zealous use of the means of promoting God's work, and a more decided resistance of all measures, which serve only to awaken passion, and substitute excitement for vital godliness.

We will premise, in the the first place, that we fully believe in the necessity of divine influence to convert sinners, -to turn them from sin to holiness ;--that men are so entirely sold under sin, that they will never repent and embrace the Gospel, if the Holy Spirit be withholden, if they be not “born of the Spirit,"—that regeneration is, in such a sense, the work of the Holy Spirit, that He must have all the glory of it. At the same time, we believe, that there is no such suspension of human liberty and action, that man, at any moment, ceases to be accountable. It is eflected by the special operation of God upon free moral agents, in such a manner as that they are not conscious of its destroying, impairing, or suspending their agency. not why He, who made man free, cannot control his powers, and turn his will and affections from sin to holiness consistently with his freedom. “You, hath he quickened who were dead in tresspasses and sins." We fully believe, too, in the free agency of men; that they have the power of choosing and refusing, in view of motives; and yet, that they will invariably choose the evil and refuse the good, unless they are drawn by the Father, or enabled by his special influence to come to Christ. We preach, therefore, the necessity of divine influence, the dependance of the sinner and his obligations to submit immediately to God. In our views on these points, we are very harmonious. We rejoice in them ourselves, and feel that they afford a solid ground of hope for success in our labors.

With grateful praise to our glorious Lord, we are permitted to say, that we have not labored in vain, nor spent our strength for nought and in vain. Our churches have been increasing in numbers, and we believe, too, in vital godliness. Within twenty years, our congregations have been visited with repeated effusions of the Holy Spirit, in a greater or less degree. Some of them, with no less than from three to eight seasons of special refreshing from the presence of the Lord. The year 1831 was particularly distinguished by revivals, within our bounds. Eleven of our societies enjoyed the presence, and experienced the triumphs of the Divine Spirit, in the conviction and hopeful conversion of sinners. We know of no period, when the work of God was revived in so many of our congregations, at the same

« AnteriorContinua »