« PrécédentContinuer »
DIRECT AGENCY OF THE SPIRIT CONSISTENT WITH MORAL AGENCY.
QUESTION ABOUT A PHYSICAL INFLUENCE AND PHYSICAL CHANGE. WHY SHOULD MINISTERS PREACH ? DUTY OF SIN
NERS TO BECOME HOLY.
EXERCISES OF THE AWAKENED.
Is a direct agency of God upon the mind itself, effectually removing its sinfulness and making it spiritual and holy, consistent with free moral agency?
In replying to this inquiry, I shall take it for granted, that a dependent being may be a free moral agent. If any one denies this, he ought to show why he denies it. He ought to show what there is in moral agency, which is incompatible with a state of dependence, or what there is in a state of dependence which is incompatible with moral agency. Till this is done, (and it cannot be done without denying the existence of accountable beings,) I shall deem it proper to consider it as a settled principle, that a dependent being may be a free moral agent. And then I ask, who can set limits to his dependence? If complete dependence takes away moral agency, any degree of dependence must diminish it; and men cannot be entirely free and moral, unless they are entirely independent. But such independence cannot be ascribed to created beings by any man in his right mind.
The fact is, that there is not a single attribute or circumstance of moral agency which implies any such thing as freedom from dependence on God. Reason is an essential attribute of a moral agent. But a man is none the less rational, because God makes him rational, or because he exercises his reason under the divine control, or under the influence of causes appointed by divine wisdom. Again. Voluntariness is an attribute of a free moral agent. And surely a man is none the less voluntary, because God makes him voluntary; and none the less free from compulsion, because God orders it so that he shall be free. Nor has man any less sense of his obligation to do what is right and avoid what is wrong, because God has implanted such a sense within him. You cannot mention any attribute or circumstance of a moral agent, which is at all inconsistent with his being constantly and wholly dependent on God. Indeed, it is God, and God only, that, by his constant agency, makes us free, moral and accountable. It is in him we have our being, as moral agents.
But although there is not the least reason to suppose that free moral agency is incompatible with a state of dependence on God, and although it is strange that such a supposition should be made, after moral agents have existed and acted thousands of years in a state of dependence, without having experienced any inconvenience or embarrassment from it; yet the supposition is made ; and the minds of many are involved in perplexity on the subject, both by the ambiguity of terms and the sophistry of arguments. I shall therefore offer a few remarks for the purpose of clearing the subject of obscurity, and placing it in a satisfactory light. My remarks will relate particularly to the subject before us — the regenerating influence of the Spirit.
1. It is most unreasonable to think, that he who created the soul, and who constantly preserves it in being, cannot exert whatever influence he pleases upon it, in perfect consistency with its moral nature. God has designed us to be moral, accountable beings; and we are sure he will never do any thing to interfere with his design. Accordingly, when we read in Scripture the strongest representations of God's influence upon man, such as his creating him anew, working in him to will and to do, etc., we are to consider it as certain, that all this influence is exercised in perfect harmony with our spiritual nature, and does not, in the least, supersede our free and accountable agency. Let the divine influence rise ever so high, and produce effects ever so astonishing, we may always rest assured that it operates in such a manner as not to violate the nature which God has given us. This the sacred writers took for granted, and accordingly never made any attempt either to prove or to explain it.
2. That the regenerating influence of the Spirit does not in the least disturb the exercise of man's moral agency, appears from the nature of the effects produced. Our moral agency has been disturbed by sin. The divine Spirit removes that disturbance. Does this interfere with moral agency? The Spirit of God comes to one who is a slave, and makes him free. Does this interfere with his freedom ? Does it interrupt a man's liberty, to break the chains which bind him, to open the prison doors and help him to escape ? Does it interfere with a man's power of choice, to influence him to choose what is right? The Spirit takes a dis eased moral agent, and makes him healthy - one who is weak, and makes him strong - one who is dead in sin, and makes him alive. Now does not one who is alive and healthy and strong, put forth as much agency, and as good an agency, as one who is dis eased and weak and dead?
It appears then perfectly manifest from the nature of the effects produced in regeneration, that the efficacious influence of the Spirit acting directly upon the heart and changing it from stone to flesh, from impurity to purity, from enmity to love, neither supersedes nor interrupts man's free moral agency.
It has been already intimated, that the power we possess over our fellow men is very restricted. We cannot send into their hearts a regenerating, purifying influence. Without the presence and operation of the divine Spirit, neither men nor angels could turn one sinner from darkness to light. Nor could we,
without that Spirit, enlighten and sanctify our own hearts. This we have learned from experience, as well as from the word of God. And who does not acknowledge this in his prayers ? What Christian does not desire the Holy Spirit to dwell in him, and to exert & sanctifying influence upon him? Who that has been taught of God, will not say, let the Spirit come directly to my heart, and VOL. III.
work there mightily to subdue the power of sin, and to adorn me with the beauties of holiness? And yet it would appear from the speculations of some men, professing to be Christians, that they would choose not to be subject to any high degree of the Spirits influence, lest it should somehow injure their free agency. Away with all speculations which contradict the most just and holy desires of the regenerate soul !
I shall here advert again to the inquiry, so often raised at the présent day, whether God puts forth a physical influence in regeneration, and whether the change produced is a physical change. This inquiry, as I before remarked, cannot be intelligently answered, without determining the exact sense in which the word physical is used.
The word sometimes relates to natural or material things, in distinction from moral or spiritual. Thus the science of physics is the science of natural philosophy, the science of the material world, in distinction from the moral world. Accordingly, a physical power is a power which belongs to natural or material things, as the general power of attraction, the electric power, etc. A physical substance is matter; and a physical change is a change which takes place in a material substance. This is the original meaning of the word ; and something of this meaning is apt to mingle itself with other uses of the word where the sense is intended to be different. Now if the word is taken in this sense, the question is easily answered. The influence of the Spirit in regeneration can no more be called a physical influence, than it can be called an electrical or a chemical influence. And the change which takes place, is not produced in a material substance, and has nothing of a physical or material nature.
The word is sometimes applied in a secondary sense, to the mind, and has a meaning allied to the one ahovementioned, denoting whatever does not belong to moral objects. Thus we say, man has faculties of mind and inclinations, for example, understanding, memory, love of knowledge, and love of offspring, which are not strictly of a moral nature; and these are called natural faculties and affections, and sometimes, though less frequently and less properly,
physical, in contradistinction to conscience, which is called the moral faculty, and to the sense of right and wrong, called the moral sense, and love to God and man, which is strictly an affection of a moral nature. In reference to this use of the word, we say, the change in regeneration is not physical, as it does not primarily take place in the understanding, or memory, or in what are called the natural affections.
In opposition to the Pelagian heresy, the word physical came to be used to denote an influence beyond the influence of moral considerations, or of moral suasion, or as we commonly say, beyond the influence of truth, or the influence of rational motives, presented to the mind of a sinner. Pelagians held, that moral considerations are, of themselves, sufficient to influence the sinner to obey the gospel. The orthodox have always held, that the Spirit of God must cause a change in man's disposition or moral nature, before divine truth can be rightly received, and produce right affections. This change they sometimes called a physical change, and the influence which produces it, a physical influence, to distinguish it from the moral suasion of Pelagians. Now if the word physical is used to signify that change in man's moral nature, temper, disposition, or heart, which is pre-requisite to any right influence of motives; then the change must be called physical, and the influence which produces it must be called a physical influence, in contradistinction to the mere influence of motives presented to the view of an unregenerate man.
This is the sense in which Owen and other older divines used the word. They evidently meant to signify that, in regeneration, a divine influence is exerted beyond the influence of truth, or moral suasion, and that a change is effected in the state of the mind preparatory to right exercises. As this was evidently their meaning, we ought by no means to represent them as holding to a physical influence of the Spirit and a physical regeneration, in the sense which the word now conveys. But the influence of the Spirit in regeneration may properly enough be called a moral influence, though not in the sense of ancient or modern Pelagians. It is the influence of a Being possessed of moral perfections, exerted upon a depraved moral agent,