« PreviousContinue »
demonstratively is never a mere determination to serve and love God, or make him the object of supreme regard, but is itself an act in which God is in fact directly or virtually the object of supreme affection; and may differ in its form in different individuals, according as their perceptions vary in nature or extent, or the relations differ in which God, or the truths that respect him, are contemplated. In some it may be self-abhorrence, humility, penitence, approval of the divine law; in others, an adoring acquiescence in the purity and rectitude of God, submission to his will, complacency in his benevolence, gratitude for his mercy, reliance on his promises, a joyful acceptance of salvation through Christ, or any other form of obedient agency in which there is no reference to a previous act of obedience.
The exhibition of a governing purpose to serve God, as a distinguishing characteristic of the renewed and proper evidence of regeneration, is fraught with an equally palpable error. Obedience itself to God, is the characteristic of the renewed, as far as they exhibit a christian character, not a mere determination to obey. Such resolutions, however appropriately or frequently adopted, form but a very slight share of the obedient agency of the regenerate. To represent them as the most essential form of obedience and conspicuous evidence of renovation, is to supersede the chief branches of practical duty, and overlook the most essential of the fruits of the Spirit.
Those representations of the subject in which a determination or purpose to love and serve God, is exhibited as the reason for which the mind actually loves and serves him, are likewise fraught with an equal error; as they proceed on the assumption, that the mind is not determined in its agency by the perceptions and emotions which are the objects of its atten
tion, cotemporaneously with its choices, but by its past acts, which, by the supposition, are not objects at the time of its perception ;-and to run accordingly, into all the absurdities of that form of the dogma of self-determination. As the mind however exerts its volitions only for seen and felt reasons, it is manifest that no antecedent act that has passed from its consideration, can be its reason for its present agency toward a different object, but its reason for its choices must in all instances lie wholly in its cotemporaneous sight and sense of the object toward which they are exerted. Such resolutions, in place of directly determining the mind in its subsequent choices, exert their useful instrumentality wholly, when they exert any, in leading it to turn its attention to God and his service, and recalling to it the views and emotions which were its reasons for its former obedience: whilst not they, but the apprehensions themselves, and emotions which they are in that manner the instrument of suggesting, are its reasons for the obedience which it puts forth under their influence.
Exhortations are sometimes addressed to the impenitent to form a specific resolution to seek salvation, or a determination to make God the object of their supreme regard, that are obnoxious to the same objections; as from the representations of the governing purpose, with which they are conjoined, they appear to proceed on the assumption that such a resolution is regeneration itself, and doubtless convey that impression in many instances to those to whom they are offered or that it will naturally become to those who form it, an efficient reason for the commencement of a course of obedience.
All these, and similar representations of the nature and influence of such determinations are thus obviously incorrect, and wholly inconsistent with all the essential principles of
the system which I have sought to sustain; and let those who are accustomed to exhibit them, but adopt the doctrine that the mind acts in its volitions only for seen and felt reasons-reasons, therefore, that lie wholly in the perceptions and emotions of which it is conscious cotemporaneously with its choices; and they will of necessity abandon those representations, as well as the false principles on which they are founded.
VIII. The truths of the gospel, when presented in the relations in which they are exhibited in these views, are fraught with a far higher adaptation, than when shrouded in the forms of the opposite system, to produce the effects that are sought through their instrumentality, as they are exhibited in their actual relations to each other, to God, and to us; and coincidently accordingly with the facts of experience, and the convictions of reason.
Their representation of us, for example, as the efficient causes of our voluntary agency, accords with our consciousness; and the fact itself lays to our convictions a proper foundation for our being required to exert a right series of actions, prohibited from such as are wrong, and held responsible for the acts that we exert. The representation of sinfulness and rectitude, as predicable of acts only in distinction from attributes, likewise accords with our natural convictions, and the principles on which we judge of the agency of each other; whilst a voluntary misuse of our powers, and violation of obligation, is felt to be a proper ground of condemnation and punishment. It is in their relations to these great facts also, that the infinite benevolence of God in the work of redemption, the doctrines of sovereignty and election, of the gracious gift of the Holy Spirit, and a free justification through the mediation of Christ, are seen in their true character, and brought, without the obstructions of inconsistency, to bear with their
appropriate energy on the reason, conscience, and heart. The mind, when thus led to see that it is itself the voluntary author of its ruin, is prepared to realize the justice of its condemnation; when shown that its free rejection of salvation and preference of rebellion is the ground of its need of the Spirit's intervention to turn it to holiness, it is fitted to feel that God is under no obligation to bestow his influences; and the conviction that salvation, if given, must be the bequest of infinite grace, prepares it to see that God has a right to select whomever his wisdom sees fit, as the subjects of that grace, and does no injustice to those who are left, in leaving them to perish. It is thus placed by these views in all its relations, in precisely that attitude toward God and his government, in which it is exhibited in the doctrines of the gospel, and in which the whole system of revealed truth may be carried home to its sensibilities, embarrassed with the fewest obstructions, and fraught with the highest energy.
Thus sustained in the assurance of their accuracy by this renewed inspection of the principles on which they rest, and the contrast which their simplicity, self-consistency, and harmony with consciousness and the word of God, presents to the complexity, and contradictoriness to itself, to common sense, and to the doctrines of revelation, which characterize the opposite system; and confirmed in the conviction of their adaption to an efficacious ministration of the truth, by the success which has attended their partial inculcation heretofore; I commend them again to the consideration of the ministers of the gospel and churches, with an ardent hope that they may soon gain a far wider diffusion, and by at juster exhibition, exert a still more propitious instrumentality.
OBEDIENT ACTS IN EXCELLENCE.
IT has been the object of several disquisitions, in former numbers, respecting the existence of moral evil, to demonstrate that God desires all his creatures to yield a perfect obedience to his laws; that his permitting them to transgress, is nevertheless voluntary, and not the result of an inability to hinder them; that he is able, in every instance, to carry them forward in uninterrupted obedience; that the obedience he requires would, if rendered, secure the greatest good; that he in fact secures the greatest good by his present administration; and that the reason consequently of his allowing them to sin as they do, is, that no other obedience than that which he requires-that is, in the circumstances in which they are now placed by his providence -would, were he to lead them to render any other, involve as great a sum of good as that would which he requires, and as is obtained by his administration toward their present course of agency.
This last position rests on the facts, that there are different acts of obedience, and different obedient agencies, differing very essentially in their value; that it is possible to God to