« AnteriorContinuar »
doubts, and bewildering perplexity, so torture with uncertainty and conjecture, and superinduce such a frightful gloom on thc mind itself, that for its own relief, it ofttimes gladly seizes some fantastic theory, and yields to its guidance in hope of escape,---as the lone traveller, led by successive shrubs and flowrets into the forest's depths, till lost in the darkness of night he hopes to retrace his steps by the light of deceitful fires, that dance around his path. How much of human philosophy consists in Wild conjectures about things which cannot be discovered! How are the mind's energies and the precious moments of a feeting life, wasted in mere bewildering speculations!
The Saviour, if we will submit to his philosophy, subjects us to no such loss of time or efforts, but tells us at once, thus far shalt thou go, but no further-here let thy proud reasonings be slayed. 56 Who art thou, O vain man, that repliest against God?" The conversation of Christ with Nicodemus, may be said to have been altogether of a philosophical character. The topic was the very theme which now engages our attention, the great fact of the REGENERATION OF A SINNER, one of those striking phenomena, which the gospel reports, and which we observe occurring in the moral history of some that hear it. Nicodemus seems to have been of an inquisitive, and reflecting mind. He had not yielded to the prejudices of his sect and day, against Christ; but, having collected a number of facts which had occurred in His history, and having subjected them, and the evidence which substantiated them, to the strictest investigation, had arrived at the conclusion, that He was “a teacher come from God.” The works performed by Him he saw to be of such an extraordinury character, as to be inexplicable on any of the known laws of nature, or on any other supposition than that of the divine presence and co-operation with Him. “ Rabbi! we kuow that tiiou art a teacher come from God, for so one can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with Him."
Impressed with this very rational idea, he desired some instruction from Him. The blessed Saviour at once announced the fact and necessity of regeneration. “Except a man be born again, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” The thing was altogether incomprehensible by Nicodemus. How a man could be born again was a question, which neither his Pharisaism, nor his philosophy could answer. The Saviour, to relieve his mind from fruitless speculations, assured him that the change was indeed a real one, of which he spake, and so explained the phraseology he had employed, as to shew that he was making use of a metaphorical oxpression, and should be understood as designating some change in the spiritual character of man analogous with that: (which takes place in his animal functions) at birth. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a inan be born of water and of the Spirit
, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, ye must be born again.”
The mode of the Spirit's efficiency in regeneration He states, is beyond the reach of inquiry. It is like every other mode of divine agency altogether inexplicable; and therefore not a legitimate subject of investigation. The evidence of the fact was sufficient. That was the word of Christ, which upon Nicodemus' own principles, and by virtue of his professed conviction that He was a teacher come from God, he was bound to believe. At the same time the more effectually, and speedily, to check his use-less curiosity, and induce his faith, the Saviour remarked, that in requiring him to believe the fact, while he re1. John, it. 2.8.
mained ignorant of the mode in which the Spirit, to whose agency he attributed it, accomplished it, he required nothing more than what he willingly conceded, every day, in relation to objects in the material world. He never doubted the reality of the wind which howled around his dwelling, and yet with all his philosophy he could not invent a satisfactory theory with regard to its origin. “ The wind," said the Saviour, "bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell, whence it cometh, or whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” He believed in its existence, because of the report which his senses made io him, and was satisfied with this evidence, though ignorant of almost every thing else in relation to it. Why could he not do the same with regard to the fact of regeneration? He had the teslimony of a “ teacher come from God," whose testimony in the case was, undoubtedly, as sufficient as the truth of God itself, to secure his belief, though he could not under-sland the precise mode by which the Spirit produced the change.
The gospel is thus found to be in exact accordance with sound philosophy; so that, whoever refuses to believe the Saviour's doctrine of regeneration, only shows how unphilosophical is his infidelity. The only point on which it can be lawful, on philosophical principles, to hesitate, is, the evidence of the fact. We are not to be too credulous, and believe every ihing reported to us for fact. We owe it to our rational nature, to see that the facts, or phenomena reported, are supported with suficient proof. But, being once satisfied with that proof, any difficulty, in solving these fucts, or phenomena, can never authorize us to disbelieve their reality. Now, the evidence adduced in support of the fact of regeneration, is that of testimony; and in the case of the individuals renewed, there is superadded that of consciousness, or experience. The sum of the evidence on the subject, amounts to this.—The God of truth declares, that such an entire and radical change of men's dispositions and habits,--such a thorough transformation of their thoughts, feelings, purposes and conduct, as to make them exhibit a new life, (which is therefore, very appropriately termed regeneration, or being born again,) is effected by the DIRECT AND SPECIAL agency of the Spirit of God. Individual sinners add their testimony to that of God, and declare, that such a change has bcen wrought on them, and furnish, in their sudden conversion and subsequent life, sufficient proof that it is even so.
It will not do foran objector to say, "I have never experienced such a change, and, therefore, there is no such thing." The conclusion is gratuitous. Ten thousand well attested cases of sudden and extraordinary conversion may be cited. They crowd upon usinevery direction. From Saul of Tarsus, down to Newton and Scott, of modern days; and in every of those numerous revivals of religion, which bless the churches in this land, wc may meet authentic instances of sudden, entire, and most extraordinary transformations in the moral character of individuals, to account for which, no cause 80 satisfactory can be assigned, as that which the blessed Saviour states, viz: --lhe efficacious grace and influence of the Holy Spirit. The fact, that some such changes do take place, cannot be denied. The sceptic, and he who sneers at spiritual religion, devotional frames, and christian experience, cannot resist the evidence of history, and the force of accumulating testimony, as to the l'act of some change, whatever may be their theories to account for it. Among the most ingenious devices, by which to resist the evidence of fact, in favour of the Spirit's special and direct influence, is that, which, having clothed itself with the sem. blance of religion, the garb of sanctity, and possessing a bę. lief in the general infidence of the Spirit, and truth
christianity, undertakes to trace the frames and feelings of the converted sinner, exclusively to some natural cause.
The whole strain and spirit of the Saviour's conversation, appear sufficient to show the fallacy of such a procedure. It is a virtual impeachment of his truth and wisdom, to resort to any other supposition, than that which He has stated to be fact. And whoever professes to have extricated the fact of regeneration from all mystery, and to make the thing perfectly plain, does, in that very circumstance, furnish presumptive, if not positive proof, that the regeneration which he inculcates, is essentially different from that which Christ taught. But, lest it should be said, that we demand too unqualified a submission to the authority of the Scriptures, and reject the light which mental science furnishes, it may not be improper to notice, distinctly, some of the more imposing suppositions, which ment of ingenious minds, but enemies of evangelical religion, have framed, to account for sudden and extraordinary conversions, and for the whole of spiritual experience, without admitting the direct and special agency of the divine Spirit. They will all be found inadequate. Laid in the balance of the Sanctuary, they shall be found wanting. But to prevent mistake, it is necessary to make one or two preliminary observations.
The first is, that, however we may be able to trace the workings of our own minds, and ascertain the operation of certain general laws of thought and feeling, in cases of sudden and extraordinary conversion, we must be careful how we attribute effects of a singular character, to causes, continually operating without such effects. That the Spirit of God will not violate any established law, by which God governs mind, in the regeneration of the sinner, but will actually make it subsservient to his own desigo and ageney, is freely admitted. And yet it will, by no means follow