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REGENERATION BY THE WORD OF GOD.
THE incorruptible 'seed,' by which we are born again, according to 1 Pet. i. 23, alludes not to the first principle in vegetables, but in animals; and what this is in generation, the word of God is allowed to be in regeneration. This I apprehend is giving all the scope to the passage, which can reasonably be desired.
That there is a divine influence in this change, which is immediate, or without any instrument whatever, is supposed in the preseding paper; but I do not consider this as expressive of the whole change denoted by the term regeneration. I admit regeneration to be by the word of God, and that this truth is taught us by the passage in question, and also in James i. 18; nor does this concession appear to clash with the above position. When God created man, he breathed into him the breath of life, and man became a living soul. And in procreation, unless we maintain that souls are generated by human instrumentality, there is an immediate divine agency, very similar to that in creation, and which is expressed by 'forming the spirit of man within him.' Now as this is consistent with man's being brought into existence by the instrumentality of man; why should not an immediate influence from Him who 'quickeneth all things,' be consistent with the instrumentality of the word in regeneration?
Regeneration has frequently been distinguished from conversion; and I have no doubt but the terms are of different signification, as are also the terms creation and resurrection, by which the same divine change is indicated. I am inclined to think that these terms are not designed to express the different stages of God's work upon the soul, but the same divine work under different ideas or
representations. It has been said, that regeneration expresses that part of the change wherein we are passive, and conversion that wherein we are active; but the idea of passivity, as well as activity, is included in conversion. God turns us, ere we turn to him. Sinners are said to On the other hand,
be converted, as well as to convert. the idea of activity as well as passivity, is included in regeneration. Whatever may be said of the generation of an animal, we can form no conception of the change in the temper of a rational soul, or as the scriptures express it, of 'renewing the spirit of our minds,' without the mind being in exercise. It is passive with respect to the agency of the Holy Spirit in producing the change, so as to contribute nothing towards it; but the very nature of the change itself, being from a state of enmity to love, implies activity of mind. It does not therefore seem perfectly accurate to say, we are first endued with spiritual life, and then we become active; no otherwise however, than as by the order of nature, seeing that activity is of the very essence of spiritual life,
Now considering regeneration as expressive of that entire change, by which we enter as it were into a new moral world, and possess a new kind of being (and in this sense I think it is always to be understood in the new testament) it is as proper to say, we are regenerated by the word of God, as it is to say, that 'Abraham begat Isaac;' though in Isaac's coming into the world he was the subject of a divine agency, in which Abraham had no
INWARD WITNESS OF THE SPIRIT,
Or, God speaking peace to his people.
'I WILL hear what God the Lord will speak: for he will speak peace unto his people, and to his saintsSay unto my soul, I am thy salvation.' Psal. lxxxv. 8. XXXV. 3.
The meaning of these passages requires to be ascertained from the context. The former appears to have been written after the captivity, and on account of the jews having fallen into sad declensions, which had brought on fresh troubles. In the foregoing part of the psalm, the writer acknowledges God's great goodness in their restoration; and grounds a plea from thence, that he would again turn them from their sins, and cause his anger to cease. And having offered up this petition, Show us thy mercy, oh Lord, and grant us thy salvation;' he sets himself as it were upon his watch tower, to receive an answer, which his confidence in the divine goodness presumed would be an answer of peace. The word 'shalom,' in the old testament, commonly signifies prosperity. This was the object for which he had been praying: and when he says, 'God will speak peace unto his people,' he means, I take it, that he will bestow prosperity upon them. For GOD to speak peace, is the same thing as to bestow it; he speaks, and it is done; he commands, and it stands fast.
The meaning of the other passage is much the same. It is a prayer of David, that God would save him from his enemies; as if he should say, Speak but the word, 'I am thy salvation,' and all my enemies will be disappointed.
Concerning believers of the present day, the question amounts to this: In what form or manner does God communicate peace to our minds, and the knowledge of our interest in his salvation?
There is no doubt but that true christians do possess, though not without interruption, peace of mind, joy in the Holy Ghost, and a solid well-grounded persuasion of their interest in eternal life: and some have represented these enjoyments as conveyed to the heart by immediate revelation from heaven, or by the suggestion of some passage of scripture to the mind, the import of which seems to include the happy intelligence. Suppose for example, a person to be under great dejection and fear respecting his interest in Christ, and while he is poring over his case, the passage above alluded to is suggested to his mind, 'I am thy salvation;' some would suppose this was no other than the voice of God speaking peace to his soul, and that for him to question the goodness of his state after this would be unbelief.
If this be God's way of manifesting himself to his people, then revelation is not perfect; but God is making new revelations, and revelations of new truths continually; for as to the interest that any individual has in spiritual blessings, be it ever so much a truth, it is nowhere directly revealed in the scriptures: nor is there any possible way of proving it from thence, except by inference. There is not a passage in the bible that says, concerning any one of us, 'I am thy salvation.' The scripture speaks only of characters; and if we answer to these characters, we can prove that the things promised belong to us, but not otherwise. I own that I consider all such suggestions, wherein it is not the truth contained in the passage itself, but a presumption of its being immediately sent from God to the party, that affords the comfort, as real enthusiasm, and as destitute of all foundation in the word of God. I do not deny that many godly people have been carried away by such things; but I have seen evils, more than a few, which have arisen from them.
Those persons who ground their evidences for heaven' on impressions of scripture on their minds, are generally favoured, as they suppose, with many other revelations, besides those which relate to their interest in eternal life. They are often directed, as to present duty, and foretold of future events. If in a state of hesitation, as to the path of duty, they pray to the Lord; so far they do well. But in addition to this, instead of enquiring into the mind of God, as revealed in his word, they expect some immediate suggestion from him. And if, while they are thinking of the conduct in question, such a passage as that occur to their minds, 'This is the way, walk ye in it;' they immediately conclude, that this is a direction from God to follow that particular course which at the time occupied the mind; and which generally, if not always, proves to be the course to which their hearts were previously inclined. By such means many have been deluded into great errors, to the dishonour of God, and the ruin of their future peace.
By the same means, others have been led to suppose themselves in the secret of God, concerning future events. They have been praying, it may be, for the conversion of a favourite child, and some such passage as this has been suggested to their minds: 'I will surely have mercy upon him, saith the Lord.' From hence they have concluded, that the child would sometime be converted and saved. And this their confidence has been communicated, till the child himself has heard of it; and being willing to catch at any thing that might buoy up his vain hope, he has presumed upon a future conversion while living in a course of sin. At length however the parent has witnessed the death of the child, and that without any signs of a change. The consequence has been despondency, and calling in question his own personal religion. If says he this promise did not come from God, I have no reason to think any other did; and so all may be delusion.
This is not the worst. Godly persons are not the only characters who have passages of scripture impressed upon their minds, and that with power,' as it is often termed.