« AnteriorContinuar »
6 such'a dulness, that it is always blind, and cannot “ see the light thereof. Therefore there is nothing " available done by the word, without the en“ lightening of the Holy Spirit.”
ON THE NECESSITY OF A DIVINE PRINCIPLE IN
ORDER TO BELIEVING.
ABOUT fifty years ago, much was written in favour of this position by Mr. Brine. Of late years, much has been advanced against it by Mr. Booth, Mr. Mc. Lean, and others. I cannot pretend to determine what ideas Mr. Brine attached to the term principle. He probably meant something different from what God requires of every intelligent creature: and if this were admitted to be nécessary to believing, such believing could not be the duty of any, except those who were possessed of it. I have no interest in this question, farther than to maintain that, The moral state, or disposition of the soul, has a necessary influence on believing in Christ. This I feel no difficulty in admitting on the one side, nor in defending on the other. If faith were an involuntary reception of the truth, and were produced merely by the power of evidence ; if the prejudiced or unprejudiced state of the mind, had no influence in retarding or promoting it; in
fine, if it were wholly an intellectual, and not a moral exercise ; nothing more than rationality, or a capacity of understanding the nature of evidence, would be necessary to it. In this case it would not be a duty; nor would unbelief be a sin, but a mere
mistake of the judgment. Nor could there be any need of divine influence: for the special influences of the Holy Spirit are not required for the produce tion of that which has no holiness in it. But if, on the other hand, faith in Christ be that on which the will has an influence; if it be the same thing as receiving the love of the truth, that we may be saved: if aversion of heart be the only obstruction to it, and the removal of that aversion be the kind of influence necessary to produce it; (and whether these things be so, or not, let the evidence adduced in the Second Part of this treatise determine.*) a contrary conclusion must be drawn. The mere force of evidence, however clear, will not change the disposition of the heart. In this case, therefore, and this only, it requires the exceeding greatness of divine power to enable a sinner to believe.
But as I design to notice this subject more fully in an Appendix, I shall here pass it over, and attend to the objection to faith being a duty, which is derived from it. If a sinner cannot believe in Christ, without being renewed in the spirit of his mind, believing, it is suggested, cannot be his immediate duty. It is remarkable in how many points the system here opposed agrees with Arminianism. The latter admits believing to be the duty of the unregenerate ; but on this account denies the necessity of a divine change in order to it. The former admits the necessity of a divine change in
* Particularly Propositions, iv, v.
order to believing; but on this account denies that believing can be the duty of the unregenerate. In this they are agreed, that the necessity of a divine change, and the obligation of the sinner, cannot comport with each other. :
But if this argument have any force, it will prove more than its abettors wish it to prove. It will prove that divine influence is not necessary to believing: or if it be, that faith is not the IMMEDIATE duty of the sinner. Whether divine influence change the bias of the heart in order to believing, or cause us to believe without such change, or only assist us in it, makes no difference as to this argument: if it be antecedent, and necessary to be. lieving, believing cannot be a duty, according to the reasoning in the objection, till it is communicated. On this principle, Socinians, who allow faith to be the sinner's immediate duty, deny it to be the gift of God.*
To me it appears that the necessity of divine influence, and even of a change of heart, prior to believing, is perfectly consistent with its being the immediate duty of the unregenerate. If that dis- position of heart which is produced by the Holy Spirit, be no more than every intelligent creature ought at all times to possess, the want of it can afford no excuse for the omission of any duty to which it is necessary. Let the contrary supposition
* Narrative of the York Baptists, Letter III.
be applied to the common affairs of life, and we shall see what work it will make : I am not possessed of a principle of common
honesty: But no man is obliged to exercise a principle
which he does not possess : Therefore I am not obliged to live in the exer.
cise of common honesty!
While reasoning upon the absence of moral principles, we are exceedingly apt to forget ourselves, and to consider them as a kind of natural accomplishment, which we are not obliged to possess, but merely to improve, in case of being possessed of them; and that, till then, the whole of our duty consists either in praying to God to bestow them upon us, or in waiting till he shall graciously be pleased to do so. But what should we say, if-a man were to reason thus with respect to the common duties of life? Does the whole duty of a dishonest man consist in either praying to God to make him honest, or waiting till he does so? Every one in this case feels that an honest heart is itself that which he ought to possess. Nor would any man, in matters that concerned his own interest, think of excusing it, by alleging that the poor man could not give it to himself, nor act otherwise than he did, till he possessed it.
If an upright heart towards God and man be not itself required of us, nothing is or can be required ; for all duty is comprehended in the acting out of the heart. Even those who would compromise the matter, by allowing that sinners are not obliged to possess an upright heart, but merely to pray and wait for it; if they would oblige themselves to un. derstand words, before they used them, must perceive that there is no meaning in this language. For if it be the duty of a sinner to pray to God for an upright heart, and to wait for its bestowment, I would enquire, Whether these exercises ought to be attended to sincerely or insincerely ; with a true desire after the object sought, or without it? It will not be pretended that he ought to use these means insincerely; but to say he ought to use them sincerely, or with a desire after that for which he prays and waits, is equivalent to saying, he ought to be sincere ; which is the same thing as possessing an upright heart. If a sinner be destitute of all desire after God, and spiritual things, and set on evil ; all the forms into which his duty may be thrown, will make no difference. The carnal heart will meet it in every approach, and repel it. Exhort him to repentance : he tells you he cannot repent ; his heart is too hard to melt, or be any ways affected with his situation. Say, with a certain writer, he ought to endeavour to repent: he answers, he has no heart to go about it. Tell him he must pray to God to give him a heart: he replies, prayer is the expression of desire, and I have none to express. What shall we say then? Seeing he cannot repent, cannot find in his heart to endeavour to repent, cannot pray sincerely for a heart to make such an endeavour ;