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Shall we then admit that the agency of the Spirit is physical, as it is termed, according to the objection of those who find difficulty in ascribing omnipotence to the Spirit in his official character? By no means; for it is impossible for us to understand the mode of his operation so as to define it, as it is in itself, in this manner, or in any other; and we should thus seem to ascribe the limitation of the creature to the uncreated and infinite God. And, moreover, if we conceive of the power by its effects, we cannot admit the language to be correct, for these are not physical changes which are accomplished by the blessed Comforter. Nor can we at all concede, on the other hand, that the Spirit operates in sanctification by a merely moral influence. It is true that means are used in producing and perfecting the great change in man from sin to holiness; means, in all their variety, and in the most full and suitable manner are appointed to us, and recognized by this holy agency in their proper character and efficacy; and it is true, also, that in one sense, and that too a very important sense, the whole change made in man is a moral change: but I affirm that all this gives us no ground on which we can determine the nature, or the mode of the agency of the Holy Spirit. Philosophy is utterly at fault, when she attempts to reason, by analogy from man to God.
But I willingly dismiss such speculations, and return to the plain doctrine of the Holy Scriptures, as I believe it to be, that the sanctifying Spirit exerts a holy, divine power in the work of salvation. And I resume the subject merely for the purpose of saying, that, in this view of the Spirit's operation, it is obvious to conclude, that his influence in accomplishing the work of grace is special and immediate; not that the use of appropriate means is at all excluded, or that the efficacy of truth as the means of sanctification is in any degree diminished by the special influence of the Spirit: and, further, his agency is always divinely effectual, and certainly produces every effect which it is intended to produce, yet in a way that is perfectly consistent with his own glorious nature and holy wise and benevolent purposes, and with the liberty and accountability of man. The renovation of the sinner is a work that is wrought, truly and effectually, not by created might nor by created power, but by the Spirit of God.
I close with remarking that the doctrine of the word of God concerning the character and agency of the Holy Spirit, distinctly teaches how the Christian shall persevere and grow in grace, and how the Church of the Lord shall be revived and increased, until it shall extend over the whole earth. We live under a dispensation of grace in which the Son of God is the Mediatorial Head, and the Spirit of God is the sanctifying Agent. As we believe in Jesus the Saviour for justification and the gift of eternal life; we must also receive the Holy Ghost, walk in the Spirit, and live by the Spirit, if we will perform the work assigned us, and be prepared to reside in the new Heavens wherein dwelleth righteousness. It is not sufficient to contemplate the doctrine of the Spirit's influence as a subject of intellectual perception, or to receive it with a speculative faith; we must so believe the truth concerning the blessed Comforter, that we shall ask this good gift of the Father, and live by his gracious power. Would the Christian but desire, and seek, and cherish the indwelling and operation of the Spirit of truth, and abide in his fellowship; how brightly would His light shine upon his heart and be reflected on all around! How much would he be able to do for God, for his Redeemer or his fellow men, while his own progress in his preparation to receive the prize, and wear the crown of victory would be rapidly accelerated! Were the Church, having received the whole truth of God in the love of it, and leaning with a strong faith on her Divine Redeemer, fully aware of the strength and blessing provided for her in the gift of the Holy Ghost, according to the Saviour's promisa in its full import, how soon would she appear in the view of the whole world, " clear as the sun, fair as the moon, and terrible as an army with banners!" I am persuaded that one great reason, perhaps the chief reason of the infrequency, the rapid declension, and even corruption of revivals in the Churches, is to be sought in their disregard of divine influence. But a day will come in which the errors of the church shall be corrected, her pride humbled, and her faith in God by the Spirit strengthened; and then, in answer to united, believing prayer, the Spirit shall be poured out from on high, and by his mighty and gracious energy the world shall be converted to God.
lit may nol always be possible for writers to adapt their manuscript copy to the precise limits allotted for each number of this work. In instances where there may be space to spare, the editor will feel at liberty to occupy it with extracts from works of emient writers, illustrative of the doctrine under discussion. The following, from Dr. Owen's work "On the Spirit," i» selected as appropriate in the present number.]
THE WORK OF THE SPIRIT, AS A COMFORTER.
WnEN our Saviour left this world, he was very far from laying aside his care of his disciples. He has given us the highest assurance that he continues the same care, love, and grace towards us as when he laid down his life for us:—but as there was a double work yet to be performed in our behalf, one toward God, and the other in us, he has taken a twofold way of performing it. That toward God, he was to discharge himself, in his human nature, in Heaven; the other, of which believers are the immediate object, is committed to the Holy Spirit; and the peculiar name whereby he is distinguished in this work is, The Paraclete, which we translate the Comforter. It was with respect to the sorrows of the disciples, that he was promised under this name; and his work is still to support, cherish, relieve, and comfort the church, in all trials and distresses; and herein he manifests,
1. His infinite condescension.—He is by nature over all, God blessed for ever. It is a condescension in the divine excellency to concern itself in any creature whatever. God humbleth himself to behold the things that are done in heaven; how much more in submitting to the discharge of the office of Comforter in the behalf of poor worms on earth!
2. His unspeakable love.—The apostle prays for the presence of the Spirit with the Corinthians, under the name of the "God of love and peace;"—and the communication of the whole love of God to us is committed to the Spirit; for " the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost;"—and hence the same apostle distinctly mentions the "love of the Spirit," joining it with all the effects of the mediation of Christ; "I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit." Rom. 15:30:—all that love which he exercises and communicates to you. It is of great use to us to consider, that there was infinite love in the susception of this office by the Spirit; and it is evident from the nature of the work itself; for the consolation of the afflicted is an immediate effect of love. There is not one drop of comfort or spiritual refreshment administered by the Holy Ghost, but what proceeds from his infinite love.
3. His almighty power.—The apostle proposes this for the support of weak believers:—" Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world." That Holy Spirit who dwells in them, is greater and more powerful than Satan, who attempts their ruin. Who can declare the dejections, fears, and discouragements that believers are obnoxious to! nothing but Omnipotence itself is suited to obviate them. If we take a view of the condition of the Church in itself, and in the world,. how weak is the faith of most believers! How great their fears! How many their discouragements! How many are the temptations, calamities, and persecutions with which they are exercised! It is evident then how necessary it was that their consolation should be entrusted with him who possesses infinite power.
No. 8. PITTSBURGH, JANUARY, 1833. Vol. I.
BY DAVID ELLIOTT,
OF WASHINGTON, PE N JfSVL V AN I A.
THE DECREES OF GOD.
Ephesians 1:11. Being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.
My design in the selection of this passage of scripture, is to make some remarks on what are usually called the Decrees or God, or the Divine Purposes. This is a doctrine which is known to be peculiarly obnoxious to many. One reason of this, no doubt, is, because it is so imperfectly understood, as held by those who receive it as a doctrine of the Bible. Multitudes have never examined it in the light of God's word. They have contented themselves with the garbled and distorted statements of men who either did not understand it themselves, or who sought to promote sectarian interests by misleading others. For the fact is notorious, that neither the pulpit nor the press has been wanting in exhibitions of this doctrine, which would be rejected by its intelligent friends with as much abhorrence, as by those who made them.
It is admitted that the doctrine of the Decrees of God, is not free from difficulties. But is this an uncommon case? This will not be pretended. The same may be alleged of all the radical doctrines of the Bible. They have all their difficulties; or, rather, men make difficulties in their discussion, by departing from the simple statements of the word of God, and attempting what is beyond their depth and comprehension. And if on this ground the doctrine in question is to be set aside, on the same ground, all that is valuable in the Bible, and consolatory to the hopes of the Christian, must be also rejected. But are men prepared for this?
The object which we propose, therefore, at present, is to give a simple, scriptural exhibition of this doctrine, as we understand it to be contained in the Holy Scriptures, avoiding as much as possible all refined speculations which tend to bewilder, rather than enlighten the mind in its researches after the truth. Nor will it be attempted to enter into long trains of controversial discussion with those who hold different views. This would occupy too much space for a single discourse, and if necessary or proper, may be better done at another time, or by abler hands.
In the passage before us, the fore-ordination of Christians to the heavenly inheritance is affirmed. This inheritance, which Paul and his fellow christians had obtained, had become theirs on the ground of their being predestinated to its possession. To this predestination they were indebted for their participation in the blessings of salvation. It was "according to the purpose of God," and formed a part of that purpose. He had blessed them "with all spiritual blessings in Christ:" and that he had done "according as he had chosen them in him before the foundation of the world." The Apostle, while stating this fact in relation to himself and his fellow christians, that they were indebted to the purposes of God for their elevated privileges and hopes, affirms, moreover, that the purposes of this same God extend to all things. For these purposes, he declares to be the foundation of his acts: and as his acts extend to all things, so must his purposes from which these acts proceed.—" Who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will."
Beginning, then, with that which is more general, I remark,
I. That the Decrees or purposes of God Extend To All Things. This is clearly taught in the text. God "worketh Aix Things." Here, we have the Divine acts ["wor/teW] in the administration of his government. He works, or puts forth his power. And this administrative or providential agency extends to " all things"—so it is asserted in the passage before us. There is nothing to which it does not reach, and about which it is not concerned, for it is universal. Nor is this the only passage which speaks this language. Christ, in answer to the Jews who accused him for healing a man on the Sabbath day, says, "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work." John 5:17. In this declaration, there is a recognition of God's unceasing and continued agency in the management of the Universe. There is no interruption of his providential acts; but he "worketh" on all days and.without intermission. And as the Father worketh, so doth the Son.