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heaven, to some other and higher cause than either our virtue, or innocence, or our penitence, we judge not either superstitiously or enthusiastically upon the subject, but according to the truth of the case, rightly understood.
Something beyond ourselves as the cause of our salvation, is wanting even according to sound principles of natural religion. When we read in Scripture of the free mercy of God enacted towards us by the death and sufferings of Jesus Christ, then we read of a cause beyond ourselves, and that is the very thing which was wanted to us.
OF SPIRITUAL INFLUENCE IN GENERAL,
IN THREE PARTS. PART I.
I COR. III. 16. “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth
in you ?”
There are ways of considering the subject of spiritual influence, as well as a want of considering it, which lay it open to difficulties and to misconceptions. But if the being liable to misapprehension and to misrepresentation be thought an objection to any doctrine, I know of no doctrine which is not liable to the same; nor any which has not, in fact, been loaded, at various times, with great mistakes.
One difficulty, which has struck the minds of some, is, that the doctrine of an influencing Spirit, and of the importance of this influence to human salvation, is an arbitrary system; making every thing to depend, not upon ourselves, nor upon any exertion of our own, but upon the gift of the Spirit.
It is not for us, we allow, to canvass the gifts of God; be. cause we do not, and it seems impossible that we should, sufficiently understand the motive of the giver. In more ordinary cases, and in cases more level to our comprehension, we seem to acknowledge the difference between a debt and a gift. A debt is bound, as it were, by known rules of justice: a gift depends upon the motive of the giver, which often can be known only to himself. To judge of the propriety either of granting or withholding that to which there is no claim, (which is, in the
strictest sense, a favour, which, as such, rests with the donor to bestow as to him seemeth good,) we must have the several motives, which presented themselves to the mind of the donor, before us. This, with respect to the Divine Being, is impossible. Therefore we allow, that either in this or in any other matter, to canvass the gifts of God, is a presumption not fit to be indulged. We are to receive our portion of them with thankfulness. We are to be thankful, for instance, for the share of health and strength which is given us, without inquiring why others are healthier and stronger than ourselves. This is the right disposition of mind, with respect to all the benefactions of God Almighty towards us.
But unsearchable does not mean arbitrary. Our necessary ignorance of the motives which rest and dwell in the Divine mind in the bestowing of his grace, is no proof that it is not bestowed by the justest reason. And with regard to the case at present before us, viz. the gifts and graces of the Spirit, the charge against it, of its being an arbitrary system, or in other words, independent of our own endeavours, is not founded in any doctrine or declaration of Scripture. It is not arbitrary in its origin, in its degree, or in its final success.
First, it is not arbitrary in its origin : for you read that it is given to prayer. “ If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask it?" But whether we will ask it or not, depends upon ourselves. It is proposed, you find, as a subject for our prayers: for prayer, not formal, cold, heartless, transitory, but prayer from the soul, prayer earnest and persevering; for this last alone is what the Scripture means by prayer. In this, therefore, it cannot be said to be arbitrary, or independent of our endeavours. On the contrary, the Scripture exhorts us to a striving in prayer for this best of all gifts.
But, it will be asked, is not the very first touch of true religion upon the soul, sometimes at least, itself the action of the Holy Spirit-this therefore must be prior to our praying for it? And so it may be, and not yet be arbitrarily given. The religious state of the human soul is exceedingly various. Amongst others, there is a state in which there may be good latent dispositions, suitable faculties for religion, yet no religion. In such a state, the spark alone is wanting. To such a state, the elementary
principle of religion may be communicated, though not prayed for. Nor can this be said to be arbitrary. The Spirit of God is given where it is wanted; where, when given, it would produce its effect: but that state of heart and mind, upon which the effect was to be produced, might still be the result of moral qualification, improvement, and voluntary endeavour. It is not, I think, difficult to conceive such a case as this.
Nevertheless it may be more ordinarily true, that the gift of the Spirit is holden out to the struggling, the endeavouring, the approaching Christian. When the penitent prodigal was yet a great way off, his father saw him. This parable was delivered by our Lord expressly to typify God's dealing with such sinners as are touched with a sense of their condition.
And this is one circumstance in it to be particularly noticed. God sees the returning mind-sees every step and every advance towards him, “though we be yet a great way off” — yet at a great distance ; though much remains to be done, and to be attained, and to be accomplished. And what he sees, he helps. His aid and influence are assisting to the willing Christian, truly and sincerely willing, though yet in a low and imperfect state of proficiency; nay, though in the outset, as it were, of his religious progress. “The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a contrite heart;" Psalm xxxiv. 18. But in all this there is nothing arbitrary.
Nor, secondly, is the operation of the Spirit arbitrary in its degree. It has a rule, and its rule is this: “Whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that which he hath.” Now of this rule, which is expressed under some, but under no great difference of phrase, in all the first three Gospels, I have first to observe, that though it carry the appearance of harshness and injustice, it is neither the one nor the other, but is correctly and fundamentally just. The meaning is, that whosoever uses, exercises, and improves the gifts which he has received, shall continue to receive still larger portions of these gifts ; nay, he who has already received the largest portion, provided he adequately and proportionably uses his gifts, shall also in future receive the largest portion. More and more will be added to him that has the most: whilst he who neglects the little which he has, shall be deprived even of that. That this is the sound exposition of these texts is proved from
hence, that one of them is used as the application of the parable of the talents, concerning the meaning of which parable there can be no doubt at all : for there he who had received, and having received had duly improved, ten talents, was placed over ten cities, and of him the expression in question is used “ whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance.” On the contrary, he who had received one talent, and had neglected what he had received, had it taken from him; and of him the other part of the expression is used—“whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that which he hath.” But there is a point still remaining, viz. whether this Scripture rule be applicable to spiritual gifts. I answer that it is 80 applied, more especially to spiritual knowledge, and the use which we make thereof: “ Take heed how
hear : unto you that hear shall more be given; for he that hath, to him shall be given, and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath.” So stands the passage in Mark; and substantially the same, that is, with a view to the same application, the passage stands in Matthew and Luke. I consider it, therefore, to be distinctly asserted, that this is the rule with regard to spiritual knowledge. And I think the analogy conclusive with regard to other spiritual gifts. In all which there is nothing arbitrary. Nor, thirdly, is it arbitrary in its final success.
“ Grieve not the Spirit of God." Therefore he may be grieved. “And hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace," Heb. x. 29. Therefore he may be despised. Both these are leading texts upon the subject. And so is the following—“And his grace, which was bestowed
upon me, was not in vain," 1 Cor. xv. 10. Therefore it might have been in vain. The influence, therefore, of the Spirit, may not prevail, even as the admonitions of a friend, the warnings of a parent, may not prevail, may not be successful, may not be attended to; may be rejected, may be resisted, may be despised, may be lost. So that both in its gift, in its degree, operation, and progress, and, above all, in its final effect, it is connected with our own endeavours; it is not arbitrary. Throughout the whole, it does not supersede, but co-operate with ourselves.
But another objection is advanced, and from an opposite quarter. It is said, that if the influence of the Spirit depend after all upon our endeavours, the doctrine is nugatory : it
comes to the same thing, as if salvation was put upon ourselves and our own endeavours alone, exclusive of every further consideration, and without referring us to any influence or assistance whatever. I answer, that this is by no means true: that it is not the same thing either in reality, or in opinion, or in the consequences of that opinion.
Assuredly it is not the same thing in reality. Is it the same thing, whether we perform a work by our own strength, or by obtaining the assistance and co-operation of another? Or does it make it the same thing, that this assistance is to be obtained by means which it is in our own choice to use or not? Or because, when the assistance is obtained, we may, or may not, avail ourselves of it: or because we may, by neglecting, lose it? After all, they are two different things, performing a work by ourselves, and performing it by means of help.
Again; It is not the same thing in the opinions, and sentiments, and dispositions which accompany it. A person who knows or believes himself to be beholden to another for the progress and success of an undertaking, though still carried on by his own endeavours, acknowledges his friend and his benefactor; feels his dependency and his obligation; turns to him for help and aid in his difficulties; is humble under the want and need, which he finds he has, of assistance; and above all things, is solicitous not to lose the benefit of that assistance. This is a different turn of mind, and a different way of thinking, from his, who is sensible of no such want; who relies entirely upon his own strength; who of course, can hardly avoid being proud of his success, or feeling the confidence, the presumption, the self-commendation, and the pretensions, which, however they might suit with a being who achieves his work by his own powers, by no means, and in no wise, suit with a frail constitution, which must ask and obtain the friendly aid and help of a kind and gracious benefactor, before he can proceed in the business set out for him, and which it is of unspeakable consequence to him to execute somehow or other.
It is thus in religion. A sense of spiritual weakness and of spiritual wants, a belief that divine aid and help are to be had, are principles which carry the soul to God; make us think of him, and think of him in earnest; convert, in a word, morality into religion ; bring us round to holiness of life, by the road of piety and devotion; render us humble in ourselves, and grateful