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FROM THE EVANGELICAL MAGAZINE, 1794-1812:
THE NATURE OF REGENERATION, IN ANSWER TO THE
FOLLOWING QUERY : Does the Spirit of God, in regeneration, produce a new principle in the
heart, or only impart a new light in the understanding ?
The question, as stated by your correspondent, I consider as important, and as admitting of a satisfactory answer. Whether i shall be able to afford him satisfaction, I cannot tell; but will do the best I can towards it. If we were called to determine how, or in what manner the Holy Spirit operates upon the human mind, great difficulties might attend our inquiries; but the purport of this question seems to relate, not to the modus of his operations, but to the nature of what is produced. To this I should answer : · The Spirit of God in regeneration does produce a new principle
in the heart, and not merely impart a new light in the understand. ing. The reasons for this position are as follow :
First : That which the Holy Spirit imparts in regeneration corresponds with his own NATURE : it is holiness, or spirituality. That which is born of the Spirit, is spirit. But mere light in the understanding, as distinguished from the bias or temper of the beart, has nothing in it spiritual or holy ; it is a mere exercise of intellect, in which there is neither good dor
evil. The scriptures, it is true, make frequent mention of spiritual light, and of such light being imparted by the Spirit of God; but the terms light and knowledge, as frequently used in scripture, are not to be understood in a literal, but in a figurative sense. A spiritual darkness, or blindness, is not a mere defect of the understanding, so spiritual light is not the mere supplying of such a defect. Each of these terms conveys a compound idea ; the one of ignorance and aversion, the other of knowledge and love. Hence the former is described as blindness of the heart, and the latter as understanding with the heart. If I understand any thing of the theory of the human mind, there is a kind of action and re-action of the understanding and the affections upon each other. We are not only affected with things by our judgment concerning them, but we judge of many things as we are affected towards them. Every one feels how easy it is to believe tbat to be true wbich corresponds with our inclinations. Now, so far as the decisions of the judgment are the consequence of the temper of the heart, so far they are either virtuous or vicious. Of this kind is spiritual blindness. Men do not like to retain God in their knowledge. They desire not the knowledge of his ways. Hence ignorance, in this figurative or compound sense of the tern, is threatened with the most awful judgments : Pour out thy wrath upon the heathen that know thee not.-Christ will come in flaming fire to take vengeance on them that know Not God. Of this kind also is spiritual light. Hence the following language : I will give them a HEART TO KNOW ME.-Guil, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined IN OUR HEARTS, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. This is that holy or spiritual knowledge, which it is life eternal to possess ; of which the natural man is destitute ; which would lead us to ask for living water ; and wbich, had the Jewish rulers possessed, they would not have crucified the Lord of life and glory. Ye neither know me nor my Father, said our Lord to the Jews : if ye had known me, ye should have knoron my Father also. The want of this knowledge was the sin of the Jews ; and, as we have seen already, stands threatened with divine judgments : but the mere want of knowledge, according to the strict and literal meaning of the term, and where it arises' not from any evil bias of heart, which has induced us to slight or neglect the means, is not criminal : on the contrary, it excuses that which would otherwise be criminal. Abimelech pleaded bis ignorance of David's supposed rebellion, before Saul ; and it ought, no doubt, to have acquitted bim. If the Jews had not enjoyed such means of knowledge as they did, comparatively speaking, they had not had sin.-Further : Spiritual speaking, or knowledge according to the figurative or compound sense of the term, has the promise of eternal life : but knowledge, literally taken, as distinguished from the temper of the heart, may exist in the most wicked characters, such as Balaam and Judas ; and though in itself it he neither good nor evil, yet it may be, and generally is, an occasion of greater aversion to God and religion. Thus our Lord told the Jews : Ye have both seen and hated both me and my Father. Thus also many among us wbo have long sat under the preaching of the gospel, and long been the subjects of keen conviction, feel their enmity keep pace with their hoowledge ; and thus at the last judgment, sinners will see and know the equity of their punishment ; so that every mouth will be stopped, and all become guilty before God; yet the enmity of their hearts, there is reason to think, will be thereby heightened, rather than diminished. In short, mere knowledge is in itself neither good nor evil, though it is essential to both good and evil; that is, it is essential to moral agency. If knowledge were obliterated from the mind, man would cease to be an accountable being. In every condition of existence, therefore, whether pure or depraved, be rétains this, in different degrees ; and will retain it for ever, whatever be bis final state.
From bence I conclude, That what is produced by the Holy Spirit in regeneration is something very different from mere knowledge.
Secondly: That which the Holy Spirit produces in regeneration corresponds with the nature of DIVINE TRUTH : but the nature of divine truth is such that mere light in the understanding is not gufficient to receive it. In proof of the former of these positions, I refer to the words of the apostle, in Rom. vi. 17. Ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was de
livered you, or rather, according to the marginal reading, into which ye were delivered.* The gospel, or the form of doctrine which it contains, is a mould, into which the heart, softened like melted wax, is as it were delivered, or cast, and from whence it receives its impression. Every mark or line of the gospel mould leaves a correspondent line in the renewed heart. Hence Christians are represented as having the truth dwelling in them ; 'their hearts being a kind of counterpart to the gospel.--That mere light in the understanding is not sufficient to receive the gospel, will appear by considering the nature of those truths which it contains. If they were merely objects of speculation, mere light in the understanding would be sufficient to receive them ; but they are of a holy nature, and therefore require a correspondent temper of heart to enter into them. The sweelness of honey might as well be known by the sight of the eye, as the real glory of the gospel by the meré exercise of the intellectual faculty. Why is it that the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, neither can he know them ; but because they are spiritually discerned? A spiritual or holy temper of heart is that in the reception of gospel truth, which a relish for poetry is in entering into the spirit of a Milton, or a Young. Mere intellect is not sufficient to understand those writers ; and why should it be thought unreasonable, or even mysterious, that we must possess a portion of the same spirit which governed the sacred writers, in order properly to enter into their sentiments ?
Thirdly: That which the Holy Spirit communicates in regeneration, corresponds with the nature of divinE REQUIREMENTS. In other words, the same thing which is required by God as the governor of the world, is bestowed by the Holy Spirit in the application of redemption ; both the one and the other are not mere light in the understanding, but a heart to love him. The language of divine requirements is as follows : Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heurt, and soul, and mind, and strength. Circumcise the foreskin of your hearts, and be no more stiff-necked. Make you a new heart, and a new spirit ; for why will ye die, O
* Eis ev tapeSconti...
house of Israel ?-Only fear the Lord, and serve him in truth, and with all your hearts. The language of the promises is perfectly correspondent with all this, with respect to the nature of what is bestowed; And the Lord thy God will circumcise thy heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul. --- A new heart will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you ; and I will take away the stony heart out of your fesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.–And I will put my fear in their hearts, and they shall not depart from me.
Fourtbly : That which the Holy Spirit communicates in regeneration, being the great remedy of human nature, must correspond with the nature of the MALADY : but the malady of human hature does not consist in simple ignorance, but in the bias of the heart; therefore such must be the remedy. Tbat regeneration is the remedy of human nature, and not the implantation of principles which were never possessed by man in his purest state, will appear from its being expressed by the terms washing and reneru ing; the washing of regeneration, the renewing of the Holy Spirit ; which convey the ideas of restoring us to purity, and recovering us to a right mind. Regeneration implies degeneracy, The nature of that which is produced therefore by the one, must correspond with that which we had lost, and be the opposite of that which we possessed, in the other. Now that which we had lost was the love of God and our neighbour. Love is the fulfilling of the law : love, therefore, comprebends the whole of duty; consequently the want, or the opposite of love, comprehends the whole of depravity. If it be said, No, the understanding is dark, ened— True, but this is owing to the evil temper' of the heart, (Eph. iv. 18.)* There is no sin in being ignorant, as observed before, any further than that ignorance is voluntary, or owing to some evil bias. This we are sure is the case with wicked men, with respect to their not understanding the gospel. Why do ye not understand my speech? said our Lord to the Jews. The answer is, Because ye cannot hear my word. His word did not suit the temper of their hearts ; therefore they could not under
Aid an mwpwon rñs xaedias eurw. Through the callousness of their heart.