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The light of the gospel is never absolutely rejected but through the influence of sin, according to those words of Christ : “ Every one that doth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.” And here we see the cause why so many persons cast themselves headlong into materialism, denying the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and treating every impression of his power as the workings of a disordered brain. But as the testimony of blind men can never persuade a reasonable person that he is under a delusion, while he sees, feels, and admires the material sun; so the joint testimony of all the incredulous men in the world, may justly be counted of as little force, when they would prove scriptural illumination to be downright fanaticism. Notwithstanding all the impotent arguments that can be brought against him, the Christian believer deserves not to be esteemed an enthusiast, when he declares that “faith is the evidence of things not seen;" since he has reason and revelation to plead in his favour, his own experience, and that of his brethren, together with the universal testimony of the primitive church.
As you do not rank with professed atheists, it is probable that you do sometimes pray to the Supreme Being. Among other blessings you implore of him in a peculiar manner, patience to sustain those afflictions which are necessary to the perfection of virtue. Now if you are persuaded that God is able not only to hear but to strengthen you with his might: and further, if you believe that when he thus strengthens you for the day of affliction, you shall have any perception of his influencing power; we are then perfectly agreed. But if you pray without a confidence that God attends to your prayer, and without ever expecting to receive the assistance you implore of bim, you act like persons deprived of their reasoning powers: with the fear of praying like enthusiasts, you pray after the manner of idiots, and afford as manifest a token of extravagant folly as though you should intreat tempests to grow calm, or beseech rivers to return to their sources, It is by such a method of reasoning, the true minister resists the attacks of prejudiced philosophers, solicitous to make it appear that the sanctifying and consoling operations of the Holy Spirit are as conformable to reason, as they are correspondent to our urgent necessities.
But if it still be urged by the enemies of inspiration, that we have no distinct idea of the manner in which any knowledge is conveyed to the soul except by means of our reason or our senses; and that to speak of things which will admit of no clear explanation, is running into the wildest enthusiasm. No, returns the faithful pastor; it is not usual to esteem that man an enthusiast who is employed in bestowing alms upon the poor, though he can neither explain to us how his gold was produced in the mine, how his will actuates his hand, or how the feelings of charity are excited in his bosom. If nature operates every thing in a mysterious manner, it is unreasonable to expect, that the operations of grace should be conducted in a less mys
This is one of the arguments proposed by our Lord to Nicodemus : " Except a man be born of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” But, it may be, you have no comprehension of spiritual things : marvel not, however, at this ; since there are many things above thy comprehension in the natural world : “ The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh and whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit :" they prove the operations of that Spirit by incontestable effects, though they are unacquainted with many things respecting the manner in which those effects are produced.
We may here very properly apply what professor Vernet has said concerning the manner in which God has frequently manifested the truth to his prophets : “It is easy to conceive,” says this judicious divine, “that he who created the soul as well as the body, and who for that reason is called the Father of spirits, can never be at a loss for adequate means of communicating to us,
when he judges it necessary, ideas and discoveries wholly different from those which we are able to acquire either by our own powers, or through the assistance of other persons. If the most ignorant classes of men are acquainted with the art of reciprocally communicating their thoughts to each other; how much more may we imagine, that God is able to act upon the soul, both externally and internally; he who has already placed within us some confused notions of primitive truth; he who holds second causes in his hand, and animates all nature.”
But if it be asked, are not prophets properly so called,
the only persons whom God is pleased to privilege with such impressions as are formed by the seal of his Spirit ? It might with equal propriety be inquired, whether the apostles alone were privileged with that evangelical faith, which respects invisible and incomprehensible things ? "A soul,” says the illustrious Crousaz, “upon which the Spirit of God has moved, muses upon her Creator with ineffable delight, and contemplates her Redeemer with a mixture of gratitude, admiration, and transport. God ! such a soul is incessantly crying out, when shall I see thy face? When shall thy light illuminate me without any darkening cloud ? To approach thee is my only happiness. Happy they who praise thee without ceasing."
"I acknowledge, "continues this Christian philosopher, “that these may be the natural efects of that attention, with which the Spirit of God has graciously fixed our minds upon those objects which revelation presents to our view, and upon which it directs us to occupy our thoughts. But I am not afraid of going beyond the truth, when I add, that the Spirit of God by his own immediate agency, may inspire the soul with this sacred taste and these exalted sentiments. Corporal objects act upon the organs of sense by a power which they undoubtedly receive from God. This may, in some measure, be understood : but in what manner their action passes from thence upon the soul, is a mystery too obscure to admit of an explanation. Christian philosophers have conceived that the will of God, and some established order of his appointment, are the only causes of those internal sentiments, of which these impressions upon the outward organs are but the occasion. This being the case, under what pretext can we refuse to believe that the Spirit of God may give rise to such sentiments in the soul, as are abundantly more conformable to the nature of their holy cause, than those ordinary sentiments which are, nevertheless, referred to the will of God as their first and true cause! Such are those sentiments which St. Paul so earnestly solicited for his followers at Ephesus, and for the increase of which he implored upon them the influence of the Holy Spirit."
Such are also those impressions, motions, and aids of the Holy Spirit, both mediate and immediate, for which we offer ap so many ardent supplications in different parts
of our public service. Every Christian Jiturgy is filled with petitions of this nature; petitions which are conformable to the principles of Christianity, the voice of reason, and the necessities of sinful men, though they usually appear to the children of this world as the mere unintelligible jargon of enthusiasm. The minister, who strictly follows the example of St. Paul in this respect, will most probably be regarded as a visionary by the ignorant and the profane: but, while he breathes out these ardent prayers in humble faith, accompanying them with those discourses and that conduct, which, pondent to such requests, he has, at least, a satisfactory consciousness, that he has never practised the arts of an impostor with the liturgy in his hand, nor played the part of a comedian in a Christian pulpit.
As to the real advantages which would flow from our doctrine of the dispensations, though they have been adverted to in various passages of this work, yet it appears not unnecessary to take a transient review of them in this place.
1. By an accurate acquaintance with these dispensations, every evangelical preacher may become “an approved workman, rightly dividing the word of truth;"
faithful servant,” distributing to every domestic of his Master's housenold, that peculiar portion of spiritual food which is suited to their several circumstances.
2. By exactly dividing the dispensations of grace, we are enabled to mark out the boundaries of those particular states, which believe:s of different classes are observed to enjoy. We ascertain that degree of spiritual life to which we ourselves have attained : we distinguish the various graces bestowed upon us : we discover whatever great promise is still before us, and solicit, without ceasing, the complete accomplishment of that promise. He who preaches the gospel without tracing out the lines which separate the three dispensations of grace, may be said to exhibit a sun dial, upon which the hours are unmarked, and from which little else than confusion, if not dangerous mistakes, can be expected to flow.
3. By the light of this doctrine, true worshippers of every different class may be taught to acknowledge and esteem one another, according to their different degrees of faith. Nothing is more common in a Christian coun
try, than to see the rigidly orthodox uncharitably treating, as hopeless outcasts, not only those virtuous deists who are yet unacquainted with the Son, but even those pious Socinians who are resting satisfied with that inglorious state, in which the first disciples of our Lord were so long detained ; and who are unable to acknowledge any more than his humanity. Let these orthodox professors become acquainted with the various dispensations of grace, and, ceasing to offend either virtuous deists or pious Socinians with their furious anathemas, they will treat the former with all the benevolence which St. Peter once expressed toward Cornelius, and the latter with that brotherly kindness which Aquila, manifested in his carriage toward Apollos. On the other hand, if those Christians, who are yet carnal, had any proper idea of these different dispensations; if they could but believe that the same Jesus who was once outwardly manifested among the Jews, still continues to manifest himself in the Spirit, through every part of the world, to those who are anxiously pressing into the kingdom of God; if they could admit, but in theory, this eminent dispensation of grace ; they would no longer argue against those, as enthusiasts, who speak of the influence of the Spirit in scriptural terms.
So long as this glorious light shall continue in obscurity, so long we may expect to observe among Christians the most unfriendly disputes: and though they never again may kindle blazing piles for their mutual destruction, yet bitter words interchanged among them, like so many envenomed shafts, will still continue to declare that war is in their hearts. Those who imagine themselves in possession of the purest Christian faith, will treat others who indulge different sentiments, as infidels and heretics; while these in return, will stigmatize their uncharitable brethren with the opprobrious epithets of enthusiast and fanatic. But when every minister of the gospel, enlightened with truth and glowing with charity, faithfully conducts the flock of Christ from grace to grace, and from strength to strength, then the foremost of that flock shall manifest their religious superiority, by giving proofs of the most unfeigned affection toward the meanest and most infirm of their spiritual companions. Copying the humble courtesy of St. Paul, these unpresuming
elders will cry out, among their younger brethren, "Let us, as