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Scripture; for by this we are commanded and persuaded to turn to God; and the principal way whereby this mean is applied is the ministry of the church. This is the ordinary instrument which God employs in the regeneration of the adult; and it is every way sufficient, in its own kind, as an outward mean.
As to the efficacy of this moral work, we must observe, (1.) That in the use of this mean for the conversion of men, there is first an instruction of the mind in the knowledge of God's will. Without this, there can be no room for the persuasive power of the word; for it consists in affecting the mind with its own concern in something already known. (2.) There is a powerful persuasive efficacy in the dispensation of the word to a compliance with it. For instance; suppose a man to be convinced by the word of God of his own sinful condition, of his danger on that account, and of the way whereby he may and ought to turn to God,-there are in the precepts, promises, and threatenings of the word, powerful motives and arguments to affect his mind, to seek after deliverance. Some indeed care not for them; they despise them, and live and die in rebellion against the light; but this is no proof that they are not powerful in themselves, though it proves that they are not sufficient of themselves, but only as the Holy Spirit is pleased to use them; and their efficacy, as to the end proposed, arises from the following things:
1. From an evidence of the truth declared in the gospel, "that it is not a cunningly-devised fable." Where this is not admitted, there can be no persuasive efficacy in it; but where it is, there the mind is under a disposition to the things themselves, to which it is persuaded; and thus the whole efficacy of the word is resolved into the truth and veracity of God.
2. There is a proposal made to the wills and affections of men in the things so assented to: on the one hand, as they are good, and therefore worthy to be pursued and attained; and on the other, as they are evil, and therefore to be avoided. For this is urged on men; that to comply with the will of God according to the
gospel, is every way for their advantage, and will assuredly be attended with present peace and future glory. On the other hand, they are told that sin is the great disgrace of our nature, and the ruin of our souls; and that a continuance in it, with a rejection of the gospel, is foolish, irrational, and destructive. Every rational man must judge that spiritual things ought to be preferred before natural, and eternal things before temporal; and these things being so disposed of in infinite goodness and wisdom, they must certainly have a tendency to affect the wills and move the affections of men; and thus the efficacy of the word is resolved into the authority of God; for these precepts, promises, and threatenings are his, who has a right to give them, and a power to execute them.
3. Great efficacy is added hereto, from the management of these motives in the preaching the word. Some preachers, by the powers of oratory, addressing themselves to the passions by persuasive arguments, elegantly expressed, make strong impressions on the minds of their hearers: and herein, some place the principal efficacy of the ministry; but with me it is of no consideration: for our apostle rejects it utterly. "My speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in the demonstration of the Spirit and of power."
4. We do not therefore suppose that the motives of the word are left to an operation merely natural, with respect to the ability of those who dispense it; but that it is also blessed of God, and accompanied with the power of the Holy Ghost, for the producing its effect on the souls of men: only the influence of the Spirit in this case, is supposed to extend no further than to motives, arguments, reasons, and considerations proposed to the mind, so to influence the will and affections.
Now, concerning this whole work, I affirm that the Holy Spirit does make use of it in the conversion of all adult persons, either by the word preached, or by some other application of light and truth to the mind derived from the word; for by the persuasive arguments which the word affords, our minds are affected,
and our souls so wrought upon, that conversion to God becomes our reasonable service; but we also affirm, that the whole work of the Spirit in our conversion does not consist herein; but that there is a real physical work, whereby he infuses a gracious principle of spiritual life into the souls of all who are truly regenerated; and this we shall prove by the following arguments :
1. If the Holy Spirit works on men only by proposing objects to them, and urging their regard to them by arguments to that purpose, then, after all, the will of man remains indifferent whether it will admit of them or not; and indeed this is all that some plead for. It is true, that notwithstanding the grace thus administered, the will has power to refuse it, and to continue in sin but that there is no more grace wrought in us but what may be so refused, is false; for this ascribes the whole glory of our regeneration to ourselves, and not to God; for, on this supposition, that act of our wills, whereby we turn to God, is merely an act of our own, and not of the grace of God. Besides, this would leave it absolutely uncertain, notwithstanding the purpose of God and the purchase of Christ, whether any one in the world should ever be converted or not; which is contrary to the covenant of God with Jesus Christ. It is contrary also to the express testimonies of Scripture, wherein actual conversion is ascribed to this grace; grace; as in Phil. ii. 13, "God worketh in us to will and to do." The act of willing is of God's operation; and though we ourselves will, yet it is he who causeth us to will and to do, of his own good pleasure.
2. This moral persuasion confers no real supernatural strength on the soul; for as it works only by motives and arguments, it can only draw out the strength that we have; delivering the mind from prejudices and other moral impediments: internal spiritual strength neither is nor can be conferred by it; and he who admits that there is any such spiritual strength communicated to us, must also acknowledge that there is another work of the Spirit of God upon us than can be effected by these persuasions.
3. It is indeed pretended by some, that grace, in
the dispensation of the word, does work really and efficiently, especially by illumination and excitation of the mind and affections; and if, upon this, the will exerts itself in the choice of that which is good, then the grace thus administered concurs with it, assists it to perfect its act, and so, that the whole work is of grace. So pleaded the Semi-Pelagians, and so do others still. Now this is, in effect, to overthrow the whole grace of Jesus Christ, and to render it useless; for it ascribes to man the honour of his conversion, his own will being the principal cause of it. It makes a man to beget himself anew, or to be born again of himself; to make himself differ from others, by that which in a special manner, he has not received.
This is not all that we pray for, when we beg effectual grace for ourselves or others. Surely, he must be very indifferent in this matter, who only prays that God would persuade him or others to believe and to obey. The church of God has always prayed that God would work these things in us; and those who have a real concern in them, do pray continually that God would effectually work them in their hearts; that he would give them faith, and increase it in them; and that in all these things he would work in them by the exceeding greatness of his power, "both to will and to do, according to his good pleasure." This argument was much pressed on the Pelagians by the Fathers; and there is not a Pelagian in the world who ever sincerely prayed for divine assistance, with a sense of his want of it, but his prayers contradicted his profession. Indeed, for any person to continue praying for what is in his own power, is absurd and ridiculous; and they do but mock God, who pray to him to do that for them which they can do for themselves, and which God cannot do for them but only as they choose to do it for themselves.
4. This moral persuasion, where it is alone, is not suited to effect the work of regeneration in persons who are really in that state of nature which we have before described. The most effectual persuasions cannot prevail with such men to convert themselves, any
more than arguments can prevail with a blind man to see, or with a dead man to rise from the grave ;— wherefore, the whole description, before given from the Scripture, of the state of fallen nature, must be disproved, before this grace of moral persuasion can be thought sufficient for the purpose of regeneration.
I shall now proceed to shew, positively, wherein the work of the Holy Spirit, in regeneration, does consist.
There is then, in regeneration, not only a moral, but a physical immediate operation of the Spirit. So it is asserted (Eph. i. 19, 20) “That we may know what is the exceeding greatness of his power towards us who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead." The power here mentioned has an exceeding greatness ascribed to it, with respect to the effect produced by it. The power of God in itself, as to all acts, is equally great; it is infinite; but some effects are greater than others; such is that whereby he makes men believers; and to this power of God there is an actual operation ascribed, the nature of which is said to be of the same kind with that which was exerted in "raising Christ from the dead."-The work of God towards believers, consists in the acting of his divine power, by a real internal efficiency. So God is said to "fulfil in us all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power;"-and hence the work of grace is constantly expressed by words denot ing a real internal efficiency; such are creating, quickening, forming, giving a new heart, &c.
This internal efficiency of the Holy Spirit, as to the event, is infallible, victorious, irresistible, or always efficacious; but the measure of the efficacy of grace, and the end to be attained, are fixed by the will of God, As to the end designed, it is always prevalent, and cannot be resisted; or, it will effectually work what God designs it to work; for if he will work, who shall let it?" There are many motions of grace, even in the hearts of believers, which are so far resisted, that they do not attain that effect which in their own nature they have a tendency to; but they are effectual so far as they were