« PreviousContinue »
exchange again that confidence and sympathy which passed between them and united them here. There the widowed wife will meet the husband, and the husband the wife; and though they will be as the angels, where there is no marrying nor giving in marriage, the ties and affections of earth will not be forgotten, and in spirit they twain will be one.
Years soon finish their revolutions. A few more incidents, and the scene of mortal life is closed. Time hastens to restore that which we thought it was too hasty in demanding. Death promptly repairs as well as destroys, rejoins as well as divides, is cruel and kind in quick succession.
6 All the days of my appointed tiine will I wait,” said the patient man, “till my change come.” The last change cannot be long in coming
“ All the days of my appointed time will I wait,” is the language of every pious spirit, "till my change come. All the days are but few. I will wait, and hope, and cheerfully trust, till they are gone. The distance can be but small which keeps me from those whom I have loved, and yet love, and, in the presence of God and my Redeemer, and in the light of heaven, shall continue to love for ever.
“Pass a few fleeting moments more,
Which death hath snatched away;
In that eternal day.
[For the Christian Examiner.]
Art. V.- Essay on the Doctrine of Divine Influence.
I. Dismissing, therefore, * the doctrine of the supernatural character of the Divine Influence as it operates upon the human mind, we next observe that there is no sufficient reason for believing that this Influence is “specially” communicated, in the modern or “revival sense ” of the word. The terms supernatural or miraculous used in this connexion, have been,
* See Christian Examiner for March, 1835, pp. 50 – 84.
as we have already suggested, for reasons not distinctly avowed, laid aside by some of the more recent and able writers on this subject, though the thought is still contained or implied in the general tenor of their language, and in many of the authorized formularies of that faith, to which they still professedly adhere. We feel justified in making this remark; for if they who use the term "special" and those analogous to it, in reference to this subject, would accurately define the ideas attached to these terms, they would find, that, in removing from them every thing that is strictly miraculous, much, if not all, that is distinctive in them as applied to spiritual influence, would be taken away.
What then is intended to be conveyed by the term "special” as thus used. Are we referred for the meaning to the effects of the Spirit, in what are called, in these modern times, “revivals” of religion ? This is commonly done. We are directed, with a decisive and triumphant air, by those who use the phrase, and advocate the doctrine, whatever it may be, that is denoted by it, to the alleged effects of the Holy Spirit as manifested in these seasons of excitement, as decisive evidences of their “special” character. They “would as soon doubt," they tell us, “of their own existence, as that these effects proceeded from this influence.” But what effects ? All? By no means. None, certainly, but those which are "genuine.
But which are genuine? Here there is no criterion. The test fails, precisely where its discriminative power is needed. Edwards, the great authority, says, that in these times of excitement there are no “unerring signs” of “gracious affections,” that is, of those which are caused by the “ special” agency of the Spirit. Stoddard, a great“ Revivalist” in his day, as quoted by Edwards, observes, “ All visible signs are common to converted and unconverted men; and a relation of experiences, among the rest.”. And of more than twenty modern divines, all high authorities on this point, whose letters are appended to Dr. Sprague's “ Lectures on Revivals of Religion, and all of whom believe, with an undoubting confidence, that these revivals are the work of the “Special” Influence of the Spirit, none pretend to be wiser than their great hierarch Edwards on this subject; but all coincide, in a strong, sensible, and edifying manner, in denouncing the mistakes, delusions, excesses, and counterfeit conversions, which usually prevail at such times. They unite, with
one voice, in declaring that the fairest and most promising appearances, in these seasons of excitement, are always liable to be delusive. What then is the value of this test of fact or experience in ascertaining the true nature of the “Special” Influences of the spirit ? _We are directed to certain results in a “genuine” revival. But what revival is genuine, none at the time pretend to decide ; and we are thus carried back to that point in the inquiry, from which we originally started. And if it be to the remote effects of revivals, as manifested in a good and holy life, to which we are referred, in proof of their genuineness, as is the fact ; * then we assert that it is impossible for any one inferior to the Omniscient Being himself, to determine, amidst the countless moral influences which are continually operating upon the character, what part of this good and holy life is to be ascribed to the efficacy of this alleged “special” influence of the spirit of God in the season of such a religious excitement. In this point of view also, the criterion is vague and unsatisfactory.
What, then, we are constrained to inquire, is meant by the term “special” as applied to the influences of the Spirit ? Is it meant that these influences are experienced at certain times and places, more than at others, without bringing into view the precise nature of these influences as supernatural or not?+ If this be all, we have no difficulty in admitting the fact, though we object wholly to the propriety of the term “special” as thus applied. Undoubtedly there are seasons when the minds of individuals are more open to religious impressions, and more deeply penetrated with a sense of religious responsibleness, than at others; and it is true, also, that this
* See the very judicious Essay of Dr. Woods, prefixed to the “ Lectures" above mentioned.
† By many of the definitions which are given of “revivals,” as they are called, this is all that is conveyed. We quote one from many, in the “ Letters” before referred to. It is that by Dr. Wayland. " By revivals of religion, I mean special seasons in which the minds of men, within a certain district, or in a certain congregation, are more than usually susceptible of impression from the exhibition of moral truth.” — p. 236. Waiving the logical inaccuracy, and confusion of thought which is involved in thus making a “revival” a season or time merely, instead of an agency, or act, or result, which we suppose was meant, we have no objection to this definition, and most earnestly desire that such revivals may be very frequent in all our churches.
state of mind is often extended by sympathy, and skilful use of well known means, to communities. But there is nothing which can properly be called “ special” in this agency of God upon the human mind. This is only that “common dinary” influence, which by Edwards and all subsequent writers of the same common stamp, is distinguished from that “ ing” operation which is vouchsafed to the "saints.”
We are thus obliged to seek, yet further, for the true import of the term “ special” as applied to divine influence. And the only remaining signification that we can gather from the writings of those who have thus appropriåted the word is, that it denotes a divine influence imparted at certain times and places and to certain individuals or bodies of men, while it is withholden from others. It is this latter circumstance, particularly, which renders this communication of divine influence "special,” where it is said to be made. In conformity with this idea, such unscriptural expressions as “clouds of mercy,” and “showers of grace," are used to denote that certain districts and small portions of the earth are peculiarly visited by God's gracious presence; and "seasons of refreshing.” are spoken of, as periods when an extraordinary "effusion” of divine love is poured out.”
Our first remark on this doctrine is, that it is unscriptural. It has not any direct support in the Scriptures ; and it is opposed to all the leading and plainly declared truths respecting the character and government of God, which the Scriptures do contain. Both these positions we shall endeavour to establish in as few words as possible.
In regard to the first point, namely, that the doctrine in question is unwarranted by Scripture, we refer, in proof, to what has already been urged on the total want of Scriptural evidence of the supernatural communication of a divine influence. The argument is the same in both cases.
The alleged special” influence communicated to numbers of persons, both under the old and new dispensation, was strictly miraculous; and there is not only no proof that this miraculous agency was extended to any age subsequent to that of the Apostles and that of their immediate followers, but the peculiar circumstances of the case, as we have already shown, limited this agency to them.
But in the next place, the doctrine is directly opposed to what the Scriptures do declare respecting the character and
government of God.
We need not fill our pages with quotations familiar to all. It will be admitted that we are taught in God's revealed word, in a vast variety of phraseology, and in very numerous statements and examples, that our heavenly Father is equally good to all, in all times and in all places. But this cannot be true if He is “specially” good to some, at certain particular times and places. The Scriptures teach that His mercy is from everlasting to everlasting, equally extending to all generations of men. But this is not to be reconciled with the fact, that this mercy is sometimes vouchsafed, and sometimes withholden. The Scriptures teach that in God there is no variableness or shadow of change. But this cannot be so, if He smiles to-day, and frowns to-morrow; or if, in respect to this or that little spot of earth, He now gives and now withholds expressions of His divine regard. The Scriptures teach that He is the common Father and Friend of all His creatures ; and that, as the fountain, so the stream, of His paternal love is ever flowing and ever full, and ever open to the faithful and earnest inquirer. But how is this to be reconciled with the fact, that He chooses certain individuals, or certain communities, at certain specified periods, as the "special" objects of His pardon and beneficence, while, meantime, all the rest of His human family are not thus graciously visited, but are for this period at least, excluded from a participation of the favor? The Scriptures teach, as the words of the Saviour himself, that God will “give His Holy Spirit to them that ask Him." But can this be true, if, in point of fact, He will only give it to certain individuals, at certain times and places, whether it is asked or not? It seems to us that these statements of Scripture, and the doctrine in question, cannot both stand together. One must give place. And we cheerfully leave it to the candid and serious inquirer to determine which it shall be.
Our next objection to the doctrine in question, is, that it is derogatory to all just and elevated views of the character of God. It represents him, not as a Being of uniform and unchangeable goodness, but as inconstant and capricious in the bestowment of his favors; not as the everlasting and ever present Father and Friend of all his creatures, but as partial in the allotment of his goodness, equally in regard to person, place, and time. We do not assert, and we are happy not to think, that this is intended by the more intelligent of those