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unable to impress itself upon the outward' aspect of society, will, by a natural reaction, take its own stamp from the visible scenes that surround it. Individuals and combinations of individuals, have done much of all that they can do. It remains for government, — whose highest glory and most blessed prerogative is to promote the virtue of its subjects, — to perfect the reform by wise and constitutional legislation.
[For the Christian Examiner.]
ART. III. — Essay on the Doctrine of Divine Influence.
Having alluded, in our last Number,* to the importance of the Doctrine of Divine Influence, and stated the grounds on which our belief of it rests, we proceed now to inquire, in in the second place, What are the methods in which God, or the spirit of God, influences the human mind? We have thus far pursued our course hand in hand with the great mass of our fellow Christians, at least, so far as the reality of these influences is concerned. We now come to a point where our path begins to diverge from theirs, and where we shall be compelled to make the best of our way without their company or encouragement. We must, however, continue to pursue what we deem to be the blended light of reason and revelation, though we pursue it alone; and our earnest wish at parting with our fellow inquirers is, that the spirit of truth may guide us and them into all important truth. This division of the subject, moreover, requires especial attention and care ; since it is here that mistakes and perversions of the doctrine most frequently occur, and it is here too, that they assume a more practical character, and tend to results which seriously affect the conduct and happiness of men.
Before giving an affirmative answer to the question, how, or by what methods, the Divine Influence operates upon the human mind, we shall advert to some errors, grave and lamentable, as we think, which have prevailed on this subject.
And, in the first place, we observe that this Divine Influence is not supernaturally imparted. There is no evidence to prove that there is any thing miraculous in the methods in which it is vouchsafed to the mind. We use these words supernatural and miraculous, in the ordinary sense of the terms, as signifying that which is distinct from, and superior to, the established laws of nature, or the known and ordinary operations of God's moral government. The proposition then before us is, There is no reason to believe that the influence of God
* See Christian Examiner for January, 1835, pp. 311 - 332..
the minds of men is manifested in a supernatural or miraculous manner, in this sense of the terms. We are aware that this proposition is not, in so many words, insisted upon by many writers of the present day, who nevertheless class themselves under that general denomination of Christians who yet continue to receive the doctrine in its primitive purity. Indeed, there seems to be a growing desire among the more enlightened of this class of Christians to omit the use of those phrases which express the supernatural character of the Divine Influence, and to substitute others, such as "saving," and "special" in their place; and this is to be noted among the auspicious signs, that more correct views on the subject are beginning to prevail. But the doctrine of the strictly supernatural character of this influence was inculcated by Calvin, though much less explicitly than by many of his followers in more recent times.* It was strongly urged by Whitfield, and by the Wesleys, particularly in the early part of their career, and became in the middle part of the last century, on this side of the Atlantic, the prevailing belief. It is asserted in a variety of forms in the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church of the United States, as amended and ratified by the General Assembly, at their Session in May, 1821:” It is plainly recognised in the creed of the Theological Institution of Andover, in this State, as well as in most of those of similar kind in our country, which profess to be Calvinistic in their character ; and is, at the present day, the avowed and cherished belief of those Christians generally, who pass under the common name of Orthodox. On these accounts, we deem it proper to give to the doctrine a distinct and faithful examination.
In illustration of the prevalence of the doctrine of the strictly miraculous influence of God upon the mind, and for the pur
* We refer the reader to the “Institutes of the Christian Religion,” in proof of this remark, and particularly to Book II. c. 4, and to Book III. c. 1. Indeed this is one proof among many, of the fact, that his disciples have far outrun their master.
pose of bringing it fully and distinctly before the reader, we shall refer to the testimony of President Edwards; the celebrity
whose name, the weight of whose authority, as well as the honest fulness and explicitness of whose statements, render his sentiments on this subject extremely interesting. Thus, in his treatise on “ Religious Affections," a book which is now in
a unquestioned repute, and which, for three quarters of a century, has been referred to and quoted, reprinted and circulated, by the predominant classes of Christians in this country, with a deference only less than that which is paid to the Bible itself, we find passages like the following. *
“ But if there be indeed a power, entirely different from, and beyond our power, or the power of all means and instruments, and above the power of nature, which is requisite in order to the production of saving grace in the heart, according to the general profession of the country,” &c. - p. 59.
Though this is put hypothetically, yet it is evident from the whole course of the argument, that he believed in the reality of this power, and that this was supernaturally exercised. And it also gives us no less an authority than that of President Edwards himself, that this was the general profession of this country, at the time he wrote.
Other extracts will show more explicitly his own individual convictions of the miraculous character of the “saving” or “gracious" operations of the Spirit.
“ There is no necessary connexion in the nature of things, between any thing that a natural man may experience, while in a state of nature, and the saving grace of God's Spirit.” • There is no revealed certain connexion between a state of salvation, and any thing that a natural man can be the subject of, before he believes in Christ.”
« The Spirit of God is given to the true saints to dwell in them, as his proper lasting abode ; and to influence their hearts, as a principle of a new nature, or as a divine supernatural spring of life and action." - p. 127.
They," that is, the unregenerate, “ not only have not these communications of the Spirit of God in so high a degree as the saints, but have nothing of that nature or kind.” — p. 131.
“ From these things it is evident, that those gracious influ
- p. 84.
* We quote from the American edition of the “Works of President Edwards," (1808.) Vol. IV.
ences which the saints are subjects of, and the effects of God's Spirit which they experience, are entirely above nature, altogether of a different kind from any thing that men have within themselves by nature, or only in the exercise of natural principles; and are things which no improvement of those qualifications or principles that are natural, no advancing or exalting them to higher degrees, and no kind of composition of them will ever bring men to; because they not only differ from what is natural, and from every thing that natural men experience, in degree and circumstances, but also in kind; and are of a nature vastly more excellent. And this is what I mean by supernatural, when I say that gracious affections are from those influences that are supernatural." - p. 133.
This, we suppose, is full and explicit enough. But it is only a specimen of that train of thought to which the whole of the second and third parts of this very able and interesting Essay are devoted. He thus speaks of those “gracious exercises and affections which are wrought in the minds of the saints, through the saving influences of a Spirit of God, as involving a new inward perception or sensation of their minds, entirely different in its nature and kind, from any thing that ever their minds were the subjects of before they were sanctified.” And lest it should be thought that this new inward perception or sensation might be produced by any “ improvement, composition, or management of what the soul was before conscious or sensible of, or any thing like it,” he goes on distinctly to state, that this new spiritual sense and the new dispositions that attend it, are not new" faculties,” but are new * principles” of nature, --- a new foundation laid in the nature “ of the soul, for a new kind of exercises. pp. 133-135.
And that there may be no shadow of doubt resting on his meaning, he carefully distinguishes between the natural and supernatural influences of the Spirit of God upon the human mind. After speaking of some of the methods in which this Spirit assists “ natural men,” he goes on to observe :
“ And so many other ways might be mentioned wherein the Spirit acts upon and assists natural principles ; but after all, it is no more than nature moved, acted upon, and improved; here is nothing supernatural and divine. But the Spirit of God, in his spiritual influences on the hearts of his saints, operates by infusing or exercising new, divine, and supernatural principles; principles which are indeed a new and spiritual nature, and
principles vastly more noble and excellent than all that is in natural man.
136. This then is the doctrine of the supernatural influence of the Holy Spirit in the conversion of the sinner. We have copied these passages in full, that it might be seen that we are contending with no fancied hypothesis, no antiquated theory; and also to exhibit on the high authority of President Edwards, and in his own words, what the doctrine is and what it implies.
We feel compelled to reject it altogether. We find no authority for it in reason, in human experience, in the philosophy of the human mind, or in the Scriptures. We think, moreover, that it is encumbered with insuperable difficulties, and lies open to objections which are absolutely fatal. We are aware of the strength of this language, and ask the attention of our readers to some considerations by which, in our apprehension, it is authorized.
I. And, in the first place, we reject the doctrine because those, who consider themselves to be the subjects of these supernatural influences, have not themselves, do not give, and, froin the nature of the case, cannot give to others, any sufficient evidence of the fact. We doubt not the reality of their belief, or the sincerity of their assertions; but we maintain, nevertheless, that they neither possess any proof which ought to satisfy their own minds, nor can they afford to others any adequate proof that this belief is well founded. The ground on which they believe themselves to be the subjects of a supernatural influence of the spirit of God is this, and only this, they are strongly persuaded that such is the fact. “They see,' says Locke,t whose words we here quote, as a fair and full exposition of the ground and evidence upon which the doctrine is received, “they see the light infused into their understandings, and cannot be mistaken: it is clear and visible there, like the light
* It would be easy to quote volumes from distinguished divines on both sides of the Atlantic, to the same purpose.
Dr. Milner goes so far as to maintain, in so many words, • that this aid of the Divine Spirit is a new perceptive faculty, without which the Scriptures are insufficient for the purpose of a revelation.”
+ Essay, Book IV. Chap. 19, Of Enthusiasm. We refer the reader to the whole of this admirable Chapter, as containing the most powerful antidote and corrective of all “ Enthusiasm ” on this subject, that is to be found, within the same compass.