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ANSWER TO HOLMSDALE.
"What is the true meaning of those parts of the New Testament which declare the Gospel to have a powerful operation in the souls of men, especially in believers; such as Rom. i. 16; 1 Cor. i. 18. 24; 1 Thes. ii. 13? And is the power of the Gospel in any sense to be distinguished from the power and influence of the Holy Ghost; or are they always connected, or do both include one and the same Divine operation?"
THAT the Gospel of Christ has an influence on the souls of men, cannot be denied: It is a mean naturally adapted to this end. Even where it is not cordially believed, it is often known to operate powerfully upon the mind and conscience. It is natural to suppose it should do so: The human mind is so formed, as that words, whether spoken or written, should influence it. We cannot read or hear a discourse of any kind, if it be interesting, without being more or less affected by it; and it would be very surprising if the Gospel, which implies our being utterly undone, and relates to our everlasting well-being, should be the only subject in nature which should have no effect upon us. The Gospel also being indited by the Holy Spirit, the influence which it has upon the minds of men is ascribed to him. It was in this way, that is, by the preaching of Noah, that the Spirit of Jehovah strove with the antediluvians. It was in this way that he was resisted by the Israelites, that is, they resisted the messages which the Holy Spirit sent unto them by Moses and the prophets. Hence the expressive language in the confession
recorded in Neh. ix. 30, Many years didst thou testify against them BY THY SPIRIT IN THY PROPHETS; and the pointed address of Stephen to those who rejected the gospel of Christ, Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: As your fathers did, so do ye, Acts vii. 51. This for aught I can conceive, may with propriety be called the common operation of the Spirit of God.
As the Gospel has an effect upon the minds and consciences even of many who do not cordially believe it, much more does it influence those who do. In them it works effectually, (1 Thes. ii. 13) transforming them into its own likeness. Their hearts are cast into it as into a mould, and all its sacred principles become to them principles of action. The grace, the wisdom, the purity, the justice, in a word, the glory of it powerfully subdues, melts, and attracts their hearts to love and obedience. The power of God had often been exerted by various means and to various ends. Thunder and smoke, blackness, darkness, and tempest, as displayed on mount Sinai, were the power of God unto conviction; overwhelming floods, and devouring flames, in the case of the whole world. Sodom and Gomorrah, were the power of God unto destruction: Nor were these means better adapted to their ends, than is the Gospel to be the power of God unto salvation. It has ever pleased God by this mean, weak and despised as it is in the account of men, to save them that believe. This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.
The above is offered as an answer to the former part of the question. But it is inquired, "Is the power of the Gospel (upon believers) in any sense to be distinguished from the power and influence of the Holy
Ghost?" That the power of the Gospel in the hearts of believers is the power of the Holy Spirit, is admitted. All that the Gospel effects is to be attributed to the Holy Spirit, who works by it as a mean. It is called the sword of the Spirit (Eph. vi. 17.); its influence, therefore, is as much the influence of the Spirit as that of a sword is of the hand that wields it. That obedience to the truth by which our souls are purified is through the Spirit, 1 Pet. i. 22. Indeed all the means, whether ordinances or providences, or whatever is rendered subservient to the sanctification and salvation of the souls of men, are under the direction of the Holy Spirit. The influence, therefore which they have to these ends, is reckoned his influence. But it does not follow from hence "the power of the Gospel is in no sense to be distinguished from the powers of the Holy Ghost; or that the one is always connected with the other; or that they both necessarily, and in all cases, include one and the same Divine operation." The contrary of each of these positions appears to me to be the truth. All the passages produced by Holmsdale speak of the influence of the word upon those, and those only, who believe; but query, How is it that a sinner is brought to believe? The word of God cannot, in the nature of things, operate effectually till it is believed; and how is this brought about? Here is the difficulty. Belief, it may be said, in other cases is induced by evidence. This is true; and if the hearts of men were not utterly averse to the Gospel, its own evidence with. out any supernatural interposition of the Holy Spirit, would be sufficient to render every one who heard it a believer. But they are averse; we all know that evi
dence, be it ever so clear, will make but little impres sion upon a mind infected with prejudice. The Scriptures speak of sanctification of the Spirit, and the belief of the truth, as distinct things; and as if the one was antecedent to the other, 2 Thes. ii. 13. They tell us also that the Lord opened the heart of Lydia, and she attended to the things which were spoken by Paul. We are said to believe according to the working of his mighty power which he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead, Ephes. i. 19, 20. It would not require more power to cause a man to believe the Gospel than any other set of truths, if his heart were but in harmony with it: but as it is not, it becomes necessary that a new bias of heart should be given as a preparative to knowing or embracing it. The Scriptures not only speak of knowledge as a mean of promoting a holy temper of heart, but of an holy temper of heart as the foundation of true knowledge: I will give them an heart to know me, that I am the Lord, &c. Jer. xxiv. 7.
If it be objected that faith is said to come by hearing, and hearing by the word of God; I answer, faith, it is allowed, must have an object, or it cannot exist. The word of God is the objective cause of faith; but does it not follow from hence that it is its sole, or compulsive cause. Eating cometh by food, and food by the blessing of God upon the earth. Food may be said to be the objective cause of a man's eating, seeing that he could not have eaten without food; but it does not follow from hence that food was the impulsive or sole cause of his eating: For had he not been blessed with an appetite, he would not have eaten, though surrounded by food in the greatest plenty.
If it be further objected that we can form no rational idea of the influence of the Holy Spirit any otherwise than as through the medium of the word; I answer, we can form no idea of the influence of the Holy Spirit at all, either with or without the word, but merely of its effects. We may, indeed, form an idea of the influ ence of truth upon our minds; but we cannot conceive how a Divine influence accompanies it. Nor is it necessary that we should, any more than that we should comprehend the way of the Spirit in the quickening and formation of our animal nature, in order to be satisfied that we are the creatures of God. It is sufficient for us that we are conscious of certain effects, and are taught in the Scriptures to ascribe them to a Divine GAIUS.
"HOLMSDALE, jun. would be obliged to Gaius for an illustration of 1 Pet. i. 23. and James i. 18. in a consistency with his answer to the latter part of Holmsdale's question."
THE seed mentioned in the first of these passages alludes not to the first principle in vegetables, but animals; and what this is in generation, the word of God is allowed to be in regeneration. This, I apprehend, is giving all the scope to the passage in question which can reasonably be desired.
That there is a Divine influence in this change, which is immediate, or without any instrument whatever, is, I allow, supposed in my answer to Holmsdale; but I do VOL. III.