THE AGENCY OF THE HOLY SPIRIT IN REGENERATION.
Titus iii. 5.—" Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost."
In the two last discourses I have considered the necessity and the nature of regeneration or the new birth. If the remarks there made are correct, there are various important questions in regard to the subject which at once occur to the mind. The main inquiry is, By what agency is this change produced ? Is it by our own ? Is it by the unassisted effect of truth on the heart ? Or is it by a Divine power ? It is evident that our views of the ageney by which the heart is changed will materially affect our sense of duty and obligation in regard to the change. If the work be accomplished by a Divine Agent, it is clear also that our views of duty and obligation in regard to it will be materially affected by the opinions which we cherish respecting the nature of his agency on the soul. I propose, then, at this time, to arrange my remarks under the following heads:—I. I propose to show that the heart is renewed by the agency of the Holy Ghost; and, II. To explain, as far as I may be able, the nature of that agency.
I. The Holy Spirit is the Agent by whom the work of regeneration is produced. I mean by this, that it is by his efficient operation that the heart is changed; that without that agency the change would never occur; and that whatever subordinate agencies may be employed, or whatever means used, the fact that the heart is renewed is to be as distinctly traced to him as the creation of the world is to be traced to the power of God. The power ef the Holy Ghost on the heart is always indispensable in securing the result; and no heart ever has been changed, or ever will be, except by his power so exerted on the soul. Of all the myriads now in glory redeemed from our world, and of all yet to be redeemed and saved, no one will ever have been brought to heaven in reference to whom there has not been a distinct and special exertion of his power in changing the heart. What may be the nature of the agency of man himself or of the truth in this change, is a distinct and important subject of inquiry; but whatever may be that agency, it is not such as to exclude the efficient operation of the Holy Ghost iu the change, or such of itself as ever to bring one soul to heaven. I am thus particular in the statement of the doctrine because of its importance ; because Christians have often vague views in regard to it; and because it is desirable that impenitent sinners should understand it.
There are two sources of evidence in regard to the truth of this doctrine—the Scriptures, and experience. A few remarks on each of these points will show the nature of this evidence. First, the Scriptures. The text furnishes the best proof: " Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost." Whatever controversy there may have been at any time in the church about the relation of baptism to this change, or whatever support a false interpretation of this passage may have been supposed to give to the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, the main point is abundantly clear. Salvation is accomplished by the renewing of the Holy Ghost. No application of water can answer the purpose of his agency, or can effect the work without it. And even if the doctrine of " baptismal regeneration" be held, and it be maintained that the Holy Spirit is certainly given on the proper administration of that ordinance, still the necessity of that agency is affirmed, and the efficacy in the change is to be traced to him. You will not understand me as conceding even the possibility that the doctrine of "baptismal regeneration" is true, or that there is a reference to it in the text. So far from that, I hold that there is no doctrine whatever that more certainly saps the foundation of all true piety in the church, and tends to destroy the souls of men; and, compared with that, all the errors that may be supposed to be held, or not held, in the controversies about the shibboleths of party, and forms in religion, and the apostolical succession, are trifles not worthy to be named. But I am showing that even on the supposition that there be in our text an allusion to such a doctrine, still the main thing is indisputably taught there, that men are saved, if saved at all, by the renewing of the Holy Ghost. The same thing is taught by the Saviour in John iii. 5: " Except a man be born of water, and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." The same remarks might be made in regard to this passage which have been made of the text. Even on the supposition that there is >
reference here to the necessity of baptism, still it is explicitly affirmed that the agency of the Holy Spirit is indispensable to salvation. The affirmation is distinct and unequivocal, that unless a man be born or "begotten" of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. In further confirmation of this doctrine, we might appeal to all those passages of Scripture which affirm that a Divine power is exerted in renewing the heart; that God hath begotten us to a lively hope; that of his own will he hath begotten us through the truth ;—,to the assurance of the Saviour that the Comforter would come to convince the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment ;—and to the account of the transactions on the day of Pentecost. All the affirmations in the sacred Scriptures of a Divine agency in renewing the heart are to be understood of the Holy Ghost, because, although general where they occur, in other places it is distinctly affirmed that the Holy Ghost is the agent by whom this work is effected. As the texts adduced settle the question about the teachings of the Scripture on the subject, let us look at the other source of evidence—that derived from experience. This is not referred to because it would demonstrate it without the teachings of the Scripture, but to show how plain the account of the matter is in the Bible, and how effectually the belief of this truth is secured among the friends of God.
The nature and strength of this evidence will be perceptible from the following facts, which no one who is acquainted with the subject can deny:—
(1.) Every man who becomes a Christian believes that the change in his heart has been effected by a Divine agency. There is something about the change in his soul which satisfies his mind that it is not by any agency of his own. Whatever may have been his personal efforts in the case; whatever struggles he may have gone through; and whatever views of Christian doctrine he may subsequently embrace, yet he has no doubt that the change is to be traced to a power from above. Such is his view of his own depravity; of the downward, earthly, corrupt tendency of his soul, that he is certain that, if he had been left to himself, he would have been a wretched wanderer still on the dark mountains of sin, and would never have been disposed to turn to God. It becomes his habitual and settled conviction that if he had been left to his own ways he would have continued to walk in the broad road that leads down to death.
(2.) So uersal and settled is the belief of the Divine agency in the conversion of men to God, that it has been incorporated into the creed and confession of faith of every Christian church on earth. No exception to this has ever occurred ; not a church has ever existed, it is believed, of any denomination, which has not, in its symbols, attributed this change to the power of the Holy Ghost. There is not one that attributes the change to man; not one where it is intimated that man is of himself competent to effect it.
(3.) The same thing is expressed in the writings of theologians. No doctrine of the Scriptures has been more constantly and firmly asserted by writers on theology; and it may bo . confidently affirmed that there never has been an evangelical writer of respectability who has denied the necessity of a Divine influence in renewing the heart. This sentiment is found in writers of every age and of every form of evangelical theological sentiment;—of men who have entertained different opinions on the will and the ability of man ;—of men who have held different sentiments on the nature of Divine and human agency, the forms of worship, the ordinances of religion, and the constitution of the church. All " schools"—old and new ; all classes of theologians—Calvinistic and Arminian ; all denominations—Presbyterian, Episcopal, Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran ; and all evangelical theologians of all countries and ages, maintain it. I have never found the doctrine denied in any theological writings of this kind with which I am acquainted; I have never heard a doubt expressed of its truth among those ministers with whom I am particularly associated, and with whom I am accustomed to act; I am morally certain there is not a Presbyterian minister in this land that would express a doubt about its truth and its vital importance.
(4.) The truth of the same doctrine is expressed in the prayers and thanksgivings of all sincere Christians. They pray as if they believed it; as if it were their hope and stay; as if they relied on it as the only ground of encouragement in doing good to others, and as the only basis of calculation in regard to the salvation of men. They pray for themselves, their friends, their families, their country, and the world, as if they believed that it is only by the exertion of Divine power that the obstacles to salvation can be overcome in the human heart; and, in forming their plans for doing good to others, they expect success only on the supposition that the Spirit of all grace will attend those efforts, and will crown them with his blessing. And when they think of the foundation of their own hopes of heaven, they attribute it wholly to the agency of the Spirit of God on their hearts. Their thanks are rendered to the God of grace because he was pleased to arrest them when they were in the way to death; to awaken them to see their guilt and danger; to convince them of their sins, and to lead them to God. Whatever effort they themselves have made ; whatever profound and patient thought they have bestowed on the subject; and whatever help they have received from ministers and others, yet they feel that their thanks are primarily and chiefly due to God for his mercy ; and the language of my text expresses precisely the sentiment of their hearts* " Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour."
I have been thus particular in this statement for two reasons: first, to show that the doctrine of the Holy Spirit's agency in renewing the heart is so clearly taught in the Scriptures, and is so incorporated in the experience of all true Christians, as to secure its permanent belief in the Church; and, secondly, to repel the charge which is often brought against what are called "New School" Presbyterians of denying it. It is not often that I allude to any such charges. But this has been so wholly gratuitous, and so deeply injurious, that in a discussion of tho subject a very distinct avowal of its belief seemed to be demanded. I have had, from my position and relations to the church, an opportunity of a somewhat extensive observation of the kind of doctrines which are held up before men in preaching ; and I venture the declaration, that there is no class of ministers in this land that dwell so much on the necessity of the agency of the Holy Spirit to renew the hearts of men as what are called "New School" Presbyterians, and those who sympathize with them. I venture still farther the remark, that the doctrines of "grace"—the stern and rigid doctrines of Calvinism, as they are supposed to be,—the doctrine of decrees, of Divine sovereignty, of election, and kindred doctrines, are nowhere so steadily and so firmly maintained in preaching, and in the affections of the heart, as in the " New* School" churches. It is true that our preachers attempt to show how these things are; that they endeavour to prove that these doctrines are not inconsistent with human freedom, and the unlimited offer of the gospel, and the willingness of God to save all, and the ability of man to do his duty, and the doctrine of accountability; but it is also true that there is no shrinking from the avowal, the defence, and the thorough discussion of these doctrines, and from a desire that our congregations should feel and acknowledge their full force in the matter of salvation.
II. Our second inquiry relates to the nature of the agency of the Holy Spirit in conversion. Our Saviour has explicitly forbidden us to hope to be able fully to explain the nature of this agency. He says (John iii. 8), " The wind bloweth where it listeth [pleaseth], 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." The meaning is, that his agency is invisible, and is to be known by its eifeets. We see not the wind; but on a calm summer's evo we see the harvest-field gently wave, or the bosom of the lake gently ruffled; or we see the leaf of the aspen tremble when we feel our own cheeks scarcely fanned ;—or in a tempest we see the forest bend, and the ocean lashed into foam, and cloud rolling on cloud, and fences, and trees, and houses, swept along in the tornado ; and we judge that there is some efficient agent to do all this, though in both cases invisible. So we see certain effects on the mind and life of man. He is changed. Sometimes the influence that produces the change is gentle as the zephyr that bends the osier on the bank of the rivulet, or that moves over the harvest-field; and sometimes it is as mighty as the tempest that prostrates the oak on the hills. In each case it secures the result. It converts the soul. It inclines the understanding to contemplate Divine truth, personal duty, and obligation ; the conscience, to decide in favour of God and his claims; the will, to yield to the motives which prompt to obedience; the soul, to devote itself with all its powers to the service of its Maker. It leads men before of various sentiments, opinions, habits, prejudices, and philosophical views, to harmony in the great matter of salvation, and unites them in love to the same object, and in the hope of the same heaven.
Our Saviour has told us, that the agency which does this is unseen ; and by a simple illustration, such as he was in the habit of using, he has told us that when we see certain effects produced, we ought to infer that there is an adequate cause. The remark implies, indeed, that there is much in regard to it which is unknown to man, and which he cannot explain. But his observation does not forbid us to look at facts, as far as we may be able to observe them—just as we would in regard to the effects of the wind. There are many things, in both instances, which may be known ; and nothing forbids us, in either case, to make the observation as extensive as we can, and to record the facts just as they occur. I invite your attention, therefore, to a few statements of facts which have been observed, in respect to the nature of the Holy Spirit's agency in renewing the heart.
(1.) The first which I mention is, that his agency on the mind in conversion is not that of compulsion. It is not such as to destroy the freedom of man, or in any way such as to interfere with the proper exercise of his powers as a moral agent. "When a man becomes a Christian he acts as a freeman ; and whatever power has been exerted over him, no violation has been done to his liberty, nor has he done anything which has not been to him a matter of preference or choice. This will be made clear by a few remarks. One is, that the agency of God is always according to the nature of the thing on which it is exerted. He created the world by the mere exertion of power without means, or apart from any existing organization or laws. He will raise the dead by the same power. He originally fixed the stars, and preserves their positions by the same power. But when he moves tho planets, raises the tides, excites the tempests, causes the seasons to return, congeals the waters in the winter, or dissolves them in the warmth of returning spring, it is by the same power indeed, yet it is in accordance with fixed laws; and he does not, except in miracle, exert his power in a mode that is a departure from those laws. So it is his power that produces the effects we see in the vegetable creation; but it is in accordance with the laws of the vegetable kingdom. He governs the lion of the forest, and controls the whole animal creation ; but it is in accordance with the instincts of their nature. And in like manner he governs man, and produces important changes in his views and feelings; yet it is not by miracle, but in accordance with the laws of mind. He does not govern the stars by the " ten commandments;" nor does he control the lion or the leopard by influences such as he would use to form the lily or the rose; nor does he control man by such power as he would use to subdue the lion or the panther. Everything is controlled in accordance with the laws of its own nature ; and as man is made a freeman, with the appropriate powers of moral agency, it is certain that the laws of his nature will be consulted and respected in any control that God exerts over him, just as it is that the laws of crystallization will be in forming ice and snow; that the orange and the lemon will be made to grow in accordance with the laws of the vegetable kingdom ; and that the lion will " roar and seek his meat at the hand of God" by the instinct of his nature.
We find uniform statements in the sacred Scriptures in accordance with this. When the worlds were made, it is said to have been by the " word of God" (Heb. xi. 3), without any instrumentality. When the dead were raised by the Saviour, it was in the same way. But when man is referred to as converted, though there is a uniform assertion that it is by the Divine power, yet it is said to be by the use of means; by the word of truth ; by the preaching of the gospel; by the presentation of motives to induce him to turn to God. Throughout the whole work, he is treated not as stones, or trees, or planets, or the tribes of animals that roam the forest are treated, but as a man— as endued with conscience, and reason, and moral powers, and as capable of judging of right and wrong. No power is spoken of except in connexion with the presentation of truth, and of the proper means for acting on a free moral agent, and no effect is described but such as could be exerted on the powers of such an agent.
As a matter of fact, it is undeniable that all the changes which occur in regeneration are those connected with conscious freedom. The converted sinner acknowledges the power of God in his change. lie is sensible that he has become what he is by an influence from on high. It was some such mysterious power that arrested his attention ; that alarmed his conscience ; that induced him to give his heart to God. But he has been sensible of no violation of his freedom. lie has done nothing which he has not done freely. lie was not converted by bringing a deep sleep upon him, as Eve was formed from the side of Adam, nor was an unnatural stupor diffused over his frame benumbing all his faculties, and leaving him to be moulded as the clay; but ho was converted in the full exercise of his faculties, and with the entire consciousness of acting as a freeman. Ho has done nothing which he did not prefer to do ; he has abandoned no sin which he did not choose to abandon; he has formed no new plan of living by becoming a Christian which ho did not choose to form. One of the most free and unfettered acts of his life was that when he gave himself to God ; and he became a Christian with as mucli conscious freedom, and often with as much of the spirit of rejoicing, as the imprisoned father leaves the gloomy cell where he has been long immured, to visit his children when his prison doors are thrown open, or as the galley-slave exults when the chains fall from his hands. There is no act that man ever performs more freely than that of becoming a Christian. His whole heart is in it; and no matter what sinful course he abandons, what sacrifices he makes, and what friends he is constrained to have, or what amusements he is required to abjure, he does it most freely. And no matter what trials he may see before him ; no matter though his embracing religion may require him to forsake his country and home to preach the gospel in a heathen land, it is all cheerfully done. It is the act of a freeman. He prefers it. He would not, for all the gold and diamonds and coronets and crowns of the earth, have it otherwise. And though hd is conscious—for who could not but be so in such a change ?—that this has been brought about by the power of God, and will always ascribe it to the agency of the Holy Ghost, yet he feels that no law of his nature has been violated, and that one of the most free■ acts of his life was then when he gave his heart to God.
The doctrine which I here state is precisely that which is so well expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith: " Effectual calling i^ the work of God's almighty power and grace, whereby he doth in his accepted time invite and draw them [his elect] to Jesus Christ, by his word and Spirit; savingly enlightening their minds, renewing and powerfully determining their wills, so that they, although in themselves dead in sin, are hereby trilling and able Freely to answer his call, and to accept and embrace the grace offered and conveyed therein." " All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, he is pleased in his appointed time effectually to call—renewing their wills, and by his Almighty power determining them to that which is good;—yet so as they come Most Freely, being made willing by his grace." " God hath endued the will of man with natural liberty, so that it is neither forced, nor by any absolute necessity of nature determined to good or evil." " When God converts a sinner, and translates him into a state of grace, he freeth him from his natural bondage under sin, and by his grace alone enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good." These passages from the standard of Presbyterian doctrine state the simple truth in regard to the conversion of the sinner. Whatever power is used, the sinner acts freely ; he chooses life ; he prefers to be a Christian; he is conscious that there is no compulsion, and no violation of the laws of his moral nature. And all this is in exact harmony with the promise made to the Messiah: " Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power," Psa. ex. 3.*
(2.) The agency of the Holy Spirit in regeneration is in entire accordance with the truth that is brought to bear on the mind. What may be the exact power of the truth itself in producing this change, whether it may or may not have a power of its own, or an adaptedness to the soul which acts by itself or by " moral suasion," is not material in order to understand the remark which
* This promise possibly runy have reference not to conversion, but to the voluntary efforts put forth by the Saviour's people to promote the triumphs of his kingdom. The general principle, however, is such as warrants the above reference to it.
I now make. The idea is, that there is no change produced on the soul in regeneration which the truth is not fitted to make, or which the truth, if it secures its proper result, will not make. In repentance, for example, there is no sorrow of the heart in reference to guilt which the truth about ourselves is not of itself fitted to excite. In the love of God experienced by a converted man, there is no effect produced which the truth about the Divine nature and character is not fitted to secure. There is no love experienced towards God which ought not to be exercised, or of which he is not worthy. In the exercise of faith in the Redeemer, there is no effect produced on the mind which is not in strict accordance with the truth. All the confidence reposed in him ought to be reposed in him, from the excellence of his own character; from what he has done for us; from his claims on us. And so when the heart glows with joy in the contemplation of the truths of the Bible; when the mind is filled with peace resulting from reconciliation with God; when the hope of heaven is strongly cherished producing delightful anticipations of future glory,—there is no effect produced which the truth is not calculated to work. All the emotions and feelings, the hopes, the joys, the penitent sorrows, the believing acts of trust in Christ, secured in regeneration, are just such as the truth is fitted to produce on the mind. There is no evidence that the Holy Spirit goes beyond this, or that he secures one effect on the soul which the truth, as brought to bear on the mind, is not adapted to induce. That man is a sinner, is a simple and affecting matter of fact. Commonly he does not feel this, or care about it. In regeneration he does; and the proper view of this constitutes repentance. That there is a God who ought to be loved with all the heart and mind and strength, is a simple matter of verity. The sinner does not feel this. At regeneration this is felt; and to secure this, is one of the great effects produced by the change. That Christ died for man as the only Saviour, and is every way fitted to be a Saviour, is a simple truth. Before regeneration, men do not feel this, or believe it. At regeneration, they do ; and the effect on their minds is to lead them to exercise that confidence in the Redeemer which they ought to exercise. That there is a heaven is simple truth, whether men believe it or not. Before conversion, they do not believe it. When the heart is changed, they do ; and the effect on the mind is simply that which the truth about heaven is adapted to produce. If these are just views, then they are of great importance in understanding the subject. For thus it will follow, that there is encouragement to present the truth to the mind of a sinner; that it is proper to use means for his conversion; that there is encouragement to appeal to men to love God, to repent of sin, and to believe the gospel. And thus it will follow also, that that mode of preaching which counsels men to " wait" for the agency of the Holy Spirit to convert the heart, is presumption of the most offensive character. It is the same kind of trusting in God which a sick man would exercise who should lie passively on his bed, and use no means for his restoration; or as a farmer manifests who "observes the clouds" without sowing, and who passively and indolently looks to God for a harvest without even ploughing his fields. It will follow, also, that it is no more rational for us to wait for the interposition of God to save us without effort of our own, than it would be for such a farmer to wait for God himself to create a waving harvest on the unploughed and unsown field, and to expect that the harvest would spring up before him without any effort on his part. The idea which I wish you to receive is, that you can have no basis of calculation or of hope about your salvation beyond the means which you use, and the efforts which you put forth. What hope there would be if you should put forth your highest efforts, is another question. It is true of the farmer that his hopes may be disappointed after all his efforts. Blight and mildew, or drought, or a tornado, may frustrate all his expectations. But he can have no ground of anticipation or of hope whatever, unless he ploughs and sows his field. And so it is with you in regard to salvation. You can have no warrant whatever for hope or expectation, unless you will make an effort; unless you will pray; unless you will attend to the truth; unless you will use all proper means to secure its due effect on the mind. Look at a farmer. See him go to work, and pull down all his fences around his field; see him then draw on logs and brush, and pile them up everywhere. See him cart on vast masses of stone, and cover up the parts of the field that are most fertile. Then see him go and sow, on the few spots that may remain uncovered, the seed of cockle, and nettles, and thistles, and devoutly stand and wait for God to give him a harvest of wheat. And what think you would be his prospect of such a harvest? I will tell you. Just as much exactly as your prospect of salvation in the way in which you deal with your mind and heart. You take down all the defences of truth, and all the guards against error around your soul, and allow the soul to be like an open common. Then you tover up all the mind, and crush it down, by cares and pleasures of this world; by ambition and unholy indulgences. Then you make the heart hard—like piling vast masses of stone on a fertile soil. And then you fill the mind, not with truth, but with all sorts of error, that take root and grow just as fireweed and thistles do on the farm; and then you pretend to wait on God for his power to clear away all this rubbish, and root up all these thorns and thistles, and to convert the soul; and there is no wonder that the soul is not converted.
(3.) The agency of the Holy Spirit in conversion is in accordance with all the laws of our nature ; or is such as to secure the proper action of our mental and moral powers. Man has an understanding; but before regeneration it is darkened by sin; it takes perverted views of the proportionate value of things; its decisions are blinded by prejudice, by passion, and by selfishness, so that it has no just and proper view of things as they are. The Holy Spirit at conversion secures the right action of the understanding, and it looks at things as they are in reality, and the mind acts as if those things were so. Man, before conversion, has a conscience. But its decisions are often perverted, dimmed, or resisted. It prompts man to love and obey God, but he does not yield to it; it urges him to pray, and prepare to die, but he resists its promptings; it admonishes him of past guilt, and urges him to repentance, but he refuses to yield; it warns him against passion, and worldliness, and vanity, but lie pursues these things in spite of its rebukes. When he is converted, the Holy Spirit secures this effect. He leads the man to honour the dictates of conscience—to cease to oppose it—to act in accordance with its verdicts. He no longer attempts to silence its rebukes ; to turn a deaf ear to its warnings ; to pervert its decisions ; or to act in violation of its promptings. Man, before conversion, has a will. But it is perverse, obstinate, selfish, blind. Its actings on religious subjects are more likely to be wrong than right;—are always wrong. The unconverted sinner never wills anything, because his Maker wills it, or in accordance with his Maker's will. The Holy Spirit in conversion secures the right action of the will. He leads the man to a readiness to determine his own deeds, plans, and purposes, in accordance with the will of God. There is no new faculty, and no old faculty with new powers ; there is simply such an influence exerted over it as to secure its decisions in accordance with the will of God. And the same is true of all the faculties and powers of the mind. The agency of the Holy Ghost is just such as to secure their proper and healthful action. No new power of mind is created, none is directly expanded. Nothing is created as an independent substance and put into the soul at conversion; nor has the man any constitutional powers or propensities after conversion which
he had not before. The effect, to use a figure often employed in the sacred Scriptures to describe the influences of the Holy Spirit, is like that of the rains and dews of heaven. A land is desolate by drought. Its streams are dried up; its harvests have failed; its fields seem to be burned over, and hero and there stand but a few stunted shrubs covered with dust, only heightening the desolation. Trees are planted, and seeds of flowers, and fruits, and corn are sown in vain. The trees wither, and the seeds remain in the ground, and not a germ unfolds itself. The sun, small and piercing, rides up a " hot and copper sky," and pours down his scorching beams on panting animals and enfeebled men. A rock, far-projecting, is a most grateful shelter, and night furnishes the only respite and comfort for the smitten inhabitants of the parched land. Clouds then gather; the rain descends, and the whole aspect of the land is changed. Streams and water-falls pour down the valleys; the fields rejoice and smile; the stunted shrub is green again; the seed, long buried, springs up, and the earth is covered with a carpet of beautiful green, and the air is filled with fragrance. In the East, where such things are common, they succeed each other with a rapidity to us unknown, and hence the illustration is so often used in the Scriptures. Such a change comes over a sinner's soul, over a community and a congregation, when tho Holy Spirit of God descends with renovating power. Nothing can effect it but the power of God, as nothing can effect the change in the land of drought but the rain and dews that God shall send down ;—but, like that, it is not a change produced by miracle. It calls forth the inactive and slumbering powers of the soul—as the rain does the sleeping powers of nature. It vivifies and quickens all the faculties of man. It illuminates his understanding; prompts him to just decisions of conscience; leads his will to determine right, and disposes him to devote himself to God. And it diffuses over the soul of the individual, and over the church and people thus blessed, a moral loveliness of which the beauty of the landscape after the fertilizing rain is but the faint and imperfect emblem.
Such, I apprehend, is the truth, as far as it goes, in the explanation of the Holy Spirit's agency in the conversion of the soul. That there is much about that agency which is unexplained, and which it is beyond our power to explain, is not denied, but the same thing is true in regard to every case in which wo attempt an elucidation. In the action of the wind, the dew, the rain, the sunbeam in vegetation, there is much beyond any explanation which has been yet suggested; but this throws no obscurity on a multitude of things which are clear and intelligible. So it is in regard to the conversion of the soul. That it is by the agency of the Spirit of God is clear beyond dispute; and it is equally clear that it is done in perfect accordance with the freedom of man; that no effect is produced which the truth is not fitted to work out; and that it is in entire accordance with all the powers of our rational nature.
If these things are so, then two conclusions follow from what has been said, of more importance to us than any other which can have relation to this subject; and with a bare allusion to these I shall conclude this discourse. The first is, that of encouragement. There is one Agent who can accomplish all that is needful to be accomplished in our salvation; and if the sinner perishes, it will not be because he who is entrusted with the work of changing the heart is deficient in power. There is no heart so hard, that it may not be subdued; none so proud, that it may not be humbled; none so wicked, that the Holy Spirit cannot make it holy. AVhat man cannot do, he can accomplish; and in our conscious weakness and sinfulness, therefore, we may feel that he has power to effect in our souls all that need be effected to secure our salvation. The other conclusion which follows from the view that has been taken is, that there is an obligation resting on man in regard to this change. If it were in all respects like creating a world, or like raising the dead; or if, in any sense, the work of the Spirit were of the nature of miracle, there would not be any such obligation. Man could be under no more obligation to love God and repent of sin than he is to create a new star or sun, or to lift up the tides of the ocean. But conversion is wholly a different thing. In the whole change man is a freeman. He acts in view of truth, and the effect is in accordance with truth. His own active powers are concerned, for all the change is on those powers,—securing their proper action. Hence, there is an ample field for our agency; for our use of means; for our putting forth our efforts in the work. And hence there is true philosophy, as well as an incentive to exertion, to work, and to trust in God, in the remark so often made, that man should make the effort for his own salvation as if it were to be secured wholly by his own power; and yet depend on the grace and Spirit of the Lord as if he could do nothing. Or to express the same thing, and to express all, in the better language of an inspired apostle, man should "work out his own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God that worketh in him both to will and to do of his good pleasure." May■ God give us all grace to do it, for Christ's sake, and to him be all the praise. Amen.