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It is no sign that affections are gracious, or that they are otherwise, that persons did not excite them by their own endeavours.
There are many in these days, who condemn all affections which are excited in a way that seems not to be the natural consequence of the faculties and principles of human nature, in such circumstances, and under such means; but to be from the influence of some extrinsic and supernatural power upon their minds. How greatly has the doctrine of the inward experience or sensible perceiving of the immediate power and operation of the Spirit of God, been reproached and ridiculed by many of late! They say, the manner of the Spirit of God, is to co-operate in a silent, secret, and undiscernible way with the use of means, and our own endeavours; so that there is no distinguishing by sense, between the influences of the Spirit of God, and the natural operations of the faculties of our own minds.
And it is true, that for any to expect to receive the saving influences of the Spirit of God, while they neglect a diligent improvement of the appointed means of grace, is unreasonable presumption. And to expect that the Spirit of God will savingly operate upon their minds, without the use of means, as subservient to the effect, is enthusiastical. It is also undoubtedly true, that the Spirit of God is very various in the manner and circumstances of his operations, and that sometimes he operates in a way more secret and gradual, and from smaller beginnings, than at others.
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; then certainly, it is in no wise unreasonable to suppose, that this effect should very frequently be produced after such a manner, as to make it very manifest and sensible, that it is so. If grace be indeed owing to the powerful and efficacious operation of an extrinsic agent, or divine efficient out of ourselves, why is it unreasonable to suppose, it should seem to be so, to them who are the subjects of it? Is it a strange thing, that it should seem to be as it is? When grace in the heart indeed is not produced by our strength, nor is the effect of the natural power of our own faculties, or any means or instruments, but is properly the workmanship and production of the Spirit of the Almighty, is it a strange thing, that it should seem to them who are subjects of it, agreeable to truth, and not contrary to truth? If persons tell of effects that seem to them riot to be from the natural power or operation of their minds, but from the supernatural power of some other agent, should it at once be looked upon as a sure evidence of their being under a delusion, because things seem to them to be as they are? For this is the objection which is made: it is looked upon as a clear evidence, that the apprehensions and affections that many persons have, are not really from such a cause, because they seem to them to be from that cause. They declare that what they are conscious of, seems to them evidently not to be from themselves, but from the mighty power of the Spirit of God; and others from hence condemn them, and determine that what they experience is not from the Spirit of God, but from themselves, or from the devil. Thus unreasonably are multitudes treated at this day, by their neighbours.
If it be indeed so, as the Scripture abundantly teaches, that grace in the soul is so the effect of God’s power, that it is fitly compared to those effects, which are farthest from being owing to any strength in the subject, such as generation, or a being begotten, and resurrection, or a being raised from the dead, and creation, or a being brought out of nothing into being, and that is an effect wherein the mighty power of God is greatly glorified, and the exceeding greatness of his power manifested; 433433 Eph. i. 17-20. then what account can be given of it, that the Almighty, in so great a work of his power, should so carefully hide his power, that the subjects of it should be able to discern nothing of it? or what reason or revelation have any to determine that he does so? If we may judge by the Scripture, this is not agreeable to God’s manner, in his operations and dispensations; but on the contrary, it is God’s manner, in the great works of his power and mercy, to make his hand visible, and his power conspicuous, and men’s dependence on him most evident, that no flesh should glory in his presence, 434434 1 Cor. i. 27, 28, 29. that God alone might be exalted, 435435 Isa. i. 11-17. and that the excellency of the power might be of God and not of man, 436436 2 Cor. iv. 7. and that Christ’s power might be manifested in our weakness 437437 2 Cor. xii. 9. and none might say, mine own hand hath saved me. 438438 Judg. vii. 2. So it was in most of those temporal salvations which God wrought for Israel of old, which were types of the salvation of his people from their spiritual enemies. So, in the redemption of Israel from their Egyptian bondage; he redeemed them with a strong hand, and an outstretched arm; and that his power might be the more conspicuous, he suffered Israel first to be brought into the most helpless and forlorn circumstances. So, in the great redemption by Gideon; God would have his army diminished to a handful, and they without any other arms, than trumpets, and lamps, and earthen pitchers. So in the deliverance of Israel from Goliath, by a stripling, with a sling and a stone. So it was in that great work of God, his calling the Gentiles, after that the world by wisdom knew not God, and all the endeavours of philosophers to reform the world had failed, and it was become abundantly evident that the world had no effectual help but the mighty power of God. And so it was in most of the conversions of particular persons recorded in the history of the New Testament: they were not affected in that silent, secret, gradual, and insensible manner, which is now insisted on; but with those manifest evidences of a supernatural power, wonderfully and suddenly causing a great change, which in these days are looked upon as certain signs of delusion and enthusiasm.
The apostle in Eph. i. 18, 19. speaks of God enlightening the minds of Christians, and so bringing them to believe in Christ, to the end that they might know the exceeding greatness of his power to them who believe. The words are, “The eyes of your understanding being enlightened: that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-wardtoward us who believe, according to the working of his mighty power,” &c. Now when the apostle speaks of their being thus the subjects of his power, in their enlightening and effectual calling, to the end that they might know what his mighty power was to them who believe, he can mean nothing else, than that they might know by experience. But if the saints know this power by experience, then they feel it, discern it, and are conscious of it; as sensibly distinguishable from the natural operations of their own minds. But this is not agreeable to a notion of God operating so secretly, and undiscernibly, that it cannot be known they are the subjects of any extrinsic influence 249 at all, otherwise than as they may argue it from scripture assertions; which is a different thing from knowing it by experience. So that it is very unreasonable and unscriptural, to determine that affections are not from the gracious operations of God’s Spirit, because they are sensibly not from the persons themselves who are the subjects of them.
On the other hand, it is no evidence that affections are gracious, that they are not purposely produced by those who are the subjects of them, or that they arise in their minds in a manner which they cannot account for.
There are some who make this an argument in their own favour, when speaking of what they have experienced: “I am sure I did not make it myself: it was a fruit of no contrivance or endeavour of mine; it came when I thought nothing of it; if I might have the world for it, I cannot make it again when I please.” And hence they determine, that what they have experienced, must be from the mighty influence of the Spirit of God, and is of a saving nature; but very ignorantly, and without grounds. What they have experienced may indeed not be from themselves directly, but may be from the operation of an invisible agent, some spirit besides their own: but it does not thence follow, that it was from the Spirit of God. There are other spirits who have influence on the minds of men, besides the Holy Ghost. We are directed not to believe every spirit, but to try the spirits, whether they be of God. There are many false spirits, exceeding busy with men, who often transform themselves into angels of light, and in many wonderful ways, with great subtlety and power, mimic the operations of the Spirit of God. And there are many of Satan’s operations, which are very distinguishable from the voluntary exercises of men’s own minds. They are so, in those dreadful and horrid suggestions, and blasphemous injections, with which he follows many persons; also in vain and fruitless frights and terrors, of which he is the author. And the power of Satan may be as immediate and as evident in false comforts and joys, as in terrors and horrid suggestions; and oftentimes is so in fact. It is not in men’s power to put themselves into such raptures as those of the Anabaptists in Germany, and many other raving enthusiasts like them.
Besides, it is to be considered, that persons may have impressions on their minds, which may not be of their own producing, nor from an evil spirit, but from a common influence of the Spirit of God: and the subjects of such impressions, may be of the number of those we read of, Heb. vi. 4, 5. “that are once enlightened, and taste of the heavenly gift, and are made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and taste the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come;” and yet may be wholly unacquainted with those “better things that accompany salvation.” And where neither a good nor evil spirit have any immediate hand, persons, especially such as are of a weak and vapoury habit of body, and the brain easily susceptive of impressions, may have strange apprehensions and imaginations, and strong affections attending them, unaccountably arising, which are not voluntarily produced by themselves. We see that such persons are liable to such impressions, about temporal things; and there is equal reason, why they should about spiritual things. As a person asleep has dreams, of which he is not the voluntary author; so may such persons, in like manner, be the subjects of involuntary impressions, when they are awake.
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