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of the most efficient causes of that long period of darkness, and declension; (I mean the misconceived notions concerning them) of disunion, and distraction; of ignorance, and religious intolerance. They have produced the contempt, and neglect of the scriptures amongst men; in the place of which have been substituted the theories, and capricious whims of fancy, and imagination, exercised upon the emotions, and passions, excited by impassioned declamation. These are bolstered up by a peCULÍAR PHYSICAL theory of human depravity-by which the real intellectual, and moral character of man, have been destroyed, and not a single feature or analogy of a gracious, MORAL government, have been left in their place. These errors have dislocated the plan, design, and order of God's operations; and changed the divine ceconomy; or, at least so far as to make the revelations, and operations of God's Spirit recorded, not the means, properly speaking, of spiritual instruction, and faith; but the rule or plan by which the Spirit operates, by immediate physical agencies, in a secret, mystic way, upon individuals; a plan of operations, (in order to faith) about which Christ, and the Apostles, have not said a word.
These are the convictions of my own mind, after a careful examination of the subject; for the truth, and correctness of which, I refer exclusively to the predictions of the prophets; to Christ's promises; and to their literal fulfilment, as declared, and explained by the Apostles, in the Acts, in reference to the operations of the Spirit. For the same purpose, I refer also to the acknowledgement of every person of a sound mind, and the experience of all ages, that, in order to learn, and believe the truths of the Gospel, they must be communicated in a known language, and in intelligible words, BY HEARING--as Paul says.
How merciful, and gracious is God, in his love, and condescension! How low he has stooped to reach the condition, and capacity of man in his death of sin, and igno. rance, that he might redeem, and elevate him to the mansions of ineffable bliss, and immortality! How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation? which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed by them that heard him; God bearing them witness both with signs, and wonders, and with diverse miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will; and which are writ: ten that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God, and believing that we may have life through his name! Let no man separate the faith of the Gospel from the evidence by which it is produced, which God hath joined together; this is the order of Sovereign wisdom, mercy, goodness, and truth; suited for, and accommodated to, the con: dition, and capacity of man!
The principles contained in Christ's conversation with Nic:
odemus examined; and their supposed incompatibility, with the ideas in the preceding Sections removed; and their consistency evinced. The sin against the Holy Ghost considered, &c.
Truth is harmonious when understood. The truths of christianity, and the principles of the Gospel, are not less distinctly marked by this character, than are those of any other science. Nor is their appeal to the common sense, and right reason of mankind, less solid. It is true that the propositions of which christianity is composed, are supernatural; and, until communicated to the mind by revealed instruction, are as necessarily beyond the compass of its thoughts, as are the existence and principles of light, beyond the invention, or discovery of a blind man's mind, by its unaided operations. But when communicated, the truths of christianity are susceptible of correct apprehension by the mind, and of being believed by the understanding, by the evidence with which they support themselves, as are any other truths. They are not less dependant upon the right use of reason, or the exercise of the rational powers of the mind, after being submitted to it, for their proper application to practical, and moral purposes, than are any other moral principles, derived from social stipulation, or human institution. Nothing is more untrue than the opinion, that a man, in order to become a religious creature,
according to the principles of spiritual wisdom, and the true genius of christianity, must part with his understanding, or become literally a fool—it is by his understanding that he is capable of religion. Although, in the exercise of his mental powers, in the acquisition of spiritual knowledge from the word of God, and in the application of it to the obedience of faith, man is dependant upon the grace, and goodness of God; yet that grace, and goodness, are no more employed in superseding the necessity of rightly using the powers of the mind, in order to obtain the blessings offered in the Gospel, than the government of God over the fields of nature, the seed that grows, and the mind, and body of the husbandman, supersedes the necessity of labour, in filling his barn, or his store house with food, the product of the earth.
The principles contained in the third chapter of John's history of Jesus Christ, have been uniformly resorted to, to prove an agency of the Spirit of a physical nature, exerted immediately upon the minds or bodies of men, or upon both, in changing their essence, or texture, as pre-requêsite to the faith of the Gospel, under its regular administrations. The principles of divine truth contained in that chapter, have as little to do with these notions of agencies, as the immediate, and present resurrection of the dead has in the belief of a future resurrection.
I have seen no exposition of the third chapter of John, but what covered it in entire obscurity, and in the end pressed it into the service of mystecism. I think it will be found upon a fair examination of the passages in that chapter which are relied on for these agencies, that the true ideas contained in it are perfectly consistent with, and are of the same meaning of Paul's expression, that "faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God,” literally speaking. In this part of the Gospel history, we shall also find exemplified what I have so often repeated, viz. that the evidence by which the belief of God's word is ef. fected, consists in' miracles. I wish the reader to attend carefully to the phraseology of the verses in this chapter of John, and the parallel passages which I shall adduce to il. lustrate them. * This history stands tbus—"There was a
man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: the same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi; WE KNOW THAT THOU ART À TEACHER COME FROM GOD: FOR NO MAN CAN DO THESE MIRACLES 'THAT THOU DOEST, EXCEPT GOD BE WITH HIM.” Hay. ing demonstrated his character, as a teacher come from God, by supernatural, and divine evidences, consisting in the MIRACLES he wrought, the divine Saviour proceeds to TEACH Nicodemus; for Jesus answered, and said unto him, verily, verily, I say unto you, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of heaven;" or, as Campbell on the Gospels translates it, he cannot perceive or discern (by -the bodily organ, and the natural light,) the reign of God. "Nicodemus said unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? Jesus answered, verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born of Water, and the SPIRIT, he cannot ENTER INTO THE KINGDOM OF GOD, That which is born of the flesh, is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit, is Spirit; MARVEL not that I said unto thee, ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, 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.' That is, they hear the sound of the Spirit, or rather his words-and hearing, they believe on the name of Jesus Christ, of whom the Spirit speaks, and testifies. "Nicodemus answered, and said unto him, how can these things be? Jesus answered, and said unto him, art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, we speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not; how shall ye believe if I tell you of heavenly things? And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man, who is in heaven."
* For the purpose of explanation, I'will here introduce some of the remarks of Campbell on the Gospels, on a part of the above quotation. He observes, “Nocodemus had acquainted our Lord what, in brief, his faith was concern
ing him, and the foundation on which it was built. His faith was, that Jesus was a teacher whom God had specially commissioned: in other words, a prophet; and his reason for thinking so, was the miracles which he had performed. This we may rest assured, from what he says, when evidently disposed to say the most he could, was the sum of his belief at that time concerning Jesus.” It was enough, too, to qualify him for receiving instruction upon divine, and spiritual subjects, when explained, and accommodated to his capacity. “No mention is made of the Messiah, or of his reign upon earth. It is in reference to this defect, in the words of Nicodemus, partly, as it were, to account for this silence on this article, and partly to point out to him the proper source of this knowledge, that our Lord answers, by observing, that, unless a man be enlightened by the Spirit,” (by the words of the Spirit). “or, born anew, not to the light of this world, but to that of the heavenly, he cannot discern either the signs of the Messiah, or the nature of his government,” (that is, he most be emerged from the womb of time, and sense, into the light of the glorious Gospel, as it shines in the face of Jesus Christ, which is the mean of spiritual vision). “For, let it be observed, that Nicodemus, though more candid than any Jew of his rank at that time, and willing to weigh, impartially, the evidence of a divine mission, even in one who was detested by the ruling powers; was not altogether superior to those prejudices concerning the secular kingdom of the Messiah, which seem to have been universal at that age. It is a very fine, and, at the same time, a just observation of Cyril, that our Lord's reprehensions, in this conversation, in some respects more severe than ordinary, are to be understood as directed, not so much against Nicodemus, as against the guides, and instructors of the age, the class to which Nicodemus belonged. Augustine is of opinion, that it was necessary thus to humble the spiritual pride of the Pharisee, the conceited superiority to the vulgar in things sacred, which is the greaiest obstruction to divine knowledge; that he might be prepared for receiving with humility the illumination of the Spirit.” Christ having, by his observations upon, and replies to, what Nicodemus said, non-plused, and confound.