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are made the cause of strife, rather than of Godly edifying, any attempt, however imperfect, to represent the erroneous construction of them, by which a numerous sect justifies its peculiar tenets, may not be wholly unserviceable to the cause of true religion.
The article of regeneration, or a new birth, with which that of grace * may properly be
* Grace, (Xagos) says Packhurst, denotes, 5thly, the gracious unmerited assistance of the holy spirit in his miraculous gifts ; Rom. xii. 6. 1 Cor. i. 4. (comp. v. 7.) Eph. iv. 7. 1 Pet. iv. 10. But though I firmly believe his blessed operations or influences on the hearts of ordinary believers in general; yet that Xogos is ever in the New Testament used, particularly for these, is more than I dare, after attentive examination, assert.-Lexic. ad Verb. This learned man refers to Whitby, and his opinion is confirmed by Pyle.- Vid. James iv. 6. But as the term is identified by the Methodists with the inward operation of the spirit, it is treated here under that idea. A full account of its various meanings is given by Dean Stanhope in the following words, admitting this questionable signification :
Grace in the general notion of it, denotes favour and kindness, freely bestowed; and in this sense the grace of God imports that affection and good will which he bears to men, and all those benefits proceeding thence of his own mere motion, and as a free act of mercy.
2. The grace of God in a more restrained sense, is frequently set to signify the gospel of Jesus Christ. So stiled, because the terms and privileges of that salvation tendered by it, are the effect of his infinite and undeserved goodness; the knowledge and publication of it imparted to whom, at what time, and in what 'measure he pleases; and the blessings and rewards of it, when so imparted, (though to such indeed covenanted mercies, if they perform their part,) yet still so
joined, obviously presents itself first to our consideration ; of which the true scriptural doctrine may be collected from the following texts. It is thus stated by St. John, “ As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name, which were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God."* Here those who
vastly disproportionate in value to their best services, as to deserve the name not of wages, but of gift.
3. The grace of God does sometimes signify a certain inward working of his spirit in and with the minds of men, which by suggesting, and disposing them to comply with reasonable arguments and good motions, renders the outward ministry of the word, and other means instituted for our salvation, persuasive and successful. This is represented as the principle of goodness and spiritual life. By this the saints “ are what they are.” “ This quickens those that were dead in trespasses and sins." By this God “works in us that which is acceptable in his sight; even to will and do, of his good pleasure :" and by “growing in this,” we persevere in well doing, and “ are kept from falling from our own stedfastness.” Thus our being and living, and moving in a spiritual sense and capacity, our beginning, our proceeding, our finishing as we ought, all are owing to that grace and spirit of God in our souls.t
The notions of divine grace thus distinctly stated by this excellent commentator, appear little understood by those enthusiasts, who are for ever repeating that word, as if it were a charm, without any definite idea of its meaning.
* St. John i. 12.
† Stanhope's Commentary on the Ep, for the First Sunday in Lent.
believe are called regenerate, or born again, and have power to become the sons of God; not as Jews by the law of Moses, nor as mere men by the law of nature, but by the grace of God; who hath declared by his Apostle, that “ he willeth all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth :"* and “ who giveth his holy spirit to them that ask him,"'t according to his express promise, “ Ask and it shall be given you.” I
So general and unlimited is the privilege of regeneration; the manner in which it is applied and the seal by which it is confirmed, are related in the third chapter of St. John's gospel: where our Saviour having said, “ Except a man be born again, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God,” thus explains his doctrine, “ Except a man be born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God :” (Vers. 3, 5.)
Baptism and the Holy Ghost then are requisite to constitute a Christian, that is a regenerate person, one dead to the world and living unto God: not that it secures his continuance in this justified state, but enables him to persevere in it, and be saved. This is plain, simple, and intelligible. The natural man cannot become spiritual, holy, good, without faith in Him “who justifies,” without washing away his sins in baptism, and calling on the name of the Lord:
* 1 Tim. ii. 4.
+ Luke xi. 13.
Matt. vi. 7.
whence alone he can receive “the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry Abba, Father.”*
To this blessed change he is led by the preventing grace of God, who hath not only revealed the word of truth in the gospel, but gives sufficient grace to all who will embrace it, by the assistance of which they may become heirs of his everlasting kingdom.
Contrast with this scripturalaccount the strange opinions entertained by certain teachers on this article of faith. In entering the sanctuary, they stumble at the threshold, and never afterwards recover their steps. Departing from the true doctrine that baptism is the means of grace, and the pledge of it; and that those who have received sanctification by this sacrament, are regenerate, and grafted into the body of Christ's church; that hence they become sons of God, and have power to do “his will from the heart," as the obedient children of a merciful father : departing from this sound principle of faith, they rest their hopes of heaven on feelings or impressions, the supposed proof of an instantaneous conversion, which takes place long after baptism, and their admission into the christian covenant.t So that the humble and sincere be
1 * Titus iii. 5.
† Dr. Paley, in his seventh Sermon, has cleared this subject from that confusion in which the methodistical writer have involved it. He shews that the division of mankind into two classes, the converted and the unconverted, is too abso
liever, who endeavours to fulfil the condition of that covenant, but does not experience those lute, and leads to a conclusion too universal. That Christians, piously educated, do not fall under either description. They are not converted, because they cannot be sensible of such a religious alteration, as can possibly be called conversion: they are not unconverted, because that implies reprobation. That all have been born again, i. e. have had the spirit imparted to them at some time or other, as in baptism, is certain ; but that is not attended with a sensible change, here intended by conversion, nor is any such radical change necessary to Christians, who have grown up in a religious course; no, nor even possible. Real changes must take place, where errors in opinion and practice have prevailed, and all cannot be educated in error, on whatever side truth be supposed to lie. Our preaching should be not conversion to all, but to all conversion or improvement. This is proved from the gospel. Wicked persons must be converted, in order to be saved; there must be a revolution within, and of this they must be sensible at the time, and remember it afterwards. Those who allow themselves in any particular sin may be converted, and such conversions may be sudden, as well as lasting, and the fruits will prove it. But improvement is necessary to all."--This abstract, imperfect as it is, will set the matter of which it treats in a proper light. Conversion, according to the account here given, is as distinct from the compulsory grace of Calvinism, as it is opposite to the self-sufficiency of Pelagianism. And though we reject the opinions of both those sects, we neither deny the internal succours of the spirit on the one hand, nor the use of our natural faculties on the other. We admit, with Dr. Paley, that as conversion is necessary to the habitual sinner, so the time when he began to amend may be ascertained, like all other periods of change; but here we stop :-We affect not to have been converted by a perceptible impulse of the spirit; we pretend not to have received forgiveness, much less to have been assured of it, by a mo