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AN INQUIRY, WHETHER, IF BELIEVING BE A SPIRITUAL ACT OF THE MIND, IT DOES NOT PRESUPPOSE THE SUBJECT OF IT TO BE SPIRITUAL.
My Dear Friend,
MR. SANDEMAN, and many of his admirers, If I understand them, consider the mind as passive in believing, and charge those who consider faith as an act of the mind with making it a work and so of introducing the doctrine of justification by a work of our own.
Mr. Ecking sometimes writes as if he adopted this principle, for he speaks of a person being "passive in receiving the truth."* In another place, however, he is very explicit to the contrary. "Their notion is absurd," he says, "who, in order to appear more than ordinarily accurate, censure and solemnly condemn the idea of believing being an act of the mind. It is acknowledged, indeed, that very unscriptural sentiments have prevailed about acts of faith, when they are supposed to arise from some previous principle well disposing the minds of unbelievers toward the gospel. Yet if it be admitted possible for the soul of man to act, (and who will deny that it does?) there is nothing more properly an act of the mind than believing a truth; in which first the mind perceives it; then considers the evidence offered to support it; and finally, gives assent to it. And can this comport with inactivity? We must either say, then, that the soul acts in believing the gospel, or that the soul is an inactive spirit, which is absurd."t
As Mr. E. in this passage, not only states his opinion, but gives his reasons for it, we must consider this as his fixed principle; and that which he says of the truth being "passively received," as expressive, not of faith, but of spiritual illumination previously to it. But if so, what does he mean by opposing a previous principle as necesssary to believing? His acts of faith arise from spiritual illumination, which he also must consider as "well disposing the minds of unbelievers toward the gospel."
If there be any difference between him and those whom he opposes, it would seem to consist, not in the necessity, but in the nature of a previous change of mind; as whether it be proper to call it a principle, and to suppose it to include life as well as light. He no more considers the mind as discerning and believing the gospel without a previous change wrought in it by the Spirit of God, than his opponents. Nay, as we have seen, be expressly, and, as he says, "readily acknowledges that we must have a spiritual principle before we can discern divine beauties." (p. 67.) But if a spiritual principle be necessary to discern divine beauties, it is necessary to discern and believe the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, for they are one and the same thing.
But the previous change which Mr. E. acknowledges, it will be said, is by means of the word. Be it so, yet it cannot be by the word as spiritually discerned and believed, for spiritual discernment and belief are supposed to be the effect of it.
Mr. E. says indeed, that "the hinge upon which the inquiry turns is, what is that principle, and how is it implanted?" But this is mere evasion: for let the principle be what it may, and let it be implanted how it may, since it is allowed to be necessary "before we can discern divine beauties," and of course before we can actively believe in Christ, the argument is given up.
The principle itself he makes to be "the word passively received:" but as this is supposed to be previously to "the discernment of divine beauties," and to the soul's actively believing in Christ, it cannot of course have been produced by either and to speak of the word becoming a spiritual principle in us before it is either understood or believed, is going a step beyond his opponents. I have no doubt that the word of God, when it is once un
derstood and believed, becomes a living principle of evangelical obedience. This I conceive to be the meaning of our Lord, when he told the woman of Samaria, that "whosoever should drink of the water that he should give him, (that is of the gospel,) it should be in him a well of water springing up to everlasting life." But for the word to become a principle before it is actively received, or, to use the language of Peter, before we have "purified our souls by obeying it," is that of which I can form no idea, and I suppose neither did Mr. Ecking.
As to the second part of what he calls the hinge of the inquiry, viz. how this principle is implanted? he endeavours to illustrate it by a number of examples taken from the miracles of Christ, in which the word of Christ certainly did not operate on the mind in a way of motive presented to its consideration; but in a way similar to that of the Creator, when he said, Let there be light, and there was light. Such is manifestly the idea conveyed by the words in John v. 25. The dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live. To such an application of the word I have no objection. That for which I contend is, that there is a change effected in the soul of a sinner, called in scripture "giving him eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to understand"-" a new heart, and a right spirit"-" a new creation,❞— &c. &c.—that this change is antecedent to his actively believing in Christ for salvation; and that it is not effected by motives addressed to the mind in a way of moral suasion, but by the mighty power of God.
Mr. M'Lean allows faith to be a duty, or an act of obedience, But if so, this obedience must be yielded either in a spiritual or in a carnal state. If the former, it is all that on this subject is pleaded for. If the latter, that is the same thing as supposing that the carnal mind, while such, is enabled to act spiritually, and that it thereby becomes spiritual.
To this purpose I wrote in my Appendix, pp. 204, 205; and what has Mr. M'Lean said in reply? Let him answer for himself. "This is a very unfair state of the question so far as it relates to the opinion of his opponents, for he represents them as maintaining that the Holy Spirit causes the mind while carnal, or before it
is spiritually illuminated, to discern and believe spiritual things; and then he sets himself to argue against this contradiction of his own framing, as a thing impossible in its own nature, and as declaring by the Holy Spirit to be so. 1 Cor. ii. 14. Were I to state Mr. F's sentiment thus, The Holy Spirit imparts to the mind while carnal a holy susceptibility and relish for the truth,' would he not justly complain that I had misrepresented his view, and that he did not mean that the mind could possess any holy susceptibility while it was in a carnal state; but only that the Holy Spirit by the very act of imparting this holy susceptibility and relish for the truth, removed the carnality of the mind. But then this explanation applies equally to the other side of the question; and surely it appears at least as consistent with the nature of things, and as easy to conceive, that the Holy spirit should in the first instance communicate the light of truth to a dark carnal mind, and thereby render it spiritual, as that he should prior to that impart to it a holy susceptibility and relish for the truth."*
Now, my friend, I intreat your close attention, and that of the reader, to this part of the subject; for here is the hinge of the present question.
I am accused of framing a contradiction which my opponents do not hold. They do not hold then, it seems, that the Holy Spir it causes the mind while carnal to discern and believe spiritual things. Spiritual illumination precedes believing; such an illumination too, as removes carnality from the mind, renders the soul spiritual, and so enables it to discern and believe spiritual things. Where then is the difference between us? Surely it does not consist in my holding with a previous principle as necessary to believing, for they profess to hold what amounts to the same thing. If there be any difference however, it must lie in the nature of that which is communicated, or in the order in which it operates. And, as to the first, seeing it is allowed to remove carnality, and to render the soul spiritual, there can be no material difference on this head. With respect to the second, namely, the order of its operations, Mr. M. thinks that the communication of the light of truth to a dark, carnal mind, whereby it is ren
*Reply, p. 7.
dered spiritual, furnishes an easy and constant view of things. To which I answer, If the carnality of the mind were owing to its darkness, it would be so. But Mr. M. has himself told us a different tale, and that from unquestionable anthority. "Our Lord," he says, "asks the Jews, Why do ye not understand my speech? and gives this reason for it, even because ye cannot hear my word; that is, cannot endure my doctrine." Works, Vol. II. p. 110.
Now, if this be just, (and who can controvert it ?) it is not easy to conceive how light introduced into the mind should be capable of removing carnality. It is easy to conceive of the removal of an effect by the removal of the cause, but not of the removal of a cause by the removal of the effect.
But, whatever difference may remain as to the order of operation, the idea of a previous principle is held by Mr. M. as much as by his opponent. Only call it "divine illumination, by which the dark and carnal mind is rendered spiritual," and he believes
In endeavouring to show the unfairness of the contradiction which I alleged against him, Mr. M. loses himself and his reader, by representing it as made to the act of the Holy Spirit in impart. ing spiritual light to the soul while carnal, whereas that which I alleged against him respected the act of the creature in discerning and believing spiritual things while such. If God's communicating either light or holiness to a dark and carnal mind be a contradiction, it is of Mr. M's framing, and not mine: but I see no contradiction in it, so that it be in the natural order of things, any more than in his “ quickening us when we were dead in trespasses and sins," which phraseology certainly does not denote that we are dead and alive at the same time! The contradiction alleged consisted in the carnal mind's being supposed to act spiritually, and not to its being acted upon by divine influence, let that influence be what it might. It would be no contradiction to say of Tabitha, that life was imparted to her while dead: but it would be contradiction to affirm that while she was dead God caused her to open her eyes, and to look upon Peter!
Mr. M'Lean has, I allow, cleared himself of this contradiction, by admitting the sinner to be made spiritual through divine illuVOL. III.