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has no warrant for the assertion that all alledged direct communications from the Spirit must be classed with these delusions, or that no confidence is to be placed in any supposed agency of the Spirit in suggesting passages of Scripture, and impressing them on the mind. Many, not justly chargeable with fanaticism, have asserted that they have received such impressions, and their testimony is not to be lightly regarded. Nor is it true, as Flavel asserts, that it is impossible to determine whether such a revelation is of God or a counterfeit of Satan. God, who in times past spake by dreams, visions, voices, and in divers manners, unto men, certainly can communicate his will through any of the ordinary modes of communication, or in any other way he may choose, and at the same time give assurance that the revelation has divine authority. This evidence neither Satan, nor any other being, can imitate. If the Spirit chooses to impress a promise or any other passage of Scripture on the mind of any one, he can assuredly do it in such a manner that he who receives the impression shall know that it comes from God. Not only is there no impossibility in this, but the word of God gives no authority for the assertion it is never done. It should be remembered, however, that, in maintaining the doctrine of the direct witness of the Spirit, we lay no stress on any evidence of this kind, nor encourage any to expect it. Dr. Dwight, in denying the direct witness of the Spirit, maintains that full assurance of faith is attainable by only a very small number. If the consciousness of possessing their characteristics were our only evidence that we are Christians, the difficulties he urges would be weighty, and instances of full assurance would be rare. We do not, however, think that his arguments against the general attainment of this state are consistent with his own theory. If the change experienced in regeneration is as entire and as instantaneous as he alledges, it would be difficult to explain why the subjects of it should not at once be conscious of this change. He asserts, indeed, that this assurance is in mercy denied. He says:— “I am of opinion that God, for wise and good reasons, administers his spiritual providence in such a manner as to leave his children destitute of the faith of assurance for their own good.” In support of this opinion his first argument is:—“It is perfectly plain that the evidence enjoyed by Christians is in no regular manner or degree proportioned to their real excellence of character. The proof of this position is complete, both from our own observation and from the history of experimental and practical religion given us in the lives of great multitudes of eminently good men.” The author seems to think the case “perfectly plain;” still the proof is not conclusive. It may be admitted that the experience of multitudes has been as asserted, but with the same positiveness we maintain that the experience of multitudes has been directly the reverse. His second argument is thus stated:—“There is not, I believe, a single promise in the gospel to Christians, as such, of the faith of assurance; nor any direct intimation that they shall possess evidence of their piety proportioned to the degree in which it exists. All the promises of this nature seem to be indefinite; and to indicate that Christians shall enjoy some evidence of this nature rather than to point out the degree in which it shall be enjoyed.” From the very nature of the evidence of justification, as set forth by Dr. Dwight, it must follow that this statement is erroneous. The fruits of the Spirit in the believer would at first be but imperfectly discerned, and the evidence of their existence would be weak; but as the Christian grows in grace, as these fruits and graces become more fully developed, his evidence of adoption must be stronger; and just in proportion to the degree of his piety will be the strength of its evidence. His third argument against assurance is:—“There seems to be a plain and important reason why most Christians should be left in some degree of uncertainty concerning this subject. In all the earlier ages of their piety, and in all other cases in which it is not eminently vigorous, they would be prone, if they possessed high consolatory evidence, especially if they possessed full assurance of their renovation, imperfect as they always are, to be at ease; to settle quietly down in that imperfect state; and in this manner to come far short of those religious attainments which now they actually make, and perhaps finally to fall away. As the case now is, their fears serve to quicken them, no less than their hopes; and by the influence of both, they continue to advance in holiness to the end of life.”—Dwight's Theology, sermon xc, vol. iii, pp. 50, 51. The objection here urged is a misapprehension of the subject. No one can have “full assurance of his renovation,” and “remain at ease.” This state of doubt is, moreover, inconsistent with the privileges of the Christian as set forth throughout the New Testament. Rest is promised those who come to Christ; this can only refer to freedom from doubts relative to acceptance and fears of condemnation. The believer is represented as rejoicing, as having peace with God, as having no condemnation. Nor has this doctrine a tendency to lead those who embrace it, “to continue to advance in holiness to the end of life.” Its effect is the reverse. Believing that, while God assuredly has a people in the world, but few have an evidence of acceptance with him, they are led to quiet their fears, and to console themselves with the thought that a state of darkness is the inevitable lot of the church. They remain in a state of inactivity, and strive not for the high attainments sought by such as consider this state of darkness one of condemnation. Many members of the churches in which the views of Dr. Dwight are received, are continually under the spirit of bondage, and live in despondency. President Mahan, in a sermon on “Fullness of Joy,” makes the following statement:—“The ministers and elders of a leading presbytery had met some two or three years since for prayer and religious conversation. The brother who presided commenced the relation of Christian experience, saying, that the uniform character of his experience was that of despondency; and closed by saying that nothing but fear prevented his leaving the ministry. The other members, with the exception of the pastor and elders of a single church, who had embraced different views of the gospel from their brethren, followed in a similar strain.” This is given as a fair representation of the state of a great part of the churches. It certainly is not the state that does honor to religion; and, we may add, it is not the state the churches would be in if the doctrine, that it is the duty of all to obtain a clear evidence of acceptance with God, were practically regarded.
Only one other objection to the doctrine of the direct witness of the Spirit will be noticed in this article. It is frequently said that those who profess to have this witness cannot describe it, or tell how the mental state which results from it differs from other mental states; in short, they cannot give an intelligible account of it to those who do not profess to have experienced it. Hence, it is argued, it must be the offspring of weakness and fanaticism. This is a popular argument with many who esteem themselves wise and philosophical, having a great regard for reason. But those who urge it wholly overlook the fact, that if the Spirit of God directly communicates a truth to the spirit of a believer, there must result in his mind a simple idea, differing from all others, and hence indescribable. In this respect it is like all other simple
* Published in the Oberlin Evangelist in 1841, and the Guide to Holiness, Feb., 1847.
mental states. No man can give an intelligible account of any emotion, affection, or simple idea, to any one who has not already an acquaintance with them. We cannot, indeed, directly communicate any simple ideas to others; all the knowledge derived from books and intercourse with men consists of complex ideas, formed by combinations of simple ideas already existing in our minds. This is, therefore, the weakest and most unphilosophical of all objections.
Since we commenced writing this article we saw the announcement of a work with the following imposing title-page: “The Doctrine of the Direct Witness of the Spirit, as taught by Rev. John Wesley, shown to be Unscriptural, False, Fanatical, and of Mischievous Tendency. By FREDERIC A. Ross. Published by Perkins & Purvis, Philadelphia.” After diligent inquiry in Boston, New-York, and Philadelphia, we have not been able to obtain a copy. We have understood that it is circulated further south, being, perhaps, better suited to a southern latitude than elsewhere. It would afford us pleasure to examine the book, and to be convinced of error, if the author has really done what he so pompously announces. He is well known as a violent opposer of Methodism, and as the author of a series of articles first published in a southern periodical under the title of the “Great Iron Wheel,” in which he compares class meetings to the Roman confessional. If a fair specimen of his candor and ability is given in those articles, we think the truth will not suffer much from his attacks. The doctrine of the direct witness of the Spirit is not a new doctrine. It has ever been in the church. It has been assaulted by skepticism, ridicule, and fanaticism, but it still survives; its influence is increasing; and we trust the time is not far distant when it will be generally and practically held as one of the important truths of the gospel.
Malden, Dec. 3, 1847.
ART. WI.--Westminster Assembly of Divines.
The Westminster Assembly of Divines is one of those notable points in history, which, rising above the level of surrounding objects, are conspicuous in the retrospect, and serve as chronological and historical waymarks. In its own age it may have appeared comparatively insignificant; but affairs that terminate in this world are less durable in their effects, and are more readily forgotten, than those which, by their affinity to eternal things, borrow somewhat of their immortality. For though the history of the internal commotions of England during the “great rebellion” is still far from being insignificant, yet the relative estimate of the civil and ecclesiastical affairs of that age have mutually exchanged places in the public mind. As in a landscape, distance casts a mellowing shade over the sharp outlines of minuter objects, but gives apparent elevation to the mountain summit; so distance of time, while it puts out of sight many subjects of temporary interest, elevates whatever is truly great in the past. Few subjects within the compass of modern history are so well worthy of careful study as the character and permanent results of the Westminster Assembly. To the mere amateur of history it affords an agreeable mental repast; to the student of governmental science, whether civil or ecclesiastical, and to the observer of human character, it will ever be a theme affording both profit and pleasure. But its chief value can be appreciated only by those who trace the hand of God in the affairs of men, overruling and directing them to advance the Redeemer's kingdom. Thus viewed, that Assembly appears as a point at which were collected the germs of the religious interests of unborn generations. A direction was then to be given to the theology and the ecclesiastical affairs of the kingdom that could not fail to be widely and continuously operative for good or evil. At the beginning of the Reformation ecclesiastical affairs throughout Christendom were settled down into an absolute spiritual despotism. The system of prelacy had attained its maturity, and the bishop of Rome claimed to be, and was acknowledged as, Christ's sole vicar, clothed with the fullest vicegerent authority. But in the process of his aggrandizement the pope had added temporal dignities to his spiritual authority, and thus come to be recognized, not only as head of the church, but also as one of the potentates of Europe. By reason of this mixture of spiritual and temporal dignity, the nature of his authority