How John Blair
Relates to the
Heresy of Decisional Regeneration
The following is a sermon given February 26, 1767 by John Blair (1720-1771), a New Light Calvinist Presbyterian. This sermon was delivered shortly before he turned over the College of New Jersey (later called Princeton) to John Witherspoon. Had he known Witherspoon would change the understanding of evangelical salvation in America from a supernatural activity of the Holy Spirit to metaphysical material causation of psychology, he would no doubt have fought Witherspoon as hard as he fought the marauding indians who once threatened his family.
2 Corinthians 5:17.
Therefore if any man be in CHRIST, he is a new creature: old things are past away, behold all things are become new.
It is no uncommon thing for the men of this world to look upon the people of God as beside themselves. They account their fervency and spirituality in Religion enthusiasm.
Witherspoon would call Blair's view of regeneration enthusiasm.
This imputation the Apostle obviates in the 13th verse of our Context; and vindicates himself and brethren by considering the greatness of the object, and importance of the matter of their exercise. If you reckon us besides ourselves, it is, (as tho' the Apostle had said) to GOD, who is worthy of the warmest devotion; though, sometimes, for your sakes we suppress the emotion of our affections, that we may address you with sober solemn arguments.—It is impossible to have any proper sense of the love of Christ, expressed by his dying for us, and not feel a mighty energy from it upon the heart.
He died in order to deliver such as were in a legal and spiritual sense dead, from their wretched and woful condition, and restore them to life.—A life devoted to his honour and service.—He died for all, that they which live, should not henceforth live to themselves, but to him who died for them, and rose again.
Hence they are raised above the government of carnal principles, nor do they live according to the course of this world: they know no man after the flesh, so as to accommodate themselves to his carnal relish and principles.
True Christians live under the impression of divine and spiritual truths, and tho' they know not Christ, nor converse with him in that manner in which the Disciples did in the days of his flesh here below, yet they have a spiritual acquaintance and intercourse with him. Their life must, therefore, be such as the maxims and principles are, upon which it is formed; and consequently, very different from that course, in which the men of this world live.
The illative (inference of the) particle therefore, shews that the words of my text are a native inference from the forementioned considerations. The words are an hypothetical proposition, in the antecedent of which, we have the state and condition of true Christians expressed. They are in Christ. That is, they are united to him by faith, have an interest in his person, righteousness, and all the benefits of his purchase, and have his Spirit dwelling in them.—The consequent gives us their character.
Orthodox theology is regeneration instantly changes the character of the sinner to the character of a saint. This is directly contrary to the teaching of Witherspoon's Scottish Common Sense Realism.
They are new creatures. If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature. The word might be rendered a new creation. It signifies that blessed change wrought in the hearts of sinners by the Holy Spirit, whereby they become dead to sin, and alive to GOD thro' CHRIST JESUS. Thus the Apostle adds by way of explication, old things are passed away, behold all things are become new.— What I intend from this passage, at present, is,
1. To explain the nature of this change, here called the new creature, or new creation.
2. To shew that this is the certain character of all those, who are in Christ Jesus. I return to the first proposed, viz. To explain the nature of this change here, called the new creature. It consists in a new temper and disposition of the soul towards God and divine things, formed by the Holy Spirit's infusing a principle of spiritual life, whereby the heart of a sinner is turned from the love and service of sin to God and holiness; the necessary consequence of which, is an happy change in the prevailing course of his practice.
In this description, you may observe, first, that the author of this change, or the agent by whom it is effected, is the Holy Spirit. It is expressly ascribed to him by the Apostle, Titus 3:5. Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.
A serious and attentive consideration of the scripture-account of man's fallen state, will plainly shew, that none, less than such a divine Almighty Agent, can bring a creature, so entirely revolted from God, to a right temper towards him.—He is dead in tresspasses and sins, Ephesians 2:1. His carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. Romans. 3:7. From these representations it appears, that there is not any power or principle in a sinner, while in his natural state, in the least degree, tending to a return to God.
But on the contrary, principles of strongest opposition to any such change govern him. He is under the power of sin and in love with it. His relishes and inclinations are all earthly and carnal; and enmity denotes the most fixed unyeilding opposition of the will to God; the greatest disgust and aversion. This temper, therefore, must be broken and removed, before the soul can submit to the divine government.
The metaphors made use of, in the sacred Scripture, to represent this change, give us the same idea of the matter, viz. a resurrection, or passing from death to life. Ephesians 5:14. John 5:24. a new birth; John 3: 3. and a new creation, as in the text, and Ephesians 2:10, all which, denote the utter absence of any principle or power, whereby the sinner can dispose, or determine his own heart to turn to God. Nor can any meer moral suasion prevail with him.
The effect produced, by the agency of the Holy Spirit, is a principle of spiritual life. You hath he quickened (says the Apostle) who were dead in trespasses and sins. Ephesians 2:1. The implantation of this divine principle, in which the soul is passive, is what is strictly called Regeneration; and the exercise thereof, in sinners actually turning from the power of sin to God, is what divines mean by Conversion.—This principle of life, perhaps, consists in spiritual knowledge of God and divine things, whereby their nature and excellency are truly apprehended, in some measure, as they are.— Such knowledge as gives a proper impression and relish of things to the heart.
The nature of true grace seems to be thus expressed, Jeremiah 31: 34.— They shall all know me, from the least to the greatest. 1 John 2: 20—27. The spread of true Religion in the world, is signified by the prevalence of knowledge; the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea. Isaiah 11:9. And the increase of true Religion is expressed, by the metaphor of encreasing light. Moreover, the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold, as the light of seven days, in the day that the LORD bindeth up the breach of his people, and healeth the stroke of their wound. Isa. 30:26.
The reality, and true nature of this divine principle of life, can only be known to us by its effects. These are briefly pointed out in the latter part of my text; old things are passed away, behold all things are become new.—These words are not to be taken in an absolute sense, as though the work of grace was complete and perfect in degree and no remainders of corruption were left in that heart, in which this blessed change is wrought. This would be contrary to both scripture and experience. The saints, in scripture, bitterly complain of indwelling corruption. Says holy David. Who can understand his errors? Psalm 19:12. He laments, that his iniquities were gone over his head, as an heavy burden, they were too heavy for him. He acknowledges his transgressions, and his sin was ever before him. Psalm 38:4, and 51:3.
The Apostle bewails his carnality; that he did what he allowed not, what he hated; that when he would do good, evil was present with him; that indwelling sin, as a law in his members, warred against the law of his mind; and cries out, O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death? Romans 7:14.
This is significant in understanding how a person can be regenerated and still be tempted and fall into sin. Regeneration does not prevent a person from wanting to sin, but rather, regeneration gives one the character to not give into the temptation, and if one does give into the temptation, the character to repent. If Archibald Alexander knew this, he would not have doubted he was regenerated after he sinned when he was 17 years old and American salvation theology would not evolved as it has. Alexander was swayed by William Graham's Scottish Common Sense Realism at a formative time in Alexander's life, so he was not able to understand the dual nature of the regenerated person described in Romans 7 and the necessity of the immediate activity of the Holy Spirit described in Romans 8.
If in regeneration, no indwelling sin, no remainders of corruption were left in the heart, then the true Christian would love God with the utmost intenseness his nature would be capable of, and that, without the least abatement or intermission, any moment of his life. For coldness of love to God, or not to love him to the highest degree we are, in the nature of things, capable of, is corruption; and some sinful distemper in the heart, must be the reason why we love him no better.
Now, how arrogant would that man be, who would say, that he loved God in so high a degree, and with so much intenseness, that he could not wish to love him better, or more constantly than he does! would any one look upon such a person to be a true Christian, or, to know any thing about true love to God at all? Upon this supposition too, there would, at no time, be any motion of sin in the heart of a Christian; nor any the least tendency to evil. Consequently, he would be perfect as soon as regenerated, and could never commit any sin in his practice.
It will not avail any thing here, to say that a Christian may be drawn into sin by external temptation, as Adam was, when he eat the forbidden fruit. For external temptation can never entangle a person in sin, but by first defiling the heart. While that is untainted, he is proof against temptation. Thus, it first gained Adam's heart, and then he committed the outward transgression, and so apostatized from God.—In like manner, according to this notion, when a Christian is by temptation drawn into sin, his heart is defiled, and then he has corruption dwelling in him. Consequently, he apostatizes from his regenerate state, and relapses into his former natural condition, which is absurd.
It is plain, therefore, that the language of my text is not to be taken in an absolute, but a qualified sense. Yet, it certainly denotes a very great change in the whole man. The whole temper of the heart, and state of things are quite altered, so that the man is not in a moral sense the same sort of a creature that he was. He is, indeed, physically the same, yet morally a new creature. In whom there is a perfection of parts, though not of degrees. i. e. The whole man is renewed, though he be but in part renewed. This matter, I would endeavour more fully to illustrate in the few following particulars.
This happy change, first. supposes the removal of the sinner's old security. His natural state is represented, in the word of God, by the metaphors of sleep and death, which denote great insensibility. He is the vassal of satan; who works in the children of disobedience. Ephesians 2: 2. And while satan, as a strong man armed, keeps the house, his goods are in peace.—The sinner's heart is compared to fallow ground, which lies still, spontaneously yeilding weeds and thorns, and not broke up, to prepare it for seed, in order to a crop.
The first work of the Holy Spirit, in order to bring about this change, is to arouse the sinner out of this deep security. This he does, by the application of the divine law to the conscience. Perhaps, the threatening of the law for some particular transgression, first alarms the sinner, and brings him to serious consideration. Brings him to think what he has been doing all his life. Upon this he finds he has been living in careless neglect of GOD, and his own eternal interest. He begins to see this course will never do, there is a necessity of turning to GOD. But alas! he finds an indisposed disinclined heart.
The Holy Spirit opens, by light let into the understanding, the spirituality and strictness of the law, and thereby discovers the exceeding corruption and wickedness of the heart. When the commandment comes with power, corruption is irritated, and rises up in opposition. Sin, taking occasion by the commandment, works in him all manner of concupiscence.—His sins revive, and he dies. Rom. 7: 8- 9. Hence, the conscience is impressed with a sense of divine wrath. The poor sinner becomes deeply sensible of his misery, and exceeding anxious about a way of escape. All his attempts to relieve himself, and mend his own heart, only discover more and more, his exceeding sinfulness and wretchedness.
He now sees his absolute necessity of mercy, and the grace of God to change his heart; without which, he must be undone forever. This conviction of sin and misery is not, indeed, an ingredient in the change itself, of which my text speaks, but only discovers the necessity of it, and awakens the sinner to seek after it. Many are deeply convinced, who never become new creatures. But, such as the Holy Spirit has never awakened out of a deep sleep of carnal security, have, certainly, never been the subjects of his gracious operations. But, when the saving change takes place, the old darkness and blindness of the mind passes away, and the understanding is divinely enlightened. He, who was sometimes darkness, is made light in the LORD. Ephesians 5:8.
The sinner is, in his natural state, alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in him, because of the blindness of his heart. Ephesians 4:18. The mind is, by nature, so greatly estranged from God and divine things, that it is called darkness in the abstract. But the Spirit of God dispels this darkness, and enlightens the mind in the knowledge of Christ, and the scheme of salvation through him, as revealed in the gospel. God who commanded the light, in creating the natural world, to shine out of darkness, shines in the heart; to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:6.
Jehovah appears transcendently excellent. The law of God appears then to be, indeed, spiritual, and holy, and just, and good. The mind beholds the beauty and excellency of spiritual things; and of that internal purity and holiness, which the law of God requires. Now, the abominable vileness of sin is clearly apprehended. In a word, all things appear in a new and very different point of light. The understanding beholds them in their true nature. Hence, the person's old estimate of things passes away. By nature, he was filled with a high esteem of the world, sin, and sensual pleasures. This world, in one point of view or another, he accounted his chief good. He accounted it pleasure, to riot in the day time. 2 Peter 2:13.
He thought the service of sin pleasant, and judged it liberty, to make provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.—He accounted the service of God a grieveous burden, and the law of God, especially as it respected the inward man, a disagreeable restraint. He exceedingly disrelished the sovereignty, and freeness of the grace of God.—He could not think of renouncing all his own righteousness as filthy rags, and coming poor, and miserable, and blind, and naked to the righteousness of Christ, as his only refuge.—But now, how changed his judgement of matters! He accounts all things but loss, for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ his Lord, for whom he suffers the loss of all things, and counts them but dung, that he may win Christ. Phillipians 3:8.
Jesus Christ is altogether lovely and precious; and he highly prizes, and greatly admires the grace of God. He esteems the favour and friendship of God his life. He exceedingly values the divine law, and sees the beauty of holiness.—He apprehends the emptiness, and vanity of this world. He looks upon sin as very vile and abominable, and groans under it, as a heavy load.
In consequence of all this, the choice and inclination of the will is quite changed. In the sinner's natural state, his will freely chooses, fully consents to sin.—It is in such a state of fixed opposition to God, that it is enmity against him; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither, indeed, can be. Romans 8:7. It does not submit to the righteousness of Christ, or the scheme of salvation exhibited in the gospel.— But upon such a new view of things as has been suggested, this enmity and opposition is subdued. A rational creature cannot choose evil as evil, and therefore, the will must needs follow this practical judgement of the understanding.—It chearfully chooses the righteousness of Christ, and submits to the terms of reconciliation with God, which the gospel proposes. It sweetly rests in God as a chief good, submits to him as a most rightful Sovereign, and esteems it as a great priviledge to be under his government. Holiness is chosen with much complacency; and the ways of sin are rejected with abhorrence. Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power. Psalms. 110:3. See also Psalms. 119:30.
The affections take a new course. Their old current was earthly and carnal. They were impetuous and overbearing in their tendency towards forbidden objects, or inordinate towards such as are, in themselves, lawful. They had the government, and led the poor soul captive: they blinded the understanding, perverted the judgement, stupified the conscience, and entangled the will; and thus, things were in disorder and confusion.—But now, divine light having represented things in their true nature and importance to the understanding, rectified the judgement, and gained the will; the affections naturally follow and become subject. In respect of their objects and exercise, they are, indeed, new. They terminate on spiritual objects, and so become spiritual. Now love, desire, delight, joy, zeal, hope, embrace God and spiritual communications from him, which the heart before disrelished; and evangelical sorrow and hatred have sin (in which the soul was wont to delight) for their object.
As this alteration does not respect the passions or affections only,
Scottish Common Sense Realists and some Old Lights went further than just saying religious affections without a change of character were useless - they said religious affections were useless as a possible indication of a change of character. This "straw man" approach to religious affections appealed to the highly educated, the deists and Universalists, because it made saving faith a matter of the intellect and denied the ability to detect an immediate supernatural change. But it also laid a foundation for "bare faith" acceptance of the decrees of God as "saving faith" with de facto regeneration by the end of the nineteenth century. Jonathan Edwards wrote hundreds of pages on the way to discern counterfeit religious affections, but always emphasized that if people in Heaven have righteousness, and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, so should saints have a measure on earth (Romans 14:17).
but takes place, primarily, in the understanding, judgement and will, it will, therefore, not be a transient flash, or short lived zeal, like the stony ground hearers; but is habitual and fixed. The graces of the Holy Spirit are not always in exercise, but there is always such a sense of things as makes the soul restless and uneasy in such a case. There is always a disposition to seek the lively exercise of grace, a tendency towards it. This shews, that a principle of life abides in the soul; which, from time to time, is drawn forth into some sensible exercise. From such a change in the soul's temper and sense of things, it follows, 6. THAT the old course of practice is changed. Old courses of sin are forsaken and abandoned. The duties of religion, formerly neglected, are now performed with conscientious strictness. The subject of this happy change, immediately, withdraws from the company of the loose and ungodly; and chooses the society of God's people. But it is not only in the openly vicious and irreligious, that a change of conduct appears. Such as have supported an exter∣nally regular and religious character, upon this new view and sense of things, behave in a very different manner.
Jonathan Edwards described the experience of regeneration as a "taste" or "relish", as in Judgment; discernment; nice perception, or the power of perceiving; the faculty of discerning beauty, order, congruity, proportion, symmetry, or whatever constitutes excellence. Regenerate people have a taste or relish for God and the things and ways of God that the unregenerate do not have.
By the influences of the Holy Spirit, they are, frequently, enabled to perform holy duties with much solemnity and spiritual life: nor can they rest easy with a cold formality in the service of God. They seek communion with him. They hear the word of God with another kind of attention. They often hang upon the lips of the preacher.— Their conversation often savours of Heaven, and things divine. They cannot make light of sin, and indulge indwelling corruption as heretofore. They are jealous of their own hearts, and watch against the motions of sin there. They mourn over, and maintain a prevailing opposition to it. They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh, with its affections and lusts. Galatians 5:24.
Through the Spirit they mortify the deeds of the body, and so live. Romans 8:7. Hence their conflict and spiritual warfare: for the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary the one to the other. Galatians 5:17. But it is time to proceed to the second thing proposed, viz, to shew, that it is the certain character of those, who are in Christ Jesus, that they are new creatures.
As I have already exceeded the limits I designed, I shall not enlarge here; and shall only very briefly suggest two considerations, whereby this truth will appear.
First, it was the great end of our blessed Redeemer's mediatory undertaking, to deliver his people, in due time, from the whole ruin of their fallen state. Now a principal part of this ruin consists in their spiritual death, and bondage to sin: consequently, his design is to restore them to life and liberty; and to make them free indeed. John 8:36. This design, therefore, he carries into execution, by the agency of the Holy Spirit.
He saves, not only from the guilt, but also from the power of sin. He is called Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins. Mat. 1:21.—For this purpose was the Son of God manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. 1 John 3:8. In accomplishing this purpose, they who are his, are born of God, and do not commit sin, for his seed remaineth in them, and they cannot sin, for they are born of God. verse. 9. i e. they do not commit sin, they cannot sin habitually, with free consent, and delight: and so, do not continue in the practice of any known sin. In any other sense, the Apostle would contradict himself. For he tells us, if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 1 John 1:8. And in this sense, his observation is sufficient to shew, that such are new creatures.
They who are in Christ, have his Spirit dwelling in them. If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. Romans 8: 9.— Now the indwelling of the Spirit must denote his presence, grace, and influence in the heart, as a sanctifier. He is a Holy Spirit, and cannot endure the power and dominion of sin where he dwells. They who are joined to the LORD are one spirit. 1 Corinthians. 6:17. Hence, they are temples of the Holy Ghost; and made holy.
The concept of the "heart" is lost to Scottish Common Sense Realism because the "heart" denotes a place where the Holy Spirit inhabits as a resident, regardless of the state of mind.
It remains now to make some Reflections upon this subject by way of Improvement.
Reflection 1. What has been said serves to correct a fatal mistake of those who imagine, they do not stand in need of such a change as has been described, because they have been born in the visible church; have been early devoted to God in baptism; have had a religious education; and especially when their lives are externally religious and regular. They acknowledge, that heathens and infidels, or the grossly wicked and profligate must be regenerated, and become new creatures. But as for them, they have been brought up in a religious manner, and therefore, it cannot be necessary they should experience so great and remarkable a change.
Thus Paul once thought, he was circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews, as touching the law, a Pharisee (the strictest sect among the Jews) concerning zeal, persecuting the Church; touching the righteousness of the law blameless. These things he counted his gain. Phillipians 3:5-7. He imagined, he was in a fair way to heaven. He was alive in his own apprehension, until the commandment came, and then sin revived, and he died. Romans 7:8- 9.—But alas! all mankind are born the subjects of spiritual death, and destitute of principles of spiritual life and holiness. By our first apostacy from God, we have all lost his moral image, and have a carnal mind, which is enmity against God.
Hence how orthodox soever our profession may be, and how strict soever our practice, yet all will be dead and spiritless, while that inward state of the mind continues. All our religious services will be but dead works, and cannot be acceptable in the sight of God. There will be no sense or relish of the beauty and excellency of God, and divine things. And such a life, cannot be said to be truly holy. The heart is such as its governing principles are. It is, therefore, indispensibly necessary, that the soul be delivered from the governing power of carnal principles, and restored to life, in order to serve God in a spiritual manner.
But such a change of governing principles, will infer a very great alteration in the state and temper of the heart; as great, as the difference between life and death. Such a person will, consequently, feel a very different frame of mind, and sense of things; and be engaged in the ways of religion, in a very different manner: and with a very different zeal and integrity of heart. He is not the same sort of person as he was, he becomes indeed a new creature. He serves God upon principles truly spiritual, and his practice of religious duties partakes of the spirituality of these principles. Such a change as this, all must experience, or perish.
Reflection 2. Seeing all mankind are, by nature, in such a state, as that they must become new creatures, and experience so great a change as I have represented, in order to their becoming capable of truly serving God, and happiness in the enjoyment of Him; it is of the last importance, my hearers, that you examine whether you are the subjects of such a change. Recollect the particulars included in it, which I have mentioned in this discourse, compare yourselves with them, and see whether they are descriptive of your case.
As to such of you as are strangers to any thing like such a change, as I have been endeavouring to explain to you; who live in the neglect of God and Religion, and indulge yourselves in the practice of sin; you may conclude, without any further debate upon the matter, that you are yet in your natural state, a state of death and ruin.— But with respect to such of you as have experienced something like such a change, there is need of closer scrutiny. You have need to examine the matter, with much seriousness and impartiality, and to seek the aid of the Holy Spirit in the search.
For there are common operations of the Spirit, as well as special; common grace, as well as saving: i. e. There are operations of the Spirit, whereby solemn impressions of the word of God are made upon the heart, and a considerable alteration is effected, which, yet, come short of a saving change: or, in other words, they do not make the subject of them truly holy. Hence, deep convictions, illumination of the mind, and great emotions of the affections. This, our LORD teaches by the Parable of the stony ground hearers. Luke 8:13.
The Apostle supposes persons to be enlightened, to taste of the heavenly gift, be made partakers of the Holy Ghost, to taste the good word of GOD, and the powers of the world to come, who yet may fall away so, as that it is impossible to renew them to repentance. Hebrews 6: 4- 5. Hence, great external reformation, and zeal in the practice of religious duties for a season; like Herod, who heard John the Baptist gladly, and did many things. Mark 6:20. Here are effects resembling true grace, yet come short of it. Many too who have had (as the event at last shews) only common grace, have high confidences, and (as they apprehend) strong assurance of their justified, converted state; stronger confidence, than many exercised since Christians.—That you have been the subjects of very deep impressions of the word of God, and have experienced a great alteration, you can not doubt; but whether they have gone further than common grace; whether it is a thorough and saving change, is the question.
The heresy of decisional regeneration was made possible in 1914 because Scottish Common Sense Realism made "truth impression" of the Word of God the definition of regeneration. It became the rational for the BEST inquiry room system to replace the BIST system.
Nor will your strongest confidence of your gracious state, of itself, prove the matter to be so, unless it is founded on scriptural evidence of a work of saving grace in the heart, answering to the characters of grace in the word of God, it is a sign of presumption rather than grace.—The reality and truth of grace is not immediately self-evident, but must be discerned by comparing the experiences of the heart, and their influence on the life, with the unerring rule of God's Word—indeed, when the soul embraces Christ by faith, from the very nature of that exercise, it will have some sweet sense of the mercy and grace of God appearing in that way of salvation, such as will introduce a refreshing calm and peace into the distressed conscience: and that, in proportion to the strength of faith, and the clearness of its views.
Notice Blair does not dismiss emotions like peace joy and love as evidence of regeneration - these religious affections are Biblical evidence... not just believing a salvation Scripture.
I would not say that there may not be a real saving closure with Christ, when yet there may be such obscurity in faith's views, and so much weakness in its exercise, as not to afford sensible comfort, but only relieve the soul from sinking, though the soul cannot rest there. I believe, there are instances of this. But for the most part, I apprehend, at the soul's closure with Christ, such astonishing scenes of mercy and grace open to view, and such discoveries of the glory of GOD, and excellency of divine things, as make the soul exceedingly to rejoice, with joy unspeakable and full of glory.
If only Archibald Alexander had believed Scripture regarding religious affections instead of William Graham, the history of American evangelical salvation would have been different.
While the believer is taken up with these views, and feels his soul resting upon the righteousness of Christ, he cannot but have a lively hope of the mercy of God, yea, for the present, does not doubt of it. But this is very different from a fixed assurance of his gracious state. For when these views are abated, the divine presence is withdrawn, and corruptions (which the Christian was ready to flatter himself, he should never feel any more) are again felt in the heart, it is natural to suppose, that the young Christian (who had very different expectations) will call all in question again.
If only 17 year old Archibald Alexander had read this Scriptural explanation of the regenerate man tempted.
Renewed light, and exercises of faith again relieve him: yet succeeding darkness temptation and exercise with the indwelling corruptions of his heart may from time to time fill him with fear and jealousies of himself. I make no doubt, but there are instances of such, who, at their first closure with Christ, are favoured with a scriptural fixed assurance of their gracious state. But this is not a common case. Such assurance is, usually, the consequence of a course of experience, after many conflicts and repeated self-examination.
Many exercised Christians, too, have their attention so taken up with the corruptions and wickedness of their hearts, and so distressed, with a sense thereof, as to overlook their opposition, and the principles of that opposition. And this is a great source of their doubts and fears; from which, a careful examination of the reasons of their distress, and the principles, and manner of their opposition would tend to relieve them. Now from all these considerations, it appears, how highly necessary a very strict examination of yourselves is, upon this interesting matter; on the one hand, to prevent your settling upon a false foundation; on the other, in order to discover the evidence of true grace where it does exist, and so remove groundless fears of sincere Christians.
That you may examine this matter with advantage, it will be necessary, that you attentively consider the dictinction between common and saving grace.—For your assistance herein, I would just suggest, 1st. that whatever light may be let into the mind by the common influence of the spirit, its only effects seem to be the commotion of the passions, and some temporary reformation, and zeal in the external practice of Religion. But the will is not sweetly bowed, and brought to submit to the Gospel. The sinner does not come out of himself to Christ's righteousness, as his only refuge: he does not renounce his own righteousness as filthy rags. If he seems to trust in Christ, his primary encouragement is from some apprehended goodness in himself, or some good affection, and not alone from a view of the glorious fulness in Christ, and the freeness of the grace of God in him, to the most wretched and unworthy of sinners.
Blair is either a Hopkinsian or Bellamite - at this point it looks like a Hopkinsian because he is introducing "disinterested benevolence" as the most reliable Biblical evidence of regeneration - but he could also be a Bellamite, because he is emphasizing Common Grace and Law Works, something Bellamites are more likely to discuss. Let's read on.
Hence, there is no truly spiritual temper and disposition formed in the heart.—2. The effects of common grace are transient, and the zeal and engagedness in religion, thence arising, soon passes away. It may continue for a while, but in time of temptation, such persons fall away; for they have no root in themselves. Luke 8:13. They have no abiding principle of life. Their religion subsides into a lifeless form. Their hearts return to their former habitual coldness and carnality. They have no such habitual tendency towards GOD, such frequent breathings and pantings after him, such restless uneasiness in his absence; such opposition to, and victory over temptation and sin; such frequent exercises of repentance, and quickening of grace into life and exercise, as true Christians have.—
Bring these matters close home to yourselves, I pray you; search and see how the case stands with you. A mistake here is highly dangerous, and will be fatal, unless GOD, of his tender mercy, discover it.
Reflection 3. Such of you, as, upon impartial examination, have reason to hope, you have experienced this gracious change: (and conscience bears you witness, you are afraid of deceiving yourselves) you, I say, are under peculiar obligations to stand distinguished from the men of this world, by the strictness, spirituality, and holiness of your lives. Let it appear, by a prevailing heavenliness of conversation, that you are indeed new creatures. Ye are the salt of the earth, and light of the world. Matthew 5:13-14. These are arguments, by which, our Lord urges holiness upon his people. If we live in the spirit, let us also walk in the spirit. Galatans 5:25. And herein is your Heavenly Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; and so shall you be, i. e. appear to be CHRIST'S disciples.
Nothing so much dishonours God, and wounds the credit of religion, as the backsliding and untender walk of such, as have made an eminent profession. How base and unbecoming is it to see such acting beneath their character. O sirs, seek to be perfecting holiness in the fear of God: to be a peculiar people, zealous of good works. Let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ. Phillipians 1:27.
Reflection 4. How importunate should such be, who are awakened to any solemn sense of their miserable degenerate state, in seeking the grace of GOD, to effect a saving change in them! If there are any such in my audience, let me beseech you to consider, how impossible it is, you should ever enter into heaven with such hearts as you find, by sad experience, you have. Without a new temper and relish of things, you can never enjoy the blessed GOD as your happiness. How dreadful is the thought, that ye should fall asleep again, and become careless in so exceedingly dangerous and ruinous a condition!
Here, permit me, to offer you a few directions.
1. Cherish your convictions, and beware of stifling them. We naturally love ease, and are fond of relief from distress. Your hearts are deceitful, and apt to snatch at comfort at any rate. You are surrounded with various allurements and snares from the world. And the devil will employ his sophistical arts to lull you asleep, or settle on some false foundation. You are, therefore, in a critical dangerous situation. O consider the danger of your miscarrying; and how awful it will be to settle on your lees again.—
2. Labour to get as clear apprehensions as ye can, from the word of God, of the nature of that change ye are to seek. It is very true, experience only can give you a thorough clear idea of it, yet ye can, at least, so far take up the representation of the matter in the word of God, as to learn from it, that it must be a very great change in the whole man, and that a temper, directly contrary to that, which you now feel, must obtain in you.—For want of attending to this, many take up with superficial appearances, apparent good desires, flashes of affections, and some external reformation as evidences of regeneration, tho' they have no universal change in the whole soul, nor any abiding new principles and temper.—
Others again imagine, that if ever this blessed change shall take place in them, they will have some extraordinary witness of the Holy Spirit, assuring them of their justification and regeneration; and that faith contains an assurance of a personal interest in Christ, in its very nature. Hence, they are altogether taken up in desiring and praying for this, and neglect every other consideration.—But this is not the first thing to be obtained. Such assurance is the fruit of faith, and the result of experience.—The first thing you are to seek for, is to be so enlightened in the knowledge of the all sufficient fulness of Christ's righteousness, and the glory of that way of salvation, as that your wills may be persuaded to acquiesce in it with sweet complacency and to yield yourselves to God. That ye may be brought to choose God himself as your portion;
To delight in holiness and hate sin.—3. At the footstool of sovereign grace. Resolve to continue crying to God, and cease not till you obtain. Wicked and corrupt as you are, and though you are unable to change your own hearts, yet God, who created the natural world, can create your depraved souls anew. And he is infinitely gracious; he has compassion on whom he will have compassion, and mercy on whom he will have mercy; so that it is not of him that willeth nor of him that runneth, but of GOD that sheweth mercy. Romand 9:15-16.—But while you cry unto GOD, consider yourselves as objects of meer mercy and grace, who are utterly unworthy of any favour. Nor can you do any to merit the divine grace. If he visit you with mercy, it will be according to the good pleasure of his own will. Yet it is in the use of means that GOD is pleased to meet with sinners: he has made it your duty to wait upon him, and has told you, that for this will he be enquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them. Ezekiel 36:37.
John Blair just indicated he is a Bellamite - A Hopkinsian would never tell seekers to use the means of grace. This was the aspect of Bellamy's theology that Timothy Dwight tried to convince his students at Yale, but Nettleton and Beecher would have none of it - they were zealous Hopkinisians.
Reflection 5. This subject loudly calls upon careless sinners to awake out of their carnal security, and lay to heart their great danger, and absolute necessity of a supernatural work of divine grace, to make them new creatures in Christ Jesus.— Without holiness, no man shall see the Lord. Hebrews 12:14. The happiness of rational creatures depends upon the favours and friendship of God. The enjoyment of God must be by way of friendly intercourse and communion. Now all friendship is mutual between the parties, and arises from a conformity or agreeableness of the parties each to the other. But sinners, in their natural state, are altogether opposed to God and holiness.
Their relishes and pleasures are earthly and carnal. The tendency of their hearts, their inclinations are to sin; their delight is in it, in one way or other, and that continually. And consequently, they have a fixed aversion to the divine government, and enmity against God. Therefore, they must be equally the objects of the divine aversion and abhorrence. Hence it follows, that the nature of one or the other of the parties must be changed, before they can come together, or have any fellowship.
Therefore, this change must take place in sinners, and the moral image of God, to which they are by nature, quite opposed, must be restored; or, they must be cut off from his gracious presence, and fall under his dread resentments forever.—Poor sinners, is it fit you should be easy and at rest in such a case as this? Must you not be forever miserable and undone, if you die in your present condition? Do but observe the prevailing temper and pleasures of your own hearts; the course of your practice, and tendency of your lives. Can you persuade yourselves, that you are spiritual, and relish the things of God? and that the frame and temper of your hearts suits the state and entertainments of Heaven? Are you not earthly, and such as mind the things of the flesh? therefore, you are posting (advertising), as fast as time can carry you, to everlasting ruin. I beseech you, to enter upon some serious solemn consideration of your case.—Do not harden your hearts, by giving loose reins to your lusts and sinful practices.
Do not give yourselves up to dissipation and sensual pleasures. Keep at a distance from temptations to sin. One cannot take fire into his bosom, and not be burned. Whosoever will throw himself into the way of temptation, may expect to be entangled. Avoid the present public snare in this city, I mean the entertainments of the Theatre. Whatever pretensions to the exposing of vice are alledged in its favour, yet, surely, the vicious characters are, in the first place, acted. When, by these exhibitions, the vicious passions of the corrupt heart are enflamed, the alledged moral is either not at all observed, or, if it is set in view, it has not any influence.
God has not appointed the stage as a mean of the reformation of mankind, and therefore, we have no reason to expect his blessing upon it, without which nothing will be effectual for that purpose: nor is it attended upon with any such view. Yea, it has been the complaint of every age, that it has promoted immorality and impiety. And certainly, facts must expose the vanity of every specious pretence to the contrary. Many, by attending the stage, have learned arts of intrigue, and methods of accomplishing wicked designs, which, otherwise, probably, they would never have known. What though it may have fared ill with the person, whose vicious character is acted? Will this deter a sinner, unawed by the divine threatenings, from pursuing the same course? No; he hopes it will succeed better with him; and thus, prompted by lust enflamed, he rushes into an imitation, whenever he has a proper opportunity.
I would solemnly warn you not to run the risk of such dangerous consequences. O sirs, I pray you, attend the means of grace with conscientious diligence, study carefully, and with application to yourselves, the important doctrines of religion, consider your latter end, commune with your own hearts, and examine whither you are tending; be much in earnest prayer to God: O prostrate yourselves at the throne of grace.—Though there be no certain necessary connection between all this, and your obtaining the special grace of God. (For God is a sovereign in the dispensation of his mercy to sinners, and can never be brought under obligations to any) yet, none ever obtained grace in a state of carnal security.
In this way of earnestly seeking God, all who ever have obtained mercy, found it. Without being solemnly engaged in such a course, as I have here hinted at, you cannot be said to wait upon God, or to be seeking salvation. Yea, by your careless neglect, you are justly chargeable with choosing your own death.—Surely, you cannot rationally imagine, that your present course tends to eternal life. For can you think, a carnal mind is life and peace?—Your precious immortal souls are or greater value than the whole world: and will you be content to loose them for trifles, and a thing of nought?
What will it profit a man, if he should gain the whole world, and loose his own soul, or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? Matthew 16:26. Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation; to-day, if you will hear his voice, harden not your hearts. Time is posting on, and when it shall come to a close with you, all opportunity of obtaining grace will be over forever. What profit will ye then have of your sensual pleasures, sinful indulgences, and carnal security, of which you will indeed be ashamed? Take no rest, I pray you, in your present condition. Seek ye the Lord, while he may be found, call upon him, while he is near. For which purpose, may God, of infinite mercy, give you his Holy Spirit, for Christ's sake. Amen.