The Inquiry Room
How To Know if You Are Born Again
Chapter 5 - HISTORY + THEOLOGY - Timothy Dwight, The Last Puritan
It is the contention of the author that Timothy Dwight could accurately be called “the last Puritan”. Many will object and say that Spurgeon should be given that honor. But as you will read in other chapters of this book, Spurgeon adopted the abstract language of the New Light Calvinists so completely that you can read virtually any of his sermons and think he equated a “decision for Christ” with regeneration. It is only by reading a volume of his work that one discovers that Spurgeon was orthodox even as he preached for a “quick decision”.
In addition to Dwight's extensive works of Puritan doctrine, there are historical reasons to call Dwight "the last Puritan". He stood against the "infidel phylosophy" of Deists and other skeptics affecting the universities, and as President of Yale (1795-1817), he tried to stop the evolution of rationism and the abstraction of sin and the atonemnent inherent inNew Light Calvinism. It is unfortunate that he only had a small influence on students Lyman Beecher, Asael Nettleton, and especially Nathaniel Taylor.
Dwight was definately fighting a losing cause. He was like the Little Dutch Boy with his finger in the dike when the Second Great Awakening flooded the American terrain and the Puritan holistic view of election and regeneration was carried off in a million directions, never to be a mainstream doctrine again.
This chapter consists of several of Timothy Dwight’s sermons on the means of grace and Law Works before regeneration. The orthodox view that God regenerates when and if He desires is the other side of the orthodox view that man must repent. When New Light Calvinists abandoned “law works” as preceding regeneration, they lost the common grace cushion between repentance and regeneration. Timothy Dwight addresses this dilemma at the end of the sermon, “Man’s inability to obey the Law of God”.
“it will be objected that the sinner cannot, or, in the very language of this discourse, will not, repent of himself. Why then should he be urged to immediate repentance? I will give the answer. So long as the sinner feels himself in any degree excused in delaying this duty, there is every reason to fear that he will be more and more at ease, and more and more disposed to delay. His views will be false and dangerous, and his conduct will eagerly accord with his views. But a full conviction of his duty will create in him a sense of danger, a conviction of his guilt, and a trembling anxiety concerning his future being. In this situation he will naturally, and almost necessarily, commence those efforts of solemn reflection, that deep attention to the word of God, and those attempts to supplicate for mercy, that conviction of his helplessness, and that strong sense of the absolute necessity of being sanctified by the Spirit of grace, which, in the usual providence of God, precede regeneration.”
That is a good description of law works before regeneration.
This chapter will be an introduction for ministers who don’t understand the orthodox reason for calling people to repentance. Many self proclaimed Arminians today are astonished that Calvinists ask people to repent. In their minds, the orthodox view that God determines who will and wont be saved contradicts an honest appeal for everyone to repent. There are several misunderstandings of orthodox theology that must be removed if we are ever to work together against the heresy of decisional regeneration.
Reason number one orthodox ministers call all men to repentance
No minister knows who will or will not be regenerated by God. Even if the minister is given by God a supernatural word of knowledge that a certain person will be saved, he should never use that information to alter “that strong sense of the absolute necessity of being sanctified by the Spirit of grace, which, in the usual providence of God, precede regeneration”. Experienced ministers treat every man as though they could be regenerated in the future even if they show no interest in the Gospel and treat every man as though they might not be regenerated even though they show a great interest in the gospel. To do otherwise is to attribute too much importance to religious affections. The great lesson of the Camp Meetings of the Second Great Awakening is seekers can think their religious experience is an indicated they are regenerated. Thankfully in the nineteenth century, the antinomians (people who believe “saving grace” is a license to sin as Paul described in Romans 6:1-2) were scarce, and false converts who did not honor their profession (did not live a holy life) were told they were not regenerated.
Unfortunately, such is not the case today. Looking at the “fall away” rate of Southern Baptists, one could confidently say that at least three-quarters of “decisions for Christ” are ineffective. In the nineteenth century, the parable of the seed was understood to mean the condition of the hearts of the hearers was revealed by their fruit. The first three categories of seed fell on soil (the hearts of men) that would not grow to maturity and bear fruit. In the third case, it took awhile to find out that those hearts would not produce fruit. Those three-quarters of seed would never have been told they were saved because ministers never presumed to know such a thing and those who thought they were saved because of religious affections knew they were deceived if they “fell away”.
Ministers (including Arminians) did not see salvation as merely the result of an act of human will and “falling away” as merely an act of human will. An act of human will did not save and an act of human will could not destroy. A person was either a sinner or a saint and the difference was because of a supernatural act of God. The person’s heart would grow to maturity and bear fruit because of regeneration or it wouldn’t because it wasn’t regenerated. Saints were sanctified (made holy) by regeneration.
Before the twentieth century, sanctification was not separated from salvation ... sanctification was salvation, and without sanctification there was no salvation. The separation of sanctification from salvation became necessary in the twentieth century when the church began to accept a “decision for Christ” as “saving faith” and de facto regeneration, producing an epidemic of false converts. Instead of going back to a salvation paradigm that made sense, most evangelical ministers preferred to treat false converts as if they just needed to be taught how to think and act like saints without having to tell them they were never saved.
The orthodox understanding of people who want to be saved but are not regenerated is they are affected by God through common grace. Common grace affects all men. Even the elect are affected by common grace up until God regenerates them, and there is no way of telling the elect from the non-elect because common grace affects all, and “false appearances” can counterfeit the outward manifestations of regeneration. After they are regenerated, they have hearts that desire the things of God and they have the Holy Spirit in them which makes them one spirit with God (1 Corinthians 6:17).
There is a huge difference between sinners and saints.
“the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man” (1 Cor 2:14-15). Once a man is one spirit with God, he knows he is responsible to the Person of God, not just responsible to keep certain rules. A saint is a royal priest of a holy people (1 Peter 2:9),responsible directly to God. That is why Paul says “Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand” (Rom 14:4).
Contrary to the modern idea that after a person is regenerated you have to make him into a disciple, the Bible says all saints are disciples. If one wanted to use the word “disciple” in the sense of “helping someone think and act a certain way”, then “making disciples” would not mean “making saints”. “Making disciples” would be using the Bible and training techniques to change saint’s minds from sinful affections to holy affections. But the Bible says no amount of psychological manipulation can cause someone to think like a saint, and the only way to change a person’s mind from sinful affections to holy affections is supernatural regeneration.
So modern evangelicals have a problem. In the beginning of the twentieth century, Billy Sunday equated the coming forward in an altar call with “saving faith” and de facto regeneration. Then, in the 1950’s, Billy Graham inadvertently elevated the repeating of a salvation prayer to sacramental status as evidence of “saving faith” and de facto regeneration (please read The Graham Formula). In the last fifty years, evangelicals have ignored the Biblical truth that regeneration changes a sinner into a saint in an experiential sense. Since the vast majority of “converts” are unregenerated, there has been a shift to “discipleship” as a post-regeneration necessity. Calling someone a saint and then teaching him to think and act like a saint has it’s problems. The vast majority of “converts” never darken the doors of a church, or if they do, their carnal nature will not submit to rules that restrict their carnal nature. They are never told that they need to be regenerated because modern evangelicals do not believe in the Biblical definition of regeneration.
Reason number two orthodox ministers call all men to repentance
No minister knows if God is affecting seekers with common grace or “saving grace”. To tell someone they are regenerated just because they seem to have repented of sin and have religious affections is dangerous to seekers. No evangelical minister before Billy Sunday presumed to tell people they were saved because of something they had done. To do so would have pre-empted “the usual providence of God”. As long as the seeker had not experienced the witness of the Holy spirit within and a change of appetites and behavior, they will “naturally, and almost necessarily, commence those efforts of solemn reflection, that deep attention to the word of God, and those attempts to supplicate for mercy, that conviction of his helplessness, and that strong sense of the absolute necessity of being sanctified by the Spirit of grace, which, in the usual providence of God, precede regeneration.” This period of law works is almost always necessary for the sinner to understand his condition.
The “law works” that precede regeneration are in “the usual providence of God” called common grace. The law is the common grace Schoolmaster (Galatians 3:24-25) that brings people unto Christ. After God regenerates them, they are no longer under the law, but before regeneration, no minister should deceive anxious sinners or try to exempt them from the guilt of sin and the penalty of the law. No minister should prevent “that strong sense of the absolute necessity of being sanctified by the Spirit of grace, which, in the usual providence of God, precede regeneration”
Reason number three orthodox ministers call all men to repentance
The orthodox minister knows it is the duty of all man to obey God’s law, regardless of whether or not He regenerates them.
Repentance is not just for those God regenerates. Repentance is for all men. The necessity of repentance to please God and whether or not God regenerates are two distinct issues. The modern idea that repentance is necessarily tied to regeneration
is just as wrong as the idea that faith and grace are necessarily tied to regeneration. The elimination of common grace, common faith and common repentance in the evangelical discussion is the result of New Light Calvinist theology.
This last reason orthodox ministers call all men to repentance is perhaps the most difficult for modern man to comprehend.
This is because Western man sees things from an Enlightenment point of view instead of a Biblical point of view. A Biblical point of view is the point of view that accepts God as He is by common faith. God is eternal, created all things and is omnipresent (He is at all times imminent in all things He created). God is forgiving, redeeming, wise, righteous, holy and omniscient (He knows everything, past, present and future). God is unchangeable, good, merciful, faithful, loving and omnipotent (He is all powerful to create and change things).
Enlightenment man falls into the error of Psalm 50:21: "Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself".
He imagines that God is at least as good as he is according to his subjective view of “good”. Freedom to self-actualize and not submission to God are the cornerstones of Enlightenment man’s perspective of “good”. Let’s look at the following scripture from a subjective and objective point of view:
“And the Lord said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people: Now therefore let me alone … that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation. And Moses besought the Lord his God, …Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swarest by thine own self, and saidst unto them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it for ever. And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people” (Ex 32:9-14).
Did Moses change God’s mind? To say that Moses changed God’s mind is to say God is changeable, which is not an objective or Biblical way of thinking. On the other hand, prayer is encouraged all through the Bible, so if prayer does not change God’s mind, why pray? The only way to make sense of this dilemma is to realize that God wants to involve man in His plan. God knew before He told Moses He would destroy Israel that Moses would stand in the gap. But even though the script was written before the foundation of the world, the actors must say their lines and move on the stage according to the plan. As Oswald Chambers said, “intercessory prayer is part of the sovereign purpose of God ... We take for granted that prayer is preparation for work, whereas prayer is the work, and we scarcely believe what the Bible reveals, viz. that through intercessory prayer God creates the ground of the redemption; it is His chosen way of working”.
Enlightenment man has a problem with the Bible because it is based on God being in control. But if you are going to benefit from the Bible, you will need to accept what it says and not try to fit it to your limiting subjective views. But God being in control does not preclude God using man in his plan.
Now let’s look at the sovereignty of God in the New Testament. In Romans, Paul says, “(For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;)…What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy” (Rom 9:11-16).
This same Paul in the next chapter says, “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom 10:14-17).
So the sovereignty of God is true and the fact that all men will play their parts is true … there is no contradiction there. Ministers that can not reconcile the ninth chapter of Romans with the tenth chapter of Romans usually think subjectively and question the Bible. They are like the first century skeptic that Paul addressed with, “Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he (God) yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?” (Rom 9:19-21).
Before the twentieth century, all orthodox Evangelicals believed in the Biblical view of the sovereignty of God. Any Calvinists or Arminians that think “saving faith” causes “saving grace” and de facto regeneration believe a modern heresy.
The fact that decisional regeneration is accepted by evangelicals today as the way of salvation does not make it less a heresy. In the third century, perhaps half of Christendom believed Jesus Christ was a created being. That did not make it any less a heresy.
The confusion of Calvinist motives is a symptom of the shift from the sovereignty of God to “saving faith” as the cause of “saving grace” and de facto regeneration in the Nineteenth century. Putting “saving faith” in the place of God as the cause of “saving grace” is not an Arminian problem, it’s a heresy problem. No orthodox Arminian believes “saving faith” causes “saving grace”. The fact that most evangelical ministers today can’t provide an orthodox rational for their promise of salvation to everyone who goes forward in an altar call doesn’t change the fact that man is saved by grace through faith, and not the other way around.
At the end of the nineteenth century, ministers like Henry Ward Beecher were kicked out of their denominations for denying The Biblical view of the sovereignty of God, Original Sin and Supernatural regeneration. These orthodox beliefs were seen as useless appendages of the Dark Ages, like the feudal system, divine rights and slavery. The enlightened minister no longer taught that sin was a nature man is born with, rather sin was an environmental condition that could be overcome by man acting as Christ with compassion. Supernatural regeneration was no longer needed because man had evolved to a higher level of understanding and no longer needed superstitious inducements for being good (readers that experienced the horrors of Darwinist regimes know just how hideous this presumption is). Being good was it’s own reward. Hell was no longer a useful inducement, and God was no longer in the punishment business.
Reason number four orthodox ministers call all men to repentance
All men are responsible to God to live the best they can according to the grace given them. No minister wants his view of the sovereignty of God to interfere with the normal workings of common grace. If a seeker is told he might as well give up trying to influence God, he could out of ignorance of law works and the means of Grace stop trying to please God and become hard of heart. No minister wants to be the cause of a seeker leaving off using the means of grace. To illustrate the difference between the sovereignty of God taught in the Bible and the heathen belief called fatalism, let’s look at the sovereignty of God in the day of man’s death.
“My times are in thy hand” (Psalms 31:15) is more than a poetic way of saying “God looks after me”. The sovereignty of God includes the day of a person’s (and every living thing’s - Matthew 10:29) death.
Most Christians believe that the day of their death is known by God. This does not normally cause them to live dangerously. Just knowing that God knows when they will die does not relieve them of the responsibility to live according to the grace God gives them. But what if a minister told his congregation that the sovereignty of God means they can live dangerously and it would not alter the time of their death? Some might be tempted to live dangerously. No orthodox minister would want to be the cause of foolish behavior because of a fatalistic view of the sovereignty of God not taught in the Bible.
The sovereignty of God works by means of grace. This is where New Light Calvinism falls down in a practical way. When the means of grace and law works were de-emphasized to highlight the singular need of supernatural regeneration, the entire context of the sovereignty of God regarding all men was lost. When the John the Baptist and Jesus Christ cried “repent”, they were not saying “be regenerated”, they were calling all men to obey God’s law to the best of their ability. “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14) illustrates the relationship between repentance and regeneration.
“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done” (2 Cor 7:10-11) is the way the NIV says it.
“godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter “(Cor 7:10-11) is the way the KJV says it.
“ The sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong!” (2 Cor 7:10-11) is the way the NASV says it.
The primary distinction between Old Light and New Light Calvinists was over whether or not the Holy Spirit prepares the seekers mind with cooperative means of grace and law works before regeneration. The Old Lights recognized the means of grace and law works in seekers before God regenerated, but the New Lights thought these things not only unnecessary, but an excuse for the seeker to put off repentance. The New Lights thought the Holy Spirit did not need to use the means of grace and law works to prepare seekers for regeneration because they reasoned God could change both heart and mind with regeneration.
It took time for New Light Calvinism to take extreme views regarding the means of grace and law works. The offer of instant salvation for those who repent was definitely a New Light idea in the nineteenth century, but in the eighteenth century, Jonathan Edwards and others promoted a balanced view of the Holy Spirit preparing seekers. But the competition between Old and New Lights between the First and Second Great Awakenings caused the two views to come into sharp relief, causing some New Lights to discard “law works” entirely and preach that God could instantly regenerate anyone, anywhere with very little preparation. This trend was to result in the disastrous (from a doctrinal point of view) Camp Meetings of the Second Great Awakening (1800) in which multitudes experienced religious affections and New Light ministers interpreted the affections as mass regeneration.
Over and over again in the writings of Jonathan Edwards Senior and eighteenth century New Light Calvinists there was the orthodox understanding of the means of grace and law works preparing seekers for regeneration. While the Puritan term “law works” was rarely used, and “means of grace” were called “illumination”, the doctrines were the same: the idea that the Holy Spirit illuminated the seeker, causing a moral struggle of conscience and change of lifestyle as a “duty of faith” in anticipation of regeneration.
But by the time of Asahel Nettleton (early 1800’s), the Old Lights and New Lights had retreated to more extreme positions. Timothy Dwight sought to restore some of the orthodox understanding of the law as schoolmaster and “law works” to the pre-regeneration debate. Asahel Nettleton was a student under Dwight at Princeton and respected him, but strenuously rejected Dwight’s view of unregenerated man being capable of moral growth before regeneration. In the following sermon, Dwight lays out his view of how unregenerate man can grow morally in preparation for regeneration. It is my opinion that if New Light Calvinists had gone the way of Dwight instead of Nettleton, the modern heresy of decisional regeneration probably would not have come through New Light Calvinism. The Restoration movements of Campbell and Stone came out of New Light Calvinism, so the damage was done by the Second Great Awakening. But it Nettleton, Beecher and other New Light Calvinists had heeded Dwight’s advice, Presbyterians and Congregationalists would have not have evolved to the point of Billy Sunday’s decisional regeneration.
So here is Dwight’s sermon:
“ The use of all truth is ultimately, to regulate the conduct of intelligent beings. Those which are called the doctrines of the Scriptures, are necessary and profitable to mankind in two respects. The first is, that they involve immediate practical duties to a vast extent : the second is that by teaching us our character, situation, and relations to God and each other, and the character of God, together with his relations to us, they show us the foundation of all our duty, the reasons of it, the motives to it, and the manner in which it is to be performed.
Most of these things are unfolded to us by the precepts of the Scriptures. They are also attended by some advantages which are peculiar to themselves. They declare our duty directly, and declare it in the form of law. An authoritative rule is given in each of them, announcing the will of the lawgiver, requiring our obedience, and prohibiting our disobedience, with rewards and penalties annexed to every precept ; not indeed annexed to every precept in form ; but so as to be always easily present to the eyes of those for whom the law was made. Instruction communicated in this manner, is attended by a force and efficacy of which all other teaching is incapable.
From these considerations arises the importance of inculcating much and often the preceptive part of the Scriptures from the desk. I well know that preaching of this nature has been opposed and censured by individuals in several classes of Christians. By Antinomians it may be consistently censured. As these men suppose themselves released from the law of God as a rule of duty, by the gracious dispensation of the gospel ; they have considered the preaching of the law as useless, and even as mischievous. Such sermons as have urged the religious and moral duties of man, they have styled
“legal sermons;” and those who have delivered them “legal preachers” ... that inculcating the practical duties which are required of mankind in the Scriptures, is in this sense legal preaching, I wholly deny. If this is its true character, Christ himself was a legal preacher. This glorious
person, in his own discourses, has given these precepts, expatiated upon them, and urged obedience to them up on mankind, in a vast multitude of forms, to a great extent, and with unrivalled force and beauty …
The next subject which offers itself to our consideration in a system of theology, is the nature of that inability (Original Sin) to obey the divine law, which is commonly acknowledged to be a part of the human character. It is hardly necessary to observe, that scarcely any moral subject has been more a theme of contention than this. It is no part of my design to recount the clashing opinions which have been formed concerning it, or the controversies to which it has given birth. Metaphysical discussion has for ages lavished upon it all its subtilties ...
In the text we are informed, that the carnal mind is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. The words translated, the carnal mind, are (in the Greek)“ to fronema tees sarkos”, the minding of the flesh. To mind is to regard with attention, respect, or desire. Here it plainly signifies, that general course of desires which is exercised by mankind, in certain circumstances, towards certain objects ; and which, in the preceding verse, is declared to be a state of spiritual death ; or to terminate in future everlasting death. It is obviously the prevailing characteristical course of desire; the whole minding of the flesh. In the text it is declared to be enmity against God. What is intended by the flesh is explained to us by Christ, John 3:6. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. In other words, that which is born of man is possessed of the proper character of man. There are but two kinds of births mentioned in the Scriptures ; and both these are expressed by our Saviour in this passage : viz. the natural birth and regeneration. All that which experiences the natural birth, and that only, is declared by Christ to be flesh; as that which experiences the spiritual birth, or regeneration, is declared to be spirit. The moral character here intended is strongly indicated by our Saviour when he informs us, that that which is born of the flesh only cannot, and that which is born of the Spirit can, see the kingdom of God.
This moral character is still more particularly delineated by St. Paul, Galatians 5:19-23. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these : adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations^ wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such-like. Of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things, shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. It will hardly need proof, that the former of these classes of affections and actions, and such as these, are characteristical of man in his natural, unrenewed state; nor that the latter are exhibited by the Scriptures as constituting the true character of the children of God.
That the affections here mentioned are not subject to the law of God, will not admit of a question : since they are the very things forbidden by that law. That they cannot be thus subject while they continue to exist, is equally evident. Nor is it less certain, from the proofs given both by revelation and experience, that where the soul is not renewed by the Spirit of God, they continue to exist through life.
Revelation teaches us, that, unless a man be born again of the Spirit of God, he will continue to sustain the fleshly or natural character while he lives ; and that all those who receive Christ, and become the children of God, are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. Experience shews also, with a regular testimony, that the native moral character of man continues, in the ordinary course of things, the same through life. The nature of this inability to obey the law of God is, in my own view, completely indicated by the word indisposition, or the word disinclination. To elucidate this position I observe,
1. That the divine law originally requires nothing but affection. Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart ; and thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Here love to God and man is the only thing expressly required, But it hardly needs to be observed, that to be inclined or disposed to love God and our neighbour, is to possess that character, out of which all direct exercises of love spring of course. He therefore who possessed this character would, whenever his mind was active at all, exercise the affection which is here required. He would be and do all which the law enjoins, when considered in this point of view: for his disposition and his exercises would be the very things which are enjoined. Indisposition or disinclination to obey them, is the only difficulty in the way of obedience: and with respect to this subject, the only inability of man.”
Authors note: Dwight states Jonathan Edwards’ primary point – that is that religious affections that are the result of regeneration are followed by good works. Religious affections that are not followed by good works are not from a regenerated heart. A regenerated heart has a holy disposition. A unregenerated heart has a sinful disposition. “Disposition” means “cause from being” In other words, disposition causes a cat to think and act like a cat, a dog to think and act like a dog, an unregenerated man to think and act as a sinner and a regenerated man to think and act as a saint. The only thing that prevents a person from loving God and producing good works is an unregenerated heart which causes a sinful disposition.
“2. When the divine law, in its various precepts, requires external actions, as well as affections; if our disposition accord with the precept, the action will of course be performed. I speak here of such actions as are in our power ; for the law of God never requires any other ...
3. If an angel were to descend from heaven and reside upon the earth; he would, if he preserved his present disposition, obey the divine law as truly and as perfectly as he does now. If an angel were in this world, and were to possess exactly the same disposition which he possesses in the heavenly world ; he would obviously feel and act in the same manner. In other words, he would be an angel still… Of course, the real and only reason why we perform not this obedience, is, that we do not possess such a disposition as that of angels. Our natural powers are plainly sufficient; our inclination only is defective.
4. This disinclination to obedience is still so obstinate and enduring, that it is never relinquished by man, except when under the renewing influence of the Spirit of God. I have already observed, that those who receive Christ and become the children of God, are declared by St. John, to be born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God ; and by our Saviour, to be born of the divine Spirit ... giving them a new heart; putting in them a new spirit; taking away their stony heart; giving them a heart of flesh ; putting the Spirit of God within them ; and causing them to walk in his statutes. All this, God says, and that in the plainest terms possible, he himself will do for them ... the moral character exhibited every where in the Scriptures, as required by the law of God, as unpossessed by man in his original or natural state, and as given him in what is called the new birth, cannot, if the words be allowed to have their own meaning, or any meaning consistent with their use elsewhere in the Scriptures, be questioned...
Whatever may be the judgment formed by the spirit of controversy and cold metaphysical investigation, concerning this part of the subject, the doctrine will be readily admitted by all men who are afflicted by a deep sense of their guilt, and struggle hard to obtain a release from their sinful character; and by all who, having thus suffered and thus struggled, have felt themselves in the end actually released from the dominant control of a sinful disposition. This doctrine is elucidated by experience also, in another manner. God, who requires our faith, repentance, and obedience to his law, has set before us numberless and most powerful motives to engage our compliance ; motives which all sober men will acknowledge ought to persuade us; motives which are obviously of infinite import. Why do not men, who believe the gospel to be the word of God, and who have these motives presented to them clearly and forcibly from sabbath to sabbath, believe, repent, and obey ? No answer, it is presumed, can be given to this question, which will accord with the supposition against which I contend.
5. There is yet no more difficulty in obeying God, than in doing any thing else, to which our inclination is opposed with equal strength and obstinacy. A child is equally unable to obey a parent, against whom his will is as much opposed, as to obey God. This inability of children to obey their parents does not indeed commonly last through life. But while it lasts, the child can no more obey his parent than his Maker. In both cases, his inability is, I apprehend, of exactly the same nature. Sometimes also it continues while he lives. In such cases it is in all respects the same; equally obstinate, equally enduring, equally preventing him from doing his duty. If in this case his filial duty be urged upon him in its religious nature as required by the law of God ; his opposition to perform his duty to God and his parent will be found exactly coincident; to be the same indivisible thing; and to be regarded with the same obduracy of heart …”
Author’s note: Here Dwight lays down a second aspect of the primary point of Jonathan Edwards. That is, that the unregenerated heart is sinful because of it’s disposition, not a lack of natural ability.
“Indisposition to come to Christ is therefore the true and the only difficulty which lies in our way. Those who cannot come, therefore, are those, and those only, who will not ... it will be objected that the sinner cannot, or, in the very language of this discourse, will not, repent of himself. Why then should he be urged to immediate repentance ? I will give the answer. So long as the sinner feels himself in any degree excused in delaying this duty, there is every reason to fear that he will be more and more at ease, and more and more disposed to delay. His views will be false and dangerous, and his conduct will eagerly accord with his views. But a full conviction of his duty will create in him a sense of danger, a conviction of his guilt, and a trembling anxiety concerning his future being. In this situation he will naturally, and almost necessarily, commence those efforts of solemn reflection, that deep attention to the word of God, and those attempts to supplicate for mercy, that conviction of his helplessness, and that strong sense of the absolute necessity of being sanctified by the Spirit of grace, which, in the usual providence of God, precede regeneration.”
So ends Dwight’s first sermon on the subject of “law works”. Now we turn to the second sermon “Faith and Repentance Necessary to Restore us to Obedience”
“Faith in Jesus Christ is the only possible union between man and his Maker. God, in the covenant of redemption, has promised to receive, justify, and save for ever, all who are Christ’s at his appearing : that is, all who become his by a voluntary surrender of themselves to him. But the only method, in which man ever does or can surrender himself voluntarily
to Christ, is the exercise of faith or confidence in him as the Saviour of the world. This is the only method of be coming his, which is proposed to us by Christ himself. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, is the sole language of the Scriptures concerning this subject ...Christ offers to save sinners, who are condemned and perishing, and are therefore utterly unable to save themselves. In this offer he declares himself able, willing, and faithful,- to save to the uttermost all that will come unto God by him. Now it is impossible for us to come to him, or to God by him, unless we confide in this as his true character, and in the declarations by which he makes this character known to us. It is impossible for us to receive his instructions, as the means of knowledge and guidance to us in the path ofduty and salvation ; his precepts, as the rules of our obedience; or his ordinances, as the directory of our worship; unless we confide in the character of him who has taught them as a wise and faithful teacher. It is indispensable
that we confide in him as a teacher, who knows, and who has told us, that which is true, right, and safe, for us, in these immensely important concerns. It is indispensable, that we believe in him, and trust in him, as vested with all the authority necessary to this character of a divine Instructor; and regard him as certainly and fully disclosing the will of God concerning our duty and salvation. Unless we can confide in these things, we can never receive his instructions as rules either of our faith or of our practice. Without these things they would all dwindle at once into mere philosophy ; mere advice ; mere opinions ; to obey which no person would or could feel the least obligation ...”
Authors note: Evangelical “salvation” in the twenty-first century consists of grace and faith without works, a “mere philosophy; mere advice, mere opinions” which the vast majority of people who made a “decision for Christ” feel no obligation. We no longer recognize “rules either of our faith or of our practice” because “faith” means de facto regeneration which requires no validation by good works. The vast majority of Evangelicals are saved by an abstract “grace” that does not exist, a forensic fiction.
“If then creatures are to be happy at all ; it is in dispensably necessary, that they obey his directions, and
conform to his pleasure, as the only possible rule of right, the only possible way to real and universal good. All
who wander from this path, are soon lost in a wilderness of error, distress, and despair ; and will never find their
proper home. But we cannot obey God, except from confidence in his character, as a perfectly wise, just, and good teacher and lawgiver, who has instructed us in our true interest ; a law giver, who has prescribed wise, just, and benevolent
precepts, to regulate our duty. Unless we consider his precepts concerning all things to be right ; we can never voluntarily obey them …”
“Self-denial, self-mortification, and humility, are all essential ingredients of genuine repentance ; and without them, such repentance cannot exist. A just, clear, and humble sense of our guilt and unworthiness, is the very basis on which every thing else contained in repentance is founded. With such a sense of our character, it is impossible, that we should not endeavor to mortify those inclinations, and deny ourselves that gratification of them, which together, have constituted our guilt, our odiousness, our debasement, and our danger. The humble thoughts which we thus experience, and the humble emotions by which they are accompanied, are the only just thoughts concerning our character, and the only proper emotions with respect to ourselves, so far as this character exists. Every opinion, every feeling, not accordant with these, is false and groundless; the silly dream of a vain and silly mind.”
“(vain and silly people do not) discerned the distinction between the repentance of a mercenary slave, regretting his faults merely from the expectation of punishment; and the ingenuous contrition of a child, sorrowing for his disobedience, loathing his guilt, and returning with a new and better heart to his filial character and duty. ..”
Notice how Dwight distinguishes between repentance with evidence (fruits) and worldly repentance. Similarly, he distinguishes between faith with good works and intellectual assent. The modern idea of faith is it is a force like gravity that engages the metaphysical workings of God. If for example, a person wants to engage the metaphysical workings of God, he could go to the roof of a tall building and throw large stones on the people below. He would be in a sense be an agent of God in killing pedestrians. This is how modern evangelicals see “saving faith”. Going forward in an altar call and repeating a salvation prayer forces God to regenerate the person who “believes” and they are said to be “saved by faith”. Contrast that with Dwight’s orthodox explanation of “saving faith”:
“Faith, it is well known, is the great condition of acceptance with God proposed in the gospel: as unbelief is of
final rejection .. without union to God, and cordial (from the heart)obedience to his will, we cannot enjoy rational and enduring good; and that, without evangelical faith, no such union, and no such obedience, can exist. The faith of the gospel is therefore of all possible importance to man; of as much importance as his whole well-being, involving every thing which is desirable or useful. Had the Scriptures therefore laid less stress upon this subject; it would have been an unanswerable objection to the religious system which they contain. The contrary character of distrust, which is plainly the
native character of man, is obviously a complete separation of any intelligent being from his Maker. It is impossible,
that such beings should exercise any of those affections with which alone they can glorify their Creator, or cordially obey him, so long as they distrust his moral character. Equally impossible is it, that they should possess the enjoyment, which alone can fill the wishes, or is suited to the nature, of an immortal mind. The distrust of a friend makes us unhappy here. The distrust of God would make us miserable for ever. The faith of the gospel deserves, then, all the importance
which is given to it by the Scriptures. The place which it ought to hold in the estimation of all men, is pre-eminent.
By every preacher it ought to be insisted on, by every man it ought to be pursued, as of all possible consequence to
obedience and salvation. The preacher who does not thus inculcate it is unfaithful : the man who does not acquire it is undone.”
And now Dwight explains the “means of grace”:
“’For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have be gotten you through the gospel’ (1 COR. 4:15) ... The means, in the application of which, men usually obtain faith and repentance, and thus become entitled to eternal life ... I wish it to be remembered, that, in my view, evangelical faith and repentance are indispensable to the existence of any moral good in the soul of man, and are in all instances the beginning of that good. Particularly, they are the commencement of obedience to the law of God; the foundation of real and enduring happiness to such as are or have been sinners; [here Dwight speaks of two classes of seekers – sinners using the means of grace before regeneration and saints using the means of grace after regeneration]; and are obviously the immediate duty of all men.
He therefore who does not teach these doctrines, omits, in my apprehension, the soul and substance of the gospel. With these things premised I observe, that in this passage of Scripture, St. Paul declares himself to have begotten the Corinthian Christians in Christ, and thus to have been a cause of their being regenerated, or born again. That the new birth is the birth here referred to, will not be disputed . Nor can it be questioned, that St. Paul was, in some manner and degree or other, concerned in effectuating it, without a peremptory denial of his veracity and inspiration. It is farther declared by him, that he had begotten them through the gospel. It is therefore certain, that the gospel also was, in some or other manner or degree, concerned in effectuating the new birth of the Christian Corinthians.
If the apostle, as a minister of the gospel, was concerned in effectuating the new birth of the Corinthian Christians,
it will follow, by unobjectionable analogy, that other ministers are also, in the like manner or degree, concerned in
effectuating the regeneration of such as become Christians under their ministry. Farther, if the gospel was thus
concerned in the regeneration of the Corinthian Christians, then it is also equally concerned in that of Christians in
general. But if ministers of the gospel be in any manner or degree concerned in producing this change in the moral
character of men, they are just so far means of producing it. Of consequence also they are, according to that course of
divine providence in which they are thus instrumental, necessary to this change, just so far as they are means of
producing it. It is not here intended, that God could not if he pleased produce this change in the human character, without these or any other means. Nor is it intended, that in some cases he does not actually produce it. It is unquestionably in the power of God to effectuate this change, with infinite ease, in any manner which he shall think proper. Nor have
we any proof, that he has not, in many instances, renewed men, without connecting the renovation with any means whatever. But it is here intended, that this is not the usual course of his spiritual providence; and that in that course means are really employed to bring men into the heavenly kingdom. It is farther intended, that these means are so far necessary, as that, without them, this important end would not, in the ordinary course of providence, be accomplished.”
Reader take note: It is extremely important to recognize the narrow path on which Dwight is making his case. On the one side he avoids falling into fatalism, where man can have no part in his eventual regeneration. One the other side he avoids falling into decisionism where a “decision for Christ” is seen as “saving faith” with de facto regeneration. Both positions are not orthodox and not substantiated by Scripture. He is saying God could regenerate people without any means of grace such as the preaching of the gospel, but in the normal course of affairs, He doesn’t.
“If God has thought proper to conduct his spiritual providence in such a manner, as to constitute it a regular and
orderly course of events; then our own views of it are to be formed so, as to accord with this constitution, and to admit
it as a part of the evangelical system. Our conduct also is to be referred and conformed to this constitution. With
it we are to expect other things to accord. Particularly, we are to expect salvation for ourselves and others according
to this plan, and not according to a different one. Just views of this subject will therefore be easily seen to claim no
small importance in the estimation of those who wish to be saved”.
This position is reasonable, rational and balanced. Dwight is trying to return New Light Calvinists to an “evangelical system” in which ministers are used by God to illuminate sinners and saints without pre-empting the normal means of grace with an omnipotent view of a “decision for Christ”. New Light Calvinists said all seekers can do is “make a decision for Christ” because they didn’t want seekers to put off repenting. But the unintended consequence was the seeker stopped looking to God in the means of grace and started trusting in their “decision for Christ”. While claiming to remove an excuse for not repenting, the New Light Calvinists set up an all-or-nothing expectation in regeneration if someone made a sincere “decision for Christ”.
"St. Paul was either the agent or the means of regeneration to the Christians in Corinth. But God is the only agent or efficient cause of regeneration. If we deny the fact, that St. Paul was the means of regeneration to these persons, as asserted in the text, we must, according to the same principles, deny the fact that God was the efficient cause of regeneration … St. Peter, in his first Epistle, 1:10, speaking of himself, and those to whom he wrote, says, Being born again, or regenerated, not of corruptible seed, but by the word of God, who liveth and abideth for ever. In this passage St. Peter declares, that Christians are born, or regenerated, by means of the word of God . Of course he declares, that they were not regenerated without the instrumentality of the word of God. What is true with respect to this subject, of the Christians to whom St. Peter wrote, will not be denied to be true of Christians universally ... God is the only efficient cause of salvation to any man. In Romans 3:1-2, St. Paul says, What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision ? Much every way : chiefly because that unto them were committed the oracles of God. In this passage St. Paul declares, that the Jews had much advantage over the Gentiles; and that this advantage lay chiefly in the fact, that unto them were committed the oracles of God. If the possession of the oracles of God was of great advantage to the Jews; we naturally ask, in what respect was it an advantage? Plainly in this; that the oracles of God contributed, or were capable of contributing, to their salvation, and consequently to their regeneration. Of what possible advantage could the oracles of God be to unconverted men; and of such only is the apostle here speaking; unless they contributed in some manner and degree or other to their conversion? This question, it is believed, admits of no answer”.
Dwight again promotes an “evangelical system” that recognizes law works and the means of grace before regeneration.
“In Romans 10:14, the same apostle says, How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how
shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard; and how shall they hear without a preacher? Every person all acquainted with language knows, that these questions have exactly the same import with that of strong negative
declarations ; and that the apostle has here in the most forcible manner asserted, that men cannot call on him whom
they have not believed; nor believe in him of whom they have not heard; nor hear without a preacher. In other words,
he declares the preaching of the gospel to be, in the ordinary course of providence, indispensably necessary to the faith of mankind in Christ, just as that faith is indispensable to the invocation of his name in prayer. That the apostle understood these questions in this manner, is unanswerably evident from his own conclusion, subjoined in the seventeenth verse : then faith cometh by hearing; and hearing by the word of God ...
It may be farther objected, that this doctrine robs God of his peculiar glory in regenerating the soul of man. To this I answer, that we are at the best incompetent judges of this subject; and are therefore unable to determine satisfactorily, in what manner God will be most glorified. If God has thought proper to give us such an account of the subject as has been here specified, it will be found in the end, that he is more glorified in the manner conformed to these declarations than in any other. The Psalmist, under the unerring influence of inspiration, says to God, Thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name. Should it prove one of the ways in which God magnifies his word, that it is constituted the means of regeneration to mankind; there can be no reasonable doubt, that it will be found in the end, perfectly consistent with the most perfect glorification of his name. The truth however is, that neither of these answers is at all necessary to satisfy us concerning these objections. The Spirit of God is in truth the only agent in renovating man; or in other words, the only efficient cause of his renovation. This however he would be in as perfect a degree, if he were supposed to employ means in accomplishing this change of character, as if he were supposed to accomplish it without them. The supposition that an agent, if he employ means to effectuate his purposes, will, on this account, cease to be, or be at all less, an agent, is built upon no known principles of truth or evidence.
The farmer and gardener turn their soil and plant their seeds ; the rain descends upon them, and the sun shines; but all these things do not make them spring up and yield their increase. God must still interpose with his creative power, to produce these desirable effects ; or a crop will be expected in vain. God therefore is the sole agent and author of the crop ; yet the farmer and the gardener, the ground and the seed, the rain and the sunshine, are all means of its existence. Without these means, there would, according to the established order of things, be no crop. Of course they are means of its existence, and means indispensable …
In the whole history, contained in the Gospel and in the Acts, there is not, so far as I recollect, a single instance recorded in which we have any satisfactory proof, that even an individual sinner was regenerated without the influence of divine truth upon his heart. On the contrary, these writings are full of examples in which the efficacy of this truth is asserted directly, as having been indispensably concerned in producing this change in man ... In all these facts the duty of ministers at the present time, is distinctly seen and gloriously encouraged. He who would preach as the priests preached, as Christ preached, as the apostles preached, will proclaim the tidings of salvation to sinners; and will urge them unceasingly to faith, repentance, and holiness. Upon his preaching, if faithfully conducted in this manner, and accompanied by his own prayers, and those of the Christians around him, he may confidently look for the blessing of God”.
The sermon “ordinary means of grace: what they are and what is their influence”:
“1) The preaching of the gospel; 2) The reading of the Scriptures; 3) Prayer; 4) Correspondence with religious men; 5) Religious meditation : particularly self-examination; and, 6) The religious education of children. To these may be added, as efficacious to the same end, although differing in several respects from all those already mentioned, the instructive and monitory, the merciful and afflictive, dispensations of Divine Providence to ourselves and others. It ought to be remembered, that I consider none of these as means of grace in any other sense, than as they display and impress upon the mind the truth of God ...The influence of the means of grace upon mankind may, it I mistake not, be explained under the two general heads of Instruction; and, Impression ... When mankind had fallen, and Christ had made an expiation for their sins; it was equally and absolutely necessary, in order to their acceptance of Christ, which then became their duty, that they should know this glorious person in such a sense, as to enable them to exercise faith in him as their Redeemer. Without such knowledge, it is naturally impossible for us to believe in him at all. The same things are equally true of every religious duty and subject. We cannot perform any duty, however well disposed, unless it be known to us ; nor be required to perform it, unless such knowledge be attainable. Thus it is evident, that the gospel is indispensable to the
very existence of Christianity in the mind of man : and as the gospel cannot be of any possible use to man unless known by him ; so the knowledge of the gospel is indispensable to the existence of faith, repentance, and holiness ...
Among the things most necessary to be known by us in order to our salvation, our own hearts or moral characters,
hold a primary place. I know of no manner in which he who feels himself to be whole can realize that he needs a
physician. To the existence even of a wish for deliverance, the sense of danger or distress is absolutely necessary.
If we are now conscious of being holy, or of being safe; we certainly can never desire renovation, forgiveness, or
expiation ; nor seek for a deliverer to save us. While such a consciousness continues, no reason can be perceived by the man who experiences it, why he should look for salvation from Christ any more, than why an angel who has never fallen, should look for salvation from the same source...
Self-examination is the direct, and in many respects the only, mode in which we apply the scriptural accounts of our moral nature to ourselves. Without such examination we may indeed admit the scriptural accounts concerning human nature generally ;and believe, that other men are sinners in the manner and degree there exhibited, But we shall never realize, that these accounts, in their whole extent, are applicable also to ourselves. Particularly, we shall form no just apprehensions of our odiousness in the sight of God, of the extent of our condemnation by his law, or our exposure to final perdition. The necessity of such examination is therefore absolute [law works]…”
The abstraction of sin and the atonement is where the New Light Calvinist “decision for Christ” went awry. As pointed out in the 1875 Princeton review (chapter four of this book, Revivals of the century by Lyman Atwater), Nettleton presented the decision for Christ as more than an act of common grace causing common faith: "...it is not for the want of power that you have hitherto neglected to come to a decided choice, I mean that you might have done it had you been so disposed. It is plain that God does not condemn sinners for being unable, in this sense, to do their duty, but for being averse to their duty.” – Nettleton’s Remains, p. 117.
“Actual attempts at prayer, at exercising faith and repentance, and at forming efficacious resolutions of obedience, furnish, in this case, a kind of instruction not easily supplied by any thing else. Conviction of the practicability or impracticability of any measures of the insufficiency of our own powers, and of the certain failure of our efforts, is wrought only by the trial of these measures, powers, and efforts. A loose, general, uninfluential belief, may be other wise entertained. But a conviction, which will be felt, will be gained only in this manner. I know not whether, in all ordinary cases, this conviction is not indispensable to the attainment of holiness...”
This is of course where the New Light Calvinists went awry. When they emphasized the “decision for Christ” as the only thing the seeker could do, they de-emphasized law works and the personal working of conscience in the preparation of the soul for regeneration. Most “decisions for Christ” are “loose, general, uninfluential belief”. Law works are “indispensable to the attainment of holiness”. Law works bring sinners to the experiential point of despair over real sin and real damnation. Most “decisions for Christ” are made with only an abstract understanding of sin and the atonement which has no converting effect on the soul because there is no Godly sorrow that leads to repentance.
“The truth also, and especially the importance, of many primary doctrines of the gospel, and the chief part of what is commonly intended by experimental religion, are all principally learned and realized by means of their conversation (interactions). These may serve as specimens, sufficient for the present purpose of the instruction, acquired in the use of the means of grace; Means of grace become such by the impressions which they make on the heart. To a person at all versed in human nature it is perfectly evident, that in every case where men are to be moved to any serious exertion, mere conviction will often be inefficacious. The intellect is not the motive faculty of the mind. The will, in which term I include all the affections, gives birth to every effort which the mind makes concerning the objects of the present or the future world. But the mere conviction of the intellect is, of itself, rarely sufficient to move the will, or engage the affections. Something farther is, in a particular manner, necessary to engage man in the serious pursuit of spiritual and eternal objects, or to make him realize any serious interest in these objects.
The mere proof, that a doctrine is true, is usually but one step towards persuading us to exertion of any kind. In addition to this, it is commonly necessary, for the same end, that our imagination be roused, and our affections awakened and engaged. In accordance with these observations, mankind, in their customary language, regularly express the different states of the mind, when it is merely convinced, and when it feels the truth of which it is convinced. To see a truth, and to feel it, are familiar expressions in our language, which denote ideas widely different from each other. So different are they, that we commonly see, without feeling at all ; and, therefore, without being moved to exertion by what we see.
All men use, all men understand, this language ;and thus prove, that there is a solid foundation in the nature of things for the distinction which it expresses. In accordance with this scheme, eloquence, both in speaking and writing, has ever been directed to the imagination; and to the passions as well as to the intellect : and that kind of eloquence which has been employed in moving the heart, has been considered as possessing a higher and more influential nature, than that which is addressed merely to the understanding. Hence eloquence itself is commonly considered, rather as the power of persuasion than the power of conviction. That we are capable of being moved to a sense of spiritual objects, altogether different from a cold, unimpassioned conviction, as truly as to such a sense of temporal objects, cannot admit of a rational doubt. Every minister of the gospel, every moralist, and every other man who labours to amend the human character; even those who deny the doctrine for which I am contending; prove, that they adopt this opinion, by using, to the utmost of their power, the means of impression for this end, as well as those of conviction. In this conduct they shew, more evidently than is possible by any other method, that they realize this difference, and, to avail themselves of it, employ these means.
The Scriptures themselves are universally formed in this manner. They are every where filled with instruction; but they are also filled every where with persuasion. Instead of being a cold compilation of philosophical dogmas, they are filled with real life; with facts; with persons; with forcible appeals to the imagination ; and with powerful applications to the heart. With these, the instruction is every where interwoven. By these it is continually embodied. In the Bible, no affection of the human heart is unaddressed. Our hope and fear, our love and hatred, our sorrow and joy, our desire and aversion, nay, our taste for beauty, novelty, and sublimity, for moral glory and greatness, are all alternately, and most forcibly, applied to, in order that the whole man, as a being possessed of imagination and affections as well as of understanding, may be alarmed, allured, and compelled, to return from sin, embrace holiness, and live for ever.
Now, the Scriptures were published to a world of sinners; and with the most merciful design of bringing them to repentance and salvation. To them, in a peculiar manner, is a great part of the Scriptures addressed. They are profitable in all their parts ; and are contrived by infinite wisdom, so as best to compass the end for which they were written. They teach that we may see, they impress that we may feel, divine truth in the most profitable manner. In the promotion of this end all the means of grace conspire …
Among the things which in the attempts to perform this duty are deeply impressed on the soul of the sinner, his own inability to pray in a manner acceptable to God, is one of the most important and affecting. No sinner realizes this truth before he has made the attempt in earnest. Nor does any thing appear to lay low the pride, and annihilate the self-righteousness, of the human heart in the same effectual. When he attempts to pray, and, in the very act of attempting it, finds clear and practical proof, that his prayers are selfish, cold, and heartless; he first begins to feel in a useful manner, his absolute dependance on God for every good disposition.
Prayer is naturally the last hope, the last consolation, of man. So long as we can ask for mercy, we never feel entirely unsafe. But when the soul becomes satisfied, by actual trial, that its prayers are such as itself condemns ; it becomes also satisfied, that its only ultimate dependance is on the mere mercy of God. Prayer also, in the same effectual manner, opens to the view of the soul, with peculiar power, its whole moral state; its guilt, its exposure, and its ruin. All these things, when brought up to view in its converse with God, in making them the subjects of its own confessions and requests, and in revolving them with the most solemn and interesting meditation, all enhanced by a realizing sense of the presence of God, are felt by the soul with a peculiar energy, usually followed by happy effects ...
Such then may be deemed one of the laws of the moral or spiritual kingdom: a law which appears to be formed with supreme wisdom, and with supreme benevolence to the sinner. If he were never to entertain such a sense of sin; if he were never to have such apprehensions of his danger; if he were never thus to feel his dependance on his Maker ; he could not, I think, form any just views of the nature or greatness of his deliverance, nor of the goodness of God in rescuing him from destruction, sanctifying his soul, and blotting out his transgressions; nor of the importance or excellence of that holiness with which he is endued; nor of the nature and glory of that happiness to which he will gain a final admission. In a word, it seems indispensable that such a state of mind should precede his regeneration, in order to enable him, throughout all his future being, to understand what God has done for him, and to feel the gratitude actually felt by the minds, and joyfully expressed in the praises, of the first born.
Some persons, when considering this subject, appear to feel as if regeneration could not be absolutely attributed to the Spirit of truth, unless it was accomplished altogether without the employment of means. But this opinion is plainly erroneous”.
Dwight speaks directly to the New Light Calvinists.
“The very means themselves are furnished entirely by this divine agent. When furnished, all of them united would prove wholly insufficient without his creative influence. No man in his sober senses ever mistrusted that ploughing and sowing, rain and sunshine, would produce wheat. The almighty power of God, after all these things have operated to the utmost, is absolutely necessary even to the germination of the seed, and still more obviously to the perfection of the plant. In the same manner, whatever means may be employed in bringing man from sin to holiliness, and whatever may be their influence, the creative power of the divine Spirit is absolutely necessary to accomplish his renovation. All that can be truly said in this case is, that this glorious person operates in one manner,and not in another.
The human soul is not regenerated in the same manner with that in which the dust of the ground was originally made into a human body. In this case, a mere act of divine power, unconnected with every thing else, accomplished the effect. But, before renewing man, God is pleased, in the usual course of his spiritual providence, to instruct him, to alarm, to invite, to promise, and to persuade. To prove the usefulness of these means, nothing more seems necessary than to observe, that they always precede or attend our renovation; that is, always in the usual course of providence. It is the soul which is thus taught, alarmed, and allured, upon which descends the efficacious grace of the Holy Spirit ; and not the soul, uninstructed, unawakened, thoughtless of its guilt, and devoted only to the pursuit of sensual objects.
The whole history of experimental religion, both within and without the Scriptures, is, unless I am deceived, a complete confirmation of this truth. But to the existence of this state of the soul, the means of grace, as I have described them, and their influence, appear to be indispensable. By the instructions which they communicate on the one hand, and the impressions which they make on the other, concerning spiritual objects, they appear, whenever employed with seriousness, fervour, and perseverance, to bring the soul into this interesting and profitable situation ….
All the efficacy which I have attributed to the means of grace does not, I acknowledge, amount to regeneration, nor ensure it. But it amounts to what St. Paul terms planting and watering. The increase must be, and still is, given by God only. In the same manner God must create the grain: or the husbandman, after all his ploughing and sowing, after all the rain and sunshine, will never find a crop. Still, these are indispensable means of his crop; so indispensable, that without them the crop would never exist. As truly, in the ordinary course of providence, there will, without the use of the means of grace, be no spiritual harvest. There will be no instructions given; no impressions made; and no realizing convictions of guilt, danger, and dependance, produced , and without these, there will be no regeneration of the soul, and no title obtained to eternal
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