This booklet was penned in 1816 by Menzies Rainer, the Rector of an Episcopal Church and well-known Universalist, as a response to the powerful Awakening that began around 1800 and continued for several years.
Clearly Mr Rainer does not agree with revivals nor revivalists and sets out to discredit them by appeals to ecclesiastical decorum, respectful order and the creeds and doctrines of the true (Episcopal) church. He despises non-ordained preachers and considers even extempore prayer an offence to the gospel. Revivals attract the impressionable young, the undiscerning and the gullible, he claims. He acknowledges that that there are seldom, if ever, any extraordinary awakenings, or religions stirs, in the Episcopal church’ but continues to exalt the doctrines and practices of a dead orthodoxy which bears no fruit. This work is included in the Revival Library only as a prime example of orthodox attempts to bring into disrepute God’s work and God’s labourers.
We have included 2 of the 4 chapters.
TRUE religion is of all things most important and desirable. It enhances the value of all temporal enjoyments, and it adds many new and inestimable comforts of its own. Its real progress in the world, and in the hearts of individuals, is marked with the most salutary effects; always bringing glory to God in the highest, by disseminating peace and good will among men. Every real Christian, therefore, will rejoice to see the Christian religion promoted, and its heavenly influence enlarged and extended.
The means by which this is effected, are, the written word; the preaching of the gospel, with the administration of its holy ordinances; and the operations of the Spirit, concurring with the dispensations of divine Providence.
That the effect of these means may, at some periods, and in some places, be more evident, and more extensive than at others, is what, I
am by no means disposed to deny. Yet every movement or excitement, of a serious or religious nature, which may occur at different times and in different places, and which are usually called awakenings, or religious stirs, ought not to be too hastily ascribed to the Spirit of God, or the operations of divine grace upon the heart. These religious stirs (as they are called) sometimes appear to originate in, circumstances, to say the least, doubtful and suspicion’s; they are frequently carried on in a way, and by means, which I apprehend, are not warranted by scripture; and their effects are often such as leave it very doubtful whether any real and lasting advantages have been produced by them.
Many, who are now living, probably well remember the time when the celebrated Mr. Whitfield, and some others who were cotemporary with him, itinerated through the country, and the extraordinary religious movements, which in many places were at that time excited. Yet I imagine there are but few who will not admit that this excitement was probably more the effect of the novel manner in
which they proceeded; the extraordinary zeal which they manifested; and their pointed addresses to the feelings and passions; than to any new and uncommon operations of the Spirit, which attended their public ministration.
Those who are acquainted with the exercises and operations of the human mind, know that it is very susceptible of impressions from various causes and circumstances. The minds of young people in particular, are very easily wrought upon; especially by any thing which appears new or singular. Whether it be new in itself, or only new in the manner in which it is exhibited to them; it excites their curiosity, and arrests their attention. Hence the very different effect which the same sermon will have upon the same congregation, when only read to them in a plain, distinct manner; and when delivered to them with suitable gestures, an engaging countenance, and a commanding eloquence.
The power of sympathy also, upon the mind, is much greater than many are aware: insomuch that, in many instances, we almost imperceptibly imbibe the feelings, and imitate
the actions of others. Religion, however, it appears to me, ought to have its foundation, not in the imagination and fancy, and passions, but in the understanding and judgment; so that we may be able to give, if not a regular and systematic, yet a rational and scriptural account of the hope that is in us. “The eyes of your understanding, (says the apostle,) being enlightened, that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints.”
I cannot forbear here to take notice of an opinion which prevails, and which at this time is considerably insisted upon; but to which I can by no means subscribe. It is this—that the Lord visits particular places, towns or neighborhoods, at certain periods; continues with them, (I suppose they mean by the special influences of his Spirit,) for a short time, and then again leaves them. In the present religious excitement, or stir, the ministers in several parishes have informed the people that the Lord was then in the place:—they have stated the number of years that had elapsed since he was there before; that he probably
would continue with them but a short time; and that if they should not be converted during that space, it was most likely they would never be; or would never have another such opportunity. That a congregation, especially the younger part, should have their attention arrested, and their fears excited, by such novel and alarming representations, is not surprising. But whether such representations tend to give those views of the character and attributes of the Diety, [sic] which are necessarily included in a genuine and gospel repentance, I leave the reader to judge.
With respect to the idea that those who neglect such an opportunity, will probably never be converted, I would remark, that if they were elected from eternity, they doubtless will be converted in due time, by the irresistible operations of the Spirit. And if they have not been thus elected, then, according to that doctrine, no awakenings, or religious stirs, can be of any real or saving advantage to them.
It is observable, that the subjects of these extraordinary movements, are principally
young people, and especially females. Their minds are most susceptible of impressions, and their passions easily wrought upon. For this purpose, schools and academies have been visited, and pathetic and alarming addresses delivered to the students: and in one instance, I have been informed, a separation was caused to be made, resembling that which we are told shall take place at the day of judgment, as represented in the 25th chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel. Such an artifice, perhaps I ought to say, bold usurpation of the divine prerogative, would doubtless have an alarming effect upon young and ignorant minds: and HE who sometimes causes the wrath of man to praise him, might indeed over-rule it for good; yet should it be so, this would not, in my view, justify a procedure so unwarrantable and presumptuous; and so far exceeding powers given, and the limits prescribed, to frail and erring man.
The principle or passion in mankind, which many seem to think it peculiarly proper to address, on the subject of religion, is fear. But although wisely implanted in the human
mind, to serve the most important purposes; yet, when excited to a high degree, this passion, more perhaps than any other, deprives a person of the proper exercise of his reason and judgment. When this is the case in matters of religion, irregularities and extravagancies will ensue; and errors, sometimes the most absurd, will be as readily embraced as truth.
Our blessed Saviour, sometimes indeed, in cases of obstinate infidelity, and perverse impenitence, made use of severity of language, and alarming denunciations; But, except in such cases, his instructions and exhortations were mild and inviting. He endeavored to win mankind over to the ways of religion and truth, by arguments the most persuasive; by representing the Almighty in the most amiable light, and as standing in the most endearing relation to his needy and sinful creatures. “If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to diem that ask him.”
“His exhortation mild,
“Bade the meek radiance of celestial hope
“Beam on the faded brow.”
I have already noticed the power of sympathy; and it is in no case, perhaps, more evident than in that of fear, especially upon the minds of young persons. When they see one of their acquaintance or friends, or even a stranger, whose mind is agitated by fear and terror, the same emotions are almost irresistibly produced in themselves; and ere they are aware of it, they find themselves trembling and in tears, they know not why. Now such emotions are not the effect of a rational conviction, or of genuine penitence, which (it will be allowed) should arise from a sense of the divine goodness and forbearance, and of our vileness and ingratitude.
One prominent measure adopted, to carry on and perpetuate these religious stirs, is what are called conference meetings. These, in the manner they are frequently conducted, are, in my opinion, highly objectionable. A particular account of them will be found in a subsequent chapter, under the head of Conference Meetings, &c.
Before I leave the subject of extraordinary awakenings, or religious stirs, I beg leave to
notice some of the consequences which usually result from them.
And here I shall not, undertake to determine that no good effects are, in any respect, or in any instances, produced by them. On the contrary, I would, hope, that at these times, and under these extraordinary excitements, impressions are made on the minds of some individuals, which are genuine and permanent. For, as I before remarked, to the same effect, God can bring order out of confusion; for he hath his way also in the whirlwind and in the storm; through his gracious influence are more usually communicated in a “ still, small voice;” , and when, with humble and penitent hearts, we modestly attend upon the regularly constituted means and ordinances of religion.
Another effect produced by these stirs, and which I consider a valuable one, is, that they lead many persons to examine more carefully into the nature of religion, and the constitution of the Christian church—its doctrines, government, and worship; the result of which has very commonly been, the addition to the
Episcopal church of a number of valuable members, who have become warmly attached to, and constant attendants upon, her pious and orderly service.
But there are some effects produced by these religious stirs, and some circumstances attending them, which are not so favourable to the interests of true religion. One is, an uncommonly active zeal in proselyting. This zeal, when properly regulated, and exercised with a spirit of candour and liberality, is not censurable; for while a person believes that the system of religion which he his adopted, is the best, he may, from the best motives, wish others to embrace the same system.*
* I confess I do not understand by what principle of religion those persons are actuated, who say, that if they were in another country, they would adopt a different system; or that, if they were young, they would unite themselves to a different denomination of Christians: but that, being advanced in life, and their connexions situated as they are, they think it not advisable to change. This, I should suppose, was trifling a little too much in the important concerns of religion: for every person, in whatever country he may be situated, and in every period of life, is bound to worship and serve God, in the way which, according to his best judgment, he thinks most agreeable to the Divine will.
But when, for this purpose, detraction and misrepresentations are resorted to, and low tricks, of religious guile and hypocritical cant are practised;* it looks more like the zeal of a party, to accomplish party purposes, and to promote separate interests, than an open, and candid, and generous exertion to advance the cause of Christ, and to increase the influence of his heavenly religion in the hearts and lives of men.
Intimately connected with this zeal for proselyting, is that spirit of bitterness which
* If it is discovered that a person is somewhat wavering, and not fully settled in his religious principles, every exertion is made to bring him over to the faith: Conferences are set up in the neighborhood: and numbers discover, all at once. a very great concern for the person’s spiritual welfare. He is repeatedly visited by those who never before vouchsafed him a neighbourly call, or a friendly salutation; and, among other pious discourses, he is usually reminded that there is very little religion among church people;—that they do not hold to conviction, conversion, and experience;—that they think baptism, and a little morality, is all that is necessary; and that their worship is a mere formal ceremony, without any spiritual devotion; with many other things respecting the church, which are equally true, and equally adapted to the purposes of a pious visit.
usually accompanies these religious commotions, or stirs. All those who do not fall in with the work, (as it is called,) and endeavor to promote it, by adopting the means and measures which are pointed out, are considered as having no experimental knowledge of the operations of Divine grace. And those who presume to call in question the propriety of any of those measures, or who suggest a doubt of the genuineness of the work, and its saltuary [sic] effects and consequences, are regarded as opposing the cause of Christ, and the influences of the Spirit. Hence many seem to think themselves justified in treating such persons not only as aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenant of promise; but also as enemies to God, and to the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction.
These things, however, ought not to deter us from examining into the origin, nature, and effects, of any pretended extraordinary influences and operations, which claim the Holy Spirit for their author; for we are not (hastily) to believe “every spirit, but to try the
spirits, whether they are of God;” to bring them to the test of the written word, the unerring standard of truth; “to the law and to the testimony. If they speak not according to the se, it is because there is no light in them.”
“Beware (says a certain writer) of that daughter of pride, enthusiasm. O, keep at the utmost distance from it. Give no place to a heated imagination. Do not hastily ascribe things to God. Believe not every spirit. I say yet again, Beware of enthusiasm. Beware of judging people to be right or wrong, by your own feelings. This is no scriptural way of judging. O, keep close to the law and to the testimony.”
I think it proper here to take notice of a remark which is often made, and which, upon some minds, may have a considerable effect. It is, that there are seldom, if ever, any extraordinary awakenings, or religions stirs, in the Episcopal church. And the inference, I suppose, is, that there is very little real religion among Episcopalians. However the premises may be decided, the inference we are not willing to admit.
Episcopalians fully believe in the influences and operations of the Holy Spirit, and that these are absolutely necessary to salvation. Hence, they are directed constantly to pray for them, and to entreat that God would not take his Holy Spirit from them. They believe that regeneration, illumination, conversion, and renovation, are necessary, and that these are effected by the operations of the Spirit. But they are not taught to believe, that the extraordinary and irresistible influences of the Spirit are given to a certain number, namely, the elect; and that only the ordinary influences are given to others, which are not sufficient, nor intended to bring them to repentance and salvation; “but that still they are sufficient to leave them without excuse. They are instructed to regard the Almighty as always sincere in his calls and admonitions, and always ready effectually to aid their sincere endeavors.
The clergy find their congregations more attentive to the concerns of religion at some periods than others; and more frequent additions are made to the communion of the church, at some seasons, than at others. Yet
this is done with but little noise and parade. When a person or persons are disposed to come to the communion, being such, as far as human judgment can determine, as are proper subjects for that ordinance, they do not wait until a large number are ready to come forward with them, (which I have observed is often the case, in time of a religious stir.) Nor is it thought necessary that they should stand publickly propounded for several weeks before they come to the communion, or as some (I think improperly) express it, before they join, or are taken into the church; because tor this, we find no warrant or direction in scripture.* In some Episcopal congregations, the holy sacrament is seldom administered without the admission of some new com-
* It is not the standing thus propounded, nor assenting to a certain instrument, called a covenant, which, at the time of admission is read to them, which constitutes persons members of the church. Nor does the partaking of the communion make them, members. This is a privilege they enjoy, and a duty incumbent upon them, being members; but the only scriptural mode of initiation into the Christian church, is, we think, beyond all controversy, the ordinance of baptism.
municants. And although all those who partake at the altar with us, are not as devout and as exemplary as it is ardently wished they might be; yet, that they are not generally as useful members of society, and as upright and pious Christians, as are those of other communions; is a proposition, the truth of which it might be difficult to ascertain.
With respect to extraordinary awakenings, or religious stirs, in the ideas which appear to be generally entertained of them, and in the manner in which they are usually carried on, the Episcopal church knows but little about them. She has her ancient land-marks and rules, from which neither her clergy nor people are allowed to deviate. No pretences to immediate inspiration—no extraordinary zeal, or religious fervour, are supposed to supercede their utility, or cancel the obligation to adhere to them. Order is her first law; with which, from scripture, as well as from long experience, she is convinced her Redeemer is well pleased. Neither the convulsions of nations, the revolutions of governments, nor the raving of fanaticism, have pre-
vailed on her to depart from her established rules, or deviate from her well regulated forms and offices, of devotion, the pride of her children, and the admiration of strangers. With an even tenor, she pursues her course, through this inconstant and changing world, marking the footsteps of her Saviour, and tracing his bright example, from the manger which first received his infant body, to the right hand of the eternal Father, where he ever lives, her glorious Advocate and Intercessor.
It may be proper in this place to notice an objection which is frequently made against Episcopalians, and which, from its being often repeated, has probably had some effect upon ignorant minds: It is, that they expect to obtain salvation by their own works.
Never was there an objection more groundless than this: and it would require the exercise of a very liberal charity, to suppose that it is not sometimes urged, in direct and wilful violation of the principles of truth and candour, and with the sole view of exciting prejudices against the doctrines and worship
of the Church. Where can there be found the least cause for such an objection? the least shadow of reason for such an insinuation? Do Episcopalians acknowledge that they expect to obtain salvation, in whole or in part, by the merit of their own works? Or is there any thing in the Articles or Liturgy of the Church, which can be construed so as to give the least countenance to such an idea?
The 11th Article says, “We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, by faith, and not for our own works or deservings.” The 18th Article says, “They also are, to be had accursed, that presume to say, that every man shall be saved by the law or sect which he professeth, so that he be diligent to frame his life according to that law, and the light of nature. For holy scripture doth set out unto us only the name of Jesus Christ, whereby men must be saved.” “The offering of Christ once made, is that perfect redemption, propitiation and satisfaction for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual; and there is none other satisfaction for sin, but that alone.”
Such is the language of the Church, in her Articles, upon this subject. Let the reader judge, whether, in these Articles, salvation by works is inculcated, or by the merits of Christ.
The whole of the Liturgy is in perfect accordance with these Articles. In no instance, is any merit or worthiness ascribed to man, or to any thing which he does: but the most perfect reliance is constantly expressed, on the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ. Hence, “by him, through him, for his sake,” or words of similar import, conclude almost every prayer and collect, however short.
For the sake of some, who, perhaps, may have the curiosity to read this small work, but whose prejudices will not allow them to examine the Book of Common Prayer, I will here insert two or three short quotations.
One of the Prayers in the Communion Service, is as follows:—
“We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to
gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us.”
The Prayer of Consecration, (as it is called,) which immediately follows the one above quoted, concludes in the following language. “And although we are unworthy through our manifold sins, to offer unto thee any sacrifice; yet we beseech thee to accept this our bounden duty and service, not weighing our merits; but pardoning our offences; through Jesus Christ our Lord; by whom, and with whom, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, all honour and glory be unto thee, O Father Almighty, world without end.”
The Prayer or Collect, for the 12th Sunday after Trinity, is as follows: —
“Almighty and everlasting God, who art always more ready to hear than we to pray,
and art wont to give more than either we desire or deserve; pour down upon us the abundance of thy mercy, forgiving us those things whereof our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask, but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, thy Son our Lord.”
But why should I multiply evidence to show the fallacy of an objection or insinuation, which can only be made by persons either wilfully ignorant, or blinded by the most inveterate prejudice?
With respect to good works, the Church, though she does not view them as meritorious, yet she considers them as indispensably necessary; because no faith is genuine, but that which produces good works—because, without obedience to the commands of God, there can be no sincere love to him; and because every man will hereafter be rewarded according to his works.
There are many other objections raised against the Episcopal Church, all of which are equally groundless and unreasonable. And I am persuaded its doctrines, discipline and
worship, will all bear the test of the strictest examination. That they will be found conformable to the directions given by our Saviour and his Apostles, and to the practice of the Christian Church, in its earliest and purest ages.
In these Eastern States particularly, the Episcopal Church has had to contend with many difficulties, and with much opposition. Her enemies have been numerous and powerful; and it is evident that, in some instances, they have borne a tyrannous hate against her. Even at present, the powers that be, seem not very much disposed to favour our Zion, or to speak comfortably to our Jerusalem: Or if, at times, peaceable things have been spoken, and words made use of which were softer than butter, and smoother than oil; yet, events have proved, that war was in the heart. Still, under these adverse circumstances, the Church has gradually, and sometimes rapidly increased: so that, from a very little one, she has become many thousands. The fiery zeal with which it has been assailed, has not consumed this humble bush, because Jehovah is
in the midst of it. Its roots are still moistened with the dews of heaven; and its spreading branches, covered with the leaves of medicinal virtue, invite the disordered nations to come and repose under their healing influence.
These figures will perhaps be thought too bold, or too fanciful: but they are figures used in scripture, to represent the Church of God, and such, we think, truly, is the Episcopal Church.
TRUE religion invites inquiry and investigation. The more it is candidly investigated, the more rational, important and desirable it appears.
It will be admitted on all hands, that the work of divine grace, in the hearts of men, is begun and carried on by the blessed influences of the Holy Spirit, who worketh in them both to will and to do, of his good pleasure. Whilst the Gospel Church was yet in its infancy, and before Christianity was established in the world, the operations of the Holy Ghost were frequently extraordinary and miraculous. As the necessities of the Church became less urgent, these extraordinary operations were gradually withdrawn, until they finally ceased. The age of miracles is long since past. But the Holy Spirit, in his ordinary influences is still graciously given, to reprove the world of sin, of right
eousness, and of judgment—to enlighten, renew, and sanctify the souls of believers; and to strengthen, support and comfort them, as their circumstances may require. That the Holy Spirit operates upon all men, with sufficient energy to bring them to repentance and salvation, if they are not wanting in their own endeavours, we must admit, if we believe his calls and admonitions are given in sincerity. But that his gracious influences are, in any instances, irresistible, or that it is necessary they should be so, that they may be savingly effectual, requires proof and evidence which I have never yet met with.
Properly connected with this subject is the inquiry concerning the nature of conversion, regeneration, and renovation; terms which, I apprehend, are often improperly confounded together, and considered as synonymous. Conversion, in the language of scripture, generally means, the turning from erroneous opinions, and wicked practices, to such as are right and good. Thus, our Saviour says to his disciples, “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter
into the kingdom of heaven.” Burkitt, in his notes upon this passage, observes, that “our Saviour, intending to cure the pride and ambition of his disciples, (who had just been inquiring of him, who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven,) first preaches to them the doctrine of humility; and to enforce his doctrine he sets before them a little child, the proper emblem of humility; assuring them, that unless they be converted, or turned from this sin of pride and ambition, and become as a little child, in lowliness of mind and contempt of worldly greatness, they cannot be saved.” He then further remarks, that “persons already converted, do stand in need of farther conversion: they that are converted from a state of sin, may want to be converted from a particular act of sin.”
St. Peter, in speaking to the Jews, whom he charges with having killed the Prince of Life, says, “Repent and be converted.” That is, as the same expositor remarks, “Repent of your rejecting Jesus Christ, and be converted to true Christianity. To repent, doth denote a change of the mind and judgment;
and to be converted, a change in the life and conversation.” And then he justly observes, “The exhortation doth denote our duty, and supposes our ability also, by the assistance of that grace which will never be wanting, to sincere endeavours.”
St. James says, “Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him, let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way, shall save a soul from death; and shall hide a multitude of sins. From this passage, as well as others which might be cited, it appears that conversion may be often repeated. As often as we relapse into sin, or err from the truth, so often must we be converted from the error of our way.
I have been thus particular in explaining the scriptural meaning of the term conversion; because that, and the words regeneration and renovation, have been so often indiscriminately used, as words of the same import.
Regeneration signifies a new birth. There-fore, to be regenerated, and to be born again,
Mean the same thing. But they are not of the same meaning with conversion. A person may be converted before he is regenerated, and he may be converted after he is regenerated; but he cannot, correctly speaking, be regenerated, or born again, but once. This idea, which I take to be a correct one, will assist us to understand the nature of regeneration, and the manner in which it is effected.
In order rightly to comprehend the doctrine of the new birth, we must have recourse to the conversation of our blessed Saviour with the Jewish ruler, as related in the 3d chapter of the Gospel by St. John, where the subject is concisely indeed, yet, I think, plainly illustrated. In the first place, our Saviour says, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” This learned Rabbi, not comprehending the meaning of this declaration, and desiring farther instruction, “Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily I say unto you, except a man be born of water, and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” According, then, to our Saviour’s explanation of the,
two distinct things must concur in it; namely water, and the Spirit; the application of water to the outward, and of the Spirit to the inward man. Without their conjoint application, there can be no scriptural regeneration. Separate them, and see what is the consequence. It must be this; that we make two regenerations, two new births, necessary, one of water, and another of the Spirit; and that these may take place at different periods. For instance according to this idea, a man may be born of water today, and of the Spirit tomorrow; or he may be born of the Spirit today, and of water to-morrow; or the next year, or twenty years hence; making two new births necessary; for he must be born of water, and he must be born of the Spirit. Yet it is admitted on all sides, that there is but one regeneration, one new birth, spoken of in the Gospel. Consequently, we must be born of water and of the Spirit at the same time. Now that, by being born of water, baptism by water is to be understood, none I believe will controvert; and if so, it follows, that without baptism by water, there can be no regenera
tion. Yet water baptism alone, would not be regeneration; nor are the influences of the Spirit without baptism, regeneration. But when baptism with water is duly administered to a proper subject, accompanied with the influences of the Spirit, (which in that case we have reason to believe are never withheld,) the person thus baptised with water and the Holy Ghost—thus born again of water and the Spirit—is truly, and in the scripture sense, regenerated; that is, he is placed, as it were, in a new state; the principle of a new and holy life is implanted in him; he is born into the kingdom or family of God; becomes an heir of that new covenant, or dispensation of the Gospel, of which Jesus Christ is the Mediator; and (complying with the conditions which on his part are enjoined) is entitled to all its privileges and its promises.
Nor is this account of Baptism and Regeneration new or singular, whatever different opinions and practices some may have adopted.
In the 29th chapter of the Presbyterian and Congregational Confession of Faith, it is thus
stated. “Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, to be unto the party baptized, a sign and seal of the covenant of grace; of his engrafting into Christ; of regeneration; of remission of sin, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life. Which ordinance is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in his Church, until the end of the world.”
Again, in the 6th article of the same chapter, we find it thus: “The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered: yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is, not only offered, but really exhibited and conferred by the Holy Ghost, (whether of age or infants,) as that grace belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in his appointed time.” I shall now, close my observations upon this point, with a quotation from a pamphlet, entitled, An Evangelical Dissertation on Spiritual Regeneration. “Thus,” says the writer, (after inserting the above named articles,) “ the public
offices and prayers of the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian and Congregational articles, all perfectly agree in the true scriptural doctrine of regeneration. And thus we see, that whatever difference of opinion may have prevailed among our fathers, in regard to other matters of religion, they all happily agree in this important doctrine. May those who still adhere to these principles, venerate the ashes of the orthodox fathers—and drop a tear of pity upon their alienated sons, who have departed from the faith, and hewn out to themselves broken cisterns which will hold no water.”
The term Renovation signifies renewal.— And this, like conversion, may be often repeated. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to renew and sanctify the soul of the Christian; to heal the breaches and disorders which are introduced by sin; to strengthen him with might in the inner man, that he may run with patience the race set before him; and daily grow in grace, and in the knowledge and love of God. Hence the Psalmist says, “Create in not a clean heart, O God, and renew a right
spirit within me: cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy Holy Spirit from me: restore unto me the joys of thy salvation, and uphold me with thy free Spirit.” The Apostle says, “Though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.” And in the third chapter and fifth verse of his Epistle to Titus, he says, “According to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.’’’ The seed, or principle, of spiritual life, implanted in the soul in regeneration, or the new birth, constantly needs the renewing and strengthening influences of the Holy Spirit; that, as the Apostle figuratively expresses it, “it may grow unto a perfect man; unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” To such, the direction is, “that ye put of, concerning the former conversation, the old man, which is corrupt, according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which, after God, is created in righteousness and true holiness,—and grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.”
Thus, I have endeavoured to give a rational and scriptural illustration of the terms Conversion, Regeneration, and Renovation. From whence it appears, that they convey distinct ideas, designate different states, and imply various operations. And hence it is evident, that the indiscriminate use of then, or confounding them together, as synonymous, must tend to give us confused and erroneous ideas, in several important points of Gospel doctrine, and Christian experience.
Were I to hear a clergyman urging upon a congregation of baptized persons, the necessity of regeneration, or the new birth, I should think he did not rightly understand the scriptural meaning of those words; or that, at least, he misapplied them. But should he call upon the irreligious and impenitent to repent, and be converted; and exhort the penitent believer to seek the renovating or renewing operations of the Holy Ghost; I should consider him correct in his understanding, and judicious in his application of those terms.
There is another phrase frequently mad use of, which, I apprehend, is often very in
distinctly, if not erroneously understood. It is that of a change of heart. This, I find, is generally, used as meaning the same thing with the new birth. Hence the common expressions of the new birth, or a change of heart. This change of heart is supposed by some to be an instantaneous operation, produced irresistibly, by the Spirit of God. That though it may be preceded by penitence and prayers; yet, that when it takes place, it is sudden and irresistible. Let us then consider the meaning of the phrase. Now by the heart, as thus expressed, we are certainly, not to understand that part of the human body, which is the seat of life, and which is distinguished by that name. No one surely ever entertained an idea so gross and absurd as this; that the heart in the human frame, was to be changed in its substance, or in its functions and influence.
What, then, is to be understood, in a religious sense, by a change of heart? Certainly nothing more or less can be rationally understood by it, than a change of the disposition, and of the affections of the heart or mind. It
implies an illumination of the mind, or understanding, which, in consequence of sin, is in a state of darkness or ignorance, as to spiritual things. The subjection of the will to God and his laws, which is naturally and practically opposed to them; and the regulation and sanctification of the desires and affections, which, in a state of sin and alienation from God, are improperly and unduly placed upon unworthy and forbidden objects. It implies new desires, and aversions; new hopes and fears; new joys and sorrows; and newness of life, wherein we have deviated from the ways of righteousness, and the rule of God’s commands. These things are all comprehended in what I should understand by a change of heart, or mind; and they are all equally well expressed by the terms renovation, and sanctification.
These operations and effects are properly attributed to the Spirit of God, who worked in us both to will and to do. But this change of heart, which I have thus illustrated, and I trust correctly, is neither instantaneous’ nor irresistible. It is not instantaneous, but grad-
ual and progressive. The heart, or mind, is changed more and more into the Divine image. The understanding receives increasing degrees of illumination, by the word and Spirit. The will is more and more subjected to the will of God. And the desires and affections, by the repeated communications of Divine grace, become more and more regulated and sanctified. Hence we see that this change is different from regeneration, or the new birth; for that admits of no degrees—no progression. Either a person is regenerated, or born again, or he is not. We cannot, with any propriety, say a person is partly born again, or that he is, from time to time, more and more born again. But we may very properly say a person is partly, or in some degree, changed in heart, or mind, or that he progresses in this change; that is, his desires and affections are more and more renovated, or sanctified.
Nor are the operations of the Spirit, in effecting this change, irresistible. The Spirit of grace strives with all men; and we are admonished not to grieve, or quench the Spi-
rit, and not to receive the grace of God in vain. And we are exhorted to grow in grace, and to give diligence to make our calling and election sure, by adding to our faith all the Christian graces and virtues; that these things being, and abounding in us, we may not be barren or unfruitful. Now if this grace of God, or these operations of the Spirit, were irresistible, these admonitions and exhortations, and a great many others, would be wholly unnecessary and useless. And indeed, the doctrine of irresistible grace, as absolutely necessary to bring mankind to repentance and salvation, appears to me to go very far in excusing the impenitent, to whom this grace is never given,—from whom it is designedly withheld. The plain language of scripture upon this subject, rationally explained, seems to be this: that according to the use we make of the helps and advantages we enjoy, will be our improvement here, and our final reward hereafter.
Chapter I. Of Extraordinary Awakenings, or Religious Stirs
Chapter II. Concerning the Nature of Conversion, Regeneration, Renovation, and a Change of Heart.
Chapter III. Concerning Conference Meetings, Extraordinary Gifts in Extempore Prayer, &c.
Chapter IV. An Enquiry concerning Evangelical Preaching.