that a

thirsts after righteousness is the soul of a Christian. To

say person can seek to obey God, and yet not obey him, is absurd; for if he is seeking religion he is not an impenitent sinner. To seek religion implies a willingness to obey God, and a willingness to obey God is religion. It is contradiction to say that an impenitent sinner is seeking religion. It is the same as to say, that he seeks and actually longs to obey God, and God will not let him ; or that he longs to embrace Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ will not let him come. The fact is, the anxious sinner is seeking a hope, he is seeking pardon, and comfort, and deliverance from hell. He is anxiously looking for some one to comfort him, and make him feel better, without being obliged to conform to such humiliating conditions as those of the gospel. And his anxiety and distress continue, only because he will not yield to the terms. Unfortunately, anxious sinners find comforters enough to their liking. Miserable comforters they all are, too,“ seeing in their answers there remaineth falsehood. No doubt, millions and millions are now in hell, because there were those around them who gave them false comfort, who had so much false pity, or were themselves so much in the dark, that they would not let them remain in anxiety till they had submitted their hearts to God, but administered falsehood, and relieved their distress in this way, and now their souls are lost.'

-pp. 104, 105,

One source of the false comfort often given to sinners is thus noticed and exposed.

[ocr errors]

(2.) Telling the sinner to pray for a new heart. I once heard a Sunday-school teacher do this. He called a little girl up to him, and began to talk to her. “My little daughter, are you a Christian?' • No, sir.' Well, you cannot be a Christian yourself, can you ?' • No, sir. "No, you cannot be a Christian yourself, you cannot change your heart yourself, but you must pray for a new heart, that is all you can do ; pray to God, and God will give you a new heart.' Does God say, ' Pray for a new heart ?' Never. He says, “Make you a new heart. And the sinner is not to be told to pray to God to do his duty for him, but to go and do it himself. I know the Psalmist, a good man, prayed, Create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me.' He had faith, and prayed in faith. But that is a very different thing from setting an obstinate rebel to pray for a new heart. No doubt, an anxious sinner will be delighted with such instruction. • Why, I knew I needed a new heart, and that I ought to repent, but I thought I must do it myself. I am very willing to ask God to do it; I hated to do it myself, but have no objection that God should do it, if he will, and I will pray for it, if that be all that is required.'

-p. 108.

We could quote much more of the same kind, if our limits would permit; we must however refrain, and say only that (without committing ourselves to every expression) Mr. Finney's view of the methods to be used with sinners, and his sentiments

on the great topic of man's responsibility generally, engage our cordial concurrence and high commendation. Upon these matters we think the English churches stand in need of an extensive reform; and we shall be truly happy if the volume before us be blessed to that end.

The last extract we have made recalls to our recollection a passage in Mr. James's introductory preface, on which we feel it our duty to make a passing remark. Taking up Mr. Finney's idea of responsibility, Mr. James proceeds to suggest a modification of it, as follows. Having mentioned one 'striking feature' of the lectures, he adds,

• Another, and one of great importance to be noticed by the reader, is a constant and emphatic inculcation of the sinner's duty immediately to repent of sin, believe in Christ, and turn to God with entire submission and supreme love; while, at the same time, it is shown that there is nothing to prevent this, but the guilty cause which is found in the depravity of his own heart. Mr. Finney resolves human accountability, as all correct theologians must do, not into the possession of renewing and sanctifying grace, or, in other words, into moral ability, but into the possession of natural faculties, of external revelation, and of sufficient inducements, or what is usually called natural ability. In doing this, however, he sometimes uses language, and adopts a style of address, which would lead some to conclude, judging only by selected paragraphs, that he denied the necessity of the work of the Spirit in regeneration. This, as the general strain of the book clearly proves, is not the case ; but it is certainly to be regretted that a little more caution had not been used in some places, when speaking of this important and mysterious topic. Nor does he appear to me to present, with sufficient clearness or frequency, the offers of the Spirit as an inducement to the sinner to repent. We are under the dispensation of the Spirit; and though we are to remind the impenitent that nothing but a guilty cause prevents them from turning to God, yet nothing short of Divine grace will make them willing to turn—which grace is promised to the prayer of faith. It is not enough to tell the sinner he could repent if he would, and will be justly condemned if he do not ; this is all true, but it is not the whole truth, for God is ever ready to assist him—a fact which surely ought to be communicated to him to engage him to the work.'— Pref. pp. iv, v.

Mr. James here states very justly the evangelical doctrine that nothing but divine grace will make men willing to turn' to God; a sentiment which is unequivocally held by Mr. Finney, and by all others, we believe, who maintain the cognate and harmonious sentiment that men can turn to God without any influence of his Spirit at all. The current insinuation, that those who maintain the latter opinion deny the necessity of the work

of the Spirit,' is altogether unfounded and inconsiderate; since whoever admits that the influence of the Spirit is the only thing

which will make men willing to repent, clearly holds the necessity of such influence to their repentance. What we wish particularly to observe upon in the passage we have quoted, is the language held by Mr. James in reference to prayer. He represents God as making offers of the Spirit as an inducement to the

sinner to repent,' and laments that Mr. Finney has not exhibited these with sufficient clearness or frequency. We confess we should be surprised if a single passage could be found in which Mr. Finney had presented such offers at all, for we are well convinced that he has no conception of their existence. The very idea of them is so utterly remote from the whole scheme of his theological views, that we are quite sure he would repudiate it without qualification. Holding—and Mr. James agrees with him—that men can do what God requires of them, he holds also that it may justly be, and accordingly is, required of them in a direct manner, without offers of the Spirit, as an in• ducement to repent,' or 'to engage them to the work. Indeed the throwing in of prayer for the Spirit into an intermediate position between the sinner and the command to repent, is one of the practical mischiefs which Mr. Finney most explicitly denounces. We cannot help expressing our regret that Mr. James does not agree with bim, and more especially that the sanction of his name should be so extensively given to a contrary opinion. Nor are we altogether without surprise that so distinguished a divine should have written these few lines without perceiving the inconsistency of them one with another. Nothing short of divine he tells us, will make a sinner willing to turn’to God; and then he adds, 'which grace is promised to the prayer of faith.' He has suffered himself, then, to imagine a person unwilling to turn to God, and yet praying to be helped to turn to him-to our judgment a direct and unquestionable contradiction. If a sinner really desires to turn to God, then he has already become willing; if he does not desire it, there is no prayer---the pretence is nothing but hypocrisy. The idea that a sinner may properly be encouraged to pray for help to repent, can proceed only on the ground that he is willing but that he cannot; Mr. James rejects this allegation, maintains that a sinner can turn to God but will not, and yet, with manifest inconsistency, encourages him to pray for help. If, indeed, the Holy Spirit were offered to a sinner as .an inducement to repent,' it could afford no manner of advantage to him, since he is determined not to repent; and no man is ever so preposterous as to ask for help towards a thing which he is resolved not to do. Such encouragement would be as fruitless as it is unnecessary.

There is also another ground on which it has been matter of surprise to us that sinners should have been encouraged to pray for the Spirit. A great evangelical truth is laid down by our


Lord when he says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no man cometh to the Father but by me.' With this, no doubt, Mr. James fully accords, as indeed is apparent from his saying that the Spirit is promised to the prayer of faith.' A sinner who has not turned to God, however, and is moreover unwilling to turn, is in unbelief; he is therefore under guilt and the curse, shut out from access to God. It seems to us one of the plainest of gospel verities, that an unbeliever has no access to God, or, which is the same thing, that no prayer of an unbeliever can be acceptable to God. But in our vocabulary an unbeliever and an unconverted man are convertible terms. Faith and conversion are but two aspects of one and the same act. He that has believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, so that his prayer can be accepted, has also turned to God, and has passed the period at which prayer to help him turn could have any propriety. He is no longer a sinner, but a believer; and if he were now to pray for help to turn to God, he would be asking for help to do what he had already done. We hope that in these remarks we shall not be deemed wanting in either respect or courtesy to Mr. James, in regard and affection for whom, as a man and a minister, we yield to none. We have spoken for two reasons: first, because the subject is of great importance, and defective views of it of great prevalence; and, secondly, because the distinct sanction of an erroneous opinion by so distinguished

name might, if passed without animadversion, have produced extensive mischief. If our observations contribute in any measure to the elucidation of truth, we are sure that Mr. James will be the first to tender us his thanks.

To return from this digression. While there is a large class of Mr. Finney's views which we regard as entirely just and eminently valuable, there are others of equal prominence which we contemplate with no satisfaction. Of these, to pass over minor points, we shall mention two. The first which we shall notice relates to a supposed influence of the Holy Spirit on the minds of persons who continue unconverted. Much use is made of this by Mr. Finney, and, we believe, by the American ministers generally. They deem it a sentiment of great importance and practical power; and think they almost shut up a sinner to immediate repentance, if they tell him that the Spirit is striving with him now, and that, if he does not avail himself of the favor, it may never be vouchsafed to him again. Upon this point we entirely agree with the following language of Dr. Payne.


• I dissent, also, from the views entertained by Mr. Finney in respect to the striving of the Spirit with those who, notwithstanding this striving, live and die impenitent. I do not believe that the influence of the Spirit of God, in the specific and proper sense of the term—i. e.,

an influence distinct from the moral or persuasive influence of divine truth-is ever exerted except upon those who were “afore prepared unto glory.' What Mr. Finney calls the strivings of the Spirit-or, in English phraseology, the common inf iences of the Spirit-would seem to be an unnecessary influence (since not called for by the principles and exigences of moral government), leading to no result but the augmented guilt and punishment of those upon whom it is supposed to be exerted. I find it impossible to reconcile this notion with the infinite goodness of God. I suspect, also, the existence of some difference of opinion between the most approved writers in this country and Mr. Finney, on the nature and manner of divine influence generally. Tle speaks in one place of the moral power of the Holy Spirit,' of the meaning of which expression I have no conception,'—Pref. p. vi.

The sentiment in question is liable also to other weighty objections. We think it derogatory both to the power and holiness of the blessed Spirit himself; while we can perceive no advantage derived from it in point of motive. No doubt it is true, that those periods of a sinner's life when his conscience and his passions are most deeply wrought on by gospel truths are truly critical periods. They are seasons eminently favorable to decision for God, and should be seized on with avidity for practical improvement, more especially as being of very uncertain recurrence. But in order to this it is not necessary to say that they are the strivings of the Spirit; it is enough to say that they are the strivings of the truth. The reason for a prompt improvement of them is to be derived, not from the sovereignty of the Spirit's operation, but from the inaptitude of the human mind to receive with equal force successive impressions from the same objects. On the passages of Scripture which have been thought to sustain the view we repudiate, we may remark in passing, that they refer (as is clear from the context of each passage, Gen. vi. 3, and Acts vii. 51) to the institution and effects of an inspired ministry, and therefore to the striving, or active influence, not of the Spirit, but of the truth he inspired.

The second of Mr. Finney's leading views to which we object relates to the prayer of faith,' a subject undoubtedly of great importance and much experimental interest; but one which we think the author before us has treated by no means judiciously. Before making our own remarks upon his views, however, we will quote those of Dr. Payne.

Though this powerful writer has stated much in reference to “prevailing prayer,' and the prayer of faith,' that deserves the careful attention of the church in this country, I do not find myself able to go along with him in all his statements and conclusions. The subject, indeed, requires further elucidation. Much obscurity and perplexity in regard to these important subjects seem to me to rest on Mr. Fin



« ForrigeFortsett »