"Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God."--Rom. x:17.
THIS text is selected because it expresses the general theme for this discourse, which is, How are persons made believers? The question has been settled as to what persons should believe to become Christians, or disciples of Christ, in the foregoing discourse. The purpose, in this discourse, is to settle the question as to how persons are made believers. What means does our Heavenly Father employ to induce men and women to believe on Christ as the Savior of the world?
There are two theories about this, so widely different, that if either one of them is right the other is wrong. One of these theories asserts that God puts forth an immediate power, or influence of His Spirit from Himself, or a direct influence to the soul of the unbeliever, and makes him a believer. The other theory asserts that God puts forth his power or influence through Christ, the apostles, through the Holy Spirit that was in and inspired the apostles, and through the Gospel preached by the apostles, and makes believers. These two theories are wholly irreconcilable. If the one is correct, the other is a delusion, a deception, a cheat. It is useless to talk of charity. Charity may extend to erring people in kindness, pity, and compassion, but no charity can reconcile two theories about the same thing so different, as that God makes believers by an immediate influence, and that he does it by a mediate influence. If this work of making a believer is done in one of these ways, it is not done in the other way. This is self-evident.
But now, the question arises, how is this matter to be settled? To what can an appeal be made as authority to settle it? Shall the case be referred to the man who says, "I know the time and place when the immediate power came, took effect on my heart, and made me a believer. I was not reading the word nor hearing the Gospel, and I know that I was made a believer by the immediate power."
If the question is to be left to such a man as this, it is useless to continue this discourse. There are many men who will testify the same as this man; but if such testimony is to be regarded, Mormonism, Quakerism, Shakerism, or any other imposture ever imposed on credulous man, can be proved, for they all have any amount of witnesses of the same kind. These witnesses care not what the Bible says, what the Lord or the apostles have said. They refer you to what they have experienced, but in their case you have nothing but the testimony of their tongues. They will not be regarded in this discourse, nor any witnesses, except such as the Lord has shown to be his witnesses, by the most awful, grand, and sublime displays of supernatural power ever addressed to the senses of mortal man. The subject will be treated exclusively for those who believe the Bible. Those who do not believe the Bible will be addressed in another discourse. The Bible is the supreme authority, and the writer will proceed as if every reader believed and regarded it. Indeed, he will, for the time being, assume that every person reading after him believes and regards it.
Let there be a clear understanding, then at the start. The question is not whether God makes believers. We all admit that God makes believers. The question is not whether he makes believers by the Holy Spirit. We all admit that God makes believers by the Holy Spirit. Nor is it whether He does it by His power. We all admit that God makes believers by the Holy Spirit and by his power. But does He put forth His power through Christ, through the apostles, through the Spirit in the apostles, through the Gospel preached reached by the apostles? Or does He put forth His power or influence to make believers, immediately from Himself to the soul of the sinner, not through Christ, nor through the apostles, nor the word? This is the question to be settled by Scripture.
The first Scripture introduced will be found Acts xi:14. It is the language of an angel of God to Cornelius, a centurion, of the Italian band. The angel commanded Cornelius to send for Peter, adding, that "when he is come, he shall tell you words whereby you and your house shall be saved." The particular point in this language, to which special attention is invited, is that Cornelius and his house were to be saved by words, and not without words. Any theory proposing, to make believers and save men without words can not be received, while the Lord's system, in which men are saved by words, is regarded. The question is not whether the Lord can save men without words, but whether he does in the system revealed in the Bible. The angel says by words, and let him who says without words bring his proof.
The next scripture introduced is found Matt. xiii. It is our Lord's teaching in the parable of the sower. It is a mercy on us that the Lord explained this parable, as the people of our time would most likely never have found the meaning of it. He says, "Some seed fell by the way-side," some "fell on stony places," some "fell among thorns," and "other seed fell on good ground." The first thing is to determine what the "seed" in this parable stands for, or represents. This the Lord explains--not in learned and difficult terms, but in the most laconic, explicit, and simple terms:
"The seed is the word of God."
Any human being, with intelligence enough to be accountable, can understand, that the seed of the kingdom is the word of God. All the products of the kingdom spring from the seed of the kingdom, under the divine blessing. No matter how rich your ground, nor how well you prepare it, nor how honest you labor, you can not raise wheat nor corn without seed; no matter how good the ground, how honestly you labor, nor how much the Lord blesses you with rains, sunshine, and a genial season, you must have the seed. It is indispensable. In the same way, in the kingdom, we must have the seed of the kingdom, or we can not have the products of the kingdom.
Faith is the very first product of the kingdom, and you can not have it without the seed of the kingdom, the word of God. Men may theorize about faith, the faith of Christ without hearing the Gospel, the seed of the kingdom, from which faith comes, but they will never have it. As well might men talk of corn, wheat, or any other product of the ground, without the seed ordained of God, as to talk of faith without the seed of the kingdom, ordained of God to produce faith. Since the Lord ascended to heaven, a believer in Christ has not been found whose faith did not, directly or indirectly, come from the Gospel.
The next thing in order is the way-side ground. What does it represent? It represents an idle, indifferent, and careless hearer, who does not understand the word when he hears it. There are such men in all communities. There is no such thing as commanding their attention; they are off, and talking about other things, or frequently nothing, or, at most, nothing of consequence; they never give anything more than a slight and indifferent hearing to the word. But when they do this, the Lord says, "Then straight way comes the devil, and catches the word of God out of their heart."
Do you say "There is no devil?" If you do, this discourse is not intended for you; this discourse is intended for, and addressed to such as believe the Bible. The Lord says, "Then straight way comes the devil and catches away the word." If you do not believe there is a devil, you do not believe Jesus, and are a skeptic. When this idle hearer, represented by the way-side ground, gives a slight hearing to the word, "then straightway comes the devil." You inquire, What can his mission be? What has roused him and called him up? A man has been hearing the word, and his fiendish, malignant, and premeditated design is to defeat the word of God, and thus defeat the divine means appointed to make him a believer and save him.
Hear the Lord describe his work in his own inimitable style: "Then straightway comes the devil and catches away the word." Why does he catch away the word out of his heart? The Lord answers, "Lest he should believe and be saved." See Luke viii:12. This shows that the word of God is the seed; that it is sown in the heart, that men should believe it and be saved; that the devil understands this work, and when the seed is sown in a man's heart, he comes and catches it away out of his heart, lest he should believe and be saved.
What does the thorny ground stand for, or represent, in this parable? It represents a hearer, not so hard as the one just described, but one that hears the Word with pleasure at first, and then finds that he will suffer persecution, and "straightway becomes offended because of the word." He yields the Word--gives it up. This is the end of the matter with him. You need not follow him, expecting to find where some immediate power made him a believer, converted him, made him a Christian, and saved him, after he had become offended because of the Word, and turned his ear away from it. There is no power that the Lord brings to bear on men who turn their ear away from the Gospel, and will not hear it, that converts them and saves them without the word. "He that turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination." Prov. xxviii:9.
What does the thorny ground represent? It represents a hearer not so bad as either of those of which mention has been made; it represents a man who receives the Word with pleasure at first, is delighted with it and happy, but subsequently is drawn into some of the business operations of the world--banking, merchandizing, stock-trading, etc., and whose whole mind and heart are literally overwhelmed in the affairs of this life; and the Lord says:
"The cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word out of his heart."
Here you may bid adieu to his professions of religion. When the Word of God is by any means taken away out of a man's heart, there is an end to all faith, piety, and devotion to the Lord. In every case, the Lord keeps it in view that "the good seed," which is the Word of God, must not only be sown in the heart, but remain in it, or none of the good fruits of the kingdom can be brought forth.
What does the good ground represent? It represents the man who receives the word of God into a good and honest heart, understands it, and, as explained in the parallel passage in Luke, brings forth much fruit. The good and honest heart is the soil for the good seed, the word of God. This is the Lord's method of producing the fruits of the kingdom: the good seed, the word of God, sown in good and honest hearts. He does not produce these good fruits of the kingdom without this good seed of the kingdom, the word of God. The Lord does not talk either of producing these good fruits by sowing the seed in a totally depraved heart, but in a good and honest heart. If all men were born totally depraved, there could not be in any of them a good and honest heart.
But instead of all men in an unconverted state being totally depraved, and consequently all on one common level, the Lord here divides them off into six classes; the good ground he divides into three classes. Some of it brings thirty fold, some sixty, and some an hundred fold. Thirty fold is good, sixty fold is better, and a hundred fold best. The thorny ground is bad, the stony ground worse, and the way-side worst. Instead, then, of all unregenerate men being totally depraved, and, consequently, precisely alike, he classifies them in six classes: good, better, and best; bad, worse, and worst. Paul makes the same classification--I Cor. iii:9-12--with his illustration of gold, silver, precious stones; wood, hay, stubble. Precious stones are good material to go into a building to be tried by fire, silver is better, and gold is best; wood is bad material, hay worse, and stubble is worst.
This only recognizes what all men of intelligence observe: that whatever theories preachers may advocate, all men are not bad or good alike in an unregenerate state, and, consequently, not totally depraved, nor so depraved that they can not receive the good seed, the word of God, into good and honest hearts, understand it, and bring forth fruit to the honor and glory of God. The seed of the kingdom is the word of God, and a good and honest heart is the soil, of the Lord's own appointment, to bring forth the fruits of the kingdom of God. All this shows that there is no room for the idle speculation that some immediate power or influence must give faith. The Son of Man sows, or causes to be sown, the good seed of the kingdom, the word of God. This good seed is received into a good and honest heart that understands it, and brings forth much fruit.
This perfectly corresponds with our Lord's quotation from the prophet, in the same chapter--Matt. xiii:13, 14, 15--"By hearing you shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing, you shall see, and shall not perceive: for this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should turn, and I should heal them."
The trouble with these people, or the reason they were not towed to the Lord, was not in some decree the Lord had made before the beginning of time, nor that they were so depraved that they could not hear nor believe, nor that the Lord would not send His power to enable them to believe; but the reason was in themselves, in perversity, which they could have avoided, but would not. Their heart had grown, or become gross. It was not so created, but had become so. Their ears had become dull of hearing. They were not so created, nor by inheritance, but had become so. Their eyes they had closed. They had done this themselves. It was not something in their creation, that they had inherited from Adam, or in any decree of God, but an act of their own, done for a purpose: "lest they should see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their heart and turn, and I should heal them." They are themselves blamed for the failure, which could not be the case if they were totally depraved and could not believe, repent, nor turn to the Lord.
It is now appropriate that we should have a few clear statements of Scripture, showing how persons are made believers. The first scripture adduced on this point, will be found John xvii:20 and 21: "I pray not for these alone, but for them also who shall believe on me through their word." For whom does the Lord pray here? You answer, For them who believe. True; but he is more explicit, and adds, for "them who shall believe on me through their word." If there are those whose faith did not come through their word--the word of the apostles--they are not included in this prayer. The Lord did not here pray for them, but for those who should believe on him through their word. This one passage ought to settle the question as to how faith comes with people who believe the Scriptures.
The apostle John bears the following testimony, John xx:30, 31: "Many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written, that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you might have life through his name." Here are three grand questions answered:
1. What are these things written for? That you might believe. The apostle here shows the Lord's plan of making believers, or what He has done, that men might believe, or to make faith accessible to them, or put it in their power to believe. These things are written that you might believe.
2. What must we believe? That Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.
3. What is the purpose in our believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God? That we might have life through his name. This is the great purpose of our faith, or to give us the privilege of life through his name.
How beautifully the benevolence of God stands out in all this. Man can not believe, without the truth to be believed. The Lord gives the truth, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. This truth can not be believed by man, unless revealed to him, with the testimony required to make it credible. The things in the divine records of testimony given by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, concerning Jesus, are written that we might believe, and that believing we might have life through His name.
The testimony of Peter is in point here, Acts xv:7: "God made choice among us, that the Gentiles, by my mouth, should hear the word of the Gospel and believe." This is as clear as language can express anything. If it was the choice of God, that the Gentiles, by the mouth of Peter, should hear the word of the Gospel and believe, it was not His choice that they should believe without the Word.
Shall the great apostle to the Gentiles be called to testify in the case, as to how faith comes? He says, Rom. x:17: "So, then, faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." If he had said, Faith comes by feeling, by an immediate influence of the Spirit, or by any thing else besides hearing, it would have been just as easy to so preach. But he settles the question by saying, in so many words, that faith comes by hearing. He does not stop at this, but explicitly states what we must hear--that it must be the word of God. He even reasons the matter out. Please hear him: "How, then, shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe on him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they are sent?" Rom. x:14, 15. If the Lord had not called and sent the apostles to preach the Gospel, we never could have heard it; if we had never heard it, we never could have believed it; if we had never believed it, we could not have called on the name of the Lord, and, consequently, could not have been saved. This then, is a settlement of the question of faith coming without the word.
But some man objects, remarking that it was granted, at the outset, that God makes men believers. But He does it by means. That is precisely the point under investigation. Does He make believers by an immediate influence or power from Himself, exerted on the heart of the sinner, or does He make believers through means? This has been the question from the commencement of this discourse. But was it not granted, at the outset, that he makes believers by the Holy Spirit? It was, and without any reservation. He unquestionably does it by the Holy Spirit. But can it not be that he makes believers through the Gospel and by the Holy Spirit? There can be no difficulty in this, for the Gospel itself was preached by the Holy Spirit, sent down from heaven, which things the angels desired to look into. See I Pet. i:12. Paul says of these things, "But God has revealed them to us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God." See I Cor. xi:10. The very same Gospel preached by the apostles, was preached also by the Holy Spirit speaking in them. Indeed, it was not the apostles that spoke, but the Spirit spoke in them; and the person who believed the words which the Holy Spirit spoke, certainly was made a believer by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit operates on men by words or through words. Please attend to a few examples:
1. "Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Spirit teaches." See I Cor. xi:13. The Holy Spirit teaches in words, then.
2. The Lord said to the apostles, Matt. x:20, "For it is not you that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaks in you." The Spirit of the Father speaks in the apostles, and those who hear His words and believe them, are certainly made believers by the Spirit. Many men are lauding the Spirit for what they ascribe to him, as a work done without words, while they attend not to the words spoken by the Spirit.
3. How did the Spirit operate on Philip to induce him to join himself to the chariot? Acts viii:29. "The Spirit said to Philip, join yourself to this chariot." The Spirit said--he uttered words, that were remembered and embodied in Luke's narrative--"join yourself to this chariot." The Spirit, by words, moved him or influenced him to join the chariot.
4. How did the Spirit influence Peter to go down to the three messengers from Cornelius when he was on the housetop, in Joppa? Luke says, Acts x:19, "While Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said to him, Behold, three men seek you; rise, therefore, and go down and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them." The Spirit operated on him through words. These words were remembered by Peter, and reported, so that Luke embraced them in his narrative.
5. Paul says, I Tim. iv:1, "Now the Spirit speaks expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and teaching concerning demons; speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their conscience seared with a hot iron." How is the Spirit said here to operate? The Spirit speaks, and not only speaks, but "speaks expressly."
6. Again Paul says, Heb. iii:7, quoting from the Psalms: "Wherefore, as the Holy Spirit says, Today, if you will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness; when your fathers tempted, proved me, and saw my works forty years in the wilderness." How did the Holy Spirit operate in the time of David? By words: "The Holy Spirit says." What the Holy Spirit says in this instance is repeated. Heb. iv:7.
7. Rev. xiv:13, we have a clear instance of the Spirit speaking: "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from henceforth: yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors, and their works do follow them." We not only have the words, "Yea, says the Spirit," but the precise words said.
8. Among the last words of the book of God, we find this: "And the Spirit and the Bride say come." See Rev. xxii:17. How does the Bride, or the Church, say come? She says it in words. In the same way the Spirit of God says Come. He says it in words.
9. If it is desirable to lengthen out the lists of Scripture references, in the second and third chapters of Revelation the following expression is found seven times: "Hear what the Spirit says to the churches." We are not commanded to feel some impression that the Spirit makes on our hearts without words, but to hear what the Spirit says.
Here, then, are some fifteen passages referred to, in which it is seen that the Holy Spirit operates through or by words. In this class of Scriptures it is also clearly shown that the Gospel, preached by the apostles, was not in their words, but in the words of the Holy Spirit. The influence or power, then, of these words of the Holy Spirit is the influence or power of the Holy Spirit, and the man made a believer by these words of the Spirit, is made a believer by the Holy Spirit. This is simply intuitively clear and certain.
In Rom. i:16, we are taught by Paul that the Gospel is the power of God to salvation to every one that believes, both to the Jew and also to the Greek. It is not power of God, a power of God, or one of his powers to salvation, but the power or influence of God for salvation, not to some but to every one that believes. That is, all that are saved at all. The power or influence of God for salvation is the power or influence of Christ, and also the power or influence of the Holy Spirit. God does not exercise one power or influence, the Savior another, and the Holy Spirit another; but the influence or power of God is also the influence of Christ and of the Holy Spirit. There is one power or influence of God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the apostles. That one influence God puts forth through Christ, through the Holy Spirit in the apostles, through the apostles, and through the word, to make believers, and turn them to God.
The man who yields to that one influence, and is led by it, yields to and is led by the power or influence of God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, the apostles, and the word; and the man who turns his ear away from and resists that one influence, turns his ear away from and resists God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, the apostles, and the Gospel, and will certainly be lost. He turns his ear away from and resists the power of God for salvation. No matter if he does say he believes in the immediate power; no matter if he does really believe in the immedate converting power; that is not mentioned in the word of God, and there is not one particle of authority for looking for it. The Gospel is the power of God to salvation to every one that believes.
But when we are talking of "converting power or influence," what is the precise meaning? Some kinds of power or influence will take effect on you, if you are placed in range, whether you understand anything about them or not. If you place yourself in the cold, it will take effect on you whether you know any thing about it or not. The same is true of heat. If you come in contact with an electric battery, no matter whether you know anything about it or not, you will be shocked. The same is true of the influence of contagion. But these all take effect on the body, the flesh, and blood. The influence or power is rather, and to some extent, mysterious, and we may not be able to know precisely how it takes effect; but we know it does not come through the mind or understanding to the system, but through the system to the mind. But spiritual influence or power does not take effect in the flesh and blood, or in the physical man, only as it does it through the understanding. Put a man in an assembly where the greatest spiritual impression ever made exists, blind and deaf, and the power or influence will take no effect on him. But electricity will take effect on him as readily as those who see and hear. Gravitation takes effect on him; so does pestilence, heat, and cold. The reason is, that these latter affect the body only--the mere animal man. But the power of God for salvation is spiritual, and relates, not to the animal, but to the spiritual man.
The intangible and almost unintelligible idea that some appear to have in reference to this matter is, that in order to conversion a man must place himself in a favorable position, make himself passive, and, "in the Lord's own good time," the power will come, make him a believer, and convert him. On this same intangible and unintelligible vague idea, modern Spiritualists have grafted the theory that, by sitting in circles, holding each other's hands, and becoming passive, the spirits will communicate with them. These deluded men have already gone into some of the most romantic, vague, and ridiculous absurdities ever known among intelligent and accountable beings. But spiritual power or influence does not take effect in the flesh and blood, but in the spirit. It is not a subtle influence, that is felt in the flesh, like electricity, cold, or heat, and that does not come through the mind. It is not a subtle influence, that you sit and watch for, as a Quaker preacher watching for the spirit to move him to speak, and that manifests itself first by some strange sensation in the flesh, or some queer feeling. The power of God to make believers and save men does not take effect in the flesh of men, but in the spirit. It is spiritual power, put forth in spiritual intelligence, to the human understanding.
As the intention is here to develop and discuss the subject pretty thoroughly, the inquiry may be put as follows: Is the power that God exercises in making believers, and turning men to God, the power of intelligence addressed to the human understanding? Or, is it a subtle power of the Spirit, immediately from God, that takes effect on man, as heat, cold, or electricity, not in words, addressed: to the human understanding, that makes believers and turns men to God? It can not be this latter, for the following reasons:
1. If it is an immediate power or influence, it is without the Mediator, and men are made believers and turned to God, or converted without Christ, the Mediator between God and men. An immediate power or influence is a power or influence without a medium or mediator. The first objection to this theory is, then, that it sets aside the Mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ, in turning men to God.
2. It sets aside the mission of the apostles, in making believers and turning men to God, and sets up a theory of making believers by an immediate power or influence without the apostles. This we know is not the Lord's way.
3. It sets aside the work of the Church entirely in making believers, and makes believers and turns men to God without the Church. In this theory the Church does not work with God at all in converting sinners.
4. It sets aside the Gospel entirely in making believers and turning men to God. The Gospel has nothing to do with it, performs no part in it, and is completely nullified by this theory, so far as converting sinners is concerned.
5. All Bibles, tracts, books, papers, and missionaries, as means for converting sinners, are swept away by this theory forever. If God, by an immediate power or influence, makes believers and turns men to God, all these means are a nullity.
6. All meetings for preaching to sinners, the preaching to them, and all talk to them, is sheer mockery if they are made Christians by an immediate power.
7. Human accountability is at an end, so far as being made believers and turning to God, if men are made believers and turned to God by an immediate influence. If the influence comes and makes a man a believer, the work is done. If it does not come and make him a believer, he is not made a believer. Who is to blame if the power does not come? Who is to be praised if the power does come? This strikes out all idea of responsibility in believing or not believing. If a man is not made a believer it is not his fault, and the reason is not in him but in God, who could send the power and make him a believer, but would not.
It may be deliberately stated, and is here deliberately stated, that this theory of men being made believers and turned to God by an immediate influence, has done more harm and prevented more sincere and honest people from becoming Christians, than any other one error in the land, or even infidelity itself.
But that the power the Lord exercises in making believers and turning men to God, is the power of intelligence addressed to the human understanding, is clear from the following:
1. Because the Gospel is the power of God to salvation. The power in the Gospel is the power of intelligence. It contains intelligence, and is addressed to men and women, and, when they hear it, they are moved by this intelligence to believe and turn.
2. Paul says, I Cor. iv:15, "I have begotten you through the Gospel." The literal meaning is, "I have made you believers through the Gospel." If they were begotten, or made believers through the Gospel, it was not by an immediate power without the Gospel. Through the Gospel, is by bringing the power of the intelligence in the Gospel to bear on their minds or understandings.
3. The Lord, in the commission, Matt. xxviii:19, said, "Go, disciple all nations;" and, Mark xvi:16, "Preach the Gospel to every creature;" and added, "He who believes." He who believes what? The Gospel--the intelligence preached. This shows that the Lord intended intelligence to be brought to bear on their understandings, and for them to believe it.
4. In Acts xxvi:18, we find the words of Paul, where he says the Lord sent him to the Gentiles, "to open their eyes, and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God." The Lord, then, through Paul, opened the eyes and turned the Gentiles, or converted them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God. This he did by bringing the divine intelligence of the Gospel to bear on their minds.
5. Paul says, I Cor. i:21, "It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe." This does not mean that it pleased God, by an immediate influence, to save men without preaching.
6. In all cases, in the time of the apostles, where persons were made believers and turned to the Lord, the Gospel and some one to preach it, were present. There is not an instance of one being converted without the Gospel.
7. James says, Jas. i:18, "Of his own will begat he us by the word of truth." This is true of all who are begotten of God. It is by the word of truth, and not without the word of truth, that they are begotten of God.
8. Peter also says: "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which lives and abides forever." See I Pet. i:23. How are persons "born again," or begotten again? "Not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God." Born, or begotten, used as a figure, means being made believers. This is done by the word of God.
9. Men are turned to God by Christ. "No man comes to the Father but by me," says the Lord. John xiv:6. It is through him, as the Mediator between God and men.
The Almighty puts forth intelligence through Christ, through the apostles, through the Holy Spirit, and through the Gospel, preached by the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven, to the understanding and heart of the inner, makes him a believer, and turns him to the Lord. This work is, in some instances, ascribed to God; in some instances, to Christ; in some instances, to the apostles; in some instances, to the Holy Spirit; and, in some instances, to the word. But he who would express the whole, in one sentence, says, God does this work through Christ, the apostles, the Holy Spirit, and the Gospel. But it is the same, no matter whether ascribed to God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, the apostles, or the word. The power of God, of Christ, and of the Holy Spirit is put forth, through the Gospel, to save man.
But some one objects, saying, Do you think there is power in the mere word to quicken a sinner, dead in trespasses and sins, and turn him to God? Men of faith never say, "the mere Word," nor "the bare word," when speaking of the Word of God, which is quick and powerful, and sharper than a two-edged sword, but call it the word of God. The power of God is in it, the power of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit is in it. It would be precisely the same power if put forth immediately. Men must be deluded beyond description, if they can not see that it is neither more nor less than the power of God for salvation that is put forth in the Gospel. No one argues that sinners can be quickened without the power of God; but the Gospel is the power of God. That power, we have now fully seen, is not a subtle influence, that takes effect in the human system, without intelligence, but it is the power of intelligence addressed to the mind.
Hence, not a convert was ever made to Christ, where the divine intelligence of the Gospel was not, in some way, conveyed to the mind. Nor was a convert ever made to any system of religion, either true or false, without conveying a knowledge of the same to the mind. The converts, too, are the same in kind as the operators. If the operators are Methodists, the converts are Methodists. If the operators are Presbyterians, the converts are Presbyterians. If the operators are Christians, the converts are Christians, and nothing else. But who, in his right mind, believes that the Holy Spirit operates, by an immediate influence, on the hearts of the people in a Methodist meeting, and converts people to Methodism; then in a Baptist meeting, and makes Baptists; and then in a Presbyterian meeting, and makes Presbyterians? The power of the Spirit is in the Gospel, and when that is brought to bear on the minds of men, it leads them to believe on Christ, turn to God, and become Christians, and nothing else.
But some one is ready to inquire, Is there power in mere ink and paper? Certainly there is no power in mere ink and paper to turn a sinner to God, but there is power in the divine intellence, communicated through signs of ideas, made in ink on paper--viz., the Gospel--the power of God to salvation. The power is not in the words, only as the intelligence is in and communicated through the words. Why should any man doubt that there is power in the intelligence of the Gospel to turn men to God, when he has seen the power in the proclamation of a president or a general, move a nation? Why should sensible people doubt the power of intelligence, when they have seen a whole family stricken to the heart by a single dispatch of three lines, announcing the death of some beloved friend? If uninspired communications, about earthly things, can strike grief or joy through a whole family or community, why may not a proclamation from the Almighty Father of heaven and earth, involving the destinies of the human race, take effect on the hearts of mankind?
But why argue that which men and women have seen all over the land? Who has not seen whole audiences melted to tears under the preaching of the Gospel? Who has not seen the most wicked and stout-hearted men melted down, subdued and penitent as little children, under the overwhelming power of the Gospel, and, in scores coming and yielding themselves to the authority of Heaven? What if teachers of religion have told the people that the word of God is a dead letter--that it is powerless, etc.? Have not men been seen visiting the people from house to house, warning them not to hear the man who preaches nothing but the Word, thus contradicting all they have said? They know there is power in it, and dread that power. Why do not these men, claiming such wonderful spiritual illumination--the immediate influence of the Spirit--come out and put to flight the men who preach the Word and nothing else? There is a good reason for it. They are weak as water before the men who preach the Word and nothing else. Trepidation seizes their souls the moment you suggest a meeting with a man who preaches nothing but the Word.
What did the Lord command to be preached?--"Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature." "Preach the word." What were men required to believe? Of course to believe what was preached--the Gospel. What were men to obey? Christ is the author of eternal salvation to them that obey him, and he will take vengeance on them who obey not the Gospel. What are men to hope for? For all things which the Lord has promised. This places the responsibility where it is, and where it ought to be--on the part of man. God has given him the Gospel and ability to believe it. If he does not believe the Divine and credible testimony which God has given of his Son, as he has the ability to do, God can be just and good, and condemn him for not believing. God has laid commandments before man, just, reasonable, and easy, and given him ability to obey; and therefore if he does not obey, the Lord can be just in condemning him for disobedience.
This is in perfect accordance with all the invitations of the Gospel, and with our Lord's weeping over Jerusalem, and exclaiming, "How oft would I have gathered your children, but you would not." Again, he says, "You would not come to me that you might have life." And again: "He is not willing that any should perish, but all should come to repentance." "The Spirit says, Come; and the bride says, Come; and whoever will, let him take the water of life freely." "All the day long have I stretched forth my hand to a gainsaying and a disobedient people." These and many other expressions of the Scripture are foolishness with the idea of this direct converting power, of which we hear so much, without which a man can not believe, repent, or do anything pleasing to God. All such invitations and expressions involve the idea that man is free; that he can turn to God, and may justly be condemned if he does not do it.
But if men can not believe, repent, and turn to God till an immediate power is sent to make them believers, how can they be justly condemned for their unbelief before the power comes to make them believers? They are no more to blame for not believing before this power comes, than a mill-wheel is for not turning before the power that turns it is put on. If two men are sitting on the same seat, and the power comes and makes one a believer, and leaves the other without the power to believe, no justice can blame the one left for not believing. This would not be leaving men without a cloak for their unbelief; out it is making a cloak for their unbelief where the Lord left them without one.
Does a man say he can not pray with the view here advocated--that if the Lord does not make believers, and turn sinners to God, by an immediate influence of the Spirit, the Lord can not answer prayer? In your empty theorizing, you have thus limited the Almighty and circumscribed Him to your narrow theory. Your faith, too, is limited to your narrow theory, so that you not only do not believe that God does answer prayer without your theory, or in any other way than you have marked out for Him, but you do not believe He can. If your theory is exploded, therefore, you will not pray. A little more faith is what you need. You must believe that the Infinite One can answer the prayers of His saints, whether finite creatures can see how He does it or not. The Lord, the Jehovah, is not limited to the narrow conceptions of men, nor to their narrow theories and speculations for the channels of His operations. Men theorized many ages about the movements of the heavenly bodies before they understood their motion; but the Lord moved them on, not according to the theories of ignorant men, but according to the laws He had ordained. So He answers the prayers of the saints, not through the narrow channels prescribed in the theories of men, but according to his infinite wisdom and will. He can and will perform his work, whether we can understand how He will do it or not.
The great matter for us to understand is, how to perform our part of the work. We must know how to do this, or we can not do it. The view taken in this discourse opens the way for the Gospel, the Church, the preachers, private members, books, tracts, missionaries, school-teachers--in one word, for human instrumentality, in every form--in making believers and turning the world to Christ, and views the sinner as an accountable being. The theory here opposed strikes out the Gospel, the Church, the preachers, private members, books, tracts, missionaries and school-teachers--in one word, all human instrumentality in making believers and turning the world to Christ. This difference is wide enough-- so wide that the view here opposed strikes down the Gospel entirely, so far as converting men is concerned. The only reason why it has not done more harm is, that those who hold it, in spite of their theory, operate on the plan here advocated. Let us, then, preach the unsearchable riches of Christ, and make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery which, from the beginning of the world, has been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus the Christ.