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feelings, and may instantly be assured, through some imposition on his judgment, that he is a favourite of heaven, while his assured judgment is contrary to fact. But the question is, how may one attain to a well founded, a scriptural assurance, which shall be agreeable to the fact, that his sins are remitted? The Bishop has judiciously answered this enquiry. He is understood, by us, to admit, that a man may be conscious of every operation of his mind, and may in every case have knowledge of the fact, when a change in his mental operations in relation to any subject occurs, that a change has taken place. He may have an assured judgment, that the feel. ings, thoughts, and volitions, of which he has just been conscious, are different from any which he has before experienced: but the change which he doubts not has taken place, may not be known to himself to be a saving change; for many changes of mind are experienced which are not of this character. Suppose it should instantly be judged by himself to be a saving change, so that he declares himself assured of the fact; is it therefore a saving change? It may be, or it may not be; for every change of mind which we know has taken place in ourselves, is not such a change as ought to be deno. minated conversion to God. To obtain an assurance of a saving change, or conversion to God, through the saving influences of the Holy Spirit, the person who is assured of a change of mind of some sort, must proceed further; and assuredly judge, that the change which he knows himself to have experienced, is such a change as divine revelation declares to be the new birth, or conversion to God. Having compared his thoughts
, feelings, volitions and actions, with those which the Bible informs us belong to the natural man, he may assuredly judge, that his present mental operations and external actions are not essentially and completely similar to those which are attributed to the natural man, but that they are like those ascribed to the spiritual man, in the same blessed volume. Having arrived at assurance on this point, he has still another step to take: he must assured ly judge, that all persons who have the thoughts
ings, volitions, and actions, of the spiritual man, are born of God, are new '
men in Christ, are adopted, are pardoned. Propositions to this effect he will find in the Bible, and by believing them without any doubt to be true, he may infer that his sins are pardoned.
We are conscious of nothing but our own mental acts, to which we give certain names: it is the province of judgment to decide concerning the nature and attri. butes of those mental acts; and we should bring them to the test of scripture, if we would have any assured, scriptural judgments concerning them.
As for an “ assurance consisting in a consciousness of the change at the time of its taking place,” we know not what the writer would mean by the expression. Had he said, we are assured that we are conscious of men. tal actions; we are assured that a change has occurred in our mental actions; we are assured that we judge that change to proceed from the gracious agency of the Holy Ghost; we are assured that we judge ourselves to be converted persons; and we are assured, that we, and all other converted persons, are pardoned by the Lord; we should have clearly understood, and perfectly approved his meaning. We are ready to teach too, and we think the Bishop has not denied our doctrine, that a man who had been previously instructed by the Bible concerning the nature and source of holy mental and external actions, might, so soon as he should be conscious of cer. tain mental operations, judge them to be holy; thence infer them to have come from the saving influence of the Holy Spirit; and then conclude, without doubting of the truth of the conclusion, for the time being, that he is converted, and pardoned. The Bishop has not pretended to limit the time after a genuine reformation through the Holy One, before one may be scripturally assured of what has taken place within himself; for he admits the first good fruits of a good life, as well as the last, before death, to be evidence of the existence of the spiritual life; and spiritual life itself, to be the effect of the Spirit's agency, and a proof that it has been exerted in a way consistent with our rational faculties, so as to produce the effect.
We presume, however, that the good Bishop will think with us, that the assurances of pardon and salvation, which some have immediately after they begin to think seriously, and feel some new emotions, are not much to be esteemed by men who have some prudence as well as piety; and have seen with deep regret, that the highly promising godliness of some very sanguine professors passes away as the early dew. The best kind of assured judgment, that we are children of God, and pardoned for all our past offences, results from a long tried experience of religious patience under tribulation, meekness under contradiction, attachment to the truth of God, habitual hatred of sin, love of duty, confidence in divine promises, gratitude to the Redeemer, and conscientious discharge of the common, social, and devo. tional obligations, that devolve upon us in life.
Dr. White does not deny, that a man may judge, and say, upon a review of his past mental operations, that at a particular assignable time he was converted; and thence infer, since God pardons all whom he converts, that he has received the pardon of his sins. This judgment and saying may be according to truth, or contrary to it; for many who have thus judged and said, have afterwards found, that they were deceived by their own hearts; while others have found their opinion concerning their conversion at a particular time corroborated, by subsequent self-examinations and judgments.
In general, we think men erroneously date the moment of their spiritual birth, even when they apprehend that they have ascertained it precisely; for they usually date it from some very lively and comfortable emotions which they have felt; now we will grant, that the feelings, of which they are conscious, are holy feelings, which have proceeded from the regenerating influence of the Spirit, and that they really are converted to God. The question now arises, were they converted at the very moment in which they first experienced these emotions of joy, gratitude, and godly contrition, or at
some time previous? They judge, that they were sav. ingly converted at this very moment: but we judge, that they were converted in part at least, before, and that the act of God, called regeneration, was actually per, formed before that moment. We shall give our reasons. The feelings of a rational being are consequent upon his thoughts, for otherwise he would love or hate, desire or delight in, nothing, of which he had any know. ledge. It is a law of mind, we find by our own experi. ence, that we shall always perceive, or conceive of, or remember, or judge, or infer, something, before we shall have any feeling in relation to any thing. This law obtains in relation to the spiritual, no less than the natural man; so that we can have no holy feelings unless we have previously had some holy thoughts. But of ourselves, without the influence of the Holy Spirit, we are not sufficient for the production of one right thought. If we have, therefore, one spiritually right thought, it proceeds from the Spirit's influence upon us; and those who are thus influenced, or changed in those mental operations which are called thoughts, are regenerated. It will follow therefore, since holy thoughts are prerequisites to holy feelings, that persons who have holy feelings were regenerated, not in the moment in which they first had holy feelings, but at some time previous, for otherwise they could not have exercised right thoughts, which they did before the right feelings were experienced.
Besides, in the order of nature, we must conceive a cause to operate before an effect can be produced; and since their right thoughts were an effect of God's act of regeneration, that act must have been performed before they were sufficient to think any right thoughts. In re. generating a sinner, the Holy Spirit enters into him, as the spirit of truth, conviction, persuasion and consola. tion. Now to ascertain the precise moment in which the Holy Spirit first takes possession of a sinner, to illumi. nate his intellectual faculties, and thereby change the current of his thoughts, feelings, volitions and actions, would be to determine the point of time in which that sinner was regenerated. To do this may be a work of VOL. I.
greater difficulty than some are ready to judge it; be. cause we cannot be conscious of any actions but our own. The actions of God are subjects of his own consciousness, not of ours: and would we know that the Deity has performed the one under consideration we must infer it from the effects that the scriptures assure us fol. low it. Should we argue thus, "we have the fruits of the Spirit; therefore the Spirit dwelleth in us, and has regenerated us;" we should reason correctly; but this would only prove, that at some time before we had any of the fruits of holiness, the Spirit regenerated us, without ascertaining at what precise time, before we were first conscious of the exercise of those holy operations, which are denominated Christian graces. For ourselves, we are persuaded, that as in the commencement of natural, so in the incipient moment of spiritual life, the subject of it does not reflect upon his own operations and upon his consciousness of them, so as to form a judgment that he has just passed from a state of spiritual death to spiritual life. This is ordinarily a subscquent employment of a more mature state of spiritual life. Had we, however, no other means of knowledge, than our own consciousness and memory, we should probably never be able to ascertain the precise moment in which the Creator endowed us with natural life. Indeed, it would be rather difficult for any one, but the Giver of life, to say, at what instant of time any babe began to live. Is it strange, then, that we should not be able to say, that on such a day, in such an hour, and at such a second, the Holy Spirit commenced the new, the spiritual life in our souls? If we can prove that we are born of God at all, it is enough.
We do not deny, nor does Bishop White, that the Almighty could directly reveal it to a converted person's mind, that he is converted, and that his sins are pardoned; but we agree in opinion, that this is not the divine mode of giving Christians an assurance of these things; that God has not chosen it; and that saints ought not to desire or expect to obtain assurance of pardon in
The Rev. Mr. Emory labours to prove, that God