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In the first place, he preached to them by his Spirit, in sending his Spirit to strive with them. We read in Genesis that the Spirit actually did strive with them; and when they had long resisted him, God said in anger, “My Spirit shall not always strive with man.” By the striving of his Spirit with those who lived and perished in the days of Noah, Christ suggested truth to their minds, and impressed it upon their hearts, and in this way may be said to have preached to them.
But secondly, Christ preached to the antediluvians by his Spirit, since, through the influence of his Spirit, he called, qualified, and disposed Noah to preach to them. Noah, we are told, was a “ preacher of righteousness.” During the whole period in which the ark was preparing, he ceased not to warn the wicked of their danger, and exhort them to escape from the impending ruin. He was called, qualified, and impelled to do this, by the Spirit of Christ. So that through the instrumentality of Noah, and by the influence of his Spirit, Christ himself may be said to have preached to thąt wicked generation. In common language, the sovereign is said to do what his accredited ambassador does. Ministers of the Gospel at the present day are ambassadors for Christ; and when they speak in his name, Christ himself is said to speak by them. Thus Christ preached to sinners before the flood, by means of Noah. Through the influence of his Spirit, calling and qualifying Noah as a “preacher of righteousness," he sounded his messages in their guilty ears, and warned them to flee from the wrath to come.
The substance of the foregoing explanation may be given, in few words, in the following paraphrase :
“When once the long suffering of God waited im the days of Noah while the ark was preparing, Christ preached, by his Spirit, to ungodly men; or, in other words, he sent his Spirit to strive with them, and constituted Noah his ambassador, to proclaim his warnings in their ears. But they, refusing to listen, were swallowed up in the flood, and their souls were confined, where they still continue, in the prison of despair.”
From the passage, as here explained, we gather the following important lessons:
1. Christ has been, from the beginning, a Sovereign in the kingdom of grace. He existed before Abraham, before Noah, before all worlds; for by him, we are assured, they were all created ; and from the first opening of the plan of redemption, he has acted as a Sovereign in the dispensations of his grace. He has given his Spirit, and withheld it; has appointed ministers, and removed them; he has waited to be gracious as long as he pleased, and when and how he pleased, has cut off the incorrigibly wicked. In other words, he has been a Sovereign, and, as such, has done all his pleasure.
2. There is a state of punishment for the wicked, in the future world. By some, this doctrine is disbelieved. Mankind, it is pretended, receive all the punishment in the present life which their sins deserve; and consequently, when any are removed by death, they are admitted immediately to the happiness of heaven. " But what became of those, to whom Christ by his Spirit preached in the days of Noah? Their bodies perished in the flood; but what became of their undying souls? These descended directly to the prison of hell; and near two thousand years afterwards, we hear from them by the apostle Peter, that still they are there, 66 spirits in prison”-in a state of confinement, a state of punishment. There is, then, a state of punishment for sinners in the future world.
3. The present life is the state of probation, or the period in which the long suffering of God waits upon sinners to repent and accept of mercy. The long suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, all the while the ark was preparing. During these hundred and twenty years, Christ, by his Spirit and prophet, was preaching, and God was waiting upon hardened men. This whole period was allotted them as a season of trial, a space for repentance, in which they might turn from their sins and live. But when this period closed, God would wait no longer. Their state of probation was at an end; the flood came and swallowed them up; and their immortal spirits descended to the prison of darkness, to enjoy the light of hope, and to hear the voice of mercy, no more. This passage, therefore, which has so often been quoted for a very different purpose, teaches us that the present life is the season of probation, or the period in which the long suffering of God waits upon sinners to turn and live.
A DISCOURSE ON REGENERATION. By Bernard Whitman, of
Waltham. Second edition. Boston, Bowles & Dearborn, 1828. pp. 57.
This is the same Mr. Whitman, who published the sermon on “ Denying the Lord Jesus ;" who took it upon him to prove from his pulpit, that those who believe in the Divinity of Christ are guilty of denying him, and may expect to be denied by him before his Father and the holy angels. We mention this fact, not to excite a prejudice one way or the other, but to apprize our readers of the views and spirit of the man, with whom we shall have to do in the following pages.
He here discusses the very important subject of regeneration. His text is the noted declaration of our Saviour, in John ii. 3: VOL. I.
• Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.' He first notices“ some of the conversions which took place under the preaching of the inspired apostles ;" particularly those of the three thousand, and, as he says, of Cornelius and his family. His object is to shew, that these conversions were accomplished by a purely natural process, without the special influence of the Holy Spirit. In the second place he considers the necessity of regeneration. The ground of this is “ignorance, error, and sin;" and these are the result of " the imperfection of our nature, the imperfection of our education, and our invincible desire for happiness." Our nature, he contends, is as good every way, as that of Adam before his fall. We have no natural, prevailing bias towards evil, more than good. And all the “ sin, which ever has been, now is, or ever will be, on the earth,” is fairly attributable either to “ the imperfection of our nature,” which he explains to mean nothing more than a liability to do wrong; or to “ the imperfection of our education,” using the word education in its largest sense ; or to “ our invincible desire for happiness," which he calls “ an innate and innocent desire.” p. 26. In the third place, he “ proceeds to examine the spiritual condition of those born and educated in Christian lands.” He “ begins with infants ;" who, he says, “ are pure and innocent, in the kingdom of heaven, and, consequently, have no need of being born again." His next class “ includes those who have been practical Christians from their earliest years;" who have never been born again, and who need not be. In his third class are included “ all who are not real Christians.” Under his fourth general head, he considers the evidences of regeneration; which he supposes to be comprised in “a sober, righteous, and godly life.” With the filling up of this plan, and an application at the close, the Discourse is concluded.
In remarking upon it, we begin with his explanation of the text : Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.' The phrase, “kingdom of God,' means, he says, “ the reign of the Christian religion. Consequently, for a person to see the kingdom of God,'must mean, that he becomes a real Christian.” With this explanation, the text will read, · Except a man be born again, he cannot become a real Christian.' What, then, is it to “be born again'? Why, this phrase, he observes, “ denotes the change in religious opinions and moral character, which the first converts to Christianity necessarily experienced” “ in becoming Christians." Or, in fewer words, it denotes their “becoming Christians." Here, then, we have both parts of Mr. Whitman's explanation of his text, all occurring on less than half a page from the commencement of the Discourse. Let us put the two ends together : • Except a man become a Christian, he cannot become a real Christian?! Yes, • Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a man become a Christian, he cannot become a real Christian’!!! Now this is certainly a
very remarkable declaration. No wonder Nicodemus marvelled, when he heard it. How could he but marvel, to hear such a truth, pronounced and reiterated by such a teacher, and with such imposing and awful solemnity ?
Having succeeded thus admirably in opening and exhibiting the sense of his text, Mr. W. proceeds to the body of the Discourse. Let us follow him, as we are able.
The three thousand who were converted on the day of Pentecost, he tells us, “ were believers in the Hebrew Scriptures; observers of the laws and institutions of Moses; worshippers of the one true God; devout men, who had assembled at Jerusalem for religious observances.” p. 7. But he proceeds to inform us, what we believed before, that “they had considered Jesus an impostor, who wrought miracles by the assistance of the devil ;” that “they had crucified him as a malefactor ;” and “had circulated the report that his body had been stolen away by his disciples.” p. 8. Here, then, we are presented with some very singular combinations of character. Mr. W. has brought before us three thousand deliberate liars and murderers, who had all along regarded Jesus as in league with the devil, and performing miracles by his assistance, who still were “ devout men”- devout “worshippers of the one true God”!! Three thousand devout liars, traducers, and murderers !!! After a presentation of character such as this, we cannot possibly be surprised, let what will come up.
Mr. W. professes to give, under six specifications, all the doctrines which Peter preached to the three thousand ; and under six similar specifications, all that he preached to the family of Cornelius. To what he has said on this part of the subject, we have two objections. First, his account of the apostle's preaching is defective. His specifications do not contain all the doctrines that Peter taught. He might, in either case, have increased them to twelve, as well as to have stopped short at six. And secondly, his account is not a correct one, as far as it goes. His specifications, in several instances, do not express the sense of the apostle. For instance; Peter said to the three thousand, · Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins.' This, says Mr. W., teaches the "pardon of sins, on reformation.” But Peter said not one word directly about reformation. Repentance and reformation do not mean the same. The one is a natural consequence of the other; and of course they cannot mean the same. Again ; Peter said, in the presence of Cornelius, ' In every nation, he that feareth God, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him. By this we are taught, says Mr. W., “ man's acceptance with God on account of personal righteousness.” Now every one who reads the passage knows, that Peter taught no such thing. He merely announced the fact, that those who fear God and work righteousness are ac
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cepted of him; but on whose account they are thus accepted, he leaves us to be informed from other parts of the sacred writings.
Mr. W. regards these discourses of Peter as containing all that is essential in the Gospel—“the fundamental points of Gospel orthodoxy.” They contain all that was preached to the three thousand, and to the family of Cornelius, before their conversion and admission to the church. But is it certain, in the first place, that these persons had no acquaintance with the Gospel, previous to the preaching of Peter on these occasions? The three thousand “ were believers in the Hebrew Scriptures;" and do these Scriptures inculcate none of the doctrines of the Gospel ? They had been favored, too, in all probability, with the personal preaching of Christ, and of John the Baptist. Mr. W. says that Cornelius and his family “had not heard a word of Christianity,” before they were visited and addressed by Peter. But Peter, in bis address to them, says they had heard of it; and he appeals to their previous knowledge of the subject. The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all)--that word, I say, YE KNOW.' Acts x. 36, 37. The apostle Peter, and Mr. W. are here directly at variance. .
But, secondly, all that Peter preached on these occasions is not recorded in the Acts. In the one case it is expressly said, that
he testified and exhorted with many other words ;' and in the other, the same thing is necessarily to be presumed.
Indeed, the supposition that these written discourses contain the whole Gospel, is absurd and ridiculous. Are the preceding and subsequent parts of the Bible no more than repetitions of what is contained here? Or is it possible to conceive that the whole Gospel, with all its doctrines, duties, motives, and promises, should be compressed within the compass of some twenty or thirty verses ?
What then, if Mr. W. can say, with truth, of this doctrine, that, or the other, It is not contained in these discourses of Peter. Suppose it is not. It will not follow, that those whom Peter addressed were not previously or subsequently made acquainted with it. It will not follow that it is not in the Bible.
But, says Mr. W.,“ Peter not only omitted” to teach certain points, which are now regarded as essential to orthodoxy, “he taught other doctrines with which these are wholly at variance." He taught that our Lord “received his anointing with the Holy Spirit, and his power to work miracles, from God;" which is inconsistent with the doctrine of the Trinity. He taught “ that Jesus had been crucified by wicked hands, and raised to life by the power of God;" which is inconsistent with his being regarded as Divine. He taught "that sins are remitted on reformation, and that all who fear God and work righteousness are accepted with him ;" which is inconsistent with the idea “ that God pardons sin, and accepts the sinner, only on account of the sacrifice of an infi