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DIVINE PROVIDENCE IN THE REGENERATE LIFE.
“'Tis a new life : thoughts move not as they did,
With slow, uncertain steps across my mind;
UNDER this head, which comprises, in fact, the whole aim and working of the Divinity with man in his present state, in order to an angelic heaven more and more perfect to eternity, we have to treat, first, of the Necessity of Regeneration; and second, of the Nature and Operation of it. And by thence following it through its various stages of Conflict, Temptation, Fluctuation, and final Rest, we shall thereby derive a more full and satisfactory view of the Divine Providence, and appreciate the varied means, trials, and experience, which the great Operator employs for our discipline.
First, then, of the Necessity for the Regenerate Life. We should not make this a question, were it not that we are writing for many who have yet either failed to see it, or see it only in part, and who do not appreciate the one great work of our earthly life. The bald naturalism of this age has at last laid its hands upon the very horns of the altar, and sought to quench its fires in a cold intellectual light. It affects to be philosophical when it is only sceptical — only superficial. “It says, Cul
ture; it says, Nature;” and if it fails not to add, “There also is the Divine,” yet it penetrates not to the core of our great Misery, and of course brings not the panacea for our ills. The Christianity of to-day is painful from two extremes. one hand it degenerates, thinking that it soars, into regions of mere Pantheism and transcendental mysticism; on the other, it revels in a morbid religionism, the very dregs of the spiritual nature. In the one class we have young ladies and misses, fine gentlemen and scholars, of truly amiable accomplishments and loving hearts, who think it an impertinence to speak seriously of the New Birth in any other light than natural progression; in the other we have a grovelling fanaticism, or a sepulchral and unnatural religion, irksome and constrained, the bane of all true cheerfulness and all hearty and healthful life. Let us seek the happy medium. Let us presume to be philosophical as well as theological, and to marry all things at the sacred altar of Truth.
There are but two theories of the origin and condition of man, which it becomes us to notice. One is, that he came gradually into being, by successive gradations from the lower animals, and his course from the commencement has been one steady, onward path of progression. Thus, that from a rude and undeveloped creature, very closely allied to the animals next beneath him, he first became Savage, then Barbarian, then Civilized, and then Christian; Christ himself being, according to many advocates of this theory, but the apex and head of our common Humanity, at the completion of one great cycle of the human race. And in still further consequence, that man will continue to go on as he has, without any backward movements, from one degree of perfection to another, perhaps forever; or at least till he reaches the highest possible state of manhood and excellence. This is the natural theory. It is the theory advanced in the “ Vestiges of Creation," and other works of a kindred character; and with some variations as to the precise mode of the origin of man, it is the theory adopted by those
Christians who do not subscribe to what are called the more “ evangelical” views of man and his necessities.
The second theory is, that man was created a pure and sinless being, and has fallen from that state into sin and degradation; and that, by his fall, he has so contaminated and perverted his original constitution, that a new spiritual birth is necessary in order to restore him to his pristine glory.
There are, to be sure, various modifications of this latter theory, and many errors connected with its evolution, but the theory in general is unquestionably correct.
It is manifestly true, that if the path of man has been steadily progressive, — if the mere powers of his nature, in connection with the ordinary operations of the Deity, have kept him in this onward march, without any backward movement whatever, and if they are sufficient to keep him so in all time to come, then the idea of a New Birth loses a large share of its significancy.
may indeed apply, in a moderated sense, to the first re-creation of man from a purely natural to a spiritual state, before the Fall before his natural mind became defiled with evil ; but nothing is plainer than that the Scriptures speak of man as we now find him, in a very different manner. In the Bible, Christianity is set forth as a restorative system. It is a reconstructive work
a building up of former ruins. If it were all mere natural progression, then we might as well shut up our Bibles at once; for Christianity teaches from beginning to end, the restoration of something that is lost. And has the account of the temptation and fall of Adam no meaning? Take also the following few passages from Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Romans. Speaking of the sins of many ages, the prophet says
“ And they that shall be of thee (that is, of the true church] shall build the old waste places; thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called The Repairer of the breach, the Restorer of paths to . dwell in.” (Isa. 58: 12.) Again “ Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where
is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.” (Jer. 6: 16.) Again, speaking of the restored state of the church 6 Whereas thou hast been forsaken and hated, so that no man went through thee, I will make thee an eternal excellency, a joy of many generations.
And thou shalt know that I the Lord am thy Saviour and thy Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob. For brass I will bring gold, and for iron I will bring silver, and for wood brass, and for stone iron.” (Isa. 60: 15–17.) Showing the very perceptible advances from one state to another, after having been 6 forsaken and hated.” And why is the Lord called a Redeemer and Saviour, if there is nothing to be redeemed, or nothing lost to be saved? The idea of redemption is very different from the idea of natural progression. But why multiply passages ? What meaneth the whole story of deliverance by a Saviour the death of all in Adam, and life and righteousness in Christ? What meaneth “ the restitution of all things, spoken by the mouth of all God's holy prophets, since the world began?” (Acts, 3 : 21.)
If there is any one truth in the Bible, plain to be read of all men, it is that our salvation, which is a misnomer in the naturalist's theory, is not trusted to natural progression, but is a supernatural restoration, by wonderful divine means, of something forfeited by the whole human race. It is this which renders a New Birth neccessary, in a sense very different from the first spiritual re-creation of man; and “ if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature," not merely progressed upon the old plane. And what is the significancy of the word “regeneration,” but re-creation, or to generate anew,- and as it is now always represented, amid conflicts and difficulties? As there are two worlds, a natural and a spiritual, so there are two births; one is of the body, the other of the spirit. The one is open, manifest, and introduces the human being into the natural world; the other is hidden, invisible, and prepares him for life eternal in the heavens.
But in regard to regeneration from the fallen state of man, the question is frequently asked - What light does history shed upon any backward movement of the human race? And we answer, so far as the light of ordinary history shines upon the fact, it is indeed comparatively obscure; for such history, in its most accredited portions, reaches back only about twenty-six hundred years, whereas the human race is probably ten times as old, at least. But what if ordinary history did differ from the testimony of the Scriptures ? The Scriptures, which reach further back than any other history, and speak with a much higher authority, assert everywhere the fall and restoration of man. And does not the tradition of the whole ancient world point back to a Golden Age, then to a Silver, Copper, Brass, Iron? What is the meaning of all this?
But it is not our purpose to rest this discussion upon any doubtful authority. The external history of the matter is a question which we shrink from. There is one evidence, however, to which we would point in proof of the fall of man, which should seem enough to impress us sensibly with the truth. We allude to the prominent aspect of humanity now, lying as it does all about us, over the face of a corrupt world. What is the general impression, and the lesson that seems most deeply and spiritually taught, as by a sorrowful conviction in the soul ? Is it that all has gone on orderly and well, thus far, from good to better, by a steady law of constant progression ? or are we rather impressed with the signs of ruin— with noble natures fallen into decay with virtues crushed out, and intellects depraved, and spiritual faculties quenched in sense and materiality, by some mighty and overwhelming calamity which has passed upon all mankind? What is the actual condition of the race ? “ Taken in the mass,” it has been truly said, “it lies in spiritual darkness; each generation receiving from the past its gloomy superstitions and horrid idolatries. A race in its true condition, not less than a family or state, would form a certain organic whole. It would be a family of nations, society