The Ancient Faith
THE SPIRIT’S AGENCY IN CONVERSION
The fact, then, that the Holy Spirit has an agency in turning men from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, is quite obvious. But this is not enough to satisfy the inquisitive disposition of this inquiring and speculative age. We must go further, and inquire also how it is that the Spirit operates on the minds and hearts of the people. And this is, no doubt, all right and commendable, provided only that we do not carry our speculations too far and endeavor to become wise above what is written. But just here lies the danger. Some writers and speakers have, by their vain philosophies, most unwarrantably and presumptuously set undue limits to the power of the Holy Spirit, while others have gone to the opposite extreme, and ascribed to it an agency which absorbs and nullifies everything else, ignores human agency and human responsibility, and which, moreover, serves to cherish and cultivate a spirit of the most wild and extravagant fanaticism. Extreme caution is therefore very necessary just here, lest while we are attempting to avoid Scylla, we should, like many an unfortunate adventurer, fall into the vortex of Charybdis.
It may be well, therefore, to pause here for a moment, and to ascertain, as far as possible, in the first place, what is the proper and legitimate ground of inquiry now before us; what it does and what it does not comprehend. This may serve to eliminate some extraneous matters, and thereby to greatly simplify the real and only legitimate question that is now to be considered. Be it observed, then,
I. That this question has nothing to do with the agency of the Spirit in fitting those who die in their infancy for a place in the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This is obvious for two reasons:
1. Because infants are not proper subjects of conversion. In its usual religious acceptation, conversion always implies a change of conduct. It is ceasing to do evil, and learning to do well. But infants are of course incapable of such a change.
2. The change that is necessary in order to the salvation of all who die in their infancy does not, therefore, come within the scope of those moral means and second causes which God has made necessary in order to the remission of our own personal sins. Salvation from the effects and consequences of Adam’s first transgression, and salvation from the effects [from physical death-P.M.]] and consequences of our own personal transgressions, are not to be ranked in the same category. They belong to different chapters of the Divine administration, which should never be blended together. The former [physical death- P.M.] is unconditional, and will, therefore, be universal. The latter is conditional, and will, therefore, as we learn from the Scriptures, be enjoyed only by those who, in their own persons, observe and respect the conditions which God has himself prescribed. If in Adam we all died [physically – P.M.], it is just as certain that in and through Christ we will all be made alive. I Cor. xv, 22. “If by one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, equally sure is it that by the obedience of Christ the many will, to the same extent, be made righteous.” Romans v, 19. And hence it follows that we need have no concern about our own deliverance or the deliverance of anyone else from the dreadful effects and terrible consequences of Adam’s first transgression. Christ has under taken this work for us, and we may rest assured that he will finish it. If one miracle or ten thousand miracles should be necessary for its accomplishment, they will all be wrought in due season. There can be no failure on his part. That power that can deliver the body from all physical corruption can also free the soul from all moral corruption. But how this will be done is not a matter that now concerns us.
II. It is well to remember, also, that the question now before us is not a question of POWER but of FACT. It is not, what power the Holy Spirit could exercise over the human mind in its conversion to God, but it is simply, what power he actually does exercise in the conversion of all sane, rational, and responsible persons. It does not become such a being as man, whose breath is in his nostrils, and who has not yet learned the nature, constitution, and capabilities of his own mind, to set limits to the power of either the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit. This the archangel himself would not presume to do.
III. Nor does it belong to our present subject to ascertain and to estimate fully and accurately even all the power and influence which the Holy Spirit does actually put forth and exercise over the human mind in its conversion. He may exert many influences of which we know nothing. Who but God himself is competent to say what power he does and what he does not exercise over the physical and spiritual universe? Manifestly all such inquiries reach far beyond the narrow limits of our comprehension. And hence it follows,
IV. That the only legitimate question now before us is simply this: What do the Scriptures teach us concerning the way and means in and through which the Holy Spirit operates on the minds and hearts of actual sinners, in order to their conversion?
The Holy Spirit operates on the minds and hearts of men in order to their conversion through the Word of God. As evidence of the truth of this proposition take the following passages:
1. Psalm xix, 7: “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.” From this passage we learn that the Word of the Lord converts the soul. But what is done by the Word may, of course, be said to be done by the Spirit, who is the Author of the Word.
2. Luke viii, 4-15: “And when much people were gathered together and were come out of every city, he (Jesus) spake by a parable, saying: A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell by the wayside; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it. And some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprung up with it and choked it. And others fell on good ground, and sprang up and bore fruit a hundredfold. And when he had said these things he cried, He that bath ears to hear let him hear. And the disciples asked him saying, What might this parable be? And he said, . . . the parable is this: The seed is the Word of God. Those by the wayside are they that hear; then cometh the Devil and taketh away the Word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. They on the rock are they who, when they hear, receive the Word with joy ; and these have no root, who for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away. And that which fell among thorns are they who, when they have heard, go forth and are choked with the cares, and riches, and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection. But that oil good ground are they who, in an honest and good heart, having heard the Word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.”
From this beautiful narrative it is evident that the Word of God is the seed sown in the heart, by means of which all the fruits of the Spirit are produced. The reader will observe that the persons who receive the Word are often, by metonymy, put for the Word itself, and that the scope of the parable is simply to show that the fruits of the Gospel depend on the state and condition of the hearts of those who hear it.
3. John vi, 44, 45: “No man (says Christ) can come to me except the Father who hath sent me draw him; and I will raise him up at the last day.” And then he immediately adds, by way of explanation, “It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught of God’,(i. e., of course, by his Spirit.) Every man, therefore, that hath heard and hath learned of the Father (through his Spirit) cometh to me.”
4. Romans i, 16: “For I am not ashamed (says Paul) of the Gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek? The Gospel in this passage is equivalent to the whole Scheme of Redemption, as it is revealed to us in the Scriptures by the Holy Spirit. And hence it follows that the written Word is the power of the Spirit of God for the salvation of every believer. For it is by faith that God purifies the heart, (Acts xv, 9;) but faith comes by hearing the Word of God.” Romans x, 17.
5. 1 Corinthians iv, 14, 1 5 : “ I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you. For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, ye have not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the Gospel.”
From this we learn that all the members of the Corinthian Church had been begotten by or through the Gospel. But the Spirit is the author of the Gospel. And hence this passage serves to explain how it is that every Christian is begotten or born of the Spirit. See John iii, 5.
6. James i, 18: “ Of his own will begat he us with the Word of truth, that we should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures.” Here the Father is said to do what he does by his Spirit, for “ it is the Spirit that quickeneth.” John vi, 63.
7. 1 Peter i, 22, 23: “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit, unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently; being born again, not of corruptible seed, but incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth forever. This is another beautiful commentary on John iii, 4; and also on 1 John iii, 9.
From these, and many other similar passages of Scripture, we may, I think, justly conclude not only that the Holy Spirit operates on the minds of the unconverted through the Word of God, but also that it never converts any man without the Word. This was never done, so far as we know, even in the days of miracles; and certainly there is not in the whole Bible the shadow of evidence that the Holy Spirit now saves any actual transgressor in any other way than by purifying his heart and regulating his whole life through the influence of that faith which worketh by love, and which in all cases depends on the testimony which God has given us concerning his Son. Romans x, 17. And hence the Apostles were commanded to “go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature”? Mark xvi, 15. And hence, I may add, their great zeal in carrying out and fulfilling this commission. In all cases and under all circumstances they proceeded as if the whole world were lost without the Gospel; and as if the salvation of every man depended on their preaching, “we thus judge? says Paul, “ that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all that they who live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him who died for them and rose again? 2 Cor. v, 14, 15. O, that the spirit of these holy men would but animate the Church of the nineteenth century! How soon in that case would the wilderness and the solitary parts of the Earth be made glad, and the deserts of the pagan world rejoice and blossom as the rose!
[These are excerpts from Robert Milligan’s book The Scheme of Redemption printed in (1868). He erred regarding many topics, including the Holy Spirit; however, the paragraphs quoted above are in accordance with truth.]
THE SCHEME OF REDEMPTION REVEALED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT
There was a time previous to which the whole Scheme of Redemption was concealed in the depths of the Divine mind. No creature had ever discovered it, nor was it possible that any creature, however exalted, ever could discover it. For, as Paul said to his Corinthian brethren, “What man knoweth the things of a man save the spirit of a man which is in him?
Even so the things (or purposes; of God knoweth no man but the Spirit of God” (1 Cor.2:11). And hence it belonged to the Spirit, and to the Spirit alone, to reveal to mankind this scheme of God’s philanthropy, as well as to demonstrate its Divine origin, “For the Spirit searcheth all things, even the deep things of God” (1 Cor. 2:10).
USE MADE OF SECOND CAUSES
In doing so, however, it availed itself of existing means and instrumentalities, as far as possible. Indeed, this may be laid down as a universal law of the Divine administration. So far as we know or have the means of judging, God has never put forth any unnecessary power in any of the works of creation, providence or redemption. His first miracle was, of course, wholly independent of second causes. By it, nature was brought into being, and second causes were thus produced. But henceforth the laws and forces of nature were made in all cases to subserve the Divine purposes, as far as practicable. And hence we find that in most cases, when the exercise of miraculous power became necessary the miraculous and natural forces used were supplementary to each other, and made to cooperate in effecting the end proposed. The recorded exceptions to this law are but few. They occurred only when it was necessary, for some wise and benevolent reason, to change, suspend, or modify in some way the laws and forces of nature.
DEFINITION OF “MIRACLE”
As, for instance, in the separation of the water of the Red Sea, etc And hence I would define a miracle as an extraordinary manifestation of Divine power, operating either independently of the laws and forces of nature, as in the original creation, or in opposition to them, as in the separation of the waters of the Red Sea, or in connection and harmony with them, as in the Noachaic deluge. This, of course, implies to all cases the exercise of a power that is superior to the laws and forces of nature. And hence it follows that no creature can work a real miracle. All such pretenses are but signs, and wonders, and miracles of falsehood. 2 Thessalonians 2:9.
TWO FACTORS IN ALL GOD’S WRITTEN REVELATION TO MAN
This, then, is the law by which the Spirit of life operated in revealing to mankind the Scheme of Redemption. All written as well as most oral communications were made through human instrumentality. Human learning and human talents were employed in all cases, so far as they could be made available, in working out a perfect result, and no further. And hence it follows that not only every book, but also every word and sentence of the Original Scriptures, is the product of two factors, the human and the Divine. In some cases, a preponderance seems to have been given to the former, and in some cases to the latter, depending on the nature and character of the truth that was to be expressed. But in no instance was any portion of the sixty-six canonical books of the Old and New Testaments recorded without the joint agency and cooperation of both these factors. As evidence of this, see, for instance, the second chapter of First Corinthians.
DIVINE ORIGIN OF THE REVELATIONS DEMONSTRATED
To the Holy Spirit it belonged, also, to demonstrate the Divine origin of the Scheme of Redemption as it is now revealed to us in the Living Oracles. Nothing short of miracles was sufficient for this purpose. As is the proposition, so must also be the proof, in every department of literature, science, and philosophy. If the proposition is historical, the proof must also be historical; if the proposition is demonstrative, the proof must be demonstrative; and if the proposition is miraculous, then the proof must also be miraculous. And hence we have recorded, in immediate connection with the various developments of the Scheme of Redemption, a series of miracles that put to silence, for the time being, even some of the most violent opposers of God’s chosen and inspired ambassadors. The Magicians of Egypt, for example, after having done all that they could to throw discredit on the Divine legation of Moses, were finally constrained to say of his miracles, “This is the finger of God.” Exodus viii, 19. Nebuchadnezzar had to concede that no other God could deliver like the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Daniel 3:29). Darius the Mede, perceiving in the deliverance of Daniel the most clear and convincing evidence of the direct interposition and interference of Jehovah, made a decree that all nations should serve and obey him (Daniel 6:26).
And Nicodemus expressed but the common sentiment of all honest men who were cognizant of the miracles of Christ when he said to him, “ Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God; for no man can do these miracles that thou doest except God be with him” (John 3:2).
MIRACLES NO LONGER NECESSARY
These miraculous demonstrations of the Spirit were continued till the Scheme of Redemption was fully revealed, and the Canon of the Holy longer Scriptures was placed on a historical basis so firm and enduring that nothing can ever shake it. A rejection of the miracles and facts of the Bible would now be equivalent to a rejection of all history. Jesus Christ is today the Alpha and the Omega not only of the whole Christian System, but also of the world’s civilization. Without him and his religion all the splendid monuments and improvements of the last eighteen hundred years are but as the baseless fabric of a vision. And hence we no longer need miracles to prove the Divine origin of a scheme which is now sustained and illustrated by the history, philosophy, and literature of the whole civilized world.
[This is from Robert Milligan’s book The Scheme of Redemption printed in (1868)]