Articles by Robert Richardson on Regeneration

Published in Millennial Harbinger (hereafter abbreviated as MH)

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– MH, vol. 1, no. 5 (5/3/1830)

MAN is a singular being. His character presents at once the most distant extremes and the most striking contradictions. In his powers weak, limited, and fallible; in his ambition mighty, boundless, and persevering. Born into the world naked, destitute, dependent; we, at another period, see him in the person of an Alexander, a Cesar, or a Napoleon, clothed with regal splendor, and lording it over the destinies of nations. Considered individually, as it regards his corporeal energies and intellectual faculties, he is in the one surpassed by the brute creation; and in the other, capable of attaining merely a knowledge of the little system of things which fall in his own way, are discerned by his senses, and his views concerning which commence and terminate in himself: while viewed as a member of the human family, he can, by the aid of language, appropriate to himself the notices, the thoughts, the powers, and the improvements of all the men of times past and present; can hear sounds made a thousand years ago, and see things done a thousand miles off; and, taught by revelation, is able to trace up his history to the beginning of time, and even to lift the curtain from the scenes of eternity! [203]

Man was originally a noble creature. Created in the image of him who is perfect, he was declared to be “very good.” Under the reigning influence of the happifying principles LOVE and GRATITUDE, no discordant passions interrupted the supreme enjoyments of his nature; no unhallowed fires glowed within his breast; no base thoughts stained the purity of his mind. Forgetful of self; Pride taught him to glory in the perfections of his Creator, while Ambition, her handmaid, prompted only to a pure, perfect, and grateful obedience. Temptation had not yet assailed him: the nice balance between his reason and his passions had not yet been destroyed: the poisonous breath of deceit and falsehood had not yet tainted the innocence of the Garden of Eden!

Man has fallen. The grave alone can hide his shame! Forgetful of God, he glories in himself. Receiving all that he possesses, he boasts as if he had not received it, and claims originality. Neglecting the honor that comes from God only, the highest aim of his ambition is to obtain honor from his fellows. Himself the slave of appetite, he affects dominion, and assumes the appearance of authority. Under the mask of reason, he commits the extravagancies of the insane. A proud, vain, and irrational philosophy, has usurped the place of the knowledge of the true God; while a false and absurd superstition has superseded a religion pure and undefiled. Those passions and principles of his nature, which, when subjects, contributed to his happiness, now reigning as tyrants, increase and perpetuate his misery.

But amidst the ruins there are some vestiges of his pristine grandeur. He once governed himself. Now, conscious of his descent, and unable to recover his former empire, he endeavors to acquire another, and rules over his fellow and his equal. The amiable principles of his nature once reigned predominant. Now occasionally displaying themselves in his actions, they show that they have been concealed, but not entirely extinguished. But they languish in confinement–here striving to obtain their liberty–there enfeebled and unable to resist; or perishing amidst the cruel chains of base propensities, and the poisonous food of impure desires.

Man will be renovated. The yoke of him who first spoke the universe into being, speaks once more. In accents of mercy and condescension, he cheers the languid excellencies of man’s nature. He speaks, not like the Tempter, to command unruly passions to the throne; but to restore the dominion to pure and holy principles. Coming, not as the serpent, filled with hatred, to instil the poison of the sting of death; but in a glorious exhibition of unbounded love, he excites a kindred feeling, and commands the delighted soul to love and live for ever. The evil passions strive to regain the mastery: but animated and quickened by the recollections of the love of God; stimulated by the enjoyments of his favor, and excited to perseverance by the great and precious promises of a glorious immortality, the contest continues until the whole man, body, soul, and spirit, is sanctified through the truth, enters upon the fruition of his hopes, and enjoys an everlasting crown.

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REGENERATION–No. II. – MH, vol. 1, no. 5 (5/3/1830)

THE human mind is prone to mystery and superstition. Unwilling to be satisfied with things that are simple and easily discerned, it aims at the discovery of ultimate principles and relations, and trusting to the feeble bark of Reason, with Conjecture at the helm, and Pride and Interest, Ambition and Folly at the oars, is lost amidst the boundless ocean of Absurdity.

“I am, jealous of you with a great jealousy, (says Paul to the Corinthians) because I have betrothed you to one husband, to present you a chaste virgin to Christ. But I am afraid lest somehow, as the serpent beguiled Eve by his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is due to Christ.”

“I wonder that ye are so soon removed from him who called you into the favor of Christ, to another gospel; which is not another, (says he to the Galatians,) but some there are who wish to pervert the glad tidings of the Christ.”

Among the various subjects in the investigation of which the mystifiers of religion have departed from the simplicity of the truth, none stands more conspicuous than regeneration. Indeed, there are very few that seem to have a clear, plain, and scriptural view of the subject. And what is the reason? Because the atmosphere of Babylon has not only impaired our vision, but the smoke of the city has extended to some distance over the surrounding country, and obscured the beauty of the works of God, concealing the sweetness of the Rose of Sharon, and throwing a dusky mantle over the spotless purity of the Lily of the Valley. While in the city, scarce able to discern the Sun of Righteousness through the thick gloom which surrounded us, we were accustomed to be told by the priestly kings of the city, from their wooden thrones, that we could not possibly discover the true color of any object unless they would reflect upon it the light of the Sun, from whom (holding up a mysterious roll of genealogy) they claimed to be descended; while at the same time, clothed in sable robes which absorbed the feeble rays of light, they were entirely incapable of reflection! Turning away at length from these deceivers, we determined to be guided by the Sun himself, and issuing from the gates, have rejoiced in the light and liberty of the kingdom of heaven. But, as

Habits, by long continued care impressed,
Are strong as nature in the human breast.
We are prone to consider those the true colors of objects which bear some resemblance to the hues to which we have been accustomed; and if any thing presents itself to us in its simple beauty, we are surprized, and unable or afraid to recognize it.

When, in Scripture, a figure is drawn from any thing in the natural world, if we wish to understand the application of the figure, we should take into view the most striking circumstances relating to that from which the figure is taken. When the Saviour says that he is the [205] true vine, and that his disciples are the branches, we remember at once that in the natural world the branches of the vine derive their support from the stock, and that if separated they decay and perish. When he says, “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit, the Father” (who is said to he the husbandman) “taketh away; and every branch that beareth fruit he purgeth, that it may bring forth more fruit;’ we bring to mind that every circumstance is literally exemplified in the conduct of the vine-dresser, who lops off from the vine the unprofitable branches, and from those branches that bear fruit the withering or exuberant twigs, that they may bring forth more abundantly.

If we pursue the same simple course in considering the subject of regeneration, the difficulties which have hitherto involved the subject will vanish as the darkness of twilight before the effulgence of the orb of day.

Nicodemus erred in taking up the figure literally; that is, in supposing the birth which the figure was intended to explain, to be the same with that from which the figure was taken. The Saviour corrects the error by declaring to him that a second birth according to the flesh would be of no advantage. “That,” says he, “which is born of the flesh is flesh.” As he declared at another time, “the flesh profits nothing: it is the Spirit that quickens.” “That which is born of the Spirit,” continues he, “is spirit. Assuredly I say to you, unless a man be born of water and Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Let us consider the figure: In the natural world a man is born of that from which he proceeds, and of that by which he is begotten.

So in the spiritual world, a man who is born again has come forth from water as from the womb, having been previously begotten by the Spirit.

It is strange that the plainest declarations of the Scriptures on this subject have so long passed almost unnoticed. Does not Paul declare to the Corinthians that he (the instrument of the Holy Spirit, and speaking as the Spirit gave him utterance,) “had begotten them through the gospel?” Does not Peter declare to the children of God, that they had “been regenerated, not of corruptible seed, but incorruptible, through the word of the living God, which remains for ever? Now,” says he, “this is that word which has been proclaimed as glad tidings to you.” Does not James say to the Christians, that “God, according to his own will, had begotten them by the word of truth?” And the Saviour declares, “It is the Spirit that quickens. The words which I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life.”

As in the natural world a child cannot be said to be born of his father, until he is first born of his mother; so in the spiritual world, no one can be said to be born of the Spirit, until he has first been born of water.

What, then, shall we think of the conduct of those teachers, who, imagining that because an infant is born of Episcopalian or Presbyterian flesh, it is entitled to the privileges of that covenant under which [206] all, from the least to the greatest, were to know the Lord–presume to sprinkle it in the name of God, and declare that it is born again?

What shall we say of those who profess to believe, and actually persuade their hearers, that a child can be born before it has been begotten?

And what degree of respect shall they claim from us, who hold forth, like Fuller, that the child of God must be born before it can be begotten?

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REGENERATION–No. III. – MH, vol. 1, no. 6 (6/7/1830)

GOD is a spirit. Eternity and immortality are amongst his attributes; and glory and majesty surround the throne of the peerless Author of the Universe.

Man consists of body, soul, and spirit. By the two former he is related to matter, and to the animal creation. As it respects the latter he resembles God. Formed of the dust of the ground, possessed of appetites and passions, material and animal relations first occupy his attention. His senses, the only inlets to knowledge with which he is furnished, limited entirely to the discovery of that which is in its nature material, are altogether incompetent to detect that which is spiritual. Thus constituted, he can acquire a knowledge of those substances with which he is not acquainted, only through [255] the medium of the ideas originated by those things which he already knows; while his spirit, the peculiar and ennobling attribute of man, the pure and perennial source of true enjoyment, can investigate the harmonies and behold the glories of a spiritual or intellectual world only through the images afforded by that which is material.

No one ever saw God. In his own nature invisible to man, he hath condescended to reveal himself in the only manner in which our nature enables us to recognize him. He uttered his voice, and the Universe sprang into existence. By the things that are made hath he clearly manifested to all who would reflect upon them, since the creation of the world, his invisible things, even his eternal power and divinity.

Having in various ways and on different occasions exhibited himself to the human family, in the latter times the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father hath made him known. The Word which was in the beginning, God, and with God, by which the worlds were made, assuming the body which had been prepared, became incarnate and sojourned among men. God was his Father. As he resembled his mother Mary in partaking of flesh and blood–of material substance; so was he the effulgence of his Father’s glory and the exact image of his substance. As the Father had life in himself, so had he given to the Son to have life in himself. Partaking of Deity, the chains of Death were incapable of retaining him. He was in the Father, and the Father in him. Commissioned by God, he related God’s own words, for the Spirit was not given by measure to him. Full of grace and truth, he exhibited to men those testimonials of the truth of his pretensions which their capacity enabled them to receive. The same divine power displayed in creation issued from his finger, accompanied his voice. Divine wisdom flowed from his lips–love and pity shone in his tears. Unlike the first Adam who was of the earth, earthy, and who could communicate nothing but animal life to his posterity; the second Adam, the Lord from heaven, was made a quickening Spirit. As the children of the earthy man hear the image of their parent in disposition as well as body; so are those who are begotten of God to have the same mind which was in Christ Jesus, and each of them shall be finally clothed with a house from heaven, fashioned like unto his glorious body.

Every one who believes that Jesus is the Christ, has been begotten of God. The evidence necessary to produce such a belief was exhibited by God (who is a spirit) in Jesus Christ, who being glorified and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, communicated the gift according to measure to those men who were thus empowered to proclaim to all the world the glad tidings of the renovation of mankind; of that reign which consisted in peace, joy, and righteousness in a holy spirit; the privileges of which could only be enjoyed by those who receiving the words of Christ which were spirit and life, thus had spiritual life implanted in them–by those who received him, believing in his name, to whom he granted the [256] privilege of being children of God, who derive their birth not from blood, nor from the desire of the flesh, nor from the will of man, but from God.

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REGENERATION–No. IV. – MH, vol. 1, no. 7 (7/5/1830)

AFTER a few general observations, having stated that he only was regenerated or born of water and spirit, who, being previously begotten by the Spirit, came forth from water as from the womb, we offered in our last a few remarks upon the nature of God, the Primary Agent, as revealed to us in the scriptures; upon man’s incapacity to discover God in his own nature, that is to say, as a Spirit; and upon the necessity thence arising that God should present himself in such a manner to man that he by means of his senses might be enabled to detect his presence and his character. We then concluded by noticing, briefly that exhibition of Him, which immediately relates to our subject, to wit–God manifest in the flesh, our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom God dwelt, reconciling a world unto himself in forgiving their sins; by the reception of the testimony concerning whom man is begotten again, quickened, regenerated, has his affections elevated above the fleeting pleasures of animal life to those true, superior, and celestial delights which are to remain forever, becomes exalted to the dignity of a son of God, and rejoices in the prospect of exchanging his gross, earthy, and decaying tabernacle for a spiritual, interruptible, and immortal body.

We come now to consider the subject man. Gnothi seauton, (know thyself,) said the wisest of the wise. What are we? What shall we be? Whence came we? Whither do we go? are important and interesting questions. That we may know what man is, it is necessary that we should first discover what he was. Let us examine the place of his abode.

In the garden of Eden the soil was pure. The refreshing dews of heaven descended into its bosom. The grateful streams with which it was watered flowed murmuring along its flowery [323] borders. Living verdure, richer than velvet, composed its carpeting. There the Lord God had caused to grow every tree that was pleasant to the sight and good for food. Nothing that could gratify desire–nothing that could contribute to continue happiness was wanting there. The prolific earth was pleased to pour her accumulated treasures into the lap of Paradise. No imagination can paint the delightful groves, the peaceful bowers, the sweet blossoms, the delicious fruits that adorned that blessed abode where the vegetable and animal creation rejoiced together in new-born beauty. Nothing that could cause pain–no thorns, no thistles–sprung from the untainted soil. There no storms raged. The sun diffused his tempered beams through skies forever serene. The gentle breezes, perfuming their wings with grateful odors, wafted in silken dalliance, ten thousand enchanting sounds to the listening ear. There the bountiful Creator condescended to manifest his presence, and harmony and peace smiled upon every scene, and sanctified every enjoyment.

In the midst of the garden, equally conspicuous and equally beautiful, at least in appearance, stood two trees which presided over its destinies. The tree of life, itself the emblem, and its fruit the reward of innocence; and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, while untouched, untasted, not interfering with the blissful enjoyments of Eden, yet ready to afford to guilt its food, and its punishment also.

The garden had one “to dress it and to keep it.” It was to be dressed that it might exhibit to the best advantage its native charms. It was to be kept with care in all its loveliness. No weeds were there to be eradicated–no fresh beauties could be added. As a reward for his attention the superintendant was permitted freely to partake of all the blessings it was capable of affording–its limpid streams, its odoriferous flowers, its golden fruits; to reign supreme over all that had life upon the earth; and, as long as innocence continued, permitted from the fruit of the tree of life to renew his youth like the eagles, and to secure to himself a perpetuity of enjoyment.

Adam was not at first in the garden of Eden. It harmonized with his character, and became his habitation. After the earth was created God selected a particular portion of it, and adorned it with the varied beauties and grateful manifestations of vegetable life. “The, Lord planted a garden eastward in Eden, and out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that was pleasant to the eye, and good for food.” God formed man first of the dust of the ground, and afterwards communicated to him animal life with all its powers and desires, its passions and its charms. The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.

As under the reign of the tree of life nothing hateful or pernicious was produced in the garden, yet the easy access to the forbidden tree denoted the nice balance in which its destiny was suspended; so in [324] Adam, though capable of disobedience, no evil principles or passions had any place under the dominion of innocence.

Adam, also, had been created in the image of God. He possessed a pure intellectual principle which enabled him to become acquainted with God. To his spirit was given the government of his passions and capacities. There were no pernicious principles to be eradicated–there were no new powers to be implanted. It was his occupation to preserve his original purity, and to exhibit the excellencies of his nature for his own enjoyment, and the glory of his Creator. His reward was the pleasure arising from the constant gratification of innocent desire–from intimate connexion with the Author of all his joys, and from the absence of any fear that his happiness would be diminished or destroyed.

There is another resemblance. As through the genial influence of the rays of the Sun, and the vivifying power of moistening streams, the garden of Eden was fitted to afford equally to noxious and unseemly plants, and to useful and beautiful productions–if the seeds of both were once introduced, that common nourishment which these changed into delightful and salutary fruits; and those had the power of appropriating to themselves and converting into that which was disgusting and injurious, as under the operation of the fixed and still existing laws of nature in the same soil if once planted there, the Rose of Sharon without a thorn, and the poisonous nettle could flourish together, the deadly nightshade could stretch its gloomy arms, and the spotless lily open her silver chalice; so Adam was constituted that evil principles once received might flourish, and the bosom that now glowed with peaceful emotions of joy, love, and gratitude, could ere long be forced to yield to the stormy passions of hatred, envy and ambition.

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REGENERATION–No. V. – MH, vol. 1, no. 9 (9/6/1830)

IN Eden’s bright and unsullied mirror we have contemplated the original state and character of man. Glory, honor, and beauty rested upon the image presented to us; for white-robed Innocence had clothed our first parents with all her charms, and the whole creation contributed to their enjoyment.

We are now presented with a different picture. No sooner had the Tempter introduced those evil principles which prompted to disobedience, than the earth is commanded to reveal man’s altered condition. For his sake God cursed the ground; and the soil which, once pure, afforded nothing but what could increase his joys, now watered with his tears and with his blood, brings forth to him thorns and thistles. Spontaneously it once produced for him every thing necessary to perpetuate existence; now he is informed that in the sweat of his face he shall eat bread. The sparkling drops of dew with which the early mist watered the face of the smiling garden, shone like tears of joy upon the cheek of Beauty; but now the hoarse tempest utters its fearful voice, and the fierce winds and streaming torrents spread terror and devastation over the trembling land.

The analogy between the present condition of man and that of the place of his abode, is so evident that it is unnecessary to pursue it, and although there may be some, who, because they cannot [395] understand how evil first originated, profess to doubt its existence, and neglect the means by which it is to be removed; yet the very soil they tread on–the whole of nature travailing in pain, reveals their character, and they themselves are the living refutation of their doctrine. We know as little of the origin of good as of the origin of evil. But our want of information upon this subject cannot be an argument against either the fact of their former origin or the truth of their present existence; for ignorance is not a foundation for either faith, or incredulity. Nor can it be made a spring of action, since that person would act irrationally, who, because he could not discover the ultimate cause of hunger, would doubt its existence, and refuse to receive that food which was intended to remove it. The terms are entirely relative. Evil is used in opposition to good; good, with respect to evil. Adam knew neither before eating the forbidden fruit. The existence of the Arch Apostate had already made angels acquainted with the effects of these principles. “Behold,” says God after the fall, “the man has become like one of us, to know good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat and live forever, the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden to till the ground from whence he was taken.” We do know good and evil: our senses continually apprize us of their existence; and all men are laboring, as it were by necessity, to enjoy pleasure and to avoid pain.

Indeed, we appear to have been so constituted as to learn by contrast and estimate every thing by comparison. The gloom of midnight prepares us to appreciate the radiance of noon day. The piercing cold of stormy Winter enables us to enjoy the grateful warmth of Summer’s glowing ray. We measure beauty by deformity; and, as the skillful painter, by a judicious application of dark shades, causes every feature of his original to rise from the smooth canvass and stand forth in bold and beautiful relief; so are we able to display the true character and merit of an object when we are in possession of that with which we can contrast it.

It is thus that we become acquainted with the glorious Creator of the Universe. Acquainted with evil, we know that he is good. Experiencing hatred, we are fitted to discover that God is love: and beholding the effects of cruelty, we are enabled in some degree to estimate the mercy of our Divine Father. The existence of imbecility and folly; injustice and avarice; pride and vanity, only serve to exhibit more conspicuously to us the superlative excellence of the character of God: his power and wisdom–his justice and liberality–his humility and condescension: and when he is revealed to us as far as our present nature enables us to comprehend him; when by opposing power to power, wisdom to wisdom, perseverance to perseverance in counteracting the designs of that rebellious angel who dared to claim equality, he has sufficiently made known, or given to us data by means of which we can forever contemplate with delight the glory, honor, and majesty that surround his throne–when he seed of the woman, the Prophet, Priest, and King, whom God [396] hath set up to teach, to mediate, and to reign, clothed with the same human nature over which Satan originally seemed to triumph, and combatting that enemy with the same means (his word) which he had successfully used against our first mother, shall have put all power, authority, and dominion under his feet, and reign as King upon his holy hill of Zion; then shall evil be destroyed; death and hell shall he cast into the lake of fire, and a voice shall be heard, saving, “Behold the tabernacle of God is with men! and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall he with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying; neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away.” And he that sat upon the throne said, “Behold I make all things new.”

Seeing, then, that our first parents were already acquainted with the character of God as far as their circumstances enabled them to discover it, a being was introduced to them, the exhibition of whose vile, debasing, and pernicious powers, has tended to show forth to us in a more striking manner, the pure, glorious, and exalted attributes of the Most High.

Having had no experience of falsehood, they were ignorant of truth; and, like children who had never been deceived, they required no testimony. With unhesitating confidence they therefore received the declarations of God, and with the same unsuspecting simplicity they yielded credence to the assertions of the Tempter. “The serpent said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said you shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden, but of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, You shall not eat of it, neither shall you touch it lest you die. And the serpent said unto the woman, You shall not surely die; for God doth know that in the day you eat thereof; then your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as gods knowing good and evil.”

If we examine the manner in which man’s fall was occasioned, we will perceive that it was by perverting the powers with which he was gifted. The principles of his mind and the passions of his soul are, unless viewed in connexion with their objects, neither good nor evil. Thus love is in itself neither meritorious nor disgraceful, and becomes so only as it is extended to an object more or less deserving of our affection. And it is a law of our nature, both moral and corporeal, that the lawful exercise of desire should be productive of harmony and joy, while its direction to an interdicted or improper object inevitably occasions misery and confusion.

Perceiving, then, that the minds and affections of our first parents were entirely engrossed with the idea of God and the blessings which he had bestowed upon them, the Tempter, while on the one hand he strove to weaken their confidence in God by contradicting his declaration; on the other endeavored to withdraw their love from God by fixing it upon themselves. No sooner were his words believed, than [397] the desire of self-aggrandizement diffused its poisonous influence through their souls, while that by which the passion was to be gratified presented itself in all the charms which variety and glowing anticipation could bestow: “And when she saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her and he did eat.”

Thus was the revolution effected in the condition of man. His state was changed. It was once that of innocence–it now is that of guilt. It is said, therefore, that he “died,” or “fell,” terms expressive of a complete change of condition. His change of state produced a change of character, and no longer rejoicing to stand before his Maker, he feared when he heard the voice of the Lord God, and sought to avoid his presence. Guilt prompts the offender to flee as far as possible from the person against whom the offence is committed; the farther he retires from his presence the more ignorant he becomes of his character, and the more he fears and the more ignorant he becomes, the more he hates the object of his alarm.

To the history of the world we may refer for the perfect exhibition of the present character of man. Under the influence of evil principles, of stormy passions, and wicked propensities, his life presents us with nothing but misery, crime, and sorrow. Self is now his idol, purity his sacrifice, and flattery his incense. Intended for love, he was denied arms; but he hath forged them for himself to combat his fellow. Despising the hand that feeds and clothes him, he esteems his deceiver and reveres his oppressor. Dissatisfied with the present, he regrets the past, and trembles at the thought of futurity. He alone, of the animal creation, possesses the idea of the existence of God, and self-interest and wickedness from a thought so simple and so consoling, have overspread the world with swarms of inhuman religions and idle superstitions. More cruel than the tempest that howls along the sky, he ravages with fire and sword the fairest portions of the globe, and delights in the torture, the wheel, and the faggot. The Prince of Darkness rules in the hearts of the children of disobedience; the simplicity of nature is perverted; the natural relations of things are entirely changed; and every principle and passion is presented with some unlawful object, difficult of acquisition and injurious in enjoyment.

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REGENERATION–No. VI. – MH, vol. 1, no. 10 (10/4/1830)

IN examining the manner in which man’s original condition and character were changed, we have prepared the way for the consideration of the mode in which his renovation is to be accomplished. God having been forgotten, and self presented to his affections as their supreme object, we have found his noblest powers perverted, and a melancholy train of evil principles introduced. Under some modification, influenced by circumstances or caprice, the desire of self-aggrandizement has reigned in every bosom. The tender infant, just conscious of the presence of surrounding objects, stretches forth his eager hands to seize every thing which meets his eye;–the triumphant victor has wept because he had not more worlds to conquer.

It is evident that the character of man, while he is in this condition, is not susceptible of any elevation. When God had ceased to be the object of his love, his spiritual relations were no longer the subject of his consideration; and the only distinguishing characteristic of his nature, the power of contemplating things spiritual through material objects, now remains dormant, inactive, and concealed. And since the character becomes elevated in proportion to the worthiness of the object of our affections, seeing that material relations now occupy his attention, and that he is, as regards these, a mere animal, and engrossed with the gratification of self-love; it is entirely impossible for him, however he may excel as an animal, ever to improve in his character as a man. In this situation, to use the language of scripture, “he reviles those things which indeed he does not know; but what things he knows naturally, as an animal void of reason, by these he destroys himself.”

Since, then, man is involved in such circumstances, because he loves himself rather than his Creator, it becomes necessary, as the first great step in his restoration, that God should be reinstated in his affections.

Man is the slave of love. Real or imaginary excellence compels his esteem. It exerts an uncontrollable power over his faculties, and the most effectual influence over his conduct. Universal as the law of attraction, there lives not the man who can extricate himself from its dominion. No sooner does he view an object which he conceives worthy of his affections, than he is enlisted in a pursuit which is never given up until something that is in reality, or under existing circumstances, supposed to be more eligible, is discovered. [471]

And it is as impossible for him to love that of which he is ignorant, however deserving it may be, as it is to avoid loving that worthy object with which he is acquainted. He may even be aware of the existence of many things which are in themselves more estimable than those which already engross his attention; but he loves them not, because the examination of their characters and merits being entirely optional with himself, he has never investigated their nature, and remains ignorant of their value.

These things being so, all that was requisite to accomplish the grand design was that God, the most lovely and adorable object in the universe; the author and the source of all that is great and astonishing, beautiful and charming, sublime and glorious; who combines in himself all the excellencies of all things, should exhibit himself to man; and that man should make himself acquainted with the character of God.

In our third essay we considered the circumstances which rendered it necessary that God should reveal himself to man in such a way as to be recognized by his senses, and briefly adverted to some of those manifestations. By these it is, that man, leaving the investigation of the perishing objects of time and sense, gradually ascends to the contemplation of divine beauty and infinite perfection. By these it is that God has presented himself to us in so amiable, so beneficent, so endearing a character, that to behold him is to love him–to love him is to be happy. Do we admire the skilful artist, whose exquisite workmanship has elaborated some ingenious piece of mechanism?–Creation declares the glory of God, the firmament shows his handy work, and even in the vestibule of Nature’s temple, man is lost in the contemplation of inimitable charms. Is our attention attracted by some sublime prospect–the yawning gulph, the overhanging precipice–the fierce tornado, or the fearful eruption of volcanic flame? Do we wonder at the strength of the elephant or the lion–the swiftness of the antelope or the eagle–the activity of the monkey or the ape? And do we love the faithfulness of the dog, the gentleness of the lamb, and the innocence of the dove? “Behold,” says God, “have not my hand made all these things?” Do our bowels yearn towards our parents, those to whom we are immediately indebted for our existence and our support? God presents himself to us as our Father, the Creator, not only of us ourselves, but of those we love. Are we delighted with magnificence, with majesty, with power? Are we pleased with magnanimity, that greatness of soul which can forgive an injury, and return good for evil–which views the poor with the same complacency as the rich? Seated upon the throne of his glory, our Heavenly Father is represented in the administration of the world, to send his rain upon the just and unjust, and to cause his sun to rise on the evil and on the good. “He bowed the heavens also and came down: and darkness was under his feet. And he rode upon a cherub and did fly; yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind. He made darkness his secret place: his pavilion round about him were dark waters and thick clouds of the skies.” In short, would we dearly [472] esteem that friend of our bosom, who, seeing the stroke of death about to descend upon us, should interpose himself as a shield, and willingly give in our stead his own life to destruction? Yet God, in the exhibition of his character, has made mean this, even this, the noblest, the most perfect instance of human affection. “Scarcely for a just man will one die, though for a good man one, perhaps, would even dare to die. But his own love towards us God commended, because we being still sinners, Christ died for us.” He gave his Son, his own Son, whom he loved. Unable to display his goodness by any description, we must estimate it by what he gave. “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes on him may not perish, but obtain eternal life.” “In this is love,” says an Apostle, “not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent forth his Son to be a propitiation for our sins.” This is the talisman which is to change hatred into love, to alter the object of man’s affection, and to reform and elevate the human character. In the simple and beautiful language of one of the sacred penmen, “We love him because he first loved us.”

He who thus receives into his bosom the love of his Creator, is said to be begotten of God. Having put off the old and put on the new man, who after God is created in righteousness and true holiness, he resembles his Father. The world, it is true, may not know him; but he is not surprized at it, for he remembers that it did not know God manifest in the flesh. Renewed by the Holy Spirit, the image of God is restored to him. Having the same mind he exceedingly stretches himself forward, as an imitator of the Just One, to perform the works which he sees his Father do; whatever is worthy, excellent, or deserving of praise: and reflecting as a mirror, the glory of the Lord is transformed into the same image from glory to glory. As he increases in the knowledge of God, his affections are more and more drawn out after him, his character approaches nearer to perfection; and finally, prepared to enjoy the society and estimate the glories of heaven, he is introduced into that blessed abode where peace, joy, and gladness of heart reign for evermore. “Praise ye the name of the Lord, for his name alone is excellent. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power. Praise him for his mighty acts; praise him according to his excellent greatness. Let every thing that has breath praise the Lord.”

* * * *


IT has been observed by some writers that man is distinguished from the rest of the animal creation more by religion than by reason. Instinct, they argue, produces actions so nearly resembling those dictated by reason, that it is sometimes difficult, and perhaps impossible, to discriminate between them: but in the whole range of its operations we are presented with nothing which is at all analogous to devotional exercise, or claims the least degree of a affinity to religion. Pitching upon this, therefore, as the peculiar characteristic of the human family, man has been emphatically styled “a religious animal.”

Although it be true that devotion, as contradistinguished from reason, is the most eminent trait of human character, it is not easy to perceive the propriety of placing them in opposition, and extolling the one at the expense of the other; since religion owes its existence to reason, and should be considered its crown of glory rather than its rival. It is the result of the conclusions and deductions of reason from revelations made to the senses, and is to be viewed as being the point which intellect most conspicuously displays its superiority, and not as a distinct and peculiar principle.

It would follow, then, that as man, under the influence of reason, properly directed, becomes religious; in the same degree will his character be exalted, and the line of distinction between him and the brute creation be more strongly marked: and that in proportion as he is irreligious, his distinguishing attribute is last, and he approaches more nearly in his character the beast that perishes.

That reason enables man to discover from the material universe the existence and power of God is abundantly evident. If, like Aristotle, we suppose a man to be brought up from infancy in a subterraneous abode where he has been conversant with the various works of art, and has learned by experience that what is made must [517] have had a maker; that every design must have had a designer; every contrivance, a contriver: if we then imagine him to be brought up into the light of day, and to discover creation unfolding its charms before him–the glorious sun enlivening nature with his grateful beams–the pleasant fruits adapted to his taste–the lovely flowers–the ten thousand delightful objects which would burst upon his senses, all intended for a particular use, all eminently fitted for that for which they were intended: all exhibiting marks of the most exquisite contrivance and ingenuity, so far excelling human skill as to defy imitation, and all bearing the impress of the same author; would he not be irresistibly compelled by the conclusions of reason founded upon experience to attribute the existence, order, beauty, greatness, and sublimity of the works of creation to such a being as we suppose God to be? Undoubtedly such would he the result; and, indeed, seeing that all the ideas of which man is possessed are derived originally from objects presented to the senses, we cannot possibly conceive of any thing better fitted than the material creation to reveal to human reason the power and the existence of God. The groves are vocal. The hills and vallies, “the cloud-rapt mountain and the shaggy heath,” the painted birds, the creatures of his hand, the monsters that swim in the deep waters, utter forth a glorious voice, and lead the beholder to exclaim in the language of the poet–

“These are thy glorious works, Parent of Good!
Almighty! thine this universal frame,
Thus wondrous fair! Thyself how wondrous then!
Unspeakable! who sittest above these heavens
To us invisible, or dimly seen
In these thy lowest works; yet these declare
Thy goodness beyond thought and power divine.”
The conduct of the Gentiles in neglecting to glorify God, the Apostle Paul declares to have been without excuse. “Because (says he) that which may be known of God is manifest among them, for God has manifested it to them, (for his invisible things, even his eternal power and divinity, since the creation of the world are clearly seen, when thought upon, by the things that are made) so that they are inexcusable.” And when the Lycaonians, recognizing the divine power in the cure of the lame man, were about to offer sacrifice to Paul anti Barnabas, these brethren, indignant at their idolatrous disposition, in endeavoring to turn them from the worship of dead idols to the living God, directed their attention to him by an appeal to those manifestations of his power and goodness with which they were already acquainted. He it was, they declared, “who made the heavens and the earth, and the sea, and all things which are in them; who in former generations permitted all the nations to walk in their own ways, though he did not leave himself without witness, doing good, and giving us showers of rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.” “The heavens,” says David, “declare his glory, the starry canopy displays his workmanship. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not [518] heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.”

But man discovers God’s power and existence not only in the creation, but in the preservation of the world. He perceives that all things are conducted according to a regular and unchangeable plan, and that under similar circumstances the same causes will always produce the same effects. From these observations he deduces what he calls “the laws of nature.” Finding himself unable to interfere with the fixed operations of these laws–without power to stay the Sun in the zenith–to restrain the tides of the ocean–to interrupt the tempest in its wild career–to stop the march of Time, or change the course of the seasons; he is convinced that he has no control over them; that, on the contrary, he himself is entirely under their dominion; that the administration of them is in the hands of God, and that the power which can change and reverse them at pleasure must come from him.

We have stated that the first step towards the renovation of mankind, consisted in exhibiting to man the glories and excellencies of the divine character. Seeing, then, that the existence, power, and goodness of God have been disclosed to all men by the things that are made, before we enter upon the consideration of the manner in which he has more fully revealed himself, we will premise that, in doing so, we might reasonably expect him to introduce himself to the notice of men by means of those attributes which they already acknowledged to appertain to him.

Since the fall, man has not often been directly addressed by his Creator. Though once familiarized with his voice, he remembers it no more; or guilt causes him to tremble at its sound. He knew it in Eden, and fear taught him to conceal himself among the trees of the garden. When addressed at Sinai, in a manner comporting so well with what was already known of the majesty and power of God as to enable them to recognize his voice, the Israelites entreated that he might not speak with them any more “lest they should die.” And when he spoke on other occasions, without any accompanying manifestations of his presence, they knew not his voice. Some said, “It thundered;” others said, “A heavenly messenger spoke” “Did you never hear his voice, (said the Saviour,) or see his form? Or have you forgotten his declaration that you believe not him whom he has commissioned?”

Our Heavenly Father, exhibiting both in matter and manner of the revelation his compassionate condescension towards the human family, designs to communicate his will by a human voice and in the likeness of man. Having in former ages addressed the fathers by the prophets, in these latter days the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, has revealed him. Professing to have been sent by the Governor of the universe, they received from him a letter of introduction to evince the truth of his pretensions. “The works which the Father has empowered me to perform, the works themselves which I do (says Jesus) testify that the Father has sent me.” Having [519] been begotten of God and born of Mary, he had no sooner died to all earthly relationship and been born of water, than he was publicly acknowledged as the Son of God, and, as such, announced to the Jews on Jordan’s banks. Entering immediately upon the work which the Father had given him to do, he glorified God upon the earth in all his words and actions. Meek and lowly, and acquainted with grief, he came unto his own, and though his own received him not, he bore with patience the scorn of those who received continually his favors. Full of compassion and of gentleness, he wept with those who wept, and rejoiced with those who rejoiced; he could not suffer the hungry to depart from him without satisfying their wants; he healed the sick, the blind, the lame, and at his bidding the dead arose from the silent tomb. Even the winds and the sea obeyed him, and while in his actions he displayed the power, wisdom, and goodness of God, while he went about doing good, he revealed to man a secret relative to the love of God, so wonderful, so far beyond all human expectation as to beat down the weapons of rebellion, to pierce the bosom of the stoutest foe, and lead the willing bands in grateful chains. The gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the glad tidings that God so loved the world as to give his only begotten Son, that whosoever believed in him should not perish, but have everlasting life; the proclamation of forgiveness and never ending happiness to the wretched and guilty sons of men through the atonement of the Son of God, completes that overwhelming exhibition of God’s philanthropy which is calculated to soften the hardest heart, and becomes the power of God unto salvation to every one who believes it.

The Apostles of Christ believed in him upon the testimony of their senses. They could not be deceived. They witnessed his miracles, his death, his resurrection. Their eyes had seen, and their hands had handled that Word of Life which was with the Father, and was manifested to men. Their convictions were not upon faith but knowledge. In order to be witnesses, it was necessary that they should have actually seen the occurrence of the facts, The Apostle Paul appeals to his having seen the Lord as one of the proofs of his apostleship, and these witnesses, proclaiming the glad news throughout the world, were favored with those displays of that power of God which were necessary to introduce them in their true character to the notice of men. The gospel came, not depending upon the words of men’s wisdom, but with demonstrations of the Spirit and with power. This great salvation, which began to be spoken by the Lord, was confirmed to men by those that heard him, God bearing joint witness, both by signs and wonders, and divers miracles, and distributions of the Holy Spirit, according to his own pleasure. It is called the Word of God, the incorruptible seed of the Word, of which the children of God are born, and “this is that Word,” says Peter, “which has been proclaimed as glad tidings to you.” “Belief comes by hearing, and this hearing by the word of God.” Upon the testimony of the witnesses who proclaim the gospel our faith is founded. [520]

As they testify what they have seen and heard, we receive their testimony. We see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and are enabled, through the obedience of this faith founded upon the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets of Jesus Christ, to rejoice in him, though we see him not, with joy unspeakable and full of glory.