We now proceed to show in what MANNER the blessed Spirit commences, carries forward and sustains this great work in the soul.
First, the commencement of spiritual life is sudden. We are far from confining the Spirit to a certain prescribed order in this or any other part of His work. He is a Sovereign, as we shall presently show, and therefore works according to His own will. But there are some methods He more frequently adopts than others. We would not say that all aspects of conversion is a sudden work. There is a knowledge of sin, conviction of its guilt, repentance before God on account of it; these are frequently slow and gradual in their advance. But the first communication of Divine light and life to the soul is always sudden- sudden and instantaneous as was the creation of natural light. "God said, Let there be light, and there was light." It was but a word, and in an instant chaos rolled away, and every object and scene in nature was bathed in light and glory.
Sudden as was the communication of life to Lazarus- "Jesus cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth!" It was but a word, and in an instant "he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with grave-clothes." So is it in the first communication of Divine light and life to the soul. The eternal Spirit says, "Let there be light," and in a moment there is light. He speaks again, "Come forth," and "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, the dead are raised incorruptible, and are changed."
Striking illustrations of the suddenness of the Spirit's operation are afforded in the cases of Saul of Tarsus, and of the thief upon the cross. How sudden was the communication of light and life to their souls! It was no long and previous process of spiritual illumination- it was the result of no lengthened chain of reasoning- no labored argumentation. In a moment, and under circumstances most unfavorable to the change- as we should think- certainly at a period when the rebellion of the heart rose the most fiercely against God, "a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun," poured its transforming radiance into the mind of the enraged persecutor; and a voice conveying life into the soul reached the conscience of the dying thief. Both were translated from darkness into light, "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye."
How many who read this page may say, "Thus was it with me! God the eternal Spirit arrested me when my heart's deep rebellion was most up in arms against Him. It was a sudden and a short work, but it was mighty and effectual. It was unexpected and rapid, but deep and thorough. In a moment the hidden evil was brought to view- the deep and dark fountain broken up- all my iniquities passed before me, and all my 'secret sins seemed placed in the light of God's countenance.' My soul sank down in deep mire- yes, hell opened its mouth to receive me."
Do not overlook this wise and gracious method of the blessed Spirit's operation in regeneration. It is instantaneous. The means may have been simple- perhaps it was the loss of a friend- an alarming illness- a word of reproof or admonition dropped from a parent or a companion- the singing of a hymn- the hearing of a sermon- or some text of Scripture winged with His power to the conscience; in the twinkling of an eye, the soul "dead in trespasses and sins" was "quickened," and translated into "newness of life." O blessed work of the blessed and eternal Spirit! O mighty operation! O inscrutable wisdom! What a change has now passed over the whole man! Overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, that which is begotten in the soul is the Divine life, a holy, influential, never-dying principle. Truly he is a new creature, "old things passing away, and all things becoming new."
For this change let it not be supposed that there is, in the subject, any previous preparation. (The author is not affirming that the Holy Spirit has no dealings with a sinner prior to regeneration but that the sinner does nothing to prepare himself for this saving act of God.) There can be no preparation for light or life. What preparation was there in chaos? What preparation was there in the cold clay limbs of Lazarus? What in Paul? What in the dying thief? The work of regeneration is supremely the work of the Spirit. The means may be employed, and are to be employed, in accordance with the Divine purpose, yet are they not to be deified. They are but means, "profiting nothing" without the power of God the Holy Spirit. Regeneration is His work, and not man's.
We have remarked that the first implantation of the Divine life in the soul is sudden. We would however observe that the advance of that work is in most cases gradual. Let this be an encouragement to any who are writing hard and bitter things against themselves in consequence of their little progress. The growth of Divine knowledge in the soul is often slow- the work of much time and of protracted discipline. Look at the eleven disciples- what slow, tardy scholars were they, even though taught immediately from the lips of Jesus; and "who teaches like him?"
They drank their knowledge from the very Fountain. They received their light directly from the Sun itself. And yet, with all these superior advantages- the personal ministry, instructions, miracles, and example of our dear Lord, how slow of understanding were they to comprehend, and how "slow of heart to believe," all that He so laboriously, clearly, and patiently taught them!
Yes, the advance of the soul in the Divine life- its knowledge of sin, of the hidden evil, the heart's deep treachery, intricate windings, Satan's subtlety, the glory of the Gospel, the preciousness of Christ, and its own interest in the great salvation- is not the work of a day, nor of a year, but of many days, perhaps many years of deep ploughing, long and often painful discipline, of "windy storm and tempest."