William Rushton

The Work Of The Holy Spirit

[An Addendum To The Second Letter Published Under The Title, “A Defense Of Particular Redemption”, By William Rushton, 1831; Separated From The Foregoing Publication As It Answers The Writings Of John Howard Hinton, Rather Than Those Of Andrew Fuller] 

I have lately perused a treatise on the work of the Holy Spirit, not long since published, by Mr. John Howard Hinton, the design of which is to prove that there is in man an inherent power to repent, believe, and perform all the commands of God, without the aid of the Spirit. Mr. Hinton does not, however, deny the necessity of the Spirit’s influence; on the contrary, he goes so far as to allow that no man ever was or ever will be converted, without it. Although the whole of this system is as old as the days of Pelagius, our ingenious author has given it the air of novelty, and adorned it so artfully, that many knowing persons are unwittingly captivated with its charms. But indeed it is only justice to Mr. Hinton to acknowledge, that there is no substantial difference between his views of the Spirit’s work, and those of Mr. Fuller. The friends of the latter, who express their horror at the sentiments of Mr. Hinton, do not understand the bearings of their own system. Mr. Hinton has satisfactorily proved that what Mr. Fuller called moral inability, is not properly inability, but disinclination; and as the only difference between these two writers is verbal, Mr. Fuller’s admirers ought, in my opinion, to acknowledge that Mr. Hinton’s book is unanswerable.

Our author, in order to prove his point, namely, that man has the power to turn to God, to believe in Christ, and to keep the whole law, commences, very properly, with a definition of terms. By disposition, he means the habitually prevalent state of the heart. By power, he means the possession of means; and he argues very conclusively that there is a great difference between a man’s possessing the power to do an action, and his having the disposition to do it; but he concludes that the thing which hinders a sinner’s return to God, is not a want of power, but a want of disposition only.

Although I have in these letters designedly avoided all other points of Mr. Fuller’s controversy but the atonement, I feel tempted to introduce a few thoughts on Mr. Hinton’s publication.

It appears to me that he is greatly mistaken when he asserts that the only thing which hinders men from turning to God, is a want of disposition. A slight acquaintance with the Scripture is sufficient to convince any one, that ignorance, gross ignorance, is one reason why men do not turn to God. The chief priests and Scribes of old had the Scripture in their hands, and read it diligently, yet a vail was upon their minds, and they, being “ignorant of God’s righteousness,” did not obey the gospel. If so, it is not true that “a want of disposition is the whole hindrance to conversion.” (Page 22.) Moreover, if a want of disposition be the only hindrance to conversion, then the work of the Spirit consists merely in communicating a right disposition, which Mr. Hinton assents to, (page 83;) and if so, the understanding, if it be enlightened by the Spirit at all, must be enlightened through the medium of the disposition or the will, which is absurd. 

[Mr. Hinton, in this instance, appears to have lost sight of the masterly reasoning of Edwards, in his “Enquiry into the Freedom of the Will.” This work is a philosophical defence of Calvinism, and is generally considered unanswerable. Although I believe it to be so, yet I think it has never done much harm to the kingdom of Satan. Metaphysics are infinitely too weak to trouble the prince of darkness. Nothing but the simple truth of the gospel calls forth his wrath. As for human wisdom and philosophy, he holds them in unspeakable contempt, and he laughs at metaphysics as leviathan laughs at the shaking of a spear.]


On this subject, Mr. Hinton has committed a palpable contradiction. In pages 84 and 85, be admits that the blessed Spirit, in conversion, produces a “change of views in reference to divine things;” that he gives “new ideas of the excellency of God and that, “in order to convert the heart, he enlightens the eyes.” But he overturns all this by adding, “The views by which this change is produced, however, are, in one respect, far from being new views, since they are only such as, in many cases, have been often presented to the mind before.” If so, then the Holy Spirit does not enlighten the eyes; for no man’s eyes are enlightened who is not made to see what he never saw before.

The following reasons, amongst many others, produce in my mind a full persuasion that Mr. Hinton is erroneous, when he asserts that man has power to repeut, to keep the law, &c., without divine influence. 

First. The understanding of man is so darkened, and his ignorance of spiritual things so profound, that although he has the Scriptures in his hand, he cannot understand the things of God without the Spirit. This argument goes to the very foundation of Mr. Hinton’s system. For if it can be proved that men cannot comprehend the things of God, in their true nature, without the Spirit, then it will follow that man has not the power to turn to God, that is, he has not the means of doing so, without the Spirit; and Mr. Hinton’s beautiful system totters and falls to the ground. The question relates not to duty, but to power. The question is not whether man’s incapacity to understand spiritual things be not his fault; nor is it the question whether the blindness of his understanding do or do not arise from the depravity of his heart; but the question relates merely to the fact of his blindness, and the consequence there­ of; for if the fact be established, it will follow that man has not the power to turn to God without the Spirit. Now, both the fact itself, and the consequence, I thus prove from Scripture.

1. Men by nature are said to be not only dark, but darkness in the abstract, Eph, 5:8. Their minds are blinded, 2 Cor. 4:4; they know not God, neither do they understand, Psal. 92:6. Their understanding is darkened, and they are alienated from the life of God through ignorance, Eph. 4:18. Now the state of the understanding bears upon the question of power. This darkness may be and is culpable, but still while it reigns, the sinner is incapable of forming right views of God and the things of God; and consequently he has not the power, or, as Mr. Hinton would have it, he has not the means of turning to God without the Spirit. A servant may have the power to do his master’s business, but owing to inebriation he may be unable to execute it; yet he deserves punishment for the very inability. Even so, man had originally power to understand the things of God, and to live unto God according to the covenant under which he was in innocency; but he is so intoxicated by the fall as to become without understanding. He still possesses physical powers; but every faculty of his soul is so empoisoned by sin, so imbecile in a spiritual sense, that he neither knows God, nor can he perform the spiritual requirements of the law. He is therefore, in his present state, unable to turn to God without the Spirit. 

2. The Scripture expressly declares the consequence, that is, that man cannot know or understand the things of the Spirit without divine illumination. His incapacity to believe is ascribed not only to the hardness of his heart, and to a perverse disposition, but also to the blindness of his eyes. “Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes,” John 12:39, 40. And again, our Lord says, “No man can come unto me, except the Father, who hath sent me, draw him,” John 6:44. I have not space to notice the weak and superficial observations of Mr. Hinton on this text, in page 199; but I only remark that the reason our Lord gives for this incapacity is not want of inclination, as Mr. Hinton suggests, but want of understanding; for he adds, “It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man, therefore, that hath heard and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.” By this we may see, that because man has no understanding, therefore he has no power to come to Jesus without the illumination of the Father. Agreeably to this our Lord declares, “It is the Spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing,” John 6:63; and again, “Without me ye can do nothing,” John 15:5.

Second. The Holy Spirit, in conversion, imparts power to the sinner, which he would not do, if the sinner were not without strength in a spiritual, as well as in a judicial sense. Mr. Hinton, however, denies the communication of power. The Holy Spirit, says he, “imparts no power, but merely sets in motion existing powers.” (Page 87.) But this is diametrically opposed to the word of God. 

1. The Scripture plainly assures us that God, when he converts a sinner, imparts a power or faculty to understand spiritual things, which the sinner had not before. “He hath given us an understanding that we may know him that is true,” 1 John 5:20. “It is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven,” Matt. 13:11. 

2. The Scripture teaches expressly that the Spirit does communicate power. “He giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might he increaseth strength, Isa. 40:29. “Surely shall one say, In the Lord have I—strength,” Isa. 45:24. “It is God who worketh in you, both to will and to do of his good pleasure,” Phil. 2:13. “But ye shall receive power, alter that the Holy Ghost is come upon you.” “But Saul increased the more in strength,” Acts 9:22. “Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power,” Col. 1:11. Mr. Hinton is most egregiously mistaken when he supposes that the power which the Spirit exerts, operates solely on the disposition of man, or that the renewed soul is strengthened merely to resist evil dispositions. All the passages above quoted, which prove that the blessed Spirit imparts power, plainly imply that strength is communicated to the whole inner man, 2 Cor. 4:16, especially the understanding, Eph. 1:18. This is fully ascertained in such passages as Eph. 3:18. and Rom. 8:26. In the former scripture, the apostle prays for his brethren at Ephesus, that God the Father would grant them to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; and that, being rooted and grounded in love, they might be able to comprehend, &c., that ye may be empowered to comprehend with all saints, &c. In the latter scripture the apostle informs us, that “the Spirit helpeth our infirmities.” Now, “infirmity” in the New Testament, never signifies depravity; it always signifies weakness simply, either physical or spiritual, according to the connection in which it stands. If, then, the Spirit helpeth our infirmities or weakness, it must be by the communication of power; and if our weakness consists in this, that “we know not what we should pray for as we ought,” the power which the Spirit communicates consists in revealing to us, or enabling us to comprehend, the things which are freely given to us of God; for which things Jesus also intercedes within the vail.

Third. The sentiment of Mr. Hinton contradicts the experience of the Lord’s people, as expressed in Rom. 7:18, &c. For when the believer finds in himself a will to serve God perfectly, but “how to perform he finds not,” he is convinced it is not true that a right disposition only is necessary to keep the whole law. It is admitted that if we loved God perfectly, we should fulfill the law, without the communication of more physical strength than we possess, for the law only requires us to love God with all our strength; but this is a different position entirely. The question is, whether our not performing perfectly the spiritual requirements of the law, is owing to a want of disposition merely. Mr. Hinton says, “There can be only two causes operating to prevent any action: either we have not power, or we have not a disposition to perform it. All hindrances may be reduced to these, nor can any other be imagined.” (Page 306.) Now, let us apply this principle to the experience of the Lord’s people. Let us inquire, for the sake of argument, how it is that Mr. Hinton does not perfectly keep the law? He has either a disposition to do so, or he has not. If he has not, then he is an unregenerated man; for to will is present with the believer—it is the habitually-prevalent state of his heart, that he desires to serve God perfectly, for “he delights in the law of God after the inward man.” But if Mr. Hinton has a disposition, and yet does not perfectly keep the law, then, according to his own reasoning, it is because he has not power; and the apostle seems to sanction this conclusion, when he says, “Ye cannot do the things that ye would,” Gal. 5:17.

Fourth. There is a reason arising from the nature of gospel mysteries themselves, why men have not power to believe in Christ without the Spirit. The great things of the gospel are the deep things of God, and can only be known in the light of God, Ps. 36:9, or by the Spirit of God. We are unable, by our natural capabilities, to discern the things of the Spirit, to feed upon the body and blood of Christ, or to live upon imputed righteousness. Hence it is that we need not only the external revelation of the Scriptures, but the internal revelation of the Holy Spirit. “For no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.” This is the reason we so often read that the secret of the Lord, the mystery of the gospel, is hid from some, and revealed to others. “No man knoweth the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him,” Matt. 11:27. “Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father who is in heaven,” Matt. 16:17. “But when it pleased God to reveal his Son in me,” Gal. 1:16. Mr. Hinton has almost entirely overlooked this class of Scriptures, and the argument founded on them. For if no man can know the Father, unless the Son, by his Spirit, reveal him, then it follows that man has not power to understand the things of God without the Spirit. To this class of proofs belong such texts as these: “I will manifest myself to him,” John 14:3. “They sung as it were a new song before the throne, and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand who were redeemed from the earth,” Rev. 14:3. “But God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God,” &c. 2 Cor. 4:6. “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned,” 1 Cor. 2:14. Mr. Hinton has noticed this text in page 195: but he has, I think, altogether misunderstood the phrase “spiritually discerned.” He thinks it refers to the state of the heart; but it is evident from the context, that by this expression the apostle means, that the things of the gospel are seen in the light of the Spirit, or discerned by the illumination of the Spirit. In the context he is speaking of the gospel as a hidden mystery which God ordained before the world. He represents the blessings of salvation as things which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man, but which are revealed to the saints by the Spirit. He then shews that as none can know the thoughts of a man, but a man’s own spirit, even so the thoughts of God’s heart towards his people, are too deep to be known by any, save the Spirit of God. And for this purpose hath God given bis Spirit to bis redeemed, that they might know what are the thoughts of his heart towards them, ver. 12. Then, in ver. 14, the apostle assigns two reasons why the natural man does not believe the gospel; one is the blindness of his own heart, for the things of the Spirit are “foolishness unto him;” but he assigns another reason, arising from the nature of spiritual things themselves, which he calls “the deep things of God,” ver. 10; and that reason is, that the natural man cannot know them, because they are “spiritually discerned or, in other words, the things of the Spirit are too deep for man to know, unless they are revealed to him by the Spirit.

Throughout Mr. Hinton’s work, there are plain indications, incidentally, of the carnality of his views relating to the future of Christ’s spiritual kingdom, which I shall not particularly notice; but as he has fallen into a mistake, which is inexcusable in a man of his natural abilities, I shall briefly take notice of it. After affirming that the doctrine of man’s inability to avoid sin, is destructive of his culpability, he adds, (page 94,) “Some divines have shewn so much candour as to allow this consequence in part. Taking up the general principle that God blames men only for not doing what they could do, and not for what they could not do, and conceiving that men cannot do anything spiritually, but only externally good, they hold that men are not blameable for not doing spiritual things, such as believing in Christ.” The divines Mr. Hinton refers to, are those writers who have taken the negative side of the modern question, as Wayman, Gill, Brine, and others. Now Mr. Hinton could not possibly have expressed himself in this manner, if he had been acquainted thoroughly with the controversy to which he alludes. Those divines did not proceed on the ground he states. They did not “take up the general principle that God blames men only for not doing what they could,” &c. Still less did they assert that there is “nothing blameable in spiritual wickedness,” such as “pride, lust, enmity to God, contempt of salvation, rejection of Christ, or in any of the dreadful evils of the heart.” On the contrary, they held that God’s holy law condemns all flesh; that every man is bound to obey the law perfectly, notwithstanding his acknowledged inability to do so; and that the enmity of the human heart against the gospel is exceedingly sinful. Mr. Hinton’s misrepresentation, was I doubt not, unintentional; but in this instance he has betrayed unpardonable inattention. He has blundered in a manner somewhat similar to those careless, ignorant writers who confound the Baptist churches in England with the fanatical Anabaptists of Germany, and charge upon us the monstrous principles and practices of those pestilential heretics. Our author ought not to have meddled with a controversy which he had not studied. We are only disgusted when a superficial, pert writer, joining in the general cry against venerable men, attributes to them sentiments which they abhorred; but we may well be surprised when a man of Mr. Hinton’s intelligence does so. Mr. Fuller, indeed, was acquainted with the arguments of Wayman and Brine, but it is evident that Mr. Hinton is not.

The source of this author’s mistakes on the work of the Spirit appears to be an unscriptural view of our ruin by the fall, and our recovery by the new birth. He thinks that our death in trespasses and sins consists only in a depraved disposition; and he imagines that nothing more than sane, rational faculties is necessary to understand the word of God. (Page 80) But this is a virtual denial of the doctrine of regeneration. If the Holy Spirit operates on our disposition merely, he indeed produces reformation, but not regeneration. Such a change as the former falls far short of what is implied in being born again,” “created anew,” &c. Regeneration is the infusion of divine life into a dead soul, whereby it becomes a new creature, and by which all its faculties are renewed after the image of our Lord Jesus Christ. A believer, therefore, is alive from the dead with Christ; he is a partaker of that new life which Jesus received at his resurrection from the dead; and hence the regeneration of the redeemed arises out of the resurrection of Christ, and is according to it, Rom. 6:11. Eph. 1:19, 20; and hence the death of Christ ascertains the new birth of all for whom he died, Rom. 5:6; for we are naturally without strength, not only in a judicial sense as it respects our condemnation, but spiritually also, being by nature dead in trespasses and sins.

It is truly a sorrowful fact, that some of the most pernicious errors that Satan has ever introduced into the Christian church, have of late years been revived amongst Protestant Dissenters. The sun of gospel light, is rapidly declining; the labourers are almost all gone home, and grievous wolves are prowling abroad. These are the tokens of approaching night. Many of our own ministers, especially the younger part, it is much to be feared, have never been truly converted to God. The readiness with which too many embrace error; their vanity, pride, and. vainglory; their minding earthly things; their having men’s persons in admiration; and their utter contempt of faithful men,—shew only too plainly what manner of spirit they are of. By their fruits are they known. The churches, also, are dreaming, that they are rich, and stand in need of nothing; and know not, that they are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. All these things, together with the scoffing Atheism which is abroad in the world, are manifest tokens that the second advent of the Lord is drawing nigh. And O how does it become the remnant of the woman’s seed to watch and pray, in the lively hope of that great event, and so much the more as they see it approaching. “Behold I come as a thief,” Rev. 16:15. “He who testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly.” Let our response be, “Amen. Even so, come. Lord Jesus.”

William Rushton (1796-1838) was a High-Calvinist Particular Baptist preacher. He ministered the gospel to the church meeting at Lime Street Chapel, Liverpool, England.