Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

" through the righteousness of God, even of our Saviour Jesus Christ," (2 Pet. i. 1); and proved it to be that of the holy Scriptures; I would conclude by reminding the reader of its vast importance. “ How shall man be just with God?"-All our eternal interests depend on the answer, which, in our creed and experience, we return to this question: for if God hath, for the glory of his own name, law, and government, appointed such a method of justifying sinners, as that revealed in the gospel; and they, in the pride of their hearts, refuse to seek the blessing in this way, but will come for it according to their own devices, he may justly, and will certainly, leave them under merited condemnation, (Rom. x. 1-4). May God incline every reader to give this subject a serious consideration with the day of judgment, and eternity before his eyes ! Nor let it be forgotten, that all the reformers from popery, (who were eminent men, however some may affect to despise them) deemed this doctrine the grand distinction between a standing and a falling church.

Yet we should also observe, that “ the truth itself may be held in unrighteousness :" and they who receive this doctrine into a proud and carnal heart, by a dead faith, not only awfully deceive themselves, and quiet their consciences in an impenitent, unjustified state ; but they bring a reproach upon the truth, and fatally prejudice the minds of men against it; of which they will have a dreadful account to give at the last day. For did all, who hold this doctrine of God our Saviour, adorn it by such a conduct as it is suited to produce; pharisees, sceptics, and infidels, would be deprived of their best weapons, and must fight against the gospel at a vast disadvantage. May the Lord give us all that “ faith which worketh by love,” that “ by works our faith may be made perfect," as the grafted tree is when loaded with fruit on every branch, (Gal. v. 6: James ii. 17—26).

ESSAY XII.

On Regeneration.

When the apostle showed the Ephesians, that “ they were saved by grace, through faith,” he added, that this “ faith was not of themselves, but was the gift of God,” (Eph. ii. 8—10): whence we learn, that the faith which is the sole recipient of all the blessings of salvation, is itself the effect of a Divine influence upon the soul, that all boasting may be most effectually excluded. This gracious operation is represented in Scripture under several metaphors, of which regeneration (that is being born again, born of God, or born of the Spirit) is the most frequent and remarkable: and the present Essay will be appropriated to the discussion of this interesting subject.

Nicodemus, a pharisee, a scribe, and a member of the Jewish sanhedrim, came to Jesus by night: for (notwithstanding his conviction that he was a teacher sent from God) he was afraid or ashamed of being known to consult him, concerning the doctrine that he came to inculcate. The state of his mind accorded to the darkness which prevailed at the season of this interview: and he seems to have expected some instructions coincident with the traditions of pharisees, and their ideas of religion, and of the Messiah’s kingdom, which they considered as consisting in external forms and advantages. But our Lord, with a two-fold most solemn asseveration, peculiar to himself on the most important occasions, abruptly assured him, that " except a man were born again, he could not see the kingdom of God;” or discern its real nature and excellency: and when Nicodemus expressed his astonishment at this assertion, in such language as aptly illustrates the apostle's meaning, when he says,

“ that the things of the Spirit of God are foolishness to the natural man” (1 Cor. ii. 14;) our Lord answered with the same solemnity,

that «

except a man were born of water and of the Spirit, he could not enter into the kingdom of God.” Water had been used in divers ways, as an external emblem of internal purification; and the use of it was intended to be continued, in the ordinance of baptism, under the new dispensation; it was, therefore, proper to mention it as the outward sign of that change, which could only be effected by the power of the Holy Spirit. He next showed the indispensible necessity of this new birth ; “ that which is born of the flesh,” or derived by natural generation from fallen Adam, " is flesh," or carnal in its propensities and inclinations; “ and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit,” or spiritual, holy, and heavenly, like its Divine Author (Rom. viii. 1-16.) He then told Nicodemus not to wonder at his declaration, that even Jews, pharisees and scribes, “must be born again;" and illustrated the subject by the wind, the precise cause of which, in all its variations, cannot easily be ascertained ; nor its motions and energy altered or abated; but which is very manifest in its powerful effects. And when Nicodemus still inquired “ how these things could be?” he in return expressed his surprise, that a teacher of Israel should be at a loss about such a subject; and concluded by representing this part of his instructions as "earthly things," when compared with the deep mysteries of his person and redemption, which he next declared to him as “heavenly things." For this change takes place on earth continually, even as often as sinners are turned from their evil ways, and become truly pious and holy persons: it is a change that may aptly be illustrated by the most common concerns of life : it lies as level to our capacities (if our minds were unprejudiced,) as almost any of the works of God, with which we · are surrounded; and the necessity of it may be proved by as cogent and conclusive arguments, as any thing of a worldly nature can be. The question then is, What did our Lord mean by “ being born again,” or “ born of the Spirit ?" To which I shall first endeavour to give a plain and particular answer, subjoining a compendious review of the arguments, by which the necessity of regeneration hath been often proved ; and concluding with some observations and inferences of a practical nature and tendency.

It scarce need be said, that the ordinance of baptism, however administered, is not regeneration by the Spirit.” They who resolve all that is said in scripture on this head, into the observance of this external rite, must suppose, that none can enter Christ's church on earth, or his kingdom in heaven, or even understand the real nature of them, unless they have been baptized with water; whatever be their character, or the cause of the omission: nay, moreover, they must suppose, that all baptized persons are truly illuminated, real Christians and heirs of heaven; for all that are born of God, are his children and heirs. No doubt baptism is (as circumcision was) the outward sign of regeneration : but they who are satisfied with the outward sign, without the inward and spiritual grace, should return to the school or to the nursery, to learn over again a part of their catechism ; as it is plain they have forgotten it: for it expressly states the inward and spiritual grace and baptism to be “ a death unto sin, and a new birth unto righteousness.” Indeed the Fathers (as they are called) soon began to speak on this subject in unscriptural language : and our pious reformers, from an undue regard to them, and the circumstances of the times, have retained some expressions in the liturgy, which are not only inconsistent with their other doctrine ; but which also tend to confuse men's minds, and mislead their judgment on this important subject : but it is obvious, from the words above cited, and many other passages, that they never supposed the mere outward administration of baptism to be regeneration, in the strict sense of the word: nor can any man, without the most palpable absurdity, overlook the difference between the baptism that is outward in the flesh, and that of the heart by the Spirit,

praise is not of men but of God,” (Rom. ii. 29; 1 Peter iii. 19.) Nor does regeneration merely signify a reformation of the outward conduct, or a ceasing from vice to practise virtue. Some persons have been so preserved from immoralities, that they do not want such an outward refor

[ocr errors]

whose"

a

mation as is meant by those who favour this interpretation : yet they too must be born again, or they can neither see nor enter into the kingdom of God. But indeed, if the strong language, and multiplied figures of the scripture on this subject, mean nothing more than this; we must be constrained to allow, that the plainest matter in the world is so covered and obscured by mysterious language, as to render it extremely perplexing and even unintelligible to ordinary readers : for how should they suppose, according to the dictates of unlettered common sense, that such solemnity of introduction, emphasis of expression, and accumulation of metaphors, only meant, that " & wicked man could not be an heir of heaven, unless he amended his life ?" For scarce any body, except a downright infidel, or profligate, ever supposed that he could. Nor is regeneration a mere conversion from one creed or sect to another : or even from atheism, Judaism, infidelity, or idolatry, to Christianity. A man might pass through changes of this kind, till he had tried all the modes of religion that have been known on earth ; and yet at last be excluded, as unregenerate and unclean, from the kingdom of heaven. Neither does it mean any kind of impressions, or new revelations; any succession of terrors and consolations ; or any whisper, as it were, from God to the heart concerning his secret love, choice, or purpose to save a man. Many such experiences have been declared by those who continued slaves to their sins ; and Satan, transformed into an angel of light, hath done immense mischief in this way. Some of these things indeed (such as terror, and consolation succeeding to it) commonly accompany a saving change: others, which are evidently enthusiastic, may nevertheless be found in the case of some, who are really born of God ; yet they are neither regeneration itself, nor any effect or evidence of it ; but rather a disgraceful and injurious appendage to it, arising from human infirmity, and the devices of Satan.

We allow the expressions, “ born of God,” or “ born again," to be figurative, but then the metaphor is significant and proper. A new-born infant is a new creature, brought into the world by Almighty power, endued with life, and certain propensities and capacities. It is a human being, and has all things pertaining to our nature, in a weak and incipient state: but by proper care and sustenance it may grow up to maturity, and the perfection of manhood. In like manner, the Divine power produces in the mind of a sinner such a change as renders him a new creature, with new propensities and capacities: but these are only in a feeble and incipient state, and exposed in much opposition and danger on every side. Provision is made for To this new-born babe, in the sincere milk of the word," and in the salvation of Christ ; by means of which, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, the regenerate man grows up gradually to maturity. No new faculties are communicated in this change, but a new and heavenly direction is given to those which the Creator had bestowed, but which sin had perverted. The capacity of understanding, believing, loving, rejoicing, &c., previously belonged to the man's nature: but the capacity of understanding the real glory and excellency of heavenly things, of believing the humbling truths of revelation in an efficacious manner; of loving the holy beauty of the Divine character and image ; and of rejoicing in God's favour and service, belong to him as born of the Spirit. Regeneration may therefore be defined as “ a change wrought by the power of the Holy Spirit, in the understanding, will, and affections of a sinner, which is the commencement of a new kind of life, and which gives another direction to his judgment, desires, pursuits, and conduet.” The mind seems to be first prepared by a divine energy, (like the removal of a film or other obstruction from the eyes of a blind man), to perceive the real nature, and comparative value of the objects around him ; concerning which, through the ignorance and depravity of his fallen nature, the corrupt maxims of the world, and the artifices of Satan, he had formed a very erroneous judgment. Thus the eyes of his understanding are opened, and the light of divine truth, which is diffused around him, shines into his heart, and gradually rectifies his errors and misapprehensions, (Acts xvi. 14;

He

xxvi. 18; Eph. i. 18). The will and affections also are influenced in the same manner: and the man is now disposed to fear, hate, and shun what before he delighted in, or regarded as harmless; and to love, choose, desire, and rejoice in those things that before he despised or hated. seems to be introduced, as it were, into a new world, in which he views himself and all things around him, through a new medium. He wonders that he had not before seen them in the same light: and is frequently so amazed at the insensibility or delusions of mankind, that he is not easily convinced but that proper instructions would bring tirem all over to his sentiments. He has now a whole system, as it were, of affections, of which he formerly had no conception: his fears and hopes, attachments and aversions, joys and sorrows, successes and disappointments, principally relate to those objects which before gave him scarcely any concern, but which now appear to him of such vast importance, that the objects which once engrossed his mind, proportionably dwindle into insignificancy, when he does not see them to be criminal, polluting, and insnaring. Hence it comes to pass, that except as a sense of duty retains him in his station, or inforces his application to business or study, he is very apt to grow inattentive to such matters, deeming them comparatively mere trifles.

It is not to be expected, that we should describe the manner in which the Holy Spirit effects this internal change: for we cannot understand how God creates, and forms the body in the womb, or how he breathes into it the breath of life. It is of more importance for us to be able with precision to ascertain those effects, by which it is distinguished from every species of counterfeits. Among these we may mention, an habitual and prevailing regard to the authority, favour, displeasure, and glory of God, in the general tenor of a man's conduct, even in his most secret retirement: an abiding sense of his all-seeing eye, his constant presence, and his all-directing and sustaining providence : and an unwavering persuasion of his right to our worship, love, and service, and of our obligations and accountableness to him. Connected with this, regeneration always produces a deep and efficacious apprehension of the reality, nearness, and importance of eternal things, and our infinite concern in them ; so that, compared with them, all temporal things appear as nothing. This will be accompanied with a new disposition to reverence, examine, believe, and submit to the decisions of the holy Scriptures; yea, a desire after, and delight in them, as the proper nourishment of the soul, (1 Pet. ii. 2). If the subject of this change were previously destitute of religious knowledge, he will find that an increasing acquaintance with the holiness of God, and his obligations to him; with the reasonableness, spirituality, and sanction of the Divine law; and with his own past and present conduct, dispositions, motives, and affections, as compared with this perfect standard ; will lead him to an increasing conviction of his sinfulness, his exposedness to deserved wrath, his inability to justify or save himself, and his need of repentance, forgiveness, and the influences of divine grace : and if he before had a doctrinal knowledge of these things, the truth that had lain dormant, will now become a living principle of action in his soul. Thus, selfdependence, and every towering imagination will be cast down; all his supposed righteousness will be found to have sprung from corrupt motives, and to have been both defective and defiled ; and whatever his previous character may have been, “ God be merciful to me a sinner,” will be the genuine language of his heart. So that deep humiliation and self-abasement, a broken and a contrite spirit, godly sorrow, repentance, conversion to God, &c., are the never-failing effects of regeneration. Then the Divine Saviour, and his merits, atonement, and mediation, with all the parts of his great salvation begin to appear glorious in his eyes, and to become precious to his heart; he now sees the wisdom, and feels the power of the doctrine of the cross, which before he deemed foolishness, and learns to glory in it: he now counts all but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ, and gladly receives and believes in him, in his several offices of prophet, priest, and king, (John

a

[ocr errors]

i. 12, 13; 1 John v. 1). Thus he learns to love him; to admire the excellency of his character, to value his favour, and to desire communion with him above all things ; to be thankful for his unspeakable love, and inestimable benefits; to be zealous for his honour, and devoted to his cause ; to love the brethren for his sake, and neighbours and enemies after his example, (1 John iii. 14; iv. 7—21); and to exercise self-denial, to endure loss, hardship, and suffering in his service. In short, “ whatsoever is born of God, overcometh the world, hates sin, and doeth righteousness,” (1 John ii. 29; iii. 9, 10; v. 4); for the regenerate man “ beholds the glory of God," (especially in the face of Christ)," and is changed into the same image,” &c. (2 Cor. iii. 17, 18; iv. 4–6): so that repentance, faith, love of God and man, submission, patience, meekness, spirituality, temperance, justice, truth, purity, and all the fruits of the Spirit, are the genuine effects of that change without which “no man can see, or enter into the kingdom of God;" though the whole is imperfect in the degree, and counteracted by the remaining power of in-dwelling sin, and manifold temptations.

That this is the real meaning of this Scriptural expression may be further evinced, by briefly considering several other metaphors, which express the same change. It is called a new creation ; and “if any man be in Christ he is a new creature; old things are passed away, behold all things are become new,” (2 Cor. v. 17); and the apostle speaks of it with allusion to the creation of the world, when “God commanded light to emerge out of darkness,” order out of confusion, and beauty out of deformity, (2 Cor. iv. 6; Eph. ii. 10; iv. 24): nor does “ any thing avail in Christ but a new creature," (Gal. vi. 15). It is also called a resurrection. There are, so to speak, three kinds of life ; animal, rational, and spiritual. Animal life implies the capacity of performing animal functions, and relishing animal pleasures, which man possesses in common with the brutes; rational life rises a degree above this, and includes the capacity of rational investigation, and of relishing an intellectual pleasure, of which mere animals have no conception; this man possesses in common with the unembodied spirits; but spiritual life is a still nobler distinction, and the perfection of created being, as it consists in the capacity of performing, and delighting in, spiritual actions; in which angels find their chief felicity, but of which the most rational man in the world, who is not born again, is as entirely incapable as the brutes are of philosophy. Animal life may subsist without either intellectual or spiritual capacities, these may subsist apart from animal propensities; and an intelligent agent may be destitute of spiritual capacity, as fallen angels are ; but spiritual life pre-supposes rational powers. Adam, created in the image of God, possessed them all, but when he sinned, he lost his spiritual life, for the spirit of life departed, and he became dead in sin: thenceforth he possessed the propensities of animal nature, and the capacities of an intelligent agent, but he became incapable of delighting in the spiritual excellency of divine things; and this is the condition of every man until “ the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus makes him free from the law of sin and death,” (Rom. viii. 2); which constitutes that figurative resurrection of which we speak, (Rom. vi. 4 ; Eph. ii. 1, 5, 6; Col. iii. 1). Again, the Lord promises a new heart and a new spirit;" a heart of flesh instead of a heart of stone ;” and “to write his law in the heart,” (Ezek. xxxvi. 26; Jer. xxxi. 31-33); which implies a change wrought in the judgment, dispositions, and affections, as a preparation for obeying, “not by constraint but willingly.” This is also described as putting off," or crucifying the old man, or the flesh, with its affections and lusts,” and “putting on the new man;" that we may be “ renewed in the spirit of our mind, and transformed in the renewing of our mind,” It is called “ the circumcision of the heart to love the Lord,” (Deut. xxx. 6): and it is represented by the grafting of a tree, through which the nature of it is changed and meliorated, and made to bear good fruit. These and such like metaphors and similitudes abundantly illustrate and confirm the explanation given of regeneration : but can never be made to coincide with the

[ocr errors]

"

« AnteriorContinuar »