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This Article has an evident agreement with the fifth; for regeneration is one of the fruits of Christ's death. He died to save his people from their sins; and this is the beginning of salvation from sin. As the atonement procures the blessing of regeneration, so this prepares us to receive the atonement.
There is a manifest agreement between this Article and the fourth. That relates to man's apostacy and the total alienation of his heart from God; and had this never taken place, the renovation of our nature had been needless. But because Adam fell, and begat his sons in his own moral likeness; because we are all shapen in iniquity and conceived in sin, it has become indispensably necessary that we should be transformed by the renewing of our mind. If the degree of our depravity were anything less than total, according to the tenor of that Article, there would be no place for the doctrine of this. It is because that which is born of the flesh is nothing but flesh, that no man can enter the kingdom of God, unless he is born from above.
Some may think, that to make this Article harmonize with the fourth, it must represent it to be as easy for man to regain a holy character as it was to lose it. In neither of these Articles has man been represent. ed as at all independent of his Maker. Yet, while the scriptures say but little concerning the influential cause of his fall, they say very much about the influence by which he is recovered. - Where the scriptures have said but little, it admonishes us to say but little : and where they have said much, it seems proper that we should do the same. While the inspired writings represent the intelligent creation as at all times dependent on God, they speak of a kind of peculiar dependence for holiness of character. They reveal to us the doctine of a special divine influence, which produces and preserves, or restores and sustains all the holiness there is in the moral system.
Hence it is, that one way in which they account for the entrance, continuance and prevalence of sin, is by the withdrawment of this special influence. Of Hezekiah it is said, “God left him to try him; that he might know all that was in his heart.” This seems to refer to the withdrawment of that special influence of which we speak. Concerning Israel, at a particular time, we hear the Most High saying, “But my people would not hearken to my voice, and Israel would none of me: so I gave them
up unto their own heart's lust, and they walked in their own counsels.” Concerning the heathen it is said, God gave them up unto vile affections: and that he suffered all nations to walk in their own ways. 2 Chron. xxxii. 31. Ps. lxxxi. 11, 12. Rom. i. 26. Acts xiv. 16.
This operation of the Divine Being on created minds, which is often distinguished from his other operations by being called the influence of the Holy Spirit, he does not feel himself under obligation, except by some covenanted engagement, to afford; since it is not essential to the preservation of those powers which constitute us free and accountable agents. In our depraved state, we are described as “sensual, having not the Spirit.” Jude, ver. 19. And if we are left to ourselves, with. out the Spirit, we shall continue to be sensual, that is, nothing but na.
As one proper way of accounting for man's apostacy is by saying, God left him-he withheld from him
that special influence, by which angels were preserved from falling ; so, as a counterpart to this,
it is proper to account for man's regaining the lost image, by saying, God returns to him and restores that special influence. As soon as he restores that influence, he renews that lost image, and man becomes again the friend of God.
Between this and the third Article the harmony is easily seen. When God first created man, he set the law before his face, and also put it in his heart. The apostacy, while it did not release him from obligation to obey, took from his heart the spirit of obedience. This it is the province of regeneration to restore ; for in this gracious work God writes his law in our hearts. If his redeemed people did not become heartily subject to the law, there would be an entire discord between the law and the gospel. But no such discord appears; for though they are not saved by the strength of the law, they yield an unfeigned subjection to all its holy requirements.
Between this and the first two Articles the harmony is very manifest. The first of the two exhibits an Agent, great and good enough to transform a wretched sinner into a happy saint; and the second shows us that he has entered on such a system of operations, as would insure the most perfect and durable display of his infinitely great and holy attri. butes. And what can be calculated to make a display more attractive and glorious than the gracious work contemplated by this Article. In regeneration God operates upon a moral chaos; and of materials, which the fall had ruined, brings forth a new and beautiful creation, which will be forever to the praise of the glory of his grace.
1. The doctrine exhibited in this Article furnishes one reason for believing, that the book which reveals it is, in distinction from all oth. ers which make this claim, the inspired word of God. Without this doctrine there can be no religious system adapted to the exigencies of an apostate world. All those systems of ethics and religious observ. ances, which leave the heart unchanged, are nothing better than the cleansing of the outside of the filthy cup and platter, and the white. washing of sepulchres, which are inwardly full of dead men's bones and of all uncleanness. A renovation of heart is, I believe, a doctrine peculiar to the religion of the Bible. Here it is taught, made plain, and much insisted on : and is not this circumstance enough to convince us, that the Bible emanated from Him who was acquainted with man's depraved state, and knew what he needed to prepare him for an eternal communion with himself?
2. Those of the children of Adam who have been recovered from the ruins of the fall by regenerating grace, are highly favored ones. The change which they have experienced, is of all others the most desirable and merciful. Before it was experienced, they had the image of the worst being in the universe ; but now, of the best. An elevation from a dunghill to a throne, is not to be compared with a translation from nature to grace. Well may it be said,
“ His noblest wonders here we vicw,
3. If regeneration is a change of such importance, they who have felt its purifying influence, will desire the same may be experienced by their fellow sinners. Unless they shall be born into the kingdom of Christ, it had been good for them if they had not been born into the world. If there is anything we can do, the tendency of which will be to promote the conversion of men from sin to holiness, certainly we ought to do it; for there is no other way in which we can do them so much good.“ He that converteth a sinner from the error of his way, shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins." In view of the great desirableness of the conversion of a sinner, and of being instrumental in its accomplishment, it may be well said, " If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.” It is now brought to my recollection, that while I was anticipating an entrance on this good work, no one circumstance made it appear more desirable to me than this; that it would furnish a favorable opportunity of telling my fellow sinners, they must be born again. So important and indis. pensably requisite did this change then appear, I thought if I could so speak as to make a world of sinful men hear me, I would, in conformity to the teaching of my Savior, tell them all, that without an experimen. tal acquaintance with the new birth, they could not, they must not think of seeing the kingdom of God. At that time, the thought had not en. tered my mind, that I might be permitted one day to make this com. munication to them, not from the pulpit only, but also from the press. But since my Master has favored me with such a way of getting access to some (I know not how many) of my lost brethren, I gladly improve it to say to them, Turn your attention to this deeply interesting subject. The second birth, effected by the power of the Holy Ghost, is no chi. mera. That you may be washed in the laver of regeneration is your greatest privilege. Without it, you must be unlovely and unhappy during all your immortal existence. To expect an admission into a heaven of holiness, without a radical change, is the vainest thing ima. ginable. And cow, if ever, it must be experienced.
4. From the attention we have paid to this doctrine we perceive, that in seeking the recovery of our fellow men from sin to holiness, we have two classes of duties to perform. In the one we labor with them, and in the other with God, in their behalf. There are means to be used to bring men to repentance; but without divine efficiency they will prove ineffectual. The sword of the Spirit will do execution in no other hand but his own. With the means of grace we go to the unre. generate themselves : but to obtain that efficacy which is necessary to render these means successful, we must go to Him who has the residue of the Spirit. Let the light of our example, and the light of instruction, shine with clearness upon those who still remain in the darkness of unregeneracy; and let the throne of grace be addressed in their behalf day and night, and then shall we be in the use of the most scriptural measures, to effect their translation from the power of darkness into the kingdom of God's dear Son.
5. In closing these remarks, I feeel constrained to notice two dif. ferent and apparently opposite conceptions that natural men form of their unregenerate state, which to me seem equally to hinder their con. Version. The one is, that their native depravity is like some bodily
weakness or natural defect, which furnishes them with an excuse, and releases them from obligation to attempt obedience to such commands as require them to make a new heart and a new spirit, repenting of sin and believing in Christ. This misconception of the nature of their depravity, tends to prevent that conviction of guilt and those personal efforts, which, in the economy of grace, are made necessary either to precede or accompany the renewing of the mind.
The other conception to which I referred, as a contrast' to this, is a false conceit of self-sufficiency, or a reliance on innate strength, inde. pendent of the Spirit's assistance. Because they are voluntary agents, they conclude they need no foreign aid to enable them to comply with the injunctions, requiring them to make a new heart, to repent and believe. Now he that, for the performance of these or any other duties, trusteth to his own heart, is a fool. Our obligation to act, and our obli. gation to depend on God, co-exist. When Peter said to the lame man who sat at the Beautiful gate of the temple, “ Rise up and walk,” it behooved him immediately to make the attempt to do what he had nev. er yet done : but it also behooved him to make this attempt as a creature, absolutely dependent on God; and in the present case dependent for supernatural strength. I know that the inability of the impotent man consisted in a want of physical strength, and was therefore en. tirely innocent. In this respect the sinner's case is altogether different; since his need of a special divine interposition arises from a guilty
But though the cause of the necessity in this case is quite dif. ferent, the necessity is no less real; and it is proper it should be known in the one case as much as in the other. I do not see why it has a legitimate tendency to prevent the morally, any more than the naturally impotent, from attempting to rise up and walk, to be told that they need immediate help from God to render their attempt successful. They who have had the longest experience in things of this nature have found, when their sense of dependence on God has been the most clear and vivid, their attempts to comply with his requirements have proved most suc. cessful ; and that the greatest benefit which they have derived from their unsuccessful efforts, has been to divest them of self-sufficiency, and to lead them to a more entire dependence on God for strength, as well as righteousness. Why, then, shall we not apprise the sinner of this dependence at his outset? Show him his duty, and let him know it must be complied with, or he is lost forever. Show him, also, that through a blamable cause, namely, his hatred of a holy God and a holy salvation, he needs the special agency of the Holy Spirit, to dispose and incline his heart to the requisite compliance.
Suffer me to crowd home this subject upon the mind of every unrenewed person who shall read this Article. It is clearly your duty to cease to do evil
, and learn to do well—to make you a new heart and a new spirit—to begin forthwith to love that God, who has always been worthy of your supreme regard. Trifle no longer, for your case is ex. tremely critical. Something must be done, and done soon, or your ruin is inevitable. Nothing will render you at all acceptable to God, or meet for his kingdom, short of a renewed heart. This you must have, or never see light. And I would add, you must have the aid of the Holy Spirit, or it is certain you will never have a renewed heart. Your
circumstances, therefore, seem to require, that in our address to you we should combine those two apparently opposite injunctions, “ Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord !"_“Go forward I"
THE CHANGE EFFECTED BY REGENERATION IS A DISPLAY OF DIVINE GRACE, WHICH IS BOTH SPECIAL AND SOVEREIGN.
That regeneration is a divine work, has already been shown. God is the efficient cause of that change of character which is its result. Further proof of this point, I trust, is not necessary. Under this Arti. cle, three things will engage attention. 1. It will will be shown, that this work is gracious. 2. That the grace is special. 3. That it is sovereign.
1. Regeneration is a gracious change. Every favor is not prop ' erly denominated grace. It is a favor to a creditor to receive his debt ; but there is no grace in such a favor. Grace is a gift; which suppo. ses it to be a thing that could not be justly claimed. In the most appropriate sense, grace is favor conferred on the ill-deserving. Alms bestowed on the honest poor, may be termed grace; but favors confer. red on those from whom we have received unprovoked injuries, is what the word more properly imports. It is in this highest sense, that regeneration is called grace.
But is it in reality any favor to a sinner to be renewed in the spirit of his mind ? Certainly it is, and one of the first magnitude. The change effected by regeneration may be said, without hyperbole, to be infinitely desirable. We have souls which will not only exist forever, but which will be always enlarging in their capacity for happiness or misery. The soul of man will exist
, and expand without end, let its character be what it may.
While unrecovered by regeneration, the soul is unholy and vile. So it appears in the sight of God and of all other good beings; and even the sinner remaining impenitent is capable of a humiliating conviction of his own vileness. What can be more dreadful than for an immortal creature, possessed of ever-growing faculties, to remain depraved to all eternity ; to be at enmity with the blessed God and all his friends ; to know that he is abhorred by every benevolent being in the universe; and to be conscious that he merits all this shame and contempt!
In this vile character regeneration effects a change-a change which, both in its nature and results, is desirable beyond all others. Nothing can be more hateful than the carnal, or more lovely than the renewed mind, The one bears the image of the devil, the other the image of God. Though the renovated nature does not at first possess a complete dominion in the soul, it has the promise of ultimately reigning