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Regeneration, I have said, is a change of the moral state of the soul, a renovation of all its faculties, It constitutes the sinner a new creature, not in respect of his essence, but of his views, and habits, and inclinations. It is the introduction of a new and powerful principle into the soul, under the influence of which its natural faculties are exerted in a different manner from that in which they were formerly employed; and in this sense,
“old things pass away, and all things become new.”* Its thoughts are new, the objects of its choice are new, its aims and motives are new; and by this internal revolution, the external deportment is affected. The infusion of divine grace, like the ingrafting of a tree, alters, if I may speak so, the quality of the soul; so that, instead of the sour and crabbed fruits which it formerly produced, it now yields fruit of the most excellent kind, acceptable to God and to men. The instrument of the change, as we have already observed, is the Word of God; and the agent is his Spirit, who, moving as in the beginning of time upon the dark and turbulent mass, reduces it to order.
The first effect of divine power in the new, as in the old creation, is light. The regeneration of the soul commences with the illumination of the mind. “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 in the face of Jesus Christ.”+ When our Saviour gave Paul a commission to the Gentiles, he sent him “ to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God.”By the same means his own conversion was accomplished; for he tells us, that “ when it pleased God to reveal his Son in hiin, immediately he conferred not with flesh and blood.''S This, indeed, must be the mode of procedure in every conversion, because God will always act upon us according to the nature which he has given us ; and his purpose being to make us willing and obedient, there is no way in which it can be accomplished, but by the communication of clear and impressive views of truth to the mind. The Scriptures are a perfect revelation of the will of God, containing all the doctrines which we are required to believe, and all the precepts which we are bound to obey. But, although their instructions are full, plain, at least with respect to every essential point, and admirably fitted to arrest the attention and engage the heart, yet the human mind is so blinded by prejudices, so captivated and misled by the illusions of sense, and the maxims of worldly wisdom, that it either rejects the information which they bring, or contents itself with a cold and careless assent to it. An unrenewed man may have perused the Scriptures, and may have acquired such distinct notions of the subjects of which they treat, as to be qualified to be a teacher of others, but at the same time he does not perceive their real excellence, nor experience their spiritual efficacy. Hence it is evident that, while he remains under this mental incapacity, the intended effect of the word will not be produced, and that an operation is necessary, analogous to that performed upon the eyes of a blind man to admit the rays of light, or upon the eyes of a man whose vision is imperfect, to enable him to see objects distinctly.
The illumination of the mind does not consist in the discovery of unknown truths. To represent this as the design of it, would be derogatory to the fulness of the Scriptures, and would furnish those who are not converted, with the apology, that they do not possess adequate means, if there were some truths necessary to be known, which not contained in written revelation. " The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul;"|| that is, it is sufficient for conversion as an external mean, and there is no defect which needs to be supplied. Enthusiasts may talk of dreams and visions, and revelations, but
• 2 Cor. v. 17.
† Ib. iv. 6.
# Acts xxvi, 18.
$ Gal. i. 16.
| Ps. xix. 7.
every sober-minded Christian can trace all his spiritual perceptions, and holy tempers, and devout feelings, to the records of the apostles and prophets; and if he was first awakened, or has been since impressed by the words of men, the sentiments which they conveyed were agreeable to the Scriptures, and were derived from them.
The illumination, therefore, of which we speak, consists in enabling those who are the subjects of it, to apprehend, in their true sense and importance, truths which they find in their Bibles, and which they may have often read before, without being affected by them, because there was “ a veil upon their hearts.” It is impossible to explain how this change of views is effected, because we know not the way of the Spirit; and impossible to make it intelligible to any man who has not experienced it. No person ever succeeded in an attempt to give a blind man an idea of colours. The regenerated themselves cannot tell how they were illuminated, or make others understand the specific difference between their present and their former conceptions. They may assure them that their views of truth were once obscure and uninteresting, and now are clear and enlivening; but such information is general and indefinite. One thing, however, they know, that whereas they were blind, now they see.
The sinner is enlightened in the knowledge of his own character and state; that, sensible of his guilt, and wretchedness, and danger, he may be prepared to accept the offers of mercy ; in the knowledge of the love, and grace, and compassion of God, that he may be disposed to return to him, instead of hating, and dreading, and avoiding his presence; in the knowledge of Christ, of his substitution, and righteousness, and fulness, that he may trust in him for the supply of his wants, and, believing in him, may be restored to the favour of God. His views, indeed, upon all subjects are changed. He now. is convinced of the evil of sin; he now feels the vanity of the world; he now appreciates the value of time; he now perceives the excellence of holiness; he now forms a just estimate of the realities of the invisible state. Divine illumination leads him to view things as they are, whereas he formerly contemplated them through the false medium of prejudice and misconception. He awakes, as from a dream, and finds himself surrounded with the solemn and interesting objects of religion. All Christians are “ renewed in knowledge after the image of him who created them.” “Ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord."*
Having seen the effect of divine grace upon the intellectual part of our nature, let us proceed to consider the change on our moral and active principles. In giving an account of regeneration, it is usually observed, that the illumination of the understanding is followed by the renovation of the will. To renew the will is to incline it to good, to render it conformable to the will of God. This change is necessary, because the will is naturally rebellious, and its practical language is, “ Who is the Lord, that I should obey him ?" It is, therefore, said, that “thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power;"+ and how this is done we learn from an apostle : · It is God that worketh in us, both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”I ! The renovation of the will may be considered as the natural consequence of the illumination of the understanding. While we speak of different faculties of the soul, we should reflect that, strictly, these are only different modes in which the soul exerts itself. The understanding is the soul apprehending and contemplating; the will is the soul choosing or refusing: good is the object of its choice ; and in order to secure a right determination, nothing more seems to be necessary than that the object should be presented in such a light, as to obtain the deliberate and final decision of the understanding in its favour. Yet we remember the words of the poet, and their truth is too often confirmed by our personal experience.
. Col. iii. 10. Eph. v. 8.
| Ps. cx. 3.
# Phil. č. 13.
Video meliora proboque,
But although the heart may oppose, and often does oppose, slight and transient convictions of truth and duty, it does not follow that it will act the same part, when the evidence is full and irresistible, or when the word comes“ in demonstration of the Spirit, and with power.” As the understanding was intended to be the leading faculty of the soul, it may be conceived, when illuminated by divine grace, actually to lead it in that train and order which is pleasing to God. However, since we do not know how he acts upon the soul, nor to what extent his influence is necessary, it is more modest to avoid determining whether his agency upon the will is mediate or immediate, and to rest in the declarations of Scripture, that “ he puts his spirit within us, and gives us a new heart, a heart of flesh."*
The effect of regenerating grace extends to every power of the soul, and all its movements are controlled by it. The affections have been considered by some as various modifications of the will; but whatever philosophical theory we adopt with respect to them, they are all influenced by the change, They are refined, regulated, and directed to their proper objects. New feelings and emotions, new tendencies and exercises, are the native consequences of the new views of divine things, which have been communicated to the mind. The revelation of the Saviour in his righteousness and grace, accompanied as it is with a heartfelt sense of guilt, and wretchedness, and helplessness, gives rise to faith, or that act of the soul by which it receives his offered salvation, trusts in him for acceptance with God, and finds peace, and hope, and joy, in the contemplation of his character and work. Repentance is the effect of a clear and impressive apprehension of the infinite purity of the Divine nature, to which sin stands opposed as darkness is to light; of the goodness of God whom it has offended and dishonoured; and of his mercy in Christ, the serious considera tion of which is sufficient to melt the hardest, and to subdue the most stubborn heart. Godly sorrow for sin, hatred of it, prayers for deliverance from it, a purpose instantly to forsake it, and the commencement of a course of resistance and mortification, are the ingredients or the fruits of repentance. The dislike of the human heart to God flows partly from misconceptions of his character, and partly from its own corrupt inclinations. Both are removed in regeneration, when the mind is enlightened, and the will is renewed. How is it possible that that man should not love God, to whom he appears the most amiable of all beings, and who is tasting that he is gracious? It would be tedious to give an enumeration of the emotions and affections which are excited in the heaven-born soul. All the fruits of the Spirit are produced, all his graces are imparted, and the heart of man, which was lately like a wilderness, overgrown with briers and thorns, is transformed into the garden of the Lord.
In treating of regeneration, it is strictly necessary to direct our attention orly to the change which takes place in the state of the mind. It is here that grace operates, and here that the holy principles which it produces reside. But the seed being sown, the fruit will speedily appear. Reformation is not regeneration, but it will always be the result of it, when the conduct has been previously irregular: for “whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin;
for his seed remaineth in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God."* The Corinthians were adulterers, fornicators, idolaters, covetous, and extortioners, before God called them by his grace; but they were “washed, and sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God."A change will even take place in the deportment of the most moral unconverted man, as soon as he is born from above. There are no gross sins, we will suppose, from which he needs to be purified; but he will become more spiritual in his conversation, more attentive to religious and relative duties, less eager in pursuit of the world, more scrupulous in the selection of his company, more cautious in avoiding the occasions of sin and appearances of evil. 'The eye of an attentive and practised spectator will perceive, notwithstanding his former fair show, that even he is become a new man. But it is in the secret recesses of his breast that he will be himself deeply conscious of the spiritual revolution. He will be sensible of a new temper of mind, or a new feeling as it may be called, in the performance of his duty; for whereas it was formerly a drudgery, it will now constitute his highest pleasure. Engaged in the service of God, he will find himself in his proper element; and instead of confining himself to the narrow round of duties in which he moved, while his sole aim was to maintain a decent appearance, or to silence the clamours of conscience, he will labour to be extensively useful to others, and unweariedly active for the glory of God. The praise of man is no longer the motive which stimulates his activity ; another, of a purer and more exalted kind, has assumed its place; a desire for the approbation of his Maker. A reference to God in all his thoughts and actions, a regard to his authority, and love, compounded of esteem, gratitude, and desire for his favour and presence, are the principles by which he is governed. There is a lofiy elevation of sentiment and affection above the standard of nature, however carefully improved. He is still in the world, but he is no longer of it; and although he attends to its affairs, and feels joy or sorrow from its changes, he gives the decided and habitual preference to nobler objects, and, like the ancient sojourners in Canaan, whose faith we are exhorted to follow, declares plainly, that he is seeking a country, even a heavenly one. I
Regeneration is specifically the same in all who are the subjects of it; a spiritual change, the transformation of the soul into the image of God: “ That which is born of the Spirit, is spirit."'S But, although every regenerated person is a new creature, and possesses all the constituent parts of the new nature, it is not necessary to maintain that, to all, the same measure of grace is communicated. They may differ from each other as children do at their natural birth, some of whom are much more lively and vigorous than others. Even at the commencement, God, according to his sovereign pleasure, may give more ample knowledge, stronger faith, and all the other virtues in a maturer state, to this man than to that. But there is no difference in respect of their state ; the same work has been performed in them all, and they are all partakers of that one Spirit."
A change from darkness to light, and from sin to holiness, is necessary, not only to those who, having been educated in a false religion, must adopi new views and principles of action before they can be received into the communion of the church, and to those who, having lived long in the practice of vice, and acquired depraved habits, must reform before they can be acknowledged as Christians, but to all the descendants of Adam, whatever may have been their external advantages, and their previous character. No opinion is more unscriptural, than that there are some men who do not need to be regenerated. They may be well instructed in the principles of religion, and may be devout
• 1 John iii. 9. t 1 Cor. vi. 11. # Heb. xi. 13-16. § John üži. 6.
and virtuous in the estimation of the world; they may observe divine ordinances, be just in their dealings, sober in their personal deportment, and distinguished by their deeds of beneficence. Such, however, were the Pharisees, whom our Saviour condemned with severity ; and it was in reference to them, and to other persons who resemble them, that he reminded us that the outside of the cnp may be clean, while within it is full of impurity. Human nature is the same in all men, although it is subject to various modifications from education, and temper, and the circumstances in which individuals are placed. Whether gentle or fierce, placable or unmerciful, licentious or temperate, selfish or benevolent, it is, according to the testimony of Scripture, carnal, alienated from God, and full of enmity against his law. The mildest and most amiable of mankind, therefore, stands in need of regenerating grace; and if he has not experienced its influence, is only a nominal Christian. With the aid of external advantages, he himself may change his conduct, but Divine grace alone can change his heart. Strange as this doctrine may seem to those who have studied the writings of philosophers more than the Bible, and mortifying as it . is to our pride, it is unquestionably true. Our Lord made no exception when he said, " Except a man be born of water, and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."* It is worthy of attention, that these words were addressed to a man who had received the circumcision of the flesh, had been brought up in the true religion, and was of so respectable a character, that he had been elevated to the rank of a ruler of the Jews. . Hence it follows, that no man can be a disciple of Christ, unless he have undergone this spiritual change: “If any man be in Christ Jesus, he is a new creature ;"t but, “ if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his."!
The change effected in the souls of men by regenerating grace, is the foundation of all their subsequent attainments in religion. I mean, that they are effects or consequences of it, as the growth of a vegetable, the rising of the stem, the formation of the buds and flowers, the opening of the leaves and blossoms, and the concoction of the fruit, are the effects or consequences of the living principle in the seed. Hence an apostle, having represented true Christians as the circumcision, or the regenerated, proceeds to state, that" they worship God in the Spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” To the performance of certain functions, certain powers are necessary; and there are properties belonging to one nature which no man expects to find in another. An animal without wings could not fly, without legs could not walk, without eyes could not see, without intellect could not understand. We never look for the peculiar properties of one species of animals in another ; we never look, for example, for speech and reasoning among brutes. All the actions of a living being, and all its improvements, bear a relation to the nature originally given to it by its Maker. These things are obvious, not only to philosophers, but to every person of common sense; yet, although just reasoning requires that we should transfer them to religion, men often proceed in a different manner. Religion manifestly implies a different train of sentiments, and feelings, and actions, from those which are brought into operation by the ordinary business of life. Yet many imagine that, because man has understanding, and will, and affections, is capable of managing his worldly affairs, and of performing the duties incumbent upon him as a member of society, he is fully qualified to answer the demands of religion, and requires only to have his attention directed to it, and to be roused to the exercise of his powers. It is taken for granted, that religion is one of the original principles of our nature, which it is sufficient to direct and strengthen by discipline. It is supposed that men have a natural capacity or disposition
John ü. 5.
7 2 Cor, v. 17.
* Rom. viii. 9.
§ Phil. üi. 3.