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sequently that they have been born again. Though they can. not perceive the Spirit operating, yet they can sensibly perceive the effects of his operation. Were it not for the air, there could be no sound; and therefore when we hear the wind blow, or any other sound, we know that there is air, and that it has actually moved. The apostle John represents the fruits of the Spirit as an infallible evidence of a saving change. “We know," says he, “ that we have passed from death unto life, be. cause we love the brethren.” “Love is of God, and he that loveth is born of God.” Every cause is known by its effects, and there is good reason to believe that the divine influence in regeneration is to be known by its effects. It produces holy affections, and holy affections produce holy actions, which are an evidence to the regenerated and to others, that they have experienced a saving change. It is not strange then, that Christ should represent the operation of the Spirit as being known by its effects, though it is rather strange that Nicodemus, or any other person who had read the Bible, should ask, How can this be?
7. There was nothing absurd in what Christ said concerning the importance of regeneration. He did represent the importance of it in the plainest terms. “ Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Though Nicodemus objected, he added, “ Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” And after this he still insisted
the importance of the new birth. “ Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again." If that which is born of the flesh is flesh, if every man by nature is totally destitute of holiness, and perfectly opposed to all good, then nothing short of regeneration can fit him for the service and enjoyment of God in this life and the life to come. For nothing but a new heart, a new spirit, or holy love, can remove his moral depravity, and restore the moral image of God. The strictest morality or external obedience to the divine commands cannot change the corrupt heart. This appears from the nature of morality, which may flow from selfishness as well as benevolence. The scribes and Pharisees were shining moralists, while their hearts were full of moral corruption, and perfectly opposed to Christ and to his Father. On this ground, Christ inculcated the necessity of a change of heart upon Nicodemus, who was a devout and shining Pharisee. No external actions can change the heart, though the heart, when changed, may naturally and visibly change the outward conduct. Mere morality will qualify no man for heaven, nor will mere awakenings and convictions. Though these may have great influence for a time, on the views, the opinions, the feelings, and external conduct of sinners, yet they may leave the heart in a state of total opposition to God, and instead of lessening this opposition, may greatly tend to increase and strengthen it, and thereby disqualify them for the kingdom of heaven. Indeed, there is no outward restraint, or reformation, that can be a substitute for regeneration. Without holiness, no man can see the Lord; and without a renovation of heart, no man can be holy. Let no man, therefore, marvel that he must be born again.
1. If Christ gave a plain and consistent representation of regeneration, then it is strange that so many have misunderstood it. Nothing which Christ ever said has been so much misunderstood and misrepresented, as his discourse with Nicodemus respecting the new birth. In every age of Christianity, ministers as well as others have run into strange, unscriptural, and absurd notions of regeneration. This is strange, if Christ gave a true and clear account of the renovation of the heart, and it can be ascribed to nothing but the aversion of the human heart to real holiness. The total depravity of the heart has a tendency to blind the mind in respect to all doctrines which are according to godliness. And the effect of this blindness appears most strikingly in the false and absurd notions many have entertained of a change of heart from sin to holiness. For some have supposed that it wholly consists in mere baptism. There has been, and still is, a warm controversy among some of the most learned bishops in England upon the nature of regeneration. Some maintain that it consists in water baptism. They profess to build their sentiment upon what Christ said: “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” They suppose there is an appointed connection between baptism by water and regeneration by the Spirit. Accordingly, they consider a child, regularly baptized, as regenerated. They build their opinion partly upon the words of Christ, and partly upon the opinion of the primitive fathers in the church. Some of those learned and pious fathers did in their writings use expressions, which seemed to indicate that they supposed there was an intimate, if not an infallible, connection between baptism and regeneration. But others, who are, well versed in the writing of those ancient divines, maintain that their expressions do not necessarily nor fairly imply that they believed regeneration was baptism, or necessarily connected with it. We know, however, that Episcopalians have generally viewed baptism in a very important light, and as some way or other having a very favorable influence in respect to salvation. For this reason, they will baptize the infants and children of any parents who wish them to be baptized; and after they have been baptized, and received the stated family instruction, they will confirm them, and admit them to communion at the table of Christ, without any farther inquiry whether they have been born of the Spirit. This is all right, if regeneration consists in baptism, or is necessarily connected with it, but not otherwise.
Some have supposed that regeneration implies nothing more than mere morality, or a reformation from any evil courses; but this does not appear to accord with Christ's representation of the new birth.
Some suppose that regeneration implies something more than a regular life, and maintain that it consists in turning the attention and affections from temporal objects, and fixing them upon religious, and invisible, and eternal objects, but without any change of heart. This is no more than what sinners under awakenings and convictions naturally do; but by doing it grow no better, but worse. When they turn their attention and affections from worldly objects, and fix them upon spiritual and divine objects, their carnal minds rise more directly and sensibly in opposition to God and divine truths. This implies no radical change of heart, but only a change from one degree of depravity to another.
Some suppose regeneration consists in a supernatural or miraculous change, by which a new faculty, or a new principle, or a new taste, or a new disposition, is implanted in the mind, which is prior to, and the foundation of, new and holy affections. But if this were true, no sinner could be reasonably required or exhorted to love God, repent of sin, believe the gospel, or do one virtuous action, until God had wrought a miracle, to enable him to do what both the law and gospel require him to do before he is regenerated. Sinners stand in need of no other change than a change of heart, and a change of heart the scripture represents as a change from selfishness to benevolence, or a change from hatred to love to God. Every other representation of regeneration but this of a change of heart, is unscriptural and absurd, and leads to great and dangerous errors in theory and practice. It is of the highest importance that preachers should rightly understand and represent the true doctrine of regeneration, which lies at the foundation of all experimental religion or vital piety. A mistake here is the primary cause of the most fatal errors that abound at this day.
2. If Christ has stated the doctrine of regeneration in a true, a plain, and intelligible manner, then those who disbelieve and reject it as mysterious, unintelligible and absurd, are really guilty and inexcusable in forming their opinion. What has been just observed cannot be denied, that regeneration has been greatly misunderstood and misrepresented. And it must be conceded, that men of learning and clear discernment have had reason to reject and deny the doctrine of regeneration when they have seen and heard it represented in a false, mysterious, or unintelligible manner. It is not easy to make men of clear apprehension and discrimination, believe that the Spirit of God in regeneration operates upon the minds of sinners mechanically, and produces a new natural faculty or principle, in which they are entirely passive. Regeneration has often, and I may say generally, been represented in this light, by both writers and preachers on this subject. It has been asserted and strenuously maintained by those who have been esteemed, by themselves and others, as Calvinistically orthodox, that men are entirely passive in regeneration, and that they are naturally unable to exercise any right affections, or to perform any right actions, until they have been made the subjects of this passive change, which is contrary to scripture, reason and experience. It is not easy to make thinking men believe that regeneration consists in external baptism, or in external reformation, or in turning the attention and affections from temporal to spiritual objects, or in any thing in which it does not really consist. Nor is it easy to make those who deny total depravity, believe the doctrine of regeneration in any sense. For they clearly see that there is no necessity, nor even possibility of men's being regenerated, if they are not by nature totally depraved. But if what Christ said be true, " That which is born of the flesh is flesh," then all men are by nature totally depraved, and, being totally depraved, must be regenerated or born again, in order to be prepared for the kingdom of God. As Christ founded regeneration on total depravity, and represented it as consisting solely in a change of heart from sin to holiness, so the doctrine as he stated it is perfectly agreeable to scripture, reason and experience. None have a right, therefore, to disbelieve and deny the true doctrine of regeneration. It is founded in a truth which all might and ought to be conscious of, that they have not by nature the love of God in them, but a heart of enmity towards him. And as they have no right to deny the doctrine of total depravity, so they have no right to disbelieve and deny the true doctrine of regeneration, which is founded upon it. The disbelief of the doc- . trine of regeneration is not a mere speculative error, but an error which subverts the foundation of the gospel, and the hope of salvation. None have reason to hope for salvation, without that change which Christ has declared to be absolutely necessary in order to enter into the kingdom of God.
3. If there be nothing absurd in the doctrine of regeneration as stated by Christ, then there is no inconsistency between the true doctrine of regeneration and any other doctrine of the gospel. If regeneration were really absurd, then it would be inconsistent with all rational doctrines; but if it be a plain and reasonable doctrine, then it cannot really clash with any other reasonable doctrine. But it has often been supposed, however, to be inconsistent with several plain and important doctrines of the gospel. Many seriously think and say that they cannot see how God can sincerely invite all unregenerate sinners to accept of salvation upon the terms of the gospel, when he knows that they cannot accept until they have a new faculty, a new principle, a new nature, or a new disposition, given them without any act or agency of their own. It must be allowed that, ac
rding to this representation of regeneration, it does appear to be totally inconsistent with the universal offers of the gospel. We can see no consistency in God's inviting sinners to accept of salvation upon impracticable terms. But if what Christ said of the nature and necessity of regeneration be true, it is perfectly consistent with the general invitations of the gospel. For sinners do not need to be regenerated, to enable them to embrace the gospel, but only to dispose, or make them willing to embrace it. Many seriously think and say, that they cannot see how God can justly require all sinners to believe the gospel, when he knows that they cannot believe it before a new principle of action is given them, in a change in which they are entirely passive. If sinners were under a natural inability to • embrace the gospel before they have a new principle implanted in their minds, we could not see the justice of God in commanding them to do a natural impossibility. Others think and say, it is still more unjust and absurd to threaten sinners with eternal death for not believing the gospel; which they could not believe before they were regenerated, and had not natural power to believe. The true doctrine of regeneration has none of these supposed inconsistences attending it. They have been owing to the misunderstanding and misrepresentations of those who have written and preached upon this doctrine. No discerning, impartial reader of the Bible would find any absurdity or inconsistency in the doctrine of regeneration, as stated by Christ and the inspired writers. They represent it as consistent with all the invitations, commands and threatenings in the gospel. And it must appear so to every one when clearly and justly explained.
4. If regeneration be such as Christ has represented it to be, then we see why the gospel has such different effects at different times, and in different places. Regeneration opens the hearts of sinners to embrace the gospel, as it opened the heart of Lydia. So long as men remain in the state of nature, and VOL. V.