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The apostle here, to excite the saints to the study of holi. ness, and particularly of brotherly love, puts them in mind of their spiritual original. He tells them they were born again; and that of one incorruptible seed, the word of God. This speaks them to be brethren, partakers of the same new nature; which is the root from which holiness, and particularly brotherly love, doth spring. We are once both sinners; we must be born again, that we may je saints. The simple word signifies to be begotten ; and so it may be read, Matth. xi. 11. to be conceived, Matth. i. 20. and to be born, Matth. ii. 1. Accordingly, the compound word used in the text may be taken in its full latitude, the last notion presupposing the two former; and so regeneration is a supernatural real change on the whole man, fitly compared to natural or corporeal generation, as will afterward appear.
The ordinary means of regeneration, called the seed, whereof the new creature is formed, is not corruptible seed. Of such, indeed, our bodies are gene. rated; but the spiritual seed, of which the new creature is generated, is incorruptible; namely, “ the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.” The sound of the word of God passeth even as other sounds do ; but the word lasteth, liveth, and abideth, in respect of its everlasting effects, on all upon whom it operates. This word, which by the gospel is preached unto you, ver. 25. impregnated by the Spirit of God, is the means of regeneration ; and by it are dead sinners raised to life.
DoctriNE. All men in the state of grace are born again. -All gracious persons, namely, such as are in a state of favour with God, and endued with gracious qualities and dispositions, are regenerate persons. In discoursing this subject, I shall shew what regeneration is: Next, Why it is so called ; and then apply the doctrine.
of the Nature of Regeneration.
1. For the better understanding of the nature of rege. neration, take this along with you in the first place, That as there are false conceptions in nature, so there are also in grace; and by these many are deluded, mistaking partial changes made upon them for this great and thorough change. To remove such mistakes, let these few things
be considered, (1.) Many call the church their mother, whom God' will not own to be his children, Cant. i. 6. Mly mother's children (i. e. false brethren) were angry with
All that are baptized are not born again. Sinon was baptized, yet still in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity, Acts viii. 13, 23. Where Christianity is the religion of the country, many will be called by the name of Christ, who have no more of him but the name ; and no wonder, seeing the devil had his goats among Christ's sheep, in these places, where but few professed the Christian religion, 1 John ii. 19., They went out from U8, but they were not of us. (2.) Good education is not regeneration. Education may chain up men's lusts, but cannot change their hearts. A wolf is still a ravenous beast, though it be in chains. Joash was very devout during the life of his good tutor Jehoiada ; but afterwards he quickly shewed what spirit he was of, hy liis sudden apostacy, 2 Chron. xxiv. 2, 17, 18. Good example is of mighty influence to change the outward man ; but that change often goes off, when one changes his company; of which the world affords many sad instances. (3.) A turiing from open profanity, to civility and sobriety, falls short of this saving change. Some are, for a while, very loose, especially in their younger years ; but at length they reform, and leave their profane courses. Here is a change, yet but such an one as may be found in men, utterly void of
grace of God, and whose righteousness is so far from exceeding, that it doth not come up to the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees. (4.) One may engage in all the outward duties of religion, and yet not be born again. Though lead be cast into various shapes, it remains still but a base metal. -Men may escape the poliutions of the world, and yet be but dogs and swine, 2 Pet. ii. 20, 22. All the external acts of religion are within the compass of natural abilities. Yea, hypocrites may have the counterfeit of all the graces of the Spirit; for we read of true holiness, Eph. iv. 23. and faith unfeigned, 1 Tim. i. 5. which shews us, that there is a counterfeit holiness, and a feigned faith. (5.) Men may advance to a great deal of strictness in their own way of religion, and
66 After yet be strangers to the new birth, Acts xxvi. 5. the most strictest sect of our religion, I lived a Pharisee.”
Nature has its own unsanctified strictness in religion. The Pharisees had so much of it, that they looked on Christ as little better than a mere libertine. A man whose conscience hath been awakened, and who lives under the felt influence of the covenant of works, what will he not do, that is within the compass of natural abilities? It was a truth, though it came out of a hellish mouth, that “ skin for skin, all
that a man hath, will he give for his life,” Job ii. 4.
(6.) One may have sharp soul-exercises and pangs, and yet die in the birth. Many have been in pain, that have but, as it were, brought forth wind. There may
be sore pangs and throes of conscience, which turn to nothing at last. Pharaoh and Simon Magus had such convictions, as made them desire the prayers of others for them. Judas repented himself ; and under terrors of conscience, gave back his ill-gotten pieces of silver. All is not gold that glistens. Trees may blossom fairly in the spring, on which no fruit is to be found in the harvest; and some have sharp soul-exercises, which are nothing but fore-tastes of hell.
The new birth, however in appearance hopefully begun, may be marred two ways. First, Some, like Zarah, Gen. xxxviii. 28, 29. are brought to the birth, but go back again. They have sharp convictions for a while ; but these
go off, and they turn as careless about their salvation, as profane as ever; and usually worse than ever; their last state is worse than their first, Mat. xii. 45. They get awakening grace, but not converting grace ; and that goes off by degrees, as the light of the declining day, till it issue in midnight darkness. Secondly, Some, like Ishmael, come forth too soon; they are born before the time of the promise, Gen. xvi. 1, 2. compare Gal. iv. 22. and downward. They take up with a mere law-work, and stay not till the time of the promise of the gospel. They snatch at consolation, not waiting till it be given them; and foolishly draw their comfort from the law that wounded them. They apply the healing plaister to themselves, before their wound be sufficiently searched. The law, that rigorous husband, severely beats them, and throws in curses and vengeance upon their souls; then they fall a-reforming, praying, mourning, promising, and vowing, till this ghost be laid; which done, they fall asleep again in the arms of the law; but they are never shaken out of themselves and their own
righteousness,norbroughtforward to Jesus Christ. Lastly, There may be a wonderful moving of the affections, in souls that are not at all touched with regenerating grace. Where there is no grace, there may notwithstanding be a flood of tears, as in Esau, who found no place of repertance, though he sought it carefully with tears, Heb. xii. 17. There may be great flashes of joy ; as in the hearers of the word, represented in the parable of the stony ground, who anon with joy receive it, Matth. xiii. 20. There may be also great desire after good things, and great delight in them too; as in these hypocrites described, Isa. lviii. 2.
“ Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways.-They take delight in approaching unto God.” See how high they may sometimes stand, who yet fall away, Heb. vi. 4, 5, 6. They may be enlightened, taste of the heavenly gift, be partakers of the Holy Ghost, taste the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come. Common operations of the divine Spirit, like a land-flood, make a strange turning of things upside down. And when they are over, all runs again in the ordinary channel. All these things may be where the sanctifying Sprit of Christ never rests upon the soul, but the stony heart still remains; and in that case, these affections cannot but wither, because they have no root.
But regeneration is a realthorough change, whereby the man is made a new creature, 2 Cor. v. 17. The Lord God makes the creature a new creature, as the goldsmith melts down the vessel of dishonour, and makes it a vessel of honour. Man is, in res of his natural state, altogether disjointed by the fall; every faculty of the soul is, as it were, dislocate ; in regeneration the Lord looseth every joint, and sets it right again. Now this change made in regeneration is,
1. A change of qualities or dispositions: It is not a change of the substance, but of the qualities of the soul. Vicious qualities are removed, and the contrary dispositions are brought in their room. « The old man is put off,” Eph. iv. 22. “ the new man is put on,” ver. 24. Man lost none of the rational faculties of his soul by sin ; he had an understanding still, but it was darkened; he had still a will, but it was contrary to the will of God. So in regeneration there is not a new substance created, but new
qualities are infused ; light instead of darkness, righteousness instead of unrighteousness.
2. It is a supernatural change ; he that is born again is born of the Spirit, John iii. 5. Great changes may be made by the power of nature, especially when assisted by external revelation. And nature may be so elevated by the common influences of the Spirit, that one may thereby be turned into another man, (as Saul
was, 1 Sam. x. 6.) who yet never becomes a new man. But in regeneration nature itself is changed, and we become partakers of the divine nature; and this must needs be a supernatural change. How can we, that are dead in trespasses and sins, renew ourselves, more than a dead man can raise himself out of his grave? Who, but the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, can form Christ in a soul, changing it into the same image? Who, but the Spirit of sanctification can give the new heart? Well may we say, when we see a man thus changed, This is the finger of God.
3. It is a change into the likeness of God, 2 Cor. iii. 18. “ We-beholding as in a glass, the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image." Every thing that generates, generates its like ; the child bears the image of the parent; and they that are born of God bear God's image. Man aspiring to be as God, made himself like the devil. In his natural state he resembles the devil, as a child doth the father, John viii. 44. « Ye are of your father the devil.” But when this happy change comes, the image of Satan is defaced, and the image of God restored. Christ himself, who is the brightness of his Father's glory, is the pattern after which the new creature is made, Rom. viii. 29. « For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son." Hence he is said to be conformed in the regenerate, Gal. iv. 19.
4. It is an universal change; all things become new, 2 Cor. v. 17. It is la blessed leaven, that leavens the whole lump, the whole spirit, and soul and body. Original sin infects the whole man ; and regenerating grace, which is the salve, goes as far as the sore. This fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness ; goodness of the mind, goodness of the will, goodness of the affections, goodness
of the whole man. One gets not only a new head to know re