Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub

can tell.

cannot

-the precise manner how it begins and ends, rises and falls, no man

“ So is every one that is born of the Spirit:"—thou mayest be as absolutely assured of the fact, as of the blowing of the wind ; bui the precise manner how it is done, how the Holy Spirit works this in the soul, neither thou nor the wisést of the children of men is able to explain.

3. 'However, it suffices for every rational and Christian purpose, that without descending into curious, critical inquiries, we can give a plain scriptural account of the nature of the new birth. This will satistý every reasonable man, who desires only the salvation of his soul. The expression, being born again, was not first used by our Lord in his conversation with Nicodemus: it was well known before that time, and was in common use among the Jews when our Saviour appeared among them. When an adult heathen was convinced that the Jewish religion was of God, and desired to join therein, it was the custom to baptize him first, before he was admitted to circumcision. And when he was baptized, he was said to be born again ; by which they meant, that he who was before a child of the devil, was now adopted into the family of God, and accounted one of his children. This expression, therefore, which Nicodemus, being “a teacher in Israel," ought to have understood well, our Lord uses in conversing with him; only in a stronger sense than he was accustomed to.

And this might be the reason of his asking,“ how can these things be?"They cannot be literally :-a man

enter a second time into his mother's wonb, and be born :"but they may, spiritually: a man may be born from above, born of God, born of the Spirit, in a manner which bears a very near analogy to the natural birth.

4. Before a child is born into the world, he has eyes, but sees not; he has ears, but does not hear. He has a very imperfect use of every other sense.

He has no knowledge of any of the things of the world, or any natural understanding. To that manner of existence which he then has, we do not even give the name of life. It is then only when a man is born, that we say, he begins to live. For as soon as he is born, he begins to see the light, and the various objects with which he is encompassed. His ears are then opened, and he hears the sounds which successively strike upon them. At the same time, all the other organs of sense begin to be exercised upon their proper objects. He likewise breathes, and lives in a manner wholly different from what he did before. How exactly doth the parallel hold in all these instances ? While a man is in a mere natural state, before he is born of God, he has, in a spiritual sense, eyes and sees not; a thick impenetrable veil lies upon them: he has ears, but hears not; he is utterly deaf to what he is most of all concerned to hear. His other spiritual senses are all locked up: he is in the same condition as if he had them not. Hence he has no knowledge of God; no intercourse with him ; he is not at all acquainted with him. He has no true knowledge of the things of God, either of spiritual or eternal things; therefore, though he is a living man, he is a dead Christian. But as soon as he is born of God, there is a total change in all these particulars. understanding are opened ;" (such is the language of the great apostle ;) and, he who of old “commanded light to shine out of darkness shining on his heart, he sees the ligát of the glory of God," his glorious love,

The is

eyes of his

1

This is the pur

very words.

" in the face of Jesus Christ.” His cars being opened, he is now capable of hearing the inward voice of God, saying, “Be of good cheer; thy sins are forgiven thee;" " go and sin no more." port of what God speaks to his heart; although perhaps not in these

He is now ready to hear whatsoever “ He that teacheth man knowledge” is pleased from time to time to reveal to him. He “ feels in his heart (to use the language of our church) the mighty working of the Spirit of God;" not in a gross, carnal sense, as the men of the world stupidly and wilfully misunderstand the expression ; though they have been told again and again, we mean thereby neither more nor less than this: he feels, is inwardly sensible of, the graces which the Spirit of God works in his heart. He feels, he is conscious of, a

peace which passeth all understanding.” He many times feels such a joy in God, as is “ unspeakable, and full of glory." He feels“ the love of God shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost which is given unto him ;” and all his spiritual senses are then exercised to discern spiritual goud and evil. By the use of these, he is daily increasing in the knowledge of God, of Jesus Christ whom he hath sent, and of all the things pertaining to his inward kingdom. And now he may be properly said to live : God having quickened him by his Spirit, he is alive to God through Jesus Christ. He lives a life which the world knoweth not of, a “life which is hid with Christ in God.” God is continually breathing, as it were, upon the sonl; and his soul is breathing unto God. Grace is descending into his heart; and prayer and praise ascending to heaven: and by this intercourse between God and man, this fellowship with the Father and the Son, as by a kind of spiritual respiration, the life of God in the soul is sustained; and the child of God grows up, till he comes to the “ full measure of the stature of Christ.”

5. From hence it manifestly appears, what is the nature of the new birth. It is that great change which God works in the soul, when he brings it into life; when he raises it from the death of sin to the life of righteousness. It is the change wrought in the whole soul by the almighty Spirit of God, when it is “created anew in Christ Jesus," when it is “ renewed after the image of God, in righteousness and true holiness ;” when the love of the world is changed into the love of God ; pride into humility; passion into meekness; hatred, envy, malice, into a sincere, tender, disinterested love for all mankind. In a word, it is that change whereby the earthly, sensual, devilish mind is turned into the 66 mind which was in Christ Jesus." This is the nature of the new birth : “So is every one that is born of the Spirit.”

III. 1. It is not difficult for any who has considered these things, to see the necessity of the new birth, and to answer the third question, Wherefore, to what end, is it necessary that we should be born again? It is very easily discerned, that this is necessary, first, in order to holi

For what is holiness according to the oracles of God? Not a bare external religion, a round of outward duties, how many soever they be, and how exactly soever performed. No: gospel hotiness is no less than the image of God stamped upon the heart; it is no other than the whole mind which was in Christ Jesus; it consists of all heavenly affections and tempers mingled together in one. It implies such a continual, r'.ankful love to him who hath not withheld from us his Son, his only Son, as makes it patural, and in a manner necessary to us, to

ness.

or What

love every child of man; as fills us “ with bowels of mercies, kindness, gentleness, long suffering :" it is such a Jore of God as teaches us to be blameless in all manner of conversation ; as enables us to present our souls and bodies, all we are, and all we have, all our thoughts, words, and actions, a continual sacrifice to God, acceptable through Christ Jesus. Now this holiness can have no existence, till we are renewed in the image of our mind. It cannot commence in the soul, till that change be wrought; iill by the power of the highest overshadowing us, we are“ brought from darkness to light, from the power of Satan unto God;" that is, till we are born again; which therefore is absolutely necessary in order to holiness.

2. But " without holiness no man shall see the Lord," shall see the face of God in glory. Of consequence, the new birth is absolutely necessary in order to eternal salvation. Men may indeed Aatter themselves, (so desperately wicked, and so deceitful is the heart of man!) that they may live in their sins till they come to the last gasp, and yet afterwards live with God; and thousands do really believe, that they have found a broad way which leadeth not to destruction. danger,” say they, can a woman be in that is so harmless and so virtuous ? What fear is there that so honest a man, one of so strict morality, should miss of heaven ? Especially, if over and above all this, they constantly attend on church and sacrament." One of these will ask with all assurance, What, shall not I do as well as my neighbours ?" Yes, as well as your unholy neighbours; as well as your neighbours that die in their sins ! For you will all drop into the pit together, into the nethermost hell! You will all lie together in the lake of fire; “ the lake of fire burning with brimstone. Then, at length, you will see, (but God grant you may see it before !) the necessity of holiness in order to glory; and consequently of the new birth, since none can be holy, except he be born again.

3. For the same reason, except he be born again, none can be happy even in this world. For it is not possible, in the nature of things, that a man should be happy who is not holy. Even the poor ungodly poet could tell us, Nemo malus felir : no wicked man is happy. The reason is plain : all unholy tempers are uneasy tempers: not only malice, hatred, envy, jealousy, revenge, create a present hell in the breast, but even the softer passions, if not kept within due bounds, give a thousand times more pain than pleasure. Even" hope," when“ deferred,” (and how often must this be the case ?)“ maketh the heart sick ;' and every desire which is not according to the will of God, is liable to "pierce [us] through with many sorrows :" and all those general sources of sin, pride, self will, and idolatry, are, in the same proportion as they prevail, general sources of misery. Therefore, as long as these reign in any soul, happiness has no place there. But they must reign till the bent of our nature is changed, that is, till we are born again; consequently, the new birth is absolutely necessary in order to happiness in this world, as well as in the world to come.

IV. I proposed in the last place to subjoin a few inferences, which naturally follow from the preceding observations.

1. And, first, it follows, that baptism is not the new birth : they are not one and the same thing. Many indeed seem to imagine that they are just the same ; at least, they speak as if they thought so; but I do

not know that this opinion is publicly avowed by any denomination of Christians whatever. Certainly it is not by any within these kingdoms, whether of the established church, or dissenting from it. The judgment of the latter is clearly declared, in their large catechism :* Q. “What are the parts of a sacrament ? A. The parts of a sacrament are two : the one, an outward and sensible sign; the other, an inward and spiritual grace, thereby signified. Q. What is baptisın ? A. Baptism is a sacrament, wherein Christ hath ordained the washing with water, to be a sign and seal of regeneration by his Spirit.” Here it is manisest, baptism, the sign, is spoken of as distinct from regeneration, the thing signified.

In the church catechism likewise, the judgment of our church is declared with the utmost clearness; “What meanest thou by this word, sacrament? A. I mean an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. Q. What is the outward part, or form, in baptism? 4. Water, wherein the person is baptized, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Q. What is the inward part, or thing signified ! A. A death unto sin, and a new birth unto righteousness.” Nothing therefore is plainer, than that according to the church of England, baptism is not the new birth.

But indeed the reason of the thing is so clear and evident, as not to need any other authority. For what can be more plain, than that the one is an external, the other an internal work; that the one is a visible, the other an invisible thing, and therefore wholly different from each other ?-the one being an act of man, purifying the body; the other a change wrought by God in the soul : so that the former is just as distinguishable from the latter, as the soul froin the body, or water from the Holy Ghost.

2. From the preceding reflections we may, secondly, observe, that as the new birth is not the same thing with baptism, so it does not always accompany baptism : they do not constantly go together. A man may possibly be born of water," and yet not be “ born of the Spirit.” There may sometimes be the outward sign, where there is not the inward grace. I do not now speak with regard to infants : it is certain our church supposes, that all who are baptized in their infancy, are at the same time born again ; and it is allowed that the whole office for the baptisni of infants proceeds upon this supposition. Nor is it an objection of any weight against this, that we cannot comprehend how this work can be wrought in infants. For neither can we comprehend how it is wrought in a person of riper years. But whatever be ihe case with infants, it is sure all of riper years, who are baptized, are not at the same time born again. “The tree is known by its fruits :" and hereby it appears too plain to be denied that divers of those, who were children of the devil before they were baptized, continue the same after bapo tisin ;

“ for the works of their father they do:" ihey continuc servants of sin, without any pretence either to inward or outward holiness.

3. A third inference which we may draw from what has been observed, is, that the new birth is not the same with sanctification. This is indeed taken for granted by many; particularly by an eminent writer, in his late treatise on “ The Nature and Grounds of Christian Regene. ration." To waive several other weighty objections which might be made to that tract, this is a palpable one: it all along speaks of regeneration as a progressive work, carried on in the soul by slow degrees, from the time of our first turning to God. This is undeniably true of sanctification; but of regeneration, the new birth, it is not true. This is a part of sanctification, not the whole; it is the gate to it, the entrance into it. When we are born again, then our sanctification, our inward and outward holiness, begins; and thenceforward we are gradually to “grow up in him who is our Head.” This expression of the apostle admirably illustrates the difference between ove and the other, and farther points out the exact analogy there is between natural and spiritual things. A child is born of a woman in a moment, or at least in a very short time: afterwards he gradually and slowly grows, till he attains to the stature of a man. In like manner, a child is born of God in a shurt time, if not in a moment. But it is by slow degrees that he afterwards grows up to the measure of the full stature of Christ. The same relation, therefore, which there is between our natural birth and our growth, there is also between our new birth and our sanctification.

* Q. 163, 165.

4. One point more we may learn from the preceding observations. But it is a point of so great importance, as may excuse the considering it the more carefully, and prosecuting it at some length. What must one who loves the souls of men, and is grieved that any of themn should perish, say to one whom he sees living in sabbath breaking, drunkenness, or any other wilful sin ? What can he say, if the foregoing observations are true, but, “ You must be born again ?” “No,” says a zealqus man," that cannot be. How can you talk so uncharitably to the man? Has he not been baptized already ? He cannot be born again now.” Can he not be born again ? Do you affirm this? Then he cannot be saved. Though he be as old as Nicodemus was, yet except he be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Therefore in saying, “ he cannot be born again," you in effect deliver him over to danınation. And where lies the uncharitableness now ? Co my side, or on yours? I say, he may be born again, and so become an heir of salvation. You say, " he cannot be born again :" and if so, he must inevitably perish! So you utterly block up his way to salvation, and send him to hell, out of mere charity!

But perhaps the sinner himself, to whom in real charity we say, “You must be born again,” has been taught to say, “I defy your new doctrine; I need not be born again : I was born again when I was baptized. What! Would you have me deny my baptism ?" I answer, first, there is nothing under heaven which can excuse a lie; otherwise I should say to an open sinner, If you have been baptized, do not own it. For how highly does this aggravate your guilt! How will it increase your damnation! Was you devoted to God at eight days old, and have you been all these years devoting yourself to the devil? Was you, even before you had the use of reason, consecrated to God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost? And have you, ever since you had tlie use of it, been fying in the face of God, and consecrating yourself to Satan? Does the abomination of desolation,-the love of the world, pride, anger, lust, foolish desira, and a whole train of vile affections, ----stand where it ought not ? Have you set up all these accursed things in that soul, which was once a teinple of the Holy Ghost; set apart for a " habitation of God, through the Spirit;" yea, solemnly given up to liim! And do you

« PredošláPokračovať »