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SERMON,

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JOHN, III. 6.

That which is born of the flesh, is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit, is spirit.

In the consideration of all questions in practical religion, there will generally be found some fundamental principle to guide us in our inquiries. If this principle be rightly apprehended, smaller difficulties will commonly disappear, or cease materially to embarrass our judgment. We can scarcely, indeed, expect, without a presumption bordering on a claim to infallibility, to escape every error in the determination of any extensive subject. If we wait for this, we shall wait in vain: but, if we are careful to seize the leading features of truth, as they are drawn in the Holy Scriptures, we shall be successful in the main object of our studies; we shall be right, where it is most important to be right, in the essential doctrines and duties of Christianity. Whereas, a contrary course is

ordinarily the prelude to disappointment. If we begin our inquiries respecting any of the great doctrines of the Gospel, by a precise and minute adjustment of inferior topics; if we laboriously occupy ourselves in ascertaining, to a nicety, the degrees of probability on the one side or the other, in matters of doubtful disputation, whilst we pass slightly over the chief and controlling considerations connected with it, we are not very likely to arrive at a sound decision. Refinements are lost on the great bulk of mankind, and lost upon ourselves. It is by great and energetic principles that the affections of men are moved; principles which, derived manifestly from the unerring oracles of God, and acting powerfully on the consciences and lives of men, though they leave behind them untouched various points of smaller importance, yet at once gain and sway the heart.

I am aware, indeed, that powerful emotions demand powerful restraints. A greater evil can scarcely be named than that of a heated and turbulent vehemence, which leads a man to disregard the control of prudential considerations, and to follow more his own imaginations than the plain meaning of the written word of God-the standard of every doctrine, and the test of all our professions. It is one of the best consequences of a truly learned ministry, of men trained and formed to honest study, and

whose minds are balanced by sound general principles and enlightened piety, that they unite zeal and fervour with meekness and discretion. But still caution will not supply the place of feeling, nor a jealousy of excesses form a substitute for those grand and master virtues, in which all high exertions take their rise. The ripest scholar, if he be a sincere Christian, will be the first to allow that a cold and systematic hesitation on minute difficulties, to the neglect of those momentous truths, which can alone lead to deep and affecting piety of heart, is neither the way of arriving at substantial excellence ourselves, nor of impressing it upon others.

These general observations may perhaps be found of service in any theological question which may engage our attention: they relate to a principle, however, which will, I think, be allowed to be more than ordinarily applicable to the great, subject involved in the passage from which my text is taken; to that spiritual and holy change in all the faculties of fallen man, by which he is to be restored to the moral image of God; and to the minor questions which are subordinate to it. If there is any point where main and governing principles are to be followed, to the comparative disregard of minute distinctions, it is here; because, as the change is the spring and commencement of repentance, faith, and obedience to God, rather than those graces

themselves; and, as it regards an interior and secret work of the Holy Spirit upon the heart, it must be involved in all the obscurity which hangs over the operations of the human mind, in addition to the still greater obscurity which rests on the mode in which the Spirit exercises his sacred influences; and, except as reference is made to its more obvious effects, can only be described and traced out by general and indefinite language. If, therefore, we begin by plain and unembarrassed principles, and understand clearly, and feel deeply, the real corruption of our nature, and the surpassing holiness of God, together with the necessity of the powerful, though imperceptible work of the Holy Spirit upon the heart, we shall arrive at substantial truth; whilst, if we first listen to captious objections, and attempt to solve all the difficulties which may present themselves at the outset, we shall be in danger of failing; we shall be apt to lower the mighty transformation of the heart to our own feeble views, dispose of its real force by some plausible evasion, and shall probably remain strangers to the substance of the blessing.

It is this conviction which has induced me to touch the present question: in doing which, I do not presume to hope that any thing I may offer will completely resolve the speculative difficulties of so extensive a topic; it will be rather my object so to apply the general prin

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