« FöregåendeFortsätt »
Vivification, or quickening, with respect to the state in which men are before this work is wrought upon them (Eph. ii. 1, 5.); and it is the Spirit that quickeneth." John vi. 63.
The same truth is asserted in Titus iii. 4, 5, 6. But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour towards man appeared; not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which he shed on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour.' What we have frequently mentioned, expressly occurs here, namely, each person of the blessed Trinity acting distinctly in the work of our salvation. The spring of the whole is, the kindness and love of God, even the Father; the procuring cause of the application of that love and kindness to us, is Jesus Christ our Saviour, in his whole mediation; and the immediate efficient cause in the communication of the Father's love through the Son's mediation, is the Holy Spirit; and this he effects in the renovation of our natures, by the washing of regeneration, wherein we are purged from our sins, and sanctified to God.
This great truth, that the Holy Spirit is the Author of our regeneration, is, in words at least, generally granted by all who pretend to sobriety in Christianity. That it has been derided and exploded by some others, is the occasion of this vindication of it. It must not be expected that I should here handle the whole doctrine of regeneration practically; it has been already done by others; my present aim is only to confirm the fundamental principles of truth concerning those operations of the Spirit, which are now so violently opposed :-and what I shall offer on this subject may be reduced to the following heads :
1. Though the work of regeneration was wrought in some persons from the foundation of the world, and the doctrine of it recorded in the Old Testament, yet the revelation of it was but obscure, compared with the light and evidence with which it appears by the Gospel. This is evident from the discourse of Christ with Nicodemus: for when he mentioned the doctrine to him, he was surprised, and with some amazement cried, "How can these
things be? But the reply of our Saviour shews, that he might have attained a better acquaintance with it from the Scripture. Art thou," said he, a master in Israel, and knowest not these things?' Dost thou take upon thee to teach others what is their state and their duty, and art thyself ignorant of so great and fundamental a doctrine, which thou mightest have learned from the Scripture? For if he might not have done so, there would have been no just cause of reproof; it was no crime to be ignorant. of what God had not revealed. This doctrine then, was contained in the Old Testament; it was so in the promises, that God would circumcise the hearts of his people-that he would take away their heart of stone, and give them a heart of flesh; and in various other ways.
But yet we see it was so obscurely declared, that one of the principal teachers of the people knew little or nothing of it. Some indeed tell us, that it means only reformation of life. But Nicodemus knew the necessity of reformation of life well enough, if he had ever read Moses and the Prophets;-and to suppose that our Lord proposed to him what he perfectly knew, only under a new name that he never heard of before, and then took the advantage of charging him with ignorance, is a blasphemous imagination: and how they can free themselves from the guilt of it, who look on regeneration only as a metaphorical expression of amendment of life, I know not. And if it be nothing more than becoming a new moral man, as they love to speak; a thing which all the world, Jews and Gentiles, understood, then Christ was so far from throwing clearer light upon it by what he taught of regeneration, that he threw it into greater obscurity than it was ever delivered in by Jewish masters or Gentile philosophy; for though the Gospel teaches all the duties of morality with more exactness, and urges the practice of them, on motives incomparably superior to any known before, yet, if it intend nothing more by the new birth than the practice of moral duties, it is dark and unintelligible. If there be not a work of the Spirit on the souls of men intended in the writings of the New Testament, but only a reformation of life, then they must be allowed to be more obscure than any other writings whatsoever; as some have dared already to pub
lish to the world, concerning the epistles of Paul.* so long as we can obtain an acknowledgment from men that they are true, and in any sense the word of God, we doubt not to evince that the things intended in them are clearly and properly expressed.
Both regeneration and the doctrine of it were under the Old Testament. All the eiect of God in their several generations were regenerated by the Spirit of God. But in that enlargement of truth and grace under the Gospel, which came by Jesus Christ, as more persons than of old were made partakers of it, so the nature of the work itself is far more clearly and distinctly revealed :—and because this is the great internal remedy of our diseased nature, which the physician of souls came to cure, one of the first things he preached was the doctrine of it. He laid bare the wound of our nature, and shewed the ruin it exposed us to, that we might know, and be thankful for its reparation. Hence no doctrine is more fully and plainly declared in the Gospel; and it is a sad fruit of the depravity of our nature, that against the full light and evidence of truth, this great and holy work is despised and opposed. Secondly. Regeneration is the same work, for the kind of it, and wrought by the same power of the Spirit in all that are regenerate, or ever were, or shall be so, from the beginning to the end of the world. There is indeed great variety in the application of outward means employed in it; nor can the method used be reduced to any certain order. But generally, God makes use of the preached word; thence called the incorruptible seed. Sometimes it is wrought without it; as in the case of infants. Sometimes men are called in an extraordinary manner, as Paul was; but mostly by the use of ordi
* But what would our worthy author have said to the riper blas phemies and more consummate impudence of some in the present day? A dignitary of the church, when pressed hard with some arguments of the apostle Paul, is affirmed to have said, with no little warmth, It had been better for the church if St. Paul had never written a line of his epistles.' And a well-known philosophical divine, has dared to charge our apostle with false and inconclusive reasoning. Should we now wonder if Jesus Christ himself should be charged with mistake, or even with sin? [Ed.]
nary means, instituted and sanctified of God to that end and purpose.
There is also great variety in the perception of the work itself, by those in whom it is wrought; for in itself it is secret and hidden, and discoverable only by its effects. John iii. 8. In the minds and consciences of some, this is made known by infallible tokens and signs. Paul knew that Christ was revealed' and formed' in himself. So he declares that whoever is in Christ Jesus is a new creature that is, born again; whether they know themselves to be so or not. And many are in the dark as to their own condition all their days; they fear the Lord, and obey the voice of his servant, yet walk in darkness and have no light.'
And there is great variety in the growth of the new creature, or in the carrying on of this work towards perfection. Some make a great and speedy progress; others thrive slowly, and bring forth little fruit. But yet the work itself, in its own nature, is one and the same. The elect of God under the Old Testament were not regenerate one way, and those under the New Testament another. Those who were miraculously converted, as Paul; or who received miraculous gifts upon their conversion, as multitudes of the primitive Christians did, were no otherwise regenerate than believers at this day are. Those miraculous operations of the Spirit were no part of the work of regeneration; for many were the subjects of them, who were never regenerate; and many were regenerate, who never partook of them. And it is a fruit of the highest ignorance imaginable, to affirm that in regeneration the Holy Spirit wrought of old miraculously, but now only in a rational way, leading our understanding by the rules of reason; for all whoever were regenerate, became so by the same effect of the Holy Spirit on their souls. This will be more evident, if we consider, 1. That the condition of all men, as unregenerate, is absolutely the same; one man is not more unregenerate than another. There are different degrees of wickedness in the unregenerate ; but there is no difference in their state. They are all alike alienated from God, and all alike under his curse. Now it must be the same work, as to the nature of it, which relieves men from this condition, and translates them from death unto
life. 2, The state into which men are brought by regeneration is the same. Nor is it capable of degrees, so that one should be more regenerate than another. Every one that is born of God is equally so, though one may be more beautiful than another, as having the image of his. heavenly Father more evidently impressed on him, though not more truly. Men may be more or less holy; more or less sanctified; but they cannot be more or less regenerate. 3. The efficient cause of this work, the grace and power whereby it is wrought, with the internal manner of the communication of that grace, are the same. To this standard then all must come. Men may bear themselves high, and despise this work of the Spirit, or set up an imagination of their own in its stead; but whether they will or not, they must be tried by it; and no less depends on their interest in it, than their admission. into the kingdom of God. And let them pretend what they please, the true reason why any despise the new birth, is because they hate a new life. He who cannot endure to live to God, will as little endure to hear of being born of God. But we shall by the Scripture enquire what we are taught concerning it, and declare both what it is not, of things which falsely pretend to it; and then, what it really is..
First. Regeneration does not consist in a participation of the ordinance of baptism. This is all that some will allow to it, to the utter rejection of the grace of Christ. The vanity of this presumptuous folly, invented to countenance, men in their sins, and to hide from them the necessity of being born again, and therein of turning to God, will be exposed hereafter; for the present, the following reasons will serve to remove it out of our way.
Regeneration does not consist in those things which are only outward signs of it; or at most, instituted means of effecting it for the nature of things is distinct from the means and pledges of them, such as baptism is. The apostle Peter states this case (1 Pet. iii. 2.1.): In answer whereunto even baptism doth also now save us; not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience towards. God, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.' The outward administration of this or dinance considered materially, extends only to the washing away the filth of the flesh; but it signifies the answer