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The term Regeneration designates the second of the two comprehensive blessings which include in themselves, or their consequences, all that the Saviour bestows upon his people in this world, as a necessary preparation for the glories of the world to come. The exalted privilege, to which the attention of the reader has been already called, removes, as we have seen, the legal barrier against our admission into heaven; that, on the consideration of which we are about to enter, the moral barrier. Justification is a change of state; Regeneration a change of character. The former confers upon us a title to heaven; the latter a holy meetness for it: and thus, when bestowed in union, as is invariably the case, they meet and supply the wants of man as a being who has lost both the favour and the image of his Maker. The blessing itself is set before us in such passages as the following. “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John
“Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth.” (James i. 18.) “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.” (1 Peter i. 23.) These passages exhibit manifestly an important change of character, and give rise to the following inquiries: “ What is the nature of the change ? How is it effected? Why must it be experienced ?” Or, in other words, what is the nature, the cause, and the necessity of regeneration ? Under these three inquiries it will be possible to include all that it is thought desirable to say upon the subject.
I. Our first inquiry relates, then, to the nature of regeneration. Now it might appear, a first view, expedient, if not
NATURE OF REGENERATION.
absolutely necessary, to clear the way for our subsequent statements, by a preparatory description of certain changes which do not amount to what is intended by the term regeneration ; for it often happens that men deceive themselves on this important subject, and rest satisfied with some partial change which does not more truly constitute the new birth, than the shadow identifies itself with the substance. Suppose the case of a man who has diminished his fortune, and shattered his constitution, by sensual indulgences. He sees that his last shilling will soon be spent, and that life will be very speedily extinguished, if he continue in his present course. He is wise enough to listen to the voice of reason, and to desist. But he does not cease to love the criminal pleasures in which he had indulged. It is, on the contrary, a source of perpetual annoyance and mortification to him, that he cannot give the reins to his corrupt propensities as he had been wont to do. Are we to consider such a man a new creature ? Surely not. It is the mind that constitutes the man, so that while the identity of the mind remains, it would not be much more absurd, because an individual had altered his dress, to call him a new creature, than so to designate him, because he had made clean the exterior of his character, or rather its dress, while the interior remained as filthy and abominable as ever. I do not, therefore, think it an unimportant matter to show what regeneration is not; but the most effectual way of accomplishing this, will, I apprehend, be to state what regeneration is: and, as we proceed in describing its nature, to show that those exterior and partial changes which sometimes take place in an individual, or rather upon him, do by no means amount to that entire renovation of all the principles and faculties of the soul, to which the name of regeneration, or new birth, is attached by the inspired writers, and which must be experienced by all men, ere they can obtain admission into the kingdom of God.
Before we proceed to a more formal consideration of the nature of regeneration, it appears to me desirable to call the attention of the reader to one or two preliminary remarks : the first regards the extent of the change denoted by the
IS A RADICAL CHANGE, BUT NOT PHYSICAL.
word; the second, its nature. First, then, let it be observed, that the general descriptions of regeneration contained in the inspired volume imply, that the change of character denoted by the term is an entire or a radical one. It is evidently not some minute or uncircumstantial alteration which will justify us in designating any man a new creature ; but a total revolution of character. There must exist, in the entire renovation of the heart, an adequate foundation for the use of metaphors so bold and strong; or it would be difficult to defend the sacred writings against the charge of pompous trifling.
Secondly, that the change of which we now speak is entirely of a moral nature. It is, indeed, characterized as a creation ; and the term seems necessarily to imply the production of something which did not exist before, and by an agency direct or immediate,—like that which brought the chaotic materials, out of which so much order and beauty were at length educed, into existence. We must, however, guard most especially against supposing that it is the production of new natural or physical powers.
The defect under which natural men lie, is a moral defect—and a moral defect exclusively. Adam did not cease to be a perfect man, physically considered, when he became a sinner. He lost no physical power or susceptibility which distinguishes the nature of man, in this point of view, from that of beasts; but he lost that sacred principle of love to God, which had regulated the exercise of all his physical powers, and led him to consecrate the whole of them to the Divine glory. He did not lose his intellect, will, or affections; but he lost his disposition to employ these powers in the service of his Maker. It is of great importance to bear these statements in mind, because, there are individuals (the Arminian scheme, as expounded by Mr. Watson, does this) who give a representation of the doctrine of the fall which completely overthrows the criminality and accountability of man. Some have maintained that he lost his free
agency, -a statement not less absurd to those who reflect upon its meaning, than would be the assertion that he lost his understanding; and that the moral government of God is now exercised over a world of idiots. Man lost, by the fall, the
holy guide, so to speak, of his mind. He lost his disposition-not his physical power-to fulfil the great ends of his being; and, consequently, there is in every unconverted man an irregular and depraved development, and exercise, of all the faculties of the mind. The understanding calls good evil, and evil good; it puts darkness for light, and light for darkness. The affections cleave to those objects which are adorned by the understanding with such alluring, though false attractions ; the desires go out after them as the ultimate and supreme good; and the will is set-upon doing evil. Now regeneration is not the act of delivering from this depraved state, and exercise of the various powers of the mind, as some mistakingly suppose, keeping their contemplations too much fixed upon the agency which delivers them, but it is the deliverance itself. It is the giving of light to the understanding of rectitude to the will—of purity to the affections; in short, it is the transformation of its happy subject into the holy image of God. And because there is spiritual knowledge, and holy love, in the mind of a Christian, which were not to be found in that mind previously to conversion, the change of which we speak is called, as we have seen, a creation.
Having made these introductory and explanatory remarks, I now pass on to a more formal statement of the nature of regeneration, of which I am disposed to give the following definition. Regeneration denotes that entire moral change which is effected upon men by the instrumentality of the gospel of Christ. It comprehends the spiritual illumination of the understanding, the sanctification of the affections, the renewal of the will, and the purification of the conduct. In short, it is the commencement of that spiritual cure, which will be perfected when “mortality shall have been swallowed
. This definition overlooks a distinction, frequently made by theological writers, between regeneration and conversion"; the former term denoting, as they imagine, that Divine influence by which the change is effected,-or rather that direct or proximate effect of this influence upon the mind, which is supposed to be prior, in the order of nature, to all spiritual per
up of life."
USUAL DISTINCTION BETWEEN REGENERATION
ceptions, and feelings, and, partially at least, the cause of them: the latter term denoting that actual and active turning of the soul to God, which is the more ultimate though certain result of the Spirit's influence. According to this distinction, the soul in regeneration is passive, “ being the subject,” says one,“ on which, or in which, the effect is produced; but in conversion it is active; it takes new views of God; exercises different, i. e., spiritual, affections towards him," &c.
Now, without meaning to deny the general correctness of the preceding representation of what really takes place in the mind of a sinner when he is converted to God, I do not intend to adopt this distinction in my subsequent statements, for the following reasons.
In the first place, I do not think that I should be able to give a distinct and intelligible account of the nature of regeneration in this restricted sense of the term. I have no doubt, indeed, that the primary operation of the Spirit of God upon the mind is a direct operation, i. e., not through the medium or instrumentality of Divine truth. And I am further thoroughly persuaded that it must leave some permanent effect upon the mind,--some change in its moral state, predisposing it to receive, and love, and obey the truth. But I am quite free to acknowledge that I do not feel able to describe the precise nature of that change, or even to form any distinct conceptions of its nature. I have a strong conviction that most of the writers, in modern times at least, who have attempted to explain its nature, have employed very inappropriate and unfortunate phraseology. They have used terms, as they appear to me at least, not fitted to describe the effect' upon the mind of the primary and direct influence of the Spirit, but that which results from the influence of the truth upon the mind, when its meaning, and evidence, and glory, have been unveiled to the view of an individual by the Holy Spirit. Few things can be more apparent than that actual love to God, for instance, is the result of that knowledge of his character which is derived from the gospel,--that it cannot exist without such knowledge,--and must necessarily be subsequent to it. Yet some incautious writers have employed language which would