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ON REGENERATION, OR THE NEW BIRTH.
John i, 13. Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of
the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. Ir requires but a slight knowledge of the Sacred Records to observe, that they divide the human species into two distinct classes; one of which comprises the regenerate, and the other the unregenerate part of mankind. They are designated by names expressive of their character, dispositions, and pursuits. The former are distinguished by the titles of “ children and sons of God, children of light, the righte ous, and the faithful in Christ Jesus ;" appellations which shew the dignity of their extraction, and the privileges which peculiarly belong to them. The latter are styled " the children of the wicked one, vessels of wrath, children of darkness, and the men of the world”; names as awfully descriptive of their present state, as of the prospects which await them beyond the grave.
Every individual belongs to one of these opposite classés ; because there is no other state between enmity and affection to God. Neutrality is not allowable in our religious concerns. Christ will have our most cordial regards, or account us his enemies. "He that is not with me, is against me ; and he that gathereth not with me, scatterethaa.” Now, as it is a point of the highest moment to ascertain "whose we are, and whom we serve",” we shall be greatly assisted in this inquiry, by examining the nature of
* 1 John ji.1, 2. Lu. xvi. 8. Col.i. 2. Mat. xiii. 38. Rom. ix. 22. 1 Thes. V. 5. Ps. xvii. 14. aa Lu. xi. 23. b Acts xxvii. 23.
regeneration, and the effects which it produces: and, in order to remove some misapprehensions on the subject, it will be proper to explain it, both negatively and positively.
1. It will be readily granted, by all who take any pains to understand our Lord's meaning, that a partial amendment in a man's conduct does not constitute that remarkable change enforced upon Nicodemus, as essential to his entrance into the kingdom of heaveno; for, if this were all that is intended by the frequent use of that strong language in which the new birth is described, then the plainest truth is so obscured by the manner in which it is represented, as to be more calculated to perplex than to guide the honest inquirer.
Unquestionably, every regenerate person discovers a material alteration in his outward deportment;“ he ceases,” generally speaking, “ to do evil, and learns to do well :" but this amendment is always the result of an inward work on the heart, which is altogether appropriate to his new state. But a partial external reformation in the behaviour may be effected without the exertion of that Almighty power which is necessary in regeneration; since dissolute characters may, and do sometimes, slightly amend their lives in the sight of their neighbours, by their own natural strength, and from interested motives. Forinstance The drunkard, fearing that excess will ruin his health and waste his property, may prevail upon himself, occasionally, to abstain from intoxication, and to maintain a shew of temperance and sobriety. Dishonest men, thinking that fraud and knavery are not the most likely means to exalt their reputation in society, may sometimes feel the necessity of pursuing the
• John iii. 3.
opposite course of integrity; not from an instinctive love of honesty, but to forward their own secularends. Further; the hypocrite, in an age when some attention to the forms of religion is creditable, will assume the garb of piety, to avoid reproach, and to cover over those sinister designs which he entertains with the appearance of sincerity. It is obvious, that, in both of the former cases, any external improvement in the conduct, as far as it goes, proceeds more from a regard to worldly advantage, than from a hatred to the particular vices which have been abandoned; and in the latter, the deceit is too glaring to be allowed to pass currently for that excellence to which it pretends. Of course, therefore, such temporary and spurious alterations are not to be confounded with that new heart which constrains the sincere convert to honour God from Christian principles.
There are others, whose life is not sullied by scandalous offences against society, who nevertheless are destitute of regenerating grace; as their self-righteous pride, and dislike to the doetrines of the cross, manifest. Such persons, however amiable they may appear in the eyes of their fellow-creatures, must, as well as others, have“ a new birth unto righteousness," if they would." serve God acceptably in the Gospel of his Son."
Scripture-affords several examples of persons partially enlightened, who were not partakers of the new. birth. Balaam expressed a wish “ that he might die the death of the righteous, and his last end be like his d;" and yet the Scripture assures us, that" he loved the wages of unrighteousness, and perished in the gainsaying of Core®.”
Pharoah humbled himself whilst the awful
& Num.xxiii. 10.
e 2 Pet. ii. 15. Jude xi.
judgments of Heaven were ready to burst with fury on his devoted head; but no sooner was the threatened punishment withdrawn, or suspended, than he returned to his impious courses, “like the dog to his own vomit again, and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the miref.”
Herod, we are told, “ feared John the Baptist, knowing him to be a just man and holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard hiin gladlys:" yet, with all this apparent regard for the Forerunner of our Lord, he, in order to gratify the malice of an infamous woman, gave orders to behead the Baptist h.”
Finally; the stony-ground hearers received the Word of Christ with gladness, and promised to obey it; but, having no root in themselves, in time of temptation they fell away'. These instances, and others of a similar description, prove, that a temporary outward amendment may be found, without a real change of mind and principles.
2. Nor is an exchange of one religious persuasion for another, that regeneration which is of so much importance in the sight of God, and so indispensable to our felicity : for a man, through a love of novelty, may pass from atheism, infidelity, and scepticism, and even from a less objectionable creed, to the profession of the Christian faith, and yet be lamentably "estranged from God by wicked works." To such mere professors, Christ declares, “ Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven ; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven i.?
3. It is a great mistake to suppose, that all who $ 2 Pet. ii. 22. & Mark vi. 20.
ib. 21-30. Luke viii. 13. li Mat. vii. 21.
have been baptized are spiritually regenerated, and in a state of salvation ; for he only who is in Christ by a true faith, is a new creature": and whosoever is thus “ born of God," does not allow himself in the practice of any known or wilful transgression. To identify baptism, therefore, with the new birth, in our instructions to fallen men, so as to lead them to rest in the reception of the outward sign, without satisfactory evidence that they have " a death unto sin, and a new birth unto righteousness," which are signified thereby, is to lull them into a state of false repose, which, if Divine grace interpose not, will prove fatal to their souls.
If regeneration necessarily accompanies baptism, as an effect results from its proper cause, then we have a right to expect appropriate fruits from all who have been regularly baptized, as an evidence of their translation from a state of nature to a state of grace: but do we, even in a judgment of charity, behold, in the great bulk of children or adults who have submitted to the ordinance, any syinptoms of that mighty change which is justly designated the new birth? Are penitence for sin, supreme love to God, deadness to the vanities of the world, and the cultivation of such pious habits as fit men for heaven, visible in the spirit and practice of nominal Christians? In vain shall we search for these things in any, but in those only who have been “begotten again unto a lively hope" by the power of God: for, unless “the tree be made good, its fruit will be corruptkk."
And could we consent to the notion which some maintain, that the grace which they suppose to be necessarily conveyed in baptism may be entirely lost; yet does not this very admission urge upon * 2 Cor. v. 17.
kk Mat, yii, 16-21.