« VorigeDoorgaan »
would seem, then, that the same physical powers, which are sufficient for the accomplishment of the former, must be sufficient, also, for the accomplishment of the latter. But by most men it is acknowledged, that the physical powers of the same being, when holy, are exactly the same, as when sinful; both the understanding and the will remaining, in the physical sense, unaltered. Where, then, lies the impossibility, or even the difficulty, of the supposition, that man can regenerate himself; or, which is the same thing, lurn, of his own accord, from sin to holiness ?”
All these questions are in my view fairly asked ; and all the principles, suggested, true. Still the conclusion is unsound, and will not follow. This, however, I am bound to prove in a manner equally fair; and the more especially as a great multitude of serious, and, I hope, good men have found, and still find, no little difficulty in their contemplations on this subject.
That a holy being should be capable of sinning seems not, in the nature of the case, to be a supposition, attended with any great difficulty. All beings, holy and sinful alike, relish and desire natural good, or happiness. This can be found in an endless multitude of objects. Of these some may be enjoyed lawfully, or consistently with the will of God: while others cannot. These however, so far as they are supposed capable of communicating happiness, are, still, naturally the objects of desire to holy beings, as truly as to sinful ones. 'All natural good, when perceived, is, by itself considered, desired of course by every percipient being. Now it is plain, that this good may, in a given case, appear so great to a holy being; may so engross his whole attention; may so far exclude from his mind other considerations, and among them those of his duty; as to induce him to seek the good in view at the expense of his duty. In this manner, I apprehend, the Angels, who fell, violated their duty; and our first parents, theirs. Nor do I see how holy beings, so long as they love natural good, and are placed in a world, where it is variously and amply provided, can, fail of being exposed to temptations from this source; nor, if these temptations be supposed to possess a given degree of power, or, which is the same thing, to contain a given degree of natural good, and to be set fully and exclusively before the mind, how such beings can fail, without peculiar divine assistance, of being exposed to fall.
In all this, however, there is nothing to countenance the supposition, that a sinner will in the same manner turn from sin to holi
A sinner has no relish for spiritual good; that is, for the enjoyment furnished by virtuous affections and virtuous conduct. To apply the words of Isaiah concerning Christ, as regarded by the Jews, to this good, as regarded by sinners, When ihey see it, there is no beauty in it, that they should desire il. Is. liii. 2. Wheneyer this good, therefore, becomes an object of the sinner's contemplation, as his mind is wholly destitute of any relish for it, he will never desire it for its own sake; and will never make any such
efforts to gain it, as are absolutely necessary to accomplish the renovation of his heart
. The relish for spiritual good is that state of mind, out of which all virtuous volitions spring. No volition is ever excited but by good; and by good, actually perceived, and relished. As spiritual good is never thus perceived by a sinner ; it will not excite a single volition in his mind towards the attainment of it; but will operate upon him as little, as harmony upon the deaf, or beautiful colours upon the blind.
But, the relish for spiritual good is the characteristical distinction of holy beings; their essential characteristic; without which they would cease to be holy. The want of it, on the contrary, is a primary characteristic of sinful beings. In this lies the real difficulty of regenerating ourselves, and not in the want of sufficient natural powers : and, so long as this continues, an extraneous agency must be absolutely necessary for our regeneration.
IV. The Objections to the agency of the Divine Spirit in this work shall now be briefly considered.
1st. It is objected, that this doctrine infers partiality in the conduct of God.
That in the conduct of God, in this case, there are mysterious and difficult things, which I cannot explain, I readily acknowledge. What the particular reasons are, by which God is influenced in this dispensation, he has not been pleased to reveal ; and we, therefore, are wholly unable to determine. It is sufficient for us, that we know all his conduct, in this and every other case, to be directed by the best reasons.
But this case presents no more difficulty, than a thousand others, in which we do not even think of starting this objection. We might as well complain of the common dispensations of God's providence, as of this. " Why," we might ask, “ was one child born of Popish parents, and educated in all the ignorance and superstition of the Romish religion; and another born of Protestant parents, and educated under the light and blessings of the Reformed religion? Why is one man destined by his birth to be a savage; and another to be a member of civilized, enlightened, and religious society ? Why is one man a native of Sennaar; and another of New England: One a beggar; another a prince: One deaf and dumb; another endowed with hearing, and speech? Why are there any beggars; any savages ? Nay, why are there any men; and why are we not all Angels?”
To apply the question to the very case in hand: Why, on the supposition that we regenerate ourselves, is one man furnished with those endowments both of understanding and will, and with those advantages, all of which, united, terminate in his regeneration ; and another, not?
It will be easily seen from these questions, that the objection of partiality lies with the same force against all inequalities of distribution in the Divine Government, as against this dispensation. In
REGENERATION.-ITS NECESSITY AND REALITY.
JOAN II, 3.- Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Ez.
cept a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.
HAVING considered the character of the Holy Ghost, and his agency in the work of regeneration, I shall now proceed, according to the plan originally proposed, to examine the work itself, under the three following heads:
J. The Necessity;
In the preceding discourse, I took the fact, that some men are regenerated, for granted; and on this ground, attempted to prove, that the agency
of the Spirit of God was necessary for the accomplishment of our regeneration. The question concerning the necessity of regeneration itself, and the question concerning the necessity of that agency in producing it, are entirely distinct. Yet it will be readily perceived, that the arguments, adduced under the latter question in the preceding discourse, may with unabated force be, in several instances, applied to the former ; that, which is now under consideration. Particularly is this true concerning several passages of Scripture, then adduced. For example, John iii. 5, 6. Rom. viii. 6, 7. Gal. v. 19—23. 2 Thess. ii. 13. 1 Cor. vi. 11, connected with the context ; are all, together with several others, of this nature. On these, to avoid wearying my audience with repetitions, I shall not at present insist.
At the same time, the certainty, that there is nothing in our moral character, which will lead us to regenerate ourselves, as exhibited in that discourse, is one, and an important one, among the reasons, which evince, in connexion with other argument, the necessity of our regeneration; and is, therefore, with propriety, recalled to your remembrance on the present occasion.
But the great proof of the necessity of regeneration is found in the derravity of our nature. The universality, and the degree of this corruption, have been shown, if I am not deceived, in a manner, too evident to be rationally called in question. In the discourses, which I formerly delivered on these subjects, * I produced a long train of passages of Scripture, in which the natural charac
See Sermons xxix. to xxxiv. inclusive.
ter of man is, in the most unequivocal terms, declared to be corrupt, sinful, and abominable in the sight of God. This truth I elucidated, also, by arguments drawn from reason, and experience, which, to my own view, were unanswerable. Among these, I specified the opposition made by mankind to the Gospel; the testimonies, which mankind have themselves given concerning the subject in their Laws; their Religion; their History; their Conversation ; and their conduct, both in amusements, and in the serious business of life. From these, and several other things, I derived
, it as a consequence, flowing, in my own view irresistibly, from the premises, that in our flesh or native character there dwelleth no good thing.
This doctrine St. Paul teaches in the most explicit manner, in the three first chapters of the Epistle to the Romans; and commenting on his own words, says, We have proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin.
I shall consider this point as being actually proved; and on this basis shall found the following arguments, designed to show the Necessity of Regeneration.
1st. It is unreasonable to suppose, that God can admit sinners to the blessings of heaven.
God is perfectly holy, and therefore regards sin only with hatred and abhorrence. Every sinner opposes his whole character, law, designs, and government; loves what he hates ; hates what he loves; and labours to dishonour his name, and to frustrate his purposes. The designs of God involve the supreme and eternal good of the Universe. In the accomplishment of this Divine purpose his glory is entirely manifested; because the best of all characters is thus displayed in the most perfect degree. But these designs, and the character discovered in accomplishing them, the sinner steadily hates, and opposes. Were it in his power, he would frustrate the accomplishment; and prevent the glory of God, and the supreme good of the creation.
This character of the sinner God discerns with clear and unerring certainty. Both his guilt, and its desert, are naked to the Omniscient eye. It is impossible, therefore, that he should not regard it with abhorrence. To suppose him, then, to approve, and love
. such a character, is to suppose him to approve of that, which he sees to be deserving of his absolute reprobation; and to love that which he knows merits nothing but his hatred. Should he in fact do this, he would invert his whole system of dispensations towards the Universe; and exhibit to his Intelligent creatures a character totally new, and directly opposite to that which he has displayed, hitherto, in his Law, and Government; especially in the work of Redemption. Of course, he would not only cease to be unchangeable, but would become a being of a totally opposite character to that perfect one, which he has hitherto challenged to himself. He would renounce his Deity: and cease to sustain the excellence, involved in the incommunicable name, Jehovah.
Further; should God, without approving of a sinful character, confer upon the unregenerated sinner the blessings, which are the proper rewards of virtuous creatures; he would equally desert his character, and government; and overthrow the wisdom, equity, and end, of his designs. Every external favour, shown to guilty beings after their probation is ended, is a testimony on the part of God, that he approves of their conduct during the probationary state, and a reward for that conduct. It is a definitive testimony; a testimony, given when all their conduct is before him; a solemn, judicial testimony; a testimony of action, the surest interpreter of the thoughts. In the present case, it would be the highest and most solemn of all testimonies; because he would bestow on them the greatest of all rewards, the blessings of heaven.
If, then, he did not feel this approbation, he would, in the case supposed, declare the grossest possible falsehood to the Universe ; viz. that impenitent sinners merited the highest rewards which it was in his power to bestow. He would declare, that such sinners deserved the same proofs of his favour, as his obedient children, and were, therefore, of the same character ; that rebels were faithful subjects; that enemies were friends; and that, although he had heretofore denounced them as objects of his wrath, they were still the objects of his infinite complacency. This would be no other than a final declaration on his part, that right and wrong, holiness and sin, were the same things; that his Law, and the Government founded on it, were introduced to no purpose, unless to excite wonder and fear in his intelligent creatures; that the redemption of Christ was accomplished to no end; and that all the Divine conduct, solemn, awful, and sublime as it has appeared, was wholly destitute of any object, and really of no importance in the view of the infinite Mind.
2dly. This change of heart is absolutely necessary for the sinner himself, in order to make him capable of the happiness of heaven.
Heaven is the seat of supreme and unmingled happiness; of enjoyment solid, sincere, and eternal. The foundation, on which, so far as creatures are concerned, this happiness ultimately rests, is their holy or virtuous character. All their affections, all their pursuits, all their enjoyments, are virtuous without a mixture. Hence heaven is called the high and holy place; and, from the dispensations of God towards these unspotted beings, is termed the habitation of his holiness. With such companions a sinner could not accord; such affections he could not exercise; in such pursuits he could not unite; in such enjoyments he could not share. This is easily and familiarly demonstrated. Sinners do not love virtuous persons here; exercise no virtuous affections ; cngage in-no virtuous pursuits ; and relish no virtuous enjoyments. Sinners in the present world love not God; trust not in the Redeemer; delight not in