« PreviousContinue »
Of the Nature of Regeneration, with Respect to the Change it
produces in Men's Affections, Resolutions, Labours, Enjoyments and Hopes.
2 Cor. v. 17.-If any Man be in Christ, he is a New Creature: Old Things
are passed away, behold, all Things are become New, AMONG the various subjects, which exercise the thoughts and tongues of men, few are more talked of than religion. But it is melancholy to think, how little it is understood; and how much it is mistaken, and misrepresented in the world. The text before us gives us a very instructive view of it, such a view, that I am sure, an experimental knowledge of its sense would be infinitely preferable to the most critical and exact knowledge of all the most curious passages, both of the Old Testament and the New. From it, you know, I have begun to describe that great change, which the word of God teaches us to represent under the notion of regeneration, or according to the language of St. Paul, in this passage of his writings, by a new creation. I know I am explaining it before many, who have been much longer acquainted with it than myself; and it becomes me to believe, before many, that have attained to much higher advances in it: But I fear also at the same time, I speak of it before many, who are yet strangers to it; and I am labouring, by the plainest addresses that I can, to give them at least some just ideas of it. Oh that to all the descriptions, that either have, or shall be given, God may by his grace add that understanding, which arises from feeling correspondent impressions on the mind!
I have already endeavoured to illustrate those new appre. hensions, which arise in the regenerate mind; apprehensions of the blessed God, of itself, of Christ, of the eternal world, and of the way to obtain the happiness of it. It now remains, that I consider those “ New affections, resolutions, labours, enjoyments, and hopes,” which result from them. I observe therefore,
II. That these new apprehensions will be attended with new
I readily acknowledge, that the degree, in which the affections operate, may, and will be different, in different persons, according to their natural constitution : But as in some degree or another, they make an essential part of our frame, it is impossible but they must be impressed with a matter of such infinite importance, as religion will appear. And the apprehensions described above, must awaken the exercise of correspondent affections, and direct them to objects very different from those, by which they were before excited, and on which they were fixed. And here now, 1. This may be especially illustrated in love.
Love is indeed the ruling passion of the mind, and has all the rest in an avowed and real subjection to it. And here lies the very root of human misery, in our fallen and degenerate state : We are naturally lovers of ourselves in a very irregular degree , Lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God* But on the contrary, The first and great commandment of the law is written in the breast of every regenerate man: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mindt. It is true indeed, that if his soul were perfectly delivered into this mould, and his attainments in divine love were complete, there would be an end of all sin, and almost of all calamity too: For what evil could assail or impress a mind, entirely and unchangeably fixed upon God? Yet that the love of God should be the prevailing affection, is not merely a circumstance, but an essential part of true religion. While the good man Sees him who is invisiblef, as infinitely perfect in himself, and as the author of being and happiness to the whole creation, he cannot but acknowledge, that he is beyond comparison the most amiable of all objects. And though it is certain, that nothing can so much induce and inflame our love to God, as a well-grounded assurance, that he is become our God, and our Father in Christ ; yet before the regenerate soul has attained to this, a sense of those favours which he receives from God in common with the whole human race, and more especially of those, which are inseparable from a christian profession, together with the apprehension of his being accessible through a Mediator, and reconcileable to sinful men, will diffuse some delightful sense of God over the mind, which will grow sweeter in proportion to the degree, in which his own hopes brighten and settle, while they are growing toward the full assurance of faith.
* 2 Tim. jii.4.
Heb. xi. 27.
+ Mat. xxii. 37, 38.
And as the real christian Loves him that begat, he loves him also that is begotten of him*. He Loves the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerityt, viewing him not in a cold and insensible manner, as he once did, but with inflamed affections, as The chiefest among ten thousand, and altogether lovelyf. If he knows in any degree The grace of our Lord Jesus Christş, in becoming incarnate for the salvation of his people, in making himself a sacrifice for their sins, and paying his life for the ransom of their lives; he feels himself drawn toward Jesus, thus Lifted up on the crossl; and The love of Christ constrains him to such a degree, that he longs to find out some acceptable method to express his inward and over-bearing sense of it. How divided soever true christians may be in other respects, they all agree in this, in Loving that Jesus whom they have not seen**,
We may further recollect on this head, that the apostle in a solemn manner adjures christians by The love of the Spirittt; thereby plainly implying, that such a love to him is an important branch of their character: And it must be so in all those, who regard him, as every regenerate soul does, as the author of divine light and life, and as the source of love and happiness, by whom this Love of God is shed abroad in the heartii, while it is enlarged with sacred delight to Run the way of his commandments&d; as that Spirit by whom we are sealed to the day of redemption||ll, and who brings down the foretastes of heaven to the heart in which he dwells, and which by his presence he consecrates as The temple of God.
And most natural is it, that a soul filled with these im. pressions and views, should overflow with unutterable joy, and feeling itself thus happy in an intercourse with its God, should be enlarged in love to man: For, says the apostle, Ye are taught of God to love one another*** Those, whom he apprehends as his brethren by regenerating grace, he knows are with him beloved of the Lord, and as he hopes to dwell with them for ever in glory, he must love them, so far as he knows them, now. And though a narrow education, and that bigotry, which some
times conceals itself under very honourable and pious names, may perhaps influence even á sanctified heart, so far as to en. tertain unkind suspicions as to those whose religious sentiments may differ from his own, and it may be, to pass some rash censures upon them ; yet as his acquaintance with them increases, and he discerns, under their different forms, the traces of their common Father, his prejudices wear off, and that sometimes by very sensible degrees; and christians Receive one another, as Christ has received them all*. And where the good man cannot love others with a love of complacency and esteem, he at least beholds them with a love of compassion and pity; and remembers the relation of fellow-creatures, where he sees no reason to hope that they are fellow-heirs with him. In a word, the heart is melted down into tenderness; it is warmed with generous sentiments; it longs for opportunities of diffusing good of all kinds, both temporal and spiritual, wide as its inAuence can reach ; it beats with an ardour, which sometimes painfully recoils upon a man's self, for want of ability to help others in proportion to his desire to do it: And that God, who knows all the inmost workings of his mind, hears many an importunate intercession for others in the hours of solemn devotion, and many a compassionate ejaculation, which he is occasionally send. ing up to heaven from time to time, as he passes through so sinful and so calamitous a world.
These are the ruling affections in the heart of a good man; and though it is neither reasonable, nor possible, that he should entirely divest himself of self-love, yet he endeavours to regulate it so, that it may not interfere with the more important consideration of general good. Self has the lowest place in his regards, nor does he limit his affection to a party ; but aiming at extensive usefulness, he guards against those immoderate attachments to particular friendships, and those extravagant sallies of personal fondness, which are often no more than selflove under a specious disguise ; which at once alienate the heart from God, and contract the social affections within
very narrow, and those very irregular bounds; and so prove almost as fatal to the health of the mind, as an excessive flow of blood into one part, would be to that of the body.
I have enlarged so copiously on this change in the leading affection of the mind, that I must touch in a more transient manner on the rest. I add therefore,
* Rom. xv.7.
2. That a regenerate soul has new aversions.
He once Hated knowledge, and did not chuse the fear of the Lord*. He Hated the lightt, which disclosed to the aching eye of his conscience the beloved and indulged irregularities of his heart. He hated every thing, that laid an embargo upon his lusts; and was ready to count those for his enemies, that plainly admonished him; and secretly to dislike those, whose conduct even silently reproved him. But now all these things are amiable to him; and those are esteemed his most valuable friends, whose examples may be most edifying, whose instructions may be most useful, and whose admonitions may be most faithful. For he now Hates every false wayt ; yea, and every Vain thought toog. He looks upon every irregular desire, as an enemy, which he longs utterly to subdue ; and especially strives against that sin which does most easily beset him, and abhors it more than he ever delighted in it. And though he rather pities, than bates the persons of the most wretched and mischievous transgressors, yet he can no longer continue an endearing friendship with those, who were once his seducers to sin, and his companions in it. In this sense, like David, he Hates the congregation of evil doers, und will not sit with the wickedll; and if they will not be wrought upon by his compassionate endeavours to reclaim them, he will soon break off the infectious intercourse, and say, Depart from me, ye evil doers; for I determine that I will keep the commandments of my God. 3. The regenerate man has also new desires.
There was a time, when sinful passions, as the apostle expresses it; Did work in his members to bring forth fruit unto death**, He was Fulfilling the desires of the flesh, and of the mind+t, and Making provision to fulfil the lusts of bothff. But now he earnestly desires a conformity to God, as his highest happiness; and can look up to him, and say, “ Oh Lord, The desire of my soul is to thy name, and to the remembrance of theess; to maintain such a sense of thy presence at all times, as may influence my heart to think, my lips to speak, and my hands to act, in a manner suitable to that remembrance, and agreeable to thy wise and holy will.” He now Hungers and thirsts after righteousness||||;' feels as real an appetite after more
* Prov. i. 29.
+ John iii. 20.
Psal. cxix. 115.
* Psal. cxix. 104.
f Ver. 113.