Page images
PDF
EPUB

SERMON VII.

ON REGENERATION.

Of the Necessity of the divine Influences to produce Regeneration

in the Soul.

Titus iii. 5, 6.-Not by Works of Righteousness, which we have done, but

according to his Mercy he saved us, by the Washing of Regeneration, und renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he shed on us abundantly,

through Jesus Christ our Saviour. IE

my business were to explain and illustrate this scripture at large, it would yield an ample field for accurate criticism, and useful discourse, and more especially would lead us into a variety of practical remarks, on which it would be pleasant to dilate in our meditations. It evidently implies, “that those who are the saved of the Lord, are brought to the practice of good works ;" without which Faith is dead *, and all pretences to a saving change are not only vain, but insolent. Yet it plainly testifies to us, “ that our salvation, and acceptance with God, is not to be ascribed to these, but to the divine mercy ; which mercy operates by sanctifying our hearts, through the renewing influence of the Holy Spirit :” And, “ that there is an abundant effusion of this Spirit under the gospel,” which is therefore with great propriety called The ministration of the Spiritt, and The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesust.

But I must necessarily in pursuance of my general scheme, wave several of these remarks, that I may leave myself room to insist on the grand topic I intend from the words.

I have already shewn you, who may be said to be in an unregenerate state : I have also described the change, which regeneration makes in the soul : And have largely shewn you in the three last discourses, the absolute necessity and importance of it. And I now proceed,

Fourthly, To shew the necessity there is, of the agency of the divine power, in order to produce this great and important change.

* James ii. 17.

+ 2 Cor. iii. 8.

Rom. viii. 2.

This is strongly implied in the words of the text ; in which the apostle, speaking of the method God has been pleased to take for the display of his goodness in the salvation and happiness of fallen men, gives us this affecting view of it, that it is not by works of righteousness, which we, i. e. any of us christians, have done, but according to his free grace and mercy that he has saved us, by the washing, or (as might be rendered) the laver, of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost.

I shall be ready to acknowledge, with the generality of ancient and modern interpreters, that baptism may probably here be called the laver of regeneration ; God having appointed, that as new-born children are washed, so they, who by the influences of his grace on their hearts are born again, should in token of their repentance for the sins of their past life, be washed with baptismal water, supposing, (which was here apparently the case, in this early age of christianity,) they had not received that ordinance in their infancy. Nevertheless, lest any should imagine that an external ceremony was sufficient, or that it was the chief thing intended, the apostle takes the matter higher. And as the apostle Peter tells us, that the Baptism which saves us, is not merely the putting away the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience towards God*; so the apostle Paul here adds, that we are saved by the renewing of the Holy Ghost : By which I can by no means understand something entirely distinct from, and subsequent to, his regenerating influences; for according to the view of regeneration stated in our former discourses, none can be regenerated, who are not renewed: But it seems to explain the former clause, and to refer to the more positive effect produced by divine grace on the soul, whereby christians are not only purified from sin, but disposed to, and quickened in, a course of holy obedience. And then he further tells us, that this spi- . rit is the gift of God, and is plentifully communicated to us in the name, and through the hands, of the blessed Redeemer, being shed on us abundantly by God, through Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Agreeably therefore to the general design and purport of these words, I shall go on to demonstrate the absolute necessity of a divine agency and operation in this great work of our regeneration ; which I shall do from a variety of topics. And here I shall studiously wave many controversies, with which

* 1 Pet. iii. 21.

the christian world has been afflicted, and the soundest part of it disturbed, with relation to the kind and manner of this influence. I will not so much as mention them, and much less discuss them ; Lest Satan should take an advantage of us*, to divert our minds from what is essential in this doctrine, to what is merely circumstantial. Only let it be observed in general, that I speak of “ such an agency of God on our minds, as offers no violence to the rational and active nature which God has given us, nor does by any means supersede our obligations to those duties which his word requires ; but on the contrary, cures and perfects our nature, and disposes the soul to a regard to such incumbent duties, and strengthens it in the discharge of them." With this only preliminary, which appears to me highly important, I proceed to shew the reasonableness of ascribing this change to a divine agency, rather than to any thing else which may be supposed to have any share in producing it. And we may infer this, [1.] “ From the general and necessary dependance of the whole

created world upon God.”

There was a philosophical, as well as divine truth, in that observation of the apostle Paul at Athens, which was well worthy the most learned assembly ; In him, i. e. In God we live, and move, and have our beingt. Such is the innate weakness of created nature, that it continually depends on a divine support. The very idea of its being created supposes, that it had no cause of its existence, but the divine will, in the first moment of it: And if it could not then subsist without that will, in the first moment of its existence, it neither could subsist without in the second, or in any future moment of it: Since to have been dependent for a while, can never be supposed to render any thing for the future independent. The continued existence then of all the creatures, no less of angels, than of worms, or trees, or stones, does properly depend upon the divine energy, which bears them up, and holds those of them in life, which live, and those of them in being, which are inanimate or without life.

And if their being be dependent, then surely it will follow, that all their perceptive and active powers, whatsoever they are, must continually depend upon God : For to exist with such powers is evidently more, than simply to exist; and if a

* 2 Cor. ii. 11,

f Acts xvii. 28.

divine agency be necessary for the latter, much more must we allow it to be necessary for the former.

The human mind therefore, with all its capacities and improvements, must acknowledge itself perpetually indebted to God, who is the fountain of truth and wisdom, as well as of being : Accordingly we are told, it is He, that teacheth man knowledge*. All the skill of the husbandmant, in one passage of scripture, and all the wisdom of the artificers, in another, is ascribed to his influence: And if the improvement of the sciences, and any other discovery, which renders human life in any degree more commodious and agreeable, is to be ascribed to the divine illumination and influence, then surely it is from hence this art of living wisely and well must also be derived. All the views upon which good resolutions are formed, all the strong impressions upon the mind arising from these views, and all the steadiness and determination of spirit, which does not only form such purposes, but carries them into execution, are plainly the effect of the divine agency on the mind ; without which no secular affairs could be clearly understood, strenuously pursued, or successfully accomplished. And how peculiarly reasonable it is, to apply this remark to the point now in view, will appear by attending, [2.] To " the greatness and excellency of this change,” which speaks it aloud to be the divine work.

this occasion desire you to recollect what I laid before you in several of the former discourses. Think of the new light that breaks in upon the understanding, of the new affections that are enkindled in the heart,-of the new resolutions, by which the will is sweetly and powerfully, though

freely influenced ;-and think of the degree of vigour attending these resolutions, and introducing a series of new labours and pursuits ;-and surely you must confess, that it is the finger of God: Especially when you consider,-how beautiful and excellent, as well as how great the work is.

Do we acknowledge, that it was the voice of God that first commanded the light to shine out of darknessg, and that it was worthy of a divine agency to produce so beautiful a creature as the Sun, to gild the whole face of our world, and to dress the different objects around us in such a various and vivid assemblage of colours? And shall we not allow it to be much more worthy of him, to lighten up a benighted soul, and to

I must upon

* Psal. xciv. 10,

+ Isa. xxviii. 26.

$ 2 Cor. ir. 6.

| Exod. xxxvi. 1, 2.

reduce its chaos into harmony and order ?-Was it worthy of God, to form the first principles even of the vegetative life, in the lowest plant or herb, and to visit with the refreshing influ. ences of the rain and sun, the earth wherein these seeds are sown? And is it not much more worthy of him, to implant the seed of the divine life, and to nourish it from time to time by the influence of his Spirit ?-Did it suit the divine wisdom and mercy, to provide for sustaining our mortal lives, for healing our wounds, and recovering us from our discases? And shall it not much more suit him, to act as the great physician of souls, in restoring them to ease, to health and vigour?

They must be dead indeed to all sense of spiritual excellency, who do not see how much more illustriously God appears, when considered as the author of grace, than merely as the author of nature. For indeed all the works of nature, and all the instances of divine interposition to maintain its order and harinony, will chiefly appear valuable and important, when considered in subserviency to the gracious design of recovering apostate man from the ruin of that degenerate state, without which it had been far better for him never to have known being, and never to have inhabited a world so liberally furnished with a variety of good.

And therefore I would appeal to every christian, whether he does not find a much more ardent gratitude glowing in his heart, when he considers God as the author of the religious and divine, than merely of the animal or the rational life.

And permit me here to remark, that agreeably to these reasonings, some of the pagan philosophers have said very serious and remarkable things, concerning the reality, and the need, of divine influences on the mind, for the production of virtue and piety there. Thus Seneca, when he is speaking of a resemblance to the Deity in character, ascribes it to the influence of God upon the minds : “ Are you surprised,” says he, that man should approach to the Gods ? It is God that comes to men; nay, which is yet more, he enters into them: For no mind becomes virtuous, but by his assistance*.” Simplicius also was so sensible of the necessity of such an influence, that he

prays to God, as the Father and guide of reason, so to co-operate with us, as to purge us from all carnal and brutish affections, that we may be enabled to act according to the dictates of reason, and to attain to the true knowledge of

* Miraris Hominem ad Deos ire ? Deus ad Homines venit, imò (quod proprius est) in Homines venit: Nulla sine Deo Mens bona est. He had said but just before, Ascendentibus manum porrigunt. Senec. Epistol. Ixxiii. VOL. II.

3 P

« PreviousContinue »