« PreviousContinue »
Author of the Book of Wisdom represents the acknowledgments some will hereafter make: They shall say, because of the trouble of their minds, This is he whom we accounted a scorn, and a common reproach. We fools esteemed his life madness, and his latter end to have been shameful; but now is he reckoned among the sons of God, and his lot is among the holy ones.'-From what has been said, it appears,
That the work of the Spirit in regeneration, ought to be seriously considered by the preachers and hearers of the gospel. As to the former, there is a peculiar reason for their attention to it; for they are employed in the work itself by the Spirit of God, as instruments of effecting it. Hence the apostle Paul styles himself a father :—‹ Though you have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet not many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.' He had been the instrument of their conversion, and was therefore their spiritual father. So, speaking of Onesimus, he calls him his son, whom he had begotten in his bonds. Now certainly it is the duty of ministers to understand their work ;-to be spiritually skilled in the doctrine of regeneration as to its nature, causes, effects, and evidences, is one principal part of a minister's furniture for his work; without which he cannot divide the word aright,' nor shew himself a workman that needs not to be ashamed. Yet it is scarcely imaginable with what rage of spirit, with what scornful expressions, this whole work is traduced, and exposed to contempt! Some who have laboured in it are charged with prescribing tedious trains of conversion, and subtil processes of regeneration, to fill people's heads with swarms of superstitious fears and scruples about the due degrees of godly sorrow, and the certain symptoms of a thorough humiliation.' Could any mistake be charged. on particular persons in prescribing rules in these things, not warranted by Scripture, it were not amiss to refute them; but these expressions are evidently intended to reproach the word of God itself; and I must profess, that I believe the degeneracy from the truth and power of religion, and the contempt that is cast on the grace of Christ, will be sadly ominous to the whole state of the reformed Church among us, if not corrected in time!but what I affirm is, that it is a duty indispensably in
cumbent on all ministers of the gospel to acquaint themselves well with the nature of this work; without which they cannot discharge any part of their office properly. If all who hear them are born dead in trespasses and sins; if they are appointed of God to be the instruments of their regeneration, it is a madness, hereafter to be accounted for, to neglect a diligent inquiry into this great work; and the ignorance of this, or negligence about it, with the want of an experience of its power in their own souls, is one chief cause of that lifeless and unprofitable ministry which is among us.
It is also the duty of all who hear the word preached, to inquire into it. It is to such whom the apostle speaks: 'Examine yourselves whether you be in the faith; prove your ownselves;-know ye not your ownselves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?' It is the concern of all individual professors to examine what work of the Spirit of God there has been on their hearts; and none will deter them from it but those who design to hoodwink them to perdition. The doctrine concerning it is fully revealed unto us; and it is of such importance to understand its nature and our own interest in it, that it cannot be neglected without the greatest madness and folly. Besides, there is great danger of men's being deceived in this matter, for it is the very hinge on which their eternal state absolutely turns; and certain it is, that many persons deceive themselves about it; for they evidently live under one of these pernicious mistakes :either That men may go to Heaven without being born again; or, That they may be born again and yet live in sin.
Works of the Holy Spirit preparatory to Regeneration.
WITH respect to the work of regeneration, positively certain preparatory operations on the souls of men ante
cedent to it. But yet regeneration does not consist in them, nor can it be educed out of them.
First. There are some things required of us in a way of duty, which are so in the power of our natural abilities, that nothing but corrupt prejudices and custom in sinning keeps men from the performance of them. And these are, (1.) An outward attendance to the dispensation of the word of God, and other means of grace. Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.' Hearing the word is the ordinary means of ingenerating faith. This is required of all to whom the Gospel comes; and this they are able to do, as well as any other natural action. And where men do it not, but despise the word at a distance, it is merely from supine negligence, carnal security, and contempt of God, which they must answer for.
(2.) A diligent intention of mind, in attendance on the means of grace, to understand and receive the things declared as the mind and will of God. For this end God has given men their reason, that they may exercise it about their duty towards him, according to the Scrip tures; and there is nothing in this beyond the power of our rational faculties, assisted with those common aids which God affords to men in general. And great are the advantages which may be attained hereby. Persons who diligently apply their rational abilities to spiritual matters, as externally revealed in the word, usually attain great advantages by it, and excel their equals in other respects; as Paul did when he was brought up at the feet of Gamaliel. Were men as diligent in their endeavours after knowledge in spiritual things, as they are to get skill in arts and sciences, it would be much better with many than it is. The omission of this duty is the prin cipal occasion of the eternal ruin of multitudes to whom the Gospel is preached. This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil.' In diligent regard to the word, men well know that they do no more than what they can and ought to do:-all pleadable pretences of inability are far from them. They cannot but know, and they shall hereafter be forced to confess, that it was merely from their own cursed sloth,
sensuality, love of the world, love of sin, and contempt of God, that they were diverted from a diligent attendance on the means of conversion; complaints of which against themselves will form a great part of their last dreadful cry.
It is true indeed, that in the most diligent use of outward means, men are not able of themselves to attain unto regeneration, without a special internal work of the Spirit on their souls; but ordinarily, God, in the effectual dispensation of his grace, meets with those who attend with diligence on the outward administration of the means of it. I say, ordinarily, in comparison of them who are despisers and neglecters of them. Sometimes, indeed, he goes out of his way, as it were, to bring home to himself a persecuting Saul from a course of open rebellion; but usually he dispenses his grace among them who attend the means of it; for thereby he glorifies his word, and shews his approbation of our obedience to his insti-
Secondly. There are certain internal effects, wrought on the souls of men, of which the word preached is the instrumental cause, and which generally precede regeneration and these are Illumination,-Conviction,-and Reformation; the first respects the mind only; the second the mind, conscience, and affections; and the third the life and conversation.
1. Illumination. All the light or knowledge we have of spiritual things, comes under this denomination. There is that which arises merely from an industrious application of our rational faculties, to understand the doctrines of revelation. And this is a light, super-added to the innate conceptions of the human mind, which, without divine revelation, could never have conceived of spiritual things. And the reason why so few endeavour to attain this knowledge, is because of the carnal enmity of their minds to the things themselves which are revealed. Again There is an illumination which is a special effect of the Holy Ghost on the mind, by the word; and which makes a great addition to what is purely natural, or attainable by the mere exercise of our natural abilities; for it adds perspicuity to it. Hence some are said to 'know the way of righteousness; they clearly and dis
tinctly apprehend the doctrine of the Gospel as the way, the only way, the way of God's righteousness for sinners. It adds also a stronger assent to the truth than mere natural reason can attain. Hence those who are thus illuminated are sometimes said to believe; their faith being only a naked assent to the doctrines revealed*. Again: It adds to them some kind of joy. These receive the word with joy; rejoice in the light of it for a season; and yet have no root in themselves. Sometimes, it adds gifts also in great variety. And where this illumination is thus improved, which it is chiefly by exercise, it wonderfully affects the mind, and raises its apprehensions of spiritual things. But all this comes short of regeneration, nor does it necessarily ensue upon it. Many are thus enlightened, and yet never converted: but in the order of nature it is previous to conversion and materially preparatory to it; for saving grace enters into the soul by light.
2. Conviction of sin is another effect of the word, antecedent to real conversion. This the apostle describes: If ye prophesy, and one cometh in who believeth not, he is convinced of all; and thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest, and so falling down on his face, he will worship God." I Cor. xiv. 24, 25. This generally includes, First, A disquieting sense of the guilt of sin, with respect to the law, threatenings, and judgments of God. Things before slighted and made a mock of, now become the soul's burden. And hereby the minds of men are affected with fears in various degrees: not that these degrees are prescribed as necessary; but only described as they usually occur, for the relief and direction of such as are concerned in them. Secondly, Sorrow or grief for sin committed, because past and irrecoverable, which is the formal reason of this condemning or legal sorrow; this sorrow of the world,' which brings men into bondage under fear. Thirdly, Humiliation for sin, which is the exercise of sorrow and fear in acts of confession, fastîng, praying, and the like. This is the true nature of legal humiliation. And, lastly, Unless by these things the soul be swallowed up in despair, it cannot but be filled
* So Simon, Acts viii. 12. and many of the Jews, John ii. 28.