« PreviousContinue »
That manner of preaching the gospel, explaining or recommending divine truth, appears to me most profitable, which brings ofteveft into view, or, rather, never loses view of the great and essential difference between believers and unbelievers, faints and finners, heirs of glory and heirs of hell. These are mixed together on earth. They have common privileges as men and citizens. They cannot be certainly distinguished by human observation ; for though the image of God shines in a bright and sensible manner in romc on the one hand, and some bear very plain and deadly symptoms on the other, whose state may be determined with little hazard of mistake ; yet, in the intermediate degrecs, there are multitudes whose real character is known only to God. What then can be said more awakening, and, at the same time, more certainly true, 'than that every hearer of the gofpel, and every reader of such a treatise as this, is either reconciled to God and the object of his love, or at eninity with God, having " neither
part nor portion” in his favour; and as many as die in this last condition, fhall be the everlasting monuments of divine wrath. How important a distinction ! and can any man refrain from faying, “ Lord ! thou knowest all things-to whichi “ of thefe classes do I belong?"
But there is something, if possible, ftill more prefling in the passage of scripture which I have placed at the head of this discourse. Not only are all men of two different and opposite characters now, but all men are originally of one character, unfit for the kingdom of God; unless a change has past upon them they continue fo; and, unless a change do pass upon them hereafter, they must be for ever excluded. This our Lord introduces with a strong afleveration, and signal note of importance: “Verily, verily, I “ say unto you, Except a man be born again, " he cannot see the kingdom of God." These words were fpoken to Nicodemus, a ruler of the jews. This “ master in Israel came to Jesus by night. Convinced he seems to have been of the power which attended his ministry, but, under a still stronger attachment to his worldly intereft, he durft not openly avow his conviction. Our Lord, at once to enlighten his mind with the most falutary of all truths, and level his pride of understanding by the manner of conveying it, faith to him, “ Except a man be born again, he
cannot see the kingdom of God.” This appears to have been extremely astonishing, by his answer in the following verse; “ Nicodemus faith
unto him, How can a man be born when he “ is old ? Çan he enter the second time into his 66 mother's womb and be born?
It is not my purpose to give a tedious explica. tion of the passage, or entertain the reader with a profusion of criticism upon the words. This expression, the kingdom of God, hath various significations in scripture, but chiefly two in the New Testament; (1.) The gospel-dispensation or government of the Messiah, as distinguished from the preceding periods ; (2.) The kingdom of heaven, where the fincere disciples of Christ thall be put in full possession of the blessings of his purchase. I take it to be the last of these, that is, either only, or chiefly intended in this place. Both of them, indeed, may be meant in their proper order, and for their different purposcs. An open profession, and receiving the external badge, was necessary to a concealed friend and cowardly disciple; but a right to the spiritual privileges of the gospel, and the promise of eternal life, was the only thing that could make the profeffion valuable or defireable. Accordingly our Saviour seems to speak of both in his reply to Nicodemus's admission into the visible church by baptism, and renovation by the Holy Ghoft. “ Jesus answered, Verily I say unto thee, Ex" cept a man be born of water and of the Spirit, “ he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."
I am sensible that regeneration or the newbirth is a subject, at present, very unfashionable; or, at least, a stile of language which hath gone
very much into desuetude. It is, however, a subject of unspeakable moment, or, rather, it is the one subject in which all others meet as in a center. The grand enquiry, in comparison of which every thing else, how excellent foever, is but specious trifling. What doth it signify, tho' you have food to eat in plenty, and variety of raiment to put on, if you are not born again; if after a few mornings and evenings spent in unthinking mirth, sensuality and riot, you die in your
fins and lie down in forrow? What doth it signify, though you are well accomplished in every other respect, to act your part in life, if you meet at last with this repulse from the fupreme Judge, “ Depart from me, I know you
not, ye workers of iniquity."
If this fubject is, indeed, unfashionable and neglected, we are miserably deceiving ourselves. If a new nature is necessary, to attempt to repair and new model the old will be found to be loft labour. If the spring is polluted and continues so, what a vain and fruitless attempt is it to endeavour, by addition, or by foreign mixture, to purify the ftreams. Just so it is by no means sufficient, or, to speak more properly, it is altogether impossible, to reform the irregularities and vicious lives of finners, and bring them to a real conformity to the law of God, till their hearts are renewed and changed. It is like rearing up an
old fabric, adding to its towers, and painting its walls, while the foundation is gone.
See what the prophet Ezekiel says of such foolish builders,.“ Wo to the foolish prophets--because, “ even because they have seduced my people, 66 faying, Peace, and there was no peace; and “ one built up a wall, and lo, others daubed it " with intempered mortar : say unto them “ which daub it with untempered morter, that it * fhall fall: there shall be an overflowing thow
ye, O great hailstones, fhall fall, and a stormy wind fhall rent it *."
But, perhaps, the substance of the doctrine is retained while the language is held in derision. We are told, it is but a figurative expreffion, and the same in its meaning with repentance or Teformation. Doubtless it is so. And it were greatly to be wilhed, that many did thoroughly underftand what is implied in repentance unto life. But the reader is intreated to observe, that ic is a metaphor frequently used in the holy scripture. . I think, also, it is a metaphor of peculiar propriety and force; well adapted to bring into view both the nature of the change which it des scribes, and the means by which it is accomplished. If there are any who in writing, or fpeaking on this subject, have introduced or invented unfcriptural phrases, and gone into un
Ezek, xiii, 10, 11, 1