« PreviousContinue »
a saving change, by a partial and selfish opinion of their religious views and feelings. Their hope originated from a self-righteous spirit, and the same spirit governs them in their self-examination. They have never been willing to know the truth, and never will know it, unless they examine themselves with more impartiality. It concerns you, therefore, to inquire whether you have had a sincere desire to know your own hearts, and have examined them with a real willingness to discover the nature of your affections, and the true state of your souls.
Have you been so much acquainted with the natural deceitfulness of your hearts, as to find the need of critical and frequent self-examination? Many have such a good opinion of their own hearts, as never to call their goodness in question; which is an unhappy sign, that they have never known their native and total depravity. Real christians know, by painful experience, that their hearts, are by nature, deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. They have found the folly and danger of trusting in their good desires, intentions, and resolutions. They have known to their sorrow, that their hearts are like a deceitful bow, always bent to backsliding. This has led them to realize the necessity of watching and examining their hearts with great diligence and impartiality. Has your experience, then, of the deceitfulness of your hearts led you to the frequent and faithful performance of this duty?
Have you used all the proper means in your power to discover your spiritual state, and the nature of your religious experiences? Perhaps, you have been seriously affected by the word or providence of God. Perhaps, you have seen your exposedness to eternal destruction, and felt great anxiety to escape the wrath
And perhaps, you have been convinced of your just desert of that everlasting punishment, which you feared. But, after all, have you become reconciled to the justice of God in your condemnation? Have you cordially embraced the offers of life, and taken God for your supreme portion? If you have not exercised such love and submission to God, and such dependence upon sovereign grace, your fears and convictions can afford you no just foundation to think, that you have passed from death unto life, and become the heirs of salvation. Now have you compared your views and feelings with the marks of grace in the word of God? Have you read the best books you could get upon experimental religion? Have you conversed free. ly with judicious christians of your acquaintance? And have you earnestly prayed, that God would search your hearts, and not suffer you to deceive yourselves in the great concerns of your soul 5?
Finally, have you ever come to a decision respecting your spiritual state? Many choose to live in doubt, rather than to come to a fair and satisfactory conclusion, whether they are, or are not the true friends of God. This is a dark mark. Real christians are willing to know the truth, whether it be in their favour or against them. They sincerely desire to know whether they are in the path that leads to heaven, or in that which leads to destruction. If they find evidence, that God has formed them vessels of mercy, they desire to give up themselves publickly to his service, and to walk worthy of their high and holy calling, and to lead others to glorify their heavenly Father. Have you then come to a decision, and found your path clear to do your whole duty?
THE NATURE OF REGENERATION.
GALATIANS V, 22. But the fruit of the Spirit is love. THOUGH christians generally believe, that men must be born of the Spirit in order to enter into the kingdom of God; yet they are not so well agreed in respect to the nature of this new birth. Some suppose, that the Spirit of God renews men, by merely reforming their external conduct. Some suppose, that he renews them, by merely implanting a new principle of holiness in their minds, without producing any holy exercises. And some suppose, that he renews them, by shedding abroad the love of God in their hearts, and making them actively holy. Now, this is the effect, and the only effect, which, the apostle tells us, the divine Spirit produces in the hearts of men, in regeneration “The fruit of the Spirit is Love." Love is the fulfilling of the law, the bond of perfectness, and the essence of all true holiness. As soon as the Spirit of Gud produces love or true benevolence in the hearts of sinners, he makes them holy as their Father who is in heaven is holy, and instamps upon them his moral image, of which they had been totally destitute before. The true meaning of the text may be properly expressed in this general observation:
That the Spirit of God, in regeneration, produces nothing but love.
I shall show,
I. That the Spirit of God, in regeneration, produces nothing but love.
II. That he does produce love.
III. That the love which he produces, is the essence and source of all holy or gracious affections.
I., I am to show, that the Spirit of God, in regeneration, produces nothing but love.
He does, indeed, often strive with sinners, and sometimes very powerfully, without softening or subduing their hearts in the least degree. He strove a long time with that ungodly and incorrigible generation, who were finally swept away by the flood. He strove with the rebellious Israelites, who perished in the wilder
He awakened and convinced many under John's and Christ's, and the Apostles' preaching, whom he never renewed or converted. And he commonly alarms the fears and awakens the consciences of those sinners whom he intends to renew, some time before he effectually changes their hearts. This he does, to prepare them for regeneration, in which he forms them vessels of mercy. The only question now before us is, whether, in the act of regeneration, he produces any thing besides love. And here we may safely say, that he does not produce any thing besides love, in regeneration, because there is no need of his producing any other effect, in that saving change. Sinners possess all the natural powers and faculties, which belong to human nature, and which are necessary to constitute them moral agents, before they are made the subjects of grace. They are capable of knowing God, of understanding the gospel, and of performing every duty, which is enjoined upon them, by divine authority. Our Saviour said of those, who had not the love of God in them, “they have both seen and haled both me and my Father.' Those in the state of nature stand in no need of having any new power, or faculty, or principle of action, produced in them, in order to their becoming holy. They are just as capable of loving, as of hating God; and it is for this reason, that he requires them to love him, and forbids them to hate him, in his law, which is holy, just, and good. Manasseh was as capable of doing good, as of doing evil, before he was renewed; and Paul was as capable of promoting, as of opposing the cause of Christ, before he was converted. This is true of all sinners, who are as much moral agents, and as proper subjects of moral government, before as after regeneration. Whenever, therefore, the divine Spirit renews, regenerates, or sanctifies them, he has no occasion of producing any thing in their minds, besides love. This, indeed, he has occasion to produce, because their carnal mind is enmity against God, not subject to his law, neither indeed can be. In regard to the exercise of their minds, they need an essential change; but in regard to the powers and faculties of their minds, they need no change. All that the Spirit of God has to do, in regeneration, is to change the hearts of sinners from sin to holiness, or from hatred to love. And this, I now proceed to show,
II. Is the effect, which he actually does produce, in regeneration. “The fruit of the Spirit is love,” says the apostle in the text. His words are very plain and emphatical. He does not say, that the fruit of the Spirit is a new taste, or relish, or disposition, or principle, but is love, and nothing which is previous to it, or the foundation of it. And this representation of regeneration is agreeable to many others, which we find in the New Testament, where this saving change is more clearly described, than it is in the Old Testament, though even there, the circumcision of the heart is represented as the production of love. Moses tells the people, that their hearts should be circumcised “to love the Lord their God." The description of the new birth, which Christ gave to Nicodemus, deserves peculiar attention. “Jesus said unto him, Verily, verily