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I say unto you, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” He proceeds to say further, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” And he immediately subjoins an explanation of this divine change. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” He here sets sin and holiness in contrast; for by flesh, he means sin; and by spirit, he means holiness. When the Spirit of God renews a sinner, he instamps his own moral image upon him, which consists in holiness; and we know that all holiness consists in love. The holiness of God consists in love, and therefore the holy Spirit must produce love in those whom he renews and makes holy. Hence says the apostle John, “Love is of God, and every one that loveth is born of God.” And he expresses the same idea, when he says again, “God is love; and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him.” But the apostle Paul is still more explicit upon this point, in the fifth of Romans, where he asserts, that he and other christians had a hope, which made them not ashamed, “because the love of God was shed abroad in their hearts, by the Holy Ghost.” The nature of regeneration clearly appears from the necessity of it. The only reason why regeneration is necessary, is because sinners are morally and totally depraved. And their total moral depravity altogether consists in selfishness. They are lovers of their own selves, and seek their own private, separate interest, in opposition to the interests of all other beings. This makes them enemies to God and to all righteousness, and disposes them to injure, and as far as they can, to destroy all, who appear to stand in the way of their selfish interests and designs. This total depravity renders them unfit for
the kingdom of God, and incapable of enjoying the blessings of it, and to remove this disqualification for heaven, they must be regenerated or born again. Regeneration, therefore, must consist in the production of love or true benevolence. There is no other conceivable way, in which the Spirit of God can remove their selfishness, but by producing benevolence, or shedding abroad the love of God in their hearts. This will slay their enmity, reconcile them to God, unite them to Christ, and fit them for heaven. And we now appeal to all who have been born again, whether they ever experienced any other change, in regeneration, than a change from selfishness to benevolence, from hatred to love, and from opposition to reconciliation to God. Scripture, reason, and experience, all concur to prove, that the Spirit of God, in regeneration, produces love, and nothing but love, in the hearts of those, whom he raises from spiritual death to spiritual life. It now remains to show,
III. That love, which the holy Spirit produces, in regeneration, is the essence and source of all holy or gracious affections. It is generally supposed, that regeneration lays the foundation of all the exercises of grace. But many maintain, that this cannot be true, unless the divine Spirit produces a principle of grace, which is prior to love, and every other gracious exercise. But this opinion does not appear to be well founded. The love which the Spirit of God produces, in regeneration, is the love of benevolence, and not the love of complacence. It is not, perhaps possible, in the nature of things, that the love of benevolence should take place in the heart of any man, before the love of complacence; because he cannot see the divine beauty and excellence of benevolence, before he has felt it in his own breast. Hence benevolence will pro
duce complacence, but complacence will not produce benevolence. But as soon as a man feels benevolence, in himself, he will love benevolence and every holy affection, in God, and in the friends of God. Do not many christians well remember; that when they were first regenerated, they, instantaneously, felt benevolently and friendly to all around them, whether friends or foes; and in consequence of that, immediately exercised peculiar love andcomplacency towards God, and towards all who appeared to bear his moral image? Such are the natural and genuine effects of that love of benevolence, which the Spirit of God produces, in regeneration. It is the foundation, essence, and source, of all holy or gracious affections. So the apostle plainly represents it, in the text and context. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love,” that is, the love of benevolence. And the fruits or effects of this love of benevolence are, “joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.” As the love of benevolence comprises all the moral perfections of the Deity, so the love of benevolence comprises all the virtuous and holy exercises which compose the christian character. Accordingly, when the divine Spirit produces the love of benevolence in the human heart, he lays a foundation for joy, peace, and every other holy affection. Benevolent love is the root, from which all holy feelings and conduct naturally spring. It produces every thing which the law requires, and which is necessary to perfect obedience. This will more fully appear, if we trace the catalogue of graces, which the apostle mentions, to the source from which they flow.
From holy love proceeds holy joy. This is a branch of true benevolence. When a sinner, who has been hating and opposing God, and murmuring and
complaining under a painful sense of his holy and irresistible sovereignty, has holy love shed abroad in his heart, his mind is naturally filled with joy. He rejoices in the being, perfections, and government of God. He sees the earth to be full of the goodness of the Lord, and wonders why he had never before rejoiced in the displays of his glory. He is ready to call upon all around him to praise the Lord, for all his astonishing goodness and grace to the children of men, Holy joy, is one of the first effects, which flow from that holy love, which is produced by the holy Spirit, in regeneration.
From holy love proceeds, not only holy joy, but holy peace. In the exercise of divine love, the renewed sinner enjoys that peace of God, which passeth all understanding. He finds peace as well as joy, in believing. He feels at peace with God, with the friends of God; and with all mankind. He enjoys that solid and permanent peace, which the world cannot give, and which the world cannot take away. I might now go on, and show how love will produce not only joy and peace, but faith, and goodness, and gentleness, and meekness, and long-suffering, and every other virtuous and amiable affection; but I will only further observe, that divine love will dispose men to pay universal obedience to the divine commands. It will dispose them, to call upon God in secret, in private, and in publick. It will dispose them, to remember the Sabbath day, and to keep it holy. "It will dispose them, to seek the glory of God in whatever they do. It will dispose them, to avoid every appearance of evil, and steadily pursue the path of duty. It will, in a word, make them new creatures, and cause them to walk in newness of life. Hence says the apostle, "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away, and all things are become new." Thus it appears, that the holy Spirit, in regeneration, produces that pure, holy, disinterested love, which is the source of all holiness and obedience. Though there is no natural or necessary connexion between the first exercise of love, and all future exercises of grace; yet there is a constituted connexion, which renders future exercises of grace as certain, as if they flowed from a new nature, or holy principle, as many suppose. For those who maintain, that a new nature or principle of grace is given, in regeneration, still suppose, that the new nature or principle of grace is not always in exercise, and never produces any holy affections, without the special influence of the divine Spirit upon the heart. And if this were true, the certainty of a continuation of holy exercises, would be no greater, on the supposition of a new principle implanted in the mind, in regeneration, than on the supposition of the production of a new exercise of love. For love will no more flow from a principle of love, without a divine influence, than joy or peace, or any other gracious exercise, will flow from love, without a divine influence. So that upon any supposition whatever, the continuance of grace, after regeneration, must absolutely depend upon a continued operation of the Spirit of God upon the mind of every one who has been regenerated. And this being the case, the production of love, in regeneration, must lay as solid and permanent foundation for a holy life, as the implantation of a new principle, disposition, or moral taste, could possibly lay. When the holy Spirit produces love in the soul, in which there was nothing but selfishness before, he effects an essential change in the heart, and forms the subject of grace after the moral image of God, and prepares him for the kingdom of