Page images
PDF
EPUB

and prevent the otherwise absolute darkness. Howard, intensely illumined with the benevolence of the Gospel, shed a lustre over the whole Christian world. Inferior lights are everywhere scattered, and their combined influence is everywhere felt. Were the same character that of all men, the change in human affairs would be such as to demand no arguments to prove a change of heart. As the state of things is, it is plain that the spirit of the martyrs was not in their persecutors; the spirit of Howard was not in Voltaire; the spirit of Alfred was not in Frederic II. He who cannot see this, is unable because he will not; and may be well assured that, under the influence of his present temper, he has lost the power of moral discrimination.

[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors]

SERMON LXXIV.

REGENERATION.

ITS NATURE.

JESUS ANSWERED AND SAID UNTO HIM, VERILY, VERILY,
SAY
UNTO THEE, EXCEPT A MAN BE BORN AGAIN HE CANNOT SEE
THE KINGDOM OF GOD.

I

JOHN III. 3.

HAVING in the preceding Discourse considered the necessity and the reality of regeneration, I shall now proceed, according to the plan proposed, to examine its nature.

1. This change of heart consists in a relish for spiritual objects, communicated to it by the power of the Holy Ghost.

By spiritual objects, I intend the Creator, the Redeemer, the Sanctifier, heaven, angels, the word and the worship of God, virtuous men, virtuous affections, virtuous conduct, and all the kinds of enjoyment found in the contemplation of these objects; the exercise of these affections, and the practice of this conduct. The existence of these objects every man admits; and every man, at all conversant with human life, must admit that a part of mankind profess to relish them, and to find in them real and sincere pleasure. A sober man must further admit, that as the Creator of all things is infinitely more excellent than any other being, so his excellence must be capable, in the nature of things, not only of being perceived, but also of being relished by intelligent creatures. No man who has any regard to his character, as a man of

sound understanding, will acknowledge that excellence exists, and yet deny that it is capable of being perceived and relished. Nor will any such man deny that intelligent creatures may perceive the excellence of the Creator to be plainly superior to that of any other being, and may relish it accordingly. It must also be easily and certainly seen that, if we relish the excellency of the Creator himself, we cannot fail to extend the same relish to every thing in which this excellence is displayed; since this will be no other than relishing the excellence itself as it is manifested in different forms. It must be obvious, therefore, that this relish for the divine excellence once existing, must of course be extended to all the objects in which it is displayed, and to all those intelligent beings by whom it is relished.

It has been frequently supposed, that the Spirit of God regenerates man by immediately creating in him virtuous volitions. All the volitions of all moral agents are in my view, as will indeed be pre-supposed by those of my audience who remember the sermons which I delivered on the nature of the human soul, the acts of the agents themselves. The Spirit of God does not in my view, when he regenerates mankind, create in them any volitions whatever; but merely communicates to them the relish for spiritual objects, which has been here mentioned.

When God created Adam, there was a period of his existence after he began to be, antecedent to that in which he exercised the first volition. Every man who believes the mind to be something beside ideas and exercises, and who does not admit the doctrine of casualty, will acknowledge that in this period the mind of Adam was in such a state that he was propense to the exercise of virtuous volitions rather than of sinful ones. This state of mind has been commonly styled disposition, temper, inclination, heart, &c. In the Scriptures it usually bears the last of these names. I shall take the liberty to call it disposition. This disposition in Adam was the cause whence his virtuous volitions proceeded; the reason why they were virtuous, and not sinful. Of the metaphysical nature of this cause I am ignorant. But its existence is in my own view certainly proved by its effects. If the volitions of man are not immediately created, they are either caused by something in man, or they are casual. But they are not

casual, for nothing is casual. And even if some things were casual, these could not be; because they were regularly and uniformly virtuous; and it is impossible that casuality should be the source of uniformity, or regularity. There was therefore in the mind of Adam certainly a cause which gave birth to the fact, that his volitions were virtuous, and not sinful. This cause of necessity preceded these volitions, and therefore certainly existed in that state of mind which was previous to his first volition. This state of mind then, this disposition of Adam, existing antecedently to every volition, was the real cause why his volition subsequently existing were virtuous. It ought to be remarked here, that plain men with truth, as well as with good sense, ascribe all the volitions of mankind to disposition, the very thing here intended as their

true cause.

In regeneration the very same thing is done by the Spirit of God for the soul, which was done for Adam by the same divine agent at his creation. The soul of Adam was created with a relish for spiritual objects. The soul of every man who becomes a Christian is renewed' by the communication of the same relish. In Adam this disposition produced virtuous volitions. In every child of Adam who becomes the subject of virtue, it produces the same effects.

6

C

It will perhaps, be objected to this view of the subject, that God is said to work in us both to will and to do, of his good pleasure,' Phil. ii. 13. Indeed, this passage formerly appeared to me to indicate that God exercised a different agency on the mind of man from that which has been here described. But an examination of the passage has convinced me that my views of it at that time were erroneous. For,

(1.) The communication of this relish is as truly followed by virtuous willing and doing, as the creative act would be, which might immediately give existence to our volitions and our conduct. If then God communicates to us such a relish, or such a disposition, causing in us holy volitions and actions; he is as truly said to work in us' both these things, as he could be if he immediately created them. The only difference in this respect is, that they are now mediately, and would be then immediately, the effects of his agency.

"

(2.) The word here translated' worketh,' (in the Greek, prywv, inworketh, which characterizes the nature of the agency,)

[ocr errors]

is in Eph. ii. 2, applied to Satan in this manner: Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.' Now it will not be said, that Satan creates evil volitions in the minds of 'the children of disobedience.' As the word is in both cases the same, it does not indicate of itself, in the objected passage, that the immediate production of virtuous volitions by the power of God is the thing intended.

"

·

I will only add on this subject, that the relish for spiritual objects, is that which in the Scriptures is called a new heart, ' a right spirit,'' an honest and good heart,'' a spiritual mind,' and denoted by several other names of a similar import. Thus, 'A good man out of the good treasure of his heart' is said to 'bring forth good things.' Thus also, they who received the seed in good ground,' as exhibited in the parable of the sower, are said to be such as, in an honest and good heart, having, received the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.' In these and the like instances, the heart is exhibited as the source of all virtuous volitions, desires, and conduct. This relish for spiritual objects is, I apprehend, this very source of these interesting things.

2. This change of the heart is the commencement of holiness in the mind.

The carnal mind,' that is, the original, natural disposition of man, ' is enmity against God; not subject to his law; neither indeed can be.' Before this change, therefore, there is no holiness in the character, no relish for spiritual good, no exercise of virtuous volitions, no pursuit of virtuous conduct. All these things begin to be chosen and to be practised after they begin to be relished; and the first relish for them exists in this renovation of the mind.

3. This change is partial.

* After regeneration the native character of man still remains, his relish for sinful pursuits and enjoyments still continues, and his relish for spiritual pursuits and enjoyments is never perfected on this side of the grave.

In this state, man exhibits to the view of the universe an object unlike any thing else which it has ever beheld. All other intelligent creatures, so far as we are informed, are either perfectly virtuous, or wholly destitute of real virtuc.

« PreviousContinue »