THE NATURE AND AUTHOR OF REGENERATION.
" Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again."—John, iii. 1.
Those doctrines are not always most absurd in themselves, nor strange to a well-informed mind, which are most wondered at in the world. Ignorance is apt to wonder where knowledge discovers nothing amazing or unaccountable. To support our observations proofs might be given; but it is to my present purpose to take notice only of one, one that excited from Nicodemus wonder, about 1700 years ago, and is still wondered at; nay, more, is ridiculed in an ignorant world : I mean the doctrine of regeneration, or the New Birth. Nicodemus comes to Christ with a conviction of his high character as a teacher from God, who attested his commission by the strong and popular evidence of miracles. From such a teacher he expects sublime instructions; and from his own improvements in Jewish learning, he, no doubt, flatters himself he shall be able to comprehend them; but when, instead of gratifying his curiosity by telling him great and strange things of* the Messiah, as a secular prince, and a mighty conqueror, as he and his countrymen expected, or discoursing like a Rabbi on the Jewish law; I say, when, instead of this, Jesus opens the conference by a solemn and authoritative declaration of the necessity of something under the name of another birth, how is Nicodemus surprised! This he cannot understand. This seems strange, new doctrine to him, and he has an objection ready against it, as an absurdity and an impossibility: How can a man be bom when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born ? This objection, which was altogether impertinent, and founded upon a gross mistaken notion of the doctrine, may serve as a specimen of all the objections that have been made against this doctrine ever since; they have all proceeded from ignorance, or from gross mistaken notions of an evident truth; and hence men have imagined, like this master of Israel,*hat they reasoned strongly against it, when in reality they were saying nothing at all to the purpose, and did not as much as understand the case. Christians, and are made partakers of a divine and spiritual nature. As our first birth introduces us into this world, and into human society, so our second birth introduces us into the church of Christ, and makes us true members of that holy society. As by our first birth we resemble our parents, at least in the principal lineaments of human nature, so by our second birth we are made partakers of the divine nature; that is, we are made to resemble the blessed God in holiness; or, as St. Paul expresses it, we are renewed after his image in knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness. The effect is like its cause ; the child like the parent. In our first birth we are endowed with childlike and filial dispositions towards our human parents; and when we are born of God, we are inspired with a childlike and filial temper towards him as our heavenly Father. By our natural birth we are placed in an imperfect, but growing state. We have all the powers of human nature, though none of them in perfection ; but from that time they grow and improve till they at length arrive at maturity. In like manner, in our second birth, all the principles of virtue and grace are implanted; but their growth and improvement is the work of the Christian life. . And from that time they continue gradually growing, though with many interruptions, till at death they arrive at maturity and perfection. In our natural life we pass through a great change. The infant that had lain in darkness, breathless, and almost insensible, and with little more than a vegetative life, enters into a new state, feels new sensations, craves a new kind of nourishment, and discovers new powers. In like manner, in the second birth, the sinner passes through a great change: a change as to his view of divine things; as to his temper, his practice, and his state; a change so great that he may with propriety be denominated another man, or a new creature.
Our condescending Lord took a great deal of pains to give Nicodemus right notions of this doctrine. For this purpose he presents it before him in various views. He tells him he did not mean a second natural birth, but a birth of water and of the spirit; a birth that renders a man spiritual, and consequently fit for that spiritual kingdom he was about to erect; and that the free and sovereign Spirit of God, the Author of this new birth, operated like the wind, that bloweth where it listeth.
The various forms of expression which the Scriptnre uses to represent what is here called a second birth, all conspire to teach us that it consists in a great change. It is represented as a resurrection, or a change from death unto life: You hatli he quickened into life, saith St. Paul, who were dead in trespasses and sins. It is represented as a new creation: If any man be in Christ, says the same inspired author, he is a new creature : old ttdngs are passed away; and behold all things are become new. Put on, says he, the new man, which, after God, is created in righteousness and true holiness. These, and like expressions, signify a very great change; and such forms of speech are very commonly used in the same sense, which shows that they are so far from being ridiculous, that they are agreeable to the common sense of mankind.
Now, since it is evident that the new birth signifies a great change, you are impatient, by this time, I hope, to know more particularly what it is. It is the change of a thoughtless, ignorant, hard-hearted, rebellious sinner into a thoughtful, well-informed, tender-hearted, dutiful servant of God. It is the implantation of the seeds or principles of every grace and virtue in a heart that was entirely destitute of them and full of sin. The sinner that was wont to have no practical affectionate regard for the great God, is now made to revere, admire, and love him as the greatest and best of Beings; to rejoice in him as his supreme happiness, and cheerfully submit to him as his Ruler. Formerly his temper and conduct would better agree to the infidelity of an atheist than to the faith of a Christian; but now, he thinks, and speaks, and acts as one that really believes there is a God—a God who inspects all his ways, and will call him to an account. The heart that had no realizing affecting views of a future state, now feels the energy of that doctrine, and looks upon heaven and hell as indeed the most important realities. The heart that was once earthly and sensual, eagerly set upon things below, as its main pursuit, is now taught to aspire to heaven ; in heaven is its treasure, and there it will be. The thoughts that were once scattered among a thousand trifles, are now frequently collected, and fixed upon the great concerns of religion. Now, also, the heart is remarkably altered towards the Lord Jesus: formerly it seemed sufficient to wear his name, to profess his religion, to believe him to be the Saviour of the world, and to give a formal attendance upon the institutions of his worship; but O! now he appears in a more important and interesting light. Now the sinner is deeply sensible that he is indeed the only Saviour, and he most eagerly embraces him under that endearing character, and intrusts his eternal all in his hands. Now, also, the man has very different views of himself: he sees himself to be a guilty, depraved, vile creature, all overrun with sin, and destitute of all goodness, but as it is wrought in lie dead in sin, under the wrath of God, and liable to everlasting misery. Let each of you particularly admit this conviction: " If I am not born again, I have not the least ground to hope for happiness in my present state."portant change, upon which your eternal all depends? Oh, let us part to-day fully determined upon this—that we will implore the power and mercy of God to create in us clean hearts, and renew within us right spirits.
Upon this follows another inquiry, of the utmost importance ; and that is, whether you have ever experienced the blessed change of the new birth? Have your views, your dispositions, and your conduct been changed in the manner described ? and can you lay claim to those distinguishing characters of a regenerate soul which have been mentioned ? Pause, and think seriously; recollect your past experiences; look into your own hearts; observe the tenor of your practice; and from the whole, endeavor to gather an honest answer to this grand question, "Have I been born again ?"
If you can answer this in your favor, St. Peter will tell you the happy consequences : Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, according to his abundant mercy, hatli begotten us again to a lively hope—to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God, through faith unto salvation. But if, on the other hand, you find you have never been born again, what is to be done ? Must you lie still in that condition, or shall you try to get out of it ? I am sure my design in endeavoring to let you see your condition, is that you may escape out of it, and be happy; and if you are so kind to yourselves as to concur with me in this design, I hope, through divine grace, we shall succeed. This introduces the next inquiry, namely,
II. Who is the author of this divine change, called the new birth ?
The change is so great, so noble, and divine, that from thence alone we may infer it can be produced only by divine power. And the nature of man, in its present state, is so corrupt and weak that it is neither inclined nor able to produce it. It is also uniformly ascribed to God in the sacred writings. Born not of blood, nor of the loill of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And it is he who has changed many a heart in our guilty world. Here the next inquiry comes in very seasonably, namely,
III. In what way does this divine agent produce this change ?