« AnteriorContinuar »
ed persons, are rarely if ever só radically destitute of reason, but that they might be made rational without a new creation. Nor are the mere intellectual pow- . ers of men new-made, or mended, by régeneration, any more than their bodily senses and inembers. There is only a new turn and direction given them. As the same feet which were before swift to mischief, are now turned unto God's testimonies, and run in the way of his commandments ; as the same hands which perhaps stole before, are now employed in honest labor, and in giving to him that needeth : as the same eyes and ears which were attentive only to vanities, are now turned with delightful engagedness, day and night, to the words of eternal life : as the same tongue that used deceit, and mouth that was full of cursing and bitterness, are now exercised in prayer and parise, and in edifying communications ; so the same understanding faculty which before made one wise to do evil, now enables him to know and do those things that are good.
3. The power of will, requisite for moral agency, is not the capacity which is procreated in regeneration,
By this we mean, the power of being pleased with some things, and displeased with others; of inclining to the former, and turning with aversion from the latter : of choosing one way or the other, according to one's own mind. Should a creature be of such an unfeeling make as not to be capable of liking or disliking at all, or of being inclined or disinclined to any thing ; such a creature would be unfinished, as a free agent ; and must be further created, before he could act at all. And if this power of will should be wholly lost in one once endowed with it, there would be a necessity of its being created in him again, before he would be capable of any actions, good or evil.
But this is not the deficiency in natural men. They have will enough. They can love and hate i
they can choose and refuse, just as they are disposedor and, therefore, might do good, very easily, if it were only agreeable to them.
4. There is a mental sense, called in scripture conscience, which is common to all men ; and is no part of the creation unto good works, spoken of in our text.
This is a sense, which has reference to moral subjects only : that is, to things right or wrong in moral agents ; true or false in doctrines ; just or unjust in laws, and their sanctions. It is something different, I conceive, from a mere habit of thinking, contracted by education or custom : and something different from the bare capacity of forming a true judgment. It helps us much in judging of ourselves what is right; but it is not a man's judgment itself, or the mere capacity of forming a rational, and right opinion. That faculty resides in the head ; this appears to have its seat in the breast. That only sees; this feels. Conscience has always feeling, more or less : it is therefore properly a mental sense ; and as it respects matters of morality only, it may with propriety be called, the moral sense.
But this, whatever it be called, and whether absolutely necessary to moral agency or not, is certainly common to men. It is what we mean by common sense, to which an appeal is so often made ; supposing that its decision wil be the same in all, and always agreeable to truth, when things are fairly stated and fully understood. Habits of vice, or of inattention, may weaken this sense for a time; it is yet alive, however, and, on some occasions, will bite like a serpent, and sting like an adder, in the most hardened sinners. We read of some who were past feeling, and whose conscience was seared; but we are never told of any who had no conscience at all. On the contrary, of himself and other preachers of the gospel, the apostle says, 2 Cor. iv. 1, 2, “ Seeing we
have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not ; but have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth, commending ourselves to every man's conscience, in the sight of God.” He plainly sup: poses that no man was wholly destitute of conscience; the most stupid heathen not excepted.
Thus far then, human nature, in its deepest de. pravity, is not so sunk-$o perfectly annihilated, in any respect, as to need new-creating. But, besides all the powers and senses required to constitute man a rational, voluntary, and conscious agent; something further is necessary to his actually performing good works : namely, a good disposition. · This, we suppose to be wholly wanting in mankind, as born of the flesh ; and to be the thing created radically anew, when any are born of the Spirit. A man will not, and cannot act right, as long as he is not so disposed; however capable he may be of willing and acting agreeably to his own mind. “ The vile person will speak villany, and his heart will work iniquity.”
“A corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit.” A man's ways, and words, and thoughts, will naturally be vicious, as long as his heart is totally destitute of virtue. But should one perform some painful duties, from merely selfish motives, these would not be good works. “For he is not a Jew which is one outwardly,” says the apostle, “nei. ther is that circumcision which is outward in the fesh. But he is a Jew which is one inwardly : and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men but of God.” And again, “ Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” Nor can any doctrine be more evidently
greeable to reason and common sense, than these declarations of scripture. A wicked man, from sin
ister views, may do things which are useful to others, and by which God is glorified in the eyes of the godly; but, not having the glory of God at heart, nor the good of others, these things cannot, in him, be acts of true piety, or real virtue. There must be a disposition to love God and our neighbor as the divine law requires—there must be a principle of righteousness and true holiness of impartial, disin. terested, universal benevolence, or the most specious deeds are no other than dead works. And this principle—this disposition, we suppose, is the thing, the only thing, which is properly created, in regeneration. But, the mind being the standard of the man, when one is thus renewed in the spirit of his mind, it may be truly said, “ He is a new creature; old things are passed away, behold, all things are become new.”
Having explained, I hope sufficiently, the doctrine of our text, we will now,
II. Attend to the evidences of its being a true doctrine.
That regeneration is such an essential change of nature, as supposes something created, in a proper and strict sense, we have reason to believe,
1. From the phrases by which this great change is commonly denoted, in the holy scriptures.
It is expressly spoken of under the name and notion of a creation, in a number of places. Besides the text now insisted on, see Eph, iv. 24, “ The new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” Col. iii. 10, “ The new man, which is renewed in knowledge, after the image of him that created him.” And 2 Cor. v. 17, “ If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.”
We may also observe, that most if not all the other phrases, by which this change is expressed,
plainly convey the same idea of it, and of the manner in which it is effected. God speaks of it in the Old Testament under the notion of his giving a new heart to his impenitent people in Babylon : a heart to repent and turn to him, with the tender feelings of godly sorrow. Ezek. xxxvi. 26, “ A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you ; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of fesh.” In our context it is represented as a resurrection from spiritual death : ver. 4, 5, “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ.” Now, to be thus quickened, or to have such a new heart given, evidently supposes the proper creating of a vital principle of religion—a godly disposition. But the most common phrases used to express this change *of heart, are regeneration, and a second birth. See John iii. 3, “ Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” And ver. 6, 7, “ That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.” And Tit. iii. 5, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” These last phrases evidently allude to the beginning of our existence, by ordinary generation and natural birth.
They evidently imply that a new creature, or created thing, is brought into being ; and that the moral image of God is thus immediately given us ; as, in the first generation and birth, we derived the natural likeness of our earthly parents immediately from them. Nor is it possible to have any idea of being thus spiritually begotten and born, without supposing a proper work of creation. God is a