« AnteriorContinuar »
That which I propose now to consider and to begin with, as the first general view of the Christian spirit is, That it is a new temper of mind. And the text leads us to observe,
That those who have learned Christ to good purpose, are renewed in the spirit of their minds.
The right disposition of the soul is represented both in the Old and New Testament by this character.
The psalmist prays, that “a right spirit might be renewed within him,” Psal. li. 10. So God expresses his promises of grace by the prophet Ezekiel, chap. xi. 19. “ I will put a new spirit within you.” And chap. xxxvi. 26. " A new heart will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you.” Divine calls to repentance, are expressed in the same language, Ezek. xviii. 31. “Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed, and make you a new heart, and a new spirit.” In the same manner the gospel itself speaks, 2 Cor. v. 17. “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature : old things are past away ; behold, all things are become new." We are said to be « delivered from the law, that we might serve in newness of the spirit,” Rom. vii. 6. So the apostle's exhortation runs, Rom. xii. 2. “Be not conformed to this world : but be ye transformed by the renewing of the mind.” Do not imitate the sinful customs of the world, but see there be a change in the temper of your mind, as a foundation for better practice. So in this context, we read of the old and the new man. This is therefore a frequent and familiar representation, which the scripture gives of the good disposition of the soul, that it is new.
I need not tell you, that this does not signify a change of our faculties themselves, as if in a strict and literal sense, our souls were to be made anew. But that which is intended, is the introducing of new and holy qualities, in opposition to the sinful disorders which once prevailed in them by the biass of corrupt nature and evil custom; to the old leaven, with which they were once deeply tinctured. The main seat of these disorders is in the soul or mind; and therefore, there the cure and change is to begin, and there the greatest alteration is made ; though wherever this inward change is genuine, it will descend in its influence and effects to the outward conversation. Conversatiote is principally a new modelling of the soul, or a renovation of the spirit of the mind; the rest will follow
In representing this alteration, it may be proper, first, To caution you against resting in some changes, which come not up to the renewing of the mind. And secondly, To give a more particular view of this renovation.
I. THERE are some changes in men which come not up the renewed spirit, and yet are too often and too easily rested in.
1. The assuming of a new name and profession, is a very different thing from a saving change in the temper of the mind. I would charitably hope, that among the several denominations of Christians there are some truly renewed : but there is no doubt but we may be of any profession, and yet
be unrenewed. We may “have a name to live, and yet be dead," Rev. iii. 1. Christianity would have been a very mean thing, and not worth all the solemn credentials, with which God introduced it into the world, if all the intention of it had been to separate a people from others by a new name, how great and excellent soever that name might be. To be called Heathens, or Jews, or Christians, if that were all, would neither be worthy of God to exert himself for, nor of a reasonable creature to take any great pleasure in. And much less can it be of any value, merely to herd one's self under any of the distinguishing names known among Christians. What signifies it what name we bear, if we have not a correspondent nature ? Christianity is a real, a distinguishing character of souls ; and if men bear not the proper character in the inward man, it would be more becoming to bear any other name than that of a Christian. I should not have mentioned this, but that I doubt it. is a common delusion. People value themselves upon their wearing the Christian name, instead of that of Pagan, or Jew, or Mahometan ; or upon being stiled Papists or Protestants ; or upon their attaching themselves to one or another noted party, into which these are subdivided, and upon such a new appellation, they are too ready to imagine, that they are new men. Whereas we may go the round of all professions, and still have the old nature remaining in full force.
2. A bare restraint upon the corrupt spirit and temper, will not come up to this renovation, though the one may some
times be mistaken for the other. The light of nature may possess conscience against many evils ; or a sober education lay such a bridle upon the corrupt inclination, as will keep it in for a season : the fear of punishment, or of shame and reproach, may suppress the outward criminal act, while the heart is fuli of ravening and wickedness. Or God in his providence may divert a temptation, or withhold the opportunity, which would try the inclination to an ill thing'; and in such a situation a man may imagine himself to abhor a sin, to which upon a proper temptation he plainly shews that he has no aversion : as Hazael said to the prophet, when he foretold the savage cruelty he would exercise upon Israel, 2 Kings viii. 13. “What! is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great thing ?” We read of some who had “escaped the pollutions that are in the world, through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ: who had so far entertained and been influenced by Christianity, that they were visibly reformed; but this was not a saving change, for they “were again entangled therein, and overcome, 2 Pet. ii. 20. And indeed that is commonly the issue of bare restraints without a new principle : the restraint is taken off, or the inclination grows too strong for it, and then men “return like the dog to his vomit.” Therefore, though it is a plain sign of an unrenewed mind, if a man live in any course of
sin ; yet it is not safe to conclude merely from restraints, that a man is truly renewed.
3. A partial change in the temper itself will not amount to such a renovation, as makes a true Christian. Indeed in one sense the change is but partial in any in this life ; there will be remains of dsorder in all the powers of the soul, so as to exclude a pretence to absolute perfection. But in another sense, the true Christian is universally renewed ; every power and faculty shares in the alteration; and there is a prevailing inclination to all the branches of goodness and duty, without a stated exception against any, or in favour of any sin, as far as known. The apostle is express in this, 2 Cor. v. 17. “ If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature ;-—all things are become new.
It is not enough to have the mind filled with sound knowledge and useful notions, nor barely to give a dead assent to the doctrines of the gospel, unless we believe with the heart, and the will and affections be brought under the power of those truths : and even here, there may be some alteration, and yet
a man not be renewed. Balaam had strong desires to “ die the death of the righteous,” but was still “ alienated from the life of God.” Saul made some purposes of amendment, but they were faint and fading. Cain was tertified in his conscience for sin, and yet not a true penitent; and Judas also ; notwithstanding which he has gone to his own place. A very bad people “sought God daily, and delighted to know his ways ; they asked of him the ordinances of justice, they took delight in approaching to God,” Isa. Iviii. 2. And those represented by the emblem of “the stony ground, hear the word of God, and with joy receive it," but fall short of the character of true Christians, Matt. xiii. 20, 21. Such instances as these plainly shew, that the affections may receive a new turn, and yet leave a man far short of a saving chang .
Nor is it sufficient, that we should find ourselves disposed to some parts of goodness, while our hearts are utterly averse to others which are equally plain. “ The grace of God teaches us to deny all ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously and godly in the world,” Tit. ii. 12. And where the gospel has effect to renew the spirit of the mind, there is a disposition to all these ; to the government of our appetites and passions, to all social virtues, and to the duties which we owe more immediately to God. And therefore, though we should be of a courteous, peaceable and kind temper towards men ; though we should be inclined to practise justice, liberality, truth and honesty in our transactions with them, and to temperance and chastity in our personal conduct ; though these are excellent branches of the Christian spirit : yet if there be not a right temper towards God also, if the fear and love of God are not the ruling principles of the soul there is an essential defect in the Christian spirit. And the contrary will equally hold true ; whatever regard we seem disposed to pay to God, it cannot proceed from a right principle, unless our souls are formed also to the love and exercise of all moral and social virtues, which are evidently required from us by the same authority. “ For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all, Jam. ii. 10. As if he had said, • Put the case, that a man should resolve upon obedience to all the commands of God, except one, which he desires to be excused from observing, though he knows it to be a command of God as well as the rest;
such a man is guilty of all; that is, he will in such a case be as truly chargeable with disowning and insulting the authority of the lawgiver, as if he refused obedience to the rest; and his seeming willingness to comply with the rest, cannot be a religious submission to the authority of God, but for some meaner reason.' For as the apostle goes on, ver. 11. “He that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, do not kill.” And therefore if a man hates the one out of a simple and sincere regard to God, he will for the same reason abhor the other also.
II. I proceed to give a more particular view of this renovation in some principal acts of the mind.
1. The mind comes to have different apprehensions of things; such as it had not before. The new creation, as hath been often observed, begins with light, as the old is represented to do. When Paul was sent to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, the divine mission he received is described to be on this design, “to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, , and so from the power of Satan unto God,” Acts xxvi. 18. And the actual efficacy of his preaching upon some of those Gentiles, he thus expresses, Eph. v. 8. “ Ye were sometimes darkness, but now ye are light in the Lord.” At conversion the mind comes out of darkness. I say not, that a man hath always at such a time some discovery made to his mind of a new truth, with which he was altogether unacquainted before: Sometimes that may be the case, when persons bred up
gross ignorance, are providentially brought to their first knowledge of the truth, and receive serious impressions from it at the same time. But it is not always so ; light may begin to be saving to a man, though there be not one new truth added to the stock of his former notions : and
may justly be said to have new apprehensions, because he sees the same things in another, a stronger and more convincing light; his mind is fixed in more attention to them, they appear in fuller evidence, and so the difference between former and present impression from them, is like that made by hearsay, and that which is founded upon sight. When apprehensions of divine things become thus lively and powerful, those counter apprehensions, by which the soul was kept before in bondage to sin, are dispelled ; or, at least, the influences of light prevails. Formerly man fancied pleasure or advantage in sin ; and this persuasion was stronger and more in his eye,