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REGENERATION. That the Infidel, or the Socinian, on their principles, should even make a jest of the doctrine of Regeneration, as implying a radical and entire change of the heart, is not at all to be wondered at. But I have often thought it somewhat remarkable, that my christian, who holds the doctrine as, in this view, scriptural, should not likewise admit the necessity of a supernatural divine agency in the production of the change. The description, so expressly and so frequently given in holy scripture, of the depravity of human nature, and of the total impotence of its powers to effectuate any thing spiritually good, together with the many strong terms, in which it designates the change itself, the necessity of it, and the means by which it is effected, one would think, were sufficient to preclude all hesitation on the subje
Under this view, I would request the reader to consider with due attention and impartiality the following passages: viz. Rom. vii. 18. “ In me, that is, in my flesh," meaning his nature as carnal and unrenewed, " dwelleth no good thing;” nothing of the nature or description of that in which real moral excellence and its acceptableness in the sight of God consisteth. Rom. viii. 7. “ The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." Psal. liii. 2. “ God Jooked down from heaven upon the children of men to see if there were any that did understand, that did seek God. Every one of them is gone back; they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no not one.” Gen. vi. 5.“ And God saw that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Jer. xvii. 19. “ The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” Again, read Jer. xiii. 23. “ Can the Ethiopean change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil." 2 Cor. iii. 18. “ But we all,” that is, believers, “ with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the spirit of the Lord.” Ch. 4. v. 6. “ For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” John iii. 3.“ Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh, is flesh; and that, which is born of the spirit, is spirit. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, nor whither it goeth; so is
every one that is born of the spirit.” Eph. ii. 8. For by grace ye are saved through faith; and that, not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” Eph. ii. 10." For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good words.” Gal. vi. 15. “ For in Christ Jesus, deither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature." “ Therefore,” 2 Cor. v. 17.“ if any
nan be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” With many otber passages to the same purpose.
I am not here concerned to account for this woeful defection of our nature, which originally must have come pure and perfect from the hand of its Creator, and fully competent to whatever our well-being, as so constituted, required. Nor am I concerned to make such explanations of these and the like passages, as shall point out their consistency with the many observable appearances of moral capacity and virtue, which are exhibited by men while as yet in their unregenerate state. Let it suffice, for the present, that, those passages bear, not only explicit, but in my opinion, decided testimony to the following truths: namely, That the unrenewed heart of man is radically bad ; that its natural tendency or disposition is to evil; and that, as such, and so disposed, he is morally incapable of thinking, resolving, and acting in such manner, as the nature and perfections of God, as his relations to God, and as the holy and spiritual laws of God require; that, in order to this, a great moral change, or renovation of the heart, must take place; and that the change, if effected at all, must be affected by the agency of a superior power; or, according to the gospel, by the powerful operation of the Holy Spirit.
Such being the case, my discussion might terminate here, were I not sensible, that there are, both professors and preachers of christianity, who, though they expressly assent to these truths, yet do not admit a most important, and as I conceive, inseparable article of their import: that is, that both the change itself, and the efficiency of the productive power, are above nature: I mean, above the reach and standard of its powers and their proper operation in this our lapsed state; and that the change is such, as cannot be effected, either exclusively by the agency of our own powers, or by the agency of the same powers, even aided, or actuated, according to their nature, by a power superior. “ Who," saith Job, xiv. 4." can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one.” « Do men” saith our Saviour, “ gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? even so, every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit; a good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit; neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit." Every effect must correspond with its productive cause. Every cause, producing effect, and operating according to its nature, must produce that, and only that, which is congruous to its nature, how highly soever the effect be wrought, and with what co-operation soever, it has acted: and no cause can produce an effect, in point, either of extent or of quality, above the rate of the power it possesses either naturally or in the circumstance in which it acts.
I cannot, accordingly, accede to the ideas of those who say, that, though the intervention of a divine power be necessary to the production of the change, which in scripture is called a divine nature and the new creature, yet, in this production, we are not to suppose, that the spirit of God operates otherwise than by graciously aiding or prompting the faculties of our minds in their contemplations of the truths of the gospel, or in their efforts, by the ordinary means appointed, to attain to the spirit and habits there recommended. Observe, by the faculties of our minds is here meant, their faculties as they are in their unrenewed state. They are the same, or such as in the passages already recited are called “ unclean things," “ thorns,” “ thistles," " and a corrupt tree.” Now, can these unclean things, by any effort of their own, and operating, as they must, according to their nature, can they produce a clean heart? can these thorns produce grapes? these thistles figs? or this corrupt tree good fruit. This would be an appearance even more than supernatural, and much more extraordinary, than that for which we plead. It would be, not above only, but contrary to nature.
Suppose then, such energy and direction to be by a superior power imparted to them, as that they shall effectuate a change wrought up and completed to the utmost extent of their possible exertion; I ask, to what that change would amount? can it, on any principle of reason or philosophy, be supposed to be of any other nature, than of that by which it was effected? can enmity, the nature of the carnal mind, exerting the most accommodating powers which it may possibly put forth, and those directed, and promoted, agreeably to their proper, that is, their natural tendency or drift, by any supposable superior aid whatsocver, can it, I say, convert itself, or be converted into love? can the “unclean thing," by any operation, consisting with its natural uncleanness, make itself, or be made clean? or can that, in which “ dwelleth no good thing,” work itself, or, by any intervention in aid of the best things dwelling in it, be wrought up
into an habitual frame or principle of goodness? That the ultimate tendency and drift of the influences of the spirit of grace on the unregenerate heart, is the repentance, faith, and conversion of the sinner, is by no means to be doubted; as the aim of the husbandman in the preparatory tillage of his ground is, that he may obtain a profitable crop. But, in neither case are the operations suggested, in a strict and proper sense, effective to the purposes respectively mentioned. As the grain, in the one case, is not engendered or formed by any action of the husbandman, but depends on a plastic agency of a different kind, and by a superior power; so the change, of which we speak, requires an influence or operation of a different kind from any which has been supposed, in order to its actual accomplishment. It is well known, moreover, that those influences of the spirit of grace referred to, do not always terminate in the requisite change; which is an evident proof of their not being of that kind from which the requisite change results. How many, who had been favoured with them, have, after all their good purposes, and apparent reformations, returned, “ as the dog to his vomit, and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire!" The good spirit of God, in his sovereign proceedings, (no doubt, ungratefully and often opposed) hath not seen meet, in this case, by any other more directly pointed and decisive operation, to affect the refractory heart.
The proceedings of the spirit of grace in this affair are founded in great and remarkable wisdom. The attention of the thoughtless sinner is, in the first place, arrested. He is led to serious reflection on the nature and consequences of the life he has led. His conscience is alarmed; and presents to him the just and awful awards of the final tribunal. He sees, and, in a manner, he feels the necessity of deliverance from “ the wrath to come." For this grace he is prompted, of course, with a degree of earnestness to pray; and withal to attempt the amendment of his life, so far at least, as that, according to his apprehension, he may not farther incur the displeasure of heaven, or preclude his successful pursuit of the grace he needs. From the numerous defects, however, of his best attentions and endeavours in the way of duty and from the growing experience he has thereby acquired of the strength and prevalence of his sinful habits, he is gradually brought to see yet more of the depth of his depravity, the greatness of his guilt, and the extent of his spiritual poverty and weakness; and, in effect, he is yet more convinced, that his only sure ground of hope is the provision made in the gospel for “ the chief of sinners;" and that, otherwise, his case is desperate. When this VOL. II.
impressive conviction has obtained, his mind is, on the whole, in a condition more consonant to, or suitable for, the reception of those more special influences and informations which directly tend to and immediately terminate in the change in regeneration implied. But the impressive conviction referred to, with the efforts of reformation, either preceding or attending it, are not of the nature of real religion. They are only preliminary, and, as I think, I may justly say, preparatory in the wisdom of God to the vouchsafement of that grace by which the heart is renewed, and the principles of saving faith and repentance are produced; and, indeed, as I do verily believe, and that on grounds, as I conceive, unquestionable, is the utmost point to which the powers of the unrenewed mind, aided by the concurrent intervention of the Holy Spirit, can be consistently supposed to reach. Still, withal, there must remain a radical defect. There still are wanting the productive seeds, as I may say, of genuine piety in the heart. There still are wanting, in particular, those perceptions of the peculiar beauty and excellence of the divine perfections, and of divine things, in general, which are necessary to render them objects to us of holy and supreme affection, and to produce in us a real taste for them, a proper relish of them, and a commanding desire of the participation and enjoyment of them, together with such intercourse with, and accomodation to them, as true religion, or as the love of God and universal holiness, implies. The perceptions, of which I speak, are the same with that spiritual viscernment, suggested by the apostle in the second chapter of 2 Cor. « The carnal mind receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." The divine act of capacitating, qualifying, or disposing the mind for the admission of these perceptions, together with the efficacious communication of them through the medium of the word of truth and grace, is, as I apprehend, the first step, if so I may speak, or the radical operation of the Spirit in the work of regeneration. On these depend, from these result, that holy taste, that relish, that well-pleasedness or delight in, and enjoyment of spiritual objects, and that desire of, and propension towards them, which I have mentioned, and which essentially belong to the “ new creature,” or “ the new man,” so called in the fourth of Eph. “ which after God is created in righteousness and true holinessst"
Now all this supposes an effect produced, specifically different from any whose production may be attributed to the agency of the powers of the carnal and unrenewed mind. These powers,