Page images



that leadeth to destruction, it is not surprising that we should speak but seldom of the unfrequented path that leads to life; and that we should but feebly and sparingly press those truths by which at length worldlings must be either convinced or confounded. But it is certain, that if we be more sincere, a thousand dif. ficulties will rise up to deter us, and shake the resolutions which we have formed to resist the torrent of prejudice and ungodliness.

We fear being accused of want of charity, if we de. clare as strongly as the Scripture does, " That if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.' We are afraid of being charged with preaching a new doctrine, if we declare boldly with St. James, “That he who is the friend of the world is the enemy of God;' or with St. Paul, “That she who liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth.' And we find by sorrowful expe. rience, that we must submit to be counted Visionaries and Enthusiasts, or cease to declare with the same Apos. tle, that the true Christian is a man who "glories only in the cross of Christ, who, being justified by faith, has really peace with God;' that he feels the peace of God in his soul, as a seal of the pardon of his sins ; that he' rejoices in hope of the glory of God;' and that he glories in tribulation, because the love of God is shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost given unto him.' For it is certain that the world is always the same, and that the doctrine of Christ, as well as his cross, is still to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness : That it still excites the indignation of those who falsely call themselves children of God, and is ridiculed by those whom the foolish wisdom of this world fills with presumption. Nevertheless, as among those who reject the counsel of God in giving it the names of enthusiasm and dangerous reverie, there are some who are distinguished by their good desires, and by some sparks of zeal for the religion of our fathers : And as among those who fight against God, many do it in ignorance, believing that they do him service ; let us strive to explain, in this discourse, one of those essential

truths of Christianity upon which these half-Christians meditate so rarely, and which they decry so often ; viz. The doctrine of our Regeneration, or New Birth in Jesus Christ.

And to sustain the attention by the order of the matter, as well as by the importance of the subject, let us examine,

FIRST. Upon what occasion our Lord Jesus Christ declared, that • Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God ?'

SECONDLY. What we are to understand by these expressions, "To be born again ?' To be regenerated ?

THIRDLY. What are the reasons upon which the absolute necessity of our regeneration is founded ; and how easy, and yet dangerous, it is to take the reformation of our manners for the regeneration of our souls.

LASTLY. How we may come to a true renovation, without which no man can see the kingdom of God.

Reader, if you love the truth, and if you have respect to the eternal Son of God, whose words we are now to consider, lift up to him a mind disengaged from preju. dice, and beseech him to apply, to your heart and mine, the profound truths of our text! He taught them him. self during the days of his flesh, and he still gives the knowledge of them by the unction of his Spirit. Yes, Divine Redeemer! Let thy Grace teach us, and thy Word shall be in this hour also a light unto our feet ! Deign to shew us the path which conducts to thee, and give us the will and the power to run therein and follow thee in the regeneration, until we enter in by thee into thy kingdom: For thou art alone the Path, the Door, the Truth, and the Life!


To whom, and how our Saviour preached Regeneration.

THE Evangelist teaches us, that Nicodemus, a Jew, as remarkable for his attachment to his religion, as for his knowledge, his reputation, and his rank, having beard of the miracles of Jesus, concluded that he was a prophet sent of God, and came to see him by night ; probably to put to him questions concerning the kingdom of God, which all the pious Jews then attentively waited for. Our Lord, knowing that the ideas which Nicodemus had of his kingdom were not less gross than those of the rest of the Nation, took this occasion to undeceive and instruct him. He declares to him that the kingdom of heaven is of a nature so spiritual, that a man, far from having power to enter, cannot be in a state even to see it without a real conversion. “I say to you,' adds he," that except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.'

As if he had said, Do not deceive thyself, Nicode. mus. My kingdom is not of this world. Thou bast formed false ideas of it. Few of mankind can see it, and thou canst not enter into it thyself. Thy temperance and moral virtues, thy zeal for the religion of your fathers, and the exactness with which thou fulfillest thy exterior duties, have not yet prepared thee for the pre. sence of God. If thou be not delivered out of the estate in which thou art at present, know that thy soul will always remain encompassed with darkness as thick as that which envelopes an infant who has not yet seen the light. Thou rejoicest in a life animal and earthly; but thou hast lost in Adam a life spiritual and divine. Thou hast lost the life of God out of thy soul, and thou canst not recover it but by being born again. Without

a spiritual birth, it will be as impossible for thee to see God, and rejoice in the brightness of his face, as for an infant not yet born to discover the sun, aud rejoice in his light.

This doctrine, altogether strange as it must appear to the natural man, could not be wholly unknown to a Jewish Doctor. God had promised to the Israelites, by the mouth of his Prophets, that he would put a new spirit within them ; that he would take away the heart of stone out of their flesh, and give them an heart of flesh; that he would circumcise,' or change entirely,

their hearts ; that they might love him with all their soul, and with all their strength.' David bad demanded of God with torrents of tears, ó that he would create in him a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within him.' And Ezekiel had cried to all the people, · Put away from you all your iniquities, make you new hearts and new spirits ; for why will you die, O house of Israel ?! We may believe, that, after these promises, these prayers, these declarations, these menaces, expressed so clearly in the Old Testament, a sincere Jew must have some idea of that spiritual change which distinguishes the faithful from the children of this world. But as in the present day, among the people of God, there are some who conscientiously fulfil many moral duties, and walk with sincerity in the exterior ordinances of Religion, without at the same time knowing by experience what the New Birth is, so it was in the times of our Saviour. Nicodemus, notwithstanding all his virtue, his religion, his zeal, his sincerity, and his love for instruction, was not yet regenerated : And consequently he augmented the number of those righteous persons, who think they have no need of deep repentance or spiritual renovation.

Being therefore struck with astonishment at hearing the words of Christ, and being yet so blind as to under. stand them in a gross and literal sense, · How can a man be born again ? cried he, when he is old, can he enter a second time into his mother's womb, to be born ?' . That which is born of the flesh is flesh,' replied

Jesus. In vain would you be born a second time of flesh and blood, which cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven. You could not therely be in a state to enter into that kingdom, for you could only carry out of your mother's womb a nature corrupt, sensual, and earthly. It is of a spiritual birth I speak ; for only • that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.' And as the kingdom of God is purely spiritual, I repeat to thee again, “Verily, verily, if a man be not born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into it. If the pure waters of grace, of which those of Baptism are emblematic, do not render white as snow those sins which are red as scarlet : And if the powerful operation of the Spirit of God do not renew all the faculties of his soul, causing him to be born again of incorruptible seed, by which he may recover the image of his Creator, and be. come thus a partaker of the divine nature, he shall have no part in the inheritance of the saints in light; the entrance of that kingdom shall be shut against him forever.

And, as if it were not sufficient to have twice declared Regeneration absolutely necessary to salvation, and to have supported his second solemn declaration by the word (not to say the oath) Verily, repeated also twice, the Son of God, seeing surprise painted upon the face of Nicodemus, and discovering by those eyes which sound the hearts and the reins, that he could not receive his doctrine, because he could not comprehend by what ope. ration of the Spirit a soul could be regenerated; the Son of God, I say, prays him, as with tenderness, not to be astonished if he should say to all those who were present, as well as to him, “Ye must be born again.' And fearing lest that which is mysterious in the renew. ing of the soul, should cause him to reject what he had said as absurd and impossible, with a patience and wis. dom truly admirable, he strives to make him see the possibility of feeling the effects of the Grace which regenerates, and at the same time the impossibility of describing exactly its operations.

How great brevity and force are united in the reasoning of our Saviour! “The wind,' says he, bloweth

« PreviousContinue »