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can ye are not only dead, but you declare yourselves unworthy of eternal life. To conclude : Let the saints admire the freedom and power of grace, which came to them in their helpless condition, made their chains fall off, the iron gate to open to them, raised the fallen creatures, and brought them out of the state of sin and wrath, wherein they would have lain and perished, had they not been mercifully visited. Let the natural man be sensible of his utter inability to recover himself. Know thou art without strength, and cannot come to Christ, till thou art drawn. Thou art lost, and cannot help thyself. This may shake the foundation of thy hopes, who never saw thy absolute need of Christ and his grace; but thinkest to shift for thyself, by thy civility, morality, drowsy wishes and duties; and by a faith and repentance, which have sprung up out of thy natural powers, without the power and efficacy of the grace of Christ. O be convinced of thy absolute need of Christ, and his overcoming grace; believe thy utter inability to recover thyself; and so thou mayest be humbled, shaken out of thy self-confidence, and lie down in dust and ashes, groaning out thy miserable case before the Lord. A kindly sense of thy natural impotency, the impotency of depraved human nature, would be a step towards a delivery. Thus far of man’s natural state, the state of entire deDravation, -
Being born again, not of corruptible Seed, but of incorruftible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth jor ever. *
- E proceed now to the state of grace, the state of begun recovery of human nature, into which, all that shall partake of eternal happiness, are translated, sooner or later, while in this world. It is the result of a gracious change, made upon those who shall inherit eternal life ; which change may be taken up in these two, (1.) In opposition to their natural real state, the state of corruption, there is a change made upon them in regeneration, whereby their nature is changed. (2.) In opposition to their natural relative state, the state of wrath, there is a change made upon them, in their union with the Lord Jesus Christ; by which they are set beyond the reach of 'condemnation. These, therefore, namely, regeneration and union with Christ, I design to handle, as the great and comprehensive changes on a sinner, constituting him in the state of grace. The first of these we have in the text, together with the outward and ordinary means, by which it is brought about
The apostle here, to excite the saints to the study of holiness, and particularly of brotherly love, puts them in mind of their spiritual original. He tells them they were born again; and that of one incorruptible seed, the word of God. This speaks them to be brethren, partakers of the same new nature; which is the root from which holiness, and particularly brotherly love, doth spring. We are once both sinners; we must be born again, that we may be saints. The simple word signifies to be begotten; and so it may be read, Matth. xi. 1 1. to be conceived, Matth. i. 20. and to be born, Matth. ii. 1. Accordingly, the compound word used in the text may be taken in its full latitude, the last notion presupposing the two former; and so regeneration is a supernatural real change on the whole man, fitly compared to natural or corporeal generation, as will afterward appear. The ordinary means of regeneration, called the seed, whereof the new creature is formed, is not corruptible seed. Of such, indeed, our bodies are generated; but the spiritual seed, of which the new creature is generated, is incorruptible; namely, “the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.” The sound of the word of God passeth even as other sounds do; but the word lasteth, liveth, and abideth, in respect of its everlasting effects, on all upon whom it operates. This word, which by the gospel is preached unto you, ver, 25. impregnated by the Spirit of God, is the means of regeneration; and by it are dead sinners raised to life. DocTRINE. All men in the state of grace are born again. —All gracious persons, namely, such as are in a state of favour with God, and endued with gracious qualities and dispositions, are regenerate persons. In discoursing this subject, I shall shew what regeneration is: Next, Why it is so called; and then apply the doctrine.
Of the Nature of Regeneration.
1. For the better understanding of the nature of regeneration, take this along with you in the first place, That as there are false conceptions in nature, so there are also in grace; and by these many are deluded, mistaking some partial changes made upon them for this great and thorough change. To remove such mistakes, let these few things be considered, (1.) Many call the church their mother, whom God will not own to be his children, Cant. i. 6. My mother’s children (i. e. false brethren) were angry with me. All that are baptized are not born again. Simon was baptized, yet still in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity, Acts viii. 13, 23. Where Christianity is the religion of the country, many will be called by the name of Christ, who have no more of him but the name ; and no wonder, seeing the devil had his goats among Christ’s sheep, in these places, where but few professed the Christian religion, 1 John ii. 19. They went out from us, but they were not of us. (2.) Good education is not regeneration. Education may chain up men's lusts, but cannot change their hearts. A wolf is still a ravenous beast, though it be in chains. Joash was very devout during the life of his good tutor Jehoiada; but afterwards he quickly shewed what spirit he was of, by his sudden apostacy, 2 Chron. xxiv. 2, 17, 18. Good example is of mighty influence to change the outward man; but that change often goes off, when one changes his company; of which the world affords many sad instances. (3.) A turning from open profanity, to civility and sobriety, falls short of this saving change. Some are, for a while, very loose, especially in their younger years; but at length they reform, and leave their profane courses. Here is a change, yet but such an one as may be found in men, utterly void of the grace of God, and whose righteousness is so far from exceeding, that it doth not come up to the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees. (4.) One may engage in all the outward duties of religion, and yet not be born again. Though lead be cast into various shapes, it remains still but a base metal. Men may escape the pollu-T tions of the world, and yet be but dogs and swine, 2 Pet. ii. 20, 22. All the external acts of religion are within the compass of natural abilities. Yea, hypocrites may have the counterfeit of all the graces of the Spirit; for we read of true holiness, Eph. iv. 23. and faith unfeigned, 1 Tim. i. 5. which shews us, that there is a counterfeit holiness, and a feigned faith. (5.) Men may advance to a great deal of strictness in their own way of religion, and yet be strangers to the new birth, Acts xxvi. 5. “After the most strictest sect of our religion, I lived a Pharisee.”
Nature has its own unsanctified strictness in religion. The Pharisees had so much of it, that they looked on Christ as little better than a mere libertine. A man whose conscience hath been awakened, and who lives under the felt influence of the covenant of works, what will he not do, that is within the compass of natural abilities 2 It was a truth, though it came out of a hellish mouth, that “skin for skin, all that a man hath, will he give for his life,” Job ii. 4. (6.) One may have sharp soul-exercises and pangs, and yet die in the birth. Many have been in pain, that have but, as it were, brought forth wind. There may be sore pangs and throes of conscience, which turn to nothing at last. Pharaoh and Simon Magus had such convictions, as made them desire the prayers of others for them. Judas repented himself; and under terrors of conscience, gave back his ill-gotten pieces of silver. All is not gold that glistens. Trees may blossom fairly in the spring, on which no fruit is to be found in the harvest; and some have sharp soul-exercises, which are nothing but fore-tastes of hell.
The new birth, however in appearance hopefully begun, may be marred two ways. First, Some, like Zarah, Gen. xxxviii. 28, 29. are brought to the birth, but go back again. They have sharp convictions for a while ; but these go off, and they turn as careless about their salvation, as profane as ever; and usually worse than ever ; their last state is worse than their first, Mat. xii. 45. They get awakening grace, but not converting grace ; and that goes off by degrees, as the light of the declining day, till it issue in midnight darkness. Secondly, Some, like Ishmael, come forth too soon ; they are born before the time of the promise, Gen. xvi. 1, 2. compare Gal. iv. 22. and downward. They take up with a mere law-work, and stay not till the time of the promise of the gospel. They snatch at consolation, not waiting till it be given them; and foolishly draw their comfort from the law that wounded them. They apply the healing plaister to themselves, before their wound be sufficiently searched. The law, that rigorous husband, severely beats them, and throws in curses and vengeance upon their souls; then they fall a-reforming, praying, mourning, promising, and vowing, till this ghost be laid ; which done, they fall asleep again in the arms of the law ; but they are never shaken out of themselves and their own