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I pray God you would seriously consider the importance of this spiritual birth, and not vainly deem yourselves the sons of God while you are strangers to it : you may as well become the sons of men without being generated by human parents, as the sons of God without being regenerated by supernatural grace ; for the scripture has repeatedly declared the absolute necessity of it in various terms. All that become the children of God are born of him, and not of blood, or by natural generation, nor of the will of the fesh, or by any natural propensions of theirs, nor of the will of man, or by the best endeavours of others with them. John i. 12, 13, The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ begets them again, 1 Peter i. 3, and creates them anew, Ephes. ii. 10, so that old things are passed away, and behold, all things are become new. 2 Cor. v. 17. And Cbrist himself, who best knows the terms of admission into heaven, has assured us with a ver ly, verily, that except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God, John iii. 3, 5. And this is the declaration of infallible inspiration, that neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision ; that is, a conformity to the externals of the Jewish or Christian religion is of no avail to salvation, but the new creature. Gal. vi. 15.
2. They that are the sons of God are admitted to enjoy the privileges of children ; and this is implied in their title.
God here treats us with his usual condescension in expressing divine things in the humble language os mortals, by metaphors borrowed from affairs amongst men, that are familiar to us. Therefore form an idea of the usual privileges which a child enjoys from a gracious and powerful father, and leave proper room for the infinitely superior perfections of our heavenly Father to those of the most excellent human parents, and you may from the analogy know something of the peculiar privileges of the children of God. A son, you know, has liberty of access to his father, however great ; he obtains his requests ; he has the guardianship and compassion of his father ; and is seasonably corrected by him for his good. And thus our heavenly Father deals with the children of his grace.
He gives them liberty of access to him in prayer and the insti tutions of the gospel. He not only allows them to attend upon his ordinances, which many do that continue strangers to him, but at times he enlarges their hearts, so that they find themselves near him ; they are admitted into his presence-chamber in free audience with him, and pour out all their hearts before him, vent their complaints, beg a supply of their wants, and render their grateful acknowledgments for his mercies. This temper of mind is so suitable to their relation as the sons of God, that the holy Spirit, as the author of it, is called the Spirit of Adoption ; and the children of God are not capable of exercising this filial freedom at pleasure, but just as he enables then to draw near with humble boldness 10 the throne of grace. Rom. viii. 14, 15, 26, 27. Heb. x. 22. and 2 Cor. iii. 17. And the holy Spirit, as a Spirit of liberty and adoption, is a privilege entailed upon the sons of God, and which they at times enjoy. Gal. iv. 5.6.
Again, As the children of God have liberty to address their father, so they have the privilege of having their petitions graciously heard and answered. An human parent is ready to give good gifts to his children, and much more is our heavenly Father. Thus Christ reasons in the most familiar and moving manner, in Matt. vii. 7-11. and Luke xi. 11-13. and he seems to intimate that this privilege is implied in the relation, by repeating the endearing term Father, in Matt. vi. 6, 8. 9.
Pray to thy Father-and thy Father shall reward thee-Your Father knoweth what things you have need of, before ye ask him. After this manner therefore pray ye, Our Father, &c.
Again, the children of God are entitled to his protection and compassion. His guardian care is celebrated in Psalm xci. and Psalm cxxi. and his tender compassion in Psalm ciii. 13. Isa. Ixiii. 9. and in numberless passages that speak of his bowels of . mercy, his compassions, &c.
Another privilege of the children of God is, that they are sea. sonably corrected by his fatherly displeasure. This indeed they are too apt to count a calamity rather than a privilege ; but since his correction is necessary for their reformation, since it proceeds from the benevolence of a Father, and not from the vengeance of an incensed Judge, since it is intended for their benefit and not for their destruction, since they are supported under it, and it has a proper measure and seasonable end, and since it will be more than compensated with future rewards, it follows, that their chastisement is one of their blessings, and as such it seems promised rather than threatened, and mentioned as a badge of the sons of God, Ps. Ixxxix. 30–34. Heb. xii. 5-ll. and many of the children of God have found reason to praise him for this wholesome severity. Ps. cxix. 67, 68, 71. Upon this principle St. James exhorts them to rejoice when they enter into divers tempia.
tions, James i. 2, and St. Peter tells them that they will befal them only if need be. 1 Pet. i. 6.
3. The cbildren of God are heirs of the heavenly inheritance, and their relation implies a title to it.
They are born to a crown, begotten to an inheritance incorrupti. ble and that fadeth not away, &c. 1 Pet. i. 3. 4. If we are chilo dren, then we are heirs, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ. Rom. viii, 16, 17. Gal. iv. 7. And how vast their inheritance is, you may learn from Rev. xxi. 7. and i Cor. iii. 21, 22.
What advancement is this to mean, sinful, miserable creatures ! Out of prison they come to reign. They are raised from the dunghill, and set among the princes of heaven. No wonder the apostle should exclaim, Behold ! what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.
Thus I have briefly shewn you the glorious import of your relation, the sons of God; and you see it should be the greatest concern of each of you to inquire whether you bear it. To determine this point, I need only tell you, that if you are the children of God, you have been supernaturally begotten by him, as I observed before, (James i. 18) and you have the temper of dutiful children towards him, particularly you reverence and honour him ; (Mal. i. 6.) you love and fear to offend him, and cheerfully do his will, and mourn over your undutifulness ; you are partakers of his divine nature, 2 Peter i. 4, and bear the lineaments of his holiness. But if it be otherwise with you, as I fear it is with many, if you be not conformed to the moral per. fections of God and bear his image, if you have not the disposi. tions of dutiful children towards him, but the temper of the dev. il, and do his works, then you are of your father the devil. And though you may resent this, as the Jews did, the charge is fixed upon you. Therefore awaken all the importunity of your souls, and cry to him for regenerating grace, that you also may become the sons and daughters of the living God. But if you find these characters of the children of God which I just now mentioned, then rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice : you are happier than princes, more great and honourable than the sons of earthly kings. You cannot now formi any ideas what miracles of glory and blessedness your Father will make of such mean, guilty, and wretched things as yourselves. Which introduces what I next proposed.
II. To mention some instances of the ignorance of the sons of God with regard to their future state.
It is true indeed, and some of you, I doubt not, know it by ex. perience, that the children of God in some shining moments enjoy prelibations of heaven, and even now rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory, 1 Peter i. 8.* just as a child in infancy stumbles upon a manly thought : and as the first dawnings of reason may give a child some obscure hint of the masterly reasonings of a mature genius ; so from these foretastes of heaven, the sons of God may form some faint ideas of the perfection of its happiness in full enjoyment. They find these dispositions feebly working in them now, which, when brought to perfection, will constitute their blessedness; and they now find so much real happiness in the exercise of such dispositions, though in an imperfect degree, as fully convinces them that nothing is necessary to make them completely happy but the perfection of such exercises, and an entire freedom from contrary principles. But what this perfection is they have not yet experienced ; their highest thoughts fall short of it ; and it doth not yet appear to them what they shall be in the following particulars.
1. It doth not yet appear what they shall be with respect to the enlargement of the faculties of their souls.
That the human soul is capable of vast enlargements, that its faculties may expand to great dimensions, is evident ; and we find by experience its improvements from childhood to youth, and thence to the close of life, especially in men of a studious turn. And we may be sure that, when like a bird out of a cage, it gets loose among its kindred spirits, and flies at large in its proper element, its faculties will be vastly improved : otherwise it would be overborne and crushed with the weight of glory ; it would be dazzled with the intolerable blaze of heavenly brightness, like a mole that has wrought itself into day-light. As a child is utterly incapable of manly exercises, so, without a proportionable enlargement of its powers, the soul would be incapable of exercising them about the infinite objects then before it, and of joining in the exalted services of that mature world. You may therefore rest confident in this, ye sons of God, that your little souls will then be vastly improved. But as the infant cannot know before. hand the improvement of riper years, so it is with you. Compare
* Xaçã—didożaruern, a glorified joy.
your present selves with your infant-selves, and you will see a vast difference even in the present state ; and how vast the difference between what you now are and what you will be, when you enter into a world entirely new, the proper region, the natural elements of spirits ! Beloved, you are now the sons of God; and he will make you such beings as becomes so near a relation to such a Father ; and what prodigies can he make of you! He that could make you what you are out of nothing, in the course of a few years, what can he make you out of what you now are, through the series of everlasting ages ! How can he mature and enlarge your souls from one degree of perfection to another ! so that, in some future period, you will no more resemble what you are now, than you now resemble what you were in the womb, or upon the breast.
Your understandings, through an endless duration, may be still brightening, without ever coming to their meridian ; and your views be still enlarging, though still infinitely beneath the object of your contemplation. It is fit that souls so improved should be united to bodies suited to them. Which leads me to observe,
2. It does not yet appear to you what kind of glorious bodies you will have after the resurrection.
We are sure they will still be m erial bodies, otherwise they would not be bodies at all. But matter we know is capable of prodigious refinements. Yonder globe of light, the sun, is of the same original matter with a clod of earth, and differs only in modifications. How vast the difference between this aniinal flesh on our bodies, and earth and water ! and yet they are originally the same. Earth and water are the materials of which grain and other vegetables, that animals feed upon, are formed ; and our bodies consist of grain formed into bread, and of the flesh of beasts : so true is it, not only with respect to Adam, but all his posterity, that they are but dust. In short, there is a transmutation of matter into a surprising variety of forms, wherever we cast our eyes : the linen we wear was once earth, that was first refined into flax, then formed into thread, then woven into what we now see it. Thus our bodies may be changed in a most amazing manner, and yet continue substantially the same. St. Paul tells us, that they will be spiritual bodies, 1 Cor. xv. 44, that is, so exquisitely refined, that they will resemble proper spirits, as near as it is possible, while they retain their materiality ; and elsawhere he says, that the Lord Jesus will change our vile body,