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vote yourselves toʻhim, to give up your disaffected hearts to him, to bow that rebellious soul at his feet.
4. Meditate upon the glory of God, his kindness to you, the love and sufferings of Christ, and such subjects as tend to beget and inflame your love to him.
5. Be not weary in the use of these means, but persevere, hold on, until you find a thorough change produced in your hearts. Your eternal All is concerned ; therefore be not remiss and careless ; be not soon tired or discouraged. Never give over until your last breath ; and who knows but that hostile spirit of yours may soon become the friend of God, and at length shine among his celestial friends in all their transcendent glories and ineffable and eternal felicity! Amen.
yohn III. 7. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born
THOSE doctrines are not always most absurd in themselves, nor strange to a well-informed mind, which are most wondered at in the world. Ignorance is apt to wonder, where knowledge discovers nothing amazing or unaccountable. To support our observations, proofs might be given ; but it is to my present purpose to take notice only of one, one that excited from Nicodemus wonder, about 1700 years ago, and is still wondered at ; nay, more, is ridiculed in an ignorant world : I mean the doctrine of Regeneration or the New Birth.
Nicodemus comes to Christ with a conviction of his high character as a Teacher from God, who attested his commission by the strong and popular evidence of miracles. From such a Teacher he expects sublime instructions; and from his own improvements in Jewish learning, he, no doubt, Aatters himself he shall be able to comprehend them ; but when, instead of gratifying his curiosity by telling him strange and great things of the kingdom of the Messiah, as a secular prince, and a mighty conqueror, as he and his countrymen expected, or discoursing like a Rabbi on the Jewish law ; I say, when, instead of this, Jesus opens the conference by a solemn and authoritative declaration of the necessity of something under the name of another birth, how is Nicodemus surprised! This he cannot understand. This seems strange, new doctrine to him ; and he has an objection ready against it, as an absurdity and an impossibility : How can a man be born when he is old ? Can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born ? This objection, which was altogether impertinent, and founded upon a gross mistaken notion of the doctrine, may serve as a specimen of all the objections that have been made against this doctrine ever since ; they have all proceeded from ignorance, or from gross mistaken notions of an evident truth ; and hence men have imagined, like this master of Israel, that they reasoned strongly against it, when in reality they were saying nothing at all to the purpose, and did not so much as understand the case.
Our condescending Lord took a great deal of pains to give Nicodemus right notions of this doctrine. For this purpose he presents it before him in various views. He tells him, he did not mean a second natural birth, but a birth of water and of the spirit ; a birth that renders a man spiritual, and consequently fit for that spiritual kingdom he was about to erect; and that the free and sovereign Spirit of God, the Author of this new birth, operated like the wind, which bloweth where it listeth.
Nicodemus still continues gazing at him, and wondering what he should mean. He is puzzled, after all, and asks, How can these things be ? Jesus tells him the wonder did not lie in the doctrine, but in his ignorance of it, when he was a teacher of the law ; Art thou a master in Israel, and knowest not these things ?
The connection of my text is this : That which is born of the flesh is flesh : and that which is born of the spirit, is spirit; there. fore, marvel not that I said unto thee, ye must be born again. That
" the doctrine you are so much surprised at, is not at all absurd, so as to make you wonder to hear it from my mouth. You cannot but know, that all mankind are born of the flesh; that is, propagated in a way that communicates a depraved nalure to them ; and hence, they are flesh; that is, corrupt and carnal ; and therefore wholly unfit to be admitted into my king. dom, which is pure and spiritual. But that which is born of the spirit is spirit ; that is, spiritual and holy; and therefore fit for that spiritual and holy kingdom, which I am come to set up. Now, if this be the case, you have certainly no need to marvel at this doctrine : can it seem strange to you, that impure, unholy creatures must be changed, before they can be fit members of so holy a society ? Can you marvel at this ? No ; you would have more reason to marvel at the contrary.
is to say,
It is one part of my design to-day to inquire, whether the doctrine of the new birth be indeed such a strange, absurd, or impossible thing in itself, as to deserve that amazement, and indeed contempt, which it generally meets with in the world : or whether it be not rational, necessary, and worthy of universal acceptance ? But before I enter upon this, it will be proper to inquire,
What the new birth is? And,
Remove your prejudices, my hearers, against this doctrine, suspend your disbelief, and cease to wonder at, or ridicule it, till these points be explained, lest you be found to speak evil of the things you know not.
I. Let us inquire, What it is to be born again?
To gain your attention to this inquiry, I need only put you in mind, that whatever be meant by the new birth, it is not an insignificant speculation, not the disputed peculiarity of a party, not the attainment of a few good men of the first class, but it is essential to every good man, and absolutely necessary to salvation. You cannot doubt of this, if you look upon Jesus Christ as a per. son of common veracity, and worthy of credit in his most sol. emn declarations ; for he has declared, over and over again, with the utmost solemnity, that Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of heaven. John iii. 3, 5, and 7. Attend then, if you think your eternal salvation worthy of your attention.
The phrase, to be born again, like most other expressions used upon divine subjects, is metaphorical, and brings in natural things, with which we are familiarly acquainted, to assist our conceptions of divine things, which might otherwise be above our comprehen. sion. We all know what it is to be born ; and our knowledge of this may help us to understand what it is to be born again. As by our first birth we become men, or partake of human nature ; so, by our second birth, we become christians, and are made partakers of a divine and spiritual nature. As our first birth introduces us into this world, and into human society, so our second birth introduces us into the church of Christ, and makes us true members of that holy society. As by our first birth we resemble VOL. II.
our parents, at least in the principal lineaments of human nature ; so by our second birth we are made partakers of the divine nature ; that is, we are made to resemble the blessed God in holiness ; or, as St. Paul expresses it, we are renewed after his ingage in knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness. Eph. iv. 24. Col. iii. 10. The effect is like its cause; the child like the parent. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the spirit is spirit.* In our first birth we are endowed with child like and filial dispositions towards our human parents ; and when we are born of God, we are inspired with a child-like and filial temper towards him, as our heavenly Father. By our natural birth we are placed in an imperfect, but growing state. We have all the powers of human nature, though none of them in perfection ; but from that time they grow and improve, till they at length arrive to maturity. In like manner, in our second birth, all the principles of virtue and grace are implanted; but their growth and improvement is the work of the christian life: and from that time they continue gradually growing, though with many interruptions, till at death they arrive at maturity and perfection. In our natural birth we pass through a very great change.
The infant that had lain in darkness, breathless and almost insensible, and with little more than a vegetative life, enters into a new state, feels new sensations, craves a new kind of nourishment, and discovers new powers. In like manner, in the second birth, the sinner passes through a great change ; a change as to his view of divine things : as to his temper, bis practice, and his state ; a change so great, that he may with propriety be denominated another man, or a new creature. As I shall adjust my discourse to the narrow limits of an hour, I must pass over, or but slightly touch upon all the particulars suggested by the metaphor in my text, except the last, which is the most comprehensive and instructive ; namely, That the new birth implies a great change in the views, the temper, the practice, and the state of the sinner; and under this head, sundry of the other particulars may be reduced.
The various forms of expression, which the scripture uses to represent what is here called a second birth, all conspire to teach us, that it consists in a great change. It is represented as a resurrection, or a change from death to life : You hath he quickened,
* Flesh of flesh, and spirit of spirit. This is according to the established laws of generation, by which every thing begets its like.
saith St. Paul, who were dead in trespasses and sins. Eph. ii. 1. It is represented as a new creation : If any man be in Christ, says the same inspired author, he is a new creature : old things are passed away ; and behold, all things are become new. 2 Cor. v. 17. Put on, says he, the new man, which, after God, is created in right. eousness and true holiness. Eph. iv. 24. These and like expressions signify a very great change : and such forms of speech are very commonly used in the same sense; which shews they are so far from being ridiculous, that they are agreeable to the common sense of mankind. When we see a man that we once knew, look, and speak, and act as he used to do, it is customary to say, “ He is the old man still.” But if we see a great alteration in his appearance, his temper, or behaviour, we are apt to say,
“ He is a new man ;" or, “ He is quite another creature.”
When we see a rugged boisterous man become meek and inoffensive, we are apt to say, “ He is become a mere child." These forms of speech are so significant and popular, that they have even passed into proverbs, and that in various countries and languages; and hence they are used in the scriptures as plain and familiar representations of this great truth. And hence we are bold to use them, in spite of that senseless ridicule and contempt, which some would cast upon them; but which rebounds upon them. selves, for censuring modes of expression that are not only sacred, but agreeable to common sense.
Now, since it is evident the new birth signifies a great change ; you are impatient, by this time, I hope, to know more particularly what it is. It is the change of a thoughtless, ignorant, hardhearted, rebellious sinner, into a thoughtful, well-informed, tender-hearted, dutiful servant of God. It is the implantation of the seeds or principles of every grace and virtue in a heart that was entirely destitute of them, and full of sin. The sinner that was wont to have no practical affectionate regard for the great God, is now made to revere, admire, and love him as the greatest and best of Beings; to rejoice in him as his supreme happiness, and cheerfully to submit to him as his Ruler. Formerly his temper and conduct would better agree to the infidelity of an atheist than to the faith of a christian : but now, he thinks, and speaks, and acts, as one that really believes there is a God ; a God who inspects all his ways, and will call him to an account. The heart that was wont to disgust ihe holiness of the divine law, and murmur at the strictness of its precepts, now loves its loves it