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Christians; and regard neither the Law of God, nor the Gospel of his Son, with complacency of heart. Sinners in this world find no pleasure in the Sabbath, nor in the sanctuary; and never cordially unite either in the prayers, or the praises, then and there offered up to their Maker.
How, then, could sinners find happiness in heaven? That glorious world is one vast sanctuary ; and the endless succession of ages, which roll over its happy inhabitants, are an everlasting sabbath. Their great and commanding employment is unceasing and eternal worship. They rest not day nor night, saying, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, who wast, who art, and who art to come.
As the worship of God is uniformly burdensome to sinners, here; the same worship must be at least equally burdensome to them there. Nay, it must be far more burdensome. The more holy, the more spiritual, any thing is, in this world, the more loathsome, the more painful, is it to the mind of a sinner. But all the employments of heaven are super-eminently holy and spiritual. These, then, must be far more disgusting, than any thing, which Religion, or its worship, can present to his view in the present world. In heaven, therefore, he would be far less happy, than he is here. Every thing, with which he was conversant, would more oppose his taste, contravene his wishes, and disappoint his expectations. Nothing would give him pleasure: every thing would give him pain.
If, then, a sinner is to be admitted into heaven, it is absolutely necessary, that he should have a new heart, a new disposition. Otherwise, it is plain, that, amid all the blessings of that delightful world, he would find nothing but disgust, mortification, and sorrow.
3dly. Such a change is necessary for the Sinner, also, in order to his becoming a useful inhabitant of heaven.
All the inhabitants of that happy world are formed to do good, as well as to enjoy it. Their enjoyment itself is supremely the result of a disposition to do good, and of conduct, in which this disposition is completely carried into efficacious practice. There, is realized in the most absolute manner, the whole nature of that perfect rule of righteousness, delivered by our Saviour, that it is more blessed to give, than to receive; to do good, than to gain it from others. Virtuous beings are assembled here for the very purpose of exhibiting in their conduct the divine nature, and transcendent effects, of this evangelical rule of righteousness; and from their united efforts flows, in streams continually enlarging, universal, unceasing, and immortal good.
The good, here enjoyed, is a common, or public, good; in which one great and general interest is proposed, and pursued; and to which all private, personal interests are cheerfully subordinated. No selfish affection operates here: no selfish purpose exists. Every mind is expanded with affections, all embracing the common interest. Every design is elevated to a happiness, rendered Vol. II.
noble and supreme, because it is universal. To this object every pulse beats: every heart thrills; every tongue vibrates. On it, as if magnetically influenced, every eye is fixed: to it every hand is turned.
But every sinner would feel, that all these things were against him. His affections are only selfish; and his designs concentre solely in private, separate ends, and in interests opposed to the general welfare. His only scheme of happiness, also, is to gain enjoyment from others, and never to find it in doing good to others. This is a subject, of which, as a source of enjoyment, he forms not a single conception. All his plans for happiness are matters of mere bargain and sale; in every instance of which he intends to get the advantage of those, with whom he deals. Good, to him, is good, only when it is separate and selfish; and he knows not what it is to see his own happiness enlarged by the general participation.
In the great, commanding, and sole pursuit of the heavenly world, a sinner would be unable to unite at all. Every wish of his heart must oppose the wishes and designs of all around him, and the great object, for which heaven itself was formed by the Creator; which renders it delightful in his eye; and for which he has gathered into it the Assembly of the First-born. Of course, he would be alone; separated from his companions by a character, totally opposite to theirs ; hostile to them in all his wishes, and pursuits; marked by them as an alien; despised as useless and worthless; pitied as miserable; and loathed as sinful.
Sin is the real and only cause of the wretchedness, experienced in the present world; and, the immediate, as well as the original, cause of the woes, experienced in the regions of perdition. Were sinners admitted into heaven, the same lust, fraud, and cruelty; the same injustice, oppression, and violence; in a word, the same wickedness and wo, which prevail in this world; would revive in that. Of course, the whole system of happiness, begun there, and intended to be carried on throughout eternity, would be either prevented, or destroyed. That God should permit these evils to exist, is incredible, and in my view impossible.
4thly. It is absolutely necessary that this change should be accomplished in this present world.
The present state is, to man, the only state of probation. All beyond the grave is a state of reward. The reward ought plainly to be such, as to suit the character of every probationer; a true testimony of God to his real character; a reward such as he has merited; and such as a righteous God may be expected to bestow. Of course, the testimony, actually given, must be a testimony to the character, with which he leaves this world of probation, and with which he goes to the Judgment.
Besides, Man enters that world with the very same character, with which he leaves this. Death makes no moral change in man; but is a mere passage from one state of being to another; a mere dismission from this world to that, of the probationer from his probation. A simple termination of the animal functions, a mere separation of the soul from the body, plainly cannot alter the moral state of the soul, or change at all its views, affections or character. Of this truth the Scriptures furnish abundant evidence. Do, says Solomon, whatever thy hand findeth to do, with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in Sheol, the world of departed Spirits, whither thou goest. The night cometh, saith our Saviour, that is, the night of death, in which no man can work. Both of these are direct declarations, that both the work, and the state, of probation, are terminated by the grave, and will never exist in the future world. Accordingly, no change in the character of man, either in the article of death, or at any succeeding period of existence, is indicated in the Scriptures. Of course, every man will appear at the judgment with the very
character which he has when he leaves the present world; and this character only will he be rewarded.
Accordingly, the Scriptures teach us, that we shall be judged according to the deeds done in the body; and rewarded according to our works, accomplished on this side of the grave. It is plain, then, that if men enter the future world, without being regenerated in this, they enter with all their sins upon their heads; and must be rewarded for their sins only. But a reward for sin can never be happiness. If, then, sinners are to be admitted into heaven at all, they must undergo this great change of moral character here; of sinners must become holy; must cease from their rebellion and disobedience; must bow their wills to the will of God; and must yield themselves to him as voluntary instruments of his glory.
II. The Reality of this change in man may be satisfactorily evinced in the following manner.
1st. It is declared in the Scriptures.
Besides the evidence, derived to the reality of regeneration from the absolute necessity of it to mankind, the Scriptures declares the existence of it in a great variety of forms. Of his mercy he saved us, says St. Paul, by the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who is made unto us, of God, wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. To be sanctified is to be regenerated; and here it is declared, that Christ is become, of God, sanctification to all his children.
Yé have put off the old man with his deeds, says St. Paul, to the Colossians, and have
put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge, after the image of Him that created him. Put off, says the same Apostle to the Ephesians, the old man which is corrupt, according to the deceitful lusts ; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind: and put on the new man, which, after God, is created in righteousness, and true holiness. In these passages of Scripture we are plainly taught the following things.
1st. That the natural character is considered by the Apostle as differing from the regenerated according to the full import of these two names: the old man, and the new man :
2dly. That the regenerated character is a new character :
3dly. That the assumption of this new character is equivalent to being renewed, or created anew : both of these expressions being used to denote it:
4thly. That the former character, or old man, is a corrupt character, conformed to deceitful lusts, or under the influence of such lusts :
5thly. That the new man, or new character, is created after, or in, the image of God:
6thly. That this image consists in knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness.
For we are his workmanship; created in Christ Jesus unto good works. Eph. ii. 10. Here the Ephesian Christians are declared to be the workmanship of God, as to their Christian character; and to be created in, or through, Christ Jesus unto good works.
But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love, wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath made us alive, together with Christ, or rather by Christ. Here, the former state of the Ephesians is declared to have been a state of death in sins; and their new state is declared to be a state of life : and this they are said to have derived from God. But St. Paul himself explains the import of this passage, if it needs explanation, by informing us, that to be carnally minded is death ; and that to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Saints also are said to be sanctified, lo be washed, to be purified, by the Spirit of God.
It is impossible, that the reality, or the greatness, or the importance, of this change should be expressed in stronger or more definite terms. Those, who are the subjects of it, are said to be made clean, pure, and holy; to have a new heart, a right spirit; to be renewed; to be born again; to be born of God; to be born of the Spirit of God; to be made alive from the dead; to be created anew; and to be new creatures. Can any language more strongly declare, that a real change is made in the moral character of man? that he becomes the subject of a character altogether new, and never belong. ing to him before? As a child, when born, has a new state of existence; so he, who is born of God, has also a state of existence equally new to him. As a thing, when created, begins then first to have existence; so he, who is created anew, begins then to have spiritual existence. Accordingly, St. Paul says, 1 Cor. xiii. 2, Without love I am nothing ; that is, without holiness, the love of the Gospel, I have no spiritual being; no existence in the Spiritual creation, or kingdom of God.
2dly. The Reality of Regeneration is clearly proved by the Scriptural accounts of the first Christians.
Of the conversion of these Christians, and their consequent character, we have ample accounts in the Acts, and the Epistles. Those who were Jews, we know beyond a doubt, were bitter and obstinate enemies, and furious persecutors, of Christ and his Apostles ; hated the religion, which they taught; were bigoted votaries of a religion, consisting in mere external services; children of wrath, and children of disobedience. What the Gentiles were, is amply unfolded in the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans; where they are declared by St. Paul to be lost in absolute abandonment, and profligacy of character. Yet in consequence of the preaching of the Apostles, the same Jews and Gentiles assumed an entirely new character; and continued to exhibit it with increasing beauty throughout the remainder of their lives. Instead of their former fleshly works, enumerated by St. Paul, Gal. v. 19–21, they showed in all their conversation, love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance; the divine and delightful fruits of the Spirit of Grace. Instead of persecuting Christians, they exhibited towards them all acts of kindness; and suffered persecution with them for the sake of the same glorious Redeemer. Instead of their former empty and merely ceremonious religion, they embraced the genuine piety, and pure morality, of the Gospel. All their intemperance, impurity, deceit, injustice, pride, and bigotry, they renounced; and in their place substituted, permanently, the sober, chaste, sincere, equitable, candid, and benevolent, spirit of the Christian system. Through life, they exhibited this spirit in every amiable form; and, at death, sealed this unexceptionable testimony with their blood.
Now it is certain, that an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth evil things; and a good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth good things. It is certain, that a good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, nor a corrupt tree good fruit. In other words, the heart will always characterize the conduct. Whence then, let me ask, was the difference in the conduct of these Jews and Gentiles, before, and after, their conversion to Christianity? The only answer which can be given, consistently with these declarations of Christ, is, that their hearts, before corrupt, and proving themselves to be so, by a life distinguished by all kinds of wickedness, were now made holy; and were proved to be so, by a life adorned with every good work. To add to this decisive evidence, if it can be added to, it may be observed, that all the remaining Jews and Gentiles, who were not the subjects of this conversion, continued, still, to exhibit the same wickedness, which their countrymen had, also, before exhibited; and were just as odious in the sight of God and of man.
3dly. The same truth is abundantly evident in the present experience of mankind.
It cannot be asserted, to the satisfaction of a rational inquirer, that the external, visible change in the conduct of a man, who, be