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inherent splendour. This is what I understand by the Spiritual light, derived from regeneration.
6thly. This change is instantaneous.
This position has been as much controverted, as any of those advanced in this discourse; but, as it seems to me, with no solid support either from reason or Revelation.
The scheme of those who oppose this doctrine appears, generally, to have been this : The subject of regeneration is supposed to begin, at some time or other, to turn his attention to Spiritual concerns. He begins seriously to think on them ; to read concerning them; to dwell upon them in the house of God, in his meditations, in his closet, and in his conversation. By degrees he gains a more thorough acquaintance with the guilt and danger of sin, and the importance of holiness, pardon, acceptance, and salvation. By degrees also, he renounces one sinful practice, and propensity, after another; and thus finally arrives at a neutral character, in which he is neither a sinner, in the absolute sense, nor yet a Christian. Advancing from this stage, he begins, at length, to entertain, in a small degree, virtuous affections, and to adopt virtuous conduct; and thus proceeds from one virtuous attainment to another, while he lives. Some of the facts here supposed, taken separately, are real: for some of them undoubtedly take place in the minds, and lives, of those who become religious men. But the whole, considered together, and as a scheme concerning this subject, is, in my view, entirely erroneous.
Were we to allow the scheme to be correct, and Scriptural, still, the consequence usually drawn from it, that regeneration is gradually accomplished, is untrue. Regeneration, according to every scheme, is the commencement of holiness in the mind. Without calling in question the doctrine, that man in the moral sense is ever neutral, it is intuitively certain, that a man is, at every given period of his life, either holy, or not holy. There is a period, in
, which every man who becomes holy at all, first becomes holy. At a period, immediately antecedent to this, whenever it takes place, he was not holy. The commencement of holiness in his mind was, therefore, instantaneous; or began to exist at some given moment of time. Nor is it in the nature of things possible, that the fact should be otherwise. All that can be truly said to be gradual
, with respect to this subject, is either that process of thought and affection which precedes regeneration, or that course of improvement in holiness by which it is followed. But neither of these things is intended in the Scriptures, nor ought to be intended in the conversation and writings of Christians, by the word regeneration.
It is often objected to the instantaneousness of regeneration, that the change is too great to be accomplished in a moment. Most of the persons, who make this objection, aim, I am persuaded, at what is customarily called by Divines the work of sanctification ; that is, the Christian's advancement in holiness, after he is regene
rated. This, plainly, is in fact, as it is exhibited in the Scriptures, a work, which is progressive through life. It may well seem strange, for it certainly is untrue, that sanctification, in this sense, should be instantaneous.
By those, who admit that agency of the Spirit of God in renewing mankind, which has been exhibited in these discourses, the instantaneousness of this change has it is believed never been denied. The act of turning from sin to holiness in the first instance, on the part of man, and the act of communicating a disposition thus to turn, on the part of the Spirit of God, are, in their own nature, so obviously accomplished in a moment; that it seems difficult to conceive how any person, considering them with attention, can have supposed them to be progressive. In the Scriptures, the accounts of this combined subject every where teach us, that it exists instantaneously. The phraseology, by which it is chiefly denoted in the Scriptures, strongly indicates, that this is its nature. It is exhibited to us under the expressions, Being born again; being created anew; having a new heart, and a right spirit, created within us; turning to God; turning from darkness to light; and others of a like nature. All these expressions originally denote events, instantaneously existing; and in their figurative application indicate the instantaneousness of the fact, to which they are applied.
The same thing we are taught in the accounts, given in the Scriptures of this fact, as having actually taken place. Thus the three thousand Jews, who were converted by the first sermon of St. Peter, yielded themselves to God at that moment. Such, also, was the conversion of Dionysius ; Damaris ; Sergius Paulus ; the Jailer ; and, generally, of the great multitudes, whose conversion is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. Such, also, was that of the Nobleman of Capernaum; the father of the Epileptic child; the woman of Samaria, and her fellow-citizens; and the thief upon
the cross. 7thly. This change, as to the time, and manner, of its existence, is ordinarily imperceptible by him who is the subject of it.
There have not been wanting heretofore; there are not now wanting; persons holding the name of Christians, and those in considerable numbers, who profess to know the time, and manner, of their regeneration, and to have been conscious at the time of the existence of this change in their moral character; and who accordingly recite all this to each other without any apparent doubt of the soundness of the recital ; nay, who make this a subject of public investigation, with respect to all those, who offer themselves as candidates for admission into their churches. By such men the existence of this change is considered as so manifest, whenever it takes place, that they are able to point out the day, the place, and all the attendant circumstances. From the confidence, with which they speak on this subject, it has perhaps arisen, that many others, who do not go the same length, still go a part of it; and believe, in an indefinite manner, that these things may, at least, be discerned,
and remembered, with probability; that they are to be sought for; that the want of being conscious of them, and of remembering them, is an unhappy event, not experienced by more favoured Christians; nay, by most Christians. Accordingly, the want of this knowledge and remembrance is regarded by such men, however exemplary their lives may be afterwards, as involving a defect in the proper evidence, that they are Christians. However good the fruit may be, which they bring forth ; instead of determining by the taste, that it is good, they feel unsatisfied with this mode of proof: and wish rather to rely on some discovery, which they consider as practicable, of the time and the place, at which the bough producing the fruit, was ingrafted.
All these are, I apprehend, opinions wholly unscriptural, and of course deceitful and dangerous. For,
1st. The Scriptures no where refer us to the Time, or Manner, of our regeneration, for evidence, that we are regenerated. If the time and manner of our regeneration were certainly known by us; it is intuitively evident, that our regeneration itself would be equally well known. If this, then, were the case, it is incredible, that the Scriptures should not, even in a single instance, refer us to so completely satisfactory a source of evidence, to determine us finally in this mighty concern; but should, at the same time, direct us to the so much less perfect evidence, furnished by the subsequent state of our affections and conduct. By their fruits shall ye know them, says our Saviour. Then are ye my disciples indeed, if ye keep my commandments. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven, is my disciple. These are the rules, by which, together with others of exactly the same nature, we are directed in the Scriptures to judge of our moral state. But these rules are not only superfluous, but useless, if the time, the manner, or the fact, of our regeneration were ordinarily known by us. For these, and each of these, would furnish evidence of this subject, completely decisive, as to the state of all men. He, who knew these things, would certainly know, that he was a Christian: he, who did not, would certainly know, that he was not a Christian. No other rule, therefore, could ever be needed, or could ever be employed. According to this scheme, then, Christ and the Apostles have devised an imperfect rule, to direct us in our decisions concerning this interesting subject; while uninspired men, of modern times, have by their ingenuity fortunately found out a perfect one.
2dly. The relish for spiritual good, and the exercise of holy affections, are, at their commencement, certainly no more distinguishable, than the same relish and the same exercises, in the same mind, usually are afterwards. Men sometimes seem to suppose, that in these first acts of a virtuous mind there is something extraordinary and peculiar. All that makes them extraordinary is, that they are the first. In the degree, in which they exist, they are, usually,
among the least remarkable. There is, of course, nothing to make them distinguished, except the mere fact, that they are the first.
But no person needs to be told, that the subsequent holy exercises are so far from being certainly known to be such, that they are, ordinarily, at the best believed, and in most instances merely hoped, to be of this character. If, then, the first holy exercises are not more distinguishable than the subsequent ones, and the subsequent ones are only distinguishable in such a degree as sometimes to be believed, and at most times merely hoped, to be of this character; then it is certain, that the time, the manner, and even the fact, of regeneration, are so far from being clearly known, in all ordinary cases, that they can never be relied on with safety, if considered by themselves only. Much less can they be regarded with undoubting confidence.
3dly. Multitudes of those, who have professed, with much apparent assurance, to know all these things concerning themselves, have afterwards fallen off, and become sometimes lukewarm professors of Christianity, and sometimes open apostates. This fact, which is by no means uncommon among persons, holding the opinion here censured, clearly proves, that the reliance, which is placed on the knowledge professed, is often unfounded, and may be always. That, which has frequently deceived our fellow-men, ought ever to be supposed to be capable of deceiving us.
The truth is; the infusion of a relish for divine things into the mind is a breathing of the Spirit of life on dry bones, perceivable only by its effects: like the communication of the animating principle to the embryo, real, yet not discernible in itself, but in the consequences which it produces. Were the case otherwise, St. Paul could never have asked the Corinthian Christians, Know ye not your own selves ? Nor directed them to prove themselves, whether they were in the faith. Were the contrary opinion just, this Apostle would certainly have appealed to the time, place, and manner, of his own regeneration, which were probably better known to him, than the same things ever were to any child of God, as proofs of the fact, that he was regenerated. But this he never does. On the contrary, the evidence, on which he relied, was furnished by the fruits of holiness, apparent in his life.
REMARKS. From the observations, which have been made concerning this subject, it is evident, that the work of regeneration is worthy of the Spirit of God.
Regeneration is a change of the temper, or disposition, or, in other words, of the heart, of man; and, by consequence, of his whole character. The heart is the great controlling power of a rational being; the whole of that energy, by which he is moved to action. The moral nature of this power, therefore, will be the moral nature of the man. If this be virtuous, all his other faculties will be ren.
dered means of virtue ; if sinful, the means of sin. Thus regeneration will affect the whole man; and govern all his character, powers, and conduct.
Regeneration is of the highest importance to man, as a subject of the Divine Government. With his former disposition, he was a rebel against God: with this he becomes cheerfully an obedient subject. Of an enemy he becomes a friend; of an Apostate he becomes a child. His obedience is henceforth filial, accepted of God, and useful to the Universe. From the debased, hateful, miserable character of sin he makes a final escape; and begins the glorious and eternal career of virtue. The deformity, disgrace, and contempt, of which sin is the parent, and the substance, he exchanges for moral excellence, loveliness, and beauty.
With his character, his destination is equally changed. In his native condition he was a child of wrath, an object of abhorrence, and an heir of wo. Evil, in an unceasing and interminable progress, was his lot; the regions of sorrow and despair, his everlasting home; and fiends, and fiend-like men, his eternal companions. His own bosom was the house of remorse; while a conscience, unceasingly wounded by his sin, held up to his eye the image of guilt, and the predictions of misery; and filled him with immoveable terror and amazement. On his character good beings looked with detestation, and on his ruin, with pity: while evil beings beheld both with that satanic pleasure, which a reprobate mind can enjoy at the sight of companionship in turpitude and destruction.
But, when he becomes the subject of this great and happy change of character, all things connected with him are also changed. His unbelief, impenitence, hatred of God, rejection of Christ
, and resistance to the Spirit of grace, he has voluntarily and ingenuously renounced. No more rebellious, impious, or ungrateful, he has assumed the amiable spirit of submission, repentance, confidence, hope, gratitude, and love. The image of his Maker is instamped on his mind; and begins there to shine with moral and eternal beauty. The seeds of immortality have there sprung up,
, as in a kindly soil; and, warmed by the life-giving beams of the Sun of righteousness, and refreshed by the dewy influence of the Spirit of Grace, rise, and bloom, and flourish, with increasing vigour.
In him, sin, and the flesh, and the world, daily decay, and daily announce their approaching dissolution : while the soul continually assumes new life and virtue, and is animated with superior and undying energy. He is now a joint heir with Christ, and the destined inhabitant of heaven. The gates of glory and of happiness are already opened to receive him; and the joy of Saints and Angels has been renewed over his repentance. All around him is peace: all before him purity and transport. God is his Father; Christ his Redeemer; and the Spirit of Truth his Sanctifier. Heaven is his eternal habitation : virtue is his immortal character: and seraphim, and cherubim, and all the children of light, are his