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under the entire dominion of a totally depraved heart, they always despise, or neglect, or oppose the gospel. No external means or motives can remove their enmity to God and the gospel; but regeneration, or a change of heart, slays their enmity and reconciles them to God, to Christ, and to the gospel. As God causes it to rain on one city, and not on another, so he sends a shower of divine grace on one place, and not on another. The wind blows where it listeth. The Holy Spirit acts as a sovereign in operating on the minds of men." He awakens one, and not another. He convinces one, and not another. And he renews one, and not another. If a person or people resist his operations, he often leaves them for a time, and, not unfrequently, for ever. The seven churches of Asia gradually resisted his power and influence; for which he finally forsook them, and left them to pine away in their iniquities. He is still acting in the same sovereign manner, and leaving one person and one people after another, to sink in stupidity, guilt and death. The gospel has once and again produced its saving effects here; but for years its saving influence has been diminishing, and seems to be almost entirely gone. The reason is, the Holy Spirit has withdrawn his awakening, convincing, and converting influence. But why has he withdrawn his special influence? Is it not because he has been long and vigorously resisted ? Has not the divine Spirit been resisted by sinners, and grieved by saints ? He may soon return, and appear in his glory in building up Zion; but there is great reason to fear that he will not.
5. If regeneration be such a change of heart as Christ has represented, then it affords no excuse to sinners for delaying to embrace the gospel. They take a great deal of pains to find excuses for neglecting the concerns of the soul, and delaying to repent and believe in Christ. They devise a variety of excuses for their negligence and delay, which appear plausible to themselves, and, they are ready to imagine, must appear so to others. But their excuses will not bear a serious examination, and if they are hardly pressed, they will give up one after another, until they come to their dernier resort, which they resolutely maintain. They confidently ask, Must not men be regenerated before they repent and believe the gospel ? Is not regeneration the work of God? Can we regenerate ourselves? I ask you, Why not?— if regeneration be the same as loving God, instead of hating him, or if it be the same as actually and voluntarily turning from sin to holiness. You are as able to love God, as to hate him. You are as able to turn from sin, as to continue sinning. You are as able to love God before you do love him, as afterwards. You are under moral obligation to love God, before you love him. You are required to
love God before you love him. There is nothing hinders you from loving God, but your present disaffection to him. God cannot turn you from sin to holiness, without your freely and voluntarily turning yourselves. God cannot give you a new heart and a new spirit, without your freely and voluntarily making a new heart and a new spirit. Your need of regeneration is no obstacle in the way of your loving and obeying God, and therefore your not being regenerated is no excuse for your not loving and obeying God. I appeal to your own consciences, whether you feel that you have a right to plead before God your want of regeneration, as an excuse for not loving and obeying him with all your heart. Your consciences forbid you to make such an excuse before God. The reason why conscience forbids you to make such a plea, is because you are able, as has been shown, to accept the offers of the gospel, because you are able to obey the commands of the gospel, and because you deserve to be punished for refusing to obey. Why will you plead that for an excuse for all your neglect of duty, which both God and conscience tell you is of no weight, and can be of no avail ? Be entreated not to deceive yourselves with a false notion of regeneration, which has been such a stumbling block to many. If you have formed a false notion of it, renounce your error, and the false inference you may have drawn from it; and immediately obey the express command to make you a new heart and a new spirit. “ For why will ye die?"
6. If regeneration consists in a change of heart from sin to holiness, as Christ represented, then we may see why there is a mutual alienation between the unregenerate and the regenerate; or between sinners and saints; or between the sons of God and the children of the world. Their hearts are diametrically opposed to each other. The regenerate love holiness, in themselves, in God, in Christ, and in the friends of Christ; but the unregenerate hate holiness, in God, in Christ, and in the friends of Christ. The regenerate hate sin, in themselves and in the children of the world; but the unregenerate love sin in themselves and in the men of the world. These directly opposite feelings towards sin and holiness, create an alienation between sinners and saints. Saints have always manifested their alienation from sinners, by coming out from among them, and hating and avoiding their evil examples, and condemning and opposing their destructive courses; while on the other hand, the children of the world have hated, opposed, oppressed, and used violent methods to crush the cause and friends of Christ. This controversy and alienation between the regenerate and unregenerate, the apostle tells the christians in Galatia, had been, was then, and would be the source of great unhappiness in the world. “ Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. But as then he that was born after the flesh, persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now." This controversy will last until regeneration shall destroy the root of it in the hearts of sinners.
7. If the Holy Spirit in regeneration produces the fruits of holiness in the hearts of those whom he regenerates, then they may know that they have been born of the Spirit. If they have the fruits of holiness in their hearts, they will manifest those fruits in their lives. If they love God, they will love the friends of God, which the apostle declares to be an infallible evidence of regeneration. “We know," says he, “ that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren." It is on this ground, that christians are required to know that they are the children of God, and joint heirs with Christ to eternal life. Paul says to the Corinthians, " Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates." If there were no such thing as regeneration, there would be no propriety in calling upon men to examine themselves; or if regeneration did not consist in a change of heart and in the fruit of the spirit, there would be no propriety in calling upon any to examine themselves whether they are in a state of grace, It is the true doctrine of regeneration that forms the essential distinction between saints and sinners, and lays a foundation for saints to know that they have been born again. And it is their duty to assure themselves that the love of God has been shed abroad in their hearts, and to manifest it to the world, by walking in newness of life, and displaying the fruits of holiness.
They are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people ; that they should show forth the praises of him, who hath called them out of darkness into his marvellous light.”
Finally, if regeneration be an active change from sin to holiness, then sinners may know their character, their condition, and their duty. They are, by nature, free, voluntary enemies to God, and totally destitute of every holy affection. This is their character. Their condition is a state of condemnation. The wrath of God continually abides upon them. Their immediate and indispensable duty is, to turn from sin to holiness; from hating to loving God; from disobeying to obeying God; and from rejecting to embracing the gospel. These duties are founded in their rational nature and depraved condition, and though the wind bloweth where it listeth, though the Holy Spirit either softens or hardens their hearts, they are immediately binding upon them. There is no room left to ask what you should do.
THE ORDER OF GRACIOUS EXERCISES IN THE
- Bor faith, which worketh by love. - GALATIANS, v. 6.
Paul was surprised that the churches of Galatia which he had been instrumental in planting, should so soon be led into great and dangerous errors by false teachers. "I marvel," says he, “that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ, unto another gospel; which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed." The apostle had taught these christians that Christ is the end of the law for righteousness, and that his atonement is the only foundation of pardon and acceptance in the sight of God. But the false teachers denied the doctrine of justification by faith alone, and taught the doctrine of justification by the deeds of the law. This he represents as a fatal error. “ For," says he, “if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.” And he goes on to say, “ I testify to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love." The Judaizing teachers were ignorant of the nature of regeneration, and its necessity in order to those gracious exercises which are connected with justification and eternal life; and it was owing to their ignorance of this saving change, that they maintained the doctrine of justification by the deeds of the law. The apostle, therefore, strikes at the root of their fatal errors by saying that sinners are justified by that faith in Christ, which works by love. But it has long been a question, whether the apostle means, by this mode of expression, to assert that faith flows from love, or that love flows from faith. This is a very important question, because a just solution of it will directly tend to distinguish all true religion from that which is false.
All evangelical writers and preachers maintain that none can be real christians without exercising faith, repentance and love; but they differ widely in respect to the proper order of these gracious affections. Some place faith before love and repentance, and some place love before repentance and faith. Though all true christians do actually experience these gracious exercises, yet very few are able to determine from their own experience, the order in which they take place in a sound conversion. This we must learn chiefly from scripture, and from the nature of these holy affections. And that we may discover the truth upon this interesting subject, it is proposed in the present discourse to consider two things. One is, the order in which gracious exercises take place in a renewed sinner; and the other is, the importance of representing such gracious exercises in their proper order.
I. Let us consider the order in which holy exercises take place in a renewed sinner. The Spirit of God in renewing, sanctifying, or converting a sinner, does not give him any new natural power, faculty, or principle of action ; but only gives him new affections or exercises of heart. It is true, indeed, the Holy Spirit commonly awakens and convinces a sinner, before he converts him. He makes him see his danger, and feel his desert of eternal destruction, before he reconciles him to God, or turns him from sin to holiness. But as both sin and holiness consist in free, voluntary exercises, so the divine Spirit, in converting a sinner, only turns him from sinful to holy exercises.
Having premised this, I proceed to consider the order in which the Spirit produces the first gracious affections. If love be distinct from repentance, and repentance distinct from faith, which cannot be reasonably denied, then one of these affections must be exercised before another, in a certain order. They cannot all be exercised together. The question now is, which is the first, second, and third, in order. And here it is easy to see that love must be before either repentance or faith.