« السابقةمتابعة »
5. Our fifth proposition imports, that the aids | of the Holy Spirit promised to man are gradually imparted; hence, to misapply the grace we have, is the most dangerous way to obstruct the reception of fresh support. But listen to some of our supralapsarians, and they will say, that the design of God in promising these aids, is to assure us that how much soever we shall resist one measure of grace, he will still give us a greater measure, and ever proportion the counterpoise of grace to that of a deliberate, obstinate, voluntary enemy. So many have understood the doctrine of our church respect ing irresistible grace; to judge of it consonant to their ideas, this grace redoubles its efforts as the sinner redoubles his revolts; so that he who shall throw the greatest obstacles in its way, shall be the very man who shall have the fairest claims to its richest profusion.
Poor Christians! are these your conceptions of religion? My God! is it thus thy gospel is understood? I hope, my brethren, that not any one of us shall have cause to recognise himself in this portrait; for I am bold to aver, that of all the most heterodox opinions, and the most hostile to the genius of the gospel, the one I have just put into the mouth of certain Christians, is that which really surpasses them all. On the contrary, he who opposes the greatest obstacles to the operations of grace, is precisely the man who must expect the smallest share of it. Grace diminishes its efforts in proportion as the sinner redoubles his resistance. Obstinate revolt against its first operations, is the sure way to be deprived of the second; and the usual cause which deprives us of it, is the want of co-operation with its true design.
6. We are now come to the last proposition, with which we shall close this discourse. However unworthy we may be of the divine assistance, and whatever abuse we may have made of it, we should never despair of its aids. We do not say this to flatter the lukewarmness of man, and to soothe his shameful delay of conversion; on the contrary, if there be a doctrine which can prompt us to diligence; if there be a doctrine which can induce us to devote the whole time of our life to the work of salvation, it is the one we have just announced in this discourse, and made the subject of our two preceding sermons. We have considered three points in the conversation of Jesus Christ with Nicodemus; the nature, the necessity, and the Author of the "new birth." And what is there in all this which does not tend to sap the delay of conversion?
Let each of you recollect, as far as memory is able, what Jesus Christ has taught, and what we have taught after him, on the subject of regeneration. This work does not consist in a certain superficial change which may be made in a moment: in that case, it would suffice to have a skilful physician, and to commission him to warn us of the moment when we must leave the world, that we may devote that precise moment to the work of our salvation. But the regeneration which Jesus Christ requires, is an entire transformation; a change of ideas, a change of desires, a change of hopes, a change of taste, a change in the schemes of happiness. How then does the
system of delaying conversion accord with this idea? What time would you allow for this change and reformation? A month? a week? a day? the last extremity of a mortal malady? What! in so short a time would you consummate a work to which the longest life would hardly suffice? And in what circumstances would you do it! In delirium; in the agonies of death; at a time when one is incapable of the smallest application; at a time when we can scarce admit among the attendants, a friend, a child, whom we love as our own life; at a time when the smallest business appears as a world of difficulty?
But if what we have now said, after this "teacher come from God," on the nature of regeneration, has begun to excite some scruples in your mind concerning the plan of delaying conversion, let each of you recall, as far as he is able, what Jesus Christ has said, and what we have said, following him, concerning the necessity of regeneration: for since you are obliged to confess that regeneration cannot be the work of the last moments of life, I ask, on what ground you found the system of delaying conversion? Do you flatter yourselves that God will be so far satisfied with your superficial efforts towards regeneration, as to excuse the genuine change? Do you hope that this general declaration of the Saviour, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a man be born again, he cannot enter the kingdom of God," shall have an exception with regard to you? have then the reflections we made in our second discourse against this chimerical notion, made no impression on you? Do we preach to rational beings? or do we preach to stocks and stones? Have ye not perceived that regeneration is founded on the genius of the gospel; and that every doctrine of it is comprised in the proposition, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." It is founded on the nature of man, and on the proposed design of Jesus Christ to make him happy; and the acquisition of this end would imply a contradiction, if a man should revolt at the change and the reformation; because, since the loss of primitive innocence, our state is become our calamity; and it would imply a contradiction that we should be delivered from our calamity, unless we should be delivered from our state. It is founded on the nature of God himself: of the two, God must either renounce his perfections, or we must renounce our imperfections; and if I may dare so to speak of my Maker, God must either regenerate himself, or we must regenerate ourselves.
Upon what then do you found your hopes of conversion on a death-bed? Upon the aids of that grace without which you never can be converted? But does the manner in which we have just described those aids, afford you any hope of obtaining them, when you shall have obstinately and maliciously resisted them to the end?
Meanwhile, I maintain my last proposition; I maintain that however unworthy you may have rendered yourselves of divine aid, you ought never to despair of obtaining it. Yes, though you should have resisted the Holy
Ghost to the end of life; though you should | tion. "If any man be in Christ, he is a new have but one hour to live, devote it; call in creature; old things are past away, and behold your ministers; offer up prayers, and take the all things are become new," 2 Cor. v. 17. kingdom of heaven by violence! We will not deprive you of this the only hope which can remain: we will not exclude you from the final avenues of grace. Perhaps your last efforts may have effect; perhaps your prayers shall be heard; perhaps the Holy Spirit will give effect to the exhortations of his ministers; and, to say all in a single word, perhaps God will work a miracle in your favour, and deviate from the rules he is accustomed to follow in the conversion of other men.
This was the change which Jesus Christ announced to Nicodemus, though the Rabbi could not comprehend it. How explicit soever the declarations of the prophets had been on this subject; however familiar their style was among the Jews, regeneration, to regenerate a new man, were terms whose import Nicodemus could not distinguish. He flattered himself that it sufficed for admission into the communion of the Messiah, to acknowledge the authenticity of his mission, the sublimity of his doctrine, and the superiority of his miracles. "Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God, for no man can do those miracles that thou dost, except God be with him." He hoped that this avowal would conciliate the esteem of Jesus Christ, while it equally preserved that of the Jews. He flattered himself with having found the just mean of distinction between that of his persecutors, and his disciples. Jesus Christ undeceived him in the words upon which our discourse must devolve. No, no, said he; God requires no such conduct; to him all accommodations are odious; you must choose, either to perish with those who fight against me, or become renovated with those who account it their glory to fight under my stewards. "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. Art thou a doctor of the law, and knowest thou not these things?"
Perhaps; ah! my brethren, how little consolation does this word afford in the great events of life; and less consolation still when applied to our salvation! Perhaps; ah! how little is that word capable of consoling a soul when it has to contend with death. My brethren, we can never consent to make your salvation depend on a perhaps; we cannot see that you would have any other hope of salvation than that of a man, who throws himself from a tower; a man actually descending in the air, that may be saved by a miracle, but he has so many causes to fear the contrary. We cannot see that you would have any other ground of hope than that of a man who is under the axe of the executioner, whose arm is uplifted, which may indeed be held by a celestial hand; but how many reasons excite alarm that he will strike the fatal blow! We would wish to be able to say to each of you, "fear not," Mark v. 30. We would wish that each of you could say to himself, "I know; I am persuaded;" 2 Tim. i. 12. Second our wishes: labour; pray; pray without ceasing; labour during the whole of life. This is the only means of producing that gracious assurance and delightful persuasion. May God bless your efforts, and hear our prayers. Amen. To whom be honour and glory for ever. Amen.
We said sometime ago, that one must not confound the change which the gospel requires of a weak and diffident Christian, with that which it requires of a man who has not as yet embraced religion, as it would be wrong to say of some who hear us, and who, notwithstanding their weakness and diffidence, are really members of Christ, that they shall not enter the kingdom of God, unless they are born again. But can we doubt, that among the many who compose the circles of Christian society, among the many who compose this
THE NECESSITY OF REGENERATION. congregation, there are many who are in the
[NOW FIRST TRANSLATED.]
JOHN iii. 5-7.
error of Nicodemus? Can we doubt that many of you also, like this doctor, still divide yourselves between God and the world; and who flatter themselves to have the essence of Christianity, when they have but the exterior name. It is to men of this class, that we address ourselves in this discourse. We proceed conformably to the example of our great Master to make an effort to open their eyes, and show them the inutility of this semi-Christianity to which their views are circumscribed; and declare, "verily, verily, except a man be born again, he cannot enter the kingdom of God."
Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born of water, and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, ye must be born again. IT is a sublime idea that the prophets give of the change which the preaching of the gospel should effectuate in the earth, when they represent it under the figure of a new creation: 'Behold I create new heavens, and a new earth; and the former things shall not be remembered," Isa. lxv. 17. These new heavens, and this new earth, my brethren, must have new inhabitants. It would imply an absurdity for God to unite the disorders of the
It is thus we shall continue the execution of the plan formed in our first discourse. We there remarked three things in the conversation of Jesus Christ with Nicodemus: the nature of regeneration; the necessity of regeneration; and the Author of regeneration. The first of these articles we have already discussed: we now proceed to the second; and relying on the aids of God already implored, and old world with the felicities of the new crea-which we still implore with all the powers
of our souls, we proceed to enforce the neces-
We take it for granted, that this expression so familiar in our Scriptures, "the kingdom of God," or "the kingdom of heaven," cannot be wholly unknown to you. The Hebrews substitute heaven for God (and this mode of speaking is common enough in all languages;) hence come the expressions which abound in our writings, the aids of Heaven for the aids of God; and death inflicted by the hand of Heaven, for the hand of God. Just so, the kingdom of heaven, and the kingdom of God, are two phrases promiscuously used in the New Testament. I forbear more texts, which would only waste the time destined for truths more important and more controverted.
are in direct opposition to the principles of the All the principles of the Christian religion, the Christian religion, without being born again unregenerate. It is not possible to embrace in the sense we have given to this expression. What is the sense given to this figurative phrase, born again, in our first discourse? In what does the truth of the metaphor consist? A change of ideas; a change of desires; a change of taste; a change of hope; a change of pursuits. Examine the nature of the Chris tian religion, and you will at once see that its principles are directly opposed to those of the unregenerate; and that the religion of a man which rejects conversion as to any one of these five points, be it which it may, is a religion directly opposed to that of Jesus Christ.
change of ideas is a religion directly opposed 1. The religion of a man who rejects a that of Jesus Christ. The change of ideas here in question, consists, as already explained, not indeed in renunciation of reason, but
in a persuasion that the best possible use a ra tional being can make of reason, is to allow it to lead him to God, who is the source of all intelligence. Now, it is demonstrated by the nature of the Christian religion, that without this disposition of mind, no man can be a Christian.
Now, this expression, "the kingdom of God," can have but one of those two mean-to ings, of the most common occurrence in our Scriptures. It may signify either the economy of the Messiah, which the prophet Daniel represents under the idea of a kingdom, or the felicity of the blessed. The first is the import of our Saviour's words, Matthew the xiith; "If I had cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you." That is to say, if I have received of God the gift of miraculous powers; if I eject demons by the power of God, you may be fully assur- of truths, some which lie open to our ideas, The Christian religion teaches us two sorts ed that the Advent of the Messiah, which you and which the mind of man may discover by have awaited with so much desire, is come its own efforts; but which on the coming of unto you; it being impossible that God should Jesus Christ were so beclouded with obscurity, lend his Almighty power to an impostor. This expression, "the kingdom of God," energies almost more than human to penetrate and with innumerable prejudices, as to require signifies also the state of the blessed. So it them. Such were the doctrines of a provimust be understood in the encomium which dence, the immortality of the soul, a judgment, our Saviour pronounced on the great faith of a a future state, and some others. The object heathen centurion. "Verily, I say unto you, of the Christian religion has been to substitute that many shall come from the east, and from divine authority for that of discussion. You the west, and shall sit down with Abraham, cannot fully demonstrate the doctrine of a proand Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of hea-vidence, because of the obscurity in which it ven;" that is, many of those gentiles who were is involved. This doctrine is decided in the then "without God, and without hope in the gospel: hear the words of Jesus Christ. "The world," shall be admitted with Abraham, hairs of your head are numbered: God feeds the Isaac, and Jacob, to the celestial felicity, re- ravens; a sparrow falls not to the ground withpresented in our Scriptures by the idea of a out his will." feast. We think ourselves authorized to take the doctrines of the immortality of the soul, this expression in the first of the meanings we and of a future state, because of the darkness You cannot fully demonstrate here just assigned it: "Except a man be born in which they are enveloped. Jesus Christ of water and of the Spirit, he shall not enter has decided these points. Hear his words: the kingdom of God;" that is, to become a "The wicked shall go away into everlasting member of the church of Christ, he must be fire, but the righteous into life eternal." It is born again; but if any one will adhere to the the same with regard to other doctrines. In latter sense, we feel no interest in disputing this respect, it seems quite clear to me, that the point. Jesus Christ requires us to teach, the principles of the unregenerate are incomthat his communion affords no mean of attain- patible with the design of the Christian reliing eternal happiness, but that of regenera-gion. Because its designs on all these points tion. The distinction has nothing that should being to supply by authority that of discussion, stop us: to have named it, is enough; perhaps no man can be a Christian who does not subtoo much. ed. The temper of a man who will believe mit to the authority by which they are decidnothing, admit nothing, but what can be demonstrated by the efforts of his own mind, is directly opposed to the design of the Chrisbe born again before he can enter the kingdom tian religion; hence, on this point, a man must of God: the religion of the unregenerate, and but directly opposed. that of the Christian, are not only different,
The second order of truths revealed by the
Let us come at once to the essential point, and prove that this regeneration is absolutely necessary to become a Christian, or as I have said, to attain to celestial happiness. This we shall prove by three arguments.
I. The first is taken from the genius of the
II. The second from the wants of man.
be coincident or revolting to his humour, his
3. An unregenerate man has no taste but
Christian religion are altogether above the sphere of the human understanding, and which our reason would never have discovered, though it had been perfectly exempted from error and prejudice. Such are all those that relate to the means God has chosen for the redemption of the human kind. God alone could reveal those, because none but God 4. An unregenerate man founds his hopes could know what he had chosen. This is the doctrine of all the sacred authors; it is par- on second causes; on the favour of the great, ticularly that of St. Paul, in the second chap- on the course of the winds, on the fertility of ter of his first Epistle to the Corinthians. fields, on the prosperity of trade. But these principles are incompatible with the design of "The wisdom that we preach," he says, not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes our holy religion, which prompts us to found of this world:" (by the princes of this world I our hopes solely on the Divine favour, and elehere understand doctors of the first rank, whe-vate the soul above dependence on all created ther they were Rabbins, which in Hebrew means masters, or whether princes imports philosophers,) "but we speak the hidden wisdom of God in a mystery;" that is, hidden. Why is this the wisdom of God? Why is it a mystery? Because none but the God who had formed it could have discovered it, and no man could reason out those things by the efforts of The apostle adds, his own understanding. these are the things, "that eye hath not seen, nor ear heard; neither have entered into the heart of man, the things that God hath prepared for them that love him:" that is to say, these are plans of God's sovereign pleasure, Now, the plans in favour of the faithful. which God had formed by his sovereign pleasure, the "things which had not entered into the heart of man, God hath revealed to us by his Spirit; by the Spirit which searcheth the deep things of God," and most impenetrable to man; as the mind of man is conscious of its own designs, and most impenetrable to others. "For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him; even so, the things of God knoweth no man save the Spirit of God."
The design of the gospel with regard to truths of the second order has been to substitute authority for reason, to substitute the decisions of Jesus Christ for the natural weakness of man, who is inadequate to discover these things. One cannot therefore be a Christian unless one bow down to divine authority. By consequence, to be a Christian one must be born again, and change our ideas; hence the religion of the unregenerate, and that of a Christian are not only different, but incompatible.
5. An unregenerate man forms projects of terrestrial happiness. He says, as the worldlings in the 4th Psalm, Who will make "our corn and wine to increase?" Who will augment our revenues? Who will amplify our fortunes? Who will give us the lustre of a name, and the glare of reputation? Who will gratify this mad ambition which absorbs the soul, and prompts us to trample on our species, and look on men who have, in common with ourselves, the same Creator, the same faculties, the same grandeur, and the same baseness, as diminutive worms unworthy of our regards. But these principles are incompatible with our holy religion, whose grand design is to inspire us with the sentiments of confiding in God alone the care of our happiness, how difficult soever the road may appear in which he calls us to walk.
II. We have proved from the nature of our holy religion that to be a Christian, we must be born again; let us now prove it by what is requisite for the happiness of man; let us prove, that God in giving us a religion which appeared so rigorous, has not acted as a tyrant, but as a lenient legislator, and a compassionate This appears at Father, whose sole design was to provide for the wants of his creatures. first insupportable. It seems that the love of God would have shone in the gospel with quite a different lustre had it been his pleasure to exercise over us a sovereignty less despotic; had he left us the uncontrolled disposal of our faculties, and had he been mindful to dispense with those renovations which cost so much to the flesh. I am confident, however, of demonstrating to you, that had God relaxed any part of this pretended rigour, he must have retrenched it from your happiness.
The happiness of man demands that religion should effectuate a change in his ideas in the sense already explained; the happiness of man demands that Jesus Christ himself should condescend to exercise a sovereign control over our reason, and himself decide whatever we ought to believe on the subject of religion. To the proof of this we now proceed.
One of the most dangerous, and at the same time the most cruel, dispositions of the mind, is to revoke in doubt the fundamental truths of religion. Assuredly this is one of the most dangerous, for that doubt plunges us into one abyss after another. The speculative truths of religion are the basis on which the practical are supported. The basis of this practical
What we have said on the change of ideas we equally affirm with regard to the other changes, in which we have made the nature of regeneration to consist: but the limits of our time, and the importance of the subjects, which remain for discussion, prevent our proving it in all its extent.
2. An unregenerate man follows his own
truth, that we must detest injustice, is a belief | undertaking it, and reduces me to an incapa-
hand. I find a religion which demonstrates
But it is equally cruel as dangerous, to cherish doubts with regard to the fundamental doctrines of religion. You do not feel the cruelty of this disposition, now that you have a little health, a little strength, and a share of prosperity; you consider the game of life which you play, as the most important subject that can occupy your mind: but when you shall enter into yourselves; when you shall extend your views beyond your senses, and the confined circle of surrounding objects; ah! when you shall arrive at the period in which the world shall present nothing but a scene about to vanish away; Oh! my God! how cruel will those doubts then appear! when you shall be unable to satisfy your mind on those most important inquiries. Am I only a material substance, or is this material substance united to a spiritual substance? Will this spiritual substance to which my body is united be involved in its dissolution, or will it rise above its ruins? Is the religion to which I have adhered, the religion of Jesus Christ, or is it the religion of anti-christ?
religion should require a change of his ideas in But if the happiness of man demand that the sense we have explained, it equally requires that he should change the objects of his pur suits. What men could wish, as most advan tageous, is, that Jesus Christ should condescend to leave to themselves the sole care of their happiness. Two considerations withhold our assent to this notion. The first is, that we are we form imaginary schemes of happiness; the not sufficiently aware of our ignorance when second is, that we have no idea of the manner in which the Saviour loves, nor in what respects he really loves mankind.
1. Let us acknowledge our ignorance with really know in what true happiness consists? regard to the schemes of happiness. Do we not know to what extent the faculties of the we who do not know ourselves; we who do
may be improved; we who know not of what operations an intelligent being is capable who has ideas but of two or three substances, and who wants information to know, whether there are ten thousand substances besides those we know; we who have had but perception of sort of notions of an infinity of others; of a few sensations, and who could not form any whose attainment our souls are susceptible? Do we really know in what happiness consists? We, who resemble those clowns who have never gone beyond their village or hamlet, and who affect to judge of politeness, of high life, of courtly airs, of polished manners, of real grandeur, conformably to the ideas formed of them in those hamlets and villages? Do we know in what true happiness consists? We, who have never gone from the little spot of the universe where the Creator placed, but not confined us; we, who have never joined the choirs of angels, of archangels, of cherubim, of seraphim? We, who have never been in the heavenly city of God, in the Jerusalem from above, where the Divinity discovers the most glorious marks of his presence, receives the adorations of the myriads who serve him, and are continually in his presence?-Do we know in what true happiness consists? We, whose taste is spoiled by intercourse with corruptible beings, with the avaricious, who think to be
But is it possible for one to avoid a disposition so dangerous and cruel when one has no other guide in the theory of religion than one's own ideas? I know that all men have propen-soul sities to religion on coming into the world; I know that "the gentiles who have not the law, are a law unto themselves." But after having seriously meditated on the confined limits of my understanding, on the force of my prejudices, on the rashness of my decisions, and on so many other truths which induce me to distrust myself: when after having been profoundly engaged in these reflections, I find myself called upon to determine by my own light on the grand question of religion; when I transport myself into the midst of all those systems to which the imagination of men has given birth; when I find myself called upon to dissipate all those chaoses, to develope all those sophisms, and take a decided part among so many controversies, and learned characters; when I find myself, as before stated, left to determine by my own efforts whether the soul be immortal, whether there be a Providence; and especially when I say to myself, that on the manner in which I shall determine these questions my everlasting happiness or misery depends, that to deceive myself is to destroy myself, and that there can scarcely be a mistake on these grand points which may not be fatal; I frankly avow that I fall under the weight, and that the terror only excited by the magnitude of the task imposed, deprives me of the courage of