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Two things have been already shown; 1. That regeneration is a moral change, and, 2. That the necessity of it is universal.
I am now to inquire, whether there be any thing irrational in attributing this change to divine agency; then consider what is the testimony of scripture on this subject; and lastly inquire, whether there be not, even now, many incontestable facts, of which, without the supposition of divine influence no good account can be given.
1. Is there any thing irrational in attributing to divine agency, that alteration of moral character, which in scripture language, is termed a new birth?
That God should create a world, in the minutest parts of which we distinctly perceive the marks of intelligence and design, and then permit this same world to exist without any further attention from him, implies an absurdity, little, if in any degree, less glaring, than that of atheism.
If the world were worth making, it is worth preserving and superintending. If it were created for some purpose, it must, for the same, be continued: and if there be some purpose, for the accomplishment of which the world is continu
ed, it is impossible" to conceive, that Deity should not exercise that influence, whatever it be, which is necessary to se cure this purpose from proving abortive.
But the intellectual part of creation is far most important. In examining the history of past ages, we notice, with considerable interest, no doubt, an earthquake, the appearance of a comet, the eruption of a volcano, the formation of a new gulf, or a new island: but it is the changes, which are effected among intelligent beings;-it is national wars and revolutions, which justly engross our highest attention. These have a far more intimate connexion, than the other, with human happiness and human virtue. Now, these events are not mechanical; but all result from human choice. If therefore, God had not, either directly or indirectly, any influence on the tempers and volitions of men, he could not regulate these great events; and the Universe, so far, as its most important interests are involved, would be, in a very slight degree, if at all, under the divine control. How in consistent such an opinion would be, not only with the most enlightened philosophy, but with the common ideas of man. kind whether christian, Jewish, or pagan, it is unnecessary to show.
But most men are convinced, not only that the world in general is under a divine superintendence; but that this su perintendence embraces their own circumstances, and, in some instances at least, their characters. If they are in danger, they doubt not, but Deity may by invisible agency, secure their escape. If they are in perplexity, as to the course, which will issue most advantageously, they question not the possibility of being divinely directed. Whether habituated themselves to devotion or not, they suspect no impropriety in the prayers of others, who ask of God to illuminate their understandings, to secure them from error and to advance within them all virtuous dispositions. Few persons, I apprehend, ever imagined that the following lines of Thompson contained any thing, inconsistent with the
most rational views of the character of God, or the condi
tion of man.
"Father of light and life; thou good supreme;
From every low pursuit; and feed my soul
With knowledge, conscious peace, and virtue pure;
Now, the prayer, contained in this charming language, is undeniably formed on the opinion, that human virtue does, in some way or other, depend on the agency of God.
From quotations, which are often made on this subject from heathen philosophers, you are probably convinced, that such men, as Cyrus, Socrates, and Plato; and, among those of a later period, Cicero, Seneca and Simplicius, occasionally expressed sentiments, surprisingly coincident with those, generally acknowledged among believers in christianity. They acknowledged that virtue had a celestial origin, Nemo igitur vir magnus sine aliquo afflatu divino unquam fuit. (Sic. de nat. Deor. 128.)
It is well known, that men have a degree of influence on the moral character of each other. A man, fully determined on the commission of a crime, is sometimes diverted by the seasonable remonstance of a friend. In a similar way, have habits of profaneness or sensuality, in some few instances, been interrupted, or effectually broken. Now, if one hu man agent may have some influence on the moral character of another, is it not perfectly reasonable to believe that He, who is the creator of human souls, and who has therefore a perfect knowledge of their powers and their propensities, may have on the moral character of his creatures, a far greater influence? If you can, in any degree, restrain the vices of another, is it incredible, that God, who is the Father of spirits, should eradicate those vices, or implant real virtue?
II. I am now to consider what testimony the scriptures bear, as to the subject before us.
Much is said in the Old Testament, under the form, both of promises and predictions, concerning the prevalence of
religion in future ages, especially under the reign of Messiah; and the effect is, with great clearness of language attributed to a divine influence on the heart. In the one hundred and tenth psalm, there is a promise of the Father to Christ, "Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power." When persons are willing to acknowledge Christ, as their sovereign and to submit to his laws, they are regenerated. This voluntary subjection is, therefore, here attributed to the power of Christ.
In the prophecy of Ezekiel, is foretold a time, when the dispersed Jews shall be restored to their country and to the church of God: after which they shall cordially adhere to their covenant engagements. This is foretold, not as a matter of cas ualty, but the effect of divine influence. "Thus saith the Lord, though I have cast them off among the heathen, and though I have scattered them among the countries, yet will I be to them a little sanctuary in the countries, where they shall come. I will even gather you from the people, and assemble you out of the countries where ye have been scattered: and I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within you: and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh."
A great number of similar passages, it is well known, are found in the prophetic writing. It will avail nothing to say, by way of objection, that as these expressions relate to the Jews; nothing can be argued from them, in regard to mankind in general: since a Jew has no aversion from piety, which is not commmon to our whole race. It will hardly be said after a little deliberation, that the Jew becomes virtuous in one manner, and the Gentile in another; that while the former is dependant on his Maker for an obedient heart, the latter produces one merely by his own industry.
If, however, any doubts of this nature can be entertained, on reading the Old Testament, they cannot fail to be removed, when we consult the testimony of Christ and his apostles. In the third chapter of John, to which we have repeatedly had recourse, our Saviour asserts not only the uni
versal necessity of the change, but the universal necessity of divine power in producing it. The same unerring instructor said to the Jews, “No man can come unto me, except the Father, who hath sent me, draw him." Suppose, if you please, that our Saviour, in this declaration, meant nothing more, than this, that no man will, in fact believe in him, unless drawn by the Father; it will still prove, incontestably, that in whatever instances regeneration is effected, God, and not man, is to be acknowledged, as the cause.
St. James, in the first chapter of his epistle, says, "Of his own will," i. e. of God's own will," begat he us, with the word of truth." St. Peter adopts similar language, "Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope, by the resurrection of Christ from the dead." Paul, in the name of christians, gave thanks to the Father, "who had made them meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light." Now it has been shown, that none are qualified to enjoy this inheritance, but those who have been renewed. These words of the apostle do clearly assert, therefore, that renovation is the effect of divine influence. In the same apostle's letter to the Ephesians, we have the following remarkable passage. "By grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to good works.” Here the same idea is twice conveyed in different words : 1. That faith is the gift of God; and 2. That believers are a divine workmanship; the effect of a divine, transforming power. Repentance is an exercise of the renewed heart: this too, the apostle represents, as the effect of divine operation. For, speaking of the opposers of christianity, he says, If God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledgement of the truth.
The moral change produced in the Ephesian converts. St. Paul mentions not only as the effect of divine energy, but as an effect of such magnitude, as to resemble the raising of our Lord from the dead. It is called the exceeding greatness of God's power.