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OF THE NATURE OF REGENERATION, WITH RESPECT TO THE CHANGE IT PRODUCES IN MEN'S AFFECTIONS, RESOLUTIONS, LABORS, ENJOYMENTS AND HOPES.
If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away, behold, all things are become new.
AMONG the various subjects, which exercise the thoughts and tongues of men, few are more talked of than Religion. But it is melancholy to think how little it is understood; and how much it is mistaken and misrepresented in the world.
The text before us gives us a very instructive view of it: such a view, that I am sure, an experimental knowledge of its sense would be infinitely preferable to the most critical and exact knowledge of all the most curious passages, both of the Old Testament, and the New. From it, you know, I have begun to describe that great change, which the word of God teaches us to represent under the notion of regeneration, or, according to the language of St. Paul, in this passage of his 83writings, by a new creation. I know I am explaining it to many, who have been much longer acquainted with it than myself; and it becomes me to believe, to many that have attained much higher advancement in it: but I fear also at the same time, I speak of it to many, who are yet strangers to it; and I am laboring, by the plainest addresses that I can, to give them at least some just ideas of it. Oh, that to all the descriptions that either have, or shall be given, God may, by his grace, add that understanding which arises from feeling correspondent impressions on the mind!
I have already endeavored to illustrate those new apprehensions, which arise in the regenerate mind; apprehensions of the blessed God, of itself, of Christ, of the eternal world, and of the way to obtain the happiness of it. It now remains, that I consider those "new affections, resolutions, labors, enjoyments, and hopes," which result from them. I observe, therefore,
II. That these new apprehensions will be attended with new Affections.
I readily acknowledge, that the degree in which the affections operate, may, and will be different, in different persons, according to their natural constitution: but, as in some degree or another, they make an essential part of our frame, it is impossible 84but they must be impressed with a matter of such infinite importance, as religion will appear. And the apprehensions described above, must awaken the exercise of correspondent affections, and direct them to objects very different from those by which they were before excited, and on which they were fixed. And here now,
1. This may be especially illustrated in love.
Love is indeed the ruling passion of the mind, and has all the rest in an avowed and real subjection to it. And here lies the very root of human misery in our fallen and degenerate state: we are naturally lovers of ourselves in a very irregular degree--lovers of pleasures, more than lovers of God. 2 Tim. iii. 4. But, on the contrary, the first and great commandment of the law is written in the breast of every regenerate man: thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. Matt. xxii. 37, 38. It is true, indeed, that if his soul were perfectly delivered into this mould, and his attainments in Divine love were complete, there would be an end of all sin, and almost of all calamity too: for what evil could assail or impress a mind entirely and unchangeably fixed upon God?
Yet that the love of God should be the prevailing affection, is not merely a circumstance, but an essential 85part of true religion. While the good man sees Him who is invisible, (Heb. xi. 26,) as infinitely perfect in himself, and as the author of being and happiness to the whole creation, he cannot but acknowledge, that he is, beyond comparison, the most amiable of all objects. And though it is certain, that nothing can so much induce and inflame our love to God, as a well-grounded assurance, that he is become our God, and our Father in Christ; yet before the regenerate soul has attained to this, a sense of those favors which he received from God in common with the whole human race, and more especially of those which are inseparable from a Christian community, together with the apprehension of his being accessible through the Mediator, and reconcilable to sinful men, will diffuse some delightful sense of God over the mind; which will grow sweeter in proportion to the degree in which his own hopes brighten and settle, while they are growing toward the full assurance of faith.
And as the real Christian loves him that begat, he loves him also that is begotten of him. 1 John v. 1. He loves the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, (Eph. vi. 24,) viewing him not in a cold and insensible manner, as he once did, but with inflamed affection, as the chiefest among ten thousand, and altogether lovely. Cant. v. 10, 16. If 86he knows, in any degree, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, (2 Cor. viii. 9,) in becoming incarnate for the salvation of his people, in making himself a sacrifice for their sins, and paying his life for the ransom of their lives; he feels himself drawn toward Jesus, thus lifted up on the cross; (John xii. 32;) and the love of Christ constrains him, (2 Cor. v. 14,) to such a degree, that he longs to find out some acceptable method to express his inward and overbearing sense of it. How divided soever true Christians may be in other respects, they all agree in this, in loving that Jesus whom they have not seen. 1 Pet. i. 8.
We may further recollect on this head, that the Apostle, in a solemn manner, adjures Christians by the love of the Spirit; (Rom. xv. 30;) thereby plainly implying, that such a love to him is an important branch of their character: and it must be so in all those who regard him, as every regenerate soul does, as the author of divine light and life, and as the source of love and happiness, by whom this love of God is shed abroad in the heart, (Rom. v. 5,) while it is enlarged with sacred delight to run the way of his commandments: (Psal. cxix. 32:) as that Spirit, by whom we are sealed to. the day of redemption, (Eph. ix. 30,) and who brings down the foretastes of Heaven to the heart 87in which he dwells, and which, by his presence, he consecrates as the temple of God. 1 Cor. iii. 16.
And most natural is it, that a soul filled with these impressions and views should overflow with unutterable joy, and feeling itself thus happy in an intercourse with its God, should be enlarged in love to man: for, says the Apostle, ye are taught of God to love one another. 1 Thess. iv. 9. Those whom he apprehends as his brethren by regenerating grace, he knows are with him beloved of the Lord; and as he hopes to dwell with them for ever in glory, he must love them so far as he knows them now. And though a narrow education, and that bigotry, which sometimes conceals itself under very honorable and pious names, may perhaps influence even a sanctified heart, so far as to entertain unkind suspicions as to those, whose religious sentiments may differ from his own, and it may be, to pass some rash censures upon them; yet as his acquaintance with them increases, and he discerns, under their different forms, the traces of their common Father, his prejudices wear off, and that sometimes by very sensible degrees; and Christians receive one another, as Christ has received them all. Ro. xv. 7.
And where the good man cannot love others with a love of complacency and esteem, he at least beholds them with a love of compassion and 88pity; and remembers the relation of fellow-creatures, where he sees no reason to hope that they are fellow-heirs with him. In a word, the heart is melted down into tenderness; it is warmed with generous sentiments; it longs for opportunities of diffusing good of all kinds, both temporal and spiritual, wide as its influence can reach; it beats with an ardor, which sometimes painfully recoils upon a man's self, for want of ability to help others in proportion to his desire to do it; and that God, who knows all the inmost workings of his mind, hears many an importunate intercession for others in the hour of solemn devotion, and many a compassionate ejaculation, which he is occasionally sending up to Heaven from time to time, as he passes through so sinful and so calamitous a world.
These are the ruling affections in the heart of a good man; and though it is neither reasonable nor possible, that he should entirely divest himself of self-love, yet he endeavors to regulate it so, that it may not interfere with the more important consideration of general good. Self has the lowest place in his regards, nor does he limit his affection to a party; but aiming at extensive usefulness, he guards against those immoderate attachments to particular friendships, and those extravagant sallies of personal fondness, which 89are often no more than self-love under a specious disguise; which at once alienate the heart from God, and contract the social affections within very narrow, and those very irregular bounds; and so prove almost as fatal to the health of the mind, as an excessive flow of blood into one part would be to that of the body.
I have enlarged so copiously on this change in the leading affections of the mind, that I must touch in a more transient manner on the rest. I add, therefore,
2. That a regenerate soul has new aversions.
He once hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord. Prov. i. 29. He hated the light, (John iii. 20,) which disclosed to the aching eye of his conscience the beloved and indulged irregularities of his heart. He hated everything that laid an embargo upon his lusts; and was ready to count those for his enemies that plainly admonished him, and secretly to dislike those whose conduct even silently reproved him. But now all these things are amiable to him; and those are esteemed his most valuable friends, whose example may be most edifying, whose instructions may be most useful, and whose admonitions may be most faithful. For he now hates every false way; (Psal. cxix. 104;) yea, and every vain thought too. Verse 113. He looks upon every 90irregular desire as an enemy, which he longs utterly to subdue; and especially strives against that sin which does most easily beset him, and abhors it more than he ever delighted in it. And though he rather pities than hates the persons of the most wretched and mischievous transgressors, yet he can no longer continue an endearing friendship with those, who were once his seducers to sin, and his companions in it. In this sense, like David, he hates the congregation of evil-doers, and will not sit with the wicked; (Psal. xxvi. 5;) and if they will not be wrought upon by his compassionate endeavors to reclaim them, he will soon break off the infectious intercourse, and say, Depart from me ye evil-doers, for I determine that I will keep the commandments of my God. Psal. cxix. 115.
3. The regenerate man has also new desires.
There was a time, when sinful passions, as the Apostle expresses it, did work in his members to bring forth fruit unto death. Rom. vii. 5. He was fulfilling the desires of the flesh, and of the mind, (Eph. ii. 3,) and making provisions to fulfil the lusts of both. Rom. xiii. 14. But now he earnestly desires a conformity to God, as his highest happiness; and can look up to him, and say, "O Lord, the desire of my soul is to thy name, and to the remembrance of thee; (Isa. xxvi. 8;) to 91maintain such a sense of thy presence at all times, as may influence my heart to think, my lips to speak, and my hands to act, in a manner suitable to that remembrance, and agreeable to thy wise and holy will." He now hungers and thirsts after righteousness; (Matt. v. 6;) feels as real an appetite after more advanced degrees of piety and holiness, as he ever felt toward the gratification of his senses; and esteems the proper methods of attaining these advanced degrees, even more than his necessary food. Job xxiii. 12. Instead of desiring to run through a long course of animal enjoyments, he desires to get above them; longs to be a pure and triumphant spirit in the refined regions of immortality; and is willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. 2 Cor. v. 8.
But I waive the farther illustration of this, till I come to consider the new hopes which inspire him. I therefore add, as a necessary consequence of these new desires,
4. That the regenerate man has new fears.
Pain and sorrow, disappointment and affliction, he naturally feared; and the forebodings of his own mind would sometimes awaken the fears of future punishment, according to the righteous judgment of an offended God: but now he fears not merely punishment, but guilt; fears the remonstrance 92of an injured conscience; for he reverences conscience as God's vicegerent in his bosom. He therefore fears the most secret sins, as well as those which might occasion public disgrace; yea, he fears, lest by a precipitate and inconsiderate conduct he could contract guilt before he is aware. He fears, lest he should inadvertently injure and grieve others, even the weakest and the meanest. Hte fears using his liberty, in a manner that might ensnare his brethren, or might occasion any scandal to a Christian profession: for such is the sensibility of his heart in this respect, that he would be more deeply concerned for the dishonor brought to God, and the reproach which might be thrown on religion by any unsuitable conduct of his, than merely for that part of the shame that might immediately and directly fall upon himself. But again,
5. The regenerate man has new joys.
These arise chiefly from an intercourse with God through Jesus Christ; and from a review of himself, as under the sanctifying influences of his grace, and as brought into a state of favor with him, in proportion to the degree in which he can discern himself in this character and state.
You know David, speaking of God, calls him his exceeding joy; (Psal. xliii. 4;) and declares the gladness he had put into his heart, by lifting 93up the light of his countenance upon him, to be far beyond what they could have, whose corn and wine increased. Psal. iv. 6, 7. And the Apostle Paul speaks of Christians, as joying in God through Jesus Christ, (Rom. v. 11,) and as rejoicing in Christ Jesus: (Phil. iii. 3:) and Peter also describes them as those, who, believing in him, though unseen, rejoice with joy unspeakable, and full of glory. 1 Pet. i. 8.
Perhaps there was a time, when the good man censured all pretences of this kind, now at least in these latter days of Christianity, as an empty, enthusiastic pretence; but since he has tasted that the Lord is gracious, (1 Pet. ii. 3,) he has that experimental knowledge of their reality and excellence, which he can confidently oppose to all the most artful and sophistical cavils; and could as soon doubt, whether the sun enlightens his eyes, and warms his body, as he could question, whether God has ways of manifesting himself to souls, when it is felt with unutterable delight: and when thus entertained, he can adopt David's words, and say, that his soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness, so that with joyful lips he praises God, (Psal. lxiii. 5,) when his meditation of him is thus sweet, (Psal. civ. 34,) and God says unto his soul, I am thy salvation. Psal. xxxv. 3.94
The survey of the Lord Jesus Christ gives him also unutterable joy; while he reflects on that ample provision, which God has made by him, for the supply of all his necessities; and that firm security which is given to his soul by a believing union with Christ; whereby his life is connected with that of his Saviour. In his constant presence, in his faithful care, he can boast all the day long; (Psal. xliv. 8;) and that friendship, which establishes a community of interest between him and his Lord, engages him to rejoice in that salvation and happiness, to which he is advanced at the right hand of God, and gives him, by joyful sympathy, his part with Christ in glory, before he personally arrives at the full possession of it. John xiv. 28; Ephes. ii. 6.
I add, that he also rejoices in the consciousness of God's gracious work upon his own soul, so far as he can discern the traces of it there. He delights to feel himself, as it were, cured of the mortal disease with which he once saw himself infected; to find himself in health and vigor of mind, renewed to a conformity with the Divine Image. He delights to look inward, and see that transformation of soul, which has made the wilderness like the garden of the Lord, (Isa. Ii. 3,) so that instead of the thorn there shall come up the fir-tree, and instead of the brier, the myrtle. Isa. lv. 13. 95Thus the good man is satisfied from himself: (Prov. xiv. 14:) and though he humbly refers the ultimate glory of all to that God, by whose grace he is what he is, (1 Cor. xv. 10,) he enters with pleasure into his own mind, and reckons it a part of gratitude to his great Benefactor, to enjoy with as high a relish as he can, the present workings of divine grace within him, as well as the pleasing prospect of what it will farther do.
But this head has so near a resemblance to some that are to follow, that were I to enlarge upon it, as I easily might, I should leave room for nothing different to be said upon them. I will only add,
6. That as the counterpart of this, new sorrows will arise in the mind of a regenerate man.
These are particularly such as spring--from the withdrawings of God's presence--from the remains of sin in the soul--and from the prevalence of it in the world about him.
The regenerate man will mourn, when the reviving manifestations of God's presence are withdrawn from his soul. It seems very absurd to interpret the numberless passages in the sacred writers, in which they complain of the hidings of God's face from them, as if they merely referred to the want of temporal enjoyments, or to the pressure of temporal calamities. If the light of 96God's countenance, which they so expressly oppose to temporal blessings, signify a spiritual enjoyment, the want of it must relate to spiritual desertion. And I believe there are few Christians in the world, who are entirely unacquainted with this. They have most of them their seasons, when they walk in darkness, and see little or no light: (Isa. l. 10:) and this not only when anxious fears arise with relation to their own spiritual state; but at some other times, when, though they can in the main call God their father, yet he seems, as it were, to stand afar off, and to continue them at a distance, which wears the face of unkindness, especially under temptations and other afflictions, in which they lose their lively sense of God's presence, and that endearing freedom of converse with him, which, through the influence of the Spirit of adoption on their souls, they have sometimes known. If this be mysterious and unintelligible to some of you, I am heartily sorry for it; but I do not remember that I was ever intimately acquainted with any one, who seemed to me a real Christian, that has not, upon mentioning the case, acknowledged, that he has felt something of it. At least I will boldly venture to say this, that if you are truly regenerate, and do not know what I mean by it, it is because you have hitherto been kept in a continual flow of holy joy, or at 97least in a calm and cheerful persuasion of your interest in the Divine favor: and even such may see the day, when strong as their mountain seems to stand, God may hide his face to their trouble: (Psal. xxx. 7:) or, however, they will infer from what they now feel, that it must be a mournful case whenever it occurs; and that sorrow, in such circumstance, will soon strike on a truly sanctified heart, and wound it very deep.
The sorrow of a good man also arises "from the remains of sin in his soul." Though he is upright before God, and proves it by keeping himself from his iniquity; (Psal. xviii. 23;) yet he cries out, Who can understand his errors? Psal. xix. 12. Who can say I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin? Prov. xx. 9. A sense of the sinfulness of his nature humbles him in the dust; and the first risings of irregular inclinations and passions give him a tender pain, with which a carnal heart is unacquainted, even when sin is domineering within him.
And once more, "The prevalence of sin in the world around him," is a grief to one that is born of God. It pierces him to the heart to see men dishonoring God, and ruining themselves: he beholds transgressors, as David well expresses it, with a mixture of indignation and sorrow; (Psal. cxxxix. 21;) and when he seriously considers 98how common, and yet how sad a case it is, he can perhaps borrow the words of the same prophet, so far as to say, that rivers of waters run down his eyes, because men keep not the law of God. Psal. cxix. 136. Now, as these are sorrows that seldom do at all affect the heart of an unregenerate man, I thought it the more proper to mention them, to assist you in your inquiries into your own state.
Such are the affections of love and aversion, of desire and fear, of joy and sorrow, which fill the breast of the regenerate man, and naturally arise from those new apprehensions which are described under the former head. I add,
III. That he has also new RESOLUTIONS.
You will easily apprehend I speak of those that are formed for the service of God, and against sin. I readily acknowledge, that there are often, in unregenerate men, some resolutions of this kind, and perhaps those very warm, and for the present very sincere; yet there is considerable difference between them and those we are now to represent; as the resolutions of the truly good man are more universal, more immediate, and more humble.
1. The resolutions which he now forms, are more universal than they ever were before.
He does not now resolve against this or that 99sin, but against all; against sin, as sin; as opposite to the holiness of God, and destructive of the honor and happiness of the rational creation. He does not say with Naaman, concerning this or that more convenient iniquity, the Lord pardon thy servant in this thing; (2 Kings v. 18;) nor does he resolve to excuse himself in an indulgence, even of that sin which does most easily beset him; (Heb. xii. 1;) but rather, in his general determination against sin, and in those solemn engagements, with which such determinations may be attended, he fixes especially upon those sins which he might before have been most ready to accept.
2. The resolutions of the regenerate man are more immediate.
It very frequently happens, that while others are under awakening impressions, as they see a necessity for parting with their sins, and engaging in what they may call a religious life, they resolve upon it: but then they think it may be delayed a little longer; perhaps a few years, or at least a few weeks or days; or they, perhaps, refer it to some remarkable period which is approaching, which they flatter themselves they shall make yet more remarkable, as the era of their reformation: but, in the mean time, they will take their farewell of their lusts by a few more indulgences: 100and thus they delude themselves, and rivet their chains faster than before. But the good man, with David, makes haste, and delays not to keep the commandments of God. Psal. cxix. 60. He is like the prodigal, who, as soon as ever he said, I will arise and go to my father, immediately arose and came to him. Luke xv. 18, 20. He reckons the time he has already spent in the service of sin may suffice, (1 Pet. v. 3,) and that indeed it is far more than enough: he wishes he could call back that which is past; but he determines, that he will not take one step further. in this unhappy path. He fully purposes, that he will never once more deliberately and presumptuously offend God, in any matter, great or small; if anything can be called small, which is a deliberate and apprehended offence; and he determines, that from this moment he will yield himself to God, as alive from the dead, and employ his members as instruments of righteousness. Rom. vi. 13. But then,
3. His resolutions are more modest and humble than they have ever been before.
And this indeed is the great circumstance that renders them more effectual. When an awakened sinner feels himself most enslaved to his vices, he pleases himself with this thought, that there is a secret kind of spring in his mind, which, when he pleases to exert, he can break through all at once, 101and commence, whenever the necessity comes upon him, a very religious man in a moment. And when conscience presses him with the memory of past guilt, and the representation of future danger, he cuts off these remonstrances with a hasty resolve, "I will do so no more;" but then, perhaps, the effects of this may not last a day; though possibly it may, at other times, continue a few weeks or months, where the grosser acts of sin are concerned: and indeed his resolutions seldom reach farther than these; for the necessity of a sanctified heart is a mystery which he has never yet learned. But a truly regenerate man has learned wisdom from this experience of his own, and the observation of other men's frailty. He feels his own weakness, and is so thoroughly aware of the treachery of his own heart, that he is almost afraid to express in words the purpose which his very soul is forming: he is almost afraid to turn that purpose into a vow before God, lest the breach of that vow should increase his guilt: but this he can say, with repenting Ephraim, Lord turn thou me, and I shall be turned; (Jer. xxxi. 18;) and with David, Hold up my goings in thy paths, that my footsteps may not slip. Psal. xvii. 5. "I am exceeding frail; but, Lord, be thou surety for thy servant for good, (Psal. cxix. 122,) and then I shall be safe! Do thou rescue me 102from temptations, and I shall be delivered! Do thou fill my heart with holy sentiments, and I will breathe them out before thee! Do thou excite and maintain a zeal for thy service, and then I will exert myself in it!" And when once a man is come to such a distrust of himself; when, like a little child, he stretches out his hand to be led by his heavenly Father, and trusts in his guardian care alone for his security and comfort; then out of weakness he is made strong, (Heb. xi. 34,) and goes on safe though trembling; and sees those that made the loudest boasts, and placed the greatest confidence in themselves, falling on the right hand and on the left, and their bravery melting away like snow before the sun.
IV. The regenerate man has new LABORS and EMPLOYMENTS.
Not that his former employment in secular life is laid aside: it would ordinarily be a very dangerous snare for a man to imagine that God requires this. On the contrary, the Apostle gives it in charge to Christian converts, that in what calling soever a man is found when he is called into the profession of the Gospel, he should therein abide with God. 1 Cor. vii. 20, 24. But when he becomes a real Christian he prosecutes this calling, whatever it be, with a new spirit and temper, from new principles, and to new purposes. 103While his hands are laboring in the world, his heart is often rising to God; he consecrates his work to the Divine honor, and to the credit of religion; and desires, that his merchandise and his gain may, in this sense, be holiness to the Lord, (Isa. xxiii. 18,) by employing it to support the family which Providence has committed to his charge, (1 Tim. v. 8,) and to relieve the poor whom Christ recommends to his pity; (Acts xx. 35;) and as he depends upon God to give him wisdom and success ii. the conduct of his affairs, he ascribes the glory of that success to him; not sacrificing to his own net, nor burning incense to his own drag. Hab. i. 16.
And I will further add, that regeneration introduces a set of new labors, added to the former, with which the man was before utterly unacquainted. We may consider, as the principal and chief of these, the great labor of purifying the heart, of conquering sinful inclinations, and affections, and of approaching God by a more intimate access and more endeared converse. Now they that imagine this to be an easy matter, know little of the human heart, little of the spirituality of God's nature, and his law.
Give me leave to say, that the labors of the body, in cultivating the earth, are much more 104easily performed than this spiritual husbandry. To weed a soil so luxuriant in evil productions, and to raise a plentiful harvest of holy affections and actions in a soil so barren of good; to regulate appetites and passions so exorbitant as those of the human heart naturally are, and to awaken in it suitable affections; to be abundant in the fruits of righteousness, and to converse with God in the exercise of devotion: these are no little things; nor will a little resolution, watchfulness, and activity suffice, in order to the discharge of such a business. It is comparatively easy to go through the forms of prayer and praise, whatever they are: to read, or from present conception to utter, a few words before God: but to unite the heart in God's service, to. wrestle with him for a blessing, to pour out the heart before him, to speak to him as searching the very heart; so that He should say, "This is prayer:" this, my brethren, is a work indeed; and he that is conscientious in the discharge of it will find, that it is not to be dispatched in a few hasty moments, nor without serious reflection, and a resolute watch maintained over the spirit.
New labors also arise to the regenerate soul, in consequence of the concern it has to promote religion in the world. Being possessed, as I formerly showed you the heart of the good man is, 105with an unfeigned love to his fellow-creatures, and knowing of how great importance religion is to the happiness of men, he pleads earnestly with God for the propagation and success of the Gospel: and he endeavors, according to his ability and opportunity, to promote it; to promote pure and undefiled religion in his family and his neighborhood, even in all around him. And this requires observation and application, that this attempt may be prudently conducted, and great resolution, in order to its being rendered effectual: it requires great diligence in watching over ourselves, lest our examples prove inconsistent with our precepts; and no small degree of courage, considering how averse the generality of mankind are to admonitions and reproofs; in consequence of which, a person can hardly act the part of a faithful friend, without exposing himself to the hazard of being accounted an enemy.
Such are the new labors of the real Christian. Let any man try to perform them, and he will not find them light; but to encourage the attempt, let me further add,
V. That the regenerate soul has its new ENTERTAINMENTS too.
He has pleasures, which a stranger intermeddles not with, (Prov. xiv. 10,) and which the world can neither give, nor take away: (John xvi. 22:) 106pleasures, which a thousand times overbalance the most painful labors, and the most painful sufferings too; and which, sweetly mingling themselves with the various circumstances of life, through which the Christian passes, do, as it were, gild all the scene, and make all the fatigues and self-denial of his life far more agreeable, than any of those delights the worldling, or the sensualist, can find in the midst of his unbounded and studied indulgences. But here I shall be in great danger of repeating what I said under a former head, when I was speaking of the new joys which the Christian feels, in consequence of the great change that regeneration makes in his soul: and therefore, omitting what I then observed, concerning the pleasure of communion with God through Christ, and of perceiving a work of Divine grace upon the soul, I shall now touch upon some other sources of exalted entertainment, which did not so directly fall under that head.
1. The Christian finds new pleasures in the word of God.
You know with what relish the saints of old spake of it. Thy words were found, says the Prophet, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart. Jer. xv. 16. Thy statutes, says the Psalmist, are more to be desired than gold, yea, than much fine gold: 107they are sweeter also than honey, and the honeycomb. Psal. xix. 10. The apostle Peter beautifully represents this, when he exhorts the saints to whom he wrote, as new-born babes to desire the sincere milk of the word, that they might grow thereby. 1 Pet. ii. 2. And the infant that smiles on the breast, and with such eagerness and delight draws its nourishment from it, seems an amiable image of the humble Christian, who receives the kingdom of God, and the word of that kingdom, as a little child; (Mark x. 15;) who lays up Scripture in his heart, (Job xxii. 22,) and draws forth the sweetness of it, with a firm persuasion, that it is indeed the word of God, and was appointed by him for the food of his soul.
2. He also finds new pleasures in the ordinances of Divine worship.
He is glad when it is said unto him, Let us go into the house of the Lord. Psal. cxxii. 1. He indeed esteems the tabernacles of the Lord, as amiable, and regards a day in his courts as better than a thousand elsewhere. Psal. lxxxiv. 1, 10. And this pleasure arises, not merely from anything peculiar in the administrations of this or that man who officiates in holy things; but from the nature of the exercise in general, and from a regard to the Divine authority of those institutions which are there observed. He feels a sacred delight in 108an intercourse with God in those solemnities; in comparison of which, all the graces of composition and delivery appear as little as the harmony of instruments, or the perfume of incense, to one of the Old Testament saints, when compared with the light of God's countenance, which was lifted up on the pious worshipers under the Mosaic forms, when in his temple every one spake of his glory. Psal. xxix. 9. One thing has he desired of the Lord, and that he seeks after, that he may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of his life; not to amuse his vain imagination, not to gratify his ear, not to indulge his curiosity with useless inquiries, nor merely to exercise his understanding with sublime speculations; but to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple. Psal. xxxvii. 4.
3. He likewise finds a new entertainment in the conversation of Christian friends.
He now knows what it is to have fellowship with those whose communion is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. 1 John i. 3. His delight is now in them that are truly the excellent of the earth. Psal. xvi. 3. He delights to dismiss the usual topics of modern conversation, that some religious subject may be taken up, not as matter of dispute, but as matter of devout recollection; and loves to hear the plainest Christian express 109his experimental sense of divine things. Those sentiments of piety and love, which come warm from a gracious heart, are always pleasing to him; and those appear the dearest bands of friendship, which may draw him nearer to his heavenly Father, and unite his soul in ties of more ardent love to his Redeemer. A society of such friends is indeed a kind of anticipation of heaven; and to choose, and to delight in such, is no contemptible token, that the soul has attained to some considerable degree of preparation for it. I only add,
VI. That in consequence of all this, the regenerate soul has new HOPES and PROSPECTS.
Men might be very much assisted in judging of their true state, if they would seriously reflect what it is they hope and wish for. What are those expectations and desires that most strongly impress their minds? A vain mortal, untaught and unchanged by Divine grace, is always dressing up to himself some empty phantom of earthly happiness, which he looks after and pursues, and foolishly imagines, "Could I grasp it, and keep it, I should be happy." But Divine grace teaches the real Christian to give up these empty schemes. "God," he says, "never intended this world for my happiness: he will make it tolerable to me; he will give me so much 110of it as he sees consistent with my highest interest; he will enable me to derive instruction, and it may be consolation, out of its disappointments and distresses: but he reserves my inheritance for the eternal world. I am begotten again to a lively hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, even to the hope of an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away; (1 Pet. i. 3, 4:) and though it be, for the present reserved in heaven, it is so safe, and so great, that it is well worth my waiting for, though ever so long; for the things that are not seen, are eternal." 2 Cor. iv. 18.
And this indeed is the true character of a good man. Eternity fills his thoughts; and growing sensible, in another manner than he ever was before, of the importance of it, he pants after the enjoyment of eternal happiness. Assign any limited duration to his enjoyment of God in the regions of glory, and you would overwhelm him with disappointment: talk of hundreds, of thousands, of millions of years, the disappointment is almost equal: periods like these seem scarce distinguishable from each other, when compared with an eternal hope. To eternity his desires and expectations are raised; and he can be contented with nothing less than eternity; perfect holiness, and perfect happiness for ever and ever, without 111any mixture of sin, or any alloy of sorrow; this he firmly expects, this he ardently breathes after; a felicity which an immortal soul shall never outlive, and which an eternal God shall never cease to communicate. This heavenly country he seeks; he considers himself as a citizen of it, and endeavors to maintain his conversation there; (Phil. iii. 20;) to carry on, as it were, a daily trade for heaven, and to lay up a treasure there; (Matt. vi. 20;) in which he may be rich and great, when all the pomp of this earth is passed away as a dream, and all its most precious metals and gems are melted down and consumed among its vilest materials in the last universal burning.
This is the change, the glorious change, which regeneration makes in a man's character and views; and who shall dare to speak, or to think contemptibly of it? Were we indeed to represent it as a kind of charm, depending on an external ceremony, which it was the peculiar prerogative of a certain order of men to perform, and yet on which eternal life was suspended; one might easily apprehend, that it would be brought into much suspicion. Or should we place it in any mechanical transports of animal nature, in any blind impulse, in any strong feelings, not to be described, or accounted for, or argued upon, but known by some inward inexplicable sensation to 112be divine; we could not wonder, if calm and prudent men were slow to admit the pretension to it, and were fearful it might end in the most dangerous enthusiasm, made impious by excessive appearances of piety. But when it is delineated by such fair and bright characters as those that have now been drawn; when these divine lineaments on the soul, by which it bears the image of its Maker's rectitude and sanctity, are considered as its necessary consequence, or rather as its very essence; one would imagine, that every rational creature, instead of caviling at it, should pay an immediate homage to it, and earnestly desire, and labor, and pray, to experience the change: especially as it is a change so desirable for itself--as we acknowledge health to be, though a man were not to be rewarded for doing well, nor punished, any farther than with the malady he contracts, for any negligence in this respect.
Where is there anything can be more ornamental to our natures, than to have all the powers of the mind thus changed by grace, and our pursuits directed to such objects as are worthy of the best attention and regard?--to have our apprehensions of divine and spiritual things enlarged, and to have right conceptions of the most important matters;—-to have the stream of our affections turned from empty vanities, to objects that are 113proper to excite and fix them;—to have our resolutions set against all sin, and a full purpose formed within us of an immediate reformation and return to God, with a dependence on his grace to help us both to will and to do;—-to have our labors steadfastly applied to conquer sin, and to promote religion in ourselves and others; to have our entertainments founded in a religious life, and flowing in upon us from the sweet intercourse we have with God in his word and ordinances, and the delightful conversation that we sometimes have with Christian friends;—and finally, to have our hopes drawn off from earthly things, and fixed upon eternity?
Where is there anything can be more honorable to us, than thus to be renewed after the image of him that created us, (Col. iii. 10,) and to put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness? Eph. iv. 24. And where is anything that can be more desirable, than thus to have the darkness of our understandings cured, and the disorders rectified, that sin had brought upon our nature? Who is there that is so insensible of his depravity, as that he would not long for such a happy change? Or who is there that knows how excellent a work it is, to be transformed by the renewing of the mind, (Rom. xii. 2,) that would not, with the greatest thankfulness, 114adore the riches of Divine grace, if it appear that he is thus become a new creature; that old things are passed away, and behold, all things are become new?
But I shall quickly show you, that regeneration is not only ornamental, honorable, and desirable, but absolutely necessary, as ever we would hope to share the blessings of God's heavenly kingdom, and to escape the horror of those that are finally and irrevocably excluded from it. This argument will employ several succeeding Discourses.
But I would dismiss you at present with an earnest request, that you would, in the mean time, renew your inquiries, as to the truth of regeneration in your own souls; which, after all that I have been saying, it will be very inexcusable for you to neglect, as probably you will hear few discourses, in the whole course of your lives, which centre more directly in this point, or are more industriously calculated to give you the safest and clearest assistance in it. May God abase the arrogance and presumption of every self-deceiving sinner; and awaken the confidence and joy of the feeblest soul, in whom this new creation is begun!115
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