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OF THE NECESSITY OF DIVINE INFLUENCES TO PRODUCE REGENERATION IN THE SOUL.
Not by works of righteousness, which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he shed on us abundantly, through Jesus Christ our Saviour.
IF my business were to explain and illustrate this scripture at large, it would yield an ample field for accurate criticism and useful discourse, and more especially would lead us into a variety of practical remarks, on which it would be pleasant to dilate in our meditations. It evidently implies that those, who are saved of the Lord, are brought to the practice of good works, without which faith is dead, (James ii. 17,) and all pretences to a saving change are not only vain, but insolent. Yet it plainly testifies to us, that our salvation, and acceptance with God, is not to be ascribed to these, but to the Divine mercy; 213which mercy operates by sanctifying our hearts, through the renewing influence of the Holy Spirit: And that there is an, abundant effusion of this Spirit under the Gospel, which is therefore, with great propriety, called the ministration of the Spirit, (2 Cor. iii. 8,) and the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. Rom. viii. 2.
But I must necessarily, in pursuance of my general scheme, waive several of these remarks, that I may leave myself room to insist on the grand topic I intend from the words.
I have already shown you, who may be said to be in an unregenerate state: I have also described the change which regeneration makes in the soul; and have largely shown you, in the three last discourses, the absolute necessity and importance of it. And now I proceed,
To show the necessity of the Divine power, in order to produce this great and important change.
This is strongly implied in the words of the text: in which the apostle, speaking of the method God has been pleased to take for the display of his goodness in the salvation and happiness of fallen men, gives us this affecting view of it, that it is not by works of righteousness which we, i. e. any of us Christians, have done; but according to his free grace and mercy that he has 214saved us by the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost. . . . . .
Lest any should imagine, that an external ceremony (baptism) was sufficient, or that it was the chief thing intended, the apostle takes the matter higher. And as the apostle Peter tells us, that the baptism which saves us is not merely the putting away the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience towards God; (1 Pet. iii. 21;) so the apostle Paul here adds, that we are saved by the renewing of the Holy Ghost: by which I can by no means understand something entirely distinct from, and subsequent to his regenerating influences; for according to the view of regeneration stated in our former discourses, none can be regenerated who are not renewed: but it seems to explain the former clause, and to refer to the more positive effect produced by Divine grace on the soul, whereby Christians are not only purified from sin, but disposed to, and quickened in a course of holy obedience. And then he further tells us, that this Spirit is the gift of God, and is plentifully communicated to us in the name, and through the hands of the blessed Redeemer, being shed on us abundantly by God, through Jesus Christ our Saviour.
Agreeably therefore to the general design and 215purport of these words, I shall go on to demonstrate the absolute necessity of a Divine agency and operation in this great work of our regeneration; which I shall do from a variety of topics. And here I shall studiously waive many controversies, with which the Christian world has been afflicted, and the soundest part of it disturbed, with relation to the kind and manner of this influence. I will not so much as mention them, and much less discuss them; lest Satan should take an advantage of us, (1 Cor. ii. 11,) to divert our minds from what is essential in this doctrine, to what is merely circumstantial. Only let it be observed in general, that I speak of such an agency of God on our minds, as offers no violence to the rational and active nature which God has given us, nor does by any means supersede our obligation to those duties which his word requires; but on the contrary, cures and perfects our nature, and disposes the soul to a regard to such incumbent duties, and strengthens it in the discharge of them. With this only preliminary, which appears to me highly important, I proceed to show the reasonableness of ascribing this change to a Divine agency, rather than to anything else, which may be supposed to have any share in producing it. And we may infer this,216
First, from the general and necessary dependence of the whole created world upon God.
There was a philosophical as well as Divine truth, in that observation of the apostle Paul at Athens, which was well worthy the most learned assembly; In him, i. e. in God, we live, and move, and have our being. Acts xvii. 28. Such is the innate weakness of created nature, that it continually depends on a Divine support. The very idea of its being created, supposes that it had no cause of its existence, but the Divine will in the first moment of it; and if it could not then subsist without that will, in the first moment of its existence, it neither could subsist without it in the second, or in any future moment of it; since to have been dependent for a while, can never be supposed to render anything for the future independent. The continued existence then of all the creatures—no less of angels, than of worms, or trees, or stones-- does properly depend upon the Divine energy which bears them up; and holds those of them in life, which live, and those of them in being, which are inanimate, or without life.
And if their being be dependent, then surely it will follow, that all their perceptive and active powers, whatsoever they are, must continually depend upon God: for to exist with such powers 217is evidently more than simply to exist; and if a Divine agency be necessary for the latter, much more must we allow it to be necessary for the former.
The human mind, therefore, with all its capacities and improvements, must acknowledge itself perpetually indebted to God, who is the fountain of truth and wisdom, as well as of being: accordingly we are told, it is he that teacheth man knowledge. Psal. xciv. 1. All the skill of the husbandman, in one passage of Scripture, (Isa. xxviii. 26,) and all the wisdom of the artificer, in another, (Exod. xxxvi. 1, 2,) is ascribed to his influence: and if the improvement of the sciences, and any other discovery, which renders human life in any degree more commodious and agreeable, is to be ascribed to the Divine illumination and influence, then surely it is from hence this art of living wisely and well must also be derived. All the views upon which good resolutions are formed, all the strong impressions upon the mind arising from these views, and all the steadiness and determination of spirit, which does not only form such purposes, but carries them into execution, are plainly the effect of the Divine agency on the mind; without which no secular affairs could be clearly understood, strenuously pursued, or successfully accomplished. And how peculiarly reasonable 218it is, to apply this remark to the point now in view, will appear by attending,
Secondly, to the greatness and excellency of this regenerating change, which speaks it aloud to be the Divine work.
I must, upon this occasion, desire you to recollect what I laid before you in several of the former discourses. Think of the new light that breaks in upon the understanding; of the new affections that are enkindled in the heart; of the new resolutions, by which the will is sweetly and powerfully, though most freely influenced; and think of the degree of vigor attending these resolutions, and introducing a series of new labors and pursuits; and surely you must confess, that it is the finger of God; especially when you consider, how beautiful and excellent, as well as how great the work is.
Do we acknowledge, that it was the voice of God that first commanded the light to shine out of darkness, and that it was worthy of a Divine agency to produce so Beautiful a creature as the sun, to gild the whole face of our world, and to dress the different objects around us in such a varied and vivid assemblage of colors? And shall we not allow it to be much more worthy of him, to lighten up a benighted soul, and reduce its chaos into harmony and order? Was it worthy 219of God to form the first principles even of the vegetative life, in the lowest plant or herb, and to visit with refreshing influences of the rain and sun the earth wherein these seeds are sown? And is it not much more worthy of him to implant the seed of the divine life, and to nourish it from time to time by the influence of his Spirit? Did it suit the Divine wisdom and mercy to provide for sustaining our mortal lives, for healing our wounds, and recovering us from our diseases? And shall it not much more suit him, to act as the great Physician of souls, in restoring them to ease, to health and vigor?
They must be dead indeed to all sense of spiritual excellence, who do not see how much more illustriously God appears, when considered as the author of grace, than merely as the author of nature. For indeed all the works of nature, and all the instances of Divine interposition to maintain its order and harmony, will chiefly appear valuable and important, when considered in subserviency to the gracious design of recovering apostate man from the ruin of his degenerate state--without which it had been far better for him never to have known being, and never to have inhabited a world so liberally furnished with a variety of good. And, therefore, I would appeal to every Christian, whether he does not find a much more ardent 220gratitude glowing in his heart when he considers God as the author of the religious and divine, than merely of the animal or the rational life?
And permit me here to remark, that, agreeably to these reasonings, some of the pagan philosophers have said very serious and remarkable things concerning the reality and the need of Divine influences on the mind, for the production of virtue and piety there. Thus, Seneca, when he is speaking of a resemblance to the Deity in character, ascribes it to the influence of God upon the mind: "Are you surprised," says he, "that man should approach to the gods? It is God that comes to men; nay, which is yet more, he enters into them; for no mind becomes virtuous but by his assistance."44Senec. Epistol. LXXIII. Simplicius, also, was so sensible of the necessity of such an influence, that he "prays to God, as the father and guide of reason, so to co-operate with us, as to purge us from all carnal and brutish affections, that we may be enabled to act according to the dictates of reason, and to attain to the true knowledge of himself."55Simplic. in Epictet. ad fin. And Maximus Tyrius argues, agreeably to what is said above, that "if skill in the professions and sciences is insinuated into men's minds, by a Divine influence, we can much less imagine, that a thing so much more excellent, as virtue is, can 221be the work of any mortal art; for strange must be the notion that we have of God, to think that he is liberal and free in matters of less moment, and sparing in the greatest."66Max. Tyr. Dissert. xxii. And in the same discourse he tells us, "that even the best disposed minds, as they are seated in the midst, between the highest virtue and extreme wickedness, need the assistance and the help of God, to incline and lead them to the better side."77Max. Tyr. ibid. I am sensible that all these philosophers, with many more who speak to the same purpose, living after Christ's time, may be said to have learned such language from Christians: and if they did so, I wish all who have since worn the name had been equally teachable. But some who appeared much earlier, speak much in the same manner,88It is here remarkable, that Xenophon represents Cyrus, with his dying breath, "as humbly ascribing it to a Divine influence on his mind, that he had been taught to acknowledge the care of Providence, and to bear his prosperity with a becoming moderation."--Xen. Cyropæd. lib. viii. cap. 7, § 1. And Socrates is introduced, by Plato, as declaring, "that wheresoever virtue comes, it is apparently the fruit of a Divine dispensation."--Plat. Men. ad. fin. p. 428. And to this purpose Plato has observed, "that virtue is not to be taught but by Divine assistance."--Epinom. pag. 1014. And elsewhere he declares, "that if any man escape the temptations of life, and behave himself as becomes a worthy member of society, as the laws of it are generally settled"--which, by the way, is something very far short of religion—"he has reason to own, that it is God that saves him."--De Repub. lib. vi. pag. 677. edit. Franc. of 1602. as I might easily show 222you, if it were not already more than time to observe,
Thirdly. That we may further argue the Divine agency in this blessed work, from the violent opposition over which it prevails in its rise and progress.
The awakened soul, when laboring towards God, and aspiring after further communications of his grace to form it for his service, may justly say with David, Lord, how are they increased that trouble me? How many are they that rise up against me? Ps. iii. 1. With how many threatening dangers are we continually surrounded! And what a numerous host of enemies are ready to oppose us! The law of sin, that wars in our members, (Rom. vii. 23,) and concerning whose forces it may well be said, their name is Legion, for they are many: the evil influence of a degenerate world, whose corrupt examples press like a torrent, and require the most vigorous efforts to bear up against them: and in confederacy with these, and at the head of all, the Prince of Darkness--whose counsels and efforts, with relation to this world of ours, do as it were centre in this one thing, to prevent men's regeneration; 223because it is by means of this, that those are recovered out of the snare of the devil, who were before led captive by him at his will. 2 Tim. ii. 26.
I persuade myself, that when I am speaking on this head, though some may imagine it to be mere empty harangue, and common place declamation, the experienced soul will attest the truth of what I say. It may be s6me of you, who, by what of these sermons you have already heard, have come under some serious convictions, and been awakened in go6d earnest to be thoughtful about being born again, have felt such a struggle in your own minds that you may say, you never knew before what the flesh, the world, and the devil were, nor could have imagined that their opposition to this work was so forcible and violent as you now find it. To reform the irregularities of the life is comparatively easy; but to root sin out of the soul, to consecrate the whole heart to God, and demolish those idols that have been set up, as it were, in the secret chambers of imagery, (Ezek. viii. 12,) is difficult indeed; all the corruptions of the heart in such a case are ready to exert themselves, and it is natural for the lusts of the flesh to unite against that which is set upon destroying them all; nor did you ever know before, that there was such a 224world of sin within you. With violence also does the strong man armed exert himself, when his goods are about to be taken from him by one stronger than himself: as our Lord, with an unerring propriety and wisdom, represents it; (Luke xi. 21, 22;) and indeed it seems as if through the violence of his malignity, and the righteous judgment of God, who, whenever he pleases, can take the wise in his own craftiness, (1 Cor. iii. 19,) that Satan sometimes overshoots his mark, and raises so sensible an opposition against the cause of God in the soul, that an argument might be drawn, even from that very opposition, to prove the truth and excellency of what he sets himself so directly against. And you have now perhaps experienced, too, more than you ever did before, the inveterate opposition of the seed of the Serpent to that of the Woman: you have found, that since you began to think of religion in good earnest, some have derided you, others it may be have reviled you, and enemies have sprung up out of your own house: (Matt. x. 36;) though the impressions you have felt tend to make you more amiable, more kind, and more useful, and therefore one would think should conciliate their friendship: but this is a memorable instance in which self-love seems to make, as it were, a sacrifice of itself to the hatred of God. Now, therefore, 225to accomplish such a mighty change in the midst of such opposition, must evidently speak a Divine interposition. And surely the Christian, when thus recovered and restored, has reason to declare, as Israel did, if it had not been the Lord who was on our side when these confederate enemies rose up against us, then they had swallowed us up quick, when their wrath was kindled against us; then the waters had overwhelmed us, the stream had gone over our soul, then the proud waters had gone over our soul, (Psal. cxxiv. 1-5,) and would have quenched and buried every spark that looked like Divine life, and have borne away every purpose of reformation and holiness. The remark will be further illustrated, if we consider,
Fourthly, By what feeble means this change is accomplished.
The apostle observes, that in his day they had the treasure of the gospel lodged in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power, which rendered it successful, might appear to be of God and not of man. 2 Cor. iv. 7. And it is still in a great measure apparent, that the same method is made use of from the same principle. The weapons of our warfare are not carnal; and if at any time they are mighty and effectual, it must be only through God. 2 Cor. x. 4. It is not by secular might or power, (Zech. iv. 6,) that this 226great work is accomplished: no, nor by the refinements of learning, or the charms of eloquence. These things indeed have their use; the understanding may sometimes be convinced by the one, and the affections moved by the other: yet where both these have been done, the work often drops short: and it may be the plainest addresses, from a weak and almost trembling tongue, shall perform that which the far superior talents of many have not been able to effect. A multitude of such instances has been found, and perhaps seldom in these latter ages more observable than in the compass of our own observation.
Now whenever this work is accomplished by the preaching of the gospel in a Christian country, there is generally some circumstance that shows it is a divine, and not a human work. It is not the novelty of the doctrine which strikes; for all the main truths, on which the conviction and impression turns, have been known even from early infancy. No miracles awaken the attention, no new doctrines astonish the mind; but what has a thousand times been heard, and as often neglected, breaks in upon the mind with an almost irresistible energy, and strikes it as if it never had been heard of before. They seem as Israel did, when the Lord turned again their captivity, to awake out of a dream, (Ps. cxxvi. 1,) 227and wonder at the influence that has awakened them. The ministry of the word may seem but feeble, when compared to such an event: and yet sometimes even less solemn methods than that shall be effectual. One single text of scripture occurring to the sight or thought, one serious hint dropped in conversation, shall strike the mind, and pierce it through with an energy that plainly shows, that from whatever feeble hand it might seem to come, it was shot out of the quiver of God, and intended by him that made the heart to reach it: since there is almost as much disproportion between the cause and the effect, as between Moses lifting up his rod and the dividing of the water of the sea before Israel. Exod. xiv. 16. In many instances, remarkable providences, which one would have thought should have struck the soul as it were to the centre, have produced no effect: and yet a word, or a thought, has accomplished it; and after the whirlwind, the earthquake, and the fire have made their successive efforts in vain, it has appeared that the Lord has been in the still small voice. 1 Kings xix. 1, 12. On the whole, a variety of circumstances may illustrate the matter in different degrees; but, taking it in a general view, the remark appears to be well founded, that the weakness of the means, by which the saving change is wrought, 228argues plainly that the hand of God is in it: as when anointing the eyes with spittle gave sight to the blind, (John ix. 6,) it was evidently the exertion of a miraculous power. But now, agreeably to what has been advanced under these several heads, I shall proceed to show at large,
Fifthly, That the Scripture teaches us to ascribe this great change on the mind to a Divine agency and operation.
And here you will see, that it does not merely drop here and there an expression which is capable of such an interpretation, but that the whole tenor of the word of God leads to such a conclusion: and surely, if we own the word to be divine, we need no more convincing argument of the truth of this remark. The only difficulty I shall here find, will be like that which occurred under the former head, and proceeds from the variety and multiplicity of texts which offer them selves to me while reflecting on this subject; however, I will endeavor to rank them in the plainest and best order I can, under the following particulars. We find God sometimes promises to produce such a change in men's minds; and at other times he speaks of it as his own work, when it has been already produced: the scripture represents even the increase of piety in a regenerate heart, as the effect of a Divine 229power; and how much more must the first implanting of it be so: nay, it goes yet further than this, and expresses the necessity as well as the reality of a Divine influence on the mind to make it truly religious, and resolves the want of true religion into this, that God withholds his influence. If, therefore, any one, and much more if all these particulars can be made out, I think it must force a conviction on your judgment at least, that what we are endeavoring to confirm in this discourse is the doctrine of scripture.
1. There are various places in scripture, wherein God promises to produce such a change in men's minds as we have before described; which plainly shows that it is to be acknowledged as his work.
Thus Moses says to Israel, without all doubt by the Divine direction, The Lord thy God will circumcise thy heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live. Deut. xxx. 6. And this circumcision of the heart must surely be the removal of some insensibility and pollution adhering to it, and bringing it to a more orderly, regular, obedient state. It is sometimes made matter of exhortation, and thus indeed proves that there is a view in which it may be considered as a DUTY incumbent upon us (as when Moses said, 230circumcise the foreskin of your heart; (Deut. x. 16;) and Jeremiah, in imitation of him, circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskin of your heart. (Jer. iv. 4.) Here it is put in the form of a promise, to signify that wherever it was done, it was in consequence of God's preventing and assisting grace.
On the same principle, the Father promises to Christ, thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power. Ps. cx. 3. But if any pretend that these words may possibly admit of another version, though I know none more just than this, there are many other parallel places which are not attended with any ambiguity at all. Such, in particular, is that gracious promise, which though it was immediately made to the house of Israel, Sis nevertheless quoted by the apostles as expressive of God's gospel covenant with all believers; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people: (Jer. xxxi. 33; Heb. viii. 19:) or, as it is elsewhere expressed by the same prophet Jeremiah, I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever; and I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me. Jer. xxxiii. 32, 39, 40. And Ezekiel echoes back the same language by the same Spirit; 231I will give them one heart, and I will 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; that they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances and do them; (Ezek. xi. 19, 20:) which is afterwards repeated again almost in the same words: A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh; and I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. Ezek. xxxvi. 26, 27.
Now such a transformation of the heart and spirit as may be represented by a thorough renovation, or by changing stone into flesh, speaks the doctrine I am asserting in as plain terms as we could contrive or express; and beautifully points out at once the greatness and excellency of the change, and the Almighty power by which it is effected; for we may assure ourselves God would never promise such influences, if he did not really mean to impart them. But again,
2. Agreeably to the tenor of these promises, the scripture also ascribes this work to a Divine agency, when it is effected.
Thus the apostle John, when he is speaking of those who, on receiving Christ, become the sons of 232God, declares concerning them that they were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God: (John i. 13:) plainly intimating that it was to him, and not only or chiefly to themselves or others, that this happy change was to be ascribed: which is well explained by those words of St. James, in which he says, of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures. Jam. i. 18. Accordingly our Lord, as you have heard at large, insists upon it as absolutely necessary to a man's entering into the kingdom of God, not only that he should be born again, but more particularly that he should be born of the Spirit, (John iii. 3, 5,) i. e. by the sanctifying influence of the Spirit of God operating upon his soul, to purify and cleanse it.
And as this great work of regeneration chiefly consists in being brought to faith and repentance, you may observe, that each of these are spoken of as a Divine production in the mind, or as the gift of God to it. Thus the believing Jews, with one consent, expressed their conviction when they heard the story of Cornelius and declare, then has God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life. Acts xi. 18. And so the apostle Paul expresses it, when speaking of the possibility that some might be recovered out of the snare of the 233devil, he says, If God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth. 2 Tim. ii. 25, 26. That very attention to the Gospel, which is the first step towards the production of faith in the soul, is resolved into this, when it is said, that the Lord opened Lydia's heart, that she attended to the things which were spoken by Paul. Acts xvi. 41. And with regard to the progress of it, it is not only said in general, you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; but faith is expressly declared to be the gift of God; (Eph. ii. 1, 8;) and the apostle says to the Philippians, that it was given to them to believe; (Phil. i. 29;) nay, it is represented as a most glorious and illustrious effort of Divine power, and ascribed to the exceeding greatness of his power towards them that believe, according to the working of his mighty power which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead. Eph. i. 19, 20.
And in this view it is, that this change is called a new creation; (2 Cor. v. 17;) plainly implying, as a celebrated writer well expresses it, "that something must here be done in us, and for us, which cannot be done by us." Wherefore it is said, that the new man is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: (Col. iii. 10:) and we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works: (Eph. ii. 10:) not 234to insist upon the great variety of parallel passages, in which the same thoughts are expressed almost in the very same words. But he indeed who would reckon up all the scriptures, both in the Old and New Testaments, which directly or indirectly refer to this, must transcribe a larger part of both than would be convenient to read at one time in a worshiping assembly. But we may further, by a very strong consequence, infer the doctrine I am now maintaining from those various passages of the sacred writers, in which,
3. The increase of piety in a heart already regenerated, is spoken of as the work of God.
Thus David, even when he felt himself disposed to the most vigorous prosecution of religion, solemnly declares his dependence upon continued Divine influences, to enable him to execute the holy purpose he was then most affectionately forming: I will run the way of thy commandments, says he, when thou shalt enlarge my heart, (Psal. cxix. 32,) i. e. when thou shalt influence it with a steady principle of zeal, and with those devout passions which may make every branch of my duty easy and delightful. And the apostle Paul declares his persuasion that God would continue those gracious influences which he had already imparted: He that has begun a good work in you, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ. 235Phil. i. 6. And when he speaks of the ardent desire with which Christians were aspiring towards a better world, he adds, He that hath wrought us for the self-same things is God. 2 Cor. v. 5. Thus also he ascribes his continued fidelity in the ministry to the grace of God that was with him, as being one that had obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful: (1 Cor. vii. 25:) for by the grace of God, says he, I am what I am: and if I have labored more abundantly than others, it is not I, but the grace of God which was with me. 1 Cor. xv. 10. On the same principle he acknowledges, that the success of Apollos in watering, as well as his own in planting, was to be referred to this, that God gave the increase in the one case as well as in the other. 1 Cor. iii. 6, 7. And he concludes his Epistle to the Hebrews with this remarkable prayer: The God of peace make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ. Heb. iii. 31. But indeed, as every prayer that the apostles offer for any of their Christian brethren and friends, that they may grow in grace, might be urged for the illustration of this head, I choose rather to refer the rest to your own observation on this general hint, than to enter into a more particular enumeration. 236I shall only add, to complete the argument,
4. That the scripture often declares the necessity as well as the reality of such influences, and refers the ruin of man to this circumstance, that God in his righteous judgment had withheld or withdrawn them.
When Moses would upbraid the obstinacy of the Israelites, that all the profusion of wonders wrought for them in Egypt, and in the wilderness, had not produced any suitable impressions; so much was he accustomed to think of every thing good, in the moral, as well as in the natural world, as the gift of God, that he uses this remarkable expression: Yet the Lord hath not given you a heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day. Deut. xxix. 4. And our Lord, the propriety of whose expressions surely none can arraign, speaks to the same purpose, when adoring the Divine conduct with respect to the dispensation of saving light and gospel blessings, he says, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes; even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight. Matt. xi. 25, 26. If some of the plainest and lowest of the people, who were in comparison to others but as little 237children, understood and received the gospel, while the learned men and politicians of the age despised it, God revealed it to the former, while he suffered the vail of prejudice to remain on the mind of the latter, though his Almighty hand could easily have removed it.
Those other words of our Lord must not be omitted here, in which he says, No man can come unto me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: (1 John vi. 44:) and what this drawing of the Father means, he himself has explained by saying, No man can come unto me, except it be given him of my Father; (Ver. 65;) and elsewhere he expresses it by learning of the Father; (Ver. 45;) all which must undoubtedly signify a Divine agency and influence on the mind. Nay, a more forcible expression than this is made use of by the evangelist John, where he takes notice of the unbelief of those that saw the miracles of Christ, therefore they could not believe, because Esaias said, he has blinded their eyes, and hardened their hearts: (John xii. 39, 40:) which is agreeable to that expression of the apostle Paul, he has mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth: (Rom. ix. 18:) a thought which the apostle pursues at large through the following verses.
These, to be sure, are very emphatical scriptures: 238and though it is necessary to understand them in such a qualified sense as to make them consistent with other scriptures which charge men's destruction, not on any necessitating decree of God, but upon themselves and the abuse of their own faculties; yet still these expressions must stand for something; and in the most moderate sense that he can put upon them, they directly confirm what I have here brought them to prove. So that on the whole, the matter must come to this--That the cause of men's final and everlasting ruin may be referred in one view of it, to God's withholding those gracious influences, which if they had been imparted, would indeed have subdued the greatest perverseness; but his withholding these influences is not merely an arbitrary act, but the just punishment of men's wickedness; and of their obstinate folly in trifling with the means of his grace, and grieving his Spirit till he was provoked to withdraw. This thought, which I might largely prove to you to be a compendium of the scripture scheme, reconciles all; and any consequences drawn from one part of that scheme to the denial of the other, how plausible soever, must certainly be false.
I hope what I have here said may be sufficient to fix a conviction in your judgments and consciences, that regeneration is ultimately to be referred 239to a Divine influence upon the soul: or, as the apostle expresses it in the text, that God saves us of his mercy, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour.
I shall conclude with two or three reflections, which, though so exceeding obvious, I shall touch upon, in regard to their great importance, without offering, as I might, to dilate on each of them at large.
1. Let those who have experienced this divine change in their souls give God the glory of it.
Perhaps there are many of you who may see peculiar reason to do it; perhaps you may be conscious to yourselves, that the arm of the Lord was remarkably revealed in conquering, every sensible opposition, and getting itself the victory, even when you seemed, as if you had been resolutely bent upon your own destruction, to struggle to the utmost against the operation of his grace on your soul. Others may perhaps have perceived the strength of the Divine agency in the slightness of the occasion, or in the weakness of the means by which he wrought; which indeed is often matter of astonishment to those that seriously reflect upon it. But whatever your inclinations may have appeared, and whatever 240means or instruments were used, give God the glory of all.
If you have found yourselves, from your early years, inclined to attend to divine things, and susceptible of tender impressions from them, that attention and those impressions were to be resolved into this; that God prevented you with the blessings of his goodness. If you have enjoyed the most excellent public ordinances, even with all the concurrent advantages that the most pressing exhortations, and. the most edifying example of parents, ministers, and companions could give; it was Divine Providence that furnished you with those advantages, and Divine grace that added efficacy to them--else they had only served to display their own weakness, even where they might have appeared most powerful, and to illustrate that insensibility or obstinacy of heart which would have rendered you proof against all. You do well indeed to honor those whom God has blessed as the means of your spiritual edification: but if they think aright, it would grieve them to the very heart to have those applauses given, and those acknowledgments made to them, which are due to God alone. All they have done is so little that it deserves not the mention; and the greater attainments they have made in religion, the more cordially will they join with the 241holy apostle in saying, Neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth, but God that giveth the increase. 1 Cor. iii. 7.
2. We may further infer, that they who attempt the conversion of sinners, should do it with an humble dependence on the co-operation of Divine grace.
Otherwise they will probably find themselves fatally disappointed; and after their most skillful or most laborious attempts, they will complain that they have labored in vain, and spent their strength for nought; (Isa. xlix. 4;) and find reason to say, The bellows are burnt, and the lead is consumed of the fire, yet the dross is not taken away. Jer. vi. 29. A dependence upon God, in all the common affairs of life, becomes us as we are creatures; and it is most necessary that we should, in all our ways acknowledge him, as we expect or desire that he should direct or prosper our paths: (Prov. iii. 6:) but the greater the undertaking is, the more solemn should the acknowledgment of God be.
Let me therefore especially recommend this to those who are coming forth as young officers in the army of Christ. See to it, my brethren, that in the name of your God you set up your banners; (Psal. xx. 5;) that you apply from time to time to your public work with a deep conviction upon 242your minds that no strength of reason will effectually convince, that no eloquence will effectually persuade, unless he that made men's hearts will plead his own cause, and bow those hearts in humble subjection. With these views, I have often known the feeblest attempts successful, and the meek and lowly have out of weakness been made strong; (Heb. xi. 34;) while for want of this, all the charms of composition and delivery have been at best but like the lovely song of one who has a pleasant voice, or the art of one that can play well on an instrument. Ezek. xxxiii. 32. It is those that honor God by the most cordial dependence upon him that he delighteth to honor: (1 Sam. ii. 30:) and I will presume to say, that it is the inward conviction of this important truth, which I feel upon my soul while I am confirming it to you, that encourages me to hope, that this labor shall not be in vain in the Lord, (1 Cor. xv. 58,) but that a Divine blessing shall evidently attend what has already been delivered, and what shall further be spoken. Only let me conclude my present Discourse with this one necessary caution,
3. That you do not abuse this doctrine of the necessity of Divine influences, which from the word of God, has been so abundantly confirmed.
God does indeed act upon us, in order to produce this happy change: but he acts upon us in a 243manner suitable to our rational nature, and not as if we were mere machines. He saves us, as the scripture expresses it, by awaking us to save ourselves: (Acts ii. 40:) a new heart does he give us, and a new spirit does he put within us, (Ezek. xxxvi. 26,) to stir us up to be solicitous to make ourselves a new heart and a new spirit: (Ezek. xviii. 31:) he circumcises our heart to love him, (Deut. xxx. 6,) by engaging us to take away the foreskin of our hearts. Jer. iv. 4. You see the correspondency of the phrases, and it is of great importance that you attend to it. If any therefore say, "I will sit still, and attempt nothing for my own recovery, till God irresistibly compels me to it:" he seems as like to perish, as that man would be, who, seeing the house in flames about him, should not attempt to make his escape, till he felt himself moved by a miracle.
Sirs, the dependence of the creature on God, though it be especially, yet it is not only, in spiritual affairs: it runs through all our interests and concerns. We as really depend upon his influence to stretch out our hands, as we do to raise our hearts towards him in prayer. Your fields could no more produce their fruit without his agency, than his word could, without it, become fruitful in your hearts: yet you plow and sow; and would look upon him as a madman, 244that upon this principle should decline it, urging, that no crop could be expected if God did not produce it; and that if he pleased to produce it, it would come up without any human labor. The argument is just the same in that case, as when men plead for the neglect of means or endeavors, from the reality and necessity of a divine concurrence. And if they apply this argument to the concerns of their souls, when they do not apply it to those of their bodies, it plainly shows, that they regard their bodies more than their souls; and that in pretending to make these excuses, they belie their conscience, and act against the secret conviction of their own heart. Such persons do not deserve to be disputed with, but rather should be solemnly admonished of the danger of such egregious trifling, where eternity is at stake.
And sure I am, that it is offering a great affront to the memory of the blessed Paul, when men pretend to encourage themselves in this perverse temper from anything he has said. For when he gives us, as it were, the substance of all I have now been saying, in those comprehensive words, It is God that worketh in you, both to will and to do, of his good pleasure, (Phil. ii. 13,) he is so far from mentioning it as an excuse for remissness and sloth, that he introduces it professedly in the 245very contrary view, as engaging us to exert ourselves with the utmost vigor in a dependence upon that Divine operation. And therefore, as he there expresses it, I say with him, Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; and if you will not do it, you have reason to tremble in the prospect of a final condemnation from God, aggravated by your having thus irrationally and ungratefully abused the revelation of his grace.
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