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IT has been observed, that mankind being naturally under the power of sin and total depravity, it is necessary that they should be the subjects of a renovation by 452the Spirit of God, in order to their union to Christ, and being redeemed by him. It is proposed now to attend more particularly to this renovation, as it is represented in the holy scriptures.
Regeneration and conversion are often used only as two words, meaning the same thing; and it is certain that all that can be properly understood by them, is that change and renovation which is expressed in scripture, by being born again, born of the Spirit of God, and born of God, created in Christ Jesus, unto good works, &c. Yet, as there are two distinct things included in this change, which it is necessary should be distinguished, in order to understand this subject, these words may be properly used, to make and keep up this distinction, as many divines have done. In this renovation, there is the operation of the cause, which is the work done by the Spirit of God; and there is the effect, which consists in the exercises of the regenerate, in which they are active, and agents. Though these imply each other, and cannot be separated, more than the cause can be separated from the effect; yet they must be distinguished, and the former may properly be called regeneration. In order to explain this, and prevent mistakes concerning it, the following things must be observed.
1. The Spirit of God is the only agent and cause by whose energy the effect takes place; and so far as the Spirit of God, is the cause and agent, the subject, the heart of man, is passive, being the subject on which, or in which, the effect is wrought. Though the effect be activity, or the exercise of the new heart, in which the renewed person is the agent; yet, in the operation which causes the effect to exist, and therefore in the order of nature, is antecedent to the effect, the Spirit of God is the only agent, and man is the passive subject.
2. This change, of which the Spirit of God is the cause, and in which he is the only agent, is instantaneous; wrought not gradually, but at once. The human heart is either a heart of stone, a rebellious heart, or a new heart. The man is either under the dominion of sin, as obstinate and vile as ever, dead in trespasses and sins; or his heart is humble and penitent; he is a new creature, and spiritually alive. There can be no instant of 453time, in which the heart is neither a hard heart, nor a new heart, and the man is neither dead in trespasses and sins, nor spiritually alive. The Spirit of God finds the heart of man wholly corrupt, and desperately wicked, wholly and strongly, even with all the power he has, opposed to God and his law, and to that renovation which he produces. The enmity of the heart against God continues as strong as ever it was, till it is slain by the instantaneous energy of the divine Spirit, and from carnal it becomes spiritual, betwixt which there is no medium, according to scripture and reason. All the exercises of the hard, impenitent, unrenewed heart, are exercises of impenitence and rebellion, of enmity against God and his law; whatever the external conduct may be, they are the corrupt fruit of a corrupt, rebellious heart. The exercises and fruit of a heart, dead in trespasses and sins, are dead works. If this were not demonstrably certain from the nature of the case, it is abundantly asserted in the scripture, and our Saviour has decided it in the most express manner. His words are, “Either make the tree good, and his fruit good, or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt. A good man, out of the good treasure of his heart, bringeth forth good things: And an evil man, out of the evil treasure, bringeth forth evil things.”498498 Matth. xii. 33, 35. St. Paul repeatedly asserts the same thing. By a number of quotations from the Old Testament, he proves that all men are by nature, altogether, and to a great degree, corrupt; that there is nothing morally good in them, or done by them.499499 Rom. iii. 9, &c. He asserts that antecedent to regeneration, man does nothing morally good; that all of this kind is the consequence of it. “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works.”500500 Eph. ii. 10. And again he says, “We ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, 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.”501501 Tit. iii. 3, 4, 5. Here he describes their state and moral 454 character, which is the character of all men, antecedent to regeneration. He denies their having done any good works; but, on the contrary, says, all their works were evil, and gives them a very bad character. He then ascribes all their reformation, and the alteration of their character for the better, to their regeneration, by which alone they were washed from their moral pollutions.
3. The subject of this operation, in which this change and effect is wrought, is the will or the heart; that is, the moral and not the natural powers and faculties of the soul. As moral depravity is wholly in the will or heart, the source and seat of all moral actions, the divine operation directly respects the heart, and consists in changing and renewing that. The understanding or intellect, considered as distinct from the will, is a natural Faculty, and is not capable of moral depravity. It may be hurt and weakened, and improved to bad purposes, as other natural faculties may, by the moral corruption or sinfulness of the heart: But nothing is necessary, in order to remove the disorders of the intellect, and all the natural powers of the soul, but the renovation of the heart; so far as the will is right, the understanding, considered as a natural faculty, will be rectified, and do its office well. Therefore regeneration is in scripture represented as consisting in giving a new heart, a heart to know the Lord, &c. The scripture indeed speaks of the understanding being enlightened; and of its being darkened; and of being without understanding, as criminal; and represents a good understanding, as comprehending all virtue or holiness. But the understanding in these instances is not considered and spoken of as mere intellect, distinct from the will or heart; but as comprehending and principally intending the heart, which is the seat of all moral perception and exercise. In scripture the distinction between the understanding and the heart is not often made; but the former is generally spoken of as implying the latter, and consisting in that discerning, which is implied in right exercises of heart; and cannot take place any farther than the heart is renewed, and the will is right. Therefore we read of “a wise and understanding heart.” And wisdom and understanding are words frequently used in scripture as 455nearly synonymous, and denoting die same thing: But wisdom belongs to the heart, and is of a moral nature; and that in which, according to the scripture, true holiness consists.
All moral, criminal darkness, has its scat in the heart, as all sin has, and the former cannot be distinguished from the latter; and selfishness is the essence of both. And on the contrary, all true light and understanding, which is of a moral nature, belongs to the heart, and implies real holiness, and cannot be separated, and even distinguished from it, as one necessarily implies and involves the other. This is asserted by our divine teacher in the following words: “The light of the body is the eye: If therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness.”502502 Matt. vi. 22, 23. The single and evil eye are opposites, and belong to the heart, and consist in the exercises of that. This is said by Christ of the evil eye. “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.”503503 Mark vii. 21, 22, 23. Here an evil eye, which fills the mind with darkness, and is darkness itself, is numbered among the evil things which belong to the corrupt heart, and of which that is the source, and is altogether criminal. And, consequently, the single eye, which is opposite to the evil eye, must also belong to the heart, and consists in that which is real holiness, or which implies it. Where this is, the man is full of light.
Therefore, in regeneration, the heart being changed and renewed, light and understanding take place; and there is no need of any operation on the understanding, or intellectual faculty of the mind, as distinguished from the heart, or any change in that, which does not necessarily take place, upon the renovation of the w ill or heart.
As the moral disorder and depravity of man lies wholly in his heart, the cure and renovation must begin and end there; and when the heart is perfectly right, the man will be wholly recovered to perfect holiness.456
This point is particularly observed and stated, to expose and rectify a mistake which has been too often made, representing regeneration as consisting: chiefly, if not wholly, in renewing the understanding, as distinguished from the will, and letting light into that, antecedent to any change of the heart, and in order to it; and by which light in the understanding, the will is inclined and turned from sin to holiness. This is turning this matter upside down, and has a dangerous and bad tendency. It supposes that human depravity lies in the understanding, and not in the will; or, at least, that it has its foundation and beginning in the former; and that when that comes right, the will or heart acts right, of course. The consequence is, that there is little or no moral depravity in the heart, that being ready to do its office well, when the understanding is set right: Therefore, man is not blameable for his depravity, and not being holy, since his blindness, which alone, is in the way of his acting right, is not dependent on his will, ©r owing to any disorders in that. It is, indeed, imposable to give true moral light and understanding to the depraved mind of man, by any operation whatsoever on the intellect, antecedent to the renovation of the will; for the darkness is in the latter, and consists in the wrong inclination of that; and therefore cannot be removed, but by renewing the heart.
Others have supposed, that there is in regeneration, an operation on the understanding, or intellect first, in order to enlighten the mind; and then by divine energy, the will is renewed, and brought to comply with the light let into the understanding. But this is unscriptural and contrary to the nature and order of things; and tends to lead to hurtful mistakes, as has been observed. Nothing is necessary but the renovation of the w ill, in order to set every thing right in the human soul: And if the will be not renewed, or a new heart be not given, by an immediate operation, no operation on any other faculty of the soul, and no supposable or possible change can set the heart right, or renew it in the least degree. The scripture makes no such distinction between the faculties of the soul in treating of this matter; but represents the renovation of the will, or giving a new heart, 457as setting the whole soul right in all the powers and faculties of it.
4. The divine operation in regeneration, of which the new heart is the effect, is immediate, or it is not wrought by the energy of any means as the cause of it; but by the immediate power and energy of the Holy Spirit. It is called a creation, and the divine agency in it is as much without any medium, as in creating something from nothing. Men are not regenerated in the sense in which we are now considering regeneration, by light or the word of God. This is evident from what has been observed under the last particular. If the evil eye, which is total darkness, and shuts all the light out, be the evil, corrupt heart of man; then this corrupt heart must be renewed, in order to there being any true light in the mind, and previous to it. There must be a discerning heart, which is the same with a new heart, in order to see the light; and therefore this cannot be produced by light. The evil eye, which shuts out all the light, cannot be cured, and made a single eye, by seeing the light: And the light cannot have any effect, or answer any end, till they are so far made single, as to admit the light: Therefore, that operation which changes the evil eye to a single eye, cannot be by means of light; but must take place antecedent to any light, or any influence or effect that can be produced by it. It is said the Lord opened the heart of Lydia, that she attended unto the things that were spoken by Paul. It would be a contradiction, and very absurd, to say, that the word spoken by Paul, was that by which her heart was opened; for she knew not what he did speak, until her heart was opened to attend to his words, and understand them. Her heart was first opened, in order to his words having any effect, or giving any light to her. And this must be done by an immediate operation of the Spirit of God on her heart. This was the regeneration now under consideration, by which her heart was renewed, and formed to true discerning, like the single eye.
St. James says, “Of his own will begat he us, with the word of truth.”504504 James i. 18. But here in regeneration he includes 458 the effect wrought, or conversion, and does not mean only the act by which the effect is produced, as distinguished from the effect, which is intended by the regeneration now under consideration. The effect produced by the regenerating energy of the Spirit of God, in the adult, is active conversion, which supposes light and truth in the discerning mind, and exercises answerable to it; which is to be particularly considered, under the next general head.
5. The divine operation in the regeneration of which we are speaking, though very great and powerful, is altogether imperceptible by the subject on whom the work is wrought, and by which he is regenerated. Nothing is perceived but the effect, which in the adult consists in perception of truth, and answerable exercises. The cause is to be learned and known only by the effect. When Adam was created, he perceived nothing, and was conscious of nothing, but his own existence, perceptions and exercises. The divine operation, which was the cause of his existence, was over and finished, before he began to perceive any thing. Every creature is constantly supported by God, and divine energy attends and is exerted in all our motions and actions; “For in him we live and move, (or which is more agreeable to the original, are moved) and have our being.” “And the inspiration of the Almighty giveth us understanding.” Yet we perceive nothing but the effect, and argue the cause from the effect. So it is in this case. “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: So is every one that is born of the Spirit.”505505 John iii. 8.
6. The grace granted in regeneration is a sovereign, undeserved and unpromised favour.
The sinner, who is the chosen subject of this operation, and object of this favour, is infinitely ill deserving; and is disposed to go on in rebellion, till this change is wrought. He is obstinate, and refuses to hearken to the divine command, to repent and embrace the gospel, and the offer of mercy, whatever methods have been taken with him to reclaim him. However much he may be 459terrified with the fears of threatened destruction, and the evil, dangerous state in which he is; and though he may have earnest desires to escape misery, and be happy forever; and may make many prayers, and do many things, he has not the least inclination to repent, submit to God and accept of offered mercy; but directly contrary to all this, he with his whole heart abuses every favour granted to him, rejects the offer of mercy, opposes God, slights Christ, and resists the Holy Ghost, in all his prayers, and in all he does; for still his heart is ii heart of stone, an impenitent, rebellious heart, and is full of enmity against God. This character is given of all the unregenerate, in the scripture. Therefore he is not only undeserving of any favour, and especially of this, and infinitely ill deserving; but is constantly provoking God to give him up to utter destruction. When the sinner is in this situation, God has mercy on him, and by his Spirit gives him a new heart. Surely this is, in the highest sense, sovereign mercy; God is infinitely far from being under obligation to any sinner to do this for him: “Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.”
And God has not obliged himself by any promise to grant this mercy to any individual person, antecedent to his actually doing it. He has made no promise, in his word, to those who do not accept nor desire the mercy and salvation which he offers, but reject it with their whole heart; which is true of all the unregenerate, as has been observed. There are indeed promises made to the church, that God will pour out his Spirit, and regenerate sinners; but no individual, unconverted sinner can claim this promise, as it is not made to him in particular. There are promises made to those who repent and believe the gospel, that they shall be saved, that the Spirit of God shall dwell in them forever, &c. but the regenerating influences of the Spirit, which are antecedent to faith, and the first act of faith, which is the gift of God, are unpromised gifts and favours; and God cannot be under any obligation to those who receive them by promise, or any other way.
7. The divine operation, by which men are regenerated, and a new heart is given, is not in the least degree 460inconsistent with human liberty; nor does it impede or obstruct it, in any respect: But finds and leaves men in the free exercise of all desirable or possible freedom, and wholly blameable for all the exercises of their heart, not conformable to the law of God; and commendable for all right exercises of the new heart; which are as much their own, and as free, as if they had taken place without any divine influences, were this possible.
This is evident and certain, if liberty consists in voluntary action, or in the choice and exercises of the will, and in nothing else. No compulsion can be offered to the will, or the freedom of it be any way affected by any operation or influence on the mind which takes place antecedent to the exercise of the will, and in order to the choice that is made. Man is active only in willing; and in this only consists his moral freedom. And in this he is not capable of compulsion; and no impression that is made upon him, nor any operation whatsoever can take away his liberty in the least degree, unless it obstructs and is inconsistent with his acting voluntarily: For so far, and so long, as he does this, and puts forth acts of will, they are his own acts, and he is free; and enjoys and exercises all the freedom of which there can be any consistent conception, or that is possible in the nature of things. [See Part I. Chap. 4, page 174, &c.] Antecedent to regeneration man acts freely. With great strength of inclination and choice his heart opposes the law of God, and rejects the gospel, seeking himself wholly. And when the instantaneous, immediate energy of the holy Spirit renews his heart, he turns about, and loves and chooses what he hated before; and exercises as real freedom in his choice and pursuit of that which he had opposed and rejected.
8. Regeneration is but the beginning of a divine operation which does not wholly renew the heart at once; but from this small beginning the operation continues and goes on to perfection, that is, till the heart is made perfectly clean and holy; which w ill not be accomplished till death. For God continues to work in the regenerate to will and to do, and they 461are as dependant on divine influence for every after right exercise of will, as for the first. And God who begins this’ good work in them will perform it, and go on with it, until the day of Jesus Christ.506506 Phil. i. 6. ii. 13.
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