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THE effect of the regenerating influence of the Spirit of God, which consists in conversion, is next to be more particularly considered.
Regeneration, in the sense in which it has now been considered, is the cause of voluntary action in him who is the subject of the operation, or issues in it; which consists in turning from sin to God, or in holy exercise, which is true love to God, and loving our neighbour as ourselves; which implies a sight and belief of the truth, repentance, faith in Christ, and submission and devotedness to him, his interest and service, &c. As the law of God requires love, and nothing but love, considered as comprehending all the proper and genuine fruits and expressions of it; so the new creature, or that which is born of God, consists wholly in love, as it is conformity to the law of God, which is all comprehended in these two commands, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. And thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” Therefore St. John says, “He that loveth is born of God. God is love, and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him. “As God is love, and this comprehends the whole of his moral character; so love in creatures, is the moral image of God, and it consists altogether in this. This love, of which God and the creature are the objects, is, in the nature of it, one and the same undivided affection, differing only as it is exercised towards different objects, on various occasions, and in diverse circumstances. It consists in universal benevolence; or benevolence to being in general capable of happiness, and all that affection and exercise of heart which is necessarily included in this. Universal 462 benevolence, or goodness, is necessarily pleased with good and happiness wherever it takes place; for it seeks the general good, and that to the greatest possible degree; it must therefore be gratified, wherever happiness takes place, and that in proportion to the degree of it. And, of consequence, it must be pleased with every benevolent being, who wishes the greatest general good, and promotes it, according to his capacity, and the opportunity he has to do it. Therefore benevolence must have the greatest degree of pleasure in that being who has the greatest degree of benevolence, and does the most good. And this is the love of complacence, and is necessarily implied in benevolence, and really an exercise of it, and can take place no where but in the benevolent heart. Benevolence esteems benevolent affection, as the greatest excellence and worth; and therefore exercises the highest love of esteem towards him who has the greatest degree of benevolence, and does the most good. And the benevolent person exercises true gratitude towards every being who is doing good to individuals, and promoting the greatest general or public good. Thus complacential love, the love of esteem and the love of gratitude, are included in benevolence, and essential to it; and are really nothing more than benevolent affection. He who has universal benevolence has all virtuous, holy love, as all is necessarily implied and comprehended in this. The new, benevolent heart, is an illuminated heart. The eye is now become single, and all is full of light. The person is now turned from darkness to marvellous light, and being spiritual, discerneth and knoweth all things. He sees and believes the great truths contained in divine revelation; and cordially embraces them as true and excellent.
This holy affection, in which the new creature consists, discerns the being and perfections of God, as realities and glorious, as they were never seen before. And this holy love is fixed, in the first place, on this sum and fountain of all being, benevolence and perfection, as the supreme object of benevolent affection. Here the benevolent heart finds an object every way, and in all respects, suited to draw forth the strongest exercises of benevolent, friendly affection, in rejoicing in his infinite, 463eternal, independent existence, felicity and glory; exercising and enjoying supreme delight, and complacential love in his infinite perfection and benevolence; and sweet gratitude to him for the glorious exercise and display of his love; devoting himself to his service and honour, and exerting cordial and strong benevolence and friendship, in ardently desiring that God may be glorified to the highest degree forever; and wishing to be the active instrument of this, as the greatest happiness he can desire, or imagine.
The new heart sees and approves of the divine law in the extent and spirituality of it, requiring perfect love to God and man; and threatening disobedience with infinite evil; and it is agreeable to him that this law should be maintained and honoured forever. And in this light he sees his own total depravity, and the unsearchable wickedness of his heart. He beholds the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and its desert of infinite evil, as a proper punishment. He hence sees his own infinite odiousness and ill desert, and condemns and abhors himself for all his transgressions, and contrariety to God and his law: And confesses his sins, repenting as in dust and ashes. The new heart is therefore a broken, contrite, humble, penitent heart. True repentance is necessarily implied in real conversion; and therefore the whole of conversion is often in scripture expressed by it, and called repentance. And this continues and increases through the whole life of a real convert.507507 The total depravity of man, and the infinite odiousness and criminality of all sin, are so implied in all the leading truths in the Bible, that a thorough conversion, and a cordial acknowledgment of them, in the light of the divine character and law, is essential to belief and hearty reception of the most important doctrines of the gospel. And it will doubtless be found, on proper examination, that all the gross errors respecting the gospel, which are, or have been embraced, and propagated, have originated from ignorance of the law of God, and the nature and ill desert of sin, and an express or implicit denial of these.
The new man discerns the character of Christ, and the way of salvation by him, with entire approbation, and great pleasure, and believes the gospel with all his heart, and flies to the Redeemer, as the only hope for sinners; trusting in him alone for pardon, righteousness, strength and redemption. And his benevolent love to God and man is in the highest degree pleased 464with the gospel, which establishes, magnifies and honours the law, and brings honour to God in the pardon and salvation of sinful, lost men, who believe on the Saviour. Conversion is turning from a state of obstinacy and disobedience, to a cordial submission and obedience to Christ. The real convert says as Saul did when he was renewed, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” This is necessarily implied in repentance and faith. A new heart is an obedient heart; therefore obedience cannot be separated from a new heart; and they are indeed one and the same thing. Consequently they are put together as implying each other, and being really the same in the words of inspiration. “A new heart will I give you, 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.”508508 Ezek. xxxvi. 26, 27. The new heart consists in love, as has been shown, and all holy obedience consists in this. It is love expressed and acted out in all proper ways.
This leads to observe farther, that this love, which is the new creation, or the new creature, has not only the supreme Being for its object; but creatures also, who are capable of happiness. It wishes well to every such creature, so far as their good and happiness is consistent with the greatest public, general good, and no farther; for universal benevolence seeks the greatest good of the whole; and therefore is ready to give up, not to desire, but to renounce the good and happiness of individuals, when, and as far as it is inconsistent with the greatest good of the whole, all beings and all things taken into view. And as the good man is not capable of determining with any certainty that it is inconsistent with the greatest good of the whole that any who are on the stage of life with him should be happy, his benevolence will extend to all, and will wish them well, and pray for all men, even his enemies, if he have any. But his benevolence will be more particularly, and in a stronger degree exercised towards those who are most in his view, with whom he is most acquainted, whose wants, dangers and miseries, and whose capacity of happiness are most in his sight; and those who are more especially 465 under his care, and to whom he is under advantage, and has more opportunity to do good. And he will feel himself united, in a peculiar degree, and with a more fervent love, to those who appear to him to be benevolent and engaged in desiring and promoting the greatest general good, in the exercise of true love to God and man. As such who are friends to God and his kingdom, to Jesus Christ, and the greatest public good, appear to the benevolent to have more real existence than others, and to be of much more importance in the scale of being, and are objects of the peculiar benevolence of the Deity; they are in this view peculiarly dear to them, and excellent in their eyes; and they embrace them with a distinguishing, strong and sweet, benevolent and complacential love.
Having given a more general view of conversion, which is the effect of the regenerating influences of the Holy Spirit, and which consists in the volitions and actions of the regenerate, it is of importance that what has been mentioned, should be more particularly explained; which will be attempted in the following sections.
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