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Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God.
BUT now, to speak more distinctly to this work as it is signified by a divine birth, or being born of God, there are two things of which we must have a distinct consideration: 534First, the influence by which it is produced; and secondly, the product itself.
(1.) The influence by which it is produced. And that we must carefully distinguish from these two things: First, from what is superior to it in the kind of influence; and second, from what is inferior.
[1.] From what is superior to it, and ought to be conceived infinitely superior. And that is the influence by which the eternal Son is begotten of the Father. That cannot be called a created influence, as that which is common to this work with all other creatures must be. But it may be truly procreated, because he is said to be begotten; the only begotten Son of the Father. Begotten he is, but so begot ten as none besides: not so begotten as a creature is. We shall shew you the difference by and by. But we are to consider these as infinitely different. The manner by which God is said to beget his own eternal Son, and that by which he doth beget all that are, in the sense of the text, born of him, differ: and especially in these two things lies the difference; first that the former is eternal, whereas the latter is temporary; and secondly, the former is necessary, whereas the latter is arbitrary. And pray note these two great differences. The former, I say, is
First, Eternal. He that is said to be the only begotten Son, “We beheld his glory as the glory of the only-begotten Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.” John i. 14. He is the only begotten Son in that peculiar and most noble sense, to wit, that he was begotten from eternity. So you find, Micah v. 2, “his goings forth were from everlasting; of old, and from everlasting.” So that there was no moment conceivable, not only in time, but in all foregoing eternity, wherein he was not by an everlasting resultancy (as we may speak) from the Father. His goings forth were from everlasting. It is not thus as to creatures; not as to the most excellent sort of creatures, this same more noble creature, the new creature, the divine creature (being yet but a creature;) it had its beginning, and may have its very late beginning, as all creatures do begin to be at one time or other. And,
Secondly, The influence in the former is necessary; in reference to the latter, this and all other creatures are but arbitrary. Whatever is created is created by an arbitrary influence. “For thy pleasure, or by thy will (as those words, Rev. iv. 11. may be read) they are and were created.” Whatsoever is created, is the product of the divine will, depends upon an 535antecedent act of will, determining whether it shall be, or not be. But this could not be the case as to the eternal generation of the Son, even from thence (as it hath been said) that it was “from everlasting:” for whatsoever did depend upon an act of will, determining whether it should be or not be, that is an antecedent of will: not concomitant, but antecedent; and so whether it should be or not be, must have had a beginning, and could not be pre-existent, could not be from all eternity. Though indeed such productions may be to all eternity (as it is with the spirits and souls of men) they cannot have been from all eternity, if it depend upon choice whether they should be or not be. But the other was a generative influence, that did not depend upon choice, but necessity of nature. He was the Son by natural, necessary, eternal promanation; as necessarily the Son, as the Father the Father; he resulting from him as his everlasting substantial image. As if the sun in the firmament, instead of projecting its beams round about, did invert them, and so there were a necessary production of a sun in a sun, not depending upon choice, but from an ever lasting necessity of nature; so he is said to be the only-begotten Son of the Father. Though he hath many sons, as you that are said to be begotten and born of him; but in an inferior sense, as a greater difference cannot be supposed than to be from necessity of nature, and to be from arbitrary choice, at will and pleasure. “Of his own will begat he us, to be the first fruits of his creatures:” James i. 18. he did it when he might not have done it. That is one distinction that is necessary to be made in this case, between tins begetting and what is infinitely inferior to it, to wit, that of the only-begotten Son of God. But then
[2.] We are to distinguish it too from that which is unspeakably inferior to it, as well as that which is superior; that is, we are to distinguish it from the production of inferior things, that are of a lower nature and value, which though they are called God’s creatures, yet are they never in any sense to be called his sons. And we must therefore consider the special kind and nature of this productive influence in this respect, as it is to be distinguished from all that which is merely creative, and not generative at all. It is true, indeed, that the generative influence is creative too within the universe of created beings, so as that God’s children as such are his creatures; for they are called new creatures. But though all his children are his creatures, yet all his creatures are not his children. There is somewhat 536peculiar not only in respect of the thing produced, but in respect of the productive influence too. And so we must note to you these differences:
First, That this influence is spiritual, I say; it is purely spiritual. It is called so, both in respect of the cause and of the effect. As it is from the cause, and as it terminates in the effect, so we are given to understand that it is spiritual; it hath the name of Spirit put upon it, John iii. 6, “That which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” There is Spirit producing, and spirit produced thereby. The influential cause, as such, is the divine Spirit, (for we consider now the spirituality of the influence, not of the thing produced thereby.) “Except a man be born again of water and of the Spirit, (or the Holy Ghost,) he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” It is not enough (as if he should have said) that a man be baptized; that will not do the business, that may leave him short of regeneration, of heaven, and the kingdom of God. It is spoken by way of allusion to the Jewish baptisms that were before the Christian institution; for there were two sorts of proselytes among the Jews (long before Christianity under that name came to obtain in the world;) those that were called proselytes of the gate, and those that were called proselytes of justice. And for the latter sort, they were always admitted into the Jewish church by baptism; and therefore doth our Saviour justly upbraid it to Nicodemus, that he being a master in Israel, should understand so little of the mysteries of regeneration. “Art thou a master in Israel, and knowest not these things?” Dost thou not understand the meaning of an usage so common among yourselves? For at those baptisms they used to have a new father and a new mother, new kindred, new brethren, new sisters, declaratively. This was a thing wont to be declared in the solemnity of those baptisms, as their own records inform. Now, saith our Saviour, dost thou think this thing, so used among yourselves, had no meaning? Art thou a master in Israel, one of the teachers and doctors, and dost not understand this thing; that besides the external, significant baptism, there must be a signified internal baptism? And what could that be but the baptism of the Holy Ghost, renewing the nature, transforming the soul, altering the habitual inclination, creating a new man, a new divine creature? So that it must be a mighty penetrative, spiritual influence, full of vital life and vigour diffused through the soul, that makes this birth, when one is said to be born of God. There is a spiritual production, and it is of Spirit. That which is 537born of the Spirit is spirit: under that notion, and as such we conceive it in relation to action, it speaks a mighty vigour, and vivacity, and operativeness. For matter, as matter can effect nothing, work nothing, it hath no operativeness, no ris, no energy in it, it is a mere passive thing; but the fountain of all activity, life, and vigour, is Spirit, a spiritual being; and the generative influence in this work is such.
Secondly, It is intellectual as well as spiritual; such as carries mental light in it. For when God doth this work upon souls, he is said to shine into them. God that commanded light to shine out of darkness, “hath shined into our hearts, to give the light of his own glory in the face of Jesus Christ.” He doth this work as the Father of lights. “Every good gift and perfect giving proceeds from the Father of lights.” James i. 17. Even as it is such; whereupon (as we shall in the proper place come to note to you) these children are called “children of light,” as he is the “Father of lights.” And whereas the thing produced is the divine image, this is to be renewed in knowledge, or “they are renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created them.” Col. iii. 10. After the image of their Creator, who is the fountain of all knowledge and wisdom. All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are originally and essentially in God, and communicatively and derivatively in Christ, they are all hid in him. And so there is a derivation even in this work, unto the effect produced; and therefore it must be considered in the productive influence. Here is a radiation of light into the soul. He hath “called us out of darkness into his marvellous light.” The light of divine truth, by which these great things that do concern us Godward are revealed which were all his before. Therefore as to the manner of the production, or the productive influence, these are said to be “born of God.” These children of God are said to be born of divine truth; which is that light which shines into the soul, exhibiting to us such things, not as will satisfy curiosity, but necessity—answer the necessary purposes of our souls. “Of his own will begat he us by the word of truth, that we should be to him the first-fruits of his creatures.” And, 1 Pet. i. 23, “Being born, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God,” divine truth: “seeing you have purified your souls (as it is said before) in obeying the truth.” They had received that truth which carried with it a transforming power, by which they became subdued thereunto, and were made to receive the impression thereof, according to that of our Saviour, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.” John xvii.17.” And we 538give thanks alway to God for you, (saith the Apostle to the Thessalonians) that God hath chosen you to salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth.” 2 Thess. ii. 13. So that divine truth and light is the immortal seed put of which this divine production springs in the soul. The productive influence is illuminative; divine truth, in the light and lustre and glory of it, being darted into the very heart, hath made light to shine in to the heart, even the light of the knowledge of God’s own glory. 2 Cor. iv. 6. And again,
Thirdly, It is a powerful influence which is productive of this blessed work. It is true, that whatsoever work is done by God is done by an omnipotent agent, but not always as such; for we must not look upon him as a merely natural or involuntary agent, that doth in every thing what he can; as the fire burns all that it can, and the sun shines as much as it can. The case is not so in the matter of divine agency; but he doth exert more or less of his power as it seems him good, and as the matter doth require. It is power, being under the regulation of his wisdom and his will in every thing he doth; for it would be very unreasonable and absurd to think there should be the same emission of divine power and virtue in the production of a worm as in the production of an angel. Therefore, the almightiness of his power he attempers and proportioned!, by his wisdom and choice, to the effect to be produced. But there is a mighty exertion of power in this work, when he begins the new creature; when he is not only to bring a thing out of nothing, but, (which requires a greater exertion of power) he is to bring a contrary out of its contrary, light out of darkness, holiness out of the greatest impurity, love to himself out of the highest enmity. This is a mighty egression of divine power: when there are but additions to be made in this kind in the soul, we find what it requires by what is prayed for. “We pray for you, (saith the apostle, Eph. iii. 16,) that God would grant you to be strengthened with might, by his Spirit in the inner man;” and that he will do so “according to the riches of his glory:” implying that there must be a mighty exertion of the glory of the divine power, in order to an additional work, in order to the superadding some further degree unto what hath been wrought powerfully already; “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that he would grant you.” And the expressions are of equal import, to the same purpose, which we have, Col. i. 11. The apostle there prays for the Colossians, that 539in order to their walking worthy of the Lord to all well pleasing, and in order to their being fruitful in every good work, and in order to their increasing in the knowledge of God, to wit, their religion (that being a periphrastical expression thereof, the knowledge of God being a periphrasis of whole Christianity) that they maybe “strengthened with all might according to his glorious power.” There needed a continual exertion of all might, and such as should accord to and agree with the glorious power of God himself, in order to their progress and increase of grace and holiness: and therefore much more must the first beginning of such a work as this in the soul require a very glorious exertion of divine power.
And whereas therefore in this work there is a communication and participation of the divine nature, this is signified to be his divine power. If you look to 2 Pet. i. verses 3, 4, compared, “According as his divine power hath given us all things appertaining to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue; whereby are given to us exceeding great and precious promises; that by these you might be partakers of the divine nature.” Here is a divine nature to be communicated and imparted in this great and glorious work. How is it to be communicated? It is true it must be by apt and suitable means; to wit, by the great and precious promises given us in the gospel. But it must be by the exertion too of a divine power. Though God do work suitably to an intelligent nature when he works upon such subjects, yet he works also suitably to himself, “according as his divine power hath given us all things pertaining to life and godliness,” or to the godly life; in order to the ingenerating the godly life his divine power hath given us by the exceeding great and precious promises, a divine nature. The instrumentality and subserviency of these “exceeding great and precious promises,” is greatly to be considered, God working herein suitably to the nature of an intelligent subject. Here is a change to be wrought in his nature, a nature that is corrupt, depraved, averse from God, alienated from the divine life; this nature is now to be attempered to God, made suitable to him, made propense and inclined towards him. This might be done, it is true, by an immediate exertion of Almighty power, without any more ado. But God will work upon men suitably to the nature of man. And what course doth he therefore take? He gives “exceeding great and precious promises,” and in them he 540declares his own good will, that he might win theirs. In order to the ingenerating grace in them, he reveals grace to them by these great and precious promises. And what is grace in us? Truly grace in us is goodwill towards God, or good nature towards God; which can never be without a transformation of our vicious, corrupt nature. It will never incline towards God, or be propense towards God, till he make it so by a transforming power. But how doth he make it so? By discovering his kindness and goodness to them in “exceeding great and precious promises,” satisfying and persuading their hearts; I mean nothing but kindness towards you, why should you be unkind towards me? I am full of good will towards you, will you requite it with perpetual ill will, and everlasting enmity towards me? Thus the “exceeding great and precious promises” are instruments to the communicating a divine nature to us, though that divine nature be ingenerated by a mighty power. God doth work at the rate of omnipotency in the matter, by the exertion of Almighty power; but yet suit ably to our nature, so as to express his mind, and kind design, and good will, by the exceeding great and precious promises contained in the gospel.
And if it were not so, he might as well make use of any other means as the gospel, to work upon souls by. But the gospel is the word of his grace. “To testify the gospel of the grace of God,” that is my business, saith the apostle, as a minister of Christ, and for which he did not reckon his life too valuable or too costly a thing to be sacrificed; “That I may testify the gospel of the grace of God, my life is not dear to me.” Acts xx. 24. I can be contented to throw away an hundred such lives as this, in testifying the gospel of the grace of God. But what was it to be testified for? That God by this testimony might insinuate into so ill-natured hearts and spirits, and set them right towards him; plead effectually with them, and expostulate the matter. Why should you be everlasting strangers to me, who mean nothing but kindness and good will towards you? Why should you choose to live as without me in the world? Why should you be always alienated from the life of God, when he is seeking after you, and would impart his grace and glory to you? It is in this way, and by such means, that the divine power works, in order to the production of a divine nature; a nature that will incline towards God, work towards him, as it carried men away from him before. And then,541
Fourthly, The influence by which this work is done, it is a merciful, compassionate influence; an influence of grace exerted and put forth, with the height of divine pity towards miserable creatures that must be lost and undone; being liable to an eternal hell, and who are a present hell to themselves, till such a work as this be done in them. For though, alas, such poor creatures will not consider it themselves, God doth consider with compassion the horrid, forlorn state of unrenewed souls: where his regenerating influence as yet hath had no place or effect, they are not only liable to eternal wrath (whereupon they are said to be by nature the children of wrath) by the inclinations and propensions of their own vicious nature, that hath set them at enmity with God, at enmity with one another, and set them at enmity with themselves. They are not only, I say, liable to eternal wrath by the inclination of their own nature, to which that tends to carry them, and to which it suits them; but they are a present hell to themselves, as every unrenewed soul is. If you consider the constituent parts of hell, loss and torment; loss of the best good, torment by the worst evil; there are both these in kind in this present state, though they are both higher in degree hereafter. But in kind, both do fall into the present state of an unregenerate soul.
i. The misery of loss. They are without God in the world: Ephes. ii. 12. “without Christ, and without hope, and without God in the world.” They do not reflect upon this; but if occasion were given them to consider the state of their case, and they would truly consider it, whatsoever their straits and necessities are, they must needs say,—I do not know which way in the world to turn myself; I have no God to go to, none to whom mine heart inclines, none in whom I can justly pretend myself to have a present interest; I must bear all my burdens alone; in the midst of my wants I have no God; in the midst of my enjoyments I have no God; no God to supply my wants, no God to sweeten my enjoyments. This is their forlorn case. And if
ii. You look to the misery of torment, which is the other constituent part of hell, there must be that in degree in every unrenewed soul. And so they have the same misery in kind that they shall have hereafter, for all degrees are comprehended in the kind. And therefore the lowest degree speaks the true kind, the same kind. Some degrees they have of it now, even of that torment which belongs to 542the present state, that of an unrenewed soul as such; for, being unreconciled to God, they are not capable of being reconciled to themselves; that is, the power and faculties of their souls with one another; but light prompts them one way, and inclination carries them another way. It is true there is somewhat of this warring in the regenerate too; but then the prevailing principle doth agree with their light; the prevailing principle in their hearts doth agree with the light in their minds, and is the victorious principle. There is a disposition to contend against light; but the holy gracious principle there doth ordinarily and habitually prevail against the corrupt and sinful principle. But the case is quite otherwise with unregenerate souls; to wit, in the stated course and current of their lives, they run counter to the judgment of their consciences; as no man’s conscience but must condemn an ungodly life, living as “without God in the world;” but so they live their lives, and transact the whole course and current of their lives at that ungodly rate, without fear of God, without the love of God, without praying to him, without depending on him, without designing for him in a continued course. Why here is the self-tormenting principle laid asleep only in such souls; that is, if ever they should reflect, they must consider themselves in a state of war with God, and with their own consciences, which are God’s vicegerents, and are to govern over them in his right. If conscience were awake, and would do its office, that self-tormenting principle would presently and repeatedly tell them, Thou art a rebel against God and me; thou dost what thy light condemns thee for; God is” cast out of thy soul, thy thoughts, thy affections, thy mind and heart: thy life is a continual war and rebellion against Heaven. It is true, instead of mortifying their corruptions, they make a shift to mortify their consciences, and so they are not clamorous, nor do give them actual torment; but the tormenting principle is there, and needs only awakening, and will awaken sooner or later, too late, if God be not merciful. But because he is merciful, therefore is such a transaction set on foot between him and them. And it is a compassionate influence suited to the sad and forlorn case wherein men are liable to hell, and are a present hell to themselves. It is a merciful influence which is vouchsafed in such a case.
Do but look back to the 2d Ephesians, where men are said to be “children of wrath by nature,” one as well as 543another; it is immediately subjoined in the next words, “But God, who is rich in mercy, according to his great love wherewith he loved us, hath quickened us together with Christ;” hath inspired us with a new life, a divine and holy life, which is another expression of the same thing signified by “the divine nature.” This is an influence in which grace breathes, in which mercy governs. “God, who is rich in mercy,” hath saved us by quickening us together in Christ, infusing a new divine life into us, which will be eternal life, as certainly as a vicious, corrupted, depraved nature, continuing unrenewed and what it was, will end in eternal death. So that as they are children of wrath, and sinners of hell by that very nature, so, by this divine nature now imparted by God’s rich mercy, there is a sacred and sure pledge of life eternal, wherein that will end. And to the same purpose is Tit. iii. ver. 3, 4, 5. The apostle speaks of what naturally we all were; “We ourselves were sometimes foolish, disobedient, serving divers lusts and pleasures; living in malice, hateful, and hating one another: but after the kindness and love of God our Saviour towards man 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.” This then is a most merciful influence that is given forth in the regenerating work. It is as if God should have said, I see these poor creatures are perishing, not only tending to hell, but carrying with them their own hell into hell, “hell being at last cast into hell,” (as the expression in the Revelation is.) It is a throwing hell into hell, when a wicked man comes to hell; for he was his own hell before. God be holding this forlorn case of wretched creatures, saith, I must either renew them or loose them; I must either transform them, or they must perish; they are in fire of hell already. Such and such we were, but of his mercy he saved us by the washing of regeneration, and renewing by the Holy Ghost. O! the compassionate influence that is shed upon a soul in this case! The balmy dews that descend from Heaven upon a distempered soul, which quench the flames of lust, and which implant and invigorate (after their implantation) a divine principle, in-create a new life, that leads to God and Christ, and the way of holiness and heaven at last. This “being born of God” must imply, if we consider the productive influence by which this blessed work is effected, We are afterwards 544to consider the effect itself produced: in general God’s own image inwrought into the soul, which we must understand by an influence, or exerted virtue, suitable to the thing to be produced, as well as suitable to the productive cause.
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