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SERMON XLVII.4949   Preached June 17, 1694.

1 John v. 1.

Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God.

NOW, if after all that hath been said upon this account, I would give you an epitome, or “the description of one born of God by this peculiar character, I could not more fitly give it than out of that thirteenth chapter of the first epistle to the Corinthians. If it should be enquired what sort of thing is this divine birth, whereof we heard so much which is to be sought out in this world? Since we hear of such productions among men, what sort of thing is it? or what sort of person is he whom it will denominate to be born of God? a divine and heaven-born creature? If any should imagine with themselves a divine creature among men, what must he be? Is he one that doth excel in eloquence more than human, even seraphical, angelical itself? Is he one that can speak with the tongue of men and angels? Is this he? or is it a man of profound speculation, that can search and penetrate into all mysteries? Is it one that abounds in knowledge, so as to comprehend (as far as it is possible to humanity) all knowledge? Is it he that hath so extraordinary a faith that he can work you miracles every hour of the day, and remove a thousand mountains with a breath? Is it one that is a greater miracle himself in this world in respect of the extraordinary good works which he can induce himself to do? And the greater miracle, for that he can do them without any principle, bestow all that he hath, 585all his goods to feed the poor? Is it one that burns in so hot a zeal for this or that private opinion, this conceit, or fancy of his own, that it hath even set his whole soul on fire, and when that is done can be content to sacrifice his body too, and throw that into flames in defence of his opinion? Is it such an one as this, or is that such a thing, a thing born of God? No; it is such a thing as without which all these are mere nothings, will make a man no better than sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal, will turn to no account to him in all the world, profit him just nothing, as the Apostle there speaks.

Well, what then is it? It is an habit of soul made up of goodness. It is when a propension to do good is (as it were) all a man’s soul. It is such a sort of thing as whereof divine love (which cannot but be from above, from God himself who is love) is the internal constituent form; which therefore runs out into all suitable exercises, appearances, and demonstrations of itself upon all occasions: it is such a sort of thing as suffereth long, and is kind; the wonder lies in the connexion, suffers long and is kind; that being long (as all good men must expect to be more or less in such an evil world as this is) in a suffering state is not soured thereby, not imbittered, not turned into acrimony, suffers long, and is still kind, full of benignity, patient of any evil done him, but inclined to do none to any other.

It is such a thing that envieth not another man’s excellency, nor doth boast his own; envieth not, vaunteth not itself, nor is puffed up; it is such a thing that doth not behave itself unseemly, keeps on a steady course, agreeable uniform course, self-agreeable, and therefore cannot allow itself in that which shall be unseemly, unbecoming, unto a discerning or judicious eye; it is such a thing as will suffer a man to have no private interest of his own in opposition to the common interest of the universal Lord of all, or that shall be in a real or actual competition with the rightful good of any other; seeketh not its own things, is not easily provoked, not apt to take offence, not humoursomely captious, so as that none knows how to converse with it or take hold of it; it is such a thing as thinketh no evil, neither thinketh evil of others, nor thinks evil against others; neither apt without cause to take up an ill opinion of another, nor lay designs to do him hurt; it is such a thing as rejoiceth not in iniquity, cannot do so, looks upon the evil of other men with regret, wishes it not to be, and never indulgeth any evil inclination of its own unto private advantage, so as to 586have the occasion of glorying, this or that I got by an unlawful act, or by pursuing or prosecuting an unjust design and in an undue course, but such a thing as rejoiceth in the truth, in walking uprightly, in a plain and unexceptionable way. It is finally, such a thing as “beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” This needs no paraphrase: in sum, it is such a thing as carries eternity in its own nature; to wit, when many extraordinary gifts, glittering excellencies, that were designed but to be temporary and to serve some present purpose, shall fail and vanish and fade away; the gift of tongues, of speculative knowledge, miraculous faith, zeal for opinions, and the like; when they shall all fail, this shall never fail, but go into eternity, hath its glory perfected there, as being the greatest of the three things that are here concomitant, faith, hope, charity; but the greatest of these is charity.

I thus insist that among Christians such a thing as this may not be lightly thought of, as if it were an indifferent and dispensable matter, about which we did not much need to concern ourselves; which is indeed the reproach of the Christian name, and that than which nothing doth more to obstruct and hinder the diffusion and progress of Christianity in the world.

It must recommend itself by its own goodness, and by telling men to their own sense, that it is a thing that betters the world, and which, (so far as it doth obtain and take place) brings men discernibly and tends to bring them into a good and happy state, would make this earth a very heaven might it but generally take place in it. And the consideration of other scriptures makes me think this ought to be the more pressed and insisted upon. I shall turn you to a few (but they are most weighty ones) to our present purpose; and I desire you therefore to weigh them accordingly.

If you look to Gal. v. you will find the contraries to this divine principle strangely matched and sorted; to wit, hatred, variance, emulation, wrath, strife, seditions, envyings, in the 20th and 21st verses; you find them sorted with idolatry, witchcraft, adultery, fornication, heresies, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like. These do keep company; it seems they are not unfit company for one another, or to be sorted and put together.

Let me carry you to another epistle of this same Apostle, Eph. iv. 30, 31, 32, when he had given that great and 587tender charge. “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed to the day of redemption;” he immediately sub joins, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger, and clamour and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all lying.” What is the import of all this, but that these things do most directly tend to grieve that Spirit by which we must be sealed (if ever we be sealed up) to the day of redemption; we grieve him whom we expect to comfort us: that is his peculiar title and style, the Spirit of Grace. The pseudo-Christians, or apostates from Christianity (that the Apostle speaks of with so much severity in divers places of that Epistle to the Hebrews) they are such “as crucify to themselves afresh the Son of God, and put him to open shame, and do despite to the Spirit of Grace.” The most wicked and mischievous thing in all the world, to spite the Spirit of Grace, the Spirit of all kindness and love, and goodness and benignity. Wherever this work is done, the regenerating work; wherever any are truly said to be born of God, the Spirit is the immediate agent, they are born of the Spirit; being born of water signifies nothing without this. What do you tell me of mere figurative Christianity, mere symbolical Christianity, the sign without the thing! except, besides the being born of water, there be the being born of the Spirit too (signified by that water) you can never enter into the kingdom of God, can never so much as see it: whatsoever tends to spite this Spirit which regenerates, doth certainly very ill agree with the regenerating principle, with the work of regeneration itself; nothing can be more unsuitable to our being born of God than to cherish and indulge that in himself which spites and vexeth and grieves that Spirit which is the immediate agent in his regeneration.

If I should carry you yet a little further to another of that Apostle’s epistles, Coloss. iii. “Having put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him;” then put on “as the elect of God (holy and beloved) bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. But above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, unto which also ye are called in one body; and be thankful.” It is a rebellion against the divine call by which we are called in one body to indulge 588ourselves in the contraries to the before enjoined things, bowels of mercy, kindness, forgiveness, and the like.

And you may see how agreeably the holy men of God speak about these things one to another. Let me but lead you to what we find from another Apostle, James iii. 13. “Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for them that make peace.” Here are two opposite principles, that which makes the import of this context the more apparently weighty, and of the greatest importance imaginable: the one is said to be from above, and the other from beneath; the one is therefore the regenerate principle, belonging to the new nature unto this divine birth; and the other fetcheth its parentage from hell, so vastly disagreeing, so directly opposite are these two, not as heaven and earth, but as heaven and hell itself. If you have bitter envyings and strife in your heart, glory not, this wisdom is not from above (this same genius, this spirit, wisdom and folly being the characters of good men and bad in the ordinary language of scripture) this wisdom that is cognate with evil. Envy and strife and wrath and bitterness, is of no heavenly descent, it descends not from above, it hath no kindred, no alliance with those calm, serene, pure, and peaceful regions. No; quite contrary, but it is first pure, then peaceable, gentle and easy to be entreated, so that in contests there will not be a perpetual insisting, inflexibly, I am in the right, and I will not yield an hair: and the other as stiff as he, No, I am in the right, and I will yield as little as you. This wisdom is not from above, it is from beneath; that which is from above is easy to be entreated, can tell how to yield when it is opportune, and when the case manifestly requires it. And so the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace (that hath agreeable soil wherein it will take) with them that love peace.

And to bring you back at last to this same Apostle from 589whom we took our text; do but look back to the third chapter of this epistle, how mighty a stress is laid upon this one thing, divine love among Christians as brethren. “We know that we have passed from death to life, in that we love the brethren; he that loveth not his brother abideth in death.” And I have told you in the beginning of this discourse, that it ought to be remote from us to think him only a brother that is of our own opinion or persuasion, or party. But as all are brethren upon one common account, so go to the more peculiar and special account, all good men are brethren upon that account, all that bear the same divine image, all that do appear born from above. And he that so loveth not his brother, abideth in death. A killing word it should be unto the contrary principle, that is apt to break forth in continual vexatious and grievous things towards them that are brethren.

And if you look back in the same chapter, to the tenth verse, you see what his theme is: he is distinguishing those that are born of God from the rest of the world. “Whosoever is born of God,” verse 9, doth not commit sin; doth not industriously set himself to pursue or persist in an evil and forbidden course, doth not make sin, is not a worker of iniquity, that is not his trade (as many men’s callings are denominated from the things they make,) one in whom wickedness is the governing thing, and with whom it is an habitual thing, it runs through his life: but he that is born of God is no sin-maker, is not a worker of iniquity. But how are such distinguished from them that are not such? Why, in this the children of God (that are born of God) are manifest, and the children of the devil; whosoever doth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother. Taking this in as a matter so intimately conjunct with the divine life, wheresoever it is, love to one’s brother, the children of God, and the children of the devil, are manifest in this; to wit, that they who are the children of God, they do work righteousness; he that doth not so is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother; he hath that principle in him that speaks him to abide in death, the divine life hath not yet obtained, hath not yet a place in him.

Objection. But it may be said, It is impossible that the regenerating spirit should exist and have being at all where these contraries are to be found?

Answer. In short, it must be said, not where they govern, not where they ordinarily prevail, this divine creature of 590which I am speaking, this creature born of God, take it in the whole complex of it, it is so Christ-like a thing, that sometimes in scripture it bears his very name, it is called Christ, “Christ in you the hope of glory,” Col. i. 27. And if you will consider it in its similitude to Christ, and under that name (as the scripture doth warrant us, even to place the very name upon this thing) then where it is amidst these prevailing contraries (as they may be for the present prevailing, though they do not habitually prevail) it may be (as I may say) Christ crucified, Christ in torture, Christ nailed on the cross, and Christ put to open shame, where such things do appear, break forth, and come in view: nothing is more plain. So that of all things in the world that can come under common notice, this is what Christians should abhor from, and studiously take care of, that if they will name that worthy name, if they will court to be denominated by it, they may not reproach that name, and throw dishonour and infamy upon him whose name they bear; as if Christianity were to get nothing but ignominy by their being called Christians.

This, therefore, is a further resemblance of God that is to be found in them that are born of him; or that we must expect to be impressed upon the divine birth, it is a creature (as it were) made up of goodness.

I shall go on with some other that yet remains to be spoken to.

Tenthly, This creature, born of God, it is evidently characterized by its constant aspirings to the perfection of the heavenly state; and therein it hath the image on it of his divine Parent, whom we are taught to consider and conceive of as having his glorious residence above, as the re-manifesting and displaying his glory, and most fully communicating himself; and are taught when we apply to him, to apply to him under that notion, as our Father who is in heaven. And this same divine principle is itself from above; he that is born (ανωθεν} from above, it is he only that can see, can enter into the kingdom of God: this divine principle prompts them to look upwards.

There is therefore a character of heavenliness upon this creature. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, (says the Apostle Peter) who according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope (hope is there objectively taken, as the next words put in opposition do shew) to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for 591us.” This creature, as it is born from heaven, so it is born to heaven, or for heaven. There is an heavenliness imprest upon it, thither it tends, thither it breathes, thither it aspires, flies upwards as the sparks do, it labours to be gathered up into the region of good souls and spirits, where all are perfected together. They that have received the first fruits of the Spirit do groan (aspire within themselves) waiting for the adoption, the redemption of the body, that is waiting for the ultimate perfection of the state they are born for and designed unto. They that have received the first fruits of the Spirit, to wit, all the regenerate, as soon as they come to be regenerate, they have received the first fruits of the Spirit, then they begin to aspire, as soon as they are born they breathe, and as soon as they breathe they breathe upwards, heavenward. They that have received the first fruits of the Spirit do groan inwardly, or within themselves, for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of the body; they aspire for this, and for the state that doth belong to them as sons, and the perfection of it.

It is to be observed that adoption in the theological sense of it may be taken two ways, as in the civil we find that among the Romans there were two sorts of adoptions, or two degrees of it rather. There was first the private adoption, when any did give but some private intimation or signification that he intended to take such an one for his son, but there was afterwards the public or forensick adoption, when the person was adopted by such an one in foro, when it was made a public act, and accordingly inrolled in their public records. And so is the complete and consummate glory of the resurrection, of the risen state, here called the adoption. Another verse in that viii. Rom.—19, compared with verse 23, calls it the manifestation of the sons of God, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the time and season for the manifestation of the sons of God: when they shall be owned to be his sons, when it shall be openly declared and known who they are. And this is the state that they who have received the first fruits of the Spirit do aspire to; so as to be content with nothing beneath, or on this side that: I am born an heir to glory, or the ultimate perfection of that state to which I am born, and whereof by divine designation I am capable, to that I aspire, and can take up with nothing beneath it, nothing short of it. They that continually grovel in the dust of this earth, never think an higher or a nobler thought, are these born of God? are these of the divine offspring? What an inconsistency and 592absurdity is that! They that perpetually mind earthly things, have no business in this world but to feed, and dress, and please their flesh, without any thought or concern for the immortal spirit. Are they born of God? No; they that are so born, so well born, have aspirations suitable to the nobility of their birth and parentage, thither they aspire.

But as the things hitherto mentioned are imitations or resemblances of God, in respect of such of his excellencies as are wont to pass under the name or notion of communicable for the most part, I shall name some more that go under the notion more strictly of incommunicable, wherein, though there is not that similitude, yet there is some correspondence: as with respect to the infiniteness of God, I shall give an instance therein. And with respect to his self-sufficiency, under that head I shall only speak to these two things; and though there is not so proper a similitude and likeness, yet there is some correspondence in this divine birth, as such things as these belonging to the very being of God. As there is,

Eleventhly, An unlimited largeness of spirit; not infiniteness in the positive sense, but a negative sort of infiniteness, of unboundedness, in particular respects that I shall mention to you.

i. There is an unlimitedness, so as not to be confined to this present world. No, saith one that is born of God, it is too little a thing, too scant a thing. One born of God hath thereupon a spirit too big for all this world. As that worthy said, I earnestly protested I would not be put off with such a portion. This earth is too little a thing for me, (saith one that is born of God,) I cannot be confined to it. Nor,

ii. Can such an one be confined to time: his prospect is still larger, he looks forward, “he seeks for honour, and glory, and immortality, and eternal life.” Rom. ii. 7. And,

iii. He is not confined in respect of any degrees of truly divine knowledge and grace, he never knows so much in that kind but he still covets to know more; and he never hath so much of grace and the image of God, but he still affects to have more. And,

iv. He is unconfined in respect of service unto him whose he is, unto his divine Parent. It is his interest, I must serve while I have any being. And he always thinks he hath never done enough if he hath done much, for he reckons himself still under obligation to do more. So it is with one that is born of God. And then,

Twelfthly, He resembles God in his self sufficiency. This 593most incommunicable attribute of the Divine Being, to be self-sufficient. One that is born of God bath a subordinate self-sufficiency, to wit, by gracious vouchsafement he hath that in himself, with which he is content: not in exclusion to God, but to inferior things, to the creature. The good man is satisfied from himself, he is constituted a fountain to himself. Prov. xiv. 24. A fountain fed from an higher fountain. God hath made him a living spring within himself, so that he needs not another; doth not need to depend upon this or that, or the other creature; so as to reckon that if he lose that he is undone. As that wretch cried out, “Ye have taken away my gods, (meaning his idols,) and what have I more?” Every unregenerate person hath some such idol or other, which he reckons his all. Ye have taken away my gods, and what have I more? When the world is gone, when honour and grandeur are gone, when wealth and riches, this or that pleasant seat gone, Ye have taken away my gods, and what have I more? No, the regenerate soul hath learnt that doctrine, ne. . . . . . . I do not need to range, to forage; if I can enjoy God at home in my own soul, I have enough. Such a kind of self-sufficiency as that of Jacob, he had all; when Esau compliantly said to him, “I have enough;” but I, saith he, have all. So the apostle. Phil. iv. 18, “I have all, and abound.” Let your conversation be without covetousness, and be content with such things as ye have; for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee; there is the emphasis. Thou shalt have my presence, God will always render himself present, will never leave them, nor forsake them. Therefore be content with what you have. There is a self-sufficiency belonging to a good man, in exclusion to external good things, he can live without them.

But how will your body live without them? Why, may such an one say, I can live with that, I am such a sort of creature, as can be in the body, and be out of the body; it is not necessary for me to live in this flesh, my God is my all, and he is pleased to join himself intimately, inwardly to me, and in him I have all. Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides thee.

These are so many manifest imitations and resemblances of God that are to be found in this divine creature, who is born of him; and all these things (as you might take notice) do belong to this regenerate, heaven-born soul, as God is his Parent. But (as I told you) the relation is mutual, out of this divine birth results the relation, and relation is mutual 594between God and them. He is a Father to them, and they children to him; paternity and filiation do enforce one another. Is God a Father to them? Then he must in begetting them, and when they are born of him, impress on them such characters as resemble him. But then are they also his children, then must there be also such things found in them as do answer their relation to God as such; there must be childlike dispositions towards him of whom they are begotten. Several things will come under that head; as the dependance of children, the love of children towards their Father, they love him that begat, there is love immediately towards him that begat them. To pretend to be born of God, and not love him, is of all things the most contradictious, absurd, and self-confuting pretence. Then there is the reverence of him as their Father; honour thy father and mother. If I be a father, where is my honour? There must be obedience to him as their Father. Children, obey your parents in the Lord; and be subject to the Father of spirits, that you may live. It is mortal to you not to be subject; to rebel is to die; to disobey is to declare yourself none of the family, it is even to protest against the relation.

The mentioning of all these things, one would think, should occasion many throbbing hearts among us. If God have such a work as this to do in this world, to raise up a divine offspring to himself among men; and if that gospel which he hath sent is to be the regenerating instrument. “Of his own will begat he us by the word of truth,” Jas. i. 18, that we might be a nobler sort of creatures. A more glorious sort than the rest of the miscreant world are: if the case be so, then while I live under the gospel, which is appointed on purpose for begetting children to God, what do I find done upon my soul? What impressions are there, wherein I do differ from other men? Is there no difference between the children of God and the children of that other father, that worst of fathers? Is there no difference between heaven and hell? Some do think we can confound and mingle them. Oh, methinks, it should cause great palpitations of heart. What do I find inwrought into my soul, that looks like a divine nature? One born of God, and that may suit and answer the end for which he sent his Son to be a Jesus, and Jesus to be a Christ in this world, by faith to be acknowledged and owned as such? That must be an high and noble design! It challengeth very deep and searching thoughts of heart to be employed about it. What 595is doing of it in my soul? When we sec how little is done, how little effect the gospel hath, what a miscarrying womb it is for the most part, it may make many a sad misgiving heart among us. What, hath God no children to raise up in our days, and in this part of the world? Hath he done with the converting of souls? Begetting and regenerating them in his own image, when they go from day to day, from week to week, and from year to year, with the same unregenerate hearts, just what they were under the ministration which is appointed to minister life and spirit to souls? To remain still the same that one was, what will the issue of this be? What, if time should expire with us now?


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