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OF THE NATURE OF REGENERATION, AND ITS NECESSITY, IN ORDER TO JUSTIFICATION AND SALVATION,
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.—Gal. vi. 15.
THE observation I am still upon from these words is this: viz. That in the Christian religion nothing will avail to our justification, but the renovation of our hearts and lives, expressed here by “a new creature.” In treating of which, I proposed the doing of three things:
First, To shew the true import of this metaphor of “a new creature.”
Secondly, To shew that this is the great condition of our justification; and,
Thirdly, That it is highly reasonable that it should be so.
In treating of the first of these particulars, I have considered some doctrines as founded upon this metaphor, which I have shewn at large not only to have no foundation in Scripture, or reason, or experience,; but also to be very unreasonable in themselves, and contrary to the plain and constant tenor of Scripture, and to the ordinary method of God’s grace in the regeneration of men, whether by a religious and virtuous education, or in those who are reclaimed from a notorious wicked course of life. 413And that I have so long insisted upon this argument, and handled it in a more contentious way than is usual with me, did not proceed from any love to controversy, which I am less fond of every day than other; but from a great desire to put an end to these controversies, and quarrellings in the dark, by bringing them to a clear state and plain issue, and likewise to undeceive good men concerning some current notions and doctrines, which I do really believe to be dishonourable to God, and contrary to the plain declarations of Scripture, and a cause of great perplexity and discomfort to the minds of men, and a real discouragement to the resolutions and endeavours of becoming better. Upon which considerations I was strongly urgent to search these doctrines to the bottom, and to contribute what in me lay, to the rescuing of good men from the disquiet and entanglement of them.
I will conclude this matter with a few cautions, not unworthy to be remembered by us: that we would be careful so to ascribe all good to God, that we be sure we ascribe nothing to him that is evil, or any ways unworthy of him; that we do not make him the sole author of our salvation, in such a way, as will unavoidably charge upon him the final impenitency and ruin of a great part of mankind; that we do not so magnify the grace of God, as to make his precepts and exhortations signify nothing; such as these: “Make ye new hearts, and new spirits, strive to enter in at the strait gate;” where, if by the strait gate be meant the difficulty of our first entrance upon a religious course, that is, of our conversion and regeneration, I cannot imagine how it is possible to reconcile our being merely passive in this work, and doing nothing at all in it, with our Saviour’s precept 414of striving “to enter in at the strait gate; unless to be very active and to be merely passive about the same thing be all one, and an earnest contention and endeavour be the same thing with doing nothing. Again, that we do not make the utmost degeneracy and depravation which men ever arrived at by the greatest abuse of themselves, and the most vile and wicked practices, the standard of an unregenerate state, and of the common condition of all men by nature. And, lastly, that we do not make some particular instances in Scripture, of the strange and sudden conversion of some persons, (as namely, of St. Paul and the jailor, in the Acts) the common rule and measure of every man’s conversion; so that unless a man be, as it were, struck down by a light and power from heaven, and taken with a lit of trembling, and frighted almost out of his wits, or find in himself something equal to this, he can have no assurance of his conversion; whereas a much surer judgment may be made of the sincerity of a man’s conversion, by the real effects of this change, than by the manner of it. This our Saviour hath taught us, by that apt resemblance of the operation of God’s Spirit to the blowing of the wind, of the original cause whereof, and of the reason of its ceasing or continuance, and why it blows stronger or gentler, this way or that way, we are altogether ignorant; but that it is, we are sensible from the sound of it: (John iii. 8.) “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound of it, but canst not tell whence it cometh, nor whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” The effects of God’s Holy Spirit in the regeneration of men are sensible, though the manner and degrees of his operation upon the souls of men are so various, that 415 we can give no account of them; by winch, one would think, our Saviour had sufficiently cautioned us, not to reduce the operations of God’s grace and Holy Spirit in the regeneration of men, to any certain rule or standard, but chiefly to regard the sensible effects of this secret work upon the hearts and lives of men.
And, after all, it is in vain to contend by any arguments against clear and certain experience. If we plainly see that many are insensibly changed, and made good by pious education “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord;” and that some who have long lived in a profane neglect and contempt of religion, are by the secret power of God’s word and Holy Spirit, upon calm consideration, without any great terrors and amazements, visibly changed and brought to a better mind and course; it is in vain, in these cases, to pretend that this change is not real, because the manner of it is not answer able to some instances which are recorded in Scripture, or which we have observed in our experience; and because these persons cannot give such an account of the time and manner of their conversion, as is agreeable to these instances; which is just as if I should meet a man beyond sea, whom I had known in England, and would not believe that he had crossed the seas, because he said he had a smooth and easy passage, and was wafted over by a gentle wind, and could tell no stories of storms and tempests.
And thus I have fully and faithfully endeavoured to open to you the just importance of this phrase or expression in the text, of the “new creature,” or the new creation. I proceed to the
Second particular I propounded; namely, That 416the real renovation of our hearts and lives, is, according to the terms of the gospel and the Christian religion, the great condition of our justification and acceptance with God, and that this is the same in sense and substance with those phrases in the parallel texts to this, of faith perfected by charity, and of keeping the commandments of God.
That, according to the terms of the gospel, the great condition of our justification and acceptance with God, is the real renovation of our hearts and lives, is plain, not only from this text, which affirms, that, in the Christian religion, nothing will avail us but the “new creature;” but, likewise, from many other clear texts of Scripture; and this, whether by justification be meant our first justification upon our faith and repentance, or our continuance in this state, or our final justification by our solemn acquittal and absolution at the great day, which in Scripture is called “salvation” and “eternal life.”
That this is the condition of our first justification; that is, of the forgiveness of our sins, and our being received into the grace and favour of God, is plain from all those texts where this change is expressed by our repentance and conversion, by our regeneration and renovation, by our purification and sanctification, or by any other terms of the like importance. For under every one of these notions, this change is made the condition of the forgiveness of our sins, and acceptance to the favour of God.
Under the notion of repentance and conversion. (Acts ii. 38.) “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins.” (Acts iii. 19.) “Repent and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out.” Upon the same account, the penitent acknowledgment of our sins, 417which is an essential part of repentance, is made a condition of the forgiveness of them. (1 John i. 9.) “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Under the notion of regeneration and renovation. (2 Cor. v. 17.) “If any man be in Christ, (that is, become a true Christian, which is all one with being in a justified state) he is a new creature; old things are passed away, behold all things are become new:” (Tit. iii. 3-7.) where the apostle declares at large what change is required to put us into a justified state, and to entitle us to the inheritance of eternal life: “for we ourselves were also 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 towards man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, (that is, not for any precedent righteousness of ours, for we were great sinners) but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost, which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, that, being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” So that the change of our former temper, and conversion, and regeneration, and “the renewing of the Holy Ghost,” is antecedently necessary to our justification; that is, to the pardon of our sins, and our restitution to the favour of God, and the hope of eternal life. So, likewise, under the notion of purification and sanctification, (1 Cor. vi. 9-11.) where the apostle enumerates several sins and vices, which will certainly exclude men from the favour and kingdom of God, from which we must be cleansed 418before we can be justified or saved: “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you; but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God,” (2 Cor. vi. 17, 18.) where the apostle, likewise, makes our purification a condition of our being received into the favour of God, and reckoned into the number of his children: “touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you, and will be a father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” And that by not touching “the unclean thing,” is here certainly meant our sanctification and purification from sin, is evident from what immediately follows in the beginning of the next chapter; “having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God;” that is, having this encouragement, that upon this condition we shall be received to the favour of God, let us purify ourselves, that we may be capable of this great blessing.
And our continuance in this state of grace and favour with God, depends upon our perseverance in holiness; for “if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.”
And, lastly, This is also the condition of our final justification and absolution, by the sentence of the great day: (Matt. v. 8.) “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (John iii. 3.) “Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (Heb. xii. 14.) “Follow holiness, without 419which no man shall see the Lord.” (1 John iii. 3.) The apostle there, speaking of the blessed sight and enjoyment of God, tells ns what we must do if ever we hope to be partakers of it: “Every man that hath this hope in him, purifieth himself, even as he is pure.”
And this condition here mentioned in the text, of our being new creatures, is the same in sense and substance with those expressions which we find in the two parallel texts to this, where faith, which is perfected by charity, and keeping the commandments of God, are made the condition of our justification and acceptance with God. (Gal. v. 6.) “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but faith, which is consummate” or “made perfect by charity;” and (1 Cor. vii. 19.) “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing; but the keeping of the commandments of God.” It is evident that the design and meaning of these three texts is the same, and therefore these three expressions of the “new creature,” and of “faith perfected by charity,” and of “keeping the commandments of God,” do certainly signify the same thing. That the “new creature” signifies the change of our state, from a state of disobedience and sin, to a state of obedience and holiness of life, I have shewn at large; and the apostle explaining this new creation, most expressly tells us, (Ephes. ii. 10.) “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained, that we should walk in them;” and, (Colos. iii. 10. 12-14.) where the apostle tells them, that they ought to give testimony of their renovation, and having put on “the new man,” by all the fruits of obedience and goodness; u ye have put on the new 420man, which is renewed in knowledge, after the image of him that created him. Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercy, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering, forbearing one another, and forgiving one another; and above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfection.” And the apostle St. Peter tells us, that our regeneration, which he calls sanctification of the Spirit, is unto obedience.” (1 Pet. i. 2.) So that our renovation consisteth in the principle and practice of obedience, and a good life; and what is this but faith perfected by charity? And charity, the apostle tells us, “is the fulfilling of the Jaw;” and what is “the fulfilling of the law,” but “keeping the commandments of God?” And “keeping the commandments of God,” or, at least, a sincere resolution of obedience, when there is not time and opportunity for the trial of it, is in Scripture as expressly made a condition both of our present and final justification and acceptance with God, as faith is; and in truth is the same with a living and operative faith, and a faith that is consummate, and made perfect by charity. (Acts x. 34, 35.) “Of a truth I perceive (saith St. Peter) that God is no respecter of persons, but in every nation he that feareth him and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him;” which speech does, as plainly as words can do any thing, declare to us upon what terms all mankind, of what condition or nation soever, may find acceptance with God. (Rom. ii. 6-10.) “Who will render to every man according to his deeds: to them who by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory, and honour, and immortality, eternal life; but to them who are contentious, and obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness, 421indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that doth evil; of the Jew first, and also of the gentile: but glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the gentile.” As to our acceptance with God, and the rewards of another world, it matters not whether Jew or gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised; that which maketh the difference, is obeying the truth, or obeying unrighteousness; working good, or doing evil; these are the things which will avail to our justification, or condemnation, at the great day. To the same purpose is that saying of the apostle to the Hebrews, (chap. v. 9.) that “Christ is the author of eternal salvation to them that obey him.”
I will conclude this matter with two remarkable sayings; the one towards the beginning, the other towards the end of the Bible; to satisfy us that this is the tenor of the Holy Scriptures, and the constant doctrine of it from the beginning to the end. (Gen. iv. 7.) It is God’s speech to Cain, “If thou dost well, shalt thou not be accepted?” and (Rev. xxii. 14.) “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.”
And thus I have done with the second thing I propounded; which was to shew, that according to the terms of the gospel, and the Christian religion, the real renovation of our hearts and lives is the great condition of our justification and acceptance with God, and that t his in sense and substance is tin same with faith “made perfect with charity,” and keeping the commandments of God.
The third and last particular remains to be spoken to; namely, That it is highly reasonable that this 422should be the condition of our justification and acceptance to the favour of God; and that upon these two accounts:
First, For the honour of God’s holiness.
Secondly, In order to the qualifying of us for the favour of God, and the enjoyment of him, for the pardon of our sins, and the reward of eternal life.
First, For the honour of God’s holiness. For should God have received men to his favour, and rewarded them with eternal glory and happiness, for the mere belief of the gospel, or a confident persuasion that Christ would save them, without any change of their hearts and lives, without repentance from dead works, and fruits meet for repentance, and amendment of life; he had not given sufficient testimony to the world of his love to holiness and righteousness, and of his hatred of sin and iniquity. The apostle tells us, that God in the justification of a sinner declares his righteousness; but should he justify men upon other terms, this would not declare his righteousness, and love of holiness, but rather an indifferency, whether men were good and righteous or not. For a bare assent to the truth of the gospel, without the fruits of holiness and obedience, is not a living, but a dead faith, and so far from being acceptable to God, that it is an affront to him; and a confident reliance upon Christ for salvation, while we continue in our sins, is not a justifying faith, but a bold and impudent presumption upon the mercy of God, and the merits of our Saviour; who indeed justifies the ungodly; that is, those that have been so, but not those that continue so. And if God should pardon sinners, and reward them with eternal life, upon any other terms than upon our becoming new creatures, than upon such 423a faith as is “made perfect by charity;” that is, by keeping the commands of God; this would be so far from declaring his righteousness, and being a testimony of his hatred and displeasure against sin, that it would give the greatest countenance and encouragement to it imaginable.
Secondly, It is likewise very reasonable, that such a faith, that makes us new creatures, and is perfected by charity, and keeping the commandments of God, should be the condition of justification, in order to the qualifying of us for the pardon of our sins, and the reward of eternal life; that is, for the favour of God, and for the enjoyment of him. To forgive men upon other terms, were to give countenance and encouragement to perpetual rebellion and disobedience. That man is not fit to be forgiven, who is so far from being sorry for his fault, that he goes on to offend; he is utterly incapable of mercy, who is not sensible that he hath done amiss, and resolved to amend. No prince ever thought a rebellious subject capable of pardon upon lower terms than these. It is in the nature of the thing unfit that an obstinate offender should have any mercy or favour shewn to him.
And as without repentance and resolution of bet ter obedience, we are unfit for forgiveness, so much more for a reward; as we cannot expect God’s favour, so we are incapable of the enjoyment of him without holiness. Holiness is the image of God, and makes us like to him; and, till we be like him, we cannot see him, we can have no enjoyment of him. All delightful communion and agreeable society is founded on a similitude of disposition and manners; and therefore so long as we are unlike to God in the temper and disposition of our minds, and in the 424actions and course of our lives, neither can God take pleasure in us, nor we in him, but there will be a perpetual jarring and discord between him and us; and though we were in heaven, and seated in the place of the blessed, yet we should not, nay we could not, be happy; because we should want the necessary materials and ingredients of happiness. For it is with the soul, in this respect, as it is with the body; though all things be easy without us, and no cruelty be exercised upon us, to give torment and vexation to us, yet if we be inwardly diseased, we may have pain and anguish enough; we may be as it were upon the rack, and feel as great torment from the inward disorder of our humours, as if we were tortured from without. So it is with the soul; sin and vice are internal diseases, which do naturally create trouble and discontent, and nothing but diversion, and the variety of objects and pleasures, which entertain men in this world, hinders a wicked man from being out of his wits, whenever he reflects upon himself; for all the irregular appetites and passions, lust, and malice, and revenge, are so many furies within us; and though there were no devil to torment us, yet the disorder of our own minds, and the horrors of a guilty conscience, would be a hell to us, and make us extremely miserable in the very regions of happiness. So that it is necessary that our faith should be “made perfect by charity,” and that we should become new creatures; not only from the arbitrary constitution and appointment of God, but from the nature and reason of the thing; because nothing but this can dispose us for that blessedness, which God hath promised to us, and prepared for us. Faith, considered abstractedly from the fruits of holiness and 425obedience, of goodness and charity, will bring no man into the favour of God. All the excellency of faith is, that it is the principle of a good life, and furnisheth us with the best motives and arguments thereto, the promises and threatenings of the gospel; and therefore in heaven, when we come to sight and enjoyment, faith and hope shall cease, but “charity never faileth;” for if it should, heaven would cease to be heaven to us, because it is the very frame and temper of happiness; and if this disposition be not wrought in us in this world, we shall be altogether incapable of the felicity of the other.
You see, then, what it is that must recommend us to the favour of God; the real renovation of our hearts and lives, “after the image of him that created us.” This must be repaired in us, before ever we can Lope to be restored to the grace and favour of God, or to be capable of the reward of eternal life. And what could God have done more reasonable, than to make these very things the terms of our salvation, which are the necessary causes and means of it? How could he have dealt more mercifully and kindly with us, than to appoint that to be the condition of our happiness, which is the only qualification that can make us capable of it?
I will conclude all with that excellent passage in the Wisdom of Solomon: (chap. vi. 17, 18.) “The very true beginning of wisdom is the desire of discipline, and the care of discipline is love, and love is the keeping of her laws, and taking heed to her laws is the assurance of incorruption.” The sum of what I have said upon this argument amounts to this, that upon the terms of the gospel we can have no hope of the forgiveness of our sins and eternal salvation, unless our nature be renewed, and the 426image of God, which is defaced by sin, be repaired in us, and we be created in Christ unto good works; that no faith will avail to our justification and acceptance with God, but that which is made perfect by charity; that is, by fulfilling of the law, and keeping the commandments of God: by sincere obedience and holiness of life, which, notwithstanding the unavoidable imperfection of it in this state, will nevertheless be accepted with God, through the merits of our blessed Saviour, “who hath loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood. To whom be glory for ever.” Amen.427
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