« Prev Sermon XLV. Preached May 20, 1694. Next »

SERMON XLV.4747   Preached May 20, 1694.

1 John v. 1.

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

BUT now to proceed to the second part, the product of itself, which is much more a distinguishing work, and that whereof he himself is the exemplar and pattern, as well as the author. He is not only the efficient but the exemplary cause of it; for this divine product is not only a new creature, but it is a creature formed for God. As it is a creature, it must be made by him; for there is but one Creator; but it is not only of him, but after him; a creature made after God’s image, that carries his resemblance in it. And for opening of this we proposed to shew you, that there is in this work a suitableness to God. Whether, 1st, you do consider the productive influence; or whether, 2d, you consider the effect produced. We shewed that it cannot but be (as to the productive influence) most peculiarly god-like in several respect?. Though here also we distinguished it from the eternal generation of the only-begotten Son of God, as it was necessary we should. But we told you in what respects the influence is peculiarly divine by which the work is done. And then,

(2.) We mean to shew, that there is suitableness to God in the thing produced. The influence is transient, the effect is permanent; and then shew there must be a permanent abiding influence of God upon that soul that is regenerate and born of him.


And whereas this word (as you see) expressed by being born, it therefore necessarily enforceth relation (as the latter part of this text speaks) between him that begat, and them that are begotten of him. There is paternity and filiation, fatherhood and sonship. He becoming hereupon a father to them and they children to him, for the relation is mutual, as it cannot but be. And you see it is supposed in the close of the second chapter, and beginning of the third chapter, of this epistle. Every one that is righteous is born of him. so the second chapter ends; and thereupon doth the third chapter begin thus, “Behold, what manner of love is this that the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God?” Upon their being begotten of him, he is a father to them, and they are sons and children to him. So the matter is more definitely explained, 2 Cor. vi. last: “I will be a father to you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” Why, now upon this must be a suitableness to God in this product itself.

1st. He is a father to them; and, 2d, As they are children to him. Then with such things in the frame and constitution (as I may speak) that corresponds to God as having been their father, and that corresponds to their being his children. And you plainly see afterwards, that these things are widely different, according as paternity and filiation are different; they are not the same relation, though they are both a resemblance of each other.

[1.] You must therefore expect to find in them that are born of God several things suitable to him, as he is a father to them, or (as the latter part of the verse expresseth it) as it is he that begat them, hath propagated, and communicated a certain divine nature to them, 2 Pet. i. 4. And these things are not to be considered with neglect, for eternity depends upon it. According as there is a real god like communication unto souls in this world, so they are to be disposed of in the other world. The thing speaks itself. This is not a new and singular notion; but common to all Christians, of whatsoever denomination and persuasion, as it is most expressly in the word of truth, that without being thus born, born of God, born of the Spirit, there is no entering into, no seeing of the kingdom of God, John iii. 3, 6. And you have it under the eternal seal of our Lord’s amen, four times affixed in those two verses. I say unto you, He that is the Amen hath given it under that seal, “Except a man be born again, he cannot enter into (he cannot so much 554as see) the kingdom of God.” Therefore we had need to take heed how we hear such matters of such weight and importance as this. God is not trifling with us when he sends to deal with us in the ministry of his word. Consider then wherein the divine character is imprest suitable to God as a father must appear in them that are born of him. And as that which is most fundamental,

First, There is a resemblance of God in this divine product, in a refined spirituality: in such a spirituality as by which the soul is refined from the sinful prevailing carnality of mind that is common universally to the unregenerate world. It is plain concerning the generality of unregenerate men, that their minds are habitually carnal, and a carnal mind doth actually govern their lives and hearts, and influence all their actions and designs. It is quite otherwise with them that are born of God. You are now here to consider,

i. That this similitude to God is not corporal, which was the vague and gross notion of the Anthropomorphites of old; they understood that there must be in man a likeness to God, they imagined God to be in an human shape; and so that men are made therefore like unto that, and must be made more and more like; and so they did not make him a model to us, but made us a model to him; instead of having made us like God, they made God altogether like themselves. Nor

ii. Doth this similitude to God in this respect stand on the other hand, in being exempt from having any body at all, or any corporeity. It is not in that we are to resemble God. That is the opposite doctrine of them who of old denied the resurrection of the body; as if that must be too mean a state to have a part after, any body at all; and so we should never be perfectly like God till we were perfectly free from having corporeity about us. Nor again,

iii. Doth it stand in having a spirit in us? for that is not distinguishing thing, so have all the sons of men. As the regenerate have all of them flesh, so have the unregenerate, every one of them a spirit in the natural sense. But

iv. This similitude doth stand in reference to this thing, in having the spirit exalted into dominion, a regency, a governing power. Whereas in the unregenerate world it is the fleshly principle that governs every where. They have a spirit in them, but that spirit is a slave to the flesh, made to serve divers lusts and pleasures. That is all the business in which men do generally employ that intellectual 555spiritual being that is in them; a reasonable, immortal spirit is used in serving and making provision for this flesh, to fulfil it in the lusts thereof. And because the fleshly principle is the governing principle in the generality of men, therefore they are called nothing but flesh. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” Their very minds are said to be carnalized, vainly puft up with a fleshly mind, Col. ii. 18. Their very minds and consciences are impure, tinctured with the vain tincture of carnality upon it, Tit. i. 15. This is the great thing then to be effected by regeneration, or in this divine birth; God doth in compassion to the work of his own hands, to the spirit which he hath made, restore it out of that state of base servitude wherein it was. It was a servant to base lusts and pleasures. Tit. iii. 3, 4. But when the kindness and love of God towards man appeared, according to his mercy he saved us by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost. Whereby it is that he exalts this sunk, depressed spirit, that was immersed in flesh, buried in flesh, where it should but dwell. Flesh should have been its mansion, but it became and was made its grave, its dormitory. But by regeneration this spirit is raised into dominion; it is the spirit that is fetched out of the grave, and made a governing thing over the flesh, over all natural appetites and desires. That is the product in the work of regeneration, this is the thing produced and brought forth. “That which is born of the Spirit, is spirit.” John iii. 6. Signifying that the spirit of a man, whilst it remains a servant and slave to natural inclinations, hath even forfeited its name; it is no more worthy to be called spirit.

The denomination is taken from what is prevailing and governing. If the natural principle do prevail, this compound now is called nothing but flesh. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” But when the spiritual principle is revived and authorized, made the governing principle of the man, it then regains its name, “That which is born of the Spirit, is spirit.”

For that it signifies nothing unto that conformity to God, which being born of him doth import, that there is such a thing as a natural spirit in man, when that natural spirit doth not do its office, or retain its state, cloth not keep the throne, but is become basely and meanly servile. And the tragedy is so much the greater in this respect, and the more deplorable, by how much the less apprehensive and sensible the unregenerate soul is of the state of its own case. By how 556the more excellent and noble powers it hath belonging to it, it is so much the more fearful spectacle to behold and look upon, to see it inslaved to sense, and brought into the state of so vile a depression, and is become so mean and abject a thing. As the son of a prince captured in his in fancy, and made a base drudge, he is so much the more a deplorable thing, by how much the more his spirit is depressed and sunk into that state into which he is brought; so as that he likes his servitude, his spirit is grown hard, (perfectly perhaps) ignorant of his true original. So it is with the souls of men generally; they are unapprehensive of their own original excellency and dignity, and are content to serve and be voluntary slaves to divers lusts and pleasures, till regenerating grace be vouchsafed. But now it becomes a godlike thing again. When, however, it dwells in flesh, that flesh is not a sepulchre to it as before, but a mansion; here it dwells still, but here it governs, governs over that, and is itself immediately subject to Cod. That is the thing wherein similitude to God consists, and which must be found in every one that is born of him, a governing, prevailing spirituality, so as that the soul is alone made like itself, and like God; it is made like one and the other all over, like what it once was, and like him from whom it was. But there is in others a spirit too, but ingulfed and swallowed up in a regnant, prevailing and domineering carnality. A spirit, but employed only in serving this flesh, and the fulfilling the divers lusts thereof, till regenerating grace take place.

Secondly, That which is con-natural, and consequently necessary, this similitude stands in life; divine spiritual vigour. There is life, as it is a spirit, in the natural sense in unregenerate ones too; but in the mean time this is given as the common character, alienated from the life of God. They have no participation of the divine life. Eph. iv. 18. There are two things wherein an apparent difference lies, and may be seen: that is, whether you consider the tendency, or whether you consider the aliment of that life, in the one, and in the other way.

i. Whether you consider the tendency hereof. Here is life and vigour in the regenerate man, so there is in the unregenerate too, and (it may be) a great deal more of natural life and vigour: but in the unregenerate where doth it tend? which way is it directed? still in the pursuit of vanity: the operations and actions of life in him are perpetual, everlasting triflings. But consider life now morally, 557and things morally considered are to be estimated by their end. The end is morality, habet ratione formae, is specifying and distinguishing. Here is life, but which way doth it work? He who to the regenerate is the immediate prime author of life, is the object too. They are “alive to God through Jesus Christ.” Rom. vi. 11. Dead to sin, but alive to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. There is a great deal of vitality, liveliness, and vigour in an unregenerate man, per haps. And which way doth it work? Either towards for bidden, or towards mean things. They are either alive to sin, to that which is forbidden; or towards things that are contemptibly mean. Alive to the world, towards which they should be mortified, crucified, and it crucified to them, so as that the world and they should be dead things to one another. When the great regenerating work is, wrought, God is the great terminus of that life that is then begun. That is a life that is sanctified, is infused, added to a pre-existing thing. In regeneration a man is not in all essentials created anew; then what could be said to Nicodemus’s question? “Can a man enter the second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” No, it is only an holy, sanctified influence that is infused, and doth supervene, as what was grafted upon nature, upon that stock; and so that life be comes an holy life that was but a natural life before. It rested before in all its tendencies in self; in flesh, in this world, in vain or prohibited things, as was said; but now it tends to God, and acts all in a divine sphere, and therefore is called a divine life, the life of God. And so look,

ii. To the aliment of this life, that shews this to be a divine creature that is now produced, that nothing will serve it to live upon but divine things: it must live upon immediate communications from God. And I pray you, as we go along, you will consider with yourselves whether there are any such workings and strivings in you as must have God for your continual support. Are there any constant aspirations towards him? “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.” This is the sense of the regenerate soul, I cannot live without God. The same as in Gal. ii. 19. That life that is peculiar to a regenerate person is, that he is through the law dead to the law; in order to a new life springing up in him, that he may live unto God. But how then afterwards is this maintained? Look to the twentieth verse, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” And the life I live in the flesh; whilst I live so 558meanly in this base flesh, I have a life springing and flourishing in me that is maintained continually by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. This is the regenerate life. By its tendencies, and by its aliment, it appears to be a divine thing, and that this is a creature born of God. For which way doth it work? and what sup ports doth it seek, and is it continually sustained by? This is most agreeable to the former: “for to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” Rom. viii. 6. So long as the soul is under a prevailing carnality, so long is it dead to every thing that is good. But when regenerating grace takes place in it, as it is in that work spiritualized, thence it is consequent, that life springs in it agreeably to such a divine nature as is put into it. “To be spiritually minded is life and peace;” and a most significant adjunct that is; to let us know that this life is not the life of a fury, or that peace is not the peace of a fool; but both these are in conjunction, complicated with one another, peaceful life, and vital peace; a steady principle that works sedately and calmly, and with such regularity towards the objects and in the business that it is to be engaged and taken up about. It is not an ungovernable principle, but as there is life belonging to that sedate and peaceful frame that now takes place in the soul, so there is peace and calmness and tranquillity belonging to that life which springs up in the soul. And this is one part of its likeness unto God, called the life of God, or living unto God, that is part of the work of regeneration in such as are born of God. But then,

Thirdly, There is a divine power that appears and is put forth in such as are born of God. And this also is to be under stood accommodately to the sphere of grace into which such an one is translated out of the order of quite natural production. It is raised into an higher sphere. The schools do commonly distinguish, in speaking to this matter, of those things that are of the order of nature, and those that are of the order of grace; speaking of them as two distinct spheres. And according to what was said concerning that life in the one and the other, so must we speak concerning that power that exerts itself in the one and the other sort of men. It was a divine power to which the production was owing of the divine nature. “According as his divine power hath given us all things pertaining to life and godliness, wherein there is given us exceeding great and precious promises, that by these we might be partakers of the divine nature.” 2 Pet. i. 3, 4. A God-resembling nature! These productions carry the divine impress upon them in this respect, that there was an appearance of a divine power in the effect, which is a permanent thing. As we told you the influence did pass away, but it did relinquere post se opus, it left a work behind it, wherein are permanent, abiding signatures of a divine hand, that shew it to be a thing to be produced by God himself; whereupon you read of a certain power belonging to godliness. And that spirit that is given is said to be a spirit of love and power, and of a sound mind. To us a spirit is given, imparted and communicated. As in that John iii. you read of a Spirit producing, and spirit produced. The divine Spirit ingenerated is there called by the name of Spirit. And that spirit that is capable of being given, of abiding, and being permanent, is said to be a spirit of love, power, and a sound mind. That which is born of God in a regenerate person, it is a powerful thing: and therefore is a principle of divine power which animates that form of godliness, so as that it is not a mere spiritless form. “From them that only have the form of godliness, but deny the power thereof, (practically deny it, understand it not, know no such thing, look after no such thing, as if they did in plain words deny the reality of it, as if it were only a fiction, a fancy,) from such turn away, as a living man would from a putrefying carcase.” 2 Tim. iii. 5. There is no society between the living and the dead. A regenerate man can take no pleasure in such conversation; with such as savour of nothing else but carnality and death in all their conversation; from such turn away. The divine principle in them as well as their rule bids them to turn away from them. There is none but impure, putrid breath that comes from them. They smell of a grave, turn away from them. It is very true indeed, that when the regenerate work takes place there is very often great complaints of much weakness: the good that I would, that I cannot do; and when I would be doing good, evil is present with me. But there is a great deal of difference between weakness and death, between an ability to do much and a disability to do any thing at all. There is nothing can be done by the unregenerate person in vital and real religion; to every such good work he is reprobate. It is one thing to be impotent and feel, another to be impotent and feel nothing. A carcase doth not complain that it can do nothing, but a sick man doth; he complains of impotence if he be sick only. But if there be a total death, it is impotency, of which there is no 560complaint. And what there is of power, (as there is always some power always going with the regenerate life and principle,) it is a power of a higher kind and order than that which doth belong to the rest of men, wherein they do something, though but little, yet above all that the unregenerate world can do. They can love God, though it is too weakly, too faintly: they can desire after him, can pant for him. The rest of the world are strangers to such desires, to such designs. The practical workings of the powers that belong to them still terminate in an inferior orb, they never reach God, there is no working of power that way. And therefore it is said of such unregenerate men in common, that they are without strength. It signifies total destitution. They are without any strength of that kind; in that kind they can do nothing at all. When a man shall make an essay upon itself, try himself before his own soul, say to it, Oh! my soul, what canst thou do in a design for God, for heaven, for eternal life? When all a man’s natural powers are bound quoad hoc, as to this. It is true he hath powers in him belonging to his nature; but they work not at all this way. Why, here is a manifest difference between the regenerate and unregenerate world in this respect. In the regenerate there is a principle of divine power that works in them towards God, and can employ itself about divine things.

Fourthly, This similitude unto God appears in the knowledge which such as are born of him have of divine things. To wit, that gustful knowledge, that practical knowledge, that transmutative knowledge, which will most manifestly appear to be peculiar to them from the rest of men. In the 19th verse of this chapter, where the text lies, “We know that we are of God, (an eliptical expression of being born of God,) and he hath given us an understanding to know him that is true.” Are we born of God? Then we have a spiritual eye-sight, a cognitive power, enlightened towards God so as to make us capable of knowing him, and of knowing him with so active and operative a knowledge as to give us an union with him; he hath given an understanding to know him that is true, so as to be in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ: this is the true God and eternal life.

Consider the matter reasonably. Do you think that they who are born of God are born blind? Are they born blind towards God, and towards the things of God? Doth he emit from himself any so imperfect, and mean, and maimed 561a production? “I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father.” 1 John ii. 13. As soon as they are children, as soon as they are so born, born of God as their Father, there is a disposition of mind to him to receive the knowledge of him. The rest of the world do not like to retain God in their knowledge, they are ignorant of God; not because he cannot be known, that that knowledge should take place in or should center in them. That knowledge is our notion of divine light, though it hath a further notion, as you may hear hereafter. They have a light darted into the inmost center of their souls. Indeed a superficial light there is in every unregenerate mind too; some natural notions of God; light that is morally, objectively divine, conversant about God. For I do not think any man can totally abolish and rend off the characters of God from his mind, tear out the ideas. They that have set themselves most industriously to do so have been able to effect nothing therein to satisfy themselves but so as still there would remain a formido oppositi, a dread that he is whom they would fain make themselves believe not to be. Therefore the fool’s saying, of what we find Ps. xiv. 1, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God;” it is not an assertion, but it is a wish. The copulative in the text is wanting, which we supply needlessly. The fool hath said in his heart, No God. Let there be none, oh that there were none! It is not what they put into a proposition, there is none that can obtain so much of themselves, but they have their secret wish, Oh that there were none! So they are willingly ignorant of God. “Alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their hearts.” Eph. iv. 18. Such a blindness as consists only in a resolution not to see, or in an unwillingness to see. But that knowledge of God, and of divine things which belong to the regenerate state;, it is not that superficial knowledge which hovers in the soul and surface of the mind; but it is central, it centers in the soul. “God, that commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath sinned into our hearts.” So that this light which is in the heart, must be understood to carry a liking and complacency in it. That as the unregenerate soul cloth not like to retain God in its knowledge, the regenerate liketh this knowledge; it is lightsome to them, and carries “pleasant savour with it: whence it comes to be operative and unitive, and unites the soul with the object known. And,

Fifthly, Another signature of God upon this same product, 562a regenerate soul, is spiritual wisdom, which superadds much, in the ordinary notion of it, unto mere knowledge: for many may know much, that are not wise. But wisdom is the parent of this seed and offspring; therefore, it is said to be justified of its own children. All the unregenerate are fools, “For we ourselves 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 toward 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; which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour.” Titus iii. 3, 4, 5, 6. There are not greater instances of folly and madness among them who under cure in houses set apart on purpose for that end, than are generally to be found, (though not taken notice of because they are common,) in the generality of the unconverted world. They that in so clear light spend their strength for trifles, will not get understanding of what is their best good They that throw away their souls for nought, that rush upon armed vengeance, and are not afraid to perish; they continually run counter to principles, that are secretly conscious of the immortality of the soul, profess to believe there is a heaven, and a hell, yet they run away from the one, and run into the other in sight. Greater instances of madness and folly are not conceivable than these.

It is only the regenerate that do become wise. A “spirit of wisdom and revelation is given to them, that they may know the hope of that better calling, and what are the riches of that glorious inheritance which God makes common among his saints.” Eph. i. 17, 18. And so, indeed, do the regenerate seed justify that wisdom that is their parent: “Wisdom is justified of her children;” so that it may be known, even to the world, that these are the children of it. They are not a generation of fools. See how wisely they do design, and how wisely they pursue their design, to wit, by patient continuance in well doing, seeking for honour, and glory, and immortality, to the actual enjoying of eternal life. No lower things do they design, nor a less suitable course do they take in pursuance of it, than by patient continuance in well doing to seek it. Their design is high and great, and their pursuit apt and suitable. This shews the only wise God is their Parent: they discover of what seed and offspring they are.

It is true, the children of this world are wiser in their 563generation than the children of light: with reference to the things that their generation can reach, they are wiser—wiser for this world. In reference to worldly matters and designing, they pursue them with more constancy, because they have no other. But the children of light shew themselves to be so in their higher, and more excellent end, and in their more regular course which they take in order thereunto. But now I add, in the next place,

Sixthly, The great resemblance wherein this creature appears to be a divine production, is the divine holiness stampt upon it, and imparted to it. It is a holy creature. It doth most eminently bear the image of him from whom it is, upon that account. And that makes it a glorious creature, as he himself is glorious in and by his holiness. “Who is a God like unto thee, glorious in holiness.” Ex. xv. 11. They are changed into the same image, and thereby become glorious creatures, as he is their glorious Creator and Father. “We all with open face, beholding as in a glass the glory of God, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord.” 2 Cor. iii. 18. Here is this work in its inchoation and in its progress; that work by which souls are at first made God-like creatures; and then promoted and carried on towards a state of maturity, and made ripe for the regions of glory into which they are to be translated at length. This impression of holiness upon them is by the regenerating Spirit, which is therefore called the Spirit of holiness, and the Holy Ghost, as you know nothing is to be more frequently noted in the Book of God. This is a creature, born spirit of Spirit; that Spirit of which it is born is the Holy Spirit or the Holy Ghost, even as such. And therefore, such must this production be. You find (1 Pet. i. 3,) that God is adored upon this account, as having begotten such as are truly appertaining to him upon this special account, unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled. Nothing could be more agreeable than that they who are born of him, should inherit from him; that they who are his children should be his heirs also. But having once made mention of them, and of him, upon this relative account, as they are begotten of him, and as he is their great Parent, and the author of this spiritual and new divine being to them. Thereupon it follows, (as you may see in the same chapter) “As obedient children ye are no longer to fashion yourselves according to your former lusts, in your ignorance: but as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye 564holy in all manner of holy conversation and godliness.” And by the way, you must know that efficacious calling and regeneration is all one. God calls when he creates; when he creates, he regenerates. His calling that which was not to exist and be. And this is but another name for the regenerating work, in which respect any are said to be born of God. Now inasmuch “as he which hath called you (that is as much as to say, as he that hath begotten you, he of whom ye are born) is holy, so be ye also holy in all manner of conversation;” which is but to make your conversation correspond to the very principles of your birth: For you cannot be his offspring if you be not a holy seed. Because he is holy, so you must be supposed to be holy in your very constitution and frame. And therefore see you to it, that you express what is correspondent hereunto in all your walkings, that in all manner of conversation you discover yourselves to be the children of such a Father, holy ones as he is. It is upon this account, that they that are born of him are said to be “children of light.” When I told you last time, that according to our notion of light it meaneth divine knowledge, taken in the borrowed and metaphorical sense, (for every one knows what it is taken in the proper and literal sense) I then hinted, that taken in the metaphorical sense too, it hath a further notion, to wit, to signify holiness as well as knowledge: and indeed, knowledge is no further to be called and counted divine light, than as it tends to holiness, and is productive of it; and from thence it comes to be denominated light. It is light, as it terminates in that which is itself so splendid and illustrious a thing, holiness; a bright, a shining, a glorious thing. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works:” that is, not knowledge, that they may hear you talk fine notions; but that they may see your good works. That is the light, the divine peculiar light, that distinguisheth the children of God from another seed. See how light is taken principally in that, 1 Epistle John i. 5, 6. How is the solemnity of a message sent unto the children of men on purpose “to make discovery to them of the nature and excellency of God. And, saith the apostle, “This is the message which we have heard, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” The words that follow do plainly enough shew what is meant by light and by darkness here. By light is meant purity and holiness, as we cannot conceive any thing more pure and simple than light; and therefore not any thing more expressive of holiness than light, “God is light;” as if he 565should have said of himself, [would have all to conceive so of me; and therefore I send this message unto men, to instruct them how to form their notions and conceptions of me. I am light, and with me there is no darkness at all. And now, saith the apostle, “If any say they have fellowship with God, and walk in darkness, they lie, and do not the truth.” If any say they have a participation with God, that they partake and communicate with him in any thing divine, and walk in darkness, they tell a most gross and insolent and absurd lie: “they lie, and do not the truth.” It is a practical lying, their practice gives themselves the lie; they do (as it were) proclaim themselves liars. And what is the meaning of all this, hut to shew that light is holiness. If any say they have fellowship with God, and live wickedly, shew themselves to be impure and unholy creatures, that is a great lie, a gross lie, a lie most injurious to God, and no ways advantageous to themselves: they can gain nothing by it, but they wrong him by it infinitely, to make it to be thought as if he were an impure one, like them that pretend to him, to be acquainted with him, to be conversant with him. It is to make a wrong and false representation of him to the world, so that they gain nothing by it but shame retorted into their own faces; for at the same time when they do so, they (as it were) virtually call themselves liars before the world. Because they who know any thing at all of God, know that he cannot be such a one: “He is light, and with him is no darkness at all.”

The same notion we have of light as it signifies holiness, in that Eph. v. 8. “Ye were darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord;” speaking of that mighty turn and change wrought upon the soul in the work of regeneration. Ye were darkness in your unregenerate state, now are ye light in the Lord. You not only have it, but are light; us before ye not only had darkness in you, but ye were darkness, as it were so many lumps and masses of impure, gross, and consistent darkness. But now you are light. Indeed there may be light in an unregenerate mind; but though such a one may be said to have it, he is riot said to be it. And that light though it may have a tendency to some suitable disposition in the heart, yet it prevails not to effect, to bring it about. Though there be a weak tendency thitherward, the thing is not done. And therefore that light doth forfeit its name, and is still called “darkness,” (as our Lord saith;) and you may take his judgment in the case without wavering: “if the light that is in thee be darkness,” 566how great is that darkness!” The very light that is in an unregenerate person, is rather to be called darkness. As in the natural world there is no such thing as purae tenebrae, no pure darkness, no darkness without a mixture of light; but the denomination is taken from that which prevails; otherwise, we should never say it is night, never say it is darkness. We can never say so, as supposing no admixture of light at all; but when darkness prevails, then we say, concerning the region and horizon, it is dark. And so it is with the unregenerate soul: till the day-spring from on high doth visit, and till the Sun of righteousness arise, that soul is a region of darkness, impure darkness, such a darkness as where in men work all manner of wickedness, living still under the power and dominion of the Prince of darkness: for he governs in that region. And therefore the work of regeneration too is elsewhere expressed by “being translated out of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son,” our Lord Jesus Christ; and “out of the power of darkness into his marvellous light;” to signify that we were under other government, other power, before. They that are born of God therefore (as he is the Father of lights) are children of light; that is, holy ones. There is that frame of holiness that invests them, and is put upon them, which carries a lustre, a glory in it, as you have heard, and this must still shine brighter and brighter, in those that are truly righteous, unto the perfect day. And as they gradually approach nearer and nearer to the land of light, and thereby are made more and more meet to partake at length of “the inheritance of the saints in light.” Col. i. 12. But,

Seventhly, Another divine character of those that are born of God, wherein they resemble him, is Truth. He is the God of truth, who is their Parent and Begetter: and they are accordingly the children of truth. Understand me here to mean truth in the moral sense: I speak not now of the truth of propositions, or of the truth of things in their nature, logical or metaphysical truth; but that which is in the spirit and proper sense, moral, and that lies in two things; 1. In speaking as we think, and 2. In doing as we speak: these two make up the “notion of moral truth. Herein God is himself a great exemplar and pattern to us; and his image is most eminently conspicuous in all that are born of him in this also. He glories to be called the God of truth. Moses in that dying song of his, Deut. xxxii. 3, 4, when he tells us he will now publish the name of the Lord, he therefore exhorts all to ascribe greatness unto God. 567“Because I will publish the name of the Lord: ascribe ye greatness unto our God. He is the rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth, and without iniquity, just and right is he.” It is the same thing that is spoken of him so often in scripture under the name of faithfulness: the divine faithfulness, that takes in part of the meaning, though not all of what is carried in the notion of truth; for faithfulness doth particularly refer to the promises he hath made, or the covenants that he hath promulgated and entered into. It is generally speaking, the same thing with sincerity; that is another comprehensive expression, that takes in the full of what is signified by the name of truth. They that are born of God are true, the children of truth, sincere, upright, without deceit or guile; when they speak, speaking the truth from the heart; when they act, acting according to what they have spoken, especially wherein they have obliged themselves by promise. And that is the proper notion of fidelity, one great branch of this truth. That is a glorious attribute of God, wherein he is pleased frequently to represent his excellency to the children of men; his faithfulness that reacheth to the clouds. Look as high as heaven, look all the way between this earth and up to the heavens, and you have continual instances throughout of the faithfulness of God; all things being conserved through this vast and spacious universe according to the tenor of his word, and those ordinances that he hath settled in this great creation of his. And so the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the substantial, consubstantial image of God, and the brightness of his glory, this is his great character too, the Amen, the faithful and true witness. It is a peculiar name that belongs to the Son of God, “he that is faithful and true.” Often he is spoken of by those distinguishing titles: and well they belong to him, as he was the original, substantial image of God. The image of God in the regenerate, those that are born of him, it is true, is much inferior in them, (as we have heard about the generation of the only begotten Son,) to what it is in him.; but it is not contrary, it is a true image, though it be not so perfect an image. It doth not make a false representation of God: it represents him truly, though not so perfectly as in the first and original impression of it in his only eternally begotten Son; of whom it is said, Isa. xi. 5, “That faithfulness is the girdle of his loins:” they are girt about with truth. And observe, after the same manner, and under the same notion, is that truth which is said to be found in the children of God in this 568world, spoken of too. “Take unto you the whole armour of God, having your loins girt about with truth.” Eph. vi. 14. This keeps men steady, keeps them in an equal temper, so as they do not vary from themselves. Being once made like God, then they are to be continually in an uniformity and agreeableness to themselves; their course equal, and the temper of their spirits steady, true, and not apt to swerve or prevaricate this way or that, hut like his children. Therefore, inasmuch as he always counts it the glory of his own being, his own nature, that falsehood is incompetent, incompatible, yea, impossible to him, a God “that cannot lie;” so if he hath any children in this world, see how he speaks of them, “They are my people, children that will not lie: therefore he was their Saviour.” Isa. lxiii. 8. Put away lying, (saith the apostle,) and let every man speak truth with his neighbour. Put away lying, in reference to narrations, and lying in reference to promises. It hath the same distinction that oaths are wont to have, which are usually different by those terms, of assertory and promissory. If one should be guilty of perjury, it may be either of these two ways; and if one be guilty of lying, it is one of these two ways too; either by representing a thing otherwise than it is; or by promising to do that which was never intended, and, therefore, accordingly is never done. But the one way or the other, there is that which is contrary to sincerity, and to that truth which is the divine glory, the glory of the Divine Being, and wherein he doth exalt himself so infinitely, the God “that cannot lie.” And if I have a people in this world, if I have a seed, a race, a progeny, though it cannot be said of them, they are those that cannot lie, (that is the divine prerogative,) yet it may be said of them, they will not lie, “children that will not lie, so he was their Saviour.”

It is said concerning the inhabitants of Sion (which Sion represents in a borrowed transferred sense, the church on earth first, and then the church in heaven in the highest sense), the inhabitants of Sion (into which none come but by the divine birth, they are come into it whoever arc of it), that they are such as speak the truth from their hearts. And never doth any man come into the forgiven state, till he come into the regenerate state. Then it is that God pardons, when he receives and regenerates. He gives righteousness and the Spirit of his Son both at once. By the one of which he doth one work, by the other of them he doth the other. They are never separated. When any are forgiven, it is a blessed state they come into. Blessed is the man whose iniquity is forgiven, and whose sin is 569covered. But then observe the character of that person that is the subject of forgiveness, he in whose spirit there is “no guile.” What! a forgiven man, a regenerate man, one born of God; and a false man, a deceitful man, a guileful, a fraudulent man? He that shall talk at this rate speaketh inconsistencies; he compounds impossible thing?. A regenerate man, and one made up of falsehood, deceit, and guile; this cannot be. He that is born of the God of truth, there is the image of him as such upon such a man. He is born of the Spirit; and “the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, and righteousness, and truth,” Ephes. v. 9.

And while I urge faithfulness and truth as the character of the regenerate, those that are born of God, give me leave myself to be so far faithful to you as to declare, and testify in the Lord, that whoever they are that can allow themselves in falsehood, insincerity, deceitfulness, and guilefulness any way, let their profession be never so splendid, they do but bely themselves in it. They the children of God, they born of God, they who are the sons of the God of faith, and yet children of falsehood, is a thing that I will not only say is not, but cannot be. It is an impossibility. God hath no such children; they that are born of him, carry this image of him upon them, they are children of truth, sincere and upright; so that if they speak, they speak the truth in their hearts, just as they apprehend things to be; if they promise, they promise what they intend to perform. They are as they speak: if they have spoken to their hurt, they will not change. Their word is a sacred thing with them, as God’s word is with him.

It is true, indeed, there may be much of this seen in the unregenerate world: truth hath been highly magnified among many of the more refined Pagans; and it may have place with many among us (oh, that it had more,) in whom the divine nature hath no place. But here is the distinction, when men are true to one another for God’s sake and for conscience sake; not for reputation’s sake, but for God’s sake, and because of their devotedness to him, and because they must truly represent him to the world; this is that which is distinguishing: and, indeed, if men be true to one another, and untrue to God, leave out him as the centre in whom they unite, and upon whose account and for whose sake they are true to one another; all their truth to one another is but such a combination as that of several conspirators against their lawful 570and rightful prince, who may be tine to one another, while they are all false to him. But there is no such thing as truth in the right sense, and that which will turn to their true advantage at last in whom it is found, but when God is made the centre, and they are true to God: if they be true to one another, and not true to God, it is a casualty; they have a disposition in their minds to be false to one another if there be occasion; if they be not true to God, if they be not stedfast in his covenant, if they be towards him “as a deceitful bow,” (as it is said of Ephraim) they will not be always true to one another.

And pray let this be deeply considered: Supposing that truth have its primary reference to God, I am devoted to him, and I must be true and faithful; this is then the character of them that are born of him; they that are with the Lamb are chosen and faithful and true; and he saith, “Be thou faithful unto the death, and thou shalt receive a crown of life.” Here is their character, they must be faithful to him first, and then by consequence to one another in all their dealings, transactions, conversation, and affairs. Take this for an invariable character of an unregenerate person, he is one that can be false, if it will consist with his interest; if it will serve his other purposes, he can allow himself to be so. If he be true, it is (as was said) a contingency. But take this for the character of a regenerate person, he is true to God first; and because he is so, he dares to be false to no man. And it hath been a method observed by some of the wiser and more refined Pagans, Qui deus non timet, non curat homines. (Cicero.) They are liable, one time or another, to prove false to man, that do not fear God. But if the matter do begin there, then is truth a derivation from the divine nature upon such a one; that as God is the God of truth, from whom it comes, and by whom it is inwrought into man, so the children of God, who are born of him, it may be consistently said of them they are children of truth, they are such as have a reverence for truth; it is with them a venerable thing. I would not speak otherwise than I think, or do otherwise than I have said, notwithstanding the lie might be rewarded with the gain of the world. Truth is with them a sacred thing. They that find no such restraint upon their spirits, have nothing of the divine nature in them. I cannot say or do so or so, say otherwise than I think, do otherwise than I have spoken; I find there is a nature in me that withholds me, that prompts me quite otherwise: I can 571do nothing against the truth, but for the truth, (according to another larger notion of the truth) I must not, I may riot.

This I reckoned of great necessity to be stood upon, fearing that too many may very much misunderstand the notion of religion, while they limit and confine it to the first table only, without letting it have a governing influence upon the affairs that relate to the second. But we are to take both in conjunction. And the error would be the same if men should again confine all their regularity to the rules of the second table too, and think very well of themselves, because they do not transgress those rules. Here is the same danger, and the same fatal error and mistake. But if we will deal safely and righteously, safely for ourselves, and righteously with God, then, I say, we must take the connection of both together; and take all the rules of duty which belong to the second table, as they have their foundation in the first, to wit, in “the love of God, with all our heart, with all our mind, and with all our might, and our neighbour as ourselves.” These two make up the law and the prophets, and this is nothing else but the work that is abridged and epitomized in regeneration, when the law of God is written in the heart, and transcribed in the inner man, put into “fleshly tables (as the apostle speaks) not by ink and paper, but by the Spirit of the living God.” 2 Corinth. iii. 3. That is it which is done by regeneration; when God doth beget out of an impure apostate world a holy seed, a divine offspring for himself, Whereas their defection and apostasy lay in the violation of the whole intire law of their creation, their regeneration lies in the renewing the impression of it, turning it into a living law within, not into an audible law or a visible law, that they can hear with ears or read with eyes, but a living law, which they feel and relish with their hearts; their hearts being contempered to it. And he Spirit of God makes no maimed impression, it makes the impression intire and full, so as that all the several parts of that law are expressed together. There are characters that signify each several part, and these are but the several lineaments of the new creature, or the new man, pourtrayed in the soul by the regenerating Spirit of God.

It greatly concerns us when we consider that the gospel (under the dispensation whereof we live) is the Spirit’s instrument in regeneration; and that is part of which we now hear. It is greatly, I say, to be considered, what there is done to this purpose by this gospel upon 572our souls. If we never be regenerated by the gospel, we are very unreasonable to expect that God should use any other methods with us. This is the word of the kingdom into which all they that have a real place in it are regenerated; they are born into it, in regno nati sumus, as that moralist speaks upon another account. We are born members of this kingdom: and by what means hath he begotten us again? even hereby, by the word of truth. I beseech you let this be seriously and deeply considered. If there be any such thing as regeneration, that is, if there be any such thing as the raising up a divine offspring to God out of this world, that shall not perish when the rest of the world do, it is by this means that the thing is to be done; “being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God which liveth and abideth for ever.” “All flesh is grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away, but the word of the Lord endureth for ever; and this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.” 1 Pet. i. 23, 24, 25. Is the gospel preached to us for this purpose, and is the proper design of it to regenerate at first, and nourish afterwards unto eternal life? For ex iis nutrimnr ex quibus constamur; the same gospel is to both. Methinks it should beget in us the most deeply serious and solicitous thoughts imaginable. What is done upon us to this blessed purpose? Hath any thing heretofore been done? Or do I find any thing yet adoing? Was nothing done the last year? May it be hoped that any thing shall be done this year? Was nothing done the last Lord’s day? Is it not yet to be hoped that somewhat may be done to-day? Do I find my spirit altered? There are great previous dispositions in natural productions, before there is a complete product: What disposition do I find? What tendency towards such a birth? What strivings, what agonies, what pangs are in my soul? Do I reckon I am to be born again, born of God, born from Heaven, and never feel it? Can so mighty a change pass upon my soul as amounts to another birth, to a divine birth, and I never be sensible of it? If such a day as this pass with us, and we feel no such thoughts in our spirits, and are unconcerned, what have we to justify our unconcernedness? Wherewith shall we justify our being unconcerned? We can have nothing as a ground on which rationally to justify u?, unless we could tear the whole gospel constitution, unless we could ascertain ourselves 573there is no such thing as an heaven or hell; for if there be, and there will be so vast differences in the final states of men, certainly those eternal differences must have their foundation here: as men are distinguished by being regenerate and unregenerate, so they will be for heaven or hell. Sure if there be such two distinct states into which men are to be disposed of by the Supreme and Universal Judge, who cannot but do wisely, and righteously, and holily, it cannot be that men should be disposed of into those states promiscuously, whether they are his children or not his children, as if he would make no difference between those that are born of him, and those that are not born of him, but have lived and died in perpetual rebellion against him, full of enmity and perpetual malignity towards him, whereby they testify themselves never to have been begot ten of him, and that they are not like him; as the following words after the text, “Every one that loveth him that begat, loveth them also that are begotten of him.” If he begat us, Ave shall be sure to love him. They that have all their days chosen distance from him, is it a supposeable thing God should have begotten any according to his own nature, and they should not love him? Not love to converse with him, love not to be in his presence, to open their hearts to him, to unbosom and pour out their souls before him? Hath God begotten any such unnatural children that can live without him all the day, never come near him, never look towards him, never think of him, that know not what belongs to prayer to him? What can men have to preserve peace and quiet in their souls, but the apprehension—that sure there are no such things as heaven and hell, of which we have heard so much?

But who would run the danger of it? If men do but apprehend the possibility, if they have allowed themselves to attend to that light that makes so clear and bright a discovery of another world, and of those distinct states in it; if, I say, they have not allowed themselves to attend to the light, so as thereby to be ascertained in their own hearts, there is as surely an heaven and an hell as there is an earth (and we have as much reason to be ascertained of the one by believing what is plainly testified, and what the reason of the thing doth evince to us to be true, as we have to be certain of the other from our eye sight,) then all is vain that we say to them.

But if men would but believe all this, then there can be no more reasonable thing in all the world, than to be full 574of enquiring thoughts concerning our state, till we arrive to some proportionable certainty concerning it, till we can say, Blessed be God, now I find some of those characters upon me, that speak me one of his children, that spirituality, that life, that power, that knowledge of him and divine things, that wisdom, that holiness, that truth, that will justify me in enumerating myself to the children of God, his family, counting myself among them, and believing that he will count me among them too. But if we find no such characters as these, and yet say we are children of God, we pretend to him, we profess him, that very profession itself is a lie; as is said concerning those false pretenders, Rev. iii. 9, that laid “they were Jews, (that is, Christians,) and were not, but of the synagogue of Satan, they do lie.” It is a very fearful thing when even a man’s profession is a lie. I call myself a Christian, but it is a lie; one that believeth Jesus to be the Christ, but it is a lie; for whosoever believeth this, is born of God; but of this I find nothing in myself.

« Prev Sermon XLV. Preached May 20, 1694. Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection