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take away the guilt of fin, or destroy the efficacy of means. A sense of duty therefore constrains us to resume the arduous and difficult task, intreating the assistance and blessing of God, under a firm persuasion that he will hear the prayer of faith, and make his own word “ quick and powerful, “ sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the “ dividing alunder of foul and spirit, and of the joints and " the marrow, and a discerner of the thoughts and intents " of the heart."
The subject I have made choice of, and intend to handle in the ensuing treatise, immediately regards the substance of religion, and is happily as little entangled in controverly as any that could be named. We are told that “ except a man be born again, he cannot see the
kingdom of God.” In this all parties, every profession and denomination of Christians, do or ought to agree. By whatever name you are called, whatsoever leader you profess to follow, whatever ordinances you enjoy, if you are not “ born again,” you shall not enter into the kingof God.
That manner of preaching the gospel, explaining or recommending divine truth, appears to me most profi. table, which brings ofteneft into view, or, rather, never loses view of the great and essential difference between believers and unbelievers, saints and finners, heirs of glory and heirs of hell. These are mixed together on earth. They have common privileges as men and citizens. They cannot be certainly distinguished by human observation; for though the image of God shines in a bright and sensi. ble manner in fome on the one hand, and some bear very plain and deadly symptoms on the other, whose state may be determined with little hazard of mistake; yet, in the intermediate degrees, there are multitudes whose real character is known only to God. What then can be said more awakening, and at the same time, more certainly true, than that every hearer of the gospel, and every reader of such a treatise as this, is either reconciled to God and the object of his love, or at enmity with God, having “ neither part nor portion” in his favor; and as many as die in this last condition, shall be the everlasting monuments of divine wrath. How important a distinction! and can any man refrain from saying, " Lord thou know. “est all things—to which of these classes do I belong?"
But there is something, if possible, still more pressing in the pasiage of fcripture which I have placed at the head of this discourse. Not only are all men of two different and opposite characters now, but all men are originally of one character, unfit for the kingdom of God; unless a change has paft upon them they continue fo; and unless a change do pass upon them hereafter, they must be for ever excluded. This our Lord introduces with a strong asseveration, and signal note of importance: “ Verily, verily, I
say unto you, Except a man be born again, he cannot see “ the kingdom of God." These words were spoken to Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This “master in Israel” came to Jesus by night. Convinced he seems to have been of the power which attended his ministry, but, under a still stronger attachment to his worldly intereft, he durst not openly avow his conviction. Our Lord, at once to enlighten his mind with the most falutary of all truths, and level his pride of understanding by the manner of conveying it, saith to him, “ Except a man be born again, « he cannot see the kingdom of God.” This appears to have been extremely astonishing, by his answer in the following verfe ; “ Nicodemus faith unto him, How can a “ man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second <time into his mother's womb and be born?"
It is not my purpose to give a tedious explication of the passage, or entertain the reader with a profusion of criticism upon the words. This expression, the kingdom of God, hath various significations in scripture, but chiefly two in the New Teltament, (1.) The gospel dispensation, or government of the Messiah, as distinguished from the preceding periods; (2.) The kingdom of heaven, where the sincere disciples of Christ shall be put in full possession of the blessings of his purchase. I take it to be the last of these, that is, either only, or chiefly intended in this place. Both of them, indeed, may be meant in their proper order, and for their different purposes. An open profesion and receiving the external badge, was necessary to a concealed friend and cowardly disciple ; but a right to the spiritual privileges of the gospel, and the promile of eter. nal life, was the only thing that could make the profession valuable or desirable. Accordingly our Saviour feems to speak of both in his reply to Nicodemus's admillion in. to the visible church by bapiism, and renovation by the Holy Ghost, Jesus answered, Verily I say unto thee,
Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
I am sensible that regeneration or the new-birth is a subject, at present, very unfashionable; or, at least, a ftile of language which hath gone very much into desuetude. It is, however, a subject of unspeakable moment, or, rather, it is the one subject in which all others meet as in a centre. The grand enquiry, in comparison of which every thing else, how excellent soever, is but specious trifling. What doth it signify, though you have food to eat in plenty, and variety of raiment to put on, if you are not born again : if after a few mornings and evenings spent in un. thinking mirth, sensuality and riot, you die in your fins, and lie down in forrow? What doth it signify, though you are well accomplished in every other respect, to act your part in life, if you meet at last with this repulse from the Supreme Judge, “ Depart from me, I know
you not, “ye workers of iniquity ?”
If this subject is, indeed, unfashionable and neglected, we are miserably deceiving ourselves. If a new nature is necessary, to attempt to repair and new model the old will x be found to be loft labor. If the spring is polluted and continues so, what a vain and fruitless attempt is it to endeavor, by addition, or by foreign mixture, to purify the streams. Jull so it is by no means sufficient, or, to speak more properly, it is altogether imposible, to reform the irregularities and vicious lives of finners, and bring them to a real conformity to the law of God, till their hearts are renewed and changed. It is like rearing up an old fabric, adding to its towers, and painting its walls, while the foundation is gone. See what the prophet Ezekiel fays of such foolish builders, “ Wo to the foolish prophets-because, “ even because they have feduced my people, saying,
« Peace, and there was no peace; and one built up a “ wall, and lo, others daubed it with untempered mortar:
say unto them which daub it with untempered mortar, " that it shall fall : there shall be an overflowing fhower, " and ye, Ogreat hailstones, shall fall, and a stormy wind u shall rent it."*
But, perhaps, the substance of the doctrine is retained while the language is held in derision. We are told, it is but a figurative expression, and the same in its meaning with repentance or reformation. Doubtless it is fo. And it were greatly to be wished, that many did thoroughly understand what is implied in repentance unto life. But the reader is intreated to observe, that it is a metaphor frequently used in the holy scripture, I think, also, it is a metaphor of peculiar propriety and force; well adapted to bring into view both the nature of the change which it defcribes, and the means by which it is accomplished. If there are any who in writing, or speaking on this subject, have introduced or invented unscriptural phrases, and gone into unintelligible mysticism, this is neither wonderful in itfelf, nor ought it to be any injury or disparagement to the truth. There is no subject either of divine or hu. man learning, on which some have not written weakly, foolishly or erroneously; but that ought not to excite any averfion to the doctrine itself, which hath been perverted or abufed. I pray, that God may enable me to write upon this interesting subject, in a clear, intelligible and con. vincing manner; to support the truth from the evidence of fcripture and reason; to resolve, in a satisfying manner, any objections that may seem to lie against it ; but, above all, to carry it home with a persuasive force upon the confcience and heart. I contend for no phrases of man's invention, but for such as I find in the holy scriptures; from thefe I am resolved, through the grace of God, never to depart. And, in the mean time, I adopt the words of the eminent and useful Dr. Doddridge, “ If this doctrine, in “ one form or another, be generally taught by my bre" thren in the ministry, I rejoice in it for their own fakes,
* Ezek, xiii. 10, 11,
" as well as for that of the people who are under their 4 care.”
The plan of the following treatise is this:
1. To make some general obfervations upon the metaphor used by the apostle John, “ Except a man be born « again ;” and the fame, or similar expressions, to be found in other parts of the word of God.
II. To thew wherein this change doth properly and directly consist, together with some of its principal evidences and effects.
III. To thew by what steps, or by what means, it is usually brought about.
IV. In the last place, to improve the subject, by a few practical addresses to persons of different characters.