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2. But to be a little more specific, What is it to be born again? Is it to increase in human wisdom? No. The understanding may be filled with light, even to overpowering illumination; and, at the same time, the heart
crowded with that darkness, which may be felt. It must be a new birth of the heart, rather than of the head. In fine, it is a birth, not only from Pagan pantheism and polytheism into Christian Theism; but from bigotry and fanaticism into the middle path of a catholic, liberal, enlightened zeal. It is a birth, of the anathematizing polemic into the peaceable minister. Of the lip-worshipper into the heart-worshipper. Of the sacrilegious into the sanctified. Of the Sabbath-breaker into the Sabbathkeeper. Of the time-serving into the self-sacrificing statesman. Of selfism into patriotism. Of the sophisticating pettifogger into the fair-minded counsellor. Of the deceiving charlatan into the medicating friend. weigher with light weights into the holder of the just balance. It is a birth, of the neglecter into the protector of parents. Of the swearing shipmaster into the praying pilot. Of the winebibber into the waterbibber. Of the epicure, the spendthrift, the libertine, and the debauchee, into men of sense and soberness. Óf the irresolute, vacillating, inefficient lounger, into the firm, fixed, and active doer of good. Of the eye-servant into the single-hearted. Of the busy-body in other men's matters, into one who is busy only in his own. It is a birth, of the liar into the truth-teller; of the thief into the honest man; of the jockeying into the true; of the covetous into the generous; of the cruel into the humane; of the censorious into the charitable; of the haughty into the courteous; and of the lukewarm into the ardent. In short, it is a birth, of the defying boaster into the stricken penitent; of the lion into the lamb; of the sinner into the saint. Such, and so great, and so holy, is the change, we conceive, which is wrought upon the heart, and which issues forth into the whole length and breadth of a vigilant life, upon the new birth of the soul. But, in this world, we can never be entirely freed from sin. The body must be laid in the grave, and there be dissolved, before it can be changed into the similitude of the angels.
III. Do you say, my Brethren, that the Decrees of God distress you? That the doctrines of predestination, election absolute, eternal reprobation, fixed purpose, physical ability and moral inability, peccable and impeccable possibility, and especial influences, perplex you? My friends, God is no respecter of persons. Election is grounded upon what, in human language, is called foreknowledge. Whom he did foreknow, them he did predestinate. But with God, time is one eternal Now. He doth not measure time, as we do, by a succession of ideas in the mind. With him, all is intuitive. All is present; no past, no future. He looks over the human life, as we look over a map, or a book; and sees the end from the beginning. He can foresee, and foreknow, what we each one of us shall be, even before we are born. Thus salvation is nothing arbitrary, but contingent; being based upon character. And character is based upon educational bias, strength or weakness of mind, and strength or weakness of temptation. Away then, with all metaphysics and mysticism from Scripture. Away with all doctrines predicated upon a few select passages, which, thus insulated, nullify the pervading and free invitations of the Gospel. They lead to presumption, or to despair. They mock free agency. They destroy accountability.
Do you mention the patriarch Jacob, in the Old Testament? Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated; and this before the children were born, or had done either good or evil? That doubtless was a temporal, national election, for a particular end; the elder shall serve the younger. Or that the Almighty, in the perfection of his knowledge, foresaw something in the heart of Jacob, preferable to what was in the heart of Esau. But you say, Does not God make the human heart? True; but we know, because we feel, that we have the power of volition within ourselves, to obey, or disobey. Do you mention Saint Paul, in the New Testament? That was no ordinary, but a very extraordinary conversion. Those were the days of miracles. Otherwise, if you quote the conversion of Saint Paul, it is an encouragement to sin, that the grace of God may the more abound, which God forbid. Perhaps the very fact of Saint Paul's possessing and ex
erting so great zeal, although it was not according to correct knowledge, was the reason of his special conversion. As he verily thought he was doing God service, it pleased the merciful God to turn his fervour into the right current; to transform him from a zealous Jewish persecutor, into a zealous christian minister. He was to be a chosen vessel, to bear God's name before the Gentiles. But did not Saint Paul condemn himself, after his conversion? He did; and why? Because he then knew, that he had before self-blinded himself to the true light; and what Christian but laments, and condemns himself for his former sins?
It is true, my Brethren, that, in this world, and in temporal affairs, even now, for wise purposes, perhaps to try our faith, or our patience, or our humanity, one is blessed above another. But in things spiritual, and eternal, we believe that God does no more for one than for another, their characters being equal. He works in all, both to will, and to do; yet leaves them to will, and to do, as they choose. The Spirit is always drawing all men with the cords of love. If God were to remove the obstinacy from A, B, and C, and not from D, E, and F, although none might merit mercy, would it not be unequal? Would it not militate against one of his noblest attributes, that of moral impartiality? Were it not even more just, even if less satisfactory—I speak with reverence, and in the fallibility of human judgment to condemn the whole? God forbid, that we should ever cherish such views of his sovereignty; of his uncontrolled, and uncontrollable benevolence. Do you read, that God, out of his mere good pleasure, hath elected some, and reprobated others? And that the potter hath power over the clay, to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? My friends, we believe the same. We believe in the efficient, discriminating influences of the Spirit of God. But we believe, that these efficient, discriminating influences are directed to those alone, who use the appointed means, so far as they are known, for working out their own salvation, with fear and trembling. And we believe, that these eclectic influences from on high are denied to those alone, who neglect to use the known, and appointed means; and
whom therefore God hardens; that is, by withdrawing his restraining power, he permits them to harden their own hearts, and thereby to become vessels fitted to destruction. Do you say, that God does make a difference; he makes angels higher than men? True, but this is not a moral difference; and higher does not always mean happier. And if man is offered a happiness as high as his nature will admit, it is sufficient. If the vessel be full, it will not complain, because it is small.
My Friends, the means of salvation, as well as salvation itself, are ordained. We can all use these means. God doth not fetter our feet, and then command us to run. If we could not come, knock, and ask; we should not be called upon to come, knock, and ask. We must plant, the ministers must water, and the Spirit of God will give the increase. We shall be judged according to our means of belief and obedience. Infants, we trust, who have committed no sin, will be redeemed by mercy, without judgment. The Heathen, who cannot believe before they hear, will probably be judged by the loud voice of conscience in their own breasts. Those who were under the Law, will be judged by the Law. Those under the Gospel will be judged by the Gospel. Errors of ignorance will be winked at. Errors of presumption will be punished. If our election were unconditional, Saint Peter would not have called upon the faithful, to give diligence to make their calling and election sure. And Saint Paul would never have feared, lest he, after all that was done, might himself become a castaway. The simple truth is, that, in a christian land, all who obey the Gospel are elected ; all who disobey the Gospel are non-elected. The good are elected to everlasting life; the evil to everlasting death. Salvation is free. The Spirit is free. And we are free.
Finally. Although the Spirit of God is the grand agent, we must not be passive, in the new birth of the soul. Feeble, dependant man is called upon to co-operate with his Maker. We must give diligence. Draw nigh to me, and I will draw nigh to you. God helps those, that help themselves. We must not sit still, and
pray; but, at the same time, must put our shoulder to the wheel. Nor should we demur. It is impossible to be happy, unless we be holy. The kind Spirit is now brooding over our hearts, like a Dove; hovering and alluring us, as it were, from our thorny nest on the earth, to the healing branches of the Tree of Life in the Heavens. Let us yield to the upward influence. Then our bodies, which are born from beneath, shall die; but our souls, which are born from above, shall live.