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ing this, or some other discourse, in which Christ condemned the self righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, Nicodemus, a Pharisee and ruler of the Jews, was led to desire a private interview with bim, for the sake of gaining more light upon some subject which labored in his mind. This was probably the subject of regeneration, though he did not expressly men
But Christ, knowing his desire and design in coming to him, enters into a free and familiar conversation upon the doctrine of divine influence in the renovation of the heart. Let us hear what passed between them upon this interesting subject. “ There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; the same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God; for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot
Ι see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith 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? Jesus answered — Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit. Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be?” It appears from this last expression, that Nicodemus could not understand what Christ said upon the doctrine of regeneration. And many others have found great difficulty in understanding what he said upon this subject, and have been ready to ask, How can these things be? This question naturally leads me to show in the following discourse, that there is nothing unreasonable or unintelligible in Christ's representation of the new birth, or regeneration.
Nicodemus seemed to suppose that there was something absurd in all the particulars which Christ mentioned in respect to a renovation of heart. For he said, “ How can these things be?” I shall, therefore, consider each particular distinctly.
1. There was nothing absurd in what Christ said concerning the necessity of regeneration. This he grounded on total depravity. " That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” No man can see this necessity who is ignorant of the total depravity of the human heart by nature. And it was principally if not entirely owing to his ignorance of this truth, that Nicodemus could not understand any thing which Christ said about the new birth. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, and all of that sect denied total depravity. This appears from the language of the
Pharisee, who went up to the temple to pray, and from what Paul said of himself before his conversion. They both looked upon themselves, as touching the law, blameless. All the Pharisees were spiritually whole, and altogether unconscious of the entire depravity of their hearts. They could not, therefore, see any necessity of a saving change. Regeneration appeared to them a gross absurdity. And it must always appear in the same light to all those who believe that mankind are by nature either perfectly or partially holy. If there be the least spark of true holiness in the natural heart, there can be no necessity, nor even possibility, of its being renewed by a divine operation. But if, on the contrary, it be true that all men are naturally dead in trespasses and sins; if the hearts of sinners be full of evil, and fully set in them to do evil; if they have a carnal mind, which is enmity against God, not subject to his law, neither indeed can be; if they are, as Christ said, serpents, a generation of vipers, and of their father the devil; if such be the total depravity of sinners by nature, then there is an absolute necessity of their being born again, or experiencing a change of heart by the special influence of the divine Spirit. Whoever is convinced of the truth of total depravity must be equally convinced of the necessity of regeneration. man may be convinced of total depravity, who will properly consult the Bible, or the exercises of his own heart. The declarations of all the inspired writers, and the experience of all ages, afford infallible evidence that there is none good by nature, and that all are become guilty and unprofitable. And in the view of this truth there appears no absurdity in Christ's saying to Nicodemus, “ Marvel not that I said unto thee, ye must be born again."
2. There was nothing absurd in what Christ said concerning the nature of regeneration. He represented this change as consisting in true holiness, which is directly opposite to the exercises of the carnal, unrenewed heart. ** That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” The Holy Ghost in regeneration produces his own nature, which is true holiness. This is that moral image of God, which man lost by the fall, and which the apostle Paul tells us is restored by the renovation of the heart. He exhorts the Ephesians, " to put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness." And he tells the Colossians that “ they had put on the new man, which was renewed after the image of him that created him.” The apostle
“ God is love." His whole moral character consists in holy love, or disinterested benevolence. And it is this spirit of pure, holy love, which is produced by the Holy Spirit
in regeneration. Accordingly we read, “ Love is of God, and every one that loveth is born of God." And again christians say, “ The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us." The Spirit of God in regeneration produces that benevolence which is the source of every holy and virtuous affection. This the apostle Paul tells us in plain terms. “ The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness," &c. These are voluntary, holy affections, which are so many different exercises or modifications of true benevolence. Now surely there is nothing absurd in a change from sin to holiness, from the image of Satan to the image of God, and from total selfishness to pure, disinterested love. There is a great propriety in the Holy Spirit's producing such a change in the depraved, selfish hearts of sinners. And there is no more difficulty in conceiving of their becoming holy, than of their remaining sinners; or of their exercising holy and benevolent affections, than of their exercising unholy and selfish ones. Such a regeneration they need, to purify them from their moral pollution. “ The renewing of the Holy Ghost” is called “the washing of regeneration.' The apostle tells the Corinthians that they had been purified by the influence of the divine Spirit.
“ But ye are washed, but ye are sanctified by the Spirit of our God.” And God tells his sinful people that he would cleanse them from their moral defilement in the same way. " Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean ; from all your filthiness and from all your idols will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your
; flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes." Such is the moral, purifying effect of regeneration, which is suited to the character, and perfectly consistent with the moral agency of totally depraved sinners. Hence there was nothing absurd in Christ's saying to Nicodemus, that a man must be " born of water and of the Spirit.” That is, born of the Spirit, which purifieth the heart, as water purifies the body. The nature of regeneration is entirely consistent with the nature of man, as a free, depraved, accountable, moral agent.
3. There was nothing absurd in what Christ said concerning the efficient cause of regeneration. He ascribed the renovation of the heart to the efficacious operation of the divine Spirit. He said that man must be born of the Spirit. And if regeneration
. consists in the production of new, holy affections of the heart, in those who were totally depraved and under the entire dominion of sin, then it is easy to see that no cause less powerful than the
direct operation of the Spirit of God, can produce this great and radical change. No means, nor motives, are sufficient of themselves to produce true benevolence in the heart of a totally selfish sinner. Though Paul plant and Apollos water, yet God must give the increase. He who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, must shine in the heart, to give those who are spiritually blind, the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. The means of instruction may give sinners speculative knowledge, but nothing more; they cannot change the heart, or slay the enmity of the carnal mind. Accordingly, the sacred writers uniformly ascribe regeneration to the immediate efficiency of a divine influence. The apostle John says, that “as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name; which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” And the apostle Paul represents believers as being renewed by the same almighty power which was displayed in raising Christ from the dead. It is evident, therefore, that there was nothing absurd in Christ's ascribing regeneration, or the production of holiness, to the pow- . erful agency of the Holy Ghost, whose peculiar office it is, to reënstamp the moral image of God upon the hearts of sinners.
4. There was nothing absurd in what Christ said, concerning the mode of the divine operation in changing the heart of the sinner. He represented it as altogether imperceptible to the subject of the divine influence. “ The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, nor whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” A divine influence can never be perceived by any created being. The angels saw the world created, and shouted for joy; but they did not perceive the influence of the Deity, by which he made the world. God now upholds the world in existence by a powerful operation, but we cannot discern his almighty influence. He exerts a constant and powerful in fucnce upon us, by which we live, and move, and have our being; but we cannot perceive the divine influence by which we are preserved, and live, and move. Christ gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, health to the sick, and life to the dead; but those subjects of his almighty power could not perceive the secret invisible operation of it.
So those who are the subjects of the regenerating influence of the divine Spirit, cannot perceive the power by which they are raised to spiritual life. The Spirit operates agreeably to their moral and intellectual powers, and it is only the voluntary exercise of those powers that they perceive, when they are caused to love God whom they had hated. The sinner, in passing from spiritual death to spiritual life, perceives nothing but those gracious affections, which are produced by the regenerating influence of the Holy Spirit. All he can know sensibly is, that whereas he was blind, he now sees; and whereas he once hated God, he now loves him supremely. Christ, therefore, gave a just and intelligible account of the mode of the divine operation in regeneration. It is altogether imperceptible by the subject of renovating grace, and ought so to be represented.
5. There was nothing absurd in Christ's representing the Holy Spirit as acting as a sovereign, in renewing the hearts of men. He did assert the sovereignty of the Spirit in his gracious operations. “ The wind bloweth where it listeth,—so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” The Holy Ghost is an absolute sovereign, and has a right to display his sovereignty in regeneration. For this change does not consist in giving any new natural power or faculty to sinners, by which to enable them to love God, and to believe to the saving of the soul. If this were the nature of regeneration, then it would seem that the Spirit must regenerate all who enjoy the gospel, in order to render any inexcusable for rejecting it. But if all their natural powers are good, and they are capable of loving God and embracing the gospel, without having any new natural power or strength given them by the divine Spirit, then he may give a new heart to whom he pleases, and leave whom he pleases in their native state of voluntary opposition to God. The total depravity of sinners, which consists in their free, voluntary, unholy exercises, is the only thing that renders regeneration necessary, and, therefore, the Holy Ghost is not under the least obligation to them, to bow their wills, and make them willing to return to God and embrace the terms of the gospel. Of course, there was nothing absurd in what Christ said concerning the sovereignty of the Spirit's operation in the renovation of the heart, but it would have been absurd, if he had represented it in any other light.
6. There was nothing absurd in Christ's representing the effects of regeneration as discernible. Though he represented the divine operation itself as imperceptible, yet he represented the effects as being known and felt. “ The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, — so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” Though the wind cannot be seen, yet it can be heard, and its effects felt. So, notwithstanding the divine influence in regeneration cannot be seen or perceived, yet its effects can be felt and seen. “ The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness," &c. These are gracious affections, and the subjects of them must be sensible that they have such new and holy exercises. And when they are conscious of exercising such affections, they may know that they are the fruits of the Spirit, and con