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It is undoubtedly the duty of every wise and good man to be forming schemes for the service of God and his fellow-creatures in future years, if he be continued to them; and it will be his prudence to do it early in life, that he may be gradually preparing to execute them in the most advantageous manner he can. But while A man's heart is thus devising his way, the Lord directeth his steps. And as many such schemes will probably be left unfinished at death, which will quickly come to break off our purposes and the thoughts of our hearts; so it is not improbable that they who humbly and obediently follow the leadings of divine providence and grace, may often find themselves called out on a sudden to services which, but a little before, were quite unthought of by them.
This has been the case with me in most of the sermons I have published, of which very few were composed with any view to the press; and it is most remarkably so with respect to these on Regeneration. Besides many other excellent persons, my much honoured friend Dr. Wright has handled the subject in so judicious and lively a manner, and through the great goodness of God to us, so many thousands of his treatise upon it are dispersed in all parts of our land, that I could hardly have believed any one who had told me I should thus have resumed it; nor had I the least intention of doing it, when I began that course of lectures which I now offer to my reader's perusal.
I did indeed think it necessary last year to treat the subject more largely than I had ever done before, knowing in the general how important it is, and observing that several controversies had about that time been raised conceruing it, which (though I do not judge it necessary to mention the particulars of them) I was ready to fear, might have had an ill influence to unsettle men's minds, and either to lead them into some particular errors, or into a general apprehension that it was a mere point of speculation, about which it was not necessary to form any judgment at all*.
That these discourses might be more generally useful, I determined to preach them on Lord's-day evenings, that those of uny neighbours who were not my stated hearers might, if they thought proper, have an opportunity of attending them: And accordingly they were attended to the last with uncommon diligence; a great many such persons, of different pursuasions and communions, making up a part of the auditory. As practical instruction and improvement was the main thing I had in view, I knew it was necessary to make my discourses as plain, as free, and as serious as I could. But before I had finished near half of my scheme, several of my hearers earnestly requested that the sermons might be published: And the request grew more extensive and importunate every week, with this additional circumstance (which I much regarded) that some very pious and judicious friends at a distance, being providentially brought to the hearing of some of these lectures, strongly concurred in the desirc; expressing a very cheerful hope, that the reading of what they had heard might be useful in distant parts of the land, to which they assured me they would endeavour to spread them as opportunity might offer. As the advice of several of my brethren in the ministry was joined with all this, I thought myself bound in duty at length to comply; which I was the rather encouraged to do froin
* See Mr. Hebden's Appendix to his late Discourse on Regeneration.
the several instances in which I had reason to believe the divine blessing had in some measure attended these sermons from the pulpit, and had made them the means of producing and advancing the change they described and enforced.
On these considerations, as soon as I returned from that long journey on which I set out the day after these lectures were concluded, I applied inyself to recollect the substance of them as well as I could, froin the short hints I had written of them, with the assistance of those notes which some of my friends had taken after me in characters. Some things are, perhaps, omitted, though I believe but very few; some contracted, and some enlarged; but my hearers will find them in the main what they heard. It cost me more labour than I was aware, from such materials, to reduce them into their present form ; and I hope the multitude of my other busi. ness will be allowed as an apology, if I proceeded in them slower than some might expect.
I shall leave it to my reader to observe for himself the manner and method in which I have handled my subject, without giving him a particular view of it here; only must beg leave to tell him in the general, that I hope he will find I have not presumed so far on the sublimity of my subject, as to talk without determinate ideas; for which reason I have omitted many phrases, used particularly of late by some pious and worthy persons, because I freely own, that as I cannot find them in my bible, so neither can I understand their exact meaning; and it seems very improper to embarrass such plain discourses as these with a language, which, not being thoroughly master of, I may chance to misapply, supposing those phrases to be really more proper than I can at present apprehend they are. I have endeavoured to keep to one idea of Regeneration, which I take to be that which the scripture suggests: By Regeneration I mean “ a prevailing dispositioa of the soul to universal holiness, produced and cherished by the influences of God's Spirit on our hearts, operating in a manner suitable to the constitution of our nature, as rational and accountable creatures.” If this be (as I think I have proved at large that it is) the scriptural notion of it, it will follow, that nothing which may be found where this is not, or which may not be found where this is, can be Regeneration in the scripture sense; which is that sense in which we are much more concerned, than we are in that to which any human writers, whether ancient or modern, may think proper to apply it.
If the doctrine which I have endeavoured in the whole course of these sermons to confirm and illustrate by the word of God, be in one form or another generally taught by my brethren in the ministry, of whatever denomination, I rejoice in it for their own sakes, as well as for that of the people under their care. little inclined to contend about technical phrases of human invention, which have with equal frailty been idolized by some, and anathematized by others. We shall, I hope, learn more and more to bear one another's burdens, and to study the kindest interpretations wbich the words of each other will admit. But I must take the liberty to say, I am in my conscience persuaded that this view of things which is here proposed, though perhaps not very fashionable, is in the general so edifying, and 80 naturally leads to the frequent review of many other important doctrines of christianity which are closely connected with it, that I am well satisfied it will be our wisdom to adhere to it, and to make it very familiar to our own minds, and to those of our hearers. Nor can I imagine that any variety in the idioms of different languages, or the customs of different ages and nations, can be a sufficient reason for bringing scripture phrases into disuse, while we keep to the original ideas signified by them. There seems to be a peculiar felicity in them to express divine truth; and they will undoubtedly be found the safest vehicle of religious knowledge, and the surest bond of union among christians; while, however we may differ in other matters, we so generally agree in acknowledging that our bibles contain the oracles of God.
Let us therefore, who under different denominations are honoured with the ministry of the Everlasting gospel, agree, for a while at least, to suspend our debates
I am very
upon less necessary subjects, that we may with united efforts concur in prosecuting that great design for wbich the gospel was revealed, the Spirit given, and our office instituted. And since it is so evident that irreligion has grown upon us, while we have been attending to other, and to be sure smaller matters, let us by a plain, serious, and zealous way of preaching the most vital truths of christianity, joined with a diligent inspection of the souls committed to our care, try what can be done towards preventing the progress of this growing apostacy, and recovering the ground we have already lost. Ignorant and prejudiced people may perhaps accuse us of bigotry or enthusiasm; but let us do our best to convince them of their error by the candour of our temper, and the prudence of our conduct; and remember, that as Chrysostom excellently speaks in those lively words which I have inserted in the title page, “ It is a sufficient consolation for our labours, and far more than an equivalent for all, if we may have a testimony in our consciences, that we compose and regulate our discourses in such a manner as be approved by God, in whose name we speak.”
To what I have said in the conclusion of the first sermon concerning the proper import of the word regeneration, I beg leave to add the following remarks for the farther satisfaction of some worthy persons, who think it may be convenient to state the matter a little more particularly.
I acknowledge that many learned and pious divines have taught and contended, that Regeneration does, in the strictest propriety of speech, signify baptism. So that no unbaptized person, how well disposed soever, can properly be said to be regenerated; whereas that title may justly be given to all who have been baptized, how destitute soever they might have been of christian faith and holiness when they received the ordinance, or how grossly soever they may since have forfeited the final blessings of a regenerate state. Dr. Waterland has stated this matter at large in his laboured and ingenious treatise on the subject, which is the best I know on this side of the question. And though this would be a very improper place to enter on a critical exa amination of that piece, I will briefly touch on the chief arguments which hr, or others in his sentiments, have urged in vindication of this favourite notion. So far as I can recollect, what they say is capable of being reduced to two heads;—that christian antiquity uses the word in this sense ;--and that there are passages of scripture which authorize such an application of it.
As to the first of these, I readily own that the word has this sense in the generality of the christian writers, from about the middle of the second century, though I think not so universally as some have concluded*: But I think it easy to account for such an use of it among them. For in the earliest ages of the church, persons were generally baptized as soon as they were converted to the cordial belief of christianity; and therefore the time of their conversion and that of their baptism might naturally enough be spoken of as one: And as this was a period when they did as it were come into a new world, it is no wonder that the action by which they testified a change so lately made, should be put for that change itself. Just as illumination also among the ancients signifies baptism: Not to intimate that the grand illumination of the mind was made by this rite, or at the time of it; for that would be supposing the person in darkness when he embraced the gospel, and determined to be baptized: But because it was taken for granted, and that very justly in those days, that every one savingly enlightened would soon be baptized, that so he might be regularly joined to the society of enlightened or regenerated persons, that is, to the christian church: Which no doubt had the best right of any
* Clemens Alexandrinus, so often, and to be sure reasonably, quoted on the other side, plainly uses the word for a change of character by true repentance; (Strom. Lib. ii. p. 425.) where speaking of a penitent harlot, he says, that being born again by conversion, or a change in her temper and behaviour, she has the regeneration of life :» αναγεννηθεισα κατα την επιρροφην το βια ταλιγγενεσιαν εχει Guns.