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In proportion as the Holy Spirit presents the things which pertain to him and his salvation, before one who is thus taught of God and drawn by the Father, all these affections are uniformly excited and invigorated : yet the very same things, when plainly set before the proud and carnal minds of unregenerate sinners, awaken contempt, enmity, and blasphemous rage. And is not that influence, which produces so entire a revolution in the judgment and affections of those who experience it, of an holy nature ? No doubt, while the truth is made to shine before the sinner's understanding, his heart also is prepared to love and welcome it.
This was exemplified on the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit was poured from on high, not only on the apostles, but likewise on the multitude. The very persons whom Peter most justly charged with having wickedly crucified the promised Messiah, being “pricked in their heart, said, Men and brethren, what shall we do?” And being instructed and exhorted by the apostle, “they gladly received the word, and were baptized in the name of Jesus.' They were convinced of their exceedingly aggravated guilt in crucifying the Lord of glory; and not merely alarmed by the dread of punishment; they repented and did works meet for repentance :” Christ was glorified in their hearts, and they believed in him as their Lord and Saviour. But there were others who were cut to the heart by similar addresses of the apostles: yet, not being humbly sensible of their guilt and danger, they were only the more enraged by their convictions. When Stephen disputed with the Jews, not being able to resist the spirit and wisdom with which he spake, they had recourse to persecution; nay, when his persecutors could neither answer his arguments, nor endure his expostulations, they gnashed upon him with their teeth, stopped their ears," and stoned him without delay. Now, who can doubt but that they who gladly received the word, had experienced a gracious change of heart by the power of the Holy Spirit: while the others, though surrounded with light and tormented with convictions, were left to the natural enmity of their proud and carnal minds ? Acts ii. 37, 38 ; iii. 12--26 ; iv. 1-4; v. 33 ; vi. 10, 11 ; vii. 54-59.
Let us consider another example of the effects produced by these influences. The jailer at Philippi had cruelly abused Paul and Silas, and had exceeded his commission by thrusting them into the inner prison, and making their feet fast in the stocks ; (for he might have kept them safely without all this severity:) and he had afterwards attempted to murder himself. But he was at length convinced, by means of what he heard and saw, that “ these were the servants of the most high God, who shewed to men the way of salvation." Under this conviction " he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas :” and, in the first instance, before he proposed to them his interesting inquiry, he brought them out of the stocks, and the inner prison, into some convenient place. The event proved that his convictions were produced by the agency of the Holy Spirit : and the jailer's conduct manifested that he was not merely terrified but also humbled and sorry for his sins; and, especially, that he heartily repented of the cruel usage which the prisoners had received from him, as he made them all the amends of which the circumstances would then admit. This done, he cried out,“ Sirs, what must I do to be saved ?" and they answered, “ Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." And when they had further instructed him and his family in the nature of Christianity, he embraced that despised and persecuted religion, professed his faith by receiving baptism, ventured all consequences in thus joining himself to the hated sect of the Christians, showed every kindness to Paul and Silas, and was filled with
peace and joy in believing" This is a fair specimen of the nature and tendency of those convictions by which sinners are brought to believe in Christ. The jailer’s faith was evidently connected with repentance, of which he showed some tokens, and produced some fruits, before he understood the plan of salvation revealed in the gospel, and when he had merely a general belief that he might be forgiven and saved. The further and more explicit exercise of
faith, when it was fixed on Christ the Saviour ; worked by love of him and his servants; overcame the love of the world and the fear of the cross; and purified his heart from the pride, enmity, and selfishness which before had reigned there without control.
But let us contrast this example with that of Felix, a sinner of high rank, before whom Paul, again a prisoner, "reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and a judgment to come. For he also treíbled : but the love of sin caused him to hate the light; and he sent the ambassador of heaven, to the authority of whose message his conscience bore painful testimony, back to the dungeon, saying, “ Go thy way for this time, when I have a convenient season I will call for thee. He hoped also that money should have been given him of Paul, that he might loose him : wherefore he sent for him the oftener, and communed with him. But after two years, Portius Festus came in Felix's room: and Felix, willing to show the Jews a pleasure, left Paul bound.”It does not appear that, before the memorable night of his conversion, the jailer was at all better disposed to Christianity than Felix: they both were convinced and trembled: but the former was made partaker of an honest and good heart by new-creating grace, and the good seed of the word took root, sprang up, and brought forth fruit; while the latter continued carnal, covetous, sensual, and at enmity with God, notwithstanding his transient alarm, when the word of truth was sounding in his ears. Acts xvi. 23–34; xxiv. 24-27.
This may be further illustrated by the case of king Agrippa, who listened to Paul's inimitable defence, and was “ almost persuaded to be a Christian:” his understanding assented to the truth, and his conscience was on the part of the Christian Teacher: but his heart remained under the power of worldly principles; and he still neglected Christ and his salvation. But we are told as the Lord opened the heart of Lydia, that she attended to the things which were spoken of Paul.” Now, who can doubt but that there was an essential difference between the heart which the Lord opened, and that which sin and Satan closed ? Acts xvi. 4 ; xxvi. 28.
Thus the apostle informs us that the “ veil still remaineth on the heart of the unbelieving Jews;" 2 Cor. iii. 15. and for almost 1800 years they have despised, abhorred, and blasphemed the Messiah, to whom their scriptures so fully bear testimony, and whom their fathers crucified. Yet the Lord hath declared, “ I will pour upon them the spirit of grace and supplication, and they shall look to me whom they have pierced, and mourn.” Zech. xii. 10. Then the veil will be taken from their hearts, and they will become penitent believers in the crucified Emmanuel : and who can suppose that this change wrought by the Spirit of grace, by which they are brought to believe in Christ, is any other than regeneration ?
Again, the apostle having shown the nature of his ministry, and his manner of fulfilling it, adds these remarkable words, “ If our gospel be hid, it is hid unto them that are lost; in whom the God of this world hath blinded the minds of them that believe not ; lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ should shine into them.” And on the other hand, he states that where the gospel is truly believed, “ God who commandeth the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined into the heart, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” 2 Cor. iv. Hence it is most manifest that the illumination, which is the immediate cause of saving faith in Christ, particularly respects the heart, and prepares it for welcoming those discoveries of the divine glory in the person ard salvation of Christ, which the proud and carnal heart despises and hates; and which Satan especially hides from those who continue in unbelief. And surely this difference implies that the one is an holy, and the other an unholy state of the affections ; the one being regenerate, the other not.
The same is manifestly implied in our Lord's words, “ Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."" Except he be born of water and of the Spirit he cannot enter into the king,
dom of God."-" That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” John iii. 1–8. Can any man savingly believe in Christ before he is able in the least degree to perceive the nature of the kingdom of God? And is it not by faith in Christ that the sinner enters into that kingdom ? Col. i. 13, 14.
St. Paul affirms that “ The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, neither can he know them; because they are spiritually discerned.” i Cor. ii. 14. The contrast bewteen the natural man, and the spiritual man, and indeed the whole context, fully proves, that he spoke of an unregenerate person, one in a state of nature, born of the flesh, and not of the spirit: and would we know what “ things of the Spirit of God are foolishness” to such persons; another text from the same epistle informs us ; " the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness." 1 Cor. i. 18. Now can he, to whom the doctrine of a crucified Saviour is foolishness, and who cannot receive or know this doctrine and other truths connected with it, for want of spiritual discernment, be at the same time a true believer in Christ? or does the apostle mean, that this is the case with only some of the unregenerate ?
The language of St. John is equally decisive on this subject. many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe in his name; which were born of God." John i. 11-13. The concluding words of this passage evidently point out the source of that difference which subsisted between the believing and the unbelieving Jews. The former being born of God, received Christ by faith, and were by adoption admitted into the family of God, and to all the privileges of his chil. dren: the latter, notwithstanding their descent from Abraham, continuing unregenerate, rejected the promised Saviour, and were not owned as the chilo dren of God.- I am aware that this text is confidently brought forward in proof, that faith precedes regeneration ; and in that case it would stand single in cripture: but a careful consideration of the passage and context is sufficient to evince, that this was by no means the evangelist's design. Christ came to the Jewish nation as his own professing people, and they received him not; but a remnant received him, and were admitted to the privileges of the children of God. This remnant were not distinguished from others, by their descent from the patriarchs, by a more docile and tractable natural disposition, or by the inclination of parents, teachers, or others respecting them; but by a supernatural influence: they were born, not of blood, of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” So that regeneration was the immediate cause of their receiving Christ, and believing in his name; and adoption into the family of God with all its privileges was the effect. And this accords with the language of the same apostle in another place “ Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God." His faith is the effect and evidence of his regeneration, and not the cause of it. This is generally allowed to be the order of construction, where he says, Every one that loveth is born of God;" and “ Every one that doeth righteousness is born of God.” And by what rule of interpretation do we reverse it when speaking of faith?
He that is dead in sin can only have a dead faith, and perform dead works : for living faith can only be predicated of a living subject. How then can the dead faith of an unregenerate sinner be the instrumental cause of divine life? But it may be readily understood, that, when the word of truth appears with convincing evidence to the natural understanding, and with alarming energy to the conscience; one man may be left under the power of carnal enmity to resist the light, or to flee from it; while the heart of another, under the regenerating influences of the Holy Spirit, may be subdued, softened, humbled, and disposed to receive the truth in faith and love. Men who are dead in sin may acquire much doctrinal knowledge, and have a natural conviction that the gospel is true, though their whole religion be a notion and form, with a few transient emotions and affections : but, sometimes even while at a dis
tance from instruction, when in urgent danger, or deep afflictions, “ the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” takes possession of their souls. Then the truths, before coldly assented to, are recollected and believed in a more cordial manner, and living faith begins to produce all its genuine effects. This change of. heart, I apprehend, is called in Scripture, being born again, born of the Spirit, born of God, begotten of God, it is regeneration, the beginning of sanctification: and the life thus communicated, not merely light in the understanding, but spiritual perception and sensibility in the judgment and conscience, submission in the will, and holy love in the affections, though in a small and feeble measure. “ As new-born babes desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.”
The language used concerning those who believed the gospel confirms this conclusion. Thus when Apollos visited Corinth, he “ helped them much who had believed through grace.". The word grace may mean, either the special sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit, or unmerited mercy; and the former seems here to be meant: but if the latter signification be insisted on, St. Paul expounds the passage when he says, “ God who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ; by grace ye are saved.” Eph ii. 4, 5. “ For we ourselves also 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 Sa. viour toward men 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 ; that being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” s'it. iii. 3—7. Now it is evident beyond dispute, that in the judgment of the apostle, as here stated, the first effect of the Lord's special love to those who are dead in sin, and slaves to divers lusts, consists in quickening and regenerating them; and they are regenerated that they may be justified, by being made capable of believing in the Lord Jesus Christ.
In like manner, when the gospel was preached at Antioch, “ the hand of the Lord was with them,” (both the teachers and their auditories) “ and a great number believed, and turned to the Lord.” Acts xi. 21. By the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit the dead in sin were made alive to God, and in consequence they believed and turned to the Lord as his worshippers and servants. Here the distinction between regeneration and conversion, though often treated as scholastic and subtile, ought to be noted. We are passive in receiving divine life, though it may be communicated while we are using the appointed means, or bestowing much diligence from natural principles ; but we are active in turning to the Lord by true repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. The former is regeneration, the latter conversion ; and it has principally arisen from the disregard of this obvious, and I must add important, distinction (important to accurate views and just reasoning in controverted subjects) that many have spoken of regeneration as the effect instead of the immediate cause of faith: for it cannot be denied that conversion, the soul's active turning itself to the Lord, is always the effect of faith, in some of its exercises, and generally of explicit faith in Christ : but then regeneration precedes both faith and conversion, as the cause and source of them, in the same manner that life precedes all kinds of vital motion.
“ I have planted,” says the apostle, “and Apollos watered : but God gave the increase.". Surely this proves that no wisdom of words or excellence of speech ; no full and faithful declaration of the truth ; no clear explanations, conclusive arguments, or apt illustrations; no eloquent addresses to the passions; or solemn appeals to the conscience; no alluring representation of the Saviour's compassion and love; no urgent persuasions or alarming expostulations; no power of truth forcing itself upon the understanding ; vo undeniable miracles wrought before men's eyes, or even on their persons; no, not
even the gift of miracles istelf can prevail with an unregenerate sinner to welcome the humbling holy salvation of the gospel. His carnal mind will, after all, be “ enmity against God :" and as it is not, and cannot be subject to the law; so it will certainly either reject or abuse the gospel, which was expressly intended to “magnify the law and make it honourable.” “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid ; yea we establish the law.” A dead faith, a presumptuous confidence, selfish affections, and formal worship and obedience is the sum total which can be produced without regeneration.
“God commended his love to us, in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” “ God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself.” Thus the way of reconciliation was opened. He sent his ambassadors of peace, and by them besought us to be reconciled to God : and thus the way of reconciliation was made manifest. He regenerates our souls ; and then we repent, believe, are justified and reconciled, and become the friends of God; and we may adopt these words : “ If when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son ; much more being reconciled we shall be saved by his life.” Rom. v. 1-11. “ You who were some time alienated, and enemies in your minds by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled.” Col. i. 21.
The apostle says in one place, “ They that are in the flesh cannot please God.” And in another he states, that “ Enoch before his translation had this testimony that he pleased God. But without faith it is impossible to please him ; for “ he that cometh unto God must believe that he is, and that he is the rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Rom. viii. 6–9. Heb. xi. 5, 6. Hence it must follow, either that none but the regenerate are capable even of that lowest exercise of true faith, which is here described, or that an unregenerate man may please God. For St. Paul shows what he meant by the expression in the flesh, where he subjoined, “ But ye are not in the fiesn, but in the Spirit ; if so be the Spirit of God dwell in you: now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.”
The proud and carnal enemy of God may tremble, feel temporary pangs of conviction, feign submission, and even yield a forced and unwilling oben dience, as Pharaoh did. He may perceive danger, be filled with anguish and horror, and in this state of alarm cry for mercy, and seem willing to accept of it in any way the Lord pleases: but he cannot cordially allow the justice of the sentence he would deprecate; and therefore his reliance on mercy can be only pretended. He is burdened with dread of punishment, but not with a sense of guilt ; for guilt implies the desert of punishment : but the person here characterized excuses and palliates his sins, and gives intimations that he thinks the law unreasonably strict and its sentence needlessly severe. You may indeed delineate a character of God suited to the taste of his heart, and frame a gospel soothing to his self-love: yet he cannot but be at enmity against an infinitely holy and just God, and his spiritual and perfect law; and the gospel of Christ likewise must be his aversion, unless misrepresented or misunderstood. Even the sense of danger in this case soon wears off, unless it terminate in despair : “ There is no fear of God before his eyes.' He feels not the load of his sins in a humbling, wearying, and abiding manner. He is spiritually dead, and incapable of spiritual perception and discernment; and regeneration alone can render the heart susceptible of other feelings and affections. But when this change has taken place, in proportion as the new-born babe, by desiring and drinking in the sincere milk of the word,” becomes acquainted with the perfections and commandments of God, and his own character and situation, guilt oppresses his conscience, and permanently burdens his heart, except as the knowledge of the gospel gives him relief. Now he groans and struggles for deliverance : he fears, mourns, prays, and in a confused manner hopes for merey, even if his acquaintance with the truth be very defective: nor will he ever find rest to his soul till he comes to Christ for it, whatever methods he may try for that purpose. Perhaps the Lord may show him his refuge, as speedily as he discovers his