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BIBLE INSTRUCTION. No. XX.
(The last Essay, on Eternity, was intended to close the series under the title of
“ Bible Instruction;" but on reviewing the whole, the subject of Regeneration did not seem to have been brought forward with sufficient prominence. A paper on that subject is therefore now inserted.]
“ Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter
into the kingdom of God." John iii. 5. The new birth is emphatically the work of the Holy Spirit. While he only is the author of it, it is uniformly represented to be the great and special work assigned to him in the plan of redemption. Nor is this to be wondered at. In this change religion commences. Until the soul is born again there is no godliness, for “they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” But no sooner is this change effected, than the principles of righteousness predominate in the character, and an effectual provision is made for securing a life of sincere and genuine boliness. By the new birth the sinner becomes a servant of God. What, then, let us inquire, is the nature of this change ? How is it commonly effected ? And these two questions being solved, we shall then offer a few thoughts on its necessity.
I The nature of Regeneration. The phrase, “born of the Spirit," seems to be employed, in order to make us sensible of the complete and radical change which is thereby produced in the soul. And this view of the change is only in accordance with many others which we find in the Scriptures. It is termed a creation,-“ if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.” 2 Cor. v. 17. It is described as a complete renewal of the Spirit,—"renewed in the spirit of your mind.” Eph. iv. 23. It is called a' new heart, a new heart will I give you.” Ezek. xxxvi. 26. It is even pronounced to be a new and holy nature,
partakers of the divine nature.” 2 Pet. i. 4. What a change that must be, to which such language is applied ! It may be safely affirmed, that no language more descriptive of a total and radical change could possibly be em. ployed. Let us inquire, however, more particularly into its nature. And,
1. This may be learned from the phrase, which, we have seen, is commonly used to express it, " being born." It
implies, that a principle of life is therein communicated to the soul. Naturally, it is dead in trespasses and sins; phet, in vision, bebeld the dry bones scattered in the valley, 1 very dry, so that it was asked, “ can these dry bones live ?»
But he called upon the Spirit, and by his agency they were moved, united, covered with sinews and flesh, ani. mated, and raised up an exceeding great army. Ezek. xxxvii, 1–10. So also is it with sinners originally dead before God, but, when visited by his Spirit, made alive unto bim.
2. Or this work of the Spirit may be explained, by the figures most commonly used in the Scriptures to describe it. These are, water and fire. It is the property of water to cleanse, refresh, and fertilize; and so, in this change, the soul is sanctified, revived, and made fruitful in every good word and work. It is the property of fire to enlighten and warm and purify; and so, in this work, the soul is enlightened, enlivened, and purified. There are
those who have so perverted this docirine, as to teach that • the mere external application of water in baptism consti
tutes the change itself. But the melancholy fact sufficiently 'refutes il, that the outward rite is habitually dispensed to many, who give plain evidence, by their lives, ihat they have never become the subjects of the gracious change signified by it. As well might it be said, that the change consists in the application of fire, as in the appli. cation of water.
3. But the most clear and satisfactory explanation of this change is derived from a consideration of its effects on the heart and life. These are numerous and distinct; and we shall briefly notice some of them.
1. The mind is enlightened. “Ye were sometimes dark. ness, but now are ye light in the Lord.” Eph. v. 8. And wherein
does this enlightenment consist ? The sinner is enlightened in the knowledge of God, 2 Cor. iv. 6; of sin, Rom. vii. 13; of bimself, Rom. vii. 9; of Christ, Col. ii. 9, 10; of the world, Eccles. i. 2; and of all spiritual things,
John ii. 20. From such enlightenment, what a revolution of heart and life must proceed. Truly, it is a light a dark place.
And every man who has been 80 favoured, may justly exclaim, “ whereas I was blind, pow. I see." It is in this enlightenment the new birth has siis origin
shining in a dar
2. The will is renewed. This is the natural effect of the light that has been poured into the understanding. The mind is thus brought under the influence of new and powerful motives. Its enmity toward God is overcome ; for he is seen to be an object of love and confidence, instead of fear and dislike. It becomes animated with a hatred of iniquity; for it is seen to be hateful in itself, and ruinous in its effects. A desire grows up for the attainment of that which is agreeable to the will of God; for it is seen to be wise, and felt to be pleasant. And, in short, the will is bent upon the pursuit of heavenly objects --being conformed to the will of God, as far as it is known.
3. The affections are changed. It is not meant that any new affections are implanted, for this is unnecessary; but new objects are presented to the affections, and engage their attention. Love and hatred, joy and sorrow, hope and fear, remain as they were ; but their objects are changed. That which was hated is loved, and the object of love becomes that of hatred. Aforetime, the world was loved, and heaven regarded with dislike,—now these affections change their objects. It will be easily apprehended how such a change upon the affections will regenerate the character.
4. The conscience is quickened. Formerly, it permitted the sinner to follow the devices of his own heart, and, unless in some very flagrant instances, failed to reprove him; now it is awake and watchful, warning against sin and stimulating to holiness. See its power, as it is examplified in Paul, in Rom. vii. 14–25. He could not be conscious of the most distant inclination to sin, without the utmost pain of mind. The thought of iniquity distressed him. Conscience, as à faithful sentinel, stood upon its watch-tower, and gave timely notice of the most distant approach of the enemy. So it is, in some measure, with every sinner who has become a subject of the regenerating grace of God.
5. The memory is strengthened. The power of the memory is mainly dependant on the interest that is taken in any subject. This is plain from the fact; that many who complain of their incapacity to retain a religious discourse, are, at the same time, observed to be most retentive of any thing that relates to their temporal interests. The reason of the difference is simply that they are interested in the one, but not in the other. Nor can any who bave
been attentive to such cases, have failed to notice the surprising change in the memory of the new convert,--many, who formerly were unable to retain any truth, becoming retentive of all that was explained to them. The change can be accounted for only by the production of a new interest in the soul. To this it is to be added, that it is one part of the Spirit's office to strengthen the memory. shall bring all things to your remembrance whatsoever I have said unto you.” How reasonable, therefore, that the memory, as well as every other power of the mind, should be powerfully affected by the new birth.
6. The life is made holy. A delightful illustration of this influence inay be derived from the third chapter in the epistle to the Colossians. The principle is laid down, that the believer is “risen with Christ” – that is, united with him, so as to be one with him, a new creature in him. And then the practical influence of the change on all the powers and affections of the soul is pointed out; on the affections, v. l; on the members of the body, v. 5; on the passions, v. 8; on the temper, v. 12, 13; and on the conduct, in all the relations of life, v. 18–25. There is a complete transformation of character.
As the purified fountain issues pure streams, so the heart, purified in the new birth, sends forth the expressions of its renewed character in the whole course of the life.
This is the nature of the change that takes place in re.. generation. Al first it may appear faint and feeble; yet, where real, it soon discovers itself. When the infant is born, it possesses all the faculties of the man, however weak these may be; and though the Christian be only a babe in Christ, yet is he really born of the Spirit. His views may be dark, yet he is taught of God; his will may be wayward, yet has it received a bias that will soon produce meekness and submission; the affections may, in many things, be misplaced, yet will they become more and more fixed upon God and heavenly things; the conscience may be dull, yet will it soon manifest that it has been quickened; the memory may be weak, yet the interest that is taken in religion, and the habit of attending to it, will soon strengthen it; and the life may be far from what it ought to be, yet will it be growing in conformity to the mind and image of God. The sinner, once born again, grows by the sincere milk of the word; and this progress will be cultivated more and more, until he shall arrive at the stature of the perfect man in Christ. The new birth commences in grace, and it shall terminate in glory. This is its nature, and we shall now proceed to consider,
II. How, or in what manner, or by what means, this work is usually accomplished. In all bis dealing with us, the Spirit is pleased to work by means. When Christ healed the blind man, he made clay and anointed him, and sent him to wash in the pool of Siloam; and in like manner, in all the operations of his grace upon sinners, he is pleased to employ the instrumentality of means. What these are, we now proceed to inquire.
1. The grand instrument which he employs is the Word of God. This, of course, is to be understood of all ordinary cases; for in those which are extraordinary, as in the case of infants, or of the heathen, he may influence the mind in a way of which we have no knowledge. In ordinary cases, however, he is not pleased to operate, save by the Word. The Christian is “ born not of corruptible seed, but incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.” The Spirit lays hold of a doctrine of the Word, gives it entrance to the mind, deposits it there as a precious seed, causes it to take root and grow, and bring forth abundant fruit. Thus it was with Lydia, “ whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended to the things which were spoken by Paul.” And how plainly do we learn hence the duty of hearing the truth, learning it diligently ourselves, and declaring it to others.
2. When the Spirit would produce the new birth, he engages the attention with the iruth as it is in Christ. The careless mind is arrested and fixed, and in that attitude a saving impression is made upon it. “We all with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into ihe same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” The saving change takes place in the soul, while the mind, occupied with the truth, and bending a fixed attention to it, is enabled to receive it, and submit to it. This is what we are taught by the Evangelist John, “as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God,"—implying, that in the act of receiving Christ, they became sons, or were born again. And thus we perceive how this great change may be effected secretly and silently, yet really. True, we are unable to explain how the Spirit operates by means of the truth. The manner in which the change is produced is