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body of men in the world to that title, though in its purest state it contained some ignorant and wicked members. In a word, a man by baptism solemnly professed himself a christian; and as it was generally the first over act by which his believing the gospel could be publicly and generally known, and was also supposed to be very neat the time of his inward conversion, they dated his regeneration, that is, his happy change, as that word used to signify even among the heathen*, from that time. We own therefore that these ancient christians, of whom I always think and speak with great respect, had a very good excuse for this method of speaking: But whether they were perfectly accurate in this, and whether they did not recede from the scripture use of the word, may be matter of farther enquiry.
As to the arguments from scripture in support of the interpretation I oppose, they are taken partly from particular places; but chiefly, as I apprehend, from the general tenor of it, in which christians are spoken of as regenerated.
The particular texts are John iii. 5. and Tit. iii. 5. on which much of the stress of this controversy is laid; but on considering them attentively, I find nothing in either of them to lead us to think baptism the regeneration spoken. of there.
As to the former of them, John iii. 5. When our Lord says, Except a man be born of water, and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God; it is, (after all the contempt with which that interpretation has been treated) very possible he may mean, by a well known figure, to express one idea by both those clauses, that is, the purifying influences of the Spirit cleansing the mind as water does the body: As elsewhere to be Baptized with the Holy Ghost and with fire; Mat. iii. 11. signifies to be baptized by the Spirit operating like fire. But if there is indeed a reference to baptism in these words, which I own I am much inclined to believe, it will by no means follow that baptism is regeneration. On that supposition, I still think the sense of the passage must be that which I have given in my paraphrase on it. (Family Expositor.) "Whosoever would become a regular member of the kingdom of God, must not only be baptized, but as ever he desires to share in its spiritual and eternal blessings, must experience the renewing and sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit on his soul, to cleanse it from the power of corruption, and to animate and quicken it to a spiritual and divine life." It is granted therefore, that how excellent soever any man's cliaracter is, he must be baptized before he can be looked upon as completely a member of the church of Christ; and that, in general, being born of the Spirit, he will also be solicitous that he may be born of water, and so fulfil all righteousness. But it will never follow from hence, that being born of water and born of the Spirit are the same thing. The text rather implies they are different; and I think every body must own, they may be actually separate.
It is well known that Cicero expresses the happy change made in his state, when restored from his banishment, by this word. Cic. ad Attic. Lib. vi. Epist. 6. The Greeks expressed by it the doctrine of the Brachmans, in which they affirmed our entering on a new state of being after death. Clem. Alex. Strom. Lib. iii. p. 451. And the Stoics used it to denote their expected renovation of the world after successive conflagrations. Marc. Antonin. Medit. Lib. xi. §. 1. v. 13. x. 7. See Lucian, Oper. p. 532. Euseb. Præp. Evang. ex Numen. Lib. xv. Cap. 19. Phil. Jud. de Mundi Immort. p. 940, 951, and in many other places. And so the fathers often use it to signify the resurrection which christians expect. See Euseb. Eccl. Hist. Lib. v.
Of the Character of the Unregenerate.
Eph. ii. 1, 2. And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; wherein in time pust ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.
AMONG all the various trusts which men can repose in each
other, hardly any appears to me more solemn and tremendous, than the direction of their sacred time, and especially of those hours which they spend in the exercise of public devotion. These seasons take up so small a part of our lives, when compared with that which the labours and recreations of them demand; and so much depends upon their being managed aright; that we, who are called to assist you in the employment and improvement of them, can hardly be too solicitous, that we discharge the trust, in a manner which we may answer to God and to you. If this thought dwell upon the mind with due weight, it will have some sensible influence upon our discourses to you, as well as on the strain of those addresses which we present to the throne of grace in your name, and on your account. We shall not be over anxious about the order of words, the elegance of expression, or the little graces of composition or delivery; but shall study to speak on the most important subjects, and to handle them with such gravity and seriousness, with such solemnity and spirit, as may, through the divine blessing, be most likely to penetrate the hearts of our hearers, to awaken those that are entirely unconcerned about religion, and to animate and assist those, who, being already acquainted with it, desire to make continual advances, which will be the case of every truly good man.
It is my earnest prayer for myself, and for my brethren in the ministry of all denominations, that we may, in this respect, approve our wisdom and integrity to God, and Commend our
After all then, if any argument can be deduced from scripture in favour of the manner of speaking now in debate, it must be from the general tenor of it; according to which it seems that all who are members of the visible church are spoken of as regenerate; from which it may be inferred, with some plausible probability at least, that baptism, by which they are admitted into that society, may be called regeneration: And I am ready to believe, as I hinted above, that this was the chief reason why the ancients so often used the word in the sense I am now opposing.
Now with relation to this, I desire it may be recollected, that when christianity first appeared in the world, it was attended with such discouragements, as made the very profession of it, in a great measure, a test of men's characters. The Apostles therefore, knowing the number of hypocrites to be comparatively very small, generally take no notice of them, but address themselves to whole bodies of christians, as if they were truly what they professed to be. Just as our Lord Jesus Christ, though he knew the wickedness of Judas, often addresses himself to the whole body of his Apostles, as if they were all his faithful servants, and makes gracious declarations and promises to the whole society, which could by no means be applicable to this one corrupt and wretched member of it; telling them, for instance, that they should share in his final triumph, and Sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Mat. xix. 28.
This is therefore the true key to all those passages in which christians are, in the general, said to be adopted, sanctified, justified, &c. as well as regenerated. The apostles had reason, in the judgment of charity, to think thus of by far the greatest part of them; and therefore they speak to them all, as in such a happy state. And agreeably to this, we find not only such privileges, but also such characters, ascribed to christians in general, as were only applicable to such of them as were christians indeed. Thus all the Corinthians are spoken of by the apostle Paul, as Waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, 1 Cor. i. 7. and all the Ephesians, and all the Colossians, as having Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and love to all the saints, Eph. i. 15. Col. i. 4. and all the Philippians, as having a good work begun in them, which Paul was persuaded God would perfect, Phil. i. 6. and all the Thessalonians, as remarkable for their Work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope, 1 Thess. i. 3. though it evidently appears there were persons in several of these churches who behaved much amiss, and to whom, had he been particularly addressing to each of them alone, he could not by any means have used such language. On the like principles Peter, when addressing to all the christians in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, speaks of the whole aggregate of them, I Pet. i. 8. as loving an unseen Saviour, and amidst all their tribulations rejoicing in him With joy unspeakable and full of glory; though probably there were some weak and dejected christians among them, and undoubtedly in so large an extent of country, in which there were such a vast number of churches, not a few, who, as our Lord afterwards expresses it of some of them, had only A name to live, while they were dead, Rev. iii. 1. in which passage, by the way, our Lord uses the same figure, and describes the whole body by the character of those who made the greater part of it.
I state the matter thus particularly, because I think this obvious remark is a sufficient answer to what is most peculiar and important in a late discourse, consisting of near 130 quarto pages, and intitled, A Key to the Apostolic Writings, &c. prefixed by the Rev. Mr. Taylor of Norwich to his late
here, will much more effectually answer the end of fixing the true sense of the scripture phrases in question. And I cannot forbear saying, that to determine the sense of the words called, redeemed, sanctified, &c. when applied to the christian church, by that in which they are used in Moses and the Prophets with respect to the whole people of Israel, seems to me as unreasonable, as it would be to maintain, that the dimensions, the strength, and the beauty of a body, are to be most exactly estimated by looking on its shadow.
Yet on this evidently weak and mistaken principle the learned and ingenious author, referred to above, ventures not only to attempt an entire alteration in the generally-received strain of theological discourses, but to throw out a censure, which, considering its extent and its severity, must either be very terrible, or very pitiable. He not only seems to think, if I understand him right, that we were all regenerated (if at all) as well as justified, in those of our parents who were first converted from idolatry to christianity (Key, §. 81, 82. and 246.) as indeed he expressly says, "that we are born in a justified," and therefore undoubtedly, if the word is to be retained, in a regenerate "state:" But he presumes to say, that such doctrines as have been almost universally taught and received among christians, concerning "Justification, regeneration, redemption, &c. have quite taken away the very ground of the christian life, the grace of God, and have left no object for the faith of a sinner to work upon". §. 357. And hereupon, lest it should be forgot, he repeats it in the same section, that to represent it as "the subject of doubtful enquiry, trial, and examination, whether we have an interest in Christ, whether we are in a state of pardon, whether we be adopted" (and by consequence, to be sure, whether we be regenerated) "is" (as the Antinomians I imagine would also say) "to make our justification, as it invests us in those blessings, to be of works, and not by faith alone;" and, as was just before said in the same words, "to take away the very ground of the christian life, the grace of God, and to leave no object for the faith of a sinner to act upon." And this way of stating things, which has so generally prevailed, is joined with the wickedness and contentions of professing christians, as a third cause of that disregard to the gospel which is so common in the present day.
Now as no book can fall more directly under this censure, than this of mine, in which it is the business of the three first sermons to direct professing christians in an enquiry, whether they be or be not in a regenerate state; I thought it not improper in this postscript briefly to acquaint my reader with the principles on which I continue to think the view in which I have put the matter to be rational and scriptural*, and do still in my conscience judge it
* For the full proof of this, that it is the most scriptural sense, I must desire the reader diligently to examine, and seriously to consider, the several texts which are quoted in the following discourses; for it would swell this postscript too much to enumerate them all here, and to give them a critical examination. Let it still be remembered, that to be regenerated, and to be born of God, are equivalent phrases: And with this remark, let any one that can do it paraphrase all the passages referred to, in two different views; first putting the word baptism for regeneration, and baptized persons for born of God; and then substituting our definition of regeneration or of a regenerate person, instead of the words themselves: And I cannot but think he will be struck with that demonstration, which will, as it were, emerge of itself upon such a trial. And I must add, that if he look into the context of many of these passages, he will at the same time see how utterly ungronnded it is to assert, as some have done, "that regeneration is only used when applied to Jewish converts to chris
ner in which they ought to be affected with such a series of sermons as this, and the improvement they should make of what they hear, and what they have felt, agreeable to it.
I should be peculiarly inexcusable, if I entered upon such a subject, without earnest and importunate prayers to the fountain of light, grace, and holiness, that while you hear of this important doctrine, you may have that experimental knowledge of it, without which such discourses will indeed seem obscure and enthusiastical, according to the degree in which they are rational and spiritual. I shall only add, that these lectures will take their rise from a variety of texts, which I shall not according to my usual method, largely open and dilate upon, but only touch on them as so many mottos to the respective sermons to which they are prefixed.
As I intend not philosophical essays, but plain, practical, and popular addresses, I shall begin,
First, With describing the character of those, whom we may properly call unconverted and unregenerate persons.
It is absolutely necessary that I should do this, that you may respectively know your own personal concern in what is further to be laid before you in the process of these lectures.
Now you have the general character of such, in the words of my text; and a very sad one it is: They are represented, as dead in trespasses and sins, utterly indisposed both for the actions and enjoyments of the spiritual and divine life; as walking according to the course of this world, a sad intimation that it was the state of the generality of mankind; nay, according to the Prince of the power of the air, that impure and wicked Spirit, who works, or exerts his energy, in the children of disobedience, that is, in those who reject and despise the gospel ; in which it is implied, and a dreadful implication it is, that the course and conduct of those who reject the gospel, is according to the desire and instigation of the prince of darkness: They are going on as the devil himself would have them, and chuse that path for themselves, which he chuses for them, as leading them to most certain and most aggravated ruin.
And who are these unhappy persons? Surely there must be some of them among us: For who can flatter himself, that in so numerous an assembly, the course of all is different from that of the world; and that all have happily triumphed over the artifices of that accursed spirit, who is, by God's righteous per