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REGENERATION.-ITS ATTENDANTS.-GENERALLY CONSIDERED.
Ephesians iv. 22—24.—That ye put off, concerning the former condersation, the
old man which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts ; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which, after God, is created in righteousness and true holiness.
In the last discourse, I described the situation and conduct, of a Convinced sinner. It is now my intention to exhibit the Conversion of the same sinner to God: or to exhibit what in that discourse I called the attendants of Regeneration.
In the text, connected with the 17th verse, the Ephesians are commanded to put off the old man with his deeds, and to put on the new man; or, in a more strict accordance with the original language, to cast away the old, and be clothed with the new man. It has been supposed, that the passage contains an allusion to the conduct of the new Converts, at their baptism; who are said at this ordinance to have cast away their old garments, as a symbol of their renunciation of sin, and to have been clothed with new ones, as a token of their assumption of holiness. It has also been supposed, that the Apostle alludes to the custom of Actors, who changed their clothes whenever they changed their characters. The allusion is, however, so natural and familiar, that it seems unnecessary to look far for an explanation.
To put off the old man, and to put on the new man, are, in the text, exhibited as equivalent to being renewed in the spirit of their mind, that is, to being the subjects of Regeneration. This doctrine is still further illustrated in the declarations, that the old man is corrupt, and that the new man is created, after God, in righteousness and true holiness. That to renounce the former of these characters, and to assume the latter, is the same thing with being regenerated, no person, probably, who is acquainted with this subject, will dispute.
Under these two heads, then, I shall now consider the further progress of this Convinced Sinner ; viz.
1. His renunciation of sin; and,
As these co-exist in the mind, it will be unnecessary to consider them apart.
When the convinced sinner has, by a succession of earnest efforts to save himself, proved his utter inability to accomplish this important work; the next natural step, and that, which he then becomes convinced it is absolutely necessary for him to take, is to
cast himself wholly upon God. He sees himself perfectly helpless; and, if left to himself, utterly ruined. In the anguish of mind, produced by this view of his situation, he casts himself at the footstool of Divine Mercy, as a mere suppliant; as devoid of any recommendation to the favour of God; as a ruined, miserable creature; as justly condemned; as justly to be punished; as having no hope, but in mere forgiveness; as desiring salvation of mere grace and sovereign love; as without any power of atoning for his sins, by any thing which he can do; as capable of being saved, only on account of the atonement of Christ; and as incapable of renewing himself, or of being renewed, but by the power of the Holy Ghost. All these things are felt, and not merely understood; not merely considered as being proved, or capable of proof, by sound argument. The several trials, which the mind has made, have of themselves become proofs wi the highest kind, to which it now opposes neither objection nor doubt. Its views have been too clear to be denied, or questioned ; and the frame of the mind, its anxiety and distress, renders it even impatient of the suggestion of uncertainty.
Self-righteousness is, therefore, now relinquished. The pride of saving himself, either wholly or partially, is now given up; and the sinner is humbly, and easily, satisfied to be saved by Christ, To his alonement, to his infinite compassion, he looks for the aid, which, though felt before to be unnecessary, he now regards as absolutely and infinitely necessary to prevent him from being lost.
When the sinner has come to this state of views and disposition, God in his infinite mercy usually, perhaps always, communicates to him the new heart, the right spirit, so often mentioned in the Scriptures.
It will here be useful, and probably necessary, to guard the minds of those who hear me against a common and very natural error concerning this important subject.
It has often been supposed, that in some part, or in the whole, of that process of the mind, which has been here described, there is something done, of a meritorious naiure ; something so pleasing to God, that on account of it he bestows this incomprehensible blessing. In my own view, this opinion is wholly unscriptural, and altogether dangerous. If God gives the virtuous disposition intended, then it did not exist in the mind before it was thus given :
..d, as this disposition is the only source of virtuous action in the mind; it is perfectly clear, that there can be no such action before it is communicated. That God does in fact give it by his Spirit has, I trust, been heretofore proved. Antecedently to Regeneration, then, there is no virtuous action in the mind, in the true and Evangelical sense ; unless we are to suppose two distinct sources of virtue, and two different kinds of virtuous action.
It will, here, be naturally asked, What, then, is the true nature of this subject? What is the use of Conviction of sin? Why does
God communicate such a disposition to such sinners, as are effectually convinced of their sins, rather than to any others ?
In answer to these reasonable questions I observe, that the use of such conviction is to bring the sinner to a just view of his own con dition and character, as a sinner ; of the character of God, as his Sovereign ; of the divine law, as the rule of his conduct ; of the character of Christ, as his Saviour; of the absolute necessity of an interest in his redemption for the attainment of salvation ; and of the excellency and importance of holiness, in all its branches, as a moral character indispensable to entitle him to the favour and approbation of God. Without these apprehensions it would be very difficult to conceive how a sinner could become the subject of those exercises, which belong to the nature of Conversion to God. For example, how can the sinner, who does not clearly see the evil, odiousness, and malignity of sin, ever be supposed to hate sin, mourn for it, or abstain from it in future periods? How, unless he discern the excellency and obligation of the law, as a rule of duty for himself, can he discern either the guilt of his transgressions, or the necessity and value of his future obedience? How, unless he be fully convinced, of the justice and glory of God in hating, and condemning sin, can he acknowledge God to be a reasonable or righteous Sovereign? And how can he ingenuously, and voluntarily, turn to him at all? Finally; if he do not perceive his own helplessness, and his insufficiency to save himself, how can he betake himself at all to Him for salvation? How, if he does not realize the fitness of Christ to be trusted with his soul, and all its concerns, as able, willing, and faithful, to save to the uttermost, all that will come unto God by him, can he believe on him, or trust in him, for these infinite blessings?
When God bestows the new disposition on the sinner, in the state above described, rather than in his ordinary state, he does this, I apprehend, not because the sinner has merited this blessing, or any other, at his hands; but because he has now become possessed of such a character, and such views, as render the communication of it fit and proper in itself. God never extends mercy to sinners, because of their desert, or worth, but because they need his mercy. When he sent his Son into the world, to save the Apostate race of Adam, it was not because these apostates had merited, but because they needed, such kindness at his hands. It was a mere act of grace; or free, sovereign love. The communication of it was not a reward, conferred on worth ; for they plainly had none; but a free gift to mere necessity and distress. Christ came, to seek and to save that which was lost; and to call, not righteous beings, but sinners to repentance. The Father, in the parable, did not admit the Prodigal into his family and favour, on account of any services which he had rendered; for he had rendered none;
but on account of the misery and ruin of his Son, pleading strongly with his own compassion. Such I conceive to
be the case of every convinced sinner, when he is made the subject of the renewing grace of God.
But there is a plain reason, why such sinners are made the objects of divine mercy, when they have arrived at a complete view of their guilt, danger, and dependence on God for sanctification and deliverance, rather than while they were at ease in sin, and self-justified in their rebellion. In the latter situation, they were utterly unprepared either to feel, or understand, the nature and extent of the divine goodness in bestowing these blessings; and of course to be thankful, obedient, humble, and universally virtuous, to that degree, which is necessary to their effectual preparation for heaven, and which seems incapable of being accomplished in any other manner, than this, which I have described. A deliverance is both understood, and felt, in proportion to the greatness of the sense, which the person delivered has had, of his danger. A new moral character is welcomed, in proportion to the feelings which have been experienced in the debasement, and disadvantages, of the character previously existing. Universally, every benefit is realized, in proportion to the sense of our own necessity. Thus by the sense of his guilt, danger, and need of salvation, experienced under the conviction of his sin, the sinner is prepared with the utmost advantage to receive his sanctification, justification, and final deliverance from eternal ruin. This is what I call the fitness of the sinner for the reception of these benefits : a fitness, which seems indispensable; appearing, plainly, to render it proper, that God should give these blessings to a convinced sinner; when it would be wholly improper to give them to the same sinner, while unconvinced and insensible. Benefits are wisely conferred on those who are fitted thoroughly to understand, feel, and acknowledge them; and unwisely on those who are not; whose views are obscure, whose feelings are blunt, and whose acknowledgments, if made at all, are wrung from them by the hard hand of necessity. In the former case, the benefits may be said to be laid out well; in the latter, to little or no purpose.
These observations may possibly throw some light on a subject, which, hitherto, has been almost merely a topic of debate among theologians. This is, the true nature, and efficacy, of the prayers of such persons as are under conviction of sin. Some divines have strongly encouraged, and others utterly discouraged, convinced sinners from praying. Those of the latter class, founding their opinions on the declaration, that the prayers of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord, observe, that the prayers of convinced sinners cannot be acceptable to God; that they cannot reasonably be expected to be either heard, or answered: and that, thereforc, it is unjustifiable to advise such sinners, or any sinners whatever, to pray at all.
This subject will hereafter naturally offer itself for discussion. I shall now consider it only so far as my present purpose demands.
According to the opinion, which I have recited, no man can, with any propriety, pray for his regeneration. The sinner cannot pray for it, because his prayers are sinful and abominable. The saint cannot pray for it, with propriety, because he is already regenerated, and cannot possibly either need, or receive, it. Thus the greatest blessing ever given to man, and that on which all other blessings depend, cannot be prayed for by him who receives it; and stands, therefore, on a ground totally diverse from that, on which all other blessings rest; viz. on such a ground, that a man can rever ask it for himself.
The prayers of convinced sinners, it is said, are insincere, and therefore abominable to God. In answer to this objection I observe, that a sinner, whether convinced or not, may undoubtedly pray with insincerity, in all instances; but there is no invincible necessity, that his prayers should always be insincere, notwithstanding he is a sinner. A sinner may, from a sense of his danger and misery, pray as sincerely to be saved from that danger and misery, as a saint. His disposition, I acknowledge, is still sinful; and his prayers are wholly destitute of moral goodness. But the mere wish to be saved from suffering, is neither sinful nor holy. On the contrary, it is merely the instinctive desire of every percipient being; without which he would cease to be a percipient being. That there is any thing hateful to God in this wish, whether expressed in prayer, or not, I cannot perceive ; nor do I find it declared, either by Reason or Revelation. It may, indeed, be united with other desires, and those either virtuous or sinful; according to the prevailing character of the mind, in which it exists; and the whole state of the mind may be accordingly denominated virtuous, or sinful. Still this desire is neither morally good, nor morally evil; and, therefore, neither pleasing, nor displeasing, as such, in the sight of God.
That God pities sinners, as mere sufferers, will not be doubted: otherwise he would not have sent his Son, to redeem them from sin, and misery. That he pities them more, when strongly affected with a sense of their guilt, and misery, than when at ease concerning both, will, I think, be readily believed. The sinner is certainly not less an object of compassion, but much more, when feeling the evils, in which he is involved ; and I can see no reason, why he may not be more an object of divine compassion, on that account, as well as of ours. The cries of the sinner for mercy are not, therefore, in themselves sinful; and there is nothing to make the sinner less, but much, apparently, to make him more, an object of the divine pity.
the sinner knows, that regeneration is the only possible mean of escape, and safety; so he may, and plainly will, feel, in the same degree, the necessity of regeneration to him, as of safety. For regeneration, then, he will cry with the same ardour, and the same