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II. The doctrine, we have been discussing, is calculated to raise our ideas of the importance of man. The degrees of pleasure and pain, of which we are now susceptible, are not, indeed, inconsiderable. In what measure, our capaci- . ties for either may hereafter be enlarged, we are unable to determine. But unless the whole sum of misery, or enjoyment, reserved for each human soul, were exceedingly great, we can hardly imagine, that the Son of God would have been offered up, as a propitiatory sacrifice.
III. Having already had occasion to observe, how much the doctrine, which we have been considering, tends to exalt our views of the riches of divine grace, I shall only subjoin, that it tends no less to display the moral turpitude of sin. God, though almighty, and omniscient, having a perfect knowledge of the universe, and having all means at his command, could devise no method less expensive, in which to exercise mercy. How malignant the nature of sin, if pardon could be offered on no easier terms: and with how much vigilance should we guard against that, which thus tends to spread dishonor, injury, confusion, and pain, through the empire of God.
Regeneration. Among those, who believe christianity, there is no inconsiderable discrepance of opinion, as to the doctrine of regeneration. Perhaps, from this circumstance, you have been led to conclude, either that the passages, which are thought to support this doctrine, are unimportant, or that they have a meaning, so evanescent and subtile, as to elude investigation.
I am persuaded however, that you cannot, on reflection, be wholly satisfied with this conclusion. There are questions without number, concerning medicine, philosophy, commerce, philology, and politics, which, after being severely examined, have by different men, been variously answered. No person hence infers, that these questions are of no moment. Nor can it be rationally supposed, that our Saviour, when acknowledged by Nicodemus, and applied to, as a teacher, sent from God, would have amused the applicant with some unimportant, or subtile speculation ; less still, that he would, with much solemnity, have made a reply, which meant nothing
There is another point of view, in which you will perceive strong reasons for coming to some conclusion on this subject. If it should be found, after sufficient scrutiny, that the doctrine mentioned, has nothing in it of high import, you will be secured from that damp, which the mention of it has,
I doubt not, occasionally thrown upon your spirits. But if, on the contrary, it should appear, that the opinion, which has commonly prevailed on the subject, is substantially correct, and a radical change in the human character is indispensable to salvation; you cannot need to be informed, how much it is for your interest, not only to view the doctrine in a clear light, but likewise to experience that transformation, which it implies.
When this and other theological subjects are discussed, let it be remembered, that I ask you to take nothing merely on my assertion. Opinions in divinity, let them come from whom they may, if not supported by reason, scripture, or both, are not entitled to your belief.
But while it is conceded to be irrational, absurd, and dangerous to believe without evidence; it is not less so to withhold assent, when sufficient evidence is afforded. A man, who should deny the existence of such rivers, as the Nile, and the Danube, because he had not seen them, would act in a manner, as little becoming a rational creature, as he, who should heed the vagaries of every fanatic.
Whatever is the meaning of regeneration, that much is said of it in the scriptures, cannot be denied.
When a ruler of the Jews, convinced by miracles, that Jesus was Messiah, came to receive instruction, Jesus said to hiin, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Those, who believe on the name of Christ, are said by the evangelist, to be “born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." Those, to whom St. Peter wrote, are said to have “ purified their souls by obeying the truth, through the Spirit: and to be born again not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever.” It is asserted in the 1st epistle of John, ii. 29. “ He, that doeth righteousness, is born of God.” Again, “ whosoever is born of God, sinneth not." And further - whosoever is born of God, overcometh the world."
There are many other places, in which different words are used; but where the thing intended is evidently the
“ If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things have passed away; and all things have become new." christians are said to be "created in Christ Jesus, unto good works:" and they, who love christians, because they are such, are said to “ have passed from death unto life.”
The passages quoted, have doubtless, some import. To suppose, that our Saviour spake, and his apostles wrote, with. out meaning, would be a reproach to them, than which a greater can scarcely be conceived.
We can think of no more direct way of ascertaining this import, than to consider what stands in connexion with the term.
1. In the passage, cited from the 3d of John, regeneration is connected with “seeing the kingdom of God.” This term, “ kingdom of God," it must be allowed, is sometimes used to signify christianity itself, or the christian church. And, while we consider the term merely, we are not at liberty to assert, that such may not be its meaning in this place.
II. St. Peter connects regeneration with “ obeying the truth through the spirit.” Obeying the truth is synonymous with obeying the commands of God, or maintaining a holy life. In this he accords with St. John, who asserts, in passages, already noticed, that “he, who doeth righteousness, is born of God: and that he, who is born of God, sinneth not."
III. Regeneration is connected with victory over the world. "He, that is born of God, overcometh the world."
IV. Regeneration is connected, as effect and cause, with the influence of the holy Spirit. “By a regenerate person, our Saviour evidently means “every one, that is born of the Spirit.”
V. Regeneration is connected with eternal life. “The righteous,” says our Savior, “shall go away into life eternal. Now, “the righteous,” by St. John's definition," is he, that doeth righteousness: and he that doeth righteousness," according to the passage already cited, is born of God.”
The way is now prepared for inquiring more directly into the nature of that change, which is implied in regeneration.
1. Does this term express nothing more, than a transition from paganism or judaism to the profession of christianity?
This was indeed no inconsiderable change. “It was,” to use the words of a late, interesting writer, "a new name, a new language, a new society; a new faith, a new hope, a new object of worship, a new rule of life; a history was disclosed, full of discovery and surprize; a prospect of futurity was unfolded, beyond imagination awful and august. The same description applies in a great part, though not entirely, to the converstion of a Jew."
This was so remarkable a period in a man's life, such a revolution of every thing, that was important to him, as might, according to the opinion of some, even though no moral change were implied, admit those strong figures, and sig. nificant allusions, by which it is described in scripture: It was a regeneration, a new creature, a translation from the condition of slaves to that of sons; it was to be born again of God and the Spirit. (Paley's Sermon.)
I acknowledge, that part of these figurative terms might have been used, had the change contemplated been no greater, than is here supposed : though others, I think, could not.
It is a maxim, that two things, which have not similar relations to a third, are not similar. Let us examine, then whether such a change, as is here described, has the same relation, which regeneration has to other objects.
Regeneration, we have seen, is connected with obedience to the commands of God,—with the doing of righteousness. Whatever change, therefore, is not connected with the doing of righteousness, is not regeneration. But a transition from paganism, or judaism, to a profession of christianity does not necessarily imply obedience, or the doing of righteousness : witness Judas Iscariot and Simon the sorcerer : witness many gentile converts, who in times of persecution,