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his mother's womb, and be born? | will, as it is called. It is idle to deny Jesus answered, verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and the Spirit," unless he be, not only admitted into my church by | the outward ordinance of Baptism, but inwardly converted by the operation of the Holy Ghost, "he cannot enter into the kingdom of GOD." "That which is born of the flesh, is flesh." We inherit the sinful nature of our guilty parent. And, since the body cannot undergo the necessary change in this life, its fate is to moulder in the dust, to be sown in dishonour before it is raised in glory. "But that which is born of the Spirit, is spirit." Our minds are yet capable of such a spiritual regeneration, as may bring them back to purity and happiness, and fit them to be transplanted into the presence of their GOD. "Marvel not, that I said unto you, ye must be born again." Marvel not indeed! And who can marvel that such a transformation is required, who takes a single glance at the corruption that is festering in his heart.
What is it then to be born again? In one word, it is to have a new heart. It is to love what we once hated; and to hate what we once loved. It is to have all our dispositions, both towards GOD and man, miraculously altered; and this is an alteration so entire, so permanent, so far beyond our unassisted powers, as justly to be described as a new existence. "If any man be in Christ," says the Apostle, "he is a new creature. Old things are passed away; behold all things are become new." Nothing less than this will suffice. Our minds are like a rank and neglected soil, that is overrun with noxious weeds. It is in vain that we attempt to pull them out one by one; the soil remains the same, and they will soon spring up afresh, or be replaced by others of a fouler nature. We have freedom of
this, for we feel that we are free. We have power, that is, to follow the bent of our natural inclinations. But this seems no great privilege, when we consider that those very inclinations are perverted into a wrong channel. A man who is excited by any strong passion,-by anger for instance, is as free as in his more sober moods; but we know, from that very circumstance, that he will rush into some frantic excess. And thus it is with us all. We have no power of ourselves to turn to GOD, for we have lost even the disposition to do so, and cannot regain it, unless it be given us from above. Our affections having been disordered by sin, we unavoidably break out, at times, into the actions that correspond with them; and we are prevented from oftener doing so, only by motives, which have no connexion with religion. Yet we often feel great compunction for particular offences, while we forget that our minds are naturally siuful, that every thought therefore is hateful to GOD, that we are guilty at least of every vice, we have even harboured a wish to perpetrate. We mistake the symptoms for the disease; and this is a dangerous error; both because we begin our reformation at the wrong end by struggling against the outward act, instead of seeking the amendment of our dispositions; and because we often hug ourselves in the proud consciousness of innocence, when nothing but opportunity was wanting to the completion of our guilt.
The child of GOD then must have a clean heart, and a right spirit, renewed within him. His views of things are changed. Great must have been the wonders, that burst upon the sight of him who was born blind, and whose eyes were opened at our Saviour's bidding. Such are the feelings of one, to whom spiritual
light is given. He is astonished at the importance of objects, which he had hitherto overlooked. He sees every thing through a new medium. He finds God in every thing ;-something that is that may remind him of his goodness, or that may be done, or sacrificed, for his glory. His conduct is changed; not so completely as he wishes it to be; but still the daily course of his life is spent, as far as human infirmity will permit, in the service of his Maker. His motives too are changed. Even when occupied about the same things with those around him, as he must often be, his feelings have a reference to his Master's will, and thus he makes his ordinary duties an acceptable service. His desires are changed. He no longer seeks to live to himself alone, and fulfilling the lusts of the flesh; but his ambition is to imitate the pattern, which his Lord has given him. He delights to think of GOD, to hold communion with him in seeret, to join the assembly of his worshippers, to be telling of his salvation from day to day. He prays to be drawn continually nearer to him. He longs to be received into his eternal presence.
"Marvel not then, that I have said unto you, ye must be born again." And yet the world does marvel at this truth, and rejects it with irritation and disgust. It cannot believe that this is a doctrine of universal application. It looks on such a change as is here spoken of, as needed only by those flagitious characters, who have outraged the feelings of society. But what is the first and great commandment? Thou shalt love the Lord thy GOD with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. Brethren, who can think of these words without a solemn impression of his own sinfulness? Men may frame excuses for their faults,
till they learn to think lightly of them; and such must often be the temptation of those, who have been mercifully preserved from the grosser vices of our nature. Sin, say they, is the transgression of the law. Our | lives have been free from any flagrant violation of it. We have borne a reputable character. We have discharged the duties of our station. We have been just in our dealings, and courteous in our behaviour. We have respected the forms and ordinances of public worship. We have not been wanting in sympathy or assistance to our fellow creatures. It is too much to confound us with the herd of vulgar profligates, with the drunkard, and the blasphemer, and the sabbath breaker, and the adulterer, and all those, who act in defiance of the common decencies of life. Surely it is a mere love of singularity, that would class our failings among the sins, by which God's vengeance is provoked, and which are the proper objects of his displeasure.
Sin, I reply, is indeed the transgression of the law; and this is its first and great commandment. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart. Can any of you plead guiltless? There may be great variety in our offences. There may perhaps be degrees in the measure of our guilt, though I believe far less than is commonly supposed. Whatever man has done, unregenerate man is always capable of doing; and we owe far more to the absence of temptation, or convenient circumstance, than to any virtue of our own. Happy are you however, if your consciences acquit you of those scandalous enormities, which burden the memory of others. You have cause for gratitude, though not for pride. But what saith the law? How readest thou? Thou shalt love the Lord thy GOD with all thy heart. Here is a commandment,
the first and greatest, containing the | worldly objects, because we are assubstance of our duty to our Maker, sured of a better inheritance. It which shuts us up in common con- closes the avenues of temptation, by demnation. Unless the love of GOD restraining our thoughts, and putting has been the constant, active, para- a guard upon our looks. It begets mount motive of our conduct, we have personal humility, by shewing us the broken the whole law, we are guilty depth of our wretchedness; while it in all its parts, we are liable to its gives us a higher sense of the dignity heaviest penalties. of human nature, by pronouncing us heirs of immortality, It teaches us unbounded love towards our neighbour, because he is the partner both of our infirmities and our hopes; because the Saviour died for him; because that Saviour has asked this charity at our hands as a token of gratitude to himself. It sets before us such glorious prospects, as makes it at all times our interest to be virtuous. It affords us such gracious assistance as alone could enable us to be so.
But, say the world, if we cannot perform all our duty to GOD, without this renewal of the heart we may still perform our duty to our neighbour: this is the most important part of religion, and if the end be gained, what signifies disputing about the means. I answer, that a right faith in GOD is always insisted on in Scripture as a most necessary part of Christian obligation, as the foundation of every thing like real virtue; and it seems a poor defence for the neglect of one essential duty, to say, that we may still pay some attention to another. Moreover I appeal to your own experience, whether those, who have been taught by the Spirit to love GOD, are not always the most forward to love their brother also. Who are the most diligent and untiring advocates of benevolence, but those whose charity has been lighted up from the altar of religion? And it must be so in the very nature of things. Morality, pure and consistent morality, such as embraces all subjects, and is ready on all occasions, can spring only from Christian principles. This makes us hate sin, because it crucified the Son of GOD. This causes us to strive after purity, because we are Christ's members, and the temples of his Spirit. This enables us to forgive the injuries we receive, and the enemies who inflict them, in memory of his dying love. It leads us to give none offence, by declaring that we must give account of every idle word we utter. It makes us less careful of
It is true, we see much that is amiable and honorable in worldly men ; but is nothing of this owing to the desire of a fair reputation, and of engaging the affections of those around them? The test of our character then must be in abstaining from that, which the world allows, but which God hates, and because he hates it. Besides the moral principle of such men is not regular and universal in its operation; and it often happens that a slight indisposition, or an untoward accident, will endanger this virtue, which was to merit heaven! And then, corrupt as human nature is, it can hardly be acted upon at the same time by opposite vices. Different men have constitutionally different temptations. In some there is an evil concupiscence. In others a greedy desire of gain. In others a proud look and impatient temper.
(To be continued.)
SERMON BY THE REV. F. J. STAINFORTH.
THURSDAY, JULY 18, 1833.
(Rev. F. J. Stainforth's Sermon concluded.)
All have their trials, differing in kind, rather than in degree; and too many congratulate themselves on refraining from those sins, to which they are not naturally inclined, and from which their very failings may contribute to preserve them. But it has been well remarked, that in the character of our great Pattern nothing was prominent: every virtue had its proper place, because it was his desire in all things to do the will of his heavenly Father. Add to which, true benevolence is not confined to temporary objects, but concerns itself chiefly about higher matters. What is called humanity is always a popular quality; but Christian love reaches especially to the souls of men, because its main desire is to glorify GOD, and to confer the best and most lasting blessings upon his creatures.
Marvel not then, that I have said unto you, ye must be born again. But how, as Nicodemus said, can these things be? Not certainly through our own efforts. We are never foolish enough to think we caused our first, or natural birth; and it is quite as absurd to suppose we can be the authors of our second, or spiritual birth. Creation must in every instance be the work of GOD; but this work he is willing to perform for you for Christ's sake. He has
not left himself without a witness in your consciences. Listen to that heavenly monitor, and you will gradually know more of the doctrine whether it be of GOD. When you feel the Spirit striving with your hearts, convincing you of sin, and alluring you to repentance, oh! seize those golden moments, for they are the precious season of offered mercy. Do not wait till your heart is cold, or occupied by other thoughts, but cry mightily to GOD to enlighten and sanctify your souls, and his hand is already open to supply all your wants. Use diligently, and conscientiously the means he has given you, and doubt not he will increase them more and more, according to his
word. For to him that hath, and improveth the talent committed to him, shall more be given, and he shall have abundantly. The very idea of a new birth implies a state of helplessness at first. We must be children before we are men. But if the limbs of a child were never exercised, they would soon lose the power of motion altogether. We do not conclude from this that we created our own nerves and muscles, but we find by experience that they are invigorated by use. Thus the effect of conversion is often gradual in the mind. When the film first falls from our
eyes we see men as it were trees sound thereof, but cannot tell whence walking. Every thing is indistinct it cometh, or whither it goeth. You and doubtful to us. But our vision see the effect, that is, though you are is rendered stronger by perseverance. unacquainted with the cause. So is The prospect begins to brighten. every one that is born of the Spirit. Things assume their proper shape While he gratefully acknowledges, and colour, till we exult in the full en- with the Apostle, By the grace of joyment of our emancipated powers. GOD I am what I am, he strives to labor more abundantly than all, and he does so with the better hope, because he can add, it is not I, but the grace of God that is in me. Though he cannot account for the change that has passed upon him, by any natural means, he feels that he is changed indeed. In prosperity he feels grateful to the Author of all good, and anxious to improve his gifts. In adversity, he considers that the appointed suffering is less than he had deserved, that it is intended for his good, that it is not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed. The first thoughts that crowd upon him in the morning, are remembrances of God's goodness, and desires to promote his glory. His last moments of consciousness at night are spent in committing himself to the care of his wakeful guardian, and anticipating the time, when he shall rest for ever in his bosom. He looks on those around him with compassionate interest, and delights to labor for their improvement. He is in the world, but not of it. He takes a part in its duties. He enjoys many of its pleasures. But he is not distracted with its cares, not troubled about its censure, not engrossed with its delights. He has no abiding city here, and therefore he weighs every thing in the balance of futurity. He is content to live, but not afraid to die; or rather he looks to death as a deliverance from his toils, and the commencement of his reward. He is a new creature indeed; a wonder to himself, and to all about him. He is brought from darkness into marvel
Every thing then is the gift of GOD; but it is given through the intervention of means, and those means must be carefully improved, if we desire to obtain the blessing. His usual mode of dealing, both in providence and grace, is to place his mercies within our reach, to grant us the necessary assistance to enable us to secure them, and then to make us answerable for our choice. Is it not thus with all around us? He gives us, for instance, fruitful seasons, and we thank him, as in duty bound, for the food we eat; but this indulgence does not dispense with the toil of the husbandman. One soil may be more fertile than another, but none will yield a harvest without our labour. Do you sit still then, and say, if it be God's will he can make the corn to grow in my field, and all exertion on my part would be presumptuous? Oh, no! There is no such folly in worldly matters. You are up early, and late take rest, and work unceasingly for the bread that perishes. But you are content to trust in divine mercy for your hope of future happiness, without seeking it in the appointed way. This shews that you do not value spiritual things, that, though light is come into the world, you love darkness more than light, and truly for the old reason, because your deeds are evil. And this is your condemnation.
Whenever a saving change has taken place in you, you will know it by its certain consequences. The wind, says our Saviour, bloweth where it listeth, and ye hear the