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THE NECESSITY AND CAUSE OF REGENERATION.
THE necessity of a change of heart inferrible from the fact of total depravity—The present disqualification of the impenitent sinner for the happiness of Heaven-A comparison of Christ's and the world's philosophy on this subject-His conversation with Nicodemus, John iii. 2-8-The evidence which substantiates the fact-The special and direct influence of the Spirit its only satisfactory cause-Some attempts to refer it to natural causes-Two remarks preliminary to an examination of some of them-1. Conversion not the natural effect of EARLY EDUCATION-2. Nor of THE DISCIPLINE OF CIRCUMS UMSTANCES-3. Nor of the power of strong BELIEF to REALIZE the thing believed-Two remarks as to all the hypotheses, which admit not the special and direct agency of the Spirit-The attempt to identify Baptism and Regeneration.
We have seen that the moral exercises of man are deranged; and that instead of the capacities of his nature, his powers of mind and the affections and passions of his heart, being carried forth in harmonious exercise towards God, as the supreme good,-in which consists his spiritual life, there is an awful disorder prevailing, in which the world. has usurped the place of God; and while it attracts and binds the thoughts and purposes and desires of the soul, to what is altogether inappropriate, excites an aversion and hatred to the former, evincive of a radical derangementa total depravity. With the restoration of their disordered powers and affections to appropriate and harmonious action, or in other words, their being actually brought into blissful play around God as the great centre, and spring of all our delights, commences spiritual life.
Whatever objections, therefore may have been urged against the necessity of a change of heart, from the alleg
ed virtue of man, it is obvious, that, being based entirely on false grounds, they cannot lie. Assuredly no one will pretend, that, take man as we find him—the subject of various sinful passions and emotions, which bind him down to earth, and render him forgetful, neglectful, and hateful, with respect to God,--he is, or can be qualified for a happy entrance into Heaven. Remove the impenitent sinner to the bright scenes of bliss and glory, that fill with transports of delight, the “spirits of just men made perfect,” and he could not be happy. His heart is altogether unattuned to such scenes. No chord in his soul vibrates in unison with the soft melody of the skies. The nearer his approach to the infinitely Holy and righteous One, the more intense must become his misery, while his heart retains its enmity against Him. We need not conjure out of the strong metaphorical language of scripture, an Hell of material flame for the torturing of the damned.
Every impenitent sinner carries the elements of Hell in his own bosom, and all that is wanting to the perfection of his misery, is to place him in circumstances, where the various passions and affections now elicited by prohibited objects, and modified by his aversion from God, shall be fully developed. If the dim and very imperfect view, which the sinner, in this world, has of the character of God, oftimes lashes into fearful and hellish excitement, the pride, and rage, and malice of his soul, and throws him into paroxysms of despair and anguish; how much more intense will be these things, when the scenes of earth shall recede, and the veil which now covers the eternal world, shall be removed, and he shall see, as in full blaze, the grandeur and glory-the brilliant lustre of Jehovah? Oh how will the poor soul recoil, and prey upon itself, with the most agonizing reflections, when it shall be brought to see and know, who and what He is, against whom it rebelled, how holy, and just, and righteous, and true, and immutabte are lis judgments!
The truth is, eternal punishment arises out of the very) constitution of the mind itself. While under the influence and controling power of its selfishness and its enmity against God, it is not, it cannot be at case and happy. And if man, when the veil of sense is thrown around him,as it is here, in the first stage of his existence,- to blunt his perceptions of the vivid and appalling glory of the Divine Being,—with his very partial and imperfect knowledge of the divine character, begins, as soon as he is capable of acting, to shew his aversion; if, when he is placed under circumstances so favourable for repressing and subjugating his enmity against God, it promptly, and characteristically, and efficiently, displays itself, can we anticipate any thing else in relation to him, than that unless a change of heart takes place,-unless he here actually and entirely lays aside his enmity, he will continue through all eternity to hate God, and thus torture himself as he shall not fail to make clearer and fuller discoveries of the absolute and entire opposition of the divine nature to him? It is as contrary to common sense, and sound philosophy, as it is to the sacred Scriptures to anticipate future happiness for man without a ehange of heart. The dead soul must spiritually live, before there can be either security or bliss.
This is seen and felt by some, who look, with closer observation and more discerning eye, on the character and condition of man hy nature, than the sighing sentimentalists, who, in their poctic visions, descry in him, but perfect purity, or at least perfectibility, without divine influences. The necessity of some moral transformation, or renovation is admitted, but instead of hearkening to the unerring word of God, which reveals the great Almighty Agent-the Holy Spirit whose life-giving influence alone effectuates it, they resort to the theories of a false and impertinent philosophy, or to a miserable and degrading superstition. It may he well, before we trace the influence of the spirit, in pro
ducing this change of heart in man, to notice some of the theories, which philosophy and superstition have embraced, in order to account for, or evade the force of scripture testimony, as to the reality and necessity of a change of heart.
The blessed Redeemer states, in the most unequivocal terms, the fact of a moral transformation of character be
a ing both real and necessary, in order to enter into the kingdom of Heaven, or bring us under the gracious gorernment of God; and that this transformation, is produced through the immediate and special agency of the Holy Spirit. Under whatever aspect it is contemplated, whether in the voluntary exercises of the living soul, in the spiritual graces of faith, repentance, love, and the like severally, or whether in the relative series of these vital exercises, the Spirit of God is proclaimed to be its author. Call it regeneration, new birth, new creature, change of heart, renovation, or by whatever expression it may be designated, still the agency of the Spirit of God, is assigned as its great and appropriate, its direct and immediate cause. The fact is as perfectly ascertainable, as capable of being subjected to the attention and apprehension of man, as the wind, though as inscrutable as it regards the modus operandi,
Such is the philosphy of the Saviour. With the evidence of the fact, He requires us to rest satisfied, provided it is sufficient, even though we may not be able, in any metaphysical analysis, to unfold the specific nature of that agency, by which the Spirit produces those remarkable transformations of character which commence in Regeneration. In this respect He shews the superiority of his, to the systems of human philosophy. They induce a thousand fruitless speculations, and excite such ardour, in quest of what is not to be discovered, as oftimes to produce disastrous cffects. They lead into such nuincrous
doubts, and bewildering perplexity, so torture with uncertainty and conjecture, and superinduce such a frightful gloom on the mind itself, that for its own relief, it ofttimes gladly seizes some fantastic theory, and yields to its guidance in hope of escape, -as the lone traveller, led by successive shrubs and flowrets into the forest's depths, till lost in the darkness of night he hopes to retrace his steps by the light of deceitful fires, that dance around his path. How much of human philosophy consists in wild conjectures about things which cannot be discovered! How are the mind's energies and the precious moments of a fleeting life, wasted in mere bewildering speculations!
The Saviour, if we will submit to his philosophy, subjects us to no such loss of time or efforts, but tells us at once, thus far shalt thou go, but no further-here let thy proud reasonings be stayed. "Who art thou, O vain man, that repliest against God?" of Christ with Nicodemus, may be said to have been altogether of a philosophical character. The topic was the very theme which now engages our attention, the great fact of the REGENERATION OF A SINNER, one of those striking phenomena, which the gospel reports, and which we observe occurring in the moral history of some that hear it. Nicodemus seems to have been of an inquisitive, and reflecting mind. He had not yielded to the prejudices of his sect and day, against Christ; but, having collected a number of facts which had occurred in His history, and having subjected them, and the evidence which substantiated them, to the strictest investigation, had arrived at the conclusion, that He was "a teacher come from God." The works performed by Him he saw to be of such an extraordinary character, as to be inexplicable on any of the known laws of nature, or on any other supposition than that of the divine presence and co-operation with Him. “Rabbi! we know that thou art a teacher come from God, for no