Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of GOD.
IN the prosecution of these words, we shall follow the order set down by the Holy Ghost: where is,
I. The necessity of it. II. The generality of it. III. The manner of it. IV. The issue of it.
First, the necessity of it; " Except a man be new born, he can never be saved." It is our Savior's speech, and he avers it with a double asseveration, " Verily, verily, I say unto thee." Again, GOD the Father thus counsels not only Nicodemus, but all the Jews of the old church, saying, " Make you a new heart and a new spirit, for why will you die, O house of Israel?" Ezek. 18:31. Notwithstanding all their privileges, yet here is one thing necessary, that must crown all the rest; they must have a new heart, and a new spirit, that is, they must be new born, or there is no way but death.
Nor is this doctrine without reason or ground. For, man is first unholy, and therefore most unfit to enter into heaven; " without holiness no man shall see GOD," Heb. 12: 14. And what is man before he is new born? If we look upon his soul, we may see it deformed with sin, defiled with lust, outraged with passions; and thus is that image of GOD transformed to the ugly shape of the devil. Should we take a more particular view, every faculty of the soul is full of iniquity; the understanding understands nothing of the things of GOD, 1 Cor. 2: 14; the will wills nothing that is good, Rom. 6:2O; the affections affect nothing of the Spirit, Gal. 5: 17. In a word, the understanding is darkened, the will enthralled, the affections disordered, the memory defiled, the con-science benumbed, all the inner man is full of sin, and here is no part that is good, no, not one. How needful now is a new birth to a man in this case? Can he enter into heaven, that savours all of earth? Will those precious gates of gold and pearls open to a sinner? No, he must be new moulded and sanctified.
Secondly, without this, man is GOD's enemy; no greater opposition than between GOD and a sinner; his name and nature is altogether opposite to sin and sinners. View we those attributes of GOD, his justice, truth, patience, holiness, anger, power; his justice in punish ing the impenitent according to his deserts, his truth effecting those plagues which he has spoken in his time, his patience forbearing sin's destruction, till they are grown full ripe, his holiness abhorring all impurities, his anger stirring up revenge against all offered injuries, his power mustering up his forces, yea, all his creatures against his enemies; and what can we say, but if all these attributes are at enmity with sinful man, woe to man because of offences? Better he had never been born, than not to be new born.
Thirdly, Except by a new birth, man is without CHRIST; for " if any man be in CHRIST, he is a new creature:" and if he be not in CHRIST, what hopes of that man? It is only CHRIST that opens heaven, it is only CHRIST that is the way to heaven; besides him there is no way, no truth, no life.
Fourthly, Except a man be born again, he is a very limb of SATAN, a child of darkness, and one of the family of hell. Consider this, ye that are out of the state of grace, in what miserable thraldom are your souls? Should any call you servants of SATAN, you would take it highly in disdain; but take it as you please, if you are not regenerate, you are in no better case. Paul appeals to your own knowledge, " Know you not, that to whom┬'soever you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are whom you obey?" Rom. 6: 16, 23. If then ye obey the devil's suggestions, what are you but the devil's servants? And if he be your master, what is your wages? " The wages of sin is death;" death of the body, and death of the soul: death here, and death hereafter in hell-fire. Alas, that SATAN should have this power on man! that he who is the enemy, and means nothing to a sinner but death and damnation, should be his lord, and tyrannize it over him at his own will and pleasure! Would any man be hired to serve lions and tigers? And is not the devil " a roaring lion, walking about, and seeking whom he may devour?" To serve him that would devour his servant, is a most miserable bondage; and what pay can one expect from devils, but roaring, and devouring, and tearing souls? So that whether we consider man in regard of himself, or of GOD, or of CHRIST, or of SATAN, he is (except he be new born,) unholy, GOD's enemy, out of CHRIST, in SATAN.
And if the new birth be thus necessary, how should we labor to be born again? Now then, as you tender your souls, and desire heaven at your ends, endeavor to attain this one thing necessary. Lift up your hearts unto GOD, that you may be washed, justified, sanctified, in the name of the Lord JESUS; and that by the Spirit of GOD you may walk in new ways, talk with new tongues, as being new creatures, created unto good works. If you would thus wait on GOD in his way, I trust the Lord in mercy would remember you, and his Spirit would blow upon you, and then you would find and feel such a change within you, as that you would bless GOD for ever, that you were thus born again.
Such is the necessity of being born again. And as to the generality of it, all men (or all mankind,) must be regenerated before they be saved; not one of all the sons of Adam shall ever go to heaven, except he be born again. Let your contemplations (guided by GOD's Word,) go into the paradise above. All the saints that now "walk in the light of it," were first purged by the Lamb, and sanctified by the Spirit; first they were rege nerated, and so they were saved.
And should we consider man in his parts, every part must bear a part in this birth; his body must be regene rated, his soul must be renewed. He must be moulded anew, and all the members of his body be conformed to the sovereignty and rule of grace; yea, his body pre-served blameless, holy, and acceptable unto GOD; made a member of CHRIST, the temple of the Holy Ghost: Happy man that is blessed with this body! Sure, a man thus born again, shall see the kingdom of GOD.
Secondly, as the body, so the soul of this man is to be renewed by grace; " Therefore glorify GOD in your body and your spirit," 1 Cor:6:2O. The body and the spirit must both glorify GOD; and as all the parts of the body, so all the powers of the soul. The understanding, that in the old man is blind and ignorant about heavenly things, or if it know many things, yet never can attain to saving knowledge, in the new man must be anointed with the eye-salve of the Spirit, inspired with the know-ledge of Divine truths, especially with those sacred and saving mysteries which concern the kingdom of GOD. Again, the will, that in the old man affects nothing but vile and vain things, is froward and perverse in the ways of GODliness; in the new man must prove what " is the good, and acceptable, and perfect will of GOD;" yea, it must attend and be subordinate to the grace of GOD, since GOD indeed, and GOD only, works in us both the will and the deed, Phil. 2: 13. Again, the memory, that in the old is slippery in the things of GOD, or if naturally good, yet not spiritually useful; in the new man must be sanctified to good performances; and although it cannot increase to a great natural perfection, (for grace does not this,) yet the perfections it has must be straight, and right, and guided GODward; " Remember the Lord thy GOD," says Moses, Deut. 8: 18. Again, the conscience, which in the old man sleeps and slumbers, or if it be awake, tears and roars, as if a legion of devils possessed it; in the new man must be calm and quiet; and yet not sleep or slumber, but rather, in a friendly loving manner, check and controul wheresoever sin is, yea, never be quiet, till with kind and yet earnest expostulations, it draw the sinner before GOD to confess his fault, and to seek pardon for it. Again, the affections that in the old man are sensual, inordinate, and set on wrong objects; in the new man must be turned another way. To sum up all, all must be renewed, the understanding, will, memory, conscience, affections.
First, I say, in the new man the understanding must be renewed; so the apostle, "The new man is renewed in knowledge," Col. 3: 1O; and this knowledge implies two habits, wisdom and prudence, Col. 1:9. First, Wisdom, that is speculative; Secondly, Prudence, and that is prac tical. By the one the child of GOD, having the eyes of his mind opened and enlightened, does see the mysteries of salvation, the secrets of the kingdom, the whole counsel, and the wonders of the law of GOD; by the other he is enabled, with a judicious sincerity, to determine in cases of conscience, in the practice of piety, and the experi mental passages of a Christian man. If we consider the first (wisdom) how is it possible that a man unregenerate should know the mysteries of salvation? He may go as far as the power of natural discourse and light of reason can bear sway, he may be furnished with store of rare and excellent learning, and yet for all this want the true spiritual wisdom. The man regenerated has the saving knowledge; he knows GOD with a steadfast apprehension, he knows himself a mean, base, and contemptible thing; his new birth has learned him how wicked a creature he naturally is, and therefore in that respect is he odious to himself, and loathsome in his own eyes: or if we con sider the second, (prudence.) How is it possible that a man unregenerate should experimentally know the prac tice of piety? Should we instance in this mystery of regeneration; here is a ruler of the Jews, and a teacher of Israel; yet as learned as he was, if he confer with CHRIST about the salvation of his soul, he is strangely childish, and a mere infant. Tell him of the new birth, and he thinks it as impossible as for an old man to return into his mother's womb, and be born. The natural man cannot discern the operations of grace, he knows not that dark passage, which leads from the state of nature, into the rich and glorious happiness of the kingdom of CHRIST. And hence it is that many a silly man or woman, whom the worldly-wise pass by with scorn, are in spiritual affairs more wise and learned than the most learned doctors.
Secondly, the will must be renewed; and this will of the regenerate contains two things, righteousness and readiness. It is first rectified, conformed to the will of GOD; secondly, it is so inflamed with the love of good ness, that he pursues it with alacrity of spirit. If we consider the first, (the rectitude of the will,) we see by experience the will of the unregenerate is all out of course, he wills nothing but that which is evil. How should he, considering his want of GOD's image, his blindness of heart, his proneness to evil, together with the vehemency of his affections, which draw the will after them? But in the man that is regenerate, the will being moved, it afterwards moves itself, GOD's grace, that concurs with it, quickens it, and revives it; so that now his will is nothing but GOD's will. Or if we consider the second, (the readiness of the will to good,) alas! the will of the unregenerate has no pleasure in goodness, he under-stands not the sweetness of it, and therefore nothing is more irksome to him than the ways of GODliness; whereas the will of the regenerate is willing, and this willingness indeed is the perfection of his will.
Thirdly, the memory must be renewed; and this memory reflects occasionally on a double object, oil GOD, and the things of GOD. First, on GOD, by remembrance of his presence every where. Secondly, on the things of GOD, by calling them to mind at useful times. If we consider the first object, GOD, the unregenerate has no mind on GOD, " GOD is not in all his thoughts," like the hood-winked fool, that seeing nobody, thinks nobody sees him; so has he said in his heart, " How Both GOD know? Can he judge through the dark cloud? Thick clouds are a covering to him that he seeth not, and he walks in the circuit of heaven." But contrariwise, the regenerate man remembers his Creator. And though GOD, as being a Spirit, is absent from his senses, yet by virtue of his sanctified memory, (that makes things absent as present,) his eye is on GOD, and he considers GOD as an eye-witness of all his thoughts, and words, and doings. Or, if we consider the second object, (the Word of GOD,) the unregenerate never burdens his memory with it; if sometimes he falls upon it, it is either by constraint, or by accident, never with any settled reso lution to follow it; but the soul that is regenerate, with Mary, ┬źkeeps all these things in his heart." Whatsoever lessons he learns, like so many jewels in a casket, he lays them up safe, and as need serveth, makes all the good use of them he may.
Fourthly, the conscience must be renewed, and that two ways, either by drawing the soul to good, or from evil: first, to good, by restraining and bridling. If we consider its first office, (in that it draws and leads the' soul to good,) the unregenerate. has not that conscience; for the most part his conscience lies dead in his bosom, or if it stir sometimes, he labors all he can to smother it. It is otherwise with the regenerate, his conscience excites him to good, and he does good out of conscience; he stands not upon terms of pleasure or profit, but his conscience being guided by the rule of GOD's holy truth, he submits to it merely out of his obedience to GOD. Hence it is that come what will, his eye is fixed on GOD; and if man oppose where GOD commands, he is quickly resolved. Or if we consider the second office of con science, (in drawing the soul from evil,) the unregenerate either hears not, or heeds not his reclaiming conscience. If it speak, he first goes about to lull it asleep again; or if it cry out, and will not be at peace, then (in spite of goodness,) he runs out of one sin into another, and usually from presumption to despair. On the other side, the regenerate has a conscience that draws him from, and keeps him out of evil. It is known especially by these two properties, remorse and tenderness. Remorse has an eye on all sins past, and tenderness has an eye on all sins to come. By remorse is bred sorrow for sin, and loathing of sin. No sooner he considers how, by his manifold sins, he has offended GOD,. crucified CHRIST, grieved the Holy Spirit, but his heart bleeds and breaks that he has done so wickedly against so gracious a GOD. This sorrow far sin brings with it a loathing of si.n;. he hates the very thought of it; every look back brings a new addition of detestation, and every meditation makes the wound of his remorse to bleed again. By tenderness of conscience is bred a care and watchfulness to avoid sin to come; fist. no sooner is sin presented to his eon-science, but he startles at its sight, and meditates on that strict account he must one day make for it; which thoughts and sin put together in the balance, he dares not do wickedly for a world of gain. And this tenderness, (or easiness to bleed at the apprehension of sin,) peculiar to that conscience that is enlightened, and sanc┬'tified, and purged by CHRIST.
Fifthly, the affections must be renewed, and that is done by setting them upon right objects. I shall instance in some of them, as love, hatred, hope, fear, joy, sorrow. Love I place first, which in the unregenerate man is fastened inordinately upon the creature; and as one sin begets another, so on whatsoever object it falls, it begets some sin: thus the love of riches breeds covetousness, love of beauty breeds sensuality: whatsoever he loves, (the object being earthly,) it brings with it some sin, and thereby (the worst of all,) he wickedly prefers earth to heaven, a dunghill to paradise. But the regenerate man fixes his love upon other objects; as he that is carnal minds things carnal, so he that is spiritual loves things spiritual; no sooner is he turned (by a sound and uni┬'versal change of the whole man,) " from darkness to light, and from the power of SATAN unto GOD," but he presently begins to settle with some sweet contentment, upon the flowers of paradise, saving graces, and his love runs higher and higher, till it embrace him that dwells iii the highest, GOD Almighty; and how sweet is that love that casts itself wholly into the bosom of its Maker
How blessed is that man that yearns, and melts, and cleaves, and sticks unto his gracious GOD above all?
The second affection is hatred, which in the unregene rate is so inordinate, that he is an hater of GOD, Rom. 1:3O; not that he hates GOD in himself, but in some particular respect, because he restrains him from his pleasure, or punisheth him for his sin, or crossed' his appetites by his holy commands. And as he hates GOD, so likewise his brother. Hence arise those envies, emu lations, jars, contentions, amongst those that profess themselves Christians; but of all brethren he hates them most, of whom our Savior is the first-born. GOD's faithful ones ever were and ever will be " signs, and wonders, and monsters unto many; a scorn, reproach, and derision to them that are round about them but he that is regenerate hates sin in whomsoever it rules, in others, and in himself, when after the commission of any evil he begins to repent, and " to abhor himself," as, Job did, " in dust and ashes," Job x1ii. 6.
The third affection is hope. Now this hope in the unregenerate is fastened on this world, and the things of this world; he hopes for preferment, riches, or the like; as for his hope of heaven, it is but a waking marl's dream; a dream, said I? Yes, as dreams in the night fill us with illusions (you know a beggar may dream he is a king,) so hope, abusing the imagination of the un regenerate, fills their souls many a time with vain or empty satisfactions; but the hope of the regenerate both enjoys the right object; and right, means; his eye is fixed on future good, and, he endeavors to pursue it, till he get the possession. If in the pursuit he meet with crosses, griefs, disgraces, sicknesses, or other calamities, his hope is able to sweeten the bitterest misery that can possibly befall him; the afflictions of this life bid him look for a better, a cross here minds him of the glory above.
The fourth affection is fear, which in the unregenerate is either worldly or servile. If it fasten on the world, then he fears the loss of his credit or of his profit, and because he and the world must part at last, he fears this separation above all fears; " O death, (says the wiser man,) how bitter is the remembrance of thee to a man that liveth at rest in his possessions, unto the man that has nothing to vex him, and that has prosperity in all things!" Or if his fear reflect on GOD, then it is a servile fear; for as the slave or hireling works not for love of his master, but only for fear of punishment; so he fears GOD through fear of punishment due unto him from GOD. It is otherwise with the man that is born again; his fear is either initial or filial. In pangs of the new birth, or in the new-born babe, it is called initial; because then he casts away sin both from a sense of GOD's love, to which he has partly attained, and of the woful effects of sin, which he has thoroughly considered; with the right eye hebeholds GOD, and with the left eye he beholds punish ment; so that this fear is a middle, (as it were,) between servile and filial fear; and as the needle draweth in the thread, so this fear draweth in charity, and makes way for filial fear; to which, if by growth in grace he be fully ripened, then he fears GOD out of love to GOD, and as the prophet Isaiah proclaimeth, "The fear of the Lord is his treasure," Isaiah xxxiii. 6. Never was treasure more dear to the worldlings, than is GOD's fear to him; his love of GOD, his desire to please GOD, and his fear of being separated from GOD, keep him in such awe, that though no punishment, no death, no hell were at all; yet he would not sin for a world of treasures.
The fifth affection is joy, which in the unregenerate is sensual and brutish; it has no better objects than gold, greatness, honors, or the like. And what are all these but a shadow, a ship, a bird, an arrow, a post that passes by? Or rather, " as crackling of thorns under a pot," as flashes of lightening before everlasting fire? But the joy of the regenerate is a spiritual joy, and the matter of it is the light of GOD's countenance, righteousness, or the promises of GOD's Word; or, above all, GOD Almighty, blessed evermore. Thus David, " Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire besides thee," Psalm lxxiii. 25. This is that joy which no man can conceive, but he that enjoys it; this is that white stone, Rev. 2: 17, whose splendor shines only upon heavenly hearts; this is that glimpse of heaven's glory, which springing up in a sanctified heart, out of the wells of salvation, and carried along with addition of fresh comforts (from the word and sacra┬'ments?) in a fruitful current through the course of man's life, at last falls into the boundless and bottomless ocean of the joys of heaven.
The sixth affection is borrow, which in the unregene rate is a worldly sorrow, And the effects of it are death; so the apostle, " the sorrow of the world workcth death," 2 Cor. 7: 1O. In this kind flow endless are the sorrows of men for the losses or crosses, that befall them? And howsoever some may endeavor to comfort themselves in CHRIST, nothing can relish with them that concerns heaven or salvation. But in the regenerate, the beholding of sin breeds sorrow, and this the apostle calls "Godly sorrow, working repentance to salvation, not to be repented of."
Examine then yourselves, you that desire heaven at your end. Would you inherit the kingdom a Would you live with angels? Would you save your souls? Examine and try whether your bodies and souls be sanc tified; and if you have no sense or feeling of the new birth, (for it is a mystery to the unregenerate) then never look to see (in that state) the kingdom of GOD; but if you perceive the working of saving grace effectually in you, (and you cannot but perceive it if you have it,) if you feel the power of GODliness first seizing the heart, and after dispersing itself over all the parts and powers of body and soul; if your hearts be softened by the Spirit, if your eyes wait upon GOD, if your ears listen to his Word, if your tongues show forth his praise, if your understandings attain to saving knowledge, if your wills conform to the will of GOD, if your memories be stored with heavenly doctrine, if your consciences be tender and sensible of the least sin, if you love that which is good, if you hate that which is evil,,if you hope for i:he blessings above, if you fear him that can destroy both body and soul; in a word, if you joy in goodness, if you sorrow for sin, then are you born again. Happy is the nian in this case that ever he was born; and thus every man must be, or he cannot be happy. " Except a man," (every man, every part of man,) " be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of GOD."
We come now to speak of the manner of it.
Except a man be regenerated, or begotten (says Yalla:) " As man that is born of a woman is begotten of a man, so he that is born again must have a begetting too." if you ask of whom is the new man begotten? t, James tells you, James 1: 18, " Of his own will begat he us with the Word of truth." The former words denote the impulsive cause, the latter the instrument; it was GOD that begat us, and with the seed of the Word. It was the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, but in respect of the last act, it is of the Holy Ghost, and not of the Father, or the Son; and thus our Savior concludes, John 3:6, S, " That which is born of the Spirit, is spirit," and " so is every man that is born of the Spirit." And, as GOD's Spirit is the principal, so GOD's Word is the instrumental cause of our regeneration, " Ye are born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of GOD, which liveth and abideth for ever," 1 Pet. 1:23. And this Word (says the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews) is " quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart," Hebn 4: 12. They that are born again, cannot but remember how quick and powerful, and sharp GOD's Word was at their regeneration. First, perhaps, like an hammer it heat on their hearts till it broke them all to pieces, and then like a sword, by a terrible cutting, piercing power, it struck a shaking and trembling into the very centre of their souls; last of all, like oil it began to supple their wounds, and to heal their bruises, and to refesh the weak and tender heart with all the promises of GOD revealed in CHRIST. And thus a man being begotten of the Spirit with the Word of truth, he comes at last to the birth; to be born again, to be born after the Spirit; and this is that second birth: a man is first born of the flesh, and he must be again born of the Spirit.
Hence appears the difference of the first and second birth, the first birth is of the earth, earthly; the second birth is of the Lord, from heaven; the first birth is of nature, full of sin; the second is of grace, full of sanctity; the first birth is originally of flesh and blood, the second birth is originally of the Spirit and water. In a word, the first birth kills, the second gives life: generation lost us, it must be regeneration that recovers us. O blessed birth, without which no birth is happy, in comparison of which (though it were to be born heir of the whole world) all is but misery!
As to the new birth itself, I know it is not wrought in all after one manner, nor is the manner known to us, only so far as it is sensible in us, and therefore we must consider man before baptism, in baptism, and after baptism. In some is the new birth wrought before baptism, as in the eunuch under Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, Acts 8:37; and in Cornelius, together with his kinsmen and near friends, Acts 10:47; and so our charity tells us, that every infant dying before baptism, is renewed by the Spirit. But the manner of this working we know not, for it is the secret of the Spirit of GOD. In others is the new birth wrought in baptism, which indeed is the sacra ment of the new birth and seal of regeneration; but howsoever we see the outward seal, yet we see not the manner of the inward working; for this also is the secret of the Spirit of GOD. In others is the new birth wrought after baptism; for whensoever men receive CHRIST by faith, then do they feel the power of GOD regenerate them, and work all things in them which he offered in baptism. Now the manner of this feeling (or of GOD's Spirit working) proceeds usually thus: there arc certain steps by which it passes; and howsoever in those whom GOD has blessed with great favor of a holy education, (the Spirit of GOD dropping grace into their hearts betimes,) these steps or degrees are not so easily perceived; yet in those men who have lived long in sin, no sooner come they to a new birth but they can feel grace work in them step after step, and these steps we shall reckon to the number of eight.
The first is a sight of sin, and this our Savior reckons the first work of the Spirit, " When he is come, he will reprove the world of sin," John 16: S. Of sin, how? Why thus: no sooner begins this blessed change from nature to grace, but the conscience (wrought upon by GOD's Word,) opens its book, and presents to the soul a roll of those many, mighty, heinous sins, committed against GOD and man. There he may read in bloody, burning lines, the abominations of his youth, the sins of all his life; and to bring them into method, the command ments of GOD stand as a romembrancer before his eyes. The first tells him of his loving somewhat above GOD; the second, of his worshipping a false GOD, or a true GOD after a false manner; the third, of his dishonoring the great and mighty name of GOD; the fourth, of his breaking the Lord's day, either in doing the works of the flesh, or leaving undone the works of the Spirit: nor is this all; as against GOD so against his neighbor has he sinned the fifth tells him of his stubbornness and disobedience the sixth of his passions and desires of revenge; the seventh, of his lewdness; the eighth, of his covetous thefts; the ninth, of his lies and slanders, back-bitings, and rash judgments; the tenth, of his covetous thoughts, and motions of the heart to all manner of evil. Good Lord! what a number of evils, yea, what innumerable swarms of lawless thoughts, and words, and actions, does he read in his conscience? But above all, his beloved sin is writ in greatest characters; this he finds to have bewitched him most, and to have domineered above all the rest in his wasted conscience; where, that he may read it, together with his other sins, the Spirit of GOD now opens the eyes of his mind, and lets him see the very mud and filth of his soul, that lay at ke bottom before unseen, and undiscerned. This is th nrst working of the new life, to wit, a feeling of the old death of his soul in sins and trespasses; and here the axiom is true, no generation without corruption; a man must first feel this death before he is born again.
The second step is, a sense of Divine wrath, which begets in him fear. No sooner has the man a sight And feeling of his sin, but then GOD's Spirit, (now called the Spirit of bondage) presents to him the armory of GOD's flaming wrath and fiery indignation; this makes him to feel (as if he were pricked with the stroke of an arrow, or point of a sword, or sting of an adder,) that he is a most accursed and damnable creature, justly deserving all the miseries of this life, and all the torments of hell in that life to come; yea, this makes him tremble, and stand, and look, as if he were thoroughly frighted with the angry countenance of GOD Almighty. Would you view him in this case? His conscience has now awaked him out of his dead sleep, by the trumpet of the law; his heart is now scorched with the secret sense of GOD's angry face; his soul is now full sorely crushed under the most grievous burthen of innumerable sins; his thoughts are now full of fear and astonishment, as if no less than very hell and horror were ready to seize upon his body and soul, I say not what measure of this wrath is poured on all men, for I suppose some feel more and some less; but I verily believe, some there are that (in these pangs o the new birth) have been scorched (as it were) with the very flames of hell. And no wonder, for this is the time of fear. Now it is that Satan strives busily to stifle the new man in the womb; and therefore he that before diminished his sins, and made them appear little in his eyes, when he once sees the man smitten down " into the place of dragons, and covered with the shadow of death," then he puts into his mind his innumerable sins, and (that which immediately follows) the curse of the law, and the wrath of GOD, which he yet makes more grisly and fierce, with a purpose to plunge him into the abyss of horror and despair. By this means he persuaded Cain to cry out, " My iniquity is greater than can be forgiven," Gen. 4: 13. Thus far the unregenerate goes with the man born again; both have a sight of sin, and sense of v Nth, but here they part; for the man unregenerate eithersinks under it, or labors to allay it with worldly comforts. But the man born again, seeks the right way to cure it, mid at last (by the help of GOD's Spirit) he passes quite through it; I mean through this hell upon earth into the spiritual pleasures of the kingdom of grace, which is to be born again.
The third step is sorrow for sin, and this is more peculiar to GOD's child; his heart grieves, his eye weeps; the way to GOD's kingdom is to cry like children coining into the world; the way to be new born is to feel throes (as a woman laboring of child) and so is CHRIST formed in us. Can a man be born again without bitterness of soul? No, if ever the come to a sight of sin, and that GOD's sanctifying Spirit work in him sorrow for sin, his soul will mourn. True it is, some infants are born with more pain, and some with less: but more or less, it cannot be so little, but the man who labors in these pangs shall mourn.
The fourth step is, seeking rightly for comfort. He runs not to the world, or flesh, or devil, miserable comforters all; but to the Scriptures, to prayer, or to the ministry of GOD's Word. If he find comfort in Scriptures, he meets with it in the gospel. And if it please GOD that the man, now laboring in his pangs of the new birth, do but rightly settle his thoughts on the gospel of CHRIST, no doubt but thence he may suck the sweetest comforts that ever were revealed to man. Or if he find comfort in prayer (to which he ever and anon repairs in every step,) then it is by CHRIST, in whose name he only approacheth to that throne of grace. No sooner had the king of Nineveh, *, himself, but his proclamation ran, " Let man ands, Jut be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto Go~'rWho can tell if GOD will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?" And thus the man now wrestling with grievous terrors of conscience, " Who can tell" (says he) " but GOD will turn away his fierce anger Let me then cry mightily unto the Lord of heaven; let me cry, and continue crying until the Lord of mercy look upon me. And if, notwithstanding all this, GOD give him a repulse, for reasons best known to himself; if at the first, second, third, fourth, or at many more times, he seem to have cried in vain, at last he flies to the ministry of the Word, and if he may have his will, he would hear the most soul-searching man amongst GOD's messengers. At last he comes to GOD's minister, with a " What shall I do; what must I do to be saved?" Alas! Now I feel the wounded conscience, the broken heart, the spiritual blindness, the captivity and poverty, of which often you have told me. If then there be any instruction, direction, or duty which may tend to my good, now direct me in GOD's fear, and I will willingly follow it with my utmost endeavors.
And now, (and not till now,) has GOD's minister a strong and seasonable call to magnify the sufficiency of CHRIST's death and passion. Were the blood of CHRIST, and promise of salvation proffered to an unwounded conscience, what were it, but like the pouring of a most sovereign balsam upon a sound member of a man? It is the only, right, everlasting method, first to wound by the law, and then to heal by the gospel; first to cause smart for sin, and then to lay to a plaister of CHRIST's blood; and therefore, when the heart is broken, then has the man of GOD his warrant to bind it up again, then may he magnify GOD's mercy, then may he set out to the height the beauty of CHRIST's passion and person, and thus by his high and holy art of comforting the afflicted, at last the child of GOD (prepared for his birth) is born again.
The fifth step is a clear, (I say not a general sight, which he had before, but) a clear sight of Christ laid open to the eye of faith. No sooner is the,r wounded soul informed thorougly in the mystery and mercy of the gospel, but he then looks on his Savior as the Jews on the brazen serpent, and seeing him lifted upon the cross, he cannot but see in him an infinite treasury of mercy and love, a boundless and bottomless sea of tender-hearted less and pity, a whole heaven of sweetness, happiness, peace, and pleasures. After the spirit of bondage, enters the spirit of adoption; the terrors of the law lead him to the comforts of the gospel; his sorrow for sin brings him to the clear light of his Savior; and then as a man in death pangs, that lifts up his eyes to heaven, whence cometh his help, so he in birth-pangs lifts up his eyes to CHRIST, who must either help him, or he sinks under his sin to the bottom of hell. And this sight of CHRIST JESUS to an humbled sinner, (together with those glorious privileges which he brings with him,) is a most pleasant, ravishing, heavenly sight. Not all the curious sights on earth, nor all those glittering spangles in heaven, can possibly afford snclrp4easure to the eye of man, as (does this one object (CHRIST bleeding on the cross) to the soul of a sinner. Imagine you saw some malefactor led to the place of execution; if this man should suddenly see his king running towards him with his pardon in his hand, what a sight would this be! Thus it is with the mall sorrowing for sin; whilst he is bewailing his case, and confessing what a little step there is between him and damnation, in a maze he looks upon CHRIST, whom he sees with a spear in his side, with thorns on his head, with nails in his feet, with a pardon in his hands, offering it to all men that will but receive it by faith. Oh! here is a sight indeed, able' to revive the wickedest man upon earth, dead in sins and trespasses. And now there is hope of the birth. We
may call this the stirrings of GOD's child, or the first feelings of life, before he is born again.
The sixth step is, an hungering desire after CHRIST and his merits. O here is a thirst above all thirsts! It breed: ardent desires, vehement longings, unutterable groans, mighty gaspings, just like the dry and thirsty ground, that gasps and cleaves, and opens for drops of rain. This is that violent affection that GOD puts into the hearts of those who seek him in sincerity and truth. Never was Ahab more sick for a vineyard, nor Sisera for milk, nor Sampson for water, than is a truly humbled soul after CHRIST; ever thirsting and longing, that he may hide himself in that blood which his Savior shed for him. I have read of a gracious woman, who laboring in these pangs, and longing after CHRIST JESUS, cried out, " I have borne nine children with as great pain as other women, and yet I would with all my heart bear them all over again, yea, bear them all the days of my life, to be assured of my part in CHRIST JESUS." One replying, Does not your heart desire and long after him? " Oh" (said she) " 1 have an husband and children, and many other comforts, I would give them all, and all the good I shall ever see ill this world, or in the world to come, to have my poor thirsty soul refreshed with that precious blood of my Savior." So eager and earnest is the heart of each man (parched with the angry countenance of GOD) after this blood of his; " I thirst, I faint, I languish, I long," (says he) " for one drop of mercy; my spirit is melted in me into tears of blood; my heart, because of sin, is so shaken and shivered; my soul, because of sorrow, is so wasted and parched, that my thirst is insatiable, my bowels are hot within me after CHRIST." Stay! All these expressions are far short of those longings; no man knows them, save he that receives them, save he that is born again.
The seventh step is, a relying on CHRIST. A man no sooner considers those invitations of our Lord and Savior: " If any man thirst, let him come unto me: ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters: come unto me all ye that are weary and heavy-laden;" but, (resting himself on these blessed promises) he throws himself into the merciful arms of his crucified Lord. Come life, come death, come heaven, come hell, come what will, here will he stick for ever: " Who," (says Paul) shall separate us from the love of CHRIST? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?" No, " I am persuaded" (not these, nor more than these) " neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor heighth, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of GOD, which is in CHRIST JESUS our Lord," Rom. 8:35, 3S, 39. Thus it is with the man laboring in this birth; What? (says he) does CHRIST call the heavy-laden? " Why, Lord, 1 am heavy-laden with a weight, a mass of in; and if he may come that is called, Lord, I come, I come, and now I come, with thee will I build my folio' - nacre, with thee will I rest for ever." This affiance, dependence, reliance, (or whatever else we call it) upon the merits of CHRIST, is the right justifying faith, whither if a man once come, there is but one degree more, and he is then born again.
The last and highest step is, universal obedience to CHRIST. No sooner Math he cast himself upon him, but he takes him (not only as a Savior to redeem him from the miseries of sin, but) as an husband, a lord, a king, whom he will serve, love, honor, and obey: now will he take his yoke upon him; now will he bear his cross, and follow hint; now will he walk in the holy path; now will the associate himself to that sect that is every where spoken against; now will he oppose himself against all sin what soever; now will he shake off his old companions, brethren in iniquity; now will he keep peace and a good conscience towards GOD and man, now will he watch against secret; sins, occasions of evil; now will he direct his words to the glorifying of Got, and to give grace to the hearers; now will he conform all his actions to the sovereignty of grace; now will he delight in the Word, the ways, the saints, the services of GOD; will sell all, all that he has, even all his sins, to the last filthy rag of his beloved bosom-sins And now " Old things are passed away, behold all things are become new," 2 Con 5: 17. His heart, his eye, his car, his tongue, his understanding, his will, his memory, his con-science, his love, his hatred, his hope, his fear, his joy, his sorrow; will you have any more? His thoughts, his words, his actions, his affections, are all new; this con-version is universal. This change is a thorough change; now is CHRIST formed in him, now is he transformed into a new creature, he is made new; GOD the Father accepts him for his Son, GOD the Son stamps upon him the image of his Father, but more immediately GOD the Holy Ghost has thus moulded and fashioned him, as I have let you see him, and now he is born again, which except a man be,'Ç'he (shall not) " cannot see the kingdom of GOD."
Lo here those steps that raise up a man to the state of regeneration, a sight of sin, sense of misery, sorrow for sin, seeking for comfort, a sight of CHRIST, desire after CHRIST, relying on CHRIST, obedience to CHRIST. One word more before we have done.
You see how GOD brings along the man whom he purposeth to make his; and yet let no truly humbled sinner be discouraged if he observe not so distinctly the order of these steps, and especially in that degree as we have related; for if in substance and effect they have been wrought, if he have them in truth, (though perhaps not in this degree,) I dare pronounce that he is surely born again. It is one of our worthies has said, " In our humiliations, and other preparative dispositions, we do not prescribe precisely just such a measure and quantity; we do not determine peremptorily upon such or such a degree and height, we leave that to the wisdom of our great Master in heaven. But sure we are, a man must have so much, and in that measure, as thoroughly to humble him, and then to bring him to his Savior; he must be weary of all his sins, and of SATAN's bondage wholly, willing to pluck out his right eye, and cut off his right hand; I mean, to part with his beloved, bosom-lusts, to sell all, and not to leave so much as an hoof behind; he must see his danger, and so haste to the city of refuge; he must be sensible of his spiritual misery, that he may heartily thirst for mercy he must find himself lost, that CHRIST may be all in all unto him; and after must follow an hatred of all false and evil. ways for the time to come, a thorough change of former courses, company, conver sation, and setting himself in the practice of sobriety, honesty, and holiness." And another observes, "That the discovery of the remedy, as soon as the misery, must needs prevent a great part of the trouble, and make the distinct effects on the soul to be with much more difficultydiscerned. Nay, the actings of the soul are so quick, and oft so confused, that the distinct orders of these workings may not be apprehended, or remembered. And perhaps the joyful apprehension of mercy may make the sense of misery sooner forgotten." The sum is, of every soul is required thus much: first, a truly penitent sight, sense, and hatred of all sin. Secondly, a sincere and insatiable thirst after JESUS CHRIST and his righteousness, both imputed and inherent. Thirdly, an unfeigned and unre served resolution of an universal new obedience for the time to come. If any man has had the experience of these affections and effects in his own soul, whatsoever the order, or whatsoever the measure be, he may go on comfortably in the holy faith.
Now, then, let me advise thee, (whosoever you art that readest,) to enter into thine own soul, and examine thine own state, whether or not you art yet born again. Search and see, whether as yet the spirit of bondage has wrought its effects in thee; whether you have been enlightened, convinced, and terrified with a sensible apprehension, and particular acknowledgment of thy wretched estate. Search and see, whether as yet the spirit of adoption has sealed thee for his own; whether, (after thy heart was broken, thy spirit bruised, thy soul humbled, thy con-science wounded and awakened,) you have had a sight of CHRIST, and has thirsted after him, and has followed his ways and commandments by an universal obedience. If upon search you can say (without self-deceit) that so it is with thee, then may you bless GOD that ever you wast born; certainly, (I dare say it,) you art born again. But if not, if all I have spoken are very mysteries to t,eee, what shall I say? If ever you meanest to see the kingdom of GOD, strive, endeavor with all thy might to become truly regenerate. You may say, perhaps, it is not in thy power; who can command the Spirit of the Lord, that " bloweth where he listeth?" I answer, it is indeed the Spirit, and not man, that regenerates or sanctifies. But I answer withal, the doctrine of the gospel is the ministration of the Spirit, and wheresoever that is preached (as I preach it now to thee,) there is the Holy Ghost present, and thither he comes to regenerate. If then as yet you feelest not this mighty work of GOD in thee, and yet fain wouldst feel it; I shall lend thee two wings to bear thee, two hands to lead thee to the foot of the ladder, where if you ascend these steps aforesaid, I dare certainly pronounce of thee, you art born again.
The first wing is prayer, which first brings thee to GOD's throne, and then to the new birth; Hos. 14:2, "Take with you words, and turn to the Lord: say unto him, take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously:"--and then it follows, " I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely." The soul may object, " I may say thus, and be no better:" but I answer, Say it though you be no better, because GOD bids thee say it. Say it, and say it again; it maybe he will come in when you sayest it. The soul may object again, How can I pray and have not faith? I answer, Put thyself upon prayer, and who knows but blessing and faith may come? It is the Lord that con verts, and heals, and saves; and prayer is the means to produce this effect in thee. When we are required to pray, to repent and believe, we are not to seek strength in our-selves, but to search into the covenant, and turn the promise into prayer. Therefore bow thy knees, and humbly, heartily, frequently, fervently implore the in fluence of GOD's blessed Spirit. Wouldst you ask, and continue asking, wouldst you cry, and continue crying, then could I assure thee of the fulfilment of the promise which GOD has made, and cannot deny, " He that asks receiveth;" and, " he that seeketh finds, and to him that knocketh," (by continuance and perseverance,) " it shall be opened," Matt. 7:8.
The second wing that bears thee to these steps of the the new birth, is, constant hearing of the Word: you must attend the gates of wisdom, and wait on her posts. You must come to GOD's house, and hearken to the ministry of the Word. And you shall see, at one time orother, GOD will remember thee in mercy. It is true, I know not when; and therefore I wish thee miss no day to repair to GOD's house, lest the day of thy neglect might have been the clay of thy conversion. Certain it is, no man should expect GOD's blessing without his ordinances, no eating of bread without ploughing and sowing; no recovering of health without eating and drinking; so no blessing, no grace, no regeneration, without waiting upon GOD in his ways, and in his ordinances. Now, then, as you desirest heaven or (the way to heaven) to be born again, I beseech thee make high account of this ordinance of GOD. In preaching of the gospel, light, motion, and power go out to all, which men resist. And some are destroyed, not because they can not believe, but because they resist, and will not obey, and so die, Acts 7:51, Luke 13:34, Ezek. xxxiii. 11, Hos. 13:9; and yet I wish thee not only to hear it, but after you have heard consider of it, ponder on it; and lay the threats and reproofs, the precepts and promises, unto thine own soul. Thus if you Nearest and meditatest, I doubt not but GOD's Word will be a Word of power to thee, and (together with prayer) bring thee towards the new birth, whither except a man come, " he cannot see the kingdom of GOD." To see, is all one as to enjoy. Yet a man may see that which he does not enjoy. But without regeneration there is no sight, much less possession of the kingdom of GOD.
If by the kingdom of GOD is meant the kingdom of grace, (whereof our Savior speaketh, ",the kingdom of GOD is within you," Luke 17:21.) See to what a privilege the new man has attained; all the graces of GOD, all the fruits of the Spirit are now poured into him. If you ask, What graces? What fruits?. Paul tells you, Gal. 5:22, " Love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance;" or would you have us to contract them? Paul does it elsewhere, " The kingdom of GOD is; righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost," Rom. 14: 17.
First, righteousness. No sooner is a man born again, than he enters into the holy path, he declines all evil, and stands at the sword's point with his beloved sin; or if ever any sin (through the violence of temptation) seize on him again, he is presently put again into the pangs of the new birth, and so renewing his sorrow, and repairing repentance, he becomes more resolute and watchful over all his ways. And as he abhors evil, so he cleaves to that which is good; his faith like the sun, sets all those heavenly stars on shining, hope, and love, and zeal, and humility, and patience; in a word, universal obedience, and fruit-fulness in all good works. Not one, but all good duties of the first and second table, begin to be natural and familiar to him.
Secondly, no sooner is a man righteous than he is at peace with man, at peace with GOD, at peace with himself. He is at peace with man; " The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard with the kid," says the prophet Isaiah, chap. 11:6. The meaning is, that in the kingdom of CHRIST, when a man is called into the state of grace, (however by nature he was a wolf, or a leopard, or a lion, or a bear, yet) he shall then lay aside his cruelty, and live peaceably with all men. He is at peace with GOD, he has humbled himself and confessed his fault, and cried for mercy, and cast himself upon CHRIST; so that now GOD, by his Word, has spoken peace to his soul; by the medi ation of CHRIST it is obtained, and by the testimony of the Spirit he feels it within him. This is that " peace which passes all understanding;" it made the angels sing " peace upon earth;" it makes his soul reply, " My peace is in heaven." He is at peace with himself, I mean his own conscience; that which before stirred up the fire, that brought him to a sight of sin, and sense of Divine wrath, that filled him with fearful terrors, remorse, and sorrow, is now quiet. Solomon calls it a continual feast, Prov. 15: 15. Who are the attendants, but the holy angels? What is the cheer, but joy in the Holy Ghost? Who is the feast-maker, but GOD himself, and his good Spirit dwelling in him? Nor is this feast without music; GOD's Word and his actions make a blessed harmony, and he endeavors to continue it by keeping peace, and a good conscience towards GOD and man.
Thirdly, from this peace issueth " joy in the Holy Ghost." No sooner is a man at peace with man, with GOD, with himself, but he is filled with joy that no man can take from him; this joy I take to be those blessed stirrings of the heart, when the seal of remission of sins is first set unto the soul by the Spirit of adoption. For thus it is, the soul having newly passed the pangs of the new birth, it is presently hased in the blood of CHRIST, lulled in the bosom of GOD's mercies, assured by the Spirit of its inheritance, and so ordinarily follows a sea of comfort, a sensible taste of everlasting pleasures.
If by the kingdom of GOD is meant the kingdom of glory, see then what a privilege waits on the new man. No sooner shall his breath and body be divorced, but his soul, mounted on the wings of angels, shall straight be carried above the starry firmament, there to inherit the kingdom of GOD, truly called so, for it is a kingdom of GOD's own making, beautifying, and blessing; a kingdom beseeming the glorious residence of the King of Kings. But here my discourse must give way to your meditations. In this fountain of pleasure, let the new-born Christian hase his soul; for his it is, and he it is only that shall see it, enjoy it; " Except a man be horn again," no man shall ever " see the kingdom of GOD."
Thus far of the privileges of the new birth. There waits on it faith, and righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost; in a word, the kingdom of grace, and the kingdom of glory.