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This change gives a man the very temper of heaven, and prepares him for the enjoyments and employments of that sacred region.
Therefore, marvel not that I say unto you, ye must be born again. Do not gaze and wonder at me, as if I told you some strange, new, absurd thing, when I tell you, you must be regenerated in the manner I have explained, if ever you would enter into the kingdom of heaven. Consult your own reason and experience, and they will tell you, that as heaven is the region of perfect holiness, and as you are indisputably corrupted, depraved creatures, you must be so changed, as to be made holy; or, in other words, you must be born again, before you can enjoy the happiness of that holy place; or consult the Bible, which you must own to be true, or own yourselves to be the most gross hypocrites in professing the Christian religion; consult your Bible, I say, and you will find the absolute necessity of being born again asserted in the strongest terms. Need I remind you of the solemn asseveration of Christ in my context, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of heaven!" The same blessed lips have assured us, that, Except we be converted, and become as little children, we cannot enter into his kingdom." Matt. xviii. 2. St. Paul speaks in the same strain: If any man be in Christ, as we all must be before we can be saved by him, he is a new creature, &c. We are his workmanship, says he, created in Christ Jesus to good works. Eph. ii. 10. "In Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature." All external forms of religion, whether Jewish or Christian, are of no avail, without this new creation. Gal. vi. 15. This is also more than intimated in that comprehensive promise of the Old Testament. Ezek. xxxvi. 25, 26. "A new heart will I
give you; and a new spirit will I put within you." &c. And are not these repeated declarations sufficient to convince you of the necessity of this great change? Will you any more marvel, when you are told, you must be born again? No; rather marvel to hear the contrary: it may make you wonder indeed, to be told, that an unholy sinner, without any change, is fit for the presence of a holy God, fit to relish the holy enjoyments of heaven: and capable of being happy in what is directly contrary to his nature. This would be strange, absurd doctrine indeed! and wherever you hear it, you may justly wonder at it, and despise such nonsense.
Now if this be true, that "Except a man be born again, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God," then it will follow, that just as many persons in this assembly as have been born again, just so many are in a state of favour with God, and prepared for the happiness of heaven. And, on the other hand, just as many as are unregenerate, just so many lie dead in sin, under the wrath of God, and liable to everlasting misery. Let each of you particularly admit this conviction: "If I am not born again, I have not the least ground to hope for happiness in my present state."
Upon this follows another inquiry, of the utmost importance; and that is, Whether you have ever experienced the blessed change of the new birth? Have your views, your dispositions, and your conduct been changed in the manner described? and can you lay claim to those distinguishing characters of a regenerate soul, which have been mentioned? Pause, and think seriously; recollect your past experiences; look into your own hearts; observe the tenor of your practice; and from the whole, endeavour to gather an honest answer to this grand question, "Have I ever been born again?"
If you can answer this in your favour, St. Peter will tell you the happy consequence; and I shall only desire you to read those most comfortable verses, 1 Pet. i. 3-6: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy, hath begotten us again to a lively hope-to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time. Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season (if need be) ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations."
But if, on the other hand, you find you have never been born again, what is to be done? Must you lie still in that condition? or should you try to get out of it? I am sure my design in endeavouring to let you see your condition, is, that you may escape out of it and be happy; and if you are so kind to yourselves as to concur with me in this design, I hope, through divine grace, we shall succeed. This introduces the next inquiry, namely,
II. Who is the author of this divine change, called the new birth?
The change is so great, so noble, and divine, that from thence alone we may infer it can be produced only by divine power. And the nature of man, in its present state, is so corrupt and weak, that it is neither inclined nor able to produce it. It is also uniformly ascribed to God in the sacred writings. The regenerate soul is repeatedly said to be born of God; "born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." John i. 13. All things are become new, says St. Paul, and all things (that is, all these new things) are of God. 2 Cor. v. 17, 18. Every good gift, and every perfect gift, says St. James, is from above, and cometh down
from the Father of lights-of his own will begat he us with the word of truth. James i. 17, 18. The Spirit is repeatedly mentioned as the author of the new birth, in the chapter where my text lies. This may suffice for the truth of so plain a point.
Here then, sinners, you see to whom you must look for this blessing. You can no more regenerate yourselves than you could beget yourselves at first. And this you must be deeply sensible of. But he that made you at first is able to new-make you, and to repair his own workmanship, which you have demolished. And it is he who has actually changed many a heart in our guilty world. Here the next inquiry comes in very seasonably, namely,
III. In what way does this divine agent produce this change?
He is pleased to use such a variety, as to circumstances, that I cannot take time to describe them. But as to the substance of the work, which is the same in all adults, he generally carries it on in the following manner. The first step is, to convince the sinner of his need of this change, by discovering to him his guilt and danger, and particularly the universal corruption of his nature. He is roused out of a state of stupid security by an affecting view of the holiness of God, of the purity of his law, of the terror of its penalty, of the great evil of sin, and of his own exposedness to the divine displeasure upon the account of it. Upon this he becomes sad and serious, uneasy in his mind, and anxious about his condition. He endeavours to reform his life; he prays, and uses the other means of grace with earnestness unknown before. And when he has gone on in this course for some time, he begins perhaps to flatter himself, that now he is in a safe condition. But alas! he does not yet know the worst of himself.
Therefore the Holy Spirit opens his eyes to see the inward universal corruption of his whole soul, and that a mere outward reformation is far from being a sufficient cure of a disease so inveterate. Hereupon the awakened sinner betakes himself to the use of the means of grace with redoubled vigour and earnestness, and strives to change the principles of action within. But alas! he finds his heart is a stubborn thing, and altogether unmanageable to him; and after repeated strivings to no purpose, he is effectually convinced of his own inability, and the absolute necessity of the exertion of divine power to make him truly good. Therefore he lies at the throne of grace, as a poor, anxious, helpless sinner, entirely at mercy, and unable to relieve himself. It would take up more time than I can allow, to describe the various exercises, the anxious fears, and eager pantings, the strong cries and tears of a soul in this condition. What I have hinted may put such of you in mind of them, as have never been the subjects of them. While the sinner lies in this desponding situation, it pleases God to pity him. Now the important hour is come, when the old man must be crucified; when the divine and immortal principles must be implanted in a heart full of sin; and when the dead sinner must begin to live a holy and divine life. The great God instantaneously changes the whole soul, and gives it a new, a heavenly turn. In short, now is wrought that important change, which I have already described, which is called the new birth, and denominates the man a new creature.
Here again you may furnish yourselves with materials for self-examination. If you have been born again, you have thus felt the pangs of a new birth, and seen your guilty, sinful, and dangerous condition in a true light. And can you put your hand upon your heart, and say,