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The former of them is indeed the foundation of the rest ; because as religion is a reasonable service, all the change which is made in the affections and resolutions, in the pursuits, enjoyments, and hopes of a good man, arises from that different view, in which he is now taught to look on those objects, the nature of which is to direct his choice, to determine his conduct, and regulate his passions: It will therefore be the business of this evening's discourse to shew you,
I. That wherever there is a real principle of regeneration, there will be new apprehensions of things.
When God created the natural world, he said, in the very beginning of this work, Let there be light, and there was light*: And thus he deals in this new creation, which raises the soul from a chaos, to such a beautiful, well-ordered, and wellfurnished frame. God, says the apostle, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, has shined into our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ; whereas before The understanding was darkened, being alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance that was in them, because of the blindness or perverseness of their hearts‡.
Now this illumination, of which I am speaking, does not so much refer to a speculative, as to a practical and heartimpressing knowledge. It is true, that when a man once comes to be in good earnest in religion, he generally arrives at a clearer and fuller knowledge even of the doctrines of christianity, than he had before: For he then sets himself to enquire with greater diligence, and to seek light of the great Father of lights. with greater earnestness; he gets clear of many evil affections, that put a corrupt bias upon his judgment; and he comes within the reach of those promises, Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lords; and If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God. Yet I think, I may very properly say, that at various times, when our judgment of any object is the same, our apprehensions of it are very differIt is one thing, for instance, to believe that God is the omnipotent, all-wise, and all-gracious Governor of the World; and another, and very different thing, to have the heart powerfully impressed with an apprehension of his ability and readi
Gen. i. 3.
$ Hos. vi. 3.
+ 2 Cor. iv. 6.
Ephes. iv. 18.
ness to help us. I will therefore a little more particularly illustrate those respects, in which the apprehensions of such as are really regenerate, differ from those which they formerly had: And I hope you will do yourselves the justice to reflect, as we go along, how far you have ever felt these apprehensions which you hear me describe; and I have a pleasing persuasion, that many of you have felt them, in a much livelier manner than they can be described. I would observe then to you, that a regenerate soul has new apprehensions of God-of itself,of Christ,-of eternity, and of the way and method that God has marked out for its being happy there."
1. A regenerate soul has new apprehensions" of the blessed God."
There are very few, who pretend so much as to doubt of the being of a God; and fewer yet, that will venture to deny it: and even among those, who have denied it, and disputed against it, some, by their own confession, have felt their hearts give them the lie, and upbraid them for using the powers of reason and speech, against the giver and preserver of both. I persuade myself at least, there are none that hear me this day, who would not look upon a professed atheist as a monster, unworthy to be a member of human society, and little to be trusted in any of its relations. Yet after all, while the being of the blessed God is warmly asserted, his nature is so little understood and considered, that there are thousands who may still properly be said, to be Without God in the world, or in practice and temper, though not in notion, to be atheists in it. Wicked men therefore in general are described, as those That know not Godt: But where God has determined to glorify his mercy in the salvation of a sinner, he Shines into the heart for this blessed purpose, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God. And thus the glories of the Divine Being are known to the regenerate soul in such a manner, as they are not to the most acute metaphysician, or the sublimest philosopher, who is himself a stranger to the spiritual life.
The person of whom we now speak, has new apprehensions" of the spirituality and omnipresence of God,-of his majesty and purity,-of his power and patience,-of his goodness, and his intimate access to men's spirits, with the reality and importance of his operations upon them.”—Permit me a little to represent the views of each, both to direct your
indeed to a state of brutality. Most deplorable it is, to see the power and energy of those motives, which are taken merely from this earth, and its little concernments; so that if a man did but know what was the favourite vanity, he might almost predict, from the knowledge of circumstances, how a man's actions would be ordered; and might almost be sure, that he would follow, whithersoever this interest, or that pleasure, this ambitious, or that mercenary view called him; though all the prospects for an eternal world pleaded the contrary way. Such is the folly and Madness that is in men's hearts while they live; and after that, they go down to the dead*, and spend that immortal duration, which they have despised, in fruitless lamentations. Fatal delusion! which it is the great design of the gospel to cure.
But when a soul becomes wise to salvation, it is taught to Look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; because it has now a full sense of what before it only notionally confessed, that the things which are seen, are temporal; but the things which are not seen, are eternal†.——— Eternity! it is impossible I should tell you, how much an eye that is enlightened by God, sees, and reads, as it were in that one word; while one scene beyond another is still opening on the mind, till its sight, and its thoughts are swallowed up: And as the creatures are as nothing with respect to God, so all the interests of time, with respect to eternity, appear as Less than nothing, and vanity. To be made for an everlasting existence appears in so awful a view, that while it has some pleasing hope, it rejoices with trembling; and every remaining fear, with relation to this great interest, seems a greater evil, than the certainty of any temporal calamity.
I might add upon this head, that the regenerate soul has not only new views of the importance, but likewise of the nature of the invisible and eternal state; and particularly of the nature of the celestial happiness. It does not consider it merely, or chiefly, as a state of corporeal enjoyment, formed to gratify and delight the senses; but as a state of perfect conformity to God, and most endearing intercourse with him; of which as it begins already by divine grace to taste the pleasures, so it most ardently thirsts after them; and would be heartily willing to lose this body for ever, and to bid an eternal adieu to every object capable of giving it delight; rather than it would consent to lose,
Eccles. ix. 3.
+2 Cor. iv. 18.
Isa. xl. 17.
in a perpetual succession of such objects, the sight of the Father of Spirits, and that sensibility of his love, which adds the most substantial solidity, and exalted relish to every inferior good, that can be desired from it.
5. A regenerate man has also new apprehensions "of the way which God has marked out to this happiness."
Nothing is more common, than for carnal and ignorant men to imagine, that it is a very easy thing to get to heaven; and upon this presumption, they Hew out to themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water*; and often live and die with a Lye in their right hand+. But the renewed soul, having such awful notions of the blessed God, and such apprehensions of the excellency and glory of the heavenly state, as you have heard, deeply feels how absolutely necessary it is, that something of a very great and important change should pass in the mind of that sinful creature, that ever hopes to be a partaker of it. He sees, that it is impossible, any external profession, or external rite, should secure so great an end; impossible, that baptism should be regeneration, in that sense in which the scripture uses the word, or that by this alone, though ever so regularly administered, a man's eternal happiness should be secured. He sees, that to be associated to this or that party of christians, to join with established, or with separate churches, and to be ever so zealous for their respective order, worship, and discipline, is a thing quite of foreign consideration here; and that the best, or the worst of men, may be, and probably are, on one side, and on another; nay, that ignorance, pride, and bigotry may take occasion from hence, to render men farther from the kingdom of God, than any mistake in judgment, or practice, on these disputed points, could have set them.
No, my brethren, when a man's eyes are enlightened by God's renewing Spirit, he sees and feels, that in the language of scripture, he must be Created anew in Christ Jesus: He sees, that Holiness is a character without which no man shall see the Lords; and he is perhaps little anxious, whether this, or the faith that produces it, shall be called a condition, or a qualification, or an instrument, while he sees he must perish without it: He sees, that as it is absolutely necessary, so it is very extensive, as the Commandment which is its rule is exceeding broad: He sees, that it must not only effectually regulate the actions of his life, but controul all the sentiments of his heart: Nay, he sees,
it must not only be submitted to as a necessary, but be chosen as a most amiable thing: And accordingly, he does chuse it as such.--The unregenerate soul, when he hears of repentance and reformation, though he understands not half that it means, nor is aware of what will in fact be the greatest difficulty of it, looks upon it at best as a nauseous medicine, which he must take, or die: But the regenerate man finds his heart so wonderfully and so happily changed, that he regards it for itself, as the food, the health, and the life of his soul; as that which necessarily brings its own pleasures, and in a considerable degree its own reward along with it; so that now, as David beautifully expresses it, He openeth his mouth, and panteth; because he longs for God's commandments*.
And I will add once more, The good man is also made sensible of the place which faith and holiness hold, in the scheme which God has laid, for our justification before him, and our acceptance with him. I do not say, that all christians conceive of this with equal perspicuity, or express their conceptions with equal exactness: The most candid allowance should here be made for the different ideas they fix to the same phrases, as they have been used to look upon them with veneration, or with suspicion. But this I will venture to say, because I am persuaded the scripture will bear me out in it, "that the confidence of a regenerate soul is not fixed on his own holiness, or faith, as the meritorious cause of his acceptance with God." He is deeply and cordially sensible, that he is made Accepted in the beloved+; and seeing nothing but guilt, and weakness, and ruin in himself, he ascribes to the blessed Jesus, and to the riches of God's free grace in him, his righteousness, his strength, and his salvation. And where a man is thus persuaded, I think he must in effect believe, even though he might scruple in words expressly to own it," that Christ, as our great surety, having perfectly obeyed the law of God himself, and by his blood having fully satisfied the divine justice for the breach of it, we, on our believing in him by a vital faith, are justified before God by the imputation of his perfect righteousness." This latter way of stating it, when rightly explained, appears just equivalent to the former; and it is a manner of conceiving and expressing it, which, when rightly understood, seems extremely suitable to that deep humility, and poverty of spirit, to which the renewed soul is brought, when, like a New-born babe, it desires the sincere milk of the word, that it may grow thereby. But as
* Ver. 131.
† Eph. i. 6.
1 Pet. ii. 2.