In the words preceding these, we are told in what way persons become the sons of God, viz., by receiving Christ, or believing on his name. It is by virtue of their union of heart to Christ the eternal Son of God, which consists in cleaving to him and trusting in him, in the character of Mediator between God and man, that they are received into the relation of sons, and made heirs of God, and joint heirs with Jesus Christ.
In the text we are told by whom they who thus become the sons of God are brought into this state of union to Jesus Christ and made to exist in this relation, or who is the cause or author of their thus receiving Christ or believing in him, by which they become the sons of God, which is here called a being born. When a child is born into the world, there is some cause of this production, this living, perfect child; so, when any person becomes a new creature, and in a sense enters into a new world, even into the kingdom of God, by believing on the name of Jesus Christ, there is some agent which is the cause of this.
“God hath made of one blood all nations of men,” (Acts 17:26); that is, he hath produced all nations by natural descent from one man. The evangelist here tells us that the birth he speaks of is quite a different thing from this; it is not produced by natural generation or descent from father to son; it does not thus run in the blood, and is not transmitted from generation to generation in this way. Men do not become the sons of God, they are not regenerated, and do not become believers in Christ by any thing derived from their natural parents, by their descent from them, and near relation to them, by which the blood of the parents does, as it were, run in their veins. The piety or holiness of the parents has no influence or hand in this production, as a cause; it does nothing towards regenerating, or producing faith in the child. The child of the most holy parent is by nature as corrupt and as far from this birth, and always will be so, without some other cause or influence, as are the children of the ungodly.
In this assertion there seems to be a particular design to contradict and oppose a then prevailing notion among the Jews—that they were the sons of God by blood, as they were the children of Abraham. Of this they boast to our Savior, and say that they were Abraham’s seed, and, therefore, that God was their father; as if by being the children of Abraham they were the sons of God. (John 8:33, 41; Rom. 8:1-9; Gal. 5:17) In opposition to this notion of theirs, John Baptist says to them, `Begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father; for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.” (Luke 3:8; I Cor. 2:14, 15)
Nor of the will of the flesh. By flesh is meant man in his natural, corrupt state, as he is antecedent to regeneration. This is the meaning of flesh as it is used in many places in Holy Scripture; which is evident, among other things, by its being frequently put in opposition to the Spirit; and to be in the flesh, and to walk after the flesh, or to be carnal, is spoken of as directly opposite to being spiritual, having the spirit of Christ, and walking after the Spirit, and as if there was no medium between them. (John 3:1, 6) What is here asserted then is, that persons are not regenerated by any inclinations, choice, or exertions of their own, while they were in a state of unregeneracy. They do not, by the exercise of their own wills, or by their endeavors, do any thing towards their being born again; nor do they cooperate in the least degree with the efficient cause. So far from this, that all their inclinations, and every act of will and exertion of theirs, is in direct opposition to it, for the flesh always lusteth against the Spirit.
It is, indeed, as great an absurdity as can be thought of, to suppose that the corrupt, vicious heart does any thing towards its becoming holy, or exercises any will or choice that has the least tendency to it; as absurd as to suppose that the exercise of perfect selfishness has a tendency to produce benevolence, or that the heart is made better and becomes holy by the constant exercise of lust and wickedness. For all the exercises and volitions of the corrupt, unregenerate heart are certainly the exercises of sin. It was, nevertheless, of importance that this should be particularly observed by the evangelist, when treating of this matter; seeing, however plain it is, and though the contrary is so very absurd, men are ready to imagine they may be born again by the will of the flesh, or, at least, that by the exertions of their own wills and endeavors they may do something towards it. In this delusion I suppose all men naturally are, and that no man heartily and really gives up this point until he is taught of God. And multitudes of professing Christians do persist in expressly opposing what is here asserted all their days. But of this more will be said, before I have done.
Nor of the will of man; that is, not by the power and influence of others. No one person is born again by the will and endeavors of others. However pious and wise they are, and how much soever they exert themselves to bring others to holiness, they do in no degree produce the effect. If all the angels and saints in heaven and all the godly on earth should join their wills and endeavors, and unitedly exert all their powers to regenerate one sinner, they could not effect it; yea, could do nothing towards it. It is an effect infinitely beyond the reach of finite wisdom and power. “Paul planted, and Apollos watered; but God giveth the increase. So, then, neither he that planteth is any thing, neither he that watereth, but God that giveth the increase.” (I Cor. 3:6, 7)
St. John, having declared what is not the cause of the new birth, proceeds to say in one word what it is—but of God. God is the only efficacious agent or efficient cause in this affair. It is all to be wholly ascribed to him.
What I propose now is, particularly to inquire into this change here spoken of and called a being born; to consider the nature of it, and wherein it consists, and especially how, and in what sense, God is the author of it.
And, for the more distinct and clear treating this matter, I would observe, that in this change, taken in its full extent, there is the agency both of God, the cause and author of it, and of man, who is the subject of the change. God, by his Spirit, is the efficient cause; by his agency and influence the change is produced. Man’s agency in the affair is in consequence of the divine agency and influence, and is an effect and fruit of it, and consists in those views and exercises of heart in which the regenerate repent, turn to God, believe on Jesus Christ, which is comprised in true Christian holiness, or the new creature. The divine agency and operation, which is first, and lays the foundation for all right views and exercises in the person who is the subject, is called by divines regeneration. The holy views and exercises of the subject, in which he receives Christ, or believes on his name, is called conversion, and sometimes active conversion, to distinguish it from that previous operation and change wrought by the Spirit of God, in which God is the only agent, and man, the subject, does not act, but is perfectly passive.
This subject, I conceive, cannot be properly illustrated, and so as to be well understood, without a distinct and particular attention to each of these in their nature, dependence, and connection. This is, therefore, what I would now attempt.
First, then, let us consider the divine agency, the work of the Spirit of God, by which persons are regenerated or born of God, and which lays the only foundation for conversion or holy exercises in the subject.
Concerning this the following things may be observed:—
I. The only ground and reason of regeneration, or of the necessity of the regenerating influences of the Spirit of God, in order to men’s converting and embracing the gospel, is the total depravity and corruption of the heart of man in his natural, fallen state.
By total corruption of the heart, I mean its being wholly without any degree of right disposition or principles that should be a foundation for holy exercises, but altogether under the dominion of a contrary disposition and principle; so that there is no right exercise of heart, but every notion or act of the will is wrong, corrupt, and sinful. If this was not the case with man, there would be no need of his beginning a new kind of life, of his being created anew, and made quite a new creature, by having a new principle implanted in order to his salvation; there would be no necessity of that work of regeneration of which I am now speaking in order to man’s believing on Jesus Christ. Was not man wholly corrupt, he would naturally, as I may say, believe on Christ, without any new, special operation on his heart by the Spirit of God, and would need nothing but to have the disposition and principles which are naturally in his heart strengthened and increased by exercise, in order to his salvation. But if this is really the case with man,—if he is so far sunk into corruption that he has not naturally the least degree of disposition to that which is good, but his heart is wholly and perfectly opposite to it,—then no possible means and external applications will be sufficient to bring him to the least degree of right disposition and exercise, or do any thing towards it. This can be effected only by the power and Spirit of God, which at first created all things out of nothing, and implanted a right disposition in man when he was first made. It is as absurd to suppose that in this case right disposition and exercises do take place in the heart without the all-creating influence of the Spirit of God, as it is to suppose that the whole world came into existence without creating power, or from no cause at all.
Therefore, since the ground of the necessity of the regenerating influences of the Spirit of God is the perfect corruption and wickedness of the heart of man, he is wholly to blame for being and continuing unregenerate, or for that in which unregeneracy consists. If mankind are under any law at all, and are in the least to blame for any thing, they are required to love God with all their hearts, and their neighbor as themselves; and are wholly to blame for every degree in which they come short of this, for every defect in their hearts of this kind, and for every degree of contrary disposition. Therefore, to be perfectly indisposed to that which God’s law requires, and wholly inclined to that which is contrary to it, is altogether and most perfectly inexcusable, and man is wholly to blame for all this, and criminal in proportion to the degree in which it takes place, if there is any such thing as criminalness or blame in the universe. I desire this may be particularly observed and borne in mind through all the following discourse; for many, I perceive, are apt to make a mistake here, by which this matter is often set in a wrong and most absurd light. It is common for persons, who believe they must be born again in order to be saved to think themselves not at all to blame that their hearts are not holy, or for that in which their unregeneracy consists; “for,” say they, “we cannot change our own hearts; this is the work of God.” And it has been common to represent man’s depravity and moral impotency in such a light as to be inconsistent with his being directly to blame for not being holy, or not believing on Christ, etc.; and, consequently, they have represented the whole duty of the unregenerate to consist in those endeavors and doings which are antecedent to regeneration, and do not imply any real holiness or conformity to the law of God.
The absurdity of this appears so clearly, even in stating the matter, that it seems needless further to expose it. This is to turn the tables indeed, and to make man’s duty wholly to lie not in obedience to God’s law, but in something which is consistent with perfect obedience; and his sin to consist, not in want of love to God and opposition of heart to him, but in something else; so that a person may be perfectly sinless—yea, really and perfectly holy, for he does the whole of his duty—without a spark of true holiness, or the least degree of real conformity to the law of God.
I would forewarn my hearers, that I am about to teach no regeneration but what consists in the removal of that from man’s heart for which he is altogether to blame and criminal for having it there, and the implantation of the principles of that life and holiness which man is always under infinite obligations to have and exercise at all times. And the more need men stand in of this regeneration by the Spirit of God, the more criminal and blameworthy they are. I proceed to observe,—
II. This regeneration of which I am speaking consists in a change of the will or heart.
The truth of this observation appears from the foregoing, as it is a plain consequence from it. If the depravity and corruption of the heart is the only ground of the necessity of regeneration, then regeneration consists in removing this depravity, and introducing opposite principles, and so laying a foundation for holy exercises. But depravity or sin lies wholly in the heart, and not in the intellect or faculty of understanding, considered as distinct from the will, and not including that. So far as the will is renewed or set right, the whole mind is right; for sin and holiness lie wholly in this. If moral depravity does not lie in, or properly belong to, the faculty of the understanding or the intellect, as distinguished from the will, or heart, then that operation of the Spirit of God, by which this is in some measure removed and moral rectitude introduced, does not immediately respect the understanding, but the will or heart, and immediately produces a change in the latter, not in the former. It is allowed by all, I suppose, that regeneration does not produce any new natural capacity or faculty in the soul. These remain the same after regeneration that they were before, so far as they are natural. The change produced is a moral change, and, therefore, the will or heart must be the immediate subject of this change, and of the operation that effects it; for every thing of a moral nature belongs to the will or heart.
As depravity or sin began in the will, and consists wholly in the irregularity and corruption of that, so regeneration, or a recovery from sin in the renovation of the mind, must begin here, and wholly consists in the change and renewal of the will. There is not, nor can there be, any need of any other change, in order to the complete renovation of the depraved mind, and its recovery to perfect holiness. Therefore, I think I have good grounds to assert, that in regeneration the will or heart is the immediate subject of the divine operation, and so of the moral change that is effected hereby. The Spirit of God in regeneration gives a new heart, an honest and good heart. He begets a right and good taste, temper, or disposition, and so lays a foundation for holy exercises of heart.
But let us go on to the next particular.
III. In this change of which I am now speaking the Spirit of God is the only agent; and man, the subject, is wholly passive, does not act, but is acted upon.
In conversion man is active, and it wholly consists in his act; but in regeneration the Spirit of God is the only active cause. What has been said already brings this truth into view. This change lays the only foundation for all right views and exercises of the heart, and is, therefore, antecedent to all such. To suppose that the person is not wholly positive in this change, therefore, is to make him active before he begins to act. The man who is the subject of this change is, indeed, active antecedent to it; but by the supposition all the exertions and exercises of his heart are corrupt and wrong, and in direct opposition to the Spirit of God. Before this change the heart is wholly sinful,—a heart of stone, an impenitent, rebellious heart,— and all the exercises of it are acts of rebellion, in opposition to God, his Spirit, and law. This change is, therefore, wrought in the heart by the Spirit of God, in direct opposition to all its biases, inclinations, and exertions, by which they are, in a measure, overcome and destroyed, and a new and opposite principle and inclination created or implanted. Man is, therefore, so far from being active in producing this change, or having any hand in it by voluntarily falling in with, or submitting to, the divine operation, or cooperating with the Spirit of God, that the whole strength of his heart opposes it, until it is effected and actually takes place; he is, therefore, most perfectly passive. When Adam was created, and his mind formed, prepared, and disposed to right and holy action, it is easy to see he was altogether passive until he began first to act in consequence of his being thus formed, for which action a foundation was laid in his creation. This is a parallel with the case before us; only with this difference, that what is caused to take place in the mind in regeneration is in direct opposition to all that was in the heart before; whereas, in the formation of Adam’s heart to right exercises and action, there was nothing to be opposed or counteracted.
IV. This change is wrought by the Spirit of God immediately; that is, it is not effected by any medium or means whatsoever.
The operation of the Spirit of God in this case is as immediate, or as much without any means, as that by which Adam’s mind was at first formed. In that there was no medium, no means made use of in creating the mind formed and disposed to right action. God said, “Let it be,” and it was. The Almighty first produced it immediately, or without any cooperating means. So it is in this case; there is no conceivable medium by which this change is wrought any more than there is in creation out of nothing. The sinner’s own thoughts, exercises, and endeavors cannot be a means of this change; for they are all in direct opposition to it, as has been just observed.
I would particularly observe here, that light and truth, or the word of God, is not in any degree a means by which this change is effected. It is not wrought by light.
This change is most certainly not effected by light, because it is by this change that the mind is illuminated; by this the way is prepared for the light to have access to the mind, so as to become the means of any effect. This operation of the Spirit of God by which a new heart is given is necessary in order to the illumination of the mind, and, indeed, is the very thing in which it consists, as it is the opening of the eyes of the blind. It is depravity or corruption of heart that holds the mind in darkness and shuts out the light. And this corruption of heart is that in which unregeneracy consists, as has been observed; and, in truth, spiritual darkness, or blindness of mind, consists in this, too. In order to the mind’s being enlightened, that must be removed in which blindness consists, or which shuts light out of the mind; but that in which unregeneracy consists does blind the mind, and shuts out the light, or, rather, is the blindness itself. Therefore, men must be regenerated, and the corruption of their hearts in some measure removed, in order to the removal of their darkness and the illumination of their mind; for this is nothing else than giving them eyes to see, and can be done in no other possible way. Consequently, men are not illuminated before regeneration; but they are first regenerated, in order to introduce light into the mind. Therefore, they are not regenerated by light, or the truths of God’s word. . . .
V. This change, which we are now considering, is instantaneous, wrought at once, and not gradually.
The heart does not grow more and more disposed to that which is good before regeneration, but remains the same corrupt, rebellious heart, a heart of stone, until God takes it in hand and speaks the powerful word; and it immediately, or at once, becomes a heart of flesh, a new, regenerate heart. There is no possible medium between these two opposites,—a regenerate and unregenerate heart,—as there can be none between death and life, or non-existence and existence. The unregenerate heart, therefore, is in no degree well disposed or has the least right inclination, but is as far from all right disposition, till the instant in which it is regenerated, as it ever was. And it exists a new heart as instantaneously as did the mind of Adam when God created him. Nothing that precedes regeneration does any thing towards it by altering the bent and bias of the heart so as to time it towards holiness in the least degree. But the heart continues to oppose that to which it is brought in regeneration till that instant in which it becomes a new heart; and it takes no time to effect this change. The change is, indeed, imperfect at first, the heart is renewed but in part; and after this renovation is begun, it is carried on gradually to greater degrees, until the heart is perfectly renewed, in a work of sanctification. But this new life is first begun instantaneously.
VI. This operation of the Spirit of God, by which men are regenerated, is altogether unperceivable.
The subjects of this change know nothing what is done, or that any thing is done, with respect to their hearts, and are not sensible of any operation and change in any other way but by the effect and consequence of it. We are conscious or sensible of nothing in our own mind; we feel and perceive nothing but our own ideas, thoughts, and exercises; but, as has been observed, the active change or conversion consists in these, and they are the fruit and effect of regeneration, or that work of the Spirit of God, of which I am now speaking. That which takes place with respect to our minds antecedent to the views and exercises we have, as the foundation and cause of them, is, by the supposition, perfectly unexperienced; but this is true of the operation and change now under consideration. All the notice we can have of this operation and change, and all the evidence there can be that our minds are the subjects of it, is by perceiving that which is the fruit and consequence of it by our own views and exercises, which are new, and we find to be of such a nature and kind that we have ground to infer that they are the effect of the operation of the Spirit of God, or the fruits of the Spirit, by which we are become new creatures.
When Adam was created a living soul, the immediate divine operation was not perceived by him, for he had no perception of any thing until he actually existed and the work of his creation was finished: he did not begin to be conscious of any thing until this was over, and then he perceived nothing but what was the fruit and consequence of the divine operation. So it is in the new creature, by which men are born of the Spirit of God.
I make this remark partly to detect and expose the delusion of those who think they feel the motions of the Spirit of God on their hearts, somewhat as one body is sensibly touched and impressed by another, antecedent to all exercises of their own and independent of them, and place great part of their religion in those feelings or impulses which they call the operation of the Spirit of God, and which immediately suggests to them what is truth, and what is duty, which they think is to be led by the Spirit. We have no way to determine what is the cause of the ideas and sensations of our hearts, whether we are influenced by the Spirit of God or by a wicked spirit, but by considering their nature and tendency, whether they are such as the Scripture tells us are the fruits of the Spirit.
VII. In the work of regeneration, by which men are born of the Spirit, God acts as a sovereign.
When I speak of God’s acting in a sovereign way, I do not mean that he acts above or without all reason and motive, or merely because he will, for God never acts so in any instance whatsoever. Such sovereignty and arbitrariness is in no case to be ascribed to God, for this would be to dishonor and reproach him as acting without any wisdom or holiness. The sovereignty of God consists in his being above all obligation to his creatures, and so infinitely above any direction, influence, and control from them in any thing that he does. In this sense, God is an infinite sovereign; he does just as he pleases, not being influenced by any obligation he is under to any one, any further than he has been pleased to oblige himself by promise or some other way.
Sovereignty is, therefore, in a peculiar manner, essential to all acts of grace, or grace in all cases is sovereign grace, and what is not so is no grace at all; for, whatever good is bestowed, if he that grants it is under any original obligation to do it, or is obliged to do it from the reason and nature of things, and so owes it to him that receives it, it is only an act of justice, and the nature of paying a debt, and there is no grace in it; for grace is free, unobliged, undeserved favor, and that which is not so is not grace.
In the case before us, God acts in the highest sense and degree as a sovereign, he being not only under no obligation to grant such a favor to any one when he does it, but there is in the sinner something infinitely contrary to this, even infinite unworthiness of the favor granted, and desert of infinite evil. Therefore, whenever God changes and regenerates the heart of a sinner, he does what he was under no sort of obligation to the sinner to do, but might justly leave him to the hardness of his own heart to perish in his sins forever. So that God in determining to whom he will grant this infinite favor, and in giving it to some and withholding it from others, “has mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.” What the sinner does before he is regenerated does not lay God under any degree of obligation to him by promise or any other way, for he complies with none of God’s commands or offers in the least degree. He is not so much as willing to accept of offered mercy, but opposes God and his grace with all his heart, however anxious he may be about his eternal interest, and how much soever he prays and cries for mercy and continues a perfect enemy to the just God and the Savior, until his heart is renewed, and the enmity slain by the regenerating influence of God’s Spirit.
I should now proceed to consider this change in which men are born of God, as it implies, and consists in, that in which they are active, in the views and exercises of their own hearts, for which that which I have been speaking of lays the foundation, were it not that a question may probably arise in the minds of some upon what has been said, which it may be proper to attend to and answer here.
QUESTION. If these things are so,—if men are not active, but perfectly passive, in regeneration, and the work is wrought by the Spirit of God without means, and God in this acts as a sovereign, having mercy on whom he will have mercy, and leaving whom he will to perish, whatever are the sinner’s circumstances, whatever means are used, and notwithstanding all the pains the sinner takes for his own salvation,—then what encouragement and what reason is there for the sinner’s using any means, or for others to take any pains or use means with him for his salvation?
ANSWER. If what has been now said is agreeable to the truth, there is certainly no reasonable encouragement to the use of means from a view to lay God under any obligation hereby to sinners to regenerate and save them, for God will be under none, nor can he be; he is infinitely far from this.
Nor is there any reason and encouragement to use means with a view that they shall in any degree effect this change, or do any thing towards it, or properly be any means of changing the heart, for this change is wrought immediately.
Neither is there any encouragement to use means in order to make the sinner’s heart better antecedent to regeneration, or that his case may hereby be made less miserable, if he finally perishes in his sins. None, surely, will imagine that if the sinner continues impenitent, and dies in his sins, the means that have been used for his salvation will be of any advantage to him. It is certain they will not, but the contrary; for this, as well as every thing else, will, in this case, turn against him. The more means are used with the sinner, the greater advantages he enjoys, the more instruction is given him, and the more light and conviction he has in his own conscience, and the greater sense he has of the reality and importance of invisible things, of the worth of his soul, and of eternal happiness, and of the dreadfulness of eternal damnation,—I say, the more there is of these things the more miserable he will be, if he continues impenitent and perishes after all; for all these things do greatly aggravate the crime of his continuing in sin, so are the occasion of his being more guilty than if they had not taken place. The preaching of the gospel, and so all means of salvation, are a savor of death unto death to them that perish. (II Cor. 2:17) It is most unreasonable, therefore, to use any means with a sinner in order to his salvation, with a view that they shall be to his advantage, if he continues impenitent and abuses them; for to such they will have directly the contrary effect. (See Matt. 11:20-24.)
And the use of means is so far from making their hearts better, more inclined to obedience and holiness, or less obstinate, while they continue impenitent and unregenerate, that it is the occasion of the contrary to a very great degree. The heart, by resisting means and opposing light and truth, rather grows harder than softer. And the more means are used, and the more the mind is awakened to attention, and the greater light and conviction it has, while the heart continues perfectly impenitent and obstinate in opposition to all this, the more strong and vigorous, as well as more aggravated and criminal, are the sinful exertions of it; for the more the powers of the mind—which is wholly corrupt—are awakened and roused, the more strong and active are the sinful principles of the heart; and it requires a greater degree of opposition of heart to resist and continue impenitent under ten degrees of light and conviction than it does to continue so under but one degree of this.
Pharaoh, under all the rousing, softening, powerful means used with him to induce and persuade him to obey Jehovah and let the people of Israel go from under his oppressive hand, and all the attention he gave to that matter under all the conviction he had in his own mind, and the trouble and distress with which he was exercised, grew harder rather than more pliable; and the corruption of his heart was exercised in a much higher degree, and was much more aggravated and criminal, than if no means had been used with him, and he had remained without any light and conviction of conscience. But this instance of Pharaoh is very parallel with that of a sinner under conviction, with whom special means are used to bring him to a submission to God, who, notwithstanding, absolutely refuses, and continues in impenitence, as might easily be shown; and it was doubtless designed to be an image of this. All means used with unregenerate sinners, if they live and die so, will have the same effect and consequence with respect to them that they had in Pharaoh. Therefore, if it was known concerning any one that he would certainly persist and perish in impenitence, there could be no reasonable inducement and motive to use any means with him in order to bring him to repentance, with a view and design of any benefits to him. They who continue impenitent and perish will have no good by any thing; but all their enjoyments and advantages of every kind, all the means used with them for their good, and all the light and conviction of their own consciences will turn against them, and be the occasion of their greater destruction.
Why, then, are means to be used? What reason and encouragement to do it? is still the question. I therefore proceed to a positive answer.
I. The use of means with sinners may answer great and important ends, even though they continue impenitent and perish more dreadfully than if no such means had been used; which might easily be proved, was there need. God answered his own wise and glorious ends in the means he used with Pharaoh, notwithstanding he continued obstinate. But,—
II. Means are absolutely necessary in order to the conversion and salvation of men, as much so as if there was no other agent except the subject, and nothing done but what was effected by means. For,—
FIRST. Means are necessary to be used in order to prepare persons for regeneration; for, consistent with all that has been said, a preparatory work is as important and necessary as on any plan whatsoever. God can, indeed, just as easily regenerate one as another; he has power to regenerate the most stupid, benighted heathen on earth, or the most ignorant, or deluded, erroneous person in the Christian world, at any moment he pleases, without the use of any means. But as this would not be wise and proper, in this sense it cannot be done, because God never did, and never will, do any thing which is not wise and proper to be done. The reason why it is not wise and suitable to give a person a new heart in such circumstances and without the use of means is, that in such a case there is no foundation, provision, or opportunity for right views and exercises, if a new heart should be given, therefore no good end answered by it. This would be like creating a monster without any parts or capacity whereby he might live and act in any proper way, but so as to act monstrously, and even counteract and destroy itself; or as if a man should be made without feet or hands, or without any mouth to take the food necessary to support life; or as if an animal should be made in such a situation and circumstances as that it is impossible for him to come at the things necessary for the support of his existence and life.
When God causes this moral change in any man, it is in order to new life and action; therefore, he will not do it where there is no opportunity and means for the support and exercise of this new life; for, though men are not regenerated by means, yet means must be antecedently used, in order to persons’ being prepared to act properly when regenerated. For instance, the many errors and delusions that all adult, uninstructed persons, and even all careless sinners are in, must be, at least in a good degree, removed, and there must be some considerable degree of speculative knowledge about the things of religion, in order to the proper exercise of holiness or the new creature; and there must be more knowledge than a careless, secure sinner ever attains to, whatever instruction he has, and however much he is given to speculations on the things of religion. The things necessary to be known in order to the proper exercise of Christian holiness are never understood by a secure sinner as they may be by an unregenerate sinner, when, in the use of means, his attention and conscience are thoroughly awakened, and as they must be understood in order to the mind’s being properly prepared for the exercise of grace. Such an awakened sinner will commonly learn more of those truths that are most necessary to be known, in a very short time, than others will ever learn under the best instruction. . . .
SECONDLY. The use of means is absolutely necessary in order to any exercise of the new heart or of Christian holiness at any time. If we set aside the consideration of a preparatory work, and the necessity of that, in order to regeneration, in the view that has been given of it under the former particular, yet there will be a reason for the use of means, and a necessity of them, in order to salvation. If there is no truth set before the mind objectively, or by way of external exhibition, in any sense and degree, and if there is no attention of the mind and application in the use of any means whatever, the new heart must lie dormant, if there is one, and there can be no possible right exercise. For it is written, “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Therefore, means are necessary in order to conversion, or the exercise of faith and holiness, without which men cannot be saved. He, therefore, who lives and dies in the neglect of the use of means must perish. The use of means, then, is of as great importance to men as is their salvation; and the motives and encouragement to a constant attendance on them, in this view of the matter, are equal to the importance and worth of salvation.
We come now to the second thing proposed, which is to consider the change that is included in being born of God, in which men are active, and consists in the views and exercises of heart, which are the genuine fruit and effect of the divine operation and change of which I have been speaking, and which is called active conversion.
We have been so lengthy on the other head, that we must be shorter here, and give only a general view of it, without descending into all those particulars that might be mentioned and enlarged upon.
When the mind is regenerated, and a new heart given, divine things will appear in a new light, and the heart will exercise itself in quite a new manner. The first thing that now presents itself to the mind is the omnipresent and glorious God, the sum of all being and excellence. Now the heart sees and feels that there is a God with a conviction and assurance that it never had before, and is entertained and fixed in a calm, sweet view and sense of greatness, majesty, wisdom, justice, goodness, excellence, glory, with which it is captivated and charmed. Now the person finds himself surrounded with Deity, and sees God manifesting himself every where and in every thing. The sun, moon, and stars, the clouds, the mountains, the trees, the fields, the grass, and every creature and thing conspire in silent yet clear, powerful, and striking language to declare to him the being, perfections, and glory of God. Now he sees he never before really believed there was a God. He never had any idea and sense of such a Being before, nor received the abundant and all -convincing evidence of his being and perfections.
In this view he sinks into nothing, as it were, before this great and glorious Being, and his heart is tilled with a sense of the glorious greatness and excellence of God, and his infinite worthiness to be loved, obeyed, and honored by all intelligent creatures. Now, therefore, he sees the reasonableness and excellence of that law which requires all to love him with all their hearts; so the divine law comes into view, in all its justice, goodness, and glory. His heart approves of it as most worthy to be maintained and honored, while it requires perfect, persevering love and obedience, on pain of eternal damnation. He, therefore, now sees the infinite evil of sin, its infinite odiousness and ill desert, and, in this view, sees his own sinfulness and vileness, and sinks down, as it were, infinitely low, in a sense of his own infinite odiousness and guilt; and hates, judges, and condemns himself, heartily acknowledging the justice of his condemnation, feeling himself most righteously cast off forever into eternal misery, and, therefore, in himself, wholly lost and infinitely miserable.
And when he sees what he has done, how he has broken and dishonored the divine law, and despised and contemned God, and trampled on his most sacred authority, how infinitely unreasonable and injurious to the divine character he has been, he desires and wishes with all his heart that the mighty breach could be made up, and the injury repaired and removed; that the blot he has cast on the glorious character of God might be wiped off, and full recompense and atonement made; and he has not the least wish that he might be pardoned and obtain the favor of God in any other way; and he immediately sees and feels that he is infinitely far from any possibility of doing this himself; that he is infinitely in debt, and has nothing to pay; has nothing but infinite vileness, unworthiness, and guilt to offer, which can only pull down divine vengeance on his head; that his repentance, however sincere, can do nothing towards making up the breach, or in the least degree atone for the least sin. He is, therefore, far from any disposition or thought to attempt to offer any thing of his own, by which he might obtain the forgiveness of his sins and the favor of God, which now appear infinitely important and desirable. Thus the law comes, sin revives, and he dies.
And now he is prepared to receive the good news reported in the gospel, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world!” This is to him “good tidings of great joy.” Behold, the Son of God, who is equal with God, and is God, who himself made the world, has become a man; has been in the world, and, by his own obedience and sufferings unto death, has made full reparation and atonement for sin, is risen from the dead, and exalted to the right hand of the Majesty on high, to give repentance and remission of sins, and is ready to pardon and save all that come unto him, to which all, even the most guilty and vile, are freely excited. Now the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ shines in his heart, and the character of the Mediator appears to him in all its fulness and glory; and the way of salvation by Christ appears wise, excellent, and glorious, and pleases, rejoices, and charms his heart; and in a sense of his own infinite unworthiness, vileness, and guilt, he puts his whole trust in him for pardon and salvation, deliverance from the guilt and power and pollution of sin, “desiring to be found in him, not having his own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.”
And while he attends to the dignity and excellence of Christ’s person, and sees what he has done and suffered to obey and honor the divine law and make atonement for sin, and sees and tastes the wonderful, amazing goodness of God and the Redeemer, exercised and manifested in this redemption, his sense of the worthiness of the law of God and the infinite vileness of sin rises higher and higher; and his heart is more and more warmed with love to God and the Redeemer, and filled with hatred and abhorrence of sin, and is especially broken in repentance and self-abhorrence, in a sense of his amazing ingratitude and vileness in neglecting and opposing this way of salvation, and slighting and rejecting such a Savior.
And now, with all his heart he renounces the ways of sin, and with pleasure and strength of soul gives himself up to God through Jesus Christ, to serve and obey him forever, feeling it to be the happiest thing in the world, the greatest privilege he can imagine, to be wholly devoted to God in all the ways of strict and pure religion and holy obedience.
In these views and exercises of heart, active conversion from sin to God does consist; and all this is implied in faith in Jesus Christ, or receiving him, and believing on his name; and every one in whose mind these things do not take place, in the sum and substance of them, is not converted or born of God. Though I pretend not to say that the views and exercises of every one that is converted do sensibly take place exactly in the order and connection in which I have now placed them,—so that every true convert shall be able to recollect that these things passed in his mind just so, and in this order, from step to step,—yet he must be sensible that all this has taken place in his heart and abides with him; and it may be demonstrated that they do in fact take place in this connection and order, and that there is no other possible way, though all may be so much at once, as it were, and the exercises of the mind may be so quick as not to be attended with any consciousness of their being in this particular arrangement.
But to proceed.
The person of whom I am speaking is now become a truly humble person, in a sense of his own meanness, vileness, and infinite unworthiness and guilt, and his absolute dependence on God for strength and righteousness. This lays him low before God, and he is disposed to walk humbly with him, working out his own salvation with fear and trembling, i.e., in a sense of his own nothingness, weakness, and insufficiency with respect to any good thing, and his perfect, continual, and, as it were, infinite dependence on God, who alone worketh in him to will and to do; and as he has a more full, clear, and constant view and sense of his own amazing vileness and misery than he can have of others, he is naturally disposed in lowliness of mind to prefer others to himself, and led to a meek and humble conduct and behavior among men.
And he has now a new view and sense of the truth, divinity, excellence, and sweetness of the Word of God; and he delights in the Holy Scriptures, and is disposed to meditate therein day and night. They are more precious to him than much fine gold, and sweeter than the honey and the honeycomb. He now becomes a devout and zealous worshipper of God. With pleasure he daily enters into his closet, and prays to and praises Him who sees in secret, and would not be deprived of this privilege for all the kingdoms of the world. He loves to join with Christians in social prayer and religious conversation; and his feet run with constancy and eagerness to the place of public worship, where he devoutly joins in prayer and praise, and with great attention hears the word preached, receives instruction, and is quickened thereby.
And as he has given himself up to God sincerely and without reserve, he is from hence naturally led to desire to do it publicly, by espousing the cause of God, and appearing on his side, as a disciple and follower of Christ before the world, by a public profession of religion. And it appears to him to be a great privilege to be among the number of God’s visible people, to be united with them, and have the advantage of their Christian watch and care; and without delay he joins with them, and attends on all Christ’s holy institutions.
And in this change he becomes a friend to mankind, and his heart is filled with love to them. This effectually, and at once, cures him of all the ways of deceit, injustice, and injuriousness in his concerns and dealings with his neighbor, of which the world is so full, and which are so common among professing Christians; and he is immediately possessed with that harmlessness, honesty, sincerity, truth, integrity, and faithfulness of heart which is peculiar to a true Christian; and he is not only just and upright, but his heart is full of goodness, kind affection, tenderness, and mercy, which prompts him to do good to all as he has opportunity, especially to seek and promote, in all the ways he can, the welfare of their souls in their eternal salvation.
In a word, he heartily devotes himself to the service of God and his fellow-men, as his whole and only business, and to this end is faithful and diligent in his own proper station and calling; “not slothful in business, but fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.” And in these things he perseveres and makes progress to the end of life; for conversion is but the beginning of the same thing which is carried on and makes advances unto perfect holiness.
This is a short, imperfect sketch of the true convert, the new man, who is born of the Spirit of God. I will conclude with two or three reflections on the whole.
I. The view we have had of this matter may serve to teach us what it is to be led by the Spirit of God, which is spoken of as a privilege common to all Christians. (Born. 8:14; Gal. 5:18) It is not to be influenced and guided by any unaccountable impulses, or immediate suggestions to the mind of some new truth not contained in divine revelation, or of particular texts or passages of Scripture. But the Christian is led by the Spirit of God, by the Spirit’s dwelling in him as a principle of new life and action, begetting, maintaining, and increasing a right taste and temper of mind, and thus preparing and disposing the heart to attend to, and discern, the truths revealed in God’s word, or exercise itself in a wise and holy manner, in a view and sense of the truths contained in divine revelation. This is all the leading and influence the Christian wants from the Spirit of God. If he has a right taste and disposition of heart to a sufficient degree, he will want nothing further from the immediate influences of the divine Spirit in order to be led into all truth, and know and do his duty in every branch of it.
II. We may hence learn what persons are to inquire after in order to determine whether they are born of God or not; viz., what are the views and exercises of their own hearts, and what influence and effect these have in practice. By this, my hearers, you are to determine whether you have the Spirit of God or not, even by considering and finding out whether you have the discerning and exercises in which conversion consists, even all those holy exercises by which men do first turn from sin to God, and believe on the name of Jesus Christ, and in which they persevere in a holy life, which are in Scripture called the fruit of the Spirit.
Therefore, what has now been said in the description of conversion may be applied as matter of examination and trial by all those who are desirous to know what their state is, whether they are born of God or not. They who are in any good degree engaged to get satisfaction in this interesting point, have been hearing with self-application, in this view. And I recommend it to all seriously, and with impartiality, to apply what has been said—so far as it appears to them to be agreeable to the Word of God—to themselves, by way of self-examination. And may the Lord give us understanding and discerning to determine this important question according to truth.
And have any of you good and satisfying evidence that you are born of God; give all the glory to his sovereign grace, and remember that this is but the beginning of something very great and glorious. “Think not that ye have already attained, or are already perfect, but follow after, that you may apprehend that for which you are apprehended of Christ Jesus. Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those which are before, press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.”
III. They who find themselves in an unregenerate state may most reasonably be concerned about themselves, in a view of the infinitely miserable condition they are in. Your case is shockingly dreadful. There is nothing good or right in your hearts; but you are perfectly corrupt and wicked, devoted to that which is your destruction. And you are wholly and perfectly to blame for all this, and, therefore, infinitely guilty and odious in God’s sight, and most unworthy of the least pity and mercy from him; so that you are eternally undone, unless God shall exercise that distinguishing sovereign grace towards you which you have been always refusing and opposing, and which he may most justly refuse to grant.
Say not within yourselves, “We are utterly unable to help ourselves; we can do nothing towards our salvation; God must do all; why do you blame us? it signifies nothing for us to take any pains about the matter. If God is pleased to regenerate and save us, he will do it in his own time. Why, then, do you call upon us, and give us any trouble about the matter?” As well may the man who has turned rebel against his sovereign, and by this means has undone himself, and is apprehended and condemned to the most cruel torture and death, and is exposed to be executed every hour; at the same time, the prince whom he has offended and injured offers to pardon him, and put him into most happy circumstances, if he will only make his submission to him and be willing to be his friend and servant, and is sending persons to treat with him about this matter, and urge him by all imaginable arguments and motives to accept of the kind and advantageous offer, so that all the difficulty of obtaining complete deliverance is his disposition to justify himself in his rebellion, and unwillingness to comply with the most reasonable and kind proposals,—I say, as well may such a one reply, “I cannot help myself; unless the prince give me a new heart, and incline me to accept of his offer as well as make it to me, the proposal will do me no good. I am, therefore, not to blame; I will not give myself the least trouble about it, let come what will.” And as reasonably might a man use this language who has set his own house on fire, which is burning down over his head, and he sits easy and secure in the midst of it, or is busy throwing oil into the flame, and increasing the fire, while he is called upon and urged to escape for his life.
It is your indispensable duty, your highest interest, immediately to repent, believe on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and give yourselves up to God. Nothing can possibly be the least excuse for your neglecting it one minute; you have all the opportunity and advantage you can desire; and motives are set before you which are, I may say, infinitely weighty and forcible. And if divine, eternal vengeance should fall on your heads immediately, for the hardness of your hearts and continued rebellion, in these circumstances, God will be just, and you most justly miserable forever. And how soon this will be your case, you know not.
It is certain this will come upon you soon, unless you wake up and attend to your case and fly to the only refuge. “Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double-minded.” “Be afflicted and mourn, and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy into heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of and he shall lift you up. Repent ye, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out. Believe on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and ye shall be saved.”
Samuel Hopkins was born at Waterbury, Connecticut, 17 September 1721 and was set apart by his father for the ministry. He entered Yale College in 1737 when New Haven was being moved by the Calvinistic preaching of George Whitefield and Gilbert Tennent, and Hopkins was converted under their preaching. Upon graduation he began studying theology under Jonathan Edwards and was greatly influenced by him. In 1741 Hopkins began preaching with great embarrassment and humility. Two years later he was ordained minister of a new church of only five members at Housatanick. He remained there for twenty-five years while the church membership grew to 116, despite the interruptions of two great wars. From 1744 to 1763 the French and Indian War raged in the area, and Hopkins often had to flee with his family.
During his ministry Hopkins was criticized for many things: for reading Scripture portions in the Sunday services in addition to preaching; for delivering his sermons without notes; for evangelizing the Indians; for advocating strong Calvinistic doctrine; and for forbidding non-Christians to take communion. He also alienated the Tories with his patriotism to the Colonial cause. Some of his parishioners, despite his fidelity to Scripture, gave nothing to support him, and others had nothing to give. In poverty he left the church in 1769 and went to one at Newport, Rhode Island, a commercial center that then rivaled New York. During his first year at Newport Hopkins was visited by Whitefield. In 1776 the town was captured by the British, who held it for three years, and Hopkins fled to Newburyport to assist his friend Samuel Spring.
In 1779 Hopkins returned to Newport to preach despite the congregation’s inability to pay him a regular salary. It was at this time, and in the capital of the New England slave market, that Hopkins preached his famous sermons against slavery and wrote the widely read Dialogue Concerning the Slavery of the Africans and Address to Slaveholders. He became a leading Abolitionist—probably the first American clergyman to promote that cause.
It was as a theologian, though, that Hopkins became best known. He developed a modified form of Calvinism that came to be identified as “Hopkinsianism.” He attempted to blend Calvinism with revivalism, and in so doing he made all sin equal selfishness; he modified the doctrine of imputation; and he made repentance a necessary prerequisite of faith, rather than vice versa.