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ence; for besides our own consciousness, (if we are happily the children of God,) we have the declared consciousness of others around us, who, without suspicion of insincerity or delusion, feel warranted to assert, that the scripture-statement with respect to regeneration, has been verified in them; and that to this inward change is owing the change of character which they have visibly and undeniably undergone. If any affirm, as many do, that regeneration imports nothing more than a relative change, or a sacramental rite, their non-experience of a thing, which the word of God never states to be universal, by no means weakens the proof which a positive experience furnishes, i borne out as it is by the obvious sense of scripture, and by a permanent course of altered life, resulting from the assumed change.
Indeed, the opposers of this doctrine must abandon the field of Scripture, on which no tenable position will be found, and must retire to high unscriptural pretensions of native goodness and self-sufficiency, in order to maintain their opinions; for if they were once brought down to a concession of their fallen state, and to the conviction of human : depravity, in consequence of the fall, they
would soon yield themselves to other judgments; and from a consideration of the corrupt elements, perverted tastes, wrong affections, and general disorder of man's moral constitution, they would no longer refuse their assent to the solemn averment of the Truth,--that “except a man be born again of water and of the Spirit, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
If we suppose a class of men such as the Apostle describes, "foolish, disobedient, and deceived; serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another;" it will be owned by all, that such characters are wholly unfit for the presence of God, and for the society of heaven; and that, without some great improvement in their manners and dispositions, they must be abandoned at last to final misery. But in the opinion of many, such an extreme of moral defect and delinquency is rarely to be found in the world, Yet we apprehend this Apostle was neither by nature, education, or manner of life, inferior to others of the human kind; and in many respects, he not only enjoyed peculiar advantages, but was distinguished for supe. rior virtues; and if others think themselves entitled to rank higher in the scale of worth,
we fear it is just owing to their being selfdeceived. But if the general character of men be not higher than his, while unrenewed, surely there is a great necessity for some great change.
It is contended, however, that let men be ever so debased, they possess inherent powers of improvement, and that they need only exert their own sufficiency in order to realize moral excellence. If it wereso, whence is it that these powers arenever efficiently put forth? Alas! the possession of power little avails, unless the possessor of it be wise. By the very supposition of human degeneracy, however, heis foolish; and continuing so, he loves darkness more than light, and evil more than moral goodness. If man had in him any property of wisdom for the regulation of his life, we do not presume to say what he might achieve; but holding him to be, while left to himself, unwise, we see nothing on which to build a probability of religious improvement. If we were only partially injured by the fall in the dispositions of our common nature, and if some departments of that nature had continued upright and unbiased to evil, there would have been hope of retrievement on suitable exertion; but now the will to make exer
tion on the side of true religion, and in order to return fully unto God, is wanting in the natural man; and the question is not so much, what he can, as what he is willing to do, which, previous to regeneration, is seen in every instance to be something short of a reasonable minding of eternal things, and a hearty devotedness unto God. In fact, a nature, all under the power of evil, loves nothing uncongenial with itself; and if it undergo a change of character, that change owes its commencement to a higher power. This view accords with all scripture statement on the subject, and evidently harmonizes with the sentiment conveyed in the text.
For after a confession of his former deficiencies, the Apostle does not proceed to tell us by what lessons of human wisdom he was reclaimed; by what efforts of resolution he broke through strong habits of inveterate evil; or by what exercises of self- . discipline he stemmed the course of native inclination, rose to virtue, and returned to God. He rather leaves it to be inferred, that, such was his foolishness if left to himself, he would have never recovered from the error of his ways; and he plainly states, that whatever attempts were made in the
way of righteousness, (and few have more zealously pursued the righteousness which is of the law than he), yet nothing was made perfect in that way; so that although change came, it came from another source than the power or will of nature, whose doings had much to offend a holy God, but nothing in them to make him a debtor to the sinner for salvation. “ Not by works of righteousness which we have done,” said he; for in the unregenerate character, where was righteousness to be found? Or who can imagine, that in folly, disobedience, and subjugation to various forbidden things, there was any thing to entitle one to favour, or recommend him to a holy God, for the grace of regeneration ?
In what way, then, came the renovation which he had happily realized ? We will not reply to this question, by entering deeply into abstract discussion on the nature and order of regeneration, and by attempting to ascertain minutely the progress of the work, in its relation to the several faculties of the human soul: we shall rather follow the reconciling method of the text, and, with the Apostle, at once ascribe the change to God, and take a general view of it in its :