Part 10 REGENERATION
The soul must be regenerated, all guilt must be purged away, and the heart must be cleansed. "But we have been regenerated, for we have been duly baptized.' Baptism is the sign of regeneration, but it is not the thing; it is the "outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace." You must be born of water and of the Spirit. Water is the emblem of the spiritual washing, but it is not the washing itself; "that which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit," is holy, pure, and heavenly. If your water baptism had been spiritual regeneration, you would have a heart cleansed from all unrighteousness, free from pride, wrath, evil desires, bad tempers, &c. But you who depend upon this circumcision of the flesh, have not this; and you know you never had it. Therefore you want the blood that atones and purifies from all unrighteousness. Your having the reformers for your fathers, -- baptism for the seal of your covenant, -- your attendance on church and sacrament for the foundation of your hope of glory, can raise you no higher than Abraham as their father, circumcision as the seal of their covenant, sacrifices and ceremonies, carefully offered and performed, as the foundation of their hope of the continuance of the divine favor, did the ancient Jews. On these things they depended; on such things you depend.
So deep is the stain, so radicated the habits of sinning, so strong the propensity to do what is evil; that nothing less than the power by which the soul was created, can conquer these habits, eradicate these vices, and cause such a leper to change his spots, and such an Ethiopian his hue. The whole change which the soul undergoes in its conversion, is the effect of a divine energy within. This the gospel promises, when it promises to send forth the Holy Spirit. This mighty Spirit is given to enlighten, convince, strengthen, quicken, and save; and the change which is effected in the sinner's soul, in his habits, and in his life, is such as no natural cause can produce; such as no art of man can effect; and such as no religious institutions, connected with the most serious and pointed moral advices, can ever bring about. It is wholly God's work; and he performs it neither by might nor power, but by his own Spirit.
The soul of man has been perverted -- turned from God to sin and death. It is to be converted -- turned from sin and death to God and life eternal. It has fallen into sin, misery, and ruin; and is to be restored to holiness, happiness, and endless salvation. The law, received as coming from himself, and under the influence of his own Spirit, turns the soul back (shows the method of reconciliation) to God; and how it is to be restored from its ruined state, built up as at the beginning, and made a habitation of God through the Spirit.
Conversion is the turning or total change of a sinner from his sins to God. Conversion is often confounded with regeneration and holiness, but it properly means the effect produced by the first influence of the grace and light of God upon the heart, by which an idolater embraces the true God, a Jew the doctrine of Christ, and a sinner turns from his sins, and seeks the salvation of his soul in every means of grace.
Unless a man be born again -- born from above; born not only of water, but of the Holy Ghost, -- he cannot see the kingdom of God. These may appear hard sayings, and those who are little in the habit of considering spiritual things may exclaim, "It is enthusiasm! Who can bear it? Such things cannot possibly be." To such persons I can only say, "God hath spoken." This is sufficient for those who credit his being and his Bible. He, by whose almighty power Sarah had strength to conceive and bear a son in her old age, and by whose miraculous interference a virgin conceived, and the man Christ Jesus was born of her, can, by the same power, transform the sinful soul, and cause it to bear the image of the heavenly as it has borne the image of the earthly.
The order of the great work of salvation is -- 1. Conviction of sin: 2. Contrition for sin: 3. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as having been delivered for our offenses, and risen for our justification: 4. Justification or pardon of all past sin, through faith in his blood, accompanied, ordinarily, with the testimony of his Spirit in our hearts, that our sins are forgiven us: 5. Sanctification or holiness, which is progressive, as a growing up into Jesus Christ, our living Head, in all things; and may be instantaneous, as God can, and often does, empty the soul of all sin in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye; and then, having sowed in the seeds of righteousness, they have a free and unmolested vegetation.
6. Perseverance in the state of sanctification; believing, hoping, watching, working, in order to stand in this state of salvation, receiving hourly a deeper impression of the seal of God: 7. Glorification is the result; for he who lives faithful unto death, shall obtain the crown of life. Without conviction of sin, no contrition; without contrition, no faith that justifies; without faith, no justification, no sanctification; without sanctification, no glorification. There is every reason to believe, and genuine experience in divine things confirms it, that in the act of justification, when the Spirit of God, the Spirit of holiness, is given to bear witness with our spirits that we are the children of God; all the outlines of the divine image are drawn upon the soul: and it is the work of the Holy Spirit, in our sanctification, to touch off, and fill up, all those outlines, till every feature of the divine likeness is filled up and perfected. * * * * * * *