« AnteriorContinuar »
Another occasion of doubt has been the use made by many divines of the word Regeneration, when they were not speaking of baptism. There needs be no embarrassment from any such cause. Every act of the Holy Spirit upon the mind of the Christian, conducing lö form in him the new life, is an act of regenerating power; every advance of the Christian in that new life, is an increase of his regeneration. The first gift of new life in baptism is most properly called regeneration, because it is the first : setting aside that accident of its being the first, the reason of man shall never be able to pronounce wherein it differs from any subsequent gift conducing to the furtherance of the same state. To have life, and to have it more abundantly, is the privilege of the Christian : hè may have life from his birth, whether of nature or of grace; he may have it also from that which sustains him and aids him to form the perfect man within him. That which is increased, say the old logicians, must be made greater by the continual addition of parts similar to itself. Making allowance for the difference of subjects, we do not perceive any difficulty in understanding how men may be regenerate in baptism ; and yet divines be continually speaking of another and subsequent regeneration. The use of discriminating terms is always of service; but for the credit of our whole body* of theology, we wish to say, that the promiscuous use of the word is strictly correct, though it has proved inconvenient. For the circumstance of priority in time is not a sufficient ground of making two terms for a subject otherwise agreeing in itself
. It is one of the differences, which the analysis of language seldom attends to. But considering the importance to our feelings, in the distinction deliberation, utterly condemn them of error, which will not admit that fire in the words of John, is quenched with the name of the Holy Ghost; or, with the name of the Spirit, water dried up in the words of Christ ? When the letter of the law batli two things plainly and expressly specified, water and the Spirit; water as a duty re;s quired on our parts, the Spirit as a gift which God, bestowetb; there is danger in presuming so to interpret it, as if the clause which concerneth ourselves were more than needeth. We may, by such rare expositions, attain perhaps in the end to be thought witty, but with ill advice. Finally, if at the time, when that baptism which was meant by John, came to be really and truly performed by Christ himself, we find the apostles that had been, as we are, before baptised, new baptised with the Holy Ghost; and in this, their later baptism, as well a visible descent of fire, as a secret miraculous infusion of the Spirit; if on us he accomplish likewise the heavenly work of our new birth, not with the Spirit alone, but with water thereunto adjoined, saith the faithfullest expounders of his words are his own deeds, let that which his hand hath manifestly wrought, declare what his speech did doubtfully utter.'
* A passage from Barrow may show the extent of the synonimy which has been used in this case. Speaking of the Holy Spirit, he says, “ both these operations (en. lightening our minds, sanctifying our wills) do constitute and accomplish that work which is styled the regeneration, renovation, vivification, new creation, resurrection of a man, ihe faculties of our souls being so improved, that we become, as it were, other men thereby.'-Works, vol. ii. p. 505. And hence one of the English reformers says, that a Christian man's life is a continual baptism.'
between the beginning of the Christian state, and our confirmation or progress in it; considering that the first dawn and dayspring from on high will always be hajled by the attentive mind with a becoming earnestness; and considering the absolute and eminent virtue which this solemn rite derives from the institution of Him who enjoined it, as the beginning of our new life ; it would be more prudent to divide the phrase, and prevent ambiguity in the reader's mind, even where there is none, or need be none in the writer's : and as we are apt to honour the day of our birth, above all others, in the short period of our mortal existence, so to distinguish the day of our Christian birth by an appropriate acknowledgment of it in our ordinary language.
It will be seen that we do not adopt the inference intended to be drawn from the production of inconsistent language, in the use of this term, to inconsistent doctrine. Writers who describe a baptised infant as unregenerated may not mean that he never had the grace of regeneration given, but that he has not improved it; that it has been resisted; quenched in him. We have observed some passages where the same writer has described the
regenerating efficacy of baptism; and yet, in his practical discourses, has spoken of some of his hearers as unregenerate.-All this is sufficiently consistent.
Again, some stress has been laid upon the analogy between cir. cumcision and baptism. It has been said, that they are corresponding rites in the two covenants, each being only an admission into the exteriorand visible church. They are corresponding rites; but the two covenants are essentially different; and according to the difference of the covenants, will be the difference of the analogous parts in each. Otherwise, since there is a very extensive analogy between the two covenants, if there was no difference in correlative parts, the two covenants would be one and the same; which they are not. One great difference between them, is in the actual promise of the Holy Spirit, in the latter. Moreover, Christians are baptised in his name, importing, no doubt, the covenanted relation between him and them. This was not so in the law of Moses, nor the covenant with Abraham. The greater effusion of mercy, in every way, after the exaltation of the Redeemer, is a characteristic difference between the Gospel and every thing besides.
These considerations, however, lead us to the second thing which we proposed: viz. to endeavour to ascertain the proper style and tenor of instruction to be used in popular discourses, with respect to this topic.
Since the very object of this second inquiry is to attempt that most hazardous duty of giving advice, we entreat the candid interpretation of our readers to the few hints which we wish to offer towards such a purpose; being aware that it is in itself not very easy to find the true character of sound evangelical instruction, as we may perceive by the great differences, perhaps defects, in the manner of many who are charged with the duty of dispensing it; and that, in proportion to the uncertainty of the right method, and the consequent need of advice, may be our inability either to discern it, or describe it. We are not presuming now to speak of preaching in general, but only of preaching on the single topic of Christian regeneration.
Christian privileges, like that great one of being born of Christian parents, who were the instruments of bringing us to God by baptism, and auspicating our life in the covenant of His Son, may be enforced as a topic of thankfulness, and of encouragement; of thankfulness for past mercy, and encouragement to hope the continuance of it.
These privileges may also be a topic of most just reproof. Where the advantage has been great, and no proficiency made; reason makes the condemnation more severe, in proportion to the height of the favour neglected, the calling disobeyed, the heavenly influence resisted.
Such is the constant voice of Scripture also. Indiscriminate exaltation of the mercy of God, as already displayed in any manner, whether in our first calling by baptism, or by his other gracious acts or promises, may produce confidence, ingratitude, indifference to the hopes and terrors of the life to come. But the energy of warning truth calling for improvement, for faith, for affection, for gratitude, upon the ground of an actual participation in the grace of the mediatorial covenant, is as wise as it is just, and may strike the heart of every Christian who has not actually renounced the terms of the baptismal covenant, and ceased to feel the power of it, by disbelieving it.-So much for the application of this doctrine to the use of ordinary instruction, if we begin by considering baptism in itself.
Beginning at the contrary end of the subject, which indeed is the point which presses most strongly upon the preacher's notice, because it is for ever present to his own mind, and meets him perhaps with still more importunate notoriety in the world about him, the actual abundance of sin among those who have been baptised into the Gospel, and have lived professing it, he has here another kind of exercise for the strain of his duty. His work is different, so must' be the execution of it. Lethargy, confidence in sin, want of all semblance of Christian charity, disregard to moral and religious obligation, a selfish and worldly mind, can only be pampered by the insinuation of security in the privileges of the
baptismal state. It is not for the preacher to say that men forfeited them irrecoverably, and fallen into the interdicted state, where peace and hope can never come. But the terrors of the judgment to come, the danger of the unregenerate, that is, the unreformed life, the fearful condemnation of knowing the Gospel and not living by it, seem not only salutary topics, but strictly necessary: because they are the topics which excite trains of thought and feeling directly adverse to the existing habits; which plant the evil or the sin and the evil of the danger against each other, which show the person to be warned what he is by the anticipation of what he may be. On such a subject it would be less useful to speak of 'what God hath done for him, than what he has not done for himself: less useful to speak of what God hath done for him, than what He may do against him hereafter : less useful to tell him of the sanctification he has received, than of the sanctification he wants.--Not only is there the need of this adaptation of doctrine to different views of the respective condition of those who are to be instructed, but the same individual will require the interchange of support, and reproof, and consolation, and alarm, to sustain him in his Christian course, or to recall him from his deviations from it. We do not divide our congregations into two classes, as regenerate and unregenerate, so known unto us, though, in the
the eyes of Infinite Wisdom,
they may be separated into parts as widely different from each other, as those terms import; but knowing that there is a .continual struggle between the principle of nature and the principle of grace in the church of God, and that each and all need the edification which is to be drawn from all the doctrines of revealed truth; that not only sinners must be checked, and the faithful encouraged, but also that all are sinful, and all may have the fire of grace still burning unquenched within them from that altar from whence it was first taken; and that the minister of truth is to dispense the whole counsel of God; it should seem that the compass of his labour in ministerial doctrine is to preach to men as well that they are regenerate, as that they are comparatively not regenerate, to advance and set forward the kingdom of God among them by the display of their past blessings, and of the threats pronounced upon their present sins; and to vary and combine his application, so that all may find their case depicted to them, and may live by his dispensation of the heavenly word, leading them on to perfection, or recalling them to their first principles, as seasons may dictate, or his judgment advise; or, in the energetic language of the Apostle, to preach the word with fidelity in all its forms, in season, and out of season: for such is his charge. In a word, if he wish to advance the just estimation of the sacraments, let him set them forth in the fulness of the Gospel promises, as appointed means for
VOLi, XY, NO. X...
the initiation and progress of the Christian, in his communion with God. If he wish to encounter the wickedness of the world, let him remind his hearers of the debt of baptismal obligation; of the renouncing the life of sin, of the belief of the Christian faith, of the keeping of the commandments,' and of the sanctions by which these claims are bound upon him in the records of eternity. To omit the one would be to do despite to the institution and promise of Christ; to omit the other would be to hazard the souls of men, to his own cost and theirs. Both kinds of preaching are true ; both necessary. The one is neither more true normore necessary than the other; but under various emergencies of his cure, and various needs of every member of it, each will have its place, each may produce its good. The duty is his, the concern is theirs, whom he has to instruct, the event is in the hands of Him whose commission he bears, a commission full of wisdom beyond his comprehension ; of responsibility, not for that which he may have effected, but for that which in the fidelity of obedience he may have laboured to do. The variety of address in the Gospel itself
, and in the Epistles of St. Paul, which have been set forth, in a recent work, with so much justness of elucidation, in their system and connexion, as a model of Apostolical preaching, must dictate to our minds the necessity of this comprehensive and combined arrangement of discourse, by which all may be taught their whole concern of religion, and each may find his present state accurately described to him in its mixed nature, through the illumination of the word of God, which is sharper than a two edged sword, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart
. If he has been once regenerated, daily renovations is still wanted; and by whatever name that renovation may be called, it is the rightobject of his prayers, and his en. deavours, and must be the theme of his reiterated instruction. The belief, with thankfulness, that he has been once aided with the Spirit of God, neither supersedes the duty of prayer for the. increase of it, nor of his watchfulness to improve by each accession of it. Commensurate with the hearer's wants and duties must also be the range of the preacher's instruction.
Whatever relates to the style of practical instruction addressed to the people is of the greatest consequence. For it is by such instruction that the principles of the Gospel are applied to them, are put to use, are made what they were intended to be, the
very mode, if we may so speak, of our existence. It is the ultimate incorporation of them into life, which makes the difference in a person, between being a creature of the world, and a creature of the Gospel. Doctrines themselves may be considered in two . ways. The first perfection of them is that they be true; the second and greater perfection of them is that, being true, they be also,