Review of a Lecture Sermon, The New Birth, Delivered in the Second Universalist Meeting-House on the Evening of the Third Sabbath in January, 1820, by Hosea Ballou, Pastor
Your attention is invited a few moments to the perusal of this preface, in which I give my reasons for writing this Review.
I have had the opportunity of reading several of Mr. B.'s publications, treatises, &c. upon various subjects, passages of scripture, and points of doctrine, in vindication of the doctrine of Universalism, and it is with sincerity, that I must declare it impossible for me to yield my assent to the greatest I part of his reasoning, brought forward to substantiate his sentiments; though his ability and person merit my respect and acknowledgment.
When perusing this lecture sermon, on the new birth, I was struck with astonishment and surprise, at such representations of those who believe in the necessity of the new birth, and profess to have experienced it, together with their belief, as I found in the first part of his sermon; likewise at seeing the amount of his own arguments upon the subject, the contradiction of the very doctrine of Universalism itself, as well as reason and the scriptures, the abundant absurdities, and finally the almost universal error with which it was filled, from the beginning to the end.
Believing that it stood thus contradictory, to truth, and, conceiving it to be of most dangerous tendency to the minds, of men, and further also, having not heard of any person's taking public notice of it, I resolved to write this review upon it; hoping and praying, to be led and guided into truth, and for the assistance of that God, who is the eternal source of truth and blessedness.
I am not ignorant of the force against which I contend, for perhaps I have as high an opinion of Mr. Ballou's talents, as any other person; and I know that nearly thirty years experience, in any profession, must give the subject an ascendancy over the inexperienced, to a very preponderating degree.
I know that he is well versed in controversy, and that he has come off victorious over men, with whom I should bear no comparison for talents, learning. and experience, but I will trust in God, knowing that truth overcometh all things, and that it will not suffer by investigation and examination, provided it be done in a reasonable manner.
Neither am I ignorant of what his adherents say of him and his writings, viz. that there is no one who dares to come out, and call his writings in question, or to reply or answer them. For if they are told that they are inconsistent or erroneous, they are bold to reply; why then do you not write against him, and strive to convince or refute. him? The reason is, because you know it is impossible, therefore you durst not. - But none of these things move me in the least.
Perhaps I am as heterodox, as respects some of the popular doctrines as they are called, as Mr. B. himself. But I can see and believe only for myself, neither can others see or believe for me. It is my desire to keep my mind free from prejudice as possible, and to have a conscience void of offenses both towards God and men; and what I can see to be consistent with the principle of reason, the scriptures, and the attributes of Deity, I feel it a duty to acknowledge, uphold, and defend, according to the best of my feeble ability.
Should a reply be made to this review, and should I be accused of making false statements, relative to the belief of Mr. B. and the Universalists, I request that such parts of faith be positively and peremptorily denied, both as it respects present and past faith in them; but if there are no false statements made, that they acknowledge and show the same consistent with the word of truth and themselves.
Should this review fall into the hands of any of my brethren who differ from me in sentiment, or find that I have struck at the root of some favorite principle of theirs, I beseech them not too hastily to condemn, but exercise patience and charity towards me, carefully searching the scriptures, whether these things are so.
After having shown Mr. B. to be inconsistent, and as briefly as possible reviewed what he has said upon the new birth, I shall in short show my own opinion upon the subject.
Dear readers, may you peruse discerningly and impartially, what is now laid before you for consideration, and may the Lord himself enable you to form a. true judgment upon the same. Place not implicit confidence in what Mr. B or myself may say upon the subject, but search the scriptures, and see if these words are consistent with them; and if they are consistent with she secret instruction of God's holy spirit in your hearts, with themselves and the dictates of true reason. If they are, receive them; if not, reject them, or any part of them that is incorrect. And in obedience to the divine requisitions of your maker, may you be blest and rejoice in hope of the glory of God, and through faith, by grace, be brought at last to the realms of unfading felicity, for ever to praise and adore God Almighty, and the Lamb, his Son, our Redeemer and Saviour. Amen.
Cumberland, R. I. 1821.
It may not be improper to mention a few of the fundamental principles of Universalism, prior to my proceeding in the review:
1. They profess to believe that the scriptures are the words of God, and a revelation of his character and will, &c.
2. That God is infinite in all his attributes, and unchangeable, and perfectly holy, wise and powerful.
3. In a Mediator (even Jesus Christ) between this infinite God, and man, his creature, that God did not send him to die in order to appease any wrath. which the Father ever had against his creatures, but to bear witness to the creature of the love of the Father to him, and to reconcile him to God.
4. That the Almighty foreordained all things, whatsoever come to pass, and has in his infinite wisdom fixed all things unalterably for the best; and that finally he will bring all mankind into the enjoyment of his happiness and glory; and give to them without exception eternal life.
These, if I am rightly informed, are the most essential principles of this doctrine. The Universalists profess to feel the most exalted love to God and man, and have much to say of God's unchangeable love to man, impartial goodness and impartial salvation.
This is undoubtedly Mr. B.'s belief, without much variation, as far as it goes. Therefore we will strive to keep these things in view in examining his sermon, and I will use them when it may seem proper and most consistent with the case.
He says that the particular circumstances, which led him to the choice of these words, &c. are the following:
1. It is believed that the sentiment generally held, by professors of Christianity, concerning this subject, is not only incorrect, but of an unhappy tendency in regard to the cause of pure and undefiled religion.
2. This passage is frequently used to disprove the doctrine of impartial salvation, by the believers in the endless misery of some of the human race. It is not unfrequent that our opposers say, that it is utterly impossible that the unregenerate should be received into the kingdom of heaven, for Jesus himself said to Nicodemus, "Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God."
3. Our opposers say, that we deny the necessity of being born again, and hold, that without repentance, sinners may enter into the kingdom of heaven in their sins.
Let us look at. the first circumstance, and see, if possible, the propriety of its being urged as a reason for this discourse. Let it be remembered by the reader, that an infinitely good God ordained that just such sentiments should be held by Christian professors respecting the new birth. Now if they came from him, he is undoubtedly well pleased in, and loves. them. Now say the Universalists, what God once loved he cannot hate. How then does Mr. B. venture to say that it is believed by him, that such sentiments are incorrect, and "of an unhappy tendency in regard to the cause of pure and undefiled religion," of which God himself is the author?
This is mysterious to me, and beyond my contracted ken to comprehend; and I very much doubt of his being able to comprehend it completely himself.
But such however is the circumstance, and such the foundation in part, of the reason for Mr. B. to take up, and publicly expound the text the foundation of his sermon.
The second circumstance is, the wrong application this passage is put to, viz. to disprove the doctrine of impartial salvation, by the believers in the endless misery of some of the human race, &c. But was, and is not, all this the wise decree of the God of heaven? Yes, surely, according to the belief of Universalists, it is. But Mr. B. is pleased to make it of sufficient consequence to merit an investigation of the text mentioned, notwithstanding. But. for my own part, I can see no consistency in such reasons, as he makes use of in this case.
Will he venture to say, that God ordained him to act this part on the stage? If he does I have but one request to make of him; and that is, to prove it. And but one question to ask, which is, is God the God of order or confusion?
I think from the foregoing representation of this subject that the opposers may say, with great propriety, that the Universalists and Mr. B. deny the necessity of being born again; for how can a man be any how different from what the Lord God intended he should be? And if so, will he not pass any and every stage, and take every step, which the Almighty determined he should, whether he knows what he does and where he goes or not? Yes: he surely will.
Though this is as dark as Egypt, and has more confusion in it than there was among the builders of Babel; yet it composes the concluding circumstance, for Mr. B. to deliver this sermon, which we will now strive to review.
He next says,
Hoping that our careful labors on this subject, may tend to do away in some measure at least, those injurious errors, and to bring this portion of our Saviour's testimony into a clear light, in which the mind may travel understandingly, we have called the attention of this audience to a candid investigation of the words read for consideration.
By careful attention to the words of our preacher, we shall discover in what a clear light the mind may travel understandingly, and what candor is made use of, in investigating this subject.
Let us listen to his words:
The opinion which Christian people generally hold respecting this subject of the new birth, you all understand as well perhaps as it can be explained; for they themselves acknowledge that it is so mysterious that reason and the common powers of man's understanding can have no just views of the subject. It is believed that this new birth is a certain change mysteriously wrought in the nature of man.
I do not say that Mr. B. never heard such acknowledgments made by any professor; but I am bold to say that he has, but from very few. And Christian people do not generally hold such mysterious notions of the new birth, if I have any knowledge upon the subject; for he is the first, I am sure, that ever gave me this important information. I however think this a very resplendent manifestation of his candor. But let it stand as he leaves it, and proceed to hear further upon the subject.
"Whereas before he was exposed to the everlasting torments of hell, he is now quite nut of all danger of this sort, and secure for ever." Here Mr. B. manifests the lack of right information upon the subject or he either willingly and knowingly intends to mislead his hearers and readers, by not making the allowance and exception in the last part of the quotation, "he is quite out all danger of this sort, and secure for ever." Does not Mr. B. know that thousands of professors of Christianity deny this, and even after this change of heart believe they may finally perish? If so why did he not make some exception? And if not, why should he assert what he did not know?
He then goes on and says: "Though the most profound divines are altogether incapable of describing the operation of this mysterious change," &c. Then on his fifth page he says: "It is allowed, however, that there are various operations," &c. Now the question is, if they are altogether incapable of describing the operation, how they can allow, that there are different operations; at the same time the mysteriousness of the subject will not admit of being understood, or of having any just views formed upon it? And so one operation is mysterious to the degree that reason and the common powers of man's understanding can have no just views of the subject, and still it is known there are more operations than one, and allowed that they are different. That is, two operations are different, when neither is understood or known any thing of. We however will let it stand, that professors of Christianity are thus contradictory, and draw towards the conclusion of this description of their faith and character, as fast as possible, leaving the remainder of three paragraphs in which the description is strained to a high pitch, let us slightly mention the third and then pass on.
It reads thus: "Let us examine these new-born children of grace. How do they differ from other people, or from what they had been? It is contended that their nature is changed, that a radical metamorphosis is effected," &c.
Paragraph 3, page 4:
My friends, we are acquainted with many of these people; we have lived in society with them. as long as we have lived. Now the question is how do they differ from other people? Will it be said that we should do wrong to inquire concerning the characters and conduct of our religious neighbors? We reply, the inquiry is by no means designed to operate uncharitably towards any, but the subject is too important to dismiss without a candid investigation. It is pretended that there are two classes of people, one class are heaven-born and heaven-bound, the other class are the children of the devil, and are hastening home to their father's kingdom of darkness and misery; that we all belong to one or other of these classes; that those who profess to be born again, and who belong to Christian churches, are the children of God, and that those who do not are of the other cast.
Page 6: "Now we inquire to know the difference. There is none in regard to all natural things." Here, dear reader, please to notice. that though they say there is, yet Mr. B. asserts and goes on to prove there is not; of course then if he proves it, Christian people will be found in the falsehood and deception. Listen!
Both classes are alike in respect to every thing visible. Those who tell us that they are born again live on the same kind of food,. drink the same kind of drink, breathe the same air as others do, and appear to sleep like other people, or as they did before they were born again. The body then is the same in both classes.
Thus it is proved.
The difference must be in their minds. But what difference is there in their minds? You are acquainted with both classes - what difference do you discover? Let candor be exercised on this question. Do we discover any more of what we are informed are heavenly principles in those who say they are born again than in others? Are they more honest, more just, more merciful, more ready to forgive an injury, more charitable to the poor and needy; do they appear to be destitute of pride, of resentment, of hypocrisy, deceit, of any disposition to overreach in bargains; can you trade with them with less caution than with others?
By the manner in which it is spoken and closed, it would seem that no other answer could be given, than in the negative. Well, if it suits best, let it so stand. Hearken patiently a little further.
If you please, you may compare those who make the greatest pretensions to this new and holy nature, with the unregenerate scribes, Pharisees, and religious people among the Jews in the days of Jesus on earth, and endeavor to ascertain the difference. These professors now suppose that those unregenerate Jews are now in hell, because they were not born again in this life, but expect to be in heaven themselves in a few days more, because they have had this great change. Now compare them. What is the difference? Those Jews believed that they were the favorites of heaven, so do these; they looked on themselves to be righteous and others wicked, so do these; those were highly incensed against Jesus because he was the friend of publicans and sinners, these are offended at the same thing; those believed that God loved them and abhorred others, so do these; those said all manner of evil against those who believed and propagated the love of God to sinners, so do these; those persecuted those who were not of their persuasion, so do these. Now, my brethren, what is the difference?
If you please you may compare these new-born people with the unregenerate Mahometans; what is the moral difference? The Mahometans believe that God loves them and hates the Christians, these believe that God loves them and. hates the Mahometans; and they reciprocally doom each other to eternal wrath. They both agree that they can enjoy heaven hereafter without the company of each other; each expects to be made eternally happy while toe other is eternally miserable. These new-born sons are desirous lo convert every body to their creed, and so are the Mahometans.
After pursuing this inquiry to any reasonable length, the fact is, it results in nothing more favorable to these high pretenders, than to allow them a common rank, among mankind. It will, being assisted with candor and charity, place this class of human beings just about on a level with the rest, with the exception of what is peculiar to superstition, which is always inclined to persecute whoever doss not conform to its dogmas.
But instead of reducing them to a little inferior station, he has reduced them to the lowest possible degree of degradation in creation, and made them by this representation of all men the most miserable! If it be not so, they are not degraded in the least; and this both himself and the candid reader must very well know.
But we draw to a great and wonderful conclusion, which he says is made as the result of many years inquiry and careful observation concerning men and their pretensions. Hear attentively! "Far be it from us to withhold from our religious professors what is their due. We find them in common life like others. Some of them are in all respects what we all ought to be," &c. The Universalists very emphatically tell us that all does not spell or mean part or half, but the whole, or every one. We will therefore believe it as respects their own use of the word.
Now, understand. kind reader. some of these very characters who have been found to be deluded, deceived, false pretenders, dishonest, unjust, unmerciful, hypocritical and proud; these professors, who are like in comparison to the scribes and Pharisees; believing themselves the favorites of heaven; looking on themselves righteous and others wicked, who are offended because Jesus is the friend of publicans and sinners; believing that God loves them and abhors others; who say all manner of evil of those who believe and propagate the love of God to sinners; and who persecute those who are not. of their persuasion: Yes, these new, born people. who may be compared to the Mahometans; these new-born sons, who are desirous of converting every body to their creed; these high pretenders, and finally, this class of (superstitious) human beings are in all, yea. in these very respects, what we all ought to be. - But see! "Others are what we all ought to endeavor not to be." --- !!! Candid reader, think and speak for yourself.
Is this that clear light in which the mind may understandingly travel? "But if the light that is in thee be darkness how great is that darkness!"
Words will fail to express my views of the conclusion of this most magnificent and wonderful BABEL, but I must leave it in Babylon, yes, in great Babylon! It must cease to raise its majestic top any nearer heaven than it is, for the Lord himself will confound the builders!
But we will no longer dwell upon this, neither be discouraged, but pursue him as our guide to his final conclusion. Perhaps he may yet lead us to something still more astonishing and wonderful than all we have yet beheld. Therefore, without being too much diverted with the more trifling things which he shows us by the way, let us haste to see the more remarkable and notable objects, which if we persevere will shortly heave in view.
Passing over three paragraphs on page 8, as containing nothing especially requisite for minute remark and observation, we will quote the fourth, which reads thus: "But says the hearer, do you, or do you not, believe in the necessity of the new birth? We answer, we do most sincerely believe the words of our Saviour to Nicodemus: Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." That we may understand this subject, let us
1. Inquire, what the Saviour meant by the kingdom of God; and
2. What he meant by being born again, by which the subject may see this kingdom.
By the kingdom of God, we think the Saviour meant the "gospel which he preached, with all its principles and blessings to mankind." In support of this he quotes the following passages, which I shall not quote wholly, but show the reader where he may find them. Matt. 12:28, 13:33, 21:31, 21:43; Mark 1:14-15, 4:27; Luke 16:16, 17:20-21; Rom. 14:17, 1 Cor. 4:20. In which the term kingdom of God is mentioned twelve times, kingdom of heaven once, and the word gospel twice. Once the kingdom of God is said to be preached, and once the gospel of the kingdom of God. On page 10 we find his conclusion thus, in his own words: "These, and many more passages which might be quoted, very plainly show that the gospel dispensation, its laws, its requirements, its joys, and its peace, are signified by the kingdom of God or kingdom of heaven."
Forbearing to press any comment upon this great evidence, we will take it for granted, at least for the present, and pass on to find a true delineation of the new birth, as Mr. B. represents and holds it.
Now when Jesus said to this Jew, "except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God," there can be no reasonable doubt, that he meant, that a change of sentiments and opinions, of views and of feelings, was necessary to take place in him, in order for him to receive, and enter into the kingdom of God, so great and so entire as to be suitably represented by being born again.
This change, this new birth is effected in the rational powers and faculties of man by means of information which operates to change the sentiments, and to remove the errors of the mind, and of course to change the affections of the heart.
As we are not informed, in the plainest manner, what we must believe, in order to be rightly informed, or in short to believe the truth, we will strive to draw some correct inference if possible from some of his testimony connected with other circumstances.
On page 12 he says, "But we can reasonably believe that by being instructed, by being brought to the knowledge of the nature and spirit of the gospel of God's unchangeable love to mankind," &c.
The gospel as Jesus proclaimed it, a system of impartial salvation to the world, is now performing the miracle of regeneration, and thousands are born again from the partial systems and creeds of the church, to the acknowledgement of the universal mercy and grace of Zion's king.
It is but a few days, since we saw certain denominations, now among us, at the greatest distance one from another, holding no kind of fellowship; but now made friends, have joined hands to put down this monstrous heresy, which threatens to deluge our country, with the belief that the Father of our spirits is good, and that his tender mercies are over all his works!
By these quotations, together with the circumstance of Mr. B's being a public professor and advocate of Universalism, it is clear that this is the doctrine which must be received prior to or at the new birth. Now would it not have been to Mr. B's honor for him to have been a little more clear upon this point? But it is however understood, and we will concentrate the whole force of his arguments, and assertions, to the grand conclusion and great object of his labors.
Universalism, the gospel as Jesus proclaimed it, a system of impartial salvation is proclaimed by Mr. B. and other of his ministerial brethren at the present time, and thousands are born again, from the partial creeds and systems of the church to the acknowledgment of the universal mercy and grace of Zion's king.
This gospel is the kingdom of God or heaven, so this is the new metamorphosed text, which Mr. B. has explained to our rational understandings, viz. "except a man believe the doctrine of Universalism, he cannot see Universalism." A most wonderful kingdom indeed! A most wonderful birth, surely this! Here then is plainly developed the great object for which Mr. B. labored, not only at the particular time of his sermon's being delivered before his audience and published to the world, but at all other times; for which he is now laboring, and for which he intends to exert all his ability, and devote his best faculty, the remainder of his life. Yes, he believes the doctrine of Universalism to he the gospel of Christ, and this gospel to be what was meant by the term kingdom of God or heaven, and that all may see this kingdom, he intends to inform the rational powers and faculties of man, by which if a man consents to and is willing to believe this doctrine he may enter into Universalism - the kingdom of God!
"The nature of this new birth is signified by the following scriptures:" See Mark 10:15. "Verily I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein."
In order to see the force of the evidence which he shortly quotes upon this subject, we will briefly examine the doctrine of Universalism or kingdom of God, one principle of which is this: "That God foreordained whatsoever comes to pass, for his own glory."
Now if the Almighty decreed every action of man, there is not one of them wrong or sinful of course; for, another of its principles, says he, is infinite in goodness, perfect in all his attributes; then there is no such thing as punishment or misery for sin, seeing it never existed, and of course men were never unreconciled to God, or any more so than he intended; and he could not intend any thing wrong: how then could they require a saviour, redeemer, or ransom, seeing their conduct and character was consonant with the will and pleasure of Almighty God, and every way exactly as he in infinite wisdom planned it? Surely I see no propriety in this! And if the Son of God be thus denied, what avail the scriptures of the old and new testament? Or on the same principle of reasoning, of what use are they? For of what use is a code of requisitions, of commands, of threatenings and promises, to those who are totally incapable of doing otherwise than they do? If mankind cannot avoid certain actions, I do not see how an infinitely good God could make them any how miserable, more or less, on account of them, either in this world or another. Let this suffice! We will now proceed to examine the following evidence: He says, "We read of this birth in John 1:12-13. "But as many as received him, to them gave the power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." - The character referred to here is Jesus Christ. Now, from the foregoing, does it appear that the Universalists have received him? The next is 1 John 5:1. "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God." Do those who have entered into the Universalist's kingdom of God, by believing in that doctrine, believe that Jesus is the Christ? Not if the above arguments are good, they do not! And from the same arguments every scrap of evidence which he takes from the bible becomes useless to him.
He quotes the words of St. Peter, 1:22 &c. which the reader may find if he please. And them to all this add this scripture: Col. 1:13, "Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son."
He remarks on the force of education in the regeneration of mankind, and also brings to view the great change, which must have taken place, in the traditional and superstitious Jews, and the idolatrous Gentiles, by their believing and obeying the gospel.
And makes a comparison between the conversion of St. Paul, and that of young converts in these times; and concludes that. there is no similarity between them. He has language not altogether different from that in the first part. of his sermon, respecting the notions of Christian people, upon which he came to such a strange conclusion; and they may properly come under that head. He then represents the new birth by those changes, which sometimes take place in the minds of men respecting political governments, and brings the situation of these United States, as an instance of political regeneration.
And then finds a resemblance of his subject in the history of the reformation down to the present auspicious period of time. In speaking of the regeneration of the Church, he has these words: "And every step which is taken, is a new birth, and we pray for regular pains and safe deliverance."
He speaks of the triumph of Universalism, notwithstanding the persecutions of those who are born after the flesh, viz. the different denominations of Christians, who, though formerly at enmity among themselves, like Herod and Pilate before the condemnation of Jesus, have now, like them, become friends and joined hands, to put down this monstrous heresy of Universalism, "which threatens to deluge our country with the belief that the Father of our spirits is good, and that his tender mercies are over all his works."
He draws to a final close by exhorting his new-born children of Universalism, to love and good works, which are the requisitions of king Immanuel; and if they know that they are not conformed to these requisitions, they are invited to listen to the voice of their Redeemer, who says, "repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Yes, so near at hand, that, according to his own arguments they are now in it.
He last says, "This Kingdom is a realm of light, therefore we must let our light shine before. men, that they, beholding our good works, may glorify our Father who is in heaven."
No further notice, particularly, will be taken of these passages, than to recommend to the reader a careful comparison of them, with the chief conclusions of Mr. B.'s arguments, by which he will be better enabled to judge of their propriety.
A few more remarks, and I close this review. Candid and impartial readers, you have now beheld the strange conclusion of Mr. B.'s arguments on two or three particular points. You no doubt have formed your judgment whether he manifests sound reason or not, whether his assertions are consistent with the scriptures, themselves, or common sense, or not. I leave you to your thoughts upon all this and will only interrupt you a few minutes longer upon the subject.
I think it will not be uncharitable nor uncandid for me, in my turn, to speak a few words upon his new- born children. W c might readily suppose that he and his brethren were destitute of sin, or they would not have been so hasty to cast the stone, as was done by a most pitiful misrepresentation of the faith and character of Christian people in this sermon; and all under the pretension of candor, and charity too; but which in the end proved the author himself a transgressor; because he built again that which he had destroyed. But we will inquire if they are so much more perfect and holy than others; than those whom they so much degrade and misrepresent.
Mr. B. pretends to have experienced this new birth, and to be already in the kingdom of God, the supreme law of which is love: He professes to have had the affections of his heart changed; which is the consequence of having been rightly influenced and instructed. I know not how good or perfect he is; I cannot judge of man, only by his works.
Now I ask the question - what did Mr. B. mean, in giving such a representation, unexceptionably, of Christian people's faith, conduct, and character, as he has in this sermon, if he believes and feels as he says he does? Why did he not make some distinction between the honest and the dishonest; between hypocrisy and godly sincerity; between the rational and the enthusiastic; and not condemn the humble child of God with the superstitious and self-righteous bigot, who is marked with the name, without the nature of pure religion; and not thus have cast away the good with the bad, and caused the innocent to share the same fate of the guilty. What will he answer to these things?
It is truly pitiful and lamentable, that this new-born son and subject of the kingdom of God, lays down such examples, and specimens of love, to his brethren; who, it is but too true, are close after him, re-echoing and repeating his words and conduct, with less information than he himself manifests, when he says that "some of them are in all respects what we all ought to be"; and then contradicts himself a second time, by saying that "some of them are what we all ought to endeavor not to be."
We are acquainted with many of these new-born sons, the inhabitants of the kingdom of heaven. Some of them we know to be respectable citizens, good neighbors, affectionate companions and parents, dutiful children, and loving brethren and sisters, and not given to corrupt or immoral habits. Now let us be serious upon this subject. Does this arise from a pure principle of love to God or from a belief in this doctrine? I doubt of its coming from either; for by, careful examination, we shall see that not only Universalists, but Deists and Atheists, will bear this character, some of them at least.
Some have a natural even disposition and temper of mind, and by being habituated in childhood to a moral and temperate life and course of conduct, it is the easiest for them to continue it in their maturer years. Now if we attend closely to this subject, we shall find that the greatest part of this class have no small care for their reputation in the sight of men; and it is to be feared that they but little realize the debt of gratitude, which they owe to the giver of all their enjoyments; for we seldom hear of their being found in devotion, thanking and praising the Lord, nor before their families, putting up supplications to him, that merits their highest powers of praise: And we shall more often hear them holding up the respect and applause of men, as an incentive to moral goodness and virtue, than any thing else; especially to their children and each other. But the man that knows what passes about him needs to hear no more from my pen, for his own mind. has far outgone my imperfect representation.
I will not, however, deny that there may be some who profess to be Universalists that are actuated by the pure principle of love; but it is, in my opinion, very rare; and if there should be such a character, it is not from a belief of Universalism that he is induced thus to act.
Having shown the height of the perfection of some of the Universalists, we will take a more general view of these new born sons and subjects of the kingdom of heaven. Where we find one of the above characters, we find ten that will not bear such a description. Are not our eyes witnesses, and do not our ears testify, that many who profess to have passed this great change and to have entered into this kingdom of God, are quarrelsome companions, tyrannical and unnatural parents, disobedient children, unkind brethren and sisters, bad citizens, bad neighbors, dishonest, unjust, and immoral? Do we not see them intemperate, and drunken, and our ears sometimes hear them in that deplorable situation; striving to talk of this doctrine of God's unchangeable love to mankind, and his impartial salvation? Do we not see them frequently angry, showing resentment; and are not some of them desperately proud and blasphemous? Do we not hear some of them utter horrid imprecations, and take the name of God in vain? Are they not, some of them, found at the card table and other like places? And finally, will it do to trust many of these heaven-born subjects, with all their pretensions to a new birth and so much love, with property, or any thing valuable, without having the arm of the civil law open against them? I think I am not afraid to answer, No!
This is not a false or overstrained representation of the true character of those who say they believe this doctrine. - the reader will understand that I make allowance for those who are truly to be respected for their morality and virtuous conduct, &c.
Again. After all Mr. B.'s investigation of the subject, he has not clearly informed us, what will become of such as do not enter into the kingdom of God, or embrace the belief that this doctrine is true; only they cannot see this doctrine, nor enter therein, unless they do enter into it. Some have lived and died in firm opposition to all this - what will become of them? Will they change their sentiments in another state of existence, does he think? If so, let us have some proof of it! It must be, according to his belief, that they all will, at some time or other, enter the kingdom of heaven. And if so, how and when will it be? And what will he do with those, who leave the kingdom of God? For, some who had professed a strong belief in that doctrine, and who were addicted to many vices and immoralities; who were never heard praying to God in the whole time of their faith in it, have come out boldly against it, and left their vile and immoral conduct, and have since maintained a life of sobriety; and we hear them speaking in a lamentable tone, of their misbehavior, &c. whilst they were in this kingdom of heaven, and also hear them praising; and thanking God for their unspeakable enjoyment now they are out of it. What does this mean?
As to this new birth, this kingdom of God, which Mr. B. believes in, and is entered into with so many others, I very much doubt whether I can enter into, but think it most probable that I shall stand without, perhaps for ever. For I confess myself as much astonished at it, after so much explanation too, that I am ready in truth and verity to exclaim, "how can these things be !" But I freely declare, that it appears to me to have no truth or consistency in it, but the chief and general arguments and conclusions of the sermon under notice, I do believe to be most gross absurdities and barefaced contradictions; and so shall consider them, till I am convinced to the contrary, by fair and substantial arguments. Therefore I submit this review, and, agreeably to what I proposed in my Preface, I shall pass to an investigation of the words which Mr. B. treated on in his sermon, and show my opinion, in short, upon the text.
The New Birth
For as much as this is a subject of the utmost importance to mankind, a right understanding of, a belief in, and experimental knowledge of which, can alone prepare them to see the Lord, and enter into his glorious kingdom of life, peace and joy, into a state of unfeigned love to, and favor with God our Creator; and as I believe that mankind are rational and accountable creatures to God, and are endued with the powers of reason and of faith, and knowledge, of uncontrolled free will and agency, capable of choosing or refusing, of doing right or wrong. and that all are alike personally respected and loved by God. One as well as another must be saved by his grace, and that all may be and need to be born again; yes, and must be or not see the kingdom of God; and further, as I conceive that, by Mr. B.'s most unfounded arguments and contradictory reasoning and assertions, he has most wretchedly perverted the meaning of the text which he undertook to illustrate and investigate, the subject of the New Birth, and which if believed and reduced to practice, will be of most dangerous tendency and consequence to the welfare and final salvation and happiness of mankind, I feel it a duty to use my best exertions to search for, and exhibit the true meaning and right knowledge of this portion of our blessed Saviour's testimony, which I will do, if God permit, in as brief a manner as possible, consistent with the nature of the case, according to the best of my small ability and understanding.
As all my dear readers undoubtedly know by whom these words were spoken, to whom addressed, and at what time and manner; I shall make no further remark or introduction to the subject, but premise to show,
1. What was meant by the kingdom of God, and its scriptural and reasonable signification, according to my understanding and opinion of it;
2. What was meant by being born again, by which a man may see the kingdom of God;
3. The necessity of this new birth; and
4. Shall close by an exhortation for man to strive to attain to an experimental knowledge of this new birth, and for those who have experienced it to maintain the honor and glory of God by careful attention. to holy examples and good works.
By the kingdom of God, I understand the Saviour meant a state in which God's sovereignty is exercised and felt and his power and glory manifested; in which all the subjects are submissive to him and obedient to his laws, and consequently are made the partakers of its righteousness, peace, and joy, or happiness; hence it takes the style of kingdom of heaven (or happiness) in other places of scripture.
Now, as God himself is a Spirit, so his sovereignty is a spiritual sovereignty or jurisdiction, and not carnal, strictly speaking, and likewise his laws spiritual, in man, operating upon his mind and heart in which be must be conformed to them or he is not a subject of the kingdom.
This may be applied to men on earth, to the spiritual hosts in glory, God's ministering spirits in the abode of immortality, or to any revelation of God's miraculous power and glory in any place whatever, or to any beings whatever.
For evidence of these assertions we will go to the scriptures and bring from thence passages to the point. First of man on earth.
But seek ye the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matt. 6:33)
Verily I say unto you, that a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of Heaven. And again I say unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. (Matt. 19:23-24)
Verily I say unto you, that the publicans and harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. (Matt. 21:31)
Therefore I say unto you, the kingdom of God shall be taken from you and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. (Matt. 21:43)
Verily I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. (Mark 10:15)
Children, how hard it is for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God. (Mark 10:24)
He answered them and said, the kingdom of God cometh not with observation. Neither shall they say lo here! or lo there! for behold, the kingdom of God is within you. (Luke 18:20-21)
How completely these confirm, and coincide with the assertion which they are adduced to prove. In the first passage we find a command to seek first the kingdom of God in preference to every thing else of an earthly nature, that is to seek to completely submit to the sovereignty of God; by which we should become reconciled to all his laws and righteous requisitions, and possess all the happiness, joy, and peace consequent on such a submission and reconciliation to his holy will. The second speaks of the great difficulty and hindrance incident to the possessor of great riches, he being carnally minded, trusting in riches and doting upon his great possessions, is at enmity against God, his carnal mind forbids him to subject himself to the law of God, for that is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be; therefore as long as he follows its influence he cannot enter into the kingdom of God: thus he is not under his sovereignty.
We find down to the present day, that this class of men are of all the most opposed to real, vital religion, and true submission and humiliation before God, though, as Jesus said, all things are possible with God, and it is not utterly impossible that there may be a very few who, at the present day are rich in this world's goods, and still in humble submission to the sovereignty of God. One remark more on this passage shall suffice: The reason of this great difficulty is, that riches have a bewitching, fascinating, and deceptive power upon the minds of mankind which leads them to an inordinate love for them, and of course to idolatry. When a rich man ceases to trust in his riches, to dote and depend upon them, and his mind becomes willing to submit as a little child to God, there will be no more difficulty in his entering the kingdom of God than a man who possesses nothing of consequence on earth. But the difficulty is, he will not, &c. From all this we see the propriety of the next passage, the words of Christ: "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a. needle, than for a rich man to center into the kingdom of God," and of these words, "Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God."
Let us see the propriety of the. next passage. The scribes and Pharisees, with other bigoted Jews, trusted to themselves that they were righteous and others wicked; they pretend to be very strict observers of many outward ceremonies in the sight of men; many of them they did wholly to be seen of men, whilst their hearts were wallowing in the most filthy corruption. They put great confidence in their outward performances, and lorded themselves over the lower classes of the Jewish nation, but while they were going about to establish their own righteousness, they were ignorant of the righteousness of God, and they manifested great pride and haughtiness, and a most cruel spirit towards Jesus Christ, and those whose works did not raise them to their grade of righteousness,. as the publicans and poorer part of the people.
Their unbelief and hardness of heart grieved the loving Saviour of man, when he saw how much they were opposed to the meek and humble love of God. For he saw that they were far from the kingdom of God, in the kingdom of darkness, immersed in hypocrisy, and willfully opposed to this kingdom. And with all their own impenitency, they condemned Jesus for preaching or paying any attention to the publicans, &c. who were penitent, and humbled themselves before God, even as little children confessing their multiplied transgressions and sins, and their unworthiness to receive the. favor of God. But those sin-sick souls this great Physician came to heal, to seek and to save, and not those who, the most diseased of all, yet could not discover it, but thought they were in good health and needed no assistance.
He represented the difference between these two classes, by the parable of the man and his two sons, whom he commanded to go and work in his vineyard. The first answered his father, and said, "I will not!" but afterward repented and went. This was for the publicans, &c. The other said, "I go, sir," and went not. This was for those who pretend to so much faithfulness in the cause of God, but were actually doing nothing as they should do. These were the scribes and Pharisees, &c.
And when Jesus asked whether of the twain did the will of their father, they answered him to their own condemnation, by saying unto him, the first. Then Christ spake these words: "Verily I say unto you, the publicans and harlots go into the kingdom of God before you."
This is to the point exactly. Those willing and submissive subjects who were stripped of their own self-will, and plead nothing but their wants to recommend them to the favor and mercy of God, were the very characters to become the subjects of his kingdom, being washed from their filthiness by the washing of regeneration and yielding themselves wholly to God, were under his sovereignty or government, and felt all the peace, joy, and blessings, as the consequence of the same, which this kingdom affords to its subjects. This kingdom is that known in the heart, and hence the propriety of the Saviour's saying, "For behold, the kingdom of God is within you." But those scribes, Pharisees, priests and elders of the people, could not enter into this kingdom, because they were great in their own esteem. And because they willfully opposed the Holy Spirit of God, Christ might with great propriety say unto them, "The kingdom of God shall be taken from you," &c. and thus leave them in their own undone situation for ever, coincident with what he said unto them when at a certain time they accused him of casting out devils by Beelzebub, the prince of devils. When they knew it to be the spirit and power of God, viz. "That whoever should sin against the Holy Ghost should never have forgiveness, but was in danger of eternal damnation, adding, "because they said he had a devil." This view of the subject is clearly established from many passages of scripture, too numerous to mention. .
Second, respecting the application of the term to the spiritual or immortalized host in a more glorious state:
When ye shall see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out. And they shall come from the east, &c. and shall sit down in the kingdom of God. (Luke 13:28-29)
Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God. (Luke 14-15)
For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God… I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God shall come. (Luke 22:16-18)
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Cor. 15:50)
And I heard a loud voice, saying, in heaven now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ. (Rev 12:10)
Thirdly, any miraculous manifestation of the power and glory of God:
But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death till they see the kingdom of God. And it came to pass, about an eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James and went up into a mountain to pray. And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered and his raiment was white and glistening. And behold there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias: Who appeared in glory and spoke of his decease, which he should accomplish at Jerusalem. (Luke 9:27-30)
There came a cloud and overshadowed them: And they feared as they entered into the cloud. And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, this is my beloved son: hear ye him. (Luke 9:34-35)
But if I cast out devils by the spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you. (Matt. 12:28)
From a view of all these passages together with a host of others not mentioned, it is clearly established in my mind, that the general meaning of the terms, kingdom of God, and heaven, is the state in which God's sovereignty is exercised, felt and obeyed, whether it be in the mind or heart of man on earth, or among the hosts of angels in the world above, in which state complete righteousness is exercised and perfect and unspeakable peace and joy in the Holy Ghost felt and known. "For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost." (Rom 14:17)
A few remarks upon the word "gospel," and I leave this proposition:
I cannot allow that the word "gospel" and terms "kingdom of God" and "heaven" are synonymous. But I believe the gospel to be the word of God, in and by which is communicated to us glad tidings of great joy and good things. That it is a testimony declaring the way of life and salvation by Jesus Christ, who, with his holy apostles, preached and testified it to the world, the medium by which God communicates a revelation of his will to man. By which the true kingdom of God is described and preached to men. It was preached to Abraham in these words, "And in thy seed (Christ) shall all the nations of the earth be blessed."
In support of this belief, I shall quote a few passages of scripture.
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ. (Mark 1:1)
Jesus came into Galilee preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God. And saying, repent ye, and believe the gospel. (Mark 1:14-15)
And the gospel must first be published among all nations. (Mark 13:10)
Go ye therefore into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. (Mark 16:15)
The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken hearted, to preach deliverance to captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised. To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. (Luke 4:18-19)
That the gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. (Acts 15:7)
But none of these things move me, neither count I my life … unto myself, so that I may finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received, to testify the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:24)
And how shall they preach, except they be sent? As it is written, how beautiful are the feet of them who preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things. But they have not all obeyed the gospel, for Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? (Rom. 10:15-16)
Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel. (Rom. 16:25)
Unto me who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ. (Eph. 3:8)
But though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach any other gospel unto you, than we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. (Gal. 1:8)
In whom ye also trusted after ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. (Eph. 1:13)
Time will fail me to quote many more passages upon the subject. I think the reader must be fully convinced of the propriety of my assertions and statements, and be satisfied entirely with the evidence; but if he should not, he is requested minutely and patiently to search the scriptures and find those numerous passages in which the word gospel is mentioned, and then no doubt he will be satisfied upon this point.
The propriety of its being called the gospel of God, is, that it is in the strictest sense his; of Christ, because he was one of its greatest preachers, and the great object in the gospel; he is the way, the truth and the life; the great sacrifice for sin, the ransomer and redeemer of all his saints; the light of the world; the mediator of the new testament, and the great shepherd and bishop of souls. It is called the gospel of the kingdom of God, because it teaches us of, and shows us the way and means of entering into this kingdom; of peace, because true peace is proclaimed by it; of salvation, because it teaches the way of life, and salvation by Jesus Christ. Paul calls it his gospel, because he preached it to the world, &c.
I now leave this part, or proposition, and pass to the second, viz. - What was meant by being born again, by which a man may see the kingdom?
By being born again, I understand the Lord Jesus meant a change of the heart or rational part of man, the great source from whence his actions spring, which of course would by changing the principle of mind or motive, change the motives themselves, so that the actions would be either different, or by being acted from different motives, would become acceptable to God.
That the great propriety of his using the term born again is, that this change is so great that it is every way as great and important as the natural birth of a man into the world.
I will first notice that this grand principle of motive and action in man (being free, as I have already asserted) is attracted and moved upon by both a fleshly, carnal or evil principle, and also by a pure, godly and heavenly principle; which are in entire and direct opposition to each other. Now, "to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace." The carnal mind is at enmity against God, it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.
Now, if this principle in man submits to, or follows the insinuation of this carnal or evil spirit; it is under its government or sovereignty, and consequently its motives will be bad, and lead to actions sinful, and in as direct opposition to good actions. as the two principles or spirits are in contrariety to each other. Thence the propriety of saying, ye are servants to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness. Thus we find that the wages of sin is death.
Then further: It is the duty of man to obey the requisitions of his God, who is his Creator, and great and only true friend; who has required nothing of him, but what he has given him power to perform, and requires him to perform nothing but what is for his own greatest possible good and happiness, which consequently would be to the glory of God, who delights in the happiness of his creatures.
But we find that all have gone astray, that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, (of course: of their own welfare.) There is none righteous, no not one; there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable: There is none that doeth good, no not one. - Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues have they used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood. Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes. Because that when they knew God, they glorified him not as God. neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God, into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four footed beasts, and creeping things. Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity, whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters. inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding; covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful; so that their heart was desperately wicked.
And though many boasted, and do still, of the observance of the law, and of many moral precepts, and ceremonies, yet they did not, nor do keep the whole law, for they do not love the Lord their God. with all their heart, &c. and offending in some, and the most essential points, are guilty of the whole; not doing even their best actions from pure motives. Therefore, by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
Thus, dear readers, it is proved that both Jews and Gentiles are all under sin, and of consequence under the sentence and power of death, the wages of sin. Their deplorable situation is indescribable! But the inquiring mind wishes to know if there can be any reasonable account given, how man's heart became thus corrupted; and why the fleshly or carnal principle carried such superior force to the good principle; as to bring all mankind under its sovereignty. I will give such a reason for it, as I have found unequalled by any other yet discovered by me, which satisfies my own mind. This grand moving principle, the heart or soul, is embodied in corruptible flesh and blood, with which it is indescribably closely connected. This body is earthly, it is the very place in which this carnal principle has its chief residence; for the flesh is carnal. And by this way and through this medium, it finds the easiest access to the heart, in the first stage of its being, here in this life. For whilst the heart is yet scarcely capable of discerning between right and wrong; between the heavenly principle and the carnal; being thus closely connected with the flesh, and in this earthly world, the evil principle beguiles it and takes occasion of riveting the chains and fetters of its influence upon it, by heightening and misleading the passions, making them inordinate, and intemperate, and every way possible, working upon them by every insinuation possible, so that when it becomes a little more mature, and clearly discerns the opposite dictations and instructions of the heavenly spiritual principle, and is not condemned as yet for what it has done in ignorance, it finds an insurmountable obstacle in its way, for though it struggles for victory, and in some instances overcomes, it finds that the chains and fetters of the evil principle are already very cumbrous and still sees more placing on it, and this inward enemy exerting all its power, they at length begin to yield and melt away under the ponderous force of the now more and more unequal warfare, and by little and little giving away, it at length submits, and this tyrant of Death sways its sceptre of sin over the whole heart. Now the heart scarcely feels the influence of that heavenly principle, and when it does, it hears the words of condemnation from it, which throws the mind into despair and indescribable grief. The effect of this ascendancy is like compound interest on money, increasing and begetting; offspring begets offspring, and this begets more still, adding strength to strength, number to number, till it is impossible to enumerate them. Not only in the heart does the evil increase, but in the world without, where one evil custom is an inducement for another to practice; one learns evil of another; it becomes fashionable. and the child learns of the parent, and increasing, it is handed down from generation to generation, by tradition, till the force of education and habit renders that right in the eyes of the later generations which by those who first practiced it was evidently esteemed wrong.
This, my dear readers, is my opinion upon the subject. We have thus found ourselves all under the sovereignty of sin, misery, darkness and death. And out of sight of the sovereignty or kingdom of God, we have found ourselves far from God by wicked works. Now, what can we do? We are undone, for we cannot see life! no, by no exertions of ours can we merit eternal life!
But hearken, ye penitent despairing souls, who sink without hope; listen, ye who feel your poverty and wretchedness, ye captive prisoners of the dread tyrant Death, whose feet are in the horrible pit and miry clay. Behold! this day do I proclaim glad tidings of good things; yes, to you all: For I will show you the way, the truth and the life; even Jesus, the Saviour of your souls, whom God himself hath sent to your relief, for the great love which he hath towards you, whilst you as yet have not loved him! Yes, Jesus so loves you, that he hath left the abodes of life and immortality, and entered this region of darkness and death to rescue you from it. He hath given himself a willing sacrifice for you, which his Father hath accepted. He now appears as your Redeemer himself, was your ransom when he spilled his blood and gave his life for you. Look ye, therefore, unto him - he shines in glory like the sun in his strength - come unto him and have life, yea, look unto him, ye who are afar off, even to the ends of the earth, and be saved, for their [sic] is no other name given under heaven and among men whereby ye can be saved. Wipe your weeping eyes; come forth out of the pit and from all your filthiness, and he will make you clean. Fear not to come unto him, ye poor, and he will make you rich; ye naked souls, and he will clothe you with garments clean and white, even with his righteousness; ye halt and lame, and he will heal you; ye deaf and blind, and he will give you hearing and sight. Come, all ye hungry, to a feast of fat things, of marrow and of wine on the lees, well refined: come, ye weary and heavy-laden, to Christ, and he will give you rest to your souls. Sing and rejoice, for ye are born again; ye are mine, saith Jesus. Now behold my kingdom and enter therein, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom, therefore fear not, little flock.
Now, "except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
From what has been already said and proved of man's being in corruption and darkness, and from what our own experience, observation, and reason teach us: we may, yea, we must see the great propriety of the forcible and pathetic words of our Saviour to Nicodemus.
But, that we may have a still more thorough understanding of them we will listen to the words of scripture, and see if we can be enabled better to describe and understand this subject than we yet have.
"Except a man be born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." (John 3:5)
This water was true faith. Faith works by love and purifies the heart. Thus. it has the quality of cleansing, and might with propriety be called water by the Saviour. This is clearly evinced by the succeeding context and other scriptures, for he says, "verily, verily, I say unto thee, we speak that we do know and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness," that is, have not faith in it, "for if I have told you earthly things and ye believe not, how shall ye believe if I tell you heavenly things." Further: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life. He that believeth on him is not condemned; but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed on the name of the only begotten son of God." Faith comes by hearing the word of God, and if a man has true faith, it is this: he must believe that God exists, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him; he must believe in the perfection of his attributes; that Jesus Christ is his Son, and likewise the testimony which Christ bore of the Father and of himself, and also the gospel or word which he spoke, with every thing that he commands us to believe, or spake unto us.
Now, if a man believe all, and in all this, he will most surely love God, for he will believe that God first loved him; thus if he loves God he will keep his commandments, even to take up his daily cross and follow Christ, and love his brother, yea, his enemy. But all a man's pretensions to faith in God, without his faith works by love and purifies the heart, will be of no more service to him than the belief of devils who verily believe and tremble. For if ye love me ye will keep my commandments. "And he that saith he loves God and hates his brother is a liar."
From all this and the rest of the scripture which abundantly confirms it, we may believe this idea to be correct :
Thus if a man be born of faith and the Spirit, which is the Holy Spirit of God, we may believe that he will most assuredly enter into the kingdom of God. This is being born again, as saith the scripture: "For he hath saved us by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost." - " For by grace are ye saved through faith."
"Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth."
The bounds designed for this work will not admit of lengthening out quotations to any great extent. But should these statements be called in question by the reader, or at least the truth of them, he will please to take his bible and see there further evidence upon the subject, for it is I believe in strict accordance with them, without exception.
A few words more and I leave this proposition.
Jesus, to show the situation which man must be in to eceive and enter into the kingdom of God, says: "Verily I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, shall not enter therein." Again: "Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." Whether a man be moral or immoral, in his natural state of heart and mind, he must be born again, and when he is he will come down into the valley of humiliation; he will be stripped of all his own righteousness; he will no longer prop nor buoy himself up with any of his own good actions; but with a heart broken for his transgressions and sins, as committed against his Creator, his only true Friend; he will mourn with peculiar humiliation in view of the unmerited favors of his God to him, whilst he remained heedless of, them and regardless of his own welfare, and of God's unspeakable love to him. I say, he will melt down into the most humble contrition; he will see the awful heinousness of sin, the whole course of his life will present nothing but the corruption of his own evil heart, and he will no longer think he has done about as much good as he has evil - no! But will repent with a godly sorrow of heart; he will see nothing in his life done as it should have been done, but loathe himself, yea, he cannot think little enough of himself; he sees in all his actions, private as well as public, how completely he had gone astray from his God; he will behold himself thus exposed to death, and will clearly see that unless God shows himself merciful he must perish in his own corruption, utterly and forever. In this starving, wretched and truly miserable condition, like the prodigal son, says, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son," and smiting upon his breast exclaims, "God be merciful to me a sinner." Now, in just this humble situation, with complete submission in his creature it is that a smiling Father, God, and Saviour, speaks peace, and by the application of his Holy Spirit gives life and joy to the penitent, which causes the new-born soul to rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory, whilst yet his tears are not dried, but flow without restraint: these are tears of gratitude, of love, and of joy. Jesus is then the one altogether lovely, and love supreme then fills the whole heart toward God and his fellow-creatures.
Thus he is born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. He now beholds the kingdom of God, which is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. He is now freely admitted into this sovereignty, because he is a most willing subject: He is now delivered from the power of darkness, and translated into the kingdom of God's dear Son. He is thus born again. This is truly the New Birth.
Behold! at the day of Pentecost, when Peter preached the gospel with power to the Jews,&c. they were pricked in their hearts, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, men, and brethren, what shall we do? They were in earnest to know what they should do; and Peter informed them that they should repent, &c. And such a mighty turning was there to the Lord, that the same day there were added about three thousand souls to the apostles number.
Persecuting Saul was another new-born son, who was brought down so humble, that he in bitterness of soul became willing to ask a despised and persecuted Jesus what he would have him to do? who showed him, and gave him pardon, because he did it ignorantly in unbelief. And made him a minister to testify the gospel of the grace of God to the gentiles.
See the jailor also - he came trembling and fell down before Paul and Silas, and brought them out and said, sirs, what must I do to be saved. And they said unto him, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shall be saved and thy house. I submit this proposition by only observing, that the evidence of this new birth, this true faith is love unfeigned, from a pure heart, felt and exercised toward God by willing obedience to his commandment, which leads him to love his neighbor or brother as himself. and to love his enemies, by suffering long, not showing hasty resentment nor anger. It will lead him to confess his wandering from God, to exhort by example as well as precept his fellow-creatures to an experimental knowledge of what he himself has felt and known.
If he has materially injured one of them by defrauding them, by slandering them, by false accusations, or in any other way, he will put himself to much trouble to bring about a fair adjustment or all such difficulties, restoring that which he hath wrongfully taken away, if possible, whether character, peace, or property. If he has been influential in propagating infidel principles and sentiments derogatory to the true character of God or Christ, but will use his best exertions to stop their progress; in short he will be in earnest to undo if possible all that he has wickedly done, which will through life be a grief and sorrow of heart to him; yes, by giving all diligence, he will strive to add to his faith, virtue; to virtue, knowledge; to knowledge, temperance; to temperance, patience; to patience, godliness; to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, CHARITY, which is the bond of perfectness.
Thus, dear reader, I hope you will clearly understand that I do not acknowledge this new birth to be a "change mysteriously wrought in the nature of man," so "mysterious that reason and the common powers of man's understanding can have no just views of the subject," but truly a revealed and rational change.
I leave it thus, and pass, thirdly to show the necessity of this new birth.
Christ has truly informed us, that "except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
It has been sufficiently and abundantly shown already, that mankind were all out of it, afar off, under the sovereignty and in the service of sin, the wages of which is death.
It remains, therefore, for me to show you the awful certainty of perishing if you remain in it, which, if you have any regard to your own welfare, will operate as a most powerful necessity for you to be born again, by which you may see the kingdom of God.
You now behold the shocking consequence of sin in the world. I need not go on to describe it to you. Look at nations - behold states and provinces - see cities and towns, neighborhoods, families; yes and most especially, view the corruptions of your own hearts, and their wickedness, and be confounded with astonishment! See how men require a God of love for his mercy, and a Redeemer for his unspeakable goodness and kindness. And remember, that God will not be mocked; that though he be long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements melt with fervent heat: the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Because they are by the word that drowned the old world, the same word, kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment, and perdition of ungodly men. For behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly of their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against. him. Because he hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained, whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead, who will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory and honor and immortality; eternal life. But unto them who are contentious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness; indignation and wrath tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first and also of the Gentile.
In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men, by Jesus Christ, who will be revealed in flaming fire from heaven, with his mighty angels, taking vengeance on them that know not God and obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and the glory of his power. "And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat upon it from whose presence the earth and heaven fled away; and there was no place found for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened, and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were found written in the books, every man according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them; and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. The time is at hand! He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still; and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still; and he that is holy, let him be holy still. And behold I come quickly, and my reward is with me to give to every man according as his work shall be."
Be not deceived, dear reader, "neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God." "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad."
Now, from a view of the great importance and most pressing necessity of your being born again, so plainly inferable from what has been said, and from those plain and pointed passages of scripture quoted last, knowing the terror of the Lord, who is a consuming fire.
I fourthly and lastly exhort you; you who have never had an evidence that you have passed from death unto life, and experienced this new birth; even to-day, after so long a time, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts: for now is the accepted time and the day of salvation. Behold your wretched situation, far from God by wicked works: sin and death reign over you; you are alienated from the life of God. Strive to consider your latter end; remember the condemnation that the Bible and your own consciences lay you under. Do strive to view the great love of God manifested to you through the gospel of his Son, who died that you may live; who, though next in glory to the eternal Father himself: condescended for your sakes to take upon himself a body of flesh, and to appear in this lower world, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, who endured the scoffs, mocking, and reviling of an ungodly set of hypocritical professors of righteousness, who, because they had not the love of God in them, persecuted him, even unto death, after having accused him of saying that he cast out devils by Beelzebub, the prince of devils, by which they committed blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, and thus placed themselves beyond the forgiveness and mercy of God. Yes, behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world! He was spit upon, blindfolded and smitten! He was crowned with thorns, and then smitten with the reeds and his holy head was pierced with them! He had to bear his cross up the Mount Calvary; he was nailed to it! Those tender hands and feet were nailed to the rugged wood, and he was lifted up on the cross, between the heavens and the earth. From the garden to the cross his soul was borne down with the dreadful load of our sins; for he bare our sins in his own body; he paid the debt; he did the will of his Father, and poured out his soul unto death. He, like a lamb without blemish, and without spot, was sacrificed our passover. But, turn from this and behold the immaculate Jesus! He burst the tomb! The bars of death were not strong enough to hold him. Yea, he hath ascended up on high, and is seated at the right hand of God in the heavens, having a name above every name. He reigns in glory indescribable. His face shineth as the sun in his strength, and his feet are like brass as if it burned in a furnace, and his majesty is unutterable. But he is yet the friend of sinners. Can you forbear to love him? Come and believe on him. Repent of your sins. Humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and he will exalt you. Has not God been good? has he not manifested his love to you? how can you be so ungrateful to him, so unmerciful to yourselves, as to perish? Away with your own righteousness, and seek the righteousness of Christ, who is the Lord our righteousness. Seek the Lord whilst he may be found, call upon him whilst he is near. For when once the master of the house has risen up and shut the door, it will be for ever too late. Can you hate God, the Saviour, and your own souls' welfare so much, as to neglect so great a salvation? Oh! may you turn to the Lord, be born again, and see the kingdom of God, which is a sovereignty of righteousness, peace, everlasting joy, and eternal life. But be assured as there is a God omnipotent, he will not be mocked and trifled with. Jesus the judge is about to take the seat of judgment, and now if you add this greatest of all sins to your multiplied crimes, of trampling under your feet and despising those great offers of life and salvation bought by the blood of Christ himself, you will wrap yourselves in keen despair, when God shall pronounce your awful doom - the second death. Stop and think before you farther go, for ere you are aware you will drop into the burning lake!
And what shall we say to ourselves, we that say we have passed from death unto life, and believe that we have been born again, and that profess to love God and to be the subjects of his kingdom? Have we lived as we should have done? Have not we stood in the way of sinners? Have we been faithful in warning them to flee from the wrath to come? Has our example been such at all times as to redound to the glory of our father in heaven, and manifest to the world that we are the children of God? Seeing all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought we to be in all holy conversation and godliness; looking for and hastening unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens, being on fire, shall be dissolvcd, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?
Of what pressing importance is it that we look well to our own selves. Let us follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man can see the Lord; looking diligently, lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest we should like Esau, become profane, and sell our birth-right in the kingdom of God for a morsel of the vanities of this world, and thereby disinherit ourselves of the blessing, and to our hopeless grief, when we shaIl by and by wish to find a place of repentance, find none, though we seek it carefully with tears. For if we wilfully sin, after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sin, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.
Let us strive to be more faithful. Let us keep our lamps trimmed and burning, that when the Bridegroom cometh we may be ready to meet and enter with him into the marriage chamber. Let us watch, for we know not at what hour of the night the Master cometh; therefore let us not sleep, but watch, lest he come upon us like a thief in the night, as he will upon all the world.
"He that overcometh shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be my son. Behold, saith Jesus, I come quickly. Even so, come, Lord Jesus."
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.