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JOHN iii. 7.
Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.
It was a spiritual change, a death unto sin and a new birth unto righteousness, which our Saviour enforced on Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, as an indispensable qualification of being his disciple. Of this change, indeed, baptism was constituted both a mean and a pledge-imposing on those who receive it the obligation of dying unto sin and rising again unto righteousness-conveying to them, as members of Christ's mystical body, into which it admitted them, the grace by which this spiritual renovation is to be effected, and pledging to them, on the fulfilment of the conditions, all the blessings of the Christian covenant. For in another part of this conversation with Nicodemus, our Saviour declared, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." This use of water as the mode of admission into new and spiritual relations, was a ceremony at which a learned Jew ought not to have expressed astonishment; for washing with water was the significant emblem employed to receive proselytes from the Gentiles into the fold of God's chosen people. And therefore there was
great justice and force in the remark of our Saviour to the Jewish ruler-" Art thou a master in Israel, and knowest not these things?"
In a certain sense, then, every baptized person undergoes a change of spiritual condition-is born again. He is entered by baptism into a new state -into the Christian church. New obligations, the obligations of the Christian covenant, are imposed upon him. He enjoys a claim, on the fulfilment of these conditions, to new privileges, the privileges of the Christian covenant; and the Holy Spirit, which animates that mystical body of Christ into which he is admitted, is pledged to him to enable him to fulfil all the new obligations, and to secure the new privileges imposed and conferred upon him. Thus, in that sacrament which the apostle styles the washing of regeneration, he who receives it is born again.
But in a more enlarged, and in the full sense of the expression, every baptized person must be born again: for there is "a renewing of the Holy Ghost" entirely distinct from the regeneration of baptism, of which this sacrament may or may not be the mean and pledge. In the case of the adult indeed, who is properly qualified by that grace which, given to all men, and going before, as well as co-operating with every good work, enabled him to exercise true repentance and saving faith, the reception of baptism conveys to him the sanctifying power of the Divine Spirit, and pledges to him its continued influences. The adult who receives baptism without the necessary qualifications, is wholly destitute of the renewing influences of the Holy Spirit, and is in no other sense born again, than as he is adinitted into the Christian church, is bound by the
obligations of the Christian covenant, and become, as a member of the mystical body of Christ, the subject of that grace which, while it enables him to repent, and to turn to God, increases, while he resists it, his guilt and his condemnation. The infant, in virtue of the declaration of the Saviour, that "of such is the kingdom of God," receives in baptism a full title to all the privileges of the Christian covenant, among which is the gift of that Divine Spirit which, as soon as the corrupt passions of nature exercise their sway, furnishes the means of counteracting and subduing them, and of acquiring the holy graces and habits of the new man. The "renewing of the Holy Ghost," in the death unto sin and rising again unto righteousness, is that completion and consummation of the baptismal regeneration which alone fully entitles a person to the title of being a new creature.
This renewal of the affections of our fallen nature, and this exhibition of every holy grace, and practice of every virtue, afford the only evidence of the operations of the Divine Spirit in the soul. These operations are incomprehensible, except as to these their effects; and thus known as to their power or their effects, their transcending our comprehension constitutes no sound objection to their reality. For the agency of the wind is inscrutable; it is known only by its effects. This was the analogy of our Saviour. "Marvel not I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, nor whither it goeth. So is every one that is born of the Spirit."
Since, then, baptismal regeneration confers only a conditional title to the blessings of the Christian
covenant, and pledges and conveys only that grace which is necessary to the fulfilment of these conditions, it is a misapprehension, or a misstatement of this doctrine, which represents it as denying or superceding the necessity of that spiritual change which it sets forth and enforces, and for which it affords the means; and which is denoted by "the renewing of the Holy Ghost," the becoming a new creature in Christ Jesus.
In the following discourse it shall be my object to enforce the necessity of this spiritual change, as it regards man in his general character, and in the particular circumstances in which he may be placed.
I. In his general character, man must be born again, must undergo a spiritual change, as a fallen and corrupt creature.
Not that all his powers and propensities are totally depraved; for, on the contrary, all his powers and propensities, in their original destination and nature, are wise and good. The misdirection of them, and the excessive indulgence of them, in consequence of the fall, constitute man's depravity. His understanding is now liable to be perverted, and so far from intuitively and invariably discerning and attaining divine truth, is incapable of spiritual discernment without the enlightening influences of divine grace. His will, instead of choosing constantly and uniformly the objects of duty which an enlightened conscience presents, fixes its choice on the sinful pursuits and pleasures which corrupt appetite presents to it: and the affections of the human soul, instead of lifting themselves to the adoration, the love, and the service of him who,
possessed of every perfection, and exercising upon man his boundless goodness, claims man's supreme homage-instead of indulging in the lawful objects of temporal pursuit and gratification in that moderation which reason and the divine law prescribe, the affections of the soul are devoted to the things of time and sense, forgetful of the higher pursuits and joys of a spiritual and immortal existence. Blind to spiritual truth, and incapable of spiritual good, except as he is enlightened and sanctified by the Divine Spirit, it is apparent that fallen and corrupt man requires the renewing agency of this divine Guide and Sanctifier. On account, then, of the misdirection and abuse of his powers and propensities, his state by nature, independently of divine grace, is characterized as a state of blindness, impotency, and sin. "The natural man discerneth not the things of the Spirit of God." "The carnal mind is enmity against God." "We are not sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves." This is the language of Scripture. What is the language of fact? Who are they that understand and relish the sublime and holy truths of the Gospel? Who are they that exhibit a uniform and consistent course of piety and virtue? Who are they that not only "do justly and love mercy, but walk humbly with their God"-revering and loving his attributes, serving him in righteousness and holiness, submitting to his institutions and ordinances? Are there any who thus merit the character of holy and righteous men-none but those who, in humility and sincerity, have invoked, and, in the use of the prescribed means, have received, the enlightening and sanctifying influences of the Divine Spirit? Fact, then, as well as Scripture,