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النشر الإلكتروني

SERMON XIX.-The great Privilege of those that are

born of God. “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin,” 1 John iii, 9. 1. It has been frequently supposed, that the being born of God was all one with the being justified ; that the new birth and justification were only different expressions, denoting the same thing : it being certain, on the one hand, that whosoever is justified, is also born of God; and on the other, that whosoever is born of God, is also justified; yea, that both these gifts of God are given to every believer in one and the same moment. In one point of time his sins are blotted out, and he is born again of God.

2. But though it be allowed, that justification and the new birth are, in point of time, inseparable from cach other, yet they are easily distinguished, as being not the same, but things of a widely different nature. Justification implies only a relative, the new birth a real, change. God, in justifying us, does something for us; in begetting us again, he does the work in us. The former changes our outward relation to God, so that of enemies we become children; by the latter our inmost souls are changed, so that of sinners we become saints. The one restores us to the favour, the other to the image, of God. The one is the taking away the guilt, the other the taking away the power, of sin : so that, although they are joined together in point of time, yet are they of wholly distinct natures.

3. The not discerning this, the not observing the wide difference there is between being justified and being born again, has occasioned exceeding great confusion of thought in many who have treated on this subject; particularly when they have attempted to explain this great privilege of the children of God; to show how “whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin."

4. In order to apprehend this clearly, it may be necessary, first, to consider what is the proper meaning of that expression, “Whosoever is born of God;" and, secondly, to inquire, in what sense he“ doth not commit sin ?"

I. 1. First, we are to consider, what is the proper meaning of that expression, “Whosoever is born of God." And, in general, from all the passages of holy writ, wherein this expression, the being born of God, occurs, we may learn that it implies not barely the being baptized, or any outward change whatever ; but a vast inward change, a change wrought in the soul, by the operation of the Holy Ghost; a change in the whole manner of our existence; for, from the moment we are born of God, we live in quite another manner than we did before; we are, as it were, in another world.

2. The ground and reason of the expression is easy to be understood. When we undergo this great change, we may, with much propriety, be said to be born again, because there is so near a resemblance between the circumstances of the natural and of the spiritual birth; so that to consider the circumstances of the natural birth, is the most easy way to understand the spiritual.

3. The child which is not yet born subsists indeed by the air, as does every thing which has life ; but feels it not, nor any thing else, unless

in a very dull and imperfect manner. It hears little, if at all; the organs of hearing being as yet closed up. It sees nothing; having its eyes fast shut, and being surrounded with utter darkness. There are, it may be, some faint beginnings of life, when the time of its birth draws nigh, and some motion consequent thereon, whereby it is distinguished from a mere mass of matter ; but it has no senses; all these avenues of the soul are hitherto quite shut up. Of consequence, it has scarce any intercourse with this visible world; nor any knowledge, conception, or idea, of the things that occur therein.

4. The reason why he that is not yet born is wholly a stranger to the visible world, is, not because it is afar off; (it is very nigh; it surrounds him on every side ;) but, partly, because he has not those senses, they are not yet opened in his soul, whereby alone it is possible to hold commerce with the material world ; and partly, because so thick a veil is cast between, through which he can discern nothing.

5. But no sooner is the child born into the world, than he exists in a quite different manner. He now feels the air with which he is surrounded, and which pours into him from every side, as fast as he alternately breathes it back, to sustain the flame of life: and hence springs a continual increase of strength, of motion, and of sensation ; all the bodily senses being now awakened, and furnished with their proper objects.

His eyes are now opened to perceive the light, which, silently flow ing in upon them, discovers not only itself, but an infinite variety of things, with which before he was wholly unacquainted. His ears are unclosed, and sounds rush in with endless diversity. Every sense is employed upon such objects as are peculiarly suitable to it; and by these inlets the soul, having an open intercourse with the visible world, acquires more and more knowledge of sensible things, of all the things which are under the sun.

6. So it is with him that is born of God. Before that great change is wrought, although hu subsists by him, in whom all that have life “live, and move, and have their being,” yet he is not sensible of God; he does not feel, he has no inward consciousness of his presence. He does not perceive that divine breath of life, without which he cannot subsist a moment: nor is he sensible of any of the things of God; they make no impression upon his soul. God is continually calling to him from on high, but he heareth not; his ears are shut, so that the “ voice of the charmer”' is lost in' him, “charm he never so wisely." He seeth not the things of the Spirit of God; the eyes of his under standing being closed, and utter darkness covering his whole soul, sur rounding him on every side. It is true he may have some faint dawnings of life, some small beginnings of spiritual motion; but as yet he has no spiritual senses capable of discerning spiritual objects; consequently he " discerneth not the things of the Spirit of God; he cannot know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

7. Hence he has scarce any knowledge of the invisible world, as he has scarce any intercourse with it. Not that it is afar off: no: he is in the midst of it; it encompasses him round about. The other world, as we usually term it, is not far from every one of us: it is above, and beneath, and on every side. Only the natural man discerneth it not; partly, because he has no spiritual senses, whereby alone we can discern

the things of God; partly, because so thick a veil is interposed, as he knows not how to penetrate.

8. But when he is born of God, born of the Spirit, how is the manner of his existence changed! His whole soul is now sensible of God, and he can say, by sure experience, “Thou art about my bed, and about my path ;' I feel thee in all my ways; “ Thou besettest me behind and before, and layest thy hand upon me.” The Spirit or breath of God is immediately inspired, breathed into the new born soul; and the same breath which comes from, returns to, God: as it is continually received by faith, so it is continually rendered back by love, by prayer, and praise, and thanksgiving ; love, and praise, and prayer being the breath ot every soul which is truly born of God. And by this new kind of spiritual respiration, spiritual life is not only sustained, but increased day by day, together with spiritual strength, and motion, and sensation ; all the senses of the soul being now awake, and capable of discerning spiritual good and evil.

9. “The eyes of his understanding” are now “open," and he “seeth Him that is invisible.” He sees what is “the exceeding greatness of his power," and of his love towards them that believe. He sees that God is merciful to him a sinner, that he is reconciled through the Son of his love. He clearly perceives both the pardoning love of God, and all his “ exceeding great and precious promises.” “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined,” and doth shine, " in his heart,” to enlighten him with “ the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” All the darkness is now passed away, and he abides in the light of God's countenance,

10. His ears are now opened, and the voice of God no longer calls in vain. He hears and obeys the heavenly calling: he knows the voice of his Shepherd. All his spiritual senses being now awakened, he has a clear intercourse with the invisible world ; and hence he knows more and more of the things which before it could not "enter into his heart to conceive.” He now knows what the peace of God is; what is joy in the Holy Ghost; what the love of God which is shed abroad in the hearts of them that believe in him through Christ Jesus. Thus the veil being removed, which before interrupted the light and voice, the knowledge and love of God, he who is born of the Spirit, dwelling in love, “ dwelleth in God, and God in him."

II. 1. Having considered the meaning of that expression, “ Whosoever is born of God,” it remains in the second place, to inquire, in what sense he “ doth not commit sin."

Now one who is so born of God, as hath been above described, who continually receives into his soul the breath of life from God, the gracious influence of his Spirit, and continually renders it back ; one who thus believes and loves, who by faith perceives the continual actings of God upon his spirit, and by a kind of spiritual reaction returns the grace he receives, in unceasing love, and praise, and prayer; not only doth not commit sin, while he thus keepeth himself, but so long as this “ seed remaineth in hinı, he cannot sin, because he is born of God."

2. By sin, I here understand outward sin, according to the plain, common acceptation of the word; an actual voluntary transgression of the law; of the revealed, written law of God; of any commandment of God, acknowledged to be such at the time that it is transgressed. But “whosoever is born of God," while he abideth in faith and love, and in the spirit of prayer and thanksgiving, not only doth not, but cannot, thus commit sin. So long as he thus believeth in God through Christ, and loves him, and is pouring out his heart before him, he cannot voluntarily transgress any command of God, either by speaking or acting what he knows God hath forbidden: so long that seed which remaineth in him, that loving, praying, thankful faith, compels him to refrain from whatsoever he knows to be an abomination in the sight of God.

3. But here a difficulty will immediately occur ; and one that to many has appeared insuperable, and induced them to deny the plain assertion of the apostle, and give up the privilege of the children of God.

It is plain, in fact, that those whom we cannot deny to have been truly born of God, (the Spirit of God having given us in his word this infallible testimony concerning them,) nevertheless, not only could, but did commit sin, even gross, outward sin. They did transgress the plain, known laws of God, speaking or acting what they knew he had forbidden.

4. Thus David was unquestionably born of God or ever he was anointed king over Israel. He knew in whom he had believed ; “ he was strong in faith, giving glory to God.” “The Lord,” saith he, “ is my Shepherd ; therefore can I lack nothing. He shall feed me in green pastures, and lead me forth beside the waters of comfort. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me," Psa. xxiii, 1, &c. He was filled with love ; such as often constrained him to cry out, “I will love thee, oh Lord, my strength: the Lord is my rock, and my defence; the horn also of my salvation, and my refuge," Psa. xviii, 1. He was a man of prayer ; pouring out his soul before God in all circumstances of life ; and abundant in praises and thanksgiving : “Thy praise,” saith he, “ shall be ever in my mouth,” Psa. xxxiv, 1 : “ Thou art my God, and I will thank thee; thou art my God, and I will praise thee," Psa. cxviii, 23. And yet such a child of God could and did commit sin; yea, the horrid sins of adultery and murder.'

5. And even after the Holy Ghost was more largely given, after “ life and immortality were brought to light by the gospel,” we want not instances of the same melancholy kind, which were also doubtless written for our instruction. Thus he who (probably from his selling all that he had, and bringing the price for the relief of his poor brethren) was by the apostles themselves surnamed Barnabas, that is, the son of consolation, Acts iv, 36, 37; who was so honoured at Antioch, as to be selected with Saul out of all the disciples, to carry their relief unto the brethren in Judea, Acts xi, 29; this Barnabas, who at his return from Judea, was, by the peculiar direction of the Holy Ghost, solemnly "separated from the other prophets and teachers, for the work whereunto God had called him,"ch. xii, 1-4, even to accompany the great apostle arnong the Gentiles, and to be his fellow labourer in every place;-nevertheless, was afterwards so sharp, ch. xv, 35, 39, in his contention with St. Paul, (becanse he “ thought it not good to take with them John," in his visiting the brethren a second time, 6 who had departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work,”) that he himself also departed from the work ; that he “ took John, and sailed unto Cyprus,” Acts xv, 39; forsaking him to whom he had been in so immediate a manner joined by the floly Ghost.

6. An instance more astonishing than both these, is given by St. Paul in his epistle to the Galatians. When Peter, the aged, the zealous, the first of the apostles; one of the three most highly favoured by his Lord; "was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles,”--the heathens converted to the Christian faith, as having been peculiariy taught of God, that he “should not call any man common or unclean.” But " when they were come, he separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly, according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter, before them all, if thou being a Jew, livest after the manner of the Gen tiles,”-not regarding the ceremonial law of Moses," why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews ?" Gal. ii, 11, &c. Here is also plain, undeniable sin committed by one who was undoubtedly born of God. But how can this be reconciled with the assertion of St. John, if taken in the obvious literal meaning, that“ Whosoever is born of God, doth not commit sin ?"

17. I answer, what has been long observed is this : So long as “he that is born of God keepeth himself,” (which he is able to do, by the grace of God,)“ the wicked one toucheth him not:" but if he keepeth not himself, if he abideth not in the faith, he may commit sin even as another man.

It is easy therefore to understand, how any of these children of God might be moved from his own steadfastness, and yet the great truth of God, declared by the apostle remain steadfast and unshaken. He did not keep himself,” by that grace of God which was sufficient for him. He fell, step by step, first into negative, inward sin, not“ stirring up the gift of God which was in him,"not" watching unto prayer," not “pressing on to the mark of the prize of his high calling;" then into positive inward sin, inclining to wickedness with his heart, giving way to some evil desire or temper; next, he lost his faith, his sight of a pardoning God, and consequently his love of God; and, being then weak and like another man, he was capable of committing even outward sin.

8. To explain this by a particular instance: David was born of God, and saw God by faith. He loved God in sincerity. He could truly say, " Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth” [neither person nor thing] " that I desire in comparison of thee !" But still there remained in his heart that corruption of nature, which is the seed of all evil,

6. He was walking upon the roof of his house," 2 Sam. xi, 2, probably praising the God whom his soul loved, when he looked down, and saw Bathsheba. He felt a temptation ; a thought which tended to evil. The Spirit of God did not fail to convince him of this. He doubtless heard and knew the warning voice ; but he yielded in some measure to the thought, and the temptation began to prevail over him. Hereby his spirit was sullied ; he saw God etill; but it was more dimly than before. He loved God still ; but not in the same degree; not with the same strength and ardour of affection. Yet God checked him again, though his Spirit was grieved; and his voice, though fainter and fainter, still whispered, “Sin ljeth at the door; look unto me, and be thou saved."

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