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wanting in man by nature, as to need being created anew.
It is common to speak of the original depravity of human nature as being universal ; and of regeneration as a universal change : and so much do some love to deal in generals only, that nothing particular can be learnt from them, on either of these subjects. It is indeed true, that both native depravity, and renewing grace, have an extensive influence; even over the whole man, soul and body. But yet, certain it is, that man was not universally annihilated by the fall; and that the renewing of the Holy Ghost is not a proper, universal, new creation. Here then, in order to a clearer understanding of the matter, it may be useful briefly to notice a few negative particulars.
1. It is very certain that no faculties, members or senses of body, necessary for the performance of good works, are the things totally wanting in all men by nature, or the things created anew in regeneration. Probably our bodies are weaker now, and their senses less perfect, than they might have been if sin had not entered into the world, and death by sin : but most men have still bodies good enough to be capable of many good external actions, if nothing else were wanting : nor have men other or better bodily eyes, or ears, or tongues, or hands, or feet, when they are made new creatures by being born again, than those they had before : though they use them in another and better manner.
2. The same may be said of the mental capacity of understanding. This faculty may be much impaired by vicious courses, and is alway darkened in wicked men because of the blindness of their heart. It is certain, however, that no natural men, except idiots, or such as are quite delirious, are totally incapable of good works for want of understanding. And it is probable that even natural fools and distractéd persons, are rarely if ever so radically destitute of reason, but that they might be made rational without a new creation. Nor are the mere intellectual powers of men new-made, or mended, by regeneration, any more than their bodily senses and members. There is only a new turn and direction given them. As the same feet which were before swift to mischief, are now turned unto God's testimonies, and run in the way of his commandments : as the same hands which perhaps stole before, are now employed in honest labor, and in giving to him that needeth : as the same eyes and ears which were attentive only to vanities, are now turned with delightful engagedness, day and night; to the words of eternal life : as the same tongue that used deceit, and mouth that was full of cursing and bitterness, are now exercised in prayer and praise, and in edifying communications ; so the same understanding faculty which before made one wise to do evil, now enables him to know and do those things that are good.
3. The power of will, requisite for moral agency, is not the capacity which is procreated in regeneration.
By this we mean, the power of being pleased with some things, and displeased with others; of inclining to the former, and turning with aversion from the latter : of choosing one way or the other, according to one's own mind. Should a creature be of such an unfeeling make as not to be capable of liking or disliking at all, or of being inclined or disinclined to any thing ; such a creature would be unfinished, as a free agent ; and must be further created, before he could act at all. And if this power of will should be wholly lost in one once endowed with it, there would be a necessity of its being created in him again, before he would be capable of any actions, good or evil.
But this is not the deficiency in natural men. They have will enough. They can love and hate ;they can choose and refuse, just as they are disposed : and, therefore, might do good, very easily, if it were only agreeable to them.
4. There is a mental sense, .called in scripture conscience, which is common to all men ; and is no part of the creation unto good works, spoken of in our text.
This is a sense, which has reference to moral sub. jects only : that is, to things right or wrong in moral agents ; true or false in doctrines ; just or unjust in laws, and their sanctions. It is something different, I conceive, from a mere habit of thinking, contracted by education or custom : and something different from the bare capacity of forming a true judgment. It helps us much in judging of ourselves what is right; but it is not a man's judgment itself, or the mere capacity of forming a rational and right opinion. That faculty resides in the head ; this appears to have its seat in the breast. That only sees; this feels. Conscience has always feeling, more or less : it is therefore properly a mental sense ; and as it respects matters of morality only, it may with propriety be called, the moral sense.
But this, whatever it be called, and whether absolutely necessary to moral agency or not, is certainly common to men. It is what we mean by common sense, to which an appeal is so often made ; supposing that its decision will be the same in all, and always agreeable to truth, when things are fairly stated and fully understood. Habits of vice, or of inattention, may weaken this sense for a time; it is yet alive, however, and, on some occasions, will bite like a serpent, and sting like an adder, in the most hardened sinners. We read of some who were past feeling, and whose conscience was seared ; but we are never told of any who had no conscience at all. On the contrary, of himself and other preachers of the gospel, the apostle says, 2 Cor. iv. 1, 2, “ Seeing we
have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not ; but have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth, commending ourselves to every man's conscience, in the sight of God.” He plainly supposes that no man was wholly destitute of conscience; the most stupid heathen not excepted.
Thus far then, human nature, in its deepest depravity, is not so sunk—so perfectly annihilated, in any respect, as to need new-creating. But, besides all the powers and senses required to constitute man a rational, voluntary, and conscious agent; some. thing further is necessary to his actually performing good works : namely, a good disposition. This, we suppose to be wholly wanting in mankind, as born of the flesh; and to be the thing created radically anew, when any are born of the Spirit. A man will not, and cannot act right, as long as he is not so disposed; however capable he may be of willing and acting agreeably to his own mind. “ The vile person will speak villany, and his heart will work iniquity.” “ A corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit.” A man's ways, and words, and thoughts, will naturally be vicious, as long as his heart is totally destitute of virtue. But should one perform some painful duties, from merely selfish motives, these would not be good works. “For he is not a Jew which is one outwardly,” says the apostle, “ neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew which is one inwardly : and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter ; whose praise is not of men but of God.” And again, “ Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing." Nor can any doctrine be more evidently agreeable to reason and common sense, than these declarations of scripture. A wicked man, from sinister views, may do things which are useful to others, and by which God is glorified in the eyes of the godly; but, not having the glory of God at heart, nor the good of others, these things cannot, in him, be acts of true piety, or real virtue. There must be a disposition to love God and our neighbor as the divine law requires—there must be a principle of righteousness and true holiness—of impartial, disinterested, universal benevolence, or the most specious deeds are no other than dead works. And this principle—this disposition, we suppose, is the thing, the only thing, which is properly created, in regenera. tion. But, the mind being the standard of the man, when one is thus renewed in the spirit of his mind, it may be truly said, “ He is a new creature; old things are passed away, behold, all things are become new.”
Having explained, I hope sufficiently, the doctrine of our text, we will now,
II. Attend to the evidences of its being a true doctrine,
That regeneration is such an essential change of nature, as supposes something created, in a proper and strict sense, we have reason to believe,
1. From the phrases by which this great change is commonly denoted, in the holy scriptures.
It is expressly spoken of under the name and no. tion of a creation, in a number of places. Besides the text now insisted on, see Eph. iv. 24, “ The new man, which after God is created in righteous, ness and true holiness." Col. iii. 10, “ The new man, which is renewed in knowledge, after the image of him that created him.” And 2 Cor. v. 17, “ If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature."
We may also observe, that most if not all the other phrases, by which this change is expressed,