Shewing what the New-Birth or Regenerati∣on is.
JOHN 3. 3.
OUr work formerly hath been to shew the possibility of know∣ing our selves to be in the state of grace, as also the lawfull∣nesse of proceeding by signs: We have also discovered what are true signs, and what insufficient. The next thing therefore in order is to handle the nature of the state of grace, which because the Scripture expresseth in severall words, all which have a peculiar notion with them, we shall take them in order:
And first I shall begin with the expression of regeneration or new-birth, out of these words, which are part of a remarkable History, viz, a Dialogue between Christ and Nicodemus; wherein is in a most lively manner re∣presented the ignorance and stupidity even of the most learned and knowing men about the work of regeneration; and certainly it is of infinite consequence that the holy Ghost hath left a full testimony of the stupidity of those in this matter who were reputed the Masters of Israel.
In the Text you have a Proposition, unlesse a man be born again, &c, then the asseveration, verily, verily. It's observed that whereas other Evangelists use this asseveration seldom, or if so, singly only. The Evangelist John for the most part doubleth it: some assign one cause, some another, but it may be attributed to the peculiar disposition of John, for the Spirit of God useth their peculiar abilities to his work.
Page 202 In the next place there is the occasion of these words, implied in that, Jesus an∣swered, for it doth not appear to what words of Nicodemus Christ doth answer, and therefore the ground of this speech seemeth very difficult to finde out. In the New Testament to answer is sometimes no more then to begin to speak, not deno∣ting any relation to a discourse going before: but here it may well be connected to the words before: Either thus, as some, Thou thinkest, Nicodemus, I am a meer Prophet only, Thou lookest upon me only as a man sent from God, verily thou canst not perceive or discern any more, unlesse thou art regenerated. Others think more probably that Nicodemus after that honourable compellation given our Sa∣viour, did then enquire how he might be made partaker of the Kingdom of hea∣ven, only the Evangelist did not relate it, because our Saviours answer did suffici∣ently manifest it.
We come then to the Proposition, where is considerable, 1. the subject, then the attribute: The subject, unlesse a man be born again, wherein mark the universality, unlesse a man, he doth not say, Unlesse thou, including hereby every one: And be born again, he doth not say, be healed, or cured, or restored to health, but born again; The greek word 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 some make from above, as it is used afterwards in the Chapter: but it's plain that it signifieth as much as 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, by the reply of Nicodemus, how can a man be born the second time: The attribute is, he cannot see the Kingdom of God, that is, possesse it, as the Latinists say, cernere haereditatem, by this is meant, not the present dispensation of grace, but future glory in heaven.
Without regeneration there is no salvation.*
It is not enough to be born once naturally, but we must be also a second time spiritually. The main thing to clear this doctrine, will be to shew what regenera∣tion is, and I shall do that first negatively, then positively:
What it is not. *
And first, It is not as Nicodemus grosly conceived, a second entring into the womb; It's a wonder that Nicodemus a learned man, not in Aristotle, or humane arts, but in the Law of God, in the Scriptures, where he had read of a new heart, and taking away the heart of stone, Ezek. 36. 26. yet should apprehend no better: but though a man could in a naturall way be born a thousand times over, yet such is that abomi∣nable defilement and pestilential contagion in every one, that this natural being can be no more made glorious in heaven then a black coal a glorious Starre. Thus our Saviour afterwards shewing the ground of regeneration, saith, That which is born of the flesh, is flesh. What a folly then is it to glory in a mans birth, a Prince, a No∣bleman, a Gentleman by birth! for though these have priviledges among men, yet they do not exempt from curses before God: Oh that those who glory in their bloud could discover well the works of Gods Spirit in them, and this is univer∣sally true, even of those who have excellent, ingenious, good natures, such as Bo∣naventure of whom by an hyperbole it was said, In hoc homine non peccavit Adam: This good nature, this kinde, this ingenious nature must be born from above; It must not only have external culture and dressing, but internall alteration, and with∣out that it burneth in hell as well as others.
Secondly, Its not, in another extremity, to have a new physicall being, As not to lose the essentials we had of a soul and the faculties thereof: some have confu∣sedly * talked of a transubstantiation into the being of God, and tels us of a strange deification, or being made God with God. These men have affected uncouth and obsolete expressions, as the Paracelsians do in Physick: No, though born of God, yet not made God, only we have the image of God in us, and that which is by way of substance in him is only by accident in us. It is true, the Scripture calleth it a divine nature, 1 Pet. 1. 4. a new creature, 2 Cor. 5. 17. the inward man, and this made Illyricus with his followers at least in words to erre, (for some excuse his sense) when he said, The substance of a man is corrupted, and so his substance must be changed. It's true the Scripture useth such expressions to shew how reall, intimate, and fixed the work of grace is; It's not a notion, it's not a fancy; No Page 203 more then to be a man, to live, to speak, to eat is. Thus grace where it is, makes a wonderfull alteration, though not in the essence, yet in the qualities and operations of a man, so that in a Theologicall sense he is wholly a new man, he is not the same he was: and this is discovered as really and powerfully in him, as when Adam out of nothing was made a man: Take heed then of being in the number of those who account all the change wrought by Gods Spirit in a man, to be only a melancholy fancy, and attribute all to such cloudy imaginations, or else speak of it, as a particular constitution and temperament of the body: No, The Scripture would never call grace by such reall powerfull names, if it had not also as reall and powerfull effects: so that regeneration is a reall, supernaturall change in a man, as when of dead a man is made alive, of foolish, wise; not a relative change, as when a man is made an Husband or Magistrate, wherein his principles and heart are not altered.
Thirdly, It's more then an outward acceptation and acknowledgement of the waies of Christ. For though this seem to be a great conversion, dead men begin * to live, yet our Saviour extendeth his sense further: so universall and generall as corruption hath been, so extensive must the restauration of the soul be. The Jews called their Proselytes recens natos, new-born; but to be a Proselyte externally, not inwardly changed in our natures, is not this regeneration in the Text: There∣fore this new birth is the greatest riddle in the world, even to those who may out∣wardly very readily submit to the waies of Christ: why then do men rest satisfied in this externall profession, as if nothing else were more required? May not Christ look upon thee as he did on the fig-tree, see leaves but no fruit, and so eternally curse thee? Thou, though turned from Paganism or Popery, yet art not new-born, till God hath changed that Tygers nature of thine into a Lamb; say then, O Lord, I do not only desire new eyes, new ears, new hands, but a new heart, and a new nature.
Fourthly, This is not that morall and civill deportment of a mans self, which may be attained by humane precepts and helps of Philosophy. Although Heathens * have called the new moulding of our lives, a new-birth: and Nobis ad arbitrium nostrum nascilicet, said Seneca, we may be born what we will; yet this is farre short of that heavenly and spirituall birth the Scripture discovers, so that as our Saviour of all subjects thought this most necessary to insist upon with Nicodemus: the like ought the Ministers of Gods Word to do: for seeing all people generally are so full of self-righteousnesse, please themselves in a morall, ingenious carri∣age, this ought again and again to sound in their ears, Unlesse a man be born again, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Now though this be so confessedly ne∣ceslary by Scripture grounds, yet who searcheth deeper into his heart, and who looketh further into his own soul, then a meer externall righteousnesse? if this were so, regeneration might be found in Aristotles and Plato's School, as well as Christs, but its the property of Gods word only to beget this new nature in us: Our Sa∣viour meaneth not, unlesse a prophane man only be born again, but also un∣lesse a meer civill man, and outward vertuous man be born again, he cannot be saved.
Fifthly, Neither are those common gifts and graces which sometimes are bestow∣ed upon reprobates, this regeneration: Judas was not born again though he had * power to work miracles, and was inabled to preach the Gospel of Christ. It is not with man as trees, every leaf and blossome argueth some life in the tree; but not in man, every ability to preach, to pray, though with great approbation, doth not manifest supernaturall life. These indeed come from Christ inabling us and assist∣ing us, but not dwelling in us: such as these are abortives or monsters, they are in a probable way of being born again, but prove unshapen, sometimes by defici∣ency, sometimes by redundancy, and sometimes these have pains and pangs of heart, their souls are in travell, as if Christ would be formed in them, but at last there is nothing but winde and emptinesse, the issue of them, so that if you consi∣der Page 204 what this regeneration is not, you will finde excluded from this number, most of those who yet externally account themselves in Christs flock, and children in his house: do not therefore judge spirituall parts and head-abilities any such great matter, for if these come not from a new heart within, if they are not streams flowing from this fountain, they will vanish like vapours, and be but as the gar∣lands of flowers that were upon the beasts that were near sacrificing: Oh but how is this work of regeneration and gracious mercy of God now neglected? Who attendeth to it? Who in the midst of these severall opinions that fly abroad in the world, mindeth this necessary thing?
In the next place, let us consider wherein this lyeth: and that in the generall we * may say is the restauration in some measure of that image of God, in which we were created: Adam was made after Gods image and likenesse, Gen. 1. 27. holy as he was, Eph. 4. 24. called therefore the Son of God, Luke 3. 38. This consisted in an universall rectitude of the whole man, in an holy frame of all the parts, faculties, and affections in a man: now when Adam fell, this curious workmanship was bro∣ken to pieces; no part, no affections could do their duty: grace therefore regene∣rating is to restore and repair these breaches again: The blinded understanding is inlightned, The contumacious will obedient, The stony heart softned, The unruly affections crucified, so that this grace of regeneration makes the most excellent alteration and wonderfull change that can be. It's far more then raising the bodies out of the grave, and making them incorruptible and glorious, and certainly if the people so wondred to see a lame cripple walk, a blinde man see, how ought we to admire the greatnesse of Gods power in this supernaturall change? Now this Image of God had these remarkable things in it; There was an universall har∣mony and proportion of all graces; for it is not the Image of a man if there be only the head or the hands, there must be the proportion of the whole body; so in this work of regeneration there must be an universall alteration: Every part must be born again, as well as every part is corrupted and every part shall be glo∣rified. Then again in this Image there is likenesse and resemblance, for so to be an image, is a relative thing, and therefore by this we are said to be born of God, to be children of God, because we have an heavenly disposition, love what he lo∣veth, delight in what he delighteth, hate what he hateth. Even as wicked men are said to be of their Father the devil, Joh. 8. 44. because they do his works, they lie, are malicious to the godly, resist and oppose the means of grace, as Satan: Thus the godly are of God their Father, because his works they do, are holy as he is, mercifull as he is, righteous as he is, though with a vast disproportion. Lastly, There was connaturallity and sutablenesse of this image with mans nature, inso∣much that Divines call that righteousnesse naturall, not in respect of the principles from whence it came, for so it was supernaturall, but the subject unto whom it was a due perfection, supposing Gods will to create man for the enjoying of him∣self, even as his soul also may be said to be due to him; Now although this rege∣neration be to us supernaturall, and wholly of meer grace, yet when it is in fused, it makes such a change that the waies of God are a delight to him, I delight in the Law of God in the inward man: There is a sweet proportion between the heart that is made an holy subject, and the Law of God which is an holy ob∣ject.
But more particularly let us consider the nature of it.
First, This new-birth makes grace to be in us by way of an infused life, and super∣naturall principle, fixed, and permanent; It giveth a man esse supernaturale, a su∣pernaturall * being: Therefore is it called the hidden man, the inward man, 1 Pet. 3. 4. The new creature, the divine nature. It's compared to a root, to a foun∣tain, to a foundation; and now for want of this, we see so much inconstancy and unsetlednesse in the matters of religion and piety. Men have not a new nature, they have only new notions, or new motions, not new natures. When grace be∣comes thus a rooted principle in us, then though the windes and storms blow, a Page 205 man will continue firm: Aristotle observed some men had a disposition to morall virtues, but not an habit, now this disposition he made easily separable from the subject, whereas the other made a man like a square stone, which waies soever it falleth, it will stand sure: You have some bruit creatures that act many things like men, but because they have not an humane nature they are still bruitish, and so ma∣ny things may be done in the way of holinesse, which yet come not from that in∣ward principle of renovation, and therefore is but copper and not gold: Oh let us not then consider so much the outward actions, the outward duties of religion, as that root from whence they grow, that principle from whence they come, are they fixed, setled ones by way of life in thee? then art thou born of God.
Secondly, By this means a man doth participate of God; and whereas we cannot be like God in his greatnesse, infinitenesse, omnipotency, we are like him in this, *Be ye holy, for I am holy: Lev. 11. 44. As therefore in God, the Angels, of all Gods attributes do especially celebrate that, Holy, Holy, Holy, Isa. 6. 3. so of all conside∣rations in man this is his greatest glory: it's not wealth but holinesse, it's not ho∣nours but holinesse, it's not prudence and wisedom, but holinesse. This new na∣ture is a participation of God (so far as creatures can partake) in that glorious attribute of his: Magistrates they are called Gods, because of that externall au∣thority God hath stamped on them, and because they resemble him herein, but the people of God resemble him in a more excellent and admirable way. The Apostle cals it bearing the image of the heavenly, 1 Cor. 15. 48. Hence come those expres∣sions of setting our affections on things above, and sitting with Christ in heavenly places. This is a wonderfull elevation and lifting up of the nature of man: As the humane nature of Christ was infinitely glorified to be hypostatically united unto the divine nature, so it is a great honour for man to be graciously united to Christ, whereby as the branch receiving juyce from the Vine, brings forth fruit suteable to the nature of the Vine, so the soul ingrafted into Christ produceth operations suteable thereunto.
Thirdly, Hereby the work of 〈◊〉 grace is manifested to be a reall, active, working thing in a man: for why is it compared to life, to a new birth, to a fountain, but * only to shew that these things are not imaginations or dreams, but carry along with them reall operations? As a man cannot have fire in his bosome, but he will quickly finde it scorching and heating there, so 〈◊〉 man cannot have this new na∣ture infused into him, but it will incline and move the soul, not suffering it to lie still: see what a fire this kindled in Davids, and Pauls hearts, therefore the spirit of regeneration, Isa 4. is compared to 〈◊〉 spirit of burning, which like fire consu∣meth the drosse, a godly man is said to 〈◊〉rivers of water running out of his bel∣ly. It's true the people of God are som•〈…〉es in desolations, in desertions, they feel no life, they apprehend no power of 〈…〉e upon their souls, and then they look upon themselves as dry bones, withered 〈…〉anches: but this is for a while on∣ly, this is a temptation, and afterwards the 〈◊〉 of grace will manifest it self more: The Tree though it hath life in it, yet in the winter buds not, blossomes not, so nei∣ther may that principle of grace discover it self in its good effects, and then it doth not hold, that a good tree may be known by its good fruit: Thus Austin in his confessions doth acknowledge these reall and powerfull motions of God upon his soul.
Fourthly, Because his nature is new, his actions 〈◊〉 are new: all Old things are passed away, 2 Cor. 5. 18. Paul that once persecuted 〈…〉ehold he prayeth, and such were some of you (saith Paul) but ye are washed, but y• are cleansed; As every man * is (saith Aristotle) so is he affected, so he speaks, and so he lives; When there∣fore thy life is supernaturall, so thy affections, thy word•, thy conversation is also: The life that I now live, is by faith in the son of God; saith Paul, Gal. 2. 20. Oh this is a sad symptom, that few are acquainted with regeneration, because all things else are not made new in them: They have the old conversation, the old affections, the old discourse, the old passions 〈◊〉 used to have: This ar∣gueth Page 206 thee to be in the state of bitternesse still. There cannot from a sweet fountain come only bitter streams, so neither can there come from a refined spirit only cor∣rupted actions. As the thorn cannot send forth grapes, so neither do grapes send forth thorns; why then if thou art born of God, dost thou discover so much of the old man in thee? why is the Aegyptian in Canaan? this is as the Father said, for coelum pluere gehennam, in another case: did grace and Christ dwell in thy soul, were it possible that thy heart should be a den of lusts, and a cage of unclean ima∣ginations? shake off therefore all negligence and lukewarmnesse, observe how thou art changed, whether it be otherwise with thee then what thou hast by na∣ture.
Fifthly, As the actions of this new-born man are new, so are his desires, comforts,*contentments: Whereas before he could with the Prodigall be content with busks, now nothing will satisfie him but his fathers mansion, and his fathers feasts. Take every naturall man, while unregenerated, as he knoweth no other good, so he desireth no other then that of the creature, as Moles love the earth, and the Swine draught. Thus while we are corrupted in our estates, we minde only earthly things, but when this great change is made, then these coc∣kelshels are grown away; then the favour of God, the light of his countenance, society with him, and enjoying of him, are the only desires of his soul; Thus Da∣vid his heart, his flesh, and all breathe after the living God, Psa. 84. 2. Thou wilt not judge it such an happy thing to be wealthy, great and honoured in the world, but to have the light of Gods favour shine round about thee. Examine therefore thy self. Dost thousee the glory of the world, and thou fallest down to worship it? Dost thou in the encrease of worldly comforts say, It is good for us to be bare. Then fear thy self, say, When I was a childe, it's no wonder, I thought, spake as a childe; but when a man, other apprehensions came in: When thou wast unregene∣rated thou spakest like a naturall man, thou thoughtest like him, but now God hath made thee a spirituall man.
Sixthly, Being thus new born, he is carried out with afiliall affection in his obedi∣ence to God: All his service is sweetned with a great deal of love, delight and joy. * What he doth for God, he doth it not slavishly, servilely, as heretofore, enforced thereunto, but from an Evangelicall and kindely principle within. Thus those that are new creatures are said not to be under the Law, but under Grace. The Law is a rule to them, so they are under it, but the Law is not only a whip and a scourge to them, so that they should pray; hear, do things out of constraint: yet this filiall confidence and love is also accompanyed with a reverentiall fear, and holy awe of God, so that from the one he is encouraged, from the other he walk∣eth humbly. Now from this spirit of Adoption all our duties should arise. Praier is but a bitter crab, or a wilde grape, unlesse the Spirit of Adoption sweeten it, and so of all other duties; if then we be born of God, his presence, his favour is dear to us, our approaches unto the Throne of grace are with holy assurance, we call God Abba, Father, by ingemination, to shew partly the efficacy and inten∣tion of this spirit upon us, and partly the opposition that is made by the guilt and blacknesse which is upon our own souls.
Seventhly, Where there is this new-birth, there a man is not only above sin, to es∣chew and hate that, but also above the world, and all immoderate affections thereunto,*Eph. 3. it's called the life of God, not only because he works it, but because it imi∣tates his life. Hence in the Scripture not only transgressions are made contrary to this life, but also the Love of father, mother, or any thing that is dear unto us, Mat. 10. 37. so that it is a poor thing for a man thus regenerated to say, he loveth God more then sin, more then the lusts of the flesh; he doth also embrace him more then outward comforts in the world; Thou therefore who hopest thou art a childe of God, why is thy soul thus bowed down to the creatures? why art thou so disparaging and debasing that heavenly nature of thine? thou art not made a worm to crawl on the earth, not a serpent to lick the dust of the ground, but Page 207 thou art made like unto God, to love what he loveth, to delight in what he delight∣eth in: Do not then labour after an impossibility, which is to serve God and Mam∣mon, to bring heaven and earth together. No if this new nature be infused into thee, it makes thee above trade, wealth, friends, honour, life; It filleth thy heart with such heavenly inclinations, that as the stone cannot hang in the empty air, but ha∣steneth to its center, so the regenerated heart cannot abide in any thing on this side God; Whom have I in heaven but thee, and whom on earth but thee?
Eighthly, This birth is inexpressible: He that is thus born again, cannot declare * how, so our Saviour afterwards, The spirit or winde bloweth where it listeth, and thou knowest not whence it cometh, or whither it goeth. As a man understandeth not how fearfully and wonderfully he is made in his mothers womb; so neither how admirably God doth put these inclinations and dispositions into his soul: How is it that he who was backward, yea, an enemy to what was good, yet now with all de∣light follows it? motum scimus, modum nescimus, we finde these great changes made upon us, but cannot declare how: From this also it cometh about that we cannot expresse it to another, only experimentally feel it in our selves: As a man cannot expresse to another what it is to live, only he feels the motions of his life in him∣self: Thus also he cannot tell to another what that new life, that new birth is, what that power of God is which he hath felt in his soul: but saith as the blinde man to the Pharisees concerning Christ, I know not how he made me whole, only this I know, I that was once blinde, do now see, Joh. 9. and so here, I know not how it com∣eth about that I am thus altered, I cannot tell how I am changed, only this I know, I that was not afraid to sinne, now I am; I that did not delight in God, now do.
Ninthly, In that the Scripture cals this regeneration, a birth again, It's a meta∣phor, * and so would give us to conceive some resemblance between the naturall and the spirituall birth, I shall touch upon some most evident.
First, Here is in this new birth God a Father, Therefore often said to be born of God, and children of God. This as it denoteth our impotency, for if we cannot make our naturall selves much lesse can we make our supernaturall selves; so it al∣so manifesteth the great power and efficacy of Gods grace, which saith to us as unto dead Lazarus, Come forth out of the grave of sin: Every godly man is an Isaac, a childe of the promise, for he is born only by the meer power and grace of God: Mans free-will is Sarahs dead womb; It is Philo's allegory upon that of Jacob to Rachel, Am I a God (saith he) that I can give children? so saith he, God only puts grace and vertue into the womb of the soul; We may say to Pelagians and Arminians, Are we Gods that we can raise the dead, give life where there is none? This is good to be observed, for there is scarce any doctrine more pernicious to the glory of God then this, whereby we shall be Creators of the new creatures. We cannot make a fly, and yet we think we can make our selves godly. Oh there∣fore look up to heaven, and say, O Lord new make me, new create me.
Secondly, The seed or means by which this new-birth is accomplished, is the Word*of God preached: Thus often, he hath begotten by his word, Jam. 1. 18. and it is that whereby we are quickned; Take all humane eloquence, all Philosophicall pre∣cepts, they do no more then the Prophets servant to the dead childe, though laid upon him, yet it would not bring life into him, his master must come ere there can be life. Alas, to instruct men with arguments from reason about a good life, such as the heathens are very busie to perswade men by; they turn not, or alter the heart. The Word of God is that two-edged sword, is that fire, that hammer, that seed, that Manna, which serveth to subdue sin, and to quicken up to grace. Oh therefore how carefull should people be both to get and to live under the preach∣ing of Gods Word! This is the winde that must make dry bones live: This is the voice of a trump, that must make the dead come out of the grave. How mean, im∣potent, contemptible, men may esteem it, yet God hath appointed no other means to convey supernaturall life, but after this manner. Therefore where no vision is, Page 208 the people perish, where no preaching is there cannot but be a worse judgement then that of Egypt, where there was one dead in every family; Alas there all must needs be dead in every family. This new life comes by preaching.
Thirdly, As the naturall birth is with many pangs and troubles; In sorrow they*shall bring forth, Thus also is this new man wrought in us with much agony and trouble, many a heart-ach, many a violent trouble of soul, ere Christ be formed in us. Hence as when Christ was born all Jerusalem was troubled, so when this new life is infused into a man, much commotion, much division of heart. The devil when he was cast out of the possessed person, did more tear, torment, and vex the possessed person, when he was going out: so grace expelling Satan from those holds and dominions he had over thee, puts thee to great fears, raiseth more ter∣rours in the heart. Besides that Christ and the way of grace may be the more wel∣come and precious, Gods spirit is for a while a spirit of bondage, to make every thing a burden, sin a burden, our lives a burden, our shops burdens, our fields bur∣dens, that so there may be the greater joy for this manchilde that is born. A wo∣man cannot bring forth in her sleep, or in a dream, without feeling pain, so neither can the heart of a man be thus new changed, and molded without severall pangs, yet we do not limit this to such degrees, nor to every person in such a sensible manner.
Fourthly, As this naturall life at first infused is the root of all vitall actions, and * if any thing proceed not from this, it is dead; so this supernatural life is the founda∣tion of all vital actions in grace, and whatsoever is not from this root, cannot be cal∣led a living action. If a man prayeth, if he heareth, and this not flow from the prin∣ciple of regeneration, it is not accounted in the number of spiritual actions. When therefore thou settest upon the exercise of religious duties, still consider from what life this proceedeth; for thy hearing, thy praying, thy family duties may come from education, custom, formal devotion, but not from this divine life. There∣fore this is the only necessary thing, if thou hast lived to threescore years, and this new principle not infused into thee, thou hast not yet done one acceptable duty. As the Apostle speaks of a dead faith, Jam. 2. 26. so there are dead duties, dead per∣formances, and our auditory may most consist of dead men. You see Clocks and other artificial instruments have their motions, but they are not motions of life, be∣cause not from a principle of life within, and on such motions may all the religious exercise of thy soul be; and hereby men perform holy duties, as Caiaphas prophe∣sied, not knowing what he said. So that regeneration in holy duties is like the soul in the body, which giveth life and acceptance, and all to it.
Now there are two obstructions which hinder men both from the knowledge of * the necessity of this, and an earnest desire to obtain it.
The first is, Ignorance of that wofull depravation and defilement which is upon us through sin. As long as men know not themselves to be beggers, they will never cry out, unclean, unclean. As long as Nicodemus knoweth not that he is altogether flesh and in his sins, the whole doctrine of regeneration is a mystery. Men there∣fore that would be edified into this high building, must begin with this deep and low foundation. He that doth not groan and sigh under all those soars and ulcers that are upon him by nature, will never seek after this glorious change. Therefore thou that buildest duty upon duty, exercise upon exercise, and hast not first begun here, though thy building be as glorious as that of the Temple at Jerusalem was, yet the time will come, when a stone will not be left upon a stone: And it is much to be feared that generally people are in a wrong way to heaven; they think the flesh and bloud they were born in will bring them to heaven, and therefore, when you may hear many talk of repentance, of serving of God, of amendment of our lives, yet not one among many speaks of regeneration, and the necessity there∣of, and the first rise of this calamity is because they are ignorant of Originall sinne.
The second obstruction is, A self-fulness, an heart puffed up with humane excel∣lencies,*Page 209 which indeed are but as the grasse and the flower of the field; for so Peter having spoken of this incorruptible nature we attain unto, he maketh it more ex∣cellent than any humane power, prudence or righteousnesse, 1 Pet. 1. 24. because all this fadeth, but the Word of God which begets this new nature abideth for ever; and therefore of all the things in the world, which John Baptist was espe∣cially to pr•claim aloud, as to make way for Christ, was that, All flesh is grasse, which the Prophet understandeth not so much of our mortality, and vain •ives, as of our righteousnesse, humane excellency, and whatsoever hath repute in▪ this world: upon this ground it was, that the Pharisees were so ignorant about this, that if we read among the School-men, men of great parts and strong abilities, we shall finde very little, or nothing at all of Regeneration; yea, if we read the Po∣pish Authors whether Doctrinal, or Devotional, we shall not finde any thing at all about this new Birth; and whence is this? Because some of them are busied with high and sublime Disputations, some in the externall Rites and Ceremonies of Re∣ligion, and these puffing up the heart in a fleshly manner, they are no fit Disciples to receive this great Truth about Regeneration.
Use 1. Is there such a necessity of Regeneration, then let young men and old * men, rich men and poor, prophane and civill, have their eares tingle, or rather their hearts wounded at this: It may be thou art an old man ready to fall in the Grave, and art not thou acquainted with this new Birth? It may be thou art a Do∣ctor and Master in Israel, and art thou not convinced of this? Oh blind souls, how near are you destruction, and you are not aware of it! Thou canst in time of sicknesse, in fears of death, to thy prayers, to thy tears, to the Sacrament it may be; thou callest for a good Book to be read to thee, a good Minister to come to thee, but ah Miserable soul, all the work is still to doe within; say once therefore this Text unto thy soul, Unlesse I be born again I cannot enter into heaven. Born a∣gain, O Lord what is that! Was ever such a thing done upon me! Oh I fear the contrary; if I were born of God, I could not grovell thus on the earth, I could not wallow thus in filth. You Parents, you labour to have your Children born to great Estates, to large Revenues; oh, but how shall these Children of yours curse the wombe that bare them, and the breasts that gave them suck, if they have not their new Birth?
Use 2. Is the Word preached thus the means of this new Birth; then let us * lament the miscarriage of the Ministery in these latter days. Who are born again by it? What hath God no more people to be saved in England? hath God no more in London to come to eternal life, that no more are by the Word begotten anew? Few Ministers can say with Isaiah, Behold I and the Children whom the Lord hath given me; few People can say, You are our Fathers who have begotten us in the Lord; you may say, We have many Instructors, but few Fathers, as the Apostle in another case.
This is the reproach and grief of the Ministry, but it's no Argument (as some would inforce) of the nulli•y, or unlawfullnesse of it; or if it be, it will prove their Ministry who use this Argument as unlawfull as any. This is the great end of the Ministry, and as the Sun shineth in vain to blind men, the Clouds drop in vain upon hard rocks, so is the Word preached in vain, and people hear in vain, where this great alteration followeth not: The prophaneness, ignorance and uni∣versall unsavouriness in mens spirits, do sufficiently proclaime to all the world, that the Lord hath given us dry breasts, and miscarrying wombs.