Shewing how ignorant men of great Learning and outward Righteousness in the world, may be of Rege∣neration.
JOHN 3. 10.
WE have already defined the nature of Regeneration, and before we come to the discovery of the counterfeits thereof, there are other obser∣vable things in this colloquie with Nicodemus, that should not be preter∣mitted: I shall therefore in the next place, discourse of the ignorance and stupi∣dity of Nicodemus about this great work of God, which our Saviour with much severity doth reprove him for in my Text. Nicodemus doth several times manifest his grosse blindnesse in this point, while he discourseth with our Sa∣viour.
First, He understands our Saviour of a natural birth again, by going the second time into the mothers womb; our Saviour therefore confirmeth his assertion the second time, and withall explicates the ground of this regeneration, because all are naturally corrupted, yet for all this, Nicodemus marvelleth at it.
Lastly, Our Saviour doth by a familiar example from the wind, shew the work of regeneration, and for all this, Nicodemus is not satisfied.
But a Third time, verse 9. he cryeth out, How can these things be? Whereupon our Saviour upbraideth him with his ignorance, not by way of contumelious insul∣tation, but to humble this Pharises, who being puft up with the opinion of his learning and righteousnesse, could not at all discern of this grace: now our Saviours reprehension is very emphatical, Art thou a Master? not a Disciple, not one of the vulgar sort, but a Master? And as some consider the Article, Art thou the Ma∣ster? Or that Master? As if this Nicodemus among all the Teachers in Israel had the greatest repute: Then, Art thou a Master of Israel? A people that were especi∣ally called by God, and taught by him; the most knowing people of the world in respect of Gods Law? Further, a Master of Israel; all Israel was his scholar: not a Master of some Disciple, but of Israel: And lastly, knowest not these things. He doth not say, Not practice it, not feel the power of it on thy own heart: but thou hast not so much as the bare historical knowledge of it: So that this speech of our Saviours is a sad rebuke, and reproach to all the carnal wisedom, and self-righteous∣ness of men, which is like the Bat or Owl to the Sun, when it cometh to these spi∣ritual things. I have observed that men in discourse, will meerly apply this to or∣dinary matters: Art thou a Master in Israel, and knowest not these things? They will say so of any news, or customs discoursed of: but the truth is, this Text should be matter of fear and trembling; for it doth discover the horrible oppositi∣on and enmity that is in men, to any heavenly work of God; As your bats and owls can see well enough in the night but not in the day, so natural men have parts, a∣bilities, Page 211 wisedom, quick apprehensions in the things of darkness, matters of sin, and the world; but in the things of God, they are stark blinde: therefore saith our Sa∣viour. If I tell you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe if I tell you of heavenly? The sense is, If when I speak of regeneration by earthly similitudes, and expressions obvious to the sense, you are not able to apprehend them, How then if I should speak to you of heavenly things, in an heavenly manner, without such sensible representations at all?
Observation, That men of great Learning, and outward Righteousnesse*in the World, may yet be grosly ignorant about this great work of Regenera∣tion.
Before we lay down the grounds of this ignorance in every natural man, we may take notice of some particulars, as Introductory to the point: as,
First, That it is a most requisite, yea, necessary thing for every Minister that is to*be a Teacher, and guid of others, to understand well, and be inwardly acquainted with this Doctrine of a new birth. When our Saviour saith, Art thou a Teacher, a Ma∣ster of the people, and knowest not these things? he supposeth it was a great shame and reproach to him: And indeed, seeing the one principal end of the Ministry is to beget men anew unto God, how can he be skilful in that office, which is wholly unacquainted with the end of it? It is true, that opinion of the Donatists: That an ungodly Minister is never used instrumentally to the regeneration of others, is reje∣cted as false. Judas, and those who preached Christ out of envy, might be service∣able to bring others to Christ, else Paul would not have rejoyced in it, Phil. 1. 19. although this it may be is very rare; and as God in the Old Testament would have no Minister with any bodily deformity, so in the New, without any soul-defor∣mity; he must be unblameable: we do not therefore dispute of the possibility, but it is very rare for dead men, to beget living men; for ministers unexperienced in the life of grace, to revive others: although this be so, yet it is the auditors duty, as our Savior informeth about the Scribes and Pharisees, To hear them as long as they sit in Moses chair; but not to do what they do: for a man to neglect good doctrin, because of the bad practice of the teacher, is as Austin wel saith, as if a traveller that seeth the post in the high way, that hath an hand to direct him on his journey, should not go forward be∣cause the post that directeth him doth not go forward. But though these things are so; yet it is a wonderful uncomfortable and deading thing to live under that preaching, which is not discovering of a work of regeneration within: when a Minister speaks of this great work, as some bragging men of the remorest part of the world, which he hath onely by hear-say, or by books, not by experience in his travels. The Mini∣ster must speak from the heart, else he cannot speak to the heart; as they could not give any account of the gifts of the Holy Ghost, which had not so much as heard whether there was an holy Ghost or no; so those Ministers are never able to give direction, consolation to the Godly in their temptations about this, that know not the power of it in their own hearts. The Scripture calls it, The tongue of the learned, to be able to speak a word in season, to the broken and contrite in heart, Isa. 50. 4. This is necessary learning, more then all humane knowledge, though that also be requisite.
Secondly, There is a twofold knowledge of regeneration, the one is meerly specu∣lative,*and Theoreticall, the other is Practical and Experimental. A Speculative knowledge, is when a man is convinced in judgement by several arguments and reasons, that there is a necessity of regeneration; but this knowledge is not like Aarons oyl, that descends from the head to other parts, but it onely lodgeth in the brain: Now Nicodemus had not so much as this speculative knowledge, he had not so much as an historical assent with his minde, of the necessity of such a spiritual change; whereas it was a great wonder, that he who had read those promises of the taking away the heart of stone, and giving an heart of flesh, of creating a new heart in, &c. could not easily be convinced in this. But Nicodemus doth not onely que∣stion Page 212 the necessity of it, but the possibility also of it: he doth not only think there is no such thing, but there can be no such thing: whereas, he that knew God breath∣ed a natural life into Adam, when a lump of earth, might easily believe God able to infuse a supernatural life: besides the Sacrament of Circumcision, and that legall custome of Purification of Women, did teach as Original pollution, so a necessity of cleansing and washing. But besides this speculative, there is also a practical knowledge, when a man findeth the sweet and lively power of this upon his own heart. You have many a learned man that is very orthodox in his judgement, who by considering the reasons and disputes on all sides, is convinced of a necessity of rege∣neration, and hereby he can preach for it, write for, and dispute for it: but yet this man doth no more, then as he that should say hony is sweet, when he never tasted of it: And so as Moses saw the land of Canaan, but never entered into it, so these discern afar off this work of grace, but are never possessors of it: when there∣fore both these kinds of knowledge concur together, speculative and experimental, when he can feel it in heart, as well as read it in books, this makes a man a fit teacher to others.
Thirdly, As this knowledge is requisite in the Doctor, so also in the Disciple, other∣wise*the choicest and chiefest matter in all religion, is preached in vain. The Apostle saith, He had rather speak five words with understanding, then five hundred in an un∣known tongue: and it is the Ministers desire to speak a little of those Mysteries of Grace to men that can go along with them, then much to those that understand no∣thing at all. Had not our Saviour been meek and humble, he would not have born the indociblenesse of Nicodemus: The Apostle complaineth he could not speak un∣to the Corinthians as spiritual, but as carnal, 1 Cor. 3. 1. To preach to dead men, to throw pearls to swine, how unsutable is it? There are many Auditors, that if you preach about controversal matter, or the times, or any moral matter, they are quick and intelligent; but if you explain, and insist upon this work of rege∣neration, there they lose you. As they themselves never felt the power of it, so they do not at all attend to the Doctrine of it: He that hath ears to hear, let him hear; no man hath an hearing ear, or a seeing eye, or an understanding heart, till this supernatural life be infused.
These things being laid down, we proceed to shew the grounds of this ignorance, * and grosse mistake in matters of Godlinesse: and
First, They do not understand it, because they are ignorant of that universal and deep pollution, which sin hath plunged them into. Hence was the ground of Nicode∣mus his mistake: therefore our Saviour discovers the foundation when he saith, That which is born of the flesh, is flesh. As Nicodemus was thus ignorant, so Paul also was as much out of the way: for he was a long time er'e he was perswaded of that inward latent venom that was in him, and thereupon must needs see no neces∣sity of a new birth. Wouldest thou therefore come to have thy eyes opened? Thy heart awakened so, as to prize an inward Renovation, or a new change of thy heart? study more, meditate more upon that Native uncleannesse; Say, How can this flesh and blood inherit heaven? How can this uncleannesse put on glory? Is there any sutablenesse between thy depraved heart, and eternal happinesse in Hea∣ven? Can that minde of thine think glorious things of God? Can that heart of thine rejoyce in the goodnesse of God? If not, then say, O Lord, make me all new.
And certainly, if the Apostle to those whom he supposeth regenerated, saith, Put off the old man, and put on the new, because of those reliques and remainders of corrup∣tions which are within us, Ephes. 4. how much rather is this to be pressed upon those wholly wallowing in their natural blood: Put off the old man, saith the Apostle: Austin makes it an allusion to the snake that puts off her old skin; but that is not e∣nough, the inward poysonous nature, as well as the skin must be put off. Marvel not therefore if ye see men no more sollicitous about this new birth, if their hearts, de∣sires, and earnest prayers are no more after it; for as long as men are blinde in this Page 113 point, viz. Original sin, they will also be blinde to the other, viz. Regeneration. Upon this account it is, that of all men, moral men, civil vertuous men, are very remote from, yea opposite unto this great change: For they of all men are least affected with their blots, and spotted nature: they having no actuall grosse sins to humble themselves, do not see that heart-filthinesse, and soul deformity which is upon them. Oh, therefore intreat God to give the spirit of illumination to see thy self, that the hidden corners of darknesse within thee, may be manifested unto thy self.
A Second ground of this gross blindeness, is self-righteousness and self-fulness. Ni∣codemus* was puffed up with that external legal righteousnesse, which he constantly performed, and therefore thought nothing more was requisite to him. Thus the Pharisees being full of their praiers, alms-deeds, and religious fasts, setled their hopes upon these; and therefore our Saviour preacheth very sutable, though strange Doctrine, when he bids them make all clean within, and the tree must be good, be∣fore the fruit be good: What is that but to say, their persons must be regenerated, before they can do any holy action? This self-fulnesse doth not onely crosse the grace of justification, as the Jews, who would establish their own righteousness, submitted not to the righteousness of Christ; but also the grace of regeneration; for that which is accounted already whole, already sound, what need it go to the Phy∣sitian to be healed? Thus Laodicea because she thought her self rich, full, and lack∣ing of nothing, therefore she was the more miserable and wretched, Rev. 3. 15. The heart affected with self-love, and self-righteousnesse, promiseth nothing but mercy, and happinesse to it self, will not endure to be found a sinner, or to have iniquity disco∣vered; now this self-righteousness is that, which beareth up the heart of every un∣regenerate man, otherwise it were impossible that under the spiritual discovery of all his filth and poverty, he should ever be able to sit still, to eat, or sleep because of the wrath of God compassing him round about. Take therefore away this rub∣bish, and then a good building may quickly be reared; otherwise here is Laesum principium, the very principles of a man are corrupted; and what good can we then expect? Christ cast out all the Timbrels, and Musitians, er'e he would raise the dead; and thus must all thy carnal hopes and carnal joyes in thy self-righteousness, or in a∣ny other Creature be thrown out, er'e he will raise thee from this spiritual death. Oh do not then be prejudiced against this truth, by thinking in thy heart, If I yeild my self to be thus a sinner, if I abhor, and throw away all my righteousness, I shall then despair, I shall be like one in the sea, without the least plank or board to pre∣serve my self: Do not fear this, for thou must feel thy self dead, er'e thou beest made alive; thou must look on thy self as undone, before thou canst be saved. Is not the vessel broken into pieces and melted, er'e it can be new moulded? Must not the old house be pulled down, er'e the new one be raised up? As the Apostle saith, In matter of resurrection, we are loth to put off this corruptible body; we would fain be clothed upon; we would have heaven without dying; so we would be new born without pangs or sorrow.
Thirdly, Another ground of ignorance in the work of regeneration, is not attend∣ing to the spiritual exactness and obligation of the law; for that doth not onely require*us to do those things that are good, but to do them from such an inward principle of re∣ctitude, and a divine original, that our hearts and affections may be holy therein, as well as our conversation. Therefore the heart if good, is called the good treasure, out of which all good things are to proceed: God is not holy only in his providence, and out∣ward administrations, but in his nature also: As when any sin is forbidden in the commandement, the root and cause of it is much more forbidden; so where an ho∣ly duty is required, the root and cause of it is much more commanded; God there∣fore commands thee to love him; but how? from a renewed heart; to be sorrow∣ful for sin; but how? from a changed heart; to pray, to hear, but still from a regenerated heart. Now men do not attend to this; the law is spiritual, it reach∣eth to the root, as well as the branch, it looks more then to good fruit, it will also Page 214 have a good tree. Oh if men did drive the matter to this head, happily they would cry out, Ous, hitherto in a wrong way? We must begin all again; we have prayed in vain, heard in vain, professed in vain: we wanted a true foundation; we did not dig deep enough, and therefore our house will fall. You have Paul excellently discoursing upon this matter, experimentally in himself; and what wonderfull al∣terations he then found, when once he began to understand the spiritual latitude of the Law, Rom. 7.
Fourthly, Therefore do not men believe this, because they do not understand the*true nature of the Sacrament of Baptism, which if rightly understood, would make e∣very man see the necessity of regeneration. If the Pharisees had known the end and use of the Sacrament of Circumcision, that would have led them into the knowledge of their natural defilement, and the necessity of cutting it off. Hence God promi∣seth to circumcise their hearts, Deut. 30. 6. and circumcision was properly that of the spirit in the inward man, Rom. 2. But the Jews they rested wholly upon the ex∣ternal sign, and never regarded the thing signified. Now Baptism in the New Te∣stament, doth also proclaim the necessity of this new birth, called therefore the la∣ver of regeneration, Tit. 3. 5. as some expound it. And although it be much dispu∣ted, whether that expression of our Saviour to Nicodemus, Unless a man be born of the water and the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven, be meant of Bap∣tism, and the outward element in that Ordinance: yet the very water which is commanded to be used by us in that administration, doth evidently signifie the pol∣lution of our natures, and so a necessity of washing: For children that have no a∣ctual sins are washed, because they have Original filthinesse, so that regeneration is necessary to a young infant. Who art thou, that because thou keepest free from gross sins, abstainest from the evils of the world, and therefore seest not such a necessity of regeneration? For if thou wert as clean as the infant new born, If thou hadst no more sins then that hath; Yet this spirit of regeneration must new mould thee, er'e thou canst be a pollished stone in that heavenly Jerusalem? But as it was with the Jews, so it is with us Christians: we rely on Baptism, rest on the Sacrament administred, never considering whether we are made partakers of that inward na∣ture-washing or not.
Fifthly, Therefore men are stupid about this doctrine, because they consider not*Gods gracious promise which is made for this great work. Doth not the Prophet Je∣remiah and Ezekiel speak often of giving a new heart, of writing his law in our in∣ward parts: Ezek. 18. Jer. 31? And do not other Scriptures speak of circumci∣sing their hearts, and turning their hearts? It was therefore much that Nicodemus, who no doubt had read those places over and over again, did yet no better under∣stand it. But do not men so still? Read those Chapters, yea, hear sermons that are made on purpose about it, and for all this go away, not knowing what it meaneth? Gods Evangelical promise is not to give new eyes, or new hands onely, but a new heart also: and truely herein is the omnipotency of Gods grace seen, that it reach∣eth to the spirits of men. It makes them know, will, love, and delight in those things which their hearts were opposite unto; and hence must we fetch our ground to wrestle with God in prayer for it. O Lord, is it not thy promise to give a new heart? hast thou not said, Thou wilt take away this heart of stone? Now, O Lord, my heart is too strong for me, I do but wash a Blackamore, that makes him black∣er; by all my endeavour and natural strength, the more I strive, the faster I stick in this pit of sin: O therefore this promise of thine I own, I look to have it fulfil∣led: O Lord, it reacheth to my life, to make that clean, my conversation, to make that unspotted; but Oh, let it reach to the inward parts, to make them pure.
Sixthly, Another ground of mens ignorance is corrupt errors in the judgement, in∣somuch that many mens professed Doctrines and tenets, which they held, do expresly*destroy the truth of regeneration. As those opinions which deny Original sin; for if there be no such inward depravation, then there needeth no such inward renova∣tion: Page 215 Thus also those that extol the power of free-will by nature, they must thus far at least deny any regeneration, or healing power of Grace upon the will: yea, all opinions of Popery, Socinianism, Arminianism, do either in whole, or part de∣stroy this new creature: for so far as a man hath power to prevent Gods grace, or determine it, so far it works by an innate power, and virtue of its own: Thus al∣so those that hold grace onely for the more easie doing of that which is good, or that compare a man in his regeneration to a captive prisoner, that cannot walk because of fetters and clogs upon him: but let them be losed, then he is able to walk by his own inward power; but such a man in that case is improperly said to be born again. Take heed therefore of those corrupt opinions about Original sin, and free-will, for these make regeneration not necessary; and men blinded in their judgements with such doctrines, can never pant and breath after that great work upon their own souls.
Seventhly, The busying of mens selves about superstitious invented worship by men, doth also make a man altogether ignorant, or not attentive to this. We may say * to Monks, Fryars, Superstitious persons, Are you, or would you be accounted Master in Israel, and know nothing of this? look on all the popish devotional books, their heaps of external ceremonies, and in all these things, not a word or manifestation of any regeneration. Thus it was also with the Jews, and with the Pharisees; they placed all religion in external addresses to God, but never acquain∣ted themselves with the knowledge of the inward efficacious work of grace. The heart of a man is finite; it is not a spring that can fill two channels; if therefore all the intention of it run out upon invented worship, it neglecteth what is more necessary. Hence it is that none are greater enemies and scorners of this work of God, then those that are most pertinacious in traditional worship. He that is busie where he should not, is alwaies negligent where he ought not to be: who hath re∣quired these things at your hands? saith Christ; but where things were required, there they did nothing at all.
Eighthly, Therefore are men ignorant of this doctrine, because they set themselves*to know unprofitable things, sooner then profitable. It is a great corruption in our understanding, that we seek to finde out those things that do not advantage us, or benefit us; but the things of use and edification, those are laid aside. The Apo∣stle blamed this in the Corinthians, therefore he sheweth, That knowledge puffeth up: and he that is proud about his knowledge, he knoweth nothing as he ought to know: Oh, what an unhappy instance are our daies of this wilde immature knowledge? How many disputes about this and the other controversie? Into what parties and sects are we divided by the pride of knowledge? Whereas now if we did desire to study, discourse, confer, and meditate one those things that tend to regeneration, to mortification, to make us new creatures, this would be to some purpose: You see the Apostle Paul mattered not Jew or Gentile, Circum∣cision or uncircumcision, but a new creature, Gal. 6. 1. Thus should we be affect∣ed: lead not me into labyrinths of disputes; elevate not my understanding with sublimated notions, but instruct me how to be a new creature: what will Philo∣sophical knowledge avail to understand the nature of hearbs, and plants, when thou knowest not this divine nature? What will skill in Physick advantage thee, to be able to make sound bodies, and recover out of mortal diseases, if thy soul be not healed of its diseases? What to understand the law of man, and to direct about Purchases, and Evidences, and Assurances of Estates, but knowest no assurance of a spiritual estate? Yea, in Divinity points, to dispute about predestination, univer∣sal Grace, Church Government, and all the controversies of the times, when thou knowest not this Doctrine of regeneration? Bernard said, He loved not to read Tully, or any humane Author, because he did not finde the name of Jesus there: So do not thou love those disputes, those controversies, those books, where there is not something to minde thee of regeneration: this is to be sought in the first place.
First, A 〈◊〉 so 〈◊〉, hath a good and sure 〈◊〉 laid to all his duties, and spiritual performances. Where this new life is, there is an excellent root for all the branches of spiritual duties to thrive and prosper: In nature the heart is the first liver; and therefore nature (as some say) begins with that part first, as the fountain of all life: But now the Painter that draweth onely a shadow, he begins with the lineaments and outward proportions first. Thus hypocrisie, that begineth to change in outward actions first; but true grace, that begineth at the heart and vitals first: give me a man regenerated, and he is a man of some substance, some foundation, you know where to have him; but a man of meer parts, abilities, and notional fancies, yea, or fervent duties without this foundation, he is but a bubble and a va∣por. He is tossed up and down like a straw with the wind, whereas if he had weight, and solidity in him, he would stand like a rock. Oh therefore know, it is a wise mans course to look to first principles, to be diligent about what foundations he layeth.
Secondly, Where there is this experimental knowledge of regeneration, there is an*endeavour to beget others like them. As God bid every creature encrease in its kinde, so do these new born children of God desire to multiply. When they were once regenerated then Oh that my Parents were, Oh that my children were, Oh that my kindred, Oh that all under my charge were! It is much to consider what great ex∣pressions Paul useth even about some women, calling them Follow-labourers, and great promoters of the Gospel: Why is all this? But that spiritual life in them makes them fervent to bring home others. Come and see, saith Andrew to Philip: And what an high expression hath Paul concerning the salvation of his kinsfolks after the flesh: and if in publick relation as Ministers, as Masters, as Fathers, Oh how are their bowels straitned within them, how grieved and broken where they see God doth not give such a supernatural life! Whereas now, a man meerly civil, he desireth his children may be civil men, no Prodigals; but to desire them to be godly and holy, that he is far from.
Thirdly, Where this experimental knowledge is of regeneration, there is a great*sympathy and agreement between others that are regenerated. As face answereth face, so doth the heart of one regenerated man to another. The same temptations, the same consolations, the same operations, they dwell in one anothers hearts: and where this new life is most active and efficacious, there they bend their greatest de∣sires and love. But now take a man that knoweth of regeneration by the book, by hear-say; though he may plead for it in the general, yet the particular practice he cannot abide: A minister may preach to a people to get this new birth, and yet scoff and oppose those that have it, and all this is for want of experimental power of it upon the soul: but we have already spoken in the general to these things heretofore. Let this suffice to quicken us up to the right understanding of this mystery, be not in the number of those to whom this work is a riddle. Thou mayst not say, this is for Scholars, and learned men to know: no, it is for every one to be acquainted with it.
Use of Instruction, To bewail the common ignorance of this main principle, * even the Doctrine of regeneration. Art thou a learned man, and doest not know it? Art thou a rich man, and ignorant of it? What is it to be accounted a man of parts and abilities in other things, but in this great matter a meer Bat and Owl? Some have not the knowledge of God, saith Paul, I speak it to your shame: We may say, some, yea most have not the knowledge of regeneration, we speak it to their shame, and it ought to be their grief. Art thou an old man, and knowest not this? Hast thou read so long in the Bible, heard so many Sermons, and canst not tell what the meaning of this is? What a miserable thing is thy natural birth with∣out this? how much better to have been born Toads, Serpents, and the most loathsome Creatures in the world, than not to be new born?
Page 217 Doe not think this was one mans case to be ignorant of it, and it might be easi∣ly in those times, but for us Christians we all are taught of God; for if he did not know it, how shouldst thou come to know it?