The ground of the necessity of Regeneration is the corruption of mens Nature.
JOHN 3. 6.
WE have already observed the nature of Regeneration out of this famous Dialogue, as also the ignorance and mistake that the wisest have about it▪ the third thing observable in this History, is the ground and reason of the necessity of this new Birth, and that is contained in my Text. Nicodemus he dreamed of a carnall Birth a second time, whereas if he had been born an hundred times this way, it would not have advantaged him, yea he would have been an hun∣dred times thereby the child of wrath: Our Saviour therefore would instruct Ni∣codemus by opening the fountain, and discovering the root of this necessity; as if he had said, The reason why thou art so grosly ignorant in this matter (O Nico∣demus) is, because thou knowest not what corruption doth cleave to every man, how contrary this is to the Kingdome of Heaven; if thou wert rectified in this, thou wouldst quickly see the necessity of the other. Know therefore, That what∣soever is born of the flesh, is flesh, and so not capable of everlasting glory.
The words then are a Proposition containing a Reason, why there must be a Re∣generation before there can be any entrance into the Kingdome of Heaven; where∣in you have the subject described, That which is born of the flesh. Flesh is some∣times used in Scripture for the bodily part of a man, as corruptible, in which sense it is said, All flesh is grasse; sometime it is used for man as he is sinfull and unregenerate, In my flesh dwelleth no good thing, saith Paul. The first sense denoteth our fragility and meaneness, the second our guilt and sinfulnesse; both aggravate our misery and basenesse; and this expression is universall, That which is born of the flesh, is flesh. This extendeth to wise men, to great men, noble men, Kings and Emperors; they are flesh of flesh. Secondly, there is the predicate, Is flesh. The expression is in the abstract, to shew, how totally, deeply and universally he is fleshly. Thus the Apostle, Rom. 8. calls being in the flesh, as surrounded and com∣passed about with it.
So that our Saviours reason lyeth in this, Every thing expresseth the nature of that kind in which it is, That which comes of a Wolf hath a Wolvish nature, that which comes of a Sheep hath a Sheepish nature, and that which comes of a corrupt unclean kind must also be unclean: So that our Saviours expression is like Page 218 that of Jobs, Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Lambs come not from Bears, nor Figs from Thorns.
The great Corruption of mans Nature is the ground of the necessity of Regene∣ration.*
Men never apply themselves to more than Morality and Civility, till they are perswaded that the greatest part of their vilenesse and loathsomnesse lyeth in their inward parts. We are most sinfull and deformed there where the naturall eye per∣ceiveth nothing at all: Men never provide a plaister any further than they think the wound reacheth; now if men perceive no wound in the inward frame of their heart, they never look at any change there.
In the opening of this point, let us consider the nature of this originall defile∣ment, * and so the work of Regeneration answerably thereunto: for whereas in sin there are two things, the guilt of it, and the filth of it; There is a two-fold grace answering this, The grace of justification, which blots out the guilt; and the grace of Sanctification, which removeth the filth: so that sin is like leprosie, and grace regenerating makes all to come fresh and beautifull upon the soul, which be∣fore was loathsome; whereupon it is, that a man is by Regeneration really chan∣ged in the qualities of his soul: As originall sin comes in the place of originall righ∣teousnesse, so this grace of Regeneration cometh by degrees in the place of ori∣ginall sinne; so that if we seek after this work, we are not so much to look for it in our actions and conversations, though it will be seen there, as in our inward frame and disposition of heart. The Kings daughter is all glorious within, as be∣fore her conversion she was all loathsome, and noisome within.
Hereby it comes to passe, that as mens thoughts are greater or lesser about origi∣nal Sin, so they are also about Regeneration.
First therefore, This native Corruption is deep and radicated in us, got into our*very bowels; That as Toads and Serpents have venome in their natures, and the one cannot be divided from the other, so it is with us, we may as well put off the nature of a man, as put sinne out of it. This made the Father compare it to the Ivy in the wall, or in the tree, that getteth into the very heart, and cannot be removed, unlesse the Wall it self be pulled down; and that is the reason why the Scripture calls it our flesh and members, not that it is our naturall substance, but inevitably cleaving to it, and the innatenesse of it is herein seen, that although we have this work of Regeneration, yet it is not quite expelled, all this drosle is not got off. Paul complained bitterly of the reliques and remainders of it in his soul: Now the grace of Regeneration, that goeth as deep into the heart, that enters as pow∣erfully into the soul; therefore it's called writing of the Law in the inward parts; not upon the eyes, or hands, or feet, but in the inward parts. There is many a man * hath Gods Law written upon his tongue onely, or upon his outward conversation, but not in his inward parts: So that as the Scripture hath notable expressions to describe how inward and rooted our filth is, we may apply such things to grace wrought in the godly, onely there is this difference, sinne makes us all over sinfull, so that there is no good at all abiding in a naturall man; but grace doth not so per∣fectly heal to expell all sin. As in naturall men, the imaginations of their thoughts are evill, not onely actions but thoughts, not onely thoughts but imagination of thoughts, or that very shop of the soul, whereby all apprehensions and affections are minted and framed, though not perfectly: the imaginations of the thoughts of a Regenerate man are good and spirituall: The heart of a natural man is a Den of Thieves, a Cage of unclean Birds: The heart of a Regenerate man is the temple of the Lord.
By this you see, that all externall Reformation, all outward freedome of sinne, doth not at all amount to this new Birth: the onely thing to be consi∣dered, is how far this oyle hath entred into thy wounds, whether it be as deep∣ly rooted as sinne in thee; Oh this will discover what a rare thing Regenera∣tion is.
Page 219 Secondly, This Original Defilement doth first and more immediately corrupt the*nature of a man, and then mediately his person, Prius corrumpit naturam deinde personam. Hence it is, that our Children have their defilement, whereas our perso∣nall sinnes are not communicated to them. Hence also it is, that an Infant new born, before there be any sinfull motions, or expressions of it, yet is corrupted in its Nature; though it speaks no evill, thinks no evill, loveth no evill, yet it is dead in sin, and a child of wrath. Now the grace of Regeneration doth more imme∣diately tend to heale this naturall corruption, and then secondarily personall cor∣ruptions. Not as if a Regenerated Father could beget a Regenerated Child al∣wayes, for so grace is personall, but because it doth first renew and sanctifie that principle and inward root of all affections and actions in us. It is disputed in the Schools, whether grace be first immediately subjected in the very Essence of the soul, or whether in the faculties and powers of it. But we need not be so Meta∣physicall and nice: This is enough to conclude, that grace doth first heale and re∣new the soul, as it is the principle of all our actions; and then when this Fountain is clean, the streams also are clean, when this root is sweet the fruit also is. This is the good tree, and the good treasure that our Saviour speaks of. We see in the works of Gods Creation and Providence, first he gives Creatures their Nature, their kind and being; then he commands them to encrease and multiply. So its here, first God gives a supernaturall life, renewed principles, and then our conver∣sation is answerable. Now this can never be enough pressed upon men; they think by spirituall and godly actions to get spirituall nature; they think in Divi∣nity as Aristotle teacheth in Morality, by doing vertuous actions, to acquire at last the habits of vertue; but the Scripture is otherwise; we must first be born again, wherein we are altogether passive, and thereby be inabled to walk holily. Oh therefore that men would consider these things, then would auditors be spirituall, when they once are lifted up to this inward supernaturall life: you are but Weeds and Brambles, what Blossoms soever you have, till you thus be re∣newed.
Thirdly, This Corruption is the seed-plot, and root of all the actual impieties that*are committed by man. Out of this evil Treasure came Cains murther, Judas his Trea∣chery, and whatsoever crimes are at any time committed by the Sons of men; Da∣vid bewailing his Adultery and Murther, presently thinketh of this, as the cause of all. Thus the work of Regeneration is the seed-plot of all holy actions. Though the Scripture say, By faith Abraham and Noah, &c. did such worthy Acts; yet a prin∣ciple of Regeneration was the root of all, therefore it's called Gods Law written in our hearts, his whole Law; so that whatsoever God commands outwardly by his Word, his Spirit doth graciously incline us to obey. It is here as it is in Origi∣nall sin, though there be the cause of all wickednesse in him, yet by reason of com∣plexion, or other temptations, he may incline to one sin more than another; and there are some sins which a man cannot at first commit, till he be hardened and made obdurate in his wickednesse; so there are many graces of a more Heroical and noble Nature, at least the actions of them, that a man newly regenerated cannot presently perform. But as your green Timber is not presently sit to be made Pillars to bear the weight of an house till it hath lain a while, and the moisture of it be excocted; so neither are new Converts fit for those graces of Patience and Victory over the world by suffering, which yet by degrees they obtain at last: And this might support the people of God, who in their temptations are ready to think, that though such sins, and such difficulties may be overcome; yet there are others again which they altogether despair of ever conflicting with; They are to know that as the Acorn is the seed of an Oak, and hath virtually in it all the strength & substance an Oak hath, thus the infused principle of grace hath virtually in it all the excellent expressions of grace, which are so apparently abovethem: and this also may comfort the people of God, who sometimes though perswaded such and such graces are in them, yet they are extreamly afraid there are other graces Page 220 again that they never had. For as a naturall man, though he abound in Cove∣tousnesse, yet hath the root of Prodigality in him; so a godly man abounding chief∣ly in such and such graces, yet hath those other also in his heart, though not visibly.
Again, this may also support the Godly heart, that laboureth and trembleth un∣der the weaknesse of his graces, a weak faith, weak patience, for he hath the root of all grace, he hath the Mine and the Treasury, though there be not that graduall expression of it.
Fourthly, Because Originall sin is the root of all sin, hence it is, that the strength of sin lyeth there; And the greatest part of our wickednesse is in those sinfull in∣clinations. * The noysomness of a Toadlyeth not in the venting of poison at this or that time, but that it hath a nature to doe thus alwayes; and this if duly consi∣dered, would deeply wound the heart of all Hypocrites, Moralists, and Forma∣lists: The greatest part of their vilenesse and loathsomnesse lyeth within doors, is hid as it were under ground: Thy ungodly actions are nothing to thy ungodly nature. Thus also in grace regenerating; the strength of godlinesse lyeth in the inward work of it, grace is more excellently grace, and strongly grace, as it is in the heart, then as it is in actions: God is a Father of the spirits, and doth delight most in spirit-holinesse, and the graces of the spirit; My sonne give me thy heart, and above all things keep thy heart, for out of it are the issues of life and death: As * any wicked man is far worse inwardly than outwardly, so any godly man is farre better inwardly than outwardly, so far as grace worketh at any time in him. The Waters are purer in the Fountain than in the Stream: Now how necessary is it for the people of God to think of this? they many times are carefull about duties see they omit none of them (and that is very necessary; for as Cloaths keep the body warm, and help the inward heat, so the vigorous exercise of holy du∣ties redouble the strength of grace within,) yet the main care of a Christian should be to get grace more and more rooted in his heart; any holy duty done from grace in the heart differs from what is done without this, as the living from the dead: As a man that doth any wicked thing, yet if this have not got into his heart, it is not so dangerous; so any good action done, if the love of this be not in the heart, it is not comfortable nor acceptable.
Fiftly, This Corrnption doth so plunge a man into sinne, that there is a connatu∣rality and agreement between his heart and sin. As the Swine delights in mire and * filth, because of its loathsome nature; as the Beetle-flye delights in Horse-dung, and is killed by sweet Herbs, so a man naturally is carried out to act those things which are sutable to his corrupt heart, though never so offensive to God. The con∣trary is in Regeneration, for grace infused makes us to delight in the Law of God, to love holinesse for holinesse sake. Thus Paul, Rom. 7. speaks of his de∣light in the Law of God in the inner man; and David preferreth it before all desirable things, gold and honey, and his necessary food. A naturall man is said to swallow down iniquity like water, Job. 15. 16. The Fevourish man findes a great deal of sweetnesse, and desire after water, and thinketh he never hath enough. Thus David, he swalloweth down Gods Word like honey, he thirsteth, he never hath enough of God, or godlinesse; when a man is Regenerated, he hath a Foun∣tain within him, not a Cistern that must be filled with earthly motives to do what is godly.
Sixthly, This Corruption is universall in the extention of it. This leprosie is of the whole man; this sore is over all the soul, the mind darkned, the will rebelli∣ous, * the affections unmortified, and the whole heart in great confusion and dis∣order; so that the Conscience of a man, which we would think might be best, like Jobs Messenger, at least to bring the sad newes of all that hath befaln us, that al∣so is unpure and unclean. Answerable to this generall infection, the Apostle pray∣eth for the Thessalonians, That they may be renewed thorowout, in soul, spirit and body. There is a body-filthinesse, and a soul-filthinesse; and there must be a body∣cleansing, and a soul-cleansing, and in this men wofully mistake: They take some Page 221 illumination in the mind, accompanied with gifts and abilities in holy duties, for the thorow and universall sanctification of the whole man; our present age is a Theatre upon which you may see many such sad spectacles: But this will not serve; as originall corruption is not sin onely in the minde, or sinne onely in the will, but sinne all over; so the grace of Regeneration is not onely faith, or love, or patience, but all graces.
Seventhly, The Apostle Rom. 8. doth describe this fleshly being in two things; con∣trary * to which is our spirituall being; First, that the fleshly mind of a man is not subject to God, nor indeed can be: Herein this Originall corruption doth mani∣festly discover it self, that it makes a man full of enmity, and hostility against God and his Image wheresoever it shineth; there is no agreement between this dark∣nesse and that light. This wretched frame is therefore called a stone, because of its contumacy, no impression is easily received, but it continueth obstinate against all remedies whatsoever: on the other side, this work of grace is cal'd an heart of flesh, Ezek. 36. in a far different sense then the word flesh is used in the Text; for there it signifieth plyablenesse, flexiblenesse, and a tender impression made upon the soul, whereby he doth willingly subject his minde to Scripture-Truths, and his will to Scripture-Commands. Hence those that are Regenerated are said to be taught of God, and the people of God in the day of his power are said to be willingnesses; * and herein the work of Regeneration is admirable, that it turneth the heart of a man to the love and practice of those duties which are against his pleasure, profit, and all outward advantages whatsoever; grace toucheth these mountains, and it makes them like wax to receive any form or fashion: Now the heart renewed would be subject to none but God, and his will; no longer subject to the lusts and desires of the flesh, to the temptations of the world, to disdain obedience to any thing but God, or for God. For the soul now to prefer the Creature before God in the love of it, is as grosse as for the body to be prostitute before an Image, and to worship that. The second thing which the Apostle makes the fruit of being in the flesh, is, that it cannot please God. To be carnally minded is death, so that whatsoever the unregenerate man doth is bitter fruit and sour grapes. It is an a∣bomination to the Lord, he is all the day long damning himself, and doing abomi∣nable things in the eyes of the Lord; If he eats, if he drinks, if he buyeth or sel∣leth, all these are cursed to him. Whithersoever he goeth, the mark of Gods displea∣sure is upon him. Now where the person is regenerated, there the curse and loath∣somnesse of a mans person is removed by the grace of justification, and his duties are well pleasing to God by sanctification: for although in the court of justificati∣on, it is no blasphemy to Gods spirit to say, that the gracious works done by us are a menstruous cloth, dung and drosse, yet if we look upon them in the sphere of sanctification, so they are graces and holy actions, and well pleasing to God, their imperfection being done away through Christ; and thus as God smelt a sweet savour in Noah's Sacrifice, so he doth also in all the gracious duties the people of God perform, though the Incense that sweetens all be the bloud of Christ. Therefore the Church of God is compared to a Garden, and every godly soul to a Lilly and Flower, and their graces to sweet Spices; yet, she is made altogether lovely; which although it hath its ground from justification, yet if the Church of God had had no inherent grace in her, we cannot say God would use such expressions to her; whereas therefore before thou didst pray, hear, God could not abide the, thou wast a beast that made every thing unclean thou didst touch; now God accepts of thy holy duties, thy prayer, fasting, almes-deeds; as he said to the Centurion. Thus you see how that in every particular, wherein Corruption hath made any de∣filement or breach, there grace doth make some glorious reparations; and as sinne hath abounded in the filth of it, so grace abounds in the purity and glory of it.
In the next place let us consider, why regeneration is thus necessary to salvation, because of this corruption in us. And first:
Page 222The happinesse of heaven is chiefly in enjoying of God; and having communion * with him: now how can man that is thus corrupt and wretched by nature, such an irreconcileable enemy to him, be brought to this fellowship with God, as the grea∣test blessednesse? If so be to Duties and Ordinances God requireth such sanctity and sanctification in those that draw near, how much rather to the enjoyment of him∣self? If the pure eye that seeth the Sun, the Bat and Owl is offended at the glori∣ous beams thereof; God therefore and his glorious presence would be a burden and a torment to a wicked man: They that bid God depart from them, because of his holy Lawes, and his holy Ordinances, how much rather would they bid God depart from them because of his holy presence.
Secondly, The imployment and work that God calls for in heaven is altogether in∣consistent*with a wicked and ungodly heart. To praise God, and rejoyce in him for ever; to love him, and to delight in him, forgetting all Creatures, and be swallowed up in him as the Ocean of all happinesse, how can the heart of a naturall man be thus affected? We see in this life how odious and troublesome holy duties are to the godly heart; and therefore much more would heaven be an hell to an ungodly man. It is true, wicked men as Balaam may desire happinesse, but then they look to it onely as it is a preservation from evill, and a preventing of torment; they doe not consider the positive part in happinesse, which is to glorifie God, and to delight in him. It was much that the blinde Philosophers could stumble on this, to conclude that blessednesse consisted in vertuous actions, that the grea∣test delight and happinesse that could be was to doe justly; so that an ungodly man could not have Aristotles happinesse, and doe we think he can have Pauls?
Thirdly, There is a necessity of the souls regeneration, ere it can be glorified, be∣cause it would not be for the honour and glory of God to bestow happinesse upon sinfull*men. As it's Gods glory to be holy, holy; so it's his Childrens glory to be like him in holinesse: It is true, God needeth not our holinesse, neither doth he want our righteousnesse, neither doth our goodnesse extend to him; yet the outward ma∣nifestation of his glory is seen in those that are holy: The place in the Temple that did represent Heaven was called the Holy of Holies; and if no prophane or unclean thing might enter the Temple, much lesse into that more sacred place. The Papists calumniate us, as if we were enemies to holinesse, because we make it not meritorious of heaven; but we plead the necessity of it, and God hath made an inseparable connexion between holinesse and happinesse. As therefore this bo∣dy of ours cannot be glorified in heaven as long as it is thus vile and corruptible, it must be raised out of the dust, and all the imperfections of it must be done away; so the soul must also have a resurrection from, its spirituall death and loathsom∣nesse, ere it can be made happy.
These things haply may be acknowledged as true by all, but who takes the right way to be happy? Regeneration is the writing of Gods Law; now is Drunkennesse, Prophanenesse, Pride, Worldlinesse, Gods Law? Men might quickly see they are out of the right way to glory, if they would meditate on these things.
Use. 1. How vain and empty a thing it is, to glory in our naturall birth! Are we born great, noble, rich in inheritances? yet remember, we are also born chil∣dren * of wrath; we are flesh of flesh, what debasement should here be for us! Look upon any Toad or Serpent, their naturall propagation, is more happy than thine; Oh we never lay our selves low in the sense of our poverty and shame, till we come to be affected with this naturall depravation. The Scripture ma∣ny times would humble us, because we are Dust and Ashes, but this is onely a naturall basenesse; we ought much rather to ly down in confusion, because we are born so full of sinne; how little doe we believe these things? Why art thou puf∣fed up in thy self, and boastest of externall riches or honours: To be a sinfull man is shame and terror enough. The Heathen would have a Boy to speak in Page 223 his eare, in the midst of all his pomp and glory, Memento te hominem esse, Re∣member thou art a man. But doe thou in the midst of all thy outward comforts say to thy soul, Memento te peccatorem esse; Yea, not so much a sinner as sinne it self.
Vse 2. Of Instruction. What is the reason, men that are of ingenuous, fair, * and just conversation, have so much quietnesse, peace and confidence, as if all were well? The first rise of their mistake, is their insensiblenesse and ignorance about originall defilement, did they know how all that they account good and excellent, is indeed abominable and filthy; how would they stand aloof off, crying out, they are unclean, unclean; and certainly if men regenerated speak of their good acti∣ons, which have indeed some true good, that they are menstruous cloaths, dung, and drosse; what ought not you to think of an externall righteousnesse? O consider, that Regeneration is not onely necessary, because a man liveth in such and such grosse impieties, but because he hath a defiled nature; and therefore un∣lesse you civill men, good natur'd men, be born again as well as Publicans and Har∣lots, ye cannot enter into the Kingdome of heaven. Do not then look upon some prophane and horrid wretches, saying, I wonder this Sermon doth not work upon them, I wonder they doe not become new men, it is strange how they can hear these things and be as they are; but rather wonder at thy own self, and smit• on thy own thigh, and be amazed to consider, why thou dost not think of becom∣ing new.
Use 3. Of Exhortation. Is Corruption the ground of the necessity of Rege∣neration, * then see this latter extend as far as the former; corruption is in thy mind, thy judgement, thy intentions, as well as in bodily actions, therefore let Regene∣ration be also extended thither; we must not onely have a new life, and a new con∣versation, but also a new heart and spirit. The very spirit must be sanctified as well as the soul; the choisest intellectuall part of a man, as well as his sensitive part. The Scripture calls flesh not onely the bodily sinnes of a man, but the actions of his soul, puffed up in his fleshly minde, speaking of false worship: so Idolatry, and Heresies are made the fruit of the flesh as well as externall impiety. This is to be considered by those who judge grosse and abominable opinions no great crime or fault; No, the Apostlé saith of all those enumerated vices, Gal. 5. 19. where in∣tellectuall sinnes are among others, They that doe such things shall not inherit the Kingdome of Heaven. Therefore we may say an Heretick needs conversion as well as a prophane person: And a man may discover he is a fleshly unregenerate man as well by some Opinions and Doctrines, as by some corrupt conversations.