THE MARKS of the NEW-BIRTH.
ACTS xix. 2. Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?
_TWO Constructions have been given us of these Words; some have supposed, that the Question here put, is, Whether these Disciples, whom St. Paul found at Ephesus, after he had passed thro' the upper Coasts, had received the Holy Ghost, by Imposition of Hands at Confirmation. — Others think, that these Disciples had been already baptised into John's Baptism; but that not being attended with an immediate Effusion of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle here asks them, Whether they had received the Holy Ghost by being baptised into JESUS CHRIST? And upon their answering in the Negative, he first baptised, and then confirmed them in the Name of the Lord JESUS CHRIST.
Which of these Interpretations is most true, is neither easy nor very necessary to determine. However, as the Words contain a most important Enquiry, without any Reference to the Context, I shall from them draw these two general Heads of Discourse.
- I. First, I shall shew who the Holy Ghost here spoken of, is; and how we must all receive him before we can be stiled True Believers.
- II. Secondly, I shall lay down some Scripture Marks, whereby we may know, Whether we have thus re|ceived the Holy Ghost, or not?
- Page 3III. Thirdly, By Way of Conclusion, I shall address myself to several distinct Classes of Professors, con|cerning the Doctrine that shall have been delivered.
I. And First, I am to shew who the Holy Ghost, spo|ken of in the Text is; and how we must all receive him ere we can be stiled True Believers.
By the Holy Ghost here spoken of, is signified the Holy Spirit, the third Person in the ever blessed Trinity, con|substantial and coeternal with the Father and the Son, pro|ceeding from, yet equal to them both.—He is emphati|cally called Holy, because infinitely Holy in himself, and the Author and Finisher of all Holiness in us.
This blessed Spirit, who once moved on the Face of the great Deep, who overshadowed the Blessed Virgin be|fore that Holy Thing was born of her, who descended in a bodily Shape like a Dove on our Blessed LORD, when he came up out of the Water at his Baptism; and lighted afterwards in fiery Tongues on the Heads of all his Apo|stles at the Day of Pentecost; this is the Holy Ghost, who must move on the Faces of our Souls; this Power of the Most High must come upon us, and we must be baptised with his Baptism and refining Fire, before we can be stiled True Members of its mystical Body.
Thus says the Apostle, Know ye not that Christ is in you? that is, by his Spirit, unless you are Reprobates? Now if any Man hath not the Spirit of CHRIST, he is none of his. — And again, says St. John, We know that we are his by the Spirit that he hath given us.
It is not indeed necessary that we should have it now given in that miraculous Manner in which it was at first given to our Lord's Apostles, by Signs and Wonders. But it is absolutely necessary that we should receive the Holy Ghost in his sanctifying Graces as really as they did, and so will it continue to be till the End of the World.
For thus stands the Case between GOD and Man. Page 4 GOD at first made Man upright, or as the sacred Pen-man expresses it, In the Image of GOD made he Man, that is, his Soul was the very Copy, the Transcript of the Divine Nature.—He that before had by his Almighty Fiat spoke the World into Being, breathed into Man the Breath of spiritual Life, and his Soul became adorned with all the Perfections of the Deity,—This was the finish|ing Stroke of the Creation: The Perfection both of the moral and material World,—and so near resembled its Divine Original, that GOD could not but rejoyce, and take Pleasure in his own Likeness—And therefore we read, that when GOD had finished the inanimate and brutish Part of the Creation, he looked upon it, and be|hold it was Good; but when that lovely God-like Crea|ture, Man, was made, behold it was very Good.
Happy then, unspeakably happy must Man needs be, who was thus Partaker of the Divine Nature; and thus might we have still continued, had he still continued Holy. But GOD had placed him in a State of Probation, with a free Grant to eat of every Tree in the Garden of Eden, except the Tree of Knowlege of Good and Evil.—The Day he did eat thereof he was surely to die; that is, not only to be subject to temporal, but spiritual Death, and consequently to lose that Divine Image, that spiritual Life GOD had not long since breathed into him, and which was as much his Happiness as his Glory.
These, one would imagine, were easy Conditions for a finite Creature's Happiness to depend on. But Man, unhappy Man, being seduced by the Devil, and desiring like him, to be equal with his Maker, eat of the forbidden Fruit, and thereby became liable to that Curse which the Eternal GOD, who cannot lie, had denounced against his Disobedience.
Accordingly we read, that soon after Adam had fallen, he complained that he was naked.—Naked not only as Page 5 to his Body, but Naked and left destitute of those Divine Graces, which before decked and beautified his Soul.— The unhappy Mutiny and Disorder which the visible Creation fell into, those Briars and Thorns which now sprung up and overspread the Earth, were but poor Em|blems, but lifeless Representations of that Confusion and Rebellion, those divers Lusts and Passions which sprung up in, & quite overwhelmed the Soul of Man immediately after the Fall.—Alas! he was now no longer the Image of the invisible GOD; but as he had imitated the Devil's Sin, he became Partaker of the Devil's Nature, and from an Union with, sunk into a State of direct Enmity against GOD.
Now in this dreadful disordered Condition are all of us brought into the World.—For as the Root is, such must the Branches be.— Accordingly we are told, that Adam begat a Son in his own Likeness, that is with the same corrupt Nature which he himself had sunk into after he had eaten the forbidden Fruit. And Experience, as well as Scripture proves, that we also are altogether born in Sin and Corruption, and therefore uncapable, whilst in such a State, to hold Communion with GOD.—For as Light cannot have Communion with Darkness, so GOD can have no Communion with such polluted Sons of Belial.
Here then appears the End and Design why CHRIST was made manifest in the Flesh.—viz. to put an End to these Disorders, and to restore us to that primitive Dig|nity in which we were at first created.—Accordingly he shed his precious Blood to satisfy his Father's Justice for our Sins, and thereby also he purchased again for us the HOLY GHOST, who should once more re-instamp the Divine Image upon our Hearts, and make us capable of living with and enjoying GOD.
Page 6This, I say, was the only End of our LORD's com|ing into the World—Nay, this is the only End why the World itself is now kept in Being. For as soon as a suf|ficient Number are sanctified out of it, the Heavens shall be wrapped up like a Scrowl, the Elements shall melt with fervent Heat, the Earth and all that therein is shall be burnt up.
This is that New-Birth mentioned by our blessed LORD to Nicodemus, without which we cannot see the King|dom of GOD. This is what St. Paul calls being renew|ed in the Spirit of our Minds, and herein consists that Holiness without which no Man shall see the LORD.
In this manner then it is undeniably certain we must receive the HOLY GHOST e'er we can be stiled true Members of CHRIST'S mystical Body.
II. I come now, in the Second Place, to lay down some scriptural Marks, whereby we may easily judge whether we have received the HOLY GHOST or not.
And the First Mark I shall mention is,— our having received a Spirit of Prayer and Supplication:—For that always accompanies the Spirit of Grace—No sooner was Paul converted, but behold he prayeth, says JESUS CHRIST. And this was urged as an Argument to con|vince Ananias that he was converted. And GOD's Elect are said to cry to him Day and Night.
For since one great Work of the Holy Spirit is to con|vince us of Sin, and to set us upon seeking Pardon and renewing Grace thro' the all sufficient Merits of a cruci|fied Redeemer, whosoever has felt the Powers of the World to come awakening him from his Spiritual Le|thargy, cannot but be always crying, out, LORD, what wouldst thou have me do? Or in the Language of the importunate blind Bartimeus, JESUS, thou Son of Da|vid, have Mercy upon me.
Page 7The blessed JESUS, as he received the Holy Ghost with|out Measure, so he evidenced it by nothing more than his frequent Addresses at the Throne of Grace. Accor|dingly we read, that he was often alone on the Moun|tain Praying— That he rose a great while before Day to Pray.—Nay that he spent whole Nights in Prayer. And whosoever is made Partaker of the same Spirit with the HOLY JESUS, will be of the same Mind, and delight in nothing so much as to draw nigh unto GOD, and lift up holy Hands and Hearts in fervent and devout Prayer.
It must be confessed indeed that this Spirit of Supplica|tion is often as it were sensibly lost, and decays for some Time even in those who have actually received the Holy Ghost. And they, thro' spiritual Dryness and Barren|ness of Soul, find in themselves a Listlessness and Back|wardness to this Duty of Prayer;—but then they take it as their Cross, and still persevere in seeking JESUS tho' it be sorrowing. And their Hearts notwithstanding are fixed upon GOD, tho' they cannot exert their Affections so strongly as usual, on Account of that spiritual Dead|ness which GOD for wise Reasons has suffered to be|numb their Souls.
But as for the formal Believer, it is not so with him. No, he either prays not at all, or if he does enter into his Closet, it is with Reluctance—out of Custom—or to satisfy the Checks of his Conscience—Whereas the true Believer can no more live without Prayer, than with|out Food Day by Day. And he finds his Soul as really and perceptibly fed by the one, as his Body is nourished and supported by the other.
A Second Scripture Mark of our having received the HOLY GHOST, is— not committing Sin.—
Whosoever is born of GOD, says St. John, sinneth not, nei|ther can he sin, because his Seed remaineth in him—Neither can he sin—This Expression does not imply the Impossi|bility Page 8 of a spiritual Man's sinning. For we are told, that in many Things we offend all. It means only thus much; that a Man that is really born again of GOD, doth not wilfully commit Sin, much less live in the ha|bitual Practice if it. For how shall he that is dead to Sin, as every converted Person is, live any longer therein?
'Tis true a Man that is born again of GOD may, thro' Surprize or Violence of a Temptation, fall into an Act of Sin: Witness the Adultery of David, and Peter's Denial of his Master. But then, like them, he quickly rises again, goes out from the World, and weeps bitterly; washes the Guilt of Sin away by the Tears of a sincere Repentance, joined with Faith in the Blood of JESUS CHRIST; takes double Heed to his Ways for the future, and perfects Holiness in the Fear of GOD.
The Meaning of this Expression of the Apostle, that a Man that is born again of GOD, cannot commit Sin, has been * fitly illustrated in the Example of a covetous Worldling, to the general Bent of whose Inclinations, Liberality and Profuseness are directly opposite. But if, upon some unexpected sudden Occasion, he does play the Prodigal, he immediately repents him of his Fault, and returns with double Care to his Savingness again.—And so is every one that is born again. To commit Sin is as contrary to the habitual Frame and Tendency of his Mind, as Generosity is to the Inclinations of a Miser. But if at any Time he is drawn into Sin, he immedi|ately with double Zeal returns to his Duty, and brings forth Fru••s meet for Repentance.
Whereas the unconverted Sinner is quite dead in Tres|passes and Sins,—or if he does abstain from the gross Acts of it, from worldly selfish Motives, yet there is some Right Eye he will not pluck out; some Right Hand which he will not cut off; some specious Agag that he will not sacri|fice Page 9 for GOD; and thereby he is convinced, that he is but a mere Saul; and consequently, whatever Preten|sions he may make to the contrary, he has not yet receiv|ed the HOLY GHOST.
A Third Mark whereby we may know whether or not we have received the Holy Ghost is,—our Conquest over the World.—For whoever is born of GOD, says the Apostle, overcometh the World.—By the World we are to understand, as St. John expresses it, all that is in the World, the Lust of the Eye, the Lust of the Flesh, and Pride of Life.—And by overcoming of it is meant our renouncing these, so as not to follow or be led by them. For whosoever is born from above, has his Affections set on Things above: He feels a Divine Attraction in his Soul, which forcibly draws his Mind Heavenwards; and as the Hart panteth after the Water-Brooks, so doth it make his Soul to long after the Enjoyment of his GOD.
Not that he is so taken up with the Affairs of another Life, as to neglect the Business of this. No, a truly spiritual Man dares not stand any Day idle: But then he takes Care, though he laboureth for the Meat which perisheth, first to secure that which endureth to everlast|ing Life. Or if GOD has exalted him above his Bre|thren, yet, like Moses, Joseph and Daniel, he notwith|standing looks upon himself as a Stranger and Pilgrim upon Earth.— Having received a Principle of new Life, he walks by Faith and not by Sight.— And his Hopes being full of Immortality, he can look on all Things here below as Vanity and Vexation of Spirit.—In short, tho' he is in, yet is not of the World: And as he was made for the Enjoyment of GOD, so nothing but GOD can satisfy his Soul.
The ever blessed JESUS was a perfect Instance of over|coming the World. For tho' he went continually about doing Good, and always lived in a Press, yet wherever Page 10 he was, his Conversation tended Heavenwards. In like Manner he that is joined to the LORD in one Spirit, will so order his Tho'ts, Words, & Actions aright that he will evidence to all, that his Conversation is in Heaven.
On the contrary, an unconverted Man being of the Earth, is earthly: And having no spiritual Eye to dis|cern spiritual Things, is always seeking for Happiness in this Life, where it never was, will, or can be found. Be|ing not born again from above, he is bowed down by a Spirit of natural Infirmity; the Serpent's Curse becomes his Choice, and he eats of the Dust of the Earth all the Days of his Life.
A Fourth Scripture Mark of our New-Birth, or of our having received the Holy Ghost, is,— our loving one another.
We know, says St. John, we are passed from Death unto Life, because we love the Brethren.—And by this says JESUS CHRIST, shall all Men know, that you are my Dis|ciples, if ye have Love one toward another.—Love is the fulfilling of the Gospel, as well as the Law; for GOD is Love, & whosoever dwelleth in GOD, dwelleth in Love.
But by this Love we are not to understand, a Softness and Tenderness of meer Nature, or a Love founded on worldly Motives (for this a natural Man may have) but a Love of our Brethren proceeding from a Love towards GOD. Loving all Men in general, because GOD loves all Men, & loving good Men in particular, for the Grace we see in them, and because they love our Lord JESUS in Sincerity.
This is Christian Charity, and that new Command|ment which CHRIST gave his Disciples. New not in its Object, but in the Motive and Example whereon it is founded, even JESUS CHRIST. This is that Love which the primitive Christians were so renowned for, that it be|came a Proverb.—See, how these Christians love one ano|ther.Page 11 —And without this Love, tho' we should give all our Goods to feed the Poor, and our Bodies to be burnt, it would profit us nothing.
Farther, this Love is not confined to any particular Set of Men, but is impartial and catholic. A Love that em|braces GOD'S Image where-ever it beholds it, and that delights in nothing so much as to see CHRIST'S King|dom come.
This is the Love wherewith JESUS CHRIST loved Mankind.—He loved all, even the worst of Men, as ap|pears by his weeping over the obstinately perverse; but wherever he saw the least Appearance of the Divine Like|ness, that Soul he loved in particular.—Thus we read, that when he heard the young Man say, All these Things have I kept from my Youth, that so far he loved him. And when he saw any noble Instance of Faith, tho' in a Cen|turion, a Syro-phaenician, Aliens to the Commonwealth of Israel, how is he said to marvel at it, as Man, to re|joyce in it, speak of, and commend it?—So also every spiritual Disciple of JESUS CHRIST will cordially em|brace all that worship GOD in Spirit and in Truth, how|soever they may differ as to the Appendages of Religion, and Things not essentially necessary to Salvation.
I confess indeed that the Heart of a natural Man is not thus enlarged all at once; and a Person may really have received the Holy Ghost (as Peter no doubt had when he was unwilling to go to Cornelius) tho' he be not arri|ved to this.—But then we affirm, where a Person is truly in CHRIST, all Narrowness of Spirit decreases in him daily; the Partition-Wall of Bigotry and Party Zeal is broken down more and more; and the nearer he comes to Heaven the more his Heart is enlarged with that Love which •here will make no Difference between any Peo|ple, Nation or Language, but we shall all with one Heart, and one Voice, sing Praises to him that sitteth upon the Throne for ever.
Page 12But I hasten to shew a Fifth, and that the last Scrip|ture Mark of our New-Birth, that I shall at present men|tion,—Loving our Enemies.
I say unto you, says JESUS CHRIST, Love your Enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to those that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you.— And this Duty of loving our Enemies is so necessary, that without it, our blessed LORD tells us our Righteousness does not exceed the Righteousness of the Scribes & Pha|risees, nay, or of Publicans and Sinners: For if you do Good to them only which do Good to you, what do you more than others? What do you extraordinary? Do not even Publicans the same? — And these Precepts our LORD confirmed by his own Example, when he wept over the bloody City; when he suffered himself to be led as a Sheep to the Slaughter; when he made that mild Re|ply to the Traytor Judas, Judas betrayest thou the Son of Man with a Kiss;—And more especially when in the Agonies & Pangs, of Death, he prayed for his very Mur|derers, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.
This is the most difficult Duty to the natural Man, but whosoever is made Partaker of that Promise of the Father, will find it practicable and easy. For if we are born again of GOD, we must be like him; and conse|quently delight to be perfect in this Duty of doing good to our worst Enemies in the same Manner, tho' not in the same Degree as he is perfect.—And he sends his Rain on the Evil and the Good, causeth his Sun to shine on the Just and Unjust: And herein more especially com|mendeth his Love towards us, that whilst we were his Enemies, he sent forth his Son, born of a Woman, made under the Law, that he might become a Curse for us.
Many other Marks there are scattered up and down the Scriptures, whereby we may know whether or not we have received the Holy Ghost. Such as to be carnally Page 13 minded is Death, but to be spiritually minded is Life and Peace.—Now the Fruits of the Spirit are Joy, Peace, Long-suffering, Meckness, with a Multitude of Texts to the same Purpose.—But as most, if not all of them, are com|prehended in the Duties already laid down, I dare affirm, whosoever, upon an impartial Examination, can find the aforesaid Marks upon his Soul, may be as certain, as tho' an Angel was to tell him, that his Pardon is sealed in Heaven.
And as for my own Part, I had rather see these Divine Graces, these Heavenly Tempers stamped upon my Soul, than to hear an Angel from Heaven saying unto me, Son, be of good cheer, thy Sins be forgiven thee.
For these are infallible Witnesses; these are Emanuel, GOD with and in us; these make up that white Stone, which none knoweth, saving he who receiveth it; these are the Earnests of the Heavenly Inheritance in our Hearts. In short, these are Glory begun, and are that good Thing, that better Part, which, if you continue to stir up this Gift of GOD, neither Men or Devils shall ever be able to take from us.
III. I proceed now, as was proposed, in the Third Place, to make an Application of the Doctrine de|livered, to several distinct Classes of Professors.
And First, I shall address myself to those who are dead in Trespasses and Sins.—And here how could I weep over you, as our LORD wept over Jerusalem! For alas! how distant must you be from GOD, what a pro|digious Work have you got to finish, who instead of pray|ing Day and Night, seldom or never pray at all! And instead of being born again in GOD, so as not to commit Sin, are so deeply sunk into the Nature of Devils as to make a Mock at it. Or instead of overcoming the World, so as not to follow or be led by it, are continually making Provision for the Flesh, to fulfil the Lust thereof. And Page 14 lastly, instead of being endued with the Godlike Dispo|sitions of loving all Men, even your Enemies, have your Hearts full of Hatred, Malice and Revenge, and deride those who are sincere Followers of the lowly JESUS. But think you, O Sinners, that GOD will admit such pollu|ted Wretches into his Sight? Or should he admit you, do you imagine you could take any Pleasure in him? No, Heaven itself would be no Heaven to you: The Devilish Dispositions which are in your Hearts would render all the spiritual Enjoyments of those blessed Man|sions ineffectual to make you happy.—To qualify you to be blissful Partakers of that Heavenly Inheritance with the Saints in Light, there is a Meetness required, to at|tain which ought to be the one Business of your Lives.
It is true, you, as well as the Righteous, in one Sense shall Seat GOD (for we must all appear before the Judg|ment Seat of CHRIST) but you must see him once, ne|ver to see him more. For as you carry about in you the Devil's Image, with Devils you must dwell. Being of the same Nature, you must share the same Doom. Re|pent therefore and be converted, that your Sins may be blotted out. See that you receive the Holy Ghost before you go hence: For otherwise how can you escape the Damnation of Hell?
Secondly, I shall apply myself to those who deceive them|selves with false Hopes of Salvation. And because, thro' the Influence of a good Education, or other providential Restraints, they have not run into the same Excess of Riot with other Men, think they have no Need to re|ceive the Holy Ghost, and flatter themselves that they are really born again.
But do you shew it by bringing forth the Fruits of the Spirit; Do you pray without ceasing? Do you not com|mit Sin? Have you overcome the World? And do you Page 15 love your Enemies, and all Mankind, in the same Man|ner as JESUS CHRIST loved them?
If these Things, Brethren, be in you, and abound, then may you have Confidence towards GOD: But if not, altho' you may be civilized, yet you are not convert|ed. No, you are yet in your Sins. The Nature of the old Adam still reigneth in your Souls. And unless the Na|ture of the second Adam be engrafted in its Room, you can never see GOD.
Think not therefore to dress yourselves up in the Or|naments of a good Nature, and civil Education, and say with Agag, surely the Bitterness of Death is past. For GOD'S Justice notwithstanding that, like Samuel, shall hew you to Pieces.—However you may be highly estee|med in the Sight of Men, yet in the Sight of GOD you are but like the Apples of Sodom, Dunghills covered over with Snow, mere whited Sepulchres, appearing a little beautiful without, but inwardly full of Corruption and of all Uncleanliness.—And consequently will be dismissed at the last Day, with a Verily, I know you not.
But the Word is profitable for Comfort, as well as Cor|rection.
Thirdly, therefore do I address myself to those who are under the Drawings of the Father, and are going thro' the Spirit of Bondage, but not finding the Marks before|mentioned, are ever crying out, Who shall deliver us from the Body of this Death?
But fear not, little Flock; for notwithstanding your present Infant State of Grace, it shall be your Father's good Pleasure to give you the Kingdom.
The Grace of GOD, thro' JESUS CHRIST, that shall deliver you, that shall give you what you thirst after.— He hath promised he will also do it.—Ye shall receive the Spirit of Adoption, that Promise of the Father, if you saint not.—Only persevere in seeking it,—and determine Page 16 to find no Rest in your Spirit, till you know and feel that you are thus born again from above, & GOD'S Spirit wit|nesseth with your Spirits that you are the Children of GOD.
Fourthly and lastly, I address myself to those who have received the Holy Ghost in all its sanctifying Graces, and almost ripe for Glory.
Hail happy Saints! For your Heaven is begun on Earth. You have already received the first Fruits of the Spirit, and are patiently waiting till that blessed Change come, when your Harvest shall be compleat.— I see & admire you, tho' alas! at so great a Distance from you.—Your Life, I know, is hid with CHRIST in GOD.— You have Comforts, you have Meat to eat, which a sinful, carnal, ridiculing World knows nothing of.— CHRIST'S Yoke is now become easy to you, and his Burden light: You have passed through the Pangs of the New Birth, and now rejoice that the Man CHRIST JESUS is spiritually formed in your Hearts. You know what it is to dwell in CHRIST, and CHRIST in you. Like Jacob's Ladder, altho' your Bodies are on Earth, yet your Souls and Hearts are in Heaven: And by your Faith and constant Recollection, like the Blessed Angels, you do always behold the Face of your Father which is in Heaven.
I need not then exhort you to press forward: For you know that in walking by the Spirit there is great Reward. Rather will I exhort you in Patience to possess your Souls yet a little while, and JESUS CHRIST will deliver you from the Burden of the Flesh, and an abundant En|trance shall be administered unto you into the eternal Joy and uninterrupted Felicity of his Heavenly Kingdom.