Графични страници
PDF файл

the more sudden and striking change of a conversion from sin to holiness, it is well expressed by the figure of a birth.

What is it to be born in the natural sense ? To be born is to receive being, life, existence. It is to have objects presented to our eyes, melodies to our ears, flavours to our taste, to have a thousand sensations crowded upon us, of which before we could not possibly have any idea, or form the most imperfect conception. It is to leave a dark prison, and emerge to life and joy and action. And how well does the change wrought in the heart of a Christian correspond with this criterion of a birth! What a new world of ideas and feelings are opened upon him! He had before no organs with which to discern spiritual things. He had heard of them, but he apprehended them not; there was no faculty in him by which he could take hold of them; but the moment he is born again the eyes of his mind are opened : he sees, feels, tastes and relishes the word of God, the bread of life, the gracious influences of the Spirit. The invisible world is laid open to him, he sees the beauty of right action, feels the force of moral obligation. He tastes a sweetness in the ordinances of religion, in prayers and psalms and sacraments, which before were dry and without savour to him ; which he had attended from day to day and from sabbath to sabbath as mere matter of form and decency. Before he was born into the world of sense, now he holds communion with the world of spirits. And is not this a mighty and important change?

Again : To be born implies having a father, a descent, a parentage: the natural man is born the son, perhaps, of some mighty chief or distinguished statesman, or head of a noble house. But trifling, indeed, are all these distinctions in comparison of that which he receives who acquires a right to consider himself as the child of God, who in humble confidence may call by the tender and affectionate appellation of Father, the Sovereign of the universe. A child, when born, has a name given him. And the Christian has a name, a new name, written in his forehead, registered in heaven, even in the Lamb's book of life. As soon as a child comes into the world its voice is heard. It sends forth a cry, a meaning cry, which seems to say, “ Here am I feeble, helpless, naked; nourish me, protect me, cherish me in your bosom, bear with my weakness, lead me up to manhood.” So also when a believer is born into the life of Christ, his voice is heard and he prayeth. With strong and earnest cries he supplicates the Father of his spirit for pardon and for blessings. Prayer is the natural, unstudied expression of those feelings which are then awakened within him. lle casts himself before the throne of grace, and waits patiently there as an infant chings to the breast of its mother, and there he rests all his cares, all his concerns in a child-like humility and unreserved trust and cheerful confidence.

Again : A child is not born into the world without great and strong pains. She bowed herself, her pains came upon her, she was in travail. And great are the pains which precede the new birth, sharp are the pangs of repentance, great the travail of the ministers and labourers in Christ, and deep those groanings which cannot be uttered, that must pass before the change be wrought, which in some distinguished instances has been wrought, from the depths of guilt and defilement, and mental bondage, to the glorious liberty of the sons and servants of Christ. But when once a child is born, how great is the joy! The father taketh it in his arms and blesseth it; the mother forgetteth her suffering to smile upon it; the friends and relations and neighbours crowd around it, and welcome into existence the new

creature. It is received into a family, into a brotherhood, linked into a close knot of amity with all who are partakers of the same blood. With mingled curiosity and affection they trace in its little lineaments lines of resemblance to its parents, and fondly prognosticate from thence the beauty and vigour of the future man. And is there not joy when a soul is born! joy of its ministers, joy of the church, joy even in heaven over a sinner that repenteth ! With what kindly meltings of paternal love does the universal Father receive the returning prodigal, revive the spirit of the penitent Magdalen, and cherish the innocent children who come to him for a blessing! And what a family, what a brotherhood, does he become a member of who is partaker of this divine life! the wide-extended family of God's virtuous and approved children; the brotherhood of all the holy and the happy in all worlds and in all ages: he is united to saints, and angels, and spirits of the just made perfect, who do not disdain the meanest member of this blessed community if united with them in sincere desire to do the will of their common Father.

Again : What further joy is there if the child be born an heir, and entitled to inherit some portion of this vain and perishable earth! What ostentation, what importance, what carefulness in displaying the wealth, in setting forth and adorning the child! The very nurse is quite proud and glorious to take care of one born to such a distinguished and happy lot. The possessions of most are confined to a certain number of acres, but some favoured mortals enjoy a portion of this globe which may even be distinguished in a map of the world, and extends over the circumference of a few inches there. How assiduous to give him his title, how careful to preserve his pedigree ! What a lively interest is taken in his health, his dress, his sports, and every thing belonging to him, as if he were really of a distinct species from the common race of mortals! And what an estate, what a title, what a heritage is the Christian born to! He is born an heir of glory, he expects a heritage in the land of promise, thrones in heaven : heaven is his and earth is his, and all things are his, for God is bis; and nothing can deprive him of his glorious birthright, except he himself should alienate and renounce it. But let it be observed, the heir does not inherit immediately. He waits for his possessions till he is able to enjoy and manage them, and in the meantime ihis inheritor of a splendid fortune is made subject to every one that is about him. First he cannot, and then he may not, stir a step without others; he is every thing in hope, nothing in possession ; bis cheeks are bathed in frequent tears, his will is crossed, bis appetites checked, the purposes and projects of his little heart continually counteracted; he is scourged, buffeted and severely handled, according to his childish conceptions, by his parents, masters and tutors. Nay, he is kept under by those who afterwards will not presume so much as to approach his presence. And thus it must be with the heir of glory while he is in the nonage of this world : afflictions and crosses and disappointments are the schoolmasters to bring him to Christ. His bigh destination and lofty hopes do not hinder him from being lorded over and roughly treated by the children of this world, who are often wiser in their generation than the children of light. Jacob was the heir of the promises, yet he became the servant of Laban; and the seed of Abraham was long held in bondage by the Egyptians.

In the next place it may be remarked, that though the child is born, it may

die. Life, mere life, is an inestimable gift, and there is an infinite difference between existence in the lowest state and non-existence; but life in its early stages is peculiarly frail and delicate ; when the flame is first kindled, á breath will extinguish it. What care, therefore, is exercised to

preserve the tender infant, to choose the most wholesome air and salutary food, to avoid infectious disorders, and cherish its limbs with grateful warmth, and promote by frequent exercise the expansion of its powers! What anxiety if it appears to decline, instead of thriving in health and vigour! What expense or what trouble is spared to procure the most judicious advice, and find out the cause and apply the remedy? And shall we feel less care or less anxiety to preserve the life and well-being of the soul : ls pot equal care requisite in the beginnings of the spiritual life to prevent the smoaking flax from being quenched and the languishing virtue from becoming extinct? Çan our virtues gain strength without exercise, or spiritual beings thrive without spiritual food? Is the young Christian able to contend with the subtle cavils of sophistry, or to resist the contagion of evil example ? Can he breathe freely in the tainted atmosphere of impure communication ; and will his virtues have the same genuine and healthy complexion in the world as when protected and cherished in the shade of domestic retirement ? Examine yourselves, therefore, all you who are concerned for the well-heing of the immortal part within you, both whether you have undergone this important change and whether you are improving it to the perfection of the divine life. As to the first part of the question, much needless anxiety has formerly been incurred by weak and wellmeaning Christians for want of reflecting on this simple truth, that he whom we see living must some time or other certainly have been born. When we see a man walking, conversing, acting, exercising all the functions of animal life, we should think it very superfluous to inquire whether he had been born or no. Thus no other criterion is necessary to ascertain the reality of the new birth but the effects of it. When we see a man in whom holy affections and good principles bring forth the fruits of virtuous actions, we may be well assured that he is born in the gospel sense, though he may remember it as little as he does his natural birth. The operations of grace are gradual as well as those of nature; the widest fame is kindled at first by the smallest spark, and whatever is produced must be brought to perfection by slow and insensible degrees. Therefore, first, be not satisfied with merely being born. It is not enough that the child is born, it must grow too. Do you grow in grace and graces? In a healthy body the limus enlarge and shoot out. Å vigorous principle of life draws nourishment from every thing it takes; it cannot be stationary; if it does not thrive and increase, it must languish and die. It is not natural to rest in any stage, and especially in the earliest and weakest. We love children rather for the promise than the fruit. Lovely and interesting as they are, if they were to remain children we should be grievously disappointed. If, after having nursed them up to the full age of manhood, they were to retain the weakness and imbecility of an infant, instead of exciting tenderness they would raise disgust. And though the meanest renewed soul is precious in the sight of God, yet we must run and strive, and add to our faith virtue, and to virtue holiness and all the fair fruits of the spirit. Would you know, therefore, whether you are in this healthy and growing state, inquire with yourselves.

Is your taste pure and unvitiated, your appetite for spiritual things strong and vigorous, or can you not relish your sabbaths and your sermons except you meet with wit and eloquence and novelty to tickle the nicer ear? Can ye not love your duty unless it sorts with your inclination ? Are you various and capricious in your taste for divine things, sometimes longing and sometimes loathing ? Can ye not hold communion with a good Christian of plain, unadorned sense and homespun manners? Then is the com

plexion of your inward man too delicate and weakly. Ye are not only babes in Cbrist, but sickly babes too.

Is your conscience sensible and tender : It is a bad sign when in the natural man the feeling is numbed and torpid. Conscience is the moral sense or feeling every where diffused, and tremblingly alive to every impression. Does it continue quick and lively, or is it worn away by the irritation of frequent injuries? Is any part about you palsied and callous ? Then, indeed, is your soul's health in an alarming state, and you have great reason to apply to the Physician of souls for a cure,

Do you relish the word of God? I ask not do you read, though that were perhaps a question to be asked, but do you relish it? Are you revived by its promises, awed by its threats, quickened by its examples? Those who have acquired a taste for the literature of the schools, do as it were suck the sweetness from the poet's spring and imbibe into their souls the spirit of the classic page. Do you in like manner dwell upon the conversations and the life of your Saviour? Do you cling to them like a bee to the bud, and draw out their genuine flavour and sweetness ? Taste of that honey, and, like Jonathan, your eyes shall be enlightened.

Is your sense of invisible things quick and piercing? Where others see trees and suns and harvests, do you see God and Christ and glory? Where others see crosses and afflictions, set as it were in array against them, do you see graces springing and blessings dropping down upon you? Where others see the vain and miserable politics of this world, the fretting, bustling and contention of the children of it, do you see an overruling Providence, directing and ordering all things according to its own wise and beneficent purposes? Do you see God in every thing? Is he always intimately present to you in every scene and in every transaction, and nearer to your heart

any outward connexion? Then is the vital principle strong and vigorous

ihan within you.

Lastly, do you live by prayer? Are your prayers forced from you by the strong impulse of nature, when danger or unforeseen distress overtakes you, like that of Peter : “ Lord, help us, or we perish?” Are they formal and stated only, or do you pray without ceasing, -standing, walking, conversing, buying and selling in the song and in the dance do you lift up your hearts to God? For though the buyers and sellers might not be introduced into the temple, yet the business of the temple may and must be carried on in the commerce of ihe world.

And if you have the happiness to find after fair examination that you are yourselves thus advanced, make it your business to educate and bring up others to the same state of maturity. Be nursing fathers and nursing mothers to the church of Christ. When you meet with those who are inferior to yourselves in gifts and attainments, do not separate yourselves from them with a pharisaical fastidiousness, but treat them with that tenderness and indulgence which you would shew to a promising intant. Remove out of their path every stumbling-block, remembering who it is that hath said, “ Offend not one of these little ones.” Let your superiority be shewn in bearing with their weakness, in instructing their ignorance, in rectifying their mistakes, and passing over with a manly indifference the little spirit of captiousness and humour which proceeds from the petulance of their infirm age. Remember, it is not a tribing thing to be born, and despise not the day of small things. Before birth there is nothing; nothing on which to ground a hope, or hardly a wish; but as soon as born, there are the seeds, the rudiments of a human being : they want expanding, it is true, but they are

there ; they require only kindly warmth and nourishment to spread into the perfect man. Thus he'in whom, by the Divine grace, good principles and sincere intentions of doing well are formed, has the root of the matter in him, and needs nothing but the gradual discipline of years and events to bring out and confirm his virtues.

Finally, let us all lend our utmost endeavours to procure an interest in that life to which the being born again is to introduce us. There is a beautisul progression in the powers of man. In the womb he lives a vegetative life, after the natural birth an animal life, after the new birth a spiritual life. Unlike to the grass of the field, which when it withers or is cut down springs up again, it is true, but neither stronger nor fresher, nor less corruptible than before; for, to exist to-day, and to-morrow to be cast into the oven, completes from generation to generation the short and simple annals of the vegetable race ;-unlike to these, he receives with every change a new accession of faculties and enjoyments, and, if it is not his own fault, r'ses in value after every decay. You, then, who are old, according to the number of years, and have almost spent one life, have you taken care to provide yourselves with another? While the principle of decay is busy within you, and every year takes something from your strength and agility and vigour, and leaves you but the remnant of yourselves, do you feel another nature within you springing and growing, and pushing towards perfection ? Or have you nothing which belongs to age but its infirmities? Are you grey with years and green in goodness, withering away in your outward, and scarcely blossoming in your inward man? Or, at best

, are your late-born virtues like the unseasonable shoots of autumn, when the fading year has not vigour enough to bring them to perfection ? Are you almost pushed out of one class of being, and is scarcely the embryo formed in you of a new being belonging to another class ? How, then, indeed, can you enter into the kingdom of heaven? The bars against your entrance are those of the eternal differences of species, and the immutable nature of things; for you will observe it is not said, He that is not born again shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he cannot enter. That which is produced a vegetable cannot enter into the mineral kingdom, nor that which is formed a mineral into the animal kingdom : thus, also, that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the spirit is spirit, and each class and mode of being must be kept distinct, nor is it possible that the one should enter into the precincts of the other. And this is the case with most of the denunciations in the word of God. They are not arbitrary exclusions from happiness, and punishments contrived and invented (if I may so speak) for the purpose of inflicting misery upon the delinquent; but salutary warnings and kind information respecting the natural and necessary consequences of our actions and dispositions. Nor is the kingdom of heaven separated from the kingdoms of this world, as they are from one another, by barriers of rock and wide-extended seas and jealous gates and fortresses, nor need we go out into the wilderness to find it. It is in the midst of us. It exists silently, to most invisibly, in the very heart and bustle of the world, a kingdom within a kingdom. Its boundaries have nothing in common with those of space or time. They relate to dispositions only. Where these are heavenly, there is the kingdom of heaven; where these are sensual, there is the kingdom of sense. Into the kingdom of sense, indeed, we have all been born, and while we are in this world we ought to belong to it; but the things of sense are transitory; let us, therefore, secure an interest in that spiritual kingdom which never passeth away.

« ПредишнаНапред »