« AnteriorContinua »
that others should adopt our speculative views, but tolerating differences of opinion which cannot be avoided, and which, foreseen by our Saviour, have existed from the times of the apostles, let us show that the proverbial hatred of theologians is without foundation, and that a great nation of sincere Christians can be, in reality, a nation of brothers.
REGENERATION EXPLAINED, AND SOME OBJECTIONS
TO THE POPULAR VIEWS OF IT STATED.
It is our purpose, in these pages, to examine and unfold the Scriptural doctrine of Regeneration ; and to state our objections to the views generally prevailing in relation to it.
The words of our Saviour to Nicodemus—'except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of of God,'--we shall make the foundation of these remarks, because they are universally regarded as the foundation of the doctrine; because they are cited by all as distinctly and unequivocally asserting it. It will be remembered that these words were uttered in reply to some question proposed to our Lord by Nicodemus. What that question was, owing to the eliptical manner of writing in this gospel, we are left to infer from the answer alone. From that, there can be little doubt that the inquiry related to the nature of Christ's kingdom, and the qualifications requisite for admission to it. By the kingdom of Christ,' is commonly meant, either the peace and happiness resulting from a belief in the Christian religion, and a character formed by it; or, the community of Christians possessing the spirit and walking in the order of the Gospel. Christ's declaration, then, is equivalent to this: Except a man be born again, he cannot enjoy the peace and happiness of the Christian, or cannot be numbered with my true disciples.'
But what is it to be born again? What did our Saviour mean by this phrase? Was it one at that time in common use and well understood ? If so, did he not use it in its common acceptation? Is it reasonable to suppose he would give to it a new meaning so as to render his language unintelligible? These questions deserve our serious and attentive consideration. Have we any evidence, then, that the expression' born again’ was not original with the Saviour, but was in common use both among Jews and Greeks before and after bis time? Most certainly. Is not the question of Jesus, "art thou a master in Israel and knowest not these things, evidence of it? Why should it have occasioned surprise that Nicodemus did not understand the expression born again, if it was one which he had never before heard. To us this alone would be sufficient to establish the point. But, in addition to this, we have the direct testimony of ancient Jewish writers; and it is from them also that we can learn what was its import. Let us hear the testimony of one of them, R. Joseph. He says, whenever one is made a proselyte, he is then born even as a little child.' When therefore one renounced the Gentile worship and became a proselyte to the
Jewish faith, in the common phrase he was said to be born again.' Another writer speaks of the new-birth’ of many from the school of the Stoics. And with that sect of philosophers, the restitution of the world to a better state' was called a new-birth.' Cicero, in his epistles to Atticus,* calls the station and dignity' which he recovered on being recalled from his exile, "being born again.' Among the Greeks, a word signifying 'new-birth’ was commonly used to denote the initiation of one into their sacred mysteries.
We have now ascertained what the Jews and Gentiles, who lived near the time of our Saviour and to whom he discoursed, must have understood by the expression
born again.' It signifies a change of opinions—the adoption of new principles for the government of the heart and life. Let a Gentile be converted to Judaism, he would be born again.' And what would be the effect on his life and character ? While a heathen he was a worshipper of a multitude of gods; he made sacrifices to them all. If he desired a rich harvest, he would be most scrupulous in his devotions, and most generous in his sacrifices to the goddess who presided over the corn and tillage. If he would secure an abundant vintage, he must offer copious libations to Bacchus. In short, if he would be a religious man, he must practice a thousand ridiculous rites, must consult the "lying oracles,' and give full credence to their responses-must be a subject of the grossest delusionsrelying on the most whimsical traditions and puerile signs. Now let such an one be instructed in the worship of One God-the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob. Let him be taught the Law, moral and ceremonial. And let him believe it his duty to obey it. And what a change will have taken place! Before, he knew nothing of the true God. He never had been taught to concentrate his affections in One, Infinite and Eternal. He had never looked upon the heavens and the earth as the workmanship of One Almighty and Invisible Spirit. The way of duty had been a dark way to him. He had been drawn in a thousand directions by the conflicting Divinities he adored. Now, new rules for his conduct are presented to him. He sees all things within him and around him in a new light. He has been born again'—and thus placed under that school-master which is to prepare his mind for another birth into a higher and more glorious kingdom.
* Cicero ad Atticum, vi. 6.
But can the Jew be born again'—the favored son of Abraham ? A startling proposition this to the learned Ruler! He thought his was the perfection of faith; that a new and better covenant could not be ordained. Mistaken man !' says the Saviour, 'except you be born again you cannot experience the happiness which I came to impart.' I bring you a new revelation, which discloses nobler, sublimer views of God's character and government than any you have yet received. I bring from heaven new rules of lifenew commands, new precepts, new motives, new hopes, and new promises. All these must be received into your mind and operate on your heart and character before you ean enjoy Christian felicity. Your mind must be raised into a pure and more salubrious atmos
phere. Your thoughts must soar to a more exalted height. You must be made better acquainted with the nature, and the capacities of your soul, and the causes which will increase or diminish its glory. You must better understand the relation which you sustain to Jehovah, and the holy duties which result from it. You must be 'born of water,' (the most significant emblem of purity,) be washed from your stains and pollutions. You must be born of the spirit,' or become pure and spiritually-minded by believing and obeying my words; For the words that I speak unto you they are spirit.'
Our readers will now understand what we believe to be the scriptural doctrine of Regeneration. We hear Christ saying now unto all who know not, neither obey him—unto all who are in error and in sin, * Except ye change your principles and your conduct, ye cannot enjoy the consolations and happiness of my religion.' 'Except ye be washed from your impurities and be controlled by the influence of my words, ye cannot enter the kingdom of God-cannot be my true disciples.' And here we would caution our readers against supposing that we have any wish to lower down' the doctrine of the new birth, so as to make it of little or no consequence, or so as to suit "lax and carnal inclinations. Our object is truth, genuine unadulterated truth. For at the same time that it is more beautiful, it is more efficacious than error. While it is more simple, it is also more powerful. What though we find the doctrine of the new birth enveloped in no mysteries, is it therefore the less salutary and important? What though we find nothing in it which need make us marvel,' is it therefore less worthy of our faith? What though we find nothing in