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When one, who has lived in gross ignorance of religion, becomes a subject of conversion, the change will be accompanied and followed with new accessions of knowledge. This was the case of those, who, in the apostles' times, were converted from heathenism to Christianity; and may still be the case of many, who for want of a proper education, or through their own negligence, have lived strangers to the doctrines of the gospel, until the time when God began a good work in them, by awakening them to a conviction of their guilt and an apprehension of their danger.
This enlightening, however, is not in a way of immediate discovery, but only in a way of rational improvement-not by a new revelation, but by a proper use of the revelation which they have.
The gospel contains all things which we need to know. Many under the gospel, through their own carelessness, remain ignorant of the things which are there taught. When their hearts are awakened to a sense of the importance of religion, they attend with diligence on the means of knowledge, and make easy improvement in it. They will know, when they follow on to know the Lord.
It was in this way that men, in the apostolic times, were enlightened in the knowledge of the truth. Paul was sent to open the eyes of the Gentiles, and turn them from darkness to light. Peter was sent to Cornelius to tell him words, by which he should be saved. Ananias was ordered to go and instruct Paul in the things which the Lord would have him to do.
It may be hoped, that few, educated under the gospel, are ignorant of its essential doctrines and precepts. At least, it is certain, men may have knowledge in the great mysteries of religion, without the temper of it.
When such as these become the subjects of conversion, if no addition is made to their doctrinal knowledge, they may yet be said to be turned from darkness to light; because they have new apprehensions of the things, which they before understood and believed; they consider them more attentively, discern them more slearly, feel them more sensibly, and are influenced by them more powerfully.
2. Though the new heart receives no addition to the intellectual faculty, yet this faculty is employed in a new manner.
The sinner, by false reasoning, often perverts the doctrines of religion to his encouragement in sin, or to the excuse of his misconduct. The convert enquires, “ Lord, what wilt thou have me to do ?” He prays,
“What I know not, teach thou me." He searches God's word, that he may find his duty, learn the truth, know himself, rectify his mistakes, and strengthen his good resolutions. The sinner applies his reason chiefly to the purposes of the
The convert directs his intellectual powers to the great work of his salvation. He has a new object, and his thoughts run very much in a new channel.
3. In the new heart there is a sensibility of conscience-or habitual tenderness with respect to duty, and a watchful fear with
respect to sin.
The sinner, in his former state of security and indolence, felt little remorse for his transgressions, and little concern about the consequences of them. Conscience, if by any means it was awakened, easily sunk down again to its wonted rest and quiet-
It seldom reproved him for his sins, or warned him of his danger. It overlooked smaller iniquities. It started only at more gross enormities, and these it palliated and excused. Now it is afraid of sin in every form, and in its remotest appearance. It trembles at God's word, and stands in awe of his judgments. It is quick to discern, and severe to condemn iniquity. It dictates with authority and commands with power.
These properties of the new heart are comprehended in the heart of flesh, which is opposed to the heart of stone.
4. In the new heart there is a new choice and intention.
The chief end, which the sinner has in view, is temporal convenience, pleasure and interest. The convert has a purpose and design superior to these. His governing aim is to obtain the approbation and secure the favour of God. He looks more at things future and unseen, than at things present and sensible.
In his former state, he chose the interests of the world for his happiness, the customs of the world for his rule, and the men of
the world for his companions. Now he chooses God for his portion, Jesus Christ for his Saviour, the Divine Spirit for his helper, the word of God for his guide, heaven for his home, and them who fear God for his friends. Once his enquiry was, “Who will shew me any good ?” Now he prays, "Lord lift up the light of thy countenance upon me.”
5. His affections operate in a new manner, and with regard to different objects.
Worldly things were once the great objects of his desires; now he intreats God's favour with his whole heart. Nothing used to alarm his fears like poverty, reproach, or adversity : now he is far more afraid of sin and the Divine displeasure. Temporal calamities and disappointments formerly awakened the most painful anxiety: but his own sins and follies are now his greatest trouble. Indignities and affronts from men were once the only incentives to anger : but now his indignation turns on himself, for the injuries he has done to God, bis Saviour, and his soul. He sees reason to be displeased with none so much as himself, because he has suffered from no man's sins so much as his own. Spiritual things are now the chief springs of his joy. The victories which he gains over sin and the world, the hopes of a heavenly inheritance, and the foretastes of future happiness, give him more satisfaction than the greatest earthly possessions.
6. He who is renewed in the spirit of his mind, walks in newness of life.
The actual turning from sin to holiness will be more or less observable, according to the manner of his former life. If he has lived in the open indulgence of vice, or neglect of duty, his conversion will be visible. If he has lived in the regular performance of external duties, the alteration will be, indeed, less remarkable; but still it will be real. He now acts from new principles, with new zeal, with growing constancy, and with respect to all God's commandments.
Having illustrated the nature of the change expressed by a new heart, we proceed,
II. To consider the importance of it.
This is supposed in the solemn manner, in which it is promised; “ A new heart will I give you,” as well as in the blessings annexed to it, “I will put my spirit within you—and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God.”
This new heart is the recovery of our nature from its depravity and corruption, to the image and likeness of God himself. “The' new man is created after God, in righteousness and true holiness."
It prepares and disposes us to honour God, and promote the happiness of mankind. It raises us above those low and unworthy ends, which govern the corrupt and vicious part of the world: It qualifies us for great and good designs, and prompts us to pursue them with constancy and zeal.
It is a great security against temptations, as it excludes the dominion of fleshly lusts which war against the soul, and admits the stated residence of the Divine Spirit, who dwells with the humble and contrite, and helps their infirmities. Where God gives a new heart, there he puts his own Spirit; and where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
This renewal of the heart renders us objects of God's approbation and complacence. He is of purer eyes than to behold evil; but he takes pleasure in them who fear him, and his countenance beholds the upright.
The subjects of this spiritual change find new sources of pleasure and enjoyment. They look with aversion on some, and with contempt on other of their former entertainments. They are convinced, that they then had no fruit in the things, whereof they are now ashamed. They experience joys, which strangers intermeddle not with. They delight in communion with God-in contemplating his perfections and works-in meditating on his great and precious promises, and the wonders of redeeming love-in attending on his worship and ordinances—and in anticipating, by hope, the good things hidden within the veil. They have pleasure in the order and harmony of their affections in the practice of duty-in the consciousness of their sincerity, and in the peace of their minds. “Great peace have they who love God's law, and nothing shall offend them.”
This new heart is a necessary qualification for heaven. “ Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” A man under the dominion of an impure and corrupt heart, has no relish for the enter
tainments, and no capacity for the employments of the world of glory and love. His own temper subjects him to misery, in whatover place he may be. “The pure in heart,” and they only, “shall see God.” “Into his presence nothing enters that defiles or works abomination.” Hence our Saviour says, "Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God."
Great and important then is the change under consideration, But great as it is, the text teaches us,
III. That it is attainable. "A new heart will I give you." It follows in the next verse, "My Spirit will I put within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes.”
We cannot understand this as an absolute promise, that all the people returning from Babylon should have a new heart put within them; for, in this unqualified sense, the promise was never performed. Neither are we to suppose, that the promise was of such a nature, as to supersede the necessity of means on their part, for obtaining this new heart. For what is here promised as a blessing, is elsewhere required as a duty. “Cast away from you all your transgressions, and make you a new heart and a new spirit, for why will ye die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth; wherefore turn yourselves and live
But the import of it must be, that God would grant them guch external means, and such internal influences, as were proper,
part, to be given; and that, in the due improvement of, and concurrence with these means and influences, they should have a new heart and a new spirit.
This is God's gift. The means themselves, the opportunity to enjoy them, the excitement to apply them, the success which attends them, are from him. But still, converts are said to make themselves a new heart, as this is ordinarily given in consequence of their applying the stated means of grace, and improving the common influences of the Spirit.
Whatever connection there is between the endeavours of sinners and their conversion to holiness, it is a connection founded, not in their desert, but in God's abundant grace. And those convictions of sin, apprehensions of the importance of religion and desires of a new heart, which excite their endeavors, and animate