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penitence, faith, hope, joy, and the whole train of christian graces? We may as easily conceive that all holy affections should spring from that piece of flesh which is literally called the heart, as to conceive that they should spring from any principle devoid of activity. A new heart, therefore, cannot mean a new principle, taste, relish, or disposition, which is prior to, or the foundation of, all holy affections or gracious exercises.
This leads me to say positively, that a new heart consists in gracious exercises themselves; which are called new, because they never existed in the sinner before he became a new creature, or turned from sin to holiness. This will appear to be a just and scriptural explanation of a new heart, from various considerations.
In the first place, the new heart must be something which is morally good, and directly opposite to the old heart, which is morally evil. But there is nothing belonging to the mind that is either morally good, or morally evil, which does not consist in free, voluntary exercises. Supposing there is a dormant principle in the soul, which lies at the bottom of all voluntary exercises, yet so long as it lies dormant and inactive, there can be no moral quality belonging to it. And, indeed, if it should really produce moral exercises, still all moral good or evil would lie in the exercises themselves, and not in the principle. There can be no inoral good or moral evil, in any thing belonging to the mind, which has no perception and activity. Accordingly, we never praise or blame any person for any property he possesses, or any motive he puts forth, or any thing in him or about him in which he is totally inactive and involuntary. The new heart, therefore, which must be allowed to be morally good, must consist in free, holy, voluntary exercises, and not in any thing whatever which is supposed to be prior to them, or the foundation of them.
This will farther appear, if we consider, in the next place, that the divine law requires nothing but love, which is a free, voluntary exercise. The first and great commandment requires us to love God with all our heart, and the second cornmandment requires us to love our neighbor as ourselves. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. God requires love, and nothing but love, in every precept and prohibi
, tion he has given us in his word. But we know that love is a free, voluntary exercise, and not any taste, habit, or principle, which is totally inactive and involuntary. It is absurd to suppose that God would require any thing of us in which we are altogether passive, because this would be to require us to do nothing. Hence the new heart required in the text must consist in activity, or the free, voluntary exercise of true benevolence, which comprises every holy and virtuous affection.
And this, I would farther observe, is agreeable to the experience of all who repent, and turn from their transgressions, and make them a new heart and a new spirit. The change which they experience is merely a moral change. They find no alteration in their intellectual powers or speculative knowledge, but only in their moral exercises. They are sensible that old things have passed away, and all things become new in their affections. They exercise such love to God, such hatred of sin, such faith in Christ, and such delight in the duties of devotion, as they never exercised before. Thus it appears from the united evidence of reason, scripture, and experience, that a new heart consists in nothing but new, holy, voluntary exercises of the mind. If this be a just explanation of a new heart, it will be easy to see,
II. What it is to make a new heart.
If a new heart consisted in a new principle or natural faculty, it would be difficult to see how a sinner could make him a new heart, without exerting almighty power or performing an act of creation; which is absolutely impossible. But if, as we have seen, a new heart wholly consists in new holy affections, then all the sinner has to do to make him a new heart, is to exercise benevolence instead of selfishness, or to put forth holy instead of unholy exercises. The precept in the text which requires sinners to make them a new heart, means no more nor less, than their turning from sin to holiness, or exercising that pure and holy love which the divine law requires. To make a new heart in this sense, is agreeable to the common apprehension and the common language of mankind. It is very common for one person to say to another, make yourself easy, or make yourself contented; that is, alter your mind, change your heart, exercise totally different affections from what you have at present. And there are many other familiar expressions, which convey the same idea; such as these in particular, Be kind Be careful — Be sober — Be honest — Be generous — Be friendly. Every person knows when he is addressed in this form, that he is required to exercise proper, instead of improper affections, or to exercise benevolence instead of selfishness. And since the divine commands run in the same form, they are to be understood in the same sense.
When God says, Be sober - Be vigilant - Be humble – Be obedient - Be holy
— – Be perfect - he means that men should put forth truly pious and holy affections. And so far as these and other divine precepts respect sinners, they require the exercise of the same affections, only with this peculiar circumstance, that they are new, or such as they never exercised before. There is no command given to sinners more plain and intelligible, than the
command to make them a new heart. It does not mean that they should create any new powers or faculties, or lay any new foundation for holy exercises; but only that they should exercise love, faith, repentance, and all the gracious affections to which the promise of pardon and salvation are made. As the new heart consists in nothing but new holy affections, so the making of a new heart consists in nothing but exercising such new holy affections. The way is now sufficiently prepared to show,
III. That it is the duty of sinners to make them a new heart.
1. The mere light of nature teaches that every person ought to exercise universal benevolence. This duty results from the nature of things. Every intelligent creature is capable of knowing the difference between moral good, and moral evil, and this knowledge lays him under moral obligation to exercise true benevolence towards all proper objects of it. God is supremely excellent, and sinners are capable of seeing his great and amiable character, which they are bound to love supremely. All who know God are under indispensable obligations to glorify him as God. Sinners are as capable of knowing God as saints, and are under the same obligations to love him, notwithstanding the native depravity of their hearts. Their depravity wholly consists in selfish affections, which do not destroy either their capacity, or obligation, to exercise holy and benevolent affections. Though sinners have hated God, rejected the gospel, and lived in the exercise of perfect selfishness, in time past, yet this is no reason why they should not immediately love God, embrace the gospel, and live in the exercise of true benevolence, in time to come. It is just as easy for them to put forth benevolent exercises, as if they had never had a selfish one; and their obligation to exercise benevolent affections is as great as if they never had been in the least degree selfish. The reason is, their obligation to exercise benevolence arises from the nature of things, or from their being free, moral agents. Though the Algerines are mere pagans, and destitute of the light of divine revelation, yet they have no right to treat their prisoners of war with malevolence and cruelty. Neither their native depravity, nor their ignorance of the Bible, excuses them for their malevolent and inhuman conduct towards those who fall into their hands. They ought to exercise benevolence instead of malevolence, or make them new hearts. The mere light of nature lays them under moral obligation to put away their hard, cruel, malignant hearts, and become kind, tender, and benevolent towards all nations. And surely sinners under the gospel are no less obliged, by the nature of things, to put away all their selfish affections, and exercise universal benevo
lence, or immediately to turn from sin to holiness. It is just as easy for a sinner to begin to love God, as to continue to love him after he has loved him once; and it is just as easy both to begin and to continue to love God, as to continue to hate him. And for the same reason that he ought not to continue to hate God, he ought immediately to love him; or to put away his old heart of hatred, and make him a new heart of love.
2. God, who perfectly knows the state and characters of sinners, repeatedly commands them to make them a new heart. He commands them to change their hearts, both explicitly and implicitly, in various forms, and in a multitude of places. In the verse which contains our text, he says in plain terms, “ Cast away from you all your transgressions whereby ye have transgressed, and make you a new heart and a new spirit.” We find a similar command in the tenth of Deuteronoiny: “ Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiff necked." This same command is repeated in nearly the same expressions in the fourth of Jeremiah: “ Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your heart." “ Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved; how long shall thy vain thoughts lodge within thee?" Nothing less than the making of a new heart is required in this passage of James: “ Cleanse your hands, ye sinners, and purify your hearts, ye double minded.”
In these passages, "God explicitly commands sinners to make them a new heart; and he implicitly requires the same thing in every other command he has given them in his word. When God commands them to love him with all their hearts, and their neighbor as themselves; or when he commands them to repent, to believe, to submit, to pray, to rejoice, or to do any thing else; he implicitly commands them to make them a new heart, or to exercise holy instead of unholy affections. And for sinners to exercise holy affections, is to exercise the new affections in which a new heart consists. Thus it appears that sinners, notwithstanding their total depravity, are capable of making a new heart, and are commanded to make a new heart; and of consequence that it is their first and indispensable duty to make them a new heart. Every argument that can be adduced to prove that they ought to do any duty, will equally prove that they ought to do this first duty of all."
1. If the making of a new heart consists in the exercising of holy instead of unholy affections, then sinners are not passive, but active in regeneration. It has been the common opinion of Calvinists, that a new heart consists in a new taste, disposition or principle, which is prior to, and the foundation of all holy exercises. And this idea of a new heart has led them to suppose that sinners are entirely passive in regeneration. But if a new heart consists in new holy exercises, then sinners may be as active in regeneration as in conversion. Though it be true that the divine agency is concerned in the renovation of the heart, yet this does by no means destroy the activity of sinners. Their activity in all cases is owing to a divine operation upon their minds.' In God they live, and move, and have their being. They are not sufficient of themselves to think any thing as of themselves, but their sufficiency is of God. He always works in them both to will and to do, in all their free and voluntary exercises. When the inspired writers mention only the divine agency in regeneration, and represent men as “born of the Spirit,”
,” “created anew in Christ Jesus,” and “raised from the dead by the mighty power of God,” they do not mean to exclude the activity of the subjects of this saving change. They may act while they are acted upon, in regeneration as well as in sanctification. It is generally allowed that sanctification is the work of God's Spirit
, and at the same time it is supposed that saints are active in the growth of grace, or perseverance in holiness. Indeed, it is expressly said that God, who begins, carries on the good work in the hearts of believers. But if saints can act freely under a divine influence in sanctification, why cannot sinners act freely under a divine influence in regeneration? The cases are perfectly similar, and are so represented in the word of truth. Sinners are required to make them a new heart, and saints are required to keep themselves in the love of God. But there could be no propriety in these commands to saints, nor to sinners, if they must be passive in becoming and continuing holy. Every command given to either saints or sinners, requires them to be active, not passive, in obeying the command. And since God requires sinners to make them a new heart, as well as saints to grow in grace, it is just as certain that sinners are active in regeneration, as that saints are active in sanctification; and it is just as certain that both saints and sinners are active under the sanctifying and renewing influence of the divine Spirit, as that the divine commands are holy, just and good.
2. If sinners are free and voluntary in making them a new heart, then regeneration is not a miraculous or supernatural work. Even were it true that, on God's part, regeneration is the production of a new nature, disposition or principle in the human mind, still it would not be a miraculous or supernatural operation, according to the common acceptation of the phrase.