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Relation of the First to the Second Birth.

1.—It might be supposed from what has been said in the preceding chapter, that the first form of life, to which so large a portion of theological attention has from time to time been directed, is either in its nature essentially evil, or at least must be regarded as of no practical position and value in the development of man’s spiritual history. Such a view in either of the aspects which have been intimated, would be a great mistake. The argument on one of the points is clear. It cannot be said on any just philosophical grounds that God creates sin. The eternal truth rejects any such affirmation. And therefore man’s first birth, at the moment of its origin, has and must have the character of innocency. But this is not the whole statement in the case. Standing alone in the relative incompleteness of its incipient condition, but naturally preferring, in the consciousness of its freedom and power to make its own way and to do its own acts in the universe of things, it necessarily finds itself at a very early period, and perhaps in its very first acts, exposed to the greatest hazards. Its innocence is no certain pledge of its security. Its innocence involving the fact of its freedom becomes the natural, perhaps the inevitable precursor of its sin.

2.—The view of the Scriptures on this subject is supposed to be familiar to all. The Absolute Religion, or religion as founded on philosophical observation and analysis, harmonizes with it. And in the support of this last assertion, which carries with it consequences which involve the interests of humanity, let us delay a little and examine the subject in its details.

We first see man coming from the creating hand of God. He stands before us as the Adamic man, erect, self-centered and free. No child of Satan; but a child of the living God, and constituted in a very important sense in the image of God. And it is the fact that he is thus constituted, being as really existent and free in the human sphere as God is in the infinite or divine sphere, which makes his danger. He stands sublime in his independence. He occupies an eminence above all other created things. His joy is as great as the greatness of his position. But can he stand alone? That is the question. With all the independence and power which he actually possesses, is it true that he either is or can be morally secure amid a universe of existences and relations, no rights or claims of which are ever allowed to be violated?

3.—It is unquestionable that man knew well both the fact and the nature of the power and the freedom, which God had given him. God had not only given them to him; but with the gift had given also, without which they would have been valueless, the consciousness which recognized them as his own. But is it necessary to add there was one thing which he did not know? He had no adequate comprehension, and in consequence of the necessary limitation and finiteness of his powers it was impossible that he should have, of the infinitude of obligations that rested upon him. And still less, standing firmly in the sphere of his independence and trusting in the newborn joy of his own strength alone, was he able to fulfill these obligations. To accept the aid which the divine benevolence offered him had the appearance of giving up his independence. His independence seemed to be, as it really was, the glory of his nature. To part with it even in the smallest degree and under any circumstances, was striking a blow at the essence of his life. Blinded by the splendor of the gifts which had been imparted to him, he virtually asked God who had made him in this grand incipient completeness, to stand aside and let him alone.

How could he being a man be otherwise than he was; or how, being situated as he was, could he do otherwise than he did? The law which required him to fulfill every duty,—a law as limitless in its applications as the infinitude of existing facts and relations,—was upon him; and it could not be otherwise. And undertaking in his ignorance to fulfill it in his own strength,—a strength which was not strong enough to renounce itself under such circumstances,—he necessarily failed and fell.

4.—Such are the essential facts which present themselves to our observation as we theoretically and practically study the history of the human race; and which are more or less clearly revealed in the facts and incidents of the biblical narrative. Man fell. The weight of his own glory inseparable from the inviolability of his personal and responsible existence, combined as it was with the position in which he was necessarily placed, bore him down. It was of the nature of a moral necessity; but it was not without the signatures of divine goodness and wisdom. His fall as it is denominated, great and terrible as it was, carried with it the noblest testimony which could possibly be given of the high and glorious nature of the gifts which had been imparted. A testimony so striking and decisive that the universe, which is interested in all that pertains to man and which cannot live upon doubts, could not afford to be without it. It was necessary in order to establish a basis for the ever-growing development and harmonies of the universe, in order to build the pillars of the future in eternal strength, not only that man should be free, but that he should be known to be free. The fall of man settles it forever, that the manhood which his Creator gave him was a divine reality and not a pretentious semblance.

5.—When in my early life I read in some of the old Puritan theologians that there was wisdom and glory in the fall of man and that great good had resulted from it, I failed to see the truth of their declarations. And if in the sense of my comparative ignorance, I had not the strength entirely to reject their statements, I certainly had not the ability to comprehend them. I reserved them as I have done in many other instances, for further meditation. And my thought to-day, subject to the corrections of any higher wisdom, is, that they were right in the substance of their meaning, though imperfect and liable to lead to error in their expression of it. The fall of man was and is a good, because it was and is the only testimony which can settle, beyond the reach of doubt and cavil, the question of the completeness of his moral nature in the matter of his moral liberty.

The history of six thousand years with its record of deceptions and cruelties, of suspicions, calumnies and hatreds, with its usurping tyrannies and bloody wars, and not without the bright inheritance of virtuous purposes and noble deeds, leaves no room to doubt, that man in the greatness of his nature was created with the capacity to discriminate between right and wrong and to do either good or evil. But this decisive testimony which removes all doubt, could not have been reached with anything short of the multitude of sad and guilty facts which are involved in it.

6.—We pass now to another view. It can be said of the first form of life that it is not only not evil in its nature, but that it sustains relations and secures results of the greatest importance. Its greatness and glory, with all its admitted liabilities to error and transgression, are evident from this, that without the first birth the second birth, with all the hopes and honors which attach to it would have been an impossibility. The later or heavenly birth, it is true, is born of heavenly influences flowing down to it from heavenly sources and elevating the soul to its new position; but these influences gain no admittance and of course exert no power until the soul, with the key of its inalienable freedom, opens the door for their entrance and accepts them as its own. God undoubtedly is to be regarded as a party in this great work; he cannot be separated from the divine influences which have been mentioned; and without Him nothing is done effectually. But there are moral as well as physical impossibilities; and God cannot do that which is impossible to be done. It is impossible for God to bestow upon men the attributes of freedom and power in sincerity, and yet at the same time to destroy, or to interfere with and perplex their appropriate position and action. If there is anything which may be regarded as fully settled, either in sound philosophy or in any generally accepted theology, it is the position, that the gift of moral freedom implies and necessitates the impossibility of its violation. So that the first or oldest birth, whether regarded as pure and innocent at the period of its origin, or with some inherent taint of evil as some suppose, or what seems to be and what we think must be the truth in the case, with innocence attended with a liability to evil, by an arrangement which, growing out of the nature of things, could not be otherwise than it is, places the crown as the result of its history and experience upon the head and heart of the second birth. And in this sense at least, Adam, in the line and the destinies of humanity, becomes as the Scriptures represent him, the progenitor of Christ; Adam falls that Christ may rise; the Adamic man perishes that the Christ or Christian man, made strong by the element of a new life may come and take his place and may live forever.

7.—But proceeding a step further, we next inquire what is the true and interior nature of this remarkable work. There is a remark of St. Augustine which indicates what this nature is,
“Amores duo ducts civitates fecerunt.” Two loves have made two cities; the one Babylon, the other Jerusalem; the one a city of discord and unrighteousness, the other a city of harmony and rectitude. Looking at the matter philosophically, it is not necessary to deny that these two loves are the same in their individual nature; and are only discriminated and separated by the diversity in their applications and objects. If man had not been created with the love of himself, would he have possessed the measurement, by which he was required to estimate his love to his neighbor? We read repeatedly in the writings of Paul, “thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” And in other places, in expressions of still broader and higher import, “thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and thy neighbor as thyself; “identifying the love of God, so far as its nature is concerned, with the love of our neighbor, and in that way as it seems to me, identifying the love of our Maker, in respect to its nature at least, with the love of man.

It is true that the love of God is greatly higher than that of our neighbor, because while the love of our neighbor extends to and embraces humanity, the love of God reaching far above and far below, includes the love of all existences. As President Edwards in one of the most remarkable of his works expresses it, it is the “love of being in general;” in other words, love of everything which exists and is susceptible of being loved. And yet it seems to us it cannot well be doubted, in the light of a candid and careful analysis, that the love of God is the same in its essential nature with the love of our neighbor, which in its kind or nature is the same with that of ourselves. So that the love of God, looking at the matter either in the light of the Scriptures or of the highest reason, is the expansion of the love of ourselves, which in the lower or comparative sense is the infinitely small, to what in the higher or absolute sense is the infinitely great; in other words, from a sphere of action which is measured by individualism, to a sphere of action whose universality places it beyond the possibility of measurement. And this statement, in harmony with what was intimated in a former passage, involves the comparative measurement of the first and second birth, and makes them, in the matter of extent or degree, incommensurable.

8.—Upon this subject, the greatness of the second Birth, we have no language which can well express our feelings. Perhaps we ought to say again, and still more explicitly, that we understand by the second Birth something more than the ordinary forms, valuable as they are, of transitional religious experience. A man may be greatly exercised in religious experiences, and indeed it is often the case, without his being able to say in the higher and true sense that he is born of God. The second birth is the soul found in the image of God, not merely in the matter of moral freedom but of universal love; the soul expanded from the consideration of self alone to the regard and love of every other being; the out-growth and the divine consummation of the soul’s antecedent and preparatory history. It gains a position in which, harmonizing with God, God becomes its teacher; and in which, going hand in hand with its great Creator, it henceforth marches onward forever to learn, forever to love, and forever to enjoy.

9.—But the question still remains, where does this heavenly love come from, and under what conditions does it come. We answer, it is the gift of God; perhaps it would be better to say, it is the
inflowing of God. The latter term implies that it comes by the necessities of law; the former, that it depends on the uncontrolled decisions of volition. If we are right in the views we entertain, it is a part of God’s nature, without which he would be something less than God, to flow out or communicate himself, in the attributes of truth and good, to all beings that are capable of receiving and are willing to receive. He chooses to do this, because his nature never allows him to choose otherwise; and thus the choice which, without the nature, would be giving, being sustained and sanctified by the nature, becomes an in-flowing. If God is Love, which the Scriptures as well as philosophy affirm him to be, there can be no difficulty here.

But there is still something remaining. This great and desirable result, which has the heart of the Infinite in its favor, depends nevertheless upon man; at least in this particular, that this in-flowing from the divine heights can never reach him, can never become the baptism of the soul and the soul’s regeneration, without his own consent. It is when he can truly say “not my will but thine be done,” that his consent is fully given. God could not make him in the true greatness of his nature, and did not make him, without giving him this mighty prerogative.

10.—And now, let us look a moment in another direction; and what do we see? The second birth in any other way, or on any other conditions, becomes an impossibility. Is it possible for God to raise man to that high position, with the opposition of his own will standing against it? And more than this, take away the freedom of the will, which is the completing or consummating element in man’s nature, and there is nothing to be raised. It is true that freedom of the will does not constitute the whole of man; but it is also true that man is not and cannot be constituted as man without it. The new birth, which implies that the soul is not and cannot be a machine, the new-birth which is in the highest sense a grand moral, spiritual and responsible realization, could never have had a place without the antecedents of man’s first birth of freedom and personality. The statement is an argument; and the argument is conviction. And therefore it is we say, look at man as he is, and call him man or devil, inasmuch as a name cannot alter the fact; and it is impossible not to bow with reverence in the presence of human nature, which, with all its liabilities to evil, still holds in its hand the possibilities of heavenly and eternal life.

11.—And now, taking our position on such grounds, is it out of place to utter a few words in favor of our common humanity, even in those forms which have the sad aspect of degradation and sorrow? Is there one so low that he wholly loses the dignity of his nature, and lies below the notice of a sympathizing tear? The Adamic man, even in the degradation of his fall, holds in his hand the key of universal good. Go with me to yonder prison, which contains within its iron bars, and shuts out from the light of day, the thief and the drunkard, the robber and the murderer; and in those countenances of sorrow and of crime, canst thou not see something which speaks to thee of a common brotherhood, something which inspires in thy saddened bosom sentiments of forgiveness and hope? I speak for myself, but I am confident, that I find in the emotions of my own heart the common thought and feeling of our common humanity.

And if these sentiments are the out-birth of a sound philosophy in relation to our initiative or Adamic humanity, they cannot fail to inspire feelings of reverence and love for that great Book in which it is said, “He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” And where we read, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And where it is said again, “Neither do I condemn thee; go, and sin no more.” And again, “This day thou shalt be with me in Paradise.”