PRACTICAL Discourses on Regeneration are among the most vital wants of this age. Although for the last century much has been written on this great doctrine, nothing has fallen under our observation so popular, so plain, so scriptural, and so practical, as the following production of Dr. Doddridge.

These Discourses were prepared with great care by their excellent author, and delivered on Sabbath evenings to his own flock at Northampton; which embraced, let it be remembered, about forty young men, of his Academy, most of them candidates for the Christian Ministry. They attracted the attention of members of other congregations -- "a great many such persons of different persuasions and communions making up a part of the auditory." They were attended with uncommon diligence to the last, and long before the series was finished, were earnestly requested for publication. The request grew more importunate at the close. Strangers from a distance joined in it, including several ministers -- believing that what had proved so beneficial in the hearing, would be no less so in the reading, both at home and abroad. "I thought myself bound in duty," says Dr. Doddridge, "at length to comply; which I was the rather encouraged to do from the several instances in which I had reason to believe the Divine blessing had in some measure attended these sermons from the pulpit, and had made them the means of producing and advancing the change they described and enforced."

This was in 1741. It was the period of the "Great Awakening" under the labors of Whitefield, Edwards, and others in this country, the effects of which were felt so powerfully at the time, in breaking up old systems of formalism, and inveterate habits of ungodliness; and which, with all its incidental excesses and evils, has been the main instrument in moulding the evangelical religion of this land, to this day. The impulse then given, the ideas then set forth, with the demonstration and power of the Spirit of God, are yet at work among us for good. It is well known that Drs. Watts and Doddridge shared in this impulse with a vital sympathy. They were in communication with Edwards for years. Northampton in old England and Northampton in New England, were centres of kindred ideas and feelings.

And what was the Great Doctrine, which above all others was made prominent in the preaching of that time of God's power? What was that fundamental and fruitful Truth, which, before unknown, or inoperative because misunderstood, or neglected, now shook society to its centre, and cleared away old and worthless foundations, in order to rear anew the Spiritual Temple of the Most High? What but this very Doctrine of Regeneration, to the discussion of which the following pages are so wisely and yet so warmly devoted.

The same great Truth, which in the age of Christ and his Apostles swept away the false hopes of hereditary profession -- "the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God" -- became again the Ruling Idea of the Age of Revival. So testifies the historian of "The Great Awakening." Speaking of this period he says, "The history of religious opinions and practices shows, that the most important practical idea, which then received increased prominence and power, and has held its place ever since, was the idea of the New Birth." "This doctrine of the New Birth, as an ascertainable change, was not generally prevalent in any communion, when the revival commenced; it was urged as of fundamental importance by the leading promoters of the revival; it took strong hold of those whom the revival affected; it naturally led to such questions as the revival brought up, and caused to be discussed; its perversions grew into, or associated with such errors as the revival promoted; it was adapted to provoke such opposition, and in such quarters, as the revival provoked; and its caricatures would furnish such pictures of the revival as opposers drew." [1]

When it is said above that the doctrine of the new birth was not generally prevalent in any communion before the beginning of the Great Revival, we must understand that while held as a part of an orthodox creed, it was not generally preached, and consistently applied. In some communions, as, for instance, in the Church of Rome and in the Church of England, the doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration prevailed. In New England the scheme of church membership, called the "Half-Way Covenant," had been generally adopted, with an effect almost equally fatal. Men of sounder views in Congregational and Presbyterian churches -- to say nothing of the Lutheran, and Dutch and German Reformed -- found their evangelical teaching on this point unpalatable to those who had been trained to believe that by baptism in infancy they were brought into covenant with God. These and similar causes had lulled conscience asleep as with stupefying opiates, and "the form of godliness" to a great extent had supplanted its "power."

The scriptural doctrine of the New Birth struck at the root of all these forms of error. It was mighty through God. It became the leading idea of the age. "Ye must be born again," flashed from every pulpit, and penetrated every heart.

This great idea must in like manner take possession of our age, or Formalism will return. It must breathe into our countrymen the breath of a new life, or we shall become like the dry bones in the Valley of Vision. It must be set forth in our pulpits with all possible scriptural plainness; guarded from all perversion, on the right hand and on the left; fortified at every point by the testimony of God; and pressed to its genuine and resistless applications. All this must be done before the Church of Christ can rise again in her original beauty and vigor, or spread to her predestined greatness and glory -- as the joy of the whole earth.

J. N. B.

Philadelphia, Dec.13, 1854.


[1] The Great Awakening. By Joseph Tracy, Boston, 1842, p. ix. Preface.

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