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THE NEW BIRTH.
St John iii, 7.
MARVEL NOT, THAT I SAID UNTO THEE, YE
THIS very remarkable declaration is recorded only by Saint John, who probably wrote to supply what the other Evangelists had omitted. The occasion of it was this. Nicodemus, a member of the Grand Sanhedrim, that is, a learned Jewish senator or privy counsellor, came to Jesus by night, either for fear of the Jews, or that he might have more privacy and leisure in his conversation, and addressed Jesus by the respectful name of Rabbi, and as a Teacher sent from God. Without any particular answer to the salutation of Nicodemus, Jesus replied, Verily, verily, using a strong asseveration, indicating that something of great importance was about to be spoken, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. And when Nicodemus strangely understood Jesus as referring to a second natural birth, Jesus continued, Except a man be born of water, and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not, he repeats, Marvel not that I said unto thee, ye here the
number changes—ye, that is, not only thou, but every one, must be born again; or, as the words may be translated, born from above. The wind, said Jesus, bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, nor whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit.
I. 1. The Bible must be explained upon the principles of common sense, It is full of oriental, metaphorical phraseology. The Saviour taught in parables and similitudes. And the text under discussion is evidently one of the most figurative. This new birth could not have meant a birth from Paganism to Christianity, for it was directed to a Jew. It did not refer to any birth from either Gentile, Jewish, or Christian parents in particular. It was a birth, not of blood, not because of an extraction from the chosen people, or of a distinguished ancestry; nor of the will of the flesh, that is, by any thing that the carnal heart of man could purpose in its own behalf; nor of the will of man, that is, by any thing that another could be disposed to do in our behalf; but of God, by the unlimited power and boundless mercy of God. It was emphatically a spiritual birth. Nicodemus
had trusted in the external observances of the Law; but our Lord immediately directed him to the source of internal purity. That which is born of the Spirit is spirit. The emblems of the Spirit are water and fire; signifying the one his purifying and fertilizing, the other his pervading and refining nature.
2. The operation of the new birth is beautifully compared to the operation of the wind. As the same word means both spirit and wind, in the original languages, the similitude has a peculiar propriety. We feel the wind, but we see it not. How it gathers, and how it spends its strength, is a mystery. The wind blows in a variety of directions, and in all countries, day and night. We see it bow the forest trees, break the stubborn oak, bend the pliant reed; and we feel it refresh our own souls. But we do not, nor can we ever, see the wind itself; we only know its existence by its almost omnipotent effects. So is every one that is born of the Spirit. We know its operations by the change in the life. Some need the strong influences, like the rushing mighty wind; and some the gentle influences, like the sweet breathing of the south. As the wind goes where God sends it, so the Spirit goes where God sends it. As we hear the sound thereof, so shall we hear the sound of the Spirit working in the Christian- for behold, he prayeth. But because this doctrine
is a paradox, it is no chimera in itself. Men will not believe, because they cannot comprehend. But there is not a man in the universe that can fully comprehend one operation, either of God, or of his instrument nature; and yet they must believe, and do believe, though they never did, nor ever can, fully comprehend, or account for, the objects of their faith.' Even to this day, this day of discoveries and explanations in natural science, men cannot account for all the changes in the wind, nor can they render it submissive to their will. And if men cannot govern or explain the wind, how can they expect to control or expound the visitations of the Spirit? The Spirit may, and probably does operate, in ordinary cases, through the medium of the conscience.
The propriety and beauty of the metaphor of the new birth has been often illustrated by Divines. When a child is born, though no new matter is brought into existence, yet a new creature is brought into existence; and all its capacities are new, and suited to that world, on which it hath entered. Thus, when the Spirit of God has changed the heart, the person indeed is the same; but he becomes a new man, possessed of new capacities, perceptions, affections, and dispositions, and is prepared to make a new use of all his organs, senses, and faculties.
When an infant is born, it has all the parts of a grown man; but they are in a weak state, and need nourishment, attention and time, before they are fitted to perform their proper functions in a complete manner. Thus the regenerated sinner has the substance of all holy dispositions communicated to his soul; but they are in an infantile state, and must grow up gradually, and with care and spiritual nourishment, to maturity.
No man can comprehend how the infant is formed in its embryo; nor can any man know, how God effects the sanctifying change in the sinner's heart. He works by means and instruments in both cases.
The birth of the infant precedes the exercise of its senses; so the new birth must precede all the actions of the spiritual life.
And as when a living child is born, it will certainly
move and act; so when the sinner is born again, or from above, he will repent, believe, love, obey, and worship.
'Every man,' says Dr Adam Clarke, 'must have two births, one from heaven, the other from earth; one of his body, the other of his soul; without the first, he cannot see nor enjoy this world; without the last, he cannot see nor enjoy the kingdom of God. As there is an absolute necessity, that a child should be born into the world, that he may see its light, contemplate its glories, and enjoy its good; so there is an absolute necessity, that the soul should be brought out of its state of darkness and sin, through the light and power of the grace of Christ, that it may be able to discern the glories and excellencies of the kingdom of Christ here, and be prepared for the enjoy ment of the kingdom of glory hereafter.'
II. 1. But, what is it to be born again? It is not changing one kind of sin for another; nor one sect or creed for another. Neither is it outward reformation merely. It is not neglecting one duty to do another duty. It is not always running even to religious meetings, if thereby we disregard any paramount social demands at home. Upon the Sabbath unexceptionably, and at all other suitable times, a small matter should never be allowed to keep our feet from the courts of the Lord. We should not neglect the assembling of ourselves together. But the Holy Sabbath must not be unsanctified by rendering every day alike. Extremes produce a dangerous revulsion. There is a religious, as truly as any other kind of dissipation. It is of little use, to be always going to learn, and leaving no time to practise our duties. It is much easier to pray, at least to pray with the lips, or to hear another pray for us, than to labour. And a well inclined heart can, and will be devotional, while engaged in any lawful and expedient vocation. But, to be born again, the soul must be new-modelled and new-moulded. To be born again, is to begin anew, as those that have hitherto lived either much amiss, or to little purpose. 'We must not think to patch up the old building, but begin from the foundation.' We must have a new nature, new principles, new affections, new aims. Our old evil pro
pensities must be slain, and new holy ones must be born, and grow, and strengthen with our strength. And this new birth has its rise from heaven, and its tendency to heaven.' But Saint Paul, Saint Peter, and Saint John, and the Scriptures at large, are the best comment upon the concise injunction of our Saviour. The new birth implies, repentance toward God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God. We must be partakers of the divine nature. We must love. For love is of God, and every one that loveth, is born of God, and knoweth God. We must be made alive. And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins. Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever. The spirit itself must bear witness with our spirit that we are born of God. For he that believeth hath the witness in himself. We must lead new lives. If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away, behold, all things are become new. For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world; and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? We must experience a death unto sin, and a new birth unto righteousness. Ye know that every one which doeth righteousness is born of him. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; and he cannot sin, that is, wilfully and continually, because he is born of God. He that is begotten of God keepeth himself. He abhors that which is evil, and cleaves to that which is good. His daily cry is, Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. He gives all diligence, to add to his faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge, and to knowledge temperance, and to temperance patience, and to patience godliness, and to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness charity. Thus is this doctrine asserted, and abundantly fortified by Scripture. This quickening of the soul into a new life is, most usually, a slow and gradual work. First appears the germe, then the bud, then the blossom, then the small and immature fruits, and last the ripe, and rich, and cheering clusters.