WHAT IS THE NEW BIRTH?
In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." John 3:3
We pass from the negative to the POSITIVE aspect of this great subject--the New Birth--purposing in the present chapter to consider its nature, author, and necessity.
1. The NATURE of the New Birth.
It is one of the most momentous questions we have to consider--pregnant with vital, precious, and deathless interests--What is the New Birth? All questions of human legislation, science, and learning dwindle into insignificance in comparison with this. The only inquiry worthy the study of a rational and immortal being is, "Am I converted, or am I not?" In conducting our study, we shall keep close to the teaching of God's Word; for the subject of our research is too vital and precious to be jeopardized by any other than a Supreme authority. In this matter we sit only at the feet of that Divine and Heavenly Teacher at whose bar we are to stand in judgment. In His memorable conversation with Nicodemus, our Lord, pressing home upon his attention that great spiritual change indispensable to salvation, compares it to a birth; and because it is essentially alien from the first or natural birth, He denominates it the SECOND or NEW birth. "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again."--born over again. Guided by the analogy, we shall in this point of light, mainly, present the positive bearings of the subject.
The emblem is most expressive. The first, or natural birth, introduces us into a new world of being, of thought, and feeling. It ushers us into a new state of existence, in which all things are new. Now, between this and the New Birth there exists a strong and significant resemblance. In conversion the soul is ushered into a new, spiritual world--emphatically born again. The first birth introduces us into the natural world, the second introduces us into a spiritual world. The first birth ushers us into a world of sin, and woe, and death; the second birth, into a world of holiness, and happiness, and life. It is the birth of the soul into grace.
In keeping with our analogy, the New Birth is also represented as a quickening. "You has He QUICKENED, who were dead in trespasses and in sins." "And has QUICKENED us together with Him." It is described as "passing from death unto life." And by an appropriate and graceful image it is represented as a resurrection. "As the Father raises up the dead, and quickens them, even so the Son quickens whom He will."
The New Birth, then, takes us out of a state of spiritual death into a state of spiritual life--reverses entirely our moral being. The truly-converted soul is a living soul, quickened from a death of sin into a life of righteousness. The life, the new-born life, which now animates him, is the life of God, communicated in virtue of his union with Christ, who is our life, and by the agency of the Holy Spirit, the Divine Quickener. All now is life--new, spiritual, holy, deathless life. The bitterness of spiritual death is past, its sovereign dethroned, its dominion destroyed--and the glory, the reign, and the power of a divine and new-born life triumphantly enter the soul; and from henceforth exists an empire as lasting as the being of Him who created it.
And now the soul begins really to live. It swims in an infinite sea of life--the life of God. As from and in Him, so to and for Him that life is now lived. Christ is his life, and to Christ that life is consecrated. Spiritual death--dead faith, dead obedience, dead hope--is abolished, and the spiritually-quickened soul bathes itself in a divine ocean of vitality and bliss. Henceforth, for him to live is Christ; henceforth, whether he lives or dies, it is to the Lord. The tree, no longer exhibiting the fruitless bough, the seared and withered leaf, bursts forth into all the bloom, beauty, and fertility of life, laden with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ.
How precious are its actings! Prayer, is life breathing; faith, is life trusting; love, is life adoring; service, is life laboring; submission, is life patiently suffering. Life of God in the soul of man! how do you manifest your origin, prove your existence, and foreshadow your destiny, O divine and glorious thing!
My reader, here let us press the personal inquiry, Have you passed from death unto life? Do you feel the life of God pulsating within your soul? Are you expatiating in a new-born world of thought, and feeling, and action? In holy meditations on God, in spiritual breathings after holiness, in loving desires for Christ, and in ardent aspirations for glory? Does this living water--the indwelling of the Spirit of life--spring up, and ascend heavenwards? In a word, are you living for God? If so, then we confidently address you in the language of Paul, "You has He QUICKENED, who were dead," for you are born again!
The New Birth likewise consists in the restoration of the Divine image to the soul. The moral image of God was effaced in the fall of the first Adam. Sin obliterated the divine holiness, and we became more human and less divine. The righteousness and holiness in which God originally created us gave place to the empire and reign of sin; and the image and superscription of a usurped sovereign became enstamped upon the coin of the soul. But the New Birth is a restoration of the lost image of God to man. By Christ, the Second Man, it is effectually and indelibly recovered. In regeneration, the soul is formed in the likeness of Christ. The New Birth, then, is the restoration of the image of God to the soul of man.
But the apostle puts it yet more distinctly, "The new man, which is after God [or, the image of God] is created in righteousness and true holiness," (Eph. 4:24.) We know not a more correct, and at the same time a more precious, view of the New Birth than this. It is nothing less, it cannot possibly be more than, the repencilling of the obliterated moral image of God--the image of holiness--upon the fallen but now regenerate soul. "Partakers of the divine nature"--"Partakers of His holiness,"--for these are the expressions of the Holy Spirit--we become, in regeneration, GOD-LIKE.
A higher, holier, diviner image than that which angels wear is ours. Theirs is the image of nature, ours the image of grace. Theirs is angelic, ours divine. They stand, by reason of their first creation, remote from the Sun--we, by reason of our second creation, stand in the inner circle, close to Christ the Center, the human assimilated to the Divine, mortal swallowed up in Immortality, the creature absorbed in the Creator, man in God! Again we press the inquiry, Whose moral image do you bear? Is your soul reinstated in the likeness of God? Does the Divine holiness attach to your being? Are you living in the cultivation of that holiness without which no man can see the Lord? If so, you then are born again!
A new or changed heart--a heart renewed and sanctified--enters essentially into the New Birth. "A new heart will I give you," is the Divine promise pointing to this great change. What multitudes rest satisfied that they are converted who know nothing of the renewed heart involved in this great spiritual change. Vainly imagining that the natural instincts of love and benevolence, of amiability and kindness, of virtue and truth, are the "beauties of holiness" which adorn and evidence the New Birth, they recognize not the necessity of being renewed in the spirit of their mind, and of seeking that purity of heart which only exists in the new-born soul, and without which none can see God. By nature, the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. But by grace it becomes penitent and believing, loving and holy, the temple of the Spirit, the home of the Savior, the shrine of God. Marvelous is the change! divine the conquest! The converting grace of God has achieved the wondrous revolution. The rebellious heart has become penitent; the proud heart, humble; the unclean heart, pure; the selfish heart, loving; the heart that despised Christ now embraces Him; that which was at enmity against God, now loves Him; that which strove with the Spirit, is now His willing sanctuary.
My reader, it is here the New Birth begins, it is here it carries on and terminates its mighty transformation. Its commencement, so gentle and veiled; its advance, so gradual and progressive; its victories, so unseen and noiseless; a mightier revolution than ever upheaved a dynasty, or overthrew an empire, has transpired, and none but God and the soul may know it!
Oh, it is a great thing to have a new heart--a heart reconciled to God in its affections, entwined with Jesus in its faith, pure and heavenly in its breathings, the temple of God by the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Spirit. Allow no sight and discovery of your heart's deep-rooted sinfulness to persuade you that you are not a subject of the New Birth. Hail this discovery rather as an evidence that you are born again of the Spirit. You would be ignorant of the depravity of your nature, would feel nothing of the vileness of your heart, would weep and lament not over the deep and desperate evil within, were you not quickened to life by the Spirit. Here is holy sensibility, here is spiritual life. A Divine hand has withdrawn the veil from your heart, revealing the plague, the darkness, and the sin of this chamber of abominations; and that same hand of love will perfect the work thus so divinely and so effectually begun.
There is not a solitary exercise of your soul at this moment that is not an evidence of your spiritual quickening. Your thirst for more grace proves your heart gracious. Your cry for stronger faith in God proves your heart believing. Your desire for intenser love to Christ proves your heart loving. Your panting for a deeper inspiration of spiritual life proves you a living soul. These evidence the work of grace within you, as the perfume wafted from a bank of violets upon the soft south wind divulges the flower whose fragrance it breathes. These holy aspirations--heaven-descending, heaven-returning--are the crystal-jets of the living water welled within you, "springing up into everlasting life." Take courage, then, dear heart! Lift up the hands that hang down, and the feeble knees, for you have Christ in you the hope of glory.
In unfolding the nature of the New Birth, we must not omit a very important and impressive illustration. It is represented, and most appositely, as a translation out of darkness into light. Thus it is expressed, "Who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light," (1 Pet. 2:9.) And again, "God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, has shined into our hearts, to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." The analogy between the natural and the spiritual creation in this particular will suggest itself to the reflective mind. Darkness covered as with a pall the whole earth when, "God said, Let there be light, and light was." In a moment the mist rolled from off the face of creation, and a world clad in loveliness, resplendent in glory, and bathed in perfume, burst into view. By that same voice the moral chaos of man's soul gives place to the existence, symmetry, and splendor of a new-born spiritual creation. The spiritual darkness of the unrenewed mind, of the alienated heart, of the rebellious will, is such as might be felt. So deep, so impenetrable its gloom, no light can pierce it, no voice can change it, no power can uplift it but God's. He who commanded the light to shine out of darkness speaks--"Let there be light!" and in a moment spiritual light bursts upon the soul--light is--and a divine creation starts into being, and all the sons of God shout together for joy.
"Marvelous light" it truly is! Marvelous its power--marvelous its revelations--marvelous its glories--marvelous the grace and love from whence it flows. And now, the newborn soul sees its sin, beholds its Savior, and looks upon its reconciled God. Floating upon the wings of light, it soars towards its native skies, and loses itself in the "Fountain of light." Henceforth, that new-born soul stands, where stood the apocalyptic angel, in the sun, itself a center of light in the orbit in which it moves, living and walking and acting as a child of the light, scattering the rays of holiness and truth on a darksome world, his path of righteousness shining more and more unto the perfect day.
Again we press an individual application of our great subject, and inquire, Has this divine light shone in upon your soul? Revealing the blackness, the emptiness, the depravity within, has it led you to Jesus the true light; in His light to see light on the pardon of your sins and the acceptance of your person in Him the Beloved?
We will not protract our description of the new birth longer than briefly to remark that it is a transfer of the soul into the kingdom of Christ--"Who has delivered us from the power of darkness, and has translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son." This illustration is remarkably relevant. Our nature in its unregenerate condition is under the dominion of the prince of darkness--the god of this world. Dreadful picture! But not less appalling than true. Each individual of the human race is either a subject of Satan or of Christ, is under the power of darkness or a subject of the kingdom of God's dear Son. But conversion reverses this state. The new birth is a translation--a divine translation--from the galling, degrading power of darkness into the light and rule, the privileges and liberty of the kingdom of Jesus.
There are two words employed by the apostle in this remarkable passage very significant--delivered and translated. The former--implying a spiritual state neither desired nor deserved by its subject--has reference to the uplifting of a dead weight from a pit. By God's Spirit we are taken up out of the horrible pit and miry clay of corruption, and are brought into a state of grace. In the passage under consideration, it is represented as a deliverance from the power of darkness, or the dominion and will of Satan, the prince of darkness, who rules in the children of disobedience, and maintains his ascendancy by ignorance in the mind, rebellion in the will, and hardness in the heart. Therefore sinners are called "children of the night," and sins are denominated "the works of darkness."
Thus, there must first be in the new birth this emancipation from the bondage of Satan--the Pharaoh of this world--before there is the translation of the soul into the kingdom of Jesus. The two dominions cannot co-exist in the soul. We must first be drawn out of the pit of corruption, delivered from the power of darkness, before we are placed in a state of grace, or translated into the kingdom of God's dear Son.
Nor can the two images coexist in the same individual--the image of God and the image of Satan. The one must be erased and destroyed before the divine lineaments of the other can be drawn by the Spirit upon the soul. This deliverance from the power of Satan and the corruption of sin in the new birth is not such a deliverance as totally frees us from the indwelling of sin, or entirely emancipates us from the temptations and harassings of Satan. With these the regenerate have to contend until life's last hour. That which is born of the flesh remains flesh until this corruption shall put on incorruption. And Satan, the accuser, will hover around the hour of the saint's departure intent upon winging his fiery darts to the very last. But, notwithstanding this, it is a blessed and glorious deliverance and disenthrallment which grace achieves. It is a deliverance from sin's guilt, condemnation, and reign. It is a disenthrallment from Satan's dominion, rule, and power. And so God, in the exercise of His sovereign grace, has delivered us who believe from the power of darkness, and for this deliverance heaven's high arches shall ever more ring with our shouts of praise!
But God not only delivers us from the power of sin, but He puts us in a state of grace. Hence the expression, "Has TRANSLATED us into the kingdom of His dear Son." Translated, that is, transferred from one kingdom into another. It follows that, all who are born again are the subjects of Christ's rule and government and law. They have been translated into the mediatorial kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, and henceforth are governed by His special grace, restraining and mortifying their corruptions, daily renewing them in the spirit of their minds, will, and affections, bringing every thought, aim, and desire into obedience to Christ.
Again, we pause, and press the inquiry, Have you been thus delivered and thus translated? Do you know what it is to have those galling fetters broken which bound you to the corruption of sin? Do you know what it is to have the yoke removed which bowed you under the service of Satan? This it is to be born again, and by this deliverance and translation you may know your condition as either regenerate or still unregenerate. And if by a careful examination of your real state as before God, and by bringing yourself to the unerring touchstone of the gospel, you are enabled to come to a scriptural and satisfactory conclusion that you are born again, hold fast the liberty with which Christ has made you free, and be not again entangled with the yoke.
Ever remember that you have liberty indeed in Christ Jesus, but that it is a spiritual and not a carnal, a holy and not a lawless, liberty. You have become freed from the curse of the law, Christ having been made a curse for you; from the rigor of the law, Christ having given it an exact and full obedience; and from the guilt, tyranny, and condemnation of sin, Christ having washed you in His own most precious blood. But you have no liberty TO sin, to use your liberty as an occasion for the flesh, but are bound by the most sacred, solemn, and eternal obligations to "deny all ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live godly, righteously, and soberly in this present evil world."
If the description which we have thus given of the nature of the new birth be true--and scripturally true we verily and solemnly believe it to be--no lengthened argument will be needed to establish the proposition that it is a DIVINE and SUPERNATURAL work. Holy ancestry does not insure it, pious parentage does not convey it, human eloquence does not inspire it, moral persuasion does not produce it. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high is the accomplishment of this work above created power. How clear does the Holy Spirit put this--"As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to those who believe in his name. Who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God," (John 1:12, 13.) "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the spirit is spirit." "Born again"--marg., "born from above."
But we wish in this necessarily brief statement to concentrate the reader's attention upon a single truth--the divine agency of the Holy Spirit in the accomplishment of the new birth. One passage from God's Word will suffice to establish this point--"IT IS THE SPIRIT THAT QUICKENS, THE FLESH PROFITS NOTHING." Clearly and indisputably, then, to be born again is, to be "born of the Spirit." Now,HOW does He produce this great change? By what steps does He conduct the soul to this divine and heavenly birth?
There is first, the Holy Spirit's work in the convincing of sin. He uplifts the veil that enshrouds the heart, and shows its plague and sin and defilement. He makes the sinner to know himself--the first step in real conversion. He breaks up the fountain of feeling, produces godly sorrow, inspires holy contrition, awakens true and saving repentance. It was by His power that Job exclaimed, "I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." It was by His power that David cried out, "Against you and you only have I sinned, and done this evil in your sight." It was by His power that the tax-collector prayed, "God be merciful to me a sinner." Has He wrought this repentance for sin, beloved, in you? Uplifting the veil, has He given you an insight into the chamber of imagery within your breast; in other words, has He so uncovered and revealed and dissected your heart to your own eye as to force from you the exclamation, "I am vile! I am undone! Lord, save me, or I perish!" O blessed discovery! O glorious revelation! O life-breathing cry! You are born again! Flesh and blood did not reveal this to you. Unregenerate nature never sent to heaven such an appeal. Spiritual death never breathed to Jesus such a living cry. It is the Spirit who has shown you your blackness, your vileness, your ignorance, your death, and having thus begun the good work in you, He will conduct you from grace to grace, and from glory to glory.
The next step of the Holy Spirit is to lead the soul to Christ. He deals not cruelly with the poor sinner--revealing the plague, and not the remedy; wounding, and withholding the balm; showing the sinner himself, and veiling Christ from the eye. Having wrought repentance towards God, His next step in the process is to work in the heart faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Making the soul to feel the sickness of sin, He leads it to the balm that is in Gilead, and to the Physician who is there. He takes of the precious things of a precious Christ, and shows them to the soul. He leads to the atoning blood, and applies it. He takes the robe of righteousness, and imputes it. He conducts the trembling soul to Jesus, and unveiling His love, and grace, and merits, brings it to a believing recumbence upon Christ; resting, not only in the blood and righteousness of Jesus, but resting in Jesus Himself.
And what a life-giving, hope-inspiring discovery is JESUS! Penitent, heart-broken, humble sinner, Jesus is just the Savior you need, just the Friend you seek. You have come to the end of your own righteousness, and strength, and striving--you have besought in vain every physician, and have tried every remedy with no avail, and now you have lain you down to die--helpless, hopeless, despairing! Behold the Lamb of God, wounded, bleeding, slain for you! He took your sins, endured your curse, bore your condemnation, paid your debt, and now invites you to the cleansing of His blood, to the investiture of His righteousness, to the pavilion of His love, to the free acceptance of all the precious things of His grace. "Look unto me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and none else." "Come unto me and I will give you rest." Doubt not either His ability or His willingness to accept and save you to the uttermost extent of your sinful, unworthy, and hopeless condition.
But we must advert to the INSTRUMENT which God has ordained in accomplishing in the soul the new birth. The Spirit of God being the Divine and efficient Agent, the Word of God is the Divine and passive instrument of regeneration. A few quotations from this Divinely-inspired Word will establish this. "Being BORN AGAIN, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, BY THE WORD OF GOD, which lives and abides forever," (1 Peter 1:23.) "Of His own will He BEGAT us WITH THE WORD OF TRUTH," (James 1:18.) The apostle gloried in the gospel of Christ, because it was "the power of God unto salvation." The psalmist testified to this truth--"The law of the Lord is perfect, CONVERTING the soul." But the testimony of the Lord Himself sets the question at rest--"The WORDS THAT I SPEAK UNTO YOU, they are spirit and they are life."
Thus then, the revealed word of God is, in the hands of the Holy Spirit, the appointed and Divine instrument of our being born again. As God never works apart from instrumentality, when instruments are made ready for His use, so the Holy Spirit never accomplishes this great and marvelous change in the soul apart from the truth of God. In His hands the gospel is a rod that works the miracle, a sword that pierces the soul, a fire that burns the dross, a hammer that breaks the rock, a light that dispels the darkness, a balsam that heals the wound, a seed that germinates, a voice that awakes the dead. And all this it does because it is the Word of the living God.
Shall we impugn its Divine authority--tracing thus its miraculous and marvelous effects? There are those who dare to do so! But, we ask the bold skeptic, can that be other than a mirror of Divine construction which, faithfully upheld to the soul, brings to view every thought and feeling, purpose and aim, deep-veiled within its secret cloisters? Would the God of truth invest a lie with the mission and power which clothes the gospel of His grace? Would He from whom comes down every good and perfect gift bless a fiction, a falsehood, a myth, as He has blest the gospel in the conversion of countless myriads of souls, of all nations, and tongues, and peoples, who, in the great day of His coming, shall crowd the throne of Christ the Lamb, all attesting its divinity, and witnessing to its effects?
What has wrought such moral revolutions in the world, achieved such spiritual changes, conferred such intellectual freedom, battered down such strongholds of error, as the Gospel of God? If the devotee of superstition has been converted by it, the slave of sin disenthralled by it, the captive of Satan delivered by it, the soul raised from death by it--if it has made the spiritual blind to see, the lame to walk, the deaf to hear, has tamed the lion, transformed the wolf into the lamb, and the vulture into the dove--if it soothes the deepest anguish of the heart, calms the fiercest tempest of the soul, sweetens the bitterest calamity of life, and in life's last hour unfurls the banner of victory over death, and sheds upon the Christian's tomb the radiance of a glorious immortality--then, achieving such marvels, attended by such signs and attested by such evidences, we accept the Gospel as of God, believe in its Divine authority, bow to its ultimate decisions, and stake our eternal all upon its doctrines, promises, and hopes. "Though we or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed."
"Should all the forms that men devise,
Assault my faith with treacherous art,
I'd call them vanity and lies,
And bind the gospel to my heart."
What mighty power, then, has the Word of God in the hands of the Spirit! What heavenly dew distills from its promises; what spiritual life breathes from its doctrines; what sanctifying power flows from its precepts; what a heaven of glory is unveiled in its hopes! "One word of the gospel, a single sentence, has erected a heavenly trophy in a soul, which all the volumes of the choicest mere reason could never erect. One plain scripture has turned a face to heaven that never looked that way before, and has made a man fix his eye there against his carnal interest. One plain scripture has killed a man's sins, and quickened his heart into eternal life. One word of Christ remembered by Peter made him weep bitterly; and two or three scriptures pressed by the same Peter upon his hearers pierced their hearts to the quick. How has hell flashed in the face of the sinner out of the small cloud of a threatening, and heaven shot into the soul from one little diamond-spark of a promise. A little seed of the word, like a grain of mustard-seed, changed the soul from a dwarfish to a tall stature." (Charnock.)
This, and this only, is the preaching which will beget souls again, people the world with new creations, and erect, from the ruins of the fall, living temples of the Holy Spirit. Before it the wisdom of man dwindles into foolishness, and the power of man dissolves into weakness, and the glory of man pales into insignificance. To supplement it with human teaching is to blunt the edge of the sword, and to veil the luster of the diamond, and to render the Word of God of no effect. God has made His Word the tabernacle for the Sun of Righteousness to move in, and he who preaches it not fully and faithfully, without reserve and without deceit, throws the pall of hell's darkness around that divine Orb, and leaves the endangered and deathless soul to plunge, unillumined by one ray, into the darkness that is outer and eternal.
We reiterate the important truth that, the Word of God--than which the Church on earth possesses not a treasure so divine, costly, and precious--is the instrument employed by the Spirit in commencing, carrying on, and completing that work of grace on earth which is the soul's preparation for the enjoyment of glory in heaven.
For one moment we venture to detain the reader with a glance at some of the OPERATIONS of the truth of God in the soul. As God's word of wisdom, it makes wise unto salvation. As the word of life, it quickens. As a divine word, it converts the soul. As the truth which is after godliness, it sanctifies. As a nourishing word, it promotes growth in grace. As a word of consolation, it comforts. As a storehouse of supply, it thoroughly furnishes us unto all good works. As the divine light, it is our guide. As a spiritual sword, it is a mighty weapon in the hands of the Spirit. And when the books are opened, it will judge us at the last day. Such is the word of God, which lives and abides forever.
Our Lord, in announcing the momentous doctrine of the new birth to the inquiring ruler, emphatically and solemnly insisted upon its necessity. "Marvel not that I said unto you, You MUST be born again." Were this great spiritual change a matter of no moment in its relation to our future; were it placed upon the same footing in the Bible with baptism, or the Lord's Supper--institutions, the observance of which is not essential to salvation--we could afford to view it with comparative indifference. But, seeing that it is an indispensable condition of salvation, and seeing that without it we cannot enter into the kingdom of grace on earth, and must be forever exiled from the kingdom of glory in heaven, it is a change, the absolute necessity of which we must press with all the arguments which the Scriptures supply, and with all the solemnity which eternity inspires.
What are some of the grounds of the ABSOLUTE NECESSITY of the new birth? Briefly these. It is necessary, in order to fulfill the eternal purpose of God with regard to His people. All His saints are born again. In the mystery of the Spirit's operations--viewless, noiseless as the wind; in the sovereignty of His grace--that wind blowing where it wills--all His elect people pass through the process of the heavenly birth. "So is every one that is born of the Spirit."
It logically follows that the new birth is necessary in order to authenticate our spiritual union with the Lord's people. We possess no scriptural, valid evidence that we are the true disciples of the Lord Jesus, or that the privileges of God's Church, and the immunities of the heavenly citizenship are ours, until we are born again. The true Church of God is composed alone of living stones; the Family, of reconciled and adopted children, the Kingdom of Jesus, of living subjects made willing in the day of His power. All other materials now outwardly mixed up with this--the wood, the hay, the stubble--will be consumed in the fire of the last day, for that day shall try every man's religion and hope of what sort it is.
Solemn thought! Reader, is your conversion of such a nature as to stand this fiery test? Are you spiritually, truly born again? Away with your rites and rituals, your forms and ceremonies, your morals and splendid virtues, your ecclesiastical relations, lifeless creeds, and costly doings. It is written, yes, it is written, "You MUST be BORN AGAIN!"
The New Birth is necessary, also, to the bringing forth of real holiness. There is not one grain of holiness in our unrenewed, unsanctified nature. There dwells in the flesh no good thing. In vain we garnish and adorn this sinful and corrupt humanity with the external beauties of holiness--it is but an embalmed corpse. We admit that the moral virtues are necessary to the adornment and well-being of human society. For what would this fallen world be apart from this restraint? And yet, spiritually viewed, what are they, in their highest cultivation, but 'refined flesh'? A picture is not a living being, a glow-worm is not a star, the sun reflected from a lake is not a sun; so, nature 'improved' is not nature 'renewed'; and the soul beautified with virtues is not the soul sanctified by grace; and the life regulated by the recognized laws and conventional manners of society is not a life quickened, ennobled, consecrated by the indwelling Spirit of God. Apart, then, from the New Birth, there is no true holiness, and "without holiness no man can see the Lord."
The last plea for the New Birth is a solemn one--without it there is no admission within the kingdom of heaven. Eternity begins with time--heaven commences on earth--glory has its first fruits in grace. The soul must be educated and disciplined for heaven, brought into holy sympathy and moral assimilation with its nature, character, and employments. An unholy being could not exist for one moment in glory. Its atmosphere would be too pure, its society too holy, its worship too spiritual, its enjoyments too refined. If the pilot, soaring to a lofty altitude above the earth, finds the air too thin to exist; surely an unholy being, in a moment translated to heaven, would discover that in its perfectly pure and holy atmosphere he could not for a moment breathe.
To be fitted for glory, we must be gracious; to dwell in heaven, we must be heavenly; to see God, we must be pure and holy in heart; to be forever with the Lord, we must partake His nature, cultivate His image here, and, constrained by love, confess His name, and bear His cross until we pass from grace to glory.
"Marvel not that I said unto you, you must be born again."