The Nature and Author of Regeneration
Adapted from a Sermon by Samuel Davies
"Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’" John 3:7
Those doctrines or teachings, which are most wondered at in the ignorant world, are not strange to a well-informed mind. Ignorance easily leads to wonder, whereas knowledge sees nothing amazing or unaccountable. My purpose this morning is to look into the doctrine of Regeneration, or the New Birth.
And so, Nicodemus comes to Christ convinced that he is a Teacher from God, who confirmed his commission by the strong and public evidence of miracles. From such a Teacher, he expects awe-inspiring instructions; and from his own advancement in Jewish learning, he, no doubt, flatters himself that he will be able to understand them; but when, instead of gratifying his curiosity by telling him strange and great things of the kingdom of the Messiah, as a secular prince, and a mighty conqueror, as he and his countrymen expected, or expounding like a Rabbi on the Jewish law; Instead of this, Jesus opens the meeting by a solemn and authoritative declaration of the necessity of something under the name of another birth!—How Nicodemus must have been surprised!
This he cannot understand. This seems a strange, new teaching to him; and he has an objection ready against it, as an absurdity and an impossibility: "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" (v.4) This objection, which was altogether disrespectful, and founded on a very mistaken understanding of the teaching, may serve as an example of all the objections that have been made against this teaching ever since; they have all come out of ignorance, or from a grossly mistaken idea of an evident truth; and so men have imagined, like this master of Israel, that they had very good arguments against it, when in reality they were saying nothing relevant at all, and had not even begun to understand the matter!
Our condescending Lord took a great deal of pains to give Nicodemus a correct understanding of this teaching. For this purpose, he presents it before him in various ways. He tells him, he did not mean a second natural birth, but a birth of water and of the spirit; a birth that makes a man spiritual, and consequently fit for that spiritual kingdom he was about to set up; and that the free and Sovereign Spirit of God, the Author of this new birth, operated like wind, which blows where it wills.
Nicodemus still continues to be confused, and wondering what he means. He is confused, after all, and asks, "How can these things be?" Jesus tells him the wonder did not lie in the teaching, but in the fact that he did not know, when he was a teacher of the law; "Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?" (v.10)
The key to our text is this: "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’" That is to say, "The teaching you are so much surprised at, is not at all absurd, so as to make you wonder to hear it from me. You cannot but know, that all mankind are born of the flesh; that is, propagated in a way that communicates a depraved nature to them; and therefore, they are flesh; that is, corrupt and carnal; and therefore wholly unfit to be admitted into my kingdom, which is pure and spiritual. But that which is born of the Spirit, is spirit; that is, spiritual and holy; and, therefore, fit for that spiritual and holy kingdom, which I have come to set up. Now, if this is the case, you have certainly no need to be perplexed at this teaching: can it seem strange to you, that impure unholy creatures must be changed, before they can be fit members of so holy a society? Can you marvel at this? No! you would have more reason to marvel at the opposite idea.
It is one part of my goal today to look into, whether the teaching of the new birth is indeed such a strange, absurd, or impossible thing in itself, as to deserve that amazement, and indeed contempt, which it generally meets with in the world; or whether it is not rational, necessary, and worthy of universal acceptance. But before I begin, it will be good to ask:
I. What is the new birth?
II. Who is the author of it?
III. And in what way does he generally produce it?
Remove your prejudices against this teaching, suspend your disbelief, and stop wondering at or ridiculing it, until these points are explained, for fear that you be found to speak evil of things you do not know.
I. Let us ask: What it is to be born again?
To get your attention with respect to this question, I need only point out, that whatever is meant by the new birth, it is not an insignificant theory, not the disputed peculiarity of a sect, not the subject matter of a few good people of the first class, but it is essential to every godly person, and absolutely necessary to salvation. You can have no doubt about this, if you consider Jesus Christ as a person who spoke the truth, and worthy of attention in his most solemn declarations; for he has declared, over and over again, with the utmost solemnity, that no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again. (John 3:3, 5, and 7) Listen, then, if you think your eternal salvation is worthy of your attention.
The phrase, to be born again, like most other expressions used with respect divine subjects, is metaphorical, and brings in natural things which we are familiar with, to help us understand divine things, which we might not, otherwise, be able to understand.
We all know what it is to be born; and our knowledge of this may help us to understand what it is to be born again. As by our first birth we become men, or partake of human nature, so by our second birth, we become Christians, and are made partakers of a divine and spiritual nature.
As our first birth introduces us into this world, and into human society, so our second birth introduces us into the church of Christ, and makes us true members of that holy society. As by our first birth we resemble our parents, at least in the principal features of human nature, so by our second birth we are made partakers of the divine nature; that is, we are made to resemble the blessed God in holiness: or, as Paul expresses it, we are renewed after his image in knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness. (Eph 4:24; Col 3:10) The effect is like its cause; the child like the parent. That which is born of the flesh, is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit, is spirit. This is according to the established laws of generation, by which everything begets its like.
In our first birth, we are gifted with child-like and filial dispositions towards our human parents; and when we are born of God, we are inspired with a child-like and filial attitude towards him, as our heavenly Father.
By our natural birth we are placed in an imperfect, but growing state. We have all the powers of human nature, though none of them in perfection; but from that time, they grow and improve, until they at length arrive to maturity. In the same way, in our second birth, all the principles of virtue and grace are implanted; but their growth and improvement are the work of the Christian life: and from that time, they continue gradually growing, though with many interruptions, until at death they arrive at maturity and perfection.
In our natural birth we pass through a very great change. The infant that had been in darkness, breathless and almost insensible, and with little more than a vegetative life, enters into a new state, feels new sensations, craves a new kind of nourishment, and discovers new powers. In the same way, in the second birth, the sinner passes through a great change: a change as to his view of divine things: as to his attitude, his practice, and his state; a change so great, that he may properly be called another man, or a new creature.
The new birth implies a great change in the views, the attitude, the practice, and the state of the sinner.
The various forms of expression, which the Scripture uses to represent what is here called a second birth, all work together to teach us, that it consists in a great change. It is represented as a resurrection, or a change from death to life: You he has “made alive," says Paul, who “were dead in trespasses and sins." (Eph 2:1)
It is represented as a new creation: "If anyone is in Christ," says the same inspired author, "he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." (2 Cor 5:17) "Put on," says he, "the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness." (Eph 4:24)
These, and other expressions like these, describe a very great change, and such forms of speech are very commonly used in the same sense; which shows they are so far from being ridiculous, that they follow the common sense of mankind.
When we see a man that we once knew, look, and speak, and act as he used to do, it is customary to say, "He is the same old man." But if we see a great change in his appearance, his attitude, or behaviour, we are apt to say, "He is a new man "or, "He is quite another person." When we see a rugged, boisterous man become meek and inoffensive, we are apt to say, "He is become a mere child."
These forms of speech are so graphic and popular, that they have even passed into proverbs, and that, in various countries and languages; In the same way, they are used in the Scriptures as plain and familiar representations of this great truth. And so, we use them boldly, in spite of that senseless ridicule and contempt, which some would cast upon them; but which falls back on themselves, for censuring modes of expression that are not only sacred, but according to common sense.
Now, since it is evident the new birth describes a great change; you are impatient, by this time, I hope, to know more particularly what it is. It is the change of a thoughtless, ignorant, hard-hearted, rebellious sinner, into a thoughtful, well-informed, tender-hearted, dutiful servant of God. It is the implantation of the seeds or principles of every grace and virtue in a heart that was entirely destitute of them, and full of sin.
The sinner that was accustomed to have no practical affectionate thought for the great God, is now made to revere, admire, and love him as the greatest and best of Beings; to rejoice in him as his supreme happiness, and cheerfully to submit to him as his Ruler.
Before, his attitude and conduct would better match the infidelity of an atheist, than the faith of a Christian: but now, he thinks, and speaks, and acts, as one that really believes there is a God; a God who inspects all his ways, and will call him to an account.
The heart that was accustomed to spurn the holiness of the divine law, and murmur at the strictness of its precepts. now loves it; loves it for that very reason for which it was accustomed to hate it; namely, because it is so holy. This was the attitude of the Psalmist: "Your Word is very pure; therefore (that is, on that very account) your servant loves it!" (Ps 119:140) And of Paul, "the law is holy, and the commandment holy" and what follows? "I delight," says he, "in the law of God, in my inner being” and “I agree with the law, that it is good. " (Rom 7:12, 16, 22)
The haughty, stubborn, deceitful heart, is now made humble, pliable, simple, and honest, like that of a little child. And so, Christ says, "Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." (Matt, 18:3, 4) This was also the attitude of David: "O LORD, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me." (Ps 131:1, 2)
The heart that used to have no delight in communion with God, but lived as without God in the world, now feels a childlike desire to draw near to him, and address him with the humble boldness and freedom of a child. "Because you are sons," says Paul, "God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!" (Gal 4:6) That is, "Father, Father!" the repetition of so tender a name hints at the greatest warmth and affectionate freedom.
The heart that had no real, moving views of the future eternal state, now feels the energy of that doctrine, and thinks of heaven and hell as indeed the most important realities!
The heart that was once earthly and sensual, eagerly set on the things below, pursuing them with such relentless effort and vigour, is now taught to aspire to heaven; in heaven is its treasure, and there it will be. The thoughts that were once scattered among a thousand trifles, are now frequently collected, and fixed on the great concerns of holiness.
Now also the heart is remarkably changed towards the Lord Jesus: formerly it seemed sufficient to wear his name, to profess his religion, to believe him to be the Savior of the world, to insert his name in a prayer now and then, and to give a formal attendance on the institutions of his worship; but now, now, he appears in a more important and delightful light. Now the sinner is deeply aware that Jesus is indeed the only Savior, and he most eagerly comes to him under that wonderful character, and entrusts his eternal all into his hands. Now he appears to him all lovely and glorious, and his heart is forever captivated with his beauty. Now he prays, and longs, and languishes for him, and feels him to be all in all. And now the very thought of being without Christ, wounds him deeply. In this way, God, who first commanded light to shine out of darkness, has shined into his heart, to give him “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ;” (2 Cor 4:6) in that face where it shines with the most wonderful light.
Now also the man has very different views of himself: he sees himself to be a guilty, depraved, vile creature, all overrun with sin, and destitute of all goodness, except as it is brought about in him by divine grace! How different is this from the proud, self-righteous estimate he was accustomed to form of himself!
His views of sin are also quite different from what they used to be: he used to think of it as a slight, excusable evil, except when it broke out into some gross acts. But now he sees sin to be unspeakably vile and base, in every instance and degree. An evil thought, a corrupt motion of desire, an indisposed heart towards God, appears to him a shocking evil, such as nothing but the infinite mercy of God can forgive, and even that mercy, upon no other account but that of the righteousness of Jesus Christ. He sees that sin does most justly deserve everlasting punishment; and he is often lost in wonder that the gospel should open a door of hope even for him, who has been so deeply guilty. It breaks his heart to think that he indulged so base a thing for so long; and he can never be fully reconciled to himself, while he feels the remains of sin within him.
His repentance now takes a new turn. Formerly he was entirely under the influence of self-love, and therefore, when he had any concern for his sin, it came entirely from the servile principle of fear; fear of the punishment, and not hatred of the crime. But now his soul is ennobled with more sincere principles. Now he can mourn over sin, as a base, ungrateful evil, even when he has no thoughts of the punishment. Now he can mourn over sin as against God, and not only as against a sin-punishing God, but as against a sin-pardoning God. Now he mourns with sincere sorrow over pardoned sin; and God's being so good as to forgive him, is so far from lessening the evil of sin in his view, that this very consideration peculiarly affects him. That he should be so base as to sin against a God who is so gracious as to forgive him after all! This thought breaks his heart; and God's forgiving him, is a reason why he can never forgive himself.
The heart has also a new attitude in the duties of religion: it can’t put up with being cold or lukewarm in them any longer, but strives to be awake and alive to God; and when it has a lapse of weakness, it cannot lie content in that condition, but tries to rouse itself again. Experience teaches that it is good to draw near to God; and the ordinances of the gospel are not tiresome formalities, as they were accustomed to be, but the means of life and refreshment; and the hours which are spent occupied with them, are its happiest hours.
Now the gospel is not that dull, stale, neglected tale it once was, but the most joyful news that ever came from heaven! As a new-born infant, the regenerate soul desires the sincere milk of the Word, that it may grow by it, (1 Pet 2:2) and it is esteemed more than physical food.
Now the careless, secure soul, that was always careful not to overdo anything in religion, and flattering itself that there is no need of being overly concerned with these matters, is effectually roused, and earnestly strives to enter in at the narrow gate, convinced both of the difficulty and the necessity of entering! Now religion is no longer a trifling, secondary matter, but a serious business; and everything that comes in competition with it must give way to it. The man is resolved to save his soul at all costs; and this, he is now convinced, is no easy work.
To sum up the whole, the regenerate soul is completely changed in every part. I do not mean the change is perfect in any part. Sadly no, sin still lives, and sometimes struggles violently; though crucified, the old man dies hard! But I mean, the change does really extend to every part. The soul is in no respect the same as it used to be, as to the concerns of religion. It has new views, new sensations, new joys, new sorrows, new inclinations and aversions, new hopes and fears. In short, as the apostle tells us, “he is a new creation,” (2 Cor 5:17); and according to his inspired prayer, at the conclusion of his first letter to the Thessalonians, the whole man, soul, body, and spirit, is kept blameless. (1 Thess. 5:23)
By way of confirmation, let me add a few characteristics of a regenerate man, which are expressly Scriptural. "whoever loves has been born of God," (1 Jn 4:7) says John. That is, every new-born soul is possessed with a sincere love to all mankind, which prompts it to observe the whole law in its conduct towards them, (for love is the fulfilling of the whole law,) and restrains it from doing them any harm: (for “love does no wrong to a neighbor,” (Rom 13:10)). This love extends not only to friends, but also to strangers, and even to enemies. It is a friendship to human nature in general; it spreads over the whole earth, and embraces the whole race of man. But as the righteous are the more excellent ones of the earth, it rests on them in a peculiar degree: and the reason is obvious; they are, in a peculiar sense, the saints' brothers and sisters, the children of the same heavenly Father; and they bear a resemblance to him: and if he loves the Original, he will also love the copy. And so, says John, "everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him." (1 Jn 5:1)
Another character of regeneration the same apostle gives you, in his first epistle, and that is, victory over the world by faith. "Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith." (1 Jn 5:4) That is, whatever temptations may arise from the riches, honors, or pleasures of the world, or from the society of mankind, the man who is born of God has such believing views of eternal things, as constrains him to conflict with them, and overcome them. He does not have such a base, devious soul, as to yield to opposition. He is enabled by divine grace, to be brave in the face of dangers, and meet difficulties in so good a cause: he dares to be wise and holy, though all the world should turn against him. And what a change this is from his former attitude!
Another distinguishing characteristic of the new birth, is, universal holiness of practice, or a conscientious observance of every known duty, and an honest, zealous resistance to every known sin. There is no known duty, however unfashionable, disagreeable, or dangerous, but what the true convert honestly endeavors to perform! And there is no known sin, however customary, pleasing, or profitable, but what he honestly resists, and from which he endeavors to abstain.
This necessarily follows from what has been said; for when the principles of action are changed within, then the course of action will be changed too. When the heart is made holy, it will infallibly produce consistent holiness of practice. A good tree must produce good fruit. This John asserts in the strongest manner, and in various forms. "You may be sure," he says, "that every one who practices righteousness;" that is, that habitually practices righteousness, "has been born of God." (1 Jn 2:29)
"We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning," that is, he does not sin habitually; "but he who was born of God protects him," that is, the Lord keeps him from the infection of sin; “and the evil one does not touch him.” (1 Jn 5:18)
"Little children," he says, "let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous…” but “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil.” “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning” that is, as was explained before, he does not habitually sin in the general tone of his practice, so as to make his sin his distinguishing character; "for God's seed abides in him;" that is, the principles of grace, implanted in him in regeneration, are immortal, and will never allow him to give himself up to sin, as he used to. And he cannot continue to practice sin, because he is born of God: his being born of God happily disables him forever from abandoning himself to sin again. "By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil;" that is, this is the grand distinguishing characteristic existing between them, "whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God." (1 Jn 3:7-10)
You see, then, a holy practice is one of the most certain signs of regeneration; and, therefore, in vain do such pretend to it, or boast of deep religious knowledge, who are not holy in their practice, and do not live righteously, soberly, and godly in the world.
By this time, I hope you understand what it is to be born again. And now, as a review of the subject, there are several important things, which I would ask you to consider:
First, I ask you now to consider, whether baptism is the same thing as regeneration, or the new birth in the Scripture sense. Baptism is a sign of regeneration, but not regeneration itself.
When men are taught that the whole of that regeneration, or new birth, which the Scripture requires as absolutely necessary to salvation, means no more than just being baptized; and when they who have been baptized, begin to think that they have no more to do with the new birth, the error is too dangerous to be passed over in silence! I would like to just present a line of reasoning to you, by which you may easily judge for yourselves in this matter.
If baptism is regeneration in the Scripture sense, then, whatever the Scripture says concerning people who are regenerated, born again, or created anew, will also be true concerning people who are baptized. This is so plain a principle, that it is hard to make it plainer; for if baptism is the same as regeneration, the new birth, or the new creation, then the same things may be said of it. Using this obvious principle, let us test it in a few instances.
It may be truly said of him who is born of God, in the Scripture sense, that he does not make a habit of sinning. Now substitute baptized, instead of born of God, and consider how it will read, “We know that everyone who has been baptized does not keep on sinning.” (From 1 Jn 5:18) Does this statement sound true? Do we not all know enough of the conduct of many who have been baptized, as to see that this statement is most assuredly false! For where can we find more audacious sinners on earth, than many who have been baptized!
Let us try another test. Whoever is born of God, in the Scripture sense, overcomes the world. But will it hold true, that whoever is baptized, overcomes the world?
If anyone is in Christ, in the Scripture sense, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and the new has come. But how will it sound if you read, if anyone is baptized, he is a new creation: the old has passed away, and the new has come? Does baptism make such a universal change in person, that he or she may, in any reasonable sense, be called a new creation?
We might easily do the same thing with many other passages of Scripture; but these examples are enough.
And now, must it not be as evident as any mathematical demonstration, that regeneration, or the new birth, in the Scripture sense, is something else, something more divine, more fundamental, that makes a bigger change in the whole person, than baptism? Anyone who can believe, that if he has been baptized, he has all that regeneration which is necessary to his admission into the kingdom of heaven, must really be under a very strong delusion.
And consider this also: The great purpose of Christ's coming into the world was, to renew and regenerate men; this is a work worthy of his own immediate hand. And yet we are told, that, except perhaps for his disciples, Jesus did not go about baptizing people. (Jn 4:2) This is a plain indication that he made a distinction between baptism and regeneration.
And similarly, Paul, writing to the Corinthians, says, "I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius." (1 Cor 1:14) But if baptism is the same as regeneration, his meaning here must be, I thank God that I regenerated none of you. But is this a cause for thanksgiving? Could he give thanks to God that he had not regenerated any of them? “Christ,” he says, “did not send me to baptize.” (1 Cor 1:17) But can we think that Christ did not send the chief of the apostles to promote the great work of regeneration?
He elsewhere calls himself their spiritual father, for, he says, “in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.” (1 Cor 4:15) But if baptism is the new birth, he could not have been their father unless he had baptized them. From which it is evident that Paul made a great difference between baptism and regeneration.
Therefore, let no man deceive you with vain words. Baptism is an ordinance, a command, of Jesus Christ, which you should obey and think very highly of; but do not put it out of its place, by substituting it for quite another thing. Baptism alone is not that kind of regeneration which you must be the subjects of, if you would enter into the kingdom of God!
Another thing which I would ask you to consider is whether regeneration, or the new birth, in the sense I have explained it, is not a rational, noble thing. And whether so great a change in a man's attitude and conduct may not emphatically and properly be called a new birth.
When a man is born again, the ruins of his nature are repaired, and every noble and divine grace and virtue are implanted in his heart. His heart is made capable of sincere sensations; his understanding has proper views of the most interesting and sublime objects; and his attitude and behaviour are rightly formed towards God and man. In short, the base, depraved, earth-born creature, is made a spiritual new-born! More than that, Peter tells you, he is made a "partaker(s) of the divine nature." (2 Pet 1:4) What a glorious and surprising change is this! Should you see a clod of earth rising from under your feet, and brightening into a sun, it would not be so glorious a transformation. This change gives a man the very character of heaven, and prepares him for the enjoyments and occupations of that blessed region.
Therefore, “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’" Do not gaze and wonder at me, as if I told you some strange, new, absurd thing, when I tell you, you must be regenerated in the way I have explained, if ever you would enter into the kingdom of heaven. Reflect on this in a quiet moment and your common sense and experience will tell you, that as heaven is the region of perfect holiness, and as you are indisputably corrupted, depraved creatures, you must be changed in such a way, as to be made holy; or, in other words, you must be born again, before you can enjoy the happiness of that holy place!
Or consult the Bible, which you must acknowledge to be true, or own yourselves to be the most gross hypocrites in professing the Christian religion; consult your Bible, and you will find the absolute necessity of being born again asserted in the strongest terms. Need I remind you of the solemn statement of Christ in our context, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God!" The same blessed lips have assured us, that "unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matt 18:2) Paul speaks in the same way: "If anyone is in Christ," as we all must be before we can be saved by him, "he is a new creation!" (2 Cor 5:17) "We are his workmanship," he says, "created in Christ Jesus to good works!" (Eph 2:10) "For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation." (Gal 6:15) All external forms of religion, whether Jewish or Christian, are of no value, without this new creation.
This is also more than hinted at in that comprehensive promise of the Old Testament in Ezekiel: “From all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. (26) And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. (27) And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ez 36:25-27)
And are not these repeated declarations enough to convince you of the necessity of this great change? Will you still marvel, when you are told that you must be born again? Actually, you should marvel at hearing the opposite! It may indeed astonish you, to be told, that an unholy sinner, without any change, is fit for the presence of a holy God, fit to relish the holy enjoyments of heaven: and capable of being happy in what is directly contrary to his nature. This would be a strange, absurd teaching indeed! and wherever you hear it, you may justly wonder at it, and despise such nonsense!
Now if this is true, that "unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God,” then it will follow that, the number of people in this gathering who have been born again, is the number of people who are in a state of favor with God, and prepared for the happiness of heaven. And, on the other hand, the number of people who are unregenerate, is the number of people that lie dead in sin, under the wrath of God, and liable to everlasting misery. Let each of you personally allow this conviction to settle in your mind: "If I am not born again, I have not the least ground to hope for happiness in my present state!"
This leads to another question, of the utmost importance; and that is: Have you ever experienced the blessed change of the new birth? Have your views, your dispositions, and your conduct been changed in the manner described? And can you lay claim to those distinguishing characters of a regenerate soul, which have been mentioned? Pause, and think seriously; recollect your past experiences; look into your own hearts; observe the tone of your practice; and from the whole, endeavor to gather an honest answer to this grand question, "Have I ever been born again?"
If you can answer yes to this, Peter will tell you the happy consequence; Hear what he says in the first chapter of his first letter: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Pe 1:3-7)
But if, on the other hand, you find that you have never been born again, what is to be done? Must you still remain in that condition? or should you try to get out of it? I assure you that my goal in endeavouring to let you see your condition, is, that you may escape out of it and be eternally happy; and if you are so kind to yourselves as to agree with me in this goal, I hope, through divine grace, we shall succeed. This introduces the next heading, namely,
II. Who is the author of this divine change, called the new birth?
The change is so great, so noble, and divine, that from this alone we may deduce that it can be produced only by the power of God. And the nature of man, in its present state, is so corrupt and weak, that it neither wants nor is able to produce it. The new birth is consistently ascribed to God in the Scriptures. The regenerate soul is repeatedly said to be born of God; "born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." (Jn 1:13) "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures." (Jas 1:17-18) The Spirit is repeatedly mentioned as the author of the new birth, in the chapter where our text is found. This should be sufficient for the truth of so plain a point.
Here then, sinners, you see to whom you must look for this blessing. You can no more regenerate yourselves, than you could bring about your own birth. And this is something that should be very clear to you. But he who made you at first, is able to make you anew, and to repair his own workmanship, which you have demolished. And it is he who has actually changed many a heart in our guilty world. Here the next heading comes in very appropriately, namely,
III. In what way does God produce this change?
He is pleased to use such a variety ways, depending on the circumstances, that it would not be possible to describe them all. But as to the substance of the work, which is the same in everyone, he generally carries it out in the following manner:
The first step is, to convince the sinner of his need of this change, by revealing to him his guilt and danger, and particularly the universal corruption of his nature. He is awakened out of a state of senseless security by a disturbing view of the holiness of God, of the purity of his law, of the terror of its penalty, of the great evil of sin, and of his own precarious state with respect to God’s displeasure on account of it.
At this point, he becomes sad and serious, uneasy in his mind, and anxious about his spiritual condition. He endeavors to reform his life; he prays, and uses the other means of grace with an earnestness altogether new to him. And when he has done this for a while, he begins perhaps to flatter himself, that now he is in a safe condition. But unfortunately! he does not yet know the worst of himself!
Therefore, the Holy Spirit opens his eyes to see the inward universal corruption of his whole soul, and that a mere outward reformation is far from being a sufficient cure for such a chronic disease.
And so now, the awakened sinner applies himself to the use of the means of grace with redoubled vigor and earnestness, and strives to change the principles of action within. But he finds that his heart is a stubborn thing, and altogether unmanageable to him; and after repeated unsuccessful efforts, he is effectually convinced of his own inability, and the absolute need of the intervention of divine power to make him truly holy. Therefore, he comes to the throne of grace, as a poor, anxious, helpless sinner, entirely at God's mercy, and unable to help himself.
It would take up more time than we have, to describe the various exercises, the anxious fears, and eager yearnings, the strong cries and tears of a soul in this condition! What I have hinted at, may give those of you who have never been the subjects of them, at least some idea of them.
While the sinner is in this desponding situation, it pleases God to pity him. Now the important hour has come, when the old man must be crucified; when the divine and immortal principles must be implanted in a heart full of sin; and when the dead sinner must begin to live a holy and divine life! The great God instantaneously changes the whole soul, and gives it a new, a heavenly turn. In short, now is brought about that important change, which I have already described, which is called the new birth, and defines the man as 'a new creature'.
Here again you may find material for self-examination. If you have been born again, you have felt those pangs of a new birth, and seen your guilty, sinful, and dangerous condition in a true light. And you can put your hand to your heart, and say, "Here is the heart that has been the subject of this operation!"
From this also we may gather some helpful directions for those still in a natural, unregenerate state, as to how to reach the new birth:
1- Endeavor to be thoroughly acquainted with the corruption of your nature: it is from this,
that the necessity of a new birth comes out of.
2- Be fully convinced of the indispensable necessity of this change to your salvation.
3- Break off from and forsake whatever tends to obstruct the new birth; such as excessive worldly cares,
bad company, and in short, all sin.
4- Seriously use all the means of grace; such as, earnest prayer, attentive hearing and
reading of the Word.
5- Persevere in so doing, until your endeavors are crowned with success. And particularly,
do not grow impatient of those anxieties and fears which will at first accompany your
These short hints are enough by way of direction, if you sincerely desire help.
And what do you determine to do? Will you not resolve to seek after this important change, upon which your eternal all depends?
What a wonderful thing it would be if we could part today fully determined about this, that we will implore the power and mercy of God to create in us clean hearts, and renew within us right spirits.