Regeneration: What Is It? Part 2

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Having, in a former paper, endeavored to show, from various passages of scripture, that regeneration, or the new birth, is not a change of man's fallen nature, but the imparting of a new-a divine nature, we shall now, in dependence upon the blessed Spirit's teaching, proceed to consider how the new birth is produced-how the new nature is communicated. This is a point of immense importance, inasmuch as it places the word of God before us as the grand instrument which the Holy Ghost uses in quickening dead souls. " By the word of the Lord were the heavens made and by the word of the Lord are dead souls called into new life. The word of the Lord is creative and regenerating. It called worlds into existence; it calls sinners from death to life. The same voice which, of old, said, " let there be light," must, in every instance, say, " let there be life."
If my reader will turn to the third chapter of John's gospel, he will find, in our Lord's interview with Nicodemus, much precious instruction in reference to the mode in which regeneration is produced. Nicodemus held a very high place in what would be termed the religious world. He was " a man of the Pharisees "-" a ruler of the Jews "- "a master of Israel." He could hardly have occupied a more elevated or influential position. But yet, it is very evident that this highly privileged man was ill at ease. Despite of all his religious advantages, his heart felt a restless craving after something which neither his Pharisaism, not yet the entire system of Judaism could supply. It is quite possible he might not have been able to define what he wanted; but he wanted something, else he never would have " come to Jesus by night." It was evident that the Father was drawing him, by a resistless, though most gentle hand, to the Son; and the way He took of drawing him was by producing a sense of need which nothing around him could satisfy. This is a very common case. Some are drawn to Jesus by a deep sense of guilt; some by a deep sense of need. Nicodemus, obviously, belongs to the latter class. His position was such as to preclude the idea of anything like gross immorality, and, hence, it would not, in his case, be so much guilt on his conscience, as a void in his heart. But it comes to. the same, in the end. The guilty conscience and the craving heart must both be brought to Jesus, for He alone can perfectly meet both the one and the other. He can remove, by His precious sacrifice, every stain from the conscience; and He can fill up, by His peerless Person, every blank in the heart. The conscience which has been purged by the blood of Jesus, is perfectly clean; and the heart which is filled with the Person of Jesus, is perfectly satisfied.
However, Nicodemus had, like many beside, to unlearn a great deal, ere he could really grasp the knowledge of Jesus. He had to lay aside a cumbrous mass of religious machinery, ere he could apprehend the divine simplicity of God's plan of salvation. He had to descend from the lofty heights of Rabbinical learning and traditionary religion, and learn the alphabet of the gospel, in the school of Christ. This was very humiliating to " a man of the Pharisees"-" a ruler of the Jews"-"a master of Israel." There is nothing of which man is so tenacious as his religion and his learning; and, in the case of Nicodemus, it must have sounded passing strange upon his ear when "a teacher come from God" declared to him, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Being by birth a Jew, and, as such, entitled to all the privileges of a son of Abraham, it must have involved him in strange perplexity, to be told that he must be born again -that he must be the subject of a new birth, in order to see the kingdom of God. This was a total setting aside of all his privileges and distinctions. It called him down, at once, from the very highest to the very "lowest step of the ladder." A Pharisee, a ruler, a master, was not one whit nearer to, or fitter for, this heavenly kingdom, than the most disreputable of the children of men. This was deeply humbling. If he could carry all his advantages and distinctions with him, so as to have them placed to his credit in this new kingdom, it would be something. This would secure for him a position in the kingdom of God far above that of a harlot or a publican. But, then, to be told that he must he horn again, left him nothing to glory in. This, I repeat, was deeply humbling to a learned, religious, and influential man.
But it was puzzling as well as humbling. " Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?" Surely not. There would be no more gained by a second natural birth than by a first. If a natural man could enter, ten thousand times, into his mother's womb and be born, he would be naught but a natural man, after all; for " that which is born of the flesh is flesh." Be what you will with flesh-with nature, and you cannot alter or improve it. Nothing could change flesh into spirit. You may exalt it to the rank of a Pharisee, a ruler of the Jews, a master of Israel-and you could hardly make it higher, but it will be flesh, notwithstanding. If this were more generally and clearly apprehended, it would prove the saving of fruitless labor to hundreds. Flesh is of no value whatever. In itself, it is but withered grass; and as to its most pious endeavors, its religious advantages and attainments, its works of righteousness, they have been pronounced by the pen of Inspiration to be " as filthy rags." (Isa. 64:66But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. (Isaiah 64:6).)
But, let us see the mode in which our blessed Lord replies to the "how?" of Nicodemus. It is peculiarly inter-eating. "Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, 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 that I said unto thee, ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit." (John 3:5-85Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. 8The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. (John 3:5‑8).) Here, we are distinctly taught that regeneration, or the new birth, is produced by " water and the Spirit." A man must be born of water and of the Spirit, ere he can see the kingdom of God, or enter into its profound and heavenly mysteries. The keenest mortal vision cannot "see" the kingdom of God, nor the most gigantic human intellect " enter" into the deep secrets thereof. "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Cor. 2:1414But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14).) " Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God."
It may be, however, that many are at a loss to know what is meant by being "born of water." Certainly, the expression has been made the ground of very much discussion and controversy. It is only by comparing scripture with scripture that we can ascertain the real sense of any particular passage. It is a special mercy for the unlettered Christian-the humble student of the inspired volume, that he need not travel outside the covers of that volume, in order to interpret any passage contained therein.
What, then, is the meaning of being " born of water?" We must reply to this question by quoting two or three passages from the word. In the opening of John's gospel, we read, "He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." (chap. i. 11-13.) From this passage, we learn that every one who believes on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ is born again-born of God. This is the plain sense of the passage. All who, by the power of God the Holy Ghost, believe on God the Son, are born of God the Father. The source of the testimony is divine; the object of the testimony is divine; the power of receiving the testimony is divine; the entire work of regeneration is divine. Hence, instead of being occupied with myself and inquiring, like Nicodemus, how can I be born again? I have simply to cast myself, by faith, on Jesus, and thus I am born again. All who put their trust in Christ, have gotten a new life, are regenerated.
Again, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come-into judgment; but is passed from death unto life." (John 5:2424Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. (John 5:24).) "Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on me hath everlasting life." (John 6:4747Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. (John 6:47).) "But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that, believing, ye might have life through his name." (John 20:3131But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name. (John 20:31).) All these passages go to prove that the only way in which we can get this new and everlasting life is by simply receiving the record concerning Christ. All who believe that record, have this new, this eternal life. Mark, it is not those who merely say they believe, but those who actually do believe, according to the sense of the word in the foregoing passages. There is life-giving power in the Christ whom the Word reveals, and in the Word which reveals Him. "Verily, verily, I say unto you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live." And, then, lest ignorance should marvel, or skepticism sneer at the idea of dead souls hearing, it is added, " Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment." (John 5:25, 28, 2925Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. (John 5:25)
28Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, 29And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation. (John 5:28‑29)
.) The Lord Christ can make dead souls, as well as dead bodies, hear His quickening voice. It is by His mighty voice that life can be communicated to either body or soul. If the infidel or the skeptic reasons, and objects, it is simply because he makes his own vain mind the standard of what ought to be, and, thus, entirely shuts out God. This is the climax of folly.
But the reader may feel disposed to inquire, " What has all this to do with the meaning of the word é water,' in John 3:55Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (John 3:5)? " It has to do with it, inasmuch as it shows that the new birth is produced, the new life communicated by the voice of Christ, which is, really, the word of God, as we read, in the first chapter of James, " of his own will begat he us with the word of truth." (v. 18.) So also, in first Peter, " Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever." (chap. i. 23.) In both these passages, the word is expressly sot forth as the instrument by which the new birth is produced. James declares that we are begotten "by the word of truth;" and Peter declares that we are " born again by the word of God." If, then, our Lord speaks of being " born of water," it is obvious that He represents the Word under the significant figure of "water"-a figure which " a master of Israel" might have understood, had he only studied, aright, Ezek. 36; 25-27
There is a beautiful passage in the epistle to the Ephesians in which the word is presented under the figure of water. " Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word.''' (chap. v. 25, 26.) So also, in the epistle to Titus: " Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he shed on us abundantly, through Jesus Christ our Savior; that, being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life." (chap. iii. 5-7.)
From all these quotations, we learn that the word of God is the grand instrument of which the Holy Ghost makes use in calling dead souls into life. This truth is confirmed, in a peculiarly interesting manner, by our Lord's conversation with Nicodemus, for, instead of replying to the repeated inquiry, " how can these things be?" He sets this "master of Israel" down to learn the simple lesson taught by " the brazen serpent." The bitten Israelite, of old, was to he healed by simply looking at the serpent of brass on the pole. The dead sinner, now, is to get life by simply looking at Jesus, on the cross, and Jesus on the throne. The Israelite was not told to look at his wound, though it was the sense of his wound that made him look. The dead sinner is not told to look at his sins, though it is the sense of his sins that will make him look. One look at the serpent healed the Israelite; one look at Jesus quickens the dead sinner. The former had not to look a second time to be healed; the latter had not to look a second time to get life. It was not the way he looked, but the object he looked at, that healed the Israelite; it is not the way he looks, but the object he looks at, that saves the sinner. " Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth."
Such was the precious lesson which Nicodemus was called to learn-such the reply to his "how?" If a man begins to reason about the new birth, he must be confounded; but if he believes in Jesus, he is born again. Man's reason can never understand the new birth; but the word of God produces it. Many are astray as to this. They are occupied with the process of regeneration, instead of the word which regenerates. Thus are they perplexed and confounded. They are looking at self, instead of at Christ; and as there is an inseparable connection between the object at which we look and the effect of looking at it, we can easily see what must be the effect of looking in upon oneself. What would an Israelite have gained by looking at his wound? Nothing. What did he gain by looking at the serpent? Health. What does a sinner gain, by looking at himself? Nothing. What does he gain by looking to Jesus? " Everlasting life."
(To be continued, if the Lord will)