Ye Must Be Born Again" Our Regeneration

 •  37 min. read  •  grade level: 6
THOUGH YOU KNEW all the duties incumbent upon a royal prince, this knowledge would not make you a royal prince. You must be in a position before you can act under the laws of that position. This natural order in human things admitted by all men is quite reversed when they begin to speculate on divine things. God's order is this: He makes us sons; we are to walk like sons. Man says, "Try to walk like sons, and after a shorter or longer time you will be made sons." But we must be brought out of the kingdom of darkness before we can take the first step in the kingdom of light. Before we can enter this kingdom we must have a nature capable of enjoying it. A nature can be implanted only by birth; therefore we must be born again. This subject is gone fully into in John 3.
Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, came to Jesus and said to Him, "WE KNOW . . ."
Jesus answered him by saying, "Except a man BE BORN AGAIN . . ."
There is a great difference between what we know and what we are; a great difference between our attainments, education, talents, and knowledge and our standing before God and our relation to God. Nicodemus was an inquiring man, who had been convinced of Christ's claims by external evidences, and whose conscience was now seeking after something deeper and more satisfactory. He came with this profession of knowledge, "Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him" (John 3:22The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. (John 3:2)). Jesus, because He knew all men and all the thoughts of men, answered, not the words but the need of Nicodemus, by showing that all his knowledge would never save him or any other man, for "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus, by nature, however well instructed, could never see God's kingdom.
Christ Not a Teacher of the Old Nature
He Is First a Saviour, Then a Teacher
In the present day, in certain quarters, we hear a good deal about Christ as the perfect man, the perfect example, and the perfect teacher, but here is the answer of Jesus Himself to all such compliments. He came not to teach the old nature—not to teach man as sprung from Adam, but to seek and save the lost, to give the new nature, and to teach saved men. The policy of all who have openly or in thought denied the divinity of Christ, is to laud His moral teaching and His Godlike example. They bring well-known and fondly-cherished truths forward, as if only they believed and preached these great facts, but at the outset they forget this insurmountable barrier to all moral reclamation of the old nature of man: "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
We find others, however, who know Christ not merely as a teacher, but who also believe in His divinity, that He is God as well as man. In fact, many in our land know every fundamental doctrine in the Bible, but a mere knowledge of doctrine, however true, never introduced a son of Adam into the kingdom of God. Men may have learned what justification, sanctification, and adoption are; they may be able to distinguish minutely between all the creeds, isms, and heresies, they may be theoretically orthodox, may be able to judge preachers and sermons, may be very ready freely to. criticize most men they hear, and graciously pay beautiful compliments to their special favorites, as Nicodemus did to Jesus. They may know, moreover, about the new birth, its necessity and divine origin, but notwithstanding all this, they could not dare to say, as before God, "Whereas we were blind, now we see." The greatest amount of theological education never yet saved a man. Creed, or the belief in a certain amount of doctrine, has made Christendom, but never made a Christian. "Ye must be born again."
Others, when their consciences have been reached, try to get this new birth brought about and begin most zealously to train and trim, to educate and reform their old nature, quite ignorant of what is meant by "born again."
The Old Nature Unchanged and Unchangeable
Nicodemus wondered how a man when old could be brought again into this world. If it were possible, what better would he be? He might have changed his circumstances by this new birth according to the flesh, but would he have changed kingdoms? He would still be in the kingdom of the first Adam; he would still be flesh, for Jesus goes on to say, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh" (v. 6). Water never rises above its level; that which is produced. is of the same nature as that which produces. We find people today who think that if they were in other circumstances they would have a better chance of getting saved. The rich man thinks that if he were poor, he might have time to think .4 religion. The poor man thinks that if he could get ends to meet and had a little more money he would have more leisure to think of God. But the difficulty is not so much in what is around us, as in what is within us.
Again, the aids of religion are called in, in order that the flesh may be improved, but after all attempts, it is found to be only religious flesh. Man may have all varieties of it, but it never will rise to see the kingdom of God. In nature, we speak of the animal kingdom and the vegetable kingdom. If we took a rose and cultivated and trained it, and by our various acts made it produce all its varieties, we never by these means could bring it from the vegetable kingdom into the animal kingdom. If I take a nettle from the roadside and bring it into my garden or my hothouse, watch over, dress, water, and warm it, I may produce beautiful nettles and beautiful varieties of nettle, but I never could get apples from it. That which is produced from the nettle is nettle. We can never gather grapes of thorns, nor figs of thistles.
Man by nature is in the kingdom of the first Adam; no amount of reformation, amelioration, cultivation, civilization, or religiousness, can bring one single man into the kingdom of God. Look through Great Britain and Ireland, and what is the object of the great bulk of the religious machinery? Is it not for cultivating the flesh, in order that, after death, it may see the kingdom of God? This is no guess. It is the sad confession of godly men in all the churches—godly bishops, godly rectors, godly pastors, elders and deacons. All unite in the same complaint, and do their best against it. The majority of respectable religious people, as good as Nicodemus, a master in Israel, do not know the practical power of this truth which stands at the door of God's kingdom. They put salvation at the end of a long series of self-improvement processes. God puts the salvation of the soul at the very beginning, and all duties that in their discharge can honor Him are founded upon this fact. "Man's chief end is [not to get the soul saved, but] to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever," starting with being saved for nothing as the means to this end.
The Absolute Necessity of a New Nature
Before I can enter God’s kingdom I must have a new nature, that can appreciate, see, live in, and enjoy that kingdom. Ask a blind man what red is. He has no idea of it, because he cannot see, because he has not the capacity. Educate him in the mixing of colors. Tell him that the blue and yellow mixed make green. He may soon remember this, and know much more; by that knowledge he never saw a color.
The questions, therefore, of most importance to you are not these: Do you know doctrine? Do you know Christ's teaching? Do you know your Bible? Do you know the evidences of Christianity? Do you know that Christ is God, that Christ is a Saviour? Do you know that He is able and willing to save? You may know all that and be lost forever. But are you born again? Are you a partaker of a new nature, a divine nature? Are you an heir of God? Is your standing now in Christ or in Adam?
Before I can see the kingdom of God, I must have the nature implanted that belongs to that kingdom. This is something more than a mere thought of sin forgiven or righteousness obtained. It is a question of capacity, of fitness to enjoy, of likeness of nature. What an awful thought that so many religiously educated people are lost! What a Hell, where the good, decent religious sons of Adam have to be forever shut up with the profane person, the drunkard, the abominable, and the unclean!
Think for a moment. Did Jesus speak truth or tell lies? If He spoke truth, those who have not been born again—however intelligent, educated, moral, benevolent, or religious—can never see the kingdom of God, and must, therefore, be swept away forever with the lost, for there are only two places. What a Hell! Frequenters of cathedrals and frequenters of gin palaces, tract distributors and pickpockets, drawing-room meeting religionists and the off-scourings of the streets! Priests who, with solemn mien, pretended to stand between the people and God, and murderers who have been hung for their crimes! Teachers who knew everything in theology, and the profane, the swearer, the blasphemer, the infidel! These things will turn out true, whether you believe them or not. It was seen in the days of Noah. Is it to be your bitter experience? Hell is real. Eternal punishment is real. Christ's words are true, although they may be doubted or denied by the majority of men. The awful fact remains. Stop, therefore, high or low, rich or poor, educated or uneducated, intelligent or ignorant, religious man or blasphemer, respectable or profane, think, and ask yourself these questions: Am I born again? Have I a new life—a life communicated by the Spirit of God through the truth—born not of flesh, but of water (the Word, Eph. 5:2626That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, (Ephesians 5:26)) and the Spirit? Have I been born twice—once into this world of Adam and again into that of God? Friend, if you have not this new birth, it were better that you had never been born. Now, as you are, and where you are, whenever you are convinced of the necessity of this new birth, look and live; believe and be saved; take God, at His word. He says, "Ye must be born again," and in the same chapter it is written, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whosoever BELIEVETH in Him should not perish, but have ETERNAL LIFE."—What God demands, God provides.
How the New Nature Is Implanted
This new nature is not implanted by a process, but received by an act of faith. This new nature never sets aside as- to actual fact the old, never amalgamates, never becomes incorporated with it, never improves it, but "lusts" against it in the believer, wars against it, is "contrary" to it. And how is it implanted? Reader, this is of the greatest importance to you. Are you to look-for the new birth in your own frames or feelings, to an ordinance or an act of man? A mistake here is fatal. "Ye must be born again." How?
Jesus answers this and gives us the three things that are divinely and absolutely. essential for the new birth (John 3:77Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. (John 3:7)), seeing the kingdom (v. 3), entering the kingdom (v. 5), or having eternal life (v. 15), all these being but different aspects of the same truth. These three essentials are:
Water (v. 5).
The Spirit (vv. 5 and 8).
The Son of man lifted up (v. 14),
Let us consider each briefly.
This verse cannot in any way refer to baptism by water, the application of literal water to a man externally, as that would only wash his body and could not touch his inner man. Some would read the text, "except a man be born of baptism." According to this doctrine Old Testament saints could not be in the kingdom of God, as they were not baptized. Circumcision could not save a man. "Neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: . . . circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter" (Rom. 2:28, 2928For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: 29But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God. (Romans 2:28‑29)). No change on a man externally can profit. He may apply much niter and wash himself with much soap, but his leopard spots of sin still remain. Nor will mere education, reformation, cultivation, and training of the old nature turn flesh into spirit. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh." It may be decent or indecent flesh, religious or irreligious, pious or profane, but it is still flesh.
Some seeing this and understanding it, have now asked what can the "water" mean? This has been answered in several ways. Some say it is the same as the Spirit; others, that it is the same as the blood. But "there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit and the water, and the blood," so that if water was only another way of expressing either the working of the Spirit or the cleansing of the blood, there would be only two bearing testimony—the Spirit and the blood, and the water standing for either. We can solve the question by asking what should have come into the mind of Nicodemus when Christ spoke of water? He, a master in Israel, knew of a laver where every priest had to wash before he could enter into the holy place, for no unwashed foot ever trod that holy place. He, a master in Israel, knew the book of Ezekiel and the promise to be fulfilled in a coming day to Israel. "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: . . . And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them" (Ezek. 36:25, 26, 2725Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. 26A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. 27And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. (Ezekiel 36:25‑27)).
A teacher. in Israel should have been looking for the antitype of temple and laver, the true water of purification sprinkled to cleanse from defilement. He should have been conversant with the Psalm 119, which definitely explains what the water is (v. 9) : "Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed according to thy word."
The water here spoken of by Christ and typified in the Old Testament is the WORD OF GOD, the embodiment, the revelation of God's thoughts.
Let us search the Scriptures as to this: "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. For all flesh is as grass" (1 Pet. 1:23, 2423Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. 24For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: (1 Peter 1:23‑24)). In our text "flesh" is contrasted with the "Spirit," here "flesh" is contrasted with the "word." "The seed is the word of God" (Luke 8:1111Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. (Luke 8:11)). "The righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, . . . The word is nigh thee" (Rom. 10:6-86But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:) 7Or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.) 8But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; (Romans 10:6‑8)). "Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth" (James 1:1818Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. (James 1:18)). "Ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you" (John 15:33Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. (John 15:3)).
Since these all show that THE WORD is used by GOD in the new birth, I believe the Word is referred to in that place where Christ speaks of water to Nicodemus. But we have more direct evidence in Eph. 5:2626That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, (Ephesians 5:26), "That he might sanctify and cleanse it [the church] with the washing of water by the word." Thus, from Old Testament type, from New Testament analogy, and from direct scriptural statement in both 'the Old and New Testaments, the “water" in the new birth is proved to be the "Word of God."
And most important it is to See this. How am I born again by the Word? Water cleanses by displacement. Uncleanness and water cannot occupy the same space at the same moment; the water displaces the uncleanness, and thus cleanses. The Word of God does not act by teaching "the flesh," but by displacing all the thoughts of "the flesh," and putting in those of God.
The entrance of God's Word gives light (Ps. 119:130). Man was lost by hearing Satan; he is saved by hearing God. Man, in his natural Adam-standing, is a chaos. Nothing in him can meet or please the eye of God; he is without form and void, darkness brooding over him. When God, therefore, begins to re-create him (for "we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works," Eph. 2:1010For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)), He says, "Let there be light and light is, and it is by the entrance of His Word that this is done.
This Word of God judges everything in man. It puts God and His requirements before man. Human opinion is entirely set aside. By nature we are all apt to rest satisfied that there are many worse than we. "If I any-lost, many will have a poor chance," is sometimes said. This is quite true, for God's Word tells us we are all guilty and, as we saw in a former chapter, "there is no difference." All are condemned already; all are equally condemned. We compare ourselves with one another, or according as men are estimated—bad, good, or indifferent. God's Word comes like water and washes out all our thoughts and opinions.
"It's my idea," says one, "that if One tries to live a good life, this is all he can do." Of course, this is your idea, but all our thoughts are evil, and unless God's Word displaces our ideas we are undone.
"It's my opinion," says another, "that we must just do the best we can and trust in the mercy of God." Of course, this is your opinion, but the action of God's Word is like water to wash out our opinions. The first thing it tells me about myself and about all of us is that we are lost, depraved, guilty, and condemned.
But more than that, the Word of God brings in God's mind about Himself instead of my own; it lets God think for me, speak for me, act for me; it makes me passive, because I can be nothing else.
"Hear, and your soul shall live" (Isa. 55:33Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David. (Isaiah 55:3)). A man begins to speak, to pray, etc., when he wants to be saved. God says, "Hear!" God is praying to us, and should we not answer God's prayer before we begin to pray? He does beseech men by us (2 Cor. 5:2020Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:20)). His prayer is easily answered. He says, "Will you have my Son?" and the answer is "Yes" or "No." By thus hearing the Word of God and understanding it (Matt. 13:2323But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. (Matthew 13:23))-, we receive a new life from God in which God's thoughts reside and in which they act.
Let us now look at the Spirit's work in regeneration.
We must be born of the SPIRIT—not the Spirit apart from the Word—not the Word apart from the Spirit —not two births, but the one divine new birth. We see the Spirit and the Word as the living water (John 7:3838He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (John 7:38)). "He that believeth on me, as the scripture path said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive . . ." This was seen at Pentecost, when the rivers of living water (read Peter's sermon where a number of Old Testament quotations are given) flowed out to the salvation of thousands. The words of God were carried home by the Spirit—hence living water. The Word is the water, but it is stagnant or dead without the Spirit. Spirit and Word make living water. Again, Jesus said (John 6:6363It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. (John 6:63)), "the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life." Mere moral suasion, as it is called, never yet saved a man. This Word only operates as God's Spirit applies it. The vehicle is the Word, but the power is the Spirit.
If people are famishing in a town, and we intend to send supplies to them, we load the vans and wagons with bread and corn, and make up a large train. The entrance of these wagons will bring life to many a famished family, to many a dying man. Why delay, then? Why is the train lying useless at the station where there is plenty? We are waiting for that powerful engine which will speed it along. Screw up the coupling, make all fast. Now not only is the feast ready, but feast and guests are brought together. Christ Himself is the bread, the Word is the wagon, and the Spirit is the engine or power that brings Christ in the Word to us poor, perishing sinners.
God made a great feast, and bade many (Luke 14:1616Then said he unto him, A certain man made a great supper, and bade many: (Luke 14:16)); none came. "None of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper," is now what God has said. No merely invited guest ever came. We preach "Come"; we tell that all things are ready, that the feast is spread, the door open, that "yet there is room," but no man by this mere invitation ever came. As one has said, "God has to fill the chairs as well as the table." Five yoke of oxen or a piece of ground are of much more value to a natural man than the richest feast of God. God has to provide the guests as well as the feast. If there were no Christ provided, there would be no feast; if there were no Spirit working, there would be no guests. '
Ye must be born of the Spirit. Like produces like. "That which is born of the flesh" is not merely like "the flesh" but is "flesh," and "that which is born of the Spirit" is not like the Spirit, nor is it the Spirit (that would be incarnation), but "is spirit," and He dwells in that which He begets.
This is something quite different from "the flesh" being pardoned, then taught, then toned down, pervaded, and sanctified by the Spirit. We have the man, the I, the existing person with undivided responsibility, "born again" by the thoughts of God acting in him in power, and the mind and nature of God communicated to him by the Spirit. This now is the man's life, as the "flesh" was his life before. No Christian can have his standing "in the flesh." Alas, that ever any of us should walk in the flesh! "We are not in the flesh," but alas, the flesh is in us still.
A boat has been sailing on the salt ocean; it has come through many a storm, and, half full of the briny water, it is now sailing on the fresh water of the river. It is no longer in the salt water, but the salt water is in it. The Christian has gotten off the Adam-sea for ever. He is in the Christ-river for ever. Adam, which he is to mortify and to throw out, is still in him, but he is not in Adam. He has now a power, a position, and an inclination to judge himself. He knows himself. It was at this point that Paul exclaimed, "I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing." He is not two persons, but in the one person he has—and will have to his last hour here—two natures diametrically opposite, actively opposing each other. He now sees that "the flesh" lusts against the "Spirit," but the Spirit also lusts against the "flesh" in order that he may not walk as he used to walk; that these are contrary and therefore never can be friends, and that he has in him—and will have in him—a foe that is neither to be trifled with, nor trusted, but watched, warred with, and mortified.
But his life is in his new nature. He is now a "partaker of the divine nature," "born of God," and "an heir of God." Thus it is with every one who is born of the Spirit, Jew or Gentile, for God acts here in sovereignty. Connection with Abraham only gave them a fleshly standing, but a new thing is needed by the Jew as well as the Gentile, and is as free to the Gentile as to the Jew.
John 3:88The 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 3:8) is a most blessed verse. In it we read we poor sinners of the Gentiles have gotten in. Reader, never quarrel with the royal prerogative of God's grace. Read Rom. 9, and see that if we do not let God be absolute we have no chance of salvation, for we are all equally "condemned already." Praise His grace that hath now appeared to every nation under heaven!
But passing over Christ's testimony of the Father, as given in verses 9 to 13 (prophets had prophesied, but here is God himself), let us now look at
The Son of Man Lifted up
This, indeed, is our life. Christ said, "Ye MUST be born again," but here is another MUST that He mentions, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so MUST the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." God says, "Ye must," but He also says, "I must." Your Adam-life is forfeited, and you are under condemnation. The Son of man lifted up is the answer to the forfeit. Satan, who has the power of death, and has every man in his power (for all have sinned), has been destroyed as to his power, his head haying been bruised by Christ on the cross (Heb. 2:1414Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; (Hebrews 2:14)). But Christ is now risen and can communicate His life to any one who believes in Him, since He has satisfied every demand of God. The new birth is , the communication of a new life. Christ, beyond the doom of sin, is that life. Christ incarnate before His death cannot be "our life," because the judgment against the old life can only be met in death.
The "corn of wheat" must die before the fruit can be produced. The resurrection-life of Christ is, therefore, the new life preached to the sinner, and implanted in him on his believing—a life that is perfect, impeccable, indestructible, eternal as the Christ of God is—a life that has already proved victorious over the cross of shame, over death's strongest power—a life that will ere long swallow up mortality.
The Spirit of God applies the Word that speaks about the lifted-up Christ, whom we receive and rest upon for salvation, and this is the new birth. Such a life is offered only to a sinner. What a comfort! No righteous man, no earth-wise, no rich man ever entered the kingdom of God as such—only as justified sinners. None but redeemed sinners sing the song of that kingdom—none but those who—guilty, depraved, lost—have taken their place with roused consciences at the foot of the cross and there have seen the lifted-up Christ. All in that kingdom are "new creatures," clothed in "the best robe," with the "ring," and the "shoes," and "the fatted calf" slain. What perfection is in the Word of God! The Word tells me that unless I am born again I cannot enter God's kingdom, but the same Word tells me that if I am born again (though only a babe now) I am as sure of spending eternity with my Lord as if I were with Him. No hatred of devils, no enmity of the world, no power of the flesh, shall keep me out. We enter God's kingdom by being born again. We have eternal life even now! We have the germs of Heaven even here. We do not wait for that life, but. "he that believeth on the Son HATH everlasting life" (v. 36).
We have tried to shew thus briefly what is meant by being "born of water and of the Spirit." Read 1 John 5:66This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. (1 John 5:6), "This is he that came by water and blood, . . . not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. For they that bear witness are three; the Spirit, and the water, and the blood, and the three agree in one." (Correct translation.)
The blood is for expiation; that is, the Son of man was lifted up on the cross and His life taken for ours. "This is he that came by water and blood" (I John 5:66When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole? (John 5:6)).
The water is for moral cleansing; that is, the Word of God applied in power to our consciences cleanses. Jesus "came not by water only" (that is to say, not merely as a teacher of the Word), "but by water and blood." (He came certainly as the great teacher, but also as the great sacrifice, making atonement for sin.)
The Spirit is the witness from the throne of God to the value of that blood in the presence of God and the witness to our spirits by applying the Word (water), and thus morally cleansing. He is also the source, the framer, and the power of expression of every new feeling, thought, affection, or purpose in the new creation. "It is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth."
These three agree in one, meet in one point, work out one thing in their testimony, and this is the testimony, that "God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life" (I John 5:11, 1211He answered them, He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk. 12Then asked they him, What man is that which said unto thee, Take up thy bed, and walk? (John 5:11‑12)).
What any sinner, therefore, has to do in this new birth is to look to Christ on the cross, and where is he to look to Him now, as crucified, but in the Word? He is to believe what God says about His Son. God says, "I have given you Christ" (John 3:1616For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)). I believe it: therefore I thank God. I do not ask myself, "Do I feel it?" Since God says it, I appropriate it as mine. I believe His word by putting in my name where God puts His "whosoever." In this Word of God we get the Spirit's witness—God's testimony about His Son. God does the work: we believe the Word.
Reader, are you born again? You are not satisfied with yourself. Nor is God satisfied with you. You are not satisfied with your estimate of the work of Christ. Are you satisfied with God's estimate of it? The Spirit has come to tell out to us the value of that blood. Faith does not consist in my valuing it, but in my accepting God's value of it. God says, "When I see the blood, I will pass over you."
If you do not believe God's witness about His Son, you simply make God a liar. Now you must either make yourself a liar or God. Do you not think that it would be the better way to say, "Let God be true, but every man a liar"—myself the first liar? A man does not like to be called a liar, but God says, "every man." Until a man calls himself a liar, he makes God one. "He that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son. And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life -is in his Son." As long as you look within yourself for one idea, one opinion, one thought, you are listening to a liar. Call your heart a liar at once, and simply take God at His word. Receive His Son as He has given Him to you.
Reader, art thou born again? There was a moment that every Israelite had between being bitten and dying; that moment was given him to look and LIVE. That is thy brief moment of life. Hast thou looked and lived? God can do no more than He has done to provide life for thee. He spared not His Son!
Do not look to thy wounds, to thy sins, and think thus to get peace. Try no longer earth's prayers, religions, or works of righteousness. They are but ointments to thy sores that will never heal. Look away from all else to the serpent on the pole. The question is not whether thou hast great faith or little faith. It did not depend upon the length of the look, nor the earnestness of the look; it was the fact of looking that cured the bitten Israelite. Look and live! Thou hast only one brief, yet sufficient, moment of time.
But how are men spending this little moment? In making money, in indulging the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life! In gathering together the dust of their condemned cell into heaps and calling it riches! In gathering the straws that lie in their prison, and making crowns, and, like -madmen, playing at kings while death is written as their doom and the door of escape stands still open!
God is standing over them with this awful word, "YE MUST BE BORN AGAIN," and this other wondrous word, "THE SON OF MAN MUST BE LIFTED UP." He delivered up His Son to death. What a holy God! What a just, righteous, truthful God! When sin was lying on the sinless Christ, He could not let it pass. Do you think He will let you pass now after that awful day at Calvary? It is there that we read the doom of sin. How shall we escape from Him if we neglect His "so great salvation"? For it is not with God merely as a judge we have to do; it was His love that planned and wrought the whole redemption work. Doubly bitter will be your cup of wrath if you spurn the salvation of such a God, who desires to be known by you as LOVE, for in order that any poor sinner might be born again "God so loved the WORLD that He gave His only begotten Son, that WHOSOEVER believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:1616For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)).
Let us suppose that you are convinced of these important realities: that you are lost; that, therefore, your first need is a Saviour, not a teacher; that you have a nature incapable of enjoying God; that the new nature is gotten by your being born—born again of water (the Word) and the Spirit. But you cannot understand how this comes about. You cannot understand what is meant by looking to Christ as the bitten Israelites looked to the serpent on the pole. Let me illustrate it by a conversation I had one day with a man who had been hearing the Gospel preached and with whom I had to walk some miles.
I began by asking, "Have you ever thought of the great salvation?"
"Oh, yes," he replied, "I have often thought about it."
"And are you saved?"
"Well, I could not say that. I don't feel as I would like."
"I quite believe that, but do you think any of us could ever feel perfectly right in this world? Are you at peace with God?"
"I never could say that I am satisfied with myself."
"But, my friend, I did not ask if you were. It would be a very bad sign if you were satisfied with yourself. But are you at peace with God?"
"Well, I never could feel that I have peace."
"But I don't ask if you feel at peace with yourself; I hope you never will. Have you peace with God?" "To tell you the truth, I am not right."
"How long is it since you began to think of these things?"
"About seven or eight years ago, in the north of Ireland, I was first awakened by a minister preaching on 'Ye must be born again.' And often since that time I have been trying to feel God's Spirit working in me."
"And you never have?"
"No; I could not be sure."
"How could ever any one be sure of what was going on within him, especially as our enemy comes as an angel of light?"
"Well, what am I to do, then?"
"Jesus was the One, you remember, that said, 'Ye must be born again.' Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.' Now, at the end of all this conversation, Nicodemus did not know how to be saved, but only said, 'How can these things be?' even when Jesus Himself was the great Teacher."
"That's just where I am."
"Now, what did Jesus do? He took him away to the picture book for children and showed him the picture of a dying man looking away from himself to a serpent on a pole, thus obtaining life. Jesus told Nicodemus that 'as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.' Now, all you have to do is to look and live."
"But that is just what I've been trying to do, and what I don't know how to do. What is it to look to Christ?"
"Now I can understand your difficulty. You cannot see Christ with the eyes of your body; you cannot see Him in vision; you say that you cannot feel His presence within you; you cannot feel that you have faith."
"Exactly. What am I to do?"
"Allow me to give you an illustration." In some such words I spoke with my friend, and gave him the substance of the following illustration, which seemed to clear away his difficulty. I trust, by God's blessing, it may enable you to receive God's simple plan, and accept God's salvation for nothing.
You have a rent—say, $50.00 a year—to pay. Having to maintain a large family, and having been recently in distress and out of work, you find it impossible to pay it. Let us suppose that I was able, knew your difficulty, took pity on you, and said to you, "John, I hear you have your rent coming due, and having had very hard times, you will never be able to pay it. Now I want you to use your money for your most pressing wants, to get food and clothing for your wife and family, and look to me for the rent." You, knowing me, and hence believing me, would go away home with a burden off your mind and a happy heart. When you came home next Saturday with your wages, you would tell your wife to spend all the money in getting food and clothing.
"But, John," she would say, "are we not to lay aside something for the rent?"
"Oh, no," you would answer, "I met a man whom I know, and he said, 'Look to me for the rent,' and I believe him."
And thus weeks would go on till shortly before the rent day a neighbor comes in and says, "John, I have only got $25.00 gathered for my rent, and I don't know what I'm to do. How much have you?"
"None at all."
"What! have you nothing saved for rent?"
"No, for a friend of mine said, 'Look to me for the rent.''"
"And are you not getting anxious about it?"
"Because I trust him."
"Because I believe him."
"Because I know him."
By and by the rent day comes, and even your wife begins to be suspicious and doubtful, but you have implicit trust in what I said—you have no difficulty in understanding what "look to me for the rent" means. At the appointed hour, I walk in and make my word good and am happy to find that, against all your neighbor's doubts, against all your wife's fears, and even against all your own trembling, you have trusted my word and looked to me for the rent.
This is, of course, just an illustration, as I. have no doubt you are at the present quite able and willing to pay your own rent. But in the matter of our salvation, though we might be willing, we are totally unable. For this reason the Lord now says, "Look unto me, and be ye saved."
Christ on the cross has satisfied God's justice. He paid the debt for the sinner. Men are doing perfectly right things—praying, living moral lives, and giving money for charitable purposes—but all for the wrong end. All these will never save. God says, "Look to me for salvation." Having done this, begin to use your time, talents, money, and powers, for their legitimate end, to glorify God. Do not try to be holy in order to be saved. That would be like the man laying up for a rent which he could never pay. "Look unto me, and be ye saved," says God. Then be holy, because you are sure of salvation on the authority of God. Religion will never save you—even pure religion. God defines pure religion in James 1:2727Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. (James 1:27): "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world." By the deeds of the law we cannot be justified; therefore by doing all this we cannot be saved. Religion is the life of a saved man, not the efforts of an unsaved man to get saved. We do not try to do good in order to get a new nature, but we try to do good because we have received a new nature. The work which God will accept from you is not to the cross, it is from the cross to the crown. Jesus did ALL the saving work. He brought the cross to our level. Get saved by looking to Him, and then live to God. Do not look to the feeling of being saved. Look away from what is being wrought in you to what was wrought for you. We are not saved on account of the Spirit working in us, but by means of His work. We are saved on account of Christ -dying for us. We are not saved for faith, but through faith. "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth."
As a wounded, helpless, ungodly sinner, look away from yourself to Jesus, crucified for sin.
Look unto Me and be ye saved—
Look men of nations all;
Look rich and poor, look old and young—
Look sinners great and small!
Look unto Me and .be ye saved—
Look, now, nor dare delay;
Look as you are—lost, guilty, dead—
Look while 'tis called today!
Look unto Me and be ye saved—
Look from your doubts and fears;
Look from your sins of crimson dye,
Look from your prayers and tears!
Look unto Me and be ye saved-
Look to the work all done,
Look to the pierced Son of Man,
Look to your sin all gone!