Marvel not that I said unto thee, ye must be born again. - John iii:7.
The interview between Jesus Christ and Nicodemus gave rise to one of the most interesting and instructive conversations recorded in the Bible. This ruler of the Jews went to the Savior by night and accosted him in respectful language, saying, "Master, 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." The Redeemer, in reply, paying no attention, to the compliment of Nicodemus, instructed him as to the nature and necessity of regeneration. The subject, however, was involved in mysterious and impenetrable darkness. Nicodemus inquired, with amazement, "How can these things be?" a question equally indicative of astonishment and incredulity. His incredulous surprise did not deter the great Teacher from uttering, with solemn emphasis, the words of the text, "Ye must be born again." Let us consider,
I. The Nature of Regeneration.
. The idea of renovation implied in the term
regeneration, does not pertain primarily to the physical nor to the intellectual faculties. The regenerated man has the same bodily conformation after this change as before. His mental peculiarities remain. The intellect, considered abstractly, like the body, is affected only so far as the moral powers exert an influence over it. This leads me to remark that regeneration is a spiritual change. I call it a spiritual change not merely because it is produced by the Spirit of God, as I intend to show, but because it takes place in the spirit of the subject. The heart is the theater of the operation, and the revolution effected there involves the illumination of the understanding, the consecration of the affections, and the rectification of the will. To use Paul's language, "The eyes of the understanding are enlightened." "You were once darkness, but are now light in the Lord." The affections of the unrenewed soul are placed on unworthy objects, and cleave to them with a tenacity as desperate as depravity is dreadful. There is no relish for spiritual objects. There is no admiration of holiness. There is no appreciation of moral excellency. There is no love to God. The affections are so alienated from him as to be irreclaimable by any human means. Man, by sinning, sundered the golden chain that bound him to the throne of God, but he can not reunite the broken links of that chain. Regeneration recalls the affections from unworthy objects and places them supremely on the ever blessed Jehovah
- enshrines them in his infinitely perfect character. "Every one that loveth is born of God." This love is an unquestionable proof of regeneration. The will of the unregenerate is perverse. It conflicts with the will of God. It chooses sin and rejects holiness; it chooses cursing and death rather than blessing and life. Its obliquity is in regeneration overcome and rectified; its perverted action is arrested and changed. "Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power." Regeneration causes the will of the creature to coincide with the will of the Creator. It is God who works in man "to will and to do of his good pleasure." The will of the regenerate having been changed by divine grace, gladly chooses the objects on which the consecrated affections are placed.
The definition to be given of regeneration must depend on the point of moral observation we occupy. If, for example, we contemplate the sinner as the enemy of God, regeneration is the subdual of his enmity and the creation of love in its stead. If we consider the sinner the "child of the devil," regeneration is the change which makes him the "child of God." If we regard the unregenerate as totally destitute of the moral image of God, regeneration consists in stamping that image upon them. Or, if we view them as "dead in trespasses and sins," regeneration is the impartation of divine life. Thus, various definitions, not conflicting but harmonious, may be
given of regeneration according to the points of moral observation of which we avail ourselves.
II. The Necessity of Regeneration.
This part of the subject has been somewhat anticipated in what has been said of the depravity of our nature; for it is depravity that renders regeneration necessary. Depravity has separated man from God - has produced alienation. How is a reunion to be brought about? There must be a reunion if ever man is saved; and as the two parties, God and man, are at variance, a change must take place in one or both of the parties before there can be a reconciliation. But God is unchangeable; the change must therefore, if it occur at all, occur in man. Do you not see the necessity of regeneration? It is as necessary as the salvation of the soul is desirable; for there can be no salvation without reconciliation with God.
The necessity of regeneration also appears in the fact that without it we can not become the children of God. Those who are new creatures in Christ Jesus, have been "born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." Being born of God is essential to our partaking of his nature, and this participation of his nature is implied in our being his children. "That which is born of the Spirit is spirit" - that is, partakes of the nature of its Author. If we can not become the children of God independently of regeneration, how important
is regeneration! Language can not give an adequate description of its importance. The necessity of regeneration is likewise apparent, because the unregenerated can not enter heaven, and if they could, they would be miserable there. It is one of the fundamental laws of social existence, that we can not be happy in the society of one another unless there be similarity of disposition. On the other hand, social happiness results from congeniality of feeling. We see this principle illustrated every day; we see it in the gay assemblies of the lovers of pleasure; we see it in the vulgar carousals of the dissipated; we see it in the companies of the educated and intellectual; we see it when the people of God meet and take sweet counsel together. In all these there is a similarity of feeling congeniality of disposition. Now, suppose unregenerate sinners were admitted into heaven, and required to join the devotions of the sanctified. Would they be happy in the presence of a God they do not love? Would they be happy in rendering reluctant ascriptions of praise to his name? Would they be happy in mingling in society for which they feel no partiality? Surely not. The text is true: Ye must be born again. It has been well said, that 'heaven is a prepared place for a prepared people." Regeneration furnishes the moral preparation to relish and enjoy the bliss of heaven. This of itself is sufficient to show its transcendent importance.
III. The Author of Regeneration.
Who accomplishes this work? It is effected by divine agency. The phrase "born of God," is of frequent occurrence in the Bible. We have also the expression "born of the Spirit." No language could more clearly indicate the kind of agency employed in regeneration. The Spirit of God alone can renew the soul. It is his prerogative to quicken - to give life. All is death in the moral world without his influence. What breath is to animal life, that his operation is to spiritual life. "It is the Spirit that quickeneth." "And you hath he quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins." "God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ; and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together, in heavenly places, in Christ Jesus." Paul says of the Corinthians, "Ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshly tables of the heart." The same apostle, after informing us that those who "are in Christ are new creatures - that old things have passed away, and all things have become new" - immediately adds, "and all things are of God." Regeneration is, in several passages of Scripture, referred to under the imagery of creation. And who but God possesses creative power? Who but him can bring something out of nothing? To create is his
inalienable prerogative, and it also is his inalienable prerogative to regenerate. He says himself, "I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh." In the new covenant he says: "I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts." It is evident, from all these passages, that the regenerate are "born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." The agency in the work of regeneration is obviously and assuredly divine.
IV. The Means of Regeneration.
The instrumentality employed is the gospel - the truth of God. This a controverted point. Some argue that God renews the soul without the intervention of means. I think differently. Observe the following passages: "In Christ Jesus have I begotten you through the gospel." "Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth." "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth forever." "The sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God." It seems to me that the first three of these Scriptures prove positively the instrumentality of divine truth in regeneration, and the last passage indirectly establishes the same point; for if the Word of God is the instrument which the Spirit employs, why does he not employ it in regeneration?
Can any one assign a good reason? There is a sense in which we are born of the Spirit of God, and also a sense in which we are born of the Word of God. The agency of the Spirit and the instrumentality of the Word, are indicated by the two forms of expression. God uses means in the natural world, and why should He act on a different principle in the moral? He does not. The gift of the Bible, and the institution of the gospel ministry, prove that he does not. I suppose the Spirit of God, in regenerating the heart, makes use of truth previously lodged in the understanding. The Word of God presents the motives which the same Agent employs in influencing the heart. The Spirit alone can render the means effectual. What can means do without an agent to use them?
Such is the importance of regeneration it has been truly said: "To be born is an everlasting calamity unless we are born again."
[From J. M. Pendleton, Short Sermons on Important Subjects, 1859. This book is from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary Library, Wake Forest, NC via ILL through Boone County Public Library, Burlington, KY. - Jim Duvall]
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