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of another birth, how is Nicodemus surprised! This he cannot understand. This seems strange, new doctrine 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 the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?" This objection, which was altogether impertinent, and founded upon a gross mistaken notion of the doctrine, may serve as a specimen of all the objections that have been made against this doctrine ever since; they have all proceeded from ignorance, or from gross mistaken notions of an evident truth; and hence men have imagined, like this master of Israel, that they reasoned strongly against it, when in reality they were saying nothing at all to the purpose, and did not so much as understand the case.
Our condescending Lord took a great deal of pains to give Nicodemus right notions of this doctrine. For this purpose he presents it before him in various views. He tells him, he did not mean a second natural birth, but a birth of water and of the spirit; a birth that renders a man spiritual, and consequently fit for that spiritual kingdom he was about to erect; and that the free and Sovereign Spirit of God, the Author of this new birth, operated like wind, which bloweth where it listeth. Nicodemus still continues gazing at him, and wondering what he should mean. He is puzzled, after all, and asks, How can these things be? Jesus tells him the wonder did not lie in the doctrine, but in his ignorance of it, when he was a teacher of the law; Art thou a master in Israel, and knowest not these things?
The connection of my text is this: "That which is born of the flesh, is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit, is spirit; therefore, marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again." That is to say, "The
doctrine you are so much surprised at, is not at all absurd, so as to make you wonder to hear it from my mouth. 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 hence, 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 am come to set up. Now, if this be the case, you have certainly no need to marvel at this doctrine: 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 contrary.
It is one part of my design to-day to inquire, Whether the doctrine of the new birth be 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 be not rational, necessary, and worthy of universal acceptance? But before I enter upon this, it will be proper to inquire,
What the new birth is?
Who is the author of it?
And in what way does he generally produce it?
Remove your prejudices, my hearers, against this doctrine, suspend your disbelief, and cease to wonder at or ridicule it, till these points be explained, lest you be found to speak evil of the things you know not.
1. Let us inquire, What it is to be born again?
To gain your attention to this inquiry, I need only put you in mind, that whatever be meant by the new birth, it is not an insignificant speculation, not the disputed peculiarity of a party, not the attainment of a few good
men of the first class, but it is essential to every good man, and absolutely necessary to salvation. You cannot doubt of this, if you look upon Jesus Christ as a person of common veracity, and worthy of credit in his most solemn declarations; for he has declared, over and over again, with the utmost solemnity, that Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of heaven. John iii. 3, 5, and 7. Attend, then, if you think your eternal salvation worthy of
The phrase, to be born again, like most other expressions used upon divine subjects, is metaphorical, and brings in natural things with which we are familiarly acquainted, to assist our conceptions of divine things, which might otherwise be above our comprehension. 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 lineaments 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 St. Paul expresses it, we are renewed after his image in knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness. Eph. iv. 24; Col. iii. 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." In our first birth we are
Flesh of flesh, and spirit of spirit. This is according to the established laws of generation, by which every thing begets its like.
endowed 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 temper 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, till they at length arrive to maturity. In like manner, in our second birth, all the principles of virtue and grace are implanted; but their growth and improvement is the work of the Christian life and from that time they continue gradually growing, though with many interruptions, till at death they arrive at maturity and perfection. In our natural birth we pass through a very great change. The infant that had lain 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 like manner, in the second birth, the sinner passes through a great change: a change as to his view of divine things: as to his temper, his practice, and his state; a change so great, that he may with propriety be denominated another man, or a new creature. As I shall adjust my discourse to the narrow limits of an hour, I must pass over, or but slightly touch upon all the particulars suggested by the metaphor in my text, except the last, which is the most comprehensive and instructive: namely, that the new birth implies a great change in the views, the temper, the practice, and the state of the sinner; and under this head, sundry of the other particulars may be reduced.
The various forms of expression, which the Scripture uses to represent what is here called a second birth, all conspire to teach us, that it consists in a great change. It is represented as a resurrection, or a change from death
to life: You hath he quickened, saith St. Paul, who were dead in trespasses and sins. Eph. ii. 1. It is represented as a new creation: If any man be in Christ, says the same inspired author, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new. 2 Cor. v. 17. Put on, says he, the new man, which, after God, is created in righteousness and true holiness. Eph. iv. 24. These and like expressions signify 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 are agreeable to 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 old man still." But if we see a great alteration in his appearance, his temper, or behaviour, we are apt to say, "He is a new man" or, "He is quite another creature." 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 significant and popular, that they have even passed into proverbs, and that in various countries and languages; and hence they are used in the Scriptures as plain and familiar representations of this great truth. And hence we are bold to use them, in spite of that senseless ridicule and contempt, which some would cast upon them; but which rebounds upon themselves, for censuring modes of expression that are not only sacred, but agreeable to common sense.
Now, since it is evident the new birth signifies 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 desti