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REGENERATION, OR THE NEW BIRTH.
John III. 3. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I
say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he
cannot see the kingdom of God. THE two grand truths of the Christian religion 1 are, our ruin in Adam, and our recovery in Christ: and, till we know both these, we cannot perform any duty, nor enjoy any privilege aright; we can neither serve God here, nor enter into his glory hereafter.
You must have observed, that the Scripture always divides mankind into two classes—the wicked and the righteous; sinners and saints; unbelievers and believers; heirs of hell, and heirs of heaven. These are mingled together on earth, but they will be separated at the day of judgment; and their eternal state will then be fixed, according to what was their true character here. What then can be of greater importance to us than to know our real state at present? And observe, that though there is that difference between men which was just mentioned, we are all by, nature in one and the same condition; that is, sinners and children of wrath. So that, unless a change pass upon us, we continue in it, live and die in it, . and are lost for ever.
This is the solemn truth which Jesus Christ, in our text, declared to Nicodemus. It may be proper to inform you who he was, and how Christ cane
to say this to him. Nicodemus, it appears, was a great man among the Jews. He was a teacher and a ruler; and, having heard that Jesus Christ had said and done many wonderful things, he came to him one night, being ashamed to come by day-light, and said, “ Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God.” Jesus Christ directly begins to teach Nicodemus; and he begins with the most important truth that ever was taught—the necessity of the new birth, which he asserts in the strongest manner possible: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” As if he had said, I, who am the truth itself, assure you that no man, considering his fallen and corrupt nature, can understand or enjoy the blessings of that kingdom of grace which I am come to set up; nor can he enter the kingdom of glory to which it leads, unless his heart be changed by power from above.
It seems that Nicodemus did not, at first, rightly understand what our Lord meant by this ; and he asked how it could be. But our Lord insists upon it again and again; and we doubt not that Nicodemus came to understand it at last, and really to become a new creature. The Lord grant that we also may become new creatures, so as to serve him here, and enjoy him hereafter!
The new birth signifies a great change made in the heart of a sinner by the power of the Holy Spirit. It means that something is done in us, and for us, which we cannot do for ourselves; something to which we were before strangers; something whereby we begin to live as we did not live before ; yea, something whereby such a life begins as shall last for ever; for, as by our first birth we are born to die, so by our second birth we are born to live for ever.
That we may better understand the new birth,
or this change of heart, let us more particularly consider,
1. The nature of this change; and,
II. The necessity of it. I. Let us consider the nature of this change. “It is not a change of the substance and faculties of the soul. Sin did not destroy the essence of the soul, but its rectitude ; so grace does not give a new faculty, but a new quality. It is not destroying the metal, but destroying the old stamp upon it, in order to imprint a new one. It is not breaking the candlestick, but putting a new light into it. It is anew stringing the instrument, to make new harmony."
Regeneration is a great change; or else such a term as “the new birth,” or “new creation," or " a resurrection,” would not be proper. When a child is born, its way of existing, and of getting nourishment is quite different from what it was before : so by the new birth we live in a very different manner. The greatness of this change is elsewhere described by 6 passing from darkness to light:" yea, by “passing from death to life:"_“You hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins.” It makes a man quite the contrary to what he was before; as contrary as east to west; north to south; light to darkness; flesh to spirit. It is such a change, as if a negro should become white; or a lion become a lamb. In a word, God takes away the heart of stone, and gives a heart of flesh.
It is an universal change—"a new creature; a complete creature: not a monster, with some human parts, and others wanting. It is God's work, and therefore perfect in all its parts; though here is room for growth in every part, as in a new-born child. O, let us not deceive ourselves with a partial change : such as taking up some new opinion, or joining a new sect; or leaving off some old sins, or perform
ing some moral or religious duties. The common changes of age and life may occasion some partial alterations; but this is a change of the whole man. In the understanding there is light instead of darkness; in the will there is softness instead of hardness; in the affections there is love instead of enmity.
It is an inward change. It will, indeed, produce an outward change, if the life was before immoral; but there may be strict morality without this inward change. Reformation is not Regeneration, though often mistaken for it: the latter is a change of heart. We must be “ renewed in the spirit of our mind," Eph. iv. 23. “Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looketh at the heart.” God has promised to give his people “a new heart;" and the penitent Psalmist prays for it—"Create in me a clean heart, O God! and renew a right spirit within me.” Without this there is no true change. “ The spring and wheels of a clock must be mended before the hand of the dial will stand right. It may stand right twice in the day, when the time of the day comes to it, but not from any motion or rectitude in itself. So a man may seem, by one or two actions, to be a changed man; but the inward spring being amiss, it is but a deceit.” There is a great difference between virtue and religion ; between morality and holiness. Many people abstain from some sins, and perform some duties, for the sake of health, reputation, or profit; but in the new creature there is a change of principle. The principle of a new creature is faith ; "faith working by love; and this abides.” He is not like a clock that is wound up, and goes only while it is acted upon by the weight: but having the Spirit of God within him, and the life of God in his soul, grace is as “ a well of water, springing up into everlasting life.”
There is in the new creature a change of the end he has in view, as well as of the principle from which he acts. “The glory of God is the end of the new man : Self is the end of the old man. Nothing is a greater evidence of being born again, than to be taken off the old centre of self, and to aim at the glory of God in every thing; whether we eat or drink, whether we are in private or public, whether we are engaged in religious or in common affairs; to desire and aim sincerely at the glory of God; knowing that we are not our own, but bought with a price, we are to glorify God with our body, soul, and spirit, all which are his.”
That the new birth is such a change as has been described, namely, a great change, an universal change, an inward change, will still more plainly appear, if you consider the alteration it makes in a person's views and apprehensions. He has new thoughts of God, of himself, of the world, of eternity, of Jesus Christ, and of all divine ordinances.
He has new thoughts of God. Before, he lived, in a great measure, “without God in the world;" without any true knowledge of God; without any proper regard to God; and was ready to think God “altogether such an one as himself.” But now he sees that with God there is terrible majesty, perfect purity, strict justice, and that he is indeed “greatly to be feared.” Now he knows that God's eye is always upon him; and that if he were to enter into judgment with him, he could never stand. But he learns, also, from the Gospel, that God in Christ is full of grace, and goodness, and love; so that “ he fears the Lord and his goodness."
The new creature has very different thoughts of himself. He once acted as his own master; followed his own wicked will; was ready to excuse his worst actions, thought lightly of his sins: perhaps gloried in his shame. Now, he sees the evil of his former