« PreviousContinue »
the world. Nicodemus notices this, and asks, How can a man be born a second time? We answer, The second birth is a spiritual birth. Man is born in sin: to become holy, therefore, he must be born again, that is, born of the Holy Spirit: then he will have a holy nature.
That we are at first born with a sinful nature, is, alas ! too plain to be denied. As fishes swim, and birds fly, because it is their nature; so men, from the first, love and practise sin, because it is natural to them to do so. Do we not see children passionate, and quarrelsome? Are they not selfish, and greedy; cunning, and given to lying ? Are not some of them cruel, others sullen, and many of them disobedient to parents ? What causes this, but an evil nature? The best education can keep it down only a very little. Nay, as men grow up, do we not see them grow more selfish, and cunning; · more covetous, and fraudulent; more violent, and self-willed ? The laws keep most men from excessive cruelty, and from murder; and good breeding makes many persons seem virtuous, and respectable. But all this outside does not prove that the heart is good : on the contrary, there is one thing, which I must now mention, that proves us all to have exceedingly evil hearts. ... Do you say,
" What is this?” It is, our want of love to God. Who loves God with all his heart ? Who loves private prayer to Him? Who loves God above all things ? Who loves to meditate upon His word day and night? Naturally, not one of us. “ The carnal heart is enmity against God.” He who has not found out that he is naturally the enemy of God, knows nothing of himself yet, as he ought to know. O let us pray, that the light of the Holy Spirit would shine into the darkness of our hearts, that we may see how low we are fallen ! that we may say, like Job, “ I am vile”: or, like David, “ Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me!”
These, then, are the hearts which need changing : and who can change them, but the Holy Spirit ? He, and He alone, is the author of this new birth. Man can no more create himself the second time, than he could the first. He must be new created of God.
It is further related, “ 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.” Our Saviour appears, by one part of these words, to mean Baptism; which he intended, before he left this earth, to ordain as the outward means of admission into the Church. But he certainly does not mean to say, that, in baptism, the heart of every baptized person is born again, or changed from a sinful nature to a holy one. It is true, that baptism, by bringing us into the visible Church, does bring us into a state of great advantage: just as Circumcision gave much advantage, every way, to the Jews of old : and yet thousands, and tens of thousands, of baptized men and women, live, and die, in sin ; plainly showing that they never knew what it was to have the saving grace of God in their hearts.
Nicodemus could know nothing of baptism, for it was not yet appointed by Christ; but, he ought to have known about this new birth. Therefore Jesus says to him, “ Art thou a Master in Israel, and knowest not these things ?”
But the time is too short for me to explain all this subject at once: I wish, for the present, to show you,
that we are all born in sin, and children of wrath; so that we all need to be born again: and without this new birth, no man can see the kingdom of God. O think of this solemn truth! and if your mind is in darkness, pray for the light of the Holy Spirit. Pray that Christ may be
your Teacher. Say to him, humbly, like Nicodemus, “ How can these things be?” Jesus, by his Spirit, , will tell how. When He teaches, he speaks as never man spake.
O God, who art a Spirit, and requirest those that worship thee to worship in spirit and in truth; enable us to draw nigh unto thee, with a holy and acceptable service, through the mediation of thy Son Jesus.
We know not, alas ! what we should ask for as we ought; but do Thou prepare our hearts to pray, and then graciously answer our supplications.
O look not on us, as we are in ourselves! Our hearts are corrupt, and deceitful, and full of evil.
We have departed from thee, and have walked in the vanity of our minds, being alienated from thee because of the blindness of our hearts. But blot out all our past misdeeds, and freely accept us to thy favour, through thy dear Son: and, for His sake, create in us a clean heart, O God! and renew a right spirit within us. Shine into our hearts with the light of thy Holy Spirit. Guide us into all truth. Remove every error, that thou seest lying as a vail on our hearts. Inspire us with a love of the Gospel. Richly endue us with grace, that we may follow on, seeking after the knowledge of our adorable Redeemer, and boldly confessing His name before all men, for the sake of the same, thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
REGENERATION; OR, THE NEW BIRTH.
Johy iii. 1-10. (See page 80.) A MAN, who is ignorant of the new birth of the soul, must be amazed, and confounded, to hear such things as Christ spake to Nicodemus on this subject. But, indeed, every thing in the Bible is strange to those, who do not study the Bible with earnest prayer. May I ask you only this one question: When reading the Bible, have you prayed for the Holy Spirit of God ? He alone can teach you spiritual things: for St. Paul says, “ 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.” That is, we remain in darkness, till the Spirit of Christ shines into our hearts.
May this Blessed Spirit enlighten our hearts now, while we consider again this subject of the New Birth!
Our Lord says, “ That which is born of the flesh, is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit, is spirit.” He means, that the carnal, and sinful nature of our first parents, Adam and Eve, descends to their children through all the generations of man; but, when any man is brought to a state of spiritual holiness, this new birth of his soul comes from the Holy Spirit acting upon him.
“ Marvel not,” our Lord says to Nicodemus, 66 marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.” For no doubt he saw the looks of Nicodemus, full of wonder at this new doctrine: the more Nicodemus hears of it, the more he is lost in perplexity. And this is the case with every thinking man, till the rays of saving light dart on his soul; and then he feels within himself, what it is, to be born of God.
Our Saviour, however, to make his meaning plainer, compares this work of the Spirit to the blowing of the wind. He says, “ 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.”