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THE SECOND BIRTH.
St. John, iii. 5, 6.
Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit he cannot enter
into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
If we read the 15th chapter of the first Epistle to the Corinthians, that famous chapter with which we are all so well acquainted, and which speaks at so much length of the resurrection, we shall find that there were some who called themselves Christians, and had joined the Christian society, who did not believe in any life after death. Now this to us seems a contradiction; we cannot fancy a man's being a Christian, and at the same time his not believing in the resurrection. But what these persons meant is explained in a passage of St. Paul's second Epistle to Timothy, where he says that Hymenæus and Philetus maintained that
the resurrection was past already. Of course they did not mean that either they or their disciples had been dead, and had risen again from the dead; but they maintained that the resurrection which Christ had promised was a rising from the death of sin to the life of righteousness; that a man so rose when he was baptized and became a Christian; that thus to all who were Christians, their resurrection was past already; they had received what Christ had promised, and for the future had nothing to trust to but such hopes of another life as they could gain from their own natural reason, without in any degree relying on any especial revelations of the Gospel.
Now it is true that the words “ death” and rising again” are often used in this figurative manner in the Scriptures, to express a man's being sunk and lost in wickedness, and then rising out of that lost state to a life of virtue. They are so used, it is probable, in the very next chapter but one to that from which the text is taken; namely, in the 5th chapter of St. John. In the 25th verse our Lord says, “ the hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live.” It is probable that our Lord here means exactly what His Apostle Peter means, when he says that “ the Gospel was preached to them that are dead, that they might live according to God in the Spirit,"
and what His Apostle Paul also means, when he writes to the Ephesians, “ Even when we were dead in sins God hath quickened us,” (i. e. hath made us alive again,) “ together with Christ, and hath raised us up together.” You see that St. Paul himself maintains that in one sense “the resurrection was past already;" for he declares of himself and his fellow Christians, that “God had quickened them and bad raised them up, when they were dead in sins.” But after our Lord had spoken figuratively of the resurrection in the 25th verse of the 5th of St. John, he goes on in the 28th verse to speak of it literally. “Marvel not at this," i. e. that they who are dead in sins shall be roused by the call of the Son of God to a life of righteousness, “ for the hour is coming in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice and shall come forth, they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of condemnation.” His call can do more than rouse those who are dead figuratively, sunk and lost in sins; it shall rouse the really dead, the very dead who are in their graves, mouldering or mouldered, returning to dust or already returned to it. All of these shall hear His voice, and all shall obey it; but it is no longer, they that hear shall live.” It is now another resurrection, in which they who never rose before, that is, who never heard Christ's first call from the death of sin unto
the life of righteousness, shall now arise only to condemnation. But truly may we say with St. John in the Revelation, “ Blessed and holy is he who hath part in the first resurrection; on such the second death hath no power.” He who has risen in this world at Christ's first call to a life of righteousness, shall assuredly rise without fear at His second call to a life of glory.
I may seem all this time to have forgotten my text, but in truth I have been preparing the way for the explanation of it. We see that the words death and resurrection are used in the New Testament in two senses, sometimes figuratively, sometimes literally; we see that they who used them only figuratively, who like Hymenæus and Philetus, maintained that there was no other resurrection than that which was past already, erred concerning the truth, and overthrew the faith of some; yet we see also that it were to err no less to interpret them only literally, for it is not true that all the really dead who shall hear the voice of the Son of God shall live eternally; on the contrary, many shall hear it, and shall obey it, but shall find it a call not to life, but to condemnation. Now what is true of the words “ death” and “resurrection"
” is true also of the words “ birth” and “ kingdom of God;" they also are used in two senses, a literal one and a figurative one; and in these too as well as in the other words, it is to err from the truth,
and to lose some part of the profitable instruction of Scripture, to take them either only literally, or only figuratively.
But in the text there is a mixture of the two senses which makes it a very good opportunity for trying to explain both, as without understanding both, we cannot fully enter into its meaning.
By “ being born again,” then, is meant exactly the same thing as by “rising again;” or rather the same two things are meant by it. In its literal sense it means what is meant by the resurrection literally; that is, our entrance upon a new state of being, after our present one is over; by being born, we came into this world from a state of nothingness; by being born again, we shall pass into another world from a similar state of nothingness; that is, from death. This is being born again literally; and by thus being born again, we enter into the kingdom of God. Now in one sense certainly we are all in His kingdom already; we cannot go anywhere where He is not over all; we see the whole of nature around us, the very stars of heaven in their courses, moving according to His laws.
But here there are some things which do not obey Him, but have chosen to themselves another king; and these things are the evil hearts of men. It will then be the kingdom of God truly and perfectly, when there shall be nothing which does not obey Him, when not the earth, the moon, and the stars shall