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VERILY, VERILY, I SAY UNTO THEE, EXCEPT A MAN
BE BORN AGAIN, HE CANNOT SEE THE KINGDOM OF
John iii. 3.
THE conference betwixt our Saviour and Nicodemus, out of which these words are taken, has always been thought a very considerable, and by some a very dark and mysterious part of sacred writ. Those of. Nicodemus temper and sentiments have been ready, in every age, to fall in with his conduct, and his way of arguing. Whilst others, that have been more under the influence and teaching of a divine Spirit, have seen the excellency and importance of our Saviour's Doctrine.
The time in which this ruler came to our LORD, was a very apt representation of his state. He came in the night, and he appears to have been sadly in the dark as to what concerns the Gospel dispensation, and his salvation by it. He had been very much affected, it seems, with the mighty works of our BLESSED LORD; for, says he, no man can do the mir"acles that thou dost, except God be with him: But his preaching and his words were very differently received: They were thought to be so far from being heavenly and divine, that they were not reconcileable to common sense: How can these things be?
I am afraid this is too much the case of many in our own times: who, while they acknowledge that JESUS CHRIST is worthy to be owned in the brightest day, and before all the world; yet content themselves with some obscure, and partial regards to him. How many are there, who profess to venerate him as a teacher sent from God, that yet in this grand and leading point, the being born again, are perfect strangers to him? 'yea, what is worse, unwilling to be instructed by him? They are either cavilling against, or explaining away, the proper and spiritual meaning of this doctrine,
Some also there are, that have followed this metaphor the new Birth, with others of the like nature, so far, as to render it wholly mystical and unintelligible; making no just observations upon the more plain and express texts of scripture, where, without metaphors, the nature of Regeneration is set in a clearer light. Such mistaken ways of treating this subject, I shall endeavour to avoid. And since our Saviour has summoned our attention to what he here says, by prefixing a double asseveration, to attest the truth of it........Verily, verily, Is
say unto thee, &c. I hope, I need not multiply words to engage a serious application of your minds, to study, and make a right use of what shall now be laid before you.
Wherein the Doctrine of being Born again, is
carefully laid down.
WHEN we read so peremptory a determination, that none shall see, or enter into, the kingdom of GOD, but such as are born again; it is reasonable expect, every soul that has any hope or desire of being saved, should be put upon the most solicitous enquiries after the meaning and import of this expression. And therefore I shall set myself to give
such an account of it, as that every one who reads the following treatise seriously, may both be helped to understand and experience this second birth. In doing this, I would aim at,
First, Informing the mind.
AND FINALLY, Settling and composing the spirit; by stating the evidences of this mighty change.
In this Chapter I shall endeavour to inform the mind of the attentive reader, by giving him as clear and satisfying thoughts as I can, of the nature of this Birth.
It was something of which Nicodemus, even as a Jew, and a Ruler in Israel, might be supposed to have a previous knowledge; or, at least, to have been sufficiently prepared for the reception of it: For otherwise our SAVIOUR would not, in such a manner as we find he does, have reproved his ignorance and slowness of apprehension ; Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things ?
The writings of Moses might inform him.........that when man first came out of the hands of his Maker, he had a soul breathed into him, by which he was rendered wiser and more excellent than the beasts of the earth: And from hence Ni. codemus might have concluded........that the same Almighty power could, by a farther inspiration and influence, at pleasure, raise man to a higher and nobler state and condition, than that, in which he now found himself, and the rest of mankind.
The writings of David and the Prophets do also describe a person's being brought into a state of grace and favour with God, by having a clean heart Psalm li. 10. * created in him, and a new heart given to him. Ezekiel xxxvi. And this was so particularly foretold of the gos- 26. and other pel times, that it must be strange inadverten- placca cy in Nicodemus not to reflect on those pas
sages, which in such a likeness of expression, describe the very same change that our Saviour here calls being born again.
But that which yet farther condems this Jewish ruler, was, (according to Dr. Whitby) a prevailing and common notion among the Jews.........that when any man became a proselyte to their religion, He was to be looked upon as an infant new born.
These several things may all of them, be very helpful to our understanding this doctrine at present; and I would rather chuse to look upon them with such a view, than as merely serving to aggravate the fault of Nicodemus.
From our Lord's explaining himself in this matter, 'tis evident.......that to be Born again, includes something both ex. ternal and internal: except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
Now this being born of water, or made a proselyte by baptism, was so intelligible, that we find a bare mention of it is thought sufficient. But however men may value their outward privileges, yet if these are rested in, and the greatest stress be laid where the gospel lays the least, the hopes and pretensions of such will avail them very little.
'Tis a being born of the Spirit that is chiefly insisted on: And without this, none were to be looked upon as members of the Messiah's kingdom, considered either as a kingdom of grace or glory.
I know not how we can better comprehend all this in a few words, than by saying, with one of our English expositors, ...." He that will enter into the state of the gospel, must be
baptized: and he that will enter into a state of grace, and be “ fitted for glory, must be renewed.” Thus much is very plainly expressed in the Epistle to Titus; According to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost, Titus üi. 5.
Ignorance of this work of the blessed SPIRIT, and a vain boasting of external ordinances and advantages, we have reason to fear, is the ruin of multitudes.
Hence it is that men, who profess the christian name, and are admitted into the christian church, are yet notorious for their ill lives. And whereas, at first it was the glory of the gospel to change the worst of sinners; it is now reproached by miany, as patronizing even the worst of crimes. Christianity has sometimes found men in a state of brutish sensuality; but where it has savingly prevailed, it has not left them in such a condition. Be not deceived, (says the apostle to the Corinthians) neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers.....nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And though it is added, and such were some of you; yet we ought carefully to observe the change that was wrought in them; ye are washed, ye are sanctified, ye are justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God, 1 Cor. vi. 9, 10, 11.
So that to be interested in this the work of the Spirit, is of the utmost importance to us; and in order to that, 'tis highly requisite we should have a right notion and understanding of it. I shall therefore, according to the best and most regular thoughts I have been able to form of this matter, explain it farther to you in the following particulars.
1. To be born again, is to have something done in us and for us, which cannot be done by us.
This is beyond all doubt and controversy the plain sense of scripture. Less than this cannot be meant, by those many high expressions which the sacred writers frequently use: Such as, ........being created again in CHRIST JESUS...and being made new creatures ;........being raised to newness of life, even as CHRIST was raised from the dead by the glory of the FATHER. So that adding these expressions to this I am upon, [a being born again,] all laid together must undoubtedly sig