THE NECESSITY OF THE NEW BIRTH
“Except a man be born-again he CANNOT SEE the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
The most fearful and fatal delusion now so prevalent in most sections of so-called “evangelical” Christendom is that a saving belief in Christ lies within the power of the natural man, that by performing what is naively termed “a simple act of faith,” he becomes a new creature. That is to make the sinner the BEGINNER of his own salvation!
HE takes “the first step,” and God does the rest; HE believes, and then God renews him—which is a blatant denial of the imperative NECESSITY of the work of the Holy Spirit. The fact is, if there is one time more than another when a man is absolutely dependent upon the Spirit’s power, it is at the BEGINNING, for the most formidable difficulty lies THERE.
To savingly believe in Christ is a supernatural act and is the DIRECT PRODUCT of a supernatural work of grace in the soul. Fallen and depraved man has no more power to come to Christ evangelically than he has merit of his own to entitle him to God’s favour. He is as completely dependent on the Spirit’s gracious operation within him as he is upon Christ’s worthiness without him. Fallen man is spiritually DEAD (Eph. 2:1), and a dead soul cannot “co-operate,” any more than a physical corpse can with an undertaker.
“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” (1 Cor. 2:14).
The “things Of the Spirit” signify contents of the Word of Truth, for they were penned under His immediate inspiration. The “natural man” is man in his fallen and unrenewed state while the sinner remains unregenerate, he “receiveth not” either the Divine Law or the Gospel. That requires a word of explication: the natural man can, and often does, receive the things of the Spirit in THE LETTER of them as so many propositions or statements, but he cannot apprehend them as does one who has been made the subject of a miracle of grace. They are “foolishness”—absurd, unattractive, distasteful to him. Yea, he “CANNOT KNOW THEM“— he is disqualified to perceive their verity and value; “because they are SPIRITUALLY discerned,” and spiritual discernment he has none. The sinner has to be transformed from a natural into a SPIRITUAL man before he has any spiritual perception.
“Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Only in God’s light can we see light (Ps. 3 6:9), and in order to do that, we must be brought out of that darkness in which sin has enveloped the soul.
The natural man, by reading and hearing, is competent to receive the things of God in their grammatical sense and to acquire an accurate mental notion of them, but is quite incapable of receiving a spiritual image of them in his understanding, of taking them into his affections, of cordially accepting them with his will. They are neither discerned by him in their Divine majesty and glory, delighted in by him, nor obeyed. The things of the Spirit are not only addressed to the intellect as true, but to the conscience as obligatory, to the affections as good and lovely, to the will to be yielded unto.
The unregenerate are entirely unable to recognize by an inward experience their surpassing weight and worth. They may indeed receive the Truth of God into their brains, but they never receive “the LOVE of the Truth” (2 Thess. 2:10) in their affections. The natural man is insensible alike to the authority and the excellence of the things of the Spirit of God, because his whole inward state is antagonistic to them. There must be congeniality between the perceiver and the thing perceived: only the pure in heart can see God. We not only need the Spirit objectively to reveal unto us the things of God, but He must make us subjectively spiritual men before we can receive them into our hearts.
As the eye is fashioned to take in sights, and the ear, sounds—as the faculties of the mind are fitted to think, reason, and retain concepts, so God must make the heart of fallen man SUITABLE UNTO spiritual things ere he can receive them. There must be a correspondence between the object apprehended and the subject apprehending, as there is between the qualities of matter and the senses of the body which cognize them. As I cannot truly appreciate in oratorio—no matter how acute my hearing—unless I have a musical ear and refined taste, neither can I delight in spiritual things until I BE MADE SPIRITUAL.
Between God and fallen man there is no living relation, no agreement. The “beauty of holiness” CANNOT be perceived by one who is in love with and blinded by sin. There is no harmony between the sinner’s spirit and the Holy Spirit. No matter how simply and clearly the things of God be set before the natural man, nor how logically and accurately he may reason about them, he cannot receive them in their actuality and spirituality, for he has no SPIRITUAL sight to discern their wisdom and goodness, no taste to relish their loveliness and sweetness, no capacity to take in their desirability and glory.
“The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not” (John 1:5). Though “the Light of the world” stood before them, they saw in Him no beauty that they should desire Him. Something more than an external revelation of Him is necessary, even such as that described in: “For God who [in the beginning] commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). The unregenerate have their “understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart” (Eph. 4:18), and they have no more ability or power of their own to dispel the same than had the deep to dissipate the darkness which abode upon it (Gen. 1:2).
In the darkness of a heart which, in its native condition, is a chamber of spiritual death, God shines with a light that is none other than Himself. The One who is light irradiates the benighted soul, and in His light it now sees the fullness of truth and grace shining in the face of Jesus Christ. By sovereign fiat and miraculous power the soul is now enabled to discern the glory of the Divine perfections manifested in and through the Redeemer.
For several generations past there has been a woeful ignoring of what has been pointed out above. There has been little recognition of the fact, and still less acknowledgment of it, that all which the Father has purposed and contrived, all that the Son has done and suffered for the redemption of His people, is unavailable and ineffective to their souls until the HOLY SPIRIT APPLIES the same. The inestimable blessings of the Father’s love, through the Son’s mediation, are only brought home to the souls of the elect by the testimony, power and operations of the Spirit. But during the last century, the majority of “evangelists” displayed a zeal which was not according to knowledge.
In their efforts to show the SIMPLICITY of “the way of salvation,” they ignored the DIFFICULTIES of salvation (Luke 18:24; 1 Pet. 4:18); and in their pressing the responsibility of men to believe, repudiated the fact that none can do so savingly until the Spirit imparts faith. One of His titles is “the Spirit of faith” (2 Cor. 4:13), because He is the Author and Communicator of it. Faith is “the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8): not offered for MAN ‘S ACCEPTANCE, but actually BESTOWED: “the faith of the operation [not of man’s will, but] of God” (Col. 2: 12)—”who BY HIM do believe in God” (1 Pet. 1:21).
The work of the Spirit in the heart is as indispensable as was the work of Christ on the Cross. The necessity for the Spirit’s inward and effective operations are from the darkness, depravity and spiritual emptiness of fallen human nature. He alone can discover to us our dire need of Christ, convict us of our lost and ruined condition, create within us a hatred and horror of sin, bring us to consent to Christ’s sceptre, and make us willing in the day of His power to take Christ’s yoke upon us. By nature we are totally averse to holiness, and from birth have been accustomed to doing evil only.
It is impossible for us to take into the arms of our affection a holy Christ until the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus first takes hold of us. Moreover, there is a transcendency in spiritual things which far exceeds the highest flight of natural reason. Nature stands in need of grace in order for the heart to be rightly DISPOSED to receive the things of God, and no human culture or education can effect that. A Gospel which comes to us from Heaven can only be savingly known by an inward revelation from Heaven. The Gospel is a revelation of Divine grace, such as had never entered the heart of man to conceive, still less is it capable of comprehending it—their Author must apply it to the heart.