Precious Jesus

"Afresh, precious, precious Jesus, I resign this body to You, for doing or suffering, for living or dying. Will You accept it? Will You use me for Your glory more than heretofore, that You may have some little return for all the benefits You have done to me? Oh, do grant this request; my heart longs for it, my spirit pleads for it; and "if You will, You can." You know the hot temptation of which I am the subject. Bring Your glory out of it, and keep me from the evil, and it shall be well." - Ruth Bryan

Monday, October 31, 2016

the necessity and the method

Following on from the good reception of an earlier article on the Nature of the rebirth, we thought that we would now look at two other aspects of regeneration, namely, the necessity and the method of being born again. One of the clearest passages with regards to these truths is that one in John chapter three, dealing with the interview between our Lord Jesus Christ and that man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus. In the third verse of that chapter, the necessity of the rebirth is clearly announced by the Lord, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God;” and then, in the seventh verse, that truth is once again stated, this time preceded by an exhortation not to marvel at such a thing being the case - “Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.”

 Now, one of the most essential things to grasp with regards to those words of our Lord to Nicodemus is this – our Lord was not telling Nicodemus what he must do, but what must happen to him in order for him to enter into the kingdom of God. How little this seems to be realised; and there are many preachers and ministers in our day who claim to be preachers of the rebirth, but who continually make and perpetuate this mistaken notion. So, you can hear John chapter three being preached from and the preacher asking men and women to be “born again” as though they were to fulfil a condition of their soul's salvation that is within their own power and ability to fulfil. This is not the truth of John three, and therefore, is not the preaching of the necessity of the rebirth as our Lord Jesus uses and states that truth before this leader of the Jewish nation.

Remember verse seven? As we said, that is the second usage of the phrase, Ye must be born again; and as we said, it is preceded by an exhortation not to marvel at this truth of the necessity of having to be born again of the Holy Spirit of God. And the main reason that we are not to “marvel” at this truth is contained in the previous verse, in verse six, where our Lord says, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit;” therefore , verse seven, “Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.” In other words, we understand the truth of the necessity of our “second” birth on the back of another truth – the truth of our “first” birth and where that leaves us in relation to our God and the things of our God. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh,” says our Lord”, and that which is born of the Spirit it is spirit.” And when our Lord uttered those words He was pointing Nicodemus to the two great dividing families of mankind – that of the flesh and that of the Spirit. They are continuously feuding families; “The flesh warreth against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh.” And into that family of the flesh we are all, each and every one of us, born by our first birth in our first parents Adam and Eve. As far as spiritual things pertaining to our God are concerned, we all, each and every one of us, by nature, manifest the same family characteristics – blindness, deafness, lameness, deadness – and a dozen-and-one other traits that mark us out and which are all summed up under “the flesh.” Therefore, if that which is born of the flesh is flesh, then, indeed, our Lord says aright, “Marvel not that I said unto you – you must be born again.” This is what must happen to you – you must have a new birth, because there is nothing whatsoever belonging to that old first birth that can do anything other then “war” against the ways and will of your God who is in heaven above.

Now, as I say if we would grasp that, first of all. We make a great mistake in setting the work of salvation forth as a “rescue operation” on fallen man. As one has pictured it – it is not as though the sinner is splashing about in the waves of the sea waiting for some one to throw him a life-belt and rescue him; he is not splashing about on the waves, he is lying on the floor of the ocean – for he is a dead man in the things of salvation! That lovely text out of the Revelation is so often taken as a summary of all gospel preaching - “Behold I stand at the door and knock,” and so forth. “There you are,” people say, “the sinner must open the door and let the Saviour come in; the sinner must be able to do that, for Jesus wouldn't knock if that wasn't the case; and as that saying goes, 'The handle's on the inside of the  door – the man inside must open the door.'” Well, we might reply by saying, What's a sinner doing reading a Christian's mail; for those words are pronounced to a church of the living God who, by the grace of God has the life of God still remaining within her, and, therefore, able to bestir herself in life to the voice of her beloved. But that picture never belongs to the sinner, for whether the “handle” is on the inside of the door or not is completely irrelevant, because the “occupant” of the house, the sinner, is lying and dead stiff on the floor of the room! He is “born of the flesh;” marvel not that he “must be born again.” He cannot walk, for he is lame, he cannot see, for he is blind, he cannot hear, for he is deaf, he cannot stir, for he is dead. He is “born of the flesh”, he must be born again, of the Spirit; that is absolutely necessary, that is final, that is what must happen to him.

You remember that word of the Lord about not “marvelling” at this truth? “Marvel not that I said unto thee ...” Surely our Lord foresaw the great potential in human nature to fail to see what man is naturally like and therefore what he must be spiritually made. Long ago in the eastern countries it was the custom to set a corpse at the head of a table during a great feast. The purpose of this eerie presence was to remind the participants in the feast of the brevity of life. How much we need constantly reminded of the deadness of the human nature that we are called to work and witness among with the things of the gospel. A due consideration of this fact would keep us from running after those “embalming spirits” of our modern methods of evangelism and so forth. Man by nature is only flesh, and he must be “born again.” No matter how much you dress up a corpse, it is a corpse still. It is time we paid heed to what the Saviour said to that man of the Pharisees so long ago, regeneration is absolutely necessary; as surely as we are born into the family of the flesh through the operations of the flesh, so we are and must be born of the spirit by the Holy Spirit of God. Many would look on this as a hard doctrine and one that doesn't hold out any hope whatsoever for the sinner outside of Christ. Let it be stated quite clearly, it is the doctrine that our Lord was preaching to this man, and that man – still in his flesh – openly railed against it, “How can a man be born when he is old” etc.? And yet, was that not the man that did that daring deed in openly confessing the Lord when together with Joseph of Arimathea he took His body and buried it in that new sepulchre? It is our duty to state the truth before the hearts and minds of men, and there is no greater truth than this, that a man or woman must be born again before they can enter the kingdom of God. And when, by the grace of God, a person is born anew, then, that person will more than likely rather thank than blame any Christian who told it truly as it is. If you are an unconverted reader of this, then, my friend, you ponder well these words of the Saviour “Ye must – ye must – be born again.” No words are more calculated to lay the sinner low before his God, and surely, that is one of the first processes of regeneration taking place in a sinner's life.

Could we just take a few lines now to consider the method of the rebirth? How is a man born again? And of course, we have made reference to this already, and our Saviour makes it absolutely clear before Nicodemus: he is “born of the Spirit”; “Of water and of the Spirit,” says our Lord. Let it be said that the “water” there mentioned has nothing whatsoever to do with baptism; it is what is called in another place, “the washing of regeneration by the Word.” When the Holy Spirit works in a soul He works in a cleansing way, like water – just as He also acts in a burning way like fire. Our Lord makes this clear; and He also makes it abundantly clear that when the Spirit works in regenerating a soul He works in a completely “sovereign” fashion – verse eight, “The wind bloweth where it pleases … so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” And God's method in regenerating a soul excludes anything belonging to that old first fleshly nature, and it is something wrought spiritually and by the Spirit of God alone.

One of the great statements regarding the Spirit's work is found later on in the gospel of John where our Lord sets Him forth as convincing of sin righteousness, and judgment. That is a good statement: in the work of regeneration, the Holy Spirit stands like an advocate before the sinner and lays all the charges of sin before him. This is done “objectively” in the reading and the preaching of the Word of God, for that is God's truth regarding the sinner and his sin. 

 But, it is also done “subjectively”, when that objective truth of the Word of God makes the sinner realise his sinnership before his God. When that occurs, the sinner then enters a plea of mercy before the Judge whom he now knows he has wronged and sinned against. John Bunyan, in his Holy War has a classical illustration of this process. Mansoul is the city under siege by the thundering legions – the Law of God etc. The city begins to shake under this siege, but the walls are not breached – for no man was ever saved through the Law – the law only makes the sinner appear sinful. Then comes Immanuel, and with persuasive words he makes an entrance into the city and sets himself in the castle of Mansoul. On seeing this, the inhabitants of the city send out a deputation to sue for mercy; the deputation consists of Mr Desires-awake, and Mr Wet-eyes. Their plea for mercy is accepted by the prince Immanuel, peace is declared for Mansoul, and a new governor, Mr God's-peace, is appointed for that city.

That is, in fact, the ways of our God in new-creating a soul. The law comes with its battering rams and slings; Christ is brought to us in the gospel, and the Holy Spirit of God arouses the spiritual man of His creating to see the Christ whom we had despised and rejected. Remember the names of Bunyan's deputation? Mr Desires-awake and Mr Wet-eyes. How true to the Word was the old Bedford Tinker, for there is “repentance and faith” beginning to come forth to petition the King - “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Such pleas and declarations sincerely made are never refused; for it is the Spirit's work to create them in bringing a soul from death to life in the operations of regeneration which are absolutely necessary if a man or a woman will ever see God as their God and Saviour. 

“For Thou hast made the blind to see, 
 The deaf to hear, the dumb to speak,
 The dead to live; and lo, I break
 The chains of my captivity.” 

 Yours sincerely,
 W. J. Seaton

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