“Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.”
We can conceive of no subject of more vital importance to the children of God than that of which or Savoir spoke in these words to Nicodemus. Heirship is based upon sonship, and sonship is manifested by birth. Hence the apostle says, “For as many as are led by the spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” And to the sons of God he says, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ.” – Rom. viii. 14, 16, 17. And again, in the same chapter, verse 9, “Now if any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” Therefore the indwelling of the spirit of Christ is the infallible witness that those in whom his spirit dwells are children and heirs of God. In this vital relationship all who led by the spirit of God are manifestly heirs to an inheritance that “is incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away, which is reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time.” – 1 Peter i. 4, 5. Now this is an inheritance which, being purely spiritual, flesh and blood cannot inherit. “Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood CANNOT inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.” – 1 Cor. xv. 50. Hence the indispensable necessity of being born of the Spirit to qualify us to inherit the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is spiritual; “But 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. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things; yet he himself is judged of no man.” – 1 Cor. ii. 14, 15. The kingdom of God being spiritual, is totally invisible to all such as are destitute of spiritual discernment. Marvel not, then, that Jesus has so emphatically declared, that “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nichodemus, like all other natural men, marveled at this saying of Jesus, and as he knew not how it could be, he inquired, “How can a man be born when he is old?” &c. As a natural man, he could conceive of no other birth than that which is of the flesh. But Jesus spake of a birth which is from above, as the margin reads in both instances in which it is spoken of by him in this chapter. Our birth of the flesh is like the birth of all others of the animal creation, of this world, and not from above, in the sense in which the sons of God are brought forth into manifestation. If therefore the birth of our body, soul and spirit, with all the elements belonging to our earthly nature, could be repeated a thousand times, that would give us no additional light by which to see the kingdom of God, or to discern any of the things of the spirit of God. Until we were born of the flesh, we had no capacity to see or know the things of this natural world. Although we were all created in the earthly Adam, and sinned and fell in him, and death passed on us in him almost six thousand years ago, yet not one of the present generation saw or had any knowledge of the things of this world until we were brought into it by a birth of the flesh, over which we had neither volition nor power.
If then the things of nature are so wonderful to natural men, how can any man know of the things of the spirit of God until by a spiritual birth they are brought forth by that birth which is from above? Nature has no power to effect or hasten, or to prevent a birth from above. Nor has any man power of himself, nor by the aid of nature, to become a son of God or an heir of immortality. “But as many as received him, [Christ,] to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” – John i. 12, 13. Though we were born of the blood, or will of Abraham, or David, or born again of the flesh a thousand times, it could not change our relation to this world, or make us sons of God or heirs of glory. Nor can any man receive Christ manifestly except by a birth from above. The new birth is not – cannot be effected by anything short of an incorruptible seed, which is by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth forever. Hence the birth which brings into manifestation the sons of God, is from above; and the only incorruptible seed that can produce a birth which is spiritual, and a life which is incorruptible, immortal and eternal, is found alone in Christ, who is the second Adam, or progenitive head of his seed; and he, being himself the Lord from heaven, the everlasting Father, all who are born of him are born of God, and are the sons of God, theheirs of God, and joint heirs with him who is the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. And no man can come unto the Father but by him, for he is in the Father, and the Father is in him, and he and the Father are one; and he and his seed are one, and the heirship is joint and indivisible. “For the Lord’s portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance.” – Deut. xxxii. 9. And the Lord is the portion of his people forever. – Ps. lxxiii. 26; cxix. 57.
The only seed then which can possibly produce the birth of which our Savior spake, is from God in Christ. All that seed is treasured in Christ; it is therefore incorruptible, undefiled, and cannot fade away. To be born of any other seed than that which is in Christ, can develop no vital relationship to God, no joint heirship with Christ. If we are born of God, the spirit of Christ dwells in us; and although now our earthly nature, including all in us that is born of the flesh, and not born from above, wars against the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness, yet these vile bodies are redeemed, and by the indwelling spirit sealed with the holy spirit of promise; and this indewelling spirit, being the same which raised up from the dead the crucified body of the Lord Jesus, shall in due time quicken also our mortal bodies, and so change them as to fashion them like the glorious body of our risen Lord.
“Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him.” – 1 John iii. 2.
We have known him in his fleshly body as a man of sorrow and acquainted with grief, in a body of our flesh, subject to pain, distress and death; but we shall see him as he is in his resurrected, immortal body, begotten from the dead by the glory of the Father, on which death hath no power. Yea, and when we shall see him as he is, we shall be like him, for we also are begotten of God by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead; and as certainly as he has risen from the dead, as the first begotten and first born from the dead, all his members shall experience a like birth from the dead. “For whom he did foreknow he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the first born among many brethren.” – Rom. viii. 29. They who shall be accounted worthy of that world to which the children of God are destined, “and the resurrection from the dead, are the children of God, being children of the resurrection.” – Luke xx. 36. To and in this relation to God and this resurrection, all who shall be accounted worthy are begotten of God by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, whose crucified body was begotten and born from the dead by the glory of the Father; and as his resurrection from the dead was a birth, to which his body was begotten and born by the Father, so Paul testifies “Concerning his [God’s] Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to this flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness by the resurrection from the dead.” – Romans i. 3, 4. This begetting and birth from the dead relates to his body of flesh in which he was crucified, and which was the seed of David; for in his prior relation to the Father, his goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. – Micah v. 2. As the Word which was with God, and which was God, his Mediatorial and priestly relations as King of righteousness and Priest of the Most High God, he is “without beginning of days or end of life.” “Because he continueth ever, he hath an unchangeable priesthood.” – Heb. vii. 23, 24. Ye the body of his flesh in which he became incarnate, which was made under the law, was made under the law, was made of the seed of David. And as neither David nor his seed after the flesh could be received into glory as heirs of God in any other relationship than that of sons of God, even the flesh of our High Priest was begotten and born from the dead, and in that resurrection-birth, produced not by the fleshly seed of David, “was declared [or demonstrated] to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” – Rom. i. 4. In his birth, in the flesh, of the virgin, who was herself of the seed of David, Jesus was made flesh and dwelt among us, and in that flesh all the fullness of the Godhead dwelt bodily; but the body of his flesh was prepared for him. – Heb. x. 5. In this incarnation “We see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the sufferings of death, crowned with glory and honor, that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. For it became him for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Captain of our salvation perfect through sufferings. For both he that sanctifieth, and they who are sanctified, are all of one; for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren.” – Heb. ii. 10, 11. In the flesh he became fully identified with the many sons which he has brought though death unto glory. As it is further declared in this same connection, “Forasmuch then as the children [or the sons, whom he was to bring unto glory] are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same [flesh and blood], that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is the devil, and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to god, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.” If then it was expedient that the immaculate body of our great Redeemer should suffer and die, and be begotten and born from the dead, that he might ascend up where he was before, and be glorified with the eternal Father’s own self, the glory that he had with the Father before the world began, can we marvel that he said to Nicodemus, Ye must be born again? Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. A nearer and more vital relation to God than that which is born of the flesh, even though it were of the seed of David or of Abraham, is indispensably required to secure that spiritual inheritance which belongs exclusively to the heirs of God, in joint heirship with our Lord Jesus Christ. If sons, then heirs: and it follows, if we are not sons of God, we must be aliens; and aliens cannot be heirs with those who, as Isaac was, are children of the free woman, or of that Jerusalem which is above, and is the mother of all the children of promise.
In the new birth, which is so indispensable to a manifest heirship as children of God, and without which no man can either see or enter into the kingdom of God, the sons of God receive the first fruits of the Spirit, by which they are personally sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, and which is the earnest of their inheritance as sons and heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ to that inheritance which is reserved in heaven for them who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, and ready to be revealed at the last time. In this birth of the Spirit, a new man is born from above, and a new treasure is committed to the earthen vessel of mercy which God hath afore ordained unto glory; and this new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness, being born of God, and not of the flesh, claims relationship to his heavenly parent, crying Abba, Father. The production of the incorruptible seed, which is by the Word of God, that liveth and abideth forever, being born of God, is incorruptible; it cannot sin, for if it could, it would not be incorruptible. It is born of God, and his seed, by which the birth is produced, remaineth in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. – 1 John iii. 9.
Now let us inquire that change takes place in the person of the man who is the subject of this new birth? One says, Whereas I was once blind, now I see. This is true; but who is it that was blind and now sees? We are told that in the Word which was made flesh was life, and the life was the light of men; that this is the true light that lighteth every man that cometh in to the world. And still further, “And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehendeth it not.” Was there ever a darker place than the heart and understanding of the sinner who is made the subject of God’s amazing grace? “For God, who 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. But we have this treasure [of the light of life] in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” – 2 Cor. iv. 6, 7. The vessel of mercy is still so dark that he comprehendeth not the light and life which shines in him. It is Christ who shines. He is our life, and the excellency of it is of God, and not of us. We can by the powers of our natural mind neither see, comprehend or tell whence the Spirit that shines in us comes, or whither it goeth, any more than we can tell whence the wind cometh and goeth. – John iii. 8. But this new man within us, which is born of God, judgeth all things, for he is spiritual, and has spiritual discernment. So when one declares to us that he was blind, and now sees, if we have confidence in his profession, we believe that he is born of that life which is light, and he is a child of light. But it is not by any improvement of his carnal nature that he now sees, for the excellence is of God who shines in him, and all the glory of God that he can see is in the face of Jesus Christ; and this is a revelation to his faith, not to his carnal or fleshly reasoning powers.
He says moreover, The things which I once loved, I now hate; and the things I once hated, I now love. This also is true, and so true that if it were not so, we could have no confidence in his experience; but what is it that loves holiness and purity, and hates sin and vanity? Is it the old man, which is corrupt with his affections and lusts, or is it the new man? The inspired apostle says, “I delight in the law of God after the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.”
But, says still another, surely the faculties and elements of my nature are changed, for my mouth, which was full of cursing and bitterness, is now employed in singing a new song of praise to God and the Lamb; and my feet, which were swift to shed blood, now cheerfully convey me to the house of prayer; and all the elements of my nature, which once drank in iniquity as the ox drinketh water abhor those things in which I once so much delighted. This subjection of our members we readily admit; but is this a change of our fleshly nature, or is it not rather the power of reigning grace triumphing over the evil propensities of a still corrupt, depraved nature, which has to be continually watched, kept under, and held in subjection as with bridle and bit? It would seem extravagant for any of us to claim a nature more radically changed than that of the holy apostle who said, “In me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing.” – Rom. vii. 18. “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection; lest by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.” – 1 Cor. ix. 27. If our earthly nature were by the new birth, or by any other power, changed from a vile depraved and sinful nature, where would be any conflict in us between the old man, which we are commanded to resist and crucify, and the inner man, in which we delight in the law of God? It is true the christian can say, with Paul, “To will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good I found not;” and while we have a will to serve the law of God, we know that is not the will of our flesh; but it is God who worketh in us to both to will and to do of his good pleasure. The man who before his new birth was in love with the vanities of this world, desiring wealth, honor and fame, still finds it hard to fully restrain the cravings of his nature after these things, even after they have become loathsome and grievous to the new man. We confess a lack of confidence in the evidence of a work of grace in those who profess to be so pure in their earthly nature that they have no trouble in restraining unhallowed propensities of their earthly nature; but we are inclined to believe that many of them have mistaken the aversion they feel to sin, and ascribe to nature that which rightfully belongs to the reigning grace of God. For truly the saints “are of the circumcision who worship God in the spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” – Phil. iii. 3. But never before they were born of God did they see so plainly and feel so deeply or mourn so bitterly the deep depravity of their carnal nature as they invariably do subsequently to that event. Our earthly nature still subsists on the things which grow out of the earth, which is cursed of God for man’s sake, nor can it subsist on the spiritual food that cheers the new and inner man. But, notwithstanding the present craving of our carnal propensities, which war against the heaven-born life of the new man, the saints rejoice in the glorious prospect of a final victory over all the pollutions of the flesh, since God has promised, by the pen of the apostle, that “the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” Hence “the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.” – Romans viii. 16, 21. And after having received the first fruits of the Spirit, by which they are sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, they still “groan within themselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of their body.” To that adoption and vital sonship they are now begotten by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and they shall assuredly in due time be born, in their final personal resurrection, in which their vile body shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye, and they shall be raised incorruptible and immortal, in spiritual bodies like the glorious body of their risen Lord. Born then from the dead, they shall be like the angels in heaven, and be vitally the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Middletown, N. Y.
February 15, 1880
Signs of the Times
Volume 48, No. 4
February 15, 1880