"Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again (John 3.7)."
There is no question in the minds of most thinking people, if serious attention is given to the subject, that both the first and the second birth are a marvel. Yet the instruction of Jesus to Nicodemus was that he marvel not that "Ye must be born again." Does this mean then that we are positively forbidden to marvel at so great a creation, both in the first and second instant? Not at all. It appeared that Nicodemus marveled at the necessity for a second communication of life, one of an infinitely superior scale. And, we might add, so do all others, until such time as they are made by grace to recognize the utter inability of man to either see or enter into the rapturous kingdom of God (John 3.3,5). We do not, however, understand that seeing the first and second births as a marvel of God's creation is wrong.
Natural birth, though studied and viewed since the dawn of time, continues to be the optimum event of all existence, by any measure of comparison. Nothing in nature surpasses the uniqueness of the manifestation of natural life by birth. We say manifestation because it is crystal clear that natural life exists prior to any birth. There is first, conception, then development, travail, and birth; in that order, and life exists within all these essential stages that bring a new creature into the sinful world of the dying.
Who has ever looked upon a newborn child and not felt a sense of awe? That which they gaze upon was only a few months before nonexistent; only seed in their parents' loins. As transcendentally marvelous as all this is, yet it is as ordinary in occurrence as the aggregate sum of all living in every age. Every mature being that ever lived is humanly capable, barring organic or physical flaws, of procreating in their own image. Yet not one human child has ever been born apart from the pattern given in the garden of Eden (Gen. 1.28)! See also Gen. 3. 16; 4.1. God created man in His own image (Gen.1.26,27), and that is exactly what happens in procreation, except man does so upon carrying out the instructions of the Lord. Yes, each birth is but a development of continuity in the image of the parent. As surely as God took up the dust of His own original creation and breathed the breath of life in it, so every worm of the dust does but bring forth of his own self in the birth of his offspring; a living, breathing creature.
Passing then from the phenomenon of a living child coming into existence, could it be imagined that anyone is so illiterate that they might believe they had even the smallest part in their being born? We think not. No one plays a role in their own conception, and subsequent maturity until their birth, and the idea they could is beyond belief. We suppose most civilized people, from time to time, recognize, with some degree of appreciation, that their parents were the total source, humanly speaking, of their having a being. Not even the dullard would exclaim to a parent that a portion of the bragging rights for his having a life belonged to him. If there is such a thing as being totally passive, and we believe there is, then this is the place for it. Not one person that has ever lived on this globe initiated their conception, had even the slightest part in providing for their development in the womb, or by willing so activated the travail that consummated the birth process. "And which of you with taking thought can add to his stature one cubit? If ye then be not able to do that thing which is least, why take ye thought for the rest (Luke 12.25,26)?" If by determination we cannot even grow a few inches it seems incredible that someone could imagine they could sponsor their initial development. Birth, then, is that operation by which we come forth in life as the result of actions performed by someone other than ourselves. There are billions of living and dead that give absolute witness to this conclusion.
Spiritual birth, too, is a wonder of creative action wholly outside of the recipient. This second birth, coupled with all its antecedents, is variously described in the Scriptures as, life from the dead (John 5.25); a quickening (Eph. 2.1); a translation (Col. 1.13); a beginning (Phil. 1.6); a workmanship and creation (Eph. 2.10); a joining (I Cor. 6.17); a washing of regeneration (Titus 3.5); a purifying the heart (Acts 15.9); a receiving the Holy Ghost (Acts 10.47); a resurrection (Col 3.1; Rev. 20.5,6). Countless other terms and expressions are also used to show the source of this blessed work of God in imparting eternal life to the election of grace. Those who receive this free gift of life are described in God's word as the elect, the redeemed, the chosen ones, the sheep, believers, children of God, the ransomed, His bride, His church, children of the kingdom, His people, overcomers, pilgrims, strangers, a building fitly framed together, a temple, His body, a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, little flock, etc.
"Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1. 13)." Contained in this text are three negatives: 1. "Not of blood"; 2. "Nor of the will of the flesh"; 3. "Nor of the will of man". What could possibly be added to this text to make it clearer? Human contrivance of any sort is excluded from this birth. More importantly, on the positive side, the text identifies the one source of spiritual birth; God! "But of God." The birth of which Jesus spoke to Nicodemus is so positively the work of God alone, as is evidenced by both the Bible and observation, that we wonder why anyone would dare try to claim otherwise.
But they do!
Arminian claims and pronouncements of free will abound. Those taught by the Spirit of God give little attention to most of what these work-mongers say. From time to time though there comes forth, as from the deepest recesses of the bottomless pit, something that incites in us a renewed sense of revulsion. Consider the following:
"Thank God that He is able, and is committed, to bring us to eternal glory through His dear Son. Our responsibility is to get into, and remain, in that Son." (From an exchange paper; italics ours.) If we are capable at all of understanding plain language, this statement informs us that the sinner must first put forth effort to become born again, and then see to it that they stay there. For our part, we are satisfied we were as helpless to get into the Son of God, as we were to create a moon. And further, we are as helpless to remain there as we would be to maintain that moon in its orbit that we could not create in the first place. May God be thanked if we have been delivered from such humanistic, heaven-tempting teaching as this.
That there is a time to be born none but infidels will deny (Ecc. 3.2). For instance, Noah could not be born after Abraham, nor Solomon before David. There must be a fixed time, because each seed must follow in its proper succession. Only by being born at the appointed time could each function in the purpose God had ordained for them before the world was created. John the beloved writes of John the Baptist: "John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me (John 1.15)." Had John not had a time to be born he might well have been born six months after Jesus, instead of six months before him. See also verses 27 and 30. So then, we ask, is it the responsibility of man, or God, to see that we are born at the appointed time? Again we ask, could even the wisest of all humans possibly know before they had an existence in the flesh when that time was to be born? Of course not! Even so then, it could not be remotely dreamed that we might somehow be responsible to get born in the flesh. Nothing we can conceive of could be more preposterous. One cannot be responsible to do, act, or think, prior to their existence.
"If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things (John 3.12)?" So says Jesus to Nicodemus. Clearly Nicodemus did not understand even the simple things of this deep illustration. At that time, at least, he had no notion that Jesus was making a perfect comparison between the first and second births. So much for the supposed learning of the masters of religion. In God alone is there power and authority to make known the mysteries of life. This illustration, however, has been a blessed source of instruction for the saints of God since it was first recorded for our learning. Among other things, it shows us the perfect relation. ship between the natural birth and the spiritual birth. In every respect, (and we believe there are no exceptions) the two births have parallel attributes. As one example, the first or natural birth exacts no effort or willingness on the part of the one being born. So, precisely, is the spiritual birth.
Another comparison: the recipient of the first birth makes no determinations regarding when or where it will be born; neither can it select its parents, its characteristics, predispositions, strengths or weaknesses. Nor does it determine the course of its life. As the carnal world would say: "You must play the hand is dealt you." This first birth, we are sure, is a mirror image of the spiritual birth. There has been no consultation on the part of God with any of those who are to be the heirs of salvation. God never collaborated with Jeremiah prior to telling him the following: "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations (Jer. 1.5)." In passing, notice that God states He formed Jeremiah in the belly. Even the first birth is under the total control of God in heaven.
"But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace, To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood (Gal. 1.15,16)." Marvelous as the whole of these verses are, we confine ourselves to the first statement: "But when it pleased God." Paul accepted, or sought, no responsibility for this grand separating. Indeed, he had not even fleetingly thought of such a thing. God's pleasure was the source of Paul being separated from his mother's womb. Paul had no more responsibility in the matter than he did in his own election, redemption, or final resurrection to glory. Neither Paul nor Jeremiah got into Christ through responsibility any more than they got into (or out of) their mother's womb through responsibility. This is the teaching of Christ to Nicodemus in John 3, and, we may say, the teaching of the whole of the Bible.
If there is any responsibility on the sinner's part to get into the Son of God, as the quotation obviously stated, it would certainly raise more questions than answers could be found. In Ephesians 1.4 Paul makes it clear that we were chosen in Him (Christ) before the foundation of the world. This we understand to be our eternal union with Him, making the children of God to be one with Him prior to the advent of time. Surely no one could be so void of common sense as to contend for our responsibility to get into Christ then, in eternity. It must be then, they are contending for getting into Him in time, by means of their own responsibility. Since the heavenly birth is not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible (I Pet. 1.23), then the proponents of this fanciful proposition must either contend also for sinless perfection, or yield the contest. How could a sinner, in need of a spiritual birth, quicken himself, or produce an incorruptible seed within himself unless he was, according to Peter, incorruptible? If it could be possible for the sinner to do such, why would he need to be born again, seeing he was already incorruptible? The Word of God fully settles the matter thus: "Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved:) And hath raised us up together, and made us to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2.5,6)."
September - October 1992