THE NEW BIRTH
I. THE NECESSITY OF THE NEW BIRTH
1. THE FACT OF ITS NECESSITY
Jesus left no doubt as to the indispensable necessity of the new birth as a prerequisite to entrance into God's kingdom when He said to Nicodemus: "Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God"(John 3:5).
The new birth is necessary because-
(1) God's spiritual blessings are for His spiritual children only.
Rom. 8:16,17. Man by nature is not a spiritual child of God, though he is a child naturally. Adam is called "the son of God" Luke 3:28). This sonship was based, not on birth, nor on mere creation, but on the likeness that inhered in the image of God in man.
That image was two-fold. Adam had a moral or spiritual likeness to God in holiness. He had a natural likeness to God in personality. For further discussion of these see chapter on "The Original State and Fall of Man." When man fell he lost the moral or spiritual likeness to God, and thus ceased to be a spiritual child of God. But he did not lose his personality, did not fall to the level of a brute, and thus he retained a natural basis of sonship. This explains Acts 17:28,29.
Spiritually and morally man is a child of the Devil (John 8:44; 1 John 3:10), because he bears a spiritual and moral likeness to the Devil. Thus he must be born again to inherit God's spiritual blessings, because these, as Rom. 8:16,17 clearly shows, are for none except His spiritual children.
(2) Man is spiritually dead and God's kingdom both here and hereafter is spiritual in nature.
Rom. 5:12; Eph 2:1; Col. 2:13; 1 John 3:14. The statement that man is spiritually dead means that man is, because of sin, devoid of divine spirit life; although he has natural spirit life. His spirit has lost all real affinity for God. He has no affection for God or spiritual things (Rom. 8:7,8). He has no ability in spiritual things (Jer. 13:23; John 6:65).
Hence there is nothing in man's nature that qualifies him for citizenship in a spiritual kingdom. One that is dead spiritually can no more inhabit a spiritual kingdom than one that is dead physically can inhabit a physical kingdom. Thus man must be born anew in order to enter God's kingdom.
Rom. 8:7,8. God's kingdom is His rule over the hearts and lives of His saints. To enter His kingdom, therefore, is to submit to His rule. But man by nature cannot do that because he is at enmity against God. The new birth is necessary in order that this enmity may be overcome.
II. THE NATURE OF THE NEW BIRTH
1. NEGATIVELY CONSIDERED
The new birth may be called a "change of heart" in the sense of a change of the ruling disposition (including the mind and affections as well as the will), but the new heart does not displace the old. The old or carnal nature remains. See Rom. 7:14-25; Gal. 5:17. The new heart or nature is placed alongside the old, and the saint has two natures, as indicated in the foregoing passages. The new birth leaves the old nature unaltered.
The old or carnal nature, as distinguished from the new nature or ruling disposition established in the new birth, is designated in various ways in the New Testament. It is called (1) the flesh- Gr. "sarx" (John 1:13; Rom. 7:18,25; Rom. 8:4,5,8,9,13; 1 Cor. 5:5; II Cor. 10:2; Gal. 5:13,16,17, 19,24; Eph. 2:3; Col. 2:11,23; 1 Pet. 3:21; 11 Pet. 2:10,18; 1 John 2:16); (2) body-Gr. "soma" (Rom. 6:6; 7:24; 8: 13; 1 Cor. 9:27; Phil. 3:21; Col. 2: 11); (3) old man-Gr. "palaios anthropos" (Rom. 6:6; Eph. 4:22; Col. 3:9); (4) indwelling sin-Gr. "oikousa en emoi hamartia" (Rom. 7. 17,20); (5) carnal mind--Gr. "to phronema tes sarkos" (Rom. 8: 7).
There are several things which these Scriptures do not mean, viz., (1) They do not mean that the physical matter of which the body is composed is sinful. There is in these passages no suggestion that matter is inherently evil, as the Manicheans taught. (2) They do not mean that there are in the saint two souls or two spirits. (3) They do not mean that the believer has two personalities. (4) They do not mean that the believer has two faculties of will
These passages do mean that out of the physical body while animated by the regenerated soul there arise lusts- evil desires (Gal. 5: 16,17; Col. 3:5; 1 Thess. 4:5; Jas. 1:14,15; 1 John 2:16), which tend always to produce all the works of the flesh mentioned in Gal. 5:19-21; and thus the regenerated soul is hindered in putting forth effective executive volitions fully conformed to its immanent preference or its fixed choice of holiness as an ultimate end, as set forth especially in Rom. 7:15-25; Gal. 5:17.
(2) It is not a mere getting of religion.
Man is naturally religious. Note the heathen Athenians in Acts 17. Recall also the various religions and forms of worship in heathen lands today. No matter how religious a man may become, without the new birth he remains essentially sinful. In a Methodist tract we read: "We believe that one may 'get religion,' may lose it, and be eternally lost." On the margin we wrote: "I will go you one better than that. I believe a man may get religion, may keep it, and go to Hell, taking his religion with him."
(3) It is not human reformation. Human reformation is superficial, leaving the whole nature essentially the same. For that reason human reformation is not likely to be lasting. The new birth will be followed by reformation, but it is reformation that issues from a fundamental change in the ruling disposition, and not that which is founded on a mere resolution of mind. Human reformation can never purge sin from the soul and implant a new disposition.
(4) It is not adoption.
Adoption is a legal term. It is the immediate result of justification. It is not the same as regeneration. Adoption makes us children of God legally, while regeneration makes us children of God experientially. Adoption brings a mere change of legal relationship. Regeneration changes our moral nature. Adoption has to do with us as the spiritual and moral children of the Devil by nature. Regeneration has to do with us as those who are by nature devoid of spiritual life.
(5) It is not an alteration of the substance or essence of the soul, nor an infusion of new substance into the soul, nor the creation in the soul of any new faculties.
In the fall man suffered no loss of, or alteration in, the substance or essence of the soul. Neither was he deprived of any natural endowment or faculty. After the fall, man was still able to know, to feel, and to will. He still had conscience.
The fall involved an ultimate choice of evil as an end. This perverted and blinded the mind to spiritual truth (Gen. 6: 1; Rom. 8:7; 1 Cor. 2:14; 11 Cor. 4:3,4), corrupted the heart (Jer. 17:9; John 3:19; Matt. 15-19; Heb. 3:12; 1 John 2:15), defiled the conscience (Titus 1: 15; Heb. 10: 22), and enslaved the will (Jer. 13:23; John 6:65; John 8:34; 12:39,40; Rom. 6:16,17). In regeneration all of this is reversed as we are enabled by the quickening power of the Spirit to make an ultimate choice of holiness as an end.
2. Positively considered. Regeneration or being born again is a supernatural, instantaneous work of God in the region of the soul below consciousness, whereby the sinful bent imparted to the faculties of the soul in the fall of the race is rectified and, through the instrumentality of the Word of God, the initial exercise of the holy disposition thus imparted is procured.
From this definition of regeneration and from the Scriptures let us note that-
(1) It is a work of God.
Man cannot give birth to himself. John plainly attributes regeneration to God when, in speaking of our being born again, he says: "Not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:13). This passage tells us that the new nature is not hereditary; that it does not issue from the will of the old nature (flesh); and that it is not accomplished by the will of any man, but is wrought of God. This passage also means that regeneration is not the joint work of God and the human will. Repentance and faith are never made conditions of regeneration, but are gifts of God. In regeneration we do not have a man acted upon by himself or by some other man, but a man acted upon by God. Hence we may amplify the statement heading this paragraph and say that regeneration is a sovereign act of God. John 3:8. In its initial phase (quickening) it is unconditional. Man does not by any act of his own dispose God to regenerate him. The agency of the Spirit in regeneration is declared in John 3:5.
(2) It is a supernatural work.
In a sense the falling of rain, the blowing of the wind, and the flashing of the lightning are the works of God. But they occur according to natural laws. The fleshly birth represents a work of God, but it is according to the natural laws of reproduction. The new birth is different. It is not accomplished basically by natural law or natural processes. The natural thing is for the sinner to go in sin. Neither the sinner himself, nor any other natural force or agency of itself, has any more power to reverse a sinful course of life than an Ethiopian has to change his skin or a leopard has to change his spots. Jer. 13:23.
(3) It is an instantaneous work.
Says A. H. Strong: "Regeneration is not a gradual work. Although there may be a gradual work of God's providence and Spirit, preparing the change, and a gradual recognition of it after it has taken place, there must he an instant of time when, under the influence of God's Spirit the disposition of the soul, just before hostile to God is changed to love. Any other view assumes an intermediate state of indecision which has no moral character at all and confounds regeneration either with conviction or with sanctification" (Systematic Theology, p. 458).
Regeneration consists of a begetting and a bringing forth, a quickening and a birth. And, because of this, some have tried to make out such an analogy between the physical and spiritual births as would interpose a lapse of time between begetting and birth. But separation in point of time between begetting and birth in the physical realm is brought about by conditions that are peculiar to the physical realm. No such conditions prevail in the spiritual realm.
Some have tried to interpose a time element between begetting and birth by making a distinction between passages of Scripture, listing some as referring to begetting and others as referring to birth or bringing forth. There are three Greek words used with reference to the new birth. They are: "apokueo," used only once (James 1:18); "anagennao," used only twice (I Pet. 1:3,23) ; and "gennao," used many times and translated by both "beget" and "born". The Greek words have the same substantial meaning. They refer to the entire work of regeneration, and so do the passages in which they are used.
(4) It takes place in the region of the soul below consciousness.
That there is a subconscious region of human personality is a proposition demanded as a basis for sound analysis of psychological phenomena, such as certain mental trends, amnesia, sleep, and dreams. Moreover this proposition is also demanded as a basis for understanding the workings of the Spirit in inspiring Biblical writers, and divine revelations through dreams, trances, and supernatural visions. See Gen. 20:3; 31:11-13; 1 Kings 3.5; Job 33:14-18; Isa. 1.1; Dan. 2:19; 7:1; 8-1; Obad. 1; Nah. 1: 1; Hab. 2:2; Matt. 1:20; 2:12; Acts 10:10-16; 16:9; 18:9,10; 27: 23-25; 2 Cor. 12:1-4; Rev. 1:10; 4:1, et seq.
Delitzsch says quite appropriately that we "who live in an earthly body have, as the background of our being, a dim region, out of which our thinking labors forth to the daylight; and in which much goes forward, especially in the condition of sleep, of which we can come to a knowledge only by looking back afterwards." Then he says further: "Certainly the depth of man's internal nature, into which in sleep he sinks back, conceals far more than is manifest to himself. It has been [published in 1855] a fundamental error of most psychologists hitherto, to make the soul only extend so far as its consciousness extends: it embraces, as is now always acknowledged, a far greater abundance of powers and relations than can commonly appear in its consciousness" (A System of Biblical Psychology, pp. (Jer. 17:9).
That it was in this subconscious region that depravity took place is evidenced by the fact that we are said to be dead in sin by nature (Eph. 2:5; Col. 2:13) and to have a heart whose deceitful wickedness we cannot fully know (Jer. 17:9).
That this is the region where regeneration takes place and where the Spirit dwells in union with the regenerated soul and carries on His work is proved by (1) the fact that quickening must occur in the same region where we are dead- that the natural state of spiritual death is back of the will (and, therefore, below consciousness) is further proved by the fact that whereas in the natural state we can will we cannot will that which is pleasing to God (Jer. 13:23; John 6:65; 12:33-40; Rom 8:7,8; 11 Cor. 4:3,4; 11 Tim. 2:24-26); (2) the fact that the life-giving power of the Spirit is said to operate as the wind- beyond our control and understanding, and apprehended by us only in its effect (John 3:8); (3) the fact that the Holy Spirit dwells in us and seals us (John 7:37-39; 14:17; 1 Cor. 6:19; Eph. 1:12-14, moving us to pray Gal. 4:6), interpreting our unutterable groanings (Rom. 8:26,27), and yet are not conscious of a second person within us; (4) the fact that God works in us to will (Phil 2:13), and thus must work back of the will. In this way alone can God guarantee that the child of God "cannot sin" (I John 3:9) in the sense of renouncing the ultimate end upon which the will is fixed in regeneration.
(5) It rectifies that which occurred in the soul in the fall of the race.
Before the fall, the bodies and souls of Adam and Eve were harmonious in holiness, their bodies being under the perfect control of their holy souls. The real fall was internal. "The eating of the forbidden fruit is only the external performance of the deed which has already been internally committed" (Delitzsch, ibid, p. 147). Under temptation, their moral natures being permitted of God (He not supplying the extra grace that would have prevented the fall) to weaken, bodily desires becoming inordinate, overpowered the soul and brought it into harmony with them. Thus the faculties of the soul were turned away from God. In regeneration these faculties are turned back to God. The body is allowed in this life to remain the seat of inordinate affection. But no sin remains in the soul, so that whereas before salvation, the soul, in departing from the body, is ready for perdition; after salvation it is ready for entrance into the presence of Christ upon its departure from the body. Faith wrought by the regenerating Spirit of God purifies the soul. 1 Pet. 1:22.
Thus the believer has the image of God restored in the soul (Eph. 4:24) and partakes of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4) as the holy faculties of the soul are brought to expression.
(6) It is not complete until repentance and faith have been wrought in the soul.
It is to these that we refer when we speak in the foregoing of "the initial exercise of the holy disposition," which exercise is procured by regeneration. Repentance and faith should be thought of as a part of regeneration rather than as fruits of regeneration. The soul is not renewed so long as it remains in impenitence and unbelief. These attitudes of the heart are brought about in regeneration. This is confirmed by the fact that the truth is used instrumentally in regeneration. If regeneration did not consist of the working of repentance and faith in the heart, there would be no need of the instrumentality of the word.
From the foregoing we see that man is not wholly passive in regeneration. He is passive in the initial impartation of life, in which the moral faculties of the soul are recovered from the depravity of the fall and a holy ruling disposition is established; but in the initial exercise of this holy disposition, man is active.
III. HOW THE NEW BIRTH IS ACCOMPLISHED
1. NEGATIVELY CONSIDERED
Education and culture can bring nothing out of man that is not in him. Hence, since man is essentially sinful and totally depraved, education and culture can never produce that holy ruling disposition that is wrought in regeneration.
(2) Not by baptism.
That baptism is not instrumental in the new birth is proved by the following facts:
A. There is no conceivable way in which baptism can remove sin from the soul or impart a holy ruling disposition. Physical means can never work a spiritual change. The idea of baptismal regeneration 'is part and parcel of a general scheme of mechanical rather than moral salvation, and is more consistent with materialistic than with a spiritual philosophy" (Strong). If it be said that in baptism we come into contact with the blood of Christ, the reply is that this is an unscriptural and childish subterfuge that could be adopted by none except those who are defeated and do not have the honesty to admit it.
B. Peter affirms that baptism is not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, (carnal nature) but the answer of a good conscience toward God (I Pet. 3:21). A good conscience is one that has been purged by the blood of Christ (Heb. 9:14). Until thus purged, the conscience is evil (Heb. 10:22). And when one has been purged there is no more conscience of sins (Heb. 10:2). Hence one who has a good conscience will never do anything in order to be saved, for he has no conscience of sins, no feeling of need of salvation. All of this proves that one is saved prior to baptism, and not through baptism.
C. The words of Jesus in Matt 3:15 imply that baptism is a work of righteousness, and Paul says we are not saved by works of righteousness (Titus 3:5).
D. Faith must precede baptism (Acts 2:41; 8:37; 19: 1-5), and when faith is exercised one is already saved (John 3: 18; 5:24; I John 5:1). This is an argument that no advocate of the instrumentality of baptism in salvation has ever had the courage to face squarely.
E. When faith has been exercised, regeneration is complete; hence baptism which follows faith cannot be instrumental in regeneration. That faith is wrought in the heart in regeneration has been shown already, and will be made even clearer in the chapter on conversion
F. The thief on the cross was saved without baptism. The supposition that this thief must have had John's baptism previous to his crucifixion is groundless. Such baptism would have been no better than the baptism received by the twelve at Ephesus, because it would have been, like theirs, without faith in Christ, and hence not valid. The notion that the thief and others during the personal ministry of Christ were saved apart from the gospel by some special dispensation of God or Christ implies Christ's death was unnecessary. If God could save a few apart from the gospel, He could just as well save all thus. The effort to make out that Christ's words to the thief formed a question instead of a declaration is absurd and without the slightest pretext in the Greek. That paradise is Heaven, the immediate presence of the Father is evident from Rev. 2:7 and 22:1,2.
2. POSITIVELY CONSIDERED
Regeneration is wrought-
(1) By the Holy Spirit.
John 3:5 tells us that the new birth is by the Holy Spirit. There are two serious errors with reference to the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration. One is that He operates (in some cases) at least entirely independent and apart from the written Word of God. This is held by the Hardshells. Consequently they believe that men may be saved without knowledge of the written Word. The passages that ascribe to the Word of God a place in regeneration, which passages will be noted under the next heading, refute this notion. The other error we refer to here is the teaching that the Spirit in regeneration does not act immediately upon the soul, but only immediately through the Word. This is the teaching of Campbellites.
"The scriptural assertions of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and of His mighty power in the soul forbid us to regard the divine spirit in regeneration as coming in contact, not with the soul, but only with the truth. Since truth is simply what it is, there can be no change wrought in the truth. The phrases, 'to energize the truth,' 'to intensify the truth', 'to illuminate the truth,' have no proper meaning; since God cannot make the truth more true. If any change is wrought, it must be wrought not in the truth, but in the soul" (Strong, Systematic Theology, p. 453).
Man's depravity and inability by nature to receive the truth and turn from sin to Christ and righteousness (Jer. 13:23; John 6:65; 1 Cor. 2:14) also show the absolute necessity of the immediate impact and operation of the Holy Spirit upon the soul in regeneration. "No mere increase of light will enable the blind to see; the disease of the eye must first be cured before external objects are visible. So God's work in regeneration must be performed within the soul itself. Over and above all influences of truth, there must be the direct influence of the Holy Spirit upon the heart" (ibid).
(2) Using the instrumentality of the Word.
The instrumentality of the Word in regeneration is taught by John 3:5; Eph. 5:26; Jas. 1:18; 1 Pet 1:23. It is evident from I Pet. 1: 25 that the word in these passages is the written or preached Word rather than the incarnate Word (which is Christ). In I Pet. 1:23 the Word is characterized as that "which liveth and abideth forever." Then in verse 24 the perishable nature of other things is referred to. And in verse 25 the endurance of the Word is again referred to, and it is plainly specified that the Word referred to is "the word of good tidings which was preached unto you" (correct translation).
However it needs to be understood (as we have before implied) that in the first phrase of regeneration (quickening) the Spirit operates on the soul independent of the Word. The spiritually dead soul must be given life before it can see and act upon the truth. It is by quickening that one is enabled to come to Christ (John 6:65). It is thus that God gives men over into possession of Christ (John 6:37).
Here again, as we would expect, the falseness of Charles G. Finney's theology is manifested. He flatly contradicts himself. He makes regeneration the personal work of the Holy Spirit, and yet denies that the Spirit makes direct impact upon the soul. This he thinks would inject a physical influence into regeneration. He affirms that man has the natural ability to obey God, and yet teaches that no man can be saved apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. After one reads his treatment of regeneration, then he fully understands why Mr. Finney for a time wavered on the matter of the perseverance of the saints. Really, according to his view of regeneration and human nature and the method of God in dealing with man, he has no logical reason for believing in the perseverance of the saints; and, no doubt, would not believe in it if he could find some way to nullify the plain declarations of Scripture with reference to it. See pp. 254, 288, 296, 324, 325, 552, of Finney's Lectures of Systematic Theology.
IV. EVIDENCES OF THE NEW BIRTH
1. GENUINE TRUST IN GOD ALONE FOR SALVATION
We have noted that faith is wrought in the heart as a part (the secondary part) of regeneration. This is necessarily so because the new nature cannot be in unbelief. The faith that is wrought in man in regeneration does not stop short of implicit trust and confidence in Christ as a personal Saviour. It is not merely belief about Him, but faith and trust in and on Him. This is so abundantly evident from all passages dealing with faith that it needs no further argument to substantiate it.
One has not been regenerated until he is willing to trust his eternal welfare wholly to Christ. He must have repented of dead works (Heb. 6:1). All works engaged in for salvation are dead works. No faith is counted for righteousness, and hence is not saving faith, except the faith of him "who worketh not" for salvation (Rom. 4:5). As long as one is looking to anything other than Christ he is not regenerated.
2. THE WITNESS AND INDWELLING PRESENCE OF THE SPIRIT
Rom. 8:16, 9; I John 3:24; 4:13. The witness and the indwelling of the Spirit is not evidenced by some vague, mystical, impractical feeling, but by the constant ruling power of the Spirit (Rom. 8:14) producing devotion to God and an obedient life. It is by the constant indwelling of the Spirit and His operation in us that God performs until the end, the work that He begins in us in regeneration (Phil. 1:6; 2:13). The witness and indwelling of the Spirit is evidenced in all the ways that follow.
3. READINESS TO ACCEPT GOD'S WORD
John 8-47. A regenerated person will ever show a desire to know the will of his Father in everything and to follow that will when it is made known. He will not be found walking continuously in stubborn rebellion against truth.
4. CONSCIOUSNESS OF SIN
Rom. 7:14-25; 1 John 1:8. No saved person will think himself sinless. Those who do are deceived, and are without the truth, by which we are regenerated (Jas. 1:18) and made free (John 8:32). This makes it plain that they are not saved. The new nature will ever recognize the presence of sin in the body, as in the case of Paul (Rom. 7:14-25). This new nature has in it the enlightening unction of the Spirit (1 John 2:27) and partakes of the nature of God Himself (2 Pet. 1:4), being created in righteousness and true holiness (Eph. 4:24). It cannot be blind to sin.
5. LOVE OF GOD AND RIGHTEOUSNESS
John 8:42; Rom. 7:22; 2 Cor. 5:17; 1 John 4:16-19. Along with the consciousness of indwelling sin will be a love of God and righteousness, just as in the case of Paul. He found sin in the body, yet he delighted in the law of God after the inward man.
6. A LIFE THAT IS OBEDIENT AS TO ITS MAIN TREND
John 14:21-24; Rom. 6:14; 8:6,13; Gal. 5:24; 1 John 1:6; 2:4, 15; 3:8,9; 2 John 6. The life of the saved person will not be perfect, but it will be righteous and obedient as to its main trend. For further discussion of this matter, see treatment of 1 John 2:4.
1 John 3:3. While the believer never attains sinless perfection in this life, yet he ever wages war against his own sins.
1 John 3:14; 5:2. There is such an affinity between regenerated persons that they love each other. One evidence of this love is that they delight in the presence and fellowship of one another. But God has added another test of our love of the brethren. If we love God and keep His commandments, we know that we love the children of God. See second Scripture above. So we are brought back again to the matter of obedience to God.
9. PATIENT CONTINUANCE TO THE END
Matt. 10:22; Rom. 11:22; Phil. 1:6; Col. 1:23; 1 John 3:9; 5:4. Perseverance is as much a doctrine of Scripture as is preservation. By God's preservation of us we are made to persevere. These two doctrines are perfectly consistent, and need to be held and preached as twin truths. None will reach Heaven except those who hold out to the end and overcome the world. See promises to overcomers in Rev. 3 and 4. No promises to others. But all of the regenerated will overcome (1 John 5:4).