A Sermon Delivered By C. H. Spurgeon, At The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington. *10/30/2012
You must be born again. [Joh 3:7]
For other sermons on this text:
[See Spurgeon_Sermons No. 1455, “Every Man’s Necessity” 1449]
[See Spurgeon_Sermons No. 3121, “Necessity of Regeneration, The” 3122]
Exposition on Joh 3:1-18 [See Spurgeon_Sermons No. 2339, “Baptism Essential to Obedience” 2340 @@ "Exposition"]
Exposition on Joh 3:1-18 [See Spurgeon_Sermons No. 2663, “Leap Year Sermon, A” 2664 @@ "Exposition"]
Exposition on Joh 3:1-18 [See Spurgeon_Sermons No. 3053, “Jesus Christ’s Idiom” 3054 @@ "Exposition"]
Exposition on Joh 3:1-21 [See Spurgeon_Sermons No. 3095, “Faith in Christ” 3096 @@ "Exposition"]
Exposition on Joh 3:1-21 [See Spurgeon_Sermons No. 3121, “Necessity of Regeneration, The” 3122 @@ "Exposition"]
Exposition on Joh 3:1-21 [See Spurgeon_Sermons No. 3463, “Why Men Do Not Believe” 3465 @@ "Exposition"]
Exposition on Joh 3:1-24 [See Spurgeon_Sermons No. 2463, “Why Men Reject Christ” 2464 @@ "Exposition"]
Exposition on Nu 21:1-9 Joh 3:1-15 [See Spurgeon_Sermons No. 3214, “Two Wilderness Incidents” 3215 @@ "Exposition"]
1. When men are perishing all around you it would be cruel to waste time in attempting to interest their minds or to amuse their imaginations. We must do something more practical, and give earnest heed to their pressing necessities. Is it famine which kills them? Let us feed them. Is it cold? Let us supply them with covering. Is it disease? Let us administer medicine. When the case is urgent we confine ourselves to essentials, and attend with our whole heart to what must have our attention. What may be can wait, but what must be demands our immediate care. Now, the spiritual needs of men are urgent, and among them the most pressing is their regeneration: they must be born again, or they are lost. Therefore, at this time, we will dwell on this topic and give it our whole consideration, letting other interesting matters wait until this most weighty business is happily over. This is a must, and we must press it upon you at once with our whole heart. Our earnest desire is for a great ingathering of souls to the garner of salvation, but in order to do this they must be born again. We have had many of you hovering all around us like birds around the fowler, but you are not as yet taken in the gospel net; this state of things cannot satisfy us; we want to see you decided for Christ, and truly born again. You have been hearers for a long time, but, alas, you remain hearers only, and are not “doers of the word.” We mean that the fault shall not lie with us; if you continue unsaved it shall not be because we have not preached the gospel and kept on preaching it, and preached it as a matter of life and death. Again, then, we strive for the one point, the point of absolute necessity — “You must be born again.” We trust that if one arrow does not reach the mark another may; at any rate, we will continue shooting at the one target — the conversion of your souls. Oh you who as yet have not been brought to know the Lord, may the Holy Spirit guide the arrow at this hour.
2. And now we will have a little simple talk about the great experience called regeneration, or the new birth, without which no man can see the kingdom of heaven, much less enter it.
3. I. And we shall remark concerning it in the first place that the change which is accomplished in us by the new birth is MOST THOROUGH: “You must be born again.”
4. A new birth is the most sweeping and entire process conceivable. It is, in fact, more than a change, it is a creation. Regeneration is a great deal more than reformation of life, or becoming religious; for it is not “You must be washed, you must be improved, you must be elevated”; but “you must be born.” It is not enough that the present life, as already possessed, should be renovated, that the existing nature should receive fresh vigour and new tone, but “you must be born again”: a new life must be received, and no improving the present life will suffice in its place.
5. It is a great deal more also than any change of opinion. I am always afraid of those people who boast in being converted from one set of religious opinions to another. The best converts to a church are those who are brought into it from the world: those who migrate from other sections of Christianity are not often the most valuable acquisitions. Sometimes, like the convicts, who leave their country for their country’s good, they benefit their party best by leaving it, and do not come to the newly adopted section of the church as an unmixed gain. The text does not say “You must change your opinions, and drink in new notions,” but “You must have a new nature; you must be born again.” Notions may be altered again and again, and yet the man may be no nearer being a child of God; but let the nature be changed by the Holy Spirit, and then the matter is accomplished. It is this, and nothing short of this, that can land a man in heaven; he must become a new creature in Christ Jesus. The process of the new birth is so thorough that it is a great deal more than an alteration of a man’s way of thinking, even upon the best of topics. A man may now think it is his duty to be religious, whereas once he was debauched: he may now conceive it to be his duty to be sober, whereas before he was drunken: he may feel it is his duty to be diligent now, whereas before he was a sluggard: but all these, put together would not amount to a new birth. We rejoice in reformation of any kind. The less sin there is in the world the better, but, for all that, the vital point will not have been reached with all the alterations of thought, and even of life, of which a man is capable; for the text remains in force after all the renovations, conversions, and reformations that are possible for unaided flesh and blood, and it cries with stern, unchanging voice — “You must be born again.”
6. The person concerned may have passed through a long series of ceremonies. He may have been received with a welcome into a so-called church, and from the hands of those who think themselves to be priests there may have distilled the aqueous imposture which is said to regenerate the soul: but there is something more needed than priests can convey, or than water can effect. Our Lord Jesus Christ meant something far other than the hocus-pocus of an empty form when he said, “You must be born again.” I say in the presence of all who have been baptized in infancy, and all who have been baptized in adult age but were not believers: — you, even you, baptized infidels — “You must be born again.” If you have been baptized and rebaptized, but are still unbelievers, and do not have the Spirit of God in your souls, “you must be born again.”
7. What does all this mean? and what is the significance of this change, so thorough? Do not the words evidently mean that a new nature must be created in us? For a life, a nature is the production of a birth. At a birth there comes into the world a life which was not there before. There must come into us a new life to which by nature we are perfect strangers; something far beyond what belongs to us as we are born after the flesh, a life that was not latent in the infant, to be gradually developed in the training of the child, but a life which is altogether absent until divine grace implants it there. “You must be born again” — you must be created again, or as the Scriptures say, “Begotten again to a lively hope.” The life within you must be as fresh a creation as was the light when God spoke it, or as was the world when God formed it out of nothing. A work of divine power must be exercised upon you equal to what raised the Lord Jesus from the dead and gave him glory.
8. With a new life in the matter of our ordinary birth there begins a new experience. To the new-born child everything is new. Every pain, every sensation of pleasure, is all novel to him — he has known nothing of all this before. And though we may have attained to manhood, or even to old age, when we are born again, the spiritual life is all a fresh experience. There are new feelings of contrition, there is a new faith, there is a new joy, a new hope, everything is new — “Old things have passed away, and all things have become new.” Though the man may have traversed many paths, and experienced many sensations, yet the moment he is born again he is a stranger in a strange land, and he is led in a way which he does not know, and in paths which he has not seen. All young souls just born to God, however old they may be concerning the bodily reckoning, rejoice in the sacred novelty of the new life, and they thank and bless God who has put his hand a second time to the work and quickened them into newness of life.
9. Now, just as there is a new life, and a new nature, and a new experience, so is there for the child born and the man regenerated a new world. It is all new to the child — his brothers and sisters surprise him. When he is taken into the open air, and sees the green fields for the first time, he marvels at them. To the little one everything is fresh. He lives in a museum, he is surrounded with wonders. Even the toys which grown-up people look upon with so much contempt are quite marvels to the little one, he is charmed with them all. Now, a Christian, a man born again, lives in a new world. It is all new to him now, as I remember to have heard a young girl say when she first found the Saviour. When she came to confess her faith in Christ she said, “Either I am altogether changed, or else the world is”: and I could not help telling her I hoped it was both — I hoped she herself was changed, and that this change had produced the other, so that all things had become new. There is a new heaven and a new earth reserved for us eventually, and even now, while we are in this world, it is no longer for us what it is for the carnal man. To the twice-born the world is turned upside down. The things we once loved we cease to care for, former objects of ambition we consider only dross, while things that were contemptible become to us objects of supreme solicitude. The Holy Spirit having changed us, our views of everything all around us are entirely different. Such must be your experience, dear hearer, or you will live as carnal men and die in your sins. You must experience this divine creation, no matter who you may be; there can be no exceptions, you must know this great change or be lost. You may have been dandled on the lap of piety; the name of Jesus may have mingled with the hush of your first lullaby, you may scarcely at first have heard any music except for holy hymns, you may have been taught morality and sanctity by the example of many generations of ancestors; but, no matter who you may be, or what you may be, you must receive a new life, and you must pass through a new experience, and you must live in a new world or be lost. You must live in the spiritual world, where all is new; you must have fellowship with God, a thing unknown to you before; you must fellowship with his Son, to whom you have been a stranger; you must feel the power and energy of the Spirit working in you, a matter which you have never known until now; or there is no hope for you.
10. Notice that every birth brings into operation a new force. A new worker is born; he is feeble as yet, but those little feet will yet be strong for running, and those tiny hands will yet become dexterous at some useful craft. And so, when a soul is born to God it feels a new power within, and itself becomes a new force. It is obedient to a power which it never recognised before, and a power is produced from it which it had not been able to exercise before, and did not even understand. A new power has come among men when another soul is born to God: the spiritual world is stronger, and the carnal world is all the weaker for the birth of another spiritual man.
11. I do not know how to put the matter better than this, but I think I have shown you that regeneration is a most thorough change. To be born again is no child’s play. It is not enough for a man to rise under a sermon and say, “I have been impressed and touched by it, and I believe I am converted.” There is a vast difference between saying “I am born again” and really undergoing the heavenly birth. It is not making a profession, or even maintaining it with credit for years which will suffice, for, alas, some have seemed almost apostles, and yet have been altogether sons of perdition. You must come to know vitally, indeed and of a truth, in your own soul, what it is for the flesh to be crucified with Christ, and for a new life to be implanted in you supernaturally as the work of the Holy Spirit, or else you cannot enter into the kingdom of God. The work is radical, spiritual, marvellous, and divine.
12. II. In the second place it is MOST WONDERFUL.
13. It is most wonderful in the sense of mystery — concerning the manner of it. It is not easy to preach from this text and attempt to go minutely into details; for, if we did so, we might venture too far. I have read treatises upon the subject which were far too destitute of delicacy, and calculated to disgust rather than to impress. We do not pry and must not pry into a divine secret. “You hear its sound, but cannot tell from where it comes, or where it goes; so is everyone who is born by the Spirit.” Who shall know how the Holy Spirit works? That he works by means of the word of God we know; that he blesses the truth read in a book or heard from the minister — this we know, but how it is he enters into the heart, how it is he creates a spirit within us, how he produces the spiritual life in us — who shall tell except God only? But then we do not need to know; it is enough for us to be assured of the fact, we need not pry into the matter. “The secret of the Lord is with those who fear him”: they know from experience what it is to be born again, but they themselves could not explain how it is that the sacred wind blows, nor how the Spirit operates upon the human heart. There have been many discussions concerning whether the Spirit of God, as it were, comes nakedly into contact with the nature of man, or whether he always works in and by truth and thought, and so on. Into all this it is not necessary for us to go. We would rather admire, wonder, and adore, for these are better than merely to comprehend; since a man may understand all mysteries and yet be as a sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal.
14. It is a mystery concerning the supernaturalness of the operation, for evermore true regeneration is always supernatural. There is no doubt that moral persuasion does much with men, that the influence of association will often improve men’s manners and habits; that great results may flow from education, especially if it is of the right kind; and that much may be developed in mankind that is admirable, honest, lovely, and of good repute. But this is not to the purpose, since it is not what our Saviour meant — it falls short of the new birth, and is indeed quite another thing. The Holy Spirit, the third person in the blessed Trinity must as much come to work upon us as God came out to work upon this world in its creation, or else we are not born again. It is not enough that we by ourselves and in the energy of our old nature begin to pray, repent, and so on; for all that can come of our flesh will still be flesh; but in regeneration it is the Spirit who begins by infusing the life, and then the new nature begins to pray and repent. What is born of the Spirit is spirit, and hence the new birth must be a spiritual operation in order to produce that spiritual nature without which we cannot see and enter into the things of God. This is a solemn matter for you, my hearer, if you have been merely an attendant upon the means of grace and a lover of the outward forms of religion. Do I mean to tell you that you must undergo a change which is beyond your own working, which all the men in this world and all the angels in heaven could not work in you, but which God himself must perform? I do mean that — I mean nothing less than that. “Am I to understand,” you say, “that almighty power must work upon me as much as in my creation?” I mean all that, and that it needs as much power to cause you to be born again as it did to make a world: indeed, and that the same power which raised Jesus Christ from the dead when he had slept three days in the grave is needed in all its fulness to raise you from your death of sin, and must be exerted if you are ever raised at all. It is a wonderful thing that the Spirit of God should condescend to undertake this work, and that the Lord should apply himself a second time to the work. It is surprising that when the vessel was marred upon the wheel and spoiled, instead of breaking it up and consigning it to destruction, he should exert all his power again and fashion the clay to his own model. He stoops to make us twice-born, newly created, begotten again, that we might at the last come to wear the image of Jesus, the firstborn among many brethren. “You must be born again”: the infinite Jehovah must condescend to be a second time our Creator or we must hopelessly perish.
15. This work is wonderful because of the grandeur of the relationship into which it introduces us. The child who is born has a father from the very fact of his birth, and we who are born from above cry “Abba, Father,” from the very fact that we are regenerated. Adoption gives us the rights of children, but regeneration alone gives us the nature of children. Because we are sons, God sends out the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, by whom we cry “Abba, Father.” If I have been born again, no matter what my station in life or position in society, then God is my Father, and it follows that Jesus Christ is my brother; and this not merely in form and in name, as men call each other brethren when there is no actual relationship, but there is a real relationship between us and Christ Jesus and the divine Father, for we are made “partakers of the divine nature.” We are the sons of God, and if sons of God, then we are brethren of Christ. It must be so, and it follows from this that, if children, then heirs, and if Christ is the heir, we are joint-heirs with him. My brethren, what privileges spring out of the relationship which arises from the new birth, for our Father then pledges himself for our support, for our comfort, for our education, for all that is necessary for our perfection in the day of the homecoming when we shall see him face-to-face. What can happen to a man so great as to be born again? Suppose some of the poorest of the earth who have swept the streets for a paltry pittance should suddenly be elevated by royal favour to the peerage, or imagine that by some revolution of the wheel of providence they should become emperors and kings themselves; yet what of that? The change would be extraordinary, and men would wonder about it; for the passages in history which have been thought most noteworthy have been those where paupers have mounted from the dunghill to the throne, and fishermen have cast aside their rough garments to put on the imperial purple. But these strides from nothingness to greatness are inconsiderable and trifling compared with rising from being a slave of Satan to become a son of God. To be elevated by God himself from the darkness and degradation and bondage under which we are brought by the fall and by actual sin to the liberty, to the glory, to the eternal blessedness of the children of God — this surpasses all conception. This can only be ours through our being born again. Our first birth makes us sons of Adam, our second birth makes us sons of God. Born of the flesh, we inherit corruption; we must be born of the Spirit to inherit incorruption. We come into this world heirs of sorrow because we are sons of the fallen man: our new life comes into the new world an heir of glory, because it is descended from the second man, the Lord from heaven. Thus I have spoken upon the wonderful character of this work, as well as upon the thoroughness of it.
16. III. Now, let us remark, in the third place, that, wonderful and mysterious as the new birth must always be, it is MOST OBVIOUS.
17. The house knows when a child is born. There are mysteries surrounding his birth, but the fact is apparent enough. You shall soon hear his cry in the nursery, and before long his prattle in the parlour; you shall see the joy of the parents as they clasp their offspring, and the care with which they watch for his good. So in the new birth, we do not know how the Spirit works, but we know that he does work, and we soon see that a marvellous change has come over those whom he has made possessors of the heavenly seed, creatures of the new life. Those who know converted people best are among the first to perceive the transforming miracle of grace. Do you not think that Elstow knew when John Bunyan had found the Saviour? The bell ringers knew it, there was no more Sabbath breaking: and the few poor, godly people who used to meet at Bedford knew it, for he crept into their midst and began to ask them about the things which had become the delight of his soul. We sometimes hear about a person being born again and not knowing it — a somewhat singular matter. Yet I suppose that such an event, after a fashion, very commonly happens in the Episcopalian denomination, because if people are born again in infant baptism there are thousands in London who have undergone the change, but I am sure that they cannot be sure of it, for their own lives would not tell them so, and their own emotions and feelings would not lead them to any such belief. Regeneration is a poor business if these baptized rebels are regenerate. Why, at that rate, our prisons swarm with regenerated thieves, and our streets are infested with regenerated prostitutes, and occasionally we have regenerate murderers — all born again in their baptism, and made children of God, members of Christ, and heirs of the kingdom of heaven. The lie is sickening: the devil himself laughs at it. Of all transparent falsehoods surely that of baptismal regeneration is the grossest. It is a marvel that men who live and walk among sane people should ever fall for it. Ah, sirs, where the true life given from heaven is found there is something to show for it. Does a man say “I am regenerate?” Come, then, sir, what is the difference in you? What life do you lead? Do you have a higher object than the ordinary sons of men? Are you swayed by higher motives? Are there more divine impulses pulsing in your soul than those which stir the hearts of worldlings? “for unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees,” the best of worldlings, “you cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” If the love of Christ within does not make us better than the best of worldly men, we give no evidence of having experienced the renewing work of God the Holy Spirit.
18. The heavenly life is very obvious: and it is all the more so from the fact that there are certain signs which always attend and attest to the new birth. People may be born again, and yet they may not be able to agree with us in certain points of doctrine; but there are some things which all the regenerate agree about. For first, every soul that is born again repents of its sin. If a man lives in his sin as he used to do, he must not pretend that he is a twice-born man, or he will mightily deceive himself. If he can look upon sin in the same light as he did before, if he can find pleasure in it, yes, if he does not sincerely turn from it with loathing and seek the mercy of God to blot it out, he knows nothing about what regeneration is.
19. Again all the regenerate have faith: they all agree in finding all the sole ground of their hope in the blood and merit of Jesus. Meet them anywhere and they will tell you they have no confidence except in the Saviour’s precious blood; he is all their salvation and all their desire. They rest upon this rock, every one of them; and no matter what high professors they may be, nor what lofty offices they hold in the church, if Christ is not their one and only trust, they do not know what it is to be born again.
20. In addition to this all who have passed from death to life pray. If it really rises from the heart, prayer is an infallible sign of the new birth; and if it can be said of a man “He does not pray,” then he is still dead in his sins, the Spirit of God has not renewed his soul. I might mention some other holy signs which are invariable accompaniments of the new birth, but these three will suffice for all practical purposes. You can test yourselves, beloved, by them. Have you repented? Do you have faith in God? Do you rejoice to draw near to God in prayer? If these things are in you they are signs of the new life, for they were never yet found in the spiritually dead. Do you groan over sin? A corpse does not groan: gracious mourning over transgression is one of the most certain proofs of inward spiritual life. Trust in Jesus is an equally clear sign of spiritual life, for the dead man does not know what it is to trust; and genuine prayer is equally a certain sign of life received from above. A pang of penitential grief, a thought of holy trust, and a yearning of inward prayer are more than all the unregenerate upon earth can accomplish, even though they should be doctors of divinity or cardinals of the church.
21. This new life, the new birth, is a very obvious thing from the power that it puts into men after it has had time to develop itself. At first converts are trembling and weak, but if they have received the new life they gather strength, and there is a power in it which the church soon rejoices in, and which the devil trembles at. This power of course can be kept under restraint by unbelief and other follies, but it ought to have full range, and should never be repressed. I often wish our Christian people were a little more natural in their expression of what they feel. If any brother cries “Amen” very heartily after prayer many look at him, and yet in the primitive church it was the universal custom of those who joined in prayer to say “Amen,” by way of endorsing it and making it their own. I wonder why Christian people have, to so large an extent, given up the practice. It is a most fitting and proper one, and ought to be restored. I read the other day of a good Bible Christian brother who sometimes, when his heart was merry within him with joy in the Holy Spirit, would even leap for joy as he went to the pit to work. Why should he not do so? Yet you do not like the look of it; do you? I would sooner wish that a man should be as nimble as David before the ark than be as sleepy as some Christians are, who, if they have any joy, repress it and never express it: they are afraid of expressing their joy for fear they should be misjudged. Do not let it be so with you. If you let the new life within you have its own course, you may be thought to be eccentric, but in those eccentricities will lie your force. Who is he who shall cramp us and hold us in when the eternal Spirit quickens us? If God has blotted out our sin we will praise and magnify his name; and if we have been delivered from going down into the pit we will tell others about it and not hold our tongues. Even though our testimony may not be delivered in the most classical style, and our proclaiming the precious Saviour’s love may not be all that the educated may wish it to be, yet if we should hold our peace the stones of the street would cry out, and therefore we must and we will speak. He who has a well within him bubbling up must let it gush out, and he who has the new life within him will in some form or other become a power in the midst of his fellow men, and the secret will ooze out that he is a twice-born man.
22. I cannot linger longer. Regeneration is a thorough change, and a wonderful change; but it is an obvious change, and in some men it is especially so. May it be our purpose to prove beyond a doubt that we are born from above.
23. IV. But now, very briefly, regeneration is a MOST IMPERATIVE CHANGE. You must, you must, you must be born again. You may be rich or you may be poor, but “you must be born again.” You may be intelligent, you may be educated, you may be talented, but “you must, you must be born again.” Many things are desirable, but one thing is necessary, imperatively necessary — you must, you must, you must be born again. This imperative necessity may be seen from many points of view. We cannot mention them all, but just one or two.
24. First, if you are not born again, you have no life, no spiritual life. The first birth gave you bodily life and mental life, but it did not give you spiritual life — it could not do so, for what is born of the flesh is flesh, and no more. Now, you must have spiritual life or else you are dead in trespasses and sins, and to all that has to do with spiritual blessings — to a spiritual gospel, a spiritual salvation, a spiritual heaven, to all these things you are dead as the corpses in their graves are dead to the business of today. There may be great changes taking place in politics; business may be very prosperous, or it may be depressed, but the dead man has no interest in the nation or its commerce — how can he have? So it is with you; until you are born again, the spiritual world is shut up to you, and you are indifferent to it. Angels may be rejoicing, and believers may be rejoicing over saved souls, but you care nothing about it. The Lord Jesus himself may be seeing the travail of his soul, but it is nothing to you, and it must be nothing to you because you are dead. Oh if our bodies could take the shape of our souls, there would be many carcasses sitting before me in these pews. Ah, strange and ghastly sight! We thank God that he conceals the spiritual from our eyes, otherwise we might in horror leave the places where we sit, because we should find ourselves in close companionship with the dead. What a horrible thing a dead soul must be, if our spirits could now perceive it as our senses would perceive a corpse. Let us pause here to see the striking facts in this context. Some of you are linked in marriage with the spiritually dead. Some of you have living in your house the children of your care, who are dead while they live. You will sit tonight at the supper table with the spiritually dead. Regard them in that light and your hearts will, perhaps, be moved to pray more intensely for them than you have so far done. You who sit regularly in this place, I would like you to remember this fact when this house is crowded. Think, “In my pew there are sitting an unconverted man and an unconverted woman, and they are dead.” We do not expect them to feel for themselves, but we do expect the living to feel for them. My dear hearers who are unrenewed, do you not see that you must be born again, for unless you are so, you will remain dead to spiritual things?
25. Furthermore, remember that a man who is not born again has no spiritual capacity. We must be receivers first in the spiritual life, and the dead sinner as yet, until God quickens him, can receive nothing. How often are the saints of God spiritually comforted, instructed, enriched under the preaching and hearing of the word; but it is their spiritual nature that receives the enrichment. The unregenerate have no spiritual nature: they are carnal, sold under sin, and their mental powers, as well as their bodily appetites, are enslaved: hence they have no power to receive the blessing. The gracious and ever-blessed rain of the Spirit comes, but they are not like Gideon’s fleece ready to drink it in, but like a hard stone upon which the drops may descend, but it cannot be saturated with the moisture, nor softened by it. Unregenerate men are broken cisterns, which it is vain to attempt to fill. Even if God’s own grace were to come to them it could not be retained, for they do not have the capacity to hold it. Only the spiritual can receive the spiritual. You must then be born again to have a spirit by which spiritual things are discerned and received. Do you not see that you must be born again?
26. Once more, you must be born again, because without the Sprit of God you are not the children of God, and consequently you have no spiritual inheritance. The Spirit causes us to be born; that birth makes us children, and our being children makes us heirs. If we are not born again we are not children, therefore we are not heirs, and we are excluded from the inheritance, for God’s inheritance of glory is for the heirs of grace and for no one else; and no one shall come into the eternal portion except those who are born in his house and are his true sons and daughters. Universal fatherhood, whatever that may be, brings us common mercies; but it is the special fatherhood which God has towards the living in Zion which brings us special blessings. You must, then, be born again or lose all share in the divine inheritance. No soul can ever cross the threshold of heaven that has not received the new life. No matter how abundant its prayers, nor how multiplied its acts of religiousness, unless it has been born again, the gates of paradise are for ever fastened against it. Banished from the presence of Jehovah’s glory, there is only one other place where it can dwell, and that must be where their worm does not die and their fire is not quenched. “You must be born again.”
27. V. I will finish my discourse by saying that this new birth is EMINENTLY PERSONAL. “You must be born again.”
28. The idea of proxy is quite apart from the figure of the text. A man is born himself, in propria persona: no one else can be born for him; so here the change which must be accomplished in us must be personally experienced and individually known and felt. What delusion it is to fall back upon a parent’s godliness or a godfather’s promises, or to imagine that the minister or the so-called priest can stand before God for us. “You” — “you must be born again,” and if you are not you shall never enter the kingdom.
29. Now, I think I hear passing through the congregation at this moment the whisper of many hearts who are saying, “This is very discouraging. We like to hear ‘Only believe, and you shall be saved.’ We are glad to be told that ‘whoever believes in the Lord Jesus Christ has everlasting life,’ but this distresses us, for it does not open the door so wide as we could wish.” Believe me, I am very glad to tell you about the free and wide gospel of grace. It is joyful work for me to bring that welcome message to you, and I am sure I bring it as constantly as I come upon this platform. My most frequent note is — “Look to Christ and be saved all you ends of the earth.” But at the same time God forbid that you should be built up upon a false foundation, or that your faith and confidence should stand apart from the truth as it is in Jesus. It will be found to be wood, and hay, and stubble if it is so. But you say my sermon is discouraging: had you not better ask, “Is it true?” A person has been building a house, and we see him piling up the stones, but he has never dug out the foundation. It is certainly discouraging to him to tell him that it is not the right way to build a house, but it will be a great mercy for him to be discouraged in a work which is so foolish. It will be a great saving to him in the long run if all that he has already built should come down at once, and he should even now begin at the beginning once more, and lay a good foundation and make sure work of it. It would be foolish to cry out, “Do not discourage him”: he ought to be discouraged. Yes, indeed, we would discourage all that will end in disappointment. The fact is, your efforts, and your doings, and your merits, all of them, at their very best, must be a failure, and it is a good thing for us to tell you so. “But what am I to do?” one says. That, permit me to remind you, is not the best question for you to ask, for if the work of salvation were what you must do, surely it would be left undone. You may ask the question, “What must I do to be saved?” but we will point you away from doing, and we will tell you to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, so that you may be saved. If you persist in saying, “What must I do,” we will tell you that the sooner you look away from all that you can do the better; for the work of salvation from sin is the work of the Spirit of God in you, and you must come to look to him through Jesus Christ so that he may work in you all those graces and gifts which shall adorn your future life. Faith looks to the blood of Jesus for the pardon of sin, and then looks to him for his Spirit to overcome the power of sin within the heart, nor does she look in vain; but if you look elsewhere you will search until your eyes fail you, but never see your desire. Oh that we could bring you, not only to discouragement, but to despair about yourselves. When you shall feel you are powerless we shall have hope for you, for then you will leave yourselves in the hands of him who can do all things. When self’s strength is gone, God’s strength will come in.
30. “Oh, but you tell me I must have divine power working in me.” We do tell you that; we can tell you nothing less, and if that power is ever at work in your soul, its first effect will be to bring you to confess this, and you will fall down before the footstool of divine mercy and say “Lord save me, or I perish. God be merciful to me a sinner.” I do not want to rouse your activity, you unconverted people: I want to rouse you to the conviction that you are lost, and I pray God the Holy Spirit may so convict you. I wish, not to make you think “we can cure ourselves,” but oh! that you would feel that you are diseased, and that, though you have destroyed yourselves, your remedy lies in a higher hand — that you must look to Jesus only for healing. To get the supernatural element into the matter is what we would strive for, and may God the Holy Spirit help us in it. We would have you look away from what is in you or can come from you, and trust in what Christ did on the cross, in what the gracious Father is waiting still to do, and what the Holy Spirit is sent on purpose to work in you so that you may be saved. Oh that you may begin to pray for the divine power! May you never rest in anything short of the divine working in your spirit. It is to this we would bring you.
Now you know all this and most of you have known it for years. To
know it — ah how great a privilege if not abused! How great a
responsibility if the knowledge shall end here! Yet to know it,
oh how sad, unless you feel it! To feel that “I must be born
again,” and to be wretched until I am renewed in heart is a good
beginning. I pray that you may go home and feel, “There is no pillow
in this world that will suit my head until I have laid it upon the
Saviour’s bosom; there is no bliss that can give me solace until I
have found pardon in the wounds of my Redeemer.” May God grant you
may sigh and pant in this way, and we shall then believe that you are
regenerate. May you receive the Lord Jesus, and he will give you
power to become the sons of God, for those who believe in him were
born, not by blood, nor by the will of the flesh, nor by the will of
man, but by God. Then you shall know the secret of regeneration, and
the Lord himself shall be revealed in you. Then you shall know that
you are blessed by the Lord, for flesh and blood could not have
revealed this to you. May the Holy Spirit be within you for evermore.
[Portion Of Scripture Read Before Sermon — Joh 3:1-21]
[See Spurgeon_Hymnal “Holy Spirit — His Indwelling Sought” 456]
[See Spurgeon_Hymnal “Holy Spirit — Regeneration” 448]
[See Spurgeon_Hymnal “Holy Spirit — Nature Helpless — The Spirit Working” 461]
To Hearers And Readers At The Tabernacle And Elsewhere
By the tender kindness of God the journey here was made without excessive fatigue, and now I trust that congenial weather will bring with it rapid restoration, This place has participated in the severe weather which has swept over the continent, so that I miss just now the bright sunshine to which I have been formerly accustomed; yet it is comparatively warm, and so far is beneficial to an invalid. Rest is the main thing, and rest I hope to find, so that I may come back to you strengthened for sacred service.
It is at the request of many that I write these few lines, otherwise I should be better content to say nothing about myself. Tottering on my staff today in weakness I look forward hopefully to the time when I shall stand among you in fulness of vigour. May God grant that mental, and above all spiritual, strength may be given me for the preaching of the word in your midst, and that my long bodily affliction may assist to that end. I trust I shall not be forgotten in your prayers when it is well with you. I hope also that the various enterprises, such as the College and Orphanage, will not be allowed to languish because their President is ill.
Peace be to you all. Yours very heartily,
Mentone, January, 1879. C. H. Spurgeon
456 — His Indwelling Sought
1 Come, Holy Spirit, come,
Let thy bright beams arise,
Dispel the darkness from our minds,
And open all our eyes.
2 Cheer our desponding hearts,
Thou heavenly Paraclete;
Give us to lie, with humble hope,
At our Redeemer’s feet.
3 ‘Tis thine to cleanse the heart,
To sanctify the soul,
To pour fresh life on every part,
And new create the whole.
4 Dwell, therefore, in our hearts,
Our minds from bondage free;
Then shall we know and praise and love
The Father, Son, and thee.
Joseph Hart, 1759.
448 — Regeneration
1 Not all the outward forms on earth,
Nor rites that God has given,
Nor will of man, nor blood, nor birth,
Can raise a soul to heaven.
2 The sovereign will of God alone
Creates us heirs of grace;
Born in the image of his Son,
A new peculiar race.
3 The Spirit, like some heavenly wind,
Blows on the sons of flesh;
Creates a new — a heavenly mind,
And forms the man afresh.
4 Our quicken’d souls awake and rise
From the long sleep of death;
On heavenly things we fix our eyes,
And praise employs our breath.
Isaac Watts, 1709, a.
461 — Nature Helpless — The Spirit Working
1 How helpless guilty nature lies,
Unconscious of its load!
The heart, unchanged, can never rise
To happiness and God.
2 Can aught beneath a power divine
The stubborn will subdue?
‘Tis thine, Eternal spirit, thine
To form the heart anew.
3 ‘Tis thine the passions to recall,
And upwards bid them rise’
And make the scales of error fall
From reason’s darkened eyes.
4 To chase the shades of death away,
And bid the sinner live!
A beam of heaven, a vital ray,
‘Tis thine alone to give.
5 Oh change these wretched hearts of ours,
And give them life divine!
Then shall our passions and our powers,
Almighty Lord, be thine.
Anne Steele, 1760.