Delivered on Sabbath Morning, May 3, 1857, by the
REV. C. H. Spurgeon
at the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens.
"Except a man be born again, he can not see the kingdom of God."—John 3:3.
In daily life our thoughts are most occupied with things that are most necessary for our existence. No one murmured that the subject of the price of bread was frequently on the lips of men at a time of scarcity, because they felt that the subject was one of vital importance to the mass of the population? and therefore they murmured not, though they listened to continual declamatory speeches, and read perpetual articles in the newspapers concerning it. I must offer the same excuse, then, for bringing before you this morning the subject of regeneration. It is one of absolute and vital importance; it is the hinge of the gospel; it is the point upon which most Christians are agreed, yea, all who are Christians in sincerity and truth. It is a subject which lies at the very basis of salvation. It is the very groundwork of our hopes for heaven; and as we ought to be very careful of the basement of our structure, so should we be very diligent to take heed that we are really born again, and that we have made sure work of it for eternity. There are many who fancy they are born again who are not. It well becomes us, then, frequently to examine ourselves; and it is the minister's duty to bring forward those subjects which lead to self-examination, and have a tendency to search the heart and try the reins of the children of men.
To proceed at once, I shall first make some remarks upon the new birth; secondly, I shall note what is meant by not being able to see the kingdom of God if we are not born again; then I shall go further on to note why it is that "except we are born again we can not see the kingdom of God;" and then expostulate with men as God's ambassador before I close.
I. First, then, THE MATTER OF REGENERATION. In endeavoring to explain it, I must have you notice, first of all, the figure that is employed. It is said a man must be born again. I can not illustrate this better than by supposing a case. Suppose that in England there should be a law passed, that admission to royal courts, preference in office, and any privileges that might belong to the nation, could only be given to persons who were born in England—suppose that birth in this land was made a sine qua non, and it was definitely declared that whatever men might do or be, unless they were native born subjects of England they could not enter into her majesty's presence, and could enjoy none of the emoluments or offices of the state, nor any of the privileges of citizens. I think if you suppose such a case I shall be able to illustrate the difference between any changes and reforms that men make in themselves and the real work of being born again. We will suppose, then, that some man—a red Indian, for instance—should come to this country, and should endeavor to obtain the privileges of citizenship, well knowing that the rule is absolute and can not be altered, that a man must be a born subject, or else he can not enjoy them. Suppose he says, "I will change my name, I will take up the name of an Englishman; I have been called by my high-sounding title among the Sioux; I have been called the son of the Great West Wind, or some such name; but I will take an English name, I will be called a Christian man, an English subject." Will that admit him? You see him coming to the palace gates and asking for admission. He says, "I have taken an English name." "But are you an Englishman born and bred?" "I am not," says he. "Then the gates must be shut against you, for the law is absolute; and though you may have the name of even the royal family itself upon you, yet because you have not been born here you must be shut out." That illustration will apply to all of us who are here present. At least, nearly the whole of us bear the professing Christian name; living in England, you would think it a disgrace to you if you were not called Christian. You are not heathen, you are not infidel; you are neither Mohammedans nor Jews; you think that the name, Christian, is a creditable one to you, and you have taken it. Be ye quite assured that the name of a Christian is not the nature of a Christian, and that your being born in a Christian land, and being recognized as professing the Christian religion is of no avail whatever, unless there be something more added to it—the being born again as a subject of Jesus Christ.
"But," says this red Indian, "I am prepared to renounce my dress, and to become an Englishman in fashion; in fact, I will go to the very top of the fashion; you shall not see me in any thing differing from the accepted style of the present day. May I not, when I am arrayed in court dress, and have decorated myself as etiquette demands, come in before her majesty? See, I'll doff this plume, I will not shake this tomahawk, I renounce these garments. The moccasin I cast away for ever; I am an Englishman in dress, as well as name." He comes to the gate, dressed out like one of our own countrymen; but the gates are still shut in his face, because the law required that he must be born in the country; and without that, whatever his dress might be, be could not enter the palace. So how many there are of you, who do not barely take the Christian name upon you, but have adopted Christian manners; you go to your churches, and your chapels, you attend the house of God, you take care that there is some form of religion observed in your family; your children are not left without hearing the name of Jesus! So far so good; God forbid that I should say a word against it! But remember, it is bad because you do not go further. All this is of no avail whatever for admitting you into the kingdom of heaven, unless this also is complied with—the being born again. O! dress yourselves never so grandly with the habiliments of godliness; put the chaplet of benevolence upon your brow, and gird your loins with integrity; put on your feet the shoes of perseverance, and walk through the earth an honest and upright man; yet, remember, unless you are born again, "that which is of the flesh is flesh," and you, not having the operations of the Spirit in you, still have heaven's gates shut against you, because you are not born again.
"Well," but says the Indian, "I will not only adopt the dress, but I will learn the language; I will put away my brogue and my language that I once spoke, in the wild prairie or in the woods, far away from my lips. I shall not talk of the Shu-Shuh-gah, and of the strange names wherewith I have called my wild fowl and my deer, but I will speak as you speak, and act as you act; I will not only have your dress, but precisely your manners, I will talk just in the same fashion, I will adopt your brogue, I will take care that it shall be grammatically correct; will you not then admit me? I have become thoroughly Anglicized; may I not then be received?" "No," says the keeper of the door," there is no admittance, for except a man be born in this country, he can not be admitted." So with some of you; you talk just like Christians. Perhaps you have a little too much cant about you; you have begun so strictly to imitate what you think to be a godly man, that you go a little beyond the mark, and you gloss it so much that we are able to detect the counterfeit. Still you pass current among most men as being a right down sort of Christian man. You have studied biographies, and sometimes you tell long yarns about divine experience; you have borrowed them from the biographies of good men; you have been with Christians, and know how to talk as they do; you have caught a puritanical twang, perhaps; you go through the world just like professors; and if you were to be observed, no one would detect you. You are a member of the church; you have been baptized; you take the Lord's Supper; perhaps you are a deacon, or an elder; you pass the sacramental cup round; you are just all that a Christian can be, except that you are without a Christian heart. You are whitewashed sepulchres, still full of rottenness within, though garnished fairly on the outside. Well, take heed, take heed! It is an astonishing thing, how near the painter can go to the expression of life, and yet the canvas is dead and motionless; and it is equally astonishing how near a man may go to a Christian, and yet, through not being born again, the absolute rule shuts him out of heaven, and with all his profession, with all the trappings of his professed godliness, and with all the gorgeous plumes of experience, yet must he be borne away from heaven's gates.
You are uncharitable Mr. Spurgeon. I do not care what you say about that, I never wish to be more charitable than Christ. I did not say this; Christ said it. If you have any quarrel with him, settle it there ; I am not the maker of this truth, but simply the speaker of it. I find it written, "Except a man be born. again, be can not see the kingdom of God." If your footman should go to the door, and deliver your message correctly, the man at the door might abuse him never so much, but the footman would say, "Sir, do not abuse me, I can not help it; I can only tell you what my master told me. I am not the originator of it." So if you think me uncharitable, remember you do not accuse me, you accuse Christ; you are not finding fault with the messenger, you are finding fault with the message; Christ has said it—"Except a man be born again." I can not dispute with you, and shall not try. That is simply God's Word. Reject it at your peril. Believe it and receive it, I entreat you, because it comes from the lips of the Most High.
But now note the manner in which this regeneration is obtained. I think I have none here so profoundly stupid as to be Puseyites I can scarcely believe that I have been the means of attracting one person here, so utterly devoid of every remnant of brain, as to believe the doctrine of baptismal regeneration. Yet I must just hint at it. There be some who teach that by a few drops of water sprinkled on an infant's brow the infant becomes regenerate. Well, granted. And now I will find out your regenerate ones twenty years afterward. The champion of the prize ring is a regenerated man. O! yes, he was regenerated, because in infancy he was baptized; and, therefore, if all infants in baptism are regenerated, the prize-fighter is a regenerated man. Take hold of him and receive him as your brother in the Lord. Do you hear that man swearing and blaspheming God? He is regenerate; believe me, he is regenerate; the priest put a few drops of water on his brow, and he is a regenerated man. Do you see the drunkard reeling down the street, the pest of the neighborhood, fighting every body, and beating his wife, worse than the brute. Well, he is regenerate, he is one of those Puseyite's regenerates—O! goodly regenerate! Mark you the crowd assembled in the streets! The gallows is erected, Palmer is about to be executed; the man whose name should be execrated through all eternity for his villainy! Here is one of the Puseyite's regenerates. Yes, he is regenerate because he was baptized in infancy; regenerate, while he mixes his strychnine; regenerate while he administers his poison slowly, that he may cause death, and infinite pain, all the while he is causing it. Regenerate, forsooth! If that be regeneration, such regeneration is not worth having; if that be the thing that makes us free of the kingdom of heaven, verily, the gospel is indeed a licentious gospel; we can say nothing about it. If that be the gospel, that all such men are regenerate and will be saved, we can only say, that it would be the duty of every man in the world to move that gospel right away, because it is so inconsistent with the commonest principles of morality, that it could not possibly be of God, but of the devil.
But some say all are regenerate when they are baptized. Well, if you think so, stick to your own thoughts; I can not help it. Simon Magus was certainly one exception; he was baptized on a profession of his faith; but so far from being regenerated by his baptism, we find Paul saying, "I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity." And yet he was one of those regenerates, because he had been baptized. Ah! that doctrine only needs to be stated to sensible men, and they will at once reject it. Gentlemen that are fond of a filigree religion, and like ornament and show; gentlemen of the high Beau Brummel school will very likely prefer this religion, because they have cultivated their taste at the expense of their brain, and have forgotten that what is consistent with the sound judgment of a man can not be consistent with the Word of God. So much for the first point.
Neither is a man regenerated, we say, in the next place, by his own exertions. A man may reform himself very much, and that is well and good; let all do that. A man may cast away many vices, forsake many lusts in which he indulged, and conquer evil habits; but no man in the world can make himself to be born in God; though he should struggle never so much, he could never accomplish what is beyond his power. And, mark you, if he could make himself to be born again still he would not enter heaven, because there is another point in the condition which he would have violated—"unless a man be born of the Spirit, he can not see the kingdom of God." So that the best exertions of the flesh do not reach this high point, the being born again of the Spirit of God.
And now we must say, that regeneration consists in this. God the Holy Spirit, in a supernatural manner—mark, by the word supernatural I mean just what it strictly means; supernatural, more than natural—works upon the hearts of men, and they by the operations of the divine Spirit become regenerate men; but without the Spirit they never can be regenerated. And unless God the Holy Spirit, who "worketh in us to will and to do," should operate upon the will and the conscience, regeneration is an absolute impossibility, and therefore so is salvation. "What!" says one, "do you mean to say that God absolutely interposes in the salvation of every man to make him regenerate?" I do indeed; in the salvation of every person there is an actual putting forth of the divine power, whereby the dead sinner is quickened, the unwilling sinner is made willing, the desperately hard sinner has his conscience made tender; and he who rejected God and despised Christ, is brought to cast himself down at the feet of Jesus. This is called fanatical doctrine, mayhap; that we can not help; it is scriptural doctrine, that is enough for us. "Except a man be born of the Spirit he can not see the kingdom of God; that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." If you like it not, quarrel with my Master, not with me; I do but simply declare his own revelation, that there must be in your heart something more than you can ever work there. There must be a divine operation; call it a miraculous operation, if you please; it is in some sense so. There must be a divine interposition, a divine working, a divine influence, or else, do what you may, without that you perish, and are undone; "for except a man be born again, be can not see the kingdom of God." The change is radical; it gives us new natures, makes us love what we hated and hate what we loved, sets us in a new road; makes our habits different, our thoughts different, makes us different in private, and different in public. So that being in Christ it is fulfilled: "If any man be in Christ he is a new creature; old things are passed away, behold all things are become new." (Please click here to continue reading, "Regeneration")