From Grace to Glory
by Octavius Winslow
The EVIDENCES of the New Birth
"If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature―old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new."―2 Cor. 5:17
It demands great skill in the holy art of dealing with Christian evidence―the evidence of the life of God in the soul of man. The fact we seek to confirm is so momentous, the evidences of that fact so varied, and the counterfeits of those evidences so many, that the work of sifting the true from the false, the genuine from the spurious, is more difficult and delicate than appears upon the surface. He who undertakes faithfully to delineate the new creation of the soul has need to adopt as his sole guide the landmarks of God's Word, watchful of the false lights which gleam along the narrow channel through which he courses his intricate way, which seek to decoy the unwary voyager upon the shoals and quicksands of error which line the shores.
It is thus we must deal with the subject of which the present chapter treats―the EVIDENCES of the New Birth in the soul. That these evidences vary, and that they are counterfeited, we have already intimated. It is of the utmost significance, then, that no reader of these pages should in matters of such infinite importance be misled. Born again or not born again, spiritually dead or spiritually alive, are the two spiritual conditions of our present being. And, seeing that between these two conditions there is no neutral position, and that either one or the other decides and foreshadows our future state of being, how great the responsibility resting upon him who deals with these evidences! Solemnly conscious of this, we shall adhere as closely as possible to the description which the apostle gives us of the New Birth, in the words placed at the head of this chapter, "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature―old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new;" and, presenting what Bacon terms, "a gentle crush of Scripture," shall give a running exposition of the passage in its order.
1. The doctrine of the indwelling of the renewed soul in Christ is the first truth that arrests our attention. "If any man be IN CHRIST." To be in Christ is to be in union with essential life. Life can only communicate life. The soul quickened with spiritual life is a reproduction of the life of Jesus. It is not that the soul lives, as that Christ lives in the soul. In Christ our death is quickened into His life, our demerit is merged into His merit, our unrighteousness merges into His righteousness, our blackness is lost in His loveliness. And thus Christ is the Divine principle, the root, the substance, the alpha and the omega of all that is godly in us.
"Christ, who is our life." From the commencement to the completion of grace in the soul―from the first tear of godly sorrow wept on earth, to the first note of holy joy sounded in heaven―Christ is essentially and indivisibly one with His people. The spiritual life of the soul springs from the cross, is entwined with the cross, is fed by the cross of Jesus; and, when that life springs into heaven, it will be from the foot of the cross that shaded and sheltered it in all the vicissitudes through which it passed in its journey from grace to glory.
The New Birth, then, is the spiritual reinstating of the soul into Christ. Sin broke the stem of Eden's beauteous flower―the sinless creature man―and flung it, a poisoned weed, upon the dark, seething waters of the curse, henceforth to drift away upon the treacherous current toward the yawning gulf of endless woe. But the New Birth recovers this broken stem, reinstates it into Christ, henceforth to bear the precious fruits of grace here, and, in full bloom, to be laden with the golden fruits of glory hereafter.
With every step in this divine and marvelous recovery of man it is instructive to trace the union of the Lord Jesus―how all flows from Christ, leads to Christ, and through Christ conducts us up to the Father, from whose ineffable love it first springs, and to whose divine glory it shall eternally redound. The Church was loved in Christ, chosen in Christ, blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ, is called in Christ, preserved in Christ, and with Christ will be ultimately glorified. How clearly and impressively does His inimitable figure illustrate this truth, "I am the vine, you are the branches."
Sweet to trace all 'streamlets of grace' to JESUS―eternal election, preservation in unregeneracy, effectual grace, full pardon, free justification, divine adoption, full salvation, endless glory. Not a link can we strike in this golden chain of covenant blessing but it echoes the name of Jesus! Touch the lowest on earth, and it sends its vibration of faith and love up to the central throne of heaven, where sits and reigns and intercedes the Lamb that was slain. O believer, how ennobling your union, how exalted your position, how secure your standing! You are in Christ―vitally, inseparably one with Him, your life is with His life, your heart is enshrined within His heart, your interests are entwined with His interests, your hand is locked in His hand, and His eye, beaming with love, bends ever over you. The Lord, having espoused your person, has become surety for all your interests, temporal, spiritual, and eternal.
So entirely are you spiritually incorporated with Christ, your sins are drowned in His blood, your demerit is lost in His righteousness, your hell-deservings are annihilated in His heaven-winning merits, your entire self is absorbed in Him, and you stand before God without one law-condemning charge, or one guilt-effacing spot. "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus."
What! am I now and forever acquitted at the bar of infinite justice―all my accusers silenced, all my charges met, the indictment quashed, and the sentence of full and free justification pronounced? Yes! Jesus has done it all, leaving me nothing to do but believingly to accept the free gift of His love. His obedience honored the precepts of the law, His death satisfied the claims of justice, His resurrection ratified and sealed the engagements He undertook, and I go forth to breathe the free air and to bask in the warm sunshine of a present and a full salvation. The debt is cancelled, the prison is thrown open, the lawful captive is delivered, and heaven shall ring with hallelujahs, and God shall be eternally glorified. "Be astonished, O heavens, at this!"
Reader, endeavor to get into Christ. Rest not short of it. Be not satisfied without the assurance that it is your true position. Christ is an open door to all poor comers―enter and be saved. Wait not to mend one filthy rag, to obliterate one dark spot, to heal one festering wound; approach and enter, all sinful and unworthy as you are, and once in Him, your filthy garments are exchanged for beautiful attire, your soul is made whiter than snow, the bruise is healed, the scar is effaced, and you are COMPLETE in Him.
What a consolatory truth is this, also, in deep trial! Christ's interest in His people is not a divided interest. He does not separate their persons from their circumstances. One with you, He is one with all that appertains and attaches to you. He moulds and pencils all the events of your life―giving to each its form and complexion; is pledged to the supply of every need, to guide each step, sustain in every sorrow, and to keep you by His power unto the end. Oh, the blessedness of being in Christ! Here alone is liberty, security, and peace. The foe cannot assail you, the arrow cannot wound you, the storms cannot reach you, encompassed by His divine perfections, and pavilioned within His living, loving heart.
Living in Christ, it is the privilege of the believer to depart hence in Christ. "Those who sleep in Him." It is not death to die in the Lord. It is life in all but the name. We call it death, but He "has abolished death," and the believer in Jesus shall not see death. And when the last enemy approaches, all armed for the dread battle, he finds the soul he had thought to claim as his victim has become his victor, and he retires vanquished from the field amid the shout of the departing conqueror, "O death! where is your sting?" And when the Lord shall descend from heaven, all those who died in the Lord shall swell His train. "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him." "And the dead in Christ shall rise first."
2. A new creation. But the second truth brings us still nearer to our present subject, "If any man be in Christ, HE IS A NEW CREATURE," or, a new creation. The Word of God scarcely supplies a simile more expressive of the New Birth than this. Was not that a new creation when God, from the disorder and darkness of chaos, educed this magnificent world, teeming with life and radiant with beauty? It is true, matter existed, but the earth was without form and void, and darkness flung its sable mantle over all. But the Spirit of God moved upon the face of creation, and a new world floated into view.
The spiritual analogy is perfect. The New Birth of the soul is emphatically a new spiritual creation. The same Divine power that formed the original elements of creation, that woke it from its deep sleep, quickened it with life, and clothed it with light, recreates the soul of man, and forms it a new creature. Behold all things are new! The regenerate soul has found a new life, for the Second Adam, who is a quickening Spirit, has breathed into him the breath of life. He never before felt the power, or tasted the sweetness of life until now. He surveys the past of his existence, and it seems as if he had been dwelling in a tomb, wrapped within the winding-sheet of death. But now born again from above, quickened by the Spirit, he emerges from his "grave of sin" into newness of life, and henceforth he lives for God. A new principle of life animates him, a new atmosphere of life encircles him, a new object of life engages him, and he finds himself bathing his soul in a new element of existence, worthy of his dignity and destiny as a rational, accountable, and immortal being.
Even the world of NATURE seems to him as a new-born creation now that he has passed from death unto life. The sun shines brighter, the air breathes softer, the flowers smell sweeter, the landscape is clad with deeper verdure and richer loveliness; in a word, the whole creation appears in new-born beauty and sublimity, since seen by an eye that traces in all a Father's hand.
It may be truly said, that the spiritual creation of the soul in the New Birth presents the being and character of GOD in a new light. It is like a new revelation of Jehovah to the mind. The unregenerate man does not worship the God of the Bible. The God therein revealed and made known to us, only in and by the Lord Jesus Christ. Worshiping a god of his own imagination, he rears his altar to "THE UNKNOWN GOD." Divesting the God of Scripture of His divine perfections―His holiness, His justice, His truth, His power―he completely undeifies Him, robbing Him of His glory, and annihilating His very being.
But, now born again, a new creature, lo! the God of the Bible bursts upon his new-found vision and his wondering gaze, as a newly-revealed God. Clothed with new attributes, arrayed with new perfections, bathed with new glory, standing in a new relation, the new creature falls down at His feet in adoring admiration and love, exclaiming, "I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear―but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." Never did the being of God appear so true, the perfections of God so glorious, the character of God so great, the government of God so holy, the relation of God so endearing as now. Born into a new world, the GOD Sun of that world―the GOD of the new creation―unveils to the eye as infinitely, ineffably lovely.
Like a being born and grown up in a dark mine, and brought to the earth's surface to gaze upon the sun in its noontide effulgence, the new created soul is astonished, bewildered, overpowered by the splendor, glory, and greatness of the being, character, and perfections of Jehovah.
Reader, test your conversion by the experience of this truth. What is God, the God of the Bible, the God who gave us Christ, the God whose glory shines in the face of Jesus, the God who has revealed Himself as reconciled―what is this God to you? What is He as a God of holiness, of spotless purity, who cannot look upon sin but with abhorrence? What is He as a God of righteousness, just and upright in all His ways? What is He as a God of truth, keeping covenant, fulfilling His word, in which it is impossible for Him to lie? What is He as a God of love, sending His dear Son into the world that we might live through Him―a God pardoning iniquity, transgression, and sin? What is He as a God pacified in Christ Jesus, all His perfections harmonized, bending upon you a Father's eye, and sending His good Spirit into your heart, awakening the response, "Abba, Father?"
Oh, see if the God you love, the God you adore, the God you worship, the God you hope to dwell with through eternity, is the God who sent the Bible, who gave His beloved Son to die for sinners, who was in Christ reconciling us to Himself, not imputing our trespasses unto us. This is the God who dwells amid the new creation of the soul, pronouncing it very good, taking infinitely more delight in it than when He spoke the universe out of nothing, irradiating every faculty of the soul with His glory, and tuning every power with His praise.
And in what a new-born light does the SAVIOR appear to the new creature! Until that moment of quickened life, when the veil is withdrawn from the heart, and the scale falls from the eye, Christ was never truly, experimentally, savingly known. He may have acknowledged Him with the lip, have bent the knee at the mention of His name, and called Him, 'our Savior,' and this was all he knew of Jesus. But, born again, he has found a new Savior, has discovered who Jesus is, and what He is, and he marvels that he never until now saw His glory, discovered His beauty, realized His presence, or felt His love.
Now he sees Jesus to be the Sin-bearer, the Atoning Sacrifice of His people, the physician, not of the whole, but of the sick; the Savior, not of saints, but of sinners; receiving and saving, not the righteous and the worthy, but the vile, the ruined, the lost. Probably there is nothing which more truly and distinctly evidences the new birth than the revolution it creates in all our apprehensions of the Lord Jesus Christ. It transposes every view, changes every conception, transforms every thought, and revolutionizes every feeling relating to the glorious and precious Savior of sinners.
The soul quickened with spiritual life is brought to its grand center, Christ. Finding that center, it has found God; it stands in the focus of His love, in the sun of His glory. The Lord Jesus Christ is both the Revealer and the Revelation of God. The fullness of the Godhead bodily dwelt in Him, and, "no man knows the Father but he to whom the Son shall reveal Him." How glorious and excellent does Christ, then, appear to the soul born again of the Spirit! How the eye admires Him, how the heart loves Him, how the spirit adores Him, how closely, inseparably, and supremely does every faculty, power, and desire of the whole being center in, and entwine around, this matchless, peerless, altogether lovely One―the Lord Jesus Christ!
How precious, also, to the believing heart, does He now become. His Person, as the God-man―precious. His blood, cleansing from all sin―precious. His righteousness, justifying from all things―precious. His grace, subduing all iniquity―precious. His sympathy, soothing every sorrower―precious. His intercession, presenting us to God in heaven―precious. His name, as ointment poured forth―precious. Truly, "unto those who believe He is PRECIOUS."
My reader, what do you think of this Christ? Is He lovely to your eye and precious to your heart? Is He the Teacher at whose feet you sit, the Pattern whose example you imitate, the Savior in whom you trust, the All in All of your soul? Then you are born again! Flesh and blood revealed not to you this wondrous Christ; nature taught you not to admire and accept, to love and serve Him whom the world hates, despises, and rejects. The love that glows in your heart to Him, though it appears but as a spark; the discovery of His excellence which you have made, though but partial; the sight of His cross which you have caught, though but dim; and the desire to depart and to be with Him which you cherish, though but feeble―all evidence the great, the spiritual, the blessed change through which, in the sovereignty of Divine grace, your whole being has passed.
You are a new creation. Jesus is its Sun, the Spirit its Author, and God its glory. On earth there are none to be compared with Jesus; in heaven there are none to surpass Him. Whom have you in heaven but Christ, and who is there on earth that you desire before Him?
"Jesus! the very thought is sweet!
In that dear Name all heart-joys meet;
But sweeter than the honey far
The glimpses of His presence are.
"No word is sung more sweet than this,
No Name is heard more full of bliss;
No thought brings sweeter comfort nigh,
Than Jesus, Son of God, Most High.
"Jesus! the hope of souls forlorn,
How good to them for sin who mourn,
To those that seek You, oh, how kind!
But what are You to those that find?
"No tongue of mortal can express,
No pen can write the blessedness;
He only who has found it knows
What bliss from love of Jesus flows.
"O Jesus! King of wondrous might,
O Victor glorious from the fight,
Sweetness that may not be expressed,
And altogether loveliest!"
The reader will infer from the preceding statement, touching the nature and evidence of the New Birth that, as a spiritual and divine work its Author must be supernatural. The Scriptures of truth leave us in no doubt as to this essential point. We are told by our Lord emphatically that, "it is the Spirit who quickens, the flesh profits nothing." Again―"Born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." To the Holy Spirit, then, the third person of the ever blessed Trinity, the breathing of the divine life in the soul, the new spiritual creation of man, is ascribed. Having already adverted to this truth in the preceding pages, a brief reference to it in this connection is all that will be required. And yet, how momentous it is that we keep perpetually and distinctly in view the divine and sole agency of the Holy Spirit in conversion! Ignore or lose sight of this doctrine, and Baptismal Regeneration is in the ascendant. And from this soul-destroying heresy the Lord deliver His Church!
The Spirit of God commencing this work of the new creation of the soul, carries it on to final and eternal completion. He who unsealed the first tear of godly sorrow for sin, and created the first trembling touch of faith, and inspired the first thrill of holy joy, carries forward the work from step to step, from stage to stage. It is the Spirit who teaches us more of Jesus, increases our knowledge of God, deepens our sanctification, seals to us the pledge of our inheritance, witnesses to our sonship, speaks the promise, and conveys the consolation of the Lord of all comfort to our soul. Oh, the debt, the deep, the eternal debt, we owe to the Spirit―what arithmetic can compute it? Shall we not give Him divine honor, acknowledge His personal glory, listen to His still small voice, obey His holy injunctions, and in all things seek to please and magnify Him?
My reader, is your professed conversion the work of the Spirit? Is He the author of your hope for eternity? Has He discovered to you your guilt, danger, and universal corruption of your nature? Has He roused you from a state of carnal security, of spiritual stupidity and indifference, to an affecting view of the holiness of God, of the purity and strictness of His law, of the terrors of its penalty, of the great evil of sin, and of your exposure to the Divine displeasure because of it?
Has He, thus giving you to pass through these pangs and throes of the New Birth, unveiled to you the cross of Calvary, revealing to your faith the Redeemer of men, the Savior of sinners, hanging upon that tree, wounded and bruised, bleeding and dying for our transgressions?
Has He enabled you to let go everything else―baptism, and sacraments, and church, self-righteousness, and unrighteousness―and look to the cross, and touch the Savior, and grasp Him as the limpet the rock, and stake your eternal salvation upon the blood, the righteousness, the merit, the finished work of the Lord Jesus? Have you got, as Rutherford expresses it, "a grip of Christ?" These are vital questions, which must be met and answered and disposed of graciously and savingly now, or to our eternal confusion and condemnation in the great day of judgment.
But there is one view of this new creation which we must earnestly vindicate and scripturally and distinctly place before the reader, seeing that there exists so many ideas that are vague and erroneous concerning it. Let it be clearly understood that the new creation of which we speak is not an integral, component part of the old creation, or a mending and improvement and development of the fallen and corrupt nature which we possess in the first Adam. Far from this. It is entirely, totally, essentially different.
It is a new, a divine, a holy nature imparted to the soul; so that the believer becomes the possessor of two natures―the one, the old nature, essentially and totally sinful; the other, the new nature, essentially and totally holy. The new creation of the believer is not a superadded, supplementary thing engrafted upon the old; it is a substitution, a thing wholly and entirely distinct in itself, essentially, incorruptibly holy. The Scripture statements of this truth are clear and unmistakable. "That you put off, concerning the former conversation, the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be RENEWED in the spirit of your mind; and that you put on the NEW MAN, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness," (Eph. 4:22-24.)
It is in the light of this truth we get some insight into the meaning of the apostle John, when, personifying the renewed nature, he employs this remarkable language, "Whoever is born of God does not commit sin; for His seed remains in him―and he cannot sin because he is born of God." This, and similar declarations in the epistles of the same evangelist, have received various interpretations from different writers. Some, by an unwarranted accommodation of the passage, have pressed it into the service of teaching, and countenancing the doctrine of sinless perfection. But nothing can be clearer than that the apostle, neither here or elsewhere, nor any of the apostles, taught a doctrine so opposed to the whole teaching of divine truth, and so contradictory to the uniform experience of the entire Church of God. "If we say that we have NO SIN, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us."
Others have interpreted the text as teaching the inability of the Christian to sin wilfully, or habitually, or, "in such a sense as to lose all true religion, and be numbered with transgressors." But neither can we accept this as the mind of the Holy Spirit by the apostle. What, then, is the meaning?
The evangelist is now speaking of the new nature, which is the divine nature in the soul of the regenerate. He personifies this new nature thus―"And that you put on the NEW MAN, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness," (Eph. 4:24.) "And have put on the NEW MAN, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him," (Col. 3:10.) Now, it is of this new, this divine nature in the soul of the regenerate of which the apostle speaks that IT cannot sin. "He"―the new man―"cannot sin, because he is born of God."
The new nature of the believer is so essentially holy, it cannot be tempted to sin, for it is incorruptible; it is so essentially divine it cannot of itself sin, for it is of God. "We know that whoever is born of God sins not." Such we believe to be the true and only logically correct interpretation of this remarkable text. That the best of God's saints have fallen into the worst of sins, is a fact patent in the history of the Church of God. That the most holy and matured Christian is perpetually battling with the existence of sin and the propensities to evil within, is equally true. To what conclusion, then, can we arrive but this, that, while in the flesh of the regenerate dwells no good thing―flesh remaining flesh until corruption returns to corruption―there exists in the renewed soul "the NEW MAN, created according to God in righteousness and true holiness;" and this "new man," essentially, perfectly, and unchangeably holy, is not, as we have previously shown, an engrafting of grace upon the old and fallen nature by which its evil is either exterminated or else changed into good; but is a separate and distinct nature in the believer, intrinsically divine and holy, the result of the creative operation of the Holy Spirit, and forms the germ of his future, higher, and nobler state of spiritual being, before long to be unfolded in its perfection and glory in heaven, dissevered from all that would taint its purity, mar its beauty, or shade its luster.
3. The evidence of the new birth.
But from this unfolding of the nature of the new creation in the soul of the regenerate, we pass to consider its evidence as laid down by the apostle. "Old things are passed away, behold all things are become new." This is the Spirit's comment upon His own previous declaration. "He is a new creature," says the Spirit. The evidence?―"Old things are passed away, behold all things are become new." The first idea suggested by these words is, the VISIBILITY of the New Birth. We are invited to look upon it. "Behold!" The change produced by the internal regeneration of the Spirit is often thus described as open and seen. It is the visible expression of an invisible work; an alteration of life consequent upon a change of heart. If conversion revolutionizes our entire being, molding our principles, sanctifying our minds, purifying our hearts, shaping and tinting our spiritual feelings, our words and actions, then the passing away of old things and the taking their place by new must be discerned by ourselves and be discernible to others. The great spiritual change is so real that it cannot be concealed―the effect on the life is so palpable it cannot be mistaken.
The WORLD takes knowledge of us that we have been with Jesus and have learned of Him. They behold our light―for it shines. They mark our faith―for it works. They trace our love―for it constrains. They behold our religion―for it influences. How writes the apostle Peter? "Be careful how you live among your unbelieving neighbors. Even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will SEE your honorable behavior, and they will believe and give honor to God when he comes to judge the world." 1 Peter 2:12.
The best of men, as were Christ and His apostles, are exposed to the shafts of an ungodly world. The man of God may not always be able to avoid false accusation, misinterpretation, and malicious calumny―even the doctrines he holds and the good he does shall be evil spoken of. But, by the grace of God, he may so live as to refute the calumny and even to convert the calumniator. We thus see that the New Birth is a visible thing in its effects. It should be so. Our Lord and Master justly expects that those who assume His name should honor it; that those who profess His religion should exhibit it; that, confessing Him and His words before men, they should everywhere be known and recognized as truly His disciples. That, children of the day, they should let their heavenly light shine, as lighthouses shine, illumining the dark ocean of life, and guiding, it may be, the perilous pathway of some benighted and bewildered voyager, so bringing glory to God.
The religion of a child of God should be visible and unmistakable. An epistle of Christ, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God―a living epistle―the writing should be manifest, legible, and readable. He should not so live as that those who see him are surprised when they are informed that he is avowedly a professor of religion, a disciple of Christ, a guest at the table of the Lord. "What! he a Christian, a follower of the Savior, a partaker of the Spirit of Christ? I would not have thought it possible!" But, if old things are passed away and all things are become new, it will be said of him, "Behold an Israelite indeed!" Be this our highest aim to reflect the image of Christ.
If Christ in truth is in us, our Christianity will be as the light, pure and visible, transparent and illuminating. It will not be that we are seen so much, as that Christ is seen in us. The New Birth will be manifest in our Christlike temper and mind and spirit. The old things of our unrenewed nature will give place to the new things of our regenerate nature―and this will be manifest and visible. The moroseness and churlishness, the pride and selfishness, the worldliness and frivolity, the levity and man-pleasing which cropped up so luxuriantly from the soil of our unsanctified heart, will now, in a great measure be supplanted by the fruits of righteousness springing from a heart changed, sanctified, occupied by the Spirit of God. The walk and conversation of a renewed man will be the outward and visible reflection of an inward and invisible grace.
As the stream cannot ascend higher than its level, neither can fall below it, so the holiness of the Christian's life will be in proportion to the sanctification of his heart. As the hands of a clock moving upon the face of the dial indicate the condition and working of the hidden mechanism of the timepiece, so the holy living and conversation of the regenerate point to the divine power from which they originate, and evidence the renewed and sanctified heart from whence they flow.
Let, then, beloved, your conversion be manifest, your religion be molding and visible. Let it impress its divine shape and impart its hallowed tint to all your actions, pursuits, and recreations. Let it influence and sanctify all the domestic, professional, and social relations and doings of life. Let its home power be visible and influential. Move amid the domestic circle as a new creature, a being of holiness and love, living for eternity; a beam flowing from the infinite sun, irradiating, softening, cheering in its hallowed influence on all around. As a parent, and as a child, as a brother, a sister, a domestic, so let your light shine, so let your life evidence its reality, so let your religion be visible in its lowliness and gentleness, its loveable and loving spirit, as to command from all who see it the admiring exclamation, "Behold! old things are passed away, and all things are become new!"
O Lord, let the new nature within me be an open vision, a luminous and faithful copy of Your own. It is Your nature, united though it be with frail, and sinful, suffering flesh; Your own divine workmanship, destined hereafter and forever to reflect Your glory and hymn Your praise―and upon Your head, O Christ, shall the crown flourish!
The effect produced by the new creation of the soul is radical and thorough. "ALL things are become new." The work of God, like Himself, is perfect. The conversion which man would effect has respect to a partial reformation only, leaving the heart untouched and unchanged. But God's work of grace is radical and thorough. It begins at the center and works its way to the farthest circumference of the whole man.
The heart―once so hateful and hating―has now become a fountain of sweet waters, transmitting its pure and holy streams throughout the whole soul, changing the entire conduct of the individual, and working out, in its degree, a universal holiness of his whole being. "Old things have passed away." The world he once loved is now as a crucified thing. The pleasures he once indulged have lost their charm. The sins he once committed are now loathed and forsaken. The society he once enjoyed no longer attracts or pleases. In a word, old things have passed away with the old nature, and with the advent of a new nature behold all things are become new! How comprehensive the words, how vast the change!
Trace it in some of its radical results?
IMPENITENCE is replaced by a broken and a contrite heart. The old hardness and insensibility of the unrenewed nature have passed away, and God has made the heart soft by grace, and the Holy Spirit has wrought that godly sorrow for sin which lays the mouth in the dust, and dissolves the soul into holy contrition at Jesus' feet. Sweet contrition! Sweeter far the bitterest tears for sin at Christ's cross, than the sweetest pleasures of sin in tents of worldly enchantment.
Reader, has the old impenitence and hardness of your heart passed away, succeeded by a heart spiritually softened and divinely sealed? Has the Spirit emptied, humbled, and laid you low? You know nothing experimentally and savingly of Christ until He has. He is the Great Healer, but He heals with His blood and binds up none but sin-wounded consciences and guilt-broken hearts. "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit―a broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." What, my reader, is yours?
The old principle of UNBELIEF is passed away, and the new and divine principle of faith in Christ has succeeded. And with this new-born principle in the soul, behold, all things are become new. Faith changes the character and the aspect of everything in the experience of the believer. It revolutionizes the entire range of his vision. It diminishes things that are present, and enlarges things that are future. The visible things fade upon the sight, the invisible things unveil their grandeur. It is microscopic in its view of things that are seen and temporal, it is magnifying in its view of things that are unseen and eternal. It looks alone to Christ, and in Him it sees the Father revealed, and beholds the glory of God in that face once marred more than the face of any man. It deals only with the blood and righteousness of Christ, rests alone and confidently in His merits, obedience, and sufferings, and commits the keeping of the soul to His hand, and exclaims, "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day." Thus the old unbelief which rejected Christ, and excluded the soul from salvation, has passed away, and behold the new principle of faith which receives Christ, and rests in Christ, has succeeded it; and with the advent of this divine and new-born principle are the first fruits of glory in the soul.
My reader, do you believe in the Son of God? Have you the faith that travels―sinful, poor, and empty-handed, to Christ, and accepts with child-like, unquestioning trust, the full and complete salvation which Jesus purchased at a price so costly, and gives with a love so free?
Not less conspicuous among the evidences afforded of the reality of the New Birth is, the essential change which takes place in the views and feelings of the regenerate with regard to SIN. Originally shaped in iniquity, and conceived in sin, the love of sin, and the hatred of holiness, are born with us. But when by the Holy Spirit we are born over again, and are made partakers of the Divine nature, this original and natural love of sin, and hatred of holiness, are reversed. A new and heavenly principle is implanted which leads the regenerate to hate sin and love holiness. In nothing are the reality and divinity of this momentous change more apparent than in this.
We have shown that the new nature in the regenerate is essentially and inalienably holy. It not only is of itself uncorrupted, but it is incorruptible by any power whatever―it CANNOT sin. Now, it is in this divine principle that the love of holiness in the believer is implanted, and a power in antagonism to sin is implanted in his heart. What a reverse now transpires! The regenerate now love what they once hated, and hate what they once loved. We loved sin, lived in sin, in some of its many forms―intellectual sin, gross sin, refined sin, open sin, secret sin. "The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, the pride of life," the power of Mammon, the fascination of the world, the idolatry of the creature, the love of self, some or all these forms of sin maintained the supremacy, held their unbroken, undisputed rule.
Oh, how changed a man is he now! The sins which he before committed, the objects which he loved, the tastes which he cultivated, the sensualities in which he indulged, have lost their power to fascinate, to please, and to enthrall. The principle of sin may still exist embedded in the renewed heart; but the new man, day by day increasing in strength, advancing in holiness, and, growing in grace, gradually obtains the ascendancy; and so the believer puts off the old man with his deeds, and puts on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.
O Lord, give to me this evidence, that I am born again! Implant in my heart the principle of holiness, deepen in my heart the love of holiness, strengthen in my heart the power of holiness, adorn my heart with the beauties of holiness, and enrich my heart with the fruits of holiness. Whatever brilliant gifts You withhold, whatever active service You forbid, whatever great achievements You restrain, whatever sacred honor You shade, oh, grant that I may be a true and humble partaker of that divine HOLINESS―deepening, ripening, perfecting―arrayed in which I shall behold Your face in righteousness, satisfied when I awake with Your likeness. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.
The spirit and carriage of the renewed soul under ADVERSITY is no slight evidence of the reality and blessedness of the New Birth. Adversity before conversion, and adversity after conversion, seem not the same discipline. Affliction BEFORE the New Birth transpires in the soul, unsanctified by the grace of God, stirs up the enmity of the natural heart, increases the rebellion of the carnal mind, and arms the hostility of the will against Jehovah. The natural man kicks against God, flies in the face of His providence, and is as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke.
But when the new nature, descending from heaven, makes its triumphant and glorious entrance into the soul, oh, how changed is everything! The rebellion of the will transformed into submission, the enmity of the mind changed into love, the hostility of the soul subdued into harmony, the afflictive and corrective dealings of God are now interpreted and received as the righteous, wise, and loving discipline of a Father, who because He loves chastises us, who because we are sons scourges us.
Mark the spirit of the chastened believer―"And Aaron held his peace." Listen to the language of the afflicted child―"The cup which my Father has given me, shall I not drink it?" Contemplate the picture of the sorrowful saint―"I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother―my soul is even as a weaned child." Truly have old things passed away, and all things have become new! Afflicted and chastised one! be your spirit and demeanor under God's present dealings a bright reflection of this. The hand of God may be heavy upon you. Dark may be the cloud shading your tabernacle, mingled the draught brimming your cup, and painful the sword which enters into your soul―nevertheless, in all this God is love―paternal love, unchanging love; and His present discipline of sorrow is but to bring your soul more deeply into the experience of His love, and to increase and burnish the evidences of your new and heavenly birth.
You are traveling the family-road to heaven―the King's highway to glory, trodden by the King Himself. Through much tribulation we are to enter the kingdom. Your present affliction, your present trial is in the covenant, appointed and ordained by everlasting love, infinite wisdom and righteousness. God, your own covenant God and Father, has appointed all, has shaped all, is overruling all, and is with you in all. Dark and mysterious as is this event, it involves a wise and loving needs be. God deals intelligently as well as righteously, wisely as well as lovingly, with His children. Every trial has its mission, every cross its lesson, every sorrow its blessing.
We little comprehend how much wise love is contained in what at first sight seems directly adverse to our best interests, to militate against our true happiness. A trial that seems a severe correction is often a wise prevention; a cross that wears a threatening aspect often proves a timely and wholesome check. The path of worldly sunshine, and often that of spiritual prosperity, may be as a sea of ice; and so God strews it with the sand of affliction, that our feet may not slide. He roughens the smooth way, that we may be safe.
When the Holy Spirit restores to the renewed soul the lost image of God, repencilling it with the lineaments of His holiness, the Lord sees fit that the newly-created vessel should pass through the fire, in order to deepen, consolidate, and perpetuate the sacred imprint. The Divine likeness is burned indelibly in the soul. This led the holy but afflicted Job to exclaim, "When He has tried me I shall come forth as gold." And so shall every furnace-tried believer issue forth a vessel purified and fit for the Master's service.
Do not think, then, O afflicted one, that God is dealing with you strangely! It is by the discipline of sorrow―it may be sickness, bereavement, loss of earthly substance, or the calamity befalling one we love―that our Lord is assimilating us to Himself. And is there not a holy congruity that the disciple should be as his Lord? Who would not be like Christ? Shall the Head be thorn-crowned and tried, and the Body be exempt from sorrow and suffering? Shall the Bridegroom be a man of sorrows, and the Bride a wife of pleasures? Oh, no! forbid it, love! forbid it, faith! forbid it, hope of glory! Jesus left us an example of suffering, that we should follow His steps.
The Lord tries the righteous, in order to deepen, mature, and bring forth their righteousness in noontide light. Sanctified trial develops and advances the new nature in the soul. The effects of trial in the godly are in striking contrast with the effects of a similar discipline of the ungodly. While affliction stirs up the corruption of the unregenerate heart, it stirs up the grace of the renewed heart. The one emits a noxious and loathsome exhalation; the other breathes its sweet and fragrant aspirations, bounding heavenward as the springing of a fountain of perfume. Oh, marvelous grace, that can extract purity and sweetness from hearts so vile as ours!
Lord, of Your own we give You; Your grace shall wear the diadem of praise, of all that is divine, and holy, and lovely within us! In the light, beloved, of these truths read the present discipline of God. He may now seem to be taking you down, but it is only to build you up and put you together again―a fairer, lovelier, and more symmetrical temple. He is teaching you, also, by trial as you could learn in no other school. Now you interpret the dark symbol which before was so difficult to decipher―that the saints' afflictions stand for God's blessings―blessings, indeed, when He is blessed for sending them. "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, BLESSED be the name of the Lord."
What if He has imposed a daily cross, heavy, and chafing? You have not long nor far to carry it. "This light affliction is but for a moment." The "little while" of cross-bearing, of furnace-trial will soon be past and gone―gone like the foam that crests the ocean billow―and you will stand triumphant upon that shore, washed by no waves but bliss, and will awake the golden strings of your harp to the sweetest praise of Immanuel for every cross, tribulation, and trial.
Oh, could we even now but see the reason God has for appointing each sorrow―the wisdom that ordained it, the goodness that sends it, the power that controls it, the grace that sanctifies it, the sympathy that soothes it, and the mission of love on which it bends its dark wing to our abode―we would not feel a moment's anxiety or trouble in our mind; but, like David, behave and quiet ourselves as a weaned child, calmly, confidently waiting the blessed outcome―our more perfect fitness by grace for a perfect heaven of glory.
Let, then, your spirit and deportment under trial evidence, beloved, that with you old things are passed away and that all things are become new. Glorify God in the fires. Be meek, mute, resigned. Nothing but love is in this deep, dark calamity. Then shall grace triumph over nature, and your heavy affliction shall but unveil the love, illustrate the power, and increase the glory of Jesus. He, once the sorrowing and the suffering One, but now the loving and the sympathizing One, has not left you alone in this adversity. In all your afflictions He is afflicted; and His grace will heal the sorrow, and His love will control the grief, and His power subdue the rebellious will, and His sympathy soothe the suffering; and so the name of the Lord Jesus shall be glorified in you.
We ought to refer for one moment to the INDESTRUCTIBILITY of the new nature in the regenerate. Old things have passed away, never more to reassert or regain their ascendancy. The new nature may pass through varied and trying vicissitudes, for the Christian life has its lights and shadows; but it continues the same nature still, uncorrupted by the sin in which it dwells, unmixed with the alloy of earth through which it travels, unshaded and unextinguished by the clouds and waves through which it courses its way to glory; its path is as the shining light, which shines more and more unto the perfect day.
"He that has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." Nothing shall arrest its progress or imperil its safety. It is a good work, and what is good is imperishable; it is God's work, and God's work is perfect. And since He annihilates nothing that He has made, not an atom of matter, do you think that He will destroy, or allow to be destroyed, the work of His new creation in the soul? Will He permit one grain of precious faith to perish, one spark of holy love to expire, one life-look at Jesus to be death-glazed? Will He allow a soul redeemed with the heart's-blood and the death agonies of His Son, quickened by His Spirit, called by His grace, kept by His power, to perish? Never, no never!
The new nature of the believer is as holy, as indestructible, as immortal as the God who created it. The gifts and calling of God are irrevocable. He will never revoke a pardon He has given, call back a grace He has bestowed, efface a divine lineament He has pencilled upon the soul. Angels shall never be summoned to hush their harps to silence because of the apostasy, the final ruin, of one over whose repentance and conversion those harps once woke their jubilant melody.
Cheer up, then, dear heart! You weak and trembling saint, your touch of faith has saved you; your look of love has won the heart of Jesus, and no poor sinner that once crowned Him with the weakest faith, or clung to Him with the faintest love, shall ever hear Him say, "Depart!" Listen to His own assurance, and with this we close the argument of the final perseverance of all the regenerate―"My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man (any one) pluck them out of my hand." And thus the new creature which could not sin because it was born of God, and which could not perish because God was in it, shall advance towards its destined completion, from grace to grace, until it is changed from glory to glory.
Before we close, let us solemnly and personally ask the reader, Have you these evidences of the New Birth? Are you a real Christian, a visible Christian, a thorough Christian, a growing Christian? Do not think that we exaggerate the importance of the great change, or that we demand evidences of its reality so high that you cannot attain unto them. If you question the correctness of our view of the subject, examine the Scriptures for yourself. Suppose that, after all, we should be right. Then what is your hope for eternity? And that we are right, it is spoken―spoken by Him who is the Truth, and who cannot lie―"you MUST be born again." What could be more explicit or more solemn? It is unequivocally appointed of God that you pass through this spiritual change. It is absolutely necessary in order to your entrance into heaven. Your eternal and changeless destiny turns upon the balance. Heaven or hell―the undying worm or the unfading crown―the quenchless fire or the eternal song―with demons and lost souls, or with Christ and glorified spirits forever are the solemn, momentous issues suspended upon your decision. Search the Scriptures, examine your heart, look into your life, and ascertain if of a truth you are BORN AGAIN.
But there yet remains one test of the reality of the new creation of the soul―the last and most solemn, the all-important hour when DEATH, the foe of nature but the friend of grace, approaches, loosens the silver cord, and translates the believer from earth to heaven. That all death-beds of God's people are precisely alike, that all exhibit the same jubilant joy, and exultant hope, and triumphant entrance into glory, we do not affirm. But whatever may be the dying experience of the departing saint―whether God puts His child to sleep in the dark or in the light―whether he departs hence with the lowly prayer of the tax-collector, or with the triumphant song of the martyred apostle breathing from his lips, the renewed nature will evidence its reality and exhibit its power; and no holy watcher of the solemn scene shall retire from that chamber but with the conviction that it was not the Christian, but death that died.
You may go down to the bank of the river in fear, in gloom, and in tears, but you shall pass through it in confidence, in light, and in song. Oh, how will the new creature prove its heavenly birth, unveil its divine wonders, and evidence its deathless existence then! Emerging from its long and deep veiling―the sin that enwrapped it, the infirmities that impaired it, the sorrows that shaded it, the body of sinful, suffering flesh that imprisoned it―it will burst forth into a reality and a grandeur that will awe while it delights, astonish while it entrances the spirits of saints and angels gazing down intent upon the spectacle.
In all this, how glorious and precious will Christ appear! Living or dying, Christ is all in all to the believer. IN Christ has been his heaven below; WITH Christ will be his heaven above. To Him we owe all the grace that saves us now, and will ascribe all the glory that glorifies us hereafter. Blessed Lord Jesus! You who stooped to my fallen, sinful, sorrowful nature to raise it into union with Your own divine, pure, and happy nature―You who carried my cross in weariness, in shame, and woe, that I might sit with You upon Your throne―oh, claim my heart for Yourself, and rule and reign without a rival!
"My heart is fixed, Eternal God,
Fixed on Thee;
And my immortal choice is made?
Christ for me.
He is my Prophet, Priest, and King,
Who did for me salvation bring;
And while I live I mean to sing,
Christ for me.
"In Him I see the Godhead shine,
Christ for me.
He is the Majesty Divine,
Christ for me;
The Father's well-beloved Son,
Co-partner of His royal throne,
Who died for human guilt alone,
Christ for me.
"Let others boast of heaps of gold,
Christ for me;
His riches never can be told,
Christ for me.
Your gold will waste and wear away;
Your honors perish in a day;
My Portion never can decay,
Christ for me.
"In pining sickness or in health,
Christ for me;
In deepest poverty or wealth,
Christ for me.
And in that all-important day,
When I the summons shall obey,
And wing my heavenly flight away,
Christ for me!"
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