« PreviousContinue »
3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I Jerusalem. say unto thee, Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.
ways of the Lord, then he becomes in all things a perfect
These things were well known to Nicodemus. He must
We learn, from the context, that Nicodemus had seen Christ perform the miracle of cleansing the temple, and perhaps some others. He probably understood this action to be an assertion of divine power; and he came to be satisfied upon this point. The promised deliverer was now daily expected, and the establishment of his kingdom, which was believed to be both of a temporal, and yet of a spiritual nature, was immediately anticipated. Nicodemus, like the rest of his countrymen, was looking for the Messiah, or the prophet who should precede him; and, as the learned Lightfoot observes (g), "expected that Christ would take the Jewish people as they were, and they, without any inward change of mind and heart at all, should be translated into an outward changed condition of happiness and earthly glory, as much as they could desire or imagine. No, said our Lord, there is more required of him, and in him, that desires to see and partake of the happiness of that kingdom, and those days: he must suffer a change in himself, and in his principles, and be as if he were born anew." Such, says the learned Lightfoot, is the connexion of this speech of Christ, with that of Nicodemus.
The meaning of the speech of our Lord must be collected further from the difference between the kingdom of heaven expected by Nicodemus, and the spiritual kingdom which Christ came to establish. Perceiving the mingled feelings of doubt and veneration with which the Jewish senator approached him, he immediately, in contradiction to the prevailing error, assures Nicodemus that his kingdom was not of the nature he supposed, and that it was necessary that a man should be born again of water and of the spirit, to become a partaker of its privileges. As men were admitted into the Church of Moses by circumcision, so shall they be admitted into the new dispensation by baptism. As by the one rite a human being is taken into covenant with God, and is considered in a new relationship, so by the other rite the same privileges shall be given, in the new economy. You also, (v. 3.) who are Jews, must, like the proselytes whom you receive, and the children you initiate, you also must be born again. This was the doctrine Nicodemus could not comprehend. He could not suppose that a Jew, who had already been received into covenant with God, was to be considered as a stranger, and he therefore interpreted the words literally. (v. 4.) To rectify the error, our Lord repeats the words, with the addition, except a man be born of water, and of the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. You also, though a master and teacher in Israel, must not hope to partake of the privileges of the Messiah's kingdom, unless you enroll yourself among the number of my disciples, be baptized
Julian Pe- 4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born Jerusalem. riod, 4740. when he is old? can he enter the second time into his
mother's womb, and be born?
in my name, and receive the influences of the Holy Spirit.
The fathers of the primitive Church, as well as the ancient
The learned Waterland, in his Sermon on Regeneration, has summed up the opinion of the primitive Church, and explained with great accuracy the difference between regeneration and renovation; and his statement is evidently grounded on a severe examination of their works, and a judicious induction of particulars (n).
He first teaches us, in conformity to the opinion of the ancient Christians, that regeneration is a spiritual change wrought upon any person in the right use of baptism, whereby he is translated from his natural state in Adam to a spiritual state in Christ. That every one must be born of water and of the
Julian Pe5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Jerusalem. riod, 4740. Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he canVulgar Æra, not enter into the kingdom of God.
spirit; not once of water, and once of the spirit, but once of
He then proceeds to lay down the distinction between rege-
Regeneration, he proceeds, is the joint work of the water and of the spirit, or to speak more properly, of the spirit only; renovation is the joint work of the spirit and the man.
Regeneration comes only once, in or through baptism. Renovation exists before, in, and after baptism, and may be often repeated. Regeneration, being a single act, can have no parts, and is incapable of increase. Renovation is in its very nature progressive. Regeneration, though suspended as to its effects and benefits, cannot be totally lost in the present life. Renovation may be often repeated and totally lost.
Afterwards he illustrates this doctrine by applying it to four separate cases.
1. Grown persons, coming to baptism properly qualified, receive at once the grace of regeneration: but, however well prepared, they are not regenerate without baptism. Afterwards renovation grows more and more within them by the indwelling of the Spirit.
2. As to infants, their innocence and incapacity are to them instead of repentance, which they do not want, and of actual faith, which they cannot have: and they are capable of being born again, and adopted by God, because they bring no obstacle. They stipulate, and the Holy Spirit translates them out of a state of nature into a state of grace, favour, and acceptance. In their case, regeneration precedes, and renovation follows after, and they are the temple of the Spirit, till they defile themselves with sin.
3. As to those who fall off after regeneration, their covenant state abides, but without any saving effect, because without present renovation: but this saving effect may be repaired and recovered by repentance.
4. With respect to those who receive baptism in a state of hypocrisy or impenitency, though this sacrament can only increase their condemnation, still pardon and grace are conditionally made over to them, and the saving virtue of regeneration, which had been hitherto suspended, takes effect, when they truly repent and unfeignedly believe the Gospel.
This clear statement of the learned author, contains an
Julian Pe- 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that Jerusalem. riod, 4740. which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
accurate representation of the grace conferred, and the change
The doctrine of the Church of England, on the subject of
The first article (Art. IX.) which alludes to this doctrine is that which treats of original or birth sin. In this article we are taught that "this infection of our nature doth remain, yea in them that are regenerate:" and that "although there is no condemnation to them that believe and are baptized, yet the apostle doth confess that concupiscence or lust hath in itself the nature of sin." In this sentence the word (renatis or) regenerate in the Latin copy, answers to the word baptized in the English, which plainly shews that our Reformers, in compliance with the ancient doctrine, identified regeneration with baptism. We arrive at the same conclusion from considering the state of the controversy. For this part of the article is pointed at the doctrine of the Roman Church, which was established by the Council of Trent, that the whole infection of original sin is washed away, and the soul rendered altogether pure in baptism.
The fifteenth article, speaking of Christ alone without sin, says, "All we the rest (although baptized and born again in Christ) yet offend in many things:" evidently speaking of our regeneration in baptism.
In the next article likewise, which treats of sin after baptism, it is assumed, in conformity to the doctrine of the universal Church, that "we receive the Holy Ghost in baptism."
In the twenty-fifth article sacraments are defined to be "not only badges or tokens of Christian men's profession, but rather certain sure witnesses and efficacious signs of grace, and God's good will towards us." This is precisely the doctrine which the ancient Christians held-that sacraments are not only signs significant or symbolical, but signs accompanied with a conveyance of grace, and a saving efficacy upon the soul: and that they are sure witnesses, testimonies, pledges, and securities of God's present and actual, and lasting good will toward us.
In the twenty-seventh article we are taught that baptism is not only a sign of profession or "a mark of difference, but also a sign," an efficacious sign, "of regeneration or new birth," a sign through means of which the inward grace of regeneration is actually bestowed on us, in virtue of Christ's institution and promise; "whereby, as by an instrument," after the manner of a legal instrument, which makes over to a man the freedom of a public body, or his title to any property or privilege," they that receive baptism rightly," from the proper hands, and with the proper qualifications," are grafted into the Church, the promises of forgiveness of sins, and of our adoption to be the sons of God by the Holy Ghost, are visibly signed and sealed,” are openly ratified and made good to us, as it were by the signing and sealing of a deed or instrument. "Faith is confirmed and grace is increased," in those recipients who are capable of an increase of faith and grace, virtue of prayer unto God. The baptism of young children is in any wise to be retained in the Church as most agreeable to the institution."
Julian Pe- 7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born Jerusalem. riod, 4740. again.
In this part of the article there can be no reasonable doubt that the meaning of the Church is (a point never doubted among orthodox Christians previous to the time of the Reformation) that every individual infant, receiving baptism rightly, partakes of those graces of which infants are capable-the new birth, incorporation into Christ, forgiveness of sin, and adoption to be the sons of God by the Holy Ghost. For, independently of the argument for infant baptism drawn from the analogy between Christian baptism and Jewish circumcision, baptism was instituted for the salvation of sinners; and since infants are born in sin and stand in need of forgiveness, and are capable of grace and salvation, it is most agreeable to the institution that they should be baptized, in order that they may partake of the Gospel promise, and be saved or regenerated, without respect of persons, in the way which Christ has appointed.
In the different offices for the administration of baptism, the same doctrine is taught with particularity and plainness, and a studied conformity to the language and opinions of the ancient Christians. Previous to the sacramental act the person to be baptized is represented as not regenerate, but from the moment that the ceremony has been performed, he is pronounced regenerate, without a hint or suspicion of any reserve, or of any doubt existing in the minds of the minister or the congregation. We are first told, that "all men are conceived or born in sin," and that "none can enter into the kingdom of God unless they be regenerate, and born anew of water and of the Spirit; and are therefore besought to call upon that God that the infant "may be baptized with water and with the Holy Ghost." Accordingly the congregation joins with the minister in praying "that he, coming to God's holy baptism, may receive remission of his sins by spiritual regeneration, and that God will give his Holy Spirit to him, that he may be born again, and made an heir of everlasting salvation:" and God is intreated to " sanctify the water to the mystical washing away of sin." As soon as the child has been baptized, and received into the congregation, the minister solemnly pronounces him "regenerate, and grafted into the body of Christ," and the congregation returns thanks to God, for having been "pleased to regenerate him with his Holy Spirit, to receive him for his own child by adoption, and to incoporate him into his holy Church."
In the office for receiving children privately baptized into the Church, instead of praying God to "give his Holy Spirit to the infant that he may be born again," we beseech him to "give the infant his Holy Spirit, that he, being born again," that is, having been already born again, when he was baptized, "may continue his servant, and attain his promises :" plainly expressing our firm persuasion that baptism is the point in which the new birth takes place.
In short, these offices, from one end to other, unequivocally exhibit the doctrine of regeneration in baptism, and are compiled in strict conformity to the language and sentiments of the ancient Churches. Indeed the views which they present to us, of the connection between this sacrament and the new birth, and of the opinion of our reformers on this head of doctrine, are most clear and explicit; and appear scarcely to leave any opening for cavils and disputes upon the subject.