“You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God!” 1 Peter 1:23
1. That this change is not of a human character. It is not effected by human means alone. “It is not by might.” No one is born a Christian. No one comes into the world with a pure heart, by which regeneration is rendered unnecessary. However great the piety and purity of parents, the child can never resemble them without a Divine change. Piety flows not in the blood, etc. “Children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God!” John 1:13.
2. This change is not ceremonial. It is not effected by baptism; yet some have wickedly declared that we are regenerated by baptism, made children of God, and heirs of the kingdom of Heaven. A person may be baptized in infancy, or in riper years — and yet, like Simon Magus, remain “in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” Acts 8:23
3. This change is not merely external, nor does it consist in mere formal service. Some people have been so preserved from immoralities, yet they too must be born again.
It is possible for a person to become “another man,” like Saul, and yet not be a new man. Ahab humbled himself, and yet he was not truly humble; and Jehu drove on furiously, but not towards Heaven. A man may perform a multitude of religious duties, and yet have an unholy heart. He may be honest and fair in his dealings, and yet be an enemy to God. He may be of a generous, and yet not of a gracious disposition. He may go through the routine of all religion, and yet have no saving religion. He may be able to say with the young ruler, “All these things have I kept from my youth up,” and yet lack the one thing needful.
4. It does not mean any kind of impressions or new revelations; any succession of terrors and consolations; or any whisper, as it were, from God to the heart — concerning his secret love, choice, or purpose, to save a man. Many such experiences have been declared by those who continued slaves to their sins. Satan, transformed into an angel of light, has done immense mischief in this way.
5. It is not merely a profession of faith. Many give themselves to the Church, without first giving themselves to the Lord. 2 Corinthians 8:5. Not all who profess Christ, possess Him.
But, to treat this subject in a, positive manner, the birth of God’s children is a change wrought by the power of the Holy Spirit in the understanding, will, and affections of a sinner, which is the commencement of a new kind of life, and which gives another direction to his judgment, desires, pursuits, and conduct. This new birth therefore is . . .
1. A divine change. This is stated John 1:13; James 1:18; Ephesians 2:1; 2 Corinthians 4:6; 5:5. Thus he who gave man his physical being at first, can alone create him in Christ Jesus unto good works. He alone can enstamp his own image, and make us partakers of a Divine nature. In the spiritual world, it is God who brings to the birth. To give life to the dead, and to bring a clean thing out of an unclean, is the work of Omnipotence, and the effect of sovereign grace! “Who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God!” John 1:13
2. It is an inward and invisible change.
The understanding is enlightened,
the judgment is informed,
the affections and desires are purified,
the will is subdued, and subjected to the will of God,
the soul is turned from the love of the world and the creature, to the great Creator and his service.
This birth is not fictitious, but real; it is the existence of truth in “the inward parts.” See Ezekiel 36:26, 27.
Regeneration cleanses the corrupt fountain of the heart, and demolishes the strongholds of Satan. It is a change . . .
from heart wickedness — to heart goodness,
from enmity to God — to love to God,
from the image of Satan — to the image of God.
3. This change is universal, extending to the heart and life. Man is “created after God in righteousness and true holiness.” Not only the mind — but the man is renewed. The mind is not only renewed, but there is also a new life and course of action. The former is called “newness of spirit,” the latter, “newness of life.” The tree is made good, and its fruit is good. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come!” 2 Corinthians 5:17
4. It is a change of which the subject of it is conscious. The subject has felt himself guilty, condemned, impure. He has been brought to the cross; believed in Christ; and found peace and joy. He hates the principles and practices which he formerly loved — and he loves the holy doctrines and commandments which he once abhorred. He now loves to associate with the people of God. He has “the witness in himself.”
5. He who is born again, gives evidence that he has passed from death to life. It is visible in his conduct — the observer of him perceives the change. How different now from what he once was!
The following are the principal evidences:
(1) Hatred to sin. (2) Victory over the world. (3) Brotherly love. (4) Delight in spiritual duties. (5) Exemplary conduct; a life of holiness. (6) Self-loathing, and constant faith in the sacrifice of Christ. (7) Sincere love to Christ.
William Nicholson “The Character and Dignity of Christians” 1862