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* Except a man be born again, he cannot enter into the kingdom
A STRANGE paradox this, and so it seemed to the person to whom the declaration was addressed, and he answered to the literal sense, with more simplicity than acuteness, • Can a man enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born ?' Yet the eastern manner is so full of bold metaphors, that though a European might naturally have been startled at the seeming uncouthness of the figure, a ruler in Israel ought to have readily understood the spiritual meaning shadowed out under the similitude. The beginning of a Christian's life in his conversion from sin to holiness is here designed under the figure of a birth, a new or a second birth ; and it shall be the business of this discourse to unfold the beauty and justness of the metaphor.
That the whole man is not born at once, is a doctrine of philosophy no less than of religion ; the infant has only entered upon an animal life; whatever lofty titles we may salute him with on his entrance upon the stage, he is not yet a moral agent, or even a rational creature. There is, therefore, some subsequent period in which he enters upon the spiritual, the divine life, and whether it be by the gradual unfolding of his powers, or by the more sudden and striking change of a conversion
from sin to holiness, it is well expressed by the figure of a birth.
What is it to be born in the natural sense ? To be born is to receive being, life, existence. It is to have objects presented to our eyes, melodies to our ears, flavors to our tastes, to have a thousand sensations crowded upon us, of which, before, we could not possibly have any idea, or form the most imperfect conception. It is to leave a dark prison, and emerge to life, and joy, and action. And how well does the change wrought in the heart of a Christian correspond with this criterion of a birth! What a new world of ideas and feelings are opened upon him! He had before no organs with which to discern spiritual things. He had heard of them, but he apprehended them not; there was no faculty in him by which he could take hold of them ; but the moment he is born again the eyes of his mind are opened; he sees, feels, tastes, and relishes the word of God, the bread of life, the gracious influences of the Spirit. The invisible world is laid open to him, he sees the beauty of right action, feels the force of moral obligation. He tastes a sweetness in the ordinances of religion, in prayers and psalms and sacraments, which before were dry and without savor to him; which he had attended from day to day and from sabbath to sabbath, as mere matter of form and decency. Before he was born into the world of sense, now he holds communion with the world of spirits. And is not this a mighty and important change ?
Again : to be born implies having a father, a descent, a parentage; the natural man is born the son, perhaps, of some mighty chief or distinguished statesman, or head of
noble house. But trifling, indeed, are all these distinctions in comparison of that which he receives who acquires a right to consider himself as the child of God, who in humble confidence may call by the tender and affection
ate appellation of Father, the Sovereign of the universe. A child, when born, has a name given him. And the Christian has a name, a new name, written in his forehead, registered in heaven, even in the Lamb's book of life. As soon as a child comes into the world its voice is heard. It sends forth a cry, a meaning cry, which seems to say, * Here am I feeble, helpless, naked ; nourish me, protect me, cherish me in your bosom, bear with my
weakness, lead me up to manhood.' So also when a believer is born into the life of Christ, his voice is heard and he prayeth. With strong and earnest cries he supplicates the Father of his spirit for pardon and for blessings. Prayer is the natural, unstudied expression of those feelings which are then awakened within him.
He casts himself before the throne of grace, and waits patiently there as an infant clings to the breast of his mother, and there he rests all his cares, all his concerns in a childlike humility and unreserved trust and cheerful confidence.
Again : A child is not born into the world without great and strong pains. And great are the pains which precede the new birth, sharp are the pangs of repentance, great the travail of the ministers and laborers in Christ, and deep those groanings which cannot be uttered, that must pass before the change be wrought, which in some distinguished instances has been wrought from the depths of guilt and defilement, and mental bondage to the glorious liberty of the sons of God. But when once a child is born, how great is the joy! The father taketh it in his arms and blesseth it; the mother forgetteth her suffering to smile upon it; the friends and relations and neighbors crowd around it, and welcome into existence the new creature. It is received into a family, into a brotherhood, linked into a close knot of amity with all who are partakers of the same blood. With mingled curiosity and
affection they trace in its little lineaments lines of resemblance to its parents, and fondly prognosticate from thence the beauty and vigor of the future man. And is there not joy when a soul is born! joy of its ministers, joy of the church, joy even in heaven over a sinner that repenteth! With what kindly meltings of paternal love does the universal Father receive the returning prodigal, revive the spirits of the penitent Magdalen, and cherish the innocent children who come to him for a blessing ! And what a family, what a brotherhood, does he become a member of who is partaker of this divine life! the wide extended family of God's virtuous and approved children ; the brotherhood of all the holy and the happy in all worlds and in all ages ; he is united to saints and angels, and spirits of the just made perfect, who do not disdain the meanest member of this blessed community, if united with them in sincere desire to do the will of their common Father.
Again: What further joy is there if the child be born an heir, and entitled to inherit some portion of this vain and perishable earth! What ostentation, what importance, what carefulness in displaying the wealth, in setting forth and adorning the child! The very nurse is quite proud and glorious to take care of one born to such a distinguished and happy lot. The possessions of most are confined to a certain number of acres, but some favored mortals enjoy a portion of this globe which may even be distinguished in a map of the world, and extends over the circumference of a few inches there. How assiduous to give him his title, how careful to preserve his pedigree! What a lively interest is taken in his health, his dress, his sports, and every thing belonging to him, as if he were really of a distinct species from the common race of mortals ! And to what an estate, what a title, what VOL. II.-NO. XIII.
a heritage is the Christian born! He is born an heir of glory, he expects a heritage in the land of promise, thrones in heaven; heaven is his, and earth is his, and all things are his, for God is his; and nothing can deprive him of his glorious birthright, except he himself should alienate and renounce it.—But let it be observed, the heir does not inherit immediately. He waits for his possessions till he is able to enjoy and manage them, and in the meantime this inheritor of a splendid fortune is made subject to every one that is about him. First he cannot, and then he may not, stir a step without others; he is every thing in hope, nothing in possession ; his cheeks are bathed in frequent tears, his will is crossed, his appetites checked, the purposes and projects of his little heart continually counteracted; he is scourged, buffeted and severely handled, according to his childish conceptions, by his parents, masters, and tutors. Nay, he is kept under by those who afterwards will not presume so much as to approach his presence. And thus it must be with the heir of glory while he is in the nonage of this world ; afflictions and crosses and disappointments are the schoolmasters to bring him to Christ. His high destination and lofty hopes do not hinder him from being lorded over and roughly treated by the children of this world, who are often wiser in their generation than the children of light. Jacob was the heir of the promises, yet he became the servant of Laban; and the seed of Abraham was long held in bondage by the Egyptians.
In the next place it may be remarked, that though the child is born, it may die. Life, mere life, is an inestimable and there is an infinite difference between existence in the lowest state and non-existence; but life in its early stages is peculiarly frail and delicate ; when the flame is first kindled, a breath will extinguish it. What care, therefore, is exercised to preserve the tender infant,