Brethren Archive
John 2,3

Ye Must be Born Again

by W.T.P. Wolston


Read John 2:23-25; 3:1-21

The connection between the second and third chapters of John is obvious to any careful reader of Scripture. It is on the understanding of what chapter 2:22-25 brings out that the soul really craves what chapter 3 unfolds. If I do not know my state as a child of Adam, I shall not crave to know what chapter 3 brings out, viz., what is the New Birth and Eternal Life. These two are distinct, for if I think of the new birth, I do not think of Christ. It would be blasphemy to think of new birth in connection with Him. New birth is what I need. If I think of eternal life I can only think of Christ, for He is “the true God and eternal life.”

It is important to bear in mind that whatever God has done in this world has always been effected by the blessed Spirit of God. The Son of God has paid the earth a visit. He was not wanted, was not welcomed when He came, and thirty-three years was quite long enough for this world to put up with Jesus, and then they cast Him out. But the Spirit of God came down and took His place on the earth.

From the garden of Eden onwards, wherever there has been any work of God in man’s soul, it has always been the act of the Holy Ghost. New birth was therefore known in Old Testament times, though the whole truth had not come out then. Now it has. The earth is tenanted now by the Spirit of God, and His first thought is to bring man into the presence of God.

Turning now to chapter 2, we find Jesus going up to the passover. There He works miracles—all of them miracles of mercy. Many of God’s servants have wrought miracles—but they were often miracles of judgment, conspicuously those of Moses. All the miracles of Jesus were miracles of pure mercy and goodness.

But what was the effect of those miracles? “Many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did” (2:23). Could the Lord trust a man who believed on Him on the ground of His miracles? No. That is sight, not faith, and it is faith only which God regards. The reason the world does not believe in the Spirit of God is that they cannot see Him. But we read that Jesus “needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man” (v. 25). And what was in man? Unbelief, and the very people who liked to see His miracles, cried, “Away with him, crucify him.” Man may like to see miracles, but he does not care to have to do with God, unless there is the sense of need in his soul.

In chapter 3 we get a man who did feel the sense of need. The teaching of Jesus in this chapter is that, do what you will, you cannot change the nature of man, nor make it fit for God. “That which is born of flesh is flesh” (v. 6). Educate it. It is but educated “flesh.” Refine it. It is but refined “flesh.” Improve it as much as you will, it is only improved “flesh,” and “flesh” will not do for God. You must have the new birth, a new nature capable of enjoying God.

This third chapter really begins, “But there was a man of the, Pharisees.” When the Lord had said He could not trust man, I get brought upon the scene the best kind of man the world could produce—hoping, doubtless, to go to heaven, for, I am sure, if you had told Nicodemus—before he met and heard the Lord—that he was only fit for hell, he would not have believed it.

To this best kind of man Jesus says, “You MUST be born again.” He was a ruler of the Jews, and an earnest man—or he would not have come to Jesus. He came “by night,” hoping nobody would see him—nobody would know it. He would lose his reputation if it were known. But though he came by night he “CAME TO JESUS.” Now, my reader, have you ever done this? Have you ever come to Jesus? Though Nicodemus came by night at first, in a year or two more he did not mind coming by broad daylight, and bringing a hundred pounds of spices to anoint the body of Jesus. You have midnight in Nicodemus’s history in the third of John, and you have what I may call twilight in John 7, when he says, “Doth our law judge any man before it hear him, and know what he doeth?” and you have broad daylight with him in John 19, when he openly confesses and identifies himself with Jesus.

The point in John 3 is that Nicodemus came to Jesus. He was face to face with the living Son of God—he a sinner, dead in his sins; as religious as you like, but dead, for religion is not life. Nicodemus was impressed with the sense of the dignity, the moral, the divine power that was in this Man. He felt that He was “from God,” but did not yet know that He Himself was God. He drew near, as he thought, to a Man who was “a teacher come from God,” but he got face to face with God Himself. Have you, my friend, ever got face to face with the Lord yet?

Nicodemus came to Jesus to be taught, but Jesus says, as it were, to him, Before you can be taught you must have a new life. “Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” I have no doubt this was a startling piece of information to this religious doctor of the law. Nicodemus assuredly thought he would make a capital scholar. But Jesus said, You have no eyes, Nicodemus, you cannot see. The ruler does not understand what the Lord means, so he puts a question which you and I might think foolish, but it brings out what the Lord means. He says, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can be enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? ” The Lord replies, “Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, be cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Water here does not mean baptism. What did Nicodemus know about baptism? What is spoken of here as “water” is what is abundantly referred to in other parts of the Word of God. The Lord is speaking in figures. In chapter 4 He says to the woman, “If thou knowest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.” Water is the figure of the Word of God—not merely the word, for the letter might kill—but the Word of God in connection with the Holy Ghost’s applying power.

Look at Ezekiel 36, the scripture which I have no doubt the Lord refers to when he says to Nicodemus, “Art thou a master in Israel and knowest not these things?” There we read (vv. 25-27), “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean . . . and a new spirit will I put within you.” Again in Isaiah 44:8, we read, “I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring.” Both these scriptures give us the water and the Spirit, i.e., the application of the Word of God by the Holy Ghost, and that is always the way by which the new birth comes. Again, in John 13, the Lord takes water and washes His disciples’ feet, saying, “Now are ye clean, but not all,” for Judas was there, but when he had gone out, gone to “his own company,” and on the road to “his own place” (do not you join him there, my reader, I add in passing), the Lord says, in John 15:3, “Now are ye clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.” Again, in Ephesians 5:26, we read of “the washing of water by the word”; and in James 1:18, we are told, “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth.” So also 1 Peter 1:26, gives us, “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever”; and in chapter 2, verse 2, he writes, “as new-born babes desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.” Thus John, Paul, James, and Peter tell the same tale, and these scriptures make it abundantly plain that what Jesus spoke to Nicodemus of was the Word and Spirit of God.

Reader, can you honestly say, “I have been born of the Spirit”? Can you say, “Whereas I was blind, now I see”? Perhaps you cannot tell the exact moment when you passed through the new birth, but every child of God knows that he does see, and that Christ is precious to him. To be in heaven without this new birth would be impossible, but, if possible, intolerable to you, for all there is light and clearness, and in the light you would find out what you are in the depths of your soul. If you could get there without the new life, your one thought would be, “How can I get out of this awful place?” But, thank God, “the wind bloweth where it listeth.” This is the sovereignty of God’s grace. It has no limit, and if you really believe in the Lord Jesus Christ you will find yourself to be one of those born of the Spirit.

Nicodemus now says, “How can these things be?” Jesus replies, “We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen.” He knows what suits God, and if you have listened to any other voice but His—any voice that diverges from what He says here—you have listened to the voice of a stranger, and not to the voice of the Good Shepherd. His divinity comes out as He speaks of “the Son of man which is in heaven.” He knows what suits God, and what man needs. He says, I know what man needs, he “must be born again”; be needs new life. I know what suits God, for I came from the glory of God. I am in it now even. And do you want to know how to get there? I will die to open the way. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” He points us to His own death. My sin brought His death. Jesus, the sinless One, went to death to put my sin away. He was made sin. Sin brought in death, and only death, the death of a sinless One, can put my sin away.

There are two wonderful “musts” in this chapter. The first is the sinner’s, “Ye must be born again.” The second is the Lord’s,” Even so must the Son of man be lifted up.” The second is the complement of the first. The first could not be without the second. One is man’s necessity, the other is Jesus’ love. If I am to live, He must die.

It is a simple thing looking—too simple for some. Oh! do look at that blessed One, at the Son of Man, the Son of God, on the cross once, but now in the glory. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Will you not trust Him—come to Him? It is for “whosoever believeth in him.” Here we have God’s side and man’s beautifully brought out. God’s part is loving and giving, and man’s side is believing and having. Will you not be one of them who believe and have?

W.T.P.Wolston

The Gospel Messenger 1890, p. 169






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