Is Your Name Written There?
by W. Hoste
"WHEN Israel came out of Egypt," they were accompanied by "a mixed multitude" (margin, "a great mixture"), not of the true stock of Abraham (Exod. xii. 38). It was necessary, therefore, later on, when Moses took the census of all qualified to go forth "to war in Israel" (Num. i. 3), that each professed Israelite should prove his claim, "by declaring his pedigree after his family, by the house of his fathers" (Num. i. 18). The same practice was observed at the return from the Babylonish captivity. All who wished to be enrolled as true-born Israelites had "to shew their father's house and their seed, whether they were of Israel." Six hundred and fifty-two persons failed to do so at the last moment and were excluded. In addition to these, there were some who even professed to be priests of the Lord, but profession was not enough, they had to substantiate their claim by exhibiting their pedigree. Of them we read the solemn words, "These sought their register among those that were reckoned by genealogy, but they were not found, therefore were they, as polluted, put from the priesthood" (Ezra ii. 59-62). How dire must have been their disappointment, how sad their confusion, at finding themselves thus shut out from the national privileges! But who can portray the dismay and terror of those who will fail to find their names written in the Book of Life? Of such, the Word of God declares: "Whosoever was not found written in the Book of Life, was cast into the lake of fire" (Rev. xx. 12-15).
How important then to make sure whether or no we do truly belong to the family of God! We cannot afford to make a mistake here.
Let us then first be quite clear that we were not born into the world, children of God. The words of David, "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me" (Ps. Ii. 5), apply with equal force to all born of woman, except indeed to our blessed Lord, who was from birth, as always, the Holy One of God. But with this exception, we are all "by nature children of wrath" (Eph. ii. 3). All who reach the age of responsibility become by practice "sons of disobedience" (ver. 2), and all become sooner or later in character, unless the grace of God intervenes, "sons of the devil." This last phrase is never in Scripture applied to new-born babes, but rather to those who by obstinate rejection of the light, become morally conformed to him who was "A murderer from the beginning" men, like the religious Jews, who sought to slay the Lord (John viii. 44), or like Elymas, who would fain have destroyed the soul of Paulus by turning him from the faith (Acts xiii. 8).
A child then is born into the world sinful as to nature, lost as to condition, and dead to God as to spiritual relation, and becoming, when able to "discern between his right hand and his left hand." (Jonah iv. 11), morally responsible to God and guilty before Him. Men boast of their genealogical descent. Did they but go back far enough, they would discover, as has been said, that their first parents were thieves and their eldest brother a murderer. Christian parents are responsible to "bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" (Eph. vi. 4), and, like Eunice of old, to store their young memories with "the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make them wise unto salvation through FAITH which is in Christ Jesus." But they cannot communicate to them at birth, their own new spiritual nature, for "that which is born of the flesh is flesh," nor by any process educational or ecclesiastical can they afterwards turn them into children of God.
When I was a few weeks old, I was christened according to the rites of the Church of England. I knew nothing of it of course at the time, but I was afterwards informed of the fact, and also given the Catechism to learn, which told me that in my baptism, I had been made "a member of Christ, a child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of Heaven." I have no doubt that this teaching is a relic of popery, which our English Reformers, great champions of certain truths as they were, failed to eliminate from "the prayer book." My parents were both staunch Evangelicals, and had a horror of baptismal regeneration, that dangerous doctrine which is perhaps lulling to sleep more souls in Christendom than any other single invention of the Evil One. Accordingly, though they gave me the Catechism to learn, they, with blessed inconsistency, impressed on me the fact that I must come to the Lord Jesus by a personal faith, if ever I was to become a child of God. Later on, I was confirmed by the late Dr Ellicott, Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol, as the diocese then was. I was told to expect a blessing on the ordinance. I earnestly sought it, but in vain. There was no rite which could make me a child of God, nor yet my prayers; Bible-reading, or attendance at "Holy Communion." I was aware that something was wrong; I did not know that all was wrong. I was quite sure I needed improvement; I did not know that I needed to be "born again." It was to the exemplary Nicodemus of Jerusalem, not to the open sinner of Samaria, that our Lord addressed the solemn words, "Ye must be born again." Nicodemus was a specimen of man at his best, but was, for all that, only a son of the fallen family of Adam. He was religious, respectable, and even a believer in the Divine mission of Jesus of Nazareth, but, nevertheless, as incapable of entering the kingdom of God as a Zacchaeus or a Magdalene. He had physical, mental, and moral life in a high degree, but he had not the life from above necessary for the enjoyment of a heavenly sphere. Let us suppose an illustration. I take a lark, bred in some dark London slum, and let it out in a grassy meadow, bright with the flowers of June. Such surroundings would be entirely new, but the bird would be at home, for its nature would be suited to its new environment—it would already possess meadow-life. The next day, I take to that same meadow a freshly caught mackerel. The fish has more life and energy of a certain kind than the bird, but what was health to the one is death to the other. The mackerel would be out of harmony with grass and bluebells; for it would not possess meadow-life. Now to apply the illustration. Usher the feeblest child of God into Heaven—"stranger he in courts above"—but he has a nature that is at home with God; he possesses heavenly life.
Now let us stand by the death-bed of some great dignitary of the professing Church—a man perhaps of blameless reputation, of highest theological attainment, one whose life had been spent in religious rites and ceremonies, and suppose he had never been "born from above" (a by no means impossible supposition, seeing it was just such a type of man that crucified the Lord), he could be no more at home in Heaven than a mackerel in a meadow. Alas! our Lord had to say to the religious teachers of His time—the Pharisees and Sadducees corresponding respectively to the Ritualist (Roman or Anglican) and the Rationalist (religious or profane) of our day—"the publicans and the harlots shall enter the kingdom of Heaven before you." The first condition for blessing is the humble and the contrite heart. It is not the man who justifies himself and despises others who will get the blessing, but the man who "justifies God" and cries from his heart, "God be propitiated to me a sinner" (Luke xviii. 13, R.V. margin). To such an one, the answer comes, "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." "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved." By the mercy of God, I was at length brought down thus before Him and enabled through the Word of the Lord, contained in Romans vi. 23: "The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord," to cast myself wholly upon Him as my Saviour.
There are those who teach that a man is born again, as soon as he begins to be anxious about salvation. I believe this is a grave mistake. The first work of the Spirit on a soul is not to communicate life but to convict of sin. The Word of God connects becoming a child of God with believing on the Son of God. It was at the moment that I looked up to God and believed on the Lord Jesus, and not till then, that I became a child of God. Much has been said as to children being brought by baptism or dedication into a "circle of privilege", but the only circle of privilege in this dispensation of grace has a diameter of 7000 miles, if one may so say, that is as broad as the world, for the parting words of our Lord were, "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature." Into this circle, every child enters by its birth. It is no doubt a great boon for a child to have Christian parents, for then it can be trained "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord," but this does not consist in making the child believe that it has been already regenerated in some mysterious way without knowing it, but in teaching it—"the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make it wise unto salvation (not without faith) but through faith which is in Christ Jesus."
In conclusion, I would point out five important facts in connection with the new birth:
1. God is the Author of it. It cannot be worked up, it must come down. As James writes to his fellow-believers, "Of His own will begat He us with the Word of truth'' (James i. 18).
2. The Holy Spirit is the Agent of it. "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John iii. 1-5). It is the Holy Spirit who communicates life to the dead soul.
3. The Word is the instrument of it. "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God" (1 Pet. i. 23). The Word of God testifies to us of the blessed Person and work of Christ, by the reception of whom we become children of God. Whatever the expression "of water" (lit. "out of water") in John iii. 5 may mean, it cannot here, as some affirm, indicate Christian baptism. A reference to this ordinance then would have been an anachronism, seeing that our Lord did not institute the rite till after His resurrection. How could Nicodemus understand the meaning of that which did not then exist? But what our Lord refers to here, was something His questioner ought to have understood that very night on which he sought the Lord.
4. The Lord Jesus is the medium through whom the new birth comes. It is not by looking to ourselves or our sins that we get the new life, but by looking by faith to Him dying on the Cross for us and for our sins. Behold the Lamb of God! See Him there meeting all the claims of a Holy God against the sinner! and suffering "the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God" (1 Pet. iii. 18).
5. Faith is the means by which a sinner receives the gift of the new life. In order to experience this great change, it is not needful for a man to pass through strange emotions, to dream startling dreams, nor to spend hours in prayer; it is needful for him to believe in his heart in the Lord Jesus as his own personal Saviour. Faith is the hand that accepts the proffered gift—the principle by which we begin, continue, and end the Christian life, the power "that worketh by love." Thank God, this is not intended to be the experience of the few. God in His all-embracing love "sent His Son . . . that the world through Him might be saved" (John iii. 17), and the word in John i. 12 is, to the glory of His grace, "To as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become children of God, even to them that believe on His name."
"How and When Do We Become Children Of God?"
Edited by W. Hoste and R, M'Elheran.
Glasgow, Pickering & Inglis, 1912. (Every Christian's Library).