"Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."--John iii. 3
Much less inherit it. He can't even get a glimpse of the kingdom of God except he be born again. I believe this is the most important subject that will ever come before us in this world. I don't believe there is any truth in the whole Bible so important as the truth brought out in the third chapter of the Gospel of John.
It is the A B C of God's alphabet. If a man is unsound on regeneration, he is unsound on everything. That is really the foundation-stone; and he must get the foundation right. If he don't, what is the good of trying to build a house? Now, Christ says plainly, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." But although regeneration or the new birth is taught so plainly in the third chapter of John, I don't believe there is any truth in the whole Bible that there is such great darkness about as this great truth. There are a great many like the man that saw men as trees walking. Many Christians do not seem to be clear about this new birth.
BORN A CHRISTIAN.
Only this afternoon, as I was in the inquiry-room, a person came in, and I said, "Are you a Christian?" "Why," she says, "of course I am." "Well," I said, "how long have you been one?" "Oh, sir, I was born one!" "Oh! indeed, then I am very glad to take you by the hand; I congratulate you; you are the first woman I ever met who was born a Christian; you are more fortunate than others; they are born children of Adam." She hesitated a little, and then tried to make out that, because she was born in England, she was a Christian. There are many who have the idea, that because they are born in a Christian country, they have been born of the Spirit. Now, in this third chapter of John, the new birth is brought out so plain, that if any one will read it carefully and prayerfully, I think his eyes will soon be opened. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; it remains flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit, and remains spirit. So, when a man is born of God, he has God's nature. When a man is born of his parents, he receives their nature, and they received the nature of their parents, and you can trace it back to Adam. But when a man is born of God, or born from above, or born of the Spirit--that is the way the Holy Ghost puts it in that third verse--he receives God's nature, and then it is he leaves the life of the flesh for the life of the spirit.
Before I go on I want to say one thing, and that is, what this new birth, or being born of the Spirit, is not. A great many think they have been born again because they go to church. A great many say, "Oh, yes, I am a Christian; I go to church every Sabbath!" Let me say here that there is no one that goes to church so regularly in all London as Satan. He is always there before the minister, and he is the last one out of the church. There is not a church in London, or a chapel, but that he is a regular attendant of it. The idea that he is only down in the slums and lanes and alleys of London is a false idea. He is wherever the Word is preached; it is his business to be there, and catch away the seed. He is here to-night. Some of you may go to sleep, but he won't. Some of you may not listen to the sermon, but he will. He will be watching, and when the seed is just entering into some heart he will go and catch it away.
A CHRISTIAN BECAUSE BAPTIZED.
Another class say, "Oh, yes, I am a Christian, because I was baptized." Now, I want to say here that baptism is one thing, and being born again is another. Because a person is baptized, you cannot say that that is the new birth. Would you call that being born from above? You cannot baptize a man into the kingdom of God. Now, bear that in mind. If I could save men by baptizing them, you would not catch me preaching. I would get water and baptize them; that would be the quickest way. It would be no use to be praying and pleading for men to flee from the wrath of God. But you can never get them into the kingdom of God by baptism. Baptism is all right in its place. I am not here crying down church ordinances; I am talking about the new birth: and there are a great many, I believe, being deceived on this one point, that because they have been baptized at some time in their life they have become Christians. But that is not the new birth; that is not being born from above and of the Spirit. Do not let Satan deceive you, my friends, on that point, for it is a very important truth; and we want to have every one here to understand, and I hope the Spirit of God will make plain the difference between baptism and regeneration, or being born of the Spirit.
JOINING THE CHURCH.
There is another class that say, "Oh, yes, I became a Christian when I joined the church." That is not being born again. What has that to do with the new birth, being united with the church on earth? There are a great many united with the church who are on their way to death and ruin. A great many have no hope of eternal life who are church members. One of the twelve Christ chose to follow Him turned out a hypocrite and a traitor; he was not loyal to Christ at heart. My friends, don't build your hope of heaven upon some profession of your faith, but bear in mind you must be born of God. Now just let me stop a minute, and you think, and ask yourselves this question, "Have I been born again?" It is the most solemn question that will ever come before you down here, "Have I been born from above? Have I been born of the Spirit?" It is not making some new resolutions. You have made enough of them. I never met any one who had not made some good resolutions in their life. It is not trying to do good. A great many say, "I try to do the best I can, and I think it will come out all right." What is that to do with the new birth and the new creation? God does not promise salvation to him that tries to do the best he can, but to him that believeth, or that is born of the Spirit; for "except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
THE NEW BIRTH INSTANTANEOUS.
Now, I believe this new birth is instantaneous. I have met a great many people who cannot tell the day or the hour of their conversion; but there must have been a time when they passed from death unto life--when they were born of the Spirit. There must have been a time when their names were written in the Book of Life. They may not be conscious of the day, or the hour, or the week, or the month, or the year; but, my friends, I beg of you to be sure that you have been born of the Spirit. Don't be deceived upon this one truth, because Christ Himself says, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
THE FLESH CANNOT SERVE GOD.
As I said before, when I was born of my parents I received their nature, I received the nature of the flesh; and I cannot serve God in the flesh. "God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth." And before a man can worship God he must be born of God; he must be born of the Spirit. Then with this new birth, with this new life, he can serve God; then the yoke is easy, and the burden is light. A man may as well try to fly to the moon as to serve God before he has been born of the Spirit; it is utterly impossible. The natural man is at enmity against God; his natural heart is at war with God; it always has been, and it always will be. And not only that, but you cannot make it better. God never mends, He creates anew; therefore don't be trying to patch up that old Adam nature. God says, "It shall never come into my presence." Therefore God has just set it aside. But He tells us how we are to come into His presence, and how we are to get into His kingdom. This is worthy to be borne in mind. You cannot educate men into it. That is what the world is trying to do. But he that climbeth up by some other way than the Lord's way, the same is a thief and a robber. You had better be born into it in God's way.
We have a law in America that no man shall be President of the United States that has not been born on American soil. We have a great many Englishmen come to America, and a great many men from all parts of the world, and yet I have never heard one complain of that law. They say America has the right to say who shall be President. I come here to your country, and I do not complain because you have a Queen to reign over you. What right have I to complain? Has not England a right to say who shall rule it, and who shall be its Queen? Foreigners have no right to interfere. And I would like to ask you this question, Has not God a right to say who shall come into His kingdom, and how we shall come? Now, my friend, God tells us here we are to come into His kingdom by the new birth. We must be born from above, born of the Spirit, and then we get a nature that goes out towards God. If you take a drunken man, and put him on the very pavement of heaven, he will not be happy there. The drunkard doesn't want heaven. What is he to do there? He has no whisky to drink there, and he has none of his old companions. What is he to do? He would say, "This is hell to me. I don't want to stay here." A man that cannot spend one Sabbath on earth among God's people, what is he to do with that eternal Sabbath, with those that have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb? A man must have a spiritual nature before he wants to go to heaven. Heaven cannot have any attractions to a man until he is born of the Spirit.
THE MORAL NEED THE NEW BIRTH.
Now let us go back to the man to whom Christ said these words. I often rejoice He didn't say this to the woman at the well, nor to Mary Magdalene. If He had said it to them, people would have said, "Oh, that poor woman needs to be converted; but I am a moralist; I don't need to be converted. Regeneration will do for harlots, thieves, and drunkards, but we moralists do not need it." But who did Christ say it to? He said it to Nicodemus. Who was he? He belonged to the house of bishops. Nicodemus stood very high; he was one of the church dignitaries; he stood as high as any man in Jerusalem, except the high priest himself. He belonged to the seventy rulers of the Jews; he was a doctor of divinity, and taught the law. There is not one word of Scripture against him; he was a man that stood out before the whole nation as of pure and spotless character. What does Christ say to him? "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." I can see a scowl on his forehead. He says, "What do you mean by being born again--born from above, born of the Spirit? Now I am old, can I a second time enter my mother's womb, and be born again?" Jesus saith, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot see the kingdom of God." He didn't take back what He had said, but He repeated it. I can imagine Nicodemus was like tens of thousands of men in London to-day. The moment you talk to them about regeneration or conversion, there is a scowl on their forehead. They say, "I don't understand it." Of course, the natural man doesn't understand spiritual things. It is a matter of revelation. A great many men try to investigate and find out God. Suppose you spend a little of your time in asking God to reveal Himself to you.
REASON CANNOT UNDERSTAND THIS NEW BIRTH.
I heard some time ago of some commercial travellers who went to hear a man preach. They came back to the hotel, and were sitting in the smoking-room talking, and they said the minister did not appeal to their reason, and they would not believe anything they could not reason out. There was an old man sitting there listening, and he said to them, "You say you won't believe anything you can't reason out?" "No, we won't." The old man said, "As I was coming in the train yesterday, I noticed some sheep, and cattle, and swine, and geese, all eating grass. Now, can you tell me by what process that same grass was turned into feathers, hair, bristles, and wool?" "Well, no, we can't just tell you that." "Do you believe it is a fact?" "Oh, yes, it is a fact." "I thought you said you would not believe anything you could not reason out?" "Well, we can't help believing that; that is a fact we see before our eyes." "Well," said the old man, "I can't help but believe in regeneration and a man being converted, although I cannot explain how God converted him."
Now, the illustration which Christ used to Nicodemus was the wind. "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, nor whither it goeth." Now, you cannot see the Spirit of God work in this audience; but I hope and pray He may be working now in the hearts of many, convincing them of sin! Do you believe more than ever that you are a sinner? Well, that is the work of the Holy Ghost. The devil never told you you are a sinner; he tries to make you believe that you are good enough. If you believe to-night that you have sinned against God, that is the work of the Holy Ghost. He is here at work. We cannot see Him, but there are a great many who know He is here. Suppose I should say, "I don't believe in the wind, and that it must be all imagination; I have lived thirty-seven years, and have never seen the wind. It is folly for men to talk about the wind." I can just imagine that boy there saying, "Why, I know more than that man; I know there is wind, for it blew my hat off this very day into the mud, and I have often felt it blowing in my face." My friends, you have never felt the wind more than I have felt the Spirit of God. You have never seen the effects of the wind more than I have seen the effects of the Spirit of God, and of the working of the Holy Ghost, and there are hundreds of witnesses here who would testify the same thing. Yet this invisible power does its work in creation, and the mighty invisible power of God does its work effectively in the spiritual sphere.
New life in Christ means the breaking of old fetters.
GOD CAN CHANGE THE DRUNKARD.
It may be that I am talking now to some poor drunkard here. When he comes into his house his children listen, and hear by the footfall that their father is coming home drunk, and the little things run away and hide from him as if he was some horrid demon. His wife begins to tremble. Many a time has that great, strong arm been brought down on her weak, defenceless body. Many a day has she carried about marks from that man's violence. He ought to be her protector, support, and stay; but he has become her tormentor. His home is like hell upon earth; there is no joy there. There may be one such here to-night who hears the good news that he can be born again, and receive a nature from heaven, and receive the Spirit of God. God can give him power to hurl the infernal cup from him. God will give him grace to trample Satan under his feet, and the drunkard will then become a sober man. Go to that house three months hence, and you find it neat and clean. As you draw near that home you hear singing; not the song of the drunkard, that is gone, all things have become new. He has been born of God, and is singing one of the songs of Zion:
"Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in Thee."
Or perhaps he is singing that good old hymn that his mother taught him when he was a little boy:
"There is a fountain filled with blood, Drawn from Immanuel's veins; And sinners plunged beneath that flood Lose all their guilty stains."
He has become a child of God, an heir of heaven. His children are climbing up his knee, and he has his arms round their necks. That dark home is now changed into a little Bethel on earth. God dwells there now. Yes; God has done all that, and that is regeneration.
THE WORTH OF GOOD RESOLVES.
Then some of you may have been saying, "I wish Mr. Moody would tell us how we are to become Christians, for he says that we cannot be Christians by trying to do good and by making new resolutions." Many a time you have been at a meeting like this, and have resolved to turn over a new leaf, and you may now form another good resolution. If you do, you will break it. What are you going to do? If it is a new birth you are to have, you cannot create life. Can you bring life to the dead? All the wise men in London cannot do it. God alone is the author of life; and if you have the new birth, it must be God's work. When the Jubilee Singers were in the North of England my family went to see them, and my little boy asked why they didn't wash the black off their faces. I told him it was because they were born black. The Ethiopian cannot change his skin, nor the leopard his spots. You cannot save yourself. There is a man dying--can you put new life into him? Or can you raise up a dead body by saying, "Young man, arise"? That is the work of God. Your souls are dead in trespasses and sins, and only the Lord Jesus Christ can speak life.
THE BEGGAR AND THE PRINCE.
I imagine some of you will say, "Haven't I anything to do?" Well, you haven't. Salvation has been worked out for you by another. Many go all round the world in search of honour or possessions. Salvation is worth thousands of times more than any thing earth can produce; but you don't get it that way. God has but one price for salvation. Do you want to know what it is? It is without money and without price. Rowland Hill said that most auctioneers found they had hard work to get people up to their price, but that he had hard work to get people down to his. "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life." Who will have it now? I say to you, young man, will you have this gift? Suppose I was going over London Bridge, and saw a poor miserable beggar, bare-footed, coatless, hatless, with no rags hardly to cover his nakedness, and right behind him, only a few yards, there was the Prince of Wales with a bag of gold, and the poor beggar was running away from him as if he was running away from a demon, and the Prince of Wales was hallooing after him, "Oh, beggar, here is a bag of gold!" Why, we should say the beggar had gone mad to be running away from the Prince of Wales with the bag of gold. Sinner, that is your condition. The Prince of Heaven wants to give you eternal life, and you are running away from Him.
THE DYING SOLDIER.
Then you say, "If it is not by working in earnest, how am I to be saved?" I will tell you; Scripture will tell you--that is better. Take the illustration Christ used to Nicodemus; you could not have a better. He took him to the remedy: "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" (John iii. 14, 15). Now there is the remedy. How am I to be saved? By looking to Christ; just by looking. It's very cheap, isn't it? Very simple, isn't it? Just look away to the Lamb of God now and be saved. What says the great wilderness preacher? "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." You might say the whole plan of salvation is in two words--Giving; Receiving. God gives; I receive.
I remember, after one of the terrible battles in the American Civil War--I was in the army, tending soldiers--and I had just laid down one night, past midnight, to get a little rest, when a man came and told me that a wounded soldier wanted to see me. I went to the dying man. He said, "I wish you to help me to die." I said, "I would help you to die if I could. I would take you on my shoulders and carry you into the kingdom of God if I could; but I cannot. I can tell you of One who can." And I told him of Christ being willing to save him; and how Christ left heaven and came into the world to seek and to save that which was lost. I just quoted promise after promise, but all was dark, and it almost seemed as if the shades of eternal death were gathering around his soul. I could not leave him, and at last I thought of this third chapter of John, and I said to him, "Look here, I am going to read to you now a conversation that Christ had with a man that went to Him when he was in your state of mind, and inquired what he was to do to be saved." I just read that conversation to the dying man, and he lay there with his eves rivetted upon me, and every word seemed to be going home to his heart, which was open to receive the truth. When I came to the verse where it says, "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"--the dying man cried, "Stop, sir. Is that there?" "Yes, it is all here." Then he said, "Won't you please read it to me again?" I read it the second time. The dying man brought his hands together, and he said, "Bless God for that. Won't you please read it to me again?" I read through the whole chapter, but long before the end of it he had closed his eyes. He seemed to lose all interest in the rest of the chapter, and when I got through it his arms were folded on his breast, he had a sweet smile on his face; remorse and despair had fled away. His lips were quivering, and I leant over him, and heard him faintly whisper from his dying lips, "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 opened his eyes, and fixed his calm, deathly look on me, and he said, "Oh, that is enough; that is all I want"; and in a few hours he pillowed his dying head upon the truth of those two verses, and rode away on one of the Saviour's chariots, and took his seat in the kingdom of God.
Oh, sinner, you can be saved now if you will! Look and live. May God help every lost one here to look on the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.