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The New Birth
By John Bunyan
"Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" John 1:13
[Bunyan's last sermon: Preached in London, July 1688]
These words have a dependence on what goes before, and therefore I must direct you to it for the right understanding of them. You have it thus: "He (Christ) came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God."
In the words before us, you have two things. 1. Some of Christ's own nation rejecting him when he offered himself to them. 2. Others of his own receiving him, and making him welcome. Those that reject him, he also passes by; but those "that receive him, he gives them power to become the sons of God." Now, lest any one should look upon it as good luck or fortune, he says, "They were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." They that did not receive him, were only born of flesh and blood; but those that did receive him, they that receive the doctrine of Christ with a vehement desire, they have God to their father.
The Origin of the New Birth. "Not of blood..."
I'll show you what he means by blood. They that believe are born to it, as an heir is to an inheritance; they are born of God, not of flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. Not of blood, that is, not by generation, not born to the kingdom of heaven by the flesh; not because I am the son of a godly man or woman. That is meant by blood (Acts 17:26). "He hath made of one blood all nations." But when he says here, "Not of blood," he also rejects all carnal privileges they did boast of. They boasted they were Abraham's seed: "No, no," says he, "it is not of blood. 'Think not to say you have Abraham to your father,'" You must be born of God, if you go to the kingdom of heaven.
"Nor of the will of the flesh": What must we understand by that? It is taken often for those vehement inclinations that are in man, to all manner of looseness; "fulfilling the desires of the flesh." But that must not be understood here. Men are not made the children of God by fulfilling their lustful desires. It must be understood here in the best sense. There is not only in carnal men a will to be vile, but there is in them a will to be saved also, a will to go to heaven also. But this will not do: it will not privilege a man in the things of the kingdom of God. Natural desires after the things of another world, are not an argument to prove a man shall go to heaven whenever he dies.
I am not a free-willer, I do abhor it, yet there is not-the wickedest man, but he desires some time or other to be saved; he will read some time or other, or it may be, pray; but this will not do. "It is not in him that wills, nor in him that runs, but in God that shows mercy"; there is willing and running, and yet to no purpose (Rom. 9:16). "Israel which followed after the law of righteousness have not obtained it." Here I do not understand, as if the apostle had denied a virtuous course of life to be the way to heaven; but that a man without grace, though he have natural gifts, yet he shall not obtain privilege to go to heaven, and be a son of God. Though a man without grace may have a will to be saved, yet he cannot have that will in God's way; nature cannot know any thing but the things of nature; the things of God knows no man, but by the Spirit of God. Unless the Spirit of God be in you, it will leave you on this side the gates of heaven.
"Not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." It may be some may have a will, a desire that Ishmael may be saved; know this, it will not save thy child. If it was of our will, I would have you all go to heaven. How many are there in the world that pray for their children, and cry, and are ready to die for them, and all this will not do? God's will is the rule of all. It is only through Jesus Christ. "Which were born not of flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." Now I come to the doctrine.
Men that believe in Jesus Christ to the effectual receiving of Jesus Christ, are born to it. He does not say they shall be born to it, but they are born to it. A man is born of God unto God, and the things of God, before he receives Christ to eternal salvation. "Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." Now unless he be born of God he cannot see it. Suppose the kingdom of God be what it will, he cannot see it before he be begotten of God; suppose it be the gospel, he cannot see it before he be brought into a state of regeneration; believing is the consequence of the new birth: "Not of blood, nor of the will of man, but of God."
I will give you a clear description of this New Birth under a similitude or two: A child before it be born into the world is in the dark dungeon of its mother's womb; so a child of God before he be born again is in the dark dungeon of sin, and sees nothing of the kingdom of God. Therefore it is called a new birth. The same soul has love one way in its carnal condition, another way when it is born again.
As it is compared to a birth, resembling a child in his mother's womb; so it is compared to a man being raised out of the grave; and to be born again, is the same as to be raised out of the grave of sin - "Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light." To be raised from the grave of sin, is by a figure to be begotten and born. There is a famous instance of Christ: He is "the first-begotten from the dead" (Rev. 1:5), he is "the first-born from the dead," unto which our regeneration alludeth, that is, if you be born again by seeing those things that are above. Then there is a similitude betwixt Christ's resurrection and the new birth. "Which were born," which were restored out of this dark world, and translated out of the kingdom of this dark world into the kingdom of his dear Son. This makes us live a new life; this is to be born again. As he that is delivered from the mother's womb, it is by the help of the mother; so he that is born of God, it is by the Spirit of God.
I must give you a few consequences of a New Birth.
A child you know is incident to cry as soon as it comes into the world; for if there be no noise, they say it is dead. You that are called born of God, and Christians, if you be not criers, there is no spiritual life in you; if you be born of God, you are crying ones; as soon as he has raised you out of the dark dungeon of sin, you cannot but cry to God, "What must I do to be saved?" As soon as ever God had touched the jailer he cries out, "Men and brethren what must I do to be saved?" Oh! how many prayerless professors are there in London, that never pray? Coffee-houses will not let you pray, trades will not let you pray, looking-glasses will not let you pray; but if you were born of God, you would.
It is not only natural for a child to cry, but it must crave the breast, it cannot live without the breast. Therefore Peter makes it the true trial of a new-born babe. The new-born babe desires the sincere milk of the word, that he may grow thereby; if you be born of God, make it manifest by desiring the breast of God. Do you long for the milk of the promises? A man fives one way when he is in the world, another way when he is brought unto Jesus Christ. So Isaiah: "They shall suck and be satisfied, with the breasts of consolation."
If you be born again, there is no satisfaction until you get the milk of God's word into your souls (Isa. 66: 11). O what is a promise of God to a carnal man! a harlot's song, it may be, is more sweet to him. But if you be born again you cannot live without the milk of God's word. What is a woman's breast to a horse? But what is it to a child? there is its comfort night and day. O how loath are they it should be taken from them! Minding heavenly things, says a carnal man, is but vanity, but to a child of God, there is his comfort.
A child that is newly born, if it have not other comforts to keep it warm, than it had in its mother's womb, dies; it must have something got for its succor. So at his birth Christ had swaddling clothes prepared for him. So those that are born again, must have some promise of Christ to keep them alive. Those that are in a carnal state, warm them selves with other things; but those that are born again, cannot live without some promise of Christ to keep them alive, as he did the poor infant in Ezekiel 16. "I have covered thee with embroidered gold." When women are with child, what fine things will they prepare for their child! O but what fine things has Christ prepared to wrap all in that are born again! O what wrappings of gold has Christ prepared for all that are born again!
Women will dress their children, that every one may see them, how fine they are. So he says in Ezekiel 16:11, "I decked thee also with ornaments, and I put bracelets upon thine hands, and a chain on thy neck, and I put a jewel on thy forehead, and earrings in thine ears, and a beautiful crown upon thine head"; and he adds in the 13th verse, "Thou didst prosper to a kingdom." This is to set out nothing in the world; but the righteousness of Christ and the graces of the Spirit, without which a new born babe cannot live. They perish unless they have the golden righteousness of Christ.
A child when it is born, is nursed in its mother's lap. The mother takes great delight to have that which will be for its comfort. So it is with God's children; they shall be kept on his knee (Isa. 66: 11), they shall "suck and be satisfied with the breasts of consolations." Again, verse 13, "As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you." There is a similitude in these things that nobody knows of, but those that are born again.
There is usually some similitude betwixt the father and the child; it may be the child looks like its father. So those that are born again have a new similitude, they have the image of Jesus Christ (Gal. 4). Every one that is born of God, has something of the features of heaven upon him. Men love those children that are likest them, most usually; so does God his children, therefore they are called the children of God: but others do not look like him; therefore they are called Sodomites. Christ describes children of the devil by their features; the children of the devil, his works they will do. All works of unrighteousness, are the devil's works. If you are earthly, you have borne the image of the earthly, if heavenly, you have borne the image of the heavenly.
When a man has a child, he trains him up to his own liking; "they have learned the custom of their father's house." So those that are born of God, have learned the custom of the true church of God; there they learn to cry, "My Father and my God." They are brought up in God's house; they learn the method and form of God's house, for regulating their lives in this world.
Children! it is natural for them to depend upon their father for what they want. If they want a pair of shoes, they go and tell him; if they want bread, they go and tell him. So should the children of God do. Do you want spiritual bread? go tell God of it. Do you want strength of grace? ask it of God. Do you want strength against Satan's temptations? go and tell God of it. When the devil tempts you, run home and tell your heavenly Father; go pour out your complaints to God. This also is natural to children; if any wrong them, they go and tell their father; so do those that are born of God, when they meet with temptations, go and tell God of them.
The first use of the subject is this; to make a strict inquiry, whether you be born of God or not. Examine by those things I laid down before, of a child of nature, and a child of grace. Are you brought out of the dark dungeon of this world into Christ? Have you learned to cry "My Father"? "And I said, thou shalt call me thy Father" (Jer. 3:19). All God's children are criers. Cannot you be quiet without you have your fill of the milk of God's word? Cannot you be satisfied without you have peace with God? Pray you consider it, and be serious with yourselves. If you have not these marks, you will fall short of the kingdom of God, you shall never have an interest there; there is no intruding: they will say, "Lord, Lord, open to us"; and he will say, "I know you not."
2. No child of God, no heavenly inheritance. We sometimes give something to those that are not our children, but not our lands. O do not flatter yourselves with a portion among the sons, unless you live like sons. When we see a king's son play with a beggar, this is unbecoming. So if you be the king's children, live like the king's children; if you be risen with Christ, set your affections on things above, and not on things below. When you come together, talk of what your Father has promised you. You should all love your Father's will, and be content, and be pleased with the exercises you meet with in the world.
3. If you are children of God, live together lovingly; if the world quarrel with you, it is no matter; but it is sad if you quarrel together. If this be amongst you, it's a sign of ill breeding; it is not according to rules you have in the word of God. Dost thou see a soul that has the image of God in him? love him, love him; say, "this man and I must go to heaven one day." Serve one another, do good for one another, and if any wrong you, pray to God to right you; and love the brotherhood.
Lastly, If you be the children of God, learn that lesson, "Gird up the loins of your mind as obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to your former conversation, but be ye holy in all manner of conversation." Consider that the holy God is your Father, and let this oblige you to five like the children of God, that you may look your Father in the face with comfort another day.