By H. Forbes Witherby.
3. The Means Whereby the New Birth is Produced.
The promise of eternal life — the means used by God to reveal Himself to man — born anew of the word.
The promise of eternal life was made before the world was or ever man had his being. God made it. To whom? Was it to angels? The angels are servants, the ministers of the Almighty who do His pleasure; and it is not to servants that such secrets are entrusted or such promises made. There are certain scriptures which lift the veil from that, which for lack of language we term a past eternity, and which display to us the things of God before this world began. In those ages "from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was," the Son was before the Father, "daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him," and out of the depths of that unutterable joy — the joy of the Son with the Father from everlasting — the Son was "rejoicing in the habitable part of the earth," and His "delights were with the sons of men." (See Prov. 8) Such were not only the thoughts, but the joy of the Son; men — poor, frail, sinful worms of the earth — were to be associated with Himself, to have His life, and to live in His joy in His Father's presence.
And now, in this age of grace, that which God promised is manifested. All eternity is one, continuous present with God; but in His ways with men, ages and periods have rolled on, the dispensation of law and its testing of men have come to a close, and the time has arrived for the word of God respecting eternal life to be made good. This, His word, is unfolded through the preaching, as we read in Titus 1:1-3, and by the proclamation of life to sinners dead in their sins, God, by His Spirit, quickens those whom it is His purpose to associate in life with His own Son.
Vast as is the favor of being brought into the enjoyment of the knowledge of pardon, and deep as is the grace of God in forgiving sinners and in giving peace to His people, still, when we contemplate His purpose in bringing men into association with Himself, communicating to them eternal life — the life which is in His Son — so overwhelming is the consideration, that we are lost in wonder. The life which we receive when born into this world, is that of Adam — it is of the earth, earthy; and its character and its enjoyments are like its source, but the new life is the "life of God." (Eph. 4:18.)
This life was expressed in this world, in the person of the Son of God, who is "the Life," and having this life, we are associated with the Son in such a way that it is ours to enjoy fellowship with Him, and with His God and His Father; and to rejoice in His joys in which He rejoices before the Father. Angels cannot know God as we, whom He has made His children; we are partakers of His nature, being born of God.
Let us ponder over such words as the following, familiar indeed to our ears, but which, even if filling our hearts, our minds cannot adequately grasp: "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on Me through their word; that they all may be one; as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us." (John 17:20, 21.) The favored people of whom the Lord thus speaks are brought into the closest moral association possible with the Father and the Son, and also with one another, for the children form one family, and are bound up in the same bundle of life. We must not Ilse such words of our Lord merely to assure our souls of our security. Let us seek to enter into His thoughts, and to understand what the life is which He has given to us; what are the depths of intimacy with the Father and the Son and what fellowship is ours. It is the truth of the scriptures working within the heart which teaches us who the Son is, and believing on Him, we know that we have the eternal life. The true reception of the truth marks off the people of God from the world. Wherever it is received, Jesus, of whom it speaks, is received by its means, and he that hath the Son hath life.
And being thus quickened by the truth, through the Spirit, the believer has an intelligence given him. "We know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know Him that is true: and we are in Him that is true, even in His Son. Jesus Christ." The believer has the truth, he consciously knows the true God, and is in the true One, the Son of God. The world, on the other hand, lies in the wicked one, and knows not God; and by ignorance of God is estranged from the life of God. "This is the true God, and eternal life," adds the apostle (1 John 5:20), connecting together the life and Him, even Jesus, who is the true God; and bringing us, once utterly estranged from the life by our ignorance of God, into this marvellous intimacy and moral association with the Son and with the Father.
The truth, and the true God, cannot be disconnected. God is what He reveals Himself to be, and when the Son is revealed in us we truly receive the revelation of God. Christ, the eternal Word, is the perfect expression of the mind of God, and the written word is the revelation of Christ. The word is the means used by God to communicate His thoughts to man, and by it, He, through His Spirit, communicates to us eternal life.
The word, we say, is the instrument by which God works in moral things with man. Entering into our hearts, it changes our thoughts, produces repentance, and leads to faith in God, and by it life becomes ours, "He that heareth my word," says our Lord, "and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life." "The hour . . now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live." (John 5:25.)
God does not deal with our hearts and consciences by the means of His laws which govern the wind and the storm; the book of nature teaches us His divinity, but not His nature; and those who believe are "partakers of the divine nature." (2 Peter 1:4.) The written word unfolds God to us, by it He speaks to our inmost souls, makes us feel in ourselves our state of moral death before Him, and brings us to know Himself.
The word of God is incorruptible seed — such is its character. The seed which produces earthly glory is corruptible. What will be the value of present human opinion a hundred years hence? The march of progress will have rendered our modern wisdom old-fashioned lumber by that time. This present will be the past to the future race of human beings. "All the glory of man is as the flower of grass; but the word of the Lord endureth for ever." (1 Peter 1:24, 25.) A hundred thousand years will not affect it: "and this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you."
Take the truth, the word of God, from man, and he is without the means of having either the light or the life. Then the only candle which shows man his state, and who and what God is, is removed from man. Then nothing is left in the human heart, save that which pertains to nature's darkness, and which, despite the greatness of human intellect, must decay and pass away.
Remove the truth of God, and man is a rudderless ship without compasses on the ocean of doubt. He knows not whither he is going, nor whence he came. He is the sport of variable winds, one of which blows him into the fierce heats of demon worship to stifle him with horrid fears, another drives him into the shallows, and wrecks him upon mussel-covered rocks. Could such molluscs reason, they would hardly debase their powers by seeking for their origin, and the spring of their life, in creatures ten thousand times lower than themselves! How Satan plays with man's intellect where man dares toy with the word of God.
The word of God produces a moral effect in our souls when it truly enters them, and it does so by its own force, because it is the word. of God. It commands, and more, it causes repentance; it passes the sentence of death upon man in his natural state; it makes the sinner bow to the sentence. In a court of justice, the judge, who passes sentence upon the criminal, cannot make the offender rightly feel how he deserves that which the law inflicts upon him; but where the word of God, by the force and energy of the Holy Spirit, enters the soul, it causes the sinner to bow absolutely to God, and to own that what God says is just and true. Thus repentance is produced; the sinner turns to God. The very word, which works within the soul the sentence of death in self, and faith in God, is a life-giving word, for the eternal life becomes theirs who believe on Him who gives the word.
Where infidelity presumes to sit in judgment upon the word of God, it is simply the criminal judging the judge. This temerity will meet its awful doom in the day which is at hand; the folly of it is apparent now to every one who has within him the sense of who God is.
The word of God is that by which we are born anew. "Being born again — not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible — by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever." (1 Peter 1:23.) This living and abiding word has not only a moral effect upon us, making us to write the sentence of our spiritual death upon ourselves; it has also, in the hands of God, a life-giving power. Using it as a means, God brings us by it into His family; "Of His own will begat He us with the word of truth." ( James 1:18.) In His sovereignty, and of His free grace, God chose to give us the new life by His word. The apostle Paul says, that through the word which he preached, his spiritual children were begotten. "In Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel." ( Cor. 4:15.) God used the word spoken by His servant to give life to sinners dead in their sins, and, we may add that thus a peculiar tie of spiritual affection bound the apostle to those to whom he was so used — a tie which will be recognised in eternity.
We are cast entirely upon the Scriptures for all spiritual knowledge. They teach us the truth, and in them, in the testimony concerning-the Son of God, we find eternal life. "Search the Scriptures" are our Lord's own words; "for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of Me" (John 5:39); for the truth of God directs us to the Son, who is "The Way, the Truth, and the Life."
We earnestly appeal to any reader of this page, who may be sceptical as to the absolute truth of the word of God. Satan, whose very personality some would deny, whose active energy so many disbelieve, is undermining men's faith in the truth of God's word. "Hath God said?" he mutters constantly in these closing days of the world's history, even as before sin had entered the world, and death by sin, he insinuated the same doubt to Eve "Yea, hath God said?" is his prevailing suggestive enquiry in bible-reading countries, and in almost all religious circles. Before long he will say, "God hath not said"; he will turn his question into a statement, and then man will say, "There is no revelation from God, no word of God." After that Satan will say, "There is no God," and then man will worship himself, the world, and the enemy. God has not left His children in ignorance of the way in which Satan leads. Where the Scriptures are no longer recognised as authority, such as is the case in the circle of infidel christianity, these insinuations are unnecessary; in heathendom, where no authority over man's conscience exists, but merely the dread following demon worship or man adoration, Satan's suggestion has long since produced his desired result. Listening to questions as to the truth of God's word — rejecting the authority of the word over the conscience — rejecting God altogether, are the three downward steps, which so many call progress.
Beware, immortal soul, lest you sport away the shortening limits of your lifetime, seeking with your human powers to fathom the unfathomable depths of Divine light and love! Must it be that you wait till eternity to awake to the realities of the truth of God's word? To do so will be to awake to endless despair