By H. Forbes Witherby.
7. The New Birthday.
Christ unrecognized, and also rejected — Christ received — Christ believed — warnings from God — encouragement from God.
The life which is everlasting in God's Son has a beginning in God's children; they all have for themselves their spiritual birthday.
The time having arrived in the counsels of God when His Son should come to this earth, He, being the Maker of this world, was made a man. He took upon Him the form of a servant, yet not the angelic form, but the likeness of men; such was His stoop from the highest glory, in His willing obedience to the Father and in His grace towards sinners.
But Christ was unrecognized. Man, the object of His grace, understood not who He was that had come into this world. "He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not." (John 1:10.) It was utterly ignorant of its Creator, who trod its paths. What a comment is this upon human wisdom! How it explains the thoroughness of the difference between the life of man fallen and the life which is in the Son of God!
Christ rejected. The Lord had a special mission from heaven to earth to Israel, to His own people, whom He had led out of Egypt, and with whom He had travelled over the desert, and whom He, Jehovah-Jesus, had planted in Canaan. He came unto His own, and His own received Him not." The world did not know Him; Israel would not have Him. He was despised and rejected of men. When He was born a babe in David's city, there was no room for Him in the wayfarers' inn, as afterwards there was no place for Him in Jerusalem, or in its temple. Even amongst His own people the Lord of all had not where to lay His head. What a comment upon human religiousness! What an explanation of the fact that, however human nature may be trained, even should the training be that of the law of God, still fallen humanity has no heart for that life which was ever with the Father, and which was manifested in the person of Jesus.
Christ received. But some received the rejected Son of God they received Him in their hearts. And still, to this day, in this world, which has cast out the Lord, there is in some hearts a place where there is room for Jesus. Happy are they in whose hearts He dwells — such are highly privileged. But it must be heart-work. It is one thing to know a person by sight and by name, and to see him passing the window; it is another to open the door of the house and to welcome him in. With many the Lord is one whose name is well known, but Tie is a stranger to their affections, they have never once in their whole lifetime opened their Hearts' doors to receive Him. Yet, if we would know what the life of God is, we must receive the Lord.
"As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the children (lit.) of God, even to them that believe on His name." (John 1:12.) The people who received Him, whether of the wide world or of the Jewish nation, became marked off from the rest of mankind — became, by the privilege of the Lord's grace, of God's family. And so it is to this very hour the child of God is he who in his heart has received the Son of God. How the Lord answers our questions, "Am I a child of God?" "He that hath the Son hath life." The whole revealed will of God is expressed in the eternal Word; having Him, all is ours.
Christ believed. "They believed on His name." Here was their beginning as God's children; this was their spiritual birthday. Thenceforth the life eternal was theirs. Once the children of wrath, even as others, believers on His name they became children of God. The children of God have the life of God. Let us reiterate that this is heart-belief. "If thou shalt believe in thine heart on the Lord Jesus Christ," says the scripture. Intellectualism, or education into a respectful adhesion to a creed, is not heart-belief. To believe on His name is to accept Himself. His name carries with it all that He is; accepting Him, He and all that He is, is ours. Believing on Him, we are saved from our sins, otherwise we are dead in sins.
Warnings from God. The Spirit of God is careful to explain to us what is not being born anew. They "were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man," — three things, from each of which men consider that they may make the start for God and become His children. But it is not parentage, "not of blood," such as Israel boasted in saying, "Are not we the children of Abraham?" Neither is it human "will" choosing Christ, as people now-a-days select their religious belief, and elect to be of this or of that denomination. Neither is it "the will of man"; no kind of choice common to nature, nor such a work as one man may accomplish in another by his own force — as, for example, by circumcision or baptism.
No, it is none of these things, but those who really do believe on the Lord's name are born "of God." None of these three things can communicate a new and divine nature to man, and to be born of God is to have His nature. Blood' birth is but humanity. Men are all of one blood; all are related to each other, and are of the one family of Adam. "The blood is the life thereof," and upon this life God has recorded the sentence of death. Let no man dream that because he is sprung from Adam fallen, he is therefore of the family of God. The will of this fallen nature cannot possibly produce divine life in man. The will is the worst part of man; it is the mainspring of his disobedient energy: no man becomes a child of God by the will of his flesh. The will of man is helpless to effect in others that which it cannot possibly produce in itself. We are shut up to God, and, being shut up to Him, find Him love and the life-giving God.
Encouragement from God. "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God." (1 John 5:1.) Whosoever is a word which, like a circle as vast as the circumference of the earth, embraces all humanity. Each living human being is within the compass of the gracious encouraging divine whosoever." And believing, we are of God's family. Less than a child no believer can be. There may be special honors for some members of the family which do not fall to the lot of others, but the youngest and the feeblest, in common with the most matured and the strongest believer, is a child of God. All the king's sons and daughters are royal children, though some have nobler titles than others; but by no possibility can one of them be less than of the royal family. But who shall describe such eternal royalty as this, "To them gave He the power to become the children (lit.) of God"?
Let us rejoice in our privilege, and, seeking to grow into the knowledge of God's thoughts more fully, enter into our wondrous relationship with Him. We know, alas, that there are in the family of God children who, because of their feebleness, hesitate to own their relationship. In the home circle such a thing could not be, for the infant is unable to reason upon its weakness. It is an impossibility for a babe to say, "I am not a child, because I am a babe." Trembling believer, lie still and trust. Learn love's lesson from the tender infant nestling in its parent's bosom.
The difficulty lies in this: that in the babe in Christ is combined the weakness and ignorance of the infant with the strength and wilfulness of age — he is a new man in Christ; he has the flesh in him; and the lesson is slowly, ah! how slowly, practically learned that the flesh profiteth nothing: hence the flesh is too frequently listened to, instead of the plain and simple utterance of God's word. Have we indeed believed on His name, who is the life, who is Jesus our Saviour? then we have the eternal life by grace. Away then with speculations and fleshly confidence, or falsely so-called humility, and "as new born babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby." (1 Peter 2:2.) The prime need of our souls is simplicity.