In the daily devotional book, Christian Sermon Classics: Morning and Evening by Charles Spurgeon, in the message given for March 6 is based on John 3:7, “Ye must be born again” (KJV) Spurgeon begins the devotional, “Regeneration is a subject which lies at the very basis of salvation, and we should be very diligent to take heed that we really are ‘born again,’ for there are many who fancy they are, who are not. Be assured that the name of a Christian is not the nature of a Christian.” By Spurgeon’s day in the 19th century, Christianity had become institutionalized in society—it was expected for people to be a part of a church and of the Christian religion. This was often achieved by merely being in a family that was joined to a mainline denomination, such as Roman Catholicism, Anglican (or Church of England), Methodism, Reformed, etc. Formal inclusion in the church was often through pedo-baptism, the baptism of infants, which the parents were expected to arrange for all of their children born in the family. This was seen as making the infant a Christian in that denomination before there was any profession of faith or evidence of repentance or conversion. The sacrament of Confirmation might be administered while a youth, but that was often done to confirm an individual in the church by recitation of catechisms and doctrines. For many, church attendance was perfunctory but nevertheless an expected practice that made a person respectable in the community. If they attended regularly and partook of the sacraments, showing a serious interest and devotion, they were considered pious, devout or religious. This was the common perception regardless of a person’s lifestyle, attitude, or behavior. Many were merely professing Christians whose lives and character were completely devoid of godliness, who otherwise couldn’t be distinguished from an unbelieving, unchurched individual. Being born again and therefore saved through belief in the gospel was not commonly taught or known in most mainline denominations nor had it been picked up by the public as a cliche’. Belief in God was assumed, but having a conversion experience was not necessary if one was “born into the church.” Christ Jesus was sometimes seen more as Mary’s peculiar child than as the Son of the living God who came as a Lamb to atone for our sins. His ministry and teachings to Israel, crucifixion, and ascension might have been taught in confirmation classes and highlighted at the various holy days on the liturgical calendar, but usually it was a neglected subject.
Spurgeon went on to say, “being born in a Christian land, and being recognized as professing the Christian religion is of no avail whatever, unless there be something more added to it—the being ‘born again,’ is a matter so mysterious, that human words cannot describe it. ‘The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.’ Nevertheless, it is a change which is known and felt: known by works of holiness, and felt by a gracious experience. This great work is supernatural. It is not an operation which a man performs for himself: a new principle is infused, which works in the heart, renews the soul, and affects the entire man. It is not a change of my name, but a renewal of my nature, so that I am not the man I used to be, but a new man in Christ Jesus. To wash and dress a corpse is a far different thing from making it alive: man can do the one, God alone can do the other.“ Here, Spurgeon echos a Calvinistic view of the lost human condition, that man is spiritually dead until he has a spiritual resurrection by the new birth, such that the individual has no spiritual ability to respond positively to God until He changes his nature. It is strictly a divine operation that infuses a new nature within the individual so that the scriptures calls such persons new creations, a new kind of human. This is a radical change made within the person, one that infuses a new principle within the heart that is of divine origin— a stamp of the divine image and therefore an imprimatur of divine law. That is why it can be expected to result in a complete change in the persons life, bearing new fruit in attitude, behavior, outlook, associations, etc., that is at the root of one’s soul. Therein lies the comparison to being able to see the effects of the wind on things observed.
Spurgeon concludes, “If you have then, been ‘born again,’ your acknowledgment will be, ‘O Lord Jesus, the everlasting Father, thou art my spiritual Parent; unless thy Spirit had breathed into me the breath of a new, holy, and spiritual life, I had been to this day ‘dead in trespasses and sins.’ My heavenly life is wholly derived from thee, to thee I ascribe it. ‘My life is hid with Christ in God.’ It is no longer I who live, but Christ who liveth in me.’ May the Lord enable us to be well assured on this vital point, for to be unregenerate is to be unsaved, unpardoned, without God, and without hope.” He made this statement within the context of a culture that saw itself as a Christian nation, from the rulers of the Crown and Parliament to the commoners of the lower class. But as Nicodemus of old who faced the Master of Rabbis (John 3), every person, no matter what station held in society or piousness of religion, must face the same challenge from Jesus: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3 ESV