Regeneration and all consequent blessings come to us entirely through the absolute but gracious will of God. He is not bound to give; he may, if he wills, withhold. We have no claim upon God, except the claim of justice; and what would that involve but that he should punish us for our sin? We are felons against the Majesty of heaven. We have forfeited all the rights we ever had under the divine government. The right to punishment is the only right we can now claim upon the footing of justice. Henceforth we are simply in the hands of God awaiting his sentence. He may, if he wills, save the entire human race; if it pleaseth him, he may save none. If so he wills, he may make this man a monument of mercy, and leave his neighbor to reap the due reward of his works. This is what God has a right to do, and he claims his sovereign prerogative. Are not his own words heard through Scripture like peals of thunder, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion; so then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy”? There are some who, in their blindness, grow wrathful at this doctrine, as if it were ungracious to mention a fact which it is impossible to disguise; they will almost froth at the mouth when the subject is broached. Well, let them do so, it still standeth firm as a rock and fast as the eternal hills. Jehovah giveth no account of his matters. He doeth as he wills among the armies of heaven, and among the inhabitants of this lower earth. So,-
“Mortals, be dumb; what creature dares
Dispute his awful will?
Ask no account of his affairs,
But tremble, and be still.”
Brethren, you and I, to whom this sovereignty has looked forth through the lattice of grace, can gladly appreciate it. We bless that wonderful, discriminating love which fixed upon us, whilst others were let to go their downward course and perish. The only motive God had to stir up his mercy, was his own will. To us therefore it is precious.
Before we ever prayed, before we ever sought his face, his own will, acting spontaneously, brought to us the bounty of his lovingkindness. Now mostly, men who are generous need to have their generosity excited. They will need to be waited upon; appeals must be laid before them; they must sometimes be pressed; an example must lead them on. But “of his own will” God did to us all that has been done, without any incentive or prompting, moved only by himself, because he delighteth in mercy; because his name and his nature are love because evermore, like the sun, it is natural to him to distribute the beams of his eternal grace. “Of his own will begat he us.” Come, my brethren, let us magnify the Lord who loved us when we were dead in trespasses and sins. Let us extol the freeness of that mercy, the goings-forth of which were of old, from everlasting, while we recollect that we deserved it not; that we set ourselves against it; that, when we did know it, we despised it; that, when it was presented to us, we defied it, resisted it, stood out against it many a long year. Oh! when we think of this, I say, let us bow humbly before the throne of the Infinite Majesty, and bless him whose mercy endureth for ever, and whose lovingkindness, like himself, owes nothing to any incentive beyond itself, but is causeless, uncommunicated, existing full and free in the mind of God himself. Because he willed, and according to the dictate of his own good pleasure, did he have compassion upon us.
The benefit we have thus received is described in the next words, “Of his own will begat he us: “ that is to say, we have by divine power been born again. Our first birth was to us our sensitive creation; our second birth, our regeneration, is our second creation. We were made once, and God made us. These bodies are the wonderful fabrics of his skill, and these souls are the emanations of his power. Father of spirits thou art, O God, and we are his offspring, and his alone! But our being made again is as great a work of God, and quite as solely a work of God, quite as entirely the handiwork of God, as our first creation. Of his own will he gave us a new life, and made: us new creatures. Beloved, are we conscious to-night that we are new creatures? Some, perhaps, have doubts about it sometimes, but a man cannot be a new creature and not be conscious of some sort of change; and there must be times, with the most doubtful of the saints, when they are certain and assumed that they are no longer what they were, but have passed from death unto life. Search your own hearts, dear friends; let the prayer that was offered just now to the great Searcher of hearts, and Trier of the reins of the children of man, come from your lips and your hearts, “Search us, O God, and try us! “
Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you have not something more than nature gave you, you will perish. If you are not something higher than mere morality, the most exact discipline, and the most consistent moral behavior can make you, you will never enter into the kingdom of heaven.
“Ye must be born again.” This declaration stands like a sentry at the gate of heaven, thrusting the bayonet in the way to show that, however amiable, moral, upright, and excellent those may be who seek to enter there, they must be born again. Ye must be born again.” Ye dignitaries of the church, ye senators of the nation, ye who wear imperial crowns, and ye who don your coronets, ye must be born again. Ye who have been brought up and dandled upon the knees of piety, ye who have not only offended against the law, ye who have been in your houses a joy and in the world a delight, ye must be born again. Ye must be passed out of the flesh into the spirit, and this must be the work of God himself, or it is nothing worth. It must be a supernatural change, above and beyond all the strugglings and the strivings of the creature. It must be the display of the eternal power of the Holy Spirit, or else where God is you cannot come. Happy should you be, my brethren and sisters, who trust that you have a share in this unutterably precious privilege! “ Of his own will begat he you.” You are twice born. You are God’s children with an emphasis which belongs most to other men. You, though you were dead, are now alive. Though you were carnal you have been spiritualized. Though you were far off, you have been brought nigh; and this is due to the sovereign will of God alone. Bless him, bless him, and humble your hearts before him.
The instrumentality through which this singular change has been wrought in us is clearly stated, “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth.” Men are not usually saved without the immediate agency of the gospel. Some have said that the Spirit of God always works through the truth, and that the truth is sure to work conviction. The truth, however, is preached, and faithfully preached, to tens of thousands, to whom it conveys not a blessing at all, but is the savor of death unto death. Others have said that the Spirit of God regenerates men apart from the Word of God but this is not told us in Scripture, and is not therefore to be received. But evermore the Word and the Spirit are put together. Scripture does not talk of the Word of God as a dead letter; it says, “The Word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword.”
On the other hand, Scripture does not speak of the Holy Spirit as though the Word would work apart from him, but the two are put together, and “ what God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.” My dear brethren and sisters, you who have been begotten again unto a lively hope, was it not through the hearing of the Word, or the reading of it, or the remembrance of some hallowed text which you had almost forgotten? You know it was. Good McCheyne used to say, “Depend on it, it is God’s Word that saves souls, and not our comment upon God’s Word;” and so I believe it is. It is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.
C.H. Spurgeon, Jan. 5th, 1868