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The Second or New Birth.

1.—The doctrine of the regeneration, otherwise known as the doctrine of the New or Second Birth, is clearly an announcement of the Scriptures; and though especially exposed to doubt and cavil is not without the acceptance and supports of observation and philosophical analysis. It is the language of the great Teacher; “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be
born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”—John 3:3. “Therefore, if any man be in Christ,” says the Apostle Paul, “he is a new creature.” Looking at the subject analytically and philosophically and as a part of the Absolute Religion, the fact of a New or Second Birth admitting the fact or existence of such a birth, necessarily implies the existence of an antecedent birth, which may properly be spoken of in the remarks which we now propose to offer on the First birth. And this First birth is to be understood as identical with the natural birth or the Adamic birth as theologians frequently name it and which the Scriptures sometimes speak of as the birth of “the flesh.”

2.—And this birth or first form of life is naturally the first object of our attention. As the Infinite or Absolute of Existence which is the same as God or Creator, is the beginning or source of things, and as there is nothing which does not come from that Infinite source, therefore it follows that the first or natural birth of man is and must be from the Infinite to the finite. But the finite from the moment of its birth out of the Infinite, being from that time a distinct personality, is
itself and not another; is the personal and responsible creature and not the Creator; has its own recognized and definite sphere of existence in distinction from that of other created beings; an existence which is not only discriminated from that of other beings but is really and consciously its own. The statement itself, too plain to need the refinements of argument, may justly be regarded as carrying its own evidence.

And this is not all. From the moment that created man first knows himself as an existence in the finite and as a distinct personality, it is obviously and necessarily a law of his being that he seeks and finds
his centre in himself. As at first he knows himself and only himself, he certainly could not be expected in the beginning of his existence and with a knowledge limited to himself to seek and find a centre out of himself. And accordingly it is true in philosophy and is confirmed by observation, that turning inwardly and acting from his own centre he thinks for himself, feels for himself, wills for himself, and primarily and in the first instance draws all his hope from himself. He cannot properly be said to be self-made; but being made he cannot in the first instance be otherwise than self-centred. And hence it is said in the Scriptures, and in reference to the limitations that necessarily attend him, that the first man is born of the earth, earthy: in other words, with the nature and limitations which are necessarily attendant on created existences. And again, in the words of Christ himself, “that which is born of the flesh is flesh.” As much as to say, that the finite is born into what it is, namely its own restricted and imperfect nature. This is the first birth, the first form of life; and it is not easy to see how it could be otherwise than it is.

3.—It is not surprising therefore, that Christ in the conversation with Nicodemus, to which we have referred, spoke not only of the first or “flesh” birth, but also in the same sentence of a second or spirit birth. “That which is born of the flesh, is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” And then he added, “marvel not that I said unto you,
ye must be born again.” Expressions which if closely examined imply not only the fact but a moral necessity for it. And now, having stated what philosophy affirms in relation to the first birth, the question comes up, what is the moral necessity or philosophy of the second birth. Stated in a general way, the second birth is a birth back from the finite to the Infinite; from the life of the creature to the life of the Creator; a birth which is both based upon the personality of the first birth as its antecedent condition, and which takes place without the loss of such personality. In the first birth God may be said to make or constitute the finite, giving it the freedom and independence of a personal existence; and yet without spiritually incarnating Himself in it as an indwelling principle of that life. This last could not be done in consequence of the inviolability of its freedom, without a consenting action on the part of the creature. In the second birth, the finite in the exercise of its moral freedom, which is an essential element in its personality, has accepted God in the central intimacy of its nature as its living and governing principle. So that the human or “earthy,” as the Scriptures call it, without ceasing to be human or earthy, but by renouncing its own centre as the source of life, and taking God as its centre, does by its own choice and in a true and high sense become divine. And thus God himself, in the case of all those, who by being born with the second birth are born in the image of the “Elder Brother,” who stands before us as the true pattern and illustration of the new inward life, may be said to the extent in which they bear that image, to be truly made manifest in the flesh.

Such was God’s plan from the beginning; such the thought of Infinite Wisdom. It never could have been the intention of God, who is essential goodness, in establishing the finite personality to separate it permanently from the infinite or universal personality, and thus raise up an endless antagonism to himself. So that his object, and in the light of the Absolute Religion, it is the only course He can take, is to establish man first in the limited personal life of the first birth, and then, by means of the great facts involved in the second birth, and in harmony with man’s own personal recognitions and acceptance, to make him one with the universal or divine personal life.

4.—So that the doctrine of the second birth, which man in his first or Adamic life does not easily understand, and indeed according to the apostle Paul does not understand at all in the true sense, is no fiction, no mistake; but on the contrary is a great truth in philosophy, and a great realization in experience. But the question may perhaps be asked, whether there is really so much difference between the two forms of life as to justify the application of distinctive terms; and whether the second form of life is anything more or otherwise than a progression and very high degree of the first or natural life. In answering this question, which will be likely to arise in some minds, we remark that the great fact of personality in both cases is the same; so that the same person is the subject of both forms of experience without prejudice to his individualism; and if he were at any time to reach spiritually the position of an angel, it would not at all perplex the matter of his personal identity. And furthermore, it may be admitted, and is undoubtedly true, that there is a foundation for the doctrine of progression; but the doctrine of progression implies, I suppose, that there is an end toward which we progress; an object which the soul is consciously in pursuit of. And if we have a right understanding of the matter, the end or object may be, and in fact must be, distinguished from the successive and progressive steps which are prerequisite to- it. There are many things in these successive steps, which are called and which may justly be regarded as facts of religious experience, and which in consequence of the real interest and value attaching to them, are sometimes erroneously mistaken for the second Birth in the true and higher sense of the phrase; but in point of fact they are merely steps or incidents in the way and not the end or termination of the way. A soul new-born is not a process, but a thing
done; not a doing or being done, but a fact accomplished, a definite result and definitely and consciously realized; and one it may be added, in which God and angels take an interest and in which all heaven rejoices.

5.—And in my apprehension, whatever may be true of progression either before or after the second birth, and whatever may be true of continued and unbroken personality, there is a line of distinction between the first and second form of life, between the old Adamic life and the new Christ life, considered simply as forms of life, which is not only marked and clear, but in point of fact the two things are so distinct, the one never going beyond the finite, and the other bound up in the golden links of the Infinite, that they are incommensurable with each other, and in the essence of their nature forever stand apart. But this is a matter of so much importance that I propose to occupy another chapter with a contrasted view in some particulars of the two forms of life, in the hope to vindicate and make clear these positions.