Jesus answered and said to him, Truly, truly, I say to you, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.…
I. IS THERE SUCH A THING AS AN ENTIRE TRANSFORMATION OF CHARACTER? Certainly. Take a child of five, when it has a nascent character. At the beginning he is selfish, sharp, and irritable; but after the judicious training of a kind mother, by the time he is ten he has learned to restrain his temper and is becoming generous, and living on a different plane from that in which he started. But take a child who has had no such training, but has been brought up gross and violent and selfish, is it possible that there shall come a time when, by a sweeping influence from above, all the past may be effaced and all the future changed? Is it true that a life of forty years can be revolutionized in a moment? No; but a change can be begun in a moment. Here is a train rushing on a track which a few miles beyond will lead to a collision; but the brakesman turns it on to another line, and the danger is averted. The pressure measured an inch, and the train passed instantaneously, but its travel on the new track will be longer or shorter according to circumstances. A man has lived an indolent life up to five-and-twenty. Then his father breaks, and he finds himself without bread,or habits of industry. He knows, however, that he is ingenious, and goes to a cabinetmaker and agrees to stay for two years for board and clothes. The moment he is indentured he is changed. He was a do-nothing before; he is a do-something now. He was a man without purpose before, but now he is a man whose life is re-fashioned on the theory of industry. But did he know his trade? No. Still the change had taken place. A man is changed the moment his purpose is changed, if it be really radical and permanent.
II. LET US INQUIRE WHAT CONVERSION IS. Any change that takes a man away from that which is bad and carries him forward to that which is good, and gives him a purpose of making this new course a continuous thing, is conversion.
1. Conversion is sometimes simply Christian culture. "When a child is urged by a mother's teaching and affection to love goodness, purity, spiritual excellence, and takes to it with all its little heart, that is conversion; i.e, it is character building on the right foundation. The world will never become Christian until the cradle is the sanctuary and the mother the minister, and day in and day out the child is brought up to manhood in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Is not the child as susceptible to training in spiritual as in social things? There is just as much reason in training for virtue and holiness as in training for any secular end. And it is far better that a child should never know where the point of transition is. This is the truest conversion and the best; but it does not follow that it is the only conversion.
2. A man is thrown out upon the world and gone into vice and crime, or into a lower form of selfish, proud, unsympathizing life. Oh, it is a blessed thing for him to know that he need not continue in the downward course for ever, and that there is provision made whereby when a man has gone wrong he may stop and grow right. Not that he can be transformed in the twinkling of an eye, but the change may begin when he resolves to turn from sin to God.
III. IS A MAN CONVERTED BY THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT OR BY HIS OWN WILL? By both. The Divine Spirit is atmospheric, and becomes personal when any one appropriates it. The sunlight has in it all harvests, but we do not reap until that sunlight is appropriated by some root, leaf, blossom. Some say we must wait for the Spirit; as reasonable as to say we must wait for the sun when it is a cloudless afternoon; and what time any man accepts the influence of the Divine Spirit and co-operates with it, that moment the work is done by the stimulus of God acting with the practical energy and will of the human soul.
IV. WHAT ARE THE EVIDENCES OF CONVERSION?
1. The consciousness of a new and heavenly life, whether we can trace the time of its origin or not, or whether it came to us through agonies of remorse or the sweet, quiet influences of Christian nurture.
2. The fruits of the regenerating Spirit — love, joy, peace, etc.
3. Advancement, growth, development in the things that please God.
(H. W. Beecher.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.