Marvel not that I said to you, You must be born again.
Christ taught Nicodemus that this new birth is not "a developing of some latent power;" it is not "bringing out the constitutional tendency," and guiding it. It is a new nature, a new level, a new plane, a new sphere, into which human nature is to be exalted by the power of God. It is a birth, with all which that implies. Just consider for a moment, in the light of this principle which Christ laid down, the much debated question of morality. A man says, "Are we to understand that a man is to substitute this," if I may so say, "second nature," which is born in him, or rather out of which he is born by the operation of the Holy Ghost, for morality? I answer that the point is here: That which is born of the flesh is flesh; a man is amiable from good digestion; a kind and generous friend from an active circulation and because he is successful in life. He is a temperate man because wine is distasteful to him; he is a chaste man because he has a phlegmatic, a cold nature. These things are matters of temperament, good, excellent, much to be desired. But often they are granted to people like their complexions and the shape of their hands and feet, while to others they are vouchsafed by the grace of God after the labour of the new birth. These moralities in either case bear the same relation to the after life which the lower leaves of a plant bear to its blossoming. "What is my morality worth, then?" you ask. The Indian in his wigwam knows a great many things, but he is not a civilized man. Suppose he should put this question, "What is all I do know worth, if this is not civilization? If I am brought out of this state, am I to leave all these things and count them as nothing?" Certainly he is not. Relatively to his condition, they are unspeakably important, but as compared with a higher development, they are of very little value. That is to say, if he should become noble and refined in civilized life, he would look back with pity upon the condition that he was in when wigwam and wampum were home and means. Not because they were in, and of themselves, bad, but because he was so far from having attained by growth and development that which was possible to him. When we began to learn to write, our letters were crooked enough, our sentences all went up-hill — the writing was a hideous scrawl. But would we say to our children, "It is good for nothing, your cramped and crude beginnings?" Not at all. They are good to commence with — and good to end with so soon as you can go on to perfection, making the lines of beauty and a fair page. Moralities are the embryo children — the ground leaves — the cramped writing — the wigwam and the wampum; but they must not be confounded with the higher developments of the new manhood which has its birth out of the water and the Spirit. When, therefore, our Lord says, that morality is not sufficient — and that is what He says, substantially, to Nicodemus — He is the truest friend of man; and among men, he is the most generous and kind who maintains that ideal and shows his fellow-men, not that the things which belong to the body are worthless, but that true manhood is far higher than the body can reach, and far higher than ordinary reason can attain — so high that it can only be groped after, like the newly-born infant stretches out its untried hands toward the first glimmering of the shaded light — only reached by the power of God developing the nascent nature of the new-born soul — a mystery no more profound than that which surrounds the entrance into the natural life which every one must concede. It is not that we have developed very much. It is not that we have a point of development established in us that determines our safety. It is that the Spirit of God has gained a lodgment in the soul; that the leaven is there; that the root is thrown down, and the germ is pointed up, that gives us ground for hope. That being secured, there is an infinite space, called "Eternity" for men to develop in. God has promised to give His Holy Spirit to them that simply ask for it. He has chosen, and that is enough for us; He has chosen to couple the gift with the baptism of water in the Triune name. The seed is sown then. How? I do not know, for God is silent there.
(F. L. Norton, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.