"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."--MATT. v: 8.
THE words selected and read, are not designed as a text, in the popular sense, but merely as a starting-point, in discussing a great theme--the necessity of regeneration, or, which is the same, simply the necessity of turning to God. No attempt will be made, in this discourse, to discuss regeneration or conversion minutely, but the importance of it will be argued and maintained; or, rather, the indispensable necessity of it.
The Sermon on the Mount, as it is generally styled, was delivered some three and a half years before the full development of the Gospel and kingdom, and no one need expect to find, in that discourse, the details of the new institution; or the law of induction, the plan of founding churches, the officering, management, and discipline of the congregations, as these matters were unfolded and developed afterward. It contained, as might have been justly expected, the general principles of the new and better covenant on better promises. In this opening speech, one of the great principles unfolded is, that reference is now to be made to the state of the heart: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." Some of the translations, no doubt correctly, too, instead of this word "blessed," give us the word happy. "Happy are the pure in heart." The word "see," here, does not mean to see with the eye, for in that sense "every eye shall see him." It is here used in the sense of enjoy. "Happy are the pure in heart, for they shall enjoy God." Here, then, in the Lord's great opening discourse, soon after he had entered his divine mission, he makes a grand discrimination between purity and impurity, the pure and the impure in heart. When he says "Happy are the pure in heart," he implies, with all the force of language, that the impure in heart are not happy. The principle is, that purity of heart and happiness go hand in hand. Impurity of heart and unhappiness also are joined hand in hand. Men may flatter themselves that they will escape, that they can cherish impurity of heart and still be happy, but they will find themselves mistaken. The immutable decree of God has settled it, that impurity and misery shall be joined hand in hand; that purity and happiness shall be joined hand in hand. Men may try to evade as they please, but still, there stands the law, facing them and thundering in their ears, "Happy are the pure in heart." No man can be happy with an impure heart. A man must be made pure in heart before he can be happy.
Thus far it all relates to the present, without looking into the future, and some Universalist may say, that the passage sustains his doctrine, that rewards and punishments are all in this life, that the Lord simply says, "Happy are the pure in heart," and not that they shall receive this happiness in the future. Such an idea might be possible, if there were nothing different anywhere else, and if the Lord had not added the clause "for they shall see God." This makes a discrimination between the pure and impure in heart, in reference to the future. All who have noticed Universalists, in their writings and preaching, have observed what a world of trouble they have with such words and phrases as the following: misery, torment, punishment, hell, the lake of fire, second death, the devil, Satan, etc. Still, if not one of these words or promises could be found in the Bible, and we were to read in the first sermon of our Lord, "Happy are the pure in heart, for they shall enjoy God," there would be no hope remaining that the impure in heart would ever enjoy God. It throws an everlasting gloom over the prospects of the impure in heart in reference to the boundless future.
Seeing, then, that both present and future happiness stands connected with purity of heart, as our Lord taught in his first sermon, it becomes a matter of great importance to determine what he meant by "pure in heart." There is a great tendency in these times, to mix up things and make it appear that all men are pretty much alike; that they all have some good in them, and some bad; that there is not much difference after all. You will hear men saying every now and then, "I never knew a man so bad that he had not some good in him; nor a man so good that he had not some bad in him." Still, these same men know that there is a vast difference between men. There is a vast difference between an apple-tree that yields abundance of fruit and nearly all good, and a tree that yields but little fruit and nearly all bad. So there is a vast difference between a man whose conduct is nearly all good, and a man whose conduct is nearly all bad. Some men's lives are nearly all filled up with good deeds, while some others are so nearly filled up with bad deeds that it is only an occasional thing to find a good deed. This is a wide difference.
But this is not ascertaining what it its to be pure in heart. It is not, then, to be so perfect that one can not sin, be overtaken in a fault, or surprised into an evil. The "pure in heart" are those who ardently desire to do good, are aiming and striving to do good; who hunger and thirst after righteousness. They purpose good in their hearts, intend or design good. Their meditations are good, pure, and holy. If they sin, they are surprised into sin, or overtaken in a fault. But the impure in heart, or, which is the same, the corrupt in heart, meditate sin, design it, purpose in their hearts frauds, blasphemy, corruptions in general. Their designs, desires, and aims are corrupt. How transcendently are those who are pure in heart, whose desires, aims, and intentions are all pure, above the low, the corrupt, and degraded! They have an abiding consciousness of the purest, holiest, and highest intentions. They are not faultless, perfect, or immaculate, as Jesus, or as angels. They are not utterly sinless, and do not claim to be; but they desire the perfection, purity, and holiness of Jesus, and are seeking after it. These are pure in heart now, and happy. They, also, have the promise that they shall in the future enjoy God. But if Universalists could annihilate hell and the devil, as they appear so determined sometimes to do, this passage would stand eternally in the way of the impure or corrupt in heart ever enjoying God. No reasoning in this universe can ever recover them from this.
But that there may not appear to be too much suspended on a single isolated expression, another passage shall be summoned: "Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord." Heb. xii :14. This is fuller than the language just commented on. It not only includes the purity of heart, but the practice flowing from it, without which it unequivocally declares, no man shall see the Lord. The word "see," here, is used in the same sense as before; that is, "without holiness no man shall enjoy the Lord." If you could annihilate the devil, hell, the second death, lake of fire, the bottomless pit, misery, punishment, and torment, the case is not relieved. There stands the terrible declaration, "without which no man shall enjoy the Lord." No matter where the man or woman is, or who, without holiness no person shall enjoy the Lord. No evasion, caviling, or sophistry can get over this. There it stands, and there it wild stand till the eternal judgment, testifying that men must follow peace and holiness in this life, or they shall not enjoy the Lord in the future.
Being made "pure in heart" amounts to the same as being made holy, for it leads to following peace with all men and holiness, without which no man shall enjoy the Lord. No man is regenerated, born again, or converted, according to the New Testament, who is not made pure in heart, or holy in life. An argument in favor of being made pure in heart, or holy, is an argument in favor of regeneration, the new birth, or conversion, and the law requiring purity of heart, or holiness, is virtually a law requiring a man to be born again, regenerated, or converted. It is not claimed that these several terms mean precisely the same, but the man converted, created anew, or born again, is made pure in heart, holy, or he is regenerated. Though being made pure in heart is not the whole process of turning to the Lord, or regeneration, it leads to it and results in it. Hence the faith of Christ begins with the heart, corrects it, changes, or purifies it. This purification of the heart leads to a pure life, or corrects, or purifies the life, resulting in righteousness and true holiness. But no reasoning on a subject like this can be as satisfactory as an actual conversation between a man and the Savior of the world. Attention is, therefore, invited to an actual conversation between our Lord and a no less distinguished personage than Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, who came to the Savior by night to have a personal interview. It is not certain that there is any thing in the circumstances of his coming by night, but those a little accustomed to notice the movements of religious teachers, might think there was a little lack of bold manliness. The cause of his coming by night is not entirely clear, and might be assumed to be that he was not willing for it to be known that he had the interview; or that he was under the influence of a little policy, such as is often seen on the part of religious teachers and spiritual guides, inducing them to be cautious about setting an example that might open the way for weak brethren to hear something not orthodox. Many amusing things are observed on the part of spiritual guides of our own times, who really desire to hear, but fear the influence of their example, and slip in late, take the first seat they can find. They sit, sometimes, as if they did not desire any one to see them there, and then show their contempt and low-breeding by going out while the closing hymn is being sung. Politeness is not to be expected, nor even common civility from a man who has once become a blind devotee to party, and such a man will violate rules of politeness in such rudeness as he would rebuke in an infidel.
Nicodemus may have been under no such low and unworthy feeling as just alluded to, but the probability is that some such influence caused him to go at night. Be this as it may, he put on the best address he could command, and approached the Savior in the most respectful terms he could use. He said: "Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher from God, for no man can do these miracles which thou doest except God be with him." He used the title rabbi in about the same sense as some do the titles "Rev.," "Rt. Rev.," "Dr.," etc., as prefixes or affixes to names, not having consequence enough to pass without some such appendages. He evidently was aiming to please the Savior, and supposed he would be pleased, as the Jewish rabbis were, to be called rabbi. Hence he addressed him, "Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher from God." This was making a broader concession than many of his fellow-rabbis would thank him for. He not only speaks for himself, but for others with himself: "We know that thou art a teacher from God." Nor does he speak in any doubtful terms, such as we think, we feel, we trust, or even we admit, but in the most unequivocal terms, "We know." Nor does he, like many of the present time, say "we know," without telling how he knew. He adds: "For no man can do these miracles which thou doest except God be with him." Certainly this was a good reason for saying, "We know that thou art a teacher from God." No one could perform the wonderful works which he did unless God was with him.
The Lord looked on him in view of the admission he had made, and the very first sentence he uttered struck from under him his entire religious foundation, thus leaving him standing among his fellow-citizens of the world, but outside of the kingdom of God. Hear his words: "Verily, verily, I say to you, except a man be born again he can not see the kingdom of God." This was all new to Nicodemus. He understood nothing of the meaning of this language, and, in confusion, inquired how a man can be born when he is old, evidently seeing nothing beyond a natural birth, or a birth of the flesh. He did not see that it was a deadly blow at his birthright membership in the Church, and a clear declaration that his old birthright gave him no membership in the new kingdom about to be introduced. The Lord then proceeded in language a little fuller: "Verily, verily, I say to you, except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he can not enter into the kingdom of God." Nicodemus stands in wonder and amazement. The Lord replies, "Marvel not that I said to you, you must be born again." Why did the Savior address him in this style? Why did he say, "Verily, verily, I say to you, except a man be born again, he can not see the kingdom of God?" See how emphatic he is: "Verily, verily," is most assuredly. "Most assuredly, I say to you, except a man be born again, he can not see the kingdom of God." The word "see" here is used in the sense of enjoy--"except a man be born again, he can not enjoy the kingdom of God."
Why does the Lord thus address the ruler in Israel? For a good and a wise reason. He knew that not only Nicodemus, but all Jews, would be ready to claim membership in his Church, or, which is the same, under a different form of speech, citizenship in his kingdom, on the ground of their fleshly birthright, or their fleshly relation to Abraham, and not on being born of the Spirit. At the time of this conversation, the thought had never entered into the mind of Nicodemus that the Messiah, when he came, would change the entire ground of membership, so as to set aside entirely all claims on the old ground, and require all members of the old church, on the old ground, the same as Pagans, to become members on the new ground, or not enter the kingdom at all. This the Lord declared to the rabbi in Israel, though he evidently did not understand it, nor any one else at that time. From his earliest recollection, his fleshly birthright, which gave him membership in the old church, was the ground of membership to which his attention had been directed. He had never in his life heard of such a thing as a spiritual qualification for membership in the Church, or a moral condition. As far as he had ever heard, flesh and not spirit, blood and not faith, the first birth and not the second, had been kept before him as the ground of membership. The descendants of Abraham, according to the flesh, or, as the Lord expressed it, "those born in thy house," and not those "born again," were in the covenant. This was the ground of membership, and the only ground with a Jew.
This was a startling point to the Jew. It appeared to him like setting aside the law of God. It was, indeed, superseding one ground of membership with another, and a different one, or rather superseding one institution with another, and a different one. The matter now is not to be Abraham's children according to the flesh, but Abraham's children by faith; not to be of fleshly Israel, but of spiritual Israel. They are not all of Israel, who are so according to the flesh. It is written, "In Isaac shall the seed be counted." It is of the spirit and not flesh, of faith and not of a blood relation. A Jew is nothing now, circumcision is nothing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. We have no confidence in the flesh now, or in a fleshly relation to Abraham. Away with your long rolls of genealogy, and your controversies about them. It matters not now whose children you are, or whose descendants; nor is it a matter of any consequence whose blood flows in your veins; whether your fleshly descent is from Isaac or Ishmael, from Jacob or Esau; whether you are of this nation or that. The question now is, have you been "born again," "born of the Spirit," "born of God," made "a new creature?" The question is not whether you have the blood of Abraham in your veins, but whether you have the faith of Abraham.
It is useless to set up the cry of unchristianizing good people. This has nothing to do with the argument. Is the ground taken true? Is is true that, in order to be in the kingdom of God, a man "must be born again"--"must be born of water and of the Spirit?" It is as certainly true as that the Bible is a divine book, or as that Jesus is divine. Men must be born again, not of corruptible, but of incorruptible seed, the word of God; not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of the will of God. The saints are in Christ, not by flesh nor by blood, but by faith, by the spirit of God, by yielding themselves to the will of God to be servants of God. This is true as Holy Writ. It cuts off no one. No one can be cut off from the Church who was never in it. No one was ever in the Church of Christ who was never "born again." The argument may show many that they were never in the Church, and thus give them the opportunity to enter into it, but it will never cut any off who were never in it. In the same way it never unchristianizes any one. No one who has never been christianized can be unchristianized. Nicodemus had never been christianized, and consequently was not unchristianized by any thing Jesus said. He was only shown, or would have been shown if he had understood the Lord, that he was never in the kingdom--never christianized. The same would be true of thousands now if they should understand this teaching; they would learn simply that they had never been in the kingdom, and could not be cut off from a kingdom which they had never been in; that they had never been christianized, and consequently could not be unchristianized.
What does the Lord mean by the words, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he can not enter into the kingdom of God?" This language was not understood by Nicodemus, nor any other man of his time. Nor is it well understood now. It will, therefore, be necessary to bestow a little careful attention to its elucidation now. There is but one birth here, and not two, as some have supposed. It is one birth, "of water and of the Spirit," and not two births, one of water and one of Spirit. This is so clear from the structure of the language itself, that it is useless to argue it here. What does this figurative word "birth" here stand for? or, in other words, what does "born again" mean, or amount to, in literal language? It literally means turned to the Lord, converted, or made a Christian. That is all there is in it. But, returning again to the figure "born of water and of the Spirit;" what is the sum of it? In order to a literal birth, there are two things necessary: 1. Begetting. 2. Birth. Those two parts are included in our Lord's figurative language. One of these parts is ascribed to the Spirit, and the other to the water, as the one, in a natural birth, is ascribed to the father, and the other to the mother. When a child is born of its parents, or of the father and mother, it is clearly begotten by the father and born of the mother. In the figurative language in hand, the begetting is of the Spirit and the birth of the water.
But what is the precise thing meant by being begotten of the Spirit? It it precisely the same as begotten of God, for it is of God, of Christ, of the apostles, and of the word of God, and ascribed to God, Christ, the Spirit, the apostles, and the Word, but in different senses. It is ascribed to God as the author of it; to Jesus as the Mediator, by whom it is effected; by the Spirit as the agent; by the apostles whom he employed to speak the word, and by the word as the instrument by which it is done. Literally: what, then, is done when a man is begotten of God? He is made a believer. This is the sum total of what is meant by the figurative expression begotten. "Begotten of God" is made a believer by means ordained of God. When a man is begotten by the word of truth, he is simply made a believer by the word of truth. When the apostle says "I have begotten you by the Gospel," it is, literally, I have made you believers by preaching the Gospel to you. Paul ascribed this begetting to himself in view of his instrumentality in preaching the Gospel. He could have ascribed it to the Spirit, as the agent who spoke through him, or to God, who gave the Spirit, as the author of it all, or to the word as the immediate instrument through whom they were made believers. The part of the work, then, in the expression "born of water and of the Spirit," ascribed to the Spirit, is making the believer. The part ascribed to the water is baptism. It amounts to the same as the words in the commission, "He who believes and is immersed, shall be saved." The part ascribed to the Spirit stands for belief, the part ascribed to the water stands for immersion, and entering into the kingdom amounts to the same as "saved;" for all who enter the kingdom are saved or pardoned, and none who do not enter the kingdom are saved or pardoned.
But some one is ready to say, "You are not to assume that 'born of water' is the same in amount as baptism." Why not? This language was applied to baptism by Luther, Calvin, Wesley, and all the distinguished reformers. It is so applied by all the authorities of note in all the libraries. This very language is quoted and applied to baptism in the Episcopalian creed, the Methodist creed, and the Presbyterian creed, and the churches having these creeds have so held from the commencement of their existence. There is, then, nothing novel in taking this ground. The strange part is, that those who have had this in their creed from the commencement of their church existence, should now repudiate it. The sum of it is, then, that the Lord taught, by the figurative expression, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he can not enter the kingdom of God," the same he did afterward, literally, in the words: "He who believes and is immersed shall be saved"--"or except a man shall believe and be immersed he can not be saved." The difference is only in form of expression and not in substance.
"But," a man exclaims, "our preacher explains all that by quoting the words, "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh nor whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit." Before your preacher or any body else can explain any thing by quoting that passage, he must tell us what that passage itself means. No passage can explain any thing unless the passage itself can be understood by the person for whom the explanation is made. But it must be here stated that this passage is not quoted to explain any thing. It is quoted for the purpose of hiding a dark or obscure passage, and appearing to be explaining when nothing is being explained. It is a little like Dr. George Campbell, of Scotland, in quizzing a student about a sermon he had heard. He asked the student what he thought of it. He replied that it was very great. "What was there in it that was great?" said the doctor. "It was profound," replied the student. "What was there in it profound?" inquired the doctor. "It was deep," responded the student. "Muddy water always appears deep," said the doctor. That is the way with referring to this passage, it is to get into muddy water to appear deep.
But now some attention must be bestowed on this obscure passage, and an effort made to ascertain what the Lord meant. No man, who never read any thing but the common version, is to blame for not understanding this Scripture, for it is wholly unintelligible. The first thing, then, will be to show that there is nothing about "wind" in the passage--that the Lord is not telling what the wind does, or what it does not; what it is like, or what it is not like. He is talking about the Spirit; not merely spirit, but the Spirit; what the Spirit does--the Spirit of God--and not what the wind does or does not do. The original Greek word rendered "wind" here, in the common version, is pneuma, and the following reasons are given to show that it does not mean "wind," and should not be so translated:
1. Pneuma is not the Greek word translated "wind" in other passages where we know "wind" is meant. The Greek word anemos occurs thirty-one times in the New Testament, and is rightly translated "wind" in every instance in the common version. If the Lord had meant "wind," he would unquestionably have used anemos, which means wind, and not pneuma, which means "spirit." Pneo is, in one instance, translated wind in the common version, and that, too, where it is clear that wind is meant.
2. Pneuma occurs three hundred and eighty-six times in the New Testament, and is not translated "wind" in any other instance but that one in the common version. It is the original for spirit, and is translated "spirit," or its equivalent, "ghost," in every instance where these words are found in the common version, with probably one exception. What ground had the translators for turning aside here, and where pneuma not only means spirit, but the Spirit of God, translating it "wind?" They had not a reason in the world for it.
3. The same original Greek word pneuma, occurs in four other instances in the same connection, and is translated "spirit" in each of these four places in the common version. By what rule did they, in the same connection in our Lord's discourse, and on precisely the same subject, translate pneuma, spirit, four times and wind once? There can certainly be no reason for this. The Lord meant spirit every time he used the word pneuma in this passage, and in the case in hand he meant the Holy Spirit, or the Spirit of God.
But some further attention must now be given to the King James' version of the passage. No man is to blame for not understanding this passage if he never heard any thing but the common version. It is simply unintelligible. Please pause and look at it. It starts out with the word "wind." Well, what does it make our Lord say about the wind? Why, simply, that "the wind blows." Well, that is precisely what the wind does--it blows. Where does it make the Lord say the wind blows? "Where it listeth." This old English word "listeth" means pleases or wills. The wind blows where it pleases or wills. But the wind has neither pleasure nor will. Pleasure and will belong to intelligence and not to inanimate matter. But what more does the common version make the Lord say about the wind? "Thou hearest the sound thereof, and canst not tell whence it cometh nor whither it goeth." Which is it that this version makes our Lord say? Nicodemus could not tell whence it came nor whither it went, the sound or the wind. Certainly he could have told whence the sound or the wind either came. But it makes the Lord proceed, "So is every one that is born of the Spirit." What is the point of comparison here? What is every one born of the Spirit compared to? Is he like the wind or the sound? or is the influence of the Spirit like the wind? This can not be, for Nicodemus could tell whence the wind came and the influence of the Spirit. The more you try to understand this passage from the common version the darker it appears.
But now turn aside from the common version, and dismiss all idea of "wind" from your mind, or the Lord, in this connection, making any allusion to the wind. He has a much greater theme than wind. He starts with "the Spirit"--to tell what the Spirit does. "The Spirit breathes." What means this word "breathes?" Saul breathed out threatenings against the disciples. How did he breathe out threatenings? Breathed them out in words. "The Spirit breathes where he pleases or wills." The Spirit is an intelligence, and it is consistent to speak of his breathing where he will. He has a will or pleasure, and does as he wills or pleases. Well, he breathes or inspires where he wills or pleases, and "you hear his voice." This shows that the breathing results in uttering words with the voice, else you could not hear his voice. Jesus said to the apostles, in view of their preaching under the last commission, "It shall not be you that speak, but the Holy Spirit shall speak in you." The Holy Spirit speaks in the apostles, and men hear his voice; but at the time the Lord talked with Nicodemus, neither he nor any other man knew whence this voice of inspiration came, nor whither it tended. That was not yet opened up. That was true and applicable in the case of Nicodemus and all others then, but not of us now. The Lord does not say to us now that we can not tell whence this voice of the Spirit of God comes nor whither it tends. It comes from heaven, clothed with all authority. The Spirit of God inspires or breathes where he pleases, and you hear his voice. What is the result of hearing his voice? "So is every one that is born of the Spirit." Instead of "born," here, we should have begotten: "So is every one that is begotten of the Spirit." Still this leaves the passage dark. There is one word wanting to complete the sense. "So," or, in this way, "is every one begotten that is begotten of the Spirit." In what way? By hearing the voice of the Spirit. The Spirit of God breathes where he will, or inspires where he pleases, and through these inspired persons you hear his voice and are thus begotten by the Spirit.
This makes the passage teach the same as "I have begotten you by the Gospel," which is the same as made you believers by the Gospel, or "begotten by the word of truth," which is the same as made you believers by the word of truth. Whether this is correct or not, one thing is certain, it makes it teach truth, as taught in other passages. This is safe at least, and makes it intelligible, and doubtless it is the meaning of the passage.
Speaking of the entire process of turning to God, under the figure of being "born again," the Lord said to the rabbi of Israel, "Marvel not that I said to you, that you must be born again." This is putting the case in strong terms. It is not that you ought to be born again, that it would be well to be born again, or that you should be born again, if you feel like it; but "you must be born again." This includes the whole--the faith, being made pure in heart, repentance, and being immersed--the entire process, or regeneration. It is something that must be. Regeneration is not simply something that may be, ought to be, or should be, but something that must be. It is indispensable. Having now seen that our Lord, when speaking of the process of turning to God, as a whole, declares it to be something that must be, let a few moments be spent in looking at some of the parts of the process and see if he speaks of them in the same unequivocal manner. Faith is a part of the process, the first part, and that which makes the first impression on the human soul, and leads to every thing else following in the conversion and new life. How, then, does the Lord speak of faith? It is indispensable. Hear the word of the Lord: "Without faith it is impossible to please him; for he who comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him." Heb. ix: 6. He does not say, that it would be well for men to believe, that men should believe, or that men ought to believe; but that "he who comes to God must believe." That which the Lord says must be, can not be set aside, except at the peril of him who does it.
Please look at another item. Is repentance indispensable, or something that must be? "Except you repent, you shall all likewise perish." But some one will say, "It does not say you must repent." Do not be too certain of that. What does the Lord mean by the word "except?" "Except you repent, you shall all likewise perish." We must have his own comment on this. "Except a man be born again he can not enter into the kingdom of God." A few words further on, he says, referring to the same thing: "Marvel not that I said to you, you must be born again." He here explains his words, "Except you be born again, you can not enter into the kingdom of God," to mean "You must be born again." So, when he says, "Except you repent, you shall all likewise perish," it is the same as "You must repent or perish." The Lord does not trifle with men, but informs them what they must and what they must not do. There is no such thing as dispensing with repentance any more than faith. "He who comes to God must believe, and it is equally true that he who comes to God must repent. There is no coming to God, on the part of any human being, without these indispensable prerequisites. Without these, a confession, an immersion, joining a church, communing, deeds of charity, etc., would all avail nothing. They must be in their place.
"Well," says a man, "I am glad that it does not say You mustbe immersed." In that you may find yourself sadly mistaken. It does virtually say, "You must be immersed." Turn, if you please, to Acts ix: 6, and you will find the account of the Lord's appearing to young Saul, and proclaiming to him, "I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you persecute." Saul inquires, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" The Lord replies, "Arise and go into the city, and it shall be told you what you must do." The Lord does not say, It shall be told you what is your duty to do, or what would be well to do, what you ought to do, if it accords with your way of thinking, or if you feel like it, but what you must do. The Lord appears to Ananias, and commands him to go to Saul and tell him what he must do. Ananias says, We have heard of this man, and learn that he is persecuting all who call on thy name. The Lord explains that he had appeared to him, called him to the ministry, and shown him how great things he shall suffer for the name of Jesus, and that he was actually praying to him. Ananias, hearing this explanation, hesitates not to go to him, to tell him, as the Lord commanded, what he must do. Acts xxii: 16, we learn what Ananias told him to do, in the following words: "Why tarriest thou? Arise, and be immersed, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord." In these words, he told him, as the Lord commanded, what he must do, in doing which he commanded him to be immersed. This was one thing, then, that the Lord said he must do. It is, then, one thing that men must do now in turning to God. It is the terminating act in turning to the Lord. It concludes the process.
This is no stronger than the Lord's own language: "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit he can not enter into the kingdom of God." "Born of water" is undoubtedly an allusion to immersion, and, as before stated in this discourse, is quoted and applied to baptism by all the standard works, the creeds, and principal authorities. The Lord gave significance and authority to this institution, when he came to John the Immerser and demanded immersion of him. John excused himself, saying, "I have need to be immersed of thee, and comest thou to me?" The Lord replied, "Suffer it to be so now, for thus it becomes us to fulfill all righteousness." John yielded, in view of this exposition, and immersed him. Ascending the bank of Jordan, they lifted their eyes, and saw heaven opened and the Spirit, in a visible form, descending and resting on the Lord. The Almighty Father made this the occasion to introduce his Son to Israel, and spoke from his excellent glory, saying, "This is my Son, in whom I am well pleased." The Lord still further shows the importance of this ordinance, in saying, as he did to certain Jews, "You rejected the counsel of God against yourselves, not being immersed by John." If men, in refusing to be immersed by John, rejected the counsel of God against themselves, what will be the result in rejecting the greater immersion, appointed by our Lord, "into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit?"
But you shall be detained no longer, now, with the discussion of the importance of immersion. It has been shown clearly that a man must believe. The reason of this is, that faith changes or purifies the heart, and prepares it for the service of God. Unless the heart is thus prepared, nothing good can follow. It has also been shown that a man must repent. The reason of this is, that repentance is such a change in the mind as will result in a change in the future life prepares him in character or life for the new state or relation. When the heart is changed by faith, and the life is changed by repentance, the subject is ready for induction, or initiation, or for a new state or relation. When Saul had believed and repented, and Ananias told what he must do, it was what he must do in addition to his faith and repentance, in order to salvation from past sin and admission into the kingdom. In order to this end, he was commanded to be immersed. The reason that a man must be immersed is, that in immersion he is initiated or inducted into the kingdom, the new state or relation. The heart being already changed by faith, and his life already changed by repentance, he is ready for the enjoyment of the new state or relation. Faith does not initiate any one into a new state, but only changes the heart and prepares a person in heart for the new state. Repentance does not initiate any person into the new state, but only prepares the person in life for initiation. Immersion does not change the heart or life, but changes the state or relation of the person previously prepared in heart and life by faith and repentance for the new state or relation. Nor is immersion the evidence of a previous pardon, but the last step in order to a future pardon--a pardon promised on certain conditions. "He who believes and is immersed shall be saved." "Except a man be born again he can not enjoy the kingdom of God," or enjoy justification, salvation from sin, or pardon.
"That teaching is unreasonable," says a man. No, sir; it is not unreasonable. There is nothing more reasonable and certain than that a man must be born again before he can enjoy the kingdom of God, enjoy God himself, or our Lord Jesus the Christ. That the unregenerate, the unconverted, or the people of the world, as they are in their sins, can not enjoy God, is as evident as any proposition ever uttered. Look at it for a few moments. Here is a man who is moral, truthful, honest, and honorable as a man of the world; kind and good as a neighbor and in his family. He stands transcendently above the immoral, the lying, corrupt, debased, and dishonest. He says to himself, "I am as good as many in the Church. I speak the truth, deal honestly, live morally, and would not do many things that members of church do, and if I should die, I believe I shall be saved." Well, sir, suppose you come up here and take the front seat at the Lord's table, as you are already so good, and join in the celebration of the Lord's death. You, no doubt, will be happy in contemplating his great sufferings for our sins, and partaking of the emblems of his body and blood. Come, sit with the saints and view him, as he hung on the cross, crowned with thorns, his hands nailed to the cross. Look at his face, all crimsoned with blood, and all his muscles in a quiver, as he is in the very agonies of death. View him, oh! view him, and keep your mind on him till, in your imagination, you see him breathe the last breath, silently expire, and his head fall lifeless on his breast. See the thick darkness gathering down over the whole land. Oh! try and realize the wonderful surroundings, the trembling earth, crumbling rocks, and the parting of the vail in the temple! Come, as you are good; sit here and contemplate this scene. You respond "No." Again, you say "No; I can not enjoy such a scene; I can not come." No; you can not come. Your heart would revolt at the thought and shrink back from the scene. You are as conscious as you are of your existence that you would be miserable to attempt to participate in this institution. Your soul revolts at the idea, and you say, "No, friends, let me have a seat in some remote part of the house, or walk out." Yes, dear sir; and, for the very same reason, if you were in heaven, you could not enjoy it, and would want to walk out.
Every man not converted, born again, or not regenerated, knows this to be the case. There is an utter incongeniality, on the part of the unconverted, with Christ, his religion, with his Church and worship, or, of course, they would be attracted and drawn into it. They know that they do not enjoy the apostles' teaching, the prayers, praises, thanksgiving, exhortations, and communion--the immediate mingling in the worship; you always see the class alluded to in a remote part of the house, or entirely outside in time of communion. They feel much better at a distance. Suppose such a one were carried up into heaven and seated among those who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, and he would lift his eyes, and survey the immense throng, from every nation, and kindred, and tribe, and tongue, and people, who have loved Jesus,, worshiped, devoted themselves to him and honored him in this life, and hear them lift their voices and sing "Blessing, and glory, and honor, and power, and dominion, and thanksgiving to him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb forever and ever," and suppose he lifts his eyes, and sees Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Enoch and Elijah, Job and Daniel, Isaiah and Jeremiah, with all the ancient worthies, arrayed in white, and praising God and the Lamb, would he be prepared to join in the grand anthems? He looks again, and beholds the apostles of Jesus, immense ranks of the martyrs of Jesus, as they walk the streets of the New Jerusalem. He looks again, and sees the long ranks on ranks of the angels of God, in the most profound awe and subordination, praising and adoring God and the Lamb. He beholds the grand throng which no man could number, redeemed by the blood of Jesus, and, turning his eye, sees Jesus, in the midst of his sublime glory, as he sits on the throne in the heaven of heavens, and beholds the face of the Almighty Father of heaven and earth. Would not the spirit of him who could not come to the Lord's table, and who could not enjoy the worship of God in this world, utterly fail here? Will not such call for rocks and mountains to fall on them and hide them from the face of him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of his wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand?
The reflection, then, that Jesus loved me, that he died for me, that he gave himself for me, that he, in transcendent kindness, invited me to come to him and I would not, will thunder home on the conscience. Such language as the following will then rush into the mind: "Come to me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." "He who comes to me, I will in nowise cast out." "The Spirit says, Come; and the bride says, Come; and whoever will, let him come and partake of the water of life freely." These invitations, he will remember, were all slighted, and are now gone forever. His opportunities are all gone, and he is not regenerated and not conformed to the image of Jesus; not created anew. We need something more to make us happy than mere admission into a place of happiness. We must be regenerated, made new creatures, or we could not be happy among the happy, in heaven itself. Turn, then, to the Lord, enter the covenant, and live forever. Come with Christ, become conformed to him and made inexpressibly happy in him now and prepared to you must be born again." "No man comes to the Father, but by me." "I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men to me." "I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, the first and the last, the bright and morning star." To his name be honor and power everlasting.