Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.
~ James 1:17-18, 1 Peter 1:3, Ephesians 2:1, John 1:13, Titus 3:5, 1 Peter 1:23, Galatians 6:15
Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him. If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.
~ 1 John 5:1, 1 John 2:29, 1 John 3:9, 1 John 5:18
John 3:3. A Commentary, by Matthew Henry.
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.
~ John 3:3
[1.] What it is that is required: to be born again; that is, First, We must live a new life. Birth is the beginning of life; to be born again is to begin anew, as those that have hitherto lived either much amiss or to little purpose. We must not think to patch up the old building, but begin from the foundation. Secondly, We must have a new nature, new principles, new affections, new aims. We must be born anoµthen, which signifies both denuo—again, and desuper—from above. 1. We must be born anew; so the word is taken, Gal. 4:9, and ab initio—from the beginning, Lu. 1:3. By our first birth we are corrupt, shapen in sin and iniquity; we must therefore undergo a second birth; our souls must be fashioned and enlivened anew. 2. We must be born from above, so the word is used by the evangelist, ch. 3:31; 19:11, and I take this to be especially intended here, not excluding the other; for to be born from above supposes being born again. But this new birth has its rise from heaven (ch. 1:13) and its tendency to heaven: it is to be born to a divine and heavenly life, a life of communion with God and the upper world, and, in order to this, it is to partake of a divine nature and bear the image of the heavenly.
[2.] The indispensable necessity of this: “Except a man (Any one that partakes of the human nature, and consequently of its corruptions) be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God, the kingdom of the Messiah begun in grace and perfected in glory.” Except we be born from above, we cannot see this. That is, First, We cannot understand the nature of it. Such is the nature of things pertaining to the kingdom of God (in which Nicodemus desired to be instructed) that the soul must be re-modelled and moulded, the natural man must become a spiritual man, before he is capable of receiving and understanding them, 1 Co. 2:14. Secondly, We cannot receive the comfort of it, cannot expect any benefit by Christ and his gospel, nor have any part or lot in the matter. Note, Regeneration is absolutely necessary to our happiness here and hereafter. Considering what we are by nature, how corrupt and sinful,—what God is, in whom alone we can be happy,—and what heaven is, to which the perfection of our happiness is reserved,—it will appear, in the nature of the thing, that we must be born again, because it is impossible that we should be happy if we be not holy; see 1 Co. 6:11, 12.
This great truth of the necessity of regeneration being thus solemnly laid down,
a. It is objected against by Nicodemus (v. 4): How can a man be born when he is old, old as I am: geroµn oµn—being an old man? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? Herein appears, (a.) His weakness in knowledge; what Christ spoke spiritually he seems to have understood after a corporal and carnal manner, as if there were no other way of regenerating and new-moulding an immortal soul than by new-framing the body, and bringing that back to the rock out of which it was hewn, as if there was such a connection between the soul and the body that there could be no fashioning the heart anew but by forming the bones anew. Nicodemus, as others of the Jews, valued himself, no doubt, very much on his first birth and its dignities and privileges,—the place of it, the Holy Land, perhaps the holy city,—his parentage, such as that which Paul could have gloried in, Phil. 3:5. And therefore it is a great surprise to him to hear of being born again. Could he be better bred and born than bred and born an Israelite, or by any other birth stand fairer for a place in the kingdom of the Messiah? Indeed they looked upon a proselyted Gentile to be as one born again or born anew, but could not imagine how a Jew, a Pharisee, could ever better himself by being born again; he therefore thinks, if he must be born again, it must be of her that bore him first. They that are proud of their first birth are hardly brought to a new birth. (b.) His willingness to be taught. He does not turn his back upon Christ because of his hard saying, but ingenuously acknowledges his ignorance, which implies a desire to be better informed; and so I take this, rather than that he had such gross notions of the new birth Christ spoke of: “Lord, make me to understand this, for it is a riddle to me; I am such a fool as to know no other way for a man to be born than of his mother.” When we meet with that in the things of God which is dark, and hard to be understood, we must with humility and industry continue our attendance upon the means of knowledge, till God shall reveal even that unto us.
b. It is opened and further explained by our Lord Jesus, v. 5-8. From the objection he takes occasion,
(a.) To repeat and confirm what he had said (v. 5): “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, the very same that I said before.” Note, The word of God is not yea and nay, but yea and amen; what he hath said he will abide by, whoever saith against it; nor will he retract any of his sayings for the ignorance and mistakes of men. Though Nicodemus understood not the mystery of regeneration, yet Christ asserts the necessity of it as positively as before. Note, It is folly to think of evading the obligation of evangelical precepts, by pleading that they are unintelligible, Rom. 3:3, 4.
(b.) To expound and clear what he had said concerning regeneration; for the explication of which he further shows,
[a.] The author of this blessed change, and who it is that works it. To be born again is to be born of the Spirit, v. 5-8. The change is not wrought by any wisdom or power of our own, but by the power and influence of the blessed Spirit of grace. It is the sanctification of the Spirit (1 Pt. 1:2) and renewing of the Holy Ghost, Tit. 3:5. The word he works by is his inspiration, and the heart to be wrought on he has access to.
[b.] The nature of this change, and what that is which is wrought; it is spirit, v. 6. Those that are regenerated are made spiritual, and refined from the dross and dregs of sensuality. The dictates and interests of the rational and immortal soul have retrieved the dominion they ought to have over the flesh. The Pharisees placed their religion in external purity and external performances; and it would be a mighty change indeed with them, no less than a new birth, to become spiritual.
[c.] The necessity of this change. First, Christ here shows that it is necessary in the nature of the thing, for we are not fit to enter into the kingdom of God till we are born again: That which is born of the flesh if flesh, v. 6. Here is our malady, with the causes of it, which are such that it is plain there is no remedy but we must be born again. 1. We are here told what we are: We are flesh, not only corporeal but corrupt, Gen. 6:3. The soul is still a spiritual substance, but so wedded to the flesh, so captivated by the will of the flesh, so in love with the delights of the flesh, so employed in making provision for the flesh, that it is mostly called flesh; it is carnal. And what communion can there be between God, who is a spirit, and a soul in this condition? 2. How we came to be so; by being born of the flesh. It is a corruption that is bred in the bone with us, and therefore we cannot have a new nature, but we must be born again. The corrupt nature, which is flesh, takes rise from our first birth; and therefore the new nature, which is spirit, must take rise from a second birth. Nicodemus spoke of entering again into his mother’s womb, and being born; but, if he could do so, to what purpose? If he were born of his mother a hundred times, that would not mend the matter, for still that which is born of the flesh if flesh; a clean thing cannot be brought out of an unclean. He must seek for another original, must be born of the Spirit, or he cannot become spiritual. The case is, in short, this: though man is made to consist of body and soul, yet his spiritual part had then so much the dominion over his corporeal part that he was denominated a living soul (Gen. 2:7), but by indulging the appetite of the flesh, in eating forbidden fruit, he prostituted the just dominion of the soul to the tyranny of sensual lust, and became no longer a living soul, but flesh: Dust thou art. The living soul became dead and inactive; thus in the day he sinned he surely died, and so he became earthly. In this degenerate state, he begat a son in his own likeness; he transmitted the human nature, which had been entirely deposited in his hands, thus corrupted and depraved; and in the same plight it is still propagated. Corruption and sin are woven into our nature; we are shapen in iniquity, which makes it necessary that the nature be changed. It is not enough to put on a new coat or a new face, but we must put on the new man, we must be new creatures. Secondly, Christ makes it further necessary, by his own word: Marvel not that I said unto thee, You must be born again, v. 7. 1. Christ hath said it, and as he himself never did, nor ever will, unsay it, so all the world cannot gainsay it, that we must be born again. He who is the great Lawgiver, whose will is a law,—he who is the great Mediator of the new covenant, and has full power to settle the terms of our reconciliation to God and happiness in him,—he who is the great Physician of souls, knows their case, and what is necessary to their cure,—he hath said, You must be born again. “I said unto thee that which all are concerned in, You must, you all, one as well as another, you must be born again: not only the common people, but the rulers, the masters in Israel.” 2. We are not to marvel at it; for when we consider the holiness of the God with whom we have to do, the great design of our redemption, the depravity of our nature, and the constitution of the happiness set before us, we shall not think it strange that so much stress is laid upon this as the one thing needful, that we must be born again.
[d.] This change is illustrated by two comparisons. First, The regenerating work of the Spirit is compared to water, v. 5. To be born again is to be born of water and of the Spirit, that is, of the Spirit working like water, as (Mt. 3:11) with the Holy Ghost and with fire means with the Holy Ghost as with fire. 1. That which is primarily intended here is to show that the Spirit, in sanctifying a soul, (1.) Cleanses and purifies it as water, takes away its filth, by which it was unfit for the kingdom of God. It is the washing of regeneration, Tit. 3:5. You are washed, 1 Co. 6:11. See Eze. 36:25. (2.) Cools and refreshes it, as water does the hunted hart and the weary traveller. The Spirit is compared to water, ch. 7:38, 39; Isa. 44:3. In the first creation, the fruits of heaven were born of water (Gen. 1:20), in allusion to which, perhaps, they that are born from above are said to be born of water. 2. It is probable that Christ had an eye to the ordinance of baptism, which John had used and he himself had begun to use, “You must be born again of the Spirit,” which regeneration by the Spirit should be signified by washing with water, as the visible sign of that spiritual grace: not that all they, and they only, that are baptized, are saved; but without that new birth which is wrought by the Spirit, and signified by baptism, none shall be looked upon as the protected privileged subjects of the kingdom of heaven. The Jews cannot partake of the benefits of the Messiah’s kingdom, they have so long looked for, unless they quit all expectations of being justified by the works of the law, and submit to the baptism of repentance, the great gospel duty, for the remission of sins, the great gospel privilege. Secondly, It is compared to wind: The wind bloweth where it listeth, so is every one that is born of the Spirit, v. 8. The same word (pneuma) signifies both the wind and the Spirit. The Spirit came upon the apostles in a rushing mighty wind (Acts 2:2), his strong influences on the hearts of sinners are compared to the breathing of the wind (Eze. 37:9), and his sweet influences on the souls of saints to the north and south wind, Cant. 4:16. This comparison is here used to show, 1. That the Spirit, in regeneration, works arbitrarily, and as a free agent. The wind bloweth where it listeth for us, and does not attend our order, nor is subject to our command. God directs it; it fulfils his word, Ps. 148:8. The Spirit dispenses his influences where, and when, on whom, and in what measure and degree, he pleases, dividing to every man severally as he will, 1 Co. 12:11. 2. That he works powerfully, and with evident effects: Thou hearest the sound thereof; though its causes are hidden, its effects are manifest. When the soul is brought to mourn for sin, to groan under the burden of corruption, to breathe after Christ, to cry Abba—Father, then we hear the sound of the Spirit, we find he is at work, as Acts 9:11, Behold he prayeth.