The Rev. John Sinclair, Bruan (1801-43)
This sermon, which was preached on 21st July, 1839 (and is now slightly edited for this issue), was one of a series of nine sermons which dealt with the necessity, nature, and marks of the new birth, and also the safety of those who are born again, and the danger of those who are not. The notes of these sermons were first published in The Free Presbyterian Magazine between 1900 and 1903. See the March 2000 issue for a biographical sketch of the Rev. John Sinclair of Bruan.
TEXT: 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.
LAST Sabbath we noticed the necessity of the new birth . . . Today we consider the second principal point: the nature of the new birth. The new birth implies a change in all the faculties of the soul. Let us notice two things: first, the part each Person of the Godhead has in effecting this change, and secondly, what is actually done upon the soul in the new birth.
FIRST: the part each Person of the Godhead has in the new birth.
1. The Father. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights.” “Of his own will begat he us.” The Father has to do with sinners; and so find they who are born again. It is the will of God that sinners be born again. It is hidden from us who they are. This is no discouragement, for the revealed will of God invites us to come. The Lord is “not willing that any should perish”. Those who have the new birth have no difference by nature. His will not their worth is the cause. They are therefore humble. The highest of the newborn in heaven are more lowly than those deepest in hell. Those who have not the new birth ought to apply for it. Cry, “Draw me. Create in me a clean heart.” You will never know whether you are among the elect until you come. There were never any disappointed who came. “Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out.” Come to get the new birth. If there is a mark of reprobation, it is on those not coming. Hasten, and you shall find. The Father put the elect in the book of life and gave them to the Son.
2. The Son. “He is the first born among many brethren” Romans 8:29. If He had not become flesh these would never have been born again.
(1) He purchased their new birth, not at the hands of love, but of justice. Hence it is said they are “begotten by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” He had to become flesh to take the sin and guilt of their old nature. He was “made under the law.” Not a sin of His people but He suffered for; the Father laid on Him the iniquities of them all. Every drop of His precious blood atoned for every sin of theirs. They have “redemption through his blood.” “The blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanseth us from all sin.” Every new birth was a painful birth to Him. Hence He shall see of “the travail of his soul.” He has “joy when a man is born into the world”.
(2) He opened the way for the coming of the Holy Ghost. Not that He purchased the Holy Ghost, or His love, but He satisfied justice. The Spirit could not renew until the old nature was atoned for. Christ was burnt up for the old nature that a new heart might be given. Hence the Holy Ghost is given Him without measure and every drop of the Holy Ghost that is given to a sinner comes through Him. Justice having come entirely upon their side, Christ got this oil of gladness above His fellows so as to be able to renew as many as He will. “For as the Father has life in himself so he hath given to the Son to have life in himself” that He may quicken as many as He will.
(3) He makes intercession. “Ask of me and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance.” “Father, I will.” His will and the Fathers are one. He always does what pleases the Father, yet as the representative of sinners He intimates His will to the Father, who grants all that His honour requires by Christ. Christs blood is said to speak. When this blood makes intercession all existence cannot stop its voice. Christs expressing His will also intimates His right and equality with the Father. He is a righteous advocate, and having fully satisfied justice claims the new birth and deliverance from the power of Satan on behalf of His people. When His blood speaks the work is done.
(4) He sends the Word. This is “the rod” of His great power out of Zion (Ps. 110:3). Sinners are born not of corruptible seed, but of the incorruptible seed of the Word, with the power and demonstration of the Spirit. Oh, it is a day of joy in heaven when a sinner is called. The Father hearing the Son, the Son interceding on the merits of His blood, the Spirit coming down as at Pentecost, the Word shaking hell, the angels rejoicing, the strong man bound never to have dominion over the soul again, an heir born to heaven, a baptismal feast!
(5) It is the image of the Son to which the soul is conformed. As the Holy Ghost came upon Mary, so He forms Christ in the soul. All the faculties are renewed in the image of Christ. “If any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” All sin begins to be mortified. “All things are become new.” A deadly wound is given to every sin. The soul is conformed to Christs death. The person knows there must be shedding of blood, and dies with Christ. The soul is also conformed to His resurrection. It rises from the grave of spiritual death on Christs right. His people enter the kingdom now on His right, and become fellow-citizens with the saints and of the household of God. They enter heaven on His right, being joint-heirs with Christ. They are no thieves or robbers, but justice goes before them.
3. The Holy Ghost is the agent. They are “born of the Spirit”. The new birth has the sanction and work of the Father and the Son, but the Holy Ghost is the immediate agent.
(1) He acts by commission from the Father. “The Spirit of truth whom the Father will send in my name.” He does not speak of Himself, but what He hears. He has the sanction of heavens court.
(2) He acts in Christs name. The Holy Ghost is “shed abundantly through Jesus Christ”. There is no hindrance to the Spirit, Christ having opened the way by His satisfaction to justice.
(3) Yet the Spirit comes in sovereign power. He is called Jehovah, and though He holds His commission from the Father and the Son, yet He does not need any assistance. Sinners may, and actually, do what they can to resist Him, as a child opposes a giant but He is the one who brought down Manasseh, Mary Magdalene, Paul, and the three thousand on the day of Pentecost. He is almighty. He can cast out the devil. He breaks the devils power to hold in chains. The Spirit has power over the heart. He can take away the stony heart. He has power over all the means of grace. He has power over the ministers of the gospel. The Spirit leads them to the very word they must speak He led Peter to the 110th Psalm, as we see in the second chapter of Acts. He knows the case, and suits the Word to it; if not, there is no conversion. He has power over the Word. They preached the gospel with the power of the Holy Ghost. He makes it a rod of great power, a fire and a hammer, a sharp sword. Hence though the hearers formerly sat unconcerned, now they are awakened and alarmed. The three thousand heard many a sermon before this time likely many sermons from Christ Himself. We may preach until the day of our death, but unless the Spirit come nothing will be done. He has power over afflictions. Hence we read of the Spirit of burning and of refining by the furnace, but the furnace cannot purify but by sanctification, and that by the Spirit.
SECONDLY: the work done by the Spirit on the soul in the new birth.
Those who enter the kingdom have a work done upon them as well as for them, and this work is a change upon all the faculties.
1. The first faculty is the understanding. It is turned from darkness to light. We said the understanding was dark, ignorant of self and of God. Now, the first light is from Mount Sinai, a very fiery light. It shows that the creature is a brutish sinner. This is sudden in some and gradual in others, but does not cease until it convinces of three things.
(1) That the sinner is completely ruined. “I died” (Rom. 7:9). Less will not do, because the sinner is in the covenant of works, and must be shown he is there. This may begin with conviction of some particular sin, but soon the sinner becomes all sinful. He never believed this before. He may have given some assent to the truth, but no belief. This conviction has gone deeper in some than in others, such as in the publican and in President Edwards, but in all it came to this, “In me dwelleth no good thing.”
(2) That God is a holy God. Not altogether such as oneself; He is just in condemning. “Thou art clear when thou judgest.” Formerly the sinner thought that it would be hard for God to condemn him, but now he thinks it hard for God to justify him. The righteousness of Christ being out of sight, the poor sinner thinks it impossible for God to save him. It is not enough now to say, “God is merciful.”
(3) That the sinner is entirely helpless. What shall we do to be saved? The sinner comes with his righteousness as filthy rags. Sometimes he thinks God cannot deliver “If thou canst do anything” but oftener he thinks that He will not “If thou wilt.” Now, note where this enlightening is saving, it leaves the conviction of ignorance in the understanding ever after. “I am more brutish than any man, and have not the understanding of a man.”
2. The conscience is renewed. It was seared before, but is now alive. A flash of the law may cause Pharaoh to say, “I have sinned.” The devils believe and tremble, but the truly awakened conscience, though it may slumber a little, arises again and finds no rest till it come to the blood of Jesus. The conviction of sin may go very deep, and a sinner may see his sin greater than to be forgiven, and yet rest short of the right foundation; but it is not so when the work is saving; the conscience will not rest until the soul obtains an interest in Christ. The renewed conscience shows sin to be against God. “Against thee, thee only have I sinned.” The sight of mercy or of pardon will only aggravate the pain of the stung conscience that is renewed. It will not allow new sin wilfully. “The seed of God abideth in him, and he cannot sin.” The incorruptible seed of the word is hid in the heart. The renewed conscience may be defiled through ignorance, temper, or weakness, but then the soul mourns.
3. And there is another ray of light let in on the understanding, not from Mount Sinai, not from the law, but from Mount Zion, from the Sun of righteousness. “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” The word is just suited to their case. They are taught that none else can save. To Him alone they are made to look, away from all others. “I said, Thou art my portion alone.” Look on every hand, and refuge fails. Whether they get Christ or not, they are convinced there is no other Saviour. They are made to see Him sufficient, if only they could get Him. “He is able to save to the uttermost them that come unto God by him.”
4. The will is renewed. All other steps are nothing until the will be overcome. “Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power.” Notice here “thy people.” These are all given to Christ by the Father. It is the elect who shall be willing. They shall be willing: not “they may” but “they shall”. This “shall” will bring them. A day of omnipotent power is needed to make sinners willing. It is generally in youth that the day of power comes “Thou hast the dew of thy youth.” “They that seek me early shall find me.” Hasten, young people.
(1) They are made willing to leave all sin. “I hate every false way.” This is not easy. Much self-examination is here needed.
(2) They are made willing to leave the sinful company and pleasures of the world. “Come out from among them, and be ye separate.”
(3) They are made willing to leave all self-righteousness. They will esteem it filthy rags and dung. The Lord will write abomination on all duties which come between the soul and Himself.
(4) They are made willing to leave all relations who come into competition with Him. Father, mother, wife, child, lands, life. Not of course from natural hatred then it would be no sacrifice but notwithstanding loving attachment. They are made willing to reprove what is contrary to Gods will. “Asa removed Maacah his mother from being queen because she had made an idol in a grove.” David would worship the Lord, though it displeased his wife Michal.
(5) They are willing to take Christ as a prophet. “Teach me, teach me. What shall I do?” Their thirst is for His teaching by the Spirit.
(6) They are willing to take Christ as a priest. Their heart is bent upon acceptance through His sacrifice.
(7) They are willing to take Him as a king. “What have I to do any more with idols?” They seek sanctification as well as justification, and they seek it more than justification. David in the 51st Psalm has two cries after sanctification for one after justification. Many are going to eternity without any concern about these things. Hell within them is hiding hell without from their eyes as they approach death.
5. The affections are renewed. “Set your affections on things above where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.” The affections are raised. They are not lessened to temporal relations; nay, rather, they are increased. But the affections are regulated by two things:
(1) Temporal comforts are seen as undeserved mercies. They are received only through Christ and with Him.
(2) If temporal relations compete with Christ they are forsaken for His sake. Christ is precious to believers in His person as God-man in His offices, not merely for their advantage but for His own sake in His people, who are begotten of Him; in His word, “O how love I thy law,” and in His day which they call a delight. All these have rivals in their affections, yet they prevail and grow. We cannot lower the standard of the Word.
6. The souls desires are renewed. They are now after God. “The desire of our soul is toward thee.” Put the renewed person in what circumstances you will, and he will not be long at rest without God. He has desires after Gods presence, and after tokens of the unction of the Spirit. Moses was not satisfied in the court of Egypt.
7. The memory is renewed. They remember the things they used to forget. “My sin I ever see.” Sin itself now keeps them mindful of many things. So does the devil who walks about as a roaring lion. Their sense of need keeps them mindful. They remember the ordinances and means of grace. They remember the Lord and His goodness.
8. The imagination. There is now a well of water in the soul constantly running, showing the mud, and cleansing out the mud.
The whole soul is renewed in part. All things are made new, and yet only in part; but the work is carried on till the day of redemption. The carnal mind is nailed to the Cross, and the enemys power is broken. Believers are taken out of the covenant of works, and so cease to be children of wrath. They are now “light in the Lord”; they have a pure conscience; they say, “Thy will be done;” their affections are above; their desires are after God; and their memory and imagination are being sanctified. They are being renewed day by day. They think themselves to be getting worse, and are thus kept mourning and wrestling.
Application. Whose image and superscription hath your soul? Gods or the devils? Believers are only complete in Christ. Those who think themselves good by nature, and are clean in their own eyes, are rejected. Those saying “I am black”, and who are crying, “Wash thou me,” are accepted. Those who have lien among the pots shall have their wings covered with silver and gold. They are Christs ornaments. If others get their morality plucked off it will leave nothing but enemies. “Create in me a clean heart,” should be the prayer of all. May He bless the word, and to His name we desire to give praise. Amen.