Being born again, not of corruptible seed—but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which lives and abides forever.” 1 Peter 1:23
We proceed now to the state of grace, the state of begun recovery of human nature, into which all who shall partake of eternal happiness are translated, sooner or later, while in this world. It is the result of a gracious change made upon those who shall inherit eternal life: which change may be taken up in these two particulars:
1. In opposition to their natural real state, the state of corruption, there is a change made upon them in regeneration; whereby their nature is changed.
2. In opposition to their natural relative state, the state of wrath, there is a change made upon them in their union with the Lord Jesus Christ; by which they are placed beyond the reach of condemnation.
These, therefore, regeneration and union with Christ, I desire to treat on as the great and comprehensive changes on a sinner, bringing him into the state of grace.
The first of these we have in the text; together with the outward and ordinary means by which it is brought about. The apostle here, to excite the saints to the study of holiness, and particularly of brotherly love, puts them in mind of their spiritual original. He tells them that they were born again; and that of incorruptible seed, the word of God. This shows them to be brethren, partakers of the same new nature: which is the root from which holiness, and particularly brotherly love, springs. We have been once born sinners: we must be born again, that we may be saints.
The simple word signifies “to be begotten;” and so it may be read, Matt. 11:11; “to be conceived,” Matt. 1:20; and “to be born,” Matt. 2:1. Accordingly, the compound word, used in the text, may be taken in its full latitude, the last idea presupposing the two former: so regeneration is a supernatural real change on the whole man, fitly compared to the natural birth, as will afterwards appear. The ordinary means of regeneration, called the “seed,” whereof the new creature is formed, is not corruptible seed. Of such, indeed, our bodies are generated: but the spiritual seed of which the new creature is generated, is incorruptible; namely, “the word of God, which lives and abides forever.” The sound of the word of God passes, even as other sounds do; but the word lasts, lives, and abides, in respect of its everlasting effects, on all upon whom it operates. This “word, which by the gospel is preached unto you,” ver. 25, impregnated by the Spirit of God, is the means of regeneration: and by it dead sinners are raised to life.
Doctrine. All men in the state of grace, are born again. All gracious people, namely, such as are in a state of favor with God, and endowed with gracious qualities and dispositions, are regenerate people. In discoursing on this subject, I shall show,
1. What regeneration is.
2. Why it is so called.
3. Apply the doctrine.
I. Of the Nature of regeneration.
For the better understanding of the nature of regeneration, take this along with you, that as there are false conceptions in nature, so there are also in grace: by these many are deluded, mistaking some partial changes made upon them, for this great and thorough change. To remove such mistakes, let these few things be considered:
(1.) Many call the church their mother, whom God will not own to be his children, Cant. 1:6, “My mother’s children,” that is, false brethren, “were angry with me.” All that are baptized, are not born again. Simon was baptized—yet still “in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity,” Acts 8:13, 23. Where Christianity is the religion of the country, many are called by the name of Christ, who have no more of him than the name: and no wonder, for the devil had his goats among Christ’s sheep, in those places where but few professed the Christian religion, 1 John 2:19, “They went out from us—but they were not of us.”
(2.) Good education is not regeneration. Education may chain up men’s lusts—but cannot change their hearts. A wolf is still a ravenous beast, though it be in chains. Joash was very devout during the life of his good tutor Jehoiada; but afterwards he quickly showed what spirit he was of, by his sudden apostasy, 2 Chron. 24:2-18. Good example is of mighty influence to change the outward man: but that change often goes off, when a man changes his company; of which the world affords many sad instances.