China Keeps Church Leaders from Public Worship Attempt

Police put pastors under house arrest over weekend, before detaining at least 160 on Sunday.

DUBLIN, April 11 (CDN) — Police in China held “about two dozen” pastors and elders of Beijing’s Shouwang Church under house arrest or at police stations over the weekend to keep them from attending a Sunday worship service in a public location, according to Bob Fu of the China Aid Association.

Three top leaders of the church remain in jail and several others are under strict surveillance after  hundreds of Chinese police yesterday cordoned off the walkway to a third-floor outdoor meeting area adjacent to a property purchased by the church in Haidian district, Beijing, and arrested at least 160 members of the 1,000-strong church as they tried to assemble.

The church members were bundled into waiting vans and buses to prevent them from meeting as planned in the public space, Reuters and The Associated Press (AP) reported, and most had been released by today.

Church leaders claimed officials had pressured their landlords, forcing them out of both rented and purchased locations and leaving them no choice but to worship in the open.

“The government cornered them into making this decision,” Fu said, adding that the church had initially tried to register with the government. “They waited for two years, and when the government still denied them registration, they tried to keep a low profile before finally deciding to buy the Daheng New Epoch Technology building.”

Shouwang is a very unique church, he said.

“Most members are well-educated, and they include China’s top religious scholars and even former government officials, which may be a factor in the government’s response to them,” he said.

As one of the largest house churches in Beijing, Shouwang is unique in insisting on meeting together rather than splitting the congregation into smaller groups meeting in several locations, Fu said. Zion church, for example, may have more members than Shouwang, but members meet in smaller groups across the city.

“This is based on the founding fathers’ vision for Shouwang Church to be a ‘city on a hill,’” as stated in the Bible in Matthew chapter five, Fu explained. “So they’ve made a conscious decision not to go back to the small-group model. Either the government gives them the keys to their building or gives them written permission to worship in another location, or they will continue meeting in the open.”

Police arrested anyone who showed up to take part in the service, AP reported.


‘Most Basic Necessity’

Church leaders last week issued a statement to the congregation explaining their decision to meet outdoors.

“It may not be the best decision, but at this time it is an inevitable one,” the statement said, before reminding church members that the landlord of their premises at the time, the Old Story Club restaurant, had come under government pressure and repeatedly asked them to leave, while the previous owners of the Daheng New Epoch Technology building, purchased a year ago by the church for 27.5 million RMB (US$4.2 million), had refused to hand over the keys. (See, “Church in China to Risk Worshipping in Park,” April 7.)

The church had already met outdoors twice in November 2009 before officials gave tacit consent to move to the Old Story Club restaurant. Officials, however, again prevented Shouwang Church from meeting in May and August of last year.

Fu said it was common for government officials across China to pressure landlords into revoking leases for house church groups.

“For example, right now I know of at least two churches that were made ‘homeless’ in Guangzhou this week, including one church with at least 200 members,” he said.

Shouwang’s statement pointed to Article 36 of China’s Constitution, which grants every citizen freedom to worship, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ratified by China, which states that every citizen has the right to observe his religion or belief “either alone or in community with others and in public or private.”

For this reason the church planned to meet outdoors until officials granted legal, written permission to worship in an approved location – preferably at the building purchased by the church.

The document also advised church members not to resist if they were held under house arrest or arrested at the Sunday venue.

“Objectively speaking, our outdoor worship must deliver this message to the various departments of our government: attending Sunday worship is the most basic necessity for Christians in their life of faith,” the statement concluded.

The number of Protestant house church Christians in China is estimated at between 45 and 60 million, according to Yu Jianrong, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Rural Development Institute, with a further 18 to 30 million people attending government-approved churches.

Report from Compass Direct News


Last week we considered the necessity of the new birth, without which not only is entrance into the Kingdom of God impossible, but even beginning to understand the Kingdom of God in its most elementary stages is impossible.

We saw that Jesus cut right through all the rhetoric of Nicodemus and drove straight at the most important need that this man had, indeed that any man, woman, and child has – that of the new birth. Yes, this man was a Pharisee, and a very important one at that, yet he was also outside the Kingdom of God, and stood in great need of this new birth as wrought within a person by the Holy Spirit.

No man, woman or child can ever hope to enter the Kingdom of God if they have not personally experienced this new birth – it is an absolute necessity. Without it there is no spiritual life, and has therefore no ability to enter the Kingdom of God.

This man had no idea of what Jesus was speaking about – it just all seemed too impossible to him. How could such a thing as being born again be possible, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born (3:4)?’

By his very answers to Jesus, both in verse 3 and in verse 9, Nicodemus proved to all human history from that time forward, that indeed his greatest need, as Jesus had said to him, was to experience the new birth, for ‘the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor 2:14).’

As a Pharisee, and as an important teacher within Israel, Nicodemus should have known this most important truth already. This truth of the necessity of the new birth was of course not absent from the Old Testament from which Nicodemus taught, and we considered for a moment an example given in Ezekiel 36, and verses 26 and 27, ‘A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.’

With the Old Testament full of such allusions to the new birth, and with various types and illustrations of it, Jesus rebuked Nicodemus, ‘Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things (3:10)?’ These are things that someone who is teaching the Bible ought to know, indeed to have experienced, yet he knew nothing of them – he had no spiritual life to understand these realities.

This is no small matter – the most elementary, the most basic teaching concerning entrance into the Kingdom of God, the most necessary prerequisite to being able to keep the statutes of God successfully, was not known by the one who taught the common people within the land! What hope have such people got when their leaders don’t even know the truth!

And what a sad state it is, when the very ones who are charged with the responsibility of teaching people the truth as regards deliverance from sin, and entrance into the Kingdom of God, who are also accountable to God for what they teach, do not know the most basic of Biblical truths – to enter the Kingdom, you must first be born again from above. You cannot begin to move in the right direction without this new birth.

How many will perish for want of a faithful teacher, both then and now? The truth is not taught anymore, even in our own land – people perish, while they yet think they have the Kingdom of God in their very hands, while in reality they have not even experienced the new birth. They are told to repeat simple statements, or simple prayers, to utter strange sounds called tongues, to carry out certain rituals or observances – and with the completion of such things they are assured of a mansion in Heaven. It’s a tragedy, truly it is.

Nicodemus and his fellow Pharisaic teachers were teaching an entrance into the Kingdom based upon the merit of human effort and obedience, a system devoid of any saving merit whatsoever – and yet this is what they taught.

They had no real spiritual idea as to what they were doing. They were prepared to ‘compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves (Mt 23:15).’

What the Pharisee’s taught was in complete contrast to the testimony of Jesus, of the prophets, and of John the Baptist; for while the Pharisee’s taught what was the product of mere human interpretation and invention, Jesus said, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness (3:11).’

When Jesus speaks there is an air of certainty, an authority that the Pharisee’s knew nothing of. This was a word to be trusted, a word that had real clout – for it was truth, and came from a source that is absolutely trustworthy, not the product of mere human invention.

And when I speak to you concerning this truth, I come with similar authority, not because I’m something special, but because I come with the very same words of Jesus – the authority is still in the words, ‘We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen …’

Jesus continues, ‘If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things (3:12)?’ If Nicodemus did not believe and understand the earthly things, what hope did he have of believing and understanding heavenly things?

What is Jesus talking about here? What are the earthly things that Nicodemus didn’t believe? The context points us to the answer – surely it is what Nicodemus has already rejected, what Jesus had already said.

Yes, being born again is a spiritual matter and is clearly from above, yet that which Jesus has already said must be what Jesus is referring to as an earthly thing in this verse. There is nothing else that he has yet pointed to, it must be this. He has said nothing else up to this point, except stressing the need of the new birth.

But it is not so much the new birth that is earthly, though it be something which happens within a person, and occurs on the earth. The way that Jesus sought to teach Nicodemus about the new birth, with these various simple earthly illustrations, in order to simply explain the truth being taught is what Jesus means here. Jesus says in effect, ‘Nicodemus, if you can’t understand these simple illustrations that I have used to point to the truth, then there is no way known that you will understand the truth simply stated without the illustrations.’

The idea behind all this is that these things are basic things – how can you understand anything further if you can’t get what I’ve already told you, and pointed to with earthly pictures and illustrations? If you can’t even get beyond these illustrations regarding the basics, then you won’t understand the bare facts of spiritual life, and how to enter in upon it. If I state them without the illustrations – that is well and truly beyond you.

Though the Old Testament clearly speaks of this truth concerning the new birth, and though it should have been obvious by Nicodemus’s inability to keep the law that he proclaimed as the way to salvation, Nicodemus still could not see the reality of the new birth, and of its need. All screams out to Nicodemus of the need of some other way – yet he will not believe. And why, because he can’t work it out in his own mind, because it doesn’t seem possible to him.

These people would rather persist with there flawed methods of achieving entrance into the Kingdom, then to accept the way of one whom even they recognized as ‘a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him (3:2).’

What is it that you are sticking to this morning – will you continue to stick to methods and ways of salvation that are based upon the interpretations, inventions, and wisdom of man – things that you are able to accept in your own mind? Or will you believe what the Lord Jesus Christ has to say? What is more believable to you?

Do you think you have the way of salvation worked out? Is your little system right? Perhaps it’s a system of belief you have inherited from family, friends, or some religious teacher – is it right? Have you been in the presence of God and had it approved by Him?

‘And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven (3:13).’

Well Jesus has been in heaven, in fact He came from there. He knows the way of life, and He tells it as it is. If there is anyone who has the words of life, surely it must be Jesus. He is the only one who has had such special access to the Father, who indeed is God Himself.

‘Are you prepared to rest all your faith and hope for eternity upon those teachings that you have received Nicodemus? Have any of those men whose teaching you accept above mine ever been to heaven, into the very presence of God, and there received their doctrines and theology? They haven’t been there have they?’ So runs the argument to Nicodemus.

No one on earth has gone into the Presence of God and received the ability to teach the heavenly truths, not one. Not one person has been and done that. To teach heavenly, spiritual things you need first hand information, and that’s received from God Himself – its right outside the experience of man until its revealed to him by God.

But Jesus has come from there, the Son of Man who has come from the very Presence of God has most certainly been there; don’t you think what He has to say is more trustworthy, and that it should be heeded to? Don’t you think that you ought to pay more attention to what Jesus has to say then to the doctrines of men?

And we could quite obviously apply this same idea to every other teaching couldn’t we? Does what you believe and teach measure up to the teaching of Jesus in this Book? If it doesn’t then it should be dropped.

The phrase that is in the text at this point in verse 13, ‘which is in heaven’, is thought to be an addition to the text that was not in the original text, it being absent from the oldest existing manuscripts. But whether it be there or not, it does nothing to add to, or take away from the point that Jesus is making here, ‘I alone have trustworthy information about entrance into the Kingdom.’

If Jesus says something about how one is able to enter into the Kingdom of God, then what he has to say should surely be listened to – who cares what anyone else has to say, whether it be Billy Graham, Louis Palau, or Kevin Matthews. If Jesus says entrance is upon such and such a condition, then you had better believe that it is upon those conditions.

And I would ask you this morning – are you prepared to back the flawed interpretations and inventions of men rather than the truth taught by the Son of Man? The Pharisaic method of earning their place in the Kingdom by their obedience and their own merits was no good – and all methods of obtaining the Kingdom today by human effort and merit is of no value either.

It matters not whether it be by some form of church ritual, be it baptism, the Lord’s Supper, or Church attendance; whether it be some form of attempted obedience to the Word of God; even whether it be a dependence upon the exercise of faith itself – these things will not grant you entrance into the Kingdom – its God’s way, or its no way!

And here Jesus moves on from the new birth to that which follows on after that, to further teaching on how one enters into the Kingdom of heaven. If there has been no new birth, then this next stage will never happen.

To be able to move onto the next stage, that first stage that man is aware of, he must first be born again from above. And though he may not be immediately aware of this new birth having occured within him, this next stage he will be aware of.

‘And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life (3:14,15).’

What is God’s way for entrance into the Kingdom of God – it is the way that has been foretold in the Old Testament illustration of Numbers 21:4-9. Let’s just read that for a moment:

‘And they journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way. And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread. And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD, and against thee; pray unto the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived (Num 21:4-9).’

Here as usual the people had sinned against God, and to punish them the Lord God sent serpents in among them to bite them and kill them. The snakes were the just consequence of their sin, and an expression of the wrath of God against sin.

The only escape open to the people of Israel was to look at the serpent that Moses had made, placed on a pole, and lifted up for all to see. This was God’s way of escaping the wrath that had come upon the people of Israel – if you didn’t look at the serpent, it mattered not what else you did, you died.

Now this illustration was used by Jesus to teach an important truth to Nicodemus – that the only way into the Kingdom of God was by Jesus, in a similar way as recorded in this Old Testament story from Israel’s history.

In order to escape the wrath of God that abides upon men, women and children because of sin, men do not need the inventions of men, but the provision of a way of escape provided by God Himself, and Jesus was that provision.

As the serpent on the pole was lifted up, and set up in a prominent place so that everyone could look at it and live, and thereby escape the wrath of God that had descended upon the people in the form of these snakes; so to Jesus would be lifted up as God’s provision for men so that they might escape the eternal wrath of God for sin.

As the people of Israel looked at the bronze serpent as God’s means of escape, so to people would need to look at Jesus by faith in order to escape God’s wrath.

Salvation is not to be found in any human method, but only in the method that God has set down for salvation. If those people bitten by the snakes had decided to set themselves on finding some anti-venom serum, they would have died. If they decided that they would try some religious activity in order to pacify God, they would have died. There was but one way to escape open to them, to look at the God-appointed means of escape.

And this is the point of the illustration from the Old Testament; Jesus is the only God-appointed means to escape the wrath of God, and to gain entrance into the Kingdom of God.

‘And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me (Jn 12:32).’ ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me (Jn 14:6).’

The clear teaching of this Gospel, and of the Word of God, is that Jesus alone is the way of entrance into the Kingdom of God. He is the way to eternal life, the Kingdom life – He and no other. And so you see in this place, the Northlake’s Reformed Baptist Church, we will teach and preach no other way of salvation but ‘Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor 2:2)’, ‘Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:12).’

‘And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent (Jn 17:3).’

If you are to know this eternal life, then you need to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the way to the Kingdom, and to rest in Him as that way. There is no other name given as a way of salvation – not from God there isn’t.

As the people of Israel needed to first believe in the promise of the bronze serpent being the way that God would restore them to health, before they actually looked in its direction – so it is with Christ.

To exercise faith in Christ is to believe that the way to salvation through Christ is true, and then to act upon that belief with confident action. That is the belief that is needed.

But I might not yet have experienced the new birth? The new birth is something that you are unable to perform, the Holy Spirit works it within a person, and you are not called upon to perform it.

But you are called upon to believe, ‘what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house (Acts 16:30,31)’

If you believe, then you can rest assured that you have also experienced the new birth, for without that you could never have believed. If you believe then the Kingdom is yours, you have eternal life, you have already experienced the new birth.

It is a promise not only of the Kingdom life to come, but entrance into that life already – for you already have it, you are already part of that heavenly kingdom.

But of course, if you do not believe then the obvious implication of this verse is that you will perish – not annihilation, but everlasting punishment in Hell.

So far in John 3 then we have seen the necessity of the new birth, and the way of entrance into the Kingdom as being Christ Himself. Next week we will consider more of this important passage, and just how Jesus is the way of entrance into the Kingdom.


October 1682

Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee. (1 Tim. iv. 16).


The words are a substantial part of the good counsel and direction the apostle gives to Timothy, and through him to all the ministers of the gospel.

In them are two things:

1. A threefold duty laid on gospel-ministers, Take heed unto thyself, and unto thy doctrine; continue in them.

2. A double advantage consequent upon the discharge of this duty: For in doing this, thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.


1. Ministers’ duty is in three things here.

First, Take heed unto thyself. You are set in a high office in a dangerous place; take good and narrow heed, look well to thyself, thy heart and way.

Second, Take heed unto thy doctrine. Though thou be ever so well gifted, and approved both of God and men; though thou be an extraordinary officer (as Timothy was); yet take heed unto thy doctrine. These two we pass at present; because we shall resume them at greater length, when we take their help to the resolving of this question.

Third, Continue in them. This is related to vs.12, and 15. as well as to the preceding part of this verse. I shall dismiss this part of the verse with these comments,

(1.) Continue in thy work. Thou who art a minister, it is a work for thy lifetime; and not to be taken up and laid down again, according as it may best suit a man’s carnal inclinations, and outward conveniences. The apostles that laboured with their hands have, by that example, set the conscience of a minister at liberty to provide for the necessities of this life by other employments when he cannot live of the gospel, yet certainly no man that is called of God to this work can with a safe conscience abandon it wholly. Paul, for example rather than necessity, both preached and wrought as a tent maker. As preaching doth not make working unlawful, so neither should any other business of a minister make preaching to cease.

(2.) Continue in endeavours after greater fitness for thy work. No attainments in fitness and qualifications for this work can free a man of the obligation that lies on him to increase and grow therein more and more. It is not enough that a man study and be careful ere he enter into the ministry, but he must labour still to be more fit for his great work.

(3.) Continue in your vigour, and carefulness, and diligence. Young ministers that are sound and sincere before God are usually warm and diligent in the first years of their ministry; and many do decline afterwards and become more cold and remiss. This exhortation is a check thereunto: Continue in them.

2. The second thing in the word is, the double advantage proposed to encourage ministers to this hard duty.

The first advantage is, Thou shalt save thyself. Thy own salvation shall be promoted thereby.

How becoming is it for a minister to mind his own salvation! and to mind it so heartily, as to be animated from the hopes of it unto the greater diligence in his ministry!

But how doth faithfulness in the ministry of the gospel further the minister’s salvation?

(1.) Thou shalt save thyself from the guilt of other men’s sins and ruin, if thou be faithful in the ministry: Ezek. xxxiii. 9. Thou hast delivered (or saved) thy soul, saith the Lord to the prophet in the case of unsuccessful faithfulness. So Paul, Acts xviii. 6. I am clean, your blood be upon your own heads: and Acts xx. 26-27. I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men: for I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. Every minister pledgeth his soul to God, that he shall be a faithful servant, whatever his success may be.

(2.) Faithfulness and carefulness in the ministry of the gospel, promotes a man’s own salvation, in so far as the work of Christianity is woven in with the right discharge of the office of the ministry. Many ministers can say that if they had not been ministers they had in all appearance lost their souls. The subject of the minister’s work, is the same with that of a Christian’s; and above all men should he be careful of his heart and intentions that all be pure and spiritual. No man in any work he is called to is under so strict a necessity of dependence on the influence and assistance of the Holy Ghost both for gifts and grace. And are not all these great helps unto our own salvation?

The second advantage is, Thou shalt save them that hear thee. There is little hope of that man’s being useful to save others that minds not his own salvation; and therefore the apostle puts them in this order, thyself, and then, them that hear thee.

This description of the people, them that hear thee, tells us that the principal work of a minister is preaching; and the principal benefit people have by them is to hear the Lord’s word from them; though there be a seeing (i.e. of their holy conversation) that is also useful, Phil. iv. 9. But the apostle knew no such ministers as were only to be seen in worldly pomp and grandeur and seldom or never heard preaching.

Thou shalt save them. The great end of both preaching and hearing, is salvation; and if salvation were more designed by preachers and hearers, it would be more frequently the effect of the action.

Thou shalt save them. Thou shalt, by the Lord’s blessing on thy ministry, be successful in converting sinners, and in building up of saints in holiness and faith unto salvation. Not that ministers are of themselves able by all their endeavours to carry on this great end; they are only God’s tools and instruments, 1 Cor. iii. 6, 7. Concerning this,

(1.) We find that the Lord hath appointed this great ordinance of the gospel-ministry for this end, the saving of men, Eph. iv. 11-13. It is through their word that men believe, John xvii. 20. And divine appointment of the means, declares it to be both useful and the end to be hopeful.

(2.) He hath also given many promises of His presence, blessing, and success, to follow and attend them whom He sends on this great errand. Christ’s first calling of the apostles had this promise in it, I will make you fishers of men; which not only declared what that employment was he called them to, but it assured them of success in it. At his leaving of them, Matt. xxviii. 20, He promised to be with them unto the end of the world. And this promise is as good to us as it was to them.

(3.) He has also revealed much of His mind about ministers’ duty, in order to this end of saving men. This also makes the end more hopeful.

(4.) We find that the Lord does qualify and fit them whom He makes successful. He makes men able ministers of the New Testament, the word of life, 2 Cor. iii. 5-6. And still, according to the success the Lord hath a mind to bless a man with gifts, and qualifications, and assistance, are proportionably given. The apostles that had the greatest harvest to gather in were made the strongest labourers: and, though in a far inferior degree, the same method is observed by the Lord in dealing with and by ordinary ministers. It is true, that not always the most able and learned ministers are most successful; yet, generally, the most skilful labourers are most blessed. Neither are the most learned and able men for parts most fit and skilful in dealing with souls at all times.

Now, having opened the words, we shall return to the question to be resolved,

By what Means may Ministers best win Souls?

Consider what this text speaks about this matter. It looks two ways upon this question. 1. It gives a direct answer to it: and points out duty. 2. It gives an encouraging promise of the good effect and fruit of the discharge of the duty.


I. Take heed unto thyself. Would you be a saved and successful minister? Take heed unto thyself. Such warnings imply always a case of difficulty and danger.

First; Take heed that thou be a sound and sincere believer, The importance of sincere godliness in a minister, is written in the deep wounds that the church of Christ has received by the hands of ungodly ministers. It has been made a question, whether an ungodly man can be a minister? But such men are in a most desperate condition: Mat. vii. 22, 23. Depart from me; not because you ran unsent, or preached error instead of truth, or preached poorly and meanly, (all great sins in themselves); but because you work iniquity; the usual expression of entire ungodliness. What use the Lord may make of the gifts (for, great gifts He gives to the worst of men) of ungodly men, even in the ministry of the gospel, is one of His deep paths. But no man can reasonably imagine, that a walker in the way to hell can be a fit and useful guide to them that mind to go to heaven. If a man would have peace in his conscience and success in his work of the ministry, let him take good heed to this, that he be a sound Christian. There is a special difficulty for a minister to know his grace. Gifts and grace have deceived many with their likeness; although the difference be great, both in itself, and to an enlightened eye.

Second; Take heed to thyself, that thou be a called and sent minister. This is of great importance as to success. He that can say, “Lord, thou hast sent me,” may boldly add, “Lord, go with me, and bless me.” It is good when a man is serious in this inquiry. It is to be feared that many run, and never asked this question; so is it seen in their speed and success. Jer. xxiii. 32. I sent them not, therefore they shall not profit this people at all, is a standing rule to this day.

These things, if found, may serve to satisfy a minister’s conscience, that Jesus Christ hath sent him.

(a.) If the heart be filled with a single desire after the great end of the ministry, the glory of God in the salvation of men. Every work that God calls a man to, He makes the end of it amiable. This desire sometimes attends men’s first conversion. Paul was called to be a saint and an apostle at once, Acts ix; and so have many been called to be saints and ministers together. If it be not so, yet this is found with him that Christ calls, that when he is most spiritual and serious, when his heart is most under the impressions of holiness, and he is nearest to God in communion with Him; then are such desires after the serving of Jesus Christ in the ministry most powerful. And the sincerity of his desire is also to be examined: and when it is found, it adds greatly to a man’s peace: when his heart bears him witness, that it is neither riches, nor honour, nor ease, nor the applause of men, that he seeks after, but singly Christ’s honour in the saving of men.

(b.) It helps to clear a man’s call, that there has been a conscientious diligence in all the means of attaining fitness for this great work. That love to the end that does not direct and determine to the use of the appointed means, may justly be suspected as irregular, and not flowing from the Holy Ghost. Even extraordinary officers seem not to have been above the use of ordinary means, 2 Tim. iv. 13: old, dying Paul sends for his books and papers.

(c.) A competent fitness for the work of the ministry is another proof of a man’s call to it. The Lord calls no man to a work for which He does not qualify. Though a sincere humble man (as all ministers should be) may and should think little of any measure he has, whether compared with the greater measures of others, or considered with regard unto the weight and worth or the work; yet there must be some confidence as to his competency, for clearing a man’s call, 2 Cor. iii. 5, 6. What this competency is, is not easy at all times to determine. But in general there must be, 1. A competent knowledge of gospel-mysteries. 2. A competent ability of utterance to the edifying of others. This is aptness to teach, required of the apostle in I Tim. iii. 2: and Titus i. 9. that a minister be able, by sound doctrine, to exhort and to convince gainsayers.

(d.) The savour of a man’s ministry on the hearts and consciences of others, both ministers and people, helps much to clear a man’s call. So that indeed ordinarily a man can never be so well confirmed in the faith of his being called of God, until he make some essay in this work. Deacons must first be proved, I Tim. iii 10; much more ministers. A single testimony given by ministers and Christians, that the word dispensed by the man is savoury and has effect on the conscience is a great confirmation; especially if sound conversion of some follow his labours. That is indeed a seal of his ministry, 2 Cor. iii. 3, and 1 Cor. ix. 2.

Third; Take heed unto thyself that thou be a lively thriving Christian. See that all your religion run not in the channel of your employment. It is found by experience, that as it fares with a minister in the frame of his heart, and thriving of the work of God in his soul, so doth it fare with his ministry both in its vigour and effects. A carnal frame, a dead heart and a loose walk, makes cold and unprofitable preaching. And how common is it for ministers to neglect their own vineyard? When we read the word we read ill as ministers to know what we should teach rather than what we should learn as Christians. Unless there be great heed taken, it will be found that our ministry and labour therein may eat out the life of our Christianity. Not that there is any discord betwixt them; but rather a friendly harmony, when each has its place and respect. The honest believer meditates that he may excite his grace; and ministers too often meditate only to increase their gifts. When we preach, the sincere hearer drinks in the word; and it may be we seldom mix faith with it, to grow thereby. O how hard is it to be a minister and a Christian in some of these acts! We are still conversant about the things of God; it is our study all the week long. This is our great advantage. But take heed to thyself, lest ordinary meddling with divine things bring on an ordinary and indifferent impression of them; and then their fruit to you, and your benefit by them, is almost gone and hardly recovered.

Fourth; Take heed unto thyself in reference to all the trials and temptations you may meet with. Be on your guard, watch in all things, 2 Tim. iv. 5. No men are shot at more by Satan than ministers, and Christ is liberal in His warnings of dangers, and in His promises of help in them.


2. The second word in the text to this purpose of directing ministers how to be useful to others, is take heed unto thy doctrine. Are you a minister? You must be a preacher. An unpreaching minister is a sort of contradiction. Yet, every sort of preaching is not enough; you must take heed to your doctrine what it is.

Here is a warrant for studying what we are to teach and what we have taught people. But the great matter is to take heed, or study aright. Students commonly need little direction about ordinary study. But concerning the doctrine, I shall entreat to take heed unto it in these things:—  First; Take heed unto thy doctrine, that it be a divine truth:—Let a man speak as the oracles of God, 1 Pet. iv. 11. And therefore it is needful that ministers be well acquainted with the holy scriptures. It is a mark against a man that relishes any book more than the word of God. The world is full of books written on pretence and design to explain the scriptures; and men’s studies are full of them. There is also a blessing in them, and good use to be made of them; but also a bad use is made of them. Many ministers have found that they have preached better and to more profit to the people when they got their sermon by meditation on the word and prayer than by turning over many authors. From this neglect of the word also come a great many doctrines that are learned by man and borrowed from philosophy; which though they may have some truth in them, yet since it is divine truth that a minister should bring forth to the people, he should not rest on such low things.

Second; Take heed unto thy doctrine that it be plain and suited to the capacity of the hearers. Learned preaching (as it is called) is a vanity, pleasing principally to such as neither design nor desire edification. True godly learning consists in preaching plainly; and therein is no small difficulty. Two things would help to plain preaching. 1. Clearness of knowledge. The alleged depth of our doctrine often proceeds from our own darkness. 2. Humility and self-denial. We must not seek ourselves, nor the applause of men; but God’s glory, and men’s salvation. It is found that the holiest ministers preach most plainly and the plainest preachers are most successful.

Third; Take heed unto thy doctrine, that it be grave, and solid, and weighty; sound speech that cannot be condemned, Tit. ii. 8. Deep and weighty impressions of the things of God upon a man’s own heart would greatly advance this. A minister’s spirit is known in the gravity or lightness of his doctrine.


II. But now we come to the second thing proposed, to give some answer to this question from other things in the word.

And I shall, 1. Shew some things that must be laid to heart about the end, the saving of souls; and then, 2. Shall give some advice about the means.

1. About the end, the winning of souls. This is to bring them to God. It is not to win them to us, or to engage them into a party, or to the espousal of some opinions and practices, supposing them to be never so right and consonant to the word of God. But the winning of them is to bring them out of nature into a state of grace, that they may be fitted for, and in due time admitted into everlasting glory.

Concerning which great end, these few things should be laid deeply to heart by all that would serve the Lord in being instrumental in reaching it.

First; The exceeding height and excellency of this end is to be laid to heart. It is a wonder of condescension that the Lord will make use of men in promoting it. To be workers together with God in so great a business, is no small honour. The great value of men’s souls, the greatness of the misery they are delivered from, and of the happiness they are advanced to, with the manifold glory of God shining in all, makes the work of saving men great and excellent. Preaching the gospel, and suffering for it, are services that angels are not employed in. Mean and low thoughts of the great end of the ministry, as they are dissonant from truth, are also great hindrances to due endeavours after the attaining the end.

Second; The great difficulty of saving souls must be laid to heart. The difficulty is undoubted. To attempt it is to offer violence to men’s corrupt natures; and a storming of hell itself, whose captives all sinners are. Unless this difficulty be laid to heart ministers will be confident of their own strength and so miscarry and be unfruitful. Whoever prospers in winning souls is first convinced that it is the arm of Jehovah only can do the work.

Third; The duty of winning souls must be laid to heart by ministers. That it is their principle work and they are under many commands to endeavour it. It is a fault to look on fruit only as a reward of endeavours; but it should be so minded as the end we would strive for, Col. i. 28-29; which, when attained, is still to His praise: yet most commonly when it is missing it is to our reproach and danger, when it is (as alas! it is often) through our default.

Fourth; The great advantage there is to the labourer by his success is to be pondered. Great is the gain by one soul. He that winneth souls, is happy as well as wise, Prov. ix. 30. Dan. xii. 3. Won souls are a minister’s crown, and glory, and joy. Phil. iv. 1. 1 Thess. ii. 20. How far is this account above all others that a man can give of his ministry? These things fixed upon the heart, would enliven us in all endeavours to attain this excellent end.


2. For advice about the means, I shall add these few thoughts besides what hath been said.

First; Let ministers, if they would win souls, purchase and retain amongst the people a persuasion of their being sent of God; that they are Christ’s ministers, 1 Cor. iv. 1. It is not the confident asserting of it, nor justifying the lawfulness of our ecclesiastical calling, though there be some use of these things at some times: but it is ability, carefulness, faithfulness, humility, and self-denial, and, in a word, conformity to our Lord Jesus in His ministry, that will constrain people to say and think that we are sent of God. Nicodemus comes with this impression of Christ, John iii. 2. A teacher come from God. It is certain, that these thoughts in people further the reception of the gospel; Gal. iv. 14. Ye received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.

Second; Let ministers, if they would win souls, purchase and maintain the people’s love to their persons. And this is best done by loving them and dealing lovingly and patiently with them. There should be no striving with them especially about worldly things: yea, meekness to them that oppose themselves, 2 Tim. ii. 24-26. It is of great advantage to have their love. How carefully doth Paul sue for it in several epistles; and condescend to intreat and make apologies when indeed he had not wronged them but they only did imagine he had wronged them! 2 Cor. ix.

Third; It would further the winning of souls, to deal particularly and personally with them; not always nor altogether in public, Col. i. 28. Acts xx. 20-21. Great fruit hath constantly followed the conscientious discharge of this duty. The setting of it up in Geneva did produce incredible fruits of piety, as Calvin reports: when the ministers and some of the elders went from house to house and dealt particularly with the people’s consciences. And we are not without many instances of the fruit of this mean in our own time and in these nations. Blessed be the Lord for the labourers and their success.

Fourth; Ministers must pray much if they would be successful. The apostles spent their time this way, Acts vi. 3. Yea, our Lord Jesus preached all day, and continued all night alone in prayer to God. Ministers should be much in prayer. They used to reckon how many hours they spend in reading and study; it were far better both with ourselves and the church of God if more time were spent in prayer. Luther’s spending three hours daily in secret prayer, Bradford’s studying on his knees, and other instances of men in our time are talked of rather than imitated. Ministers should pray much for themselves; for they have corruptions like other men and have temptations that none but ministers are assaulted with. They should pray for their message. How sweet and easy is it for a minister, (and likely it is to be the more profitable to the people), to bring forth that scripture as food to the souls of his people that he hath got opened to his own heart by the power of the Holy Ghost in the exercise of faith and love in prayer! A minister should pray for a blessing on the word, and he should be much in seeking God particularly for the people. It may be this may be the reason why some ministers of meaner gifts and parts are more successful than some that are far above them in abilities; not because they preach better, but because they pray more. Many good sermons are lost for lack of much prayer in study.

But because the ministry of the word is the main instrument for winning souls, I shall therefore add somewhat more particularly concerning this, and that both as to the matter and manner of preaching.

For the subject-matter of gospel-preaching, it is determined by the apostle expressly to be Christ crucified, 1 Cor. ii. 2. Two things ministers have to do about Him in preaching Him to them that are without. 1. To set Him forth to people, Gal. iii. 1; to paint Him in His love, excellency, and ability to save. 2. To preach Him unto them freely, fully, without any limitation as to sinners, or their sinful state. And then Christ’s laws or will to be published to them that receive Him, and are His, for the rule of their walk; and His promises, for the measure and foundation of all their hopes and expectations; and His grace and fulness, for their supply in every case, till they be brought to heaven. This was the simplicity of the gospel that remained but a little while in the Christian church: for ceremonies amongst the Jews, and sinful mixtures of vain philosophy amongst the Gentiles, Col. ii. did by degrees so corrupt the gospel that the mystery of iniquity ripened in the production of Antichrist. It was a sad observation of the fourth century that it became a matter of learning and ingenuity to be a Christian. The meaning was that too much weight was laid on notions and matters of opinion; and less regard had unto the soundness of the heart and holiness of life. In the beginning of the reformation from Popery, the worthies whom God raised up in several countries did excellently in retrieving the simplicity of the gospel from the Popish mixtures. But that good work is on the decline greatly. How little of Jesus Christ is there in some pulpits! It is seen as to success, that whatever the law doth in alarming sinners, it is still the gospel-voice that is the key that opens the heart to Jesus Christ. Would ministers win souls? Let them have more of Jesus Christ in their dealing with men, and less of other things that never profit them that are exercised therein.

As for the manner of successful preaching, I shall give it in a negative and positive, from these two places: 1 Cor. i. 17, and ii. 1, 4.

First; What this negative condemns, is our inquiry. The words are full: For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. Again, I came not to you with excellency of speech, or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. Again, And my speech, and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom. These are the words of the Holy Ghost concerning a way of preaching that is unprofitable: a way that seems was in use and respect with the Corinthians; and honest Paul was despised by them, for his simple and plain way, different from theirs. I shall only instance in things that this scriptural negative doth check and reprove in the way of preaching.

1. The establishing and advancing of divine truth upon the foundation of human reason; as if there were some weakness and insufficency in those methods and arguments of working on men’s consciences, that the Holy Ghost prescribes. The great foundation of all a minister hath to say, is, Thus saith the Lord; and a grave declaring of the testimony of God in this matter is a minister’s duty, 1 Cor. ii. 1, and will have more authority on men’s consciences than many human reasons. There is a rational preaching (as it is called), wherein men do not satisfy themselves to make use of reason as a tool and instrument (and then its use is excellent), but will establish it as a judge and dictator in all divine matters and truth; and so in effect turn all their preaching into little better things than the lectures of the philosophers of old; save that the poor pagans were more sincere in their morals and serious in delivering their opinions.

Let a minister therefore still think with himself, that a plain scripture-testimony is his main argument; and accordingly let him use it. When he teacheth philosophy, and when he teacheth men the will of God about salvation, he is in distinct provinces, and his management of his work therein should be very different.

2. It is to preach with excellency of speech, and words of man’s wisdom, when men think to reach the gospel end on sinners by force of even spiritual reason and persuasion. This corrupt thought riseth in some, from an imagination that moral suasion is all that is needful for converting a sinner: and in some this thought rises on a better account; the light of the glory of God in the gospel shines so brightly in upon their own hearts, that they fall into this conceit, that no man can stand before that light which they can hold forth: Melancthon’s mistake at first, till experience made him wiser. Hast thou a clear knowledge of gospel-mysteries, and the word of exhortation is with thee also, so that thou art qualified to urge, beseech. and plead warmly with sinners on Christ’s behalf? Take heed of this snare. Lest thou think that thy wisdom and gifts can promote and carry on the gospel-design on men.

3. This also is checked in the apostle’s words, the setting forth the beauty of the gospel by human art. The truth of the gospel shines best in its bare proposal; and its beauty in its simple and naked discovery. We may observe from church history, that as soundness of doctrine and the power of godliness decayed in the church, the vanity of an affected way of speaking and of writing of divine things came in. Quotations from the fathers, Latin, and languages, are pitiful ornaments to preaching if a man design conversion and soul-edification. And yet more despicable are all playing on words, jinglings, and cadences, (which things are in all the rules of true eloquence justly exploded); and yet some men reckon much on them. But would any man think his friend in earnest with him that would accost him in any affair with such sort of language and gesture?

Second; The positive is, in demonstration of the Spirit, and of power, 1 Cor. ii. 5.

1. Paul preached so as gave a demonstration that the Holy Ghost was in him, sanctifying him. This is a plain and blessed thing. Happy is the minister that manageth his work so that if the hearers get not a demonstration of great parts and learning, yet they have a demonstration of the sanctifying Spirit of God in the minister.

2. Paul preached so as gave a demonstration that the Spirit of God was with him, assisting and helping him in his work; even when he was amongst them in much weakness, fear, and trembling, ver. 3. Happy is the minister that can preach this way. He must be a depender upon assistance from the Holy Ghost.

3. Paul preached so as a demonstration of the power of the Holy Ghost was given to the hearts of the hearers. The Spirit of God so wrought on them by His power in and by Paul’s preaching, 2 Cor. iv. 2, commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. This is the principle thing to be aimed at, and it is the proper source of all profitable preaching.


III. To conclude: You that are ministers, suffer a word of exhortation.

Men, brethren, and fathers, you are called to an high and holy calling. Your work is full of danger, full of duty, and full of mercy. You are called to the winning of souls; an employment near akin unto our Lord’s work, the saving of souls; and the nearer your spirits be in conformity to His holy temper and frame, the fitter you are for, and the more fruitful you shall be in your work. None of you are ignorant of the begun departure of our glory, and the daily advance of its departure, and the sad appearances of the Lord’s being about to leave us utterly. Should not these signs of the times rouse up ministers unto greater seriousness? What can be the reason of this sad observation, that when formerly a few lights raised up in the nation, did shine so as to scatter and dispel the darkness of popery in a little time; yet now when there are more and more learned men amongst us, the darkness comes on apace? Is it not because they were men filled with the Holy Ghost, and with power; and many of us are only filled with light and knowledge, and inefficacious notions of God’s truth? Doth not always the spirit of the ministers propagate itself amongst the people? A lively ministry, and lively Christians. Therefore be serious at heart; believe, and so speak; feel, and so speak; and as you teach, so do: and then people will feel what you say, and obey the word of God.

And, lastly, for people: it is not unfit that you should hear of ministers’ work, and duty, and difficulties. You see that all is of your concernment. All things are for your sakes, as the apostle said in another case.

Then only I entreat you,

1. Pity us. We are not angels, but men of like passions with yourselves. Be fuller of charity than of censure. We have all that you have to do about the saving of our own souls; and a great work besides about the saving of yours. We have all your difficulties as Christians; and some that you are not acquainted with, that are only ministers’ temptations and trials.

2. Help us in our work. If you can do anything, help us in the work of winning souls. What can we do, say you? Make haste to heaven, that you and we may meet joyfully before the throne of God and the Lamb.

3. Pray for us. How often and how earnestly doth Paul beg the prayers of the churches! And if he did so, much more should we beg them, and you grant them; for our necessities and weaknesses are greater than his: 2 Thess. iii. 1-2. Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you: and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men: for all men have not faith.


As with just about every other area of doctrine taught in the Bible, today we find a number of views concerning the new birth, of being born again, of regeneration. It seems that any area of teaching is open to being misunderstood or corrupted by man. And so it is with this teaching, of being born again.

In fact, being born again is seen today as almost a new category of Christian. I’m sure you have heard someone say, ‘Oh so and so is a born again Christian’, as though that were some other form of Christian, as though being born again was not the normal experience of a Christian. In fact, many of these so-called born again Christians are far from being so, and rather lead to the ridicule of Christianity because of their hypocrisy. And we seem to be seeing an increase in this sort of thing in those trying to get out of jail early for instance.

Then there is the idea that you are born again after you have come to faith and repentance, but surely if you have achieved this is there any real reason to be born again? Haven’t you already got what the new birth gives to you? Haven’t you already displayed spiritual life, so why would you need to be granted spiritual life?

Then there are those who preach as though they are telling you to be born again, as though the ability to do this rests with you – and so people attempt to perform this themselves.

What is this new birth all about? Where can we get the right answers concerning this much-abused doctrine – the answer of course is to go to the Bible. It is there that we will find the answers concerning the new birth, and it is this passage under consideration this morning that is the best place to begin.

John chapter three is an example of what we looked at last week, of Jesus knowing everything, even the hearts and minds of men. And in this chapter we see that Jesus knew just what it was that was so necessary in the life of Nicodemus. Throughout the Gospel of John there are various examples of Jesus knowing the hearts and mind of men, and these include the Samaritan woman at the well in the next chapter, and the lame man at the pool of Bethsaida in chapter 5.

And what we are going to see today is that the thing Jesus knew Nicodemus needed so much was this new birth, and so today we are going to consider ‘The Necessity of the New Birth.’

Nicodemus was a Pharisee, and a Scribe according to John 1:10 and 7:50. As a Pharisee, Nicodemus pressed the necessity of absolute conformity to the laws of God. So keen were these Pharisee’s on the law of God, that they added to these laws in an attempt to be more holy, more separated from the mass of humanity, to be the separated ones. In effect, these men taught and practised a form of legalism, a system of belief and life that in reality found salvation in the way of works or human merit.

In other words, they thought they would be saved on the basis of what they themselves achieved in their lives, based upon their ability to observe the Law of God with such preciseness.

The elite of the Pharisee’s sat on the religious committee known as the Sanhedrin, the religious leading body of the Jews, and Nicodemus sat on this board. Even a quick speed read through the Gospels will reveal that the Pharisees and the rest of the Sanhedrin were violently opposed to Jesus.

Could this then be the reason why Nicodemus came to Jesus at night? Was he frightened of what the rest of the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin would think of him? Perhaps he was frightened that he might loose his spot on the committee – whatever the reason, Nicodemus goes to Jesus at night.

And the fact that Nicodemus went to Jesus at all suggests that Nicodemus was very interested in hearing what Jesus had to say. In fact, by the way Jesus talks to Nicodemus, letting the questions of Nicodemus pass by and speaking to his real need, it would seem to imply that Nicodemus had a concern for his real state before God. It would seem from the whole flow and context of the passage that what Nicodemus was truly concerned about was the way into the Kingdom of God – and perhaps he himself was questioning the whole Pharisee way of doing it. Perhaps his conscience was striking out at him, with all his pent up self-righteousness, and he had come to know that before God all this was nothing.

Today some of you here might know this experience yourself – perhaps you are beginning to question your state before God. Maybe you are no longer confident that your coming into the kingdom was via the correct way, God’s way, and now are becoming convinced that it was no way, and therefore that you are still outside of the Kingdom of God.

Does your conscience concern you about such matters? Are you concerned that the religion and practices with which you have been associated for your whole life have deceived you? Well it would certainly seem that this was the case for Nicodemus, and his was surely the right action to take, for he went to Jesus about it.

When he goes to Jesus it seems as though he was representing not only himself but others also, ‘The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him (3:2).’ Perhaps he knew of others among the Pharisee’s who were having the same doubts concerning their state before God, and on the evidence he had seen of Jesus, Jesus seemed to be the one to go to and discuss these things with. Clearly He stood in close relationship with God in some way, for He does what only God can do.

It doesn’t seem as though Nicodemus at this point thought of Jesus as any more than a teacher sent from God, perhaps a prophet. But he was fairly sure given what he had seen of Jesus, that He was certainly someone sent by God, and therefore the right one to direct his questions to.

But before he can say anything else, Jesus cuts to the chase, ‘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 (Jn 3:3).’ ‘Don’t beat around the bush Nicodemus, I know why your here and this is what you need – you need to be born again.’ What is the way of salvation, well this is what is necessary Nicodemus – you need to be born again.

Well this was just confusion to Nicodemus, ‘Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born (Jn 3:4)?’ He had no idea what Jesus was talking about, it just seemed an impossibility that someone could be born again.

‘Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God (Jn 3:5).’

In the Greek, the text reads as, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you’. The idea of the double amen is to draw attention to what He says, and to emphasis what He says; in other words what Jesus goes on to say is of great importance, and is not to be missed – It is so, it is so.

Jesus as the Son of God, as God Himself, emphasises to Nicodemus the absolute necessity of the new birth, not only to him, but also to all people, ‘Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’

It matters not whether one is a Pharisee, whether one takes seriously what the Pharisee’s say, whether one is a member of the Sanhedrin – you must be born again, or you have no part in the Kingdom of God. That is absolutely certain.

Whether you be a preacher or pastor, a newsletter folder or door keeper, an organ player, a church goer, or whatever you might be in the church – this is an absolute essential, you must be born again – the Son of God has said it. Without this new birth, you have no place in the Kingdom.

Jesus describes the way of entrance into the spiritual Kingdom of God by using a scene that Nicodemus is used to, that of birth. To be born is the way of entrance into the physical world; there is no other way to enter into life at the physical level. To be part of an earthly family you need to enter it by natural birth.

And so too you need to be born in order to enter the spiritual – you need to be born again, to be spiritually born. Something must happen to a person that is similar to physical birth, except it is in the spiritual realm.

Do you see what this is saying to Nicodemus – you have come under the cloak of darkness for fear of loosing your position on the Sanhedrin, yet as far as entrance into the Kingdom of God is concerned, that position counts for nothing. All that you currently have is of no help to you in entering the Kingdom of God.

All of your self-righteous Pharisaic law keeping and legalism is vanity and useless. All earthly things, whether it be of a religious nature or not, all such things are useless as far as entering into the Kingdom of God is concerned – you need to be born again. And this is the point of verse 6, ‘That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.’

No matter what you have or do here on this earth, all is pointless if all you have is your physical birth, for all that comes from your nature is fleshy – that is, corrupted by sin, and is therefore pointless and useless as far as entrance into the Kingdom of God is concerned. Bad trees can only bear bad fruit, like produces like, and because you are sinfully corrupt, all you can produce is sinful corruption.

‘…a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit (Mt 7:17,18).’

Have you considered that? Do you realise, that without the new birth, no matter what religious things you do, whether it be going to Church, being baptised, reading the Bible, praying, trying to believe in Jesus – all that is useless. Do you realise that? You cannot bear anything that is spiritually good.

For Nicodemus it meant that even being born a Jew meant nothing without the new birth – because in Adam he was outside the Kingdom, having no spiritual life.

There’s no point arguing about it, Jesus has said ‘It is so, It is so…’ You don’t agree? Well your argument is not with me, it is with Jesus, with God Himself – for He has said it.

Because of the Fall, every person is born a sinner and is totally corrupted by sin. Every part of your being is corrupted, so that everything you are, do, say, etc is also corrupted by sin – and is therefore unacceptable to God. You have no spiritual life, for spiritual life was lost as a result of the Fall in Adam, ‘Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned … Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come … For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous (Romans 5:12,14,19).’

Sinful man is described as being spiritually dead, spiritually blind, spiritually deaf, and so on, totally incapable of doing anything that can be considered good in God’s eyes. So a person needs to get right away from that state in which he was born if he is to enter into the Kingdom. And a dead person can not do that himself. If not, ‘Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire (Mt 7:19).’

In fact without this new birth you cannot even see the Kingdom of God. That is, you cannot even begin to perceive it or understand it, let alone enter it.

You may continue to proclaim your right to the Kingdom because you don’t consider yourself too bad, or because you go to Church, or even because you profess to be a Christian – but, if you have not experienced the new birth you will not truly understand that the Kingdom of God is so much more than these things. Why? Because these things are beyond you, impossible to you, ‘ In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them (2 Corinthians 4:4).’

Before the new birth, a sinner finds it impossible to get a Biblical view of the Kingdom of God, it is beyond their grasp, because they are in bondage to an understanding that is void of spiritual perception, they have no capacity for spiritual thinking and understanding.

So you see the futility of the belief that one first exercises faith and repentance, and then is born again – for without the new birth you cannot see, you cannot understand the Kingdom, and therefore there is no way you can enter, or you can believe. You don’t even know that there is a Kingdom to enter, and that there is a way to enter – you need to be born again.

And so you see, if you have not experienced this new birth then there is only one possibility for you in the world to come – death. Without being born again you will perish, for without the new birth you cannot believe, which is the way of entrance into the Kingdom.

But this text also tells us something more, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ The word again also contains the thought of ‘from above’. In other words, not only does a person need to be born again, but a person needs to be born from above, a reference to being born of God, ‘born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (Jn 1:13).’ So you see, the new birth that you are to experience is not something that is human in origin.

This new life that is so necessary for entrance into the Kingdom comes not from anything on earth, but from God. It is clearly not something that you yourself are able to do – only God can grant you this new life. He alone is the Source of all life, and this is especially so as regards the spiritual.

And this point is further strengthened by verse 5, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.’ Here the reference is clearly to the work of the Spirit as being the active force in the new birth – clearly then it is God who must perform this work if we are to live.

No amount of self-will will do. No amount of moral reform, no amount of self-determined will power to produce change in problem areas, in fact, nothing short of a spiritual birth wrought within the sinner from above is sufficient to bring about this new life that is so necessary unto salvation.

What about the water in verse 5, surely that points to baptism being somehow involved in the new birth? Well, no it doesn’t, no matter how much crowing Roman Catholicism does about it.

It is not talking about the Spirit and baptism, as though new life is received from the Spirit through the ritual of baptism – as is taught in Roman Catholicism and baptismal regeneration. This is simply to point to the cleansing and renewing work of the Spirit in the new birth, or regeneration. This is just to further explain the Spirit’s work in the new birth.

You see verse 5 is a further expansion of verse 3, further explaining what was said there. Nothing new is added as to the means of the new birth, just further explanation in order to make it clearer to Nicodemus. It is designed to take this teacher of the Old Testament back into the Old Testament, to remind him of what was said in the Old Testament.

‘Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them (Ezekiel 36:25-27).’

What a wonderful description of the new birth that is from the Old Testament.

Therefore the introduction of ‘water’ into the passage here is not out of place, for it is used to explain the significance of the Spirit’s work, and that of cleansing. His work is like water, cleansing, washing away the sin and corruption, thereby pointing to the renewing and regenerating work of the Holy Spirit.

And as a teacher of the Old Testament Nicodemus should of recognized this, ‘Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things (John 3:10)? ’ But he didn’t, because ‘the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14).’

So you see, before you can do anything remotely spiritual, you need to be born again, to be granted spiritual life. Before you can believe and repent, you must be born again – because without this new life, you have no ability to believe and repent, because spiritually you’re dead. There is nothing spiritual about us at all; ‘That which is born of the flesh is flesh’. You need the life that only God can give, for ‘ that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.’

But I decided to follow Jesus, I believed – do you believe the Bible, it tells you this morning that you could not do this unless you were born again. Salvation is of the Lord; it’s not something you can achieve. Such is human pride, that it will not let go of self but claims even the most obvious of God’s works as its own, ‘Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?’

You did not choose to enter into spiritual life, God granted it to you as His gift to you. It’s grace, not your work at all. How can a spiritually dead person give himself or herself spiritual life? Simply put, you can’t.

As a person has no say about his physical birth, so it is with the spiritual birth – it happens without input from you. And isn’t this the point of verse 8, ‘The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.’

This earthy illustration gets across an important point as regards the new birth. Wind cannot be controlled by anyone, yet we can see its effects all around us. You have no idea where it came from, you have no idea where it is going, but you can sure tell where it’s been – and that’s the way of the Spirit in the new birth.

The Holy Spirit works as He see’s fit, doing as He pleases. You don’t know where He will work, when He will work, etc – but when He has it will be clearly evident, for He works new life in sinners, bringing them out of darkness and into light; from death to life; from blindness to sight.

The possession of new life from the inner workings of the Spirit of God results in the bearing of spiritual fruit that is clear evidence that the Spirit has come calling.

Remember this when you next pray, in fact whenever you pray – it is God who has brought you into possession of your spiritual life; don’t forget to thank Him for it always.


This classic work by the Reformer John Calvin is available on the web site at: