[The following is a sermon from The Works of the Reverend John Fletcher, 4 vols. (1833; rpt. Salem, OH: Schmul Publishers, 1974), 4:95-117. The sermon is in four parts and due to the length only the introduction, part four, and the conclusion is reprinted here. The reader is urged to secure a copy and read the entire sermon.]
“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).
The corruption of the Christian world, and the almost general lukewarmness of those who have some respect for religion, render it impossible to preach openly and constantly the deep truth of Christianity without giving general offence.
How naturally, having made some efforts toward salvation, do we repose ourselves as if we were at the end of our career! Perhaps we even think ourselves sure of the prize before we have begun the race! And if any one should venture to show us the folly and danger of such conduct, we regard him as a melancholy person who considers only the dark side of things, and who takes a sorrowful pleasure to make us view them in the same light with himself.
This is one of the reasons why those who are commissioned to show us the way of salvation, are afraid to dwell upon what Jesus Christ has said concerning the difficulties of the way, and the small number of those that walk therein. Indeed, if we ourselves be in the broad way that leadeth to destruction, it is not surprising that we should speak but seldom of the unfrequented path that leads to life; and that we should but feebly and sparingly press those truths by which at length worldlings must be either convinced or confounded. But it is certain, that if we be more sincere, a thousand difficulties will rise up to deter us, and shake the resolutions which we have formed to resist the torrent of prejudice and ungodliness.
We fear being accused of want of charity if we declare as strongly as the Scripture does, “That if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” We are afraid of being charged with preaching a new doctrine, if we declare boldly with St. James, “That he who is the friend of the world is the enemy of God;” or with St. Paul, “That she who liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth.” And we find by sorrowful experience that we must submit to be counted visionaries and enthusiasts, or cease to declare, with the same apostle, that the true Christian is a man who “glories only in the cross of Christ, who, being justified by faith, has really peace with God;” that he feels the peace of God in his soul, as a seal of the pardon of his sins; that he “rejoices in hope of the glory of God;’ and that he “glories in tribulation, because the love of God is shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost given unto him.” For it is certain that the world is always the same, and that the doctrine of Christ, as well as his cross, is still “to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness:” that it still excites the indignation of those who falsely call themselves children of God, and is ridiculed by those whom the foolish wisdom of this world fills with presumption. Nevertheless, as among those who reject the counsel of God in giving it the names of enthusiasm and dangerous reverie, there are some who are distinguished by their good desires, and by some sparks of zeal for the religion of our fathers: and as among those who fight against God, many do it in ignorance, believing that they do him service; let us strive to explain, in this discourse, one of those essential truths of Christianity upon which these half Christians meditate so rarely, and which they decry so often; viz. the doctrine of our regeneration, or new birth in Jesus Christ.
And to sustain the attention by the order of the matter as well as by the importance of the subject, let us examine;
FIRST, Upon what occasion our Lord Jesus Christ declared, that “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
SECONDLY, What we are to understand by these expressions, “To be born again; to be regenerated.”
THIRDLY, What are the reasons upon which the absolute necessity of our regeneration is founded; and how easy, and yet dangerous it is to take the reformation of our manners for the regeneration of our souls.
LASTLY, How we may come to a true renovation, without which no man can see the kingdom of God.
Reader, if you love the truth, and if you have respect to the eternal Son of God, whose words we are now to consider, lift up to him a mind disengaged from prejudice, and beseech him to apply to your heart and mine, the profound truths of our text! He taught them himself during the days of his flesh, and he still gives the knowledge of them by the unction of his Spirit. Yes, Divine Redeemer! let thy grace teach us, and thy word shall be in this hour also a light unto our feet! Deign to show us the path which conducts to thee, and give us the will and the power to run therein and follow thee in the regeneration, until we enter in by thee into thy kingdom: for thou art alone the path, the door, the truth, and the life!
PART FOURTH: Divided Into Two Sections
Section I How dangerous it is to take the regularity of our manners for the regeneration of our souls.
Perhaps some one will say, “I am convinced that perjured persons, debauchees, murderers, and those who act unjustly, shall never see the kingdom of heaven without being born again. But I thank God I am not of this number. From my youth I have lived in the practice of temperance and justice: and I flatter myself I am also no stranger to religion. I constantly attend the Church: I read the word of God: I pray and communicate regularly. Are not these indubitable marks of my regeneration? And was I not born again of water, and of the Holy Spirit, in my baptism?
Before I answer this question, permit me to ask some which are not less important. Have you peace with God? Have you the remission of your sins? Has God revealed his Son in you? When you examine yourself, do you feel that Christ is in you the hope of glory? Have you received the “Spirit of adoption, witnessing with your spirit, that you are a child of God”? Have you ever beheld the light of God’s countenance, and felt the powers of the world to come? Do you taste the heaven which faithful souls enjoy even in this life, “the love of God shed abroad in their hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto them”? Is your soul athirst for the living God? Does it pant after him as the thirsty hart after the brooks of water? Do you count all things as dung and dross for “the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus”? Are you no longer conformed to this evil world, but do you live as a stranger and a pilgrim upon earth? Do you press with joy toward the heavenly Jerusalem in which are already your treasure and your heart? Does your soul ascent to God, even as the flame toward heaven? Do you celebrate in all your conversation the praises of him “who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light”? And do you find within you the humility, the patience, the disinterestedness, the renunciation of the world, the holy joy, the tender zeal, the constant sweetness, the desire to be with Christ, the modest gravity, the unfeigned love, which characterizes true believers?
If these questions do not surprise you; if the Spirit of God has enabled you to sound the depths which they contain; if your most lively concern be, that you experience those heavenly dispositions only in a low degree; and if it be your most vehement desire that you may grow in grace every moment, until you feel all the power of the resurrection of Jesus, —you are a child of God, you are born again! Whether as Samuel you have walked in the way of the Lord from your infancy, or like St. Paul, beheld the light of the Sun of righteousness in the midst of your career, it imports not: “All is yours, for you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.”
But if, far from finding in your heart and in your conversation, these marks of a new and spiritual birth, your conscience rises against you, and you are forced to confess that you feel within you rather the natural than the spiritual man, being more occupied with earth than with heaven; with yourself and the world, than with the love of Jesus, and the glory to which he calls you; we should only lay a stumbling block in your way, if we did not cry to you in the words of our Divine Master, “Ye must be born again, or you cannot see the kingdom of God.” We mean not by this, that you must reform your life even as scandalous sinners. No, you live, it may be, according to the strict rules of justice and temperance. You give alms, you fulfil the exterior duties of religion. We may believe even that, with Nicodemus, you do all this in the integrity of your heart, and as unto God. But the Lord declares that although you have the form of godliness, you have hitherto denied its power. He declares that your righteousness, which does not exceed that of the Pharisee, will never introduce you into the kingdom of God. Yes, where you a second Cornelius, a devout man, fearing God with all your house, giving much alms to the people, seeking God with fasting and continual prayer, if God hath not accepted you in the Beloved; if by faith in the name of Jesus you have not received remission of your sins; if the Holy Spirit have not descended upon you; if God, who knoweth the heart, beareth not witness to you as to him, purifying your heart by faith; your baptism has not saved you. And although you may not be far from the kingdom, you are not yet possessed of it, you are not yet regenerated. You have the fear of the Lord, but not his love. You are not yet a child of God. You still want the Spirit of adoption in order to be a Christian; for in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision availeth any thing, but a new creation; an entire change of our soul, as well as of our life. In a word, “a new heart, a right spirit: the kingdom of God within us.”
If these things be so, (and they cannot be denied without trampling under foot the truth as it is in Jesus,) suffer the word of God to penetrate into your soul. This day hear the voice of God, and harden not your heart. The things which you read regard your eternal peace. Ah! beware lest your unbelief hide them from your eyes for ever. Are you one of those saints of the world who make a fair show in the flesh; and who, far from suffering persecution for the cross of Christ, are honored of men because you still conform to the present world? Who, content with your moral duties and exterior piety, do not come to Jesus with the repentance and importunity of the publican? Suffer this foolishness of preaching to pull off your mask. Renounce your own wisdom: tear off the vain robe of your own righteousness: and smiting your breast, come to Christ with the publicans and harlots, and groan for regeneration, without which you cannot see the kingdom of heaven. Nicodemus has set you the example. He at length “received the kingdom as a little child, and was more than conqueror through the blood of the Lamb.” Tread in his blessed footsteps. And if you also be a master in Israel, follow his simplicity, and triumph like him over all your prejudices, your doubts, and the fear of those who say, they are the Israel of God, and are not; and having followed him in the regeneration, you shall soon follow him to glory.
But if you are an open sinner, if you live in the practice of injustice, intemperance, impurity, or falsehood; thirsting after gold or pleasure; despising the name of God and his word; we need not attempt to prove that you are not regenerate. Your sins have a voice, they cry as Jesus did to such gross offenders, “You are of your father the devil, for his works you do.” You know it is so; your own heart condemns you. Wonder not then that we denounce your utter perdition, in the name of God, if you are not born again. Strive to open your eyes, and behold the corruption of your heart, that depraved source of your ungodly manners. Behold the destroying angel behind you, the eternal abyss opened under your feet, and the Lord Jesus ready to take vengeance on you as his enemies. O that the idea of these awful events may awaken, before their reality overwhelms you! O may the fear of the Lord be in you the beginning of wisdom! This moment turn to your gracious God; tomorrow may be too late. “This is the day of salvation” for you. If you neglect it, the coming night may be the commencement of night eternal to your soul. And will you trifle with a danger like this? Will you do nothing to escape the sword of Divine justice If your danger move you not, consider your interest. This would be sufficient to produce an entire change in you, if you would consider it seriously. In this world God offers you the pardon of your sins, and a happiness which can only be surpassed by that of glorified saints; and after this life a kingdom – a kingdom in the heavens. And will you carelessly renounce this because you cannot obtain it without pain? Rather than be born again, do you resolve to lose a crown of eternal glory? To lose your God, your Savior, your all? Yea, to destroy yourself? Be not deceived. If the kingdom of heaven be shut against you, the kingdom of darkness, the second death, becomes your portion. If the kingdom of God be not established within you; if the foundation be not laid in your soul in this life, by the righteousness of Christ, the peace of God, and the joy of the Holy Ghost, “the worm that dieth not, and the fire that is not quenched,” shall terribly revenge your contempt for the blood of the covenant in which your sins might have been washed away, if you had implored the sacred sprinkling. Be not offended at our freedom. God knows that if we spread before you the treasures of his wrath, which he reserves for the day of wrath, it is that you may flee to those of his mercy. These are still open. His great and precious promises are still for you. By these you may be made partakers of the Divine nature in this life, and after death of the inheritance among the saints in light.
Section II The difference between the reformation of a Pharisee, and the regeneration of a Christian more particularly considered.
To the preceding exhortation permit me to add an advice which is of the last importance. Many sinners acknowledge the necessity of regeneration without being profited thereby, because they confound it with reformation of life. Reader, beware of this error. Remember, it is not sufficient to die to sin if we be not raised into newness of life. It is a little thing to say, “By the grace of God I am not what I was,” if we cannot add, “by the same grace I am what I never have been.” It is a little thing to be able to say, “I am no swearer, drunkard, unclean person; I do not walk after the flesh;” unless we feel at the same time that we walk in the strait path of faith, hope and Divine love.
You are no longer unjust: well; but like Zaccheus, do you give the half of your goods to feed the poor, and if you have wronged any man do you restore four-fold? You are no longer sensual and voluptuous; but are your affections spiritual and Divine? You are not longer enslaved to passion and anger; but does the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your soul in the sweetness and patience of the Lamb of God? You are no longer filled with that pride which made you hate your superiors, despise your inferiors, and shun your equals; but in its place, do you feel in your heart the poverty of spirit, and the humility of Jesus? Do you never indulge what one calls “a polite pride”? Do you never pique yourselves upon your gentility, or upon any worldly distinction? You are perhaps an eminent person, and you feel it is unworthy an honest man to lie or calumniate; but do you always firmly take part with the truth? Do you comfort, reprove, or exhort your brethren with the sweetness and zeal of a Christian? You no longer mock at the word of God; but do you meditate upon it day and night? And is it as sweet to your soul as honey to your palate?
You are convinced it is a great sin to “take the name of God in vain;” but do you “rejoice with reverence” every time you pronounce or think of that sacred name? You detest impiety, you cry out against that deluge of iniquity which threatens to destroy us: but are you not either transported with bitter zeal, or lukewarm, and filled with vain confidence? You lament over many that you see at church, and at the holy table; but when you are there, do you rejoice as in the presence of the Lord? Does all that is within you cry out by happy experience, “How dreadful is this place! It is the dwelling of the mighty God!” Do you inwardly feed upon the bread of angels? Do you drink of the waters that spring up into everlasting life? Do you taste that the Lord is good?
You enter regularly into your closet, and you blame those who neglect to pray to their Father who seeth in secret; but do you there seek your God with tears until he manifests himself to you as he does not unto the world? Are you sick of love, (to use the expression of Solomon,) feeling that your Beloved is yours, and that you are his; “that his left hand is under your head,” and that his “right hand embraces you”? In a word, do you find there “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost”?
You feel that the life of a Christian ought to be a constant preparation for death, and as it is contrary to good sense to take those diversions in which we would not that death should fit us; you therefore leave plays, useless visits, balls, finery, romances, cards, &c, to those whom the God of this world blinds, lest they should see eternity ready to swallow them up: but do you “redeem the time,” that you may “walk in all those good works which the Lord has prepared” for you? Does the “love of Christ constrain you,” so that your duty becomes your delight? Do you love to visit the Lord Jesus Christ in prison, and in the abode of the widow and orphan? Do you seek the poor that are despised? Are you merciful to the utmost of your power, both to the bodies and the souls of men? And do you find more pleasure in administering to the afflicted, and “weeping with those that weep,” than the children of this world experience in all their vain delights?
Your life is not irregular, thanks be to God! You do not live any longer in presumptuous sins. But do you feel the sprinkling of the blood of Christ? Do you know that you “have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of your sins”? In a word, are you “crucified with Christ,” living no longer to yourself, but to God Is “Christ your life”? Do you feel that “your life is hid with Christ in God”?
Reader, behold in these questions the difference between the reformation of a Pharisee, and the regeneration of a child of God. Some degrees of preventing grace, and of reason and reflection, suffice for the first; but nothing less can effect the second than a baptism of the Holy Ghost, and a real participation of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Beware, if indeed you would “flee from the wrath to come, and see the kingdom of God,” beware that you rest not in the former state. If you do, “the publicans and harlots shall go into the kingdom of heaven before you,” or rather you shall never enter therein. Christ himself has solemnly declared it, Matthew 5:20; 21:31. Accuse us not of severity in thus following eternal Wisdom, and in not daring to make void any words written in the book of life. To flatter you in this respect would be to lose our own souls, and that without remedy.
We are not ignorant that the voice of worldlings, like “the sound of many waters,” lifts itself up on all sides, and drowns that of the Savior. In vain we declare, that those who falsely “call him Lord, shall not enter into his kingdom.” In vain we cry to sinners to “strive to enter in at the strait gate” of regeneration, because “many will seek to enter” by that of reformation, “and shall not be able.” Sinners, always incredulous and obstinate, and ever carried away by the multitude, refuse to hear the voice of their Shepherd. Wolves in sheep’s clothing betray them. Death seizes them before they are born again, and chains of darkness keep them bound to the judgment of the great day. Fools! to be blinded by that which should open their eyes, viz. the multitude that are content to live without regeneration. As if Christ had not expressly said, “Many are called, but few chosen; that his flock is a little flock;” and that few walk in the narrow path that leads to life.
Renounce, reader, renounce the presumptuous folly of worldlings, and if the charm be not yet broken, suffer the grace of God to break it this moment! Say not, you “are rich and need nothing.” Depend not on your own works, your sincerity, your religious duties, your own righteousness. Acknowledge, on the contrary, that as you are not born again, you are yet in your sins; poor, and miserable, and blind, and naked. Feel the necessity to “buy gold tried in the fire that you may be rich; and white clothing, that the shame of your nakedness may not appear; and to anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.” Cry out like the penitent publican, with a broken and contrite heart, or as Saul, praying day and night for the Spirit of God, Lord, “be merciful to me a sinner!” Lord, “who shall deliver me from the body of this death”? Lord, “what shall I do to be born again”? If these be the desires of your soul, attend to the conclusion of this discourse. There you shall see, that however dangerous your case may be, it is not desperate; and you shall be convinced that there is balm in Gilead. You shall confess that faith in the blood of Christ can, not only heal the wounds of a dying soul, but raise to life one that is spiritually dead.
THE CONCLUSION: By what means a soul may be born again.
God takes the title of “slow to anger; abundant in goodness and truth.” He swears by himself that he has “no pleasure in the death of a sinner,” but that he should be converted and live; and the effects answer to those tender declarations. His mercy has found a way to raise fallen man, (if he will yield,) and to place him again among his children, without wounding his own justice. This way is astonishing, unthought of, incomprehensible. It surpasses infinitely the conjectures of angels, and the desires of men. And it is so infallible, that all who have a due sense of their miserable fall in Adam, all those who feel that they can no more regenerate themselves than they can create a new heaven and a new earth, may come to God, and receive regeneration freely by grace, and a right to the kingdom of heaven.
Reader, you have heard of this remedy a thousand times. But, on the one hand, knowing neither your indigence nor your malady, and on the other, having your understanding darkened by your unbelief, you have neither, perhaps, considered nor apprehended as a Christian “the things which belong to your peace.” May you receive them now as the Gospel of Christ, which is “the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth.”
Know then that the regeneration which we preach is nothing else than the two great operations of the Spirit of God upon a penitential soul. The first, called justification, or the remission of sins, is that gratuitous act of the Divine mercy, by which God pardons the sinner, who believes in Jesus, all his past sins, and “imputes his faith to him for righteousness.” Because, feeling that he has not righteousness, that he can do no work that is good in the sight of God, he “submits to the righteousness of God.” He receives with his heart Jesus Christ as his Savior, his gratuitous Savor, his sole Savior; and he knows that he has received him, because God “fills him with peace and joy in believing,” and because he receives dominion over all his sins.
This dominion over sin, which the believer receives with the remission of his past sins, is the beginning or foundation of the second part of regeneration, called in the Holy Scriptures sanctification. For in the same moment that “the Spirit of God witnesses with his spirit that” his sins are pardoned, he receives the power to love much, as he feels that he has much forgiven. “The love of God” being thus “shed abroad in his heart,” causes an extraordinary revolution in all the powers of his soul, and makes him feel, though perhaps in a low degree, the effects of the new birth, described in the second part of this discourse.
We are far from concluding that the body of sin is destroyed by this circumcision of the heart, this first revelation of Christ in the soul of a sinner. No: “the old man is only crucified with Christ;” and although he cannot act as before, he lives still, and seeks occasion to disengage himself, and to exercise his tyranny with more rage than ever. David and St. Peter had painful experience of this: and hence we see that sanctification is not generally the work of a day nor of a year. For, although God can cut short his work in righteousness, as the penitent thief found it aforetime, and as many sinners called at the eleventh hour have found it ever since, it is nevertheless in general a progressive work, and of long duration. We, therefore, define sanctification to be that powerful work of the Holy Spirit upon the heart of a pardoned sinner, by which he receives power to go on “from faith to faith;” by which, illuminated more and more “to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” and “renewed day by day” in the image of his Savior, which he had lost in Adam, he feels himself internally “changed from glory into glory,” until he be “filled with all the fullness of God;” until he “loves the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his strength, and his neighbor as himself,” even as Christ loved him. This is the highest point of the sanctification of a believer, and consequently his regeneration is complete.
Sanctification cannot, therefore, begin before justification; for, seeing that the Spirit of God sanctifies the heart of a sinner, that Spirit must be received. But he is not received but in the sinner’s being pardoned. For, according to Scripture, the first operation of the Spirit of adoption, is to cry “Abba, Father!” in the heart of which he takes possession; to testify to the spirit of the believer that he is a child of God, and to give him the foretaste of his heavenly inheritance. Beside, reason convinces us that God cannot communicate his nature, and the graces of his Spirit to a man whose sins he has not yet pardoned. A king is not bountiful to a rebellious subject before he restores him to his favor.
Thus our Church declares in her thirteenth article, “That works done before the grace of Christ and the inspiration of his Spirit, are not pleasant to God, forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ: yea, rather for that they are not done as God has willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not but that they have the nature of sin, however good they may appear to men.”
This being admitted, it is evident that for a sinner to know how he is to be regenerated, he is to consider how he may be justified and sanctified. Upon this the Scripture is clear. “By grace ye are saved,” says St. Paul, “through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast, being created anew in Christ Jesus unto good works.” As if the apostle had said, By the faith God has freely given you, you are saved from your sins; delivered from the punishment which they deserve by justification, and from their dominion over you by sanctification. Hence you are regenerated and new creatures. Thus St. Paul declares that a living faith is the gate of salvation, and all the Scripture declares it with him. “He who believeth shall be saved, “says Jesus Christ; “he who believeth hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life.” And St. John shows us that “this passing from death unto life,” and regeneration, are the same thing. “He who believeth is born of God,” says he, in his first epistle; and in his Gospel he declares, that “those who receive Christ, to them he gives power to become the sons of God, even to those who believe on his name, who are born not of the will of man, but of God.”
Our Church declares the same thing. In her homilies she teaches, that the only instrument necessary to salvation is faith, which is there defined, “A sure and firm confidence, that through the merits of Christ our sins are forgiven, and we reconciled to God.”
Observe here, reader, with respect to faith, none can enjoy it but those who have felt their need of it. Jesus Christ never gives this sweet assurance, this testimony of his Spirit, but to those whose hearts are really contrite. “Come to me,” says he, “all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He invites no others, he comforts no others. Before the Spirit of God “convinces the world of righteousness, he convinces of sin, because they believe not in Jesus.” None can come to the Son for justifying faith, unless the “father draw him” by a sense of his sins, and by the fear of that punishment which he merits.
If these truths have dissipated your doubts: if you no longer halt between God and Baal: if you are convinced that you can never see the “kingdom of God” without being “born again,” and that the sole means which is “the power of God unto salvation;” a faith which is “the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen;” which points, like John the Baptist, to “the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world,” and who freely and graciously gives this faith to those who earnestly seek it: come then, dear reader, come then to the throne of grace, but come condemned by your conscience, burdened by the weight of your iniquities, and pierced with a sense of your unbelief and hardness of heart. Implore the mercy of your Judge until he shows himself your Father in giving you the Spirit of adoption; your Jesus in saving you from your sins; your Christ in giving you the unction of the Holy Spirit; your Emmanuel in revealing himself in you, and dwelling in your heart by faith.
He invites you himself. “Ho! every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters! Ye who have no money, who are poor in spirit, who tremble at my word, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do ye spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which satisfieth not? Hearken diligently unto me, and eat that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Come to me! hearken! and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David, and your soul shall live.” In the great day of the feast, Jesus cried, saying, “If any man thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believeth in me, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” And this, says St. John, “spake he of the Spirit, which they who believed on him should receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because that Jesus was not yet glorified.”
But Jesus is glorified! He is ascended to his Father and to our Father, to his God and to our God! And from the throne of his glory he sends every day into contrite hearts the Comforter, whom the world cannot receive, because it desires not to know him. But you, afflicted soul, shall receive him, if indeed you pant after him, and refuse to be comforted until he comes. The time cometh, yea, is now come, that you shall “worship the Father in spirit and in truth:” and filled with the Spirit of truth, you also shall cry out, “I know in whom I have believed! Lord, now let thy servant go in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation!” Yes, you shall be baptized by the Holy Ghost for the remission of sins, and justified freely by faith. You “shall have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, and rejoice in God your Savior with joy unspeakable and full of glory.” “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” “If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give his Holy Spirit to them that ask him”? Doubt not the fidelity of God! Consider, “the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all who are afar off, whom the Lord your God shall call.” The God of truth has made this glorious promise – pray that it may be sealed upon your heart! But “pray with all prayer and supplication at all times; watching thereunto with all perseverance. And remember, that when your prayer is granted, you shall be “in Christ a new creature.” “The Spirit of God shall bear witness to your spirit that you are a child of God,” and that your faith is really that which justifies and regenerates.
Take heed, in the meantime, that impatience and unbelief mingle not with the sense of the number and greatness of your sins, and so plunge you into discouraging and excessive sorrow. Are you tempted to doubt the mercy of God? Reanimate your hope by meditating on the invitations of “the God of all grace;” and the promises of the God of truth. Is your soul spiritually sick, yea, dying? Consider that Jesus has said, “The whole have no need of a physician, but those who are sick!” Is it spiritually dead? Hearken “to God manifest in the flesh:” “I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and he who liveth and believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and he who liveth and believeth in me shall never die!” You feel that you are lost. Jesus says expressly, “I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” “The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Do you doubt if he will receive you? He says himself he will not “break a bruised reed, not quench the smoking flax.” “He that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out.” Do you feel that it is impossible such a corrupt soul as yours should be regenerated? Jesus says to you, “Believe, and you shall see the glory of God: all things are possible to him that believeth.” Do you say you have no power? Remember, “power belongeth unto God.” “I will put my laws,” says he, “in your mind, and write them in your heart.” “I will be to you a God, and you shall be to me a people.” Do you doubt if God can with justice pardon sins as great as yours? “Come,” says he, “let us reason together; though your sins were as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though red as crimson, yet shall they be as wool.” Yes, says St. John, “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us or sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Immortal spirit, who readest these promises, “why tarriest thou”? Why do you not cry out with transport, The Lord is faithful to pardon my sins! He has promised, and he will do it. I will then confess them to him day and night with tears; I will not give rest to my eyes, till they have seen the salvation of God. Consider! It is because the Almighty is just, that he will cleanse you from all sin. Yes, his Son, his only Son, has satisfied Divine justice for you. The stroke aimed at you has fallen upon his innocent head. The heavenly victim stretched upon the cross has been devoured by the fire of that eternal vengeance which flamed against you. The odor of this all-perfect sacrifice has reconciled that God who is a consuming fire to the sinner. The blood of the new covenant has flowed: it has made a propitiation for your sins. This blood, far from crying for vengeance, like that of Abel, merits, demands, obtains for you repentance, faith, regeneration, and eternal life. The paschal Lamb, the Lamb without spot or blemish, is sacrificed for you. God withholds the arm of the destroying angel, until this precious blood shall be sprinkled upon your soul; until you are born again. The holy Jesus, who fears lest you should perish in your impenitence, hastens to offer you life eternal. “Behold,” says he, “I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and sup with him, and he with me.” He says to you by the mouth of the apostle, that “he who hath the Son, hath life, and he who hath not the Son of God, hath not life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.” He exhorts you by his servant David, “to kiss the Son lest he be angry, and you perish from the way, if his wrath be kindled but a little.” O! reader, gratefully accept those kind invitations; prostrate yourself at the feet of the Son of God, open the door of your heart to him, and cry incessantly, Come in, Lord Jesus, come in! Confess your poverty, your sins, your misery, until the “kingdom of God is within you.” Mourn till you are comforted; hunger and thirst after righteousness till you are satisfied; and travail in birth till Christ be formed within you; till, being born of God, you bear the image of the heavenly Adam, as you have borne the image of the earthly.
I conjure you by the majesty of that God before whom angels rejoice with trembling! By the terror of the Lord, who may speak to you in thunder, and this instant require your soul of you! By the tender mercies, the bowels of compassion of your Father, which are moved in your favor, all ungrateful as you are! I conjure you by the incarnation of the eternal Word by whom you were created! By the humiliation, the pains, the temptations, the tears, the bloody sweat, the agony, the cries of “our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ!” I conjure you by the bonds, the insults, the scourging, the robes of derision, the crown of thorns, the ponderous cross, the nails, the instruments of death which pierced his torn body! By the arrows of the Almighty, the poison of which drank up his spirit! By that mysterious stroke of wrath Divine, and by those unknown terrors which forced him to cry out, “My God! My God! Why hast thou forsaken me?” I conjure you by the interests of your immortal soul, and by the unseen accidents which may precipitate you into eternity! By the bed of death upon which you will soon be stretched, and by the useless sighs which you will then pour out, if your peace be not made with God! I conjure you by the sword of Divine justice, and by the scepter of grace! By the sound of the last trumpet, and by the sudden appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ, with ten thousands of his holy angels! By that august tribunal, at which you will appear with me, and which shall decide our lot for ever! By the vain despair of hardened sinners, and by the unknown transport of regenerated souls! I conjure you from this instant, “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” “Enter by the door into the sheep fold:” sell all to purchase the pearl of great price: “count all things dung and dross in comparison of the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ!” Let him not go till he blesses you with that faith which justifies, and that sanctification without which no man shall see the Lord. And soon, transported from this vale of tears, into the mansion of “the just made perfect,” you shall cast your crown of immortal glory “at the feet of Him that sitteth upon the throne,” and before the Lamb,” who has redeemed us by his blood: to whom be the blessing, and the honor, and the glory, and the power, for ever and ever! Amen.”
From: Fletcher, John. “The New Birth.” The Arminian: A Publication of the Fundamental Wesleyan Society, vol. 6, no. 1, 1986. http://wesley.nnu.edu/arminianism/the-arminian-magazine/the-arminian-magazine-spring-1986/. Web.