Must A Man Be Born Again?
Sermon delivered at The Moody Tabernacle in 1922 by Harry W. vomBruch
Stenographically reported. Not revised by the speaker.
There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:
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.
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.
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?
Jesus saith unto him, 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.
For that which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
Marvel not that I say unto thee, Ye must be born again.
“Ye must be born again.” You will find this a text that is seldom quoted in this day and age. It seems that hundreds of teachers, instead of laying the axe to the root of the tree, are content with simply pruning its branches. Symptoms instead of diseases are being treated. We have been aiming our blows at the saloon, the dance hall, the tenderloin district and evil here, there, and elsewhere, while God has decreed that we shall get a clean world when the hearts of the men and women of the world have been cleansed.
Now I am glad that we have today what is called a saloonless nation. I thank God we have the liquor crowd spitting cotton at last. Some say, “But they are getting it just the same.” Yes, they are getting some, but they are paying freight on all they get too, and they will soon get tired of this stuff that is being passed out today.
Something More than Reformation
While we have a saloonless nation, if statistics be true, we have already in the United States of America one and one-half million dope fiends, showing you that when men cannot satisfy the cravings of the natural man with one thing, they will soon turn to another.
Moral reform endeavors to remove the thing that the natural heart craves and longs for and desires, but what we need is not to have something come in and remove the things the natural heart desires, but we need to have something come in and remove the desire for those things from the natural heart. That is why Jesus comes on the scene and says, “Ye must be born again.”
I do not know that I ever heard a preacher preach on the new birth, but when he got this far in the text he did not say that Jesus never explained the new birth, and that he would not take time either, as though God’s Word were silent on the subject. I thank God it is not, and we can know what the new birth is if we dare ask God about it. I want to read just two or three verses of Scripture:
2 Peter 1:4—“Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.”
Galatians 6:15—“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.”
Ephesians 4:24—“And that ye put on the new man, which after God, is created in righteousness and true holiness.”
2 Corinthians 5:17—“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”
From these Scriptures we can readily see, as from many other portions of God’s Word, that the new birth is not reformation or education or baptism or imagination or ambition. It means a new creation with a new impartation of the divine nature.
When God came to the crowning feature of the creation—man, He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul, different from the beasts of the field, from the fish or the fowl, he became a living soul. The animal has no living soul. Man was created in the image of God in righteousness and true holiness. He had affinity with God and fellowship with God. He could communicate with God. He was endowed with that heart faculty that could reach out and know God.
But there came the word back in Eden: “The soul that sinneth it shall die.” Adam sinned against God, he fell from that high estate, and man is no longer a spiritual being. He is living down here in the realm of the flesh, in the human kingdom. I do not say animal, though sometimes I think he has fallen that far, and sometimes even farther. There are men and women tonight in the City of Chicago whose souls are dead. They are guilty of such immorality as no beast of the field was ever guilty of. You never saw a horse drunk. It is always men. Horses have too much horse-sense, and some men need a little horse-sense too. It would at least give them a stable mind. You never saw a donkey chewing tobacco, and you never will. You may offer it to a donkey, and he will simply say, “I am from Missouri, and you have got to show me.”
Now, brother, I tell you what, you can go out and take that dirty, vile wad out of your mouth and a lot of spit with it, and put it on the corner of North Avenue and Clark Street, and not a hog or a donkey or a dog in the community will touch it. It will be there if you go back for it after a while.
We have on record but one case of a hog that ever was drunk. He passed by a distillery and saw some stuff shooting out. He sampled it and thought it tasted good. Before he knew it, he was full, and he went home and disgraced all the other pigs and hogs. The next day they called a council to see what to do about this member of their crowd that had disgraced them. They brought this hog in before the council and said, “You were drunk yesterday.”
“You disgraced all the rest of us yesterday.”
“What have you got to say for yourself?”
The hog replied, “I simply have to say this: It was the first time I have ever been so, and, if you will forgive me, it will be the last time. If you will overlook it this time and pardon me, I promise you as long as I live I will never try to act like a man again.”
No, it is always men. Alas, men and women are guilty of things that even the beasts of the field are not guilty of.
That is not all. That is on the surface. If we could dare tear back the roofs of the homes and houses, hotels and restaurants tonight and allow you to look in and see what is going on, you would wonder how man, created a spiritual being, could ever fall to such depths of sin and degradation. How can we account for it?
“The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” It is accounted for simply on the basis that men today are dead toward right and righteousness; God and godliness. The soul has sinned and death came because of sin, and death has passed upon all men, for that all have sinned in that they have come short of the glory of God.
Remember, I am talking about the soul. You have never seen me. You say you have, but you have not. I am destined to live forever and ever under some condition, but you only see my body. This is what my soul has to dwell in for a brief time, and then it is gone, but my deathless soul lives on. You can burn this body, but you cannot burn my soul; it lives forever. God has given me a wonderful body in which to house it for a few years.
Dead or Alive
God has given me ears to hear what is going on; He has given me windows through which I look, and when I want to express the thought in my heart and mind and soul to your heart and mind and soul, God has given me lips, and a tongue, and vocal organs with which to express that thought in words and sentences on the sensitive membranes of your ear, and it travels to your brain, and you know what I am thinking. That is the way I have of communicating with you. I have never seen you, and you have never seen me. We are souls, and we are destined to live forever. Our bodies may die, but our soul lives on. You may drown the body but not the soul, you may destroy the body but not the soul; you may cremate the body, but not the soul. The soul that sinneth it shall die. Jesus said, “She that liveth in pleasure I dead while she liveth.” “The wages of sin is death.” “Ye are dead in trespasses and sin.” That is God’s portrait of the human race, and all because of sin.
“Well,” you say, “brother, we are very much alive yet you preach we are dead. How can we be both?”
Very easily. There are many things in this world that some folks are alive to and other folks are dead to. There are a great many things which I am alive to and a great many I am dead to. I do not know much about grand opera, but what little I do know of it, I can assure you of the fact that I am dead to it. I heard it once, and it sounded to me like the little girl who heard it on the Victrola. When the record was ended she said, “Mamma, the hen laid an egg.”
I heard a fellow say in the Y.M.C.A. not long ago (they were playing a piece of what is called “jazz”), “If jazz is music, then a dime novel is literature.” Yet the world has gone crazy over it. I have never heard but one definition of it, and that was given by John Philip Sousa. He said, “Jazz is prostitute music, and the sooner we get rid of the stuff, the better for our boys and girls.” He had heard a piece of this jazz on the phonograph as I also had, and I heard some one say, “That stirs my feet.”
I want to tell you, when I came into this Tabernacles and heard this choir and audience singing the old songs, I lifted up my heart and said, “That stirs my soul.” Thank God, I am alive to that.
In one place where I held a meeting, a little woman used to come and look into my face night after night. Not until the closing meeting did she come up and shake hands with me. I said something to her, and she passed on. Another woman standing by said, “She did not hear what you said. She cannot hear a word you say.”
“Why did she come to the meetings?” I asked.
“Oh, she likes to hear you preach.”
“Hear me preach! She don’t know what I am talking about if she cannot hear.”
The lady said, “You would be surprised how little of your sermon she fails to get.”
She was dead to sound but alive to sight. She read my lips.
I had a friend who went through the Art Institute. He took three courses and graduated with honors. He said to me one day, “Before I leave the city, I am going to give you a trip you will never forget. I am going to take you through the Art Institute.”
I never shall forget it. That was the longest day I ever put in in all my life, standing there looking at daubs of paint. He would stand there and rave about them and say, “Isn’t that marvelous, superb, exquisite?” All those great big words, but I didn’t see anything to it. I was almost as bad as the farmer that came to review a masterpiece. The crowd passed by and raved about it. He did not say anything until some one nudged him and said, “What do you think about it?”
“Think about what?”
“Why, that masterpiece, that painting?”
“What is it?” he asked.
“Why, that is a sunset. What did you think it was?”
He said, “It looked to me like a fried egg.”
That fellow and I are dead to art. You may be alive to it.
In the Graveyard
I was down South holding some revival meetings in the churches. I remember during my campaign in a certain church I used to get up in the morning a little later than some of the rest of the crowd. The preacher was always gone. Now I do not want you to get the impression that I slept long because I did not get up as early as the rest of the folks. It was not because I slept long, but because I slept slow.
As I said, the preacher was always gone, and I did not know where he was. He was not around the house. One day I said to the wife, “Where is your husband?”
She replied, “Up in the grave yard.”
“Where was he yesterday?”
“In the grave yard.”
“Is that where he goes?”
“Yes, every morning in his life, the first thing after he wakes up he goes to the graveyard.”
“What does he do up there?”
“Go up and see, I don’t know.”
I went up, and there he was sitting on a tombstone. He had a few flowers around him, but he was just sitting there.
I said, “Preacher, what are you doing?”
“I am studying nature.”
I said, “What?”
“Why, don’t you ever study nature?”
“Well, I study human nature.”
“Don’t you ever go out and study the wonderful handiwork of God? I come out here every morning and hear the birds sing and look at these flowers. Let me show you something, will you?”
He went over and got a flower, and what do you think he picked?” Not a lily of the valley, not a daisy, not a southern honeysuckle or a violet. He picked the blossom of a burdock. He brought it back and said, “Sit down. I want to show you how wonderfully God constructs this thing, and when you have seen the wonderful work in this, then I will show you something even more beautiful and wonderful.
By the time he had picked that thing to pieces and preached a sermon about God’s work in nature, my soul was born to the fact that the heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth his handiwork, and from that hour to this, I have loved the flowers just as well as any other person. I had been blind to this beauty, dead to the construction of the handiwork of God, but I was born anew. The light of nature broke upon my darkened mind.
A man comes home, and he says, “Wife, you remember my telling you something about that strange sensation? Well, that has crept up now into this limb until at last it has reached my head.”
She said, “Husband, you go and visit a physician.”
The doctor says, “When did you first feel it?”
“It has been weeks.”
“Why did you not come then?”
“Why, doctor, it surely is nothing serious?”
“Man, it is one of the worst things that could come on you.”
“What is it?”
“Do you know what that is? It is creeping paralysis. If that thing is not checked, there could be nothing worse.”
I had a little chum. We used to swim together. One night at the Y.M.C.A. he dived. The water was not shallow, but he struck his head on the pavement at the bottom, and became paralyzed from the neck down. One of the most pitiful sights in the world was to look into the face of that boy, unable to move a finger. It is a horrible, dreadful thing to be paralyzed, but to feel it coming on bit by bit must be the keenest agony. Is there anything worse? Yes, there is one thing worse.
Here is a man who goes out of the Tabernacle. He is silent for two or three blocks. Finally his wife says, “Well, what did you think of the meeting?”
“Oh, it was all right, all right—pretty good speaker.”
“What did you think of the message?”
“Oh, it was all right.”
“What did you think of the folks that went forward?”
“Oh, that was all right if they see it that way. But, do you know wife, it don’t move me any more. It don’t move me.”
God pity you tonight, if that is true, that it don’t move you. Brother, there was a time when you were moved; there was a time when emotion after emotion swept over your soul and the tears reddened and inflamed your eyes and trickled down your cheeks, and you went home dispirited and distressed and spent restless, weary, sleepless nights, and you could hardly work the following day. What did it mean? God was calling to your soul, and it was alive to the voice of God. But now you can say, “It don’t move me.” Take care. That is spiritual paralysis, and tonight you are dead to God.
I used to hear in the olden days all about a sermon preached by Jonathan Edwards, entitled, “Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God.” And you would hear how, while Jonathan Edwards preached that sermon, men and women would leave their seats. They would not wait for the invitation, but they would leave their seats and go down to the front and cry out for mercy. They would tremble under the preaching of that man of God with his message, and they could not wait for the invitation to be given. So did they tremble in the early days under the preaching of that man of God.
They used to call the Society of Friends, “tremblers,” and then they nicknamed them quakers.
You do not find folks trembling and quaking today. I wanted to read that sermon if I could. Finally I secured a copy, and read it. It was plain; it was tame. I have heard students preach sermons as good, of course, allowing for the fact that the Spirit of God was there. But folks trembled, folks cried, folks were stirred, folks were moved, folks wept, and yet I have heard one of the strongest evangelists of America preach on the unpardonable sin and I wondered how the people could sit in their seats. I did not see how they could wait for the close of the meeting without crying out to God for mercy, but when the invitation was given, there was no response. They sang three or four songs, but there was no decision. Then he asked the congregation to bow their head, and, if any needed prayer, they should raise their hands. No hand was raised for prayer. How do you account for it? Spiritual paralysis.
Listen to me. If the Word of God does not stir your soul in these days as it did in the days gone by, search your own heart, and maybe you will find that spiritual paralysis is there. If, at the close of this message tonight, when the invitation is given, you find the slightest response in your heart, if there is the slightest desire to say, “Yes,” to God, do not quench that desire—it is heaven born. There will come an hour when you will not have it. Spiritual paralysis will have done its work.
“Well,” you say, “if that is the condition that exists today, if this paralysis has settled down on the hearts and souls of men and made them dead, why preach? A dead man cannot act.”
There is only one thing a dead man can do, just one. Lazarus was so long dead that his sister said, “Lord, by this time he stinketh.” But Jesus standing at the grave of Lazarus calls, “Lazarus, come forth,” and, in response to the call of Christ, Lazarus comes forth from death to life. And that is the only thing a dead man can do, but, thank God, he can do that if he wills it. And that coming forth at the call of Christ, out of death into life, out of darkness into light, out of sin into salvation, that coming forth at the call of Christ from death to life is the new birth. “Ye must be born again.”
Necessary Because of Sinfulness
Now stop a few minutes and consider. It is necessarily demanded for two reasons. First, because of the sinfulness of man. Man, by nature, does not love God. It is more easy to curse than pray; it is more easy to hate than love; it is more easy to profane than to praise. Men, by nature, do not love God nor the things of God. If they did there would be no need of police, lawyers, lockups, penitentiaries, and reform schools. If men, by nature, loved God, these things would not exist. There would be no theatres, no dance halls, no pool rooms, no card parties. If men, by nature, loved God, you would not have enough churches in the city of Chicago to accommodate the crowds that would come to worship God in the beauty of holiness. You will find the places of worldly pleasure, sin and shame jammed to the doors and in the churches a scattering handful. Why? Men, by nature, do not love God. They love sin, and that is why God makes every appeal possible for me to forsake sin, and until man forsakes sin, he is lost, he is doomed, he is damned. How can man forsake sin? How can he be rid of sin, be free from sin? I may sever my finger from my hand, but not thereby get away from sin. I may sever my hand at the wrist, but not thereby get away from sin. I may offer my neck to be chopped from my body, but not thereby be freed from sin. Sin is not in the flesh, in the ligaments, in the bone, joint and marrow. Where is it? Sin is in the heart, in the will. That is why God says, “My son, give me thy heart.” “Whosoever will may come.” “They will not come until me that they might have life.”
Do you read your Bible? If you do, you will be thoroughly convinced of four things:
First. The fountain of humanity back in Eden was poisoned by the virus of sin.
Secondly. The stream flowing through the generations to this present day is the same.
Thirdly. The mind, the flesh and the natural heart are at enmity against God.
Fourthly. The new birth is absolutely necessary to sonship.
“Well,” you say, “you do not know the weakness in my life. You did not know my father, you did not know my mother. I am ashamed of it, but I have to acknowledge it. It was born in me and it has developed all down through these years. I am wedged to it. It is there, but I am not to blame. It was born in me.”
I know it was, but I thank God tonight. I do not care what your weakness is, your sin, your shame, your ambition, your lusting, your desires that were born in you. They can be born out of you, and that is why the new birth is demanded,—that the sin born in might be born out.
Holiness of God
In the second place, not only because of the sinfulness of man is it demanded, but because of the holiness of God. Hebrews 12:14—“Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” Now, the average church member is as afraid of that word “holiness” as a tramp is of water. But the Scripture teaches that without holiness no man shall see the Lord. Here is a man who comes to me and says, “I am all right.” He is a good man, a self-righteous, moral man, benevolent, honest, clean. He says, “I do not need to be born again because I am not a great sinner.”
Supposing, for the sake of illustration, you were no sinner at all,—but you are. Supposing in your life there could be found no sin,—but there can be. Supposing you could prove to this intelligent audience without any reasonable doubt, that your life was absolutely sinless. Now you cannot do it,—but supposing you could prove your life to be sinless. Still you are apart from the kingdom of God. Why? God demands more than sinlessness. He demands holiness without which no man shall see the Lord, and that must be imparted. You cannot find it in yourself.
Why did God make a demand like that? It tells us in the Scripture. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the spirit is spirit.” There is no affinity between the two. What do I mean by affinity? Here is a pile of shavings, steel, brass, lead, copper, gold, silver. I take a magnet and run over that pile. The brass, the gold, the silver, the lead, the copper will not adhere to that magnet, but the steel and the iron will. Why? Because between those two is found what is called magnetic affinity. You can take a glass half full of water and half full of oil and shake it up and let it stand a moment, and you will find a mark of division. It will not mix. Why? There is no affinity. The specific gravity of water is heavier than that of oil, and the oil rises to the top. But take the glass and pour it full to the brim with water and bring a chemist in, and into that glass filled with water he can pour in and pour in chlorine gas. Why? Because there is a chemical affinity between water and chlorine gas.
Ye must be born again because flesh is flesh, and spirit is spirit, and there is no affinity between the two. “God is a spirit; and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” You cannot worship God who is a spirit in spirit until you are born of His spirit that there might be spirit affinity.
You take the natural man out of Chicago, with his natural head, natural ambition, natural inclination, natural impulses, natural desires, natural mind, and put him in heaven, and heaven would be hell to that man. Why? There would be no affinity. You take some of the men of Chicago, and without any change of heart and nature, and mind and relation to God, and put them in heaven and by next Saturday night they would be hunting around for a hooker or two. They would have a desire for something that heaven could not give. I will leave it to any man who has ever been a drunkard. An unsatisfied desire is hell in itself.
Take some of the people out of the churches of Chicago who have never been born again, who have never had a change of heart, and put them in heaven with the natural heart, and heaven would be hell, and by next Wednesday night they would try to be running a card party or a dance. They would have a desire to do something they would not be privileged to do. They would have a longing that could not be satisfied.
Heaven is a prepared place for a prepared people, and the preparation for that prepared place is the new birth, that your affinity might be changed from the things which are sensual and sinful, to things that are of God and eternal. The natural heart in heaven, would find heaven hell. There are dear friends and people looking into my face tonight that if you should say, “Whither bound?” they would say, “Heaven.” Yet they will acknowledge to you that they are living for pleasure. They will say, “I can see no harm in it.” They care little for the Church, little for the Bible, little for prayer, little for Christian songs, yet they expect to be at home in heaven.
Listen, if you ever expect to be at home in heaven, to talk heaven’s language, sing heaven’s songs and enjoy heaven’s joys, you had better start talking heaven’s talk, and singing heaven’s songs and enjoying heaven’s joys down here, or there will be no affinity for you over there. That is what I mean by affinity. You let a soul that has never passed from death unto life in response to the call of Christ, let that soul die, that soul cares nothing for God or godliness. He cares nothing for the Church or prayer meeting. There are men in this audience tonight that hate a prayer meeting and never go. Brother, let me tell you something. If you hate a prayer meeting, you do not want to go to hell, for it will be one eternal prayer meeting, calling on God. You let a natural man die with the natural hate and ambition, inclinations, desires, impulses, and there is not enough power in heaven to take that soul up to heaven when the body releases its grip. Why? Its affinity has been for sin, and the wages of sin is death, and, when the body releases its hold upon the soul, the soul goes to its own affinity. But you let a child of God—I don’t care whether he has been saved for forty years or forty minutes—you let a man or woman that is born of the Spirit of God die, and there are not enough demons in hell to drag that soul down to the pit. The affinity takes that soul on up to God because of its affinity. Sinlessness is not enough. Holiness is demanded, because God is holy. God is holy and we are sinful, and there is no affinity between holiness and sinfulness so one or the other must be changed, and God says you must be changed. Sin must be born out and holiness must be born in, that being born of the Spirit you might have affinity with God who is Spirit, and when the body releases its grip upon the soul, the soul goes to that for which it has affinity.
Now listen! If you die tonight, church member or not, you know what you have lived for, you know what you long for, what you delight in, what you hate, what your ambition in life has been, whether for things of sin and sinfulness or things of God and godliness. If you die tonight, your soul goes to its own affinity. Where is your affinity tonight?
Sin Born Out
Just this, and I am through. Ye must be born again. It is the impartation of a new life, a new nature, a divine nature that is given when you, in response to the call of the Christ, step forward from death into life. Because of your sinfulness, God’s holiness does not attract; there is no affinity. The new birth is demanded that sin might be born out and God’s Spirit born in, that the affinity might be changed from darkness to light, from death to life, from sin to salvation, from things temporal to things eternal.
How may I obtain this new nature and enjoy this joy of heart, this joy of affinity. Hear me, and I will put it in one statement. When a man, believing in the claims of Jesus Christ, receives Him to be all that He claims to be, that moment that man is born again. I repeat it! When a person believing in the claims of Jesus Christ receives Christ to be all that He claims to be, that moment he passes from death to life; that moment he is born again.
Once more! When a person believing in the claims of Christ receives Christ to be all that He claims to be: What did He claim to be? Two things—Son of God; Saviour of sinful men. The moment a person believes in the claims of Christ and receives Christ to be all that He claims to be, Son of God and personal Saviour, that moment that soul is born again, and that can be right now if you are willing to say, yes.
Will you put this question to your own heart? Has my affinity yet been changed from the natural to the supernatural? If not, will you say “I will take Jesus Christ as Son of God to be my personal Saviour that it might be changed, that my soul might go to its affinity at the release from the body?”