The Miracle of New Birth
June 23rd, 1985 @ 10:50 AM
THE MIRACLE OF THE NEW BIRTH
Dr. W.A. Criswell
6-23-85 10:50 a.m.
It’s an ineffable joy for us in the First Baptist Church of Dallas to share this hour with the multitudes who are looking on television and listening on radio. This is the pastor bringing the message. It’s from the thirty-sixth chapter of Ezekiel. Because of the inability to encompass in one sermon the message that I have prepared, I have divided it in two parts. The actual prophecy in Ezekiel 36 is addressed to Israel. It is an incomparably precious promise of their ultimate conversion and restoration. And the next time that I preach, it will be in that exact presentation of the prophecy God gave to His people through Ezekiel, the conversion and restoration of Israel. That will be the next sermon, the other half of this one.
But this message today entitled The Miracle of New Birth is addressed to us. And the reason that I feel that I can do it is because the great Lord God of Israel is our God. And the grace and mercy extended to His people in their conversion and salvation is the same grace and mercy that is extended toward us. So the message today will be to us. Then the next message will be concerning the prophetic restoration of Israel.
Now in Ezekiel 36, verse 26, Ezekiel 36:26:
A new heart 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 a heart of flesh.
I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and ye shall keep My judgments, and do them.
Now verse 36:
I the Lord have spoken it, and I will do it.
Thus saith the Lord God; I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them; I will increase them with men like a flock.
As the holy flock, as the flock of Jerusalem in her solemn feasts; thus will I increase them.
Now the message to us: the work of grace begins in our hearts. “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he” [Proverbs 23:7]. The work of salvation and conversion begins on the inside, it begins within. This is the opposite of what so many have thought, or done, or prescribed. The Pharisees, for example, thought to start with the outside and work toward the inside with all kinds of rituals, and ceremonies, and keepings of commandments and traditions; they thought by working from the outside to reach the inside.
The Lord said that is like washing, cleaning, the outside of the cup and the platter, but the inside is still unwashed and unclean [Matthew 23:25-26]. To us, it would be like taking your watch to a jeweler, and he polishes the outside and puts on a new crystal, when the problem is on the inside. He must work on the inside. Thus it is that the Lord God says, “I will place in you a new heart” [Ezekiel 36:26]. Now, it is not the old heart improved or ameliorated, it is a new heart. God, who made us, says [Genesis 2:7], “I will remake you” [2 Corinthians 5:17]. The Lord who brought us to birth says, “I will reborn you,” the miracle of a new birth [John 3:7].
The old heart and the old life is defiled, it is sinful. Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things … who can know it?” [Jeremiah 17:9]. Jesus said, “Out of the heart proceed all of the transgressions, and the sins, and the iniquities” of our life [Mark 7:21]. We are by nature a fallen people. Our heart is defiled.
Weep not for broad lands lost;
Weep not for fair hopes crost;
Weep not when limbs wax old;
Weep not when friends grow cold;
Weep not when Death must part
Thine and the best-loved heart,
Yet weep, weep all you can—
Weep, weep, because thou art
A sin-defiled man.
[“Weep Not for Broadlands Lost”; R.C. Trench, 1854]
We are fallen, we are defiled, we are sinners, we are lost in our hearts within us; now, this is an incurable defilement. Jeremiah said, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or can the leopard change his spots? Neither can you do good who are practiced to do evil” [Jeremiah 13:23].
We are fallen in our hearts, and it is an incurable fallenness. We are undone. We are defiled. We are lost in our hearts. He says here in the text that we have a heart of stone. We have stony hearts; our hearts are hard. And how can you preach the gospel to a stone? And how can you argue with a rock? The man in his nature is hard. He is indifferent. He will pass by the sacrifice and the cross of Jesus without any repercussion in his soul at all. He is lost. He is hard [Ezekiel 36:20]. His heart is like a stone. And you can talk to him, and you can plead with him, and you can speak to him of the grace of the Lord. He is impervious. He is unmoved. He is untouched. His heart is like a rock. He is lost.
God must do something. God must give him a new heart if he is ever responsive, if he is ever teachable, if he ever is sensitive, if he ever repents. But when God gives a man a new heart, he is almost unrecognizable compared to what once he was. You talk to him about the Lord Jesus and point to the cross, and he’ll weep. You talk to him about the grace of God, and his heart will overflow. You speak to him about the Spirit, and the call, and the way of the Lord Jesus, and he is all attention. He has a new heart; that is the difference.
When God converts a man, when He takes out the stony heart and places in him a heart that is responsive, and sensitive, and that is full of love and repentance, he is a converted man. That’s what God does. “I will give you a new heart. I will take out the stony heart and give you a heart” [Ezekiel 36:26], sensitive, full of the grace and love of the Lord Jesus.
Not only does He say, “I will give you a new heart,” but He says, “I will put My Spirit within you.” You look at that text, “I will put My Spirit within you” [Ezekiel 36:27]. He does not say, “My Spirit will influence you, or guide you, or teach you.” He says, “I will place My Spirit,” the Holy Spirit of God, “I will put My Spirit within you.” This is a mystery, miraculous! It is a miraculous mystery, the Spirit of God incarnate in us. It is an indescribable mystery—the incarnation of God in Christ, God in our midst.
And when Jesus walked in our midst, it was God walking in our midst; Jesus identified with and numbered among us sinners in this earth. But it is no less a marvelous mystery, the incarnation of the Holy Spirit in us. If it is a wonder—John 1:14, “And the Word, Christ, was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father.)” If that is a mystery, think of the no less incomparably, indescribably, glorious mystery of the Spirit of God incarnate in us, living in us. “I will place My Spirit within you” [Ezekiel 36:27].
Now there are two things that arise out of that glorious. Number one: when the Spirit of God comes to live in our hearts, to dwell in our hearts, we are resurrected to a new life; we are born into a new life spiritually. I’m not talking about just the drunkard, or the whoremonger, or the worldly, I’m talking about a Nicodemus [John 3:1-21], I’m talking about us. I’m talking about God’s redeemed people. We have been reborn, we have been remade, we have come to a new birth. The Spirit of God within us has regenerated us; we are regenerated. We are sanctified, we are glorified; it is the finished work of the Spirit of God within us; a new spiritual life, reborn! [Titus 3:5].
Not only that, but second: He raises us from the dead. In Romans 1:4 it says that Jesus was raised from the dead by the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit of God in the Lord Jesus, when He was placed in the grave, raised Him up from among the dead. The same Holy Spirit of God, when we fall into the depths of the grave, we also will be raised from the dead by the Holy Spirit of God. The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead will raise us from the dead [Romans 8:11]. This is the holy temple of the Spirit of God. That’s what the Lord says in His Word. This is the Spirit; this is the home of the Spirit, this is the temple of the Spirit [1 Corinthians 6:19]. And when this temple falls into the dust of the ground, the Spirit of God will raise up this temple to the glory of His wonderful, and saving, and keeping, and delivering name. It’s a marvel: “I will place My Spirit within you” [Ezekiel 36:27].
Now look again as Ezekiel, by the Spirit of God, writes, “All of this is a work of God.” It is in His sovereign omnipotence. Look, as I studied and pored over these Scriptures, I became very aware of the “I wills”—“Saith the Lord God . . . I will.” In chapter 35, I counted eleven of them—I will’s [Ezekiel 35:1-15]. And in this passage out of which I am preaching, in the next chapter, 36, I counted twenty-four. “Thus saith the Lord God, I will … I will” [Ezekiel 36:1-38]. Our regeneration, and our salvation, and our rebirth is by a fiat of God. God does it. Fiat, He says and it comes to pass [1 Peter 1:23]. Like the Lord said, “Let there be light: and there was light” [Genesis 1:3]. This is a work of the Lord God, a sovereign gift of His love and grace [John 3:16; Romans 6:23].
I want you to look at this just a moment now: there are two fallen races in this universe, two of them. One is angelic; it was led by their federal head, Lucifer. And when Lucifer fell, one-third of the angels chose to fall with him [Revelation 12:4]. There is another fallen race in this world, and that is human, it is Adamic, and our federal head is Adam. And Adam fell and the entire race has fallen with him [Genesis 3:1-6]. Now for some inexplicable reason into which we cannot enter, the Lord God passed over the fallen angels.
We are told in Simon Peter’s letters that the angels are in darkness and in prison, in chains forever, awaiting the judgment of Almighty God [2 Peter 2:4]. There is no mercy, there is no sacrifice for the angels; they are fallen and condemned and judged forever. But in God’s mercy and in God’s grace, the same Lord God who passed over the angels, came down to bring love, and salvation, and hope, and heaven to us, the fallen race of Adam.
In the second chapter of the Book of Hebrews, it says, “Our Lord took not on Him the nature of angels; but He took upon Him the seed of Abraham” [Hebrews 2:16]. “And was in all manners tried as we are, though He without sin” [Hebrews 4:15]. It is God’s mercy and God’s grace that pass by the fallen angels and stoop down in love and mercy to save us. Not by any merit or commendation to God on our part but by His love and grace, God did it.
Now our assurance of our salvation and home in heaven is in Him. For example, in this chapter 36, verse 22, He says, “I do not this for your sakes … but for Mine holy name’s sake, I do it” [Ezekiel 36:22]. Then He says, “I the Lord have spoken it, I will do it” [Ezekiel 36:36]. God says, “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall anyone pluck them out of My hand” [John 10:28]. God chose us, and the Lord shall keep us, and someday we shall arrive in heaven glorified, sanctified, immortalized, by the omnipotent love and grace of God extended toward us. Not by our deserving it or not by our meriting it, but because of the abounding love and grace of God for us [Ephesians 2:8].
Now choir, what you sang about: when we get to heaven, when we stand in the presence of His great glory, we shall not sing; we shall not sing: “Here I am in heaven, I did it. I worked and deserved it. I was good enough thus to be welcomed into the pearly city. I am here by my own efforts, and by my own dedication, and by my own consecration, I did it. Oh, glory to me! I am here in heaven, saved because I achieved it.”
You will not sing that! What will you sing? What you did a moment ago, “Unto Him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, to Him be praise, and honor, and glory, and dominion, and blessing forever and ever. Amen. Amen” [Revelation 1:5-6]. That is what you are going to sing.
It’s the grace of God. I’m just telling you, in other words, that I am a thoroughgoing Calvinist. I am saved because of the love and grace of Jesus [Acts 15:11]. Why did He choose me? Why did He choose us? There are thousands and thousands that pass Him by. Their hearts are rock; their inward souls are like stone. They can look at Jesus on the cross and never be moved. They can hear the story of His outpoured love and never think twice, but not you and I. When the story of Jesus is told to us, I don’t care how many times we have heard it, it moves our hearts.
Many times we weep just loving God, praising God. Oh! His abounding, wonderful love extended to me—that He picked me out, write my name in His holy book, and placed me in His everlasting kingdom. Oh, praise and bless His wonderful name—glorious! Then He continues, He says, “Thus saith the Lord God; I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them; I will increase them with men like a flock. As the holy flock, as the flock of Jerusalem in her solemn feasts” [Ezekiel 36:37-38].
Multiplication is the blessing of God. The blessing of God is multiplication. When God made the first man and set him in the earth, He said, “Multiply, and replenish the earth” [Genesis 1:28]. When God started the race anew in Noah, when Noah and his family came out of the ark, God said to him, “Multiply, multiply, and replenish the earth” [Genesis 9:1]. When God blessed Abraham, He said, “Blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thy seed like the stars in the sky for number, and like the sands of the sea, innumerable” [Genesis 22:17]. Multiplication is a blessing of God.
The story of Exodus starts with, “And the children of Israel”—the Hebrews—“were multiplied exceedingly” [Exodus 1:7]. Multiplication is a blessing of God. And to the mind, to the vivid mind of the Israelite, the best way he could say that was, “God will increase you like a flock, like the holy flocks of Jerusalem in her sanctified feast” [Ezekiel 36:37-38]. That’s the way God will multiply and increase your number.
On those great feasts and in the Old Testament, there were three of them when the people came to Jerusalem: there was Passover [Exodus 12:1-28, 43-49; Deuteronomy 16:1-8], there was Pentecost [Leviticus 23:15-22; Numbers 28:26-31], and there was Tabernacles [Leviticus 23:33-43; Numbers 29:12-38; Deuteronomy 16:13-17]. And when they came to Jerusalem at those solemn feasts of the Lord, named here in Ezekiel, they brought those flocks of sacrifice by the hundreds and by the thousands.
When Solomon dedicated the temple, he sacrificed one hundred twenty thousand sheep [1 Kings 8:63]. Upon one day in the solemn feast in the days of Hezekiah, the king sacrificed seventeen thousand sheep [2 Chronicles 30:24]. Could you imagine, can’t you imagine standing in Jerusalem, God’s holy city, and seeing those flocks come to the sacrificial festival by the hundreds, and by the thousands, and by the thousands? God says, “I will increase your number; multiply your number like that” [Ezekiel 36:37]. Multiplication is a sign of the blessing of God.
When you are in a great city and there are thousands and thousands and thousands around us, and no one is converted, and no one is saved, and God does not add to His church, it is a sign of the non-blessing of God. You can write Ichabod [1 Samuel 4:21-22], over the congregation, over the church. A sign of the power of the Holy Spirit of God working in the congregation is when flocks come by the hundreds and by the thousands, accepting the Lord, praising the Lord, regenerated by the Holy Spirit of God. That is a sign of the working of the Holy Spirit and the blessing of the Holy Spirit upon a congregation: when people are saved, when God adds to the number, when they are increased, praising, and singing, and loving the Lord.
Now, how does that come to pass? He says here, “For this, for this I will be yet inquired of by the house of Israel” [Ezekiel 36:37]. I will be importuned, I will be asked for, “I will be inquired of,” for this, prayed for this. What is this? This is that great numerical increase, the saving of the multitudes, the saving of the lost, “I will be inquired of by My people for this.” That is, we are to pray for the increase, we are to ask God for the increase. We are to believe God for the multitudes; we are to ask God for these that the Lord will send to us. “I will be inquired of by Israel for this,” this, the great increase.
We have organizations, and we need them, and we have meetings, and we need them, but back of all of it has to be constant intercession and praying to God for the increase. We’ll do the best we can in organizing, we’ll do the best we can in meeting, and instructing, and in seminars, but God has to be importuned for the increase. It has to be undergirded and sustained by prayer. “For this I will be inquired of by the Lord God” [Ezekiel 36:37], to pray, to pray.
When I came here over forty years ago—soon be forty-one years now—when I came here, O Lord, the church had been in a decline for eighteen consecutive years, one after another. The pastor had been gone, the pastor finally was so stricken and ill—stand up here in this pulpit at night, and it looked like a pile of wood out there; just see the wood of those pews, nobody in the balcony. Oh, and I knelt and I prayed, “Lord, dear Lord, if I am faithful in preaching the gospel and if I am true to the Word of God and deliver it to the best of my soul’s ability, Lord, will You give me souls? Will You send me people? Will You send me families, will You?” And I had the distinct—as though God spoke to me by verbal voice, and I heard it in my ear as though God spoke to me literally—I had that word of answer in my heart, “You be faithful to the Word of God and you deliver My message of the gospel faithfully, prayerfully, fervently, and I will send you souls. I will send you souls.”
In the forty-one years that I have preached here, there has never been a time when I preached in this pulpit, but that God has given us a harvest; no matter the weather, no matter how cold, no matter how what, no matter anything. Every time I have preached here, for these forty-one years, every service without exception, for forty-one years, God has given us a harvest. He has never failed. “For this will I be inquired of,” of the Lord, “You ask Me for it, you ask Me” [Ezekiel 36:37].
And now at the end of forty-one years, I want to do the same thing again. “Lord, if I am faithful to the Word, and if I deliver the message of the gospel with all of the fervor and ableness of my heart, Lord, will You send me souls, send me families? Send me people; send them like a flock. Will You do it, Lord?” And I have the distinct persuasion in my soul that God answers that prayer. “You preach the gospel faithfully, you ask the Lord to be with you, you inquire of Me for it, and I will faithfully do it.”
Do you see one other thing here? He says, “I will yet be inquired of for this, to do it for them, to do it for them” [Ezekiel 36:37]. Not just a few, but for “them,” for all of the house of Israel, for all of them. “I will do it for them.” All of us are to share in this intercession and in this appeal, all of us, not just Dr. Melzoni. Not just the fellowship of the deacons, not just the pastor or the staff, but all of us are to share in that intercession. “I will be inquired to do this for them, for the whole house of Israel” [Ezekiel 36:37], all of them are to make this intercession and appeal.
Do you remember in Joshua, in chapter 7? The men in the army said to Joshua, “Joshua, Ai here is just a little place, so just a few of us will go up and take Ai.” The few went up to Ai and they were ignominiously and ingloriously defeated, and several of those wonderful men of God were slain. And Joshua fell on his face before the Lord, crying before God [Joshua 7:2-6]. Now the eighth chapter, the next chapter, it says that when they went up to Ai, the whole army of Israel went up to take it, all of them [Joshua 8:1]. So it is with us when we go before the Lord in prayer, in supplication, in intercession, when we bring to pass, “for this I will be inquired of by the Lord” [Ezekiel 36:37]. When we go up to make that prayer and appeal, it isn’t just he that is to go or just I who am to go, all of us are to go, all of us are to pray. All of us are to intercede; all of us are to ask God for the blessing, all of us. All of us are to share in the witnessing, in the testimony, in the praying, in the appealing, asking of God, all of us are—all of us are.
I could not think of a more tragic thing than that God would close His ears to us and harden His heart against us. In the twentieth chapter of the Book of Ezekiel, verse 3 He says, “As I live, saith the Lord God, I will not be inquired of by you” [Ezekiel 20:3]. And in the thirty-first verse, He is preaching: “O house of Israel, as I live, saith the Lord God, I will not be inquired of by you” [Ezekiel 20:31]. That same interdiction is repeated, said in Isaiah 1:15: “When you spread forth your hands, I will hide Mine eyes from you: yea, when you make many prayers, I will not hear.” Oh! What an interdiction, what an unspeakable tragedy, “When you spread forth your hands before Me, I will not look at you. And when you bow down to pray to Me, I will not hear you.” Oh, what a tragedy, what a curse, what a judgment—sinning away their day of grace!
But here in the thirty-sixth chapter of the Book of Ezekiel, the Lord God says, “I will be inquired of by you” [Ezekiel 36:37]. Think if half a dozen of us had an audience with the great God, what a privilege! Think if forty of us had a great audience with the Mighty God—but my brother, my sister, God opens wide the door and says all of us can come and have a personal audience with the great, omnipotent God in heaven. “And when you come and make inquiry for these that are lost, that they might be saved, I will increase your number, I will send them to you by the flocks” [Ezekiel 36:37-38]. Lord, Lord, could such a thing be? Could such a thing be? His blessing in multiplication.
“I will be inquired of,” He says, “I will listen to the prayer. I will answer the appeal. I will send souls to you by the flocks, by the hundreds and the thousands.” Lord, Lord, could it be? Could it be? Do I stagger at such a promise? All of the promises of God are invitations to prayer, to asking.
Jeremiah 33:3, “Call unto Me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.” Paul writes in Ephesians 3, “Beyond our understanding, above all that we ask or think” [Ephesians 3:20], God is ready and willing to answer our prayers, to give us souls, to save the lost. God will do it. It is not our doing it, God does it; it is His outpoured grace. “I will be inquired by it. I will be importuned by it. Just ask Me.” Even He said that of His Son, “Ask of Me, and I will give Thee the ends of the earth for Thy possession [Psalm 2:8]. Just ask of Me. Pray to Me.” All of the abounding, illimitable resources of the Lord God omnipotent are at our disposal if we will just ask, open our hearts for the blessing.
In the fourth chapter of 2 Kings, creditors came to a poor widow and said, “We are going to sell your two sons into slavery in order to pay your debts.” And the woman cried to Elisha, the man of God. And Elisha said, “What do you have in the house?” And she said, “I have one cruse of oil, a little pitcher of oil.” That’s all. And he said, “Borrow from your neighbors. Borrow all the vessels that you can accumulate, borrow and get them together. Put them in the house.” And the dear widow went to all of her neighbors and borrowed all the pots, and containers, and jars that she could find and brought them in the house. And Elisha said, “Now shut the door and you and your two boys, you pour out of that cruse.” And she poured out of that cruse of oil, and she poured, and she poured, and she poured. And she came down to the last five, and she poured and she poured. And she came down to the last two, and she poured. And she came down to the last one, and she poured. And when there was no more vessels, the pouring ceased. The oil stopped [2 Kings 4:1-6]. Why? Because God had no more grace? God had no more ableness? God had no more blessings? God had no more to pour into those vessels? It stopped because there weren’t any more jars; there weren’t any more vessels; there weren’t any more containers.
So it is with God’s grace outpoured upon us: there is no limit to His ableness. There is no understanding of the infinitude of His grace and His mercies, we are only limiting Him by our poor, stammering hearts, and lives, and souls—the vessels we offer unto Him. As we come to the horizon, it will always recede. There is no limit to the immeasurable grace, and goodness, and outpoured blessings of God [Romans 5:20]. It is just for opening our hands to receive them. It is to open our souls and hearts and ask God for them. And if we do, the oil is poured out and it is poured out, the blessings are shared from heaven, and there is no bounding to the immeasurable remembrances of God upon His people when they pray, and when they ask, and when they supplicate, and when they intercede.
O Lord God, the grace of God is never depleted, and the love and mercy of God is never self-emptying. It is abounding. It is endless. It is immeasurable. It is as infinite as the Almighty God Himself. “Just ask,” He says, “For this I will be inquired of by the Lord to multiply you by flocks, by hundreds, by thousands” [Ezekiel 36:37-38].
And Lord, for our people to believe God’s promises and to pray and work on the basis of God’s assurances is to bring victory to our souls, and blessings to our church and congregation, and salvation to the people of our city by the thousands.
O Lord, that we might possess that faith, in prayer, and that dedication in witnessing to believe that God will do it. Bringing the vessel to the Lord to be filled, asking God for the outpouring of His grace, and believing that He will sanctify and hallow our witnessing as we speak, as we invite, as we believe in these that God will send us. He will touch their hearts, He will change their responsive, sensitive spirit, He will save them, it is the work of God [Ephesians 2:8], and He uses us to bring His love and grace to these for whom Christ died. Now Lord, do it again, do it again.
In a moment we will sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing that hymn, may God sanctify and hallow the truth of this message by giving us a gracious and precious harvest. Soul saved—God adding to the redeemed of His family, sending people to increase the number of His flock, helping all of us to praise the Lord all the more and all of the abounding because of his infinite goodnesses, leaving the promises of God, asking the Lord on the basis of them and seeing the presence of the Spirit of the Lord in the congregation, adding souls to His people. Do it, Lord. Do it now.
And as we stand in a moment to sing our hymn of appeal, to give your heart to the Lord Jesus, “Today I accept Him, receive Him, as my personal Savior.” Come, a family you to put your life with us in this dear church, a couple you, one somebody you, “God has spoken to me and this is the day of my answer, and I’m on the way. I’m coming down that stairway.” “Going down this aisle, this is the day of the Lord He has made for me, and I’m answering with my life.” May angels attend you and God bless you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.