(I Peter 1:3-5)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Let us begin this chapter by continuing our consideration of the acknowledgment of the prayer. It is to be recalled that this Epistle is addressed to those who are strangers, scattered abroad (v. 1). Most appropriate, then, is this reference to the Divine begetting of God’s elect, for it is by the Holy Spirit’s gracious begetting that the elect are constituted strangers or sojourners (that is, temporary residents of this world), both in heart and in conduct. The Lord Jesus was a stranger here (Ps. 69:8), for He was the Son of God from heaven; and so, too, are His people, for they have His Spirit within them. How that understanding enhances this miracle of grace! Divine begetting is not merely a doctrine, but the actual communication to the soul of the very life of God (John 1:13). Formerly the Christian was both in and of the world, but now his “conversation [citizenship—A.S.V.] is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20, brackets mine). “I am a stranger in the earth” (Ps. 119:19) is henceforth his confession. To the soul renewed by God this world becomes a barren wilderness. For his heritage, his home, is on high, and therefore he now views the things of time and sense in a very different light.
The Great Interests of the Regenerate Soul Are Alien to this World
The chief interests of a truly born-again soul lie not in this mundane sphere. His affections will be set upon things above; and in proportion as they are so, his heart is detached from this world. Their strangerhood is an essential mark that distinguishes the saints from the ungodly. They who heartily embrace the promises of God are suitably affected by them (Heb. 11:13). One of the certain effects of Divine grace in the soul is to separate its possessor, both in spirit and in practice, from the world. His delight in heavenly things manifests itself in his being weaned from the things of earth, just as the woman at the well left her bucket behind when she had obtained from Christ the living water (John 4:28). Such a spirit constitutes him an alien among the worshipers of mammon. He is morally a foreigner in a strange land, surrounded by those who know him not (1 John 3:1), because they know not his Father. Nor do they understand his joys or sorrows, not appreciating the principles and motives that actuate him; for their pursuits and pleasures are radically different from his. Nay, he finds himself in the midst of enemies who hate him (John 15:19), and there are none with whom he can have communion save the very few who “have obtained like precious faith” (2 Peter 1:1).
But though there be nothing in this wilderness of a world for the Christian, he has been “begotten… again unto a living hope.” Previously he viewed death with horror, but now he perceives that it will provide a blessed release from all sin and sorrow and open the door into Paradise. The principle of grace received at the new birth not only inclines its possessor to love God and to act in faith upon His Word, but it also disposes him to “look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen” (2 Cor. 4:17, 18), inclining his aspirations away from the present toward his glorious future. Thomas Manton aptly declares, “The new nature was made for another world: it came from thence, and it carrieth the soul thither.” Hope is an assured expectation of future good. While faith is in exercise, a vista of unclouded bliss is set before the heart, and hope enters into the enjoyment of the same. It is a living hope exercised within a dying environment, and it both supports and invigorates all of us who believe. While in healthy activity, hope not only sustains amid the trials of this life but lifts us above them. Oh, for hearts to be more engaged in joyous anticipations of the future! For such hopeful hearts will quicken us to duty and stimulate us to perseverance. In proportion to the intelligence and strength of our hope will we be delivered from the fear of death.
Union with Christ in His Resurrection, the Cause of Our Regeneration
A further word must now be said upon the relationship that the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead bears to the Father’s begetting of us to this living hope. Christ’s God-honoring work and triumphant emergence from the grave was the legal basis not only of the justification of His people, but of their regeneration also. Mystically, by virtue of their union with Christ in the mind and purpose of God, they were delivered from their death at the hands of the Law when their Surety arose from the dead. “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) and hath raised us up together…” (Eph. 2:4-6, ital. mine). Those words refer to the corporate union of the (editor’s note: eternal) Church with her Head and her judicial participation in His victory, and not to an individual experience. Nevertheless, since all the elect rose federally when their Representative arose, they must in due time be regenerated; since they have been made alive legally, they must in due course be quickened spiritually. Had not Christ risen, none had been quickened (1 Cor. 15:17); but because He lives, they shall live also.
Jesus lives, and so shall I.
Death! thy sting is gone forever!
He who deigned for me to die,
Lives, the bands of death to sever.
He [hath raised] me from the dust:
Jesus is my Hope and Trust.
The life that is in the Head must be communicated to the members of His body.
The resurrection of Christ is the virtual cause of our regeneration. The Holy Spirit would not have been given unless Christ had conquered the last enemy (1 Cor. 15:26) and gone to the Father: “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us:… that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Gal. 3:13, 14). Regeneration issues as truly from the virtue of Christ’s resurrection as does our justification, which is the result of that saving faith in Christ that can only issue from a Spirit-renewed heart. He purchased for His people the blessed Spirit to raise them up to grace and glory. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour” (Titus 3:5, 6, ital. mine). God the Father has shed the Holy Spirit upon us in regenerating power because of the merits of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, and in response to His mediation on our behalf. The Holy Spirit is here to testify of Christ to God’s elect, to raise up faith in them toward Him in order that they “may abound in hope” (Rom. 15:12, 13). Our spiritual deliverance from the grave of sin’s guilt, power, and pollution is as much owing to the efficacy of Christ’s triumph over death as will be our physical vivification at His return. He is “the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29), the very life of Christ being imparted to them when they are begotten again.
The Power that Raised Christ Physically Raises Sinners Spiritually
The resurrection of Christ is also the dynamic prototype of our regeneration. The same power put forth in raising Christ’s body is employed in the recovering of our souls from spiritual death (Eph. 1:19, 20; 2:1). The Lord Jesus is designated “the first begotten of the dead” (Rev. 1:5) because His emerging from the grave was not only the pledge but the likeness of both the regeneration of the spirits of His people and the raising of their bodies in the last day. The similitude is obvious. Begetting is the beginning of a new life. When Christ was born into this world it was “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom. 8:3). Though untouched by the taint of original sin (Luke 1:35) and undefiled by the pollution of actual transgressions, He was clothed with infirmity because of imputed iniquity. But when He rose from Joseph’s tomb in power and glory, it was in a body fitted for heaven. Likewise, at regeneration, we receive a nature that makes us meet for heaven. As God’s raising of Christ testified to His being pacified by His sacrifice (Heb. 13:20), so by begetting us again He assures us of our personal interest therein. As Christ’s resurrection was the grand proof of His Divine Sonship (Rom. 1:4), so the new birth is the first open manifestation of our adoption. As Christ’s resurrection was the first step into His glory and exaltation, so regeneration is the first stage of our entrance into all spiritual privileges.
Glorification Is the Goal of Regeneration
Our seventh consideration in examining this doxology is its substance: “to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you” (v. 4). Regeneration is for the purpose of glorification. We are begotten spiritually to two realities: a living hope in the present, and a glorious heritage in the future. It is by God’s begetting that we obtain our title to the latter. Inheritances go by birth: “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). If not sons, then we cannot be heirs; and we must be born of God in order to become the children of God. But “if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17). Not only does begetting confer title, but it also guarantees the inheritance. Already the Christian has received the Spirit, “[who] is the earnest of our inheritance” (Eph. 1:14, brackets mine). As Christ’s part was to purchase the inheritance, so the Spirit’s part is to make it known to the heirs; for “the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” He “hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit” (1 Cor. 2:9, 10). It is the Spirit’s province to vouchsafe to the regenerate sweet foretastes of what is in store for them, to bring something of heaven’s joy into their souls on earth.
The New Birth Fits Us Immediately for Heaven
Not only does Divine begetting give title to and ensure the heavenly inheritance, but it also imparts a meetness for the same. At the new birth a nature is imparted that is suited to the celestial sphere, that qualifies the soul to dwell for ever with the thrice-holy God (as is evident from his present communion with Him); and at the close of his earthly pilgrimage, indwelling sin (which now hinders his communion) dies with the body. It is all too little realized by the saints that at regeneration they are at once fitted for heaven. Many of them—to the serious diminution of their peace and joy—suppose that they must still pass through a process of severe discipline and refining before they shall be ready to enter the courts above. That is but another relic of Romanism. The case of the dying thief, who was taken immediately from his spiritual birthplace into Paradise, should teach them better. But it does not. So legalistic remains the tendency of the heart even of a Christian that it is very difficult to convince him that the very hour he was born again he was made as suitable for heaven as ever he would be though he remained on earth another century. How difficult it is for us to believe that no growth in grace or passing through fiery trials is essential to prepare our souls for the Father’s house.
Nowhere does Scripture say that believers are ripened, meetened, or gradually fitted for heaven. The Holy Spirit expressly declares that God the Father has, “according to His abundant mercy. . . begotten us again. . . to an inheritance.” What could be plainer? Nor does our text by any means stand alone. Christians have already been made “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), and what more can be needed to fit them for the Divine presence? Scripture emphatically declares, “Wherefore thou art no more a servant [slave], but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ” (Gal. 4:7, brackets mine). The inheritance is the child’s birthright or patrimony. To speak of heirs not being eligible for an estate is a contradiction in terms. Our fitness for the inheritance lies alone in our being the children of God. If it be true that except a man be born again he cannot enter or see the kingdom of God, then, conversely, it necessarily follows that once he has been born again he is qualified for an entrance into and enjoyment of God’s kingdom. All room for argument on this point is excluded by these words, which set forth one aspect of Paul’s prayers of thanksgiving on behalf of the Colossians: “Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made [past tense] us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light” (Col. 1:12, ital. and brackets mine).
by Regeneration We Are Wedded to Christ
by regeneration we are made vitally one with Christ and thereby become joint-heirs with Him. The portion of the Bride is her participation in the portion of the Bridegroom. “And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them” (John 17:22), declares the Redeemer of His redeemed. This, too, needs stressing today, when so much error is parading itself as the truth. In their fanciful attempts to “rightly divide the Word,” men have wrongly divided the family of God. Some Dispensationalists hold that not only is there a distinction of earthly privileges, but that the same distinctions will be perpetuated in the world to come; that the New Testament believers will look down from a superior elevation upon Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; that saints who lived and died before Pentecost will not participate in the glory of the Church or enter into the inheritance “reserved for us in heaven.” To affirm that the saints of this Christian era are to occupy a higher position and to enjoy grander privileges than will those of previous ages is a serious and inexcusable mistake, for it clashes with the most fundamental teachings of Scripture concerning the purpose of the Father, the redemption of Christ, and the work of the Spirit, and repudiates the essential features of God’s great salvation. Writing to the churches in Galatia, largely composed of Gentiles, the Apostle Paul declares, “Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham (Gal. 3:7). This text alone is sufficient to prove that God’s way of salvation has never essentially changed.
All of God’s elect are the common sharers of the riches of His wondrous grace, vessels whom He “afore prepared unto glory” (Rom. 9:23), whom He predestinated to be “conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29). Christ acted as the Surety of the entire election of grace, and what His meritorious work secured for one of them it necessarily secured for all. The saints of all ages are fellow-heirs. Each of them was predestinated by the same Father (John 6:37; 10:16, 27-30; 17:2, 9-12, 20-24); each of them was regenerated by the same Spirit (Eph. 4:4), each of them looked to and trusted in the same Savior. Scripture knows of no salvation that does not issue in joint-heirship with Christ. Those to whom God gives His Son, namely, the whole company of His elect from Abel to the end of earth’s history, He also freely gives all things (Rom. 8:32). That both Abraham and David were justified by faith is plain from Romans 4, and there is no higher destiny or more glorious prospect than that to which justification gives full title. The renewing work of the Holy Spirit is identical in every member of God’s family: begetting them to, qualifying them for, a celestial heritage. All those who were effectually called by Him during the Old Testament era received “the promise of eternal inheritance” (Heb. 9:15). Heaven-born children must have a heavenly portion.