Have I Been Born Again?
James Smith, 1864
A more important question cannot engage my attention, or employ my time; for Jesus has said, “Truly, truly, I say unto you — unless a man is born again — he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). As, therefore, I wish to be a subject of God’s kingdom on earth, and in Heaven; and as I cannot without a new birth — let me carefully examine myself, and endeavor to ascertain if I have been born again. I frequently fear I have not, because . . .
my heart is so depraved,
my sinful passions are so strong,
my walk is so uneven, and
Satan so often gets the mastery of me.
My fears are very painful, they weaken my faith, agitate my mind, and disturb my plans. But I would rather fear — if I am right; than live in calm and serenity — if I am wrong. Lord, search me. Lord, help me to examine myself. Lord, decide the doubtful case for me. Lord, set me right, and then keep me right.
Those who are born again are . . .
convinced of sin,
concerned about sin,
flee to Jesus to be saved from sin,
and have their hearts set against sin.
How is it with me? I see and feel every day that I am a sinner; sin often fills me with the deepest concern; I do look to Jesus as the only sacrifice for sin, and cry to him to save me from the guilt, power, love, and consequence of sin; and I feel, at least at times, hatred to sin, to all sin.
But, alas, I feel that sin has still great power in my heart, it works in my imagination, conscience, will, and affections; it appears in my looks, words, and conduct. It is too strong for me, I cannot subdue it, or free myself from it. Never did the Publican’s prayer suit anyone better than it does me at this moment, “God be merciful to me a sinner!”
Some sins I always hate — but there are some sins to which I feel my heart secretly inclining. My whole soul is not set against all sin in myself, at least not at all times; and, in consequence of this, I often doubt, fear, and give way to unbelief. Oh, how painful the suspicion which now arises in my heart, “If I should find out at last that after all my profession, after all my religious enjoyments, and after I have preached to others — that I am not born again, and therefore am a castaway!” The supposition is dreadful, the doubt seems to pierce one’s very vitals. O Jesus, you search the thoughts and the heart; oh, let me know if I am born again!
Those who are born again, pray without ceasing. They have . . .
such a feeling sense of their necessities,
such a view of the Redeemer’s fullness, and
feel a principle working within them, which urges them to approach the throne of grace.
How is it with me? I cannot live without prayer. I pray at set times, and I pray in almost all places, and at almost all times. But my prayers are often so short, so lifeless, so powerless — that though I use no form, they appear to be no better than form. Pray I must — but I am often impelled by fear, led by a sense of duty, and go to it in a mere customary manner. Prayer is often a task, a burden, and sometimes it is even wearisome. Can I be born again? But if I am not — would I pray at all? At least, would it seem to be natural to me to pray? Would I approach the Lord, as I often do, without ceremony — and commence telling him my tale of woe, and asking his blessing and intervention, without any introduction? Do the unconverted do this? Where the life of God is not in the soul — is this, can this be the case? Holy and ever blessed Spirit, you know my real case, my true condition, reveal it to me. If I am regenerate — banish my doubts, disperse my fears, inspire me with confidence, and bear your own witness with my heart, “that I am born of God.”
Those who are born again love the saints, all the saints; and the loving John has written, “We know that we have passed from death unto life — because we love the brethren.” Well, I do love many of the saints — but do I love all that I know? I love those who are with me, and are kind to me; but do I love those who differ from me, and who treat me unkindly? Do I love a saint in rags? Do I love a believer in sickness and destitution? Do I love the poor, illiterate, uncultivated, more repulsive, of the people of God? Do I love saints because they are saints, and just in proportion to their resemblance to the Lord Jesus Christ? Alas, I sometimes fear that I love something in them besides the image of Christ, and love them for something, also, besides their saintship. How difficult I find it to love some of them at all. How I can dwell upon their faults, and speak of their failings. I feel jealous of some, and I envy others. Would this be the case if my heart was sound in God’s statutes? Then I am so changeable towards them, sometimes I love them so warmly, and feel as if nothing was too good to give them, or too arduous to undertake for them; but at another time I have nothing to bestow, nor any inclination to serve them. Oh, heart-searching God, examine me, I beg you, and let me know — am I, or am I not, born again!’
Those who are born again love the Savior. This is often my brightest evidence. I do find Jesus precious. There is music in his name. There is adaptation in his mercy, merit, and word, to my circumstances. I love to hear him exalted, and to exalt him myself. I never feel as if I could think highly enough of him, or speak of him so as to show forth half his excellencies. But, then, do I love him for what he is in himself, and for what he has done for others? Or is mine only selfish love, arising from a persuasion that I am a favorite, that he has saved me from Hell, and will bring me to Heaven?
Besides which, my love is so fluctuating, at times I seem to love many inferior things more than him; my heart is as hard as a stone, my affections are as cold as winter, and I can perceive little if any difference between myself and the worldling, or those who are clearly only mere professors. Though at other times I find my heart warm at the mention of his name, and glow when his praises are sung. Oh, that the love of Jesus did so . . .
fill my heart,
inflame my affections,
regulate my actions, and
consecrate my life —
that it would be impossible for me to doubt whether I loved him sincerely, constantly, and consistently — or not!
I sometimes think that if I have not loved Jesus — I never have loved anyone; if I do not love him now — I love no one. But I want certainty.
Eternity is so solemn.
Hell is so dreadful.
Heaven is so glorious.
Death is so near.
Delusions are so powerful.
Mistakes are so common.
Therefore I want the indubitable proof, the unquestionable evidence, the living, abiding witness within and without me — that I am born of God. Oh, holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, three persons in One God, I beseech you to decide for me, and register that decision by the finger of the Holy Spirit upon my conscience — am I born again?
Reader, I have opened my heart to you. I have told you my case. I have unfolded my concern. I have showed you my desire. I have confessed my imperfections. I have made known my anxieties.
How is it with you? Do you ever feel thus? Have you any sympathy with me in my hopes and fears, my desires and doubtings, my pains and pleasures? It is a solemn, most solemn subject — for if we are not born again. . .
we cannot be saved,
Heaven will be barred against us,
hope will fly from us,
despair will brood over us,
the burning lake will receive us,
indescribable torments will be awarded to us,
devils and damned souls will be our miserable companions,
God will be our enemy, our irreconcilable enemy forever and ever!
Oh, let us, then, while we have the opportunity, search our own hearts, cry to the Lord for mercy, nor rest satisfied until we can say, “We are born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which lives and abides forever!”