"YE MUST BE BORN AGAIN"
"…Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3.3)
INTRO.: A song which emphasizes the absolute necessity of being born again is "Ye Must Be Born Again" (#339 in Hymns for Worship Revised and #547 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written by William True Sleeper (1819-1904). Born in New Hampshire and educated at Phillips-Exeter Academy, the University of Vermont, and Andover Theological Seminary, he became a Congregational minister in Maine and Massachusetts. The tune (Born Again) was composed by George Coles Stebbins (1846-1945). A native of New York, he was a musician who worked with Dwight Moody of Chicago, IL, and other revival evangelists as a song director and hymnbook editor.
Among Stebbins’s other well known melodies are those for Fanny Crosby’s "Jesus Is Tenderly Calling" and "Saved By Grace," James Edmeston’s "Savior, Breathe An Evening Blessing," James G. Small’s "I’ve Found A Friend," Cecil Alexander’s "There Is A Green Hill," William D. Longstaff’s "Take Time To Be Holy," Edward Ufford’s "Throw Out The Lifeline," Adelaide Pollard’s "Have Thine Own Way, Lord," Charles C. Luther’s "Must I Go And Empty Handed?", and Frances R. Havergal’s "True-Hearted, Whole-Hearted." "Ye Must Be Born Again" came about in 1877 when Stebbins was helping George Pentecost in evangelistic meetings in Worcester, MA, where Sleeper was the local minister. Pentecost preached on "The New Birth." Stebbins thought of some words for a chorus and asked Sleeper, who was known to write poetry, to provide some verses on the subject. Before the meetings closed, the musical setting was made. The hymn first appeared in Gospel Hymns No. 3 of 1878 which Stebbins helped Ira D. Sankey and James McGranahan to edit.
A few years later, Sleeper and Stebbins collaborated on another hymn, "Jesus, I Come," beginning, "Out of my bondage, sorrow, and night." Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ "Ye Must Be Born Again appeared in the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2 and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 both edited by L. O. Sanderson; the 1959 Majestic Hymnal No. 2 and the 1978 Hymns of Praise both edited by Reuel Lemmons; and the 1965 Great Christian Hymnal No. 2 edited by Tillit S. Teddlie. Currently, it can be found in the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand in addition to Hymns for Worship, Sacred Selections, and the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat.
The song reminds us of the importance and meaning of being born again.
I. Stanza 1 recounts the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus.
"A ruler once came to Jesus by night To ask Him the way of salvation and light;
The Master made answer in words true and plain, ‘Ye must be born again.’"
A. John tells us how Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, came to Jesus by night: Jn. 3.1-2
B. From the fact that he understood that Jesus was a teacher come from God and from Jesus’s answer, we can reasonably conclude that He was asking about salvation, and Jesus answered His questions: Jn. 3.4-5
C. What Jesus told him was that "you must be born again": Jn. 3.6-7
II. Stanza 2 applies Jesus’s message to all the children of men.
"Ye children of men, attend to the Word, So solemnly uttered by Jesus the Lord;
And let not this message to you be in vain, ‘Ye must be born again.’"
A. "Children of men" refers to all responsible human beings because all have sinned: Rom. 3.23
B. Thus, all responsible human beings need to attend to the word that was so solemnly uttered by Jesus the Lord because it is by His word that we shall be judged: Jn. 12.48
C. The message of His word is that we must be begotten again by the gospel: 1 Cor. 4.16
III. Stanza 3 encourages all who wish to be saved to respond to the message of Christ.
"O ye who would enter that glorious rest, And sing with the ransomed the song of the blest,
The life everlasting if ye would obtain, ‘Ye must be born again.’"
A. There is a glorious rest that remains for the people of God: Heb. 4.1-9
B. Those who enter that glrious rest will be able to sing with the ransomed the song of the blest: Rev, 5,8-9
C. However, if we wish to have the promise of eternal life must be born of God: 1 Jn. 2.25, 4.4-5
IV. Stanza 4 points to the final reward for those who would respond to the message of Christ.
"A dear one in heaven thy heart yearns to see, At the beautiful gate may be watching for thee,
Then list to the note of this solemn refrain, ‘Ye must be born again.’"
A. Most of our books have omitted this stanza, and the only one to contain it, Sacred Selections, changes it to "The dear One in heaven thy heart yearns to see, At the beautiful gate He is watching for thee." In fact, editor Crum changed nearly every single song that talks about seeing "dear ones" or "loved ones" in heaven to "saved ones" or something like that. While we do recognize that there may well be "loved ones" here on earth who will not be in heaven, one of the blessings of the resurrection and heaven is being reunited with "loved ones" in the faith who have gone before: 1 Thes. 4.13-18
B. Whether you think of the song as referring to "dear ones" in Christ who have died or Christ Himself, the "beautiful gate" obviously refers to the portal leading to eternal life in heaven where the righteous will be reunited with one another and with the Lord: Rev. 21.12-13, 21
C. This is the hope of the Christian, but we must remember than in order to realize this hope of living forever we must be born again by the incorruptible seed which lives and abides forever: 1 Pet. 1.22-25
CONCL.: The chorus takes the words of the Lord to Nicodemus from Jn. 3.3, transfers the word "I" from the middle to the beginning, and pairs them with His statement from verse 8, to form a rhythmical pattern:
"Ye must be born again, Ye must be born again;
I verily, verily, say unto thee, Ye must be born again."
Many people in the religious world, even some calling themselves Christians, completely misunderstand the concept of being born again. They often talk about "born again Christians" as if there were any other kind. A Christian is simply one who has been born again. Also, this being "born again" is not simply a passive experience that one prays and waits for, but an action on the part of God that is the result of our own obedience to His terms of pardon. I have heard an objection to this song that since so many people in the religious world do misunderstand the idea of being born again perhaps we should not sing it. However, my response is if the Bible says it, why should we not sing it? Jesus stresses the essentiality of regeneration to people who wish to enter the kingdom of God by saying, "Ye Must Be Born Again."