These are the three "nots"; the three ways we are not saved. And it becomes of intensest interest to notice that these are the very three ways that the crowd is emphasizing to-day, some this, others that, as the way of being saved. The three modern words we commonly use for these three "nots" of John are, family, culture, and influence.
Some of us seem to be fully expecting to walk into the presence of God, and to get all there is to be gotten there, because of the family we belong to. This is probably stronger in some of us than we are conscious of. It's a matter of blood with us, our blood, our natural generation. We take greatest pride in showing what blood it is that runs in our veins. We trace the line far back to those whose names are well known. And this sort of thing has overpowering influence in our human affairs down here.
His gracious majesty King George is King of England, because he is the child of Edward and Alexandra. His one and only claim to the English throne is that at the time of accession he was their oldest living son. But that won't figure a farthing's worth when he comes up to the hearthfire of God's family. And I think he understands this full well. I'm expecting to see him there; not as King of England, but as a brother.
It is not a matter of blood. It's a blessed thing to be well-born. It makes a tremendous difference to have the blood of an old noble family in one's veins, if it is good clean blood. But it'll never save us. Salvation is not by lineal descent, not by family line. It is "not of blood." John clears that ground.
Some of us put great stress on what we are in ourselves. This looms big with a great crowd scattered throughout the earth. We know so much. We have gotten it by dint of hard work. We can do some things so skilfully. We have worked into positions of great power among men. Our names are known. Sometimes they are spelled in large letters.
The broad word for this is culture, what we have gained and gotten by our effort, of that which is reckoned good, and which is good. Culture is one of the chief words in our language to-day. Whether spelled the English way or the German, it looms big. It is one of our modern tidbits. It is chewed on much, and pleases our palate greatly. And culture is good, if it is good culture.
But, have you noticed, that you have to have a thing before you can culture it? No amount of the choicest culture will get an apple out of a turnip, nor a Bartlett pear out of a potato, nor make a Chinese into an Englishman, nor an American into a Japanese. Culture can improve the stock, but it can't change it. It takes some other power than culture to change the kind. Here we have to be made of the same kind as they are up in the old family of God. There must be a change at the core. Then culture of that new stock is only good and blessed.
This is John's second "not." It seems rather radical. It completely undercuts so much of our present day notions. If John is right, some of us are wrong, radically, dangerously wrong. Yet John had a wonderful Teacher whom he lived with for a while. And after He had gone, John had another Teacher, unseen but very real, who guided, especially in the writing of the old Jesus-story. The whole presumption is in favour of John's way of it being wholly right. And if that makes us wrong, we would better be grateful to find it out now, while there's time to change. Being saved is not a matter of what we can do, of our culture, though this has its proper place.
And some of us put tremendous stress to-day on influence, what we can command from others, in furtherance of our desires. Influence is spelled in biggest type and printed in blackest ink. Whether in political matters at Washington or at London; in financial, whether Lombard Street or Wall Street; or in the all-important social matters, or even in the educational, the university world, the chief question is, "Whose influence can you get?" "What name can you quote?" "Whose backing have you?" Influence and culture are the twin gods to-day. The smoke of their incense goeth up continuously. Their places of worship are crowded, with bent knees and prostrate forms and reverential hush.
Have you noticed that Jesus hadn't enough influence with the officials of His day to keep from the cross? No: but He had enough power to break the official emblem of earth's greatest authority, the Roman seal on the Joseph tomb. Rather striking that; intensely significant for us moderns. Peter hadn't enough influence with the authorities to keep out of jail. Sounds rather disgraceful that, does it not? Aye, but he had enough power with God to open jail-doors and walk quietly out against the wish of those highest in authority.
Influence has its proper place. It's good, if it is. But we are not saved by it. We are not saved by what some one else can do for us; "not of the will of man." Your mother's prayers and your wife's, and the influence of their godly lives will have great weight. It's a great blessing to have them. They help enormously. But the thing itself that takes a man into the presence of God, saved and redeemed, is something immensely more than this, some action of his own that goes to the roots as none of these other things do.
One time a deputation waited on Lincoln to press a matter of public concern. But his keenly logical mind discerned flaws in their impassioned and carefully worked out arguments. He waited patiently till their case was complete. And then in that quiet way for which he was famous, he said, "How many legs would a sheep have if you called its tail a leg?" As he expected, they promptly answered "Five." "No," he said, "it wouldn't; it would have only four. Calling a tail a leg does not make it one." So a simple bit of his homely sense and accurate logic scattered their finely spun argument.
Calling either family or culture or influence the chief thing doesn't make it so. These are John's three tremendous "nots." They rather cut straight across the common current of thought and belief and conduct to-day. We may indeed be grateful if a single homely drop of black ink from John's pen put into the beautifully cloudy-grey solution of modern thought clears the liquid and makes a precipitate of sharply defined truth that any eye can plainly see.
This is how we won't be saved. This is how we don't get into the family of God. It is "not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man"; not through family connection, nor by what we can do of ourselves simply, nor by what we can get some of our fellows to do for us, simply.
"But of God," John says. It is by Someone else, outside of us, above us, reaching down from a higher level, and putting the germ of a new life within us, and lifting us up to His own level. He puts His hand through the open door of our will, what we do in opening up to Him, through "the will of the flesh." He walks along the pathway of the earnest desire of those who would help us up, "the will of man." But it is what He does that does the one thing that all depends upon. His is the decisive action, through our choosing and our friends' helping.
I said it isn't a matter of blood, of lineage. Yet it is. That statement must be modified. Family relationship is of necessity a matter of blood. That's the very blood of it. This is a matter of blood; but not our blood; His. There has to be a new strain of blood. Our blood is stained. It is at fault. It is impure. There's been a bad break far back there in the family record, a complete break. We were powerless either to purify the stock, or to get over that gap, even if we admitted the need.
There had to be a bridging of that gap. It had to be from the upper side. The other fell short. The gap was still there. There had to be a new strain of blood. This was, this is, the only way. We get into that old first family only by the Father of the family reaching over the break and putting in the new strain of blood, the germ of the family life, and so lifting us up to the new level. And Jesus was God doing just that.