Words by William T. Sleeper; Music George Stebbins
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!”
“Ye must be born again!“
“Ye must be born again!“
“I verily, verily say unto thee,
Ye must be born again!”
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.”
Oh, 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.”
This hymn was written by William T. Sleeper in 1877 while Stebbins was helping Dr. George Pentecost in evangelistic meetings in Worcester, Massachusetts. Writing about how this hymn was written, in his Memoirs and Reminiscences, George Stebbins writes;
During those meetings, one of the subjects preached upon was the
Verily, verily, I say unto thee, ye must be born again…It occurred to me that by taking the line
Verily, verily, I say unto thee, from the third verse, and putting it with the line,
Ye must be born again, and by transferring the word
I from the middle of the first line to the beginning, so it would read,
I verily, verily, say unto thee, Ye must be born again, those passages would then fall into rhythmical form, and by the use of some repetitions could be made available for a musical setting, and also for a chorus to the hymn, if some suitable verses could be found…I spoke to Reverend…Sleeper, one of the pastors of the city who sometimes wrote hymns, of my impression and asked him if he would write me some verses on the subject. He acted at once on my suggestion and soon after came to me with the hymn…Before the meetings closed a musical setting was made.
The Gospel, quite frankly, is simple. All of us are sinners. All of us deserve, and were destined for, hell. We are unable to do anything about this of our own power. Jesus Christ, son of God and member of the Trinity, came to earth, and died a sinless death on the cross to pay the punishment for the sins of all of us. He was buried and rose again the third day. This substitutionary atonement for sins enables each of us to choose to repent of our sins and to put our faith in Him for salvation. In so doing, we can be “born again,” as Nicodemus learned in John 3.
This hymn also reminds us of the story of Nicodemus and our need to be “born again.” The Gospel is simple enough for a child to understand. Have you been born again?
Every man who has been born into this world must be born anew, if he is to see or know the kingdom of God. For the man who is only born once dies twice, but the man who is born twice will certainly not die twice, and, thank God, he need not even die once if the Lord comes now.
It is very important to get hold of this truth in its simplicity that every person needs to be born again. There is an idea going round today that because Jesus was a man, therefore somehow or other, in some peculiar unknown way, humanity has been raised, and that now every person — has been raised into nearness to God. Such a thought, I have no manner of hesitation in boldly affirming, is utterly false, and has no foundation whatever in Scripture. The incarnation of the Lord Jesus does not bring you and me, beloved friends, to God. It only proves how far away from God we were. And therefore I am prepared for the language in which the Lord declares to this interesting religious ruler that he “must be born again.”
“The wind bloweth where it listeth.” God is sovereign, but He always uses the Word, and He can use a very feeble instrument to bring His Word to a soul. He may even use a dumb creature as an instrument of His grace, as in a case of which I know. You may think it a strange thing if I say that a cow was the means of a man’s conversion. A story is told of a non Christian man who was walking out one Sunday evening — and you know Sunday is always rather a dismal day for a man who is not a Christian — and was wishing the day was over. He went into his park, on the other side of which grazed his cow. The cow came across the park when she saw her master, to whom she was attached, and licked his hand, which was on the railing. He suddenly recollected a scripture which he had learned when a child: “The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider” (Isa. 1: 3). (Parents, teach your children the Scriptures.) As this scripture flashed upon his mind, the poor infidel exclaimed, “Upon my word, after all the Word of God is true; that beast knows me, and I do not know God.” And he was converted, thank God! Conversion is always by God’s Word, and He uses that Word as the means of blessing to souls, perhaps years and years after the Word has been heard.