“Certain men… taught, saying, ‘Except ye… ye cannot…’”;”There rose… the sect…, saying, ‘It is necessary…’” Acts 15:1, 5
“Except ye” can be a term that governs any aspect or emphasis of either truth or error. It is often used to give undue emphasis upon a particular aspect of truth. It may be an aspect which is essential, but if it is out of relation and proportion to all other essential aspects it will sooner or later ‘run to seed’ and defeat its own ends. So many “Excepts” cut off so much that is truly good and necessary, and close everything into their own complexion. What we have said so far is surely enough to indicate that just one expression “Except ye… ye cannot” can be the cause of deformity, limitation, confusion, and suspicion; to say nothing of exclusion and spiritual superiority in the body corporate. It therefore becomes necessary for us to get away from what works out as negative ground and seek to be strong on what is positive. In this matter we can snatch and steal the very term from the wrong usage to the right.
“Except a man be born again he cannot…” (John 3:3, 5) That is a categorical imperative. This imperative was not first said to the poor woman taken in adultery, or to the quisling tax-gatherer, Zacchaeus, or to the dying thief, etc; but it was said to the teacher in Israel; a meticulous observer of the law; a Pharisee, the straitest of religious sects; a man who attended all the religious services and joined conscientiously in all the traditional ritual of the most religious of nations! The context of this declared necessity shows that even such a man was incapable of knowing the essential spiritual principles of the Kingdom of Heaven; hence the force of the “Except” and the “Must”. At the very threshold and door of the Kingdom of God, any and every man must be as though he were not yet born, and to enter he must be as one newly born. This necessity was repeatedly emphasized by Christ to the Jews and their best representatives, and to His own disciples (see Matthew 18:3). This is very sure ground to begin with; but not only for belief; it is a truth to be “made more sure” by experience! Without that we shall never really be sure of anything. Given that, we shall be in a fairly certain position, like that of the healed blind man: “Whether (this or that) I know not. One thing I (do) know; whereas I was blind, now I see.” ‘You cannot shake me on that!’ ‘How?’ ‘Well, I cannot explain, but the fact, I know.’