By Elder Philander Hartwell
The Warwick Baptist Association, convened with the Baptist Church at New Vernon, Orange Co., N.Y., To the churches whose messengers we are, sends love in the Lord.
Dear Brethren: - The time of our annual meeting having arrived, you will expect an epistle of love from us, on some subject connected with the spiritual building. We therefore have chosen as the subject of this letter the doctrine of THE NEW BIRTH.
This glorious, sublime, and mysterious doctrine, was taught by our Blessed Lord, John iii, 3, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Here we have the most incontestable evidence of the necessity of the new birth - he cannot see the kingdom of God. The reason is obvious to us. The kingdom of God is spiritual, and man is natural, or flesh, “That which is born of the flesh, is flesh.” - John iii. 6. The words of Paul agree therewith, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they (spiritual things) are foolishness unto him; neither can he known them, because they (spiritual things) are spiritually discerned” - 1 Cor. ii, 14. They are incapable also of coming to Christ, for that is a spiritual act: “No man can come unto Me,” says Christ, “except the Father which sent Me draw him” - John vi, 44 & 65. It is not possible for man in nature (prior to a spiritual birth) to please God. - Rom. viii.8. The mind of man in nature is declared to be fleshly and carnal, that it is enmity against God, that it is not subject to the law of God, and that it is not possible so to be. - Rom. viii.7, Col. ii, 18. Many other portions of the Word might be adduced, to show the necessity of the new birth, to enable man to see the kingdom of God, but the above are sufficient to establish the point beyond all controversy.
We will now consider what it is to be “born again.” It is to be born of God, (John 1,13,) to have Christ in us. - Rom. viii,10, to be dead to the law by the body of Christ, and married to Christ. - Rom. vii, 4. In short, it is to be made spiritual, to be translated out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of Christ, the spiritual kingdom, to be united to Christ experimentally and to be made capable of seeing the kingdom of God, of understanding spiritual things, of eating spiritual food, of drinking spiritual drink, of walking with God, of communing with Him, and His children, and to be made conformable to the holy law of God.
How is this birth produced? Let us examine the Word of God on this point: “Which were born not of blood or the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” - John i, 12-13. “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible (seed) by the Word of God which liveth and abideth forever.” - 1 Peter i, 23. The figure introduced by Christ, “born again,” effectually precludes the very idea that any man can perform this work himself, or for another, inasmuch as he has no power to produce spiritual life. He was not the cause of his own natural birth, he could not produce himself, surely then the idea that he can regenerate himself or another, or be the agent of his spiritual birth, is preposterous in the extreme! It is not the work of man, for it is expressly declared to be the work of God, the work of the Spirit and not of the flesh. “It is the Spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing.” - John vi, 63. “And you hath He quickened who were dead in trespasses, and in sins.” - Ephesians ii,1. Man remains dead in sins until he is quickened. It is therefore evident that he does no part of the work. For the work is contrary to nature as has been shown by the many portions of Scriptures to which references has been made.
We have the same fact established in figure, in the account given of the birth of Isaac. It is true that Abraham attempted to bring about the purposes of God, that the promise might not fail, but what was the result? A fleshly child was born, a mocking son, one that could not be heir with the son of the free woman, and even Sarah who suggested the scheme to obtain the fulfillment of the promise, said, “Cast out the bond woman and her son; for the son of the bond woman, shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac.” - Genesis xxi.10. And God sais unto Abraham, “in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice, for in Isaac shall thy seed be called,” - Genesis xxi, 12. Thus, we see the means used by Abraham did not bring forth the promised son, but one that was rejected, not only by Sarah, who first proposed the use of means and measures to accomplish the promise, but also by God by whose power the promised seed was brought forth.
The professed children of God, have at various times thought somewhat as Sarah did, that it was best to resort to means and measures in order that Abraham’s house might be filled with sons, and they have often used such means and measures, as to them appeared likely to accomplish the object, and at times they have been greatly encouraged: the prospects seemed good, sons of a sort have been greatly multiplied, but alas! They were but sons after the flesh, and in due time they have shown their mocking propensity which has led to their expulsion from the house of Abraham. But this system of means has not prevented the introduction of the children of promise; but as it was the case with Isaac, so it is with all the royal seed, they are brought forth at the appointed time, and then does Jerusalem rejoice, and Israel is glad. There must always be a separation from the children of promise from the children of the flesh - the offspring of the bondwoman.
That the above figure was intended to illustrate the two families, i.e., the children of the flesh and the children of the Spirit is evident. Paul, one of the judges of the twelve tribes of spiritual Israel, has decided upon this point, and his decision is conclusive and final, from it there is no appeal. “Now we brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise. But as then, he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now.” - Galatians iv, 28,29. We see in the case of Isaac that his birth was contrary to nature, and if we are as Isaac was, our birth was also contrary to nature. But the system of means resorted to by so many in the day in which we live, is in conformity with nature, is but the development of nature itself. In the quickening of the children of God, life, divine life is imparted. It is the life of Christ, His seed, the new man, the second Adam, even the Lord from heaven. It is that life that is treasured up in Christ from everlasting to everlasting, which is imparted by the Holy Spirit, in this mysterious work of quickening the children of God. We all have one Father and one mother. “But Jerusalem which is above is the mother of us all.” - Galatians iv, 26. So the Scripture calls us the children of God, and the children of Zion. Paul has informed us that, “As is the earthly, or fleshly, such are they also that are earthly, and as is the heavenly such are they also that are heavenly.” - 1 Cor. xv, 48. In regard to the earthly man, we are informed that he was of the earth, and it follows, that all his seed partake of the same nature, - they are of the earth. But as to the heavenly, He is the Lord from heaven, and when He was brought into the world for the suffering of death for His people, it was by the Holy Spirit. When the angel Gabriel was sent to the virgin, Mary, his declaration was, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee, therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” - Luke iv, 35. By the same Agent all the children of God are brought into the kingdom, that is, by the Holy Ghost, - the heart is overshadowed by the same Spirit and the same holy thing (Christ) is formed there. A living principle is implanted without human agency - It is all of God.
Where the work of the Spirit is commenced the individuals quickened have a discovery of God, of His purity and perfection, of his law as holy, just and good, of their own characters as sinners, and transgressors of that law, and of the justice of God in their condemnation, which leads them to cry for mercy, even before they have any evidence that they are born of God, or that Christ has died for them. In this they give evidence of spiritual life. It manifest itself by sighs and groans, they go mourning, and refuse to be comforted, they see no way of escape for them, - justice demands satisfaction for their transgressions of the holy law of God, - they see that they are ten thousand talents in debt, and have nothing wherewith to pay,- they see nothing in reserve for them but wrath and destruction. It is true they now know and are willing to admit that Christ died for His people; but having no evidence that they are of that number, they have no ground for hoping that they are.
While in this situation the devil tries to distress and perplex them by telling them that they are too great sinners, that they have sinned too long, that the door of mercy is now closed, that they have sinned away the day of grace, that Christ has left the mercy seat and ascended the seat of judgment, and will now laugh at their calamities. He also asserts that it is in vain for them to pray, that it is even abomination in the sight of God for them to ask for mercy, seeing that they have slighted it. The agony of the poor soul is great, and they know not where to go, or which way to turn. Their sins revive in their hearts and they die. - They listen to the preached Gospel, and it sounds delightful, but they think it never can reach their case. The Spirit of God has implanted love in their hearts, but they know it not, but they most ardently desire that they may love, they see that God is love and that all He does is right: the Spirit further produces sorrow of heart, even godly sorrow which worketh repentance unto life, but even this for a time is hidden from their view. They sincerely wish they could repent, and they often pray for conviction, thinking that what they now feel is not of the right kind. Their repentance does not seem to them to be genuine. Their righteousness is but filthy rags, their garments are polluted, their hope vanishes, they sink in despair. These are some of the evidences of a quickened individual and where this fruit is found there the Lord has planted His standard, in due time He will unfurl it, but in such a way that the poor soul shall know that it is “not by might, nor by power, but by His Spirit,” that they may ascribe all the glory to Him, and say, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior,- that being justified by His grace we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life,” - Titus iii, 6 & 7. “Therefore being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom also we have access by faith into His grace, wherein we stand and rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” - Romans v, 1-2. Thus are the children of God made to rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, and have no confidence in the flesh, and can say with the Psalmist, “Come and hear all ye that fear God and I will declare what He hath done for my soul,” - Psalm lxvi, 16. Souls that have experienced these things have a strong desire to walk in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord’s house blameless. There is no need of task masters to compel them to work, for their hearts are in the work, and they mourn that they walk no more worthy of the vocation wherewith they are called.
We will now consider the security of the spiritually born. “Born again” - The expression shows that it is to remain permanent. There is no annihilation of this spiritual existence, the work of the Spirit is accomplished. - that which is born of God can never become flesh. They are the sons of God and they never can become the children of the devil. It is eternal life that is imparted to them - eternal life! “And I give unto them eternal life,” says Christ, “and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of My hand.” - John 10:28. Here we have the sure word of prophecy on which to depend, and if there were any doubts as to the power of Christ we have evidence in the word of God sufficient to remove them. “My Father which gave them Me, is greater than all, and none shall be able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand.” - John x, 29. Again, the Apostle says, that “he is persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor heights nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” - Romans viii, 38,39.
Lastly, What is the inheritance to which the regenerated are born? The Savior, in comforting His disciples when about to be separated from them, said: “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so I would have told you. I go you prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you I will come again and receive you unto Myself that where I am there ye may be also.” - John xiv, 2,3. “Beloved, now we are the sons of God and it doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is and be like Him.”
The churches of the Warwick will meet annually, as formerly, and be designated by the same name, and desire uninterrupted correspondence with sister associations and corresponding meetings with whom we have hitherto enjoyed that privilege; and we earnestly entreat such of them as still retain their constitutional forms, to examine them in the light of the Scriptures, and act as they direct.
Gilbert Beebe, Moderator.
Gabriel Conklin, Clerk.
Transcribed by Stanley Phillips - June 2009