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FOR THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES.

Kingwood, N. J., Dec. 4, 1849.

ESTEEMED BROTHER: – I have taken up my pen for the purpose of congratulating your readers on the contemplated improvement in our medium of correspondents. I have long thought that existing circumstances called for such an improvement. So small a sheet to carry on such a wide spread correspondence must of necessity limit to some extent your numerous contributors. I hope brethren in different parts of the union will exert themselves to procure a correspondingly improved subscription list; and then I suppose you will consider it no more than reasonable for us to furnish improved communications.

I have been much interested, and perhaps I might say instructed since the present discussion has been going on through the Signs, and as the subject is at present uppermost in my mind, some thoughts relating thereto will here be submitted to you and your readers. Now however, for the purpose of taking part in the discussion, but to aid, if possible, the inquirer after truth. That the christian experiences an inward warfare or contest between what is called flesh and spirit none appear to deny; but the difficulty appears to be, to properly define the opposing principles. The term flesh, which some brethren appear to understand to signify the body, in distinction from the soul, in those instances where it is placed in contra-distinction to the term spirit, I understand as representing the whole Adamic man, in his natural state, or in others words, natural life, as opposed by the unregenerate, in contradiction to spiritual life. The Master himself, in expounding his own terms, has taught us that, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Hence, it is that which is born of the flesh, that lusteth against that which is born of the Spirit. I can for my part see no more violence done to the scripture term “born again,” or “born of the Spirit,” in understanding it to be the implantation of a new and living principle, a spiritual life, of which the soul before was destitute, than in conceiving it to be a renovating or changing of those principles which reign in the carnal heart. Among the errors with which the Baptist churches have been scourged for the last forty years, a prominent one has been that natural men possess within themselves all the powers and faculties requisite to please God, and to worship him in the spirit; only they had taken a wrong bent, like a watch that runs backwards, and wants turning about so as to run in an opposite direction. Whether any thing that has been published in your columns amounts to this or not I leave for others to determine. For myself, I would say, that such a sentiment, according to my understanding is quite foreign from the doctrine of Christ.

The “old man” certainly remains after the new birth, but it is not permitted unto him any more to reign. Although he maintains a warfare, yet he must be subdued. “Where sin has abounded, grace doth much more abound,” and “where sin has reigned unto death, even there, and even so, doth grace reign.” But where shall we say this is? I think with Elder Trott, that it is in the soul, and that the soul is the battle ground. Shall we illustrate our views by a figure? The children of Israel were planted in the land of Canaan, and there they subdued in a measure the seven nations who previously dwelt there; but it was not permitted unto them to thrust them out all at once, but “little by little,” and in after times whenever they became exalted above measure, the remaining Canaanites proved, as it were, a thorn in their flesh, and were made instruments under the Divine government to humble them. So the believer often learns by sad experience even after he had thought his enemies were all subdued that “the Canaanite is still in the land.” The Canaanites were not changed to Israelites, but subdued under Israel, so it appears to me to be the design of of the work of grace, that the “new man” should reign over and subdue the lusts of the flesh. I do not think that hatred and enmity against God are ever so changed and renovated as to become love; nay, but they are “Diabolians,” and must be destroyed; and though the conflict should be long and severe, grace will ultimately triumph. The imparting of spiritual life – of this principle of love to God and godliness, to the soul, by the life giving Spirit of God, I should think better expressed by a generating or begetting of new life, than a regeneration. The original Greek word translated regeneration, which occurs twice in the New Testament, signifies simply a new birth. Whatever term we may use therefore to express the “quickening” of (or by) the second Adam; whether it be a communication, regeneration, new birth, birth of the Spirit, resurrection, creation, implantation, manifestation, life-giving, or the like, the same thing substantially is intended. The apostle has it, “the new man, which after God, is created in righteousness and true holiness,” Eph. iv. 24. I think the soul, concerning which much has been said, exists independently of either the old or new man, either the flesh or spirit. We read of man’s becoming a “living soul,” by which we discover that the life is distinguishable from the soul.

I have written enough to express all that I intended, if it is intelligible, but when I see that construction is sometimes put upon the communications of others, I can hardly hope to be understood. As a conclusion to the whole matter, let me say, that it is of the first importance to us as individuals, to know whether we are the subjects of this work, whether we know and feel this warfare? If we can be satisfied of this, from the divine testimony, we have but little to fear, except it be the destruction of present comforts. Those evil passions and propensities which once predominated in us, and by which we were led captive, will be rising, and often times ere we are aware, leading us astray. Inward foes are ever the most dangerous, and the hardest to detect. Let us be ever watching, endeavoring to discover every remaining sin and corruption that is about us, and pray for grace and strength to resist and overcome them. I have been led to fear this duty, although repeatedly enjoined by Christ and his apostles, has been too much neglected of late, and that not unfrequently the workings of corrupt nature discover themselves to others before we are aware of them ourselves. Seeing we all have more or less of these things to contend with, it is certainly a more blessed state to be found in, to be mourning over them, sighing and sorrowing on account of them, than resting secure, insensible of their influence.

The number of the Signs containing Elder Clark’s communication has come to hand, and I regret exceedingly, not only that it was published, but that it was ever written. Your remarks in reply I can subscribe to every word of, but I feel disposed to add a few reflections of my own thereto. Those “erroneous” things he has enumerated, he says are found among us, leaving the impression that the patrons of the “Signs,” are intended. Now every reader of the Signs knows that most of his specifications contain sentiments that are not, and never have been advocated in the Signs: neither will any contributor to your columns acknowledge a single one of them. People of the world can thus read the testimony of a brother against us, what themselves wold have never laid to our charge. If he means by “among us,” among the people of his neighborhood, an explanation is certainly due the readers of the Signs. From the acquaintance I have with brother Clark, I should think that his letter was prompted by the best of motives, but if so, his zeal has carried him too far, and he has exposed his brethren unnecessarily to the shafts of their enemies, if not to a combat with himself. In all the “fighting,” (if there has been any) that I ever met with in the Signs, I have never before been grieved as with this letter. I do hope that for the sake of that harmony and peace which he seems desirous to promote, he will recall what he has said, or else give a satisfactory explanation.

With christian regard I remain,
E. RITTENHOUSE.

Signs of the Times.
Volume 17, No. 24.
December 15, 1849.