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WHAT OR WHO IS IT THAT IS BORN AGAIN?

Ogden, MD.
March 2, 1868.

Brother Beebe: - I do not wish to add much to your heavy labors, for I know that you have a great deal to bear; but in your editorial reply to brother Vanmeter, in the last number of the "Signs", my mind is still confused on one point, on which I simply want a direct answer, affirmatively or negatively, in few words.

In the new birth, do you intend to convey the idea that there is another man born, or that it is the same man born again?

I think that some of our brethren have ventured too far, in reasoning beyond revelation on this mysteriously wonderful and important subject, as though we could solve by reason the works of the infinite God, and declare the way of his Spirit. But in this we will deceive ourselves, for secret things belong to God; and when we reflect, we are constrained to cry out with the apostle, "O the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!" Therefore we ought to confine ourselves strictly to the word of the revelation given for our use, and profitable and full instruction in all things. But if we conclude or act as though we had concluded there were not words enough in the revelation made by the Spirit of eternal wisdom, or that they are not full enough of meaning to convey what was intended by that Spirit, as clearly and fully as it can be done, are we not following in this practice the very course of the Arminian world of building on, I think, I believe, or I infer, that revelation means more than it says, or that it does not mean just what it does say.

And now, brother Beebe, as I desire the success and prosperity of the "Signs", and knowing that there is a wide-spread dissatisfaction among the Old School Baptists who have to battle against the Arminian world, to find a similar practice springing up among them, I do think that it ought to be carefully guarded against, and that we try to constantly follow the practice of the servants of God of old, saying, "Thus saith the Lord God." Then there will be unity among the brethren. For then "the watchman shall lift up the voice together; with the voice they shall sing, for they shall see eye to eye, when the Lord shall bring again Zion." Therefore we ought to speak, "not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but in the words which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual," and not with natural, and be willing to "become fools for Christ's sake, that we may be wise." For "He is of God made unto us wisdom." Therefore, "Let us gird on the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of truth." For "the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty, through God, to the pulling down of strongholds; casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God." Then we shall not exalt nor manifest ourselves and our opinions, but the Lord and his word, that we may be found standing in his strength, and not in our own. Then the Lord shall be our strength and our song. Then Zion shall have peace, and feel safe under the shadow of the Almighty, and her humble watchmen shall stand upon her walls to declare that "salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks." "Open ye the gates, that the righteous nations which keepeth the truth may enter in."

And now, hoping that all God's servants may in meekness speak just as the oracles of God, and that peace may abound, and brotherly love continue, I will now close this, with the earnest desire that the power of the Almighty may strengthen you in all your numerous conflicts, and his peace comfort you in all your afflictions, for Jesus sake.

Harvey Wright.

Reply: - We are pleased with the kind, brotherly tone of brother Wright's inquiries, and as far as we are able, we will comply with his request; and in as brief, direct and unequivocal a manner as we can. He has failed to understand our position, and therefore asks for a direct answer, affirmatively or negatively to the question, in a few words. Brother Wright should remember that all have not the talent for condensing their thoughts into a small compass; we have long felt the need, and ardently desired the gift; but after all our efforts, we are still obliged to present such views as we have, in our own imperfect way. Trusting however that he will bear with our lack of perspicuity and brevity, we will do the best we can. The question is, "Do we intend to convey the idea that there is another man born? Or that it is the same man, born again?" We apprehend that inasmuch as the question stated contains two distinct and entirely opposite propositions, a direct affirmative or negative answer would not be appropriate. Indeed we could not clearly express our understanding of the words spoken by our Lord to Nicodemus, as recorded in the third chapter of John, by a direct "yes" or "no" to either of the two propositions of his inquiry. It is our desire to take the words of our blessed Lord precisely as he has spoken them, and to understand them in the exact sense that he used them on that occasion. When Jesus said to Nicodemus, "Except a man be born again," etc., the mental powers of that learned rabbi could conceive of no other way for a man to be born again than that the same natural man should be born again, by entering his mother's womb, and being born a second time. It is presumable that Nicodemus took what might be called a common sense view of the words used by the Lord, or such a view as human reason, and human intelligence would naturally take, and we may infer that the true import of our Savior's words can only be correctly understood by the teaching of the Holy Spirit; that they were not to be literally construed.

We have inferred from our Savior's words of explanation to Nicodemus that if a man should be born over again, in the manner suggested by Nicodemus, that he would be still but a fleshly man, as a birth cannot change the nature of the thing that is born; and that therefore the same man that has been born of the flesh, and is flesh, before he can see or enter the spiritual kingdom of God, must be born again of the Spirit. This view, in our mind, is strengthened by the declaration of Paul, that "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God." The new birth is not to qualify our fleshly nature to inherit the kingdom, or to comprehend the things of the Spirit of God; but rather to implant in the subjects of grace a life which was given them in Christ Jesus, before the foundation of the world, in which they are identified with Christ, as by their natural birth they are with the earthly Adam. Greatly desiring to be understood, allow us to presume that our esteemed brother Wright believes, as do all sound Old School Baptists, in the Bible doctrine of "eternal, personal election: that all the heirs of God were chosen of God in Christ Jesus, before the foundation of the world;" that as the elect of God they were all known, loved, and chosen in Christ, before they were born either of the flesh or of the Spirit. Are we right? If so, then the church, as chosen in Christ, stood in eternal, vital union with her glorious Head, before Adam's dust was fashioned to a man, her life was hidden with Christ in God. Is this speculation? We appeal to the record: "This is the record," as borne by "The Father, the Word and the Holy Ghost." What is the record? "That God hath given us eternal life and this life is in his Son (I John 5:7,11)." We cannot doubt that all who are taught of God to believe that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ "hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ, according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3,4);" appointed, predestinated and ordained, that all those whom he had thus chosen, should in fullness of the dispensation of times, be personally developed as children of Adam, by a natural or fleshly birth; and afterwards by a spiritual birth as the children of God, and heirs of immortality. Was the poet right when he sang,

"His decree, who formed the earth,
Fixed my first and second birth;
Parents, native place, and time,
All appointed were by him!"

If so, every one of the election of grace was personally known, loved and called, with an holy calling, and blessed with all spiritual blessings, in Christ, before the foundation of the world, and consequently before they were born of the flesh or of the Spirit.

This then was the manifest order of God, that they should each and all of them be, in their manifestation, partakers, first of flesh and blood (Hebrews 2:14), and afterwards of the divine life; and that this development should be made through a first and a second Adam. "The first Adam being of the earth earthy, but the second Adam is the Lord from heaven. The first Adam was made a living soul, the last Adam was made a quickening Spirit." In the first Adam we all die, in the last Adam the saints are all quickened, or made alive spiritually. Here are, if we understand this sublime subject, two seminal or progenitive heads, a natural and a spiritual; one is of the earth earthy, and the other is from heaven, and is spiritual and divine. That was not spiritual which was first, but natural; afterwards that which is spiritual. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy; and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly (I Corinthians 15). Through both the natural and the spiritual progenitors, God has ordained the development of his elect. In the earthly Adam was created the seed of all the human family, as such. In Christ was treasured all the spiritual seed. The seed of the natural man Adam is a corruptible seed, a natural seed, an earthly seed. But the seed that shall be counted to the Lord for a generation, according to Psalm 22:30, is an incorruptible seed, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever (I Peter 1:23). The difference between the earthy and the spiritual seed is as great as is the distance between earth and heaven. The earthly is called flesh. That which is born of the flesh is flesh. "All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth, because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand forever (Isaiah 40:6-8)." The apostle Peter makes the same distinction, and repeats the same prophetic declaration, in discriminating between the natural and the spiritual births. The natural is like the grass, produced from the earth by corruptible seed, but the spiritual birth is "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever (I Peter 1:23)." The seed in either case must produce its own kind. The corruptible seed cannot bring forth incorruptible fruit; nor is it in the nature of the incorruptible seed to bring forth corruptible fruits. Neither the flesh, nor that which is born of the flesh, can bring forth incorruptible productions. And that which is born of God cannot commit sin; because his (God's) seed remaineth in him; and he cannot sin because he is born of God (I John 3:9).

Now let us return to the third of John and carefully, prayerfully, and with humble reverence examine the words of our Lord. "Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit (John 3:3-8)."

Nicodemus was not prepared to understand the necessity of a preparation for the kingdom that was not of the flesh. If another birth was indispensable, he supposed it must be a repetition of his natural birth of the flesh, or as Dr. Watts would express it, to

"Remodel all the carnal mind,
And form the man afresh."

But if it were possible for a man to be born of the flesh a thousand times, the result each time would only be a reproduction of the same earthly, sensual and depraved nature; each and every time born of corruptible seed, on which mortality is indelibly enstamped. Like all other natural religionists, he evidently thought that cause and effect must be within the sphere of human understanding. The clearest light we have upon the subject we derive from the explanatory words of our Lord, which we regard as the key to the subject. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh." Of this we, in common with all mankind ever yet developed, have in ourselves the demonstration. Had we been born of angels, we would have been angels, but being born of flesh, we are flesh. Our flesh is corruptible and mortal; of the earth, and earthly. Now we submit to brother Wright, If this flesh were born again of the Spirit, what would it then be? Jesus says, "That which is born of the Spirit is spirit." Again we ask our brother Wright, or any other brother, Is that nature in you which was born of the flesh, and which before you were born again was flesh, is it still flesh, or has it become spirit? If it is really born of the Spirit, it must now be Spirit; or otherwise how shall we understand the declaration of our Lord?

That the new birth has brought forth, in us who have passed from death unto life, that spirit of immortality, which we were strangers to before we were quickened, and by which we can see the kingdom of God, and receive the things of the Spirit of God, and by which we love God, love Holiness, love the saints, the truth, and the ordinances of the kingdom of God, for which we had no love before, we all have reliable evidence. That by the divine implantation of the Holy Spirit in us, we who were dead in sin are quickened, having Christ, who is our spiritual life (as Adam was our natural life), in us, our hope of glory, and all that change is effected in us, of which we wrote more fully in our reply to brother Vanmeter, in the fourth number of the current volume. But if any are still in doubt whether their old Adamic natures are born again, let them examine whether their flesh has become spirit, and be careful and not contradict what Christ has said. That which is born of the Spirit is born of incorruptible seed. Has your earthly nature become incorruptible? Are all the seeds of mortality removed? Has your mortal yet put on immortality, and is your corruptible yet clothed in incorruptibility? That which is born of the Spirit, and is spirit, can feed only on spiritual food; it lives alone by faith upon the Son of God; it eats his flesh and drinks his blood, and has everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation. This is undoubtedly so in regard to that new life and spirit that is born of God, and now dwelleth in the saints; but is it so with your earthly nature? However this subject may be regarded by our brethren, we have many unmistakable evidences that we are yet in the flesh, and our fleshly nature is the very same it always has been; and on a strict examination we find that in it there dwells no good thing.

Our flesh still lusts against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary one from the other, so that we cannot do the things which we would. For to will is present with us, but how to perform the things we would, we find not; and when we would do good, evil is present, and we are obliged to believe there is something about this old vile nature that is not born of the Spirit, or, as Christ is true, it would be spirit. Something that is not born of God, or as John testified truth, it would not, could not, commit sin. We find, to our grief that there is yet in us something still bearing the image of the earthly Adam, and producing the works of the flesh, and bitterly opposing all the fruits of the spirit, causing us to feel continually to cry and groan, "Oh wretched man that I am; who shall deliver me from the body of this death?"

If that which is born of the Spirit, of which Jesus speaks in explanation of being born again, is spirit, then it follows unquestionably that if our fleshly natures are so born, they cease to be flesh, cease to require earthly food or medicine, cease to be corruptible, or capable of being corrupted, cease to be sinful or to have ability to sin, cease to produce the works of the flesh. For if it is not spirit, then it is not born of the Spirit, and if spirit it is no longer flesh. But where shall we find a Christian who does not find both natures still dwelling in him or her? The spirit is not the flesh, nor is the flesh the spirit; they are quite dissimilar; one is contrary to the other. The Christian is admonished to put off the one, and to put on the other. "For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live."

While all the testimony of the Scriptures, and all the experience of the saints bear the clearest testimony that, while we are here in the flesh there is, and will continue to be, an irreconcilable warfare in every Christian between the flesh and the spirit, it is strange that any should be found to contend that in being born again our fleshly nature has become spiritual. What more do they, or can we look for in the final resurrection of the children of God? The apostle has assured us that these vile bodies shall then be changed, and fashioned like Christ's glorious body; but then he says, "It (the body of the Christian) is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit (I Corinthians 15:42-45)." Thus tracing our mortality to the first man, Adam, and our immortality to the Lord from heaven. Instead of our earthly bodies being from the time of our new birth spiritual, he consigns them to their graves as natural bodies, and in their resurrection, and not till then, does he declare them spiritual. Then, but not until then, shall these mortals put on immortality, and these corruptibles put on incorruption, and then, but not before, shall the saying be brought to pass that "death is swallowed up of victory."

The saints are spoken of in the Scriptures as having an existence in Christ before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4), and as having an existence in Adam as early as the creation of man: Consequently they did exist and were identified in some sense, before they were born, either of the flesh or of the Spirit. A birth gives no existence; it is the bringing into manifestation that which before existed. That which does not exist, cannot be born. Of the children of God, it was ordained of God that they should partake of flesh and blood (see Hebrews 3), for the accomplishment of which we were created in the earthly Adam, and that earthly or fleshly nature, by divine ordination was appointed to be made manifest in its proper time and place, by our being born of the flesh. And that having an existence in Christ, our spiritual life should be brought into manifestation by a spiritual birth, through the quickening power of the second Adam, the Lord from heaven, who is made a quickening Spirit.

The first birth is of the flesh, and that which is born of it is flesh, and only develops fleshly elements, adapted to an earthly state, and is incapable of producing any of the fruits of the Spirit of God. The second birth is of incorruptible seed, by the immortal Word of God; and being incorruptible, cannot sin, because His seed remaineth in him, and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.

Now the works of the flesh, to which we have already alluded, are manifest, which are such as the productions of an incorruptible seed cannot perform. If, therefore, it were true, as some have contended, that the fleshly nature which is born of the flesh, and consequently is flesh, is born again of the Spirit, then the man who is born again can no longer perform the works of the flesh; for having become spirit, by being born of the Spirit, he can only produce the fruits of the Spirit.

In conclusion, let us ask, Can that which is born of God, and consequently cannot sin, commit adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, murders, or drunkenness? If that which is born of God can perform these works, how shall we understand I John 3:9? Or how can that of which they are born again be called an incorruptible seed, that liveth and abideth forever (I Peter 1:23)?

Again we ask those who are born again and have in them an incorruptible seed that cannot sin, if you do not find still remaining a fleshly nature, that is prone to sin, as the sparks fly upward; a nature lusting to do all the works of the flesh, and with a propensity so strongly inclined as to sometimes bring you into captivity to the law of sin which is in your fleshly members? If that is your case, as it was the case of Paul, how can you indulge the thought for a moment that your flesh, with all its carnal faculties and propensities, has been born again, and become spirit or spiritual?

If, as some have supposed, all our fleshly faculties are born again, and made spiritual, can they tell us, or can they tell themselves, how the fleshly bodies, in the absence of all but spiritual faculties, can do that which is evil, or sinful? Take from this mortal body the soul, the mind, the heart, the understanding, the strength, and all its natural faculties, and change them, purge out of them their carnality and corruptibility, and inspire them with the divine nature of a pure and heavenly vitality, separate them from all that is not of heavenly birth, can they then still perform what Paul has denominated the works of the flesh? Can the flesh with none but heaven-born faculties and powers which are born of God still lust against the Spirit, and cause the child of God to do the things which he would not? Is it true that all that is born of the Spirit is spirit? Or are we at liberty to say that our flesh, with all its faculties, may be born of the pure, incorruptible Spirit of the Living God, and still retain a liability to sin?

Our conviction is that the man who is born again was created and chosen in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world; was in time born first of the flesh, and subsequently born again, of the Spirit; that that which is born of the flesh is flesh, is grass, is mortal, is corruptible, is depraved, is hostile to the spirit of holiness, and shall not be put off from us, until this corruptible shall put on incorruption, and this mortal shall put on immortality. And that that which is born of the Spirit only, is spiritual, pure and holy, and after God, is created in righteousness and true holiness. Its fruits are such, and only such, as are named by the apostle in Galatians 5:22-23. It is known in distinction from the flesh, as the new man, the inner man, the spiritual man, etc.

We have no desire to press our views upon others who cannot see scriptural authority for them; nor strive for the mastery in a protracted controversy; for we know the time of our mortal sojourn is drawing to a close, and we feel happy in the hope that shortly we shall realize in a resurrected immortal state, what some of our brethren profess to have already received, a spiritual body with only spiritual faculties, attuned to the songs of the redeemed, when free from the conflicts and pollutions of the flesh under which we now groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven, we shall see even as we are seen, and know as we are known.

If brother Wright will pardon us for using so many words in communicating so little light, we will submit what we have written, until called on for further explanations of our views.

Middletown, N.Y.
April 1, 1868.

Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 7
Pages 162 ‐ 172