In our last issue, sister L. Fewell asked for our opinion as to the meaning of these words - whether the words, born of water, refer to baptism or to the action of the Holy Spirit.
Various views have been entertained and expressed by some of our most enlightened brethren as to what our Lord referred to by being born of water. That a man must be born again before he can see the kingdom of God seems so perfectly clear as to leave no doubt that a man must be born of the Spirit before he can see or know anything about the things of the Spirit of God. "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (I Corinthians 2:14)." It would seem that being born of the Spirit would comprehend and embrace the entire work or quickening operation of the Holy Ghost, in giving birth to those who are begotten of God, and brought into an experimental knowledge of Christ, by the implantation of the Spirit which searches all things, even the deep things of God. No forms of godliness, applications, or ordinances, baptism, or circumcision, or any other with all that can be acquired by education, discipline, or otherwise, can possibly enable an unquickened person to even see the kingdom of God.
As no man, except he be born again, can possibly see the kingdom of God, we infer that every one that is born of the Spirit is divinely qualified to see the kingdom; and are instructed by the word and Spirit to seek firstthe kingdom of God and his righteousness, and they have the assurance that all things else that their Heavenly Father knoweth they need shall be added unto them.
By the kingdom of God we understand is intended that kingdom which Daniel and all the prophets prophesied the God of heaven should set up, and which John the Baptist and Christ in their first preaching declared was then at hand, and for the coming of which Christ, before his crucifixion, taught his disciples to pray. All who were born of the Spirit under the old dispensation, especially the prophets, saw and prophesied of that kingdom, as Abraham saw the day of Christ, and was glad. So all who are born of the Spirit since the day of John the Baptist possess that Spirit which capacitates them to see, and which alone can reveal to them that kingdom which is not of the world. The kingdom of God, which being spiritual, and not of the world, is invisible to all who are not born of the Spirit; and it is all that is implied in the word kingdom. The kingdom here spoken of cannot mean the universal dominion of God, over all beings and all worlds, for that has always existed; but it refers to the church of God, over which Christ came to preside, which is called a kingdom because it is subject to the laws, ordinances, and special authority of Christ. All who are born again may see it; but to enter into it implies a recognition of the supreme authority of Christ, by a cheerful obedience to his commands. "Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city (Revelation 22:14)." "And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:2,3)."
There are, we have reason to hope, many who are born again, and who see, and admire the kingdom of our Lord, who have never come into the church by a public recognition of Christ as their King, nor can any one enter this spiritual enclosure without an acknowledgement of, and obedience to, the law and authority of Christ. And the very first precept binding on a heaven-born subject is to be baptized. Whether gospel baptism was meant by our Lord when he said "Except a man be born of water:" or not, it is true beyond all controversy that no unbaptized person, even though born of the Spirit and able to see the kingdom, can enter the portals of the kingdom of God which Christ was about to organize, and over which he presides. The New Testament clearly shows, not only that Christ required all that were born again to be baptized according to the pattern and example which he had given, but also that no one was received into the church but by baptism. Those at Pentecost on whom the Spirit was poured, who were pricked in their hearts, gladly received the word, were evidently born of the Spirit, yet in coming into the kingdom, the apostle commanded every one of them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls (Acts 2:41)."
Although baptism is the ordinance by which those who are born of the Spirit first acknowledge their allegiance to Christ, and are to be recognized as his subjects, and by which they have right to the tree of life, or privileges of the gospel church, yet baptism of any one who has not been born of the Spirit is a desecration of that sacred ordinance. None are required to keep the commandments of Christ which he has enjoined upon the subjects of his kingdom but those who love him. "If ye love me, keep my commandments." And none can love him except they have passed from death unto life. The Campbellite doctrine, which substitutes immersion for the new birth, is a perversion of the truth and order of the gospel. Those who are immersed by them can no more see nor enter into the church and kingdom of Christ than they could before; they may be immersed into Campbellism, just as others are circumcised or sprinkled into other branches of anti-christ; but without faith it is impossible to please God, and faith is a fruit of the Spirit, and the gift of God, which none can possibly have unless they are born of God. The marks by which the apostles were authorized to know who were the saved people of God, and whom they were commanded to teach to observe all things whatsoever Christ had commanded them, were, first faith, then obedience to Christ. "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned (Mark 16:16)." The question was clearly stated by the Eunuch to Philip. "What doth hinder me to be baptized?" Whatever might hinder the Eunuch would also hinder any other person; and whatever in his case was an indispensable prerequisite to baptism, is equally so to all others. Philip said in reply to this important question, "If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest." That faith which is only possessed by those who are born of the Spirit is an indispensable prerequisite to Christian baptism.
We will not attempt now to argue, in the face of the views of brethren for whose opinions we have great respect, that to be baptized in water is to be born of water, in the sense in which these words were spoken by our Lord to Nicodemus; but we see no reason why gospel baptism should not be figuratively so called, seeing it is an ordinance, the figurative import of which is present at death, burial, and resurrection; and so far as the candidate is personally described, he is represented as renouncing the world and its vanities, and entering into a new element, and brought forth in a new relation to the church as his mother, and to all the saints as his brethren and kindred in Christ. First, he is born of the Spirit, and in which birth he passes from death unto life, is delivered from the power of darkness, and born into God's marvelous light. By baptism, he publicly puts on Christ; and is born into the liberty of the sons of God, into the fellowship, and fellow-citizenship of the saints, and is recognized as a disciple and follower of Christ. Having his heart sprinkled from an evil conscience, and his body washed in pure water.
Whether this is the being "born of water" spoken of by our Lord or not, it is certain that without gospel baptism no man can enter lawfully into any gospel church. Other avenues are open to any and all the various branches of anti-christ; but without a Scriptural baptism none can come into the church which is built upon the foundation of the apostles, of which Jesus Christ our Lord is the Chief Corner Stone.
September 1, 1867.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 7
Pages 62 – 65