In reply to brother John W. Henley, of Georgia.
“Jesus answered and said, 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.”
The kingdom of God, in the third verse of this chapter, and the kingdom of God in our text, we understand to be one and the same, and means the organized church of our Lord Jesus Christ, which when Jesus held this discourse with Nicodemus, was soon to be set up in gospel order, according to former predictions, Daniel 2:44; Isaiah 32:1. This kingdom was not to be like any of the kingdoms of the earth, and is therefore called the kingdom of God; it was not to be governed by any human power or policy, and is therefore also called the kingdom of God. Typified by the Jewish Theocracy, but still differing very essentially from it, as that embraced the natural seed of Abraham, and had a worldly sanctuary and carnal ordinances; but this should embrace only those who are of the faith of Abraham, and are his seed anti-typically, being Christ’s. Galatians 3:29. The former was a natural, but the latter a spiritual kingdom. Its King is the Lord from heaven; its law is the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus, written in the hearts of his subjects by the Holy Spirit, and his subjects are they only who are born of incorruptible seed by the word of God which liveth and abideth forever. Born of God, of the water and of the Spirit, and consequently they are all purely spiritual. “Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.” I Corinthians 15:50. Hence, therefore, the indispensable necessity of the new birth, without which no man can either see or enter this spiritual organization. “Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.”
In the typical organization, all that were born (of the flesh) in Abraham’s house, or bought with his money, were required to be circumcised with the circumcision made with hands, on pain of expulsion from the privileges of the covenant under which that commonwealth was instituted. But under the new and anti-typical covenant, all who are born of God, in his house, and bought with the precious blood of Christ, and none others can be recognized as subjects of the spiritual kingdom of Christ, are entitled to the privileges of the house of God. Under the new covenant, “He is not a Jew who is one outwardly, neither is that circumcision that is outward in the flesh.” For if the children of the flesh could be made the children of God, no new birth would be required. “That is, they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.” Romans 9:8. “But he is a Jew which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter, whose praise is not of men, but of God.” Romans 2:28,29.
From the above testimony it is clear that the kingdom of God, of heaven, being purely spiritual, can admit of nothing carnal, and therefore flesh and blood cannot come into it. Carnal men may make a profession of religion and have a form of godliness, and even hold a nominal standing as members of the church of God; but as the kingdom is righteousness and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost, their membership is only nominal. The kingdom is spiritual, and the natural man cannot receive the things of the Spirit, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. I Corinthians 2:14. And as that only is spirit, which is born of the Spirit, they cannot see or enter the kingdom of which we write, except they be born again. All the efforts of men, therefore, to educate, reform, or bring children or adults into the kingdom of God are futile and abortive, because no operation can make them spiritual; for only that can be spiritual which is born of the Spirit. The slave may cringe under the lash, and yield a reluctant obedience to the coercive power that compels his submission; but no earthly power can make a man love God. “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” Romans 8:7,8.
Having, as we trust, clearly demonstrated from the Scriptures that the kingdom spoken of in our text is spiritual, and that all mankind by nature are carnal, sold under sin, and consequently incapable of seeing or entering it by anything they can do, or that men or angels can do for them, we will now pass to consider what it is to be born of the water and of the Spirit.
Upon this vitally important subject, ourselves and some of our brethren have been accused of being too metaphysical; but to the science of metaphysics we make no claim, but our desire is to be scriptural; and as the words born and born again are frequently used by holy inspiration, we feel justified in believing they mean something of importance. We know that the natural birth is the bringing into manifestation something that is begotten, and which had existence before it was born; and we infer that a spiritual birth in that respect is analogous. This inference we think is strengthened by the explanation to Nicodemus, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” A fleshly seed produces a fleshly production, and a spiritual seed will produce a spiritual production. The descendants of the earthly Adam are developed by their natural birth, in the nature and image of Adam; and “as is the earthy [Adam] such are they that are earthy.” “And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul;” consequently all who are born of the flesh are living souls; Adam, their earthly progenitor, when animated with the breath of life, became a living soul; so all his posterity when born of the flesh are developed as living souls. But as all the posterity of Adam have sinned, and the law has said, The soul that sinneth it shall die, death has passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.
We cannot, therefore, inherit eternal life from the earthly Adam, or by a fleshly birth. Slain by the law, we are all dead in sin and held forever in that death, unless we be made partakers of that eternal life which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began. For, “this life was with the Father, and was manifested.” “And this is the record, that God hath given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.” Hence, the second Adam, which is the Lord from heaven, is a Quickening Spirit. “For as the Father raiseth up the dead and quickeneth them, even so the Son quickeneth whom he will.” John 5:21. The Son is, therefore, a quickening Spirit. The life which we have from the earthly Adam is mortal, and involved in sin and death; but the life we have in Christ is immortal, pure and eternal. As we were brought forth in our earthly relation by our first or natural birth, so, if we understand correctly, we were brought forth in our relation to Christ when quickened by his Spirit, or when he as our life was revealed in us by his quickening Spirit. Our relation to the earth (“Dust thou art,”) is developed in our fleshly birth. Our relation to God is developed in our spiritual birth. In our first, we bear the image of the earthly Adam; but in being born again, we bear the image of the heavenly Adam, for he is the Lord from heaven. All in us, therefore, that is corrupt, vile, sinful and mortal, is born of the flesh, and from this fleshly nature in which there dwells no good thing, arises a constant warfare in every Christian against all that is spiritual, holy and pure; so that all Christians while in the flesh are called to deny themselves, to crucify the old man, and to put on the new man which after God (not Adam) is created in righteousness and true holiness. While all there is in the children of God is pure, spiritual and holy, is born of God, and cannot sin, for his (God’s) seed remaineth in him; he cannot sin, because he is born of God. I John 3:9.
As to the precise meaning of our Lord in the use of the words born of the water, some of our most gifted brethren have differed; some supposed that the birth of the water meant the natural birth; but this view conflicts with our understanding; for to our mind Christ is speaking of the necessity of being born of the water and of the Spirit, in contradistinction from, and as both being necessary after having been born of the flesh. A man already born of the flesh, before he can possibly see or enter the kingdom, must be born of the water and of the Spirit before he can enter the kingdom of heaven.
Others have supposed that to be baptized is to be born of the water. This supposition we cannot admit, only in a figurative sense. As baptism is a figurative ordinance, designed to represent death, burial and resurrection, so it may, and does most beautifully represent being buried with Christ by baptism into death, that like as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we should walk in newness of life. The ordinance of Christian baptism buries us into water, but not into death; but clearly represents our burial with Christ into death, and resurrection with him to newness of life. It may be much easier for us to show what it does not, than what it does mean; but it is far better for us to wait for our spiritual Interpreter to lead our minds into a correct understanding of the Scriptures, than to attempt to force an explanation which is not clearly harmonious with the word of God and experience of the saints.
As to what it is to be born of the Spirit, there is but little room for doubtful disputation among those who have experienced that work. It is to receive the Spirit of Christ; for if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his; and none can have that Spirit except they be born of it. And as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. It is a spirit which the natural man cannot receive, and which our Lord says “the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him.” But as that which is born of the Spirit is spirit, and the spiritual judgeth all things, even the deep things of God. It is by the indwelling of the Spirit that we know that we have passed from death unto life.
As brother Henley particularly desires our views in regard to being born of the water, we will give such views as we have on that part of the text. John, in declaring the faith of the children of God, says, “He that believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God;” and in his testimony of the Christ, he further says, “This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. For there are three that bear record in heaven; the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth; the spirit, the water and the blood, and these three agree in one.” I John 5:6-8. It is our conviction that if we could clearly understand the sense in which the water and the blood are used in this text, all would be plain in regard to our being born of the water and the Spirit. It refers to the coming of Christ, not into the world, when born of Mary, but when he came into his kingdom or church, and received his coronation as the Christ and Lord, and was given to be the Head over all things to his church, which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all. The three most prominent witnesses of the Messiahship of our Lord, by which the faith of the saints is established in the discriminating doctrine that “Jesus is the Christ,” are first: that of the spirit which was given, when we read in the book of Isaiah the prophet, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor.” “And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.” Luke 4:16-22. Observe that the signification of the name Christ, is the Anointed.
Hence the descent of the Spirit of the Lord God upon him was an indisputable evidence or witness that he was the Christ of God. The next in order was when he came to Jordan to John to be baptized. He came in that ordinance by water, and on that memorable occasion the witness of his being the Christ, and that he had come in the flesh, was most convincingly demonstrated when John, by a direct sign which was given him, identified him, saying, “Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world.” Then and there the Spirit descended like a dove and abode on him in witness of his Messiahship, and the heavens were opened to him, and the voice of God, in audible words declared, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:13-17. The third witness of his identity as the Christ of God, is found in the efficiency of his precious blood which was shed for the remission of sins. So strikingly demonstrative was this witness that his very murderers were constrained to cry, “Truly this was the Son of God!” Thus Jesus in opening the way into his kingdom, and in entering into the holiest of all, entered by the blood of the everlasting covenant, having obtained eternal redemption for his people. In perfect harmony with these witnesses, as we conceive, all his people come into the kingdom of God. The Spirit, the water and the blood must agree in their identification as the children of his kingdom. First, the Spirit of the Lord God, which is the quickening spirit, makes them alive, quickens and animates them with spiritual vitality, and makes them feel the need of living water, which can only be found in Christ, who is the place of broad rivers and streams. So far as we can perceive any distinction between being born of the water, and of the Spirit, the Spirit first operates upon the sinner, and makes him sensible that he is guilty before God, righteously condemned by the just and holy law, and utterly helpless and bankrupt. Then the water of life flowing through Christ from the throne of God and the Lamb, with cleansing, cheering and life inspiring power, is applied, and he is born of the water into the liberty of the sons of God.
To be born of the water and of the Spirit, in this view of the subject, is equivalent to being born of the life and of the Spirit. The Spirit is the power by which the work is effected, and the water is the life which the Spirit gives, and hence, allowing the figurative meaning of water as frequently used in the Scriptures to signify vitality, we cannot be born of the Spirit without being born of the water. In this application, the three which bear witness in earth give harmonious testimony. The Spirit in quickening bears witness that we are born of God; the water of life flows to the quickened child in corroborating evidence that he has passed from death unto life, cleansing and purifying and consecrating to a spiritual state; and the blood of Christ, in meeting, canceling and perfectly satisfying all the demands of law and justice, all agree, not only in demonstration that the sinner is redeemed and born again, but also that Jesus is the Christ of God, and the only name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.
In the preceding views we have spoken only of the birth of the water and of the Spirit in its experimental and personal application to the individual experience of the saints; but if we mistake not, the birth of water may have a two fold application; and as being named first in our text, in its application to the redemption of the church as a body. The apostle speaks of 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 3:5-7. This washing of regeneration has effected the justification of the saints, and secured the grounds of heirship according to the hope of eternal glory; it must, therefore, refer to the death and resurrection of Christ; for he was delivered for our offences and raised from the dead for our justification. The washing of regeneration must mean the putting away our sins by the sacrifice of himself, for he gave himself for us for that very purpose, that he might cleanse us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, and present them without spot or wrinkle before God. He died our death, suffered in our flesh, and the penalty of the divine law was executed on us in him, so that when he died for us all, then were all dead; but he was quickened by the Spirit, and that quickening Spirit was through him poured abundantly on us, so that the apostle could testify that we are quickened together with him, and raised up together, and made to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. All this was necessary and indispensably so, that we should receive the adoption of sons, and be made heirs according to the hope of eternal glory. If sons, then heirs of God, and joint heirs with our Lord Jesus Christ. By his resurrection from the dead, we are begotten again to a lively hope, and to an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that cannot fade away.
This washing of water by the Word is still more clearly referable to the death and resurrection of the church in Christ, by Paul, thus: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water, by the word; that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church. For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery; but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” Ephesians 5:25-32. If this washing of water by the word was the washing of regeneration, it must have been effected by the Spirit, the water and the blood, which bear witness in earth, and it was accomplished by the death and resurrection of Christ.
But once more. The apostle again testifies of Christ; saying, “And he is the Head of the body, the church; who is the first born from the dead; that in all things he might have the pre-eminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell. And having made peace through the blood of the cross, by him to reconcile all things to himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you that were sometimes alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreprovable in his sight.” Colossians 1:17-22. Observe his death is called a washing, and his resurrection a birth; must this not then be the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost? And if it be, was it not shed abundantly on the members of his body through him? In reference to his resurrection it was said, “Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.” Psalm 2:7. And in Acts 13:32,33 “And we declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made to the fathers, God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.”
Was the Head of the body, the church, begotten, and born from the dead, and his body and members left in death? Or did he abolish death and bring life and immortality to light in his resurrection? If he has begotten us again to a lively (vital) hope by the resurrection of Christ from the dead, and we are washed and cleansed from sin by his death and resurrection, and presented to himself a glorious church, free from spot or wrinkle, can this be any other than the washing of regeneration, the washing of water by the word? If this be so, then it follows that the church was born of the water when Christ arose from the dead and became the first fruits of them that slept, and all the members in him were born of the water, and received the washing of regeneration, when Christ washed and cleansed and purified them, at that time when a nation was born at once, and that Scripture was fulfilled, “Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise.” Isaiah 26:19. And certain it is that except a man be, in this sense, born of the water, and in due time quickened by the Holy Spirit which through him was shed on his people, he can neither see, nor enter into the kingdom of God.
November 1, 1869.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 7
Pages 503 – 511