Remarks on the Letter of Brother John S. Cox - We are well pleased with the general tenor and argument of our brother, and, indeed, if we correctly understand him, we have no exception to make. We do not discover any proposition that we do not cordially receive. But we do believe there is a want of agreement among some of our brethren in regard to the doctrine of the new and heavenly birth, which arises from a misapprehension of each other’s views - each having his peculiar manner of expressing his views; for it cannot be that those who are the subjects of that spiritual birth, and have been led by the one Spirit, and in the same one hope of their calling, can very widely differ in the real sentiment of their hearts in regard to that subject.
Brother Cox, in the latter part of his able article, remarks, “So that I cannot avoid the conclusion that it was the same man that had been born of the flesh, that Jesus said must be born again, to enable him to see the kingdom of God. So that whilst his birth of the flesh elemented and adapted him to the enjoyment of earthly things, his heavenly birth elements adapts him to the enjoyment of heavenly things,” etc. Take this sentence in its connection with the other parts of the letter, and we know of none of our brethren who would controvert his conclusion. It must be the same man who was or is first born of the flesh, that must be born again or he cannot see the kingdom of God. This declaration was made by our Lord to Nicodemus, who had been born of the flesh, and that too of Abraham’s posterity, and had been religionized, and had graduated in the religious instructions taught by the Scribes and Pharisees, and stood pre-eminent among his brethren as a teacher in Israel and ruler of the Jews; and Jesus, in re-asserting the declaration, said to him, “Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.” We have no intimation given us in the scriptures that any man had ever been born again of the Spirit, who had not antecedently been born of the flesh. The very term man or a man, in its most common and familiar application, signifies one who has been born. The seed of Adam, to be developed as men, must be born of the flesh; besides the term again, or born again, certainly implies a previous birth. This position, as it appears to us, will admit of no controversy. If, therefore, brother Cox, or any other brother, has understood us, or any of our correspondents, to controvert that conclusion, we think he has misapprehended our views; at least we can speak confidently for ourself for while we have objected to the idea of a part of a man being born again, we have insisted on the precise words of Christ, “Except a man be born again”, etc.
But let us compare our notes a little farther. Brother Cox has expressed our views in regard to both births, so far as he has pursued the subject in his letter. The first birth has developed our earthly nature, and has resulted from a time union with the earthly Adam, and he has well remarked that not a son or daughter of Adam could possibly have been born of the flesh that was not created in Adam; for if we were not created in Adam, we do not belong to his posterity, cannot be involved in the sin and guilt of his transgression, nor from him inherit a corrupt nature, nor die a natural death by that decree which has passed upon all men as a consequence of Adam’s transgression; for how can we be involved in the consequence if we are not Adam’s children according to the flesh? And farther, our fleshly birth has developed us in the flesh as the children of men. A fleshly birth has not made us manifest as the children of God, or it would not require that we should be born again in order to see the kingdom of God. But as brother Cox has very fitly said, our fleshly birth has elemented and adapted us for natural or fleshly things. And as the Master has said that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit. As the fleshly birth cannot produce spiritual life and immortality, so neither can a spiritual birth produce a fleshly man, a fleshly nature, a carnal, depraved, mortal existence; for, “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed abideth in him; and he cannot sin because he is born of God.” How wide the difference between the two that’s which occur in the words of Christ to Nicodemus. That which is born of the flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit. The two that’s differ in their paternity; the one is of the flesh, the other is of the Spirit; the one is of corruptible, the other of incorruptible seed; the one is born of a woman, the other is born of God; the one is in the course of natural generation of blood of the will of the flesh and of the will of man, the other is born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man. The same difference is traced in the nature of the two that’s. That which is born of the flesh is elemented and adapted to this world, and desires here to remain and to enjoy the carnal pleasures of a sensual state. But that which is born of the Spirit desires spiritual, heavenly and divine things - to live by faith upon the Son of God, to eat that bread which cometh down from heaven; it desireth the sincere milk of the word and the hidden manna, which only the spiritual Israelites can feed upon. Well, what are the two that’s? We think no Christian in his right mind would be willing to dispute the definition given by him who cannot err. One of these that’s, Jesus says, is flesh. Well, what is the other that? Is it also flesh? Is it renovated, refined, spiritualized, born over again flesh? But stop - can we answer any one of these interrogatives affirmatively without rejecting the interpretation given by our Lord himself? If we may say that which is born of the flesh is Spirit, and that which is born of the Spirit is flesh, and these two that’s are essentially the same, how can we reconcile such views with the express declaration that the one is flesh and that the other is Spirit? But if we mistake not there is still more difficulty to be encountered in the support of such an identity. It not only denies what Truth himself has said, but if the spiritual birth has reproduced the fleshly man, that man in his reproduction is no longer flesh but Spirit; for that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. It is no longer sinful and sinning, for whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin. It is no longer corruptible, for it is born of incorruptible seed. It cannot be mortal, for it liveth and abideth forever. It cannot be captivated by the world, for that which is born of God overcometh the world. But is it so? Is there a subject of regeneration to be found who does not feel constrained to say with Paul, “In me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing”? Is there one who does not find a law or governing principle in his flesh that wars against the law of his mind, bring him into captivity to the law of sin which reigns in his mortal body? If so we will only say he differs from us.
If any child of God feels perplexed upon this subject, we commend to his attention the text, Songs vi. 13: “Return, return, O Shulamite; return, return, that we may look upon thee.” And it will be well to take a good look and consider the lesson well. “What will ye see in the Shulamite? As it were the company of two armies.” The flesh lusting against the Spirit. What flesh? That which is born of the flesh. This flesh in the same Shulamite cannot war or lust against the spirit, if that spirit is not there. And the spirit warreth against the flesh, and these two are - identically the same? By no means; the one is contrary to the other; and those who, like the Shulamite, find them both, like two belligerent armies struggling within them for the mastery are commanded to crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts, and to follow after the other.
Opposite as these two parties are, a man cannot be a Christian who has not both. The Christian was first born of the flesh; this made him manifest as a member of the human family, involved in guilt and ruin, and standing in need of the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. The other birth has made him manifest as a child of God, a member of Christ and an heir of glory.
But perhaps brother Cox has sufficiently identified the production of the two births, the one as the new man - the inner man, which is renewed day by day; the other as the old man, the outer man that perishes, that grows old - is subject to corruption, mortality - to death. But how cheering the prospect brought to view in the closing paragraph of brother Cox’s letter. Although this flesh is not now spiritual, incorruptible nor immortal, it shall be when death shall be swallowed up of life. Though it goes down to the grave a mortal body, it is raised a spiritual, holy, immortal, imperishable body, changed, fashioned and make like unto the glorious body of our risen Redeemer. “For whom he did foreknow, them he did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the first-born among many brethren.” Even “now is Christ risen indeed, and become the first-fruits of them that slept”; and as the heavens have received him, so he has given his poor tried saints the divine assurance that where he is there shall they be also, that they may behold him in the glory which he had with the Father before the world was.
Brother Cox, we feel persuaded, will not consider us as criticising or controverting his views, but rather as attempting to show that there is a harmony of sentiment on this subject, that the same heir of immortal glory is brought forth into manifestation by two distinct births, and these are both provided for him, and in each he is passive, in neither has he himself had any power to aid or prevent; all is of God, and with grateful hearts let us together sing - “His decrees, who form’d the earth, Has fix’d my first and second birth; Parents, native place and time, All appointed were by him.”
March 1, 1861
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 4
Pages 467 - 471