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THE NEW BIRTH

Elder Beebe: There is one thing that I am lost in; that is the subject of the New Birth. I believe you and the other writers in the “Signs of the Times” understand that there is nothing that belongs to a person in a state of nature that receives a change. I believe that all are alike born in a state of condemnation, and if not delivered from that condemnation they must forever perish. Now, if both are alike, that is, the righteous and the wicked, they have something that will exist after the death of the body, and if it be not changed, what becomes of it?

Here is the point on which I am perplexed. Now will you please write me a letter and give me some light, if I have eyes to see and a heart to understand? Don’t do as you did before - promise and never perform.

Hiram Winchel.
Marbletown, N.Y.
April 8, 1864.

Reply: In the multitude of pressing cares devolving on us, we had forgotten that we had promised to write brother Winchel on the subject of the New Birth, and we confess it was wrong for us to make such promise; but having made it, it was wrong to forget or fail to fulfill it. It would require the knowledge, wisdom and the inspiration of the apostle, and the patience of Job to meet all the queries and settle all the doubts that may be suggested by the thousands of our readers on all the deep mysteries of the kingdom of Christ, in which we profess ourself to have but a very limited understanding. We hope our brother will pardon our seeming neglect. He understands us and others to hold that there is nothing changed in us by the new birth. That is not our position. Every thing is in some sense changed, but no part of our old carnal or fleshly nature is born over again or made spiritual. A birth is that which brings forth into manifestation something that was never manifested or born before. All that is born of the flesh is flesh, and all that is born of the spirit is spirit. Now if our flesh were born again of the spirit, it would become spirit or spiritual; would live on spiritual food, but could no longer live on the fruits of the earth. The new birth is of incorruptible seed by the word of God which lives forever. But our fleshly nature is just what it was before; it requires the same earthly food and medicine; is as subject to disease and natural death as it was before. The new birth brings forth in the children of God a spiritual life that they never had before, which can only live on the bread which cometh down from God. It is a new life implanted in them. It is Christ in you the hope of glory. But still the body is dead because of sin; but the spirit which is born of the spirit is life because of righteousness. It is Christ in you; but it does not so change your fleshly nature as to fashion and make it like Christ’s glorious body; nor will such a change take place until the resurrection. If the new birth, instead of the resurrection, should make our bodies spiritual, they could not die or be sown a natural body and raised a spiritual body. Pardon and justification are not the effect of the new birth; they result from the blood and righteousness of Christ. The new birth implants in us that life and light by which we are made to see, feel, know, and understand that we are freely justified through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. The new birth qualifies those who are born of the spirit to understand the things of the spirit so far as they are revealed to them by the Holy Ghost. But the reasoning powers of our old depraved nature are still left in the dark, for the natural man (or the old man, which is born of the flesh) receiveth not the things of the spirit of God, for they are spiritually, and only spiritually, discerned. “The light shineth in darkness, but the darkness comprehendeth it not.” That which we find in us which is born of the flesh is of the earth earthly, and will remain so until delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the sons of God in the resurrection, when our mortality shall be swallowed up of life. This is called the old man, the outer man, the carnal man, etc. But that life which is born of God and implanted in our hearts by the Holy Ghost is “after God,” (not after Adam) “created in righteousness and true holiness;” It is therefore called the new man, the spiritual man, and the inner man, which cannot be corrupted because it is born of incorruptible seed; it cannot sin because it is born of God, and that incorruptible seed remaineth and abideth in him. In his flesh, or old man, Paul could find no good thing; in his spiritual life, or new man, John could find no bad thing; no sin. These two natures, Paul says, are contrary the one to the other. With the one he served the law of God; but with the other the law of sin. Trace your own personal experience, dear brother, and if you do not find these things in you, we shall have judged you wrongfully. But we are persuaded that you will find the flesh warring against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh. What else can be meant by the Christian’s warfare?

Do you enquire, If then the body and soul, which were born of the flesh, are not by the new birth born over again and made spiritual, holy and immortal, what change has this new birth effected in the sinner that is born again? We will endeavor to show that a wonderful change is effected. That man was a boasting Pharisee, he is now a trembling Publican. He could confidently venture near the burning throne to tell the Lord how good and pious and benevolent he was; but now he stands afar off and smites upon his breast, afraid to look up, lest his guilt-stricken eyes should meet the all-seeing eye of a sin-avenging God. This we think is something of a change. But has his nature become changed from natural to spiritual? Ask you, and he will reply, The law is holy, and good, and just, and spiritual, but I, alas! am carnal, sold under sin. I was alive without the law once, but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. My legal hopes, my self-righteousness, and my free moral agency all gave up the ghost together. The dead sinner is quickened, for life is implanted in his heart. God, who commanded light to shine out of darkness, has shined in his heart, to give him the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. He is crucified with Christ, nevertheless he lives. Yet not he, (his body, or nature, the old man, is dead because of sin) but Christ liveth in him, and the life which he now lives in the flesh he lives by the faith of the Son of God, who hath loved him, and given himself for him. What does the new born, heaven born sinner find to be changed? Ask him, and he will say: “One thing I know, that whereas I was once blind, now I see.” He was once under the power of darkness, but he is now translated into God’s marvelous light. He has eyes now to see, for God has blessed his eyes, and God has shined in his heart, and God has enlightened his understanding. What else that indicates a change? The things that he once loved he now loathes and hates, and what he once hated he now loves with all his heart. He has, in short, become a new creature. Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us unto himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given unto us the word of reconciliation. His mouth that was full of cursing and bitterness now breaks forth in unknown joys and sings surprising grace. Once he thought that God could not in justice condemn him to everlasting woe and misery; now he is amazed that God can be just, and justify the ungodly. Once he was living without hope and without God in the world; now he has both, for Christ is in him the hope of glory. Is not this a very great change? Well, from whence does it proceed; from the old man, mended up and made spiritual? No, not a particle of it. The works or fruits of the flesh are precisely what they were before; but the fruits of the spirit, which is born of the spirit, are being developed, which are love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance; against such there is no law. These are very opposite to the fruits or works of the flesh, and they all proceed from the new implantation, for the flesh profiteth nothing. If the flesh were regenerated and changed from flesh to spirit, (and if it were born of the spirit it is spirit) would it not bear the fruits of the spirit? If the tree were made good, would not its fruit be good? Christ settles this question: “A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit.” How is it with you, brother Winchel, does your fleshly nature bring forth good fruit? Has it ever brought forth good fruit? We know your answer. Well then, the point is settled; the tree is evil, and cannot bring forth good fruit. Again, if our earthly nature which was born of the flesh, or any part of it, were born of the Spirit, or any part of it were born over again, regenerated and made holy or spiritual, why is it unsafe to walk after it? “For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh.” “So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” “But ye are not in the flesh but in the spirit, if so be that the spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the spirit is life, because of righteousness.” Therefore brethren we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. “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 (Romans 8).” Can we read these solemn warnings given by the holy apostles to those who were already born again, charging them to mortify, repress and shun the leadings of their flesh, and still contend that the flesh by the new birth has become so changed and pure that it would be safe and proper to be led by it?

We think we have proved that if that which was born of the flesh has been born again of the spirit, it has become spirit, and its fruits must be, cannot possibly be otherwise than holy. Yet we are told by the authority of God himself that if we live after the flesh we shall die. And this warning is given only to those who were the subjects of both births. We apprehend the difficulty with some arises from a traditional notion of some imaginary distinction between a man and his soul. We admit a distinction between the soul and the body of man, but can conceive of none between the man and his soul. Take the soul from the body and that body ceases to be a man. Even should his animal vitality remain, without his soul he would not be a man; only an animal, like other animals that have no souls. In the creation the body was formed and existed as a body, but it was not a man, in the full sense of the word, until God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul. That soul was a man, and that man was a living soul. And as the progenitor and seminal head of the human race, the first Adam was made a living soul, so from him descended by natural generation all the souls and bodies of mankind. No birth of the flesh ever brought forth a man without a soul; yet Christ has said that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the spirit is spirit. For the second Adam, who is the Lord from heaven, as the spiritual progenitor of his people, was made a Quickening Spirit, and by that birth we are partakers of the divine nature. These two natures, in conflict one with the other, from the time of the new birth will struggle in the same person until that which is born of corruptible seed shall fill up the measure of his days on earth and then return to dust; but that nature which is born of incorruptible seed shall return to God from whom it came. The soul of the believer, with this divine life implanted in it, as soon as released from the earthly element, shall throw off all its bondage of corruption and leave all that is vile behind, and by virtue of the immortal life of God in it, shall enter the state of immortal bliss, and mingle with the spirits of just men made perfect. And at the final resurrection of the just, the bodies also of all the saints shall be quickened by the spirit of immortality, the first fruits of which they received when born again; and in that immortal life shall they be perfectly conformed to the image of the Son of God, and bear that heavenly image as they have when here in the flesh borne the image of the earthly Adam. “But if the spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his spirit that dwelleth in you (Romans 8:11).” This change has not yet come. It is astonishing that any of our well informed brethren should think this change had already taken place, when “we ourselves which have the first fruits of the spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit: the redemption of our body (Romans 8:23).” The spirit in the Christian which is born of God is called the spirit of adoption, wherewith the saints are sealed in their persons, soul and body, until the day of redemption. And it is called the spirit of promise, and why is it so called? What has it promised? It seals the promise that every one who is a subject of the new birth shall be raised up at the last day, perfectly holy, spiritual, and perfectly happy. It does not seal to us any assurance that we now, either in soul or body, are what we shall be, for it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but it seals the glorious promise to us, and us to it, that when he who is our life shall appear, we shall be like him. And what more do we want? “As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake with thy likeness (Psalm 17:15).”

If brother Winchel, or any other brother, regards our views on this subject as heresy, we will not dispute with them; or if they believe that in soul, or body, or spirit, they have as yet attained the mark of their high calling, we will request them to compare notes with one who could not run so fast, and whose desire and prayer better suits the condition of some of us slow travelers. Paul desired above all things that he might know Christ and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, and be made conformable unto his death. “If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect, but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended.” (Not quite so fast, Paul, as some in our day.) “But this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:10-14).”

We commenced this article for a private communication to brother Winchel, but having written more lengthily than we had intended, and hoping that the subject may not be barren or unprofitable to others, we publish it in connection with his last appeal to us. And we do sincerely hope that what we have written may be satisfactory, and that it may be edifying and comforting to all who have been perplexed upon the subject.

Middletown, N.Y.,
June 1, 1864.

Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 6
Pages 39 - 45