JOHN 3:7 “Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.”
At the conclusion of our article on “Regeneration,” in No. 17 of the current volume, we proposed to give a more full expression in a subsequent number on the subject of the New Birth. This we have felt inclined to do in order to correct the impression entertained by some of our readers that we have changed our views on this vitally important subject.
The very emphatic manner of our Lord’s declaration to Nicodemus forbids the thought that any one of all the race of Adam can ever see the kingdom of God except he be qualified for such perfection by a spiritual birth. Our natural birth capacities us only for a knowledge of natural things, but cannot qualify us for an understanding of things beyond the sphere of nature. If it were possible for the natural faculties and perceptive power of a natural man to be so improved by education, moral, intellectual or religious culture as to enable him to see the kingdom of God, or comprehend, receive or know the things of the Spirit of God, our Lord would not have thus positively declared its utter impossibility. Nor would the Holy Ghost, by the inspired apostle, have corroborated the testimony, as in I Corinthians 2:14. “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.”
By a natural man we understand is intended a man that is born of the flesh, or an earthly man, possessing all the natural elements and properties of a man. Adam, both before and after his transgression, was a natural man. The qualifying adjective is used in a scriptural sense to distinguish a man who is made of the dust of the ground, and inspired with vitality and intelligence, from a spiritual man who is born of the Spirit. The distinction between the natural man and the spiritual is fully set forth in the two distinct headships, from whom the two distinct natures are derived. These two distinct progenitive heads are called, as such, the first and the second Adam: the one of the earth earthy, the other is the Lord from heaven. The first was made a living soul; the second Adam is a quickening Spirit. From the first or natural Adam emanates all our natural or earthly being; from the second Adam emanates all that spiritual, holy, heavenly and eternal life in which we are manifested as the sons or children of God. As our natural life, or natural man, or nature, descended from the earthly Adam by natural generation, and was developed by a natural birth wherein we were born of the flesh, even so our spiritual, eternal life is developed and brought into manifestation by a spiritual birth. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. As we were totally ignorant and unconscious of all that was transpiring in this world in the development of the things of nature until we were born of the flesh, so that it could in truth be said of us, Except we were born of the flesh we could not see or know the things of nature. So it is most positively declared of all who are born of the flesh that, “Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
If, without a natural birth, we could not come into this world nor see the things of this world, must it not follow that a birth of the Spirit is an indispensable prerequisite to capacitate us to either see or know the things of the kingdom which is purely a spiritual kingdom, which flesh and blood cannot inherit? Then, let us not marvel that Jesus has said, “Ye must be born again.”
As neither spiritual life or spiritual capacity can be born of the flesh, so neither can natural life and natural capacity be born of the Spirit. No amount of spiritual gifts can change, enlarge or perpetuate our natural man, or shield the earthly man from hunger, thirst, disease or death. Neither can any development of our natural powers, either physical or mental, contribute in the smallest degree to our spiritual life, perception or enjoyment. That nature in the Christian which is born of the flesh must, as well after the new birth as before, subsist on the productions of the same earth out of which our mortal bodies were fashioned; and that spiritual life or nature which is born of God must subsist on bread that cometh down from heaven, from whence that life proceeded. If spiritual consolation would sustain our earthly nature, Stephen would not have died in the full and rapturous view of the opened heavens, and of his exalted Savior; and if earthly comforts could sustain our spiritual nature, no child of God would ever despond while abounding in wealth and luxury.
In contemplating the gospel doctrine of the new and spiritual birth, we should not confound the birth either with redemption or remission of sins. As transgressors of the divine law, we could not possibly be saved from sin and wrath without redemption; but even redemption by the blood of Christ, and the forgiveness of all our sins, would not supply the place of being born again. Redemption has met the demands of eternal justice, borne the pains and penalties which are due to our transgressions and so secured for us the remission of our sins. All this was accomplished for us, if we are interested in it, many centuries ago; but still, until we were born again we could not see the kingdom of God, or feel the joys of his salvation, or know anything about the things of the Spirit of God. If it were even possible for us to put away from us all our transgressions, and perfectly obey the holy law of God, that would free us from condemnation, but could by no means make us any more spiritual than we were in Adam before sin entered into the world. For we are expressly informed that the first Adam was not spiritual, but natural; but the second Adam is spiritual.
It is true, if we were not sinners we could not leave this present world, for the sting of death is sin; we could not be sinners if we were not subjects of God’s government, for sin is a transgression of the law, and where there is no law, there can be no transgression. Hence we are told, “The strength of sin is the law.” Nothing short of the redemption that is in Christ Jesus could deliver us from the power or strength of sin but a power fully equal to that of sin; and that must be equal to the law which is the strength of sin, therefore if we are saved, we may well exclaim in the inspired language of the apostle, “Thanks be to God which giveth us the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Redemption has removed the insuperable impediment which forbid our exemption from everlasting wrath, abolished death, opened the everlasting doors which were closed upon us, and bade the everlasting gates of life and immortality be lifted up, and thus brought immortality to light through the gospel. All this belongs to our redemption, but to qualify the redeemed of the Lord to come to the heavenly Jerusalem, and see the kingdom of God, and to behold the King in his beauty, and feel the power of the resurrection of the Son of God, and to enter into his resurrection life and immortality, we must be born again.
The question has been repeatedly asked and urged, “What is it that must be born again?” We would not dare attempt to improve on the words of our Lord: “Except a man be born again.” The man that has been born of the flesh and is flesh cannot see the kingdom of God except he be born again. This is necessary, not to make him a man, nor to change him from a man to an angel, but to bestow on him a new spiritual, immortal and eternal life, which he never before had, and which he could never have without being born of the Spirit, as he had been before born of the flesh. That man who was chosen in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world, and consequently before he was manifestly the subject of any birth, before he was born either of the flesh or of the Spirit.
We think it will not be disputed by any intelligent Christian that all the children of God were personally elected or chosen of God, in Christ Jesus, before the foundation of the world, according to Ephesians 1:4. If this be admitted, it must follow that they all had a personal identity and existence as members of the mystical body of Christ before Adam’s dust was fashioned to a man, and therefore prior to their first or second birth. The developments of time have demonstrated to us that it was the purpose of God that every one of his elect should, in the fullness of the dispensations of times, be born first of the flesh, and then be born again of the Spirit. Both of these births were ordained and provided for by the wisdom and decree of God, not to give them being or identity, for these they had in Christ before the world began. By the first birth they were to be developed in their earthly and fleshly nature in common with the whole natural posterity of the earthly Adam. This first birth was necessary that they might see and know the things of nature; for except they were born of the flesh, they could never have known the things of the flesh. “What man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man that is in him?”
In the stupendous mystery of the hidden counsel and purpose of God, this fleshly birth and identification of God’s elect with the family of mankind was indispensable to the development of the great eternal purpose which God had purposed in himself before the world began, that in the first Adam they should all die, and in Christ they should all be made alive. If we admit that God has saved us and called us according to his own purpose and grace which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, then we cannot consistently deny that that purpose and grace provided for our being born of the flesh, and identified with all the rest of Adam’s posterity, and with them sink into death by the transgression of Adam, and be quickened from the dead, and raised up from condemnation and wrath, be washed, cleansed and purified, and freely justified through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
Whether brethren can agree with us that the absolute purpose and immutable decree of God embraced our fallen state and condition, as well as our salvation from sin, death and hell, through his dear Son, or whether they regard our fallen condition as an after thought, occasioned by some unavoidable failure of his purpose, if it be admitted that our redemption from sin and death was predestinated, we must also, and unavoidably (we think) admit the indispensable necessity for the fleshly birth of all the children of God which were from everlasting identified and personally chosen unto salvation in our Lord Jesus Christ. By our natural birth then we enter into, and become a part of this world, are capacitated to see it, and to sojourn in it until, like a hireling, we shall have fulfilled our allotted number of days; but our first, or fleshly birth, while it capacitates us for knowledge of the things of nature, can supply us with no capacity for any thing beyond the bounds of this world; and hence the necessity that we should be born again in order that we may see the kingdom of God, and know the things of the Spirit of God.
In being born again, then, this man, who was chosen of God in Christ before the foundation of the world, and was born of the flesh since the foundation of the world, must, at some period still later than his fleshly birth, be born again, or he cannot see the kingdom of God; he must be born of water and of the Spirit, or he cannot inherit the kingdom of God.
As our first or natural birth belongs to, and results from, natural generation, so our being born again belongs to, and results from, regeneration. The seminal life of all the posterity of Adam was created in him in the day when they were created. So the spiritual eternal life of the generation of our Lord Jesus Christ was given and secured to all the children of God in Christ when he was given to be the Head over all things to his church. The words of our Lord which we have placed at the head of this article were addressed to one who was already born of the flesh; and they are applicable to such only as are born of the flesh. A birth can only develop, or bring forth into manifestation, the same nature of which it is generated and born. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” The first birth brings forth that life, flesh and nature in which we were created in the earthly Adam; but the second birth brings forth into manifestation that life, spirit and immortality which was given to us in Christ Jesus, as the second Adam, and the Lord from heaven.
Having thus briefly considered the subject doctrinally, we will now offer some remarks on the personal experience of this birth by the children of God, and point out some of the prominent evidences by which we know that we have experienced it, if indeed we are of that happy number. These evidences are discovered by comparing and contrasting the state, condition, capacities, elements and exercises of those who are, with those of them who are not, born again; as also by the peculiar exercises produced by the birth, while under the quickening operation of the Spirit in our passage from death unto life.
Before we were born again, we were dead in trespasses and sins, wherein we walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience; among whom we all had our conversation, in the lusts of the flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh, and of the mind, and were by nature the children of wrath even as others (Ephesians 2:1-3); in the full possession of all the elements of a carnal, depraved and sinning nature, and totally destitute of any spiritual life or knowledge. The carnal mind, which was all the mind we had, was enmity against God. Our selfish depraved propensities, with every imagination of our hearts, were evil, and only evil continually. Possessing at the same time exalted views of our own imaginary virtues, and of our ability to commend ourselves to the favor of God, and to secure for ourselves an inheritance of glory by our own works. Held under chains of darkness and strong delusion, believing lies, and sporting with our own deceivings. Every ray of divine truth shut out from our mind, and our mind totally incapable of receiving, appreciating, or even desiring a knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus; hating that truth, and hating all who love or contend for it. Condemned already, and the wrath of God abiding on us, yet boasting of our goodness, and holding that God was obliged in justice to view things as we viewed them, and to save us on such terms as we proposed. In love with sin, at enmity against holiness, at war with heaven, and in league with hell. Calling light darkness, and darkness light; truth error, and error truth; and altogether ignorant of our real condition.
In this wretched state we all were by nature, and nothing belonging to, or emanating from our earthly birth could by any possibility comprehend or know the condition we were in.
By the new birth, a new life is implanted in us, and that life is light. The nature of that light is to make manifest the things which by the power of darkness had been concealed from us before. Quickened by Christ, the Second Adam, who is a quickening spirit, we are made to see and feel our sinfulness, and our lost and helpless condition. We are alarmed to find that we are much worse than we had ever before supposed. The law enters, and sin revives; the purity as well as the inflexible severity of the divine law appears, and the same light which reveals this also shows us the enormity of our guilt, the justice of our condemnation, and the impossibility of salvation by the law. All our boasted abilities to save ourselves was withered and vain. Lost, helpless and despairing, our legal hopes yield up the ghost. The commandment came, sin revived, and I died. The incorruptible seed, by the word of God is deposited in our heart, and all that is felt of conviction and despair are but the legitimate consequence. The light of life now begotten in us reveals a holy God, a righteous law, and a poor guilt-stricken, helpless, and despairing sinner, justly sinking into everlasting perdition.
All this is, however, the effect of life. All this is a struggling for deliverance. As the birth into liberty draws near, the conflict becomes the more intense. “God, be merciful to me, a sinner,” is now uttered in the most terrible earnestness, as quivering under the unsheathed flaming sword, which justice has raised to strike the decisive blow; when lo! the birth reveals the Almighty Savior, who has died for our offenses, and arisen for our justification. The fiery sword was quenched in his blood. “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, and the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”
Lo! Now the guilt is all removed, the terror is gone, the darkness vanquished by bursting light and refulgent glory. God’s method of saving sinners now appears, and the sinner is born again.
This is the birth, and that which is born is spirit. It is not flesh. It is born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. Being begotten and born of God, it manifests not only a new life, but a new relationship. The life which is manifested by this birth is not a revision of our Adamic life, but it is the life of the Father, by whom it is begotten; and it is the vitality of that which is born; hence in this new and heavenly birth, we are made partakers of the divine nature.
Christ, who is our life, is formed in us, and his sonship, his heirship, his inheritance of glory and immortality is born in us, and we are one with him, even as he is one with the Father. From this heaven-born spirit flows all the fruits of the Spirit which testify that we are born of God. As we have shown what are the works of the flesh which characterize the fleshly birth; so the new and heavenly birth is demonstrated by all the fruits of the Spirit of Christ which is given to us. Love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, temperance, brotherly kindness, charity, etc., are some of the living fruits of this heaven-born child, this new man, which after God (not after Adam) is created in righteousness and true holiness. Now in the man who is born again two natures appear. The one is born of the flesh, and is flesh, full of lust, and in opposition to holiness, warring against the spirit, and constantly performing the works of the flesh, as described by Paul in Galatians 5:19,20. The other is born of God, and yields the fruits of the Spirit, as described above.
A conflict between the old man and the new, between that which is born of the flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit, a love for holiness, and hatred of sin; a love to God, and loathing of self; a love for the truth and aversion to error; a love to the saints, and desire to be in company and communion with them; an appreciation of the beauty of the ordinances of Christ, baptism and the Lord’s Supper; a veneration for the order and laws of the kingdom of Christ, and a desire to walk in them, with a deep sense of our own unworthiness, an ardent desire for the peace of Jerusalem, and prosperity of the church of God, with a relish for the doctrine of the gospel, and willingness to suffer reproach for defending it.
These are all scriptural, and therefore reliable evidences that those who possess them are born of God, and heirs of immortal glory, and joint heirs with Christ to an inheritance which is incorruptible, and undefiled, and that cannot fade away.
As our earthly nature which is born of the flesh is depraved and sinful, nothing pure and heavenly can proceed from it; and so that life which is born of God is pure and heavenly, no evil can proceed from it. “It cannot sin, because it is born of God.”
The conclusion is inevitable, that all that is unholy and sinful in us is of the flesh which is born of the flesh; and all that is spiritual, pure and heavenly in us is born of God; born of incorruptible seed, by the word of God which liveth and abideth forever. No man can therefore glory in the flesh; for in our flesh dwelleth no good thing. He that glorieth must glory in the Lord, in that which God hath done for us. Every spiritual emotion, aspiration or thought is of that spirit which is born of the Spirit, by which we are qualified to see the kingdom of God.
“Then give all the glory to his holy name,
To him all the glory belongs;
Be ours the high theme, still to sound forth his fame,
And crown him in each of our songs.”
October 15, 1868.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 7
Pages 268 – 276