On this subject an esteemed brother in Georgia, has desired us to give our views; and although we have frequently dwelt upon this interesting and important subject, in the pulpit and through the press, for the last twenty-five years, we have no apprehension of overtaxing the patience of our readers by too frequently calling their attention to the consideration of a subject of so much vital importance. To the children of God the subject is as interesting as it is important. It can never become stale with them. Our Redeemer has given to it paramount prominence in the doctrine of the New Testament, in his declaration, "Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." Whatever excellence of character, amiability of disposition, or circumspection of deportment, the sons of men may attain to by all the efforts they can make at reformation, they are still in nature's darkness, and unable to see the kingdom of God, or to perceive the things of the Spirit of God except as they be born again. Nothing then can be of more vital importance to us than to have the evidence that we have passed from death unto life; and as there is no such passage from one state to the other but by the regeneration and the new birth, it is highly important that we should inquire into the nature of that generation and birth, by which alone we are delivered from the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom of God's dear Son. "Marvel not," said our Redeemer, "that I said unto thee, ye must be born again." By our natural birth we are brought forth and manifested as the children of a fallen Adam, in a nature which is depraved and sinful, having only a carnal mind which is enmity against God, not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be; having neither capacity or disposition to understand or enjoy anything of a spiritual nature. "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." No course of discipline, no educational improvement, no reformation of the natural man, can elevate that nature above the level of a natural man. And the apostle assures us that the children of the flesh are not the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. (Rom. ix. 8.) Hence the necessity of a generation and birth of a higher order than that which makes us the children of the flesh. Of this higher order of generation and birth we are requested to express our views.
John says, "But as many as received him [Christ], to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." -John i. 12, 13. This appears to us to be very clear; for if a fleshly birth was necessary to manifest us as children of the flesh, so a spiritual birth is necessary to make us manifest as children of the Spirit; if our first or natural generation and birth was required to bring us forth in our earthly relation to the first Adam, so we must be born of God to bring us forth as the children of God. As Jesus said to Nicodemus, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." - John iii. 6. That life which God gave us in our creation in Adam is by natural or fleshly generation developed in us when we are born of the flesh, so that spiritual, immortal and eternal life which is brought forth in our regeneration is a life which was with the Father, and was manifested to us, according to 1 John i. 2.
This spiritual, immortal and eternal life, we are informed is hid with Christ in God; and the record, or testimony of it, by the three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word and the Holy Ghost, and the three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, the water and the blood, is thus stated by divine revelation to us. "And this is the record, that God hath given to 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." - 1 John v. 7,8, 11, 12. This record is clear, positive and emphatic; and it cannot be disputed without involving blasphemy, for "he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son." - 1 John v. 10. As Christ is one with the Father, so this life is one with Christ. He that hath not the Son of God hath not life; as he that hath the Son, hath the Father also; even so he that hath the Son, hath that eternal life which is hid with Christ in God. As the Father and Christ are so inseparably identified that they cannot be divided, so is this life which God has given us in his Son, so identified with Christ that we cannot have the life only as we have Christ, for Christ is the life of the church, as Christ God. All the fullness of the Godhead dwells in him bodily, (Col. ii. 9,) and he is the only and blessed potentate, the King of kings, and the Lord of lords, who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light, which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see; to whom be honor and power everlasting, Amen. (1 Tim. vi. 15, 16.) As Christ is the life, and as he only hath it, we can only possess it as we possess him. He that hath the Son, hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God, hath not life, so in the revelation of Christ in his incarnation. The Word, which was with God, and which was God, was made flesh and dwelt among us. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. (John i. 14, 14.)
We have presented the two headships, from whence we receive natural and spiritual life, the head and source of our natural life is called the first Adam, and we are informed that he is of the earth, earthy; that he was not spiritual, but natural, and "As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy." By virtue of our relationship to the first Adam, we are earthy, natural, but not spiritual, in the sense in which the saints are made spiritual by their relation to God in Christ. Although Adam was made a living soul, and possessed the spirit of a man, and all his posterity possess souls, and spirits adapted to their nature, the first Adam was not the head of that spiritual and immortal life which our only and blessed Potentate only has. As our earthly head or progenitor is of the earth, so our spiritual, immortal and eternal Progenitor, is the Lord from heaven, the Head of life, and the embodiment of all the spiritual life of his posterity or seed. From these two heads, Adam, who was of the earth, and Christ, who is the Lord from heaven, proceeds all that is developed by ordinary generation or regeneration. In the book of the generations of Adam, (Adam the first, who is the figure of him that was to come, which is Christ, Rom. v. 14,) it is thus written, "In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created. And Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, after his image; and called his name Seth. And the days of Adam, after he had begotten Seth, were eight hundred years: and he begat sons and daughters. And Seth lived an hundred and five years, and begat Enos." - Gen. v. 1-6. And thus the command of God to Adam to be fruitful and to multiply, began to be carried into effect, not by addition, but by multiplication, and the work of multiplication is still progressing to the present hour, and must continue until all the natural posterity of which Adam was the seminal head shall be developed.
The book also of the generation of Jesus Christ, is also written, see Matthew i. 1, compared with Psalm cxxxix. 15, 16, in which we have the record of the three in heaven, the Father, the Word and the Holy Ghost, as corroborated by the three that bear record in earth, as stated 1 John v.7,8, 11, 12. Showing in this family record, that Christ's substance was not hid from the omniscient eye of the Father. "Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book, all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them." It is also recorded, "A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation." - Psalm xxii. 30. The prophet Isaiah, when viewing him in his humiliation, led as a lamb to the slaughter, taken from prison and from judgment, was led to inquire, "And who shall declare his generation?" - Isaiah liii. 8. But the response is given in the same chapter, "When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hands. He shall see of the travail of his soul and shall be satisfied." - Isaiah liii. 10, 11.
In the gospel, the sealed book is opened by the Lion of the tribe of Judah, and the Lamb's book of life contains the registry of all his members which were chosen in him before the foundation of the world.
Regeneration, as we understand it, like generation, involves the begetting, conception and birth, of that which is generated, and in both cases, implies that that which is so generated had a seminal existence in its progenitor before its manifestation by generation; as Levi was in the loins of Abraham when Melchizedek met him, and as we all as natural men were in Adam the day he was created, and as the spiritual seed was chosen and preserved in Christ Jesus before the world began. In the order of regeneration, or the development of the children of God, no intermediate agencies are employed, no system of means can bring forth the promised seed, as was demonstrated in the case of Hagar and Ishmael; it is the immediate work of God himself. "Of his own will begat he us, with the word of truth." - James i. 18. How, by the word of truth? Jesus saith, "It is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life." - John vi. 63. In the preceding chapter Christ testified of the power of that word which is spirit and life, by which the children of God are begotten, quickened and born; saying, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live." - John v. 25. But will all the dead be thus quickened by his words which are spirit and life? No, for he says, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall any pluck them out of my hand. My Father which gave them me, is greater than all; and none is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand. I and my Father are one." "And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him; for they know his voice." - John x. 4, 27-30. He who saith, "For I am the Lord, thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Savior," says, "Fear not, for I am with thee, I will bring thy seed from the east, and gather thee from the west; I will say to the north, Give up; and to the south, Keep not back; bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth; even every one that is called by my name; for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him, yea, I have made him." -Isa. xliii. 5-7. The word of the Lord, which is Spirit, and which is life, which liveth and abideth forever, is that by which regeneration is affected; not merely by the Scriptures in their letter, nor reading or preaching them, but the words which Jesus himself speaks to the individual persons who are made to hear and live. Hence Peter could say, "To whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God." - John vi. 68, 69. Until this word, which is spirit and life, is spoken by Christ himself, who is the quickening Spirit, or life-giving Spirit, to an individual, that individual is in a state of alienation from God, dead in trespasses and sins, and utterly beyond the reach of any power, short of that which is in Christ, to quicken him. "As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him." When a sinner is thus quickened, the incorruptible seed, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever, is implanted in his heart, and the evidence of this implantation is first given by a sense of the purity and holiness of God, and the spirituality of his law, contrasted with a sense of guilt, pollution and just condemnation of the person to whom this communication is made, and consequently a struggle for deliverance. The ear is now opened to hear the thunders of Sinai, and the eye is made to see the justice of God as a sin avenger; a brokenness of heart that he or she, as the case may be, has been all their lifetime in open rebellion against so holy, just and righteous a God, who has followed them with his mercies all their days. A sense of his goodness leads them to repentance, contrition and humble acknowledgment of their guilt. Now the quickened and awakened sinner becomes burdened with the load of depravity, which they vainly try to put away from them; an effort is made to reform; a resolution is formed to sin no more; tears flow in anguish of spirit, and prayers are offered for pardon; the sinner is pricked in the heart, and cries out, Men and brethren, what shall I do? But all that he can do for himself, and all that kind, sympathizing friends can do for him, does not ease his pain or lighten his burden. At length he concludes there is no hope in his case, he sees that all his efforts, cries and tears, have been unavailing, and all hope of salvation seems to be shut out from his view.
Now all this conviction, contrition, lamentation and distress, is the legitimate consequence resulting from life implanted, and indicates to all who know experimentally the way of life, that the poor sin-burdened soul is drawing near to the time of his birth, or deliverance. He who has thus arrested him, and brought him to a sense of his lost and helpless estate, will perform the work in his own time, but the burdened soul must wait until "God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, shines in [not into] his heart, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." -2 Cor. iv. 6. Or, as Paul relates his own experience, "When it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in me." - Gal. i. 15. Then by the revelation of Christ in us the hope of glory, the way of salvation through him is brought to view, the burden of guilt is removed, the blood of Christ is applied, the demands of the law are canceled, the curse is removed, the prison doors are opened, the captive is delivered, the love of God is shed abroad in the heart, old things are passed away; behold all things have become new; a new song is put in his mouth, even praise unto God, the gospel pours its joyful sound into his quickened ears, his goings are established and he is a new creature, the old man of his corrupt nature is subdued, not dead, that which is born of the flesh continues to be flesh, and only that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John iii. 6.) And, as in the flesh there is nothing good, so in the spirit, there is nothing evil. That which is born of the flesh is corruptible, because it is born of corruptible seed, but whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. Here then the christian finds in him, two men, which are called the old man and the new man. (Eph. iv. 22-24; Col. iii. 9,10.) Outward man, and inward man, (2 Cor. iv. 16,) and the hidden man of the heart. (1 Peter iii. 4.) The old, outward man, is called the flesh, because it is born of the flesh; but the new, inward, and hidden man of the heart, is called spirit; because it is born of the Spirit. The works of the flesh are these, adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies. But the fruits of the spirit are, love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance; against such there is no law. (Gal. v. 19-23.) These two men, or opposing principles in the christian, occasion a warfare and make him groan being burdened. "For the flesh, [that which is born of the flesh] lusteth against the spirit, [that which is born of the Spirit] and the spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary the one to the other; so that ye (christians) cannot do the things that ye would." - Gal. v. 17.
Finally, we see from the testimony of the Scriptures, as we also learn by our experience, all that is corrupt, carnal, and opposed to the law of our mind, is born of the flesh, and all that we possess that delights in the law of God, that loves holiness and hates sin, is that which belongs to our new and heavenly birth, and while we remain in this earthly tabernacle, the warfare will continue, and we are admonished to crucify the old man with his affections and lusts, and to deny ourselves, keep the body under, and to put on the new man, which, after God, is created in righteousness and true holiness, to walk after the Spirit, and we shall not fulfill the desires of the flesh. The new man being born of God, must live on that bread which comes down from heaven, but the old man being of the earth earthy, must have its sustenance from the earth, until it returns to the dust of the ground from whence it was taken; for dust it is, and to the dust it shall return. But we have the blessed assurance that in the resurrection, these vile bodies of the saints, which now occasion us so much trouble, shall be changed, and made like unto the glorious body of our risen Redeemer, and then, but not till then, shall they be made spiritual and immortal.
We have endeavored to give our views on the subject proposed by our brother, and in doing so, to trace the generation of the children of God, as a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation; which are born, not of a corruptible seed, but of an incorruptible seed, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever. What we have written are our views, and what we have understood to be the views of the Old order of Baptists, from the days of John; but if we are mistaken in our views, (and we are liable to be) or in any part of them, we hope that our brethren will in all christian kindness point out to us the more excellent way.
Middletown, N. Y.,
September 1, 1857.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Vol. 4