Since the publication of brother J. F. Johnson's communication on the subject of regeneration, we have received several letters from brethren, some approving and others querying as to the correctness of his position. We are inclined to believe that his views have not been perfectly understood by all our readers. If we have correctly understood him, his views on the subject of the new birth differ not from the views generally held by all sound Old School Baptists, namely, that every one of God's chosen people are in time quickened by the Holy Spirit, and born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever. That the personal experience of the saints, in being delivered from the power of darkness and translated into the marvelous light and liberty of the sons of God, is what is in the New Testament called being born again. Not that our earthly nature is born over again and made spiritual and holy, for this every child of God knows is not the case; but that life and immortality which was given them in Jesus Christ is by a spiritual birth brought into manifestation. As our earthly nature was brought into manifestation by our natural birth, yet so that, that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and continues to be flesh, after the new birth has developed in them the new man, which after God (Christ, not after Adam) is created in righteousness and true holiness. That which is born of the Spirit is Spirit, not renewed flesh, nor human nature revised, new-modeled or reconstructed. The flesh which is born of the flesh and the spirit which is born of the Spirit both exist in the Christian so long as he continues in the flesh, and they not only are not the same, in nature or parentage, but they are essentially different in all respects. The one is natural, the other spiritual; the one is human, the other is divine; the one mortal, the other immortal; the one cannot sin because it is born of God, and is incorruptible, the other cannot be subject to the law of God, because it is carnal and depraved. The one is life, the other is death; the one is to be put on, the other to be put off. The one knoweth not the things of the Spirit of God, which can only be spiritually discerned, and the other searches all things, even the deep things of God. The one is Christ in you the hope of glory; the other is Adam, and sin and pollution in you. These are not only in every way distinct and dissimilar, but they are in direct and deadly hostility to each other. They who by the first and second birth, like the Shulamite, in the Canticles, present in each saint the belligerent elements of two armies. The flesh wars against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary the one to the other, and a perpetual warfare is the result until the dissolution of the flesh and triumph of the Spirit, when mortality shall be swallowed up of life.
But while it is conceded that the saints of all ages are personally and experimentally subjects of the new birth, as defined in the foregoing remarks, it is held that the Scriptures in no case apply the word regeneration to this birth. The word regeneration occurs but twice in the Bible, and in both instances it is believed to be applied to the death, burial and resurrection of Christ as the Head and embodiment of his church. After describing the inefficiency of sacrifices and offering which were made under the law, Christ is heard to say, "Lo, I come to do thy will, O God." And in so coming to do what the law could not, in that it was weak through the flesh, he says, "But a body hast thou prepared me (Hebrews 10:5)." And in Hebrews 2:16, it is declared: "for verily he took not on him the nature of angels, but he took on him the seed of Abraham." And in Galatians 3:29, "And if ye be Christ's then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." "Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same, that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage (Hebrews 2:15,16)." Here we have the profound mystery which is without controversy. "God is manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory." And an apostle declares that he is an anti-christ who shall deny that Christ is come in the flesh. The great object of his assumption of our flesh was to offer up that body, as demanded by the law, and required by inflexible justice. "He was made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of children." In this identity with his church, which is his body, he was delivered for our offences. Baptized deep in death, all the billows of divine wrath went over him, and the grave closed upon him. And his love constrained us because we thus judge, that if one died for all (all that body which he took) then were all dead. "Crucified with Christ." "Put to death in the flesh." Yielding to law and justice all the jots and tittles which they demanded. Here in the sacrifice that life which was demanded was given up, and that death which was denounced was endured. But "he was raised again for our justification." Not by restoration of that body to primeval innocence, but by being quickened by the Spirit of Immortality, a resurrection life over which sin and death can never exert a dominion. Death is from his resurrected body abolished, and immortality is brought to light in the resurrection. Thus, "God, who is rich in mercy, for the great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us [or made us alive] together with Christ, and hath raised us up together with him (Ephesians 2:4-6)." Thus in the mediatorial offering the law has its full demand, and lawful captives are redeemed; their relation to the law is dead, and they are dead to the law by the body of Christ, that they should be married to him who is risen from the dead and participate in his immortal resurrection life. "Know ye not that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death, that like as Christ was raised up from the dead [not by the mortality of Adamic animation, but] by the glory of the Father [the immortality of the self-existent and eternal Godhead], even so we also should walk [or be quickened and animated by, and] in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also of resurrection." Omitting the supplied words, the above is a correct rendering. "Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once; but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:3-1 1)." We might follow the arguments of the apostle through this and the next chapter, and indeed throughout the whole epistle. In confirmation of the doctrine of the identity of the church, or body of Christ with him, is his death, burial and resurrection, which is so strikingly set forth as a baptism into death and resurrection to a new, spiritual, immortal life, which is born of God and not of the flesh. It sustains the same relation to God that the immortality of Christ sustains to him. Almost a literal repetition of these arguments and illustrations are also found in Colossians 2:10-15.
In the doctrine thus far stated, we apprehend no serious disagreement among Old School, or Bible Baptists. Where the word regeneration, as used but twice in the Scriptures, is applicable to this circumcision of Christ, and crucifixion of the old man, baptism into death and resurrection of the church in Christ in new immortal life, or to the personal individual experience of the children of God, is the question on which there may be some difference of opinion. The word regeneration occurs in Titus 3:5, signifying not only a cleansing which only the blood of Christ could possibly effect, but also an inspiration of a new spiritual life which is shed upon the church, through Christ our Savior, and in this new life we are justified, and made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. First, the apostle declares what we once were, that is, in that earthly Adamic nature in which we were held guilty and condemned by the law, which life was under the law, married to the law, and which life the law demanded, and which was yielded up in the circumcision of Christ, so that all the members of Christ were buried with Christ by baptism into his death, became dead to the law, and in his resurrection life the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of Immortality, was abundantly shed on us, through Jesus Christ our Savior; that being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This atoning work, wherein we are redeemed from our relation to the earthly Adam, and from the tribes and kindred of the earth, and quickened with the life and immortality of Christ, was indispensable to our being made heirs. In our earthly relations we could only be heirs to an earthly inheritance. But Christ was made of a woman, made under the law to redeem us from under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And if sons, in this new relationship to God, in Christ, then heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ; and hence we are made heirs according to the hope of eternal life, in distinction from the mortal life of our earthly generation in the earthly Adam. "For this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, neither doth corruption inherit incorruption." Our generation in Adam makes us heirs of sin and corruption; but our regeneration in the life and immortality of the Son of God makes us heirs of an inheritance which is incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, and which is according to the hope of eternal life. This hope of eternal life, which God who cannot lie promised before the world began, comes not to us by or through our regeneration in Adam, but by and through our regeneration in Jesus Christ.
Let us now inquire, is this death and resurrection of Christ, and of his church in him, set forth in the light of a regeneration in the Scriptures? Generation, whether natural or spiritual, is understood to involve begetting, conception and birth, by which the life of the progenitor is brought into manifestation in a posterity. Generation cannot be applied to the eternal Godhead, for that is underived, unbegotten, self existent and eternal; but it is applied to Christ in his mediatorial identity, as the Son of God and Head of the church.
By a miraculous conception, the Word was made flesh when he took on him the seed of Abraham, and was made under the law to redeem his people. In this generation he was made a little lower than the angels for the sufferings of death, and having accomplished that suffering, the exceeding greatness of God's mighty power was wrought in him, in raising him from the dead, and in setting him far above all principalities and powers. That exceeding greatness of the power of God is thus declared by God himself. "I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee (Psalm 2:7)." What day? Dr. Gill, we believe, says it was the day of eternity; but an inspired apostle testifies thus: "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 (Acts 13:32,33)." "John to the seven churches which are in Asia, grace be unto you, and peace from him which is, and which was, and which is to come, and from the seven spirits which are before the throne; and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten from the dead (Revelations 1:5)." God "hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the world: who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high, being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be unto him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son? And again, when he bringeth in the first begotten into the world, he said, And let all the angels of God worship him (Hebrews 1:1-6)."
In this begetting Christ from the dead, we are told that he was raised up by the glory of the Father, which we understand to be the life and immortality of the eternal Godhead, "the power of an endless life." "Put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit." This was spoken of by the prophet, "the spirit of the Lord God is upon me," etc. And was typified by the precious ointment poured on the head of Aaron, which ran down his beard and descended to the skirt of his garment, thus anointing both the Head and the Body of Christ. It was predicted, "And the Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, saith the Lord. As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the Lord. My spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed's seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and forever (Isaiah 59:20,21)." In this regeneration, that life which was with the Father and was given to the members of Christ in him, is by the resurrection of Christ made manifest. In his resurrection from the dead he has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light, and God in the exceeding greatness of his mighty power to usward, which he wrought in Christ in raising him from the dead, hath quickened us together with him, and hath raised us up together, as the legitimate children of the resurrection, as a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people. When he was begotten from the dead by the glory or immortality of the Father, his children in him were and are "Begotten again to a lively [living or vital] hope by the resurrection of Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God [the power of an endless life], through faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed at the last time." "Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you. Who by him do believe in God that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God (I Peter 1:18-21)."
To our understanding this begetting from the dead in him who from the dead has the pre-eminence as the first born of the dead, is called the regeneration, in which all the chosen of God are redeemed from that corruptible nature which they received by their natural generation, and by the resurrection of Christ begotten again to a lively hope to eternal life and to an incorruptible inheritance and immortal glory.
That Christ was begotten and born from the dead is so clearly stated in the word as to forbid all controversy on the subject, and that he was raised up as the embodiment of his church, as his body, as a perfect man, the fullness of him that filleth all in all, and perfectly filling up the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, Head and body, and all his members, is confirmed by its exact conformity to the prophecy of Isaiah. "Who hath heard such a thing? Who hath seen such things? Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? Or shall a nation be born at once? For as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children (Isaiah 66.8)."
"T'was for his saints Christ tasted death,
All glory to his name;
And when he breath'd his dying breath,
With him his saints o'ercame.
Since Jesus slept among the dead,
His saints have nought to fear,
For with their glorious suffering Head
His members sojourned there.
When from the dead we see him rise,
Triumphant o'er his foes,
He bore his members to the skies;
With Jesus they arose."
Viewed in her identity with Christ, the church which is his body was not left behind when he arose from the dead; the doors of death were opened, and the portals of immortality were entered. Death and the grave were vanquished, and he who was delivered for our offences arose for our justification. The church of God is redeemed; the law holds no further dominion over her; her life is now with Christ in God, and she sits with him in heavenly places, and all his redeemed must in due time follow him experimentally in this regeneration. With him on the cross, and in the tomb, they shall all be in experimental fellowship with his sufferings here, and participate in his glory hereafter in a world without end.
July 15, 1867.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 7
Pages 43 - 50.