OPELIKA, Ala., Feb. 4, 1880
BELOVED BROTHER BEEBE: – I know that you have explained and re-explained so frequently on the subject of the new birth, that it would seem like an attempt to annoy you to even suggest a further explanation from you; yet I know you are not fully understood by even some of your warmest friends and brethren, who I am quite certain have no design to misrepresent or injure you. Or if they do understand you, they are not yet prepared to indorse or accept the position which you are understood to take on one point.
You, and the brethren generally, I think, are agreed that the very identical man that sinned, is the very man that has to be redeemed by Christ and born of the Spirit in order to enter the spiritual kingdom of God. I do not think there is any misunderstanding on this point. But the difficulty is that you are understood to hold that not only the man is born again, but the self-existent spirit of God is also born of God. I will refer to your editorial in reply to brother Martin, in the SIGNS of January 1st, 1877, quoting only so much of your sentence as refer to this particular point. You say, “soul and body and spirit that were and are born of the flesh – sinful and depraved – necessitated to be redeemed, washed, cleansed, purified and born again.” Then in the next sentence it is said, “The spiritual life which is given to us in the new birth is born of God.” This is in the second column, tenth page; and then again on same page, third column, there is a repetition in substance of the same sentiment, that the “earthly nature and Adamic man is born of the Spirit;” and also that “eternal life,” that never was defiled, “is born of God,” and it “cannot sin, because it is born of God.” Again, you say, “This life in us is born of the Spirit, and is spirit; but it is not the spirit of the flesh, which is vile, but it is the spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead.” Is there any scriptural authority for saying that both the sinner and the spirit of Almighty God are alike born of God? Or do you indeed intend to convey the idea, s some understand you do, that the spirit of Almighty God that raised up Jesus from the dead is born of God, or subject of the new birth, as the sinner is?
I have italicized the points which present the difficulty in the minds of some of your readers, and tried to state the matter in as short and concise a manner as possible. Be assured, my dear aged brother, that no unkind feelings have dictated the above.
Affectionately your brother,
W. M. MITCHELL.
P. S. – I wish to say to all who may feel an interest therein, that my health has been very poor for two weeks past. W. M. M.
REPLY: – Our hitherto unsuccessful efforts to make ourself understood by our readers, have led us at times to regret that we had ever made the attempt to express our views at all on the subject; and we had about concluded, after writing the article which appeared in our last number, to write no more on the new birth, lest we should be found uttering words without knowledge, and thereby darkening counsel. We tried to make it a subject of inquiry at the throne of grace, ad we were reminded that even the words of divine inspiration, written by holy men who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, and even those spoken by our blessed immanuel, were often perverted by enemies, and sometimes misunderstood by the dear saints. And if the words of infallible inspiration were only understood so far as they were made plain by the teaching of the Holy Spirit, why should we be surprised that our feeble efforts should prove unsuccessful?
The very kind spirit in which our dear brother Mitchell has called our attention to some points in which our friends and kindred in Christ have failed to understand us, inspires us with fresh courage; and although still distrustful of our ability to give perfect satisfaction, we cherish the hope that a brotherly discussion of the subject may elicit such reflection on the subject as may be profitable and edifying to some of the children of God.
The points in our former writings to which or dear brother has called our attention, we will now consider. We do most certainly believe that the very identical man that sinned is the very same that is redeemed by Christ, and must be born of the Spirit in order to see or enter into the spiritual kingdom of God, for so our Savior has expressly declared with a double asseveration, John iii. 3. But we do not believe that the self-existent spirit of God is either begotten or born, for that self-existent Spirit is God himself. We know of no other self-existent Spirit than that God who is a Spirit, and of whom we are told that they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. – John iv. 24. But while we believe that God is self-existent and independent, possessing all the eternal perfections of his supreme Godhead, we also read that he is the Father of children which he has begotten, and who are in his own appointed time born of his spirit. The Spirit therefore by which they are begotten, and of which they are born, is self-existent, but the children which are born of the Spirit are not self-existent; but being born of God, are children or sons of God, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit: it is not flesh or blood, or earthly, but it is spiritual and heavenly. Every one who has this spirit which is born of the Spirit, and is led by it, is by it sealed with it, and it is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory. – Ephesians i. 13, 14. It is therefore called the spirit of promise, because by it the heirs of immortality are sealed to that resurrection in which the creature who has received this seal shall ultimately be delivered from the bondage of corruption and mortality. “For the earnest expectation of the creature [the Adamic man, on whom this sacred seal is indelibly impressed] waiteth [even after it has received the first fruits of the Spirit] for the manifestation of the sons of God. Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” If our earthly nature were already changed from flesh to spirit by the new birth, what is it that is hereafter to be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the sons of God? If our earthly persons were already born again, of incorruptible seed, and that seed were now abiding in our fleshly nature, so that it cannot commit sin, because it is born of God, what is it in or about us that makes us who have received the first fruits of the Spirit groan within ourselves, waiting for the redemption of our body? Are we not earnestly anticipating that as our glorious Forerunner, who in all things must have pre-eminence, was begotten and born from the dead, that we also who are begotten to the same incorruptible inheritance by his resurrection shall be born from the dead, and every one in his own order: Christ the first fruits, afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming?
Our reception of the first fruits of the Spirit was a birth produced by and of the Spirit; but what was born? Was it the old man, which is corrupt with its affections and lusts? If so, it could not have been born of incorruptible seed, or it would not now, subsequently to such a birth be still corrupt. The old man is a child of the flesh, and it was born before we received the spirit by which we now cry Abba, Father. We understand the apostle to teach that it is the new man, which after God (not Adam) is created in righteousness and true holiness. It is a child born of the Spirit, a new man – not an old man reformed; it is an inner man, a treasure committed to earthen vessels, that the excellence of it may be of God, and not of man. It is Christ in us the hope of glory. The old man, which we are to deny, resist, keep in subjection, and crucify, is not Christ; but Christ by his spirit dwells in us, if we have indeed been made partakers of the divine nature; and this indwelling of Christ’s spirit as a sacred seal assures us that this vile body shall in due time be changed, for flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. What would be the condition of our earthly bodies, if in their present state it were possible to take them up into the paradise of God as they now are? Now they are of the earthy, earthy, needing to be constantly supplied with the production of earth for subsistence. Spiritual food, the bread of heaven and waters of life, which cheer, feed, refresh, animate and comfort the new man, does not – cannot satisfy the cravings of our outward nature. Brother Mitchell has, no doubt, like all the saints, enjoyed seasons of great spiritual enjoyment in the sanctuary, when his willing spirit would gladly prolong the season, but he has felt the craving demands of his earthly nature for food or sleep. This we think would not be the case if the old man had become spiritual by a spiritual birth. Nor will a craving for earthly things annoy us when in the resurrection we shall be born from the dead: for then shall these mortals put on immortality, and these corruptible put on incorruption. Death shall be swallowed up of life, and all our resurrected “powers find sweet employ in that eternal world of joy.”
But we will notice more particularly the marked passages copied from our reply to brother Martin, to which brother Mitchell calls our special attention. We have said, as quoted, “soul and body and spirit that were and are born of the flesh – sinful and depraved – necessitated to be redeemed, washed, cleansed, purified, and born again;” and then in the next sentence, “The spiritual life which is given to us in the new birth is born of God.” We have usually spoken of the implantation of the spirit, in which Christ is formed in us, as a new birth, and so we now understand it, as taught, John i. 13, and 1 Peter i. 23,24. And this work is performed in the sinner of Adam’s race, who, as a natural man, is spoken of in the scriptures as possessing a soul, body and spirit, which is depraved and sinful, to qualify him to see the kingdom of God. But we have labored to the extent of our limited ability to keep in view that a birth is the bringing forth into manifestation something that was begotten and did exist antecedently to its development by birth. That which is begotten of God, and born of the Spirit, our Savior says, is spirit. Although sinners redeemed from Adam’s race are the subjects of this work of the Spirit, still their flesh, born of the flesh, continues to retain its mortality and corruptibility after the incorruptible seed, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth forever, has brought forth by birth in them the new man, or life, or spirit, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. This new birth of the Spirit is not flesh, nor is it born of the will of the flesh, for it is the bringing forth only what is born from above, as in the marginal reading of John iii. 3, 7. The subject of this grace, from the hour that Christ is formed in him, is a complex being, and is partaker of two natures; one is born of the flesh, and the other is born o f the Spirit, and is spirit. The one is earthy, carnal, depraved, corruptible and mortal, and is interchangeably called the old man, the carnal man, the outer man. The other is holy, spiritual, incorruptible and immortal, and is called the new man, the spiritual man, the inner man, &c. With the one he serves the law of God, and with the other he serves the law of sin; and these conflicting elements made even an apostle cry out, in the bitterness of anguish, “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”
The two elements or natures which are found in every christian while in the flesh, are called by their respective names, by which they were named by our Lord, flesh and spirit. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” – John iii. 6. Paul recognizes them by these names, and says, “For the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary the one to the other.” – Gal. v. 17. They cannot therefore be identically the same; and to show how distinct and antagonistic they are, he proceeds in the same connection to show what are the works of the flesh and what are the fruits of the Spirit, which works and fruits are as opposite and hostile the one to the other, as the parentage of which they severally are born. This distinction of nature and origin is more fully shown in the arguments of the apostle in regard to the resurrection, 1 Cor. xv., in which he speaks of a natural body and a spiritual body, bodies celestial and bodies terrestrial, and of their distinct glories, and of the two progenitive headships of which and by which the natural and spiritual man is born. He says, “And so it is written, [we dare not question or doubt the record,] The first man Adam was made a living soul, the last Adam was made a quickening Spirit. Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we [the saints] have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.”
In Romans v. 14 this same apostle says that Adam “is the figure of him that was to come;” and in what we have copied from 1 Corinthians xv., we are informed of at least some of the particulars in which he is the figure; and the second Adam, who is the Lord from heaven, is the anti-type of that figure. All mankind in their fleshly nature are the seed of the earthly Adam, and all that re born of the flesh are like him their progenitor; for as is the earthy, such also are they that are earthy. As he in his fallen state was, so we as his seed are, depraved, sinful, carnal, corruptible and mortal; and in his fallen flesh, of which we are born, we can find nothing good, unless we succeed in our researches better than Paul did. As no stream can of itself rise higher than its fountain, no son or daughter of the earthy Adam can raise their nature above him in whom they were created, from whom they have by natural generation descended, and by whose offense death has passed on them. Flesh and blood, being depraved, sinful, mortal and corrupt, cannot inherit the kingdom of God, which is pure and spiritual. As the spiritual inheritance is based on a spiritual relationship, which does not exist in our fleshly birth, so we are not to marvel that except a man, one who has been born of the flesh, of the earthly Adam, be born again, of the spirit of God, he can neither see nor inherit the kingdom of God. That which his born of the Spirit, and brought forth in our first experience of a spiritual life, is the first fruits of the Spirit; it is a new creature, a new man, and being born of the Spirit, it is not flesh, but it is spirit; and being born of God, it is a child or son of God; and if a son, it is an heir of God, and a joint heir with our Lord Jesus Christ, who as the second Adam is the Lord from heaven; and “as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly.” In vital union with the second Adam, the heirship and relationship are joint and inseperable. But still our flesh and blood is a joint heir of the old earthly Adam, and cannot inherit the kingdom of God. In its relation to the earthy Adam, all flesh must inherit his estate of corruption and mortality. In him we all die: the wages of sin is death; and our old earthly father has nothing better for his children to inherit from him.
But the glorious doctrine of the resurrection brings life and immortality to light through the gospel; for although “in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the first fruits.” This first fruits we have already received; but still, “We who have received the first fruits of the Spirit,” while in the body of our flesh “groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.” Thus for the present “the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God; for the creature was made subject to vanity: not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope. Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the sons of God.” – Rom. viii. 19-24. In Adam we all die; Adam can give us nothing but death, he can go no further with us than the death of the body, he cannot make us alive from the dead. But in Christ shall all who are redeemed by him out of the family of the first Adam be made alive, in their own order; for s the first fruits was begotten and born from the dead in his resurrection, so all the full harvest of his people shall be born from the dead “at his coming.” They are begotten again by his resurrection to an inheritance which Adam could not bestow upon them, even an inheritance which is incorruptible and undefiled, which cannot fade away; for it is reserved in heaven for them who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed at the last time.
At the dissolution of our mortal tabernacle, or body, if we rightly understand, our relation to the earth and to the earthly Adam is dissolved, never again to be revived. In death our fleshly nature is sown in corruption; but being begotten by the resurrection of the crucified body of Christ, it shall be raised in a new relationship, to which it was sealed after that we believed, according to Ephesians i. 13, 14. It, (the identity is preserved, although the condition and relationship to the earthly Adam are changed,) “it is raised in incorruption; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory.” Changed from a sinful, earthly and vile body and fashioned like the glorious body of our Lord, whose crucified body was begotten and raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, which glory he had with the Father before the world began, it being the supreme glory of the Father’s own self. – John xvii. 5. By the same Spirit that raised up Christ from the dead, if it now dwells in us, though it has not yet, God shall in due time also quicken your mortal bodies by his spirit that dwelleth in you. It is sown in weakness; for who would die if they possessed the power of immortality? It is raised in power. “It is sown a natural body.” Up to the time of sowing, the body is like the body of all natural men; we find nothing in our mental or physical nature that is made spiritual or un-natural. There is indeed a new heart given to us, and a new spirit given to us, but that is the new man, the inner man, that is renewed day by day, while the outer man decays; but this new, inner man, is spirit, and is not sown in corruption. It is the natural man that is at the resurrection to be delivered from the bondage of corruption; though it be sown a natural body. If it were already born of the Spirit, it would be spirit, and have no need of a birth from the dead by the power of the resurrection of Christ. In this resurrection, as our Savior told the Sadduccees, they shall be like the angels; and they that are counted worthy of that world, and of the resurrection of the dead, are children of God, being the children of the resurrection. The resurrection of the saints then, like the resurrection of their Lord, is in the nature of a birth, in which a new life to which they were previously begotten is developed; and as they are begotten of God to this resurrection, their resurrection shall consummate that which they now so earnestly expect and desire, deliverance from corruption, and manifestation as sons of God. For, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that when he shall appear we shall be like him.” – 1 John iii. 2. This will be enough; “we shall be satisfied when we awake with his likeness.” – Psa. xvii. 15. How truly the apostle adds, “There is a natural body.” We are in it now; it is the earthly house, which is to be dissolved. But when it shall fall, and be down in death, we shall be clothed with our house which is from heaven, if so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. “For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life. Now he that hath wrought us for the self-same thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit. Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord.” – 2 Cor. v. 1-6. In this last quotation the apostle clearly expresses in a few words what volumes from our pen could not so fully elucidate, and what we have labored to present as our understanding of the subject. In the new birth we who are now dwelling in these mortal bodies as earthly houses or tabernacles, which are to be dissolved and “put off” in death, have received the earnest of his spirit, or as he has said elsewhere, “a measure of the Spirit.” (That which is born of the Spirit is spirit.) This measure or earnest of the Spirit gives us who have received it, and are by it personally and experimentally sealed by it until the redemption or resurrection, the assurance by which we are always confident, that while we are at home in the body or earthly house, we are absent from the Lord. Yet the indwelling of this spirit or new man, which is born of God, confirms the assurance of this self-same thing, namely, that God has wrought us for a dwelling with him in a building of God, which cannot be dissolved, which is made without hands, and is eternal in the heavens. This house which is born of the flesh is an earthly house; for “as is the earthy [Adam,] such are they also that are earthy; and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly.” Our fleshly house, although now sealed by the indwelling spirit born in us from above, is not spiritual; but when this mortal shall have put on immortality, and this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, then shall brought to pass (but not till then) the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. In this earthly tabernacle we groan. Here is a tabernacle, and a christian groaning in it. While in it, the child of God groans, being burdened. Would he groan or be burdened if the tabernacle which makes him groan were born of the Spirit and made spiritual? Earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with their house which is from heaven, which is not earthy, carnal and vile, but heavenly, and like Christ’s resurrected and glorious body. Brethren who claim that the faculties of their nature have already been changed and made spiritual by the new birth, either do not feel the groaning and earnest desire for deliverance from the body of this death, of which the apostle so frequently speaks, or if they do, they must attribute their groaning and longing to some other cause.
We have extended this article to a greater length perhaps than what was necessary, in the hope of making our views more fully understood, and in conclusion we will say that, of what we have written this is the sum: The identical man who was chosen of God in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world, and in him blessed with all spiritual blessings before he was brought forth into manifestation by either a first or second birth, had his spiritual, eternal life given to him in Christ Jesus, as the Adam who is the Lord from heaven. The same identical man had a natural life given him in the earthly Adam, which is of the earth, earthy, when man was formed of the dust of the ground. By a first and second birth these two distinct lives were destined to be developed severally, without changing the identity of the man, by, first in the order of time, a natural birth of the flesh, like and in common with all others of the human race; and afterward, their spiritual life in Christ the second Adam, who is the Lord from heaven, to be developed or made manifest in him by a second birth. And as nothing spiritual, pure and heavenly can be born of the flesh, so neither can anything carnal, fleshly or impure be born of God. The same identical man possesses in his development by the two births, that which is born of the flesh, and is flesh, and when born again, of the Spirit, that which is not flesh, but is spirit; and by this spirit in him, which is born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God, his person is sealed until the day of redemption, or final deliverance from mortality and corruption, and the redeemed vessel of mercy shall be changed in the resurrection, and conformed to the image of God’s dear Son. The self-existent Spirit, by which the new birth is effected, bears the relation of parent to the spiritual man which is born of it; and it is the child of the Spirit, and not the parent, that is born. Peter speaks of being born again, of incorruptible seed, as a birth which had already been experienced by the saints whom he addressed, implying that they had previously been born of a corruptible seed; and we understand him to mean by their second birth, the manifestation of the first fruits of the Spirit in them, as the earnest of the Spirit, by which they have the infallible assurance of their ultimate birth from the dead, to which he says they are begotten by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The earnest of the Spirit which the saints have received is in confirmation of the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised before the world began. “For whom he [God] did foreknow, them he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the first born among many brethren.” – Rom. viii. 29. Christ was begotten from the dead as the first born among many brethren; and “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.” – Rom. viii. 11, 19. If then his resurrection was a birth, the resurrection of his redeemed members is also a birth from the dead; for “if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the spirit [of Christ which dwells in you] is life because of righteousness.” – Rom. viii. 10. Therefore, as we said in the paper referred to by brother Mitchell, we still believe, that the spirit of Christ which dwells in the saints is the same spirit by which God raised up Christ from the dead, and that it is born of God; not that God is himself born, but that he has by birth communicated to us personally and experimentally of his spirit; that God is the parent, or as it is written, “The Father of spirits,” (Heb. xii. 9,) and that the spirit which dwells in us is born of him, and is his child and his heir.
The soul, body and spirit, all that constitutes the man in the flesh whom God has chosen unto salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord, fell in Adam, dies in Adam, and is born of corruptible seed, required to be redeemed, washed, cleansed, purified and born again; not only by the manifestation of the first fruits of the Spirit, but by being ultimately born from the dead in the final resurrection of the dead.
In the hope that what we have written may be of some use to the edifying of the saints, and that those who read will prayerfully compare what we have written with the scriptures of truth and with their own experience, and receive our views only so far as they are sustained by the word and spirit of our God, we submit these, as only the views of a poor, feeble, fallible man, just ready to depart, and wishing only to be found of God in Christ, clothed in the Savior’s righteousness; for if that hope should fail, we have no other to rely upon.
Neither brother Mitchell nor any other brother need fear to offend or annoy us, who write in the kind, brotherly spirit in which he has written; and although we distrust our ability to elucidate more clearly our views on the subject of the new birth, we will cheerfully do all in our power to explain what are and what are not our views.
Elder Gilbert Beebe – Editorial
Middletown, N. Y., March 1, 1880
Signs of the Times
Volume 48, No. 5
March 1, 1880