EDITORS SIGNS: – If I know my own heart, I have no desire, and less ability, to criticize your able articles, neither have I any inclination or wish to garble, misquote, or in any way misrepresent or misconstrue any extracts that I may make from your writings; nor do I feel any disposition to direct public scrutiny to your published views. My whole aim and desire is, if possible, to arrive at the “naked truth” as it is in Jesus. To this end I propose to make a few extracts from your article in No. 22 of the SIGNS on “Flesh and Spirits,” and one from the Circular Letter of the association called Kansas. Seemingly, to my poor understanding, there are some discrepancies. Possibly, when I have made the extracts in their regular order, I may ask some questions and make a few remarks. I will state, if possible, how far I agree with you, and where we disagree, trusting when we fully understand each other, we will not disagree at all. Doubtless you think you have made yourself perfectly understood, and no doubt you have to all who are not so dull of comprehension as your unworthy interrogator. The extracts are as follows:
1st. In speaking of Adam you say, “Although he possessed the spirit of a man, yet it was a natural spirit, or a spirit adapted to his being as a natural man.” 2d. “As a birth of the flesh brought us forth in our flesh as natural men, so we must be born again, of the Spirit, to make us manifest as the children of God.” 3d. “It is then the spirit of God in us which is born of God, and in which we are manifested as the children of God, who is the Father of our spirits,” &c. 4th. “Neither do we understand that the spirit has need of redemption, for it cannot sin.” – Circular Letter.
In discussing the first extract I will call your attention to Genesis ii. 7: “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” If this soul that is referred to here, which is sometimes called mind, spirit, &c., is what you mean when you say, “a natural spirit, or a spirit adapted to his being as a natural man,” then I can agree with you; if you mean something else, we differ. 2d. If by the we, “which must be born again, of the Spirit, to make us manifest as the children of God,” you mean this same soul, mind, or natural spirit spoken of in the first extract, we agree again; but if you mean this old body of flesh must be born again, of the Spirit, regenerated, as your language would indicate, for you say, “As a birth of the flesh, brought us forth in our flesh as natural men, so we [evidently our flesh] must be born again, of the Spirit, to make us manifest as the children of God,” then I do not agree with you. 3d. If by the spirit you speak of in this extract, as “the spirit of God in us which is born of God,” &c., you mean the same natural spirit mentioned in the first extract, and which is sometimes called soul, mind, &c., I can agree with you here; but if you mean by “the spirit of God,” the eternal life principle which is found nowhere except in God the Father and Christ the Son, as your language certainly implies, then I beg leave to differ with you again. 4th. This extract seems directly in contradiction of the third extract, which is from your article; for you say, if I comprehend your meaning, that it is “the spirit of God in us which is born of God,” &c., which I understand to mean “the natural spirit,” soul or mind. But this extract says, “It is not the spirit [meaning, I presume, the natural spirit, soul or mind] that has need of redemption, for the spirit cannot sin,” but our fallen nature (the Adam man), meaning, evidently, this body of flesh. If I understand aright, both soul or natural spirit, and body, need redemption, for both form an important part of the purchased possession; the soul to be regenerated, born again, in time, and the body at the resurrection. – See Romans viii. 23.
By reconciling our explaining the (to me) foregoing discrepancies, you will greatly oblige a humble search after truth.
Yours to serve,
Jefferson, Ala., Nov. 29, 1880.
REPLY: – The extracts copied from our article on “Flesh And Spirits” may be more obscure and ambiguous than we had supposed, but they are stated in about as strong and clear terms as we, in our limited knowledge of language, are able to command; much, therefore, as we desire to be correctly understood by all our dear brethren, we fear that we shall partially fail. We have measurably realized the truth of the words of inspiration, “Ye have need of patience,” and we greatly desire to possess that excellent gift.
Brother Williams seems in doubt as to our meaning where we say that “As a birth of the flesh brought us forth in our flesh as natural men, so we must be born again, of the Spirit, to make us manifest as the children of God.” We had regarded the Savior’s words to Nicodemus amply sufficient to establish this proposition: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Every christian and every man is in possession of a nature which is born of the flesh, which develops the corruptible nature of his parentage, and is the production of not only a corruptible, but a corrupt seed, which, being corrupt, sinful and mortal, is not born of God; but is a child of the flesh, being earthy, depraved, and beating the image of the earthy Adam. As this earthy nature is brought forth into manifestation by a fleshly birth, so that which is born of the Spirit, and is spirit, is made manifest by being born of God, of the Spirit, of incorruptible seed, by the word of God, that liveth and abideth forever. As the old man, which is born of the flesh, and is flesh, was made manifest as a creature of God and a descendant of the earthly Adam by a birth of the flesh, so the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness, is brought forth and made manifest as a child of God, an heir of glory, and a joint heir with Jesus Christ, by a birth, which is not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. Now that which is born of the flesh, brother Williams has kindly proved, by reference to Genesis ii. 7, is a living soul, which is sometimes called mind, spirit, &c. That flesh which is born of the flesh would not be a perfectly natural man if it were born without a soul, mind or spirit. To be like the earthy Adam it must have all the elements of its earthly progenitor; and yet the Savior says it is flesh, and we understand him to mean that all that is born of the flesh is flesh. And that which is born of the Spirit – is that also flesh, with a duplicated birth? We cannot so understand the words of our Lord, for he says it is spirit.
If the natural spirit of the natural man, which is adapted to his earthly nature, were born of God, then all men would possess a spirit born of the spirit of God. We do not know how to make our meaning, in what brother Williams has quoted from our article, more plain than by repeating the words which we used for that purpose; and he says if we mean what we said, then he agrees with us. We certainly did mean what we said, and said what we mean, that the spirit which Adam possessed as a natural man was adapted to his nature as a natural man, and is called the spirit of the flesh, because it is born of the flesh, and is not born of God.
Brother Williams says, “If by the we, which must be born again, of the spirit of God, you mean this same soul, mind, or natural spirit spoken of in the first extract, we agree again.” Sorry as we are to disagree with our brother, we frankly acknowledge that is not what we mean: “For they that are after the flesh, do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally [fleshly] minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye [who are born again] 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.” – Rom. viii. 5-10. The apostle does not say that this carnal mind, or spirit of the flesh, was enmity before the saints at Rome were born again, and that by the new birth it has become subject to the law of God; but he says it is enmity against God, it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. We can conceive of a christian, in the ecstacy of his early love, while elevated in his joy above all his infirmities, being led to think that all his infirmities, being led to think that all the elements of his carnal nature are brought into subjection to the law of the spirit of life; but it does seem strange to us that an old disciple of Jesus, who has been battling with the corruptions of his old carnal nature for years, can believe that his natural mind has become spiritual by the new birth, and that all or any of the elements of his old nature are now born of God, led by the spirit of holiness, or free from pollution. We ask brother Williams, for we believe he is an experienced child of God, if he is not involved to-day in the same bitter warfare that made Paul groan? If he does not find a law in his members warring against the law of his mind? If indeed he can find any thing in his flesh to-day a whit better than that eminent apostle of the Lamb could find in his flesh eighteen hundred years ago? Dear brother, tell us what or who are the belligerent parties in warfare which make you groan, being burdened, and long for that promised deliverance which shall come with the creature shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God? We need not tell brother Williams that a creature is a being or thing created; and children are those who are born or to be born of a progenitor in whom they had a seminal existence before they were brought forth by birth. In our earthly nature we are the creatures of God; but when manifested as the children of God by a spiritual birth, a vital relation is brought forth or manifested, in which the favored recipients of that birth cry, Abba, Father. This spirit of adoption, which God has sent into their hearts, is of God, and by it the creatures into whose hearts it is sent are sealed unto the day of redemption; that is, the redemption of our body. “Ourselves also, 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 viii. 23. If we reject the testimony of our Lord, that “That which is born of the Spirit is spirit,” and contend that the elements of our earthly nature are born of the Spirit, and are become spiritual, what are we still waiting for? And why cannot flesh and blood inherit the kingdom of God? especially since it is positively declared in the scriptures that “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.” Now which man is it in the christian that cannot commit sin? Is it the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, which we are commanded to put off, deny and crucify? or is it not the new man, the inner man? Which of these two men is born of the flesh, and which of them is born of the Spirit? Nothing that is born of God can commit sin, and nothing that is born of the flesh has any inherent good in it; for “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” – Compare 1 John i. 8 and 1 John iii. 9. If Paul could find nothing good in his flesh, and sin still dwelt in his members after his new and heavenly birth, is it reasonable to assume that we are in our fleshly nature more perfect than he was?
Much stress is laid by many on the personal pronouns, ye, we, &c. “Ye must be born again;” or we must be born again. When our Lord was here in the flesh he possessed two whole natures. He was both God and man, the Son of God and the Son of man; and he frequently applied these and other personal pronouns to each of these natures respectively. As God, he said to the Jews, “In vain do ye worship me, teaching doctrines, the commandments of men.” And as man, “And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me.” The christian is a complex being; his earthly nature is born of the flesh, and his spiritual nature is born of God. To each of these natures severally, and sometimes to his complex being, as the embodiment of both natures, these personal pronouns are applied. Take for example the words of the apostle, “For the good that I would, I do not; but the evil that I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man; but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.” – Romans viii. 19-25. Again, “For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who hath loved me, and gave himself for me.” – Gal. ii. 19, 20.
As to our meaning by the we, concerning which our brother is in doubt, our meaning is that no man who is born of the flesh can see the kingdom of God except he be born of the Spirit. A natural birth of the flesh can only bring forth a natural man or being; and we are informed that “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.” And no man can have spiritual discernment until he is born of the Spirit. The christian who has been born of the flesh, and subsequently born of the Spirit, has two natures, which are called respectively flesh and spirit, old man and new man, outer man and inward man. Before he was born of the flesh he could not see the things of this world; and after he was born of the flesh he could not see the kingdom of God until he was born of the Spirit. The life of which he is born in his second birth is the true light, which shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not. When born of the Spirit they are made manifest as children of God, as in their former birth they were made manifest as the children of the flesh. As the earthly life which was given to mankind in the first man Adam, who is of the earth, earthy, is manifested by a birth of the flesh; so the spiritual life, which was with the Father, and was given to the chosen people of God, with all spiritual blessings, according as they were chosen in him before the foundation of the world, is manifested in and to them by a spiritual birth. But that which is born of the flesh is not born of the Spirit, or it would be spirit; but the same person whose natural life is manifested by a fleshly birth, is by a spiritual birth manifested as an heir of God, and sealed unto the day of redemption, when they shall be changed from carnal to spiritual, from mortal to immortal, and from corruptible to incorruptible. Nor is that which is spiritual in the saints born of the flesh, nor of the will of the flesh, but of God. The flesh cannot produce that which is spiritual, nor does the Spirit beget or bring forth flesh, or anything that is carnal. Yet this flesh, which is sealed by the indwelling spirit which is born of the Spirit, shall rest in hope of a glorious resurrection and happy immortality beyond the grave; being redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, he was promised to raise them up at the last day. And when in the resurrection that which is sown a natural, corruptible, mortal and vile body shall be raised a spiritual, incorruptible, immortal and heavenly body, like the glorious resurrected body of their Redeemer, then, but not till then, shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
Brother Williams says, “If I comprehend your meaning, it is the spirit of God in us which is born of God, &c., which I understand to mean ‘the natural spirit,’ soul or mind. But this extract [the fourth] says, ‘It is not the spirit [meaning, as I presume, the natural spirit, soul or mind] that has need of redemption, for the spirit cannot sin;’” and it seems to him that the fourth extract is in direct contradiction of the third. Let us compare and review these two extracts. In the second we say that “It is then the spirit of God in us which is born of God, and in which we are manifested as the children of God, who is the Father of our spirits.” This spirit which is born of God needs no redemption, for it is not in this that we have sinned or can sin. The fourth extract, which is from the Circular Letter of the Kansas Association, reads, “Neither do we understand that the spirit has need of redemption, for it cannot sin.” If there is any conflict of sentiment in these two extracts, we must be sadly lacking in discernment, for we are not able to discover any. The spirit which our Lord Jesus Christ says is born of the Spirit, is called the spirit of God, because it is born of God, and God is its Father; and it is in Hebrews xil. 9 compared and contrasted with what is born of the fathers of our flesh. The spirit of life and immortality, which we receive by the spiritual birth, is, as we understand, born of God, of an incorruptible seed, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever; and “it cannot sin, because it is born of God.” It being incorruptible, could not be corrupted or polluted by sin. It is that new spirit which God promised to put within his people when he should cleanse them from all their filthiness, saying, “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you,” &c. – Ezek. xxxvi. 26. This spirit, we understand, is put within them by the new birth; and as it is a new spirit, it cannot be the old sinful spirit of the flesh which they had before. But it is born of God; and as it cannot sin, we do not see how it can need redemption. They unto whom it is given are sinners, redeemed sinners; but that spirit which is given to and put within them had not, could not, cannot sin or be in need of redemption. We thought we were sufficiently explicit when we said, “It is then the spirit of God in us which is born of God.” We did not apprehend that we would be understood to mean that God himself, who is a Spirit, is born, or has a derived existence; but that spirit which he has put within us is of God, and is frequently in the scriptures called the spirit of God, as an inspired apostle has testified, saying, “Hereby know ye the spirit of God: every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is of God.” “Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his spirit.” – 1 John iv. 2, 13. “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die.” What then is the flesh? “That which is born of the flesh.” “But if ye through the spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not [in becoming manifestly the sons of God] received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” “And not only they, but ourselves also, which have received the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.” – Rom. viii. 13-16, 23.
If brother Williams or any other brother has experienced in the new birth, or in any other way, such a change in their earthly nature that their carnal mind has become spiritual, and the spirit of their flesh so purified that it can be safely trusted to act in harmony with their spiritual mind and heaven-born spirit, they can perhaps tell us how the material substance of our flesh, in the absence of a depraved, carnal mind and fleshly spirit, can war against the spirit of grace which we received, and what it was that made Paul a wretched man, and a captive to the law of sin which was in his members after he had been born of the Spirit.
May our God give us, and all his dear children, all that light and understanding of his holy word and righteous will that we need while we sojourn in the flesh, that we all may be able to discriminate between flesh and spirit, that we may war against the flesh, and keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, and glorify him in our body and in our spirit, which both belong to him, is our sincere desire for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Signs of the Times
Volume 49, No. 1
January 1, 1881.