BROTHER BEEBE: I have received and read several letters responding to a communication written by me on the subject of regeneration, and published in No.9 of the present volume of the SIGNS OF THE TIMES. I had carefully examined the subject before I wrote, and felt then, as I do yet, that the sentiments therein contained were in complete accordance with the revelation that God had given on the subject. It is a subject that, so far as I was advised, had not been particularly investigated, the importance of which, as I thought, claimed some attention. I gave it the closest attention that my humble capacities would permit me to do, not knowing at the time that any other person entertained the same views on the same subject, and very far from desiring to urge them upon anyone who could not see that they were sustained by the Scriptures. The concurrence of a number of my brethren and sisters through the SIGNS, and by private letters, among whom are some of the ablest ministers of the New Testament that I have had the pleasure of an acquaintance with, has confirmed me in the views that their humble servant has expressed on this momentous subject. But others of my brethren have differed with me, and no doubt as honestly as I have entertained my own sentiments. It is certainly their privilege to do so, and not mine to complain of them for so doing. Some of the brethren in writing to me use what I consider harsh language, which I shall carefully aim to avoid. One serious objection to the sentiments expressed in the above named communication is the fact that I have spoken of a spiritual seed or family in Christ that have ever stood identified and in union with him, and that these spiritual children are born of God. This family is styled; "Brother Johnson's imaginary and ideal beings." Well, I do imagine that there are such beings, and shall endeavor to show in the following part of this communication whether they are merely ideal or real. I believe that one general idea will comprise all the objections to my views that I have noticed, which is, as expressed by one of the objectors, that "The regeneration and the new birth are identical, different expressions meaning the same state."
Now, to meet this main objection, it is only necessary for us to pause a moment and think dispassionately on the meaning of the two words, their roots and the derivatives. To generate is to beget, to be born is to be brought forth. Only think of a begetting and being born "meaning the same." If to beget means to generate, to beget again means to regenerate, and not to be born again. Hence Peter decides the matter when he says, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again, [not brought us forth,] to a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." I Pet. i. 3. If the two terms "mean the same," we need a new Bible to express that meaning, new Lexicons to define it, and a new order of things to develop it; for who ever knew of a person, beast, bird, fish or reptile ever being born without a previous generation? Therefore it is a self-evident fact, exhibited and known everywhere around us, that to be generated or begotten means one thing, and to be born means another and very different thing. So to be "begotten again," or regenerated, means one state, and to be "born again" means another and very different state.
Let it be noted that the regeneration is never spoken of as occurring in the future, but in both instances where the term occurs, as having taken place in the past; while the new birth is spoken of in the past, present and future tenses. See John i. 13; iii. 6,7 & I Pet. i. 23.
The only objection to my views on Mt. xix. 28, so far as I am advised, is that the language was spoken by the Savior before his death and suffering, but it is evident that he refers more particularly to the time "when the Son of Man shall sit in the throne of his glory," and when the twelve apostles "shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." And further, it is very frequently the case that the Lord and his holy writers speak of future things as though they had transpired, as in Isa. liii. 5-9; Isa. lxiii. 1-3 &c.; and also in the revelations made to John on the Isle of Patmos. As to the other text where the word regeneration appears [Titus iii. 5,] my brethren appear to differ as much with each other as with their humble servant. While one thinks "the washing of regeneration" means water baptism, another thinks it means washing by the word, another the new birth. I think if it had been the design of the apostle to convey either of these ideas, it would have been as convenient for him to have said "water baptism, the word or the new birth," as to have used the term "regeneration;" an expression that differs radically and essentially in its meaning from each and all of these terms.
Again, one brother thinks that the text in Isa. xxvi. 19, has simply reference to those saints whose graves were opened and whose dead bodies arose; but it appears to me that that occurrence took place "after his resurrection," [Mt. xxvii. 53,] and not "together with" his body, as he says. Another supposes that the quickening together with Christ and raising up together with him [Eph. ii. 5,6,] had reference only to the work of the new birth, and not to his and their resurrection together.
Well, I shall not stop here to argue this point, but leave the brethren to enjoy their deductions and conclusions, while their humble servant feels satisfied with the belief that the apostle meant what he said. I have not learned that any of the brethren have attempted to show that the prophet [Hos vi. 2] meant anything more or different from what he expressed when he said, "After two days will he revive us, in the third day he will raise us up," &c., nor have any informed us what condition an individual is in when regenerated and not born, for the two phrases have different meanings. As the principal objection of the brethren to the views that have been expressed by me on the subject seems to originate in the belief that the regeneration and the new birth are identical, my prime object in writing now is to treat upon that birth, as some of my brethren seem to conclude that my ideas on regeneration amount to supersedure, if not a denial of the new birth. But let me entreat my dear brethren not to entertain that idea, for it is an inflexible and eternal truth that "except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." Such is the importance, as well as the necessity of that birth that God has, as I conclude, exemplified the principle upon which it is based in his creation, developed in his providence, and will finally crown it by his grace to the glory of his hallowed name in the eternal salvation of his people.
It is evident that the great end and grand design of God in his work of creation was to reveal himself, and thereby to exhibit his glory and enunciate the profound mystery of his reigning grace in that great salvation.
"A scheme too profound for a seraph to pry,
And all for the lifting of Jesus on high."
To reveal himself, therefore, must necessarily exemplify all the rest, for the effulgence of his glory communicated to and seen by his people is the consummation and crowning work of the whole sublime mystery; namely, to "see him as he is," for in himself he is all glorious, intrinsically so.
"All over glorious is my Lord,
To be beloved and yet adored."
Now let us turn to the first chapter of Genesis, and I think that we shall see there that he is delineating himself in the works of creation, as well as presenting the principle or base on which the new birth is predicated.
I shall not attempt to comment particularly on the formation of the earth and waters, their division, the light and darkness, the heavens and earth, as brought to view in the first ten verses of the chapter, which constitute the grand theatre upon and the elements by which the whole is to be perpetuated, but dwell more particularly on the eleventh and some of the following verses, as bearing more directly on the subject under consideration.
"And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself upon the earth, &c. And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding fruit whose seed was in itself after his kind." Here we discover the grass, the herb, the tree, each containing its seed in itself, and each after his kind; each in itself and in its place, metaphorically and exquisitely revealing the divine Creator, the grand prototype of all, who contained at and long ere that period his seed in himself - yes, that very [not ideal] spiritual seed that were chosen "in him before the foundation of the world." Here, too, we note that the masculine gender is used in each particular herb and tree, more vividly to represent him whose seed should serve him and be accounted to him for a generation. In the 14th to 19th verses, inclusive, are brought to view the sun, moon and stars, for signs and seasons, and days and years. We have here also the division of day and night. The sun, illustrious emblem of its divine author, which not only throws a lucid glow of radiance over the vast creation, but also imparts a vitalizing, energizing power, at the same time garnishing the works of the Creator with all the beauty and variety of the rich scenery displayed, and invigorating the whole of the productive creation, causing it to grow, mature and bring forth, each its offspring, "after his kind."
Had we space, time and knowledge, it would be pleasant to contemplate this beautiful, emblematical display of God and his creation by more particular reference to the literal sun, the great luminary of the natural world, as the "SUN of Righteousness" is the wonderful embodiment of "the true light" that sheds an effulgence of glorious brilliancy over the entire spiritual world; the moon and stars that, though dark bodies in themselves, reflect the light of the sun, and lessen the dreary darkness of night, as the Sun of Righteousness shines on bodies of denser darkness, as when he shone on the countenance of Moses, or the law dispensation, such was the splendor of the lucid glory that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold his face; or when he shines in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
But we cannot now treat particularly upon those emblematical portraits, as the prime object of our research; at present is a more thorough knowledge of the birth before alluded to. Gen. i. 20 – "And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly, the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven. And God created great whales, and every creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind," &c. "And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the sea; and let fowl multiply in the earth. And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind; and it was so. And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and everything that creepeth upon the earth after his kind; and God saw that it was good."
One step further and we reach the crowning piece of creation. Verse 26. "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness," &c. Verse 27. "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them." Shall we now take a brief retrospective view of the whole creation? Then we shall see that a generation was complete in every herb, every tree, every creeping thing, beast, fowl, fish, and up to man, where God stamped his image, before a birth could possibly occur. Now, an image, a likeness in this sense, must be a complete similitude, must bear an exact resemblance of the thing designed to be represented; as when we look into a perfect mirror we behold an exact image or likeness of ourself.
We ask, then, In what respect did Adam present a true image, a precise likeness of his Maker? It could not have been in his corporeal form, for "God is a spirit," and had no such form. It could not have been in his nature, for although it was uncorrupted for a time, it was corruptible, susceptible of corruption, and finally was corrupted, while God is incorruptible, insusceptible of corruption.
I find no trait in him, then, that presents an image, a like-ness, but in the fact that he contained in himself, and was the complete embodiment of all his unborn seed. In this sense Adam is an exact "figure of him that was to come," having his offspring all in himself, after the foundation of the world, as him by whom all things were created had his offspring all "chosen in him before the foundation of the world."
Let us pause for a moment and scan the vast producing creation everywhere around us, and still remember that from the minutest insect up to the monstrous whale that cleaves the deep ocean, or the hugest mammoth that ever trod the earth, and up to man, the crowning work of all creation, and all; all proclaim in telling notes, in unmistakable language, that the seed or offspring must necessarily exist in the parentage before a multiplication, an offspring, a birth, can possibly occur; and that the offspring, when born, must inevitably possess precisely the nature of the parentage. Hence we must know that the generation and the birth are not "the same state," and therefore their derivatives, "the regeneration" and "the new birth," do not mean the same.
Let us now attend more particularly to the birth; and while so doing, let us not forget the different significations of the two words, to generate and to be born, nor of their derivatives, to regenerate and to be born again. Webster says, "Generate, to beget; to procreate; to propagate; to produce a being similar to the parent." Every animal generates his own species; while to be born is to be brought forth from that state of generation. Then, to be born is not to change a being from one nature to another. If the Lord should take a natural man and change him, or any part of him, to a spiritual one, that would have no resemblance to a birth, and therefore the word change is never used in the Scriptures relative to that birth.
With these absolute and self-evident facts before us, we at once see the necessity, as well as the vast importance of a birth, for without it a generation would be a nullity, no offspring could be developed, no descendent could have any knowledge of its parent. So also in the case of the new birth; without it regeneration would be a nullity, no spiritual offspring of God could be developed, no child of God could have any knowledge of God its Father; until we are the recipients of that spirit that is "born of God," we cannot cry, "Abba, Father," nor can we possibly see his kingdom. Now these spiritual subjects descend "from God out of heaven," [Rev. xxi. 2,10] they are "born of God," [John i. 13] "born of the Spirit, and are spirit," [John iii. 6] "born not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God." I Pet. i. 23. Under the former dispensation, or before the coming, suffering, death and resurrection of Christ, they were born of God, as I suppose, the consequence of their having been antecedently generated in him. In all the former dispensation we have no historical account of regeneration, the term is not there used, and I cannot venture to add the interpolation. In the latter dispensation those subjects are "born again," the consequence, as I suppose, of an antecedent regeneration in Christ; and in each case, like everything else, the offspring exhibits precisely the nature of its parent, each a partaker of the divine nature.
Nor does the birth change the subject born, neither the fleshly or spiritual child, though the circumstances of both are changed. Yet "that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." The flesh is born of corruptible seed and is corrupt; the spirit is born of incorruptible seed and therefore cannot be corrupted. "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." That person who receives "the spirit which is of God" is at once a compound character, possessing two different and antagonistical natures, because born of different parents. One is born of a fleshly or earthly parent, the other of a spiritual or heavenly parent; and "as is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy; and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly." Each recipient of that spiritual, heavenly, or "new man," is a subject of two births, is born of two different parents, of two different natures, and is therefore a composite being. That composite or complex being is what I understand to be a christian or saint; and although often addressed or spoken of as such, and as a simple being, it is nevertheless a compound one. How else are we to account for their sometimes being spoken of as "sinners," and at others as being "righteous before God;" sometimes "carnal," at others "clean;" once "black as the tents of Kedar," and again "comely" or "as the curtains of Solomon"? The whole mystery is solved in the fact that they are born of two different parents, of radically different natures. It is a seeming paradox to say that the saint or christian is a sinner and not a sinner; but Christ at one time said to Peter, "Get thee behind me, Satan," and at another, "Ye are clean;" and I believe that Erskine told the truth when he said:
"To good and evil equal bent,
I'm both a devil and a saint."
In one relation they are the subjects of redemption, in the other, they "cannot sin," and therefore need no redemption. All the evil is consequence to the first birth, all the good to the second. The seed of the herbage drops into the earth, and there is a production and growth of the same nature of the original. "The holy seed," [Isa. vi. 13,] or "godly seed," [seed of God in the margin, Mal. ii. 15,] is communicated to our earthly bodies, and there is an "inner" or "inward man," a child of God, a production of the same nature of the original, a growth in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord.
It is certainly a pleasant contemplation for us to look around us and behold all the works of God revealing, developing, and thereby praising him; and with adoration we may exclaim with David, "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge." And again, "All thy works shall praise thee, O Lord, and thy saints shall bless thee." - Ps. xix. 1,2 & cxlv. 10. When that spirit which is "born of God" has a lodgement within, it being the spirit of life and of light, we are vitalized and illuminated, and hence we feel and see - feel our malady and see the justice of our condemnation; feel and see that God is holy, and we unholy in our polluted birth; feel and see that "the law is holy and the commandment holy and just and good," and that we are "carnal, sold under sin." Now here is a saint, a subject of two different births, born of two different parents, of two different natures, each developing his kind, like everything else we see around us.
My brother, my sister, should we not take courage from these wonderful revelations that God has made of himself in his creation, providence and grace, while it affords us so many testimonials that we are "born of the Spirit" as well as "of the flesh"? It is well for us when we can look upon the light as well as upon the dark shades of the picture. Then we can say with the poet, as I have quoted in a former communication:
"What then is evil, but a shade?
By wisdom is the picture laid;
To make his love arise and show,
Its brightest glories to our view?
Nor yet could sin forgiving grace,
'Mong all the creatures find a place,
While all were good, no room could be,
For mercy's aid to misery."
Brother Beebe, I have written the foregoing lines hurriedly, and by piecemeal, in consequence of professional and other matters that have occupied my time. My earnest desire has been to write the truth, nothing more, nor less, and to prove it by the scriptures. How far I may have succeeded or fallen short in accomplishing that, to me, desirable end, is submitted respectfully to yourself and others of more profound natural and spiritual attainments than my humble self. I am aware that it has been a long cherished custom with many precious brethren in the ministry, as well as others, to identify regeneration with the new birth, as it is frequently termed. I am apprised, too, that it is not the easiest matter at all times for us to yield opinions that have been long entertained and often expressed by us. We are advised also that new ideas are often discarded simply because they are new. All this in many cases may be very well, but in many others not so well. I have often been reminded of using incorrect expressions, and felt thankful to my brethren and friends for correcting me. They are our best friends who point out to us our faults in a friendly manner. May God enable all his dear children to earnestly seek after and know the truth, to love it for the sake of its own intrinsic value, and then to walk in it, and thereby "adorn the doctrine of God our Savior."
Should this communication get to the readers of the SIGNS in the homely, weak and imperfect manner in which it is written, the anxious wish of the writer is that they may faithfully examine and carefully compare it with the word of truth, and should it be found not to accord with that perfect measurement, may they not only reject whatever may be found incorrect, but point out the delinquency in a christian spirit and in that clearness that will enable us all to detect it. Moreover, should errors be discovered in the foregoing remarks, I trust my brethren will have the charity to attribute the wrong to the fallibility of a very weak and erring brother, and not to a design or desire to mislead.
In conclusion, I have not cultivated a spirit of controversy in this effort, nor have I the least desire to urge my sentiments, nor crowd them on any who cannot see that they are sustained by the Scriptures, and the writer alone rests under the responsibility. Very respectfully your servant and brother, J.F. Johnson.
Signs of the Times
Lawrenceburg, Ky., Oct.18, 1867.