Lawrenceburg, Ky., March 13, 1867.
DEAR BROTHER BEEBE AND READERS OF THE SIGNS: - Since brother Daniel Durand has seemed to think myself (with others) worthy his inquiry, I have concluded once more to resume my pen, not thinking however, that the absence of my name has at all lessened the value or interest of the SIGNS OF THE TIMES. And now, when I commence this communication, it is "with fear and trembling," from the fact that my views on the important subject contemplated may not only be new to yourself and others, but the most important item is are they right? If so, whether new or old is a matter of but minor importance. The subject proposed, and upon which I design offering some remarks, is REGENERATION. What is regeneration? By reference to the root of this term, generate, we find it means "to beget, to produce, to procreate," &c. To regenerate, then, would be to beget, to produce or procreate that which has been begotten, &c., before. Jesus is called the first-begotten, (Heb. i. 6,) "When he bringeth in the first-begotten into the world." He is also said to be the first-begotten from the dead, (Rev. i. 5,) "And from Christ Jesus, who is the faithful witness and the first begotten from the dead." It appears from these texts that he was the first-begotten when he was brought into the world, and again, the first-begotten from the dead. This last or second begetting I consider "THE REGENERATION." Now, in commenting on this profound subject, I have the gratification to know that (provided you, brother Beebe, see proper to publish) "I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say." My views, for aught I know, are peculiar to myself, and for that very reason I wish them to come to the light, and pass the scrutiny of enlightened ones, that if evil they may be reproved. I have often heard my brethren use the expression, "regeneration or the new birth," as though the words were identical. They are certainly words of different signification, and cannot mean the same thing. The word occurs twice in the New Testament and not at all in the Old. Why is it that the word is not used in all the former dispensation? That the saints there constituted a part of the "generation of Jesus Christ," (for I think that expression, as used in the beginning of the New Testament, means more than merely his genealogy as an individual) and that they were born there, and born of God, I think, is evident, and appears so from Psa. xvii. 39, and lxxxvii. 5, 6, with many other passages. Thus we have a generation and a birth, spoken of in the Old Testament, but nothing is said of regeneration. If that birth and regeneration were one, and the same thing, can it be possible that the holy writers would have failed to use the word in all their writings? Generation must precede a birth, and I suppose that the children of God were generated in "the first-begotten of the Father," before the world began, and they constituted "the holy seed, the substance," according to Isa. vi. 13, which substance is also spoken of in Psa. cxxxix. 16, "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 therefore appears to me that the spiritual children of God were generated, produced, procreated before the world began, and regenerated, reproduced, &c., at the quickening and resurrection of the Savior, not before nor after that period. Hence I am led to the conclusion that there never was a case of regeneration before the crucifixion and resurrection of the Son of God, that there never has been since, and never will be hereafter. Don't be alarmed, brethren; await the passing of sentence until we shall have appealed "to the law and to the testimony." Now let us turn to the two texts where the term regeneration occurs and examine in the light of revelation. Mat. xix. 28. "And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, that ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." Here is first brought to view "THE REGENERATION." Jesus and his members are one and indivisible forever, he the head of the "train," accomplishing all, and they follow. But, again, see Tit. iii. 5. "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost." What washing and renewing can the apostle here allude to, except the washing us "from our sins in his own blood," according to Rev. i. 5, and Hos. vi. 2? "After two days will he revive us; in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight." In Isa. xxvi. 19, it is said, "Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise," &c. See also 2 Cor. v. 14. "For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead." Again, Paul says in Rom. vi. 9, "Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe we shall also live with him," &c. Then it is said in Eph. ii. 4-6, "But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved,) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." In this chain of testimony we are represented as being "dead” with Christ, and "washed from our sins," "revived" and "quickened together with him." Does not this look like a death and reproduction or regeneration? And I do think that the whole work was completed by the same glorious personage at the time alluded to, for the whole family of the first born, according to Isa. lxvi. 7, 8. "Before she ("Zion which is above") travailed she brought forth; before her pain came she was delivered of a man child." 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." Here we behold with pleasing wonder and profound admiration the transcendently great and marvelous work of salvation, redemption and regeneration, all completed in Jesus when he "was delivered for our offences and raised again for our justification." Not one particle of this momentous work left for poor, imbecile man to perform, or to have any part or parcel of it to accomplish - all perfected and finished by the Son of God, who "loved us and washed as from our sins in his own blood," "by the washing of regeneration," and "according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will."
I think it cannot be scripturally denied that the two texts under investigation have reference to the time and circumstances that I have alluded to, and as I find no other regeneration spoken of in the scriptures, I can conceive of no necessity for another. Then, as we must be generated before born, and regenerated before "born again," and as the two foregoing texts on the subject show that this regeneration was accomplished in and by Jesus Christ, tell me, in the light of revelation, where is the need of another? And if there is use for another, where is it referred to in the scriptures? And if this regeneration is going on in the children of God now, since the washing of regeneration effected by Christ when he saved us by it, in what condition is a child of God when regenerated and yet not born? For we again repeat, regeneration must precede "being born again." If this position be correct, all the canting and ridiculous pretensions of will-worshipers about "regenerating sinners," "regenerating the world," is but a miserable vagary, a capricious whim without the slightest foundation in scripture to sustain it; and if we contend in the absence of scriptural evidence that regeneration is still going on in man since it was completed in Christ, are we not in a degree partakers of their evil deeds?
I earnestly desire Old School Baptists to examine every item of their faith, and try themselves to see whether they be in the faith in all particulars; prove each article by the unerring testimony, and finding it sustained by the standard rule, earnestly to contend for it. And, on the other hand, when we find that anyone of those items, after being weighed in the balance, is found wanting, dispense with it immediately - the sooner the better. It is true that, replete as the few past years have been with misery and mischief, they have been as replete with incidents calculated to exhibit the distinction between the church of Christ and the minions of anti-christ; for circumstances have not been wanting to show that the former has presented a wall of truth that has proved invulnerable to the lashing of the waves of the waters of Babylon, while the same circumstances have exhibited on the part of the latter a tissue of error, frail indeed, torn to tatters by the storm of their own raising, or dashed to pieces by the waters of Meribah, which is "like the troubled sea when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt;" so that the line of demarcation between Christ and anti-christ has been more clearly drawn and more visibly portrayed, perhaps, than for centuries past. Yet all this presents no good reason why we should in the smallest degree relax our energies in scrutinizing every point, proving all things, holding fast to that which is good; and when we can present a breastwork of naked truth we will be invincible indeed, and can bid defiance to all our foes.
For years past I have listened to the public remarks of my brethren on the subject of regeneration, and I am not able today to say what the prevailing opinion is, unless it be that it is identical with the new birth, and to make it so, appears to me at least, to be literally an abuse of language. I have heard the subject investigated in social circles, and different opinions advanced, but none of them satisfactory to myself; but perhaps that was in consequence of my dullness of apprehension. Some have concluded that it is when we first see ourselves sinners; but I am at a loss to know how a child could see before it was born. Others have thought that it was when we are first quickened; but that is not only not the case in ordinary generation, but it seems to me that when we have life we have light also, and can see, "for in him was life, and the life was the light of men." In fact I could arrive at no conclusion satisfactory to myself except the one exhibited, or at least aimed to be exhibited in the foregoing remarks. But it will be understood that the preceding observations are simply the views of a very humble individual, and one whom I know to be very liable to err; and although honestly entertained, the best I can glean from the scriptures, and satisfactory as they may be to myself, may be far otherwise to my dear brethren and sisters who may deem them worth their reading and meditation. They are certainly entitled to no regard whatever unless sustained by the scriptures; and I do hope that all who may think them worth their attention will carefully and critically compare them with that infallible standard; and should they be found wanting in measure and weight there, not only lay them aside as the production of a weak and erring brother, and therefore useless, but rest assured the writer is open for conviction and anxious for correction if wrong, and earnestly desires that such as may confer upon him that favor may not only receive the ample reward of him that "converteth a sinner from the error of his way," but aside from that, they shall have the sincere thanks, and I trust, the honest gratitude of their humble servant and brother in the best of bonds,
J. F. JOHNSON.