My Dear Brother Beebe: - I should ere now have sent on my remittance for the papers, but the throng of business in these critical times, together with my professional engagements, have kept me so busily employed that until now I have neglected it.
In this communication I propose trying to vindicate myself and the doctrine I have endeavored to proclaim against certain misrepresentations published abroad in a professed Baptist periodical styled "Zion's Advocate" [Elder Clark's paper], in number three of the volume published in 1860. It is unpleasant for me to be under the necessity of even naming that bitter sheet, for it is well known by many that I have often been calumniated and misrepresented through its columns, to many of which misrepresentations I have not condescended to pay even a passing notice; nor would I now stoop to notice the publication alluded to, did it not stand over the name of an esteemed brother; namely, brother Wilson Thompson. But in justice to brother Thompson, I must say that his name appears in that paper without his consent; he informs me so in a letter to me, and says, "Clark's paper I have never patronized in any way, but have uniformly considered it as a mischievous issue, gotten up for ambitious purposes," &c. The letter published purports to be one written by brother Thompson (a private one) to his son G. M. Thompson, of Georgia. On seeing the published letter, I immediately wrote to Eld. W. Thompson, inquiring whether it was a correct copy of his letter to his son. In his reply to me he says: "Some parts are the very reverse of what I have written to my son, and other parts are correct in substance, but not verbatim." I again wrote to him, asking him what parts of said letter he did endorse, and what parts "were the very reverse of what he had written," but have as yet received no reply.
I wish it expressly understood, therefore, that the remarks I design making in the following manifesto are not designed for brother W. Thompson, but in reply to the garbled letter that has been placed over his name to give it credibility, and published broadcast over the and in two of our enemies' papers. Nor would I even do this, were it not for the many interrogatories that have come to me from my brethren and friends, by letter and otherwise, too many for me to answer by private letters, and too distant for me to answer verbally. A part of the letter published read as follows:
"On Sunday, [at White Water Association, August, 1859], J. F. Johnson preached his doctrine of non-regeneration, and said that the words, 'A man must be born again,' did not mean a second birth, or that the child born had ever been born before. Then he said that the spiritual seed, or child, was preserved in Christ, its spiritual head, as a woman preserves her fruit in a jar, so that no taint or sour could ever tinge it in the least degree. This holy, immortal, incorruptible spiritual child was the elect, and this was chosen in Christ, and was in union with him in eternal oneness, and this seed was never in Adam, never fell, was never tainted with sin in the least degree. The Adamic man, he said, was quite another family, of another kindred, and was not in any relation to Christ, the spiritual head of the church, nor was any relation to Christ, the spiritual head of the church, nor was any change effected on any part of the Adamic man by regeneration or the birth of the Spirit," &c.
Now, some of these expressions have a semblance of what I advanced on that occasion, others are "the very reverse" of what I said, and radically different from what I have ever believed, and also from what I have been known to preach and was known to preach on that very day. I have seen, conversed with, and otherwise heard from many members of White Water, Lebanon and Conn's Creek Associations who were present on that occasion, and who have testified that I did not thus preach. Some of the arguments I used on that occasion are yet retained in my memory, though much was forgotten which my brethren who were there have since reminded me of. I have certainly never aimed to preach a doctrine of non-regeneration, I certainly do not believe such a doctrine. How could any sane man, professing to believe the scriptures, preach that doctrine? How could I, who humbly, though often feebly, hope that I have experienced a "second birth;" I, who have so often proclaimed publicly the words of my Savior, "Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." I repeat, how could I get up there in the presence of my brethren who had so often heard there in the presence of my brethren who had so often heard me insist upon the necessity of that birth, and preach a doctrine of non-regeneration? But I recollect, as before observed, some of the arguments used by me on that particular subject. I argued that the words, "Except a man be born again," did not mean that the "second birth" was identical with the first; that the word "again" did not necessarily involve that idea, as Nicodemus understood it, and quoted Heb. xiii.20, and perhaps Rom. iv.25 and I Cor. xv.4, to prove that it did not; and then further observed that our brethren sometimes when speaking on that subject said that the old man was not changed in regeneration, but that we were to be understood in that as contending that the old was not changed into the new man, the flesh into the Spirit, and opposed the idea involved in the expression "born over again," as some have it. Permit me here, brother Beebe, to leave this publication for a moment, and give my own views, in my own language, on this birth, and then if they are wrong, the writer alone is responsible; I cannot be responsible for the misrepresentations of others. I am aware that both my writing and speaking are exhibited in a bungling manner, but hope that either can be as well understood by my own words as by those that others would put into my mouth. The writer of this article has no desire to give his views as a guide for others, nor should any receive them unless they are clearly sustained by the scriptures. My argument is, that the birth of a thing never changed the nature of the thing born, although it does change its circumstances and condition, thereby exposing it to sensations not realized before the birth. A goat before its birth is a goat afterward: the birth never turns it to a sheep; and so it is with everything in all the round and realm of nature. The Savior, therefore, has certainly used the most appropriate figure to illustrate his work, his strange work in bringing his people to a knowledge of himself. Now, instead of wrangling and running over and over a set of metaphysical whims about a man being born "over again," or some part of the man born over again, and more particularly by the scriptures (for they are always reasonable), and let them be our guide. Do the scriptures give us one solitary intimation of a man, or any part of a man, being born over again, and his nature thereby changed, so as to make a spiritual man out of a fleshly or old man? Instead, then, of making these two words "born again" the whole "bane of contention," let us go to Christ's own explanation of the subject, and try there to get the mists and fog driven from our eyes, so that we may see the matter as it is. The explanatory part of the subject is this: "That which is born of the flesh is FLESH, and that which is born of the Spirit is SPIRIT." Now for the application of the argument. Does the birth change the flesh to spirit of the spirit to flesh? Is not each after the birth precisely what it was before it? Is the nature of either changed? Is the word 'change' used at all in the scriptures in relation to the new birth? But again: Is that spirit which is "born of the Spirit – born of God" (for God is a Spirit), changed in its nature, in any respect? Was it not before the birth, holy, sinless, incorruptible, and born of an "incorruptible seed," and does it not remain so? "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." But still again: Was not the flesh before the birth unholy, sinful, corrupt, and therefore corruptible? Saith Paul, "I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing." And again, "Put off the old man which is corrupt," &c. Now, he does not say this of the mere muscles that clothe his skeleton, but of all "that which is born of the flesh," including his "fleshly mind," "fleshly lusts," for these are born of the flesh, and the Savior therefore pronounces them "flesh." Then the whole matter, as the Savior expressed it, is included in a mere "nut shell," though it speaks volumes. It is simply this: flesh and spirit brought together, each retaining its former nature unchanged, hence the warfare, "the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary the one to the other;" and let anyone confront this position if he can, for the Bible is against him. These constitute "the old man which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts," and the "new man, which is after God, created in righteousness and true holiness," "the outward man which perisheth, and the inward man which is renewed day by day." "As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy; and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly." But as before observed, a birth does change the circumstances and condition observed, a birth does change the circumstances and condition of the thing born, thereby exposing it to sensations not realized before the birth. If I have ever preached that there was no change whatever produced on the "Adamic man," it must have been in some fit of insanity, for I do not thus believe. If, on the occasion alluded to in the publication, the many brethren whom I have conversed with, and were present on that occasion, must have been in some strange stupor, that they did not hear it. But now for the change, not in the nature (for I know of none), but in the circumstances, condition, and a feeling sense, not realized before the birth. This spirit, which is born of the Spirit, is the spirit of life and light; therefore, life and light are developed in the sinner, with all the other feeling sensations. Now we feel that we are sinners, see that we are sinners, hear and therefore know that we are sinners, and under this thorough conviction cry out, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner." Is not this a great change in the circumstances, condition and sensations of that sinner? But is that individual prepared to say, "My nature is changed from a bad to a good one?" No, never, while we carry with us "the body of this death." On the other hand, is the nature of that spirit, which is born of the Spirit, changed? Not at all. Before the birth it was a pure, holy spirit; it remains so forever afterward, comparable to a pure "white stone," never was black, never will be. Preserved in Jesus Christ as free from "taint" as ever a lady preserved her fruit in a jar, whether earthen, tin, glass, silver, gold or any kind of a one. "But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God and not of us." Born of incorruptible seed, it remains uncorrupted. "Whosoever is born of God, doth not commit sin."
"Though seed lie buried long in dust,
It shain't deceive our hopes;
The precious grain shall never be lost,
For grace insures the crop."
But to return to the publication. In it I am complained of, or rather it is published as one of my errors, as speaking of a spiritual seed, or children, chosen in Christ before the world was, and preserved in him. How am I to suppose that this is from brother W. Thompson's pen unadulterated, when I look into the different numbers of the SIGNS OF THE TIMES over this name, and see such sentences as the following: "Adam, with all natural men actually created in him as a seed, was blessed of God with all natural blessings in earthly places; Christ, with all the spiritual family actually created in him as a seed, was blessed of God with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places." And again; "The children of God in Christ from of old, in their spiritual relation, are wholly of a right see." See brother W. Thompson on the "Two Adams," SIGNS, Vol. Xvi., No. 20, date Jan. 1, 1849, and also other numbers; and also when I see in a letter now before me in his own handwriting and over his own signature the following declaration: "And let me say once for all, that the spiritual nature of the seed, both in Christ and in his members, is divine, never fell, never died, never suffered, never was nor ever will be changed in time or in eternity" Can any lady keep her fruit in a better state of preservation than that? Is that the "stock" of the Adamic man? I am seemingly complained of in the publication for saying it was "another stock." I am also charged with saying that the Adamic man "was not in any relation to Christ." But there are no fears with me that all my brethren who were there have forgotten all about that matter. Many of them will recollect that I have contended for a legal relation between Christ and this man, and explained it by the figure of a shepherd and his sheep, the surety and his debtor, and perhaps by other figures. Many of the brethren can testify that I have uniformly insisted upon the necessity of such a relation, that the sufferings of Christ, in bearing the penalty of the law, might secure legally our release, as well as for a vital and spiritual union exhibited in the figures of vine and branches, head and members, &c., which I hold to be co-existent with Christ and his bride, who were chosen in him before the foundation of the world.
In conclusion, allow me to say, brother Beebe, that the object of this communication is simply to set myself right before my brethren and the community, without intending or desiring to place anyone wrong before them. Is it not my privilege, and is it not my right to claim it? If there is a failure in either case, permit me to say, "it is an error of the head, not of the heart;" and it is my desire and hope that you will open your columns to any of the brethren to correct me if, in their opinion, their own case or mine, or both, have been misrepresented in relation to the circumstances alluded to.
With sentiments of the kindest regards for yourself, family and all the brotherhood, I remain your brother, most truly, but in much tribulation,
- J. F. Johnson