Lawrenceburg, Ky., April 26, 1868.
BROTHER BEEBE: - It appears that two communications formerly written by me, and published in the SIGNS have elicited some attention, and such attention in some very few instances as I regret to see. Nothing, however, that has appeared in the SIGNS has given me the least displeasure, nor will it while a quiet, calm and christian spirit prevails among the writers. I thought I had a right in common with my brethren, to claim it as a privilege to present my honest convictions of what I believe the Bible taught on the subjects of, first, the regeneration, and secondly, the new birth.
Not with the view of "leading the young and inexperienced astray," (as charged by one in a private letter,) but simply to present to the readers of the SIGNS what I honestly believed the scriptures taught. Nor did I write with any design or desire to urge my sentiments on any one who could not see that they were sustained by the scriptures. I have no wish, and more than that, no intention to enter upon a protracted controversy about the subjects upon which I have written, and thought when I last wrote on the subject that I would try to present my views with as much perspicuity, calmness, candor, and in as inoffensive a manner as my feeble capacities would enable me to do, and leave the event with my God, my brothers and sisters, without any further effort on my part. And what I am about to write now I design to be more explanatory and conciliatory than argumentative. Let me add further, that I have received many private letters from much esteemed brethren and sisters on these subjects, many of whose sentiments accord with my own, and some differing with me on certain points, but far the greater number have seemed to exhibit a kind and christian spirit; and certainly an honest difference of opinion on these points has not lessened my regard for them, and shall not.
But I must drop a remark or two here for the consideration of some one or two brethren, (if they will allow me to claim the relationship,) who have written to me, supposing that they differ with me, (and probably they do in many respects,) but not in what I am charged with denying, if I can understand what they aim to contend for.
For instance, an Elder from a certain "ville" in Ohio, writes two full sheets of foolscap, and sets out by charging me with denying the work of the Spirit in God's people, and quotes long strings of scripture on other subjects, and it does seem to me that he would, if he could, prove that the Spirit does this work, which no Old School Baptist ever thought of denying; and I here appeal to all who have ever read these communications to determine for themselves whether such a denial has been expressed by me in either of the productions alluded to, or whether they have found an expression in either from which such a denial can be legitimately implied. In one part of that long letter I am represented to be a "dangerous" character, "governed by a fleshly mind, and the devices of Satan presented to it by his Satanic art, to lead the mind from Christ." The writer further informed me that he had written to brother S. H. Durand, as he was young, &c., to warn him of the danger. I hope brother Durand may profit by the warning. Now I would kindly remind those who write to me in that style of misrepresentation and abuse, that it requires time and labor to fill two sheets of foolscap with closely crowded manuscript, and that it is simply time and labor lost, for I shall not respond to such productions, especially if they are void of argument or reason.
But I am glad to say that others of my brethren who differ with me in some particulars have addressed me in a kind, brotherly and respectable manner, and such shall receive responses at my earliest convenience. Some of my brethren still seem to think that I err in contending that a spiritual seed pre-existed in Christ. I think that "he shall see his seed," and that when his seed is "born" it will be produced "after his kind." Is he "spiritual?" If so, when that seed "is born," it will be like its progenitor. "That which is born of the Spirit is spirit." Can it be possible that the "holy seed," the "seed of the righteous," the "seed of the blessed," the "godly seed," ["seed of God" in the margin,] and "a seed of evil doers," "the seed of evil doers," "a seed of falsehood," are all the same seed? I think that the seed of the spiritual head and the seed of the natural head are different kinds of seed, and that the seed of the natural are not changed to spiritual by a birth, and vice versa. Every person, animal and plant must, by the unchangeable laws of nature, produce seed "after his kind."
If brother Leachman will please allow me the privilege, I will here "steal a little of his thunder," as uttered in the first number of the present volume of the SIGNS, page six, first column: "If there is a spiritual birth without pre-existent spiritual existence, why should not that birth as often develop a devil as a saint? It is only because every seed produces its like; that 'That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.' If that which is born did pre-exist, it was either self-existent or it was begotten. If the latter, it follows as necessarily that there must be a progenitor as a progeny, or in other words, that this spiritual seed must have a spiritual life or head as necessarily as that the natural seed must have one. Hence we have the two Adams. 'The first was made a living soul, the second a quickening Spirit.' It is no more marvelous that the whole spiritual family existed in Christ than it is that the whole natural family, including his wife, existed in Adam before any of them were born," &c.
I transcribe this language because I think it more appropriate than any I could command of my own.
I will here notice one or two items couched in brother S. H. Durand's excellent letter, as published in the present volume of the SIGNS, No. five, pages 28 and 29. I say excellent because I do admire the style and spirit manifested therein, and most of the sentiments advanced. But there is an apparent difference of opinion between him and myself on one point relative to the subject of regeneration. He says on page 29, commencing near the bottom of the second column, "But whether the word regeneration, implying a previous generation, refers to the truth that Christ was the Son of God from everlasting, in whom was the life of all his people, and that now he is begotten from the grave; or whether reference is thus made to the former natural or fleshly generation of the children of God, I do not now feel so certain." Brother Durand's ideas are certainly entitled to the calm and impartial attention of the readers of the SIGNS, and such attention I have tried to give them, but cannot as yet entertain the same opinion. If it were a fact, as he says, that "The children were (the italic is mine) partakers of flesh and blood - were of the generation of Adam," the sentiment would seem to me to be more plausible. But let us examine the text in Heb. ii. 14. "Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same." The apostle uses the present tense, not the past, the children are partakers, &c. Then, "He also himself likewise took part of the same." The word also, according to Webster, signifies "in the same manner;" and likewise, "in like manner." Then the children partake of flesh and blood in like manner, in the same manner, that Christ partook of flesh and blood. Why, he "came down from heaven," a body being prepared for him, dwelt in that body as a temple, thus taking part, &c.; and did not John see the "holy city," the "spiritual house," coming down from God out of heaven; and did not Christ say of his spiritual children, "They are not of this world, even as I am not of this world?" Then, I have to conclude that, as Jesus took flesh and blood, the children in the same manner, in like manner, partake of the same; and, that as there was a body prepared for Jesus when he came down from heaven, so there are bodies prepared for "his seed," his "spiritual house," his "New Jerusalem," when they come "down from God out of heaven," or, in other words, when they are "born of God," brought forth from him. It is then, as I understand the scriptures, that the spiritual children are partakers of flesh and blood, and not until then. It is then, as I conclude, that the body (see 1 Cor. vi. 19,) of each child becomes "the temple of the Holy Ghost," which Paul says "is in you, which ye have of God," or in other words, which "is born of the Spirit, and is spirit," born of incorruptible seed, and cannot sin.
Am I right that Christ and these children came alike from God, that they are not of this world, even as he is not of this world; that they are and were partakers of flesh and blood, in the same manner, in like manner? If the children of the earthly Adam were regenerated in Christ, and then born of him, who is the incorruptible seed, would it not involve the idea that the Adamic man is "born over again," as some who have gone out from us have affirmed? And, if the spiritual children of God were "put forth in Adam," as some say, would it not involve the idea that he was to some extent at least spiritual and not natural.
Now I can heartily and confidentially say of brother Durand, as he has said to me in the SIGNS alluded to, that I am not afraid of affecting his love or fellowship for me by suggesting this difference of understanding. No, my dear brother, you need entertain no fears of that kind while your pen so amply testifies to the candid and christian spirit that should control all our correspondence or communications, and rest assured that as you have intimated, nothing would be more cheerfully yielded or promptly abandoned than a sentiment previously entertained by me, which is proved by the scriptures to be incorrect.
I will ask my brethren who reject the sentiment that a spiritual seed or family existed in Christ before Adam's creation, what was it or who were they that were "chosen in him before the foundation of the world?" Were they the children of Adam the first? His children are like himself, earthy. Or were they the children of Adam the second? He is spiritual, and his children are like himself, (a quickening) spirit. "As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy; and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly." Or further, were there any that were thus chosen in him?
Now my dear brethren, it seems to me that you must say that the earthy children were chosen in the spiritual head before the foundation of the world, that the spiritual children were chosen in the spiritual head before the foundation of the world, or that none were chosen in him before the foundation of the world. Which horn of the dilemma will you take? I ask in all candor, and with an humble and due deference to those who have wiser heads and more penetrating sagacities than your humble servant. I do not, if I know myself, wish to advocate an idea that is not sustained by the scriptures. What advantage could it be to me? My gray hairs, bleached with the frosts of sixty-eight winters, admonish me that my time here is short, and I have no desire to end it with "a lie in my right hand."
But let none of my brethren or sisters conclude that I wish to appear before them as an oracle, or as presenting my views as a criterion for others. I have no aspirations to set my imperfect self up as a guide for others. But I must retain the privilege which is the inalienable right of us all to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints, according to the clearest convictions I have.
The communications of many of the brethren and sisters through the SIGNS OF THE TIMES, and by private letters, while treating on the subjects of regeneration and the new birth, have been to me a source of encouragement, comfort and confirmation, for which I desire to feel very thankful to him who alone can instruct us correctly, and also to them for the courtesy, kindness and labor of love that have characterized their correspondence; and in these remarks I cordially include those brethren who have expressed their opinions, differing with mine, in a becoming and brotherly way. I have not, however, been able to discover any reason why I should change my views on the subjects discussed, for while none have presented any (to me) perceptible, insuperable objections, others, together with the scriptures, have more and more confirmed me.
So far as the doctrine of regeneration is concerned, I think one text places the position taken on that subject beyond the reach of refutable contradiction. That text is found in Hosea 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." That text taken in connection with Eph. ii. 5, 6, I Peter i. 3, and many others that might be adduced, seems to me to place the position in an irrefutable attitude. I must, therefore, according to that and its concomitant texts, believe that after those two days his children were all revived; that on that third day they were raised up, "begotten again to a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead;" or in other words, were then and there regenerated, (for to beget is to generate, to beget again is to regenerate,) and consequently that then and there, not at any other time or place, not before or after, not separate or apart from Christ, but really and actually "begotten again, revived, raised up, quickened together with Christ, raised up together, and made to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." This, if I mistake not, inspires a hope that our life is, and ever has been, hid with Christ in God. Then let us,
"Rejoice, believer, in the Lord,
Who makes your cause his own;
The hope that's built upon his word,
Can ne'er be overthrown.
Though many foes beset your road,
And feeble is your arm,
Your life is hid with Christ in God,
Beyond the reach of harm."
Now, my dear brethren and sisters all, if this is error, may God enable you all to detect it; and not only so, but may he or some of you by his revelation, convert your unworthy brother from the error of his way; for if I am wrong, of all other persons I am the most deeply interested in being set right.
Brother Beebe, this is respectfully and willingly submitted to your judgment.
With true regard, your brother,
J. F. JOHNSON.
P. S. - I now hope to be at the Baltimore, Delaware, Delaware River and Warwick Associations.
J. F. J.