"He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken." (Isaiah 53:8)
The Old School, or Primitive Baptist, have been generally vilified and ridiculed down through the centuries for their steadfast adherence to the plain and simple instruction of the Word of God. We have maintained, among other things, that the gospel, or good news, was for the spiritually alive, and not for those dead in sin; that our commission was to "preach the word," and to "feed the flock of God." Not even a trace of instruction, clear or vague, is found in the scriptures that those called of God to preach His unsearchable riches should declare His good news to the lost with the supposed prospect of converting goats into sheep, or turning the tares into wheat; or making the dead in sin to live. Rather, the commission is to preach good news to those who have previously been made alive in Christ through the operation of the Spirit of God, and who are capable of receiving such glad tidings. And, should we continue to receive reproach for this, our steadfast position, so be it.
In the above text this question was asked, "Who shall declare his generation?" Bible believers have universally maintained that this is a reference to the coming of the Messiah in His humility. Throughout Isaiah 53, beautiful and precise prophesies of the coming Redeemer were foretold. He was as a plant that grew; a root out of dry ground; He was despised and rejected; wounded for our transgressions; bruised for our iniquities; oppressed, afflicted; and as a lamb brought to the slaughter. He was as a sheep dumb before His shearers. All of these things declare to us in the most vivid and clear manner that Jesus was to come in all humility, approved of His Heavenly Father. All this established that He was the Lamb slain to take away the sin of the world. "And who shall declare his generation?" There can be no question that this solemn declaration of His generation would be more than a bare recitation of His being and works. We are persuaded that when Jesus came forth from the tomb the Father gave Him all power both in heaven and in earth; and He alone declared His generation.
"This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him." (Gen. 5:1) Notice the word generations, (plural). The generations of Adam. "and begat a son in his own likeness, after his image; and called his name Seth." (Gen. 3:3) Adam, and his seed after him, begat sons and daughters, and thus they comprised the generations (plural) of Adam. Adam begat a son, and then later Adam died. His son begat a son and later he also died, and on and on. So each of them in succeeding generations begat children and died. And thus we have the family of man. They live; they procreate; and they die. And this composite is described as the "generations" (plural) of Adam. Adam's sons were begotten in his likeness, and after his image. And so it is when each individual on the face of this earth begets sons and daughters they are in their likeness, and after their image. Thus we see the first usage in the Bible of the terms begat, and generation. We believe they are unmistakably clear.
Returning now to that portion of our text, "who shall declare His generation" - as we observed in Genesis 5, Adam's generations were plural. But in Matthew 1:1, where the New Testament opens, it begins, "The Book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham." Whereas Adam's posterity was generations, (plural,) the generation of Christ is in the singular. Adam had many generations; Christ only one. Christ and His seed are all one; they are one in Him. As each succeeding one of the elect family are generated, or begotten by the Spirit of Christ, they are by that very operation declared to be His generation. This is not the work of another; this is the work of our Lord alone. Who else, we ask, can declare, constitute, or bring forth His chosen generation? (I Pet. 2:9) Adam begets, and his generations increase. His sons after him beget also, and the generations of Adam continue to increase. But the Saviour alone begets unto eternal life. When one of His chosen ones are begotten by Him they have no power, as Adam's seed did naturally, to begat another in their likeness. That is the work of the Lord alone. Only Jesus can declare His generation, or bring forth in His likeness.
I Corinthians 4:15 is often used by the advocates of the mission system in an attempt to refute the above, but it teaches no such thing as they mistakenly suppose. "For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel." "There," they say, "we have you." "The text affirms we are begotten by the gospel." Yes, and we would not deny that for one moment. But it must be observed that what proves too much, often proves too little; and so it is with their twisting of this text. As we have noted, Adam begets after the flesh, and so does all his seed after him. Every time a person is born in this world they have been begotten by their parents; in their likeness and after their image. This is a proper understanding of the first use of the term begat in the Bible. Now certainly, no one would believe that those that Paul had begotten with the gospel were physically begotten. Paul intended no such thing, and we doubt it has ever been interpreted thus. What this does then is require us to understand the word "begat" in I Cor. 4:15 differently. The begetting here must be a different begetting than the one we first found in the book of Genesis. Thus, if there must be more than one meaning, then there is the possibility, even the probability, that this text teaches no such thing as is advocated by the Mission Baptists, and other assorted workmongers. We are not faced here with an either/or situation. That Paul does not mean he begat the Corinthians after the flesh, all (we presume) will agree. But, that we must then accept the perverted notion that he was speaking of a spiritual begetting we emphatically deny. What in this whole context would lead any honest Bible reader to conclude Paul meant his voice carried with it a quickening force when he preached to these saints by the gospel? Nothing, that we can find.
In the book of James we have these words on this subject. "Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth; that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures." (James 1:18) Thus we see that while Paul, on one hand, says he begat the Corinthians, as their father through the gospel, James says of God, "Of his own will begat he us." If these words are to be accepted as inspired, then God, and God alone does the begetting that James speaks of. No one else, including Paul then, or the preacher today, is used of the Lord as instruments. He begat us is what the text says. God sent no one to beget for Him, with or without the gospel. The advocates of gospel regeneration can fume on until the world is on fire, but they can never make more of this text than James intended, without adding to God's word. James says that we were begotten of God with the word of truth. Thus, while there might to some seem to be a contradiction, no such thing exists, except in their minds. The begetting Paul spoke of to the Corinthians was a bringing to light their sonship by the gospel. Their salvation was not secured, but made manifest by the gospel, as is so clearly set forth in II Tim.1:10. "But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." Thus we believe Paul, as their father in the gospel, brought them forth unto a manifestation of the children of God. No giving of life was intended by him there or elsewhere. That would have contradicted everything he and all the other writers of the scriptures had said on the subject. The text in itself is very simple when taken in the light of the rest of God's word. The spiritual begetting comes only through the operation of the Spirit of God, and by no other medium. Irrespective of what gainsayers may say.
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ which according to his abundant mercy has begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." (I Peter 1:3) It is seen here again that the work of spiritual begetting is of the Lord. This text is so clear, so plain, that there can be no question concerning it. And, since it is so clear, then the begetting the Apostle speaks of in I Corinthians 4 must be different as to its nature. Giving life to those who heard the gospel cannot be what he intends. When our Lord and Redeemer suffered and died on the cross He carried with Him in His death all His chosen seed, having not yet been born, they having neither been formed or brought into existence as yet. They were with Him in His death; when He reposed in the tomb, they were there; when He came forth, bursting the bonds of death, they were with Him. And thus, though death had seized upon Him, and His vile enemies believed they had gotten the victory, He triumphed over all. As regards appearance, He died leaving no issue, or generation. That which all Jews dreaded had occurred. He had died leaving no seed. Or so it seemed But He was victorious, and had accomplished all the Father had bidden Him in the everlasting covenant; and thus He could declare His generation. Coming from the garden He attended to His business the Father had appointed unto Him, and breathed upon His disciples the gift of the Holy Ghost, clearly establishing that all spiritual matters were under His authority. Through succeeding generations of Adam's posterity our Saviour has by His Spirit come to His people, one by one, and has begotten them again to their inheritance. And so in the quickening operation He declares His generation again and again.
The family of God all receive their spiritual life from the Spirit of God, not from the gospel. It is only by the operation of the Spirit that spiritual beings come forth. Until such time as the elect children are given life from above they have only natural life. Adam's family all derived natural life through him in a natural begetting. Now, it is beyond controversy that Adam's family are dead, alien sinners until such time as the operation of the Holy Ghost quickens them. Thus we read in most unmistakable terms, "And you hath he quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins." (Eph.2:1) There is no doubt in the mind of God's little children that they were aliens to God; without hope, and unable to effect a change in themselves or in others. The question then is asked, "By what means, if any, did this change take place?" The clear answer is not far from us as we read; "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." (John 3:6) Flesh can beget only flesh, after its kind. The best fleshly efforts, including the exercise of the vocal cords on another's ear drums, will only produce fleshly results. So too, only the Spirit can beget spirit. And yet it is assumed by multitudes that a fleshly instrument is necessary to bring about this new birth, and that instrumentality is to them the preaching of the gospel. But if this be so it should be plain enough in the Scriptures somewhere. We submit honestly and fairly that we can find not one text that would support that proposition. It is contended by "Soul-Savers" that the gospel brings the hearing ear, and that their preaching is the magical medium by which the Holy Spirit quickens the sinner. The text is thus submitted by them to us, "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17) This verse teaches none of those things which is supposed. It tells us how faith comes; but how is it? It comes by hearing. Not by hearing a preacher, but the voice of the Son of God. And, it tells us how hearing comes; and how is it? By the word of God. By the word of God, and not by the word of man. The word of God, the living Word, speaks life into the hearts or the beings of those who have been chosen from the foundation of the world. This view is ridiculed by the mission system, but what saith the Word? "The hearing ear, and the seeing eye, the Lord hath made even both of them." (Prov.20:12)
"He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." (John 1:11-13) Several things worthy of our notice there. First, "His own received him not." The reason they received Him not was because they had no power to receive Him. Verse 12 informs us that some did receive Him ("as many as") and they received Him by the power that He gave them to become the sons of God. Who were they? They were the believers. How did they believe? They believed through grace. (Acts 18:27) And unmistakably the text says that this was a birth. "Which were born." And how were they born? Not by blood. They were not begotten like Adam begat his sons and daughters. They were not begotten by the will of the flesh either. Man didn't desire it to be so; neither the recipient nor the mistaken ones who would dare to presume to do God's work. "Nor of the will of man but of God;" That, dear reader, is how they were born. And then in Verse 14, "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory..." Let there be no misunderstanding. Irrespective of what the mission system might want to say and how they might want to revile the position, Jesus is the Word, the Living Word; and He was made flesh, and it was this Living Word who spoke life to His children. "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life."(John 5:24) And we ask boldly, whose word did they hear? "He that heareth my word." "Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live." (Verse 25) Again we ask, whose voice did they hear? The voice of the Son of God. What was the result? They that heard lived. As the text says, they have passed from death to life. If this is not spiritual generation, or begetting by the Lord speaking life in His people, what is it?
"Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold and said, It was necessary that the word of God should have first been spoken to you, but seeing ye put it from you and judge yourselves unworthy of life, lo we turn to the Gentiles. For so hath the Lord commanded us saying, I have set thee to be a light to the Gentiles that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth. And when the Gentiles heard this they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as were ordained to eternal life believed." (Acts 13:46-48) The Apostle draws from Isaiah 42 as he speaks to the Gentiles. Quoting from there he said that He (Christ) had been set as a light to the Gentiles, and that the salvation would be to the ends of the earth. And how did the Gentiles respond to this? "When they heard this they were glad." Nothing in this text says they were born again when they heard the good tidings, or that they were quickened as a result, but rather being in possession of life, they were glad. They were glad because they had heard good news. The good news was the gospel, and the gospel is for those who are alive spiritually. There is no good news in the gospel for the dead. None at all. "And as many as were ordained to eternal life believed." Not as many as were ordained to eternal life were quickened, but rather they believed as a result of this preaching because life was already their possession. The dead don't believe. Then too we find the words of the Apostle complementing this as he wrote to the Romans. "So as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome, also." (1:15) He was not ready to preach to those at Rome in order to bring them to life, for as he wrote to them as brethren, they already had life. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ." Why? Because, among other things, it was "the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first and also to the Greek." There was no salvation or power for unbelievers, but rather for believers; those who had already been born of the Spirit. These words came to them as glad tidings; as good news; as a sweet message from Heaven itself, and they could respond to it, for they were alive in Christ. There is no response from the dead. There is no joy among the goats. Those who had been brought into a state of life and immortality through the operation of the Spirit of God believed the good news. "For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith:" This is no revelation of faith to the dead, but rather a revelation of faith to living faith. From the one faith - the faith preached in the gospel - to the faith found in the believer. And thus we have a beautiful harmony in this, as well as in all other texts.
"It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life." (John 6:63) Were there no other text in all the Bible on our subject, this one would satisfy an honest heart. Not only does the Lord place the emphasis of being born again solely on the Spirit, He disavows the flesh utterly. No preacher can effect the quickening work, as he is but flesh. No listener can appropriate the spiritual birth, for he too is but flesh. The words of Jesus alone are spirit, and when declared by Him a generation transpires. We submit in conclusion that any position other than this is error of the gravest sort.
Volume 5, No. 2
March - April, 1991