For the Signs of the Times.

BROTHER BEEBE: – I see, in the Signs and Advocate, for April 1, 1846, that brother Guice proposes certain questions to me concerning some items contained in a former communication of mine. He says he proposes them not for the purpose of entering into controversy. But if he has views differing from mine on the points embraced in his inquiries, why not give them and let them be discussed. Bitter controversy is not desirable, but brotherly discussion may be useful.

His first question relates to the idea which I advanced that our nature is depraved; is depravity itself, an idea which I still full believe. He asks, “Can human nature undergo any change?” Again, “If so, when such change is, or was effected, would the character on whom such change was effected be in possession of human nature?” In answer to these enquiries I reply that it is said, “Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.” Ecc.7:29. I presume that brother Guice will admit, that so far, and so long as man acted in that state of uprightness, he would act uprightly; but that this uprightness was not inherent in him, so as to be the distinctive and established nature of men; but on the contrary, he was liable, being left to himself, to depart from that uprightness in which he was made. His nature then was that of a fallible, dependent creature, liable to depart from his state of rectitude, when left to himself, but at the same time having no bias inherent, no natural leaning to transgression, as the idea of uprightness implies. While in this state of uprightness, I presume he was not a subject of wrath. Now, Paul writing to the Ephesian brethren, and including himself with them, or rather, including both Jews and Gentiles, says, “Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past, in the lusts of the flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath even as others.” Eph. ii. 3. It appears evident to me that they who by nature are children of wrath, must be by nature depraved or sinful. Now the inquiry returns, “Was there any change in the nature of man? I know of no other change than this, that from a state of uprightness, without any natural or fixed laws establishing him in that state, he became in consequence of transgression, fixed unalterably as death does fix, beyond the control of all but God, in trespasses and sins; or, if you please, in depravity. “You hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins.” Eph. ii. 1. Now the Apostle calls this subjugation to wrath, nature, and so it is nature; for it is nature that everything should produce its like, that the stream should partake of the qualities of its fountain; and hence, the original fountain or head of the whole human family, as such, being established in trespasses and sins, or depravity, or alienation from God, or whatever you may call it, this depravity became the law under which all the human family exists naturally. So David, who, for all we know was brought into existence according to the same law of nature as others, says, “Behold I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Ps. li. 5.

One remark more on this point. This fixed trait of man, of this natural depravity was established by the God of nature, not in the exercise of his creating power, but in the exercise of his sovereignty as the ruler of the world, in inflicting a righteous penalty for transgression; so says Paul, “As by the offence of one, judgment came upon all men to condemnation.” And, “As by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners.” Rom. v. 18 & 19. Again; brother Guice, in view of my remark, that in regeneration there is no change in nature, asks, “If nature is depraved, would it not be necessary for it to be changed in regeneration?” If the purpose of God in Christ had been to reinstate men in the state in which Adam was created, then instead of being born again, born of the Spirit, there would have been a necessity, and only that, of their natures being changed from its corruptible state to its original upright state and perhaps a being confirmed in uprightness. But such is not the purpose at all. God having predestinated his chosen people, to the adoption of children by Jesus Christ unto himself, he has prepared for them an inheritance suiting their relation to him in Christ Jesus, who is the Lord from heaven, and not of the earth, earthy. Therefore, in order for their being manifested in such relation, and being prepared for the enjoyment of such inheritance, a being born again of the flesh, and upright Adam being formed anew in them, does not meet the case; but they must derive a distinct existence direct from Christ, be born of the Spirit and have Christ, and not Adam, formed in them. It is true, that as it is entrusted to Christ to save his people wholly from their sins, and to present them faultless before the throne of his glory, it will be incumbent on him, ultimately to change their bodies from corruption to incorruption, and from natural to spiritual bodies. Yet as it is not the pleasure of God to translate his children immediately as they are regenerated, to their heavenly glory, but that many of them should for a season remain in the world, as witness of the power of Jesus to save, so as adapted to their existence in the world, and to their worldly relations, he leaves them in possession of their earthly nature unchanged. And thus not only are they capacitated for holding familiar intercourse with the world, but also by the workings of the two natures in them, the Spirit and the flesh, Christ and Adam, they and their brethren may have the clear evidence, that the change they have experienced is not a mere reformation, or change from their natural propensities, but that they have a new and spiritual nature formed in them, distinct from, and in opposition to, their old nature, and therefore that they are born of God.

I now pass to brother Guice’s last inquiry, as being intimately connected with the above; namely, “Whether John was not deceived when he said, 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.” I John iii. 9. Differing some from brother Guice’s quotation. John certainly was not deceived. But others I think have been frequently mistaken in their understanding of this text, when they have inferred from it that if a person is born of God he is divested of all depravity and propensity to sin. An idea which is calculated to sink every child of grace who receives it, into despondency. John evidently speaks of that which is born of God, the new man which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness; not of the old man which remains corrupt according to the deceitful lusts. See Eph. iv. 22 & 24. But as an illustration of this subject, and of the fact that the new creature is made subject to vanity, not willingly; and that this therefore is the creature intended, {Rom. viii. 20,} I will notice Paul’s own experience in the matter. That Paul was born of God, and was therefore a new creature, I presume brother Guice will admit. Hear his complaint of himself! “For I know that in me, {that is, in my flesh,} dwelleth no good thing; for to will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would, I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.” What a perfect riddle this must be to a person who believes that nature is changed in regeneration, or that the nature of man is not depraved! Is not sin depravity? And if sin dwelled, made its home in Paul, was he not depraved? But it certainly was not that I that would do good that was depraved, not that which was born of God, but the I that did that he would not, the sin that dwelled in him, the flesh, the me in whom dwelleth no good thing, that was depraved, and which of course must be his old nature, that which was born of the flesh. He goes on to say, “I find then a law, that when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man. But I see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.” He concludes this declaration of his experience with saying, “So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh, the law of sin.” Rom. vii. 18-25. What was this law that was in his members, in his flesh, this law of sin, but the law of his nature? It was not the law of God which he served with his mind, nor the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.” – Rom. viii. 2. With the mind I myself serve the law of God. Is not this as strong as John’s assertion, “Whosoever is born of God sinneth not?” And yet Paul says in the next breath, what evidently amounts to this, “But with the flesh I serve the law of sin.” Thus making this his act too. So there were two I’s, two Pauls in this one person; Paul who was born of God, and Paul or Saul who was born of a Jew. Was not this being brought into captivity to the law of sin, this doing that he would not, this not finding how to perform that which is good, by the new creature, the regenerated Paul, a being made subject to vanity, to that which is void of good? And Paul’s own testimony is, that it was not willingly that he was thus subject to the law of sin. As was Paul’s experience in the case, so is the experience of all the children of God, if I know anything about it. It is no wonder then that the whole creation {in Christ Jesus} including the Apostles who had the first fruits of the Spirit, groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now; waiting for the adoption; to wit, the redemption of our body, when they also shall be changed into the likeness of the glorified body of Jesus. See Rom. viii. 20-23.

I will now return to brother Guice’s other inquiry. I having represented the sin which doth so easily beset us (Heb. xii. 1,) as being unbelief, he asks, “If the absence of faith is unbelief; and if so, and unbelief is sin, would not God’s having created man without faith be equivalent to his being created a sinner?” – By faith, I presume brother Guice intends that faith which is the gift of God, and by which we receive and rely on Christ crucified as our whole salvation. I am not prepared to say that the absence of this faith is not in some instances intended by the term unbelief. But I am prepared to say that if that were the only sense in which unbelief is spoken of in the Scriptures, I could by no means consent to the idea that unbelief is sin. Sin is the transgression of the law. The law did not require of Adam in his original creation to believe in Christ as his righteousness and salvation, but it required him so to love and obey God as not to be a transgressor of the law, and therefore as not to be a subject for salvation, nor for having the righteousness of Christ imputed. Consequently, a want of this faith cannot be a transgression of the law. But there is an unbelief spoken of in the Scriptures which, according to my understanding thereof, is sinful. I will notice some instances. In I John v. 10, we read, “He that believeth on the Son of God, hath the witness in himself; he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son.” Here the faith in Christ which is connected with salvation, is expressed by a believing on the Son of God; the other belief is spoken of as simply a believing God, a believing the record, &c. thus making a manifest difference between the two. The same marked difference is observed in John iii. 36. Certainly that unbelief, or not believing, which makes God a liar, must be sinful. Do any ask how this unbelief can be a transgression of the law? I reply that the law under which Adam was created, evidently required of him to believe whatever declaration God made to him; otherwise, it would not have been sinful in him to disregard God’s declarations concerning the tree of knowledge, &c. The declarations which God has made concerning man’s condemnation, and concerning his Son &c. are equally the words of him who cannot lie; and disbelieving them must therefore be equally a transgression of the law. Again, we are told that Christ appeared unto the eleven and “upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.” Mark xvi. 14. Their unbelief must, therefore, have been sinful, or I think he would not have upbraided them for it. Their not believing them which had seen him after his resurrection, included an unbelief of his own declarations beforehand made to them, that he should rise on the third day. In Rev. xxi. 8, the fearful and unbelieving are ranked with murderers, &c. as having a part in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone; hence they must be one class of sinners who are thus punished, as murderers are another class. The unbelief, on account of which the natural branches were broken off from the good olive tree, and which led the Jews to reject Christ as the Messiah, I think was sin; so, also, I think was the unbelief which prevented those Israelites from entering the promised land, whose carcasses fell in the wilderness, a sin. Heb. iii. 17-19. “The evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God,” against which the Apostle cautions his brethren, (Heb. iii. 6,) appears to me is sin, and one to which, if my experience is a criterion, I should judge the children of God are very liable. So that I really do not see any just ground for retracting from either of those ideas to which brother Guice objects; and I have given, in answer to his enquiries, plainly my reasons for this conclusion, though I have not given them perhaps as concisely as he requested. If he is not satisfied with my views on these points, I should like for him to give his reasons for dissenting, as well as for him to give some more scriptural views.

Yours, &c.
Centreville, Fairfax County, Va. April 15, 1846.

Signs of the Times
Volume 14, No. 10.
May 15, 1846