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Circular Letter: The Baltimore Old School Baptist Association, to the several churches therein represented, send love in the Lord.

Beloved Brethren: - In addressing to you this token of our particular relationship and regard to you, we would call your attention to the subject of the new birth. This doctrine in all by-gone ages has been almost as distinguishing a mark of the Regular Baptists, as is baptism. Although the multitude bearing the name of Baptists have dwindled down the idea of a second birth to a mere wordy phantom, a change which an individual can procure, if not accomplish for himself by his efforts, and others claiming to be Regular or Old School Baptists, have substituted for it, imaginations of the human mind, having no direct resemblance to the idea of a birth, the scripture testimony still is: “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” And the necessity for it remains as strong as in past ages, for still it remains true, that “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” We do not contemplate entering into, in this letter, an elaborate argument in support of the doctrine of an actual new birth, but would content ourselves with giving you a brief view of what it is, as illustrated in the scriptures. For this end, we beg leave to call your attention to the births of Ishmael and Isaac. Perhaps it may be thought that the birth of Jacob and Esau are similar in their figurative application to the above, but the scriptures do not so represent them. Jacob and Esau are brought to view as illustrating the sovereignty of God in election from among the posterity of Adam. See Rom., chap.9-12. Hence they were both of the same birth, and therefore alike after the flesh. As their mothers were allegorical of the two covenants, so they represented in their births the children of the two covenants. But the things of the new covenant are spiritual, or things of the spirit of God, and therefore are only known by the spiritual man. {See I Cor.2:12-15.} Hence Ishmael is said to have been born after the flesh, and Isaac in distinction from him, is said to have been by promise; and the promises of God we know do not run through Adam, but through Christ Jesus. See Gal.4:22,23 & Rom.9:7-9. So that whilst Ishmael represents the natural seed of Abraham, or fleshly birth, Isaac represents the spiritual seed, or the spiritual birth; and Christ is that spiritual seed, and the believer is of the seed of Abraham as he is Christ’s. See Gal.3:15 & 29. Not that we do not suppose that Isaac was a fleshly man in his birth; but we believe that his birth had those peculiar characteristics connected with it which made it a fit allegory of the spiritual birth in distinction from the fleshly. Hence in further confirmation of this view, we have taken of the birth’s of Isaac and Ishmael. Whilst the scriptures represent the birth of Ishmael as being altogether without faith, being the result of human reasoning or contrivance, and fleshly actings, they represent that in the birth of Isaac all fleshly powers were previously dead, and that it was only through faith that Sarah received strength to conceive seed &c., Heb.11:11, and faith is not a fruit of the flesh, but of the Spirit.

Having thus far, as we think fully established the position that the birth of Isaac was a figure of the spiritual birth, in distinction from the birth of the flesh, we will proceed to illustrate the new birth by it.

1. We will remark that this birth in the figure had its particular seed, that faith was connected with its conception, and therefore points to that incorruptible seed which Peter declares the saints to be born of, by the word of God. I Pet.1:23. It was the promise of God that secured the birth of Isaac, so it is the word of God or His declared promise, or purpose and grace that secures the spiritual birth of all the elect; and as before noticed, all the promises of God are in Christ Jesus, so the purpose and grace of God which secures the salvation of all who are saved is in Him, excluding all our Adamic powers from any part in accomplishing it. Christ is the substance, the grand whole of all the revelation of God, of all the promises, the grace and purpose of God; as we have Christ we have the promises and grace of God. And He is the life and therefore the embodiment of His church; hence they are saved according to God’s purpose and grace given in Him, See II Tim.1:9. We might go on to notice the effect of the conception of this incorruptible seed, how it produces faith in God, quickens the man to a sense of his relations, and accountability to God, of the spirituality and broadness of the law, and of the sin in his acts, thoughts, and nature; of the distress occasioned thereby; of the darkness that covers the whole operation within, hiding all excepting certain external effects from the individual view, so that he is a mystery to himself, and can tell no more why he is thus, than he can tell of the wind whence it cometh or whither it goeth. We might show that whilst the soul is thus quickened to such a deep sense of the law or of sin as being against God, that it still evidently is not changed from a natural to a spiritual soul, and therefore it cannot receive the things of the Spirit, or the things freely given us of God, but entirely looks to the deeds of the law as the way of acceptance with God. But we forbear, and come to the birth. We are told that Sarah bear to Abraham a son at the set time of which God had spoken to him; and that Abraham called the name of his son whom Sarah bear to him, Isaac; also that Sarah said on the occasion. “God hath made me to laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me.” And she further said, “Who would have said unto Abraham that Sarah would have given children suck &c.” Gen.21:1-7. The name Isaac signifies laughter, as Sarah says, God has made me to laugh. Laughter is an expression of sudden, but transient and light joy. The name Isaac therefore and Sarah’s being said to laugh, is strikingly expressive of that joy which is experienced when a person is first born again, or brought by faith to behold the light of the Sun of Righteousness into liberty. It is all joy and excitement at beholding the way of pardon and acceptance with God. But as it is a general, but rather superficial view which the child of grace has at this time of the way of salvation, and not that full understanding which he has afterwards when taught of Christ as the way, his joy is easily and quickly turned again to sorrow and grief, and his light is obscured soon by clouds and darkness. Still with the very first burst of joy, there is a feeling in the individual that it is God and no other that hath made me to laugh. There is also a feeling as with Sarah, that all who hear shall laugh, and he is therefore anxious for the moment to impart the good news to others, some under the idea of publishing it to all, and therefore as having a kind of preaching excitement. As Isaac retained his name of laughter through life, so the believer in his after pilgrimage has his times of this transient excitable joy. {Note: There is much of humility and astonishment connected with this laughing. Who would have said that Sarah should give suck, &c. So says the new born child of grace, who would have thought that ever I should have found pardon, that all my distress which I have suffered on account of my sins should have been but preparing me to know and rejoice in salvation by Christ; that such a vile sinner should have been an object of God’s love.} But brethren, let us not stop merely to laugh with Sarah, let us inquire what has transpired to occasion it. It was not that any change had taken place in Ishmael, he had not been transformed to be the son of the free woman, or of Sarah; he remained to be the son of Hagar, and subject to bondage with his mother. But it was that a new and distinct existence had come to light in the family, that Sarah had a son of her own, and that as she was a free woman so her son was free born. As she represented the children, or child of the new covenant; the spiritual man, for there is one spirit, and the Lord {Christ} is that Spirit; and it is Christ in all the saints, their life, and the hope of glory. Thus we have the new birth in a figure before us. That which was born of the flesh, the whole natural man, soul and body, remains fleshly and under bondage, after the new birth as before. It remains subject to notions of legality and bondage, and therefore subject to be continually annoyed with doubts and fears. It remains subject to all that depravity and all those afflictions, and diseases, and that death which was entailed upon man by the transgression of the natural Adam. It is true that in reference to the believer, the whole curse has been removed by the atonement of Christ from all these evils of sin; but they in themselves remain to disturb his peace and hopes, only when faith is in exercise, then he can view and rejoice in the whole as blessings. But there is a new existence, spiritual in its nature, that opens its eyes from the first, not to behold the light of the natural sun, but to delight in the shining of the Sun of Righteousness; not to behold the alternate blaze and thick darkness of Mt. Sinai, but to rejoice in the light of life; not to cry and fret, and to labor and toil for that which is not bread, and which satisfieth not, but to behold and feast upon the rich supply of the bread of life, the bread which came down from heaven ready prepared at his hands. It is true that faith when looking through the natural senses as it sometimes does, takes a view of natural things; but instead of seeing the curse written upon them, views engraven on all, from the blaze of the sun to the glimmering of the glow-worm, the glorious truth, that God is love. But it is not by the fleshly senses that this spiritual child, this new man sees or judges of anything, it is by faith; faith is to it what the senses are to the natural man. Hence when faith is not in exercise and we look at, and attempt to judge of things by our senses and the faculties of our souls, much of clouds and darkness obscure our vision, and much that appears threatening and injurious hovers over us. But all that faith looks upon is light and peace, with no darkness to obscure, nor any threatenings to create fear; that which is most gloomy to sense, is light to faith. It beholds God in all, and God as He is manifested in Christ Jesus.

Hence as the two, the Ishmael and the Isaac in the believer, are so different in their birth, look at and judge of things so differently, and are so different in their pursuits; the one being earthy and clinging to earthly things, the other being heavenly and soaring towards heaven, and that which is heavenly, it is no wonder that there is a continued warfare going on in the breast of the believer; making him feel that whilst he would fly heavenward, he is still confined to the earth, that when he would do good, he is full of evil. But leaving this point with much that might be said on it, we pass in the next place to notice the weaning time, and the events connected with it. We are told that the child grew and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast the same day that Isaac was weaned. Also that “Sarah saw the son of Hagar mocking,” and she said to Abraham, “Cast out this bondwoman and her son, &c.” Gen.21:5-12. Milk is a light food prepared in the order of nature to suit the tender stomach of the young infant. It is sought after by the infant as a balm for all its little ills and griefs. But it is necessary for the relief of the mother, that she may obey the mandate of God, to be fruitful and multiply, and that her children may be proper and healthy; as well as for the child, that it should be fitted to fill its station in the world, that it should be weaned from the breast and learn to live on stronger food. So for the spiritual Isaac’s, the children of God; they at first live on such food only as they look to their mother - the church for, that which has a good deal of animal sympathy, and creaturely doing in it. They look to their frames and feelings and to the discharge of what they call duty, for their nourishment and growth as well as for the healing of their woes. This is all light food, it is momentary in its effects, it may occasion them to laugh, but there is nothing solid like the feast we have to speak of. They are continually changing either up or down. Hence the importance of being weaned from the breast and of being fed with meat. But some even in the apostles’ days did not get weaned. Paul complains of the Corinthians that he had fed them with milk and not with meat, for hitherto they were not able to bear it; and adds, “neither yet are ye now able.” This he says to show that they were yet carnal, and that he could not speak to them as spiritual, but as carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I Cor.3:1-3. In like manner he complains of the Hebrews, that instead of being teachers, they needed to be taught first principles, to be fed with milk; and adds, “For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness; for he is a babe.” Heb.5:12-14. It would appear that many also among us are in the same condition, not weaned from the breast. Hence, the cry for what they call practical preaching, and the fondness for hearing and reading of first experiences to the exclusion of doctrine, &c. It would seem that the complaint against Ephraim, that “he is an unwise son, for he should not stay long in the breaking forth of children,” applied to them. {See Hosea 13:13., with the words in italics omitted.} As for the mother, so for the churches, it is necessary if they would have proper and healthy children, and have them grow up to a vigorous manhood, to see that they are weaned from milk, and fed through the ministry with sound doctrine, such as the scriptures and the whole experiences of the children of God correspond with. Isaiah asks: “Whom shall He teach knowledge? and whom shall He make to understand doctrine?” And he himself answers the inquiries thus: “Them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts.” Isa.25:9. The enquiry is, not whom shall men, but whom shall He, that is, the Lord, mentioned in verse 5. So that according to this scripture the Lord leaves them who hang on to the breast, to continue in a puny state.

But when are they weaned? The natural child as was Isaac is generally weaned at a certain period; not so with the spiritual Isaacs, with them there is no fixed time. They have to do, not with time, but with spiritual things. Some begin their weaning and feasting on doctrine almost as soon as they are born, whilst all have more or less of the weaning process to experience through life. How about the feast? At feasts it is usual to have a rich supply of choice provisions, accompanied with wine. Such is the doctrine of Christ. It is true persons may speculate on this doctrine, and may discuss and argue it in a carnal spirit, and produce only coldness. But when any one is led to seek of God - His teachings in the revelation He has made of Himself in Christ Jesus, and enabled by faith to receive any part of that glorious truth, he finds in it a feast of fat things. How can it be otherwise? There is not only the fullness of Christ’s atonement, the purpose and grace of God in Christ Jesus, but God in all His attributes, as He could not be known in all the works of creation and providence, couched in it. Hence, even the angels desire to look into these things. And the love of God, as wine on the lees well refined, flows through the whole of it, to cheer, to invigorate and to strengthen the child of grace to bear all the fatigues and trials of the way, and to support him under them. As he is led to feast on this glorious doctrine, he is weaned from the light food of frames, excitements, and creaturely discharge of duties. Not only this, but also as he is thus weaned from creaturely dependencies, he with Sarah sees the son of the bond-woman, the fleshly nature mocking. He sees how it has mocked him, disappointing him in all his fleshly expectations for solid, lasting comfort, and spiritual enjoyment, how much soever they may have made him laugh at the time; and even when the rich feast of gospel grace is spread before him, the flesh mocks him, by suggesting to him that those consolations are not for him; that he, a poor sinful wretch as he is, can have no claim to those consolations, that it would be presumptuous for him to trust in the absolute promises of God, unless he could find something in himself more worthy of God’s favor, and the like. But God has confirmed the declaration of Sarah, “Cast out this bond-woman and her son; for the son of this bond-woman shall not be heir with my son, with Isaac.” Not only is it decreed that flesh and blood shall not inherit the kingdom of God, but also we find that whenever we are led to God for consolations we have to cast out everything fleshly, in feelings and in action, and to depend alone on the mercy of God in Christ for acceptance, and we receive the blessings as coming alone through that channel.

Brethren, we have thus given you what we understand to be some of the outlines of the new birth, and of its effects as illustrated in the birth of Isaac. In conclusion let us say, brethren, that in this season of commotions, religious and political, separate and combined, shaking the heavens and the earth of the mere human mind, we need some stronger food to support and steady us than we can draw from excited feelings, human reasonings, or even acts of obedience. May we follow the example of David. He says, “Surely, I have behaved and quieted myself as a child that is weaned of its mother. My soul is even as a weaned child.” How this is, he shows by saying, “Let Israel hope in the Lord from henceforth and forever.” Psa.131:2, 3. Again we find him quieting himself thus: “Why art thou cast down O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God; for I shall yet praise Him who is the health of my countenance and my God.” Psa.42:11. Brethren, farewell.

S.TROTT. Moderator.1855.