A Sweet Savor Contact Miscellaneous Audio Messages Penmen

REPLY TO BRETHREN: THE NEW BIRTH.

PART II

2. BROTHER WILLIAMS, ON I PETER 1:23 – Brother Williams says, “Let the brethren read that letter again, {the Salem Circular,} and they will find many passages of scripture quoted there to prove the doctrine,” &c., namely; that in regeneration the soul is born again and becomes a new creature. At his suggestion I have read it over again, and I do assure brother Williams that whilst I find several texts quoted which represent the soul as affected in the work of regeneration, I have not found one quoted which declare or imply that the soul distinctly from the person is that which is born again. I however found that they make convert, as well as resurrect and quicken to mean the same thing with regenerate. This I do not like to find among us. Ever since my first acquaintance with the Baptists, I have found this difference between the Old Baptists and the popular religionists of every name. The latter were zealous advocates for conversion, and evidently put it in the place of regeneration. But the Old Baptists contended that conversion was not enough; that it would never constitute one a child of God; that they must be born again. This is then an old landmark, and I believe a scriptural one, I therefore dislike to see it removed by blending the two together, lest too many get in among us, who under pretence of preaching Old School Baptist doctrine, know and preach in effect nothing but conversion. I think I need to bring but one proof to convince brother Williams that regeneration and conversion are materially distinct. He I trust will readily admit that the law cannot regenerate or produce the new birth, yet David says, “The law of the Lord is perfect converting the soul.” Psa.19:7. If the law cannot regenerate and yet does convert the soul, it is evident that conversion and regeneration are distinct things. How the law does convert the souls of persons regenerated, from their self-righteousness and all their old notions of acceptance with God, is manifest in the believer. Brother Williams appears to discover some contradiction between my remarks relative to brother Thompson’s letter and something I had said before. Conversion and regeneration I hold to be two things, besides he does not notice the import of my expression, born over again instead of born again. And as I discover from the 9th number, that brother Meredith also has misunderstood me on that point, I will try to explain. I have never denied, or at least never intended to deny that the soul was born again in common with the person. But this is the point, I have understood brother Williams and others to contend, that the soul alone was included in the new birth; and this birth, I have understood them to represent by the use of other expressions, to be a passing of the soul through a second birth, without any distinct seed from which the birth proceeds, and that this birth is a change of the soul from a natural soul to a spiritual existence; hence that it is rather a new formation of the soul than a birth. As I have repeatedly given this in substance as my understanding of their views, and as brother Williams has never given any explanation of his views as being different, I presume I am correct. It is this idea that I have opposed, as not being conformable to the Scripture testimony on the point, and as involving other difficulties; and in designating it I have used various expressions, among others I have used the one above referred to, born over again, and this, the soul being born again distinctly from the person. On the other hand, I have contended that the whole person was embraced in the new birth, and of course included the soul. Brother Williams in one case so understands me and argues against the idea of the body’s being included. In another instance he ascribes to me the idea that the quickening spirit only is included in the birth. Brother Williams expresses himself unable to comprehend my meaning. It is probable this may arise in a considerable degree from the imperfect manner in which I have expressed myself. I discover an expression in a quotation he has made from me, which of itself, without regard to the connection, might imply what he ascribes to me. I said, “The quickening spirit is the subject of his second birth.” But as a catching of words is so much the order of the day, to be guarded, I should have said, “The quickening spirit is the seed from which his second birth proceeds.” I will now try to explain my views on this subject, in contrast with brother Williams. In doing it I will take the text he has given me – I Pet.1:22 & 23. He could not have given me a better one for the subject; though I was surprised at his quoting it in support of his views. In reference to verse 22, “Seeing ye have purified your souls,” &c. I cannot see how he would apply it. He certainly cannot consider this purifying the same as being born again; for he will not admit, I think, that persons regenerate themselves; but Peter says, “Seeing ye have purified your souls.” Again, as he holds that the soul in being born again is changed from a natural to a spiritual soul, and therefore is “created in righteousness and true holiness,” I cannot conceive how it could need any further purifying by the person or be the subject of it. But according to my experience and corresponding views that it remains a natural soul, it needed after its conversion by the law, and after the new birth, much purifying in obeying the gospel truth, unto unfeigned love of the brethren; and still needs more of the same. In coming to the 23rd verse, brother Beebe and others must bear with me if I should use some expressions a little too undisguised, the shape the discussion has assumed compels me. Brother Williams quotes our Lord’s declaration to Nicodemus, “Ye must be born again,” John 3:7, and adds, “I believe he meant what he said.” This I am glad to hear, it is the point to which I do wish to see us all come, to believe that the scriptures mean just what they say, and be satisfied; not when they say brick to understand them to mean mortar, like the builders of Babel; not when they speak of a birth to understand them to mean conversion or a quickening, or a resurrection only. All these words were at the command of the Holy Ghost, and when he designed to express the distinctive idea conveyed by either of them, he could and I believe did direct to the use of it; or its equivalent in the original. Now what are the distinctive ideas of a birth? Is it not that a child is brought into a state of existence and into new relations? And is there not necessarily involved in this, the idea that this child had a father by whom it was generated, or that a seed was deposited in its proper receptacle, that it was then quickened; and that this quickened child is brought forth into distinct existence, &c.? Our Lord in explaining this subject to Nicodemus, says, verse 6, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the spirit is spirit.” Does he not here clearly convey the idea that there is a correspondency between the two births; that they are both distinctively births; that the one being of fleshly seed, is flesh; the other being of the spiritual seed is spirit? Having given this explanation, he in verse 7, makes the declaration, “Ye must be born again,” and that with a caution to marvel not at it. He does not say, Your souls must be born again; but, Ye must be born again, &c. Does not, my brethren, the word again in this connection, convey the idea that the same persons who have been born of the flesh, must experience a corresponding birth of the spirit? This is what I believe on the point.

Now to come to the text, “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, &c.” Here I think it evident that Peter is following out the ideas advanced by his Lord as above noticed. Here are the two distinct seeds called corruptible and incorruptible, which our Lord spoke of as flesh and spirit. The flesh, I presume no brother will dispute, is the corruptible seed, as descending from Adam a corruptible head. Is not the spirit then the incorruptible seed? And must it not have an incorruptible head also, or whence the comparison we have noticed? Is not Christ of whom Adam was a figure, and who is spoken of as having a seed and who is the life and the truth, this Head? How will brother Williams’ idea that the new birth consists in a change of the soul correspond with this text? If it is simply a change of the soul, then there is of course, as in Peter’s birth, no seed about it. If brother Williams contends that the old soul is the seed from whence the new creature is formed, then as the old soul was corruptible, it could not be an incorruptible seed. So that I cannot conceive how he can make this text harmonize with the views he has advanced, and allow the text to mean what it says. On the other hand, just such an actual and distinct birth, as I believe is brought to view by our Lord, and here by Peter, is what I have been contending for; and that the incorruptible seed from whence this distinct birth proceeds is not Adam in any shape or form you can place him, by conversions and changes, but that it is Christ the quickening spirit. And hence that the new birth is a being born in the image of Christ, as the Son of God, in a state of freedom from the law, and in the relation of sons and heirs of God, &c. But as I have endeavored to illustrate in my reply to brother Clark on the subject of quickening, there is an important distinction between this, and a natural birth, though in each case, the birth partakes of the nature and image of the head of its distinct seed, yet in this case as the quickening is not a quickening of the seed, that being life and a quickening spirit, but of the soul and person, so the birth is a birth of the soul, and whole person, with the spirit of Christ or the life in it, as illustrated in the resurrection of Christ. If only the soul and not the whole person was the subject of this birth, I know not why gospel ordinances were instituted in which the body participates. Nor should I have reason to believe that the body is redeemed, if not a sharer in the new birth, for that which was redeemed was to receive the adoption of sons. Gal.4:4-7. Again, I cannot conceive that the soul could be changed of itself from its nature as a rational soul, and remain a human soul. But by this new birth, from a distinct seed, or in other words the soul having a distinct and heavenly principle of life imparted to it has two existences – a natural and spiritual; and the person exists as the seed of Adam, and the seed of Christ in one person, being subject to the infirmities of the former, but not to the curse, in consequence of the redemption by the latter. Hence he is subject both to earthly and heavenly influences, to earthly and heavenly desires, &c. Once more, as the experience of regeneration and the new birth is not bodily exercise, but an exercise of the understanding or mind, the soul is that which is manifestly affected and exercised by it. Hence the scriptures speak of soul exercises in reference to true religion. I hope brother Williams will now be able to comprehend my views on this subject, though still imperfectly expressed.

One point more in reference to his letter. He speaks of my manifesting a desire to have a little more information, &c. I did; and I proposed certain difficulties that to me appear in the way of his views being correct which I wished him to explain, or in case he found he could not, I hoped he would review the correctness of his positions. But from the manner in which he passed by them, and from the general tone of his last letter, I judge he felt a little cross on the subject. Not that he has said anything directly offensive. For myself, I feel bound if a brother brings to my notice any difficulties apparently involved in views I had advanced to give an explanation, or if I could not, to abandon such views, and to give any other reasonable explanation asked, and I think I have generally manifested a willingness to do it. Therefore seeing these difficulties involved in the position of the Salem Circular, I did not think of giving offence in proposing them to brother Williams to solve, seeing he had endorsed them. In reference to experience in relation to temptations, &c., I am conscious of soul temptations, and soul sins, and I often doubt the genuineness of my experience on account thereof. I therefore candidly wished to know whether his experience was different, corresponding with his views of the soul being changed, and whether he actually was not conscious of any soul sin or temptation. He says he thinks he knows what sore temptations mean, but does not hint whether his soul has any participation in them, so that I am as much in the dark on the subject as before.

3. BROTHER G.M. THOMPSON, SIGNS: NUMBER 8 – I hope brother Thompson will not be offended at my giving him the last and least share of my reply. I have in my replies to brethren Clark and Williams anticipated much that would have been otherwise due to his communication, to which I beg leave to refer him. Brother Thompson complains of not being able to comprehend my views on the subject of quickening, regeneration, &c. I am extremely sorry that I am not able to make myself more intelligible to him. Whilst I am willing to ascribe much of this defect to my own awkwardness of expression, I think in part that it is ascribable to him, in that he appears not to have caught the first and leading idea for which I contend and without this the balance is thrown into confusion. How I shall make the thing any more plain to him I know not. For of the details of the work of regeneration and of the quickening of the soul, &c., I am as ignorant as I am how the seed that is cast in the ground dies, is quickened, sprouts, &c. I believe these things are so, because they are so revealed in the Scriptures. Cannot brother Thompson comprehend what it is to be born of the flesh? That it is the production of a distinct natural person, a child, according to the laws of nature. If so, may there not be such a thing as this same person’s being born again, born of the spirit, or of a distinct and spiritual seed? May not this new birth be a production in his soul of a spiritual existence as distinct, in its nature, power, and faculties from his natural existence, as are the two seeds, one from the other from whence the two births proceed, and yet it be the same person, having these two natures, the one earthly and capable of attending to earthly things, the other spiritual and capable of knowing and enjoying spiritual things; he having thus both Adam and Christ in him? If brother Thompson can comprehend such an idea, then he may apprehend what I mean. But if he cannot, I of course shall not be able to make myself understood. However for a further illustration of my views of the new birth, and of its effect on the soul, I refer him to what I have said above in reply to brother Williams, and for my views concerning the quickening of the soul, and person, I refer him to my reply to brother Clark. Brother Thompson asks, “If the soul is converted from a state of darkness and enmity to God and his truth, is not its condition changed, or am I to understand brother Trott as conveying the idea that conversion produces no change?” I answer that conversion does not imply a change of nature; but it produces a change of condition, according to the nature of the conversion. If a drunken man is converted to a sober man there is a change in his condition, but he may remain a natural man. If a person is converted from an erroneous idea to the truth, or from one erroneous idea to another, there is a change in the condition of his mind. So when the soul is converted from its darkness and converted by the law, &c., there is a great change in its condition. He says speaking of the soul, “If it bears precisely the same relation to the body that it did before, wherein consists its conversion?” Does not the sober man bear precisely the same relation to his wife, that he did when he was a drunkard, and yet you can see wherein there is a conversion. Again, brother Thompson says, “If the soul is destitute of faith, &c.” I am not disposed to say that the soul of a believer is destitute of faith, because it possesses it, as the existence of spiritual life. But I have no more idea that the soul of its own proper powers can exercise gospel faith, than I have that a natural man can enjoy heaven. The soul is the rational part of man, and it is not the province of rationality to receive the things of the spirit. Faith is a fruit of the spirit. It is not the Adam in us that believes with gospel faith, but the Christ. Hence, faith is called the faith of the Son of God, and the faith of Jesus Christ. Gal.2:20 & 3:22. Brother Thompson seems to have difficulty in comprehending how the soul can receive its knowledge of natural things by the senses of the body, and its knowledge of spiritual things by the faith of the new man or the Christ in us. Faith in the Scriptures is frequently described by the same terms as denote the senses of the body, as the eyes of your understanding, ears to hear, &c., thus showing that to the new man it stands in the place of the senses to the old. I should suppose that brother Thompson would discover this difference between faith and rationality in his every day’s experience. Through faith he understands that the worlds were framed by the word of God. {Heb.11:3} How? From revelation, which his faith receives. Do geologists with all their researches understand this? No, they run into skepticism. By faith he knows that the salvation of sinners is wholly in and by Christ Jesus. How? From the revelation of Christ to his faith. Supposing that brother Thompson was placed on a jury in a murder case wherein there was a train of circumstantial evidences from which to make up the verdict; would he sit there expecting a revelation made to his faith whether the man was guilty or not, by which he might understand the proper verdict? No, he would exercise his senses and rationality just as any natural rational man, in attending to the testimony and in comparing and weighing it, &c., that he might make up a proper opinion. Again. He knows that the spring has opened. How? By a revelation to his faith? No; by discovering the signs of its opening in the vegetating of the trees, &c. Brother Thompson then arrives at the knowledge of natural things as a natural, rational man, and he understands spiritual things as a spiritual man, by faith. Must he not then exist both as a natural man and as a spiritual man? Let brother Thompson reconcile the above facts, if he can, with the idea that the soul in regeneration is changed from a natural, and therefore from a rational soul, to a spiritual one.

If brethren Clark, Williams & Thompson do not comprehend what are my views on these points, I fear I shall never be able to convey my ideas intelligibly to them. But I hope they will; and whether they and others reject me and my sentiments or not, I do beg that they will not so misrepresent me and my views as brother Clark still persists in doing, even in his letter in the 9th number. If it is not asking too much I would request brethren, that before they make up their minds to read the two communications together.

I remain yours, perplexed, but not in despair, cast down, but not destroyed; and I sometimes feel as though I might almost add, persecuted, but not forsaken.

S.TROTT.
Centreville, Fairfax County, Va., April 26, 1850.