Dear Brother Beebe: – I have been a reader of the “Signs of the Times” for thirty years, and I do not remember that I ever read anything in them that inspired the same degree of pleasure as the communication of Elder J. F. Johnson in the 22nd number of the 35th volume. [On the subject of Regeneration.] Not that he presented any new truth, or because he presented the old in a new dress; but because it seemed to be presented with such force and beauty as to carry conviction at once to the mind of the reader that it was the Truth and nothing but the Truth. I have not the vanity to suppose myself capable of adding anything to either its force or beauty, nor is this communication designed for any such purpose. But as the doctrine as expressed by brother Johnson has encountered considerable opposition, I thought perhaps it would afford him some little gratification if even I should endorse the doctrine, as I fully and emphatically do.
Old School Baptists have ever been distinguished for the pertinency with which they have insisted upon the necessity of the new birth. But alas for many, when their views of what constitutes the new birth are investigated, they are found to be vague and ill defined ideas about the operations of the Spirit of God upon the human soul, changing it from natural to spiritual, or a birth without pre-existence or regeneration.
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 own 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 and head as necessarily as that the natural seed must have one. Some plants and vines may be propagated by cuttings, but however much they may be multiplied by this process, all may be traced to an original seed, and the fruit will ever show the original kind. 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, or that two nations should be in the womb of Rebekah. (Genesis 17:16). Those [so-called] Old School Baptists who believe in making a spiritual man out of a natural one, only differ from their christian friends of other denominations as to what is necessary to be done in order to effect this change. Both virtually repudiate the new birth, and both contradict the apostle, who declares, “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.” If the natural man can receive the things of the Spirit of God, with what consistency can any man oppose any or all of the systems that are now employed for educating, scaring, or otherwise imparting such a conception? Or whence arises any necessity for his being born again? If it be necessary that a man should be born again in order to his seeing the kingdom of God, it must be because nature, or the fleshly birth, furnishes no faculties, no matter how highly they may be improved, or how diligently applied, that can comprehend or receive the things of the Spirit of God. The new birth must therefore be a development and bringing forth of other faculties, and these of a higher order, else nothing is gained by being born again.
Brother Johnson has shown so clearly that everything that is born must first exist, that it would look like plagiarism for me to attempt to argue the subject further. He has also shown with equal clearness that the term “regenerate” refers to their first begetting, and not to being born or bringing forth. I have often felt a curiosity to know how those persons who believe regeneration and the new birth are synonymous expressions, and that when it is effected the natural man is changed into a spiritual man, or at least that the natural soul, which is the life and ruling principle, is so changed, get along when they find any remains of carnality, or any propensity towards evil. It seems to me they ought at once to abandon either their hope or their doctrine. I cannot see how they can still maintain both. The Bible view of the doctrine, however, teaches how one may be a sinner, and yet a saint – how he may exhibit the fruits of the flesh and the fruits of the Spirit, and how he may die and yet live. All Truth is calculated to strengthen and encourage the hopes of the believer, and the only effect of error is to confuse and confound. The same spirit that indited the effusions of prophets and apostles writes that same Truth in the hearts of God’s children. Hence, whenever the truth is proclaimed it finds a ready response in the experience of the children; and whenever doubts and fears arise, it is always from a misapprehension of what the truth is. Thus “I see so much evil and indwelling corruption in my nature, I fear that I have not been born again,” is a conclusion that could only be reached by supposing that the new birth eradicates all this corruption, and makes the person holy. But if the Truth teaches that in the new birth there is imparted and brought forth a new principle, that is at variance with all the workings of nature, without destroying or changing a single one of all the affections, passions, or lusts that belong to nature, and the Christian, like the apostle Paul, finds a law in his members warring against the law of the mind, or “the flesh lusting against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh.” That fact, while it may make him often cry, “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from this body of death?” Yet is a sure guarantee that he is the subject of this spiritual birth, for so the Gospel teaches.
But I will not pursue this subject further at this time.
Yours, very truly,
Mannassa, Virginia, Nov. 19, 1867 R. C. Leachman.