The New Birth
The New Birth

We feature today an editorial on baptism from 1866, the inaugural year of Christian Standard, written by founding editor Isaac Errett. This editorial comes by way of a series of articles published throughout 1909, a year we celebrated “One Hundred Years—A Century of Progress in America’s Greatest Christian Union Movement.” The magazine devoted one issue each month to articles that explained our movement, its history, and our beliefs.

Carrying that theme forward another 110 years, we are devoting one “Throwback Thursday” each month to items that appeared in those special issues. Today’s article was published—or republished—in March 13, 1909.

I should note that most of the historic articles in “Centennial Special No. 3” focused on Walter Scott—his history, preaching style, and a sermon he preached about the Holy Spirit. I gave serious consideration to sharing Scott’s very good (but quite long) sermon, but we’ve highlighted Scott two of the past three weeks (bad planning on my part).

And so . . . here is Isaac Errett’s detailed explanation of what happens at baptism. [Note: The editorial begins with an excerpt from a sermon by a minister from Cleveland.)

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The New Birth

(An Editorial)

By the Saviour himself we are told that to be born again means to be born of water and the Spirit. One important conclusion is established by this explanation, viz.: That any doctrine which asserts that the new birth consists entirely in a change of heart, or in a renewal of the inner man by the Spirit of God, is an erroneous one, for the Saviour declares expressly that it consists in being born of water and the Spirit. It is noteworthy here that those who speak of a new birth as a wonderful inward experience, wholly omit the word water from the consideration of the subject; and yet it would be just as correct to omit the word Spirit as to omit the word water; for it is declared with a verily, that the new birth consists of being born of both.

Again, it is evident that being born of water and of the Spirit is one act, or one new birth; for we are not required to be born again twice. Therefore we are not born again with water at one time, and born again of the Spirit at another time, making two new births.—Sermon on the New Birth by Rev. Wm. Allen Fiske, Rector of Grace Church, Cleveland.

That we are “born of water” when we are baptized is apparent. 1. Because in baptism only is water employed, by divine authority in the Gospel.

2. From the office which baptism performs. It changes the state or relations of the subject of it—taking him out of the world, out of a state of condemnation, and bringing him into the Church, “into Christ,” and consequently into a state of justification. Birth is only a change of state. There is life before there is birth. So there is spiritual life before there is spiritual birth. Birth conveys a living being into new conditions of being; so does baptism, or the birth of water, convey the believing penitent into new conditions of spiritual life. In nature and in grace, the order is 1. Negative life. 2. Birth. 3. Positive life.

In this view, what is involved in regeneration?

1. A change of views and principles—Faith.

2. A change of feelings, desires and purposes—Repentance.

3. A change of state or relationship—Baptism.

When a sinner is changed in his views and principles, so as to withdraw from every false trust, and trust in Christ for salvation; changed in his affections and purposes, so as to cease to love sin, and give his heart to God; changed in his state so that he passes over from the world which he has renounced, into the Church of Christ, and into covenant relationship with God as his Saviour—he is a new creature—“old things are passed away, behold all things are new.” The principles of his life are new; his desires are new; his aims are new; he has new surroundings, a new rule of life, new hopes, and a new destiny; his sins are forgiven; he is a child of God, a brother of the Redeemer, a partaker of the Spirit, and an heir of Heaven.

There is no instantaneous change wrought in his baptism, except a change of state. A change of state is of necessity instantaneous. In becoming a citizen of a nation, in entering on married life, in assuming an office in the State, or in entering the Church of Christ, the change of state is instantaneous; but the change of mind and heart that prepared the way for this change of state must have been more or less gradual.

Another remark needs to be made, to clear this subject of confusion: remission of sins is not regeneration. Regeneration is a change wrought in us, or with us. But forgiveness is not wrought in our heart, but in God’s heart. God forgives—but we are regenerated. The evidence of God’s forgiveness may be communicated to our hearts—but not miraculously. It is conveyed in the gospel to every heart that believes and obeys, in the words, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” The phrase “be baptized for the remission of sins,” can not be properly employed to prove baptismal regeneration, because “remission of sins” and “regeneration” are not equivalents: the one denoting a change in God toward us, the other denoting a change wrought in us. The proper value of baptism is in conveying to the penitent believer an assurance of pardon. The proper value of faith and repentance is in changing the vices, desires and purposes of the heart. This inward change, wrought by faith and repentance, and the outward change of state, wrought by baptism, together constitute regeneration. The only office of baptism, in regeneration, is to change the state of him who is already changed in heart.

It will be seen then that we stand equidistant from the baptismal regenerationists and the spiritual regenerationists. The former contend for an instantaneous regeneration in baptism; the latter for an instantaneous reneneration without baptism. With us, regeneration is a process, accomplished—1. By planting faith in the heart, through the word of God. 2. By leading the sinner to repentance through the motives which the Gospel unfolds. 3. By effecting a change of state, through baptism into Christ. This process merely gives life, and places the living being, thus born of water and the Spirit, under spiritual conditions where his new life may be fostered into development, and be guided into obedience to all the will of God.—Christian Standard Editorial, 1866.

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Jim Nieman, managing editor, Christian Standard

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1 Comment

  1. April 8, 2019 at 7:12 pm

    I studied this and many Restoration Movement writings during my college days. Now, 47 years later, I still find these truths standing as founded on the Rock. When I visit “churches,” I see sometimes the message is more denominational and divided. During my prayer time, I discussed this with God and told Him of my difficulty dealing with followers that are involved with the divided, denominated daughters of the church of Babylon teaching all sorts of things. God reminded me that Jesus told the disciples not to stop followers doing good in his name or just because they are in a different group. We are not to judge another’s servant. If they are serving Jesus, He is their master. The ones not yet following all of Jesus’ commands are disobedient or ignorant children and must be taught, with love, the simple gospel as Priscilla and Aquila did for Apollos. (Ephesians 4:5; Galatians 5:14, 15; Hebrews 12:14, 15).

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