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A Sermon by Elder James Whitsitt

Preached to the Second Baptist Church in Nashville
Revised and enlarged for the Tennessee Baptist, 1849
Published by Request

      "Jesus answered, Verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" - John 3:5.

      It is said in the preceding chapter that when the people saw the miracles which Christ did, many believed on him. Nicodemus was one of those believers. "Rabbi, (said he) we know that thou art a teacher come from God; for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be him," and this was the extent of his faith. Jesus Christ knowing what instruction Nicodemus most needed, began at once on the vital part of Christianity, and the text is a part of his explanation. The third verse shows what must be, and the fifth verse shows how it must be. He shows that the water is the instrument in this work, and the spirit is the agent.

      In further prosecuting this subject I design to show 1. The perversion of this text. 2. Show the true meaning of the text. 3. Make some use of the text. To show the perversion of the text I must be permitted to quote from the Episcopal church, the oldest Protestant church among us. The Episcopal minister proceeds as follows: -

"Dearly beloved, forasmuch as all men are conceived and born in sin; and our Saviour Christ saith, none can enter into the kingdom of God, except he be except he be regenerate and born anew of water and of the Holy Ghost; I beseech you to call upon God the Father, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that of his bounteous mercy, he will grant to this child that which by nature he cannot have, that he may be baptized with water and the Holy Ghost, and received into Christ's holy church, and be made a living member of the same."

"O merciful God grant that the old Adam in this child may be so buried, that the new man may be raised up in him. Grant that all sinful affections may die in him and that that all things belonging to the spirit may live and grow in him. Grant that he may have power and strength to have victory, and to triumph against the devil, the world and the flesh. Amen."

      I will now introduce the prayer of thanksgiving for the regeneration of the child. -
"We yield thee hearty thanks, most merciful Father, that it hath pleased thee to regenerate this infant with the Holy Spirit, to receive him for thine own child by adoption, and to incorporate him into thy holy church. And humbly we beseech thee to grant, that he, being dead unto sin, and living unto righteousness, and being buried with Christ in his death, may crucify the old man, and utterly abolish the whole body of sin: and that as he is made partaker of the death of thy Son, he may also be partaker of his resurrection; so that finally, with the residue of thy holy church, he may be an inheritor of thine everlasting kingdom, through Christ our Lord. Amen."
      It seems that the Episcopalians in their ceremony of baptism have never failed to produce regeneration in the subject. Mr. Wesley's testimony is a confirmation of this fact.
"There may be" (said he) "the outward sign where there is not the inward grace. I do not now speak with regard to infants. It is evident that our church supposes that all who are baptized in their infancy are at the same time born again and it is allowed that the whole office for the baptizing of infants proceeds upon this supposition."
      Mr. Wesley knew the sentiments of the Episcopal church on that subject, and he knew that there is neither precept nor example for infant baptism in the New Testament, and that it must have some foundation or it would fall, and supposition is the only resort for any body. It is well known that believers' baptism is supported by the scripture, and none denies it, and it is as well known to Bible readers that infant baptism is supported by the ingenuity of man.

      I now offer reasons showing that baptism is not in this text

      1. Jesus Christ had no reference to baptism in his discourse with Nicodemus. The blowing of the wind has no likeness to water baptism. "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the spirit." - John 3:8.

      God is sovereign of the wind, he blows where he pleases, and when he pleases, and none can raise the wind but him. Just so, the operation of the spirit in regeneration Christ compares to the blowing of the wind, which is equally sovereign.

      2. The apostle Peter tells us what baptism doth, and what it doth not do. "The figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I Peter 3:20 "Eight souls were saved by water." By much water they passed from the old world to the new. In a like figure, the church passes from the old state of death and sin, to a new state of grace and life. - Baptism doth not put away sin but it saves doctrinally, it leads to the cause wherewith sin is put away, it leads to the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. "Who was delivered for our offences and was raised again for our justification." - Romans 4:25. Baptism is the answer of a good conscience, it doth not make a good conscience, for that is done by the blood of Christ, purging it from dead works, which must be done before its answer is worth any thing.

      3. We have seen that baptism is the answer of a good conscience and that is the extent of its efficacy. To say more of it, places it too high, and sets it in opposition to the general tenure of scripture, it doth not put away sin, as may be seen by the following witnesses: 1 John 1:7. "The blood of Jesus Christ, his Son cleanseth us from all sin." If so baptism cleanseth us from no sin. "To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth on him shall receive remission of sins. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace. In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins." - Acts l0:43, Ephesians l:7. Colossians 1:14.

      4. In offering this reason I will introduce a prayer used by the Episcopal church at the baptism of those of riper years.

"Almighty and everlasting God, heavenly Father, we give thee humble thanks, for that thou hast vouchsafed to call us to the knowledge of thy grace, and faith in thee: increase this knowledge, and confirm this faith in us ever more. Give thy Holy Spirit to these persons that they may be born again, and be made heirs of everlasting salvation, through our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen."
      I apprehend that the persons of riper years about to be baptized are believers. I will give their question and answer on this point. "What is required of persons to be baptized? Ans. "Repentance whereby they forsake sin, and faith whereby they believe at the promises made them in that sacrament." The believers in the estimation of this church, must be such who believe that Jesus is the Christ. "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that believeth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him." =I John 5:1. The Holy Spirit by the apostle identifies the very birth that Jesus Christ taught Nicodemus. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the spirit is spirit." - John 3:6. One birth brings mankind into natural state, and one brings men into a spiritual state, one to each state, and one only. Marvel not that I said unto thee, ye must be born again." - Verse 7. I marvel that the Episcopal church should have two new births.

      5. Divine providence slights this baptismal regeneration fore and aft, he regenerates many before they come to the church for water regeneration, and many others long afterwards, and many others die in their sins, although it was said they were born again in their baptism. The Lord knows that there is no baptism in the text, and therefore he ships their baptismal regeneration.

      6. What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder. He hath joined the water, and spirit together in the new birth, the spirit is the agent, the water is the instrument, and faith the evidence of the new birth. No man can be born of the water that is not born of the spirit. No man can be born of the water and the spirit, that doth not believe that Jesus is the Christ. "No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost." - I Corinthians 12:2. "From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him." These were never born of water and the spirit, and yet they were baptized. Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John." - John 6:66, 4:1. "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us; but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us." - I John 2: 19. These never were born of water and spirit, and yet were they baptized. A goat never was, and while such, never will be born of water and the spirit, and yet many of them have been baptized. - "And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice: and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, I said unto you." - John 10:4, 14, 16. Persons born of water and of the spirit, are fruitful in good works. For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of bramble-bush gather they grapes." - Luke 6: 43, 44. To be born of water and of the spirit is a pledge of eternal life. "And I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me. - Genesis 32:40. - "Verily, verily. I say unto you, he that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life." - John 5:24.

      It is supposed by many that there are passages which confirm the idea that baptism is in the text under consideration, which I will now examine. Titus 3:5. "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost." The apostle shuts baptism out of this text, for it is well known that baptism is a believer's duty and act of righteousness. Baptism was never called regeneration until it was found to be a regenerating ordinance.

      Acts 22:16. "Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord." "And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual rock that followed them: and that rock was Christ." - 1 Corinthians 10:4. That rock was not Christ truly or literally, but figuratively. Baptism does not wash away sins truly or literally, but figuratively. - "Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood." Revelation 1:5.

      Acts 2. "Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins." No subject has ever received the remission of sins in baptism, but in baptism they have professed it and published it. Acts 13:38. "Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins," and not through baptism. If the remission procured in baptism, the answer to the same question was not full, for the jailor said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" "And they said, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house." - Acts 16:30, 31. Baptism never procured the remission of sins, neither is it the medium through which the knowledge of it is conveyed to the soul.

      This is a Catholic doctrine. It is notorious that the Episcopalians baptize their children because they are so bad. The Presbyterians baptize theirs because they are so good. The one baptize because their children are born in sin, the other baptize because they suppose their children, born in grace. See Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechism. There are many devices in a man's heart; nevertheless the council of the lord, that shall stand." - Proverbs 19:21.

      I now proceed to tie consideration of the second proposition, which is to show the true meaning of the text. - And I say again, that to be born of water, is to be born of the spirit at the same time. There are no half births in God's family, if such a birth could be, it produces neither a son nor a bastard. The agent, and the word of God the instrument in the new birth. I cannot say that God uses instrumentality in the regeneration of every soul he brings to himself. No, there are some things he does which are secret. I conclude however, that he uses instrumentality in the regeneration of al souls born again within the range of the apostolic commission. They were to teach and baptize, those who received their instruction, and by promise was, and still is, with their words to make them effectual in the conversion of sinners and in the establishing of saints. "For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and breed, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it." - Isaiah 55:10, 11.

      First I will introduce those passages which bears some analogy to water. "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth." John 17:17. "Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you." John 15:3. "And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the spirit of our God." I Corinthians 6:11. "Husband love your wives even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it: that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word. That he might present to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing: but that it should be holy and without blemish." Ephesians 5:25, 27. "Now by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost." Titus 3:5. "Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren. See that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently: Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever." I Peter 1:22, 23.

      Second, I now introduce passages to show that the witnesses stated above, do prove that the word of God is the instrument in the hand of the spirit in the new birth represented by water. "This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days saith the Lord. I will put my laws into their hearts anti in their minds will I write them: and their sins and iniquities will I remember no more." Hebrews 10:16, 17. This is what the Lord does when he regenerates the soul, but these laws existed in the scriptures before the Lord put them in the hearts of his people. "For as much as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the spirit of the living God, not in tables of stone, but in fleshly tables of the heart." I Corinthians 3:3.

      It will not be denied that the new birth is embraced in this text ministered by the apostles, but Paul ascribes no virtue to himself, he gives the glory to God, and well he did, for it was God who managed, their doctrine to that purpose. "Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man." "I have planted, Apollos watered: but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth, but God that giveth the increase." "For we are laborers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building." I Corinthians 3:5, 6, 7, 9. "And it came to pass in Iconium, that they went both together into the synagogue of the Jews, and so spake that a great multitude both of the Jews and also of the Greeks believed." Acts 14:1. Here is a clear example of the word operating with the spirit in the regeneration of souls. To be born of the water and of the spirit is metaphorically true and it is equally true that the word and the spirit operates together, literally in that work, and that the water, in the text under consideration means the word. So that a man must be born of the word, and the spirit, to enter into the kingdom of God. I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. Therefore, whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believe. Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, - Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: for I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city. And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them. Acts 18:9, 10, 11. The Lord purposed to regenerate his people in Corinth, and detained Paul there, that be might be one of the instruments in that work: "What shall we say then, is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said thou shalt not covet. But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came sin revived and I died." Romans 7:7-9.

      I have quoted part of Paul's experience while in the house of Judas, and it is in point. Can any man say that Paul was not born of the word and of the spirit? Or is there any man with this testimony before him that will say that Paul was regenerated in his baptism? and if Paul was not, none ever was. Under this head I have proved, beyond successful contradiction that the word of God, and the Holy Ghost are associated in the regeneration of the soul, which proves the true meaning of the text under consideration.

      3rd. I proceed now to quote passages on regeneration in contradistinction to baptismal regeneration. "But as many as received him, to them gave the power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." John 1:12, 13. Here I might stop, this text settles the point, those who believe in baptismal regeneration. Suppose that all who are baptized are at the same time born again. It is man that baptizeth, he leads in the work, he makes the motion and suppose the Lord seconds it, and so the subject is born again according to the will of man. "nDo not err, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. Of his own will begatnn "But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved.) For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God not of works, lest any man should boast, for we are his workmanship; created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God bath before ordained that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:4, 5, 8, 9, 10.

      I here close the testimony shewing a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.

      3rd. Use, Shall be a word of admonition. Brethren, it is hoped that your souls are regenerated, but your bodies are not.

      "Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the Lord." Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the spirit do mortify the deeds of the body ye shall live. God plants grace in the soul to keep under the sin of the body, to do which will require, much prayer and watchfulness, but it is better to watch and pray one hour, than to set up all night.

      This I say then, walk in the spirit, and ye shall fulfill the lust of the flesh, for the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh: and then are contrary the one to the other that ye cannot do the things that ye would. Brethren, if you cannot do as well as you wish, do as well as you can. (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds:) casting down imaginations: and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. Brethren, you have three fleshly daughters that will give you trouble, your only successful course with them is to starve them to death. "For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.

      4th. Use, Shall be a word of instruction. Dearly beloved brethren, ye are not your own. "Ye are bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit which are God's. For as much as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers: but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: Who, verily was fore-ordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you. What a price, for poor sinful man.

"This was compassion like a God,
That when the Saviour knew,
The price of pardon was his blood,
His pity ne'er withdrew."

      Christ is the door into the invisible kingdom. "I am the door by me if any man enter it, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out and find pasture." Although the church is invisible in one sense, yet in another she is visible. Baptism distinguishes her from the world, and is the door of admission.

      "Then they that gladly received his word were baptised: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls." In the church it behooves all christians to have fellowship. And every christian ought to labor to be of public use. "By love serve one another." The Lord could have taken you home as soon as he regenerated you, but that is not his plan, he has left you here to be "the salt of the earth," to be "the light of the world." You have opened your mouth to the Lord and you cannot go back, without blame. It will take your whole life to prove the sincerity of your possession. It is not enough that you shun evil, but you are to shun the appearance of evil. "Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness but rather reprove them." As much as possible, let warm hearted Christians be your companions. "He that walks with wise men shall he wise." Evil communications, always did and always will corrupt good manners. As much as possible attend your meetings, more especially on church day, on these days, your pastors will be most apt to feed their flocks, and yon will need strengthening doctrine. “Honor the Lord with thy substance, and with the first fruits of all thine increase." Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? Who planteth a vineyard and eateth not of the fruit thereon or who feedeth a flock and eateth not of the milk of the flock? Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel. You surely will do more for your pastors, than praise their sermons and give them good Sunday dinners.

      5th Use, Shall be a word of direction to the unregenerate.

      My dear sirs: I have showed you in the preceding discourse that although regeneration is the sovereign work of God in the soul of man, yet that his revealed word is the instrument in that work. "The law of the Lord is perfect in converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple." But although the word of God is thus effectual, yet it can avail nothing unless it enters the heart. And for the word of God to enter the heart, it must pass through the eyes or the ears. "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." I would advise the unregenerate in the first place, to ascertain his true character to know where he stands. A knowledge of a man's condition, will make him restless, and will bring him to his knees. If a man has no sense of his sickness. he will not call for the physician. Jesus Christ is the sinners physician, all sufficient to save to the utmost all that come to God by him. "Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for man: yea, for the rebellious also; that the Lord God might dwell among them." The last, refuge for a rebel and the best is to throw himself on the mercy of the court, and the only chance for the rebel sinner is to throw himself on the mercy of God thro' Christ, and the sooner the better. "God be merciful to me a sinner," is the rebel's prayer. God is rich unto all that call upon him in sincerity and truth. May God help you to do it today. Amen.


[From J. R. Graves, editor, Tennessee Baptist, February 1, 1849 pp. 1-2. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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