by Christian Burkholder (1746-1809), Groffdale, Pennsylvania
Question One. I find myself at times under strong convictions of mind, as well as under heavy accusations of conscience, so that I am convinced I cannot stand before God in my present sinful state. Indeed my state is worse than I can express in words. Nor do I know where to turn to so as to get good and safe instruction, as I am in want of experience and information in such matters. What then shall I do?
Answer. True and safe instruction is to be obtained only of Christ, our faithful Lord and Master, who called the “little children” unto Him (Luke 18:16), and who also commanded His disciples; “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not.” Yea, He calls upon all and says: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matt. 11:28, 29).
Ques. 2. I hear so many calls at the present time, of which some are also very earnest; nevertheless, I see that those who do call are not agreed with one another. Hence it appears to me at times that there is nothing fundamental any more—nothing whereon one may depend. Besides, everyone says, “Only look to Jesus.” Is then Christ divided?
Ans. Christ says to His disciples : “Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone” (John 16:32). Divisions grow out of man’s pride and self-will, and these again have a tendency to produce their like in others, namely, pride and self-will. Man’s will is born of the flesh, and partakes of the corruption of the rest of his nature. But the “seed of the woman shall bruise the head of the serpent,” with all his wiles and tricks. Christ is therefore not divided, for we are all one in Christ. So John the evangelist well clears up this matter when he says, “Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). There is only one good Shepherd of your soul, in whom you may trust with confidence. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father, but by Him. John 14:6.
Ques. 3. The new birth always appears to me a serious and important matter, and there is in our time much talk and noise about it. In deed I am convinced that it is a matter that is absolutely necessary to salvation, and I have therefore a strong desire for it. Nevertheless, I am afraid of being deceived. Now can I not be advised how to obtain it without being deceived and imposed upon?
Ans. The work of the new birth is a wonderful work, and is effected by God in the soul through Christ. But I am not to dictate to God how He is to go to work to effect the same in you. If you yield yourself up wholly into the hands of God, without resistance, He will commence, and also finish, the work of the new birth in your soul. It is brought about not indeed of “corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever” (I Pet. 1:23). “Verily, verily, I say unto thee. Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again” (John 3 :5-7). The new birth takes place in the heart.
Therefore the Saviour compares it to the wind, which we hear but cannot see. Wind and water are strong elements which are serviceable to the preservation of human life. The spiritual wind which Jesus breathes upon the soul, and the water which He offers lit (John 7:37), are the gifts of God for the preservation of the life of the soul. “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee. Give me to drink; thou wouldst have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water” (John 4:10). Christ cleansed His church with the “washing of water by the word” (Eph. 5:26). The words of Christ are “spirit and life” (John 6:36). Now if Christ thus cleanses His church, namely, with the “washing of water by the word,” then indeed we may say, we are born of the Word and of the Spirit. By the Word were all things made that were made. “In him was life; and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4). The water that He gives to us, shall be in us “a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14).
Ques. 4. You speak of the new birth as you read of it in the Bible. But have you no experience of it, so that you can speak of it from experience?
Ans. My experience can help you nothing, nor can your experience help me anything. Besides, boasting much of ourselves is the work of the “old man.” Christ identifies the new birth with the following of Him. He says, “Ye which have followed me, in the regeneration . . .” (Matt. 19:28). A follower of Christ is in his whole course of life, a light of the world and a salt to the earth (Matt. 5:13,14), whereby the tree is known by its fruit. Which indeed is the only sign whereby the children of God may be known. If you talk much of your experience and your life shows the contrary, you will become a laughingstock before the world, and a hypocrite before God.
Ques. 5. How far may then a person get in the new birth ?
Ans. I, for my part, wish from the heart that every one might advance further in the new birth than I have done. But the Spirit of God will make the Word of God new in your soul, that it will become sharper to you than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). The new birth as already remarked—takes place in the heart, and, in so far as Jesus, the true Word of Life, becomes life and light to your soul, in so far will the thoughts and intents of your heart be changed. And if you thus continue in the work of the new birth, your carnal and sinful nature will be brought into death.
Ques. 6. Can a person born again also yet commit sin?
Ans. You must closely attend to the words of the Saviour, and you will see that He makes a distinction in the matter. He says, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3: 6). Again Paul says: “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit” (I Cor. 15:50, 45). So Paul also says further: “I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. . . . Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me” (Rom. 7 :18, 20). Again John says, “All unrighteousness is sin” (I John 5:17). Now since in your flesh there “dwelleth no good thing,” your corruptible body will scarcely become so pure as to be free from all unrighteousness. Christ says, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41).
The new birth does not sin, as John says, “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God” (I John 3: 9). Out of the godly seed which a believing soul receives from Christ in regeneration, no sin certainly grows, but it may grow out of the evil which exists in man’s nature. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1 :8, 9). So you see that you must well distinguish between the body of the Lord, and the body of sin and death.
Ques. 7. Is then the new birth indispensably necessary to salvation? And is it something great?
Ans. The new birth is something very necessary, and is a chief article of salvation. For Christ says: “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. . . . Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again” (John 3:3,7). By being born of God we do not become anything great in this world, but we obtain the “adoption” which was lost in Adam, as Christ testifies, “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3). “Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth” (Ps. 110:3).
Christ has given us in His birth a pattern of true humility. Thither, namely, to His manger, we are to direct our course. Indeed He has given us in His birth, doctrine, and life, an example of childlike humility. Those who are born of Christ have become partakers of His nature and virtues. He, “according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope” (I Peter 1:3).
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