By Larry Ray Hafley
Many criticize the Old Baptists when we teach that we can do nothing to effect the new birth in ourselves or in others. We believe that just as in our natural birth we had nothing to do with effecting it – so we have nothing to do in our spiritual birth. Keep in mind that it is our Lord’s use of the word “birth” to describe this event. Surely the “new” birth must be like our “natural” birth or the Lord used a poor example. Perish the thought! When the Arminian world can show us that anyone has something to do in bringing about his own natural birth, we will begin to listen to them on this matter (Elder Eddie K. Garrett, The Hardshell Baptist p. 1, April, 1986).
Mr. Garrett’s analogy is clear and concise. While we are not arguing as an “Arminian,” we want to examine Mr. Garrett’s parallel. It is not our design to show that one “has something to do in bringing about his own natural birth,” for he does not and cannot. In that connection, Garrett is correct.
Mr. Garrett’s fatal flaw is in making a parallel the Lord did not construct. The Lord’s point and purpose was not to equate man’s passivity or inaction regarding physical birth to his spiritual birth. What, then, was His objective? Namely, this: Nicodemus stood before the Son of God as a child of Abraham with the blood of the great and grand patriarch pulsing and throbbing through his veins. As such, he could neither see nor sense any spiritual need. “We be Abraham’s seed . . . Abraham is our father we have one Father, even God” Qn. 8:33,39,41). This was Nicodemus’ confidence (cf. Phil. 3:3-6; Gal. 3:26-29; 4:21-31). Jesus’ aim was to show Nicodemus that his fleshly birth as Abraham’s seed would not avail. “Despite your proud heritage, Nicodemus, ‘ye must be born again.”‘ That was the Lord’s object. It was to tell him that he had to be born again, that his Abrahamic, fleshly, birth would not suffice. It was not the Lord’s intention to parallel either the passivity or the activity of the two births.
“A Poor Example”
If an analogy, illustration or metaphor one uses to establish a point does not fit, “a poor example” has been employed (slower than the ace of spades; as black as a bride’s dress). In this case, however, the poor example is the result of Mr. Garrett’s tortured use of the Lord’s comparison. He assumes the point he needs to prove and announces that if we disagree with his conclusion we are saying the Lord is guilty of using Cc a poor example.” No, Mr. Garrett is the one who has inserted a thought into the new birth that Jesus never intended.
Nearly all standard reference works that treat the Lord’s parables and figures of speech warn the student not to extend the parable or parallel beyond the chief aim of the context. Mr. Garrett has not heeded this warning.
If one wanted to charge the Lord with “a poor example,” he could do so very easily concerning the new birth. For example: (1) A physical birth is the beginning of an entirely new being, but the new birth involves the transition from one state to another. One may live in sin and be a servant of sin (Rom. 6:16-21; Col. 3:5-10; Eph. 2:1-3; 4:22-24). When that servant is regenerated, he puts off “the old man,” the old manner of life, and puts “on the new man,” the new manner of life, and begins to “walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4-6). Should we, then, accuse the Lord of using “a poor example,” because a physical birth involves a new life in toto, whereas the new birth of John 3 does not? No, because that would be forcing an element into the example which the Lord never had in mind.
(2) A physical birth results in a life independent of its parents or progenitors. They may die but the baby can live. Its life is not essentially tied to the life of its bearers. But this is not true of the new birth. In the spiritual birth, one’s life is not independent of its Begetter – “This life is in His Son” (1 Jn. 5:11; cf. Jn. 15:5,6). One’s physical parent can die. Our spiritual Parent cannot die. Should we charge the Lord with “a poor example” in John 3:3,5, because this particular aspect does not fit the birth analogy? No, because that was not the Lord’s point. He was not using the new birth to teach that one’s life is bound to God in the same sense that a baby’s life is to its parents.
(3) A physical birth, indeed, does not involve the will of the child. One who does not exist obviously cannot have a choice in his birth. But Mr. Garrett admits that the item that is spiritually regenerated exists before the Lord gives it the new birth. Even accepting Mr. Garrett’s theology (he believes that one has no choice or will in deciding whether he is to be born again), he is still faced with an inconsistency. Note it. He says that if we say one has a choice in being “born again” that we thereby cause the Lord to have used “a poor example,” since the baby cannot choose to be born. Well, Mr. Garrett unwittingly has fallen into his own trap. Here is how. Regardless of whether or not one has a will or choice in his being “born again,” Mr. Garrett will concede that the “dead, alien sinner,” the child of the devil, exists. It is upon this sinner, this child, that the Spirit operates and effects the new birth, according to Elder Garrett. So, even Garrett causes the Lord to have used “a poor example,” for the physical baby that is born does not exist beforehand for the parents to act upon and beget. But he does exist in the spiritual realm for the Spirit to act upon and to beget. Mr. Garrett’s illustration backfires on him.
(As an aside, one cannot even use the term, “regenerate,” without implying that something exists to be regenerated, to receive the new birth.)
Figures of Speech
The word of God uses a number of things to demonstrate our fellowship with God. We are “married” to Christ (Rom. 7:4; 2 Cor. 11:3). We are circumcised with the circumcision of Christ (Col. 2:11-13). We are “grafted in” (Rom. 11:23; cf. Jn. 15:1-6). In all of these comparisons, there are things not under consideration that could be used to make void the initial thought or analogy. For instance: (1) A Christian is married to Christ (Rom. 7:4; cf. Jas. 4:4). Can a man be married to “the man Christ Jesus”? Man to man marriage? (2) God wants one person married to only one person. Yet Christ is married to many people. Is this spiritual polygamy? By perverting the point, it is made absurd. (3) The body of the sins of the flesh is circumcised by the circumcision of Christ (Col. 2:11-13). But the figure is drawn from the Old Testament ordinance and involves only men. Are women exempted from this spiritual circumcision since the type or pattern originated only with men? By going beyond the intent of the analogy, the lesson is rendered useless. By the same token, the new birth is not “a poor example” in the matter under study until someone like Mr. Garrett introduces a thought that is not germane to the topic.
When Mr. Garrett Will Listen
Mr. Garrett said, “When the Arminian world can show us that anyone has something to do in bringing about his own natural birth, we will begin to listen to them on this matter” (whether one can do anything to effect the new birth).
Suppose I said, “When the Calvinian world is able to show that one’s physical life is dependent on the continued life of his physical parents, we will begin to listen to them on this matter. ” Would that be reasonable? It would be unfair because that analogy is not in the scope of the Lord’s argument.
Or suppose I said, “When the Calvinian world can show us that God approves of marriage between one person and scores of others, we will begin to listen to them on this matter” (of many being married to Christ)? Would that be a true proposal? And, again, what if I said, “When the Calvinian world can show us that females were circumcised in the Old Testament as the males were, we will begin to listen to them on this matter” of females receiving the circumcision of Christ? Would that be a rational proposition? No, and for the same reason, neither is Garrett’s pledge to listen to us concerning whether one has a part in effecting the new birth.
One does have something to do with effecting the new birth (Jn. 1:11-13; 3:36; 5:24,25,40; 8:24; Matt. 7:21; 11:28-30; Lk. 13:34; Rev. 22:17). If not, whose fault is it if he is never born again? The devil does not want you to be born again, as Garrett will agree. Garrett says you cannot do anything about it; so, whose fault is it if you are not born again? The dead sinner must “hear the voice of the Son of God and they that hear shall live” (Jn. 5:25). God calls by His Spirit through the gospel (Jn. 6:44,45; Rom. 1:16; 2 Thess. 2:13,14), and “whosoever will” may come (Acts 10:34,35; 2:38,39; Mk. 16:15,16).
One must do the will of the Father to enter the kingdom (Matt. 7:21; 183; Jn. 3:3,5). So, if you would be “born again,” if you would receive “eternal salvation,” you must choose to believe and obey (Heb. 5:8,9; 11:6; 1 Pet. 1:22). Do not allow men like Mr. Garrett to deceive you.
Guardian of Truth XXX; 14, pp. 425-426
July 17, 1986