The relationship that all the family of Adam bear to each other in our natural life is one of dependence. We can in no sense stand alone, independent of our fellow man. In the beginning, when God created man in his own image, “male and female created he them,” he gave them a law, inherent in their being and indelibly fixed, to be wrought out and manifested in their natural life. In the divine arrangement man was made a multiple character, in order to carry out and fulfill the law of nature implanted in him. The law is as follows: “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth and subdue it. And have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowls of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” This law was primary to all laws, and preceded the law or commandment that was given to Adam in the garden, and differed from if, in that the first law told him what he must Do, while the other told him what he must not do. The first law was irrevocable, because it was the law of his natural being, and could not be broken. The second was opposite and contrary to his carnal nature, and it was a part of the divine arrangement that it should be broken. For God did not say, If thou eatest of the fruit of which I told thee not to eat thou wilt die, but he did say, “For in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shall surely die.” Man, then, is a multiple character, and in the multiplication of Adam every man is dependent upon his fellow men in order to fulfill the law given him in the creation. If the minds of all men were a unit, and their natural inclinations and tastes and desires ran in the same channel, they never could subdue the earth as the Lord God commanded that they should. But in the dispensation of God’s wisdom there are many men of many minds, as there are many birds of many kinds. Of the first two men that were born of woman into this world, one was a keeper of sheep, and the other was a tiller of the ground. And as they multiplied and replenished the earth in obedience to the natural law, they branched out into every avenue of production, in science, in agriculture and the arts, stimulated by that necessity which was decreed of the Lord, “In the sweat, of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return unto the ground.” And now with our mind’s eye we scan the whole earth and the seas thereof. And we find that man has subdued the earth as God said he should. The mighty waters of the ocean are subservient to the mind and will of man, serving him as the servant serves his Master. The bowels of the earth bring forth their rich treasures by reason of his skill and ingenuity, while the surface of the earth produces the bread which sustains him. In all this man is dependent upon his fellow man, and every man requires and demands the forbearance of his neighbor; not through a law of love, but by the law of necessity. It is, I think, an undisputed point in the doctrine of truth, that, had not the law or commandment given man in the garden been disobeyed, he never could have fulfilled the first law of his nature. This was necessary for the multiplication of Adam, and to his subduing the earth. For with the transgression came knowledge the knowledge of both good and evil. By knowledge the earth is replenished, and also subdued. One of our highly esteemed preachers asserted once in a sermon, “Our first parents, before the transgression, did not know anything, not even that they were naked.” This is true, and presents to us a wonderful figure. The commandment came to Adam, he transgressed, sin entered, he died, being separated from the tree of life, he knew that he was naked and he sewed fig leaves together to cover him withal. Man in a state of nature, in the higher spiritual sense is devoid of knowledge. He does not know he is a sinner. But when the commandment comes, sin revives, in other words, the knowledge of sin enters, he dies. He has experimentally partaken of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, lie knows he is a sinner, and immediately he goes to work to sew together fig leaves of his self-righteousness to cover his nakedness, to hide his shame. God has found him even before he hid himself among the trees of the garden. What a spectacle! Man, who was made upright in the image of God, now cowering and trembling under conviction for sin. Through his fear and the knowledge of his own depravity he sees a broken and violated law between him and a just God. As he travels along in an experience of grace he learns a daily lesson: that God is of long and tender forbearance toward the children of men. And as he works out the salvation that God has wrought in him, he realizes how great is the forbearance of God toward him. His daily prayer from a thankful heart is, Not as I have deserved O Lord, but according to thy tender mercy and loving forbearance hast thou dealt with me and blessed me. When I have fallen thou hast lifted me up. “As the eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings, so the Lord alone did lead (me), and there was no strange God with (me).” Considering my natural enmity to him, how stiff-necked and perverse I was. How great was his forbearance toward me? With the psalmist I can sing, “His mercy endureth forever.” And when the fullness of time had come, he sent his only begotten Son to die for me. In the whole plan of salvation we observe an example of constant and continual forbearance of the Lord toward a wicked and perverse generation. In the wilderness the children of Israel (whom the Lord had made his peculiar people), although the Lord provided them with bread from heaven, for which they had neither to labor or toil, yet they sighed and cried for the fleshpots of Egypt. “Yet forty years (says the Lord by the prophet) didst thou sustain them in the wilderness, so that they lacked nothing; for their clothes waxed not old, and their feet swelled not.” And when they were brought into the land of milk and honey, the land of plenty and of rest, yet (says the same prophet), they dealt proudly, and hearkened not unto thy commandments; yet many years didst thou forbear them, and testified against them by thy Spirit in thy prophets, yet would they not give ear; therefore gavest thou them into the hand of the people of the land. Nevertheless, for thy great mercies’ sake thou didst not utterly consume them nor forsake them, for thou art a gracious and merciful God.” Imperfect creatures as we are cannot comprehend perfection. God alone is perfection; therefore we cannot understand the scope and fullness of God’s forbearance toward us. But being the recipients of his divine favor our heart goes out to him in involuntary acknowledgment and thanksgiving and praise for his merciful loving-kindness and tender forbearance. Neither can we understand how God works in us to will and to do of his good pleasure. But as our whole heart inclines to do his will, and our heartfelt prayer is, Incline my heart to do thy will, O God, then do we have hope and some assurance that our sacrifices of thanksgiving will be accepted at a throne of grace. Coupled with our knowledge of God’s precious love and tender forbearance, we also have knowledge of the tender love and long-suffering of Jesus. “When he was reviled, he reviled not again,” regarding not what man did unto him, but steadfast in accomplishing alone the Father’s will. We cannot doubt that he felt keenly, and was subject to all the infirmities of the flesh as we are; yet in the fullness of grace he overcame them for the love wherewith he loved us, having an eye single to the necessity and importance of earth. How clearly and fully did he manifest his knowledge of the frailty of man, when at the time of his dreadful agony in the garden of Gethsemane, he had taken with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and said unto them, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death. Tarry ye here and watch with me. And he went a little farther,” &c. (A small measure of the agony which followed, and his prayer to the Father, we hope we have all experienced in our own souls, having which, only can we have fellowship for his suffering). “And he comet h unto his disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Even in his awful and extreme agony of soul his tender compassion was uppermost. Now, as I have said, the world exercises forbearance one to another from necessity, that their own ends may be accomplished. But how do the saints manifest it toward each other? They differ from the world, in that they do not exercise it, but it exercises them. Forbearance is a fruit of the Spirit; and when it exercises the subject of gracious promises he does not have to study how to forbear, but, like the stream of water making its exit from the mountain side, it goes on and on, unaided by mortal hands, until it reaches and mingles with the great ocean of waters. So the forbearance of the saints one to another is a part of the spiritual life, and flows out from the creature of divine mercies, never ceasing until it is swallowed up in the ocean of God’s boundless love. Their forbearance to each other is not from necessity, but because they love each other. One of the first emotions even in natural love is to behold the object as higher, better and purer than ourself. I do not think we could love an object that we had to look down upon. The spiritual love of our Father’s family takes the same upward tendency. We look up to our brethren, esteeming them better than ourselves. This is why we are exercised to forbearance. We see them adorned with the beauty of the Lord. They are lovely because they manifest the characteristics of Jesus, who is “the chiefest among ten thousand and the one altogether lovely.” The fruit of the Spirit is the outgrowth of Jesus in them, their hope of glory. Their frailties and infirmities are manifest also, but not to the extent that we see them in ourselves; therefore it is not a matter of hardship to hear with them. As man by his God-given powers has subdued the earth, so the power of the Spirit of Jesus has subdued our carnal passions and lusts. We no more fondle and nurse the fleshly passions within us, but we hate and loathe ourselves because of them. Where the man of sin did once reign over us, he having lost his power because of the entrance of grace, the desire for holiness now fills our soul, the tongue that uttered curses now sings praises. We are no more the rich Pharisee with bold attitude presenting his good works to the Lord for reward, and uttering hypocritical thanks that he is not like other men; but as the poor publican, not so much as lifting his eyes to heaven, saying, “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner.” May the merciful God of all grace keep us humble and forbearing, that we may be enabled to deny self, and exalt and extol the name of Jesus.
B. F. COULTER.
Philadelphia, Pa., Dec. 26, 1896.
Signs of the Times
Volume 65, No. 1
January 1, 1897