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CORRESPONDENCE

HARE’S CORNER, Del., Jan. 22, 1880

BROTHER BEEBE: – The SIGNS, as a medium of correspondence among the churches and brethren, could not, perhaps, fill a higher mission, or be put to better use, then that of criticizing and investigating whatever has obtained among us, either as gospel order, scriptural doctrine, or the teachings of the word on other subjects. Though much has been done, there is no doubt room yet for further effort. On points that have attracted attention, the labors devoted thereto have not in all cases been as yet entirely successful, while others have far escaped notice. If I call attention to some quotations and applications of scripture by way of criticism, it will not be with the expectation that any controversy will grow out of if, but merely to call attention to important matters, with a view to righting ourselves, if we are or have been wrong.

It is quite common to hear the expression, “The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” Not only does this occur in conversation and preaching, but in published communications, and it may even be found incorporated in poetry. I suppose that those who use it do so under the impression that it is scripture. I do not now speak of ourselves particularly, because its use in this way has prevailed for a long time among speakers and writers quite generally, even before the publication of the SIGNS commenced. The only passage of scripture from which this phrase could be supposed to have warrant is Rev. xiii. 8, where the worshipers of the beast are designated as those whose names were not written in the book of life. By comparing this passage with chapter xvii. 8, where a repetition of the same sentiment occurs, it will readily be perceived that it is the record of the names which is from the foundation of the world. This latter passage, also speaking of those who wonder after the beast, designates them as all those whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world. The first passage characterizes this book of life as the family registry of the Lamb that was slain, but in both instances as a record that was from the beginning, or ever the earth was. The difference is that in this phraseology, “Whose names were not written in the book of life, of the Lamb slain, from the foundation of the world,” it is simply declaring the proprietor of the book, as though it read, “were not written in the Lamb’s book of life,” &c. It is true, and is established in the mouth of two or more witnesses, that the names by which the Lord’s people are called have been on record all the time from the beginning. But the other construction, even if the phraseology would bear it, would not be true, for the Lamb was not slain from the foundation of the world, but after the lapse of more than four thousand years; as the apostle says, “But now once, in the end of the world, hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” It was when the fullness of the time was come that God sent forth his Son, to redeem them that were under the law. The names by which the Lord’s people are designated have always been and must always remain the same, but with them in their individual experience the time comes when they are called to bear what is to them a new name, “which the mouth of the Lord shall name.” It is the same name that the Lord’s people have always borne, but it did not apply to them before, but now and from henceforth it is their name, an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. It is written upon their foreheads, and it is also given them to possess a white stone, or witness in their own experience, “that no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.”

There is some room for criticism on another and different subject that I may as well notice here. The several Marys mentioned in the New Testament have got to be, traditionally or some other way, very strangely mixed up. Gross injustice is done to some of them by this confusion of the names, and also by a misunderstanding and misapplication of what is said of some one of them by one or two of the evangelists. Mary Magdalene is not unfrequently confounded with Mary the sister of Lazarus. So prevailing has this mistake been that several otherwise good hymns have incorporated the erroneous idea in connection with the name of Mary in their compositions, accompanied sometimes with a note at the bottom stating that Mary Magdalene is intended. To speak now of the anointing with the costly ointment, it is somewhat surprising to me that there ever should have been any mistake or doubt about which Mary it was who anointed the Savior. We are told in express words, John xi. 2, “It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.” Each of the four evangelists record this anointing, but none of them record more than one instance. Matthew and Mark say she poured it on his head, while Luke and John say she anointed his feet. I think both were true. She not only broke the box and poured upon his head, but went on bedewing his feet with tears and anointing them with the ointment. And no marvel if she did, for but a few days previous Jesus had raised her only brother and restored him to her from the grave. No marvel that she sat at his feet and heard his words, while one, or another was complaining and murmuring. Only one of the evangelists record a word about her being a sinner. Luke tells us that the Pharisee said within himself that she was a sinner, and that if Jesus had known, &c., he would not have suffered her to touch him. According to the standard by which Pharisees measured, everybody but Pharisees were sinners. So Zaccheus was a sinner, and so this woman was a sinner. And as Jesus did not appreciate the Pharisaic righteousness, nor undertake to be a Pharisee, so they were continually censuring him for companying with sinners. Those who are at all conversant with the character of those zealous religionists, have observed that their spirit was, “Stand by thyself, for I am holier than thou.” “Come not near to me.” Besides, in the Jewish law, of which these Pharisees were very zealous, there was a ceremonial cleanness and uncleanness, the latter of which would impart by contact. All those who disregarded these strict Mosaic injunctions were counted ceremonially transgressors, and unclean, and contract (even to touch) with them would deprive for a time of the privileges of the sanctuary. Jesus saith unto her, “Thy sins are forgiven thee.” And again, “Thy faith hath saved thee.” Matthew, Mark and Luke all give us the name of Simon, as he in whose house this took place, while John omits the name. Simon was probably a man of wealth and distinction, of the town of Bethany, and while he was a Pharisee, was also a leper. He, after the wonderful event of the resurrection of Lazarus, thinks proper to honor the Redeemer with a public dinner or supper, for the sake of the sisters, who were poor, inviting them with their resurrected brother, as well as the disciples of Jesus, to be present. It was here that Martha served. To those who love our Lord Jesus Christ, and to whom even his name is like ointment poured forth, there is something very forbidding and repulsive in the idea that these sisters, or any others, whose hospitality and kindness the Redeemer so often accepted, were other than of the most irreproachable character. “Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.” “He entered into a certain village, and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house.” He left them and went out of the city into Bethany, and lodged there.” This seems to have been a delightful retreat from the commotion and persecution of the city, or place of sweet repose to the oppressed and wearied spirit of the blessed Jesus.

“Here were the sisters who hastened to greet
Thy loved Redeemer, and sit as his feet.”

From here I will turn for the present, to vindicate another Mary. Mary, called Magdalene, after her native town, (Magdala) to distinguish her from others bearing the same name, appears to have been a woman of wealth and distinction, and of unblemished reputation. Although one of our excellent poets has applied the word filthy to her name, I do not conceive it to have been any fault of hers. Indeed, as Pilate said of her Lord, I find in her no fault at all. We have account of her having been healed of certain evil spirits and infirmities, from which it would seem that she had been greatly afflicted. Being relieved from what appears to have been a complication of diseases, she shows herself ever afterward to be greatly devoted to her Redeemer. She was last to leave the cross, and first to appear at the sepulcher. It may be well to remark here, that being possessed with evil spirits was an expression among the Jews uniformly implying bodily afflictions, and not immorality or wickedness. I do not know but this confounding of the names of these two Marys, and confounding of the circumstances of her being healed of evil spirits, with that of the weeping sister being called a sinner by the Pharisees, may have caused even this woman’s name to become an epithet of reproach. If so, it is time that reproaches and unwarrantable epithets, founded upon unauthorized traditions, should be wiped away, lest the reproaches of them that reproach the devoted followers of the blessed Jesus should fall upon him. Several of our poets have singled out this faithful, humble and devoted disciple, stigmatizing her by such epithets as vile and filthy, and preachers have, without thought or examination, fallen into the same mistake. If Jesus said to the weeping Mary that anointed him, that her sins which were many were forgiven, was it anything more or different than what he says to every weeping penitent that he save by his grace? I presume brethren cannot take it otherwise than kindly to have their attention called to these things, and all the more kindly if they should find themselves to have been in error.

Yours to serve in the cause of truth,
E. RITTENHOUSE.

Signs of the Times
Volume 48, No. 5
March 1, 1880