State Road, Del., August, 1899.
Brother Beebe: – I feel disposed to offer some reflections this morning on a paragraph of Scripture, but I doubt whether I should have attempted it if I had not been requested to do so.
The Scripture to which I propose to refer more particularly is Psalms lxviii. 18: “Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them.”
We are not left to conjecture what these gifts were, or to whom they were given, as the apostle has fully informed us as he cites the passage and comments upon it. There appears to be diversity in these gifts, as different terms are used to designate them, but all to one end, and the accomplishing of one and the same grand purpose. In regard to the ascension of Christ, the apostle says, “He ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things.” These expressions, “on high,” and “far above,” are not to be understood of locality, as in infinite space one place is not higher than another. But he is invested with the prerogative and authority; all the powers of heaven and earth being in and with him. I think we are safe in assuming that the apostle’s list embraces all the gifts that the Redeemer received in his ascension, and all that the church would ever need, or that would ever be recognized. The apostle in his letter to the Ephesians names, apostles and prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers. In his letter to the church at Corinth he adds to this list, “After that miracles, the gift of healing, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.” But he bases all these gifts upon the fact of their being the body of Christ, and members in particular. It should especially claim our attention that these gifts are all of heavenly origin, and heavenly excellency, and that nothing above them is to be found even in the heavens. The angel that John saw having the everlasting gospel to preach, was seen soaring in the midst of heaven. The best gifts that men may acquire on earth by human teaching, or creature effort, are not to be compared with these gifts of which the psalmist speaks. As to the recipients of these gifts the apostle does not leave any of the saints out. But he says to every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Those to whom it is not given to speak, it is given to hear and to understand to profit. The purpose for which all these gifts are conferred upon men is a point about which men differ. Yet the psalmist and the apostle both tell us in plain, unequivocal terms, and leave no room for doubt or uncertainty as to the grand design of them, and work to be accomplished by them. If these gifts were designed, any single one of them, or all combined, for the conversion of sinners, or the salvation of souls that would otherwise be lost, would it not have been so said? Here we have a definite statement of the grand object in bestowing all these gifts upon men. “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” There are three different expressions here, but in substance the same, and covering all the ground. As the saints are spoken of as being born, and as lambs and little children, and new born babes, it follows of course that they can be ministered unto for their profit and growth. As in nature all children coming into the world need nursing and caring for and ministering unto, so in the spiritual birth. The life is there, but is not fully developed. There is room to grow in the knowledge of that great salvation. The subjects of the kingdom are compared to the mustard seed, which is so very small, and yet capable of such wonderful growth. The grace itself does not grow, but there is a growth in the knowledge and experience of it. The apostle says, “That ye be no more children tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine.” This is plain enough, and it gives us to understand that young believers are learners, and that they are not perfect in knowledge. They are being led in a new and strange pathway, many things in their experience seeming to be against them, and causing them to stumble. For this cause no doubt many remain a long time out of the church. They do not have the knowledge of what a work of grace really is, to be satisfied for themselves, and so like timid, weakly lambs, have need to be led, or carried, to the company and privileges that they are longing to enjoy. The kind of perfection the apostle talks about cannot be attained to outside of the church. It is in the church where they are builded together for an habitation of the Spirit, and grow to an holy temple in the Lord. We cannot minister unless there are those who can be ministered unto, and if it is a ministration of spiritual things, they can only be ministered to those who can receive the things of the Spirit. “No man knoweth the things of God save the Spirit of God.” In order to edify the body of Christ it must first be that body and members of that body that are ministered unto. And these ministrations will tend more and more to make manifest the Spirit of Christ which is in thorn. The faith of God’s people although a unit, covers much ground, and though in the start we may be believers in Christ, yet there is a growth afterward, when we can be said to have grown up in all things into him who is the Head, even Christ. It is indeed a blessed ministry that results in all those ministered unto being found to be subjects of one and the same faith. That their knowledge of the Son of God recognizes in him a complete salvation, and that they all have the same faith in him and love to him. There is a perfection in this, when all the members of any church are fully established in the truth, and are living examples and illustrations of the fullness and perfection there is in Christ. These for whom all this provision and ministration is made are saints in the first place, before they are ministered unto by men, even good preachers, and there are no gifts conferred upon men to convert sinners, or to provide saints. If it was not thought incredible with King Agrippa that God should raise the dead, why should it be thought incredible with us, or why should we not recognize that God-given life that constitutes the saints? The perfection is in the life, only it has need to be developed. The unity is in the faith, but the young believer has need to grow up into it. Under that gospel ministry, that the Lord has provided, the knowledge of salvation will be increased, but whatever that salvation is, is found in the life and experience of the believer, so as witness is borne to and with their experience, there results an interesting knowledge of the salvation that is in Christ, as wrought in their own heart. We do not, have knowledge of the Son of God as a Savior only in what is revealed in our personal experience. The Savior spoke of giving living water, and that it would ever after have an abiding place in the recipient. “It shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” This life then is a flowing fountain. It wells up, and drawing from it does not exhaust or diminish it. So it ministers to the growth and health of others. But spiritual life can only be ministered unto with spiritual things. The natural man receiveth them not. And natural men do not and cannot provide for the children of the kingdom. If this consummation is to be reached, that “We all come to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” it is certainly an attainment worthy of a God-given ministry that was from far above all heavens. A ministry of this kind is easily distinguishable from anything and everything that men have devised, or that their zeal has accomplished. No man knoweth the Son but the Father, and if any man have not the Spirit of Christ he is none of his.
I submit these reflections as about as clear as I am able to make them at this time.
Signs Of The Times
Volume 67, No. 18.
SEPTEMBER 15, 1899.