We have always regarded the passages proposed for consideration among the most obscure and hidden parts of the Scriptures, and what we now venture to write upon the subject, is humbly submitted to the consideration of our readers with much hesitation and trembling. Brethren will read our remarks carefully, and compare them with the infallible standard of truth, and wherein they may find our views at fault, kindly point out to us the more excellent way, and their faithful words shall not break our bones, but be an excellent oil.
In the first passage proposed, the apostle, after having spoken of the two distinct elements personally identified in the christian, namely, the flesh and the spirit, and having drawn the line between them according to the doctrine of Christ, that that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit, proceeds to enforce the exhortations with which all the apostolic writings abound: to mortify the deeds of the flesh, and crucify the old man with his lusts, and put on the new man which, after God, is created in righteousness and true holiness. These exhortations are urged in our text and its connection from the consideration that Christ has suffered for us in the flesh, that we are crucified with him, that the body is dead because of sin, that we are dead, and our life is hid with Christ in God, and although dead with Christ, nevertheless we live; yet not we, but Christ liveth in us; and the life which we now live in the flesh, we live by the faith of the Son of God, who hath loved us, and given himself for us. - Gal. ii. 20. Forasmuch then as Christ has suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same mind; for he that hath suffered in the flesh, hath ceased from sin; that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God. He then particularizes the manner in which those saints had formerly wrought the will of the Gentiles, in the abominations which now characterize the ungodly. “Wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess,” &c. When the saints are called by grace, and become followers of God, as dear children, the world thinks it strange that they should thus renounce, and turn away from their idolatrous and fleshly pursuits, their doctrines and commandments, and become a circumcision which worship God in the spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. The world has instituted so great a variety of worldly religions, so carnal, so popular, so agreeable to every fleshly passion, and so pleasant to every fleshly palate, that they can see no necessity for singularity, or for embracing an unfashionable kind of religion. They are offended that their splendid delusions should be rejected, exposed and forsaken; and therefore they speak evil of the saints. For if any man will live godly in Christ Jesus, he shall suffer persecution; they shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for Christ’s sake. But they are amenable to him who is ready to judge the quick and the dead. They are held strictly accountable to him, and whosoever shall offend one of them, shall find that it were better for him that a mill-stone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the midst of the sea. By the quick and the dead, are meant the living and the dead. It applies to quickened sinners, for God shall judge his people; and it also applies to sinners who are dead in sins, for God shall judge the world in righteousness, at the last day, by that man whom he hath appointed. And to christians it applies, both in regard to the inward and the outward man, the body that is dead by reason of sin; and the spirit which is life because of righteousness. - See Romans viii. 10.
We come now to the sixth verse, which reads thus: For, for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit. There must always of necessity be a cause for the production of an effect. A cause is therefore stated for the preaching of the gospel, namely, that they unto whom it was preached, might be judged according to men in the flesh. Here we find the cause in the purpose of God, and not in the resolutions of mission boards, nor in the wisdom, power or contributions of men. It was and is preached to answer the precise end for which God designed it, and the accomplishment of that object it cannot fail to secure. But it was preached also to them that are dead. If we understand this declaration to mean those of former ages, under the old dispensations, it was true, for the gospel was preached in types, and set forth in shadows of good things to come, from the days of Abel, in the firstling of the flock, the unblemished lamb which he offered in sacrifice to God, and by Noah, in the building of the ark, and the souls which were saved, as by water, in a figure of like signification to that of baptism under the gospel dispensation; and those unto whom it was so preached, are literally dead. And they are judged according to men who are now in the flesh, unto whom it is preached, but who have no ear to hear, heart to love, receive or understand it. Thus, when Abel preached, Cain was wroth, and slew him, showing his carnal or fleshly propensity, the latent enmity of his carnal mind was roused, and the murderous lusts of the flesh broke forth. Men now in the flesh answer to their type, “Woe unto them, for they have gone in the way of Cain.” When Noah, who was a preacher of righteousness, was engaged in building the ark, he was resisted, mocked and ridiculed by those unto whom he presented the figure of salvation; so, under the present dispensation, Stephen testified of men in the flesh. As their fathers did, so did they always resist the Holy Ghost. Not that they could, or ever did hinder the accomplishment of the Spirit’s work, but they opposed, and contended against it. But all these references, and illustrations, seem to be designed to enforce the admonition and exhortation to the saints, who are called on to crucify the old man, with its affections and lusts, and to arm themselves with that mind which the adorable Redeemer evinced when he suffered in the flesh for us, that he might bring us unto God. If we are subjects of the new and heavenly birth, we have in our carnal, corrupt and depraved nature, all the elements of men in the flesh. Our fleshly minds are the same in all respects as the carnal minds of other men; not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be; and so far as they are concerned, they are judged according to men in the flesh. To christians it was said, “If ye sow to the flesh, ye shall of the flesh reap corruption,” for the fleshly soil is incapable of yielding any other crop. Paul is very clear on this point in the eighth chapter to the Romans. “Therefore, brethren,” says he, “we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh, for if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die; but if ye through the spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” The two natures which struggle in every saint on earth, are opposite each to the other; the contrast is presented under the names by which they are designated, as flesh and spirit, old man and new man, outward man and inner man, corruption and incorruption, mortal and immortal, death and life, sin and holiness, &c., and each is traced in Scripture to its seminal or progenitive origin. That which is called flesh, is of the earth earthy; was made of the dust of the earth, subsists on the productions of the earth, cleaves to the earth, and is destined to return to the earth; it is earthly, sensual and devilish, and all its productions are according to their corrupt source. The new, spiritual, inner man, is born of God; its life is hid with Christ in God, and only appears when Chri8t, who is our life, appears. It is heavenly, and can only subsist on heavenly food, on him who is the true Bread; eating the flesh, and drinking the blood of him who came down from heaven, nor can it subsist on any other food. It is a life which we live in the flesh, but it is not the flesh, nor is it of the flesh. It is eternal life; it is immortality, and it shall never perish. It is born of God, and cannot sin, because it is born of God. It is born of the Spirit, and therefore it is spirit. And when this earthly house of our tabernacle shall be dissolved and fall, the spiritual, immortal, eternal life shall survive; it cannot die. The dust in dissolution shall go back to its original element; and when that judgment which came upon all men unto condemnation, and which has passed upon us, as judged according to men in the flesh, shall have been executed, a glorious resurrection of the bodies of all the saints awaits them. That spiritual, divine and heavenly life, which we now have in Christ, shall quicken, animate and stamp immortality upon our rising bodies, so that though now judged according to men in the flesh, though now imprisoned, and held fast for the time being, in the bondage of corruption, so that we have to cry out, O, wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? We can, through grace triumphing over the flesh, with the apostle, add, I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with my mind, (the spiritual, heaven-born man,) I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh, the law of sin. Thus while in our flesh, we are judged according to men in the flesh, we live according to God in the spirit. After God, this new man has his creation in righteousness and true holiness; created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we shall walk in them. According to God, that is, according to his purpose, design, and spiritual sustenance afforded, we live; and as our immortal life is an emanation from God, it aspires to holiness, purity and godliness; above all things desiring to show forth his praises, and to glorify God in our bodies, and in our spirits, which are his.
In regard to the text, Gen. vi. 5-7, we have neither time nor space to treat largely upon the subject. God saw that the wickedness of man was great upon the earth, and expressed his determination to destroy both man and beast, by a deluge of water. The manner of making this announcement was in language calculated to impress our minds with a sense of that abhorrence with which God regards the transgressions and sins of the sons of men, as sin is the very opposite to holiness. But we cannot understand the terms “repented him,” and “grieved,” in the text, in the ordinary acceptation of the words, or as when used in relation to finite beings. Repentance, when applied to God, cannot mean a change either in his nature, or any of his attributes, or perfections; for we are expressly informed that with him there is no variableness, nor shadow of turning. He is of one mind, and none can turn him, and he has himself declared, “I am the Lord, I change not; therefore the sons of Jacob are not consumed.” Nor are we at liberty to construe the term grief, in this case, so as to imply that God is a being of excitable passions, such as we possess. The most brutish darkness ever charged on sinful man, was in that they had supposed that God was such an one as we are, or in likening or comparing him with ourselves. His ways are not our ways, neither are his thoughts like our thoughts; for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are his ways and thoughts higher than ours. Any interpretation given to any portion of the Scriptures, which conflicts with any other portion, must be wrong, for the Scriptures are in perfect harmony. We, being finite, and consequently limited in our understanding, may fail to comprehend many portions, and perhaps all the inspired writings of the Bible, but that does not prove a defect in the Scriptures, but weakness and inability on our part. In this passage, and in what is said in the book of the prophet Jonah, of God’s dealings with Ninevah, we understand that nothing more is intended than to show a change of providential dealings with men. God had borne long with the abominations of the old world, and as Peter has said, “Once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah.” God had manifested a long forbearance toward them; but their iniquities were now full, and according to the holy standard of all God’s administrations, namely, the counsel of his own will, according to which he worketh all things, the time had come for him to make known his wrath upon the vessels of wrath, fitted to destruction; and he in vindication of his own holiness, displayed his righteous displeasure against their abominations, unstopped the bottles of heaven and poured down on them the deluge, and swept them from the earth, on which he had permitted them so long to dwell, and at the same time made provision for the salvation of his chosen servant Noah, and his family, as embraced in the covenant provisions of mercy; and hence it is said, “And Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” The whole figurative import of the subject, embracing the wickedness of men, the justice and mercy of God, is to set forth in a figure the sublime and glorious doctrine of salvation by grace, and by grace alone. For God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. There was no redeeming quality. Not one thought, not one imagination, not a work at that, or at any other time, but was evil, and evil continually. Upon the ground of human merit, none could be saved. Grace, and grace alone, could reach the case of man; but all did not find grace, neither did all desire grace. It is probable that the ante-deluvians hated the doctrine of grace then as bitterly as all Arminians of the present generations now do; but Noah found grace, because God had grace in store for him; and that grace secured him and his family in the covenant of salvation, from the waters of the flood.
From the plain import of our figure, let us then understand that a day of retribution awaits the ungodly world, when God, whose mercies have hitherto been showered down upon the just, and upon the unjust, will be withheld; when death and hell shall deliver up their dead; when he will judge the world in righteousness, and turn the wicked into hell, with all the nations that know not God, when only the subjects of his grace, embraced in the covenant of life and peace, embraced in the rainbow that encircles the throne of God and the Lamb, shall be brought into the ark, and therein lifted above the earth, and finally lodged in the mount of Jehovah’s holiness, where there are pleasures for evermore. May it be our privilege, through abounding grace to the chief of sinners, to sing the song of the redeemed in that great day, for Jesus’ sake. Amen
Feb. 1, 1855.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 3
Pages 164 - 170