Reply to brother Ford’s communication on page 29: The passage referred to reads thus: “I knew a man in Christ about fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such a one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) how that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.”
We understand the apostle to be speaking of his own experience: that he himself was the man in Christ, who in vision was caught up to the third heaven, and saw and heard what mortal tongues cannot express nor human language describe. He had come to speak, in demonstration of the signs of his apostleship, of visions and revelations, having in the preceding chapters told them what he had been enabled to endure; and that out of all his conflicts and trials, God had delivered him. Now of visions he could speak understandingly, and from actual experience. The transporting vision of the heavenly world, and of the supreme glory of God, so far as Paul was able to describe it, was the same in kind, though superior in degree, to that enjoyed by all the children of God. We in our limited measure have the earnest of the Spirit given us, whereby we cry Aba Father, and there are times when our faith enters within the vail, and we are permitted to see and hear more than we have ability to express of the revelation of the glory of God to us. By the third heaven we understand Paul to mean that state in which all the saints shall ultimately be perfected, and dwell with Christ in the glory which he has with the Father. The first heaven refers to the state of the Old Testament saints, patriarchs, and prophets. The second, the gospel church in her militant conflicts, and the final consummation of the glory of the kingdom of Christ in heaven is the third and perfected state.
To taste of the joys of the world to come has been the happy privilege of the saints at times, but we presume that in confirmation of his calling to the apostleship, and to qualify him more fully for that position, Paul was favored with a more full vision of the glory of that heavenly state than what is enjoyed by others.
He says, and repeats, that he could not tell whether he was in the body, or out of the body at that transporting moment; and it is a remarkable truth, that in proportion to the degree of all our spiritual enjoyments is the forgetfulness, or unconsciousness of the body. When we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord (II Corinthians 5:6-8).” The more we think about ourselves, our personal interest, and our individual marks of personal safety, the more prone are we to the fleshly reasonings of our poor blind and selfish minds, and the more we reason, the darker all appears. For God has ordained that his saints shall walk by faith, and not by sight. But when our faith mounts up to heaven, pierces through, and looks beyond the vail, and beholds the uncreated glories of the God of our salvation, then, whether we sink or swim, live or die, are saved or lost, is not in our mind; all that care is left with him who careth for us. Enraptured, transported with joy unspeakable and full of glory, we become perfectly unconscious of where the body is. That is a matter of so very little consequence, compared with what our faith sees and hears of unspeakable things, it cannot then intrude. The things which Paul heard he says it was unlawful for a man to utter. The law of language makes no provision for such utterances; for these things are unutterable. The margin reads “not possible.”There is no law or governing principle, in the law of language that will permit them to utter things which are so unspeakable and full of glory. But could we be always thus transported, we should be exalted above measure; beyond that measure of ecstasy which God in infinite wisdom has appointed for us while here in the flesh. It would unfit us for the duties of life, and for usefulness in our day and generation. But our God takes care that we rise not above that measure to which we are restricted, and provides for us a counterpoise; a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet us. Our fleshly nature is formed of the dust of the ground, which is groaning under the curse; and it is doomed to bring forth thorns, and briars, to pierce and entangle us. If we never felt them piercing us, we should be very apt, like Paul, when in his vision, to forget that we were still in the body. But when they prick and tear our flesh, we groan within ourselves, and ask, “Who shall deliver us from the body of this death?” In an experience of more than half a century, the most spiritual frame of mind and most transporting joys we have ever experienced, have been when we were thinking little or nothing about ourself. All our doubts, fears, unbelief, fretfulness, and impatience is about darling self. May we then look away from self, and look unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, and learn to press toward the mark of the prize of our high calling; and leave all our cares with him who has promised to raise us up in his image at the last day. Be this our care, that we glorify him in our body and in our spirit, which are his.
February 15, 1867.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 6
Pages 450 - 452