We understand the apostle to be speaking of a vision which he had received of the Lord, some fourteen years before he wrote this epistle. “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 an one caught up to the third heaven.” Although he speaks of the man, in the third person, yet by comparing this verse with the seventh verse, we perceive that he was speaking of what he had himself experienced. And this conclusion is in harmony with the theme of his subject in the preceding chapter. His inability to say whether he was in the body or not at the time of that memorable vision, not only gives us the idea of the perfect ecstacy of his mind, but also that it was a purely spiritual exercise, which we infer from his unconsciousness of being in or out of the body at the time. If in the body, the powers of nature were so perfectly subjected and subdued that he, for the time, felt none of its depravity, or opposition to the law of the Spirit of life which is in Christ Jesus, any more than the saints shall feel when perfectly liberated from the corruptions of the flesh.
Mark! He knew a man in Christ, not in Adam, for had this been a fleshly exercise, then it would have affected him as a member of the earthly Adam, but his life in Christ is not earthly nor carnal, but it is spiritual and heavenly, therefore while the new man, which is born of the Spirit, and which is spirit, enjoys the visions of eternal things, the darkness of our earthly nature comprehends them not. In his vision Paul was transported to the third heavens. By the third heavens, we understand the immediate presence of our God, or that state wherein the saints of God shall ultimately dwell. The church under the two covenants or testaments, are the first and second heaven, but the third heaven has reference to the place and condition of the church in her triumphant glory. The hope and faith of God’s children looks to that which is within the veil, whither the forerunner has for us already entered. The glories of that highest heaven, which was disclosed in vision to the favored apostle of the Lamb, were beyond the power of finite beings to describe. The laws of language by which intelligent beings communicate with each other are inadequate, and utterly fail to fully describe that glory, and this is what we understand the apostle to mean when he says he heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. God has reserved to himself the power to make these unspeakable things known to his children by his Spirit, and to secure this object he has withheld from man the power to express them, so as to make the subject clear or intelligible to the natural intellect of man. Here we have an immutable law, which governs all revelation of spiritual things. As no man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of a man which is in him, even so, or exactly so, the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. And the apostle says we have received the Spirit which is of God, that we may know the things which are freely given us of God, and which things are hidden from the wise and prudent; so that the natural man cannot know them because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things; they have an unction from the Holy One, and they know all things.
Whether these remarks have touched the particular point on which our correspondent desired to be enlightened or not, we do not know; but such views as we have we freely give. And may we remember the admonition to the saints: If any man lacketh wisdom let him ask of God, who giveth freely to all men, and upbraideth not.
February 1, 1858.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 4
Pages 58 - 60