A very highly esteemed friend of our acquaintance, whom we fully recognize as a child of God and a sincere and earnest enquirer after the truth, with whom we have had conversation and correspondence by letter on the subject of salvation by grace alone, and one who has been in years past connected with the New School Baptists, but has now left them; but still being perplexed in regard to some points of doctrine and order held by us, has requested our views on some portions of the Scriptures, to which we have written a somewhat lengthy reply. It has occurred to us that there are many others besides the enquirer, who may feel a deep interest in the investigation of the subject; and for their sakes we will give the substance of the correspondence through our columns. That we may not betray confidence, however, we will withhold the name and residence of our correspondence, and will give only so much of the letter as will present the subject of enquiry.
“Elder Beebe: Taking you at your word, that I am not a troubler, I am constrained to write to you again. I did think I would quietly await God’s own time to give me light on the subject which is so dark to me, and in so doing, say nothing to any one. But I feel so strong a desire to write to you, that I cannot put it off any longer. I do not know why it is, but you are the only Elder I can open my mind to, though there are others more intimate, who visit our house more frequently. I do hope I may never tire you.
We were very sorry to hear of your illness, and hope e’er this you have recovered. I feel such a thirst, such a grasping after that which I am not able to comprehend, that at times I cannot read at all, but have to shut the book. My mind is all confusion. It does seem to me, if it were only our heavenly Father’s good pleasure to give me light on this one point, everything else would be clear. I commenced reading the prophecy of Ezekiel, but I have had to stop.
Elder Beebe, will you please compare Ezekiel 3:16-22, with Acts 20:26, and Acts 26:18? Who are the wicked? And who are the righteous? If you will, I shall be ever indebted to you. You have opened Scripture to me in a new light, in a different way from what I had understood it; and as I now read over such passages, I enjoy them better than I ever did before. But Elder,
I am not one of those blest souls,
Who, standing in their earthly place,
Can yet, through all their days,
Behold their Father’s face.
I am not, - I shall never be,
It is not without unbelief;
But doubts that fill my aching head,
With restless grief.
Yet there will come a time of peace,
To souls with endless questionings torn;
A time of icy, when breaks at last,
The endless morn.
O, spirits kept in perfect faith,
One transport you can never know,
One rapture that can fill the soul,
What will it be, O Lord, my King,
To know thy glory stands secure?
Oh! Heavenly bliss! At last, at last,
To be quite sure!
And so I trust thee, O my Lord!
And, let the days be dark or bright,
I love thee through them all, and wait,
The perfect light.
Reply: Esteemed child, you may rest assured of my sincerity and candor in saying that it affords me great pleasure to receive your communications, and to employ my feeble efforts to relieve your mind on those subjects which have caused you anxiety. And as I trust that, to me is this grace given, that I may preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, I feel thankful to God that any of the dear bleating lambs of his flock can feel a freedom to open their minds to me without reserve on the subject that lies so near the hearts of all who fear the Lord. And could you know the pleasure I feel in replying to your enquiries, you would dismiss all fear of wearying me.
Your letter of the 25th of July came to me this morning, and I feel deeply interested in what it contains. From the kind confiding manner in which you have expressed yourself to me, and your appreciation of my feeble efforts to relieve your mind from perplexities which have given disquietude, I flatter myself that you will not be offended at my addressing you as a child, as it is only in the sense in which Paul said to one of the churches, “For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers.” I truly feel a kind of paternal solicitude for those who are now passing through conflicts with which I have been familiar almost three score years.
Before I attempt to give you my understanding of those passages to which you have called my attention, I wish to premise that all revelation by the unerring Spirit of God to the saints is made to their faith, not to their reason. We are called to walk by faith; not by sight. And to look not on the things that are seen, but on the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen. II Corinthians 5:7, & 4:18, also Hebrews 11:1. What therefore God reveals to our faith is not to be doubted because of the blindness of our mental powers to comprehend it. The faith of Abraham impelled him to move forward at the command of God, not knowing whither he went. The natural man (even in the Christian) receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. You cannot discipline, nor educate your reasoning powers so as to make them understand any of the things of the Spirit; for if that could be done, the conflict between the flesh and spirit in the Christian warfare would cease. You think, if the Lord would give you light on the one point, everything else would be clear; but it is like the poet’s description of climbing up the mountain, where Alps on Alps appear. After we have learned all that we can know while here in the flesh, we shall have to exclaim, as did the apostle, “O the depth!” The one perplexing point, if I rightly understand you, is that on which we have conversed, namely, Is the gospel to be preached to the ungodly, as a means by which they are to be, or can be quickened and born again? In reply to this I can only repeat my former replies. “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world, for a witness to all nations, and then shall the end come.” Matthew 24:14. “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” Mark 16:15. The commission to the apostles, and their example, shows that the proclamation of the gospel is to be made unrestrictedly, and justifies the practice of Christ’s ministers now, in preaching the gospel wherever a door is open, without excluding from the assembly such as are not born again. But this preaching to a mixed multitude is not to quicken them, but it is for a witness. It is a witness in that it discriminates between those who are, and those who are not born again. He that hath an ear, will hear, with joy, and gladly receive what the Spirit, in the gospel, says to the churches. As on the day of Pentecost, all who are pricked in their hearts will gladly receive the word, while all who are dead will fail to receive it. It is a savor of life unto life to them that are alive, and it is all a dead letter to them that are dead. Jesus has said, “As the Father raiseth up the dead and quickeneth them, even so the Son also quickeneth whom he will.” Is there any other way, power or means, by which the dead can be quickened? “Verily, verily I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life.” (Not shall, or may have it) John 5:21 & 24. The hearing of the gospel and reception of it proves that the hearer and recipient has already passed from death unto life. None but God can make the dead hear his voice and live. This our Savior can and will do, for he says, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live. John 5:25. Can any other voice penetrate the dark dominions of death? If not, why talk of preaching as being a means of doing what none but God himself can do?
The gospel is glad tidings to the meek. Isaiah 61:1, Luke 4:18. But is the preaching of Christ glad tidings, or gospel, to any who are not meek, or who hate it? “For unto us was the gospel preached as well as unto them; but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard.” Hebrews 4:2. Faith is the fruit of the Spirit. Galatians 5:22. And it is not of ourselves, it is the gift of God. Ephesians 2:8. Jesus Christ is the author and finisher of it. Hebrews 12:2. Now can any man who is destitute of faith, mix faith with hearing the preaching of the word? And if they cannot, will the preaching profit them? We in preaching say to all men, as our Lord said to Nicodemus, “Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” But that declaration is gospel only to them that love it; it is not glad tidings, and therefore not gospel to those who hate it, or to those who would prefer to be saved in some other way. The sovereignty of God, predestination, election, regeneration and the new birth, the preservation of the saints in grace to glory, with all the promises, instructions, admonitions, laws, and ordinances of Christ, are gospel, because they are glad tidings to the meek, to the heaven born; but they are not gospel, because they are not glad tidings to those who hate them. It is not mixed with faith in those who have no faith, and therefore cannot profit them.
But I will now attend to the passages to which you referred, in their order. First, Ezekiel 3:16-22. The wicked, in the meaning of this text, is any member of the house of Israel, or any number of them, or even the whole house, when guilty of transgressing the law, or covenant of works which they were under; and the righteous were those who were ceremonially so, by their obedience to the requisitions of the old covenant. “The word of the Lord” came to Ezekiel, saying, “Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel.” Why not to the house of Esau, and to everybody else? Because the word of the Lord confined his charge to the house of Israel, and if he extended his watchcare to any other people he would have disobeyed the word of the Lord. He was commanded to receive his instructions at the mouth of God, and from no other source. The house of Israel was the family of Israel, God’s peculiar people. To them and to no other people he gave his law as a covenant of works, and if Ezekiel had attempted to apply that law to any of the heathen nations round about them, if he had called on the Gentiles to mingle with Israel, to be circumcised, to worship with them in the tabernacle or temple, or at their altars, he would have transgressed the law of the Lord. The law and the priesthood of Israel differed from that of all other people. That law provided that an Israelite who had done wickedly, if he should turn from his wickedness and do that which was lawful and right, bring his sin-offering to the priest, he should be restored to his place and privileges in that house; and his wickedness from which he had turned should not be remembered against him. And if a righteous Israelite, that is, one who had not transgressed the law, should turn away from his legal righteousness, by any transgression of the law, his former righteousness should not be remembered, but in his transgression he should die.
The fearfully responsible position of Ezekiel as a watchman to the house of Israel imposed on him the duty to receive the word of the Lord, at the mouth of God, and bear that word or message, precisely as he received it from God, to every one to whom it was sent. Hence we find almost every chapter of his prophecy, and every message he delivered was preceded by the words, “The word of the Lord came unto me, saying,” or words of a similar import. He, as a watchman to the house of Israel, was required to stand in the watch tower, and there watch and wait for the word or message of his God, and when that word came to him, declaring either good or evil, he was to deliver the message faithfully, or the consequence of his negligence or disobedience would be required at his hands, or charged upon him.
Now the house of Israel under the law, was a type of the gospel church, under law to Christ, and the prophet was a type of Christ, as the prophet and high priest of our profession, and also represented, as a watchman, those whom God has called under the gospel dispensation, to take the oversight of the church which he has purchased with his own blood, as gospel ministers. Their watchcare is confined to the church of God, as Ezekiel’s was to the house of Israel, and they too, like him, are to receive their message at the mouth of God, and having God’s word, to declare it faithfully. And as Ezekiel declared to Israel their transgressions and to God’s people their sins, so the faithful watchman whom God has placed upon the walls of Zion shall never hold their peace, they are solemnly charged to reprove, admonish and rebuke, and warn the unruly in the church of Christ.
The law of Moses to the house of Israel is figurative of the laws of Christ which he has given for the government of his church. The law of Christ is binding as well upon the watchmen, as upon all others who are of the household of God. They must receive their message only at the mouth of God, that is the Scriptures, in which God who spake to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken unto us by his Son. And the law of Christ forbids them to add to, or diminish from, what they receive at the mouth of God. If they add to his words, God will add to them the plagues which are written, or if they take from his words, God will take from them their part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city. Revelation 22:18,19. Life and death, by the law to the children of Israel, prefigured the gospel standing of the saints whose names are registered among the living in Jerusalem, as continuing steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship; while such as are expelled from the church, by the laws of Christ, are excluded from a name in the registry of the church, and from all the privileges of the same. And we infer from the application of the figure of the responsibility of Ezekiel as a watchman, that if under the gospel any of the members lose their standing in the fellowship of the church, through the unfaithfulness of the ministers to warn them, and to declare faithfully to them the word of the Lord, such ministers, by the faithful application of the laws of Christ, shall also fall under the discipline and be expelled from the church. I understand that death to the offending Israelite by the law prefigured exclusion from the church by the laws of Christ. As I cannot in this letter dwell as extensively on this subject as I could wish, I will pass to consider the next passage you have referred me to.
Acts 20:26. This passage appears to me confirmatory and illustrative of what I have written. Paul assured the elders of the gospel church, that he had not shunned to declare all the counsel of God. As a faithful watchman he had delivered to those elders, and to all the churches, every word that he had received of the Lord, and he therefore stood acquitted from the blood of all men; from the blood of all who in any of the churches had disregarded the counsel of the Lord, and thereby lost their name and standing in the church. He was not held responsible for their heresy or apostasy, for he had faithfully and constantly warned them with tears. And now as he knew that he should see these elders no more, he took the opportunity to exhort them to do as he had done; for he recognized them also as watchmen, whom the Holy Ghost had made overseers of the flock; to feed the church of God, which he had purchased with his own blood. As faithful watchman, they were to look out for those things, which he knew would take place, after his departure, and to faithfully warn the churches to beware of grievous wolves, and also to be upon their guard against those, who, of their selves should arise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. He solemnly charged them as watchmen, saying, “Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years, I ceased not to warn every one night and day, with tears.” And yet he knew that some of the elders, of their own selves, whom he had so faithfully warned, would after his departure, speak perverse things, and cause divisions; but he was pure from their blood. We cannot find in Paul’s charge to these elders, that he gave them instructions to divide their watchcare, and bestow part of their labor outside of the church of God, nor did he enjoin on them to attempt to change those grievous wolves which should come, from their wolfish nature, and make them harmless lambs or sheep.
The last passage you referred me to is Acts 26:18. In this passage we have a clear statement of the calling of Paul to his apostleship, and of the work which God would himself do through the ministry of Paul. “I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of the things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified.” Observe God’s special purpose, for which he appeared to Paul. The people to whom God sent him, the assurance that he would continue to appear to him, and the particular work which God purposed to perform by him. Now let us consider the work and design of the gospel ministry as set forth in this passage. “To open their eyes.” That is the eyes of those to whom God sends his ministers. What would be the effect of opening the eyes of a dead person? It can be done, for experiments have been made by galvanism, causing movement of the limbs, and opening of the eyes. But can a dead person see any better with their eyes open than when they are shut? But apply this figure where it belongs, to those unto whom God has given life. When Christ raised Lazarus, he came out of the grave a living man; but a napkin was on his face, and had to be removed that he might see. The removing of the napkin would not enable him to see before he was quickened. And it is the same when we apply the figure to spiritual life and spiritual sight. I have shown that none but God himself can give life to the dead; but the gospel ministry is designed to edify and enlighten the living children of God. Your own case is in point. I am fully satisfied that you have passed from death unto life; if I did not believe this, I could not hope that any presentation of the truth would enlighten you. But being alive, you greatly desire to see some things which are still dark and mysterious to you. You have been laboring to understand the true meaning of these Scriptures, and you think if the Lord would give you light on one point, everything else would be clear. You certainly have eyes to see, or you would not have seen that you were a lost sinner, or that Jesus was your precious Savior. But still your eyes have not yet been fully opened to see those things which you are so earnestly seeking after. The apostle says, “The eyes of your understanding being enlightened, that ye might know what is the hope of his calling.” As when our eyes are shut, light is excluded from them, so when they are opened we can see. So the gospel is designed to enlighten the saints. Paul’s preaching did not enlighten all the Gentiles; for it was to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks folly, but unto all who were called, and quickened, it was Christ, the power and wisdom of God. God’s people among the Gentiles were sitting in darkness, surrounded by paganism, and Paul was sent to them, to turn them from darkness to light, by presenting to them the light of the truth as it is in Jesus. God’s living children are frequently involved in darkness; but when the glorious light of the gospel shines even unto them, the preaching of the word dispels the darkness, and when delivered from the power of darkness, they gladly turn from error, and renouncing the unfruitful works of darkness, endeavor to walk as the children of light. Deliverance from the power and gloom of darkness by the light of truth brought to them through the gospel ministry, they are delivered also from the power of Satan, as the ruler of the darkness of this world, and the spirit that worketh in the children of disobedience; they are turned from Satan to God, from error to truth, and from sin to the pursuit of holiness. But as the light of the gospel is life, as it is written, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men,” so until sinners are quickened, no preaching can possibly enlighten them, so as to turn them from darkness to spiritual light. In the darkness of death by nature, all are held under the power of Satan, and are led captive by him at his will. But when born of God they have eyes to see; new spiritual eyes, to see the kingdom of God, and to know the things thereof, because, “God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, has shined in their hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” God is himself the Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. The Gentiles to whom Paul was sent required the instruction which was sent them by Paul, and by all the gifts which God has given to his church, to open their eyes, and enlighten their understanding in the truth, to deliver them from the errors which they had cherished, and so to deliver them from Satan’s power, and lead them in the way of truth and righteousness.
God has forgiven the sins of all his chosen people, for Christ’s sake, and put them forever away by the one offering of our Savior Jesus Christ. And this was accomplished for them when Christ bore their sins in his own body on the cross. But the joyful knowledge of the remission of their sins they could not have until they were quickened and enlightened, or until the eyes of their understanding were opened to know what is the hope of their calling. But when quickened and enlightened by the Spirit, and instructed by the preached gospel, they receive experimentally that forgiveness of sins which God had held in store for them, even when they were dead in sins. When they receive experimentally the forgiveness of their sins, they cease to rely on their own works to commend them to God, and gladly receive the word that assures them that God, for Christ’s sake, has forgiven them, and they gladly receive the preached word, which testifies to them that all the provisions of salvation, and all the promises of the gospel are unto them, and unto their children, and unto all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. Then do they truly receive forgiveness of their sins, from him who is exalted to be a Prince and a Savior, to give repentance to Israel and the remission of sins, and in whose name alone repentance and the forgiveness of sins is authorized to be preached unto them.
This repentance and forgiveness being a part of the inheritance of the sanctified, consecrated, or set apart, people of God, in the reception of it the happy recipients thereof receive an inheritance among them that are sanctified by faith that is in God.
God’s purpose in appearing to Saul, in making him a witness, in delivering him from the Jews and Gentiles, and in sending him to them, is declared by God himself to Saul; and every Gentile convert is a witness that in this, as in everything else, God’s purpose shall stand, and he will do all his pleasure. Through the preaching and apostleship of Paul, the eyes of millions of quickened Gentiles have been opened, and they have been turned from pagan darkness to the light of truth, and from Satan and his slavish service unto God; and they have received forgiveness of sins and inheritance among them that are sanctified by faith that is in God. But, “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed EVEN AS THE LORD GAVE TO EVERY MAN.”
August 1, 1869.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 7
Pages 454 – 465