Perhaps there is no subject in which the feeble, fearful, trembling, tempted and doubting children of God feel a greater interest than to know what are the scriptural evidences of being in a quickened and regenerated state; as there can be no subject in which they feel so much concerned. One brother writes that he would be in despair if it were not for one bright spot in his life, alluding to the time when Christ was first revealed to him as his Savior, but recalling to mind his happy frame on that occasion, his hope is frequently revived. In reflecting on this remark, we have felt inclined to enquire, Can it be possible that the brother has never had but one reliable evidence in his long life, that he is a subject of saving grace? We know that it is very natural for us to revert to our first experience when doubts and fears assail our faith and hope in God. We do not object to this calling to mind God's former loving-kindness unto us as evidences of his saving grace. Jeremiah remembered the time of the wormwood and the gall from which God had graciously delivered him, and his hope was thereby revived. But is it right to overlook all other evidences and rely only on the first displays of God's love and mercy to us? To such exclusive reliance we object, because it under rates and overlooks the daily experience of the saints, which, although in many instances they may not be as vivid and satisfactory to us as the first, are equally important and reliable, and should therefore be as fully appreciated, not only for the comfort of the saints, but also for the praise of the glory of God.
Sometimes it tends to be a repudiation of all subsequent evidences as being less conclusive and reliable, or worthless. How many have hung down their heads despairingly, because their first experiences were not so distinctly marked as those of others of whom they have heard or read; and although they can keep even pace with others in every subsequent step of their religious travel, are all their lifetime in bondage, through fear that they have started wrong, and therefore all subsequent experience has been but a delusion.
It may be that the general practice of our churches in the examination of applicants for baptism and membership has been faulty in making the first experiences of the candidate far more important than other exercises. While we love to hear related the more wonderful displays of God's power and grace in bringing sinners to a knowledge of the truth, we should also listen very attentively to the "still small voice" which has whispered peace and salvation to the trembling ones. According to our own observation for more than fifty years in the church of Christ, those who have been the most fearful and trembling have proved the most watchful and prayerful among the followers of Christ. Some have made us doubt the genuineness of their evidences, by the extravagant marvelousness of what they have related, while others who could scarcely say they had a hope have showed such evident marks of the spirit of humility, self-abasement, and fear of being a disparagement to the church, that they have taken every step with the greatest fear and trembling, have given us the more satisfactory evidence of the work of grace wrought in their hearts by the finger of God. But we need not advert to observation, nor to feelings of satisfaction, for we have a more sure word of prophecy or instruction, to which we do well to take heed. The scriptures of truth do not leave us uninformed as to the heaven-stamped and sealed evidences of a quickened state. Let us examine some of them. The case of Philip and the Eunuch (Acts 8:26-39) is in point. Here is an application for the ordinance, and the great question, What doth hinder me to be baptized? is asked. The man of God, who was full of the Holy Ghost, is amply qualified to decide this matter, which concerns all others as well as the Eunuch. How does Philip settle this question? Whatever impediment might be in the way to hinder the Eunuch is still in the way of all others, and whatever qualifications entitled him to the privilege are equally applicable to all others who possess them. Philip did not say, If you can distinctly call to mind your first religious exercises; if you saw the flaming gulf open to receive you; and all your sins were distinctly presented to your terror-stricken soul; if you were held in that distressing state a certain length of time; and can distinctly tell how you felt and what you thought during this time of bitter anguish of your soul; and if you know just when and where and how you were delivered, and how you felt at that time; and if you do not now feel too unworthy to be numbered with the saints. These are not the questions proposed, nor the prerequisites demanded. If they had been, it would have debarred thousands of the precious children of God from that holy ordinance, and perhaps the Eunuch himself would have been rejected. But observe; the only question was as to the then present state of the Eunuch, and not a question was asked in regard to his former exercises of mind. "If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest." Shall any one now dare impose any other requisite than that which the Holy Ghost, through Philip, then required? That which applied to one equally applies to every subject of grace. But let it be remembered that the question implied more than a former profession of belief. It is not enough that the natural judgment or understanding should assent to the truth, for it is with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. This belief must come from the heart, not the head; for the law of Christ is written in the hearts of the children of God. A new heart is given them, for the old heart is destitute of the faith of the Son of God; and a new spirit is put within them, for their faith is the fruit of the Spirit; if, therefore, the candidate believes with all his heart, it is an infallible testimony that he has received this new heart, and a new Spirit is given him. Now, according to this example, we insist that the church and the administrator should be satisfied that the candidate has passed from death unto life - is born again, and has that full belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, which can only result from the faith of Jesus Christ dwelling in his heart.
There are many who without any change of heart, without any love to God, or knowledge of their own lost and helpless condition, with no saving knowledge of God, of Christ, or the way of salvation, may say, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and speaking after the manner of men, they do; that is, they have a traditional belief; knowing no reason why they should disbelieve what they have read or heard others say. But in the case of the Eunuch, there were strong circumstantial evidences that God had wrought this faith in his heart. His mind was directed to the scriptures; he is found reading the book of the prophet Isaiah; he is buried in deep thought; he is earnest to understand the scriptures. He has a thirst for a knowledge of him of whom the prophet wrote, and although a man of high standing, and in great authority, he had a child-like humility, and desired that some one of clearer understanding in divine things should guide him. The minister of Christ is gladly received into his chariot; he has a hearing ear, and an understanding heart, and as he hears of Jesus, as preached by Philip, in his heart receives the testimony, gladly receives the word, and most unwaveringly believes that this Jesus is the Son of God, of whom the prophet testified. Another evidence of his heavenly birth is given in his desire to take on him the yoke of Jesus, to follow him in the ordinance of baptism. Absorbed in thought as he heard of Jesus, and transported with new light upon the subject and theme of prophecy, and attentively listening to the preaching of Jesus by Philip though he was at that time, he did not pass the baptismal waters unnoticed. "See here is water!" Never before had water presented such attraction to his eyes. Wonder, ye heavens! what heavenly beauty his faith discovers in that water; the footprints of his Savior; the bright example for all his children are seen. Did water ever before seem so lovely? The Savior's high command, "If ye love me, keep my commandments," is applied with power. O what a joyful privilege it would be, he may have thought, if I were worthy to follow Jesus in that delightful ordinance! Nay, I cannot be denied, unworthy though I am. Thou man of God, "See here is water! What doth hinder me to be baptized?"
Indeed, we know of no authority in the scriptures for attaching more importance to past than to present evidences of our having passed from death unto life.
The apostle John says, "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren." Not because our first evidences were so clear, or strongly marked. Not because we have acted so well our part; not because our natures have become better than they were before, nor because we feel that we are now worthy of a place in the house of God, and communion with his saints; but simply because we love them, and desire to be with them.
And Paul says, "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." The test is not laid on what is past; but what is present. If we are led by the Spirit of God, it will lead us to Jesus; to his work; to his laws; his ordinances; and to his people. It will make us feel that we are very, very unworthy of his favor, and to admire and gaze and wonder at the manner of love which God hath bestowed on us that we should be called the sons of God.
Another present and reliable evidence that we are the children of God is that "God dealeth with us as with sons." "If ye endure chastening," then have ye the evidence. "But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards and not sons."
How many present evidences are found in the scriptures of our sonship, and heirship, as sons of God and heirs of glory; and who shall tell us that any one, or all of these are less reliable than the first that we ever received?
We would by no means depreciate or under-value the first evidences which were given us in our new birth; for without that birth we should be forever destitute of all the other evidences. But if we can not find in our first experience the extraordinary exercises that some others can, we are fully warranted in relying on those which our God has seen proper to give us. If because we cannot tell when, where, or under what circumstances we were born into the natural world, would we be reasonable in concluding that we never were born? The very fact that we are now alive is sufficient evidence that there was a time when we began to live. If today we love God, it is because he first loved us. And if we ever have loved him, the evidence is the same, for we could not possibly love him from any other cause.
There is one other evidence we will name, and that is, If we are involved in the Christian warfare, then have we the same evidence of a heavenly birth that Paul had. Until we were born of God, the whole current of our nature ran in one way; our element was sin; it was sweet to our taste, and we drank it like the ox drinketh water. There can be no war where there is but one party. In the Shulamite we see as it were the company of two armies. So in every Christian is seen two opposite determined hostile parties. The one is born of the flesh and is flesh; and he held his palace in peace, without opposition, until another party came to occupy the same house, or person. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. These are opposite one to the other; for the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, and so terribly does the battle sometimes rage that we cannot do the things we would. All who are born of God, but no others, will so long as they are here in the flesh find a law in their fleshly members warring against the law of their mind, which will at times bring them into captivity to the law of sin which is in their members. All the doubts and unbelief that ever assailed or troubled a Christian in regard to his interest in Christ arises from his fleshly nature. Doubts, fears and temptations, unbelief and despondent fears are the artillery of the flesh and of Satan, planted against the law of their mind; but however the faith of God's people may be stormed, faith shall most assuredly triumph ultimately, for God giveth us the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ. Dead fish will float down with the current; only the living fish will stem the tide. Those who never have any conflict can never know the joys of victory. Those who have no temptations cannot appreciate deliverance. And those who have no clouds must live in a very dry pasture.
June 15, 1866.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 6