“BROTHER BEEBE: Please give your views, through the SIGNS OF THE TIMES, on Exodus xx. 25: “And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone thou shalt not build it of hewn stone; for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it.”
ALL the institutions for the religious service of Israel under the old dispensation presented a shadow of things to come, the substance or body of which is Christ, and the altar was among the provisions under the law for the sacrificial service of the children of Israel, and in which they were to be distinguished from all other nations and people. Nothing was valid in their religious exercises which God had not him self appointed; and every attempt on the part of Israel to improve upon what God had authorized, was regarded as a pollution. The altars of Israel, in general, seemed typically to allude to the great sacrifice which should be offered up for the sins of the spiritual Israel of our God; but there were other things also to be set forth by the patterns of the things in heaven, as is evident; for although there now remaineth no more sacrifice for sin, since Christ was offered up, yet we find there are sacrifices, figuratively so called, to be perpetuated in the gospel church by those whom our Lord has made kings and priests unto God, and destined to reign on the earth. The precise figurative import of the altar alluded to in the text under consideration, is not altogether clear in our mind; but the manner of building, and the materials of which this altar is to be composed, seems to agree with the gospel order of building up the church. The apostle says, (Heb. xiii. 10) “We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle.” Peter, in his first epistle, ii. 15, says to the saints, “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God, by Jesus Christ;” and in verse ninth, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood,” &c. As priests unto God, we certainly are not to offer sacrifices in atonement for sin, as there remaineth no more sacrifice for sin, since Christ by one offering has perfected for ever them that are sanctified or set apart unto salvation. – Heb. x. 14. But the scriptures speak of spiritual sacrifices, anti-typical of those carnal sacrifices which were offered under the old covenant, and upon Jewish altars. But the text under consideration forbids that the stones for the altar should be hewn. No improvement is to be made on what God has instituted. The materials for building up a church are not to be fitted for stations in a gospel church by human instruments or tools: like the temple, the church must come together without the sound of tools – without the polishing touch of human art or enterprise. No front bench tinkering, no protracted meeting efforts, no moral suasion exploits, no missionary, tract, Sunday School or other humanly devised instruments are to touch the work of building up the kingdom of God. The sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty must come in as the men, women and animals came into Noah’s ark, just as God by his Holy Spirit shall teach, guide and direct them.
Again, the effect of lifting up human tools upon the lively stones of which the church is built up, has been sensibly felt in many places where we had hoped the Lord had graciously recorded his name; for instance, a young brother manifests a disposition to preach the gospel, he is thought by the sagacious to have rather a rough appearance, he is unlearned, his manners and language too rude for the polished age in which he must figure, yet he is a good brother, very zealous, and – and what? With a little hewing, and squaring, and polishing in one of our theological seminaries, he would be better qualified to do credit to the altar. With such and similar reasonings, modern religionists, like Israel of old, have provoked the Lord, and sacrificed in gardens, and burned incense on altars of brick, or hewn stone, or in some way in which their own handiwork is used to set off and improve upon the Lord’s work and the Lord’s appointments.
Not only in convert or proselyte making do we see human instruments employed but also in regard to all institutions connected with the order of the church. Baptism administered in apostolical simplicity, has become too vulgar for the refined taste of many who claim to be Baptists at this day. They are shocked at the idea of men, and especially delicate females, going down into the river to be immersed in the presence of the gazing multitude, and they are tired of the scandal and reproaches which have been heaped on the Baptists by their anti-Baptist neighbors, and finally they have set their wits at work to hew down the institution, and throw off the offences of the cross; and in this work they have succeeded admirably, so that the Rantizers, of Roman Catholic emanation, have even laid aside their quart basins, and come over to immerse their converts in the splendid cisterns fixed in the basements of Baptist meeting houses, where an apparatus is ingeniously contrived to warm the water in the tub, so as riot to chill the zeal of their candidates.
The Lord’s Supper has also been hewn down; in many instances the wine is omitted, and water, or water in which dried raisins have been soaked, is substituted.
The laws for the government of the members of the church have not escaped the human appliances for modification. The New Testament is not sufficiently clear and explicit to answer as an only rule for the faith and practice of the saints, without some of the ingenuity of human invention.
In short, there is nothing connected with the faith or practice of the church of Christ, that is suffered to remain precisely as Christ has given authority; some improvement has been attempted, arid all such improvements are regarded as a pollution of the altar of the Lord. Let us then be admonished to adhere strictly to the law and the testimony, and turn not aside to the right hand or the left.
Brother Livesay and all others are welcome to our views, such as they are, and any brother who can give a more scriptural comment on the subject, will be greeted by us with a hearty welcome.
New Vernon, N.Y.,
February 1, 1846
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 2
Pages 618 – 621