Reply to our friend Isaac Stewart. Continued from our last number.
“Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken. Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?” Luke 24:25,26.
These words were spoken by our risen Savior immediately after his resurrection from the dead, to two of his disciples who, although they had heard a report that he was risen, still lacked a satisfactory evidence that the joy-inspiring assertion was true; for they still were communing in sadness on the subject of his sufferings and death. They were disciples of Jesus, and were by him recognized as such, and if their natural faculties had been made spiritual by their new birth, it is safe to suppose their hearts would not have been so slow to accredit the testimony of the witnesses who had announced his resurrection, or the testimony of the prophets, and the words which Christ had himself spoken to them before his crucifixion, in which he said he would rise from the dead on the third day. It seems to us, if their faculties had come by a spiritual birth directly from God, their recollection would have been less treacherous, and their hearts less foolish; still there was in them a spiritual vitality, burning in their hearts, while he talked with them by the way; although the natural faculty of seeing was strangely defective. That they were both of them subjects of saving grace, possessing in them an inner man that was born of God, is clear from the very fact that they were sad at the events which pleased wicked men and devils, and that their hearts could burn while Jesus expounded to them the Scriptures. We cannot admit the theory that they were in their new birth only begotten to a false or delusive hope, and that their sadness arose from a disappointment of their expectation that Jesus was to have delivered Israel from the Roman yoke, and advance them to political independence. We firmly believe they were by their new and spiritual birth born of God, made partakers of the divine nature, and had received the faith of the Son of God, so that, having in them the mind of Christ, with it they served the law of God, while with their flesh they served the law of sin.
Indeed we are unable to perceive any difference between the condition of these two disciples, experimentally, and the disciples of later times. If we are not altogether mistaken, there is in all the saints a principle of spiritual life that is begotten and born of God, which feeds on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, and that kindles to a burning flame of light, love and joy, when Jesus communes with them by the way, even when their natural eyes are holden, and all their natural faculties are as closely holden from perceiving that it is Jesus who thus communes with them, as were the eyes of these two disciples. The spouse of Christ is heard to say, I sleep, but my heart awaketh; it is the voice of my Beloved that knocketh. All our natural faculties may be locked in unconscious slumber or stupefied, while at the seat of vitality in the new heart, the voice is heard, recognized, and its awakening animation confessed. The Old Testament saints could say in truth, “Verily thou art a God that hideth thyself, O God of Israel, the Savior.” God himself, by his Spirit, shines in the hearts of his saints, to give them the light of the knowledge of his glory in the face of Jesus Christ. But although this heavenly light shines in us, the darkness of our natural minds comprehends it not.
We do not understand our Lord as applying his words to the two disciples, in a reproachful way, nor as charging them with idiocy in regard to their natural faculties, or intelligence, nor does he use words to them which may not be with equal propriety applied to us. No idiot can be more slow to comprehend the things of nature than the Christian’s natural intellect or reason is to comprehend the things which God is pleased to reveal to the faith of his spiritual children.
Before we condemn these two disciples, as requiring to be again begotten and born in order to be wise, or to have a good and vital hope of immortality, let us enquire if we are not all of us as great fools as they were, and as slow to believe all that the prophets have written. Let us take our Bible and sit down and read all that the prophets have said or written, and tax our intellectual faculties to unseal their spirituality to our understanding, and if we do not convince ourselves that we are fools and slow of heart to believe, comprehend and understand them, it will be simply because we are not Christians. As successfully may we search for the sun at midnight, with a penny taper, as to search for the sublime spiritualities of the Scriptures by the light of our natural reason, with all the commentaries and expositions of the learned doctors who set themselves up as teachers of divinity. Not one of all the heaven-born heirs of glory has ever received the first correct understanding of the things of the Spirit, until they had first became fools, that they might be wise. The wisdom of the world is earthly, sensual and devilish, but that wisdom which is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Pure from its fountain in heaven there is nothing deceptive in it, for it is Christ, who of God is made unto us [his children, the children of wisdom] wisdom and righteousness, sanctification and redemption. We are all fools and slow of heart to believe what the prophets have written, and none but Jesus can open the Scriptures to our understanding, or bestow on us a capacity to understand when they are rightly expounded. It is not necessary that Jesus, in order to open them to the understanding of our faith, should stand in our presence, revealed in his person to our natural eyes, or faculties. Shut up your eyes, and put out all the lights of intellect, and darken every avenue that brings natural intelligence to the natural understanding of natural men, and still the Christian’s new heart will burn within him when Jesus draws near, by his Spirit, unperceived by reason, and communes with him by the way, for it is the Spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing. He says, “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” Now that Jesus is ascended up where he was before, enthroned in glory, to be known after the flesh no more, how often he draws nigh to his disciples as they journey and are sad; and unperceived by any reasoning faculty of their nature, by his Spirit, through the gifts bestowed on his church for mutual edification, or by the outpouring of his Spirit, with, or without those gifts, makes our hearts burn within us, opens so clearly the hidden treasures of his word, and beginning at Moses and all the prophets, expounds unto us in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself, until the light of eternity breaks into our hearts in the most blessed refulgence of the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ.
How lifeless and insipid to the heaven born soul, would even the Scriptures be, if no Jesus were there. It was the expounding of the things in the Scriptures concerning himself that set their hearts on fire.
As a fool in nature is one who has no capacity to comprehend the things of nature, so the term was applied to the two disciples, and may be to every disciple our Lord, in special reference to the total incapacity of our natural mind and faculties to comprehend the things contained in the Scriptures concerning the Lord Jesus, for it was clearly the case with these disciples. It was their natural eyes that failed to see, and their natural senses which failed to recognize the person of their risen Lord, while the new man of their heart was drinking in, feeding and feasting upon the spiritual import of every word. How striking is this exemplification of the total incapacity of the natural or outward man to comprehend the things of the Spirit, which things the eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard, neither have entered into the heart of man; but God hath revealed them to his spiritual children by his Spirit. For while it is emphatically declared that the flesh profiteth nothing, and that the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit, and that the things of the Spirit are foolishness to the natural man, and that the natural man cannot know them, because they can only be spiritually discerned; it is as positively declared, that “He that is spiritual judgeth all things.” “But God hath revealed them [the things of the Spirit] unto us by his Spirit.”
In our experience we see not God or Christ with the natural eye. “No man hath seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, hath revealed him.” John 1:18, and I John 4:12. Yet the same apostle says, “The life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us.” It was not manifest to our natural eyes, but to the eyes of our understanding, which are the eyes of the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. Flesh and blood cannot reveal it, neither can it be revealed to flesh and blood, but to the faith of those who have the faith of the Son of God; otherwise flesh and blood could inherit the kingdom, or the things of the spiritual kingdom. The Holy Ghost has declared by the inspired apostle, that “no man hath seen, nor can see,” nor approach unto him “who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords, who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light” I Timothy 6:15,16. “Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.” I Peter 1:8. “This is life eternal, [not life mortal] that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.” John 17:3. Jesus said to Philip, and also to us, “He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father also.” “I am in the Father, and the Father is in me.” But since the ascension of our risen Redeemer, no man has with his natural eyes, or life, or intellectual faculties, ever seen the Father or the Son; yet all who have eternal life have received a revelation of both the Father and the Son, to their faith, to the eyes of their spiritual understanding. Hence they who are born of the Spirit see the kingdom of God; behold the King in his beauty, and behold the land that is very far off, while all that nature, even in the saints which are born only of the flesh, remains in utter darkness; for no man, either saints or sinner, by searching, or by the light of nature or of reason can find out God. It is therefore unquestionably true that we are all fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken of the things concerning Jesus.
“Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?” This interrogatory was put to the disciples, and to us, that we may the more fully appreciate the necessity of the sufferings and death of the Redeemer. If viewed only as seen by men, and decided by human reason, and as expressed by the disciples, it would seem only as a triumph of the powers of darkness over the Son of God. To our carnal or fleshly minds it would seem as it did to the taunting Jews, when they said in derision, “He saved others, let him now save himself. If he be the Son of God, let him come down from the cross, and we will believe on him.” But the question presses home the solemn enquiry, Was there not a necessity for the sufferings and death of Christ? To meet and answer this question all that the prophets have spoken, and all that is written in the books of Moses, and in the Psalms, must be brought to bear upon the subject, and Jesus, as the only efficient expounder of divine testimony going before, must open these Scriptures, in their testimony of him. With our natural senses we see, or read, the account of a man of sorrow, treacherously betrayed by a professed disciple who was numbered with the apostles, rudely seized by an armed band of men, led away unresistingly to Pilate, confronted by a clamorous mob, impeached by false testimony, condemned to die, and led to the place of execution as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep is dumb before his shearers, so he opened not his mouth. He was nailed to the cross, and crucified. Writhing in agony, he cried, “My God! My God! Why hast thou forsaken me?” He dies, and is taken down from the cross and laid away in the tomb, and a guard of soldiers watch his sepulchre, with a strict charge to keep him there. In the absence of the Scriptures on the subject, what more natural conclusion than that implied in the words of the disciples? “We trusted that it had been he that should have redeemed Israel.” They had trusted, but now their confidence was shaken, and they were sad. Before we censure these two sad and sorrowing disciples for the weakness of their faith, let us enquire, how has it been with us? Has not Christ been evidently set forth crucified among us - have we not received the comfortable assurance in our hearts, by his word and by his Spirit, that “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows,” - that he was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed; and after having rejoiced in the overflowing assurance that he has washed and cleansed us with his own blood, and shed his love abroad in us, have we not yielded in sadness many times to our fears, that we had mistaken him, and taken a shadow for a substance, an illusion for a reality; and have we not said in the sadness of our hearts, We trusted that the lovely Savior who once appeared to us as the chiefest among ten thousand, had redeemed us? But when our faith has been assailed by our fears, have we not faltered and doubted, and traveled on our weary way in gloomy depression, until our gracious Lord has come to us, communed with us, and made himself known to us in the breaking of bread? In his communion with us, in expounding to us the Scriptures, he has enabled us to see that all the painful discouragements we have met with were precisely what the Scriptures had before testified we must pass through. Instead of looking unto Jesus, we have had our eyes directed to ourselves, or to the angry billows which threaten to engulf us, and our confidence has yielded to fear. But when the Lord has vanquished from us our cruel doubts and fears, have we not reproached ourselves, saying, O fools, and slow of heart to believe. Ought not we to endure trials, and suffer with him who for the joy set before him endured the cross and despised the shame? The Scriptures have been opened to us, and we have read that “Unto us it is given on the behalf of Christ, not only that we should believe on him, but also that we should suffer for his sake.” And when these Scriptures are applied by his Spirit with power to us, we again feel, as the apostle expressed, a desire; even at the utter loss of all that we once counted gain, that we may know him, and the power of his resurrection; yes, and the fellowship of his sufferings, and be conformed to his death.
But to return to the question, - Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? Aside from the purpose of God, and the things written of him in the Scriptures, we confess we can see no just cause for his sufferings. He was holy and harmless, and separate from sinners. No guile could be detected in his mouth, or heart. There was nothing found to justify those who put him to death; they were charged with the crime of murder in his case, for they hated him without a cause, and with wicked hands crucified him. Short of the revelation which God has made in the Scriptures, we boldly challenge the wisdom of men to show any just cause for his crucifixion.
Yet there was a cause, a just, a righteous cause, which we can only comprehend when Jesus by his Spirit opens our understanding, that we may understand the Scriptures. Then he says to us, as he said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” This settles the matter, and answers the question. He came down from heaven to do and suffer all things which were written, and heaven and earth should pass away, but not a jot or tittle of the Scriptures should fail till all was fulfilled. The Old Testament Scriptures had foretold of his sufferings and of the glory that should follow. Moses in his law, and in all the ritual of Judaism, has declared this in the sacrifices and offerings which were under the law, and all the prophets had predicted his sufferings, and the Psalms dwelt largely on the same subject. Thus showing that he was delivered up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, to be put to death by wicked men and with wicked hands.
Again, it behooved him to suffer and to rise from the dead, to accomplish the redemption and salvation of his people. It was the will of the Father; and the Father’s will is the supreme and eternal law and standard of righteousness. Nothing but right can be entertained in his will, and therefore nothing in opposition to his will can be right, however it may seem to our feeble judgment. It was the Father’s will that of all that he had given to Christ he should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. It therefore behooved Christ to suffer. It pleased the Father to bruise him; he hath put him to grief. He has laid on him the iniquities of all his chosen people, and he was delivered to die for our offences, and was raised from the dead for our justification. Without this suffering, repentance could not be granted unto them. The law that they had transgressed knew nothing of repentance nor of mercy. The transgressor died without mercy; for the law neither required nor accepted repentance. Its stern decree was, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” Neither repentance nor remission of sins can be consistent with the nature of the law. In order then to open the prison to them that were bound, to redeem them from the dominion and wrath of the law, and bring them under law to Christ, it behooved him to put away their sins by the sacrifice of himself. And having risen from the dead he is exalted high upon his Mediatorial throne, to be a Prince and a Savior, to give [not demand] repentance unto Israel [not Esau], and remission of sins. Having by his one offering perfected forever them that are sanctified; he has sent his angels or messengers forth to the four winds of heaven, to preach repentance and remission of sins in his name. Not in the name or by the authority of any other. His name signifies the authority to which he is exalted as a Prince and a Savior, which is not only above, but far above all principality and power, and every name that is named in this world, or in that which is to come. And this name and supreme authority discriminates. No repentance or remission of sins can be preached in his name, only to Israel [his spiritual Israel], for he has given no authority to preach it to any other. Nor can this gift of repentance be separated from that of remission of sins: both are gifts; and repentance can no more be performed by any other name or power, than forgiveness of sins can be. To qualify even our Redeemer to give repentance and forgiveness of sins, it behooved him to suffer and die for their redemption, and to arise from the dead and enter his glory, as the exalted Prince, possessing all power in heaven and in earth, crowned with glory and honor as a Prince, and set upon his holy hill of Zion, to give gifts unto men, among which are prominently set forth that of repentance and forgiveness. It is not preaching repentance unto Israel and forgiveness of sins, in his name, or by his authority, when men in their own names, and on their own responsibility tell sinners to repent. This preaching in his name is by his authority, by his express command, by chosen and ordained messengers, called, qualified and sent forth by him, began at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, and by his supreme power and authority it must extend to all nations whethersoever he sends it, and execute precisely what he has ordained, and then shall the end come.
Lengthy as we have made this article, we could extend our remarks indefinitely, without any fear of exhausting the subject. But what we have written we submit to our friend Stewart, and to such of our readers as feel interested.
March 1, 1869.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 7
Pages 370 – 377