IN this number will be found another letter from Deacon L. Sperry, on the subject of means, in which, after a deep conviction on his mind that there is not a shadow of difference between us on that subject, he proceeds to fill out three sheets of manuscript, in which he labors to prove that his position is right and that we are wrong. We presume that brother S. is the only reader of the SIGNS who, after a careful examination of his former letter and our reply, has come to the conclusion that there is no difference between us. We have either failed to write intelligibly, or he has failed to comprehend our meaning; for it was our design to express our unqualified dissent from the means doctrine, as stated and defined by him. But what seems truly remarkable is that after a thorough conviction, after reading our reply over and over, again and again, that we were agreed, that he shall attempt to prove that our views were in opposition to the testimony of the scriptures, and antagonistic of the experience of all the children of God.
The desultory manner in which brother S. has written his rejoinder challenges our ingenuity in framing a response. To notice every point in which he has laid himself bare to the lash of truth for castigation, would occupy more room than we have to spare. We shall only remark upon some scattering points and leave the subject.
He is confirmed in his first opinion, that the difference between the means and anti-means parties consists only in words. Does he mean to say that the doctrine of the two parties is identica1, and only differently expressed? We are loth to rate his powers of perception so very low as to think this can be his meaning; for the words used by the means party, as defined by himself, show that they believe that God speaks the word of life in quickening dead sinners through good men and through bad men, through his preachers, and through the devil’s ministers, thus using them as means or instruments in performing the work of regeneration, while every syllable of this is denied in the most unequivocal manner by the advocates of truth, called the anti-means party. Words are signs of ideas, and the words used by the two parties are signs which not only indicate a radical difference of sentiment, but positively affirm the existence of such difference. The means doctrine is as old as sin, and has been preached and practiced in our guilty world ever since the first transgression of our parents in Eden; while on other hand, the exclusive power of Cod to save sinners without any intermediate agency, instrumentality, or means what ever, has been clearly demonstrated from about the same period to all those with whom God has deposited the secret of the Lord. Light and darkness are not more opposite, heaven and hell are not further apart, than the doctrine of means, and salvation alone of God. We will not question the honesty of brother S. ill his assertion; but we are bound to admonish our readers that in this very shape nearly all the heresies that have ever afflicted the church of God have been sided in. Error assuming to be truth, steals the livery of truth, and its advocates affirm that it is the truth, only differently expressed. This sneaking way of foisting in heresy should be promptly met and resolutely resisted by the soldiers of the cross.
Brother S. may have presumed too far upon our republicanism, which is not quite so elastic as to embrace all the doctrines which men have endeavored to palm upon the church of God, and wink at them because they are brought in by professed Baptists. True, brethren may interchange their views, and even differ in their judgment on many points without breaking fellowship, and a calm, dispassionate discussion of doctrinal subjects may be conducted through our sheet to profit and edification. But the moment a Baptist, a Paul, or an angel from heaven, shall attempt to divide the work of salvation and ascribe any part thereof to works, good or bad, of men or of angels, that moment we feel the force of the admonition, “Let him be accursed.”
As to standard writers, whatever may be the signification of the term in the Ashdod language, we still contend that inspired men of God are the only standard writers for the church of God. Webster defines the word standard to signify, 1, An ensign of war, a staff with a flag or colors; 2, That which is established by sovereign power as a rule or measure by which others are to be adjusted; 3, That which is established as a rule or model by the authority of public opinion, or custom, &c. While the latter sense may answer for all other sects, and their writers may be held as standards by them, if public opinion consents, the church of God cannot measure with a standard of public opinion; nothing short of that standard established by sovereign power will do for her. We read that when the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard, &c. Is it likely that the Spirit of the Lord will hold up uninspired men, such as Sperry, or Beebe, or Gill, or fuller, as a safeguard to the saints against invasion? Such standards might be easily taken by the enemy, and if taken, the cause is lost, and all who are represented by such standards would fall captive to the enemy.
Brother S. says he had hoped that we would have caught his idea in his emphatic declaration that he attached no power, influence or merit, to means, and that it possesses no procuring quality whatever. If he had left this frank declaration to speak for itself, without going on to add that he held the term means to be equivalent to the gracious provisions which God has made for the salvation of his people, we might have been satisfied. But his position taken as a whole says substantially, that there is neither power, influence, nor merit, nor procuring quality, in gracious provisions, or provisions of grace.
Now he is evidently as far from truth in attempting to divest the provisions of grace of power and merit as he is when attempting to enrobe his heathen deity, Means, with both. How then could we catch his idea. It would require unusual dexterity to catch an idea that shoots about so much at random; at one moment means is a name for a powerless fantom without merit or influence; and anon, it is an equivalent for gracious provisions, and so powerful and meritorious that God is himself dependent on it in quickening the dead. If he would have us catch such an idea, we beg he would hold it still in some place until we can lay our hand upon it.
It was not a mere change of names for the same things that we desired. The application of the terms gracious provisions to the doctrine of means is a prostitution of sound words to corrupt purposes. The provisions of grace, as we regard them, embrace a Savior provided, and in him the election, preservation, life, calling, regeneration, adoption, justification, and eternal glory of the church of God. The preaching of the gospel is also a provision of grace, but not a means of grace; and not as held by brother S., a kind of instrument, through which God speaks to dead sinners. The gospel of means may belong to dead sinners for aught we know to the contrary, but the gospel of God our Savior makes no address whatever to dead sinners; it addresses the living, the quickened, and them exclusively. It preaches glad tidings to the meek; it proclaims liberty to the captives; the opening of the prison to those who are bound. It is glad tidings of great joy; but what is its language to dead sinners? It is to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness; it is hid to them that are lost; for God has hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and revealed them unto babes; and babes is a term applied to children after they are quickened and born, but not before. It seems to be almost impossible for an arminian to understand that the quickening of a sinner is time forming of Christ in him. Christ only bath, and Christ only is immortality. He that hath Christ bath life, and he that bath not Christ is dead. That time communication of this life, this immortality to a soul is effected by the immediate power of God, that there is no medium in heaven or earth through which God the Holy Ghost communicates Christ to the dead sinner. It is the Spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing. After God has quickened a sinner, the gospel is good news, glad tidings, &c., but not before.
Brother S. reminds us of the old proverb, “The legs of the lame are not equal,” for while he disputes our position, that the gospel is not preached where the Spirit does not attend the word, he asserts that the preaching of wicked men, and even grand imposters, who are destitute of the Spirit, is frequently attended with almighty power and yet he contends that man can do nothing only as God directs by bi Holy Spirit!
The simultaneous operation of the Holy Ghost in causing Peter to preach, and in pricking sinners in the heart on the day of pentecost, proves nothing in favor of the doctrine of means. It might be as plausibly argued that sinners being pricked in the heart was the means used to make Peter preach, as vice versa: seeing. as brother S. argues, these operations were simultaneous. For our own part we have no idea that their being pricked in the heart was being quickened hut it was evidence that the were alive, and being alive, by the quickening power of the Holy Ghost, was what made them sensitive to the preaching of Peter; but if Peter’s preaching was a means of giving life to the dead, or, as brother S. contends, if his words were in themselves spirit and life, the whole multitude who heard the sound of Peter’s voice would have been effected alike. The could hear Peter, or Paul, or even the Son of God himself preach, without being pricked in their hearts, until God gave them life. We know nothing about God’s bringing good out of evil, only that Job says it cannot be done; or that no one can bring a clean thing out of an unclean; but that God overrules all events for his own glory, and causes the wrath and wickedness of men and devils to subserve his righteous purpose, as in the case of Joseph and his brethren, and the crucifixion of Christ, we have no doubt. It is a singular argument indeed, and one that we did not expect from brother S., that because God has spoken through his Sou, that if he does not now speak to dead sinners through men, he has lost his immutability! Does brother S. not know that God wrought in Christ many miracles, such as healing the sick, raising the dead, and casting out devils ? Will he say that if God does not continue to perform these miracles through the agency of men, he is changeable God? We know that at sundry times, and in divers places, God spake to the fathers by the prophets, and that in these last days he has spoken to us by the Son, whom he bath appointed heir of all things; but it really shocks us to hear a brother say, If God does not continue thus to speak, he is a mutable God! Moses and Elijah were seen by Peter and John on the mount, transfigured and enveloped in the cloud, out of which the audible voice of God the Father was heard, saying of Christ, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear ye him.” The law and the prophets were until John, but they have ceased to speak to our fathers. Christ, who is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believes, has come; the government is now upon his shoulder, and his name is Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace. He is to have no successor as the personification of God n speaking unto men. God evidently gives his ministers ability to preach the preaching that he bids them; but there is a wide difference between his speaking and their speaking. He speaks the word, and it stands fast; he commands, and it is done. But we know of none of his preachers who have that power. When he says to the dead sinner, Live, the bands of death are loosed, and the portals of immortality are opened, and he that was dead comes forth.
Brother S. has reminded us that what God has joined, man is not at liberty to divide asunder; but let him be careful, and not unite in marriage parties where God has forbidden the bans. It would be a difficult matter for him to show that because God’s ministers speak as the Spirit gives them utterance, that therefore the words of his ministers are spirit and life; that would illy comport with another part of the text, “It is the Spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing; the words that Ï speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life.” Brother S’s” criticism” on our remarks in reply to his perversion of the words, “He called you by our gospel,” &c., is a failure, for we did not attempt an explanation of the text; we only showed that it could not apply as he had used it. Now, who were called by the apostle’s gospel to obtain the glory of Christ, the living or the dead? Did Paul, or Peter, or James, or any other apostle call dead men to obtain the glory of the Head of the church? If so, when, where, and who? But in their preaching they thus addressed the saints: “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.” – Col. iii. 1. The glory which Christ has with the Father is what the gospel calls the risen with Christ to seek, and to obtain; but if the apostles ever called any who were not risen with Christ to seek or obtain that glory, the page on which the record is found is not in our bible.
Brother S. is not satisfied with our reply to the 17th item of his former letter, “Look unto me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth, for I am God, and there is none else.” – Isa. xlv. 22. We showed by the context, that. this command was addressed unto the seed of Jacob, and not, as brother S. says, to every creature indiscriminately. Does brother S. know that the seed of Jacob, spiritually understood, means the elect of God? If he does not, we refer him to Romans ix. 11-13; and that the elect are to be gathered in from the ends of the earth. If brother S. will prove that every creature without discrimination on the earth is called to look for salvation from God, we will prove by Rom. viii. 30, that whom he called, them he also justified. Their calling, no less than their justification and glory, is the immediate work of God. But brother S. used the quibble which is in the mouth of every arminian, “Many are called and few are chosen.” We call this quibble, because it is garbled from a parable which our Lord spake upon a very different subject, and has no kind of allusion to the calling of sinners from death unto life. The nation of Israel had, in the sense of the marriage Supper, been bidden, but they were not the chosen people of God. Brother S. is evidently unwilling to be called an arminian; but his speech betrayeth him. There is scarcely an argument used by him in hi two long communications that is not current among the most rotten kind of arminians. He says, “The proclamation of the gospel appears to be to all indiscriminately.” And on the other hand, we affirm that no such thing appears, either from the gospel itself or from what he can establish by argument, and we hope he will just stick a pin in this place, and remember that there is a shadow of difference between us. If the proclamation of the gospel is indiscriminately to everybody, and brother S. says it is, if the above text from Isaiah means what it says, then everybody indiscriminately will be saved as sure as there is a God in heaven. For the gospel is a proclamation of complete salvation, of peace and pardon, of justification from all things from which we could not be justified by the law of Moses. It proclaims liberty to some captives, or to all captives; brother S. says to all the word of God says to the redeemed. The gospel proclaims the opening of the prison to them that are bound. Is it. a general jail delivery, or is the prison Only opened to debtors whose obligations were canceled by the Son of God? “To everybody indiscriminately,” says brother S. The gospel proclaims that God has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places. Brother S. says this is indiscriminately to everybody. Paul says its application is only “according as he bath chosen us in him (Christ) before the foundation of the world,” The gospel proclamation is, “For by grace are ye saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” Now will even the worshipers of Means pretend to say that this proclamation is to everybody?
He says that these passages are not the only ones he could bring. We know it. We have been familiar with the whole catalogue of passages relied upon by the arminians for over turning the system of salvation by grace alone from our youth up, and could rattle them over, if occasion required, with as much ease as a new light engineer of a front bench revival. But how awfully must the scriptures be perverted, and the truth of our God turned into a lie, or made to testify the opposite of what they declare, in thus garbling and misapplying their testimony. With our remarks upon the commission to the apostles he is also dissatisfied; he still insists on the application of his generalism. According to his theory, which he thinks is more orthodox than ours, the apostles were to preach the gospel to everybody, teach everybody to observe all things whatsoever Christ had commanded the apostles; and they were commissioned to baptize everybody. But did the apostles so understand, or so practice? By no means. They preached the gospel among the Jews and Gentiles; and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed, and those that believed were baptized. This included every creature belonging to the new creation, and no more. But brother S. has the apostles preaching to the men of Nineveh, Sodom, and to the antediluvians; not to either the old nor to the new creation exclusively, but to all indiscriminately! And upon this point he thinks the subject turns. Well, we are willing to rest it here. If the gospel is an indiscriminate proclamation to everybody; if it proclaims peace, pardon, salvation and eternal life to everybody, we must confess ourself ignorant of its application altogether.
He thinks it devolves on us, or on some good brother, to tell what purpose God has in causing his gospel to be preached. So far as God has made known to us his design we are ready to announce it: First, “It shall he preached for a witness unto all nations.” – Matt. xxiv. 14. Here we have one object stated by our Redeemer. Another design to accomplish is “To feed the church of God, which he has purchased with his own blood.” – Acts xx. 28. But if there be any scriptural authority for saying that God designed the preaching of the gospel to be used as a means through which to quicken dead sinners, it belongs to the means party to produce it.
We were not a little surprised to hear even brother S. say that our denying that the display of Christ’s eternal power and Godhead either said or implied that he was in need of means or anything else to secure the great work of salvation, was equivalent, in his opinion, to denying every ordinance and institution of Christ, and saying that they were of no use. We can conceive of nothing short of mental derangement that could lead him thus to speak; but in evidence of his total aberration, he attempts to shame the firmament above, and commands the very heavens to blush! Blush at what? Why, that it should overspread a person who denies that Christ needs means, or needs anything else, to secure the great work of salvation. We leave our readers to judge whether the blush does not belong somewhere else.
To the question whether anybody ever knew of a whole family’s being born at once, we answer, we have heard of a nation’s being born in a day, but we cannot perceive what connection this question has with the subject under consideration. His allusion to the blowing of rams’ horns around Jericho, so far from being the means of throwing down the walls, that brother S. more than half yields that point, and does not know that it caused the walls to fall. Neither do we; so we will let that argument pass for all that it may be worth.
We did not say that eating, drinking and breathing were not essential to the perpetuation of human life, but that they were not the means of our living; that is, they never produced life in a dead carcass; and as brother S. has tasked us with an experiment, we will requite his kindness by proposing to him the experiment on a dead body; let him stuff it with as much wholesome food as he can get down, and see if it will produce life, and if he fails in this experiment, let him give up the point, and own that eating, &c., are not the means of producing life. A quickened soul lives by faith upon the Son of God; but their so living wag not the cause of, or means whereby they were made alive. We shall not attempt an explanation of Paul’s meaning, where he said that he rejoiced that Christ was preached, notwithstanding some preached of envy, &c., thinking to add affliction to Paul’s bonds. But to brother S’s conclusion that God’s Holy Spirit was, or is administered through the agency of ungodly men, we enter our unqualified Protest. Truly such a version of Paul’s views does not very well comport with brother B’s views, nor the views of any other person with whom we have ever had correspondence, except brother S. As to the experience of the thousands to whom brother S. alludes, if in harmony with that sentiment, we could not regard them as gospel experiences. Any spirit communicated to them through the envious preaching of ungodly men cannot he the Spirit of Christ.
He does not know why, in alluding to Ezekiel’s vision, we skipped over the first ten verses. Did he suppose it was necessary that we should comment on every verse in the bible? But he says he thinks it is most clear to every common sense reader that God wrought through, or by the prophet Ezekiel, to the quickening and making alive those dry bones. Well, if so, we are not a common sense reader; for we did not know that there were any dry bones quickened, and much less did we imagine that God quickened any by or through Ezekiel. We understand the whole to be a vision which the prophet saw, and that in the vision God caused the bone to come to his bone, and the breath, not of Ezekiel, but of God to enter them. And God interpreted the vision to Ezekiel very differently from the manner in which brother S. has to us. “Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel,” not everybody indiscriminately. “Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God, Behold, O my people, I will open your graves,” not by or through Ezekiel’s digging, “and cause you to come up out of your graves,” &c. “And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves, and shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land; then shall ye know that I the Lord have spoken it, and performed it, saith the Lord.” And we ask if there ever was an instance where God has opened the grave of a poor dead sinner, brought him out of his grave, and put his spirit in him, and that quickened sinner did not know that it was the Lord, and not Ezekiel, that had spoken and performed it?
But after all that has been said, brother S. hinges the whole “jet” of the subject on the question, “Is it, or is it not, clearly revealed in God’s word that God makes use of his gracious provisions, or instrumentalities (not men) in the awakening of dead sinners “ If he means by gracious provisions, what he has been contending for, instrumentalities or means, there is nothing of the kind clearly stated in the scriptures; for in the quickening of the dead, there are neither means nor instrumentalities used; bat if he means what God has provided, namely, life in Christ, election, predestination, calling, &c., which were provided graciously, none will deny that these provisions take effect when God communicates life to the soul; but that these are used as instruments, or as means of quickening the dead, is denied. His version of our admission is calculated to give a wrong impression; because we allow that the Spirit can and undoubtedly does sometimes quicken sinners, simultaneously with the preaching; he says that we allow that the word preached, and the Spirit and power are simultaneous, as though we had admitted that it were always so, or more frequently so, than otherwise, which was not out intention. We hold that it can neither facilitate nor retard the work of the Holy Ghost. In his contrast between his views and those of arminians, he comes, in many points, upon the anti-means ground, and, as above, excludes men and means from all power; but still he contends that God exerts his power in the work of regeneration by or through men and means. So bewitching is this means doctrine that those infected can frequently contradict their own words without being aware of it. The very same arguments and quibbles generally used by arminians are used by brother S. in attempting to sustain his darling bantling, Means, and all that he has admitted of the opposite doctrine, or nearly all, has also been admitted by John Wesley and other famous arminians. He demands, If the saints are fed through the preachers, or by the preaching of the gospel, why not quickened and made alive through them? Strange confusion of language! If a shepherd can feed sheep why can he not make sheep? God has given us natural life through Adam, and life coming to us, by or through him, makes us his children; and if God gives spiritual life through his preachers, the medium through which we receive it must constitute us the children of the preachers; not of God. When children are born, no nurse who may be employed to feed them can change their relationship as children; but if God’s children are quickened through an intervening agent, then is there an intermediate father between them and God, which must effect, if not destroy, their heirship. But he asserts that it is just as reasonable and scriptural that they should be made alive by or through preachers, as to be fed, after being made alive, by the preaching of the word.
This wild assertion is followed by a chapter on charity; but, although charity may cover a multitude of sins, it can not reconcile this absurdity with the truth of God, nor have we a charity cloak sufficiently broad to wrap it up.
In our former position, which brother S. seems inclined to controvert, we assert that the church of Christ is a unit, and we are sustained by Cant. vi. 9, Eph. 11, 1622, and iv. 4, with as many other scriptural declarations as he will be able to dispose of conveniently. He allows there may he in some churches those who agree in all the essential fundamental doctrines of the gospel; but will he tell us what doctrine of Christ is more fundamental, or of more vital importance in the economy of salvation, than that which asserts that life and salvation is of the Lord alone? Truly, we believe that all must come up to the scribe, and, as far as we are enabled, we shall hew to the line, and let the chips fly. He admits that Paul did contend that “Salvation is of grace, and not of works.” This is the very point at which we are now at issue. We contend that salvation is wholly of God; and he is laboring to wedge in the rotten arminian notion of means. He says, “Paul did not contend about means.” True, for that heresy was known in Paul’s day by other names. None more boldly contended that the quickening of the dead was exclusively the work of God than Paul. The charge that he used means for quickening the dead cannot be proved; and the foundation which Paul, as a wise master builder, laid is the same that brother S. and all his means fraternity are laboring to overthrow.
New Vernon, N.Y.,
December 15, 1846
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 2
Pages 712 – 726