REPLY TO FRIEND SPERRY

Frankfort, Ohio, July, 1861.

Dear Sir: - There is a point of doctrine in theology that I am not fully posted on, and upon which I cannot fully go with my brethren, and upon which subject I should like to see a full and scriptural investigation, and if it should please you to give your views upon it, I should like to have them, either in a private communication or in the “Signs of the Times”. The subject, in short, is this: Are all men under obligation to do what is utterly impossible for them to do? Does condemnation rest or turn on doing, or not doing, on obedience or disobedience? Does salvation rest upon a more permanent and solid basis? The eternal oaths and promises of God, who never changes? What kind of a law was it that Adam violated, a moral or spiritual law? What was the penalty? Can anything more be required than the penalty? Are all men under obligation to keep the law in the most strict sense, and suffer the penalty at the same time? Will justice require two payments for one debt? Is not every son and daughter of Adam, now, at this very time, suffering the penalty of Adam’s transgression, and must eternally suffer if not delivered from under the curse of the law? Does the law make sin, or does the law punish anybody? Or is it sin alone that is the direct and immediate cause of all evil? Does the good Lord inflict punishment upon any of his creatures? Is it not the necessary and natural consequence of sin to bring its own punishment? Do not all act of necessity, yet willingly? Do we not eat of necessity, drink of necessity, live of necessity, believe of necessity, do this or that thing of necessity, because we could do nothing else? Lastly, do we not all die of necessity? Some people who have not thought much upon the doctrine of necessity, and perhaps careless, say that it makes God the author of sin, and thereby exculpates from guilt. But that is certainly one of the most lame ideas that ever entered a man’s brain. If, indeed, God was the author of sin, there would be some plausibility in it. Would it be any melioration of guilt to tell the court or jury that he was naturally so bad and wicked that he could not help but kill his neighbor? I think not, but rather to increase it. Elder Beebe, although you and I may differ in some of our views on theology, yet I hope we differ honestly, or ignorantly, and upon that principle look for forgiveness. I do not wish you to understand that I think or mean that men, all men, are not under obligation to God as accountable beings, for that would be unavoidable, as all are sinners, and it is sin, and sin alone, that separates between us and our God. I would not be so very solicitous upon the subject, but I think it involves one of the fundamental doctrines of the plan of salvation, to wit, salvation by grace. The Arminian says, All men are under obligation to believe to the saving of their souls, and that it is in their power to do so. Whilst, on the other hand, the Old Regular Baptists hold that all are under obligation to keep the whole law, but without power to do it. Now the former at first view would appear most consistent, but it will not bear to be weighed in the balance of the sanctuary; it will be found wanting. The other seems to look somewhat incongruous, for a dead man to be bound to do the work of a living man. When a man is alive he works of necessity. When and wherever God speaks there is power. Now I shall close my scribble, by informing you that we had a member join our church when over one hundred and one years old, and who died about a month ago. His name was Frederick Bray, and an old revolutionary soldier. If you see fit you can respond, if not all will be right.

Yours very respectfully,
Isaac Sperry.

Reply: - The point of doctrine on which our old friend Sperry requests our views, seems to branch out into a number of inquiries, which would require much time and space, even if we had ability to answer elaborately. We are aware that those with whom friend Sperry has chosen his quarters, and with whom he claims fraternity, (the New School Baptists) harp much upon the obligations of fallen sinners to meet the demands of the law of God. They plead that the inability of sinners to fulfill the jots and tittles of the divine law does not invalidate the claims of that law upon them, therefore they justify themselves in calling on dead sinners to do what they acknowledge that they have no ability to do, and as ministers of the law, they are so far consistent with themselves. If salvation were by the works of the law, it would be proper and right to call on them for such works as the law of God demands, but there is not a particle of gospel in such preaching. The ministration of the law to sinners is death. By the deeds of the law, no flesh shall be justified in the sight of God. Hence, we are expressly informed that as many as are of the works of the law, are under the curse. The Judaizing teachers, and all other workmongers, have much to say on the subject of moral obliga tions and human ability, but the gospel ministry is a proclamation of life and salvation to guilty, condemned sinners through Jesus Christ. The demands of the law of God are no less binding because we are carnal and sold under sin. In order to be justified by the law, we must fulfill all the requisitions of the law, by a perfect and perpetual obedience to all its precepts, in thought, in words and actions. We must be all that the law requires us to be, do all the law enjoins on us to do, and avoid all that the law forbids. The man that has ever transgressed the least precept, is irrecoverably lost forever, so far as the law is concerned.

“Curs’d be the man, forever curs’d,
That doth one single sin commit;
Death and damnation for the first,
Without relief, and infinite.

Thus Sinai roars, and around the throne,
Thunder, and fire, and vengeance flings;
But, Jesus, thy dear gaping wounds,
And Calvary speak gentler things.”

Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye hear the law? “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, is guilty of all.” The fatal mistake with Arminian workmongers is that they regard the fallen sons of men as probationers, in a state of experiment or trial, having what they call a day of grace allotted, in which, if they will do the best they can, they shall be saved, but if they do not do something, they shall be condemned. This is making void the law of God by their traditions, or doctrines, for the Bible teaches no such things, but quite to the contrary. He that believeth not, is condemned already, and the wrath of God abideth on him. From the moment when Adam transgressed the law, or commandment of God, in the garden of Eden, sin and death has passed on all men, because all have sinned. All were in Adam at the time, and all were Adam, hence all his posterity are the development of that Adam that sinned. His nature is our nature, and his guilt is our guilt, consequently we are conceived in sin, and shappen in iniquity, and we all go astray as soon as we be born, speaking lies. As convicted sinners we are under sentence, and wrath, every mouth is stopped, and all the world is guilty before God. Our condemnation does rest on our doing and our not doing, but remember, the die is cast, our condemnation rests on what we did, and in what we did not do, six thousand years ago. The condemnation under which we are born into this world does rest, or turn, upon our disobedience of the law of God in Adam; and all the works we are capable of doing subsequently to the fall cannot recover us from that condemnation. But if our old friend desires to know whether our salvation rests or turns upon our doing or not doing, we answer, No! “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ.” “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.” Death is the wages of sin, the payment for what we have done, and rests or turns on our doings. But the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord; that does not depend or turn on our doing, or not doing, on our obedience or disobedience, but on a permanent and solid basis. And the only hope of all God’s people rests on the promise which God that cannot lie, promised before the world began. Not the law, but,

“The gospel bears our spirits up;
A faithful and unchanging God,
Lays the foundation of our hope,
In oaths and promises and blood.”

The kind of law which Adam transgressed, and which we all transgressed, was the law of God, under which we as his creatures were created; a law embodying God’s right to govern, and the obligation of his creatures to obey; and the penalty of it was death. Nothing more than the penalty of that law is demanded, but that penalty involves all the human family in guilt and death, and from that death the law makes no provision for deliverance, for salvation and immortality.

In answer to the inquiry, “Are all under obligation to keep the law in the most strict sense, and suffer the penalty at the same time?” we repeat that all are condemned already and under wrath, totally depraved, without either disposition or desire to keep the law. And if they could and would keep the law in its letter and spirit, from this day forth, as long as they live, it would not atone for the guilt and condemnation in which they came into the world. The legal demands of the law are not changed, they cannot change, for the law being holy, is immutable, and all its demands must be met and honored, and all its penalties endured, or we must be damned, and such is our poverty and depravity that,

“No works or duties of our own
Can for the smallest sin atone.”

Of course if it were possible for us to keep the law in the most strict sense, there would be no penalty to endure, but as we have already sinned, that is impossible. None but Jesus has ever kept the law in the most strict sense, and none but Jesus had power to redeem sinners from the guilt of sin, and from the curse and dominion of the law, consequently there is salvation in no other name.

“Jesus, my God, thy blood alone,
Hath power sufficient to atone;
Thy blood can make me white as snow,
No legal works could cleanse me so.”

Friend Sperry inquires, “Will justice require two payments for one debt?” We answer, Certainly not. Those for whom Christ has suffered the dreadful penalty of the law are effectually and forever redeemed from sin, death and hell, and “there is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” With his stripes they are healed. They are freely justified, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. They shall never come into condemnation, but have passed from death unto life. For what the law could not do for them, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit.

“Is not every son and daughter of Adam now, at this very time, suffering the penalty of Adam’s transgression; and must they not forever suffer, if not delivered from under the curse of the law?” We answer, so far as our mortality may be reckoned as a penalty of Adam’s transgression, it falls alike on all the children of Adam. But the mortality of our bodies is not a payment made by us to justice; but it is the payment, or wages which justice pays to sin. All the saints redeemed from death by Christ, shall be completely delivered from its power and dominion when the last enemy shall be destroyed, when their body shall be changed, and fashioned like unto Christ’s glorious body, in the resurrection. Death shall still hold his dominion over the ungodly, and their final state of perdition is called the second death; but the second death shall have no power over them that die in the Lord. The dissolution of the mortal bodies of the saints is not a curse, or a penalty, for Christ has suffered all the penalties of the law for them, and he has destroyed death and him that had the power of death. Consequently, when this earthly house of their tabernacle shall be dissolved, it will be a deliverance and a privilege, not a curse. The risen Jesus holds the keys of death, and he will make that change a triumph to his people. Write, from henceforth, (not cursed, but) “blessed are the dead which die in the Lord.”

“Does the law make sin, or does the law punish anybody?” Where there is no law there can be no transgression, for sin is the transgression of the law. Hence the strength of sin is the law; yet the law is in itself holy, just and good, it does not make sin, but it detects sin, and inflicts its penalty on sinners. The law is the ministration of death, and that death, inflicted for sin, is punishment. Sin is the cause of all evil. The good Lord does inflict punishment on sinners who die in their sins, for they shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.

“Is it not the necessity and natural consequence of sin to bring its own punishment?” Not independently of God and his law. If men were free agents, they would have a right to do as they please. The reason why it was sin for Adam to eat of the tree which was in the midst of the garden was because God had forbidden it. Its baneful effect was from its being a transgression. We know of nothing in that act that would have involved guilt or wrath, but the disobedience of the act. The strength of sin is the law, in the absence then of the law there is neither sin nor penalty. We certainly live and die, eat and drink, believe and disbelieve, etc., from necessity, having no power to avert or change the fixed laws of nature, and notwithstanding this necessity we do many of these willingly. The hungry cannot resist a desire for food, the thirsty have no power to resist the desire for drink, we were all passive in our births, as to time, place, parentage, and all the circumstances. Nor have we the choice in regard to believing; no man has power to believe what he pleases. We are compelled to believe many things which we would gladly disbelieve if we could. The Arminians preach that sinners are required to believe as a condition of salvation, but they repudiate the doctrine of the Bible, that faith is the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22), and that a belief of the truth is a gift of God to the heirs of salvation. (II Thess. 2:13; Phil. 1:29.)

We do not agree that “the Old Regular Baptists hold that all are under obligations to keep the whole law, but without power to do it.” The apostles and primitive saints were Old Regular Baptists, and their faith on this subject, as recorded in the New Testament, is that, “Whatsoever the law saith, it saith to them that are under the law.” But Christ has redeemed his people from under the law, and they are no more under the law, but under grace; that they are now under the law to Christ, and his law is not now written on tables of stone, but in the fleshy tables of their heart. The righteousness of the law is fulfilled in them, and the law of the spirit of life in Christ has made them free from the law of sin and death. Those who are born of the Spirit, receive not the Spirit by the works of the law, but by the hearing of faith, and they are not required to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses; Christ has fulfilled that law for them, and redeemed them from all its authority. They are dead to the law by the body of Christ, and are married to him that is risen from the dead, and now being under Christ (and not Moses, or the law) they serve God in the spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter. They need not the fiery law to lash them to an unwilling task, but they desire to have grace whereby they may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. Instead of the yoke of Moses, which neither we nor the fathers were able to bear, the saints take on them the yoke (or law) of Christ, which is easy, and his burden, which is light, and find rest (instead of toil) to their souls.

Middletown, N.Y.,
August 1, 1861.

Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 5
Pages 33 - 40