January 19, 1868.
Elder Gilbert Beebe - Dear Sir: - Permit this feeble expression of one who hopes she feels thankful to you for your reply to “A Stranger,” and to that stranger for the brief relation of his or her troubles. How well does at least one fellow mortal know that state of feeling which have ever been at a loss to name - not hope, and yet not absolute despair - sometimes a kind of vibration between the two. How willing I felt when I finished your reply, to obey the exhortation at its close, trusting to him all my doubts of unworthiness. But alas! How many dark doubts bestrew the pathway that leads to its accomplishment, if, indeed, I shall ever have strength to reach it. How often have I, like this one, longed to appeal to you, or some other of the watchmen, for information in regard to my case, but have refrained because I believed that if God was not his own interpreter, the most lucid and gratifying reply to my questions would not afford me the relief I so desired. How precious also the letter you refer to in the LW” number, and how often reperused! So many of my own thoughts and feelings are embodied in it. Yet in them all there seems to be something a little more hopeful than in mine; none seem quite so dead, and I am confident I could not give full expression to the depraved emotions of my own heart.
But there is one thought which I had for a long time believed peculiar to myself; one which I deemed too base for utterance. I once heard it referred to by one esteemed by me, but beloved by you, yet not entirely explained away. I know it is carnal reasoning, which has no claim to gratification; but I cannot free myself from its power to annoy. It is this. If God has written upon our hearts his commands, where do we get the power to disobey? We cannot go forward in a single obedient step except we go in his strength, and can we exercise that strength at pleasure? I feel very much like a guilty criminal in writing this, I feel as if the rebuke, “Nay, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?” was applicable to me; but this is not more base than the other emotions of my heart, which is “so deceitful and desperately wicked,” it seems to me that no one else with such a heart would dream of cherishing a hope.
Sometimes, if it is not wrong to enter the lists with carnal reasoning, would you please permit an answer to this thought to be embodied in some of your remarks to your tempted and doubting readers. I do not ask or wish a lengthy reply, and do not wish any of this published. I will cheerfully bide your time, and not ascribe to you any censure, should you permit this request to remain unnoticed.
May God in mercy grant you strength to discharge the arduous duties of your position is the wish (can I say prayer - I who so seldom feel to have an audience at the throne of grace) of
We have received many private letters of inquiry from this class of strangers and pilgrims who manifest a strong desire to know whether they have indeed a right to hope that they have that kind of experience which distinguish the children of God from those who are dead in trespasses and sins. In our former attempts to reply to those anxious and earnest inquirers, we have but imperfectly pointed out what we understand to be the most reliable and demonstrative evidences of being in a quickened state. But all the evidences are of a spiritual nature, and consequently are only presented to, and perceived by, the faith of those to whom they belong. If it had been the pleasure of God that his children, while here in the flesh, should walk by sight, our perceptive faculties would have been so changed by our new and spiritual birth as to qualify us so to walk. But we are told in the word that we walk by faith and not by sight. It is this ordination of our heavenly Father that even the heaven-born children are so very slow to comprehend. All the reasoning faculties of our natural or fleshly mind are prone to dispute such testimony as they cannot understand. Hence as soon as we are born again, a warfare begins between the flesh and the spirit. To that faith which is the fruit of the Spirit, the Savior is revealed as our Savior; our faith receives this revelation, is satisfied with it, and then, “Believing, we rejoice, with joy that is unspeakable, and full of glory.” Faith rising above the infidelity, darkness, fears and carnality of our old depraved nature, hold all our powers and reasonings in subjection, and we are then quite apt to think we shall be troubled with these old corruptions of our carnal nature no more. Faith holds her empire in and over us, and we say, as did the Psalmist in his prosperity, “I shall never be moved; Lord, by thy favor thou hast made my mountain to stand strong.” But alas! How very soon he was compelled to add, “Thou didst hide thy face, and I was troubled (Psalm 30:6,7).” The wisdom and goodness of God in dealing in this way with his children can only be spiritually understood, even by the saints. Our turbulent and fretful passions impatiently cry out, “Lord, why hast thou caused us to err from thy ways, and hardened our hearts from thy fear?” We conclude that if we have known anything experimentally of the mercy of the Lord, he has now forgotten to be gracious, and that his mercy is clean gone forever more. Such murmurings and lamentations never came from one who is not born of God, nor did they ever emanate or proceed from the faith of the child of God.
To these two propositions allow us to call the attention of those “strangers” who are searching for the footsteps of the flock of Christ.
First. Those who never knew the Lord have no desire for a knowledge of his ways. They can no more feel the sorrows, doubts, fears and temptations of the children of God than they can know their joys. “The heart knoweth his own bitterness, and a stranger doth not intermeddle with his joy (Proverbs 14:10).” We cannot mourn nor lament the absence of that of which we have no knowledge. Hence the impatience of which we speak is unknown, unfelt and unfeared by those who have never received from God the implantation of his Spirit in their hearts.
Second. The other proposition is equally true. Although none but the redeemed and heaven-born children of God are plagued with the doubts, fears, trials and temptations which cause them to murmur, fret and rebel; yet all these rebellious feelings arise from the fleshly nature of these vessels of mercy, who have received the word, the spirit and the life of the spiritual birth. From that implanted life, that heaven-born spirit, no particle of this murmuring and rebellion can possibly proceed. “It cannot sin because it is born of God.” Hence that faith which is in them always triumphs over the world; and this is the victory which overcomes the world, even their faith. We cannot conceive of a victory where there has been no conflict. That faith which shall ultimately triumph over all the corruptions of the flesh does encounter the most violent and determined opposition of the flesh, in every child of God, while in this mortal tabernacle; but this conflict is confined to them, and was never felt in any but the children of our God. Two parties or opposing principles must exist to produce a conflict. The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary the one to the other. Here then are the belligerent elements; in the one dwells no good thing; in the other dwells no evil thing. The one is life; the other is death. The one is spiritual; the other is natural; the one is born of the flesh, and is flesh; the other is born of the Spirit, and is spirit. One loves God, truth and holiness, and desires above all things to serve the law of God; the other loves sin and self, and hates God, is enmity against God, not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. In every Shulamite the company of these two armies is found. We have no right to recognize as a subject of the new birth any one in whom these opposing elements do not exist. Nor is it possible that both these elements can exist in any one who is not born of the flesh, and of the Spirit; for this good reason, the one is flesh, and the other is spirit. If we are controlled alone by the flesh, we shall die; but if we, through the spirit mortify the deeds of the flesh, we shall live. To be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.
Let us ask “Another Stranger,” Have you not witnessed the truth of this apostolic declaration? When from the spirit which God has given you, in your new birth, faith as its fruit has led you to believe in God, rely upon the blood and righteousness of Christ alone for justification and acceptance with God, when this has been your case, however short have been the seasons, has it not always led you into the enjoyment of life and peace? When faith has sensibly triumphed over all your doubts and fears, all selfish reasoning has been silenced, and instead of nursing your unbelief, you have felt unreservedly to commit the keeping and safety of your soul to God, and bid defiance to the powers of darkness to rend you from his protection. And, dear child, at such seasons of triumph did you not forget about your own self? Like Paul, when caught up to heaven, in his rapturous vision, whether in the body or out of the body he could not tell. It was enough at that time for him that God knew all about his body, as well as about his spirit. In an experience of almost three-score years, the writer of this reply has never been without the most depressing and gloomy fears, when his attention has been engrossed in anxious inquiries as to his own personal interest in the things of the Spirit of God.
“When I turn my eyes within,
All is dark, and vain, and wild;
Fill’d with unbelief and sin,
Can I deem myself a child?”
These anxieties about a personal interest are selfish, and always arise from our fleshly nature, and show a lamentable lack of confidence in God. Have we, as Christians, ever been instructed to look for the evidence of our spiritual standing with God in our fleshly nature? Paul himself could find nothing there to encourage his hope; for in him, that is, in his flesh, there dwelt no good thing, and with his flesh he served the law of sin; and his flesh was like ours, so very destitute of spiritual life that he pronounced it “the body of this death,” making him a wretched man, as far as that was concerned; but faith, triumphant faith, broke forth in grateful praise. “I thank God, through Jesus Christ my Lord,” there was deliverance secured. It is true that every one that is born of God has the witness in himself; but what is it? Not the flesh, for the flesh is not a truthful witness, and all who are “the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” Why then call up such a witness? One in whom you have no confidence? Why seek the living among the dead? But though the heaven-born have nothing reliable in the flesh, yet they all have an infallible witness in them; it is the spirit which beareth witness with their spirit that they are born of God. They are sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, and have the earnest of their heavenly inheritance in themselves; not in their flesh, for nothing good is there, but in the spirit that dwelleth in them.
Now if we inquire with the Psalmist, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? Why art thou disquieted within me?” While the conflict between the old man and the new man, the flesh and the spirit is so severe, how prone we are to conclude there is but a step between us and death. Our old nature, which we once thought was cleansed and purged from depravity, and our natural faculties, which we verily thought were by being born over again, or by some other means, had become pure and spiritual, like frightful ghosts arise and show all the corruption they ever possessed.
Our vile affections in full vigor, our passions, stare upon us in malice, wrath, strife, seditions, covetousness, jealousy, selfishness, inordinate desires, and in all the works of the flesh. Amazed, we are petrified with horror. Where now is that change that we thought had so thoroughly changed our nature, and made spiritual our every faculty? Every vestige of hope arising from such delusion is cut off - it dies. And God grant it may be forever buried. We never shall know the sweetness of a hope in the living God until all confidence in the flesh is slain. We do not say that every one who has a good hope through grace may not enjoy it, as an anchor of his soul, sure and steadfast, and entering into that within the veil; but we do say that all the confidence we are permitted to retain in ourselves, that is, in our flesh, detracts from the sweetness of that hope, which is in God. “Hope thou in God,” says the inspired psalmist. He is the “Hope of Israel, and the Savior thereof in time of trouble.” Hope thou in God, not in self, or in any vain thing. “For I shall yet praise him who is the health of thy countenance, and my God.” The only hope that we can rely upon in the day of trial is Christ in you the hope of glory. “In hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised before the world began.” The more perfect enjoyment of our hope in God depends on the triumphs which our faith in God achieves over our doubts and fears. If we could always feel and realize the triumphs of the faith of the Son of God in us, as it was felt by that illustrious host of patriarchs, prophets and saints presented in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews; like them it would divest us of much of that selfishness which is so peculiar to our earthly nature, and triumphing over self, we would forget ourselves, and count not our own lives dear unto ourselves. The brightest flame of heavenly fire that ever made our hearts burn in love and gratitude to God, and filled our hearts with joy unspeakable, and full of glory, has always been felt by us when we have been thinking the very least of ourselves, when we have lost sight of our own individuality, and our faith has entered within the intervening veil which divides between earth and heaven.
Our anxious correspondent seems familiar with those “vibrations from fear to hope, and from hope to fear, which were described by the writer referred to, and also by every child of God while here in the flesh; yet because hope is opposed by fear, faith contested by unbelief, and joy succeeded by grief, she is led to count her trials and temptations as something strange, as though some strange thing had happened to her. These alternations are so universally felt by all who are born of the Spirit, that no experience could be recognized as genuine Christian experience in the total absence of them. Young converts may be so elated with the first manifestations of the pardoning love of God and the joys of his salvation, that for a time it may seem to them that their entire nature has become changed, that all their troubles are forever gone. How long they may feel this uninterrupted joy and gladness before the corruptions of the depraved nature arises, is as God may direct. There are some whose early joys are unspeakable and full of glory; but there are others whose spiritual birth is equally unquestionable, who have never felt the ecstasy of that joy as others have; nor can they tell the precise time and place when and where they were delivered from bondage and set at liberty. It has not been the pleasure of the Lord that all his children should, in every circumstance connected with their experience, be led in the same way. The manner of Paul’s first exercise differed widely from many others, but still there are marks by which every child of God may be known as having passed from death unto life. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted; blessed are the meek; blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness.” These are some of the evidences on which we are authorized to rely. The question is, with us, Are we poor in spirit? Do we mourn? Do we hunger and thirst after righteousness? It is not so important that we should be able to tell when and how we first came to see and feel our poverty, or how long we have mourned, or when the pride of our hearts was subdued, or when we first had a hungering and thirsting for righteousness. These are spiritual fruits, and if we have them, then are we “blessed.” “If ye love me,” says Jesus, “keep my commandments.” His commandments are only applicable to those who love him. He is not here speaking of the commandments given to Israel in the flesh, or in thunder tones proclaimed from Sinai; but the commandments issued from his throne in Sion, and written in the hearts of his spiritual subjects. Do we love him? How long we have loved him is not the question. If we love him, then his commandment to follow him is addressed to us, and it is our privilege and our duty to obey him. When Paul received this evidence, “Straightway he conferred not with flesh and blood.” “Obedience is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” In reply to the question, If God has written his law upon our hearts, whence do we get the power to disobey? From the same source whence Paul and all others of God’s children do. He attributes it to the warfare. “The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary one to the other, so that ye cannot do the things that ye would (Galatians 5:17).” “For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do, I allow not; for what I would, that do I not; but that I hate that do I.” “Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me; I find then a law that when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man (Romans 7:14-22).” The power or law to disobey the law which we love after the inward man is the law or power of sin which is in our members, in our flesh; this power is so great as to disable the saints to do the things which they desire. Although the spirit indeed is willing, the flesh is weak. It is our nature to sin, for sin dwelleth in our flesh, and all disobedience to God riseth by the power of sin, which is in our members, causing us to do the things which we hate, and preventing us from doing the things which we would. While therefore our fleshly powers cannot aid us to obey the spiritual law which is written in our hearts, it can bring us into captivity to the law or power of sin, which is in our members. Grace must abound to usward and the Spirit enable us to obey, but the indwelling sin of our nature requires no aid to disobey the commandments of Christ. Disobedience is but a failure to do what we are commanded to do, and although grace shall ultimately triumph over all our fleshly propensities, and God will finally give all his children the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord, yet it is his pleasure to leave us sometimes to feel the depravity of our nature, to be overcome by it, that we may the better appreciate his power and grace in our deliverance. Very true, “We cannot go forward in a single obedient step except we go in his strength.” But our own strength is weakness, and therefore in it we always fail to obey. We cannot at our pleasure exercise the strength of God, or that strength by which alone we obey God; for if we could, we then could no longer say: “How to perform that which is good I find not.” We say to this other stranger, In what school did you learn that you could not take a step in the pathway of holiness by any strength of your own? What has made you feel the sinfulness of those emotions of which you complain? How did you discover that your heart is deceitful and desperately wicked? Does it seem to you that one with such a heart would dream of cherishing a hope? Well, we frankly confess, that if your heart did not to you appear so very vile, we could cherish no hope that you had ever been taught of God. It is only under his mighty hand and his tuition we can ever know, and feel, and mourn the deceitfulness and wickedness of our own hearts. But every one that hath learned of the Father cometh unto Christ. And him that cometh to Christ, he will in no wise cast out.
April 15, 1868.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 7
Pages 172 – 180