The last of the published articles referred to by brother Freeman, as relied on by our accusers to sustain their charges of heresy against us, is contained in the letter of our late brother Thomas Hill, and our remarks upon the same, which we now republish, and submit to the judgment and decision of our brethren generally. Let what we have written and published be carefully and prayerfully tested by the divinely authorized standard of inspired truth, and let nothing be accepted as bible doctrine that the bible does not fully sustain.
Much has been said by some of our accusers in regard to the words of brother Hill, of his having thought that Christ, as the Mediatorial Head of his body, the church, was “the first production of divine power,” as though he had intended to deny his eternal self-existence as the supreme God; whereas Elder Hill very evidently was speaking of him as the begotten Son, and as such, by the pleasure of the Father, in all things having the pre-eminence.
Utica, N.Y., Jan. 28, 1850.
DEAR BROTHER: – When you have written in defence of the Mediatorial character and standing of our Lord Jesus Christ, I have felt almost always prepared to endorse what you have said upon the subject. There is however one exception to be taken; and I think that exception has been given your opponents some advantage over you. It is this, in your remarks, speaking of Christ in his ancient headship to, and with the church, you have made free use of the term “Eternal Union,” which term, my dear brother, I have thought was hardly tenable, for if such idea be correct, then as unavoidable consequence the church must be eternal, but as the church is admitted to be a creature, the idea involves a difficulty which to my poor mind is insurmountable.
I will now submit to you a thought which has occupied my mind for many years on this very interesting subject. From the testimony of the scriptures my mind has been led to conclude that, Christ as the Son of God and head of the church, was the first production of divine power! and when he was brought forth, (as declared in the 8th chapter of Col., and 3d chapter of Rev.,) the church was brought forth with him and in him, as Eve was brought forth in Adam, who is said to be “the figure of him that was to come.”
In this display of divine power I have thought the era of time was launched forth from the Almighty hand of God; and as it is stated in the scriptures that in ALL THINGS Christ might have the pre-eminence, so I have been led to think that he stood forth in the commencement of all time, or in other words, that the data of the union of Christ and the Church is coeval with time, and this is what I have been in the habit of terming an “everlasting union.”
What I have written above, my dear brother, I have written in love, and I hope you will so understand it, and I would further say that it is written for you and myself alone, as I do not wish you to give it publicity, unless you feel that it might help, and not hinder the brethren, nor injure the SIGNS, for I assure you I have no wish to figure as a controversialist.
I am yours I hope, in sweet and blessed identity with the “Alpha and Omega,”
REPLY: – We are greatly pleased with, and would desire to possess and manifest in all our labors, the kind, affectionate and brotherly spirit of the short letter in this paper over the signature of our beloved brother Thomas Hill, of Utica, N.Y. How much the children of God might profit by a free interchange of their views, could they always write and speak with the same manifest kindness of feeling, and desire to import useful suggestion to each other. On the other hand how much has been frequently lost to them, by an indulgence of those carnal and mischievous, selfish, jealous and censourious developments of poor depraved nature, which are so apt to predominate when brethren allow themselves to speak or write in a harsh or unkind manner. Brethren may differ in their understanding many important points, and honestly differ for want of clearer light on those subjects, and these differences might be greatly lessened by letting all the light which is among them shine forth, for the common benefit of all that are in the house of God. “In meekness instructing them that oppose themselves.” But when brethren mistake the carnal impulses of their own deceitful hearts, for the inspiration of the spirit of truth, and became jealous of each other’s gift, and fearful that their own light will be eclipsed by that of some other brother, this vain, selfish ambition, not only sinks them low, very low, in the estimation of those who can discern the spirit by which they are influenced, and thereby raises an insuperable barrier against the impartation of instruction, comfort, or edification to others; but it equally disqualifies the brother himself from being benefited by such other gifts as God has been graciously pleased to bestow on other members of his mystical body. But the utter disqualifications of brethren to impart or receive instruction through the diversified gifts of the church is not all the evil which a sour, suspicious, ill-natured, jealous feeling, which is, wherever it is cherished, always accompanied by self confidence and self esteem, is certain to produce; for we all know that the fellowship of the saints is retarded and the love of many waxes cold, as a legitimate result of such a state of things in the church of God. Is it not strange that brethren thus act who have walked together for many years in the sweetest harmony and fellowship, who have often stood shoulder to shoulder in confronting the common enemy of God and truth; should be carried away so far from a gospel course by their carnal feelings, as to jeopardize the peace, union, fellowship and useful intercommunication of the whole brotherhood, indulging their carnal passions; and for the lack of a becoming humility, courtesy, forbearance and brotherly deportment, allow the enemy to come in among them like a flood, and plunder the church of so large an amount of her comfort and peace? In the younger days of our experience we thought it strange that the inspired apostle should have exhorted christians not to bite and devour one another; it seemed to us that he must have designed the exhortation for some other characters, not christians; but to our sorrow, we have learned that christians are capable of biting and devouring one another. We see whole churches and associations of churches often distressed, distracted and torn piece meal by this spirit which the apostle admonished them to beware of. From whence come these wars, and divisions, and distraction, among the heirs of immortal glory? Come they not from our own lusts, from the indulgence of the very propensities of depraved nature which we have enumerated in the foregoing remarks? Is there a brother among us who does not feel and know that these evils exist to an alarming extent, at this time? Is there one who can say that he is free from these corruptions in himself?
Would we be convinced of the deceitfulness of our hearts, or of the mistaken zeal of some of our dear brethren, follow them from the field of combat to their closets. In the field of contention, when arrayed in warlike attitude to each other, from the self confidence, and unyielding determination evinced, one would be ready to say, “Surely these are the men, and wisdom shall die with them,” and the cutting proverb, “The fool rageth and is confident,” will in spite of ourselves occur to our mind. Each brother seems determined to sustain his position at all hazard, even should he in some instances see the church divided, and hear the wailing lamentations of the feeble ones of the flock, all this is unheeded, the war cry is sounded but the louder, while those who look on, conclude that the combatants are either strangers to the spirit of the gospel, or that they are for the time led captive by the devil at his will; but follow these very brethren to their secret retreat where they pour fourth their supplications to God, and you could hardly think that these brethren, now prostrate before the Lord, confessing their weakness, ignorance and nothingness, were the same that you had seen so determinedly battling to bring all Israel over the standard which they had set up. To avoid this thrusting and wounding of one another, it is not necessary that brethren should avoid one another, or that they should withhold such views as they honestly entertain on any subject of common interest to the saints, or that they should crush the SIGNS, or make a Jonah or a scape goat of some one of their number; all that is wanted is to write and speak in kindness and brotherly affection, and in a spirit of unaffected humility, and soon they will see that “A soft answer turneth away wrath.”
We do not wish to be understood by what we have written, that it is wrong to “contend earnestly for the truth;” but we would urge our brethren to observe the apostolic injunction, “Speaking the truth in love.” Not only manifesting love for the truth; but in love also to the brethren, for whose benefit the truth is to be spoken. “I keep under my body,” said Paul, “lest while I preach to others myself should become a castaway.” O that we could all say that we keep our body under. It is, as we conceive, as important in order to prevent our being castaways to each other, as to our usefulness in the house of God, that we should mortify such deeds of the flesh as we have alluded to in the forgoing, as that we should abstain from drunkenness, meats offered to idols, things strangled, fornication and blood; “from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall d well. Farewell.”
Our object when we commenced this article was to make some remarks on the letter of brother Hill. We thank him for the suggestions he has in so kind a manner made, and would remark that we do not discover any important difference between us, except in our manner of expressing what we have called eternal union, and which he called everlasting union. We are not sure that his is not the better name for the sentiment, especially as it is less objectionable to the saints; for we know of no Old School Baptist who denies that the union of which we speak is everlasting, though some good brethren doubt the propriety of calling it eternal.
In a strict construction of the word eternal, or in its broadest signification, all that is absolutely eternal must of necessity be uncreated, and in such a sense we never held the doctrine of eternal union, nor have we ever understood any of our brethren to hold or contend for it in that sense. But we do hold what we understand our brethren to mean by the use of these terms, viz:
1st. To distinguish between it and the Arminian notion of a time union, depending on uncertain contingencies.
2d. To distinguish it from that kind of union contended for by Eld. J. M. Watson of Tenn., which is not real, only existing in purpose, and which if true, must involve the notion that the saints were not actually chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, and predestinated to the adoption of children, &c., but that God did before the foundation of the world purpose to predestinate, and choose them at some subsequent time.
3d. We by the term have designed to discriminate between the seminal union of het spiritual life of the church, which is hid with Christ in God, and the experience of that union after their life in Christ is communicated to them in regeneration.
4th. We have felt justified in the use of the qualifying term eternal, from the frequent application of it in the New Testament, to the life which God has given to his church in Christ. “The gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” “I give to them eternal life, and they shall never perish.” “And this is life eternal,” &c.
The apostles declares to us that this life was in his (God’s) Son, and many concurrent passages establish the same point. Now if Christ as a Head existed with the Father before the world began, (and this we think no Old School Baptist will dispute) and the eternal life of all the heirs of glory existed in him, it constituted all the union for which we contend, or for which any of our brethren contend.
It is of little consequence to us whether brethren call this union and identity an eternal union, or everlasting union, so long as they hold with us that the church had an existence in Christ before the foundation of the world. But to deny this, in our judgment, would be equivalent to a denial of the Mediatorial existence of the Head of the church, for a living Head must have a living body, and a living body must have a vital Head.
We are not prepared to state any particular period in eternity, as the commencement of the union or of the life of the church; all we contend for is what brother Hill admits, that it existed before all time.
Elder Gilbert Beebe,
Signs of the Times
Volume 48, No. 13
July 1, 1880.