(Acts vii. 51.)
ELDER BEEBE AND SON: – I would like for you to publish in the SIGNS OF THE TIMES your views on Acts vii. 51: “Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.” Although an entire stranger to you, and belonging to no church, I am very much interest in the SIGNS, and love to read christian experiences; and yet, after reading them, it makes me doubtful of my own repentance. I do not feel a just condemnation, and can feel sorry for my sins only at times. A heavy weight seems to be bearing me down, and I am made to cry out, Lord, be merciful to me. I believe God is just in all things, and yet I cannot feel my own just condemnation. What a stony heart I must have. I am sometimes afraid I am one that receives the seed on stony ground. When quite a young child I had great fear of death. As I grew older I attended balls and other worldly amusements; but I seen grew tired of them all, and at times what a longing desire I had to be a christian. I thought if I could only be as good as some Old Baptist that I knew, I should be perfectly happy. Years passed, and I married. Shortly afterwards I had a short spell of sickness, and thought I was going to die. I prayed the Lord to let me live, promising to do better. After I recovered I read my bible quite often for a while; but, strange as it may seem, ten years have passed, and I have thought very little about my promise until about one year ago, when I was attending a Missionary Baptist meeting. I became very much concerned about my soul’s salvation, and realized that I would be lost unless the Lord saved me. I was told by the minister that we had to do something, that God would give us power to become sons and daughters if we would only believe and trust in his word, and that it was nothing but our own stubborn will that kept us from enjoying christian experience. But that was what I could not do, trust in the Savior. I have almost come to the conclusion that I can do nothing, and that God will in his own good time lead me out of darkness into light. It is for this reason that I would like to have your views on the above named text. Our preacher said that God would not plead always, but would give us up to our sins, and that we could resist the Holy Ghost, and he quoted that passage of scripture. Please oblige one that is anxious to know the truth.
S. A. H.
REPLY: – Not with a self-reliant or “egotistic” presumption that we are capable of solving all mysteries or expounding all the scriptures, nor yet with an intention to draw the mind of any one to us and away from god as the only efficient and infallible teacher, do we attempt a reply to the earnest appeal of our unknown correspondent of our unknown correspondent for our understanding of this much perverted portion of the sacred scriptures; but with a deep sense of our own weakness, and utter inability to speak or write so as to edify, instruct, comfort or satisfy the craving desire of such as are not advanced so far in the knowledge of the truth as to have no need of the feebler gifts which God has given for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, and for the edifying of the body of Christ. Such light and understanding as we hope God has given us on any part of his sacred word we dare not withhold from those who ask for our views; but we desire none to accept them only so far as they shall find them sustained by the unerring scriptures of truth.
The cutting rebuke in our text was addressed by Stephen to the high priest and murderous Jews who were about to stone him to death. Professing to be the people of God, and the most zealous and devout people on earth, pretending to be shocked at the blasphemy which suborned men had testified that they had heard Stephen utter. Arrested, and having a mock trial, and arraigned as a prisoner before them, he was permitted to make his defense, at the conclusion of which he addressed to them the words of our text; and when they heard these things which he charged on them, they were cut to the heart. Not like those who on the day of Pentecost were pricked in their hearts, and completely subdued, and made to cry, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Theirs was a death wound, their rage and violence were checked, their hearts and ears were circumcised, their resistance to the Holy Ghost was overcome, and their circumcised ears were anxious to be informed of God’s salvation of helpless sinners by and through that Jesus whom they had rejected and crucified. But these were only cut to their heart; it was but a flesh wound. They were not slain, nor circumcised in either heart or ears; but the deep and deadly malice of their heart was excited, and became more violent and frenzied with rage and violence, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.
The question has often been agitated, In what sense did these murderous Jews resist the Holy Ghost? It could not be that they were resisting the Holy Ghost, as existing in their own hearts; for if the Holy Ghost had dwelt in them, their hearts would have been circumcised, and their ears as ready to listen to the preaching of Stephen as were those at Pentecost to Peter and the rest of the apostles; but their hearts were controlled by an opposite spirit. The Holy Ghost which they were resisting was in Stephen, but not in them. In the preceding chapter and fifth verse, we are told that Stephen was full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, while his murderers were full of the spirit of him who was a murderer from the beginning; and his spirit in them was manifested by their resistance of what the Holy Ghost inspired Stephen to say and do. It was not Stephen, as a man, they felt so much enraged against; for if Stephen had not been moved by the Holy Ghost, he would not have incurred their wrath. It was only those who by the Holy Ghost called Jesus Lord, that they persecuted into the death. Nor was it alone on this particular occasion that their resistance to the Holy Ghost was demonstrated. It was the general and constant disposition of the carnal hearts of those whose circumcision was only outward in the flesh, and not the circumcision of the heart and ears, which is made without hands. The circumcision on which the carnal Jews relied was outward and in their flesh, was made with hands, and its praise was of men, and not of God; it did not therefore circumcise their hearts to make them love God, nor their ears to hear, love or obey the truth, but left them in all the enmity of their carnal minds to resist the Holy Ghost by stoning the prophets, and killing those whom God had sent to them. The prophets were sent to the Jewish nation with the message of the Lord, whose peculiar people they professed to be, and the prophets spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost; so their opposition to the prophets only manifested the turpitude of their hearts, their love of sin, and hatred of truth and righteousness.
“Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost,” in the same way and manner in which their fathers did, by killing the prophets and stoning them. Jesus said to those carnal Jews, “Ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchers of the righteous, and say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets,” &c. “Wherefore, behold I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zarcharias, son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.” – Matt. xxiii. 28-36. How terribly was the declaration fulfilled in that generation, not only in the tempest of divine wrath in the overthrow of Jerusalem, but in the filling up of the measure of their iniquities. God has set bounds beyond which serpents and vipers, as these workers of iniquity are called, cannot go, but to the full measure of which they are doomed to go; and in filling up this measure by that generation, Stephen, who was one of the number that Jesus said he would send to them, and they should kill, was sent with a message from God, which cut them to their heart, and made them gnash on him with their teeth. But it was not Stephen, but the Holy Ghost in Stephen, that enraged them. Stephen, being full of the Holy Ghost, spake by that Spirit; and as they were filled with an opposite spirit, and acted as moved by the spirit of the world and of Satan, they not only resisted Stephen as the messenger, but God who sent him, and whose words he declared to them.
We know of no other way in which men ever resisted the Holy. Stephen testifies that this was always the manner. As your fathers did, so do ye; not only now, but it was always by persecuting and slaying those who were sent by him to declare his messages.
It is preposterous to contend that the Holy Ghost was, is or can be successfully resisted in its work upon the hearts of those who are quickened by it. Those who are quickened and made alive from the dead by the Holy Ghost were not consulted as to whether they were willing to be made alive. Whether we consider the work of the Spirit as agreeing with the figure of a resurrection from the dead, or a birth, both illustrations alike forbid the idea that the subjects of this work can either resist or facilitate the work. Jesus says, “The dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live.” – John v. 25. And Jesus has condescended graciously to inform us how, or in what manner, he will perform this work: “For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so [or exactly so] the Son quickeneth whom he will.” – Verse 21. Can any rational being suppose that in God’s manner of raising up the dead he strives with them to consent and allow him to raise them up? Or that he proposes terms and conditions for them to perform, on the performance of which he will raise them from the dead? Or that he by his spirit woos, pleads, implores and beseeches them to allow or consent to be raised up, and that he thus pleads and strives with all the dead, and in the greater number of cases fails to get their consent, and after laboring to the full extent of his power and patience, leaves them sorrowfully to remain in death? Can any who know the true God and eternal life entertain such a view of him? Equally absurd and blasphemous is the thought that either in the generation of mankind or regeneration, or new birth, those who are the subjects have any volition or agency in bringing themselves into existence. Surely all who are held under such chains of darkness do greatly err, not knowing the scriptures nor the power of God.
The scriptures affirm of the power of God that he raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them, not that he tries, and in most cases fails, and that in the same manner the Son quickeneth whom he will; and those who know by happy experience these scriptures, and have experienced that translation from darkness to light by the exceeding greatness of the mighty power of the Father of glory, know the scriptures and the power of God. “The eyes of their understanding being enlightened, that they may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints.” – Eph. i. 16-20.
Since the day that sin entered into the world, man has manifested an aversion to and shrinking from the presence of the supreme and omnipotent God, and in their aversion and alienation from him have shown their preference for gods which they could hold in subjection to their own control: gods that they can carry on their shoulder, and use to subserve their own purposes. This being the idolatrous condition of the world, we are told by an inspired apostle of many false prophets which are gone out into the world, and the saints are commanded to try the spirits, whether they be of God. He says of these false prophets, “They are of the world, therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; hereby know we the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” – 1 John iv. 5,6. The Spirit of truth is the Spirit which Jesus says the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him. – John xiv. 17. But the spirit of error and delusion is a spirit of the world, and the world is in love with it. It is as easily attained as they who are led by it have and do represent it to be, and they affirm that it requires no more effort to receive it than it does to turn one’s hand over. Indeed, man in his fallen, depraved state is under its power already; and the spirit of error which already possesses them makes them as hungry for error, as the Spirit of truth in the children of God makes them to be fed upon the truth as it is in Jesus. No grace is required to qualify a man to embrace any error, or to worship him in spirit and in truth.
Eve required no superhuman or supernatural power to enable her to receive the forbidden fruit from the beguiling spirit of the serpent; Adam asked for no divine aid to follow his bride in the transgression. Cain, unaided by the Spirit of truth, drank in the spirit of delusion, false religion, enmity and murder. But Abel required that faith which is the fruit of the Spirit of truth to qualify him to offer a lamb in sacrifice to God, to which offering God had respect. Cain resisted the Spirit of truth in his opposition to Abel, but not as existing in himself, striving to obtain his consent to be converted. If the spirit of God had been in Cain, he would not have entertained a desire to murder his brother. If God, the Spirit, had ever failed to accomplish any work by him undertaken, what assurance could any poor sinner have that he might not fail in his attempt to bring us unto glory? The antediluvians, who in Noah’s days resisted the Holy Ghost, resisted it as manifested in Noah as a preacher of righteousness, by adhering to the spirit of unrighteousness which had full possession of themselves. So that Stephen could say truly, that the development of that murderous spirit in those wicked Jews who were about to murder him was the development of nothing new. It was that which always had been in the world since sin entered; and these more modern Jews were doing just what their fathers before them had always been doing, in killing the prophets, and stoning all who were led by the Holy Ghost.
Men do always resist the Holy Ghost when they pervert the scriptures, which are inspired by the Holy Ghost, when they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, when they oppose and persecute those who are called of God, and qualified by the Spirit to proclaim among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and especially when they preach salvation by any other name than that of Christ, or when they pretend to preach Christ by any other spirit than that which is from above. No man can preach the doctrine of free-will, free-agency, or any other doctrine of men, without resisting or opposing the Spirit of truth, which is the Holy Ghost. But we have great reason to rejoice that their resistance cannot prevail. While they like raging waves of the sea foam out their own shame, although the world may applaud, and lavish their encomiums upon them, and their wealth, and call them rabbi, still their resistance of the truth of God and of the spirit of holiness will ultimately clothe them with everlasting shame and infamy. No person can preach or believe that the Holy Ghost has ever failed to fully accomplish all that he ever attempted or designed, without impeaching the wisdom, power and truth of God, and thereby resisting the Holy Ghost; but their resistance can never prevent or hinder the full and perfect accomplishment of all his pleasure. Nor can any give encouragement to those who do thus preach by attending on their ministry, or contributing of their substance to sustain them in their opposition to the Spirit of truth, without resisting the Holy Ghost.
It will be well to remember that the Holy Ghost is God; and although man, in his deep depravity, may resist his government and oppose his power, yet he can by no means thwart his purpose.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Signs of the Times
Volume 48, No. 17
September 1, 1880