BROTHER Isaac Wright, of Mo., has requested our views through the SIGNS on the following text:
“But God be thanked that ye were the servants of sin; but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.”
That this passage of scripture is among those written by our beloved brother Paul which are hard to be understood, very few will doubt; for however easy it may be for us to conceive of the propriety of thanking God for those streams of mercy which flow so freely from his throne to us, poor helpless sinners, it is not so easy to feel ourselves under obligations of gratitude to him for our having been the servants of sin. The natural construction of these words seems to imply that sin is a blessing, and that it originated in God, and that he has bestowed it upon us and requires us to be thankful for the gift, and also that we are benefitted by it; but such a construction is at antipodes with our sense of the holiness and perfections of God, and consequently we must relinquish our understanding of the purity of his nature, or reject such a construction of these words of inspiration. To force an interpretation of such scriptures as the Holy Spirit has not opened to our understanding, must necessarily be attended with such difficulties; but this we are not required to do. It is better for us to wait on the Lord and ask counsel from him, than rashly to attempt to get along without the teaching of his Spirit which shall lead his People into all truth. But as the apostle intimates that God is to be thanked for something embraced in this passage, and as every saint is desirous of uniting in every strain of love and gratitude to God in which his children can be employed, it is both lawful and expedient that we should inquire and diligently search for that understanding of the subject which is in harmony with both the word and the Spirit of the Lord.
As there are considerations involved in the investigation of this subject of vital importance, we could wish that the work had fallen into the hands of brother Trott, or same other brother much better qualified for the task than ourself; and after all that we may write, we hope to be favored with the views of others on this text. Some have attempted to obviate the difficulty by changing the translation, so as to make it read, “But God be thanked that, although ye were servants of sin, ye have obeyed,” &c. But by taking such liberties with the scriptures we might force an interpretation to any difficult part of divine revelation, and we should no longer need the teaching of the Holy Spirit.
To us it appears, (and we offer our present opinion, subject to any criticism which brethren may make in a spirit of kindness) from the connection of the text, that the apostle intended to be understood precisely as his words are given in our translation. He had been speaking largely on the two distinct headships sustained by Adam and Christ; the former of a natural, the latter of a spiritual seed. Adam as a natural head and representative, contained in his loins and truly represented, at the time of his transgression, all the families of the earth, so far as properly relates to what they are as natural creatures. That all the spiritual family of God were as absolutely created in Christ, and as fully represented in him as the bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh, as our natural life and human bodies were created in Adam; so that all that we derive from Adam is natural and common to the whole human family, and all that we receive from Christ is spiritual and peculiar to such as are born of God.
With the foregoing considerations premised, let us inquire whether those who stood in Christ before the world began, have lost or gained anything by their subsequent connection with Adam. That the connection of the children of God with Adam involved them in his transgression, and caused to be entailed to them a corrupted, sinful nature, a body of sin and death, a nature adverse to holiness and to God, a disposition to do evil and that continually, together with guilt, condemnation and death, is too plainly revealed to admit of contradiction. But to oppose that God was either deficient in wisdom and omniscience to foresee, or power to prevent all this, would be a very serious reflection upon his character and attributes. He certainly did give to his people a natural life in Adam, unto whom he had previously given a spiritual life in Christ; and it follows of necessity that he either had or had not a purpose in giving them this natural life. If he had no purpose in it, how are we to understand that he worketh all things after the counsel of his own will And if he had a purpose, that purpose was formed either with or with out taking into consideration all the circumstances or consequences involved. And to suppose that God’s purposes were formed without a perfect knowledge of all the circumstances and consequences connected with them, would be to disrobe them of their wisdom and glory, and to contemplate them only as we do the purposes of men. Would this view harmonize with the revelation God has made of himself to his people Certainly not. It was not then a mere experiment which God would try upon the children of his eternal love, to learn from actual trial what would be the result; for Known unto God were all his works from the foundation of the world; and he has declared the end from the beginning, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.
To know then from revelation that God has given his people their spiritual existence in Christ their Head before the foundation of the world, and that he has given them a distinct and subsequent existence in Adam after the foundation of the world was laid, and that all the consequences resulting from their relation to Adam was duly taken into consideration, is thus far sufficient to convince us that his purpose and work, however dark and mysterious they may seem to poor, short-sighted worms of the dust, were every way worthy of himself; and this should call forth the love and gratitude of all the heirs of glory. “God be thanked,” must and shall resound from all the chosen people of God.
But to return to our former inquiry. Have we lost or gained anything in reference to what we had in Christ before the world began, in consequence of our connection with Adam If any answer that we have lost, let such inform us what is lost. Christ is the Life of his people; they did not lose that life or they would have been irrecoverably lost. They were sanctified by God the Father, preserved in Christ Jesus and called.
That purpose and grace which was given them in Christ Jesus before the world began, was not lost; for opportunity is furnished by our connection with Adam, the law, sin and death, for the more full development of that purpose and grace, in the revelation of the Messiah, the fulfillment of the law, the blood of atonement, the vanquishing of death and the destruction of the grave. The love of God in Christ bestowed upon us was not lost, for it is written, “For the great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sin, hath quickened as with Christ; by grace are ye saved.” If Adam had been a spiritual man, and our spiritual life had been derived from him, as such, then all would have been irrecoverably lost, for ever lost! But in Adam we had no spiritual life to lose; that being in Christ is never communicated to us in our Adamic nature until we are born again “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” “Marvel not that I said unto you, Ye must be born again. All that was given us in Adam was given us since the foundation of the world, as we have shown, and must terminate with the final destruction of this world. When Death, the last enemy, shall be destroyed, and the bodies of all the saints shall be raised, they will not come forth natural bodies, but spiritual bodies: these mortals shall put on immortality, and this corruptible shall put on incorruption, and death shall he swallowed up of victory. Old Death shall then be challenged to show what, if anything, the saints have lost by their connection with Adam, the law, sin and death. “O death, where is thy sting O grave, where is thy victory?”
When Christ was made of a woman, he was recognized by the law as the Son of man; in his relation to that nature in which his children had served sin, offended God and become children of wrath, he died; but when he arose from the dead, he rose as the Son of God, with power, and in his resurrection, being quickened by the Spirit, we shall know him no more after the flesh – when bursting the strong bars of the grave he left the chilling grasp of death, his Father hailed him, not as the Son of man – “Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.” Hence the inspired apostle justly infers, “If the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.” He also speaks in the same connection of a glory to be revealed in the saints, and reckons that the sufferings of this present time are unworthy to be compared with that glory; for says he, “The earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.” Not for that manifestation in which we here receive the Spirit of adoption, for even the apostles and primitive saints, who had received the first fruits of that Spirit, were among the number who were thus waiting: “Even we our selves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.” And why did they wait and groan for this “Because the creature (or body) itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the sons of God.” Here then shall terminate all that ever has or ever shall annoy or distress the heirs of glory. Therefore, although “The creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope,” seeing that all the suffering which we feel in consequence of sin is unworthy of comparison with the glory that shall be revealed in the saints, there is sufficient reason to unite with the apostle and say, “But God be thanked” that we were chosen in Christ, that we were also created in Adam, that we were the subjects of the power, providence and grace of God in all the events of our mortal existence. And as all the provisions of salvation by grace were treasured up in Christ for sinners, as he came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance, and as it is a faithful saying that Jesus came to save sinners, of whom I am chief, have we not abundant reason to thank God that we were of that most favored number “But ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered unto you.” Those whose privilege it is to unite in this thanks giving to God, obey from the heart, where God has written his law, according to the provisions of the new covenant.
Men devoid of grace may obey any form of doctrine they please from fear of hell, or from any other impulse of the carnal mind, but such obedience is all external; they may pray by quantity so many times a day, they may fast for strife and debate, put on and wear the livery of the saints of God, but they can never from the heart obey that form of doctrine which was delivered to the saints, for that form of doctrine never was delivered to an unregenerate man. Those forms of doctrine obeyed by carnal professors of religion are not of that doctrine which was delivered to the primitive saints, but forms of doctrine of their own invention. They make void the law of God by their own traditions, and teach for doctrines the commandments of men; and the sovereign Judge of the quick and dead, from whose decision there is no appeal, has decided that their worship of him is vain.
“But God be thanked” it is not so with his people; they are not of those who claim to have Abraham to their father, and that they were never in bondage to any man, that they always had some good desires, were not so bad as others, always had the price of salvation in their own hands, &c. God be thanked that it was not so with us; we were conceived in sin, have served sin, amid were destroyed by sin, that by the work of his gracious Spirit we have been brought to know and feel that we are the very description of character that Jesus came to save, and that he has saved, and who, by virtue of his salvation, have received a delivered form of doctrine, and by grace abounding to the chief of sinners, have been enabled to obey that form, and who, being made free from sin, have become servants of righteousness.
Sin, which is the opposite of God, hated by him, and loathed by all who possess his Spirit, is overruled by the superabundance of grace, and because we have been contaminated with it, and in consequence of that corruption, death is written in our mortal bodies. Yet by the redemption of our Lord Jesus Christ, the saints shall sing a song of redemption from sin which they could never have known or been able to sing if they had not been found among the lost, ruined, guilty sons of apostate Adam. God be thanked for the prospect before the saints, they shall sing the New Song, a song never before sung in heaven: “Worthy art thou, O Lord, for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us.” Reader, will you and the writer of this imperfect article be there to swell the immortal anthem?
New Vernon N. Y.,
Jan. 2, 1843
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 2
Pages 126 – 133