BROTHER BEEBE: - Please give your views on 2 Cor. ii. 15; and be particular on the last clause, in showing how we are a sweet savor of Christ in them that perish; of death unto death, &c., or otherwise set brother Trott at it. Respectfully yours,
REPLY: As yet we have had no opportunity to present the above request to brother Trott. Such views, therefore, as we have are at the service of brother Burritt; and brother Trott can also give his if he thinks it expedient.
Whether the apostle intended to include with himself the entire ministry of the gospel, or to confine the application of the pronoun we to himself and Titus, we are not in so many words informed. We are inclined to the opinion that what was in this case applicable to Paul and Titus, must also be applicable to all the apostles and other ministers of the gospel who, like these faithful servants of Christ, are called, qualified and sent forth by the Lord of the harvest. The term Sweet Savor is figuratively used in this case, and the figure is evidently taken from the incense offerings made unto God under the old dispensation by the sons of Aaron. The priesthood of Aaron, as well as that of Melchisedec, was typical of the priesthood of Christ. That which in the offering of Aaron constituted a sweet savor, did not so much depend on its grateful perfumes to the carnal smell or taste as it did on its being what God had directed, and what was pleasing to him.
The gospel ministry, or the ministry of reconciliation, may be considered as possessing a peculiarly sweet fragrance from the censer of our adorable High Priest. When he ascended up on high, &c., he received gifts for men, and of these he gave some apostles, pastors and teachers; through these gifts the ministry of reconciliation is published, and Christ is set forth as a merciful and faithful High Priest, in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people; and the subject now under consideration is one that pertaineth to God; for we are unto God a sweet savor of Christ; hence we discover the connection between the gifts and ministry of the gospel and the priesthood of our Lord. The cloud of incense from the censers, under the former dispensation, very strikingly portrays the manifestation of “the savor of his knowledge by us in every place.” See verse 14. For we are unto God a sweet savor of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish; to the one we are a savor of life unto life. These are not a sweet savor unto men, but unto God; for that which is pleasing to men is abomination to the Lord, and that in which the Lord delights affords no sweet savor to carnal men. But in reference to the effect of the gospel ministry on them that are saved and in them that perish, to the one we are the savor of death unto death.
On this last expression our brother has admonished us to be particular. Well then, we understand that, in perfect harmony with the design and will of God, the gospel ministry is to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness; they being themselves dead, the gospel has no life in it to them; it is all a hidden mystery to them, a dead letter, a stumbling-stone and rock of offense to them that stumble at the word, being disobedient, whereunto also they were appointed. The savor of his knowledge by us draws the line between the living and the dead, between the precious and the vile, and bears ample testimony that as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse. The gospel of Christ, differing widely from A. Fuller’s gospel, J. Wesley’s gospel, and from every false system, has no life to offer to the dead. The gospel of Christ, In its effects, is the very opposite in those that perish to what it is to them that are saved. To those that perish light is darkness, bitter is sweet, and sweet is bitter; to them the gospel is foolishness, yea, and all the things of the Spirit are foolishness, neither can they know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
And in this, as the apostle says in the preceding verse, God causeth us always to triumph in Christ, &c.; and in this view of the subject, the testimony or labors of gospel ministers are always successful. “As many as are ordained unto eternal life believe,” and the balance are blinded; and all this is a sweet savor of Christ, for it answers precisely the purpose of God; hence the labors of God’s servants are not like those who beat the air, or like the uncertain races where all run, and but one obtains the prize.
It is death unto death in them that perish; not that we are to understand that the gospel in itself, or that the preaching of it, is the cause of the death in which those that perish are involved, or that its publication is to increase their condemnation, or augment their damnation; this would be unnecessary, as they are condemned already, and that justly, too, by the law; besides, it would be incompatible with the nature of the gospel. Christ came not to condemn the world; yet the light of the glorious gospel is the spirit of his mouth by which anti-christ shall be consumed. In all the warfare of the man of sin against the saints, the latter shall overcome them through the blood of the Lamb, and the word of their testimony. Here, as we understand, lies the true secret why the world cannot love the truth, nor those who preach it; it is to them like the words of Micaiah the prophet to Ahab. Ahab says, “I hate him; for he prophesieth no good for me, but evil.” The testimony connected with the gospel ministry is that all men are guilty, condemned, lost, helpless, and under the curse of the law; and that there is no name given under heaven or among men whereby they can be saved, but the name of Jesus. Such preaching being destitute of life, joy, comfort or peace, unto those unto whom God has not spoken peace, to those who are dead, is death unto that death in which they are involved. But the same ministry which is death to the dead is life to those who are quickened. The words of Jesus are spirit and they are life; he has the words of eternal life, and to such as have experienced the work of grace, passed from death unto life, the gospel revives that principle of life which is implanted in them. Christ ix their life, and Christ is formed in them the hope of glory; hence the preaching of Christ is to them life unto life.
We have briefly given our views on the passage proposed; the subject will admit of much more being said, but we will only, in justification of our views, refer the inquiring christian to an experimental illustration of the subject. Every soul that can now rejoice in the glorious gospel of Christ has once been dead in trespasses and sins. In that state, what was the ministry of the gospel to them? Did it afford them peace and joy in the Holy Ghost? Did the word preached do them good, not being mixed with faith in them that heard? Certainly not. But the more clearly it was preached, the more hopeless d±d it present their own personal standing and condition; and while they could hear the saints declaring what joy, peace and comfort the gospel inspired their hearts with, for themselves they could see nothing in it but that which gave them a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation. And why was it thus? Because there was no vital principle in them corresponding with that life which is in the gospel; and consequently they were destitute of the capacity to know or understand anything of those emotions which fill the redeemed and quickened saints with heavenly rapture; all was then a dead letter to them; but when it pleased God to reveal himself to them as their Savior, and to cause his life-giving presence to dawn upon them, then they could, as new-born babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that they might grow thereby. Again, how often do we witness the assembling together of a mixed multitude at the place where the gospel of Christ is preached; and when thus assembled, the servant of God is enabled to proclaim the truth in faithfulness, the effect is quite perceptible; while quickened souls are fed and comforted, the Arminian, the Deist, and the unbelieving portion of the congregation show evident marks of uneasiness; and not unfrequently have scores of Hager’s children shown their disapprobation and contempt by leaving the house. Why this difference? Because the same that is life unto life to them that are saved, is death unto death to them that perish; as the same sun that melts the wax will harden the clay.
We submit these remarks to the consideration of our correspondent, and to our readers at large, hoping the Lord may-lead us into all truth, for the Redeemer’s sake.
ALEXANDRIA, D. C.,
November 15, 1839.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 1
Pages 548 – 552