East Cobleskill, N. Y., Aug. 31, 1880.
ELDER BEEBE – DEAR BROTHER IN CHRIST: – My mind has been much troubled on the subject presented. 2 Peter, ii. 13, 14, “Spots they are and blemishes, sporting themselves with their own deceiving while they feast with you; having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; beguiling unstable souls: a heart they have exercised with covetous practices, cursed children.” Please give your views on the subject, and oblige your unworthy sister.
REPLY. – This epistle abounds with solemn admonition to those who have obtained like precious faith with Peter, and those unto whom grace and peace are multiplied through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue, whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises, that by these they might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. This peculiar people, thus unmistakably described, wherever they may be scattered and in whatever age they may live, are the subjects of this address, and they are exhorted to give all diligence to this admonition. These having received like precious faith through the righteousness of God, are exhorted to add to it virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness and charity. These fruits of the spirit and evidences of indwelling living faith through the righteousness of God, make the calling and election of the saints clearly manifest and certain; while those who lack these evidences of a living faith, even if they are subjects of God’s saving grace, are, in the absence of them, blind; they cannot see afar off, and forget that they have been purged from their old sins. Christians in whom the fruits of precious faith abound have the joyful assurance of their calling and election of God, and that they have been purged from their old sins; and they shall never fall, for so an entrance shall be ministered unto them abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This aged and faithful apostle, knowing that he must soon put off the tabernacle of flesh, thought it meet, as long as he remained in the flesh, to stir up the brethren, putting them in constant remembrance of these things; endeavoring to leave for the benefit of the saints of future ages such wholesome admonition and instruction as they might need after his decease.
In evidence that the apostles had not followed cunningly devised fables, but had seen the excellent glory of the Son of God, he assures us that they had heard the voice of God the Father in the holy mount of transfiguration, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear ye him.” And by a still more sure word of prophecy than even the ecstasy of that transporting vision, whereunto all the saints will do well to take heed, throughout all time, or until the day dawn and the day star shall arise in their heart; knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation; for the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man, but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. Observe, the false teachers which were among the people of Israel in old time, of whom the apostle speaks, were Israelites whom the Lord had bought. – Deut. xxxii. 6. “I gave Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee.” “Therefore will I give men for thee, and people for thy life.” – Isa. xliii. 3, 4. As there were false prophets among the people of Israel whom God bought and delivered from Egypt, even so there shall be false teachers among the people whom Christ has redeemed with his own blood; among those whom he has bought with a price, who shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them. “But chiefly them that walk after the flesh, in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, self-willed; they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities.” Paul said to the elders of the church of Ephesus, “I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” – Acts xx. 29, 30.
Some have supposed that the false teachers of whom Peter is speaking in our text are exclusively those who never knew the Lord or had any experience of the faith of God’s elect. But the elders of the church at Ephesus were recognized by Paul as then being in the faith, but the time would come when some even of them who wept and fell on Paul’s neck and kissed him, sorrowing because they should see his face no more, should rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. In writing to Timothy he says, “Now the spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith.” This seems to imply that they had, before their departure, been in the faith; and the manner of their departing should be a warning to all who think they stand, to take heed lest they fall. It is by “giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils,” until their conscience becomes callous as though seared with a hot iron, and to that extent that they speak lies in hypocrisy. Peter speaks of these false teachers that shall be among the saints, as the false prophets were among the people of Israel, that they shall bring in damnable heresies, to the extent even of denying the Lord that bought them. This is called a damnable heresy, yet even Peter himself did once deny him; but the Savior had prayed for him that his faith should not fail. The heresy is none the less damnable in its nature because expressed by a child of God. Indeed we think it questionable if all the children of God have not at some time denied the Lord that bought them, by failing to confess him before men. “But chiefly them that walk after the flesh, in the lusts of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, self-willed; they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities.” Of such he says, “Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam, who loved the wages of unrighteousness.
Now those who hold and advocate heresy, and deny the Lord, if held in the fellowship of the church while persistently despising the government of Christ and the apostles, and walking after the flesh, “are spots and blemishes, sporting themselves with their own deceiving, while they feast with the saints. Having eyes full of adultery, that cannot cease from sin; beguiling unstable souls, a heart they have exercised with covetous practices; cursed children.” As the false prophets among the people in old times were condemned by the laws that they were under, and yet were Israelites, so those who in the gospel day answer to the type, though turned away from the truth and turned unto fables, are condemned by the law of Christ, yet are they recognized as children who have forsaken the right way and are walking after the flesh. When those who are wedded to Christ walk after the flesh, seeking pleasure in other lovers, they are charged with inconstancy to Christ, which is adulterous in its nature, and in fleshly indulgence, following after the lusts of the eye; they cannot cease to sin. Led captive by Satan at his will, they are delivered over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. – 1 Cor. v. 5. It sounds severe to speak of any of the erring people of God as cursed children; but Paul has said, “Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” – Gal. i. 8, 9. We do not understand the apostle to say, or even to imply, that any of God’s people can sink down to everlasting perdition, but that as the false prophets in Israel were cursed, or subjected to a just recompense of retribution according to the covenant which they were under, so in the discipline of the church under the present dispensation, those who depart from the faith and go in the way of Balaam, or of Jannes and Jambres, who withstood Moses; or like Hymeneus and Alexander, who concerning the faith have made shipwreck, are by Paul delivered unto Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme. – 1 Tim. i. 19, 20; 2 Tim. iii. 7, 8.
Such as are thus described, whenever they are found in the church of Christ, held in nominal fellowship, are spots and blemishes, and should be either reclaimed from the error of their ways or excluded from the privileges and fellowship of the church until they shall learn not to blaspheme. As wells, these are without water; they contain no refreshing drink for the thirsty saints. As clouds, or witnesses, their testimony is unreliable, they cannot edify the children of God; for as clouds or witnesses, they being in error, are carried with every wind or tempest, and in that darkness which for such as they is reserved forever. Their great swelling words are vanity, but calculated, through much wantonness, to allure those who were clean escaped from them who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption; for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage. For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein and overcome, the latter end is worse than the beginning; for it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they had known it, to turn away from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it has happened unto them according to the true proverb, “The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and, the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.”
Some have objected to this application of the proverbs to christians who have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; who have been sickened and disgusted with the pollutions of the world, have renounced them, turned from them, and become clean escaped from them, and have come under the laws of Christ, and to whom the holy commandment of Christ has been given, and who have purified their souls by obeying the truth, when they depart from the faith, turn away from the truth, and turn again to the pollutions of the world, and run greedily after the vanities which they once discarded, being compared to dogs and swine. But remember it is not the christian, but his backslidings, his again walking after the flesh, that is thus illustrated. But when were any but God’s quickened children sick of sin and made to cast it from them? When did any others purify their souls by obeying the truth, and fully escape the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of him whom to whom is eternal life? Or when were the ungodly washed? When christians walk after the flesh they are as represented by the true proverb, returning to feast upon the very pollutions of the world which they once solemnly renounced; and when those who have been washed by the washing of water by the word, turn back to the defilements of the world, they act out the propensities of that carnal, swinish nature which they find still lurking in their fleshly members which are upon the earth.
All the children of God who have been born of the Spirit have felt distressed and sickened by the sins of the flesh, and have felt a sweet relief when their burden of guilt was taken away. They then thought their relish for sin would never return; but sins, how few if any of them can say they have not at any time been allured by the sinful vanities which were once so odious to them, and drawn so far from their steadfastness in the truth as to return to some of the follies which they had renounced. It really seems to us that the strong language of the apostle, and the striking figures used, were intended to admonish the saints to deny themselves of all ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously and godly in the world. Even a child of God, if living in the indulgence of his depraved nature, yielding to his fleshly propensities, becomes like salt that has lost is savor, spots and blemishes in the church, and should be subjected to the wholesome disciple which our Lord has ordained for the order of his house.
We are not called or qualified to judge or decide who are or who are not the subjects of saving grace; God alone can search the hearts or try the reins of men; but we are to judge of the walk and deportment, the faith and practice, and withdraw from every brother (though he may be a brother) that walks disorderly. Our confidence in one as a child of God, or lack of such confidence, should not deter us, on the one hand, from withdrawing fellowship from the disorderly, nor induce us, on the other hand, to deal more rigidly with an erring member in our extending or withholding expressions of fellowship; but in all cases we should deal according to the laws of Christ. Warn the unruly, comfort the feeble-minded, support the weak, and be patient towards all.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Middletown, N. Y.
Signs of the Times
Volume 48, No. 24
December 15, 1880