Scott’s Valley, July 4, 1880.
DEAR COUSIN JAMES: – Yours of the fifth of May and thirteenth of June respectively have been received, and contents noted. I will now proceed to answer in part, but not in consecutive order. You desire that I should try and improve my penmanship, and I think your plan a very good one. I not only write a very poor hand, but am frequently not able to keep my hand and head on the same thought at one time, and when I look over what I have written, I discover that I have not expressed all I intended to. But lest I should weary you with too much prolixity about myself – a very trivial subject, I will proceed to notice your request that I should write for publication in the SIGNS. The same reasons are applicable in this as in the first case, with the additional reason that it would tax the time and patience of the brethren editors to peruse it, in order to ascertain whether it was deserving of notice. But as you wish me to preach a sermon on paper, I will comply, and you shall be my auditor. The text is one of which you have spoken in your well-timed and very welcome letter, and Julia, my daughter, shall transcribe for you.
“The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass.” – Isa. xl. 6. And Peter says, quoting Isaiah, “The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away; but the word of the Lord endureth forever.” – 1 Peter i. 24. It may be pertinent first to inquire. Whose or what voice did the prophet hear? The voice cried, said the prophet. It was not the voice of man, although a part of the announcement of that voice is but the sad experience of all the silent nations that people the tomb, as well as the ever-present thought of the living. “For the living know that they must die,” “and pass away as the grass of the field.” But this voice must have proceedeth from one occupying a position far above the range of human audience; for it not only proclaims the mournful dirge of Nature’s expiring breath, but lights up the vaults of the tomb with the declaration, The word of the Lord shall stand forever. Far out above the utmost limit of nature’s light I see dimly imaged to my small measure of faith a holy one. His omniscient, unblanching eye holds in full survey the annals of both time and eternity. That one is the Holy Ghost. He proceeds from the Father and the Son. He is the spirit of Jesus, the spirit of prophecy. Therefore let us consider ourselves the auditors of the Holy Ghost, who moved the holy man of old to cry, “All flesh is grass.” Yes, for “All flesh has corrupted his way.” “Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return.” Impending doom! and is there no reprieve? Look at that tender infant. It has just this moment beheld the light of day, just now it drew in for the first time the vital air; another look – it is gone. See that old gray-headed sire. The evening breeze plays sportively with his whitened locks, many storms have blown against and over his castle, disease has swept away the companions of his youth, and death has carried down the children of his age. Shall one who has survived so many storms bid defiance to the mower’s scythe? But no, I see him vanish; he is gone down to the sides of the pit, and all are drawing after him. Ah, what a background is this of darkness and of woe! Is it not a fitting place for God to work? How brightly must his work shine against the clouds of so dark a night? And so it does right here in the midst of this darkness, for “the word of the Lord endureth forever.” And this word is preached unto us by the gospel. Ah, such soothing sounds, such melody to the fainting soul; the shadow of a great Rock in a weary land. The heavens were of old by this word. All things were made by him, and without him nothing was made that was made. He is at once the power of God and the wisdom of God. Hear him. “I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and find out knowledge of witty inventions.” He is the beginning of the creation of God. All things were made by him and for him. Now, let us look into this Word by faith and in him we shall find dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, and we shall behold his body, which is the church, the fullness of him that filleth all in all. Now, what a picture we behold set in a background of wretchedness and death. Now, this eternal Word is that Jesus who came to restore all things, to give back to the law its wanted honors, to purchase back a lost and ruined church, to rob death of its victims and raise up the ruins of many generations. God’s eternal purpose will ultimate in complete fulfillment and this purpose runs through all the events of time. Then let nature sink and die; let the loud, hoarse notes of the ocean’s voice mingle with the spheres, but let me stand on this Rock of Ages. I ask no more.
I have written the above at intervals, as I had opportunity. I have only used words, where volumes are necessary, to express all the meaning which lies in the embrace of the text. To speak of the eternal purpose of God, to which all the events of time and even time and nature, too, are incidental, who can, except an Arminian, read the inspired word, “Whom he did foreknow he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son,” or, “Who hath saved us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,” and not perceive that God’s purpose to save lost sinners existed long before the fall of man or the creation of the world? Yea, from eternity itself. For if he gave the saints grace in the second Adam before the first was created, then it follows, by irresistible logic, that he knew the first or earthly Adam would sin and fall before he made him; and if he knew he would sin and fall before he made him, so as to meet the grace given in Christ, then it follows, conclusively that God is possessed of foreknowledge, and that is precisely what the scriptures teach concerning him; for the apostle James, in Acts, declares, “Known unto God are all his works from the foundation of the world.” If I believed that God did not possess the attribute of foreknowledge I could not believe the predictions of the prophets, for it is evident that man, in this respect, is of yesterday, and knows nothing. Either the prophets must be possessed of infinite foreknowledge, or God who inspired them must be, is evident, or all prophecy is guess work only; and this is an absurdity. Credulity itself is reluctant to believe, ignorance stands half in doubt, and reason smiles derisively. We conclude from this analysis that God, and God alone, is possessed of infinite foreknowledge. With this doctrine the scriptures are imminous. Now, if we take into consideration his divine wisdom, his omnipotent power, his immaculate holiness, his inflexible justice, we could not fail to perceive that he would punish sin in his subjects; and on the other hand, if we take into view his consummate goodness, his amazing mercy, his unspeakable love, and his unwavering justice, we must conclude he will forgive sin when properly atoned for. And this doctrine is clearly visible in the scriptures, to faith’s eye. I think all these propositions are evident from holy writ. Now, let us go back to the text. “All flesh is grace,” and as the flower of grass it passeth away; “but the word of the Lord endureth forever.” And we will be able from the suggestions above written, compared with appropriate passages of scripture, that it was God’s purpose from eternity to save his people from the ruins of the fall in their earthly head, and conform them to the image of his Son, their spiritual Head. In view of such astounding mysteries how appropriate the language, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things; to whom be glory forever. Amen.” Again, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit; for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” Thus we are made to understand Paul’s knowledge of the mystery of God and of Christ. But, “except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God,” for “the natural man receiveth not the things of the spirit of God;” for he has no spiritual optics, therefore no amount of spiritual light will illuminate him. The world receiveth not the spirit of truth, because it seeth him not. John saw a vision on the isle of Patmos, the consummation of God’s eternal purpose and grace, a description of the city of God, with its jasper walls, its pearly gates, its golden streets, its river, and tree of life. And the city hath no need of the sun, for the glory of God doth enlighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. O what ravishing beauty lies just beyond these. O that spiritual temple, that building of God which hath foundation, whose builder and maker is God. All these terms and figures, with many more, taken from the things with which we are familiar, and used by the Holy Ghost to set forth to our weak understanding the glorious state of the church of Christ, which he redeemed with his blood. This is his strange work and his wonder; for he will make Jerusalem a joy and her people a rejoicing; then we will rejoice forever in what he creates.
Dear brother, if you think this worth publishing you may do so; if not, cast it into the waste-basket.
I. N. NEWKIRK.
Signs of the Times
Volume 49, No. 10.
May 15, 1881.