Lawrenceburg, Ky., Oct. 30,1874.
MY DEAR BROTHER BEEBE: - I have not thought it expedient for some time past to encumber your columns with any of my poor productions, and now that I have taken my pen for that purpose, I know not but that I had better lay it aside for several reasons that perhaps need not be named. I will, however, name a prominent one, which is that you seem to have plenty of correspondents more capable to instruct and comfort the saints than I think myself to be. Waiving those texts that my brethren, sisters and friends have requested me to write on, and apologizing to them, as I have felt incapacitated to do them justice, I have concluded to select one myself, which, however, may reach as far beyond my feeble capacity as the rest, for often when I look into the scriptures a dark pall seems to be thrown over me, that makes me fear that I know nothing as I ought to know it. I will, however, refer the readers of the SIGNS to that portion of the faithful record found in the 1st epistle to the Corinthians xiii. 13, "And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity." Shall we consider the three articles brought to view in the text as they there appear? Let us then consider:
1. FAITH. What is faith? What its origin, its use, its evidence, its trials and its triumphs? As to what faith is, the apostle says it "is the substance (ground or confidence in the margin) of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." - Heb. xi. 1. It is, therefore, not a mere belief that there is a God, or that Jesus is the Son of God. But the groundwork of it is a confiding trust and confidence in what God has done for us, to save, defend and comfort us. To save us, faith assures us that he has done all things well. To defend, it is an impenetrable shield. To comfort, it is a complete directory to Jesus, our only solace. All the powers of earth and hell combined can never annul that salvation. Faith is proof against the most fiery, deadly and dangerous darts that can be hurled at us, and when tribulations, trials and persecutions assail, Jesus stands revealed to the eye of faith as our everlasting consolation and good hope through grace. While built upon such a groundwork, confiding in such a defense, blessed with such a consolation, and feeding upon such a substance, the saint may with rapture sing,
"There, there unshaken would I rest,
Till this vile body dies;
And then on faith's triumphant wings,
At once to glory rise."
2. The origin of faith. "It is the gift of God," emanates directly from him. So sable was the mantle that benighted all our faculties, so dense the darkness that enshrouded us, that it could truly be said of us that, "Darkness covered the earth, and gross darkness the people." Not one ray of light by which we could see ourselves as we really are by nature, or God as he is in his holiness. No faculty to which a spiritual communication or revelation could be made, no capacity to speak one word or perform one act that could be acceptable to God, for "without faith it is impossible to please him." Seeing us thus involved in darkness and in death, the Lord mercifully bestows this precious favor upon us as a free gift. It is "the faith of the operation of God," and we therefore "believe according to the working of his mighty power which he wrought in Jesus when he raised him from the dead." Thus he gives a capacity through which we are enabled to receive instruction from him, and thus all his children are taught of him, and hence,
3. The use of faith. As a hand or receptacle we receive all that the Lord bestows upon us, whether it be in instruction, comfort, or ability to serve him.
We thus learn that we are sinners, lost, undone and helpless; a lesson that all the earthly schools, from the highest theological down to the minutest infant Sunday school, will forever fail to teach us. Thus we learn our ignorance; we know not what to do - our weakness, we cannot do what we would. We learn, too, that something must be done or we are lost forever. We now anxiously and earnestly strive to better our condition, but can do nothing more than to exhaust the supposed strength that we had. We are most miserable when we see our defilement, feel our pollution and are convinced that we are a mass of corruption; the whole head sick, the whole heart faint, from the sole of the foot even to the head there is no soundness. At the same time by this faith we see God in all his pristine purity, and thus is portrayed so wide a contrast that it seems to us impossible that two such extremes can ever meet in peace. Sad dismay, sore tribulation and dark despair all rest upon us and sink us into the lowest pit of horror, and place us in a condition to make comfort doubly welcome to us. In this direful extremity Jesus is revealed to the eye of faith, and when we see him, realize his power and grace to save, his mercy to relieve and his presence to console, joy and gladness takes the place of sorrow and mourning, and causes us to rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory. With what rapture we can now sing,
"Jesus, lover of my soul,
Let me to thy bosom fly,
While the raging billows roll,
While the tempest still is nigh."
Faith now seems triumphant for the time being, but ere long we are made to witness with sad surprise,
4. The trial of faith. The faith of God's elect is destined to meet with many sore and fiery trials. The world, the flesh and the devil soon array themselves in hostile attitudes against it. While Jesus is in view, and faith with strong vision looks to him, all is well. The world is forgotten, the flesh out of sight, the devil banished. The loveliness of our dear Redeemer engrosses all our attention, charms all our new given faculties. But ere we are aware the world begins to fascinate, the flesh to appropriate, and the devil to accommodate the things of the world and the flesh to the depraved nature of the unsuspecting pilgrim. The eye becomes dim, the Savior appears to have withdrawn himself, and now comes the trial. Our faith seems to languish, and is so feeble that we even doubt its reality, fear that we have grasped but the shadow, missed the substance, and are deceived after all. In this deep despondency we inquire, Is he clean gone forever? "O that I knew where I might find him? I would come even to his seat." Thus the struggle proceeds, the war is waged between the flesh and the spirit, between faith and unbelief. But, languid as faith may appear, it still battles in the conflict, abides, and in the most fiery trial looks unto Jesus, directs to his word, points to his promises, relies upon his grace, which is always found sufficient and equal to the day. The apostle's cheering language is now appropriately adapted to the forlorn condition when he says, "Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you; but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy." And again, "But God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above what ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it." The trial of faith is at times protracted to such an extent that we realize a "heaviness through manifold temptations, that the trial of our faith, being more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise, honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ." - 1 Peter i. 6, 7. Through all this fiery ordeal, faith, though often weak, can never fail; it still "abideth."
5. The triumph of faith. Although the enemies of the faith of God's elect are numerous and formidable, they may fearlessly fling their banner to the breeze and bid defiance to the assaults of every foe. Were there nothing else to cheer them in the battle storm, the ever heard and always heeded petition of the majestic Author of our faith proves an all sufficient guarantee in every trial. "I pray for them; I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me" &c. - John xvii. 9. And as an invulnerable shield, it turns to flight the armies of the aliens, and quenches all the fiery darts of the wicked. Often in passing through these trying ordeals it appears to be "little," weak, and ready to faint, but however feeble, it still "abideth," for its divine Author never fails to give fresh warrants and send additional testimonials in every time of need, and these seasonable supplies encourage its recipients to "wax valiant in fight," and deal such deadly blows as to stagger and discomfit their invading assailants. Notwithstanding these oft repeated assaults, those fightings without and fears within, the child of faith should never yield to fear, faith must finally triumph; for, "Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world; and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith." We therefore cheerfully sing,
"I've fought through many battles sore,
And I must fight through many more;
I take my breastplate, sword and shield,
And boldly march into the field,"
resting assured that the scene will end in a final and complete triumph at last.
HOPE. Hope is a contemporary with faith. They are coequal concomitants, accompany each other as mutual help-meets through all the toilsome pilgrimage of the christian's mortality. While faith scans at a distance a glorious immortality, hope anticipates a safe mooring in the haven of eternal rest. While faith beholds in Jesus an incorruptible, undefiled and unfading inheritance, hope patiently waits and longs for the attainment of the full possession of the saints in light. While faith exhibits Jesus as having already entered within the vail as the forerunner, hope fastens upon him as an all sufficient anchorage, and the vessel of mercy may bid defiance to the raging tempests and surging billows that play around and dash upon her. Hope, too, like faith, has its alternate depressions and revivals, its dimness and lucidity, its disappointments and prospective attainments; and, in fact, faith and hope are so completely co-equal that they seem to ebb and flow, wax and wane in unison. When faith is strong, hope is jubilant; when faith is weak, hope lingers. Hope, like faith, is based upon and rests in the unfailing promises of God, and therefore must abide, though its object may appear far in the distance and slow in coming, and thus, "Hope deferred maketh the heart sick; but when the desire cometh it is a tree of life." - Prov. xiii. 12.
"By glimmering hopes and gloomy fears,
We trace the sacred road,
Through dismal deeps and dangerous snares,
We make our way to God."
However despondent hope may be, or however distant the object desired, though it tarry, we may patiently and confidentially wait, for faith will surely come to the rescue in the proper and acceptable time, portrays to forlorn hope the all glorious and animating Author and Object of hope, then, "We rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory." But how often we realize that these animating seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord are but transient visitations, few and far between, and anon we find ourselves submerged in the cesspool of despondency, bemoaning our hopelessness.
"Is this, dear Lord, the thorny road,
That leads us to the mount of God?
Are these the toils thy people know,
While in the wilderness below?
'Tis even so; thy faithful love,
Doth all thy people's graces prove;
'Tis thus our pride and self must fall,
That Jesus may be all in all."
Faith and hope proceed from the same source, travel together harmoniously, are alike abiding principles, perform their respective missions with implicit obedience and strict adherence and fidelity to the mandates of the King of saints.
Dear brethren, how thankful we should be to the kind Giver of all good for these God-given principles, and for the faithful manner in which they execute the important functions for which they were given, for both are the immediate gifts of God. See Eph. ii. 8, and 2 Thes. ii. 16. Think, too, how completely they are adapted to our perilous condition while we are strangers and pilgrims, beset with foes and fightings and fears on every hand.
CHARITY. This is but another name for the love of God, and probably may be considered the exercise of the love of God. "God is love," and therefore love is the great fountain head and reservoir whence all the fullness of spiritual blessings emanate, while faith and hope may be considered the channels or ducts through which they are conveyed to the children of God. They are all three intrinsically good and great things, but charity is the greatest of the three. Of all the emotions that enter the heart of man, love is the most pleasant. Could our natural affections towards each other commendably and universally predominate, and be properly reciprocated, what a palladium it would be against the feuds, animosities and bickerings that now pervade society. In the family circle peace and harmony would dwell and bless the entire household; in the neighborhood kindness, friendship and justice would prevail; in the nation it would prove a complete quietus to the noise of war, the clash of arms, the tumults, the discord, the quarrel; and instead of those hell born imps, we should have peace, repose, concord and universal philanthropy in families, neighborhoods, nations and kingdoms. If the natural love of man to man could work such wonders everywhere, what would the immutable love of God do were it universal? But this is out of the question. We will ask, what wonders has it wrought in the kingdom of God? In contemplating the love of God and its wonderful effects upon the recipients of it, we have a sublime and admirable subject before us.
The wonders of redeeming love, and the working of the Holy Spirit proceeding from it, the abounding grace, the solacing nature and tenderness of his relieving mercy, as taught in the scriptures and witnessed in the experience of the Lord's children, all emanate from the love of God. What a sovereign balm it is for the broken heart; what soothing cordial for the contrite spirit.
"It makes the wounded spirit whole,
And calms the troubled breast,
'Tis manna to the hungry soul,
And to the weary rest."
It matters not how forlorn may be our condition, how deep our contrition, how intolerable our anguish, how pungent our pain of body and mind, the love of God given and felt in a sufficient degree is a panacea for every pain, a catholicon for every malady. The beloved children of God, in recounting their past experience, will remember with gratitude, the wonders of God's love displayed in condescending to make known to them their exceeding sinfulness and calamitous condition, and then the wondrous exhibition of love in revealing the Savior, and thus their grief is banished, their distress relieved, and the billows of trouble, however boisterous they may have been before, are all calm when the cheering voice of the Savior is heard assuring them that their many sins are all forgiven, washed away by his atoning blood.
And we should rejoice that this love is changeless as its author and "an everlasting love." Through all the toilsome, weary and tempestuous journey of life it gives rest to the weary, they rest in his love; a covert from the tempest and rivers of living water for the thirsty; and amid the waves of trouble,
"Its powers the raging winds control,
And rule the boisterous deep;
It makes the sleeping billows roll,
The rolling billows sleep."
The more we see, the more we feel, and the more we meditate upon the wondrous love of God, the more the breadth and length and depth and height seems to stretch and soar above and beyond the scan of our limited vision. Far, far beyond the bounds of time its miraculous work was going on, and there embosomed the whole elect of God, recorded their names in the archives of heaven and secured their eternal salvation by grace. Go back to the verge of time, and it was incontestably evinced, notwithstanding our deep rebellion there. All through the lapse of past ages its benignant work has been displayed in thousands upon thousands of instances; and in our day, with what thrilling emotions our bosoms swell when it is shed abroad in our hearts, when we receive but an earnest of its divine fullness and realize its soothing power.
"Love is the sweetest bud that blows,
Its beauty never dies;
On earth among the saints it grows,
And ripens in the skies."
Dear brethren, has the Lord condescended to bestow this precious boon upon us? Then let us behold with wonder and admiration what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us; and may it have its beneficent influence upon us all. We are all contaminated with sins, transgressions and faults of various kinds, but love throws a charitable mantle over multitudes of them, and begets in us that long-suffering and forbearance that is so essential for our peace and welfare while in the flesh. Then let us not hinder the work of love, let it be without dissimulation. How different the love of God from our natural passion bearing the name! Our human affections are placed upon such as are comely, amiable, virtuous, kind, &c., and then it is often intensified or may vanish with the fluctuations of our vacillating natures. But what redeeming quality could the Lord see in us? Us, who stood in direct antagonism to all his excellence, native goodness, exalted purity and holy perfections. Yet, in view of all this persistent repugnance and unhallowed opposition, we repeat, "Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God."
"What was there in us that could merit esteem,
Or give the Creator delight?
'Twas even so, Father, we must ever sing,
Because it seemed good in thy sight."
It is as uncontrollable by human agency as the raging tempest, as irresistible as the decree of Jehovah. But O, what miraculous wonders it works within us! That bosom where formerly dwelt hatred, variance, strife, every evil work, the sight of which caused deep distress and dark despair, now swells with emotions of untold joy and peace, throbs with ecstasy and delight.
A new era is ushered in with the happy recipient now, and swelling notes of solemn praise gush spontaneously from a heart smitten and filled with the love of God.
In conclusion, we have under consideration three abiding, concurring and momentous principles; faith, hope and charity, each indispensable to the christian character. By faith we see the Son of God, in whom all fullness dwells; by faith we hear his voice, taste that he is gracious, eat his flesh, drink his blood; we walk by faith, we live by faith, it shields us from all the fiery darts of the enemy. What wonders it wrought with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Aaron, Moses and Joshua, David, Solomon, Job and all the prophets, apostles and all the saints.
Through faith they have subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. But we can only hint of its greatness here. May we all contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints, and learn more and more how to appreciate so valuable a commodity. Hope anticipates all that faith scans in the distant future, and patiently awaits the consummation of all its beatific benefaction, although unseen by mortal vision. "For what a man seeth why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it." But great as are faith and hope, they are but appendages to charity or love. They execute their missions faithfully here, while needed, amid foes and fears, disappointments, trials, temptations and tribulations of every description, safely conduct us through them all; then lost in fruition, swallowed up in perfect vision, they cease; then, inducted into the peaceful presence of God, in the actual and full possession of the inheritance of the saints in light, we feast bountifully and eternally on all that faith looked for in the dim distance and hope awaited for in the dark future.
Brethren, farewell. May "the God of peace that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen."
Yours in love,