Henry Co., Ind., Feb. 15, 1853.
"Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." I Thes. 5:21.
BROTHER BEEBE: - The present state of Zion seems in my view to call for a strict adherence to the foregoing and other similar texts of scripture. There does, it is true, appear to be a disposition among the Old School Baptists to "prove all things" pertaining to their doctrine and practice; and I, for one, am well pleased to see them thus disposed. We may rest assured that the truth will never lack testimony in the word of God to substantiate it. There is therefore no danger in subjecting it to the closest criticism.
We are here in an imperfect state, and liable to imbibe notions or opinions, from traditions or otherwise, that are antagonistical to the truth, and hence the necessity of subjecting our whole theory to the closest scriptural examination.
Could we properly consider this at all times, we should not be displeased with our brethren when they call upon us to prove our position, for we are commanded to "prove all things;" nor when they attempt to point out our errors, for they too are commanded likewise. We are probably more tenacious respecting our religious sentiments than any others, and often have need of taxing our patience when they are opposed. James exhorted his brethren to "let patience have her perfect work." Impatience has ever been a fruitful source of evil among the saints, and the idea is forcibly impressed upon my mind that many of the evils that have afflicted Zion in by-gone days and at the present time have found their mainspring in impatience, while the religious sentiments of contending parties were under investigation.
But it is due to the advocates of the truth to say that they generally exhibit the greatest degree of patience under such circumstances. When individuals become impatient, get out of temper, and use harsh language when their sentiments are attacked, it seems to indicate a lack of proof on their part to sustain their position. Those who are conscious that they are right, never should betray a disposition to evade proof, nor impatience when it is demanded. Facts are stubborn things; the truth can never suffer under investigation. In its onward march it will bear down all opposition, cut its way through legions of enemies, and achieve a final and triumphant victory at last. As well might we attempt to stop the lava that boils from Etna or Vesuvius with a puff-ball, as to suppress it. It must and will prevail, and all attempts to stop its progress or prevent its triumph must eventually fail. Then surely if we have the truth, proved to be such by the word of the Lord, we should "run with patience the race set before us." If then we are commanded to "prove all things," and to "let patience have her perfect work," and if we pay a due regard to those injunctions, we need not apprehend any danger to the SIGNS from a strict investigation of doctrinal sentiments among Old School Baptists, whenever conflicting sentiments are found in the camp.
Indeed, I think that a contrary course would be more likely to prove their downfall, at least with the lovers of the truth so far as my acquaintance extents. What Old School Baptist would be willing to support the SIGNS OF THE TIMES, if he should learn that the editor would not publish anything that did not meet his views? Or, on the other hand, who amongst us would wish to sustain a periodical that would publish the sentiments of all its correspondents, and yet suffer none of them to be converted? I hope that the Old School Baptists will never hand down such a record to their posterity.
Brother Beebe, after premising the foregoing considerations, I feel disposed to pen a few remarks in reply to some of the brethren who have propounded so many interrogatories to you respecting a remark found in the Warwick Circular; and this I will do in the spirit of meekness and brotherly kindness, if I am capable of writing in such a spirit. For my own part, I never should have discovered anything wrong in the expression, the "life of the church died when Jesus was crucified." However, I am not to conclude necessarily that the sight of my more eagle-eyed brethren will stop where my dim vision ends. But it may not be amiss to remark here, that we should be careful not to strain our optics so far as to behold objects where they do not exist, lest we subject ourselves to the same difficulty that the old bachelor did when the ladies, to try his eyesight, handed him a needle, requesting him to thread it. After a long and fruitless exertion of the visionary organs, he remarked that he could see the eye, but could not get the thread through; when lo; it had no eye.
Now I think it an incontrovertible fact, that if the law ever required the life of the church, and did not get that life, it will have it yet. For, "Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law till all be fulfilled." I think this to be an item of vast importance in our faith. To me, at least, it appears to be one of vital interest; for if the law did not receive at the hand of Christ Jesus all that it required of me, a helpless sinner, my case is a lost one without remedy. I do not recollect that one of the querists, from brother Williams to brother West, the last, has given his views as to what life was laid down by Christ, and I think that we should require no further exposition on the part of brother Beebe than we are willing to risk on our own. Neither do I think that we can consistently find fault with a brother's idea on a subject unless we have a different one. And if we have, a different one, and one that we may prefer, we should in no wise withhold it from our brother.
I wish here to make a few remarks upon a communication found in the third number of the present volume of the SIGNS, over the signature of brother C. West, of Illinois. And I think I can in sincerity adopt the language of brother West in his outset, and "hope that he will have grace given him to bear with my weakness, and that I shall have grace to enable me to write in that kind and brotherly manner in which everyone ought to write when addressing brethren," &c. So far as his logical criticism is concerned, I think it very well replied to by brother Beebe, and shall therefore pass it. The first expression that I shall notice in his communication is the following: "I understand that when the life withdrew from Jesus he died; and when it returned to him again he arose from the dead." What life withdrew? And who died? Does not brother West believe with brother Beebe, that Jesus is God? And if so, does he not subject himself to the same logical criticism that he uses against brother Beebe? We may glean from his argument the negative of the death of the eternal life of the church, but where is his affirmative as to what or who died? He then introduces the text in 1 Cor. xv. 22: "As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." And it is upon his illustration of this text, and the one directly following, quoted from 2 Cor. v. 14, 15, that I crave the liberty of differing with him. Now I think that if brother West could feel assured, as he may feel, that I have no wish to wound his feelings, nor to strive for the mastery, or anything else, but to arrive at a true interpretation of the scriptures, he would not think hard of me; I hope he will not. In his exposition of the first text quoted he says, “If the children of God or seed of Christ all died in Adam, how could they die again, being already dead?” In the first place, I have not the most distant idea that Paul in that text had any allusion to a death in sin. His prime object in this connection appears to be to establish in the minds of his brethren the doctrine of the resurrection of the bodies of the saints, which some of his brethren seem to have denied. See verse 12th. He does not therefore say, "As in Adam all died," but uses the verb die in the present tense, to show a continuation at the present time of their literal or corporeal death. We are not to be understood as denying or even doubting the well-authenticated fact that the entire posterity of Adam became involved in sin and death by virtue of their relation to and standing in him.
But brother West asks the question, "How could they die again, being already dead?" In his query he seems not to have recollected the necessity of distinguishing between a death in sin or under the law, and a death to sin and to the law. Now the fact of their being dead in sin and under the law, presents the great reason to me why it was so indispensably necessary that they should become "dead to the law by the body of Christ," "dead unto sin and alive unto God." So the apostle has it, and here we will make a liberal quotation from Rom. vi: "How shall we who are dead to sin live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ, were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death, that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection. Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead (not dead in sin, nor under the law, but to sin and to the law) is freed from sin. Now if we be dead (to sin, to the law) with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him; knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin; but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord."
This may suffice for a solution of the question, "How could they die again, being already dead?" But to the other text used by brother West: "For the love of Christ constraineth us, because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead." He understands the expression, "if one died for all, then were all dead," to mean that they were all dead before he died for them. I am at a loss to know how we are to arrive at the conclusion that so the apostle meant, unless he had expressed such an idea. Let us notice the expression, read slow: "If one died for all, then were all dead."
He uses the adverb then, which signifies literally, at that time, or, perhaps we might render it here, in that particular case, all were dead; inasmuch as he was the embodiment of their life. I think that if brother West will notice the meaning applied to the word then by our lexicographers, he cannot retain the idea he has advanced on the text. Surely the word then cannot mean before.
And now, dear brother, if I have written one word that is calculated to wound your feelings in the smallest degree, I hope you will forgive me. Surely I have not designed to do so. In the preceding remarks I have asked the questions: What life withdrew? And who died? There appears to me no difficulty in arriving at a correct answer to these interrogations, if we conclude that the Savior is and was both God and man. And I suppose that none, will deny that fact, as both titles are so frequently applied to him in the scriptures, both of the Old Testament and the New. We ask, Who transgressed the law? Answer: Man. Whose life then did the law require? The life of man. Surely a righteous law would not require the life of God for the sin of man. Here the question might be asked, Would not the life or lives of some good man or men of this world have answered the demands of the law? By no means; "There is none good, no, not one." And consequently a righteous, holy law could not be satisfied by an offering that was contaminated in the smallest degree. And therefore, could the blood of all the fallen race that ever did or ever will appear on the footstool of Jehovah have flowed in streamlets from every vein to form one vast ocean, all must have been forever contempted. For all had sinned in their Adamic head, and become guilty before God.
Then it must be the life of a sinless, perfect, holy man that the law required. Who is he? Should the eyes of thousands of my brethren fall on this question, they will probably all be ready to give the same answer. The angel tells it in the following language: "That holy thing that shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God." Let us look for a moment at the typical portrait of this character, as drawn by "holy men of God who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." See Ex. xii. 5 - Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year. Again, xiii. 12: Every firstling that cometh of a beast which thou hast, the males shall be the Lord's.
We might refer to many other similar texts, but these may suffice for the present. We notice two things in this class of texts particularly. First, the offerings were to consist of the firstlings, older ones of the flock; and secondly, they were to be males without blemish. How well calculated to illustrate Jesus, the "elder Brother" of the brotherhood, the "Holy One of God." He is the "first born of every creature," the only begotten of the Father, and his younger brethren the children of God in him and by him. And thus there is and ever has existed a oneness of relationship between him and them. Our elder Brother was appointed heir of all things, and his younger brethren are joint heirs with him. He is also appointed Mediator (executor) of the new and better will or covenant, set up from everlasting, from the beginning or ever the earth was. When the deed was done, the law of his Father violated, its withering curse ready to fall in dire destruction upon his younger brethren, who had justly incurred its penalty by a fatal union with and a frightful fall in their earthly head, he stood ready to meet the awful emergency, and by a legal imputation to bear their sins and carry their sorrows, and thereby relieve them of their burden, he enchained them in the arms of love immutable, and as an eagle fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, so he bear them and carried them all the days of old.
Although we all like sheep have gone astray, turned every one to his own way, yet by a legal imputation, predicated upon an unbroken and everlasting relationship, "the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all." And although countless myriads of crimson sins, committed by his brethren, in all succeeding ages swell in magnitude the unhallowed score, and exhibit in ominous lines the awful responsibility under which he rests, he stands in pompous majesty and determined purpose, to meet the same impending storm and liquidate the law's entire claim. Time, in her steady flight upon her well-fledged wings, is hastening the day, speeding the hour when the cry of justice will be heard to make the imperious demand; but ere it arrives, lo; he comes, heralded by a heavenly messenger, who proclaimed his advent and his all-glorious mission in the heart-thrilling, hope-inspiring, never-to-be-forgotten language: "He shall save his people from their sins." As he was the standing Mediator or Executor of his Father's will, the law of course must make its appeal to him, not to the minor heirs. He came therefore to do his Father's will, to meet the demands of the law from first to last, and become its fulfilling end. Its blighting curse was not to fall on one that the Father had committed to his care, but "every one" was to have everlasting life, and be raised up at the last day. But the day of payment arrives, and where do we find him? A fugitive eloping from justice? No, never! "I am he; if you seek me, let these go their way." The lowering heavens and gathering tempests breaking from Sinai's threatening summit, seem only to nerve him for the fatal contest. He becomes his own herald, and proclaims, "the hour is come." He not only announces the epoch, but summons, on the other hand, his and our enemies, "Now is your hour, and the power of darkness," that they may marshal all their fiendish forces to the impending conflict. The victory must be completely triumphal, "He must reign" over all. Now the fated moment arrives when the Lord of hosts, to inflexible justice, cries, "Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow." Thus telling in the legible letters - M-A-N - what life was to be exposed to the stroke of justice. If we wish to know what life withdrew, and what one was abandoned and forsaken to expire on the cross, hear ye from the lips of him who cannot lie, "My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Adam, when he transgressed the law, was not a spiritual, but a natural man; and consequently did not, nor could he forfeit the spiritual or eternal life of the saints; and therefore the law never required, and thanks to our God, it never got that life. It never can; it is beyond the reach of death, "hid with Christ in God;" yea, "preserved in Jesus Christ." Then, man had sinned and man must die. Well, what is it to die? Do any of us conclude that to die is to pass into a state of nonentity? True, the body in that case becomes for a time divested of all vitality; but does the life die in that sense? Butterworth says, Death is the separation of the soul from the body. The question has been asked, "What life died?" And it has been said, "It could not be eternal life when it was dead." Do we conclude that our life dies when our bodies do; or that it returns to God that gave it? I think the latter. So I think it was with Christ. But says one, What are your thoughts in the case? Well, my brother, listen a little further: "When Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my Spirit, and having said this, he gave up the Ghost."
Surely then we cannot conclude that that Ghost, Spirit or Life went into a state of non-existence, but that it was commended into the hands of God until the appointed morning when his body was reanimated by its presence, and consequently raised from the dead by the mighty power of God. Thus the firstling of the flock, the Lamb of God, our great peace offering, was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification. Having taken on him the entire seed of Abraham, he redeemed them from all iniquity; not with corruptible things, as silver and gold, but with his own precious blood, as of a Lamb without blemish and without spot. So far as their spiritual or eternal life is concerned, no mortal ever possessed it until after regeneration; or in other words, until Christ gives them eternal life, the object of which seems to be that they might know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he hath sent. It is then, and not till then, that we receive the record that God hath given us eternal life, and that life is in his Son. He therefore that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not (eternal) life. Then it is that the great mystery is developed that has been hid from ages and from generations, but is now made manifest to the saints, to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you the hope of glory.
But I have wandered far, very far beyond my anticipated limits when I commenced this scribble, and must conclude by making a very few remarks on the closing part of the text, "Hold fast that which is good."
Here let me remark, that our judgments are so ruined by the fall, that we have but poor conceptions of what is really good, only as we, are taught by the light of the Spirit in the word of God. We should therefore search the record that God has given us, and by searching that record we find there is none good but God. He then is the great and only source of all goodness; and it pleased the Father that in him (Christ) all fullness should dwell. Let us therefore, without under-taking here to particularize on good things separately, recommend to all the dear saints to "hold fast to Jesus Christ," and then we hold fast to all that is good. And that he may give us grace to let no other trust intrude upon our minds, but to cleave to him with full purpose of heart, is the sincere prayer of a very unworthy brother in deep tribulation, and I hope in the fellowship of the gospel.
J. F. JOHNSON.