Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, July, 1863.
BROTHER BEEBE, BRETHREN AND SISTERS: - I have been traveling and removing so much within the last ten or twelve months past, that I am far behind hand in complying with the different requests made through the SIGNS OF THE TIMES for my views on portions of scriptures. Within the above named space I was absent over six months at one time, and removed twice. The last time, however, was only from one part of Lawrenceburg to another, where we are more comfortably situated, feel more permanently settled, more like I am where I should be, than I have for years past; and located where I can serve four churches, go to and return from each in one day, except one, which is about twenty miles distant, with a good turnpike road all the way. O that I could serve the Lord's children as I should. Ought we to have any higher aspirations on this earth? That is, his acceptable service. "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."
I think that the last request for my views in the past volume was made by sister Martha E. Price, of Iowa, and reads as follows:
"Will Elder J. F. Johnson, of Kentucky, please give his views through the SIGNS OF THE TIMES, on Ezekiel xvii. 22-24, and oblige a little sister if a sister at all?"
The connection reads: "Thus saith the Lord God, I will also take of the highest branch of the high cedar, and will set it; I will crop off from the top of his young twigs a tender one, and will plant it in an high mountain and eminent: in the mountain of the height of Israel will I plant it, and it shall bring forth boughs, and bear fruit and be a goodly cedar, and under it shall dwell all fowl of every wing; in the shadow of the branches thereof shall they dwell." Perhaps none of the holy writers have written in a more highly figurative style than has the prophet Ezekiel. He depicts the kings of Babylon and Egypt, the then perhaps most elevated nations of the earth, as to earthly power and splendor, under the similitude of two great eagles, the former of which "came to Lebanon and took the highest branch of the high cedar. He cropped off the top of his young twigs and carried it into a land of traffic; he set it in a city of merchants." I suppose that "the high cedar" represents the Jewish nation; "the highest branch" the king of the Jews; the "young twigs" the king's seed, princes, &c. This highest branch and twigs were planted in a "city of merchants," (Babylon,) where "it grew and became a spreading vine of low stature, whose branches turned toward him, (the king of Babylon,) and the roots thereof were under him." "There was also another great eagle with great wings and many feathers; and, behold, this vine did bend her roots toward him, and shot forth her branches toward him." By reference to the foregoing part of this prophecy, we discover that the Lord had taken this people, the Jews, when they were small, and made them a great nation. He gave them national laws to govern them, ceremonial ones to regulate their worship. A very positive command in those laws was, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve." The blessings and immunities of the land which the Lord gave them, and in which they were so abundantly favored, were guaranteed to them on conditions, such as the following: "If ye walk in my statutes and keep my commandments, and do them, then I will give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruits," &c. "And if (on the other hand,) ye shall despise my statutes, or if your soul abhor my judgments, so that ye will not do all my commandments, but that ye break my covenant, I will set my face against you, and ye shall be slain before your enemies; they that hate you shall reign over you; and ye shall flee when none pursueth you."- See Leviticus xxvi. But they made void the law of God by their traditions, set up their graven and standing images, not only before their eyes, but "set up their idols in their hearts," imagining gods, which are as bad as any, and which we fear are worshiped to an alarming extent at this time; and for this cause, this great eagle, the king of Babylon, was sent to take their king, their princes, and seed of the land, and plant them in "a land of traffic." This was a righteous retribution from God, the legitimate fruits of their idolatry. It had greatly fallen upon them as a withering curse, for they had been faithfully forewarned. To avert this righteous judgment, this vine did bend her roots and shoot forth her branches toward the great eagle, the king of Egypt. In other words, to avoid the righteous retribution that had fallen upon them from the Lord, they applied to the king of Egypt for deliverance. But it was vain for them to think of escaping the rod of the Almighty by this stratagem. He says, "It shall not prosper." A fearful warning this to a nation which, having been blessed as was that people, who turns to the worship of idols, whether set up in forms before the eyes of the people, or in their hearts or imaginations. But, after exhibiting a complete failure in the conditional theory "for our learning," the Lord interposes, and tells what HE will do. "Thus saith the Lord God, I will also take of the highest branch of the high cedar, and will set it." This is the commencement of the connection on which my views are requested. We have, "Thus saith the Lord God," in the beginning, and may rest assured that what follows are stubborn, immutable facts. What are the facts in the case? The first is: "I will also take of the highest branch." Mark, he does not say he will take the highest branch, as did the king of Babylon, but of the highest. Now, David in his day was the highest branch of the high cedar; but he does not take David, but that which was of David. The allusion is evidently to Christ, the Preserver, Redeemer, and Savior of Israel, who "was made of the seed of David, according to the flesh." Here then was THE TOP OF THE HIGHEST BRANCH of the high cedar. The Lord says, "I will make him, my first-born, HIGHER than the kings of the earth." And, "Thou hast anointed him with the oil of gladness above his fellows." This "tender one" then is cropped off from the top of his young twigs. "For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant." This word tender is to be taken as being "compassionate, anxious for others' good, mild," &c. "And will plant it upon an high mountain and eminent." This high and eminent mountain is characteristic of the church, according to Micah iv. 1, and Isaiah ii. 2, "But in the last days it shall come to pass that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills." This height is not to be considered a mere local position, but one of exalted excellence. Those mountains, above which this is exalted, may illustrate religious organizations, whether ones among the Jews, or modern ones among the Gentiles. What mountain is to be compared with this in elevated uprightness? By one offering this mountain is "perfected forever." "The King's daughter is all glorious; her clothing is of wrought gold. She shall be brought unto the King in raiment of needlework." And again: "Thou art beautiful, O my love, as Tirzah; comely as Jerusalem; terrible as an army with banners." No spot, wrinkle, or any such thing, is to be found upon her. Then, is it not "an high mountain and eminent?" Yes, she stands majestic, eminent, prominent as "a city set upon a hill which cannot be hid; whose glory may be seen afar off, and many come to the brightness of her rising." The climax of her glory is the illustrious HEAD that is "set" upon this mountain. "Yet have I set my King upon my holy hill of Zion. - Psalm ii. 6. There is the glory that may be seen afar off. The effulgent beams irradiating from this gloriously brilliant Head sheds its lustrous brightness over all the mountain, causing her to look forth as the morning, "Fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners." Ah! my sister, this tender one, this top of the twigs, set upon the holy hill of Zion, is "Glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders." Not only on, but "In the mountain of the height of Israel will I plant it." Would HE, whose sublime majesty commands the reverence of all the heavenly hosts, will he take up his residence with us; whose glory is the embellishment of heaven, expansive as its circumference, extensive as eternity? O, what condescension! This is "IMMANUEL, which being interpreted is GOD WITH US." Sing praises to the Lord that dwelleth in Zion; declare among the people his doings." O, may we all sing in the fervent sincerity of our hearts,
"I love her gates, I love the road,
The church adorned with grace,
Stands like a palace built for God,
To show his lovely face."
This planting of the holy one in Mount Zion unfolds a deep and profound "Mystery which hath been hid from ages, and from generations, but now is made manifest to his 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." This is what renders the King's daughter all glorious within. God has said he will plant this "tender" or compassionate one in the mountain of Israel, and when this is done, we have a "new man, which, after God, is created in righteousness and true holiness." Thence comes the tocsin and inauguration of war: "The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary the one to the other." Severe may be the conflict, but certain must be victory. "For which cause we faint not; for though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day." "And it shall bring forth boughs, and bear fruit, and be a goodly cedar." Now permit me to remark here that there has been a controversial point between those who claim to be Old School Baptists, that I think this expression ought to settle. The controversy has been upon the subject of what is called, The New Birth. While some have contended that the birth consists in a mere change of the natural man, or, of some part of that man at least, others have urged that it was a new production in that man, originally and primitively different from the natural man, in nature and in practice. But, we should consider that a birth does not change the nature of anything born. We admit that the circumstances and practice of things born exhibit a change after the birth, but these are consequences of, or resulting from the birth, not the birth itself. Now to the text: Christ is the Son of God; "The only begotten of the Father." The Father has said he will plant this tender one in Israel, (the church,) and that "it shall bring forth boughs, and bear fruit." Can language be more explicit, the allusion more clear, that these boughs are the immediate, direct and exclusive production of this plant? The birth then is not a change produced by this plant, or the planter, but as actual an offspring from it, as boughs of a tree are from the first implantation, or as the branches are from the vine. Hence says Christ, "I am the vine, ye are the branches." But, the Lord says further that this plant, or tree, as we may call it, shall "bear fruit." The fruit then is a production also of the tree, but it appears on the boughs that grow out of the tree. The boughs though, in order to bear fruit, must still remain attached to and inseverable from the tree or vine. Therefore, "The true Vine" has said, "As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself except it abide in the vine, no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches; he that abideth in me and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit; for without me ye can do nothing." The fruit produced is of the same nature as the bearing stalk. "That which is born of the Spirit is spirit;" it is therefore spiritual fruit, or in other words, "The fruit of the Spirit (which) is love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, against such there is no law." - Gal. v. 22, 23. This is excellent fruit; very different from "the works of the flesh;" a concise catalogue of which we have in the preceding verses of this chapter, and which are lawless ones. This then is a goodly cedar, for it bears good fruit, and the tree is known by its fruit. Love stands at the head of the list, and
"Love is the sweetest bud that blows,
Its beauty never dies."
"Peace flows like a river from Jesus the fount,
And gladdens the lovely abode of the mount."
"Joy spreads from the threshold of God and the Lamb,
To the praise of the great, the majestic I AM."
All the rest flow from the same compassionate, exhaustless source, all necessary for the health, comfort and well being of the family. All and each of the boughs, or branches, should be careful to maintain those good works, and we are glad that God has ordained that they should. "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that you should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain." And again: "Created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." Every unbiased lover of good works will rejoice in the foreordination of God, for it secures to each one the good works, and the only good works that ever were or ever will be acceptable in the sight of God. "And under it shall dwell all fowl of every wing; in the shadow thereof shall they dwell." This latter, or closing part of the connection on which my sister has requested my ideas, is simply to show the peace, quietude, safety and repose of all who are brought under the hallowed dominion of the influence of the church. "Thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a quiet habitation." Under that influence, "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion, and the fatling together," &c. Fowls, however, are seldom, if ever, used in the scriptures to represent any part of the church. They are more generally used to illustrate mere nominal and false or flighty professors. Hence, Job says, "There is a path which no fowl knoweth, and which the vulture's eye hath not seen." Again, the fowls of the air lodged in the branches of the mustard tree, but still they constituted none of it, but were rather cumbersome while there. Birds are very fit emblems of airy professors of religion, who change so frequently to suit the times, seasons and circumstances that surround them, but illy calculated to exhibit the church as exemplified by the permanent standing cedar, with its rock-hugging roots. Still, all these may rest under its shadow, it will hurt none of them. - See Gal. vi. 10. I have now endeavored to comply with the request of sister Price, as well as I can, and now assure her that this long delay has not been the result of disrespect, or indifference to her solicitation. With your concurrence, brother Beebe, this communication is respectfully submitted to her consideration, and also to the judgment of others, who may notice it.
Your brother, as ever,
J. F. JOHNSON.