Lawrenceburg, Ky., May, 1871.
BROTHER BEEBE: - As I cannot be at the eastern associations as I fondly anticipated, in consequence of the indisposition of my youngest son, I have not without some lingering reluctance, "fear and trembling," concluded to venture a few suggestions for the SIGNS OF THE TIMES. Feeble and imperfect as I expect this effort to be, as have been my former ones, I cannot fully satisfy my own mind (though I have long endeavored to do so) that it is my privilege to withhold my communications from our common medium of correspondence through which I receive so much instruction and comfort, and while so many of my friends here and elsewhere, through private letters and otherwise, are soliciting me to write. But feeble and fallible as I feel, and therefore know myself to be, I expect to write my views on the scriptures as freely and (so far as men are concerned) as independently as I ever did. And as to the doctrinal sentiments that have heretofore been promulgated through the SIGNS over my signature, and so far as my memory now serves me, I have not one iota to recant, and should I write again on the same subjects, know not that I could do any better than to write in ipsissima verba, or the very same language, while at the same time I make no claim whatever to infallibility, and am glad that it is the privilege of all to endorse or reject what I say or write, just as they may choose to do. But I wish here to acknowledge in this public manner to brother E. Rittenhouse, that I used some expressions in my rejoinder to a communication over his name that I am sorry for, and should not have made them had I known all the circumstances connected with that matter, and now think that the "old man" contributed much in framing those expressions, and hope he will forgive me. In that response I spoke of brother R. as "our excellent and mild brother," and that he regarded as irony; but he misapprehended me in that case. I had always, after our acquaintance, esteemed him as an excellent and mild brother, and do still regard him as such.
Under this singular kind of caption I propose offering some remarks on a portion of the scriptures. Since I wrote last for the SIGNS there have been many requests, as before observed, through private letters and otherwise, for my views on different texts of scripture, all of which I cannot now call to mind; and as my attention at this time is called to a different one, in some respects, from all, I have concluded to make my own selection, hoping that none of my brethren, sisters or friends will conclude that I disregard their requests.
The passage of scripture referred to is recorded in Ezekiel xvii. 22, 23, and says:
"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 upon 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."
Before treating immediately on the text quoted, it may not be amiss to notice some of the preceding parts of the chapter. In the third verse of the chapter it is said, "A great eagle with great wings, long winged, full of feathers, which had divers colors, 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. He took also of the seed of the land and planted it in a fruitful field. He placed it by great waters, and set it as a willow tree." There it became a spreading vine of low stature. By pursuing the subject we find that this great long winged eagle represented the king of Babylon, who came to Lebanon, took the king and princes of the Jews, led them to Babylon and planted them there. But in the seventh verse it is said, "There was another great eagle with great wings and many feathers, and this vine did bend her roots toward him." Here we have the king of Egypt referred to, and both these kings or kingdoms referred to are emblematic or representative ones. We know that the kingdom of Babylon represented Roman Catholicism, or Mystery, Babylon, and I think that Egypt, the land of darkness, or "that binds or straitens, or that troubles or oppresses," is a very good representation of the second beast, or modern Protestantism; for as the Jews captivated by the Babylonians applied to Egypt for deliverance, instead of looking to God, which was their great error, so those who were captivated by the Mother of Harlots have committed a similar error by applying to Protestants instead of looking to the Lord. In both cases it was men applying to men for deliverance, and may be justly compared to "jumping out of the frying-pan into the fire;" and we now see them, as the term Egypt signifies, bound, straitened, troubled, oppressed. But a better state of things was in reserve for those whom the Father had given to Christ.
"Thus saith the Lord God." When that majestic and august one speaks, a reverential awe should arrest our most profound attention, and whatever may be or may have been our most fondly cherished sentiments, every antagonistic thought should wither, and our faith should at once seize and hold with an imperishable grasp the words spoken. The language of that voice is, "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 upon a 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." The language is highly figurative, no doubt well selected and appropriate, and exactly calculated to illustrate what the emblems were designed to represent. This highest branch of the high cedar first claims our attention. I suppose that David is alluded to as the high cedar, and Christ as the highest branch of David's lineage. See Jer. xxiii. 5. "I will raise unto David a righteous Branch." See also Isa. xi. 1, Zech. iii. 8, vi. 12, Psa. lxxxix. 27, and many other passages showing the exalted dignity of "the Son of David."
"And I will set it." And where is it to be set? "I will crop off from the top of his young twigs a tender one, and will plant it upon an high mountain and eminent." This cropping off probably alludes to the crucifixion of Christ, according to Isa. liii. 8: "He was cut off out of the land of the living." And Daniel ix. 26: "After three score and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself." It was from the TOP, the most exalted position, that this "tender one" was to be cropt off. "He shall grow up before him as a tender plant," &c. These different expressions are used not only to show that Christ is portrayed here, but also to point to his majestic, elevated and dignified position and character, as well as to some of the most momentous things that were done and suffered for his people. But there is too much embodied in this connection to dwell minutely upon all the particular points in one communication.
This Branch was to be planted "upon an high mountain and eminent." In this expression we are reminded of his headship to, and connection with the church. In Psalm ii. 6, it is said, "Yet have I set my King upon my holy hill of Zion." And in Zech. vi. 13, "Even he shall build the temple of the Lord, and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a Priest upon his throne; and the counsel of peace shall be between them both." There the "King shall reign in righteousness," rule and regulate all things pertaining to this "high mountain and eminent." Not only is reference had here to his elevated position as "Head over all things to the church," but also to her standing in her relation to him, as members of his body, sister, spouse, &c. This elevation is not because of any exertion on our part, but because we are "raised up together with him, and made to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." Yes, this is an high mountain and eminent.
In Micah iv. 1, it is said, "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, and people shall flow unto it." See also Isa. xi. 2. To this exalted mountain people are said to flow - a singular and unnatural way of flowing. Water flows, but it is with a downward tendency, according to the natural law of gravity, and not to any effort on the part of the water. The flowing of this "people" upward, then, is supernatural, but not by any effort upon the part of the people. O that we could more highly appreciate the eminent station to which he exalted us when,
"He raised us from the depths of sin,
The gates of gaping hell,
And fix'd our standing more secure,
Than 'twas before we fell."
This identifies the whereabouts of the planting of this "highest branch of the high cedar," not only on, but in the mountain of the house of Israel; in whom we live, in whom we have an inheritance, in whom all spiritual blessings are given us, in whom we were chosen before the foundation of the world, in whom it pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell, and in whom he dwells, walks, will be their God, and they shall be his people. "For the Lord hath chosen Zion; he hath desired it for his habitation." - Psalm cxxxii. 13. Here is revealed the great mystery that has been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made known to the saints, which is Christ in you the hope of glory.
What a heart-thrilling and soul-cheering consideration, that the "Emanuel, which, being interpreted, is: God with us." "This (he says) is the place of my throne, and the place of the soles of my feet, where I will dwell, in the midst of the children of Israel,"&c. - Ezek. x1iii. 7, 11; Zech. ii. 10, 11. "And I heard a great voice out of heaven, saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God shall be with them, and be their God." - Rev. xxi. 3.
"And it shall bring forth boughs and bear fruit, and shall be a goodly cedar." Yes, it shall bring forth boughs. Now perhaps I should be a little careful how I handle this part of the subject, for by using it carelessly some tender toes might get hurt. Christ said, John xv. 5, "I am the Vine, ye are the branches." Here is the same idea in a similar figure. Well, when we see a bough on a cedar, are we to conclude that a upas, or some part of a upas tree, has been changed so as to form that bough? Or when we see a branch on a grapevine, must we suppose that a creeper, or some part of it, or some other vine, has under-went such a change as to constitute a branch of the grape-vine? The next question is; Has revelation used appropriate emblems here? We contend that they are suitable figures. Then look at the stately evergreen cedar, always exhibiting the sign of perpetual life, whether rudely ruffled by the winter tempest, or gently playing in the summer zephyr, and say whether these boughs have had their existence in, and came out directly from the tree, or whether some exotic or foreign shrub, or some part of such a shrub or tree, has been so changed as to form those boughs. We still say that the boughs of the cedar and the branches of the vine had their existence in, and were produced directly from the tree or vine, in consequence of their antecedent existence in the tree or vine; that this tree and vine with their boughs and branches represent Christ and his church; that his spiritual children had their existence in him, were chosen in him, before the foundation of the world; that they are not of the earth, even as he was not of the earth, but came out directly from him, because they antecedently existed in him, are "born again, not of corruptible seed," &c.; and we defy competition, for there can be no rational refutation urged against these facts. Yet one will say that the soul is born of God, another that the mind is thus born; and yet complain of us for not giving scripture language in advancing our ideas. Give us scripture language that tells us that either the soul or mind is thus born of God, and then you may with some show of propriety call on us. But it is somewhere said that "the legs of the lame are not equal." Perhaps I had better leave this part of the subject, or I may raise another controversy.
This tree is to bear fruit, and be a goodly cedar. A goodly or good tree cannot bear evil fruit. Fruit is borne on the boughs or branches, but is produced from the tree, and demonstrates the quality of the tree. Christ and all his spiritual children (the anti-type of the cedar) are all of the same nature, and therefore cannot produce evil fruit. "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin, for his seed remaineth in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God." This cannot be said of the natural man, or carnal nature, for in that relation, "If we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." There is "none good" in that relation; without faith it is impossible to please God, and "all men have not faith." All this ado about "free agency," "conditional salvation," "change from nature to grace," is nothing better than mere gossamer. All this modern missionary theory, with all its appendages, ornaments, trappings and trickery combined, are nothing more than huge enlargements of man-made machinery to manufacture the same flimsy, worthless article. But "their webs shall not become garments, neither shall they cover themselves with their works." With all their tact, talent and natural acquirements, we know that "the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." Some of them say, "If we could not convert sinners we would not preach." No; their craft would be in danger if they could not "compass sea and land to make proselytes." We defy them to prove by one solitary text of scripture that there ever was an impenitent sinner converted to God or made a christian by preaching the true gospel, by the apostles or any gospel preacher, leaving out of the question the perversion peddled by those proselyting tricksters preached and falsely called gospel. "By their fruits (works), ye shall know them."
The fruit or works of this goodly cedar are from a different source, of a different quality, and for a different use. Their source is from God. "The Lord will ordain peace for us, for he also hath wrought all our works in us." - Isa. xxvi 12. And, "For it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." Phil. ii. 13. When we work out what the Lord has wrought in us, it is all right, of a good quality, and very different from the works of the flesh, or of sinners dead in sins. Their use is to exhibit the doctrine, and for the reproof, correction, instruction in righteousness, and comfort of the children of God, and not for the dead sinner. The Lord's purpose in the protection of the wicked, and the duty of his people to "do good to them," is here alluded to. He has use for them in the development of his own glory, and for the benefit of his people. They are used as a sword or weapon in his hand, with which he cuts off nations or dashes them to pieces like a potter's vessel, as well as for the chastisement of individuals, and even his own people, for their good. David says, Psa. xvii. 13, "Deliver my soul from the wicked, which is thy sword." And in Isa. x. 5, the Assyrian is spoken of as the rod of his anger, and the staff in their hand as his indignation.
These fowls, and particularly migratory, carrion ones, such as prey upon other birds and animals, are frequently used in the scriptures to represent wandering, unclean and persecuting arminians, or false religionists, that know nothing of the way of salvation by grace. Hence Job says, "There is a path which no fowl knoweth, and which the vulture's eye hath not seen." Again, Christ compares the church to a plant of mustard, so large that the fowls of the air lodge in the branches. - Matt. xiii. 31, 32. These fowls, though under the shadow, or even lodged in the branches of the tree or plant, constitute no part of either. I have frequently noticed those birds of passage when about to emigrate. When the weather is warm and pleasant they sit in the branches and sing very gaily. But when the wintry season approaches they are heard to sound a different note, particularly the leaders. By-and-by, away they go, the leaders showing the course, and the rest following to a climate more congenial to their nature. Just as the New School Baptists did nearly half a century ago. Since that time, like vultures they have continued to pluck at and persecute us, and perhaps often used in the hand of the Lord to chastise us with for our good; for I can with confidence say that within the last few years they have misrepresented and told more downright falsehoods on my brethren and myself than any or all other societies combined, and so palpable in many instances that they have driven from them many of the Lord's children who have been entangled in their drag, who have come out from among them, so that within a few years past we have baptized nearly, if not full forty of them, within the bounds of the four churches that I serve, and two others in the vicinity.
Let it not be thought that I make these remarks by way of complaint, or from a vindictive spirit. We should bear all these things patiently, without complaining, while we are assured that the Lord works all things, good and bad, after the counsel of his own will, and all for the good of them that love him, as the apostle, and as the poet, has said:
"All for the best, then fling away terrors,
Meet all your foes and your fears in the van;
And in the midst of your dangers and errors,
Trust like a child while you strive like a man.
All's for the best, unbiased, unbounded,
Providence reigns from the east to the west;
And both by wisdom and power surrounded,
Hope and be happy that all's for the best."
The Lord has use for the worst men as well as for the best; he has use for all the wrath they can vent against him or his people; for the wrath of man shall praise him, and the remainder of wrath he will restrain." - See Psa. lxxvi. 10.
Such is the wonderful wisdom and power of our God, that he can turn the most wicked and diabolical acts of wicked men in channels that will lead to the highest order of blessings, and the most transporting and heart-thrilling joys that his people can realize in the course of their pilgrimage here, to the exhibition of his own glory, and thus cause his majestic name and mighty power to be known, felt and declared throughout the whole earth. We have many instances of this class recorded in the scriptures. See the wickedness of Joseph's brethren in first determining to kill him, and when the Lord overruled and prevented that, their selling and sending him a slave to Egypt; the wicked lewdness of Potipher's wife in casting him into prison; and afterwards of the cruel wickedness of the Egyptians in oppressing the children of Israel; the wickedness and hardness of Pharaoh's heart in refusing to let them go; and we might mention a thousand cases similar in malignity and turpitude, forming a concatenation of events of a kindred nature, running through the whole history of the Jews, from their exodus from Egypt to the coming of the Messiah, and as necessary links in that chain as were the innocence of Joseph, his best and most commendable acts, the best deeds of Moses and Aaron, the prophets and priests, with those of all the renowned saints in the former dispensation; for one broken link, good or bad, would have severed the chain, and therefore the immutable counsel of God must have changed, which is impossible, or his unalterable decree and purpose been defeated, which is alike impossible.
But again, see the malign diabolism of those incarnate fiends imbuing their red-stained wicked hands in the blood of the innocent Lamb of God! Here is what we might call the quintessence of crime. Jesus was delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. Those wicked men did what the hand and counsel of God determined before to be done, and fulfilled the scriptures in condemning him. But God by his matchless wisdom and power turned their wickedness into a channel that should brighten the brilliancy of his undying glory to our view - a channel in which should run in ceaseless streams of grace, mercy and eternal salvation to his people, and thereby raise a rich revenue of praise to his immortal name. But this wonderful work of God in overruling their wickedness and causing their wrath to praise him, did not mitigate their crime in the smallest degree. They done their work with wicked hands, with a wicked design, and therefore their crime deserved the heaviest punishment. Good men could not have perpetrated such deeds; how then could those incarnate fiends have been dispensed with; and without them, where would be our comfortable hope today in the blood of a crucified Redeemer? These considerations should curb the vindictiveness of our carnal nature toward our enemies, persecuting Arminians, who strive so incessantly for our downfall, and constitute a prominent reason why we should do good to them that hate us, and pray for them that despitefully use us and persecute us, for it is all for our good.
But there are many other reasons why those fowls should be protected. The calamitous days of the destruction of the Jews were shortened for the elect's sake. Probably many of the Lord's people descended from wicked Jews that were spared by the shortening of those days; still there was a remnant according to the election of grace, a few "berries in the outer branches" of that nation that must be preserved; and even now among modern Moabites around us there may be some born and unborn. Sometimes their children, and even some of themselves, are brought to a knowledge of the truth. Let them dwell then and find shelter under the shadow of the branches of the goodly cedar, lest in rooting out the tares some of the wheat should be destroyed. The Lord knows when to gather his wheat into the garner, and bind the tares in bundles to be burned.
There are still other good reasons why these fowls should be sheltered. In Psa. Ix. 8, it is said, "Moab is my washpot;" and we know that a washpot is often needed about a house, by which the refuse and uncleanness is removed from more honorable vessels. Some of us have vivid recollections when, within the last half century, the modern Moabites have rendered us important services in removing those unclean, "filthy dreamers" away from us.
In conclusion, dear brethren and sisters, let us be patient and submissive while it is the Lord's will (for our good) to suffer them to croak around, peck and pluck us as a "speckled bird," and until it shall please him to consign them to their place, and bring us into the full possession of our heritage, transport us to our final home, transplant us in our happy land,
"A land upon whose blissful shore,
There rests no shadow, falls no stain;
There those who meet shall part no more,
And those long parted meet again.
There shall we see, and feel, and know,
All we desired or wished below;
And every power find sweet employ,
In that eternal world of joy."
Suppress or publish the foregoing hasty scribble, brother Beebe; either will answer my purpose. My love to yourself, family, and all the household of faith. Unworthy as I am, permit me to claim the endearing relationship of a brother in Christ.
J. F. JOHNSON.