Lawrenceburg, Feb. 5,1863.
BROTHER BEEBE: - I have recently received a very interesting letter from sister Nancy Dutton, of Texas, and had I her consent, would request you to publish it entire; but as I have not, will simply try to comply with a request contained therein, which is that I should give my views through the SIGNS OF THE TIMES on Hab. ii. 14.
I shall try to be brief, as I am somewhat out of the habit of writing, and cannot make mine "the pen of the ready writer." I may not understand the text myself, and should that be the case, shall make but a poor show in trying to explain it to others. It reads as follows:
"For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea."
The first question for us to attend to is, what earth is it that is to be thus filled? This word earth is used in several different senses in the scriptures. First, it signifies the terrestrial element on which we tread and dwell. "And God called the dry land earth." We cannot suppose that this is the earth that is filled with this knowledge. Secondly, it signifies all the people of the earth. "The earth also was corrupt before God; and the earth was filled with violence." And, "All flesh had corrupted his way." Neither can this be the earth that is "filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord." "For they know not, neither do they understand." Sometimes the earth brings to view only a nation or kingdom, as that of the Jews, Chaldeans, Romans, &c., but none of these, nationally, can be said literally to be filled with this knowledge. There are other cases in which the word earth is used in the scriptures, which need not necessarily be referred to here. One other, however, we will name, and that is the one in which I think it used in the text referred to. It is evidently clearly shown in the scriptures, by numerous passages, that the church is often spoken of as "the earth."
In Isa. lxv. 17 and 18, it is said, "For, behold I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered nor come into mind. But be ye glad and rejoice forever in that which I create, for behold I create Jerusalem a rejoicing and her people a joy." Beyond a doubt, "Jerusalem and her people," here named, is the church, the new heavens and the new earth. See also 2 Peter iii. 13. "Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness." These texts, with many others that might be adduced, show conclusively that the church is often called "earth" in the scriptures. In Isa. xi. 9, together with the preceding and following connection, it seems very clear to me that the church is the earth that is to be filled with the knowledge of the Lord. There, almost the same language is used that we find in the text under investigation. "They shall not hurt nor destroy in all thy holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea." In the tenth verse it is said, "And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek, and his rest shall be glorious." Here we are not only shown that the church is the earth that is to be filled with his knowledge, but that the bringing in of the Gentiles was when this fullness was to be realized. If this conclusion is correct, then it follows that to the church this fullness is to be evinced; and if to the church collectively, (and we may say exclusively,) each individual member must realize, in a greater or less degree, that fullness that the earth (the church) shall be filled with. This view of the subject may induce us to retrace the steps of our pilgrimage from the first glimmerings we had of the knowledge of God up to the present moment. This knowledge is unattainable by human lore, far beyond the ken of mortal vision. A revelation directly from God alone can give any correct idea of the knowledge of the Lord. God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness must shine in our hearts to give that knowledge, before we can ever realize it. It is God's gift. "He giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding." - Dan. ii. 21. He "hath given us an understanding that we might know him," &c, I John v. 20. But how shall I elucidate this knowledge! My poor, feeble, finite mind cannot comprehend it; my clumsy, stammering tongue cannot explain it, nor my pen describe it. If David could say, "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me," what can I say?
This much I can say, "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!"
Still, by the tuition of the spirit of revelation we may have some faint idea of it. Look back, my sister, when God first shined in your heart to give you the light of that knowledge, for that knowledge shines with searching light. God gives us not the knowledge only, but "the light of the knowledge." That is a piercing, penetrating light. It makes bare the secret, hidden and before unknown recesses of a heart that is "deceitful and desperately wicked." But that is not all. From that horrid sink of iniquity we discover that the baneful violence has been thrown out, the venom has spread, until its malignity has pervaded, corrupted and depraved our entire nature. "The whole head is sick and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness; but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores." All this we see by the light of that knowledge. But we see more yet. "The knowledge of the Lord" is revealed to us; a knowledge of that high, holy and reverend One "that inhabiteth eternity." O what a knowledge that is! "The earth is filled" with it. By its light we see ourselves and we see God. What a wonderful, amazingly wonderful contrast! How can two beings so radically dissimilar dwell together? Now we think the die is cast, we fear the separation is final. We may have heard of him by the hearing of the ear, but now our eye (of faith) sees him; wherefore we abhor ourselves and repent in dust and ashes.
But the text says, "The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord." Ah, my sister, sisters and brethren all, what would the knowledge of the Lord be to us without the knowledge of his glory? We might suppose we could recognize in him "a consuming fire," but nothing in ourselves that could possibly bear the burning ordeal. And now what shall I say of "the glory of the Lord?" How shall I describe that? We have some idea of what is called the glory of men. The scriptures speak of the glory of Solomon, and of other kings and kingdoms of the earth, by which I suppose is meant their wisdom, power, wealth, majesty, magnificent equipages, &c. But what is all this when compared with those infinitely superabounding qualities in the great Jehovah which constitute his glory? Only think of his wisdom, power, riches, majesty, the magnificent hosts that come and go at his bidding, and astonishment overwhelms us.
"He looks, and ten thousands of angels rejoice,
And myriads wait for his word;
He speaks, and eternity, filled with his voice,
Re-echoes the praise of the Lord."
There is no attribute, no quality, no faculty or trait that characterizes the "glorious Lord" but what is all glorious.
"All over glorious is my Lord,
To be beloved and yet adored."
But still the poets, and I, must fail to show forth his glory. I feel as though I was trifling on a fathomless ocean, and had better paddle to shore, if there was any. We are told that, "The heavens declare the glory of God," but yet we are lost. The simple declaration of a thing is not the thing itself. Think again of all his glorious perfections, and then think that you, the earthen vessel, are to be filled with all. How is this mysterious mystery to be accomplished? Go to Paul and he will tell you. See Eph. iii. 14-21, inclusive. "For this cause I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that he would grant you according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might, by his Spirit, in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth and length and depth and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge; that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church, by Christ Jesus, throughout all ages, world without end. Amen." There is a solution of the great mystery, but finite minds could never solve or comprehend it. No, it "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."
But of all the attributes of Jehovah one, to us, seems to excel, and that is love. The scriptures tell us twice what God is. First it is said that "God is a Spirit," and that is the Spirit that reveals to us all that we know or can know of God. "For the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God." He alone can give us any correct knowledge of himself, his knowledge, his divine excellence, or any of his spiritual blessings. The other text informs us that "God is love." Then if God is glorious, and if he is love, the love of God is the "glory of the Lord." The earth, then, that is filled with the love of God, is "filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord." To know his love then, is to know his glory. Now, christian, review your past experience, and see if this view of the subject does not correspond with it.
When you was first filled with the knowledge of God, the light of that knowledge developed things to you just as they were. It did not make you that hideous, hopeless, helpless and lost sinner that you then and there saw yourself to be; nor did it make the Lord to be that holy, harmless, undefiled, long-suffering and intrinsically good being that you saw him to be, against whom you had so basely and ungratefully sinned. No, it did not do either, but it made you see yourself to be the deep-dyed sinner that you then was and had been before, and God to be the unpolluted character that he then was and ever had been. That was a heart-breaking scene, a mournful spectacle. But when you were "filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord," (the love of the Lord,) how changed the scene, how different the sensation! Your sorrow was turned to joy, your grief to rejoicing. Yes, you received "beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness."
"Your tongue broke out in unknown strains,
And sung surprising grace."
What rapture fills and flows from the love-smitten heart! What ecstatic, blissful emotions dwell there, when the earth or earthen vessel is "filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea."
But how do the waters cover the sea? Can we not see it? Is there a covering cast over it that we cannot behold it? Ah, we can see the surface, the bare, thin covering that is spread over it; but what is that when compared with the vast immensity of waters that lie pent up in its monstrous bowels. To be sure, it is a vast expanse to look over; but then our vision is so circumscribed that we can see but a speck of the bare surface of it. Only think what is beneath the whole surface or covering. Think of computing it. Go to the brink, dip your foot in the waters that lave the shore. You may step into it and find the water only to the ankles; a little further and it is to the knees; a little onward, to the loins; a little further and it is impassable. Let the mariner try his skill on board his gallant ship, spread his canvas to the breeze; presently he sounds; it is but a few fathoms; a little further a few more; and so on, until line, plummet and all fails to measure the immeasurable depth.
Thus, when the "earth is filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea," we have but a very superficial view of the infinite breadth and length and depth and height of the boundlessness of the fullness of God, and are again and again prompted to exclaim with the apostle, "O, the depth of the riches," &c. Like the waters that ran from the threshold of the former temple into which Ezekiel in a vision was lead, our first advances are but shallow. But as we progress the waters become deeper and deeper and DEEPER, until,
"Transported with the view,
We're lost in wonder, love and praise."
The inspired apostle to the Gentiles could only see through a glass darkly, could know only in part, and prophesy only in part. What will the transport be when we can see as we are seen, and know as we are known? We have this treasure in earthen vessels now, vessels that cannot appreciate the rich boon. And yet, even in the tabernacle in which we groan we sing,
"O, the rapturous height of that holy delight,
Which I found in the life-giving blood;
Of my Savior possessed I was perfectly blest,
As if filled with the fullness of God."
If so shallow a view of the "glory of the Lord" so transports us while our vision is dim and our knowledge so imperfect, what will be our ecstasy when launched into the fathomless sea of his glory, and when we see as we are seen, know as we are known, when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality?
"If in my soul such joy abounds,
While weeping faith explores his wounds,
How glorious will his grace appear,
When perfect bliss forbids a tear."
Your friend and brother,
J. F. JOHNSON.