Georgetown, Ky., April 8, 1872.
MY DEAR BROTHER BEEBE: - You will recollect that our beloved brother John F. Johnson delivered the introductory discourse at the Licking Association. I felt comforted, edified and really much pleased, and in conversation with others I found I was not alone. I called on him for his sermon and he promised to write the substance of it and send to me after his return from Missouri. A few days ago it came to hand. The brethren in Missouri, as well as those about here, desire that it should appear in the SIGNS. I therefore forward it for that purpose to you.
Your friend and brother,
Lawrenceburg, Ky., March, 1872.
MY DEAR BROTHER RANKINS: - After delivering the introductory discourse at the Licking Association last fall, you wished to know of me whether I could write out said discourse. I told you I thought not, but probably could write substantially the same ideas on the text. You requested me to do so. And having a little respite from other matters, after so long a delay, (please pardon the delay) I will try to comply with that request. Inadequate as I feel myself to be, I feel a desire to use every laudable endeavor to comfort and instruct the Lord's dear children.
The text used on that occasion is recorded in Heb. xii. 28, 29:
"Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear; for our God is a consuming fire."
In some of the preceding verses the apostle beautifully exhibits the superiority of that Zion or the ministration of righteousness, over that of Mount Sinai the ministration of condemnation; which Mount burned with fire, was sable with blackness or shrouded with darkness, swept with the terrible tempest or made terrific with the clarion trumpet and voice of words (of condemnation and vindictive wrath,) thus wreaking vengeance on each transgressor, causing even Moses to exceedingly fear and quake.
"Thus Sinai roars, and round the earth,
Thunder, and fire and vengeance flings,
But, Jesus, thy dear gasping breath,
And Calvary, speak gentler things."
How wide the contrast when we approach Zion. O the transporting joys that meet us there; the lovely companions, that greet us there.
Here we hail the heavenly Jerusalem and innumerable company of angels, (or messengers) the general assembly and church of Jesus (or the first born) which are written in heaven, God the Judge of all, the spirits of just men made perfect, and Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and the blood of sprinkling, speaking better things than that of Abel. Abel's blood cried for vengeance, but the blood of Jesus speaks peace, pardon, reconciliation, compassion and love. Surely these benign comforts and exalted privileges should inspire our highest praises, and incite our most implicit obedience. If they escaped not who refused Moses, certainly we shall not escape if we turn away from Jesus. But we should thank him that there are no death penalties in the law that governs Zion. She is to be controlled by the law of the spirit of life, which makes her free from the law of sin and death. But his and our heavenly Father has said, "If his children forsake my law, and walk not in my statutes and keep not my commandments, then will I visit their transgressions with a rod, and their iniquities with stripes. Nevertheless my loving kindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail." In the 26th verse it is said, "Whose voice then shook the earth, (or earthly sanctuary) but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only but also heaven." But what does this shaking once more mean? It simply "signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain." Those things that are made then, are movable things, things that may and must be removed; do not properly belong to the "kingdom which cannot be moved," but have only a temporary lodgment there; comparable in another place to fowls of the air lodged in the branches of the mustard plant. - Matt. xiii. 31, 32. But what are those made things? Doubtless they are men-made proselytes. We read that a long time ago there were those who compassed sea and land to make that kind of articles; and the same class of gentlemen have followed the trade and practiced the same craft ever since, and very successfully too, so far as "the root of all evil" is concerned; "have done many wonderful works," "sought out many inventions," and are still improving rapidly with new inventions.
They have, therefore, new schools, new bible societies, new missionary boards, new offices of almost every character but one. We call them new because they seem not to have been known or practiced in the apostolic school, in the heaven or kingdom under consideration. They have shown great signs and wonders, even "lying wonders," have deceived millions, and would deceive the very elect were it possible.
They have grown vastly rich by their craft too; have literally thronged and crowded the broad road with their numerous proselytes. This wonderful progress in the acquisition of members seems to afford them sufficient evidence that the Lord is blessing their labors wonderfully. Well, they have almost as palpable evidence in that respect as Joe Smith and Brigham Young, and therefore they have but little more reason to doubt the interposition of the hand of God in their behalf than have the "latter day saints." Although they carry on the most of their abominable craft outside of the kingdom, yet according to apostolic prediction we must expect them sometimes to creep in unawares, for revelation says, "But there were false prophets among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you," &c. When this is the case, then a shaking is necessary, is inevitable. Some of us are old enough to have seen this game played to our sorrow, but no doubt for our good; for it affords additional evidence of the truth of the scriptures. Within the last century many of these made things found a lodgment in the different branches of the church, elsewhere spoken of as fowls of the air, lodged in the branches of the mustard tree, of which the church is the antitype. But there are migratory birds, or "wandering stars," not stationary or immovable like the tree. Shaking, however, will soon dislodge or put them to flight. Such was the case when the proselyte makers obtained or found lodging in the branches of the church; but a portentous cloud arose, the heavens lowered, the tempest raged, the tornado howled, the heaven was shaken, and away went the birds of passage to a clime more congenial to their nature. Since then the heaven has become serene, calm, tranquil. The Sun of Righteousness displays his mellow beams, and we have been made to realize, "How good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity."
Wherefore, we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved. What a boon we are receiving here! And from a source too, that gives us an undisputed title to it. In Dan. vii. 14, it is said, "And there was given him (the Son of Man) dominion and glory and a kingdom," and in the eighteenth verse of the same chapter it is further said, "But the saints of the Most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom, even forever and ever." It belongs to the saints by inheritance. "And mine elect shall inherit it, and my servants shall dwell there." And again says the King, "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you," &c. And yet again, "It is the Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." Thus we receive the kingdom from the Head of all authority. But it cannot be moved. How pleasant, how solacing to contemplate its perpetuity, its permanency! What a wonderful contrast between this and all other kingdoms.
Daniel with prophetic ken could scrutinize the stability of this kingdom; could scan with critical accuracy the uprising and the downfall of the kingdoms of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome, the then four prominent powers of the earth; compared to the four winds of heaven, striving upon the great sea, or tumultuous multitude of people, and in view of the elevation, declension and final overthrow of those mighty dynasties could exclaim with holy rapture, "And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, AND IT SHALL STAND FOREVER," although assailed by the most potent enemies that the world, the flesh and the devil combined could array against this kingdom. The rains, the floods and the winds may dash, rage and beat upon it, but all in vain, it is built upon a rock:
"Built on his Godhead and his blood,
It stands, and hath forever stood."
“And a man shall be as an hiding-place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place; as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.” - Isa.. xxxii. 2. "They that trust in the Lord shall be as Mount Zion, which cannot be removed, but abideth forever." - Psa. cxxv. 1. The scriptures are replete with testimonials to establish the permanency of this kingdom. Prophetic lore portrays its everlasting stability.
Immovable mountains, ever flowing rivers, rocks and everlasting hills, the most potent kings and kingdoms, the most substantial works of nature or of art, the most enduring monuments of fame or cities of refuge or strong defenses; all, all are but feeble resemblances of the "kingdom which cannot be moved." The mountains must depart, the hill be moved, the rivers dried up, the rocks rent and dissolved; earthly kingdoms may rise and boast of their invulnerability, but by-and-by they wane into weakness. The most enduring monuments reared by the hands of the most skillful and faithful artists must crumble by the destructive hand of time. Cities surrounded by the strongest defenses of nature and fortified by the most potent bulwarks of art must crumble into dust. But here is dominion and glory and a kingdom; "His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed." Brethren and sisters, whose hearts have been touched by the love of God, whose lips have been unsealed and tongues have been loosed to speak of the glory of his kingdom and talk of his power,
"You that have e'er beheld his face,
Can you forbear his praise?"
Here you are brought into a city of refuge indeed.
"A city that shall ne'er decay,
While time sweeps earthly thrones away."
David calls on us to inspect her invincible defenses. "Walk about Zion, go round about her; tell the towers thereof. Mark ye well her bulwarks, consider her palaces; that ye may tell it to the generation following." - Psa. xxviii. 12, 13. Let us never forget to extol the wondrous name and deathless fame of the illimitable Builder, to revere and adore him for the display of his matchless grace, and celebrate the wonder working of his immutable love. This is the "city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God," and "I know that whatsoever God doeth, it shall be forever."
This kingdom "cannot be moved." "For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth," and must reign till he puts under his feet and destroys all enemies, even the last one.
His immutable oath and infallible promises are the invincible fortifications that shield and forever defend her hallowed precincts. "A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed." Therefore, "As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about his people from henceforth even forever." The potent wills and shalls of Jehovah-jireh stand as eternal safeguards to perpetuate the stability of this kingdom. Her almighty Founder has said, too, "Upon this rock (the Rock of Ages,) I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." Moreover, the continual presence of the Keeper of this kingdom who neither slumbers nor sleeps, defies the powers of heaven and hell combined to move it. Here he dwells and here he walks, and consoles us with his faithful promise never to leave nor forsake it.
"O Lord of hosts, almighty King,
While we so near thy presence dwell,
Our faith shall sit serene, and sing,
Defiance to the gates of hell."
Let the inhabitants of the rock sing, let them shout from the top of the mountains. But what shall be their song? Well, here comes a good one. "In that day shall this song be sung in the land of Judah, we have a strong city, salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks. Open ye the gates that the righteous nation that keepeth the truth may enter in. Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee; because he trusteth in thee. Trust ye in the Lord forever; for in the Lord JEHOVAH is everlasting strength." - Isaiah xxvi. 1-4. The trust of the subjects reposed in Jesus, the kingdom is secure. Though we prove fickle and full of doubting, that will not effect its steadfastness. "If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful; he cannot deny himself." Listen to his cheering words; "The mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed, but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee." In our dear Redeemer and beneficent Preserver we have a catholicon for all our woes, a panacea for all our maladies. How solacing to have a Physician ever at hand who holds a specific for every disease, defies even death itself.
"Should vapors with malignant breath,
Rise thick, and scatter midnight death,
Israel is safe, the poisoned air,
Grows pure if Israel's God be there."
For many years work-mongers have been predicting the downfall of this kingdom (the O. S. Baptists,) asserting that in five or ten years at the farthest, they would all pass away and be no more. How foolish! How false! They understand neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm. Never mind what they say. We have been advised in the scriptures that our enemies should be found liars unto us. But, all this is no matter of discouragement to us; but having so many precious promises let us "stand fast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord." "Therefore will we not fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though the water thereof roar and be troubled; though the mountains shake with swellings thereof. Selah. There is a river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God shall help her and that right early." - Psa. x1vi. 2-5.
Then, "Let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear." Grace is an indispensable prerequisite in order to our acceptable service to God. Grace is literally a favor, but all favors are not grace in a scriptural sense of the term. The grace of God presupposes the recipient of the favor unworthy of it. How applicable to our case, and how humiliating too, to consider that our beneficent Father is continually heaping favors upon us, and yet we are unworthy of them all, not the least of which is that favor alone which qualified and enables us to serve him with the reverence and godly fear that is due to his majestic name. This grace is from God only. Godly fear, also, is from the same source. Said he, "I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me." - Jer. xxxii. 40.
Proselyte-makers endeavor to excite the fear of their converts by telling them of a terrible devil, an awful place of torment, dreadful punishments, death, &c. That kind of fear does not constitute the fear of God at all. It is true that all this is fear, but radically different from the fear of God. It is the fear of the devil, the fear of torment, the fear of death; not that filial fear that the Lord puts in the hearts of his children, which is coupled with love, and casts out that fear which is connected with torment.
"For our God is a consuming fire." This fire terribly terrifies Arminians. I was told in Indiana that one of them said that he heard Elder Johnson make a prayer that caused the very hair to rise on his head. Well, what was it? He prayed the Lord to draw near to them; and had his prayer been answered, they all would have been burnt up; for the Lord is a consuming fire. No wonder that such a fire should terrify and cause the hair to stand erect on his head who has nothing better than his own works, his own "filthy rags" to screen him. They are all combustible articles. But the Lord consumes nothing that is good. If the saints have his works to plead, his righteousness to clothe them, his body and blood for their propitiation, they are like gold, silver and precious stones. The fire may try, but never will consume them. Our God as a fire consumes all that is bad and worthless; but nothing that is intrinsically good or valuable. Then take care, work-monger, your works are not good, but works of iniquity, and acts of violence are in your hands. See Isa. lix. 6. You would rend the diadem from the head of the Savior and place it upon your own. Well may your hair stand as swine's bristles at the approach of such a fire. But the children of God need not entertain any such terror, apprehend any such danger. Their sins have been atoned for, washed from them with the precious blood of the Lamb. Such have experienced that "in his presence is fullness of joy," and may sing,
"The terrors of the law and of God,
With me can have nothing to do;
My Savior's obedience and blood,
Hide all my transgressions from view."
A fire like this is of incalculable value, to the saints.
But what sort of a fire is this? The Lord of hosts has said, "Who may abide the day of his coming; and who shall stand when he appeareth? Not the work mucks; for he is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap. And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer to the Lord an offering in righteousness." - Mal. iii. 2, 3. That is just such a fire as the children of God need. They see so much imperfection in themselves. Silver and gold before purified, are usually blended with dross or alloy; to consume which they are subjected to the test of fire. In purifying the precious metal the metallurgist subjects the ore to a strong heat in a crucible or furnace, and it is said that he does not consider the process complete until he beholds his image in the fused gold as in a mirror. Thus it certainly will be with saints, "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son." We may rest assured therefore, that "as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly." But while in the flesh we have much of a mixture similar to dross in metals, so that each one of us is ready to say, "If I pray or hear or read, sin is mixed with all I do." But how thankful should we be that we have a never-failing purifier. Sometimes this purifying process is very distressing, nevertheless, it is indispensable, we need it, and Paul says, "My God shall supply all your need." He, therefore, "Whose fire is in Zion and his furnace in Jerusalem" is amply qualified to perfect the process.
Then, "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."- 1 Peter iv. 12, 13. Rather than be discouraged then at the hot ordeal through which we must pass here, let us rejoice, for,
"Trials make the promise sweet;
Trials give new life to prayer;
Trials bring us to his feet;
Lay us low and keep us there."
Then why yield to despondency? We are thus afforded an additional evidence that we are joint heirs with Christ, "if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us."
The Lord says, "Behold I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction." - Isa. xlviii. 10. The great work of purification was complete in Jesus (but not in us) when he "gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people zealous of good works." Yes, by that one offering he perfected forever in the eye of the righteous law of God them that are sanctified; but it is ordained that we should know the "fellowship of his sufferings," and "fill up, that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ for his body's sake, which is the church." "Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth him out of them all." The fiery trials and conflicting scenes through which we go here are necessary, and with all other things, work together for our good. David says, "Before I was afflicted I went astray; but now have I kept thy word;" and again, "It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes." - Psa. cxix. 67, 71. All those things teach us the necessity and value of the antitypical refiner's fire and fuller's soap.
Then, let not the "consuming fire" terrify us, nor its heated ordeal extort one word of complaint, "For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen, for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal." The afflictions of Job were no doubt emblematical of the trials through which the church in after ages must necessarily pass, and the end of those afflictions a fit portrayal of the ultimatum of the fiery trials of the church. His complaint was bitter, his stroke heavier than his groaning. "But (said he) he knoweth the way that I take; when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold." When the tried and careworn pilgrim shall have passed through the furnace of affliction, when the Refiner's fire shall have reached its terminus, when the kind arm of God is reached down to pluck us as brands from the last burning, and mortality is swallowed up of life, then each vessel of mercy will exhibit the complete image of the Purifier, and then radiant with the effulgence of his glory, filled with his fullness, ecstatic with his boundless felicity we shall realize indeed that, "In his presence is fullness of joy; at his right hand there are pleasures for evermore."
"There saints of all ages in harmony meet,
Their Savior and brethren transported to greet;
While the anthems of rapture unceasingly roll,
And the smile of the Lord is the feast of the soul."
My dear brother, I have tried to comply with my promise made to you, and however the foregoing remarks may differ in phraseology from the original discourse, I think the general sentiment is about the same. If this should satisfy you I shall be remunerated. I have had to write by piecemeal, and hope you will excuse the incoherency of style.
Your brother most truly,
J. F. JOHNSON.