Clay Village, Ky., Feb.1879.
MY DEAR BROTHER BEEBE: - In the 18th number, past volume of the SIGNS, I found the following request:
“Will Elder J. F. Johnson please give his views, through the SIGNS OF THE TIMES, on John 1:7 & 9?
We may give our views on the mysterious, sublime and momentous connection, but to comprehend the profound and majestic secret reaches far beyond the ken of all human knowledge, however aided by the most erudite attainments possible for man to arrive at. The subject reads as follows:
7th verse – “The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the light, that all [men] through him might believe.”
9th verse – “That was the true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.”
The apostle says, “Without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness; God was manifest in the flesh,” &c. In the connection we have this manifestation brought to view, but I approach it “with fear and trembling.” In the commencement of the chapter it is said, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In the 14th verse it is said, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us,” &c. Mysterious unity. The same character is elsewhere called the Son of God. I John 5:20. “And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.”
In the verse preceding the first one named in the request it is said, “There was a man sent from God whose name was John.” He is elsewhere called “John the Baptist.” Here we have the origin of the Baptists thus called. Others have their Johns, &c., from whom they derive their names. The Methodists, for instance, have their John Wesley; the Calvinists [or Presbyterians] have also their John Calvin. So we might trace the names down to the origin of the New School, [Baptists as they call themselves, but it is a misnomer] and they have their Andrew Fuller to head their clan. Then we might refer to the head or starting point of the Campbellites, and they have their Alexander. All these say that the Lord has wonderfully blessed them, because of the rapidity of their increase. Well, if that is good evidence, Joe Smith and Brigham Young have the best of them all. But we have not the slightest evidence that either or any of them were “sent from God,” as was John the Baptist. But God named him, in the temple, when he was promised. And when the child was born, and his mother’s neighbors and cousins visited her, and came to circumcise him, they called Zacharias, after his father. And his mother said, Not so. And they made signs to his father how he would have him called. “And he asked for a writing table, and wrote, saying, His name is John;” for the Lord had named him in the temple.
He came for a witness, to bear witness of the light. That is the legitimate business of the true Baptists yet. All the others have a different mission. Their prime and great mission is to convert sinners to God, as they say. Now, we defy them to prove by the scriptures that there ever was a sinner converted to God, in the sense in which they use the expression, by preaching the gospel, by the apostles or any one else. But the Baptists merely bear witness of the light. Jesus, after opening the understanding of his servants, said unto them, “Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things.” Luke 24:45-49. Paul said, “Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing,” &c. Acts 26:22. Again, “And ye shall be witnesses unto me, both in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” Acts 1:8. In fact, “To him gave all the prophets witness,” forming one dense cloud of witnesses. The Old and New Testaments, as I conceive, form the embodiment of all the testimony of Jesus, and are the two anointed ones that stand by the God of the whole earth. Zech. 4:14. “For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” Rev. 19:10.
“That all men through him might believe.” The all here [men being a supplied word] simply brings to view “every man that cometh into the [spiritual] world” named in the next verse, and not all that come into the natural world; for there are some that believe not, because they are not Christ’s sheep. John 10:26. There were also others that “could not believe, because that Esaias said, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their hearts,” &c. John 12:39,40. There is but one way to believe on Christ, and that is through him. Jesus said, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” John 6:39. It is therefore not the work of man; for his people “believe according to the working of his mighty power which he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead,” &c. Eph. 1:19,20. We can believe on him by no power short of that. Our belief is not under our control at all, for we can believe nothing until compelled by the force of evidence. But says one, “It is just as easy to believe in Jesus as the Savior, as it is to believe that Washington and his army saved us from the British yoke.” Why don’t you believe it then, Mr. Arminian? “Why, I do believe it.” No, you don’t believe any such thing. You may believe that he has done, or will do, a part of the work, if you will “use the means” and perform your part well. If you were as honest as was the old Quaker of Indiana, the argument might stop here. He hated the Old School Baptists, as all other work mongers do, and his wife wished to unite with us; but he told her if she did, he would sell his farm, leave her, and never live with her another day. The old lady was soon upon her death-bed; but before she died, she sent her love to me, with a request that I should preach on the occasion of her funeral, naming the text she wished used, and desired the services to be had at the old residence, “if the old man would allow it.” When the old gentleman’s consent was asked, he said, “I can’t tell thee now, I must study about it.” He finally gave his consent. Some days after the services were over, he was asked what he thought of Johnson’s preaching. “Well,” said he, “the man proved everything he said, by the scriptures, and therefore it must be true; but I can’t believe it, nor will I believe it.” If, therefore, as before observed, the workmongers were as honest as the old “Friend” was, and would tell their dupes that they can’t nor won’t believe the truth, [for they know we preach it] they would probably not deceive so many of them, and would tell the truth for once at least.
Now this word “all” is both an adjective and a noun, and is generally a qualifying term, and very seldom signifies all mankind, in the scriptures, or in common parlance. The connection in which it stands must determine its extent, and if we will notice the 11th, 12th and 13th verses of this chapter, we will see who constitute those that believe. There it is said, “He came to his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name; which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” There are the “all men” that “through him might believe,” and no one ever did or will believe on him before being born of God. As well might we conclude that the natural unborn infant would recognize and believe on its father.
“That was the true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” This is supernatural light – supernal in its nature. With all the vision of the natural man it has never been seen. Our God is the Father of lights; hence there is more than one. Perhaps we have not a more brilliant type of the Sun of Righteousness than the natural sun. Its solar rays enable us to see all that the natural eye looks upon. “In them [the natural heavens] hath he set a tabernacle for the sun, which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race.” No doubt but Christ is the Bridegroom here portrayed. This Sun throws out deeper, more penetrating light than does our solar system: “a light above the brightness of the sun.” The natural sun only exhibits to our natural eyes the external or surface of things; but the true light penetrates the deep recesses of our inward faculties. Not a secret thought lurks there concealed from it. It is by this light only that we see that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” It is a synonym with life. “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” When therefore we have that light, we have life, and can feel our sinful carnality. This light is no false glare – no ignis-fatuus, or Jack-a-lanern, but “the true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the [spiritual] world.” This text is claimed by Arminians, who try to make it appear that every man that comes into the natural world is illuminated by this light. Now, to stop the mouths of those gainsayers, as well as to instruct the saints, I will venture to give the definition of this word “world,” as defined by lexicographers, and proved by the scriptures. And first, the word signifies the whole universe – John 1:10; the posterity of Adam – Rom. 5:12; all believers – John 6:33; all the elect – I John 2:1; the non-elect – John 14:17 & 17:9; the present life – I Cor. 7:33; the earth – Matt. 4:8; pomp and glory – Gal. 6:14; carnal wisdom – I Cor. 2:12; celestial happiness – Luke 20:35; great multitudes – John 12:19; the Roman empire – Luke 2:1; the Gentiles only – Rom. 11:12; riches, honors, dignities – I John 2:15.
There are certainly a spiritual and a natural world spoken of in the scriptures. The spiritual world has its spiritual Sun to illuminate it, and the natural world has its natural sun to give it light. Every man therefore that is born into the spiritual world, with spiritual eyes sees and knows the things of the Spirit; and every man that is born into the natural world, with natural eyes, sees and knows the things of nature. “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, [or spiritual world] neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
In order that we may see, know and appreciate the things of this spiritual world, “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” What a glorious light of an all-glorious world, and what wonders it displays to its inhabitants. This is the world from which he “taketh away the sin of it.” John 1:29. This is the world that “God so loved that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16. And, the world that through him might be saved. Verse 17. This is the world too, that Christ is the Savior of. John 4:42. This is the whole world also that he is the propitiation of the sins of. I John 2:2. And “this is the true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.”
It is an uncontroverted fact that each of these suns throws its light where it shines independently of the means or instrumentalities of men. Who can cause the natural sun to shine on our side of the globe at midnight? Or what would we think of a man that would profess to take the light of the natural sun from a place where it does shine, and carry it to a place where it does not? Would we not at once conclude that he is a maniac or an idiot? There is just as much spiritual mania and idiocy with those who profess to take the light of the Sun of Righteousness from America, and carry it to Burma, Hindustan, Africa, or any other place where it does not shine.
But the brightest sheen of that luminous Sun is not to be seen here. It would dazzle mortal eyes with immortal splendor. Here we can only “see in part.”
“But O! that brighter world above,
Where lives and reigns eternal love.”
There the glorious Sun will shine, with brilliant, beauteous lustre, where with immortal vision we can look upon, “see him as he is, and be like him.” Then let us, while here, endure with patience the somber clouds, the murky mists and gloomy fogs that obscure our sky and darken our pathway, and sing,
“Though darkness and distress my share,
Give me to trust thy guardian care;
Enough for me if light divine,
At length through every cloud shall shine.”
Your brother and friend indeed,
J. F. JOHNSON.