Georgetown, Ky., March, 1862
Brother Beebe: – In perusing the fourth number, current volume of the Signs of the Times, my attention was called to the following request:
"Will Elder J.F. Johnson, of Kentucky, drop a few thoughts on I John 3: 14,15, and oblige a reader of the Signs of the Times? - T. Triplet"
I cannot conceive why it is that my brethren and friends so frequently solicit my views on different and sometimes (to me) mysterious passages of scripture. If they could see my insufficiency as their unworthy servant feels it, they probably would make their requests to abler brethren. And, were I convinced that the Lord had called and chosen only the wise men after the flesh, the mighty and noble, I should despair of accommodating them. But, as he has chosen the foolish, weak, base and despised things, to confound the wise, mighty, etc., I am encouraged to do the best I can to serve them. Again were I conscious that I could exercise any considerable degree of influence over those who read my poor communications on the subject proposed, I should approach them with timidity. But, as I hope and trust that none will endorse my views unless they are sustained by the scriptures, I am probably not at liberty, as a servant, to withhold such ideas as I may have when called on. It is much easier, however, for my friends to make requests than for me to comply. The subject proposed reads as follows:
"We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that; no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. " I John 3:14,1 5.
Perhaps there are but few portions of the holy scriptures that is further beyond the power of arminians to reconcile to their theory than this, together with its connection. If it be a fact that our nature in the work of the new birth is so renovated as to change them from natural-carnal, to spiritual-heavenly ones, or if our natural passions are so changed as to lose their relish for natural objects, and desire only heavenly ones, in short, if all our natural enmity, malice, wrath, hatred, etc., are slain in that work, I cannot see why it is that the same individual is styled in the text a brother, and a murderer. Evidently the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit are clearly exemplified in this connection; and it is as evident that the Spirit can not perform the works of the flesh, as it is that the flesh cannot produce the fruit of the Spirit. I see no possibility of reconciling the different declarations in this connection without admitting the fact that the Christian is a complex character, possessing two distinct and radically different natures; one completely holy, sinless, and, therefore, incorruptible; the other entirely sinful, unholy and corrupt. As these two different natures are found in the same person, It is perfectly rational to suppose that there will be an incessant conflict going on between them, and every well informed Christian knows that this is the case; the flesh and spirit lust against each other. Perhaps we cannot imagine a more thorough antagonism between any other two things. In the sixth verse of this chapter it is said whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not, seen him, neither known him. Now, all Christians do know they sin continually; and it is also clearly shown in the scriptures that they have an existence in which they do not, cannot, sin. Erskine says of himself,
"To good and evil equal bent,
I'm both a devil and a saint."
Will any doubt the Christianity of Peter? He heartily acknowledged Christ to be the Son of the living God, and was told by him that flesh and blood had not revealed it to him, but: the Father which is in, heaven. Peter affirmed thrice that he loved him, and appealed to him the third time as knowing it; and yet Christ says to him. "Get thee behind me, satan; thou art an offense unto me: for thou savorest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men." Although all the Lord's people possess this depraved nature, although Paul, the reputable apostle of Jesus Christ, possessed it in so great a degree that he acknowledged himself the chief of sinners, and protested that; no good thing dwelt in his flesh, (all that is born of the flesh is flesh,) yet John declares in the text that we know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren." But we are so prone to seek for this life and love in our depraved nature, lives, persons and passions, that falling to find them there, we often doubt our having any participation in them. By nature we are all arminian, and when we give heed to our own arminian proclivities, and conclude that our natural lives; must be renovated, and our natural passions changed from the love of natural objects to that of spiritual or heavenly ones; and when we find them still glued to earthly things, or natural things, or natural objects, we often seem to forget that "The natural man receiveth not the things of the spirit of God, for they are foolish unto him neither can he know, being they are spiritually discerned" that we still carry with us this natural man, this sinful body of death, and cannot be delivered from it until we slumber in our last sleep. As often as we seek to find the life of God, or the love of God exercised toward him or his people by our natural passions, so often we shall find ourselves disappointed, and doubting our interest in that eternal life and undying love to God and to his people.
I will here mention some of my own meditations on this subject, not as proof of my position, but to illustrate my thoughts, (for it is thoughts my friend has called for) on the subject. While residing in ‘Narwick, N.Y., having retired to bed at the residence of my esteemed brother, E.M. Bradner, of that place lamenting my barrenness and lack of love, or a feeling sense of the love to God, the question occurred to me, Have you the love of God in you at all? Immediately I commenced strictly and anxiously searching myself until ransacked seemingly every faculty and corner, and finally arrived at the conclusion that I had not. My feelings at that time perhaps can he better imagined by those who may have had similar exercises (if any have had such), then I can express them. While gloomily rejoicing on the matter, a portion only of a very familiar connection of scripture occurred to my mind immediately attracting my attention so entirety that I could not or did not recollect for a considerable time that, however, was sufficient for the time being. It was the closing part of the chapter of Romans "the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Directly it occurred to me that I was searching in myself for what could be found no where else but in Christ Jesus our Lord. I am not yet prepared to think this was a delusion. Although I often doubt my having an interest in those blessings which were given Christ's people in him before the world was, still I am assured that; they are there, and there only to be found and it is a signal blessing, my dear brethren, that they are there safely kept in reserve for his needy children kept ready to be dealt out to them in every time of need kept as our everlasting portion to which we have an indemnified title. They were given us in our Father's will confirmed to us by his immutable oath and promise, and ratified and sealed by the blood of our Redeemer. Behold what; manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God; the heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ. How we should rejoice that they, as well as we, are all preserved in our dear Savior, and not committed to our keeping. Were they to be found in us, and committed to our keeping, as the poor arminians think we could soon lose ourselves, blessings and all. It is in HIM we have our life, peace and love for him or our brethren, and it is only by that faith which is his gift that we can know we have passed from death unto life. We are not informed that we can at all times know this fact; but I am persuaded that there are times when all the children of God know that they love the brethren, although we often fear we do not love them as we should. Oh that we could all "Let brotherly love continue;" do nothing to mar or hinder it, for I am persuaded that the saints feel no more happy at any time than when their hearts are filled with love to their heavenly Father and his children. When that is the case, they have proof positive that they have passed from death unto life. Such is the cunning of the adversary that he exhibits a counterfeit for almost every privilege and blessing we enjoy, except love, and that he is a stranger to. He uses its counterplot, hatred.
"The devils know and tremble too, But Satan cannot love."
Love is an exotic production. Neither the world, the flesh, or the devil can produce love to God or the brethren. Its very name is melody. "Love is the sweetest bud that blows, Its beauty never dies; Below among the saints it blows, And ripens in the skies.
Pure glowing red and spotless white,
Its, perfect colors are;
In Jesus all its sweets, unite,
And look divinely fair."
Our natural love, when properly directed to the earthly objects of our affections and duly mutualized, is, perhaps, the most pleasant sensation that we enjoy in this imperfect state. But the love of God shed abroad in his heart, and in full exercise to God and to our brethren, transcend that as the heavens; are higher than the earth. In the exercise of that heaven born principle, all fear is cast out, all doubts banished, and multitudes of sins hidden. Then,
"How, happy are they who their Savior obey,
And whose treasures are laid up above:
Tongue can not express the sweet comfort and peace
Of a soul in Its earliest love."
O that we could all feel more of that soul soothing, heart cheering principle. How happily the moments of the careworn pilgrim pass away when that wonderful love that the Father hath bestowed upon us predominates. Then it is that we "Know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren." "He that loveth not his brother abideth in death." I suppose there is such a thing as death to Christians while they live; (see I Tim. 5:6, Rev. 3:1) and this I take to be the demise of their religious enjoy mentor comfort. In the absence of love to the brethren we suffer this death. But, ‘Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer; and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him." there that is the murder here spoken of: whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer. Here again we have the work of the old man exemplified. There is then him that eternal life does not abide in.
Does it seem strange that it is intimated here that one may be a brother in the church and at the same time a murderer? We are not to suppose, however, that the murder alluded to is taking away the natural life. No; it is hatred to a brother; that is the murder here spoken of: whosoever hatheth his brother is a murderer. Here again we have the work of the old man exemplified. There is then him that eternal life does not abide in, for he must die. It is impossible that the new man, which is created in righteousness and true holiness, should exercise hatred to his brother. it is in relation we bear to Cain, who was of that wicked one, that we exercise hatred to a brother. But this murder, the slaying of the religious comfort and enjoyment of ourselves and brethren, is to be viewed differently from the overt act of taking away the natural life of a fellow-being. Before we poor, short-sighted creatures can detect murder the outward act must be committed, it is not so with the Lord, who knoweth what is in man. He says in Matthew 5:21,22, "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old times, Thou shalt not kill and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment; but I say unto you, whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment." The Lord looks at the thoughts and intents of the heart and there detects the crime. We cannot; always judge correctly by our acts, for they may be performed from motives that would exonerate the performer from all crime, while the same acts instigated by different motives would be highly criminal. I, as a surgeon, may amputate my fellow's limb when necessary to his benefit, and all would be right. But if I do it when not necessary, with intent to maim and injure him, it is egregiously wrong. The intent, therefore, may constitute the crime, independent of the overt act. (See Matthew 5:25-23.) We Should remember we are at all times under the immediate inspection of the all-wise God, who scans every thought and scrutinizes every passion that lurks within us, and this should make us careful how we entertain hatred to a brother. In my humble opinion we are murderers, in the sense of the text, when we do so. "And ye know; that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him." We should remember that each brother possesses those two natures or two men (the old and new), which are contrary to each other, and those aims and ends are very diverse. I can not imagine how those who so vehemently oppose what they stigmatize as the "two men doctrine" can reconcile their views to this text. Dare they advocate the idea that "that which is born of the Spirit," or "born of God," can be chargeable with murder in any sense? It is said in the preceding part of this chapter that "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" But it not be forgotten that hatred is enumerated among the works of the flesh. (Gs. 5:20). Then it must be the fleshly or old man of sin that has not this eternal life abiding in him. May the Lord enable us, my dear brethren, to put off the old man with his deeds, to put on the new man and realize his fruits. A murderer is a despicable ugly character; let us not deserve the name by exercising hatred to a brother. Wretched and miserable must be the feeling when our bosom wrankles with hatred to a brother! In its presence the cup of joy is dashed with gall and vinegar, the noblest deeds of Christianity and virtue are paralyzed, and an impetus is given to the vile bickerings of infidelity! the fragrance of the" Rose of Sharon" ceases to regale us with its odorous perfumes, the" Lily of the Valley" droops its beautiful head, and the nauseous, piercing thistle and the pricing thorn thrive and do their work in the presence of hatred. It is calculated to drive from the abode of the saints the sweet angel of peace and inaugurate in its stead the cruel god of war.
How different the effects of love, a preeminent fruit of the Spirit! It inspires the possessor with the noblest deeds and virtues and drives the vagrant hatred from the dwellings of the saints. The rose and the lily bloom afresh in its presence; the fragrance of the one and the beauty of the other charm and decorate the garden of God, and the thistle and the thorn wither at its touch.
The black demon hatred quails at the approach of live hides its knavish head. They are complete counterplots and can not dwell together. They originate in different sources, dwell in different elements, and are doomed to different destinations. An uncompromising war is going on between them, but it is aware of no doubtful tendency. Hatred fights in the dark, at a distance; it cannot; stand the onward charge of love in the light. But the conflict; will soon be over, the battle cease. Hatred shall be banished forever from the presence of the saints, for they shall dwell forever in the presence of their God, in a "city to come" "And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day, for there shall be no night there," no lurking place for the miscreant hatred to hide his detestable head, but where love shall live, and thrive, and bloom, and bless its subjects, nourished and cherished in the vitalizing beams of the Sun of Righteousness! "Thanks be unto God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
I know not whether "the reader of the Signs of the Times" will allow me to address him as a brother, (as he has not used the relation) but should he or others be benefited by the thoughts suggested I shall be amply paid for penning them; and remain still, as I humbly trust, a brother and servant to the household of faith.
Elder J. F. Johnson
Signs of the Times
Reprinted - Vol. 165, No. 1 – January 1997