BROTHER BEEBE: - I believe the last request for my views on a portion of the scriptures, to be given through the SIGNS OF THE TIMES, was made by brother Jasper Smith, of Illinois, in the eighth number, present volume, as follows:
"Will brother J. F. Johnson, of Kentucky, give his views, through the SIGNS OF THE TIMES, on the words, 'God is not the God of the dead, but of the living,' and oblige an inquirer after truth?"
The value of TRUTH is above any estimate that we place upon it, and I think that every one, who has any correct knowledge of it, should be willing to impart it to every honest inquirer after it. If I know the truth, I feel myself under obligations to do that, even at the hazard of exposing my own weakness. The precise words embraced in the request, are found in Matthew xxii. 32, and about the same in Mark xii. 27, and Luke xx. 38, all of which were spoken on the same occasion, and upon the same subject. In Romans, xiv. 9, it is said, "For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and the living." Taking these texts in a mere isolated sense, extracted from the subjects with which they are respectively connected, they would amount to almost if not altogether a contradiction; and hence the importance of ascertaining the subjects upon which these "holy men of God" wrote, as well as the characters addressed. Supposing that it may be as satisfactory to my brother, I will endeavor to consider the texts in connection. As the Lord is brought to view in one text as, being not the God of the dead, and in the other as being Lord both of the dead and living, and in order to show that there is no jargon in the two passages, it will be necessary to consider the different senses in which the word dead is used; for it is evidently used in the holy scriptures as signifying divers states or conditions, as dead, deceased; dead in sin, dead to sin, dead to the law, and according to the belief of the Sadducees, it meant complete annihilation: "For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit." - Acts xxiii. 3. The first text under consideration is found in a conversation had between the Savior and the Sadducees, in which the doctrine of the resurrection was concerned. They came to Jesus with the view of confounding him on that subject, and told him of seven brothers who successively married one woman, and asked him whose wife she would be in the resurrection, having no more exalted ideas of a resurrection than many have now, who talk and preach so much about meeting their wives, children, &c., in the world to come, and the terrible anguish, weeping, and lamentation that will be felt and realized among the just on seeing husbands, wives, children, &c., "thrown over the battlements among the damned." Such have no proper idea of the resurrection, and are no more consistent than those who, to this day, think it incredible that God should raise the dead, and therefore, retain the same old Saddusaic notion of non-resurrection. But, the Lord soon exploded this silly idea of the Sadducees, by referring them to what the Lord said to Moses concerning Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob. Those Sadducees, like all others who put on sheep’s clothing to hide the wolf, professed to believe the scriptures. The case of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, therefore, was a complete quietus in the case; for they had been dead from one hundred and fifty to three hundred years, at least, before the Lord said to Moses, "I AM the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob;" and if they died such a death as the Sadducees supposed, became extinct, completely reduced to nothing, how could He be their God in that case? Could He be the God of that which did not exist, in any sense? No! He is the God of the living. It amounted to proof positive by the scriptures which they professed to believe, that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob still lived when God spake out of the burning bush to Moses, and that he was their God still. Then, "God is not the God of the dead (the extinct) but of the living." It appears from the best description we can get of the doctrine of the Sadducees, that they believed that man was entirely material, soul, body, spirit, and all; and, of course, when he died he sank into nonentity, like the brute, and that was the end of him. Consequently, there were no future rewards or punishments, as the modern Universalists believe now. All this would sap the very foundation of the christian's hope at once, and Christ exposes the fallacy of the whole theory, assuring us at the same time that, although our bodies may sleep in the dust for a while, we still live, and He is our God still. Thus, in the scriptures, those holding erroneous sentiments are frequently addressed as though their sentiments were true, for the sake of refuting them, and so the Lord addressed the Sadducees respecting "the dead" according to the Saddusaic notion, which meant nonentity, and so effectually did He silence them "that they durst not ask Him any more questions at all." I presume that this brief view of the first text under consideration will enable my brother and others who may consider it worth their perusal, to get my idea that God is not the God of the dead that die as the Sadducees contended, like the brute, and become extinct, but of the living, whether they live in this world or in another, or better, as did Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The text in Romans xiv. 9, presents death in its true sense, not as annihilating or reducing us to nothing, but merely as dissolving our earthly house of this tabernacle, that we may "be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven," and "that mortality might be swallowed up of life." "For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living." For what end? To the end that whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord; whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's. Is this not a pleasant consideration? "For in that he died, he died unto sin once; but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God." It is no more certain that he liveth unto God than it is that his children, who are born of God, do live and shall live forever to Him who died for them. "For the love of Christ constraineth us, because we thus judge that if one died for all, then were all dead; and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them, and rose again." - 2 Cor. v. 14, 15. Is it so, that Christ both died for us and rose again that we might live to Him? How the thought should incite all our devotional powers to praise, extol, thank and reverence His holy name for such surpassing and incalculable favors! O, did he die? Yes! "CHRIST DIED FOR OUR SINS," and, in that death, He did "REDEEM US FROM ALL INIQUITY." That fact should inspire our hearts with a mournful joy. But the wondrous and transporting scene did not end there. He rose. Let our joys now rise to ecstasy! Our songs swell to thrilling notes of rapture at the thought! The fact that it was impossible for death to hold him! There was too much POWER there for the sepulchre to hold. Like the withes with which Samson was bound, and which he brake as a thread of tow when it touched the fire, He severed the fetters of death, and rose! ROSE! Graced with conquest! Bearing the palms of everlasting victory!
"Death could not hold our conquering Head,
And death must therefore yield the palm;
Lord of the living and the dead,
We hail thy victory! Great I AM."
Died to redeem, rose to revive, and lives to intercede for his people. "I am He that liveth, and was dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore, amen; and have the keys of hell and death." Here is a most astonishing display of "His divine power" in overruling all the wily maneuvering of the arch adversary in the introduction of sin into the world, with all its train of direful consequences, to the development of His own glory, and the good of his elect, the most sublime display of the supreme power of God exercised in behalf of His fallen and otherwise lost children; the most amazing outburst of love and mercy that the imagination could conceive of. How could eternal love, reigning grace, and boundless mercy, ever have had so conspicuous a display, had not sin entered into the world, and death by sin? How could many be made righteous by the obedience of one man, (Christ,) had not many been made sinners by the disobedience of one. May we not then sing with the poet?
"What else is evil but the shade,
By wisdom in the picture laid?
To make his love arise and show,
Its brightest glory bore below.
Nor yet could sin forgiving grace,
Among all the creatures find a place;
While all was good no room could be,
For mercy's aid to misery."
O! my dear brother, brothers, sisters, all, while we live may we live, really and manifestly to Him, and when we die, die to Him who died for us, and rose again. Rejoice then, that He is "Lord both of the dead and living;" and, therefore, not the pomposity, wealth or splendor, bewitching snares of this life; not tribulation or distress, persecution or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword, destructive missiles, not death itself, terrific monster, last but vanquished enemy, shall dispossess the Lord of the dead and living of his heritage, for whether we live or die we are the Lord's. Then let us chant with the redeemed hosts,
“Worthy the Lamb that died,” they cry,
To be exalted thus;
Worthy the Lamb, our lips reply,
For He was slain for us.
Jesus is worthy to receive,
Honor and power divine;
And blessings more than we can give,
Be, Lord, forever thine."
Brother Beebe, since commencing the foregoing communication, I discover in the last number of the SIGNS OF THE TIMES that has come to hand, a short communication from brother William Jackson, of Michigan. After speaking of a publication of mine in the SIGNS OF THE TIMES, of June 1st, on the subject of "The Prodigal Son," he says:
"I would be gratified much if he will give his views, through the SIGNS OF THE TIMES, on that part found in Luke xv. 22. The particular point of inquiry is, whether the ROBE spoken of is the robe of righteousness in which the saints are to be presented spotless before the throne, and if so, what have the SERVANTS to do in putting it on the prodigal?"
In my attempt to answer the queries, I beg leave to refer my brother to some expressions in that article. On page eighty-four, and in the fourth column, I have said: "A parable (proper) is similitude to something to be illustrated by it, and of course, in its general features must present an analogy to the antitype; but it is not to be supposed that all the particulars of the antitype must have precisely corresponding lineaments with what is to be explained by it," and referred to the parable by which Nathan reproved David, to substantiate the idea. The brethren, by these extracts, will discover that I regard the whole matter of this parable, as well as others, as symbols or illustrations of something else, but portraying their antitype in their general features. Therefore, in answer to the question, "Whether the robe spoken of is the robe of righteousness in which the saints are to be presented spotless before the throne?" I answer, No. But suppose that, whether it was a real or supposed one, it was typical of that spotless robe in which the saints are dressed. Isaiah has said, "HE HATH CLOTHED ME with the robe of righteousness." If we may particularize on all the minute parts of the parable, I suppose the servants of God are all aware that they can do nothing more in putting on the robe than by way of manifestation to those who the Lord has taught to see the folly of trusting in their own righteousness, which is comparable to the "spider's web," and "filthy rags." All such are made to feel the necessity of a more durable and decent covering; and when the faithful servant appropriately applies the righteousness of Christ, it will fit that individual for whom it was prepared, and who is prepared to receive it to a T; and the faithful servant dare not apply it to any other, or if he does, he casts his pearls before swine. Now, I have hastily submitted some of my reflections on the subject proposed, but whether the mere putting on the robe (on the prodigal) or the ring on his hand, or the shoes on his feet, was intended to evince some spiritual import, I know not. Some of the most tiresome preaching that I have listened to from Old School Baptists has been when they have taken up a figure and labored to make something out of each particle attached to, or connected with the figure, point to some remarkable spiritual object. For instance, one takes up "a reed shaken by the wind," and begins with the root and spiritualizes that; then the stalk, next the wrapper or envelope, then the blade, connected with it, and so on till all is spiritualized. I do think that I have heard figures distorted in this way out of all shape, stretched beyond all that was designed to be conveyed by them, and perhaps I may have been engaged to some extent in a similar speculation while penning the foregoing remarks. Others, however, no doubt, see farther into these matters than I do, and should let their light shine. Having now tried to reply to all the requests that I have found in the SIGNS OF THE TIMES for views, this, with all the rest, is kindly submitted to the judgment which, I trust, may have been and still may be formed by a careful comparison with the scriptures, and may the Lord open our understanding that we may understand them.
J. F. JOHNSON.