Lexington, Ky., May 29, 1860.
BROTHER BEEBE: - In the 10th number, present volume of the SIGNS OF THE TIMES, I find a request made by our young brother, Peter M. Sawin, for the views of "our dear brother Johnson," on the last two verses in the Old Testament. Although the initials commonly prefixed to my name do not appear in the appeal, I presume, as you have, that it was made to me, as I have for a number of years been acquainted in the neighborhood, and with the family of which he is a member. At any rate, I will try for his encouragement to comply with his wish; and if I am not the man, brother Sawin can renew his request. The text reads as follows:
"Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord; and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse."- Mal. iv. 5, 6.
This prediction was made to "Israel," as appears in the first verse of the book of Malachi, and from the preceding prophecies, as well as the foregoing part of this one, it appears that a dreadful retribution awaited the Jewish nation. In that nation there was "a remnant according to the election of grace," and to that remnant the Lord promised in the commencement of the third chapter to send his messenger to prepare his way before him, or in New Testament language, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord, and that on the appearance of that messenger, the Lord whom they sought "should suddenly come to his temple," &c. His people, therefore, were assured of a timely warning, as well as a divine interposition, before the terrible calamity should fall upon the nation.
"Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet." That the individual here alluded to was John the Baptist, is evident, as the language of Christ to his disciples clearly shows in Matt. xi. 13, 14: For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if ye will receive it, this is Elias which was for to come. And also Matt. xvii. 10-13: "And his disciples asked him, saying, Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come? And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things. But I say unto you that Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of Man suffer of them. Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist."
The question may arise, Why the name Elijah in Malachi, and Elias in Matthew? This is in consequence of the different terminations of the same name in the Hebrew and Greek languages, as is the case in Isaiah - Jeremiah = Hebrew; Esaias - Jeremias = Greek. The Hebrew terminus being harsh or hard, the Greek soft.
"Before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord." This great and dreadful day was doubtless when the awful judgments of God should be poured down upon the nation, city and temple of the Jews for their disobedience and rebellion, which was to close up their nationality, put an end to their ceremonial services, and exhibit fully the abrogation of the former or legal covenant. It was truly a great and dreadful day; so that the Savior, in depicting the thrilling catastrophe to his disciples, says, "For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time; no, nor ever shall be." But why such heavy denunciations, such terrible judgments to be visited upon them? Or why should they fare worse than other nations? Because the Lord had chosen them as his peculiar national people, had blessed them above other nations, chastised other nations to favor them, given them the law by the disposition of angels, but they did not keep it. All the day long he stretched out his hand to a disobedient people, rising up early and speaking to them himself and by his prophets; "but they mocked the messengers of God, and despised and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against his people, till there was no remedy." By the law he fully made known to them as a nation his will; they did it not, and therefore must be beaten with many stripes.
"And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers." The mission of the first Baptists was to reconcile relatives, not to make them, nor to be the means or instruments in making them. So it was with the first Baptist, and thus it has been with Baptists ever since. Some who have stolen their name, and others who have assumed different names, profess to make fathers and children by proselyting. They manifest great zeal in the work, too. They would formerly compass sea and land to make one. They yet compass sea and land to make many. But in all their proselyting they have never made one father or child according to the Savior's testimony, except to make it more the child of hell than themselves, and the Lord knows they are bad enough. Not so with the Baptists; their business is to reconcile fathers and children, turn their hearts to each other. O that we could see them more zealous in this mission of peace. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God." In preference to all other places, let us have peace in the family. Family dissensions are more distressing than all others. It is very bad indeed when parents and children fall out. I once had a father in Israel to fall out with me. I did not know then, nor do I know yet, that I gave him cause for so doing. But O, what anguish I felt. It made such an impression on my mind that sometimes I almost imagine I can feel it yet. But it taught me a lesson which I have not forgotten yet; and I think that it makes me feel more tender towards and careful of the feelings of the babes in Christ. While we look upon the elder brethren as fathers, and the younger ones as children, we should remember that there is a sense in which we should call no man on earth our father. As to a spiritual paternity, Christ says, "Call no man your father upon the earth; for one is your Father, which is in heaven." In that sense, those only are the spiritual children of God who are "born of God," born of the Spirit. But there is another sense in which the aged men are recognized as fathers, and the young ones as children. Fathers, therefore, should remember the mission of the first Baptist, and endeavor to exercise a parental and tender guardianship toward their young brethren. And what a lovely example we have of this fatherly supervision over his children in the good, old, beloved disciple. - See 1 John ii.1: "My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not." The fathers, then, should exhort the children not to sin; and when the children are overtaken in faults, if they are really the children of God, they are often pierced with anguish, cast down, and filled with fearful forebodings in view of their ingratitude. Then, fathers, be not bitter against them, but encourage and console them (as a tender parent would an erring and repenting child) with the consoling language of the same old, lovely father, who says, "If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous."
How I have been pained to hear fathers speak in an unkind and angry tone to babes in Christ, and what anguish I have seen brought upon children by such an unfeeling course! The fathers in Israel should remember that children are sensitive, their feelings tender, and therefore forbear to exhibit a censorious disposition, or use harsh language to them, and thus "turn the heart of the children to their fathers," by proving to them that they desire their comfort and welfare, and not to alienate them. On the other hand, the children should pay all due deference to the fathers, honor the hoary head, and comply with every reasonable and lawful requisition, recollecting that fathers sometimes become peevish like children. I recollect very well, when I was very young in the faith, of falling in company with a number of fathers in Israel. They encouraged me with the precious promises of the gospel, exhibited the riches of grace in the salvation of such a poor, helpless sinner as I felt myself to be, the love of God for us, even when we were dead in sin, and then what obligations we were under to render to him our tribute of praise and thanksgiving for so rich a display of his mercy and goodness toward us; and then I have heard them warn us against indulging in sin and vanity, exhort us to our duty and the enjoyment of the high and heavenly privileges of the house of God, and O, how my young heart was turned to the fathers! They appeared to environ me as an impregnable wall to guard, and as the sons of consolation to solace me. Thus the hearts of the fathers and children are turned to each other, "being knit together in love." Then peace flowed among us like a river, our joys abound more and more, we can walk to the house of God in company, and sing from the bottom of our hearts:
"Peace be within this sacred place,
And joy a constant guest;
With holy gifts and heavenly grace,
Be her attendants blessed."
Dear brethren, are we Baptists indeed? Then let us portray the character and mission of the first Baptist, in turning the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers. My dear young brethren, Sawin, Beebe and others, you are very young, and how I rejoice to learn that you have felt the force of the chords of love, by which your hearts have been turned to the fathers and children, and by which, also, you are now prepared to appreciate the endearing relationship. There is nothing that so beautifully embellishes youth as to see them take up the cross and follow Jesus. God grant that you may "Bear the cross, endure the pain, supported by his word."
If I could induce you more and more to reverence your Savior, follow the example of your pious fathers, turn your hearts to them, and away from the vanities that surround and court your young affections, to decoy and rend you from them, how richly would I be remunerated in complying with your request. I know that temptations, trials, conflicts, tribulations and persecutions await you, if you will live godly in this evil world; but be of cheer, fear not. Follow your GREAT LEADER, the Captain of your salvation; love your brethren, honor your fathers, and you have nothing to fear.
"Take your breastplate, sword and shield,
And boldly march into the field."
Your Captain has led the van, and will assuredly bring up the rearward. And you, fathers, provoke not the children to anger, but entreat them as children. But why need I entreat you thus? I know that if you are true fathers in Israel, you will be ever ready to reach to them the helping hand, extend the warning voice, and deliver the consoling message of the blessed gospel to the children. When the heart of the fathers is thus turned to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, how excellent do the courts of Zion appear. "Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth." Then it is that she appears "fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners," and out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines.
"Lest I come and smite the earth with a curse." The Lord in his infinite wisdom has made every necessary provision for the development and perpetuity of his church or kingdom in this world. He has created the heavens, made and peopled the earth, to declare his glory, display his justice, and unfold the riches of his grace. The world, therefore, must be preserved until his purposes are accomplished, the good pleasure of his will consummated in relation to its preservation. The salvation and preservation of his people here, and their final and manifest glorification eternally, seems to have been the prime and crowning work of Jehovah "for the lifting of Jesus on high," the great object in the creation of the world, and well calculated to settle and secure upon his august head a royal diadem, a regal crown of brilliant and eternal glory. Then to teach us how or why it is that this rebellious earth is preserved, he presents his people as the salt of the earth; and adds, "but if the salt have lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted?" Or in other words, How would the earth be preserved in that case? Would it not appear like the salt had lost its savor, if those fraternal and filial ties did not exist in the church? Hence the necessity of turning the hearts of fathers and children to each other; otherwise we might look out for the curse. But thanks to the Lord, the curse has not fallen yet, nor will it while he has use for his kingdom here. The hearts of servants, fathers and children are all in his hand, and he has power and authority to control all, and has therefore said he shall turn the heart, &c. That it is for the elect's sake that the earth is preserved is evident. Christ, in speaking of the great tribulation that should attend the "great and dreadful day of the Lord," said, "Except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved." The direful calamity would rage until all flesh would be destroyed. "But (he adds) for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened." Our enemies (the worldly religionists) manifest great ingratitude and a lamentable degree of ignorance to their best interests, when they are casting reproach and contumely upon us, and when they desire and pray for our extinction. Poor creatures! Like those who crucified the Savior, they know not what they do.
When the church of Christ is removed from the earth there will be no more salt to preserve it, and of course the Lord will smite it with a curse. But, dear brethren, while Zion's banners are nailed to the mast-head and floating in the breeze, her chart in her hand and her Father at the helm, fear ye not, nor be dismayed. She'll make the port and anchor in the haven of eternal repose.
My dear young brother, I have complied with your request in the best way I could, and may God bless you and all others that think the foregoing remarks worth their attention with wisdom to detect errors and appreciate the truth that may be therein contained.
Your brother, most truly,
J. F. JOHNSON.