Lexington, Ky., May 9, 1860.
DEAR BROTHER BEEBE: - On looking over number five, present volume, of the SIGNS, I find a request from brother, William A. Smith, of Florida, for my views on Matt. xi. 12: "And from the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force."
My knowledge of the scriptures is very limited, and my capacity to expound very deficient. But as brother Smith has asked only my views on the text, I will try to comply with his request.
If there is a generally received opinion among Old School Baptists on that particular verse, I have not heard it expressed, nor do I recollect having heard any opinion on it, except one implied by work-mongers, when exhorting dead sinners to "come up and take heaven by storm." They, however, are no criterion for us. For with one breath they will tell us that God is very anxious to save, and get all to heaven that he can, and with the next, that sinners must force themselves upon him by violence. I have no idea that the violent spoken of in the text has any reference to the children of God, when desiring or seeking Christ or his kingdom, or that the violence alludes to their entrance into that kingdom. The word violent, when used as a noun, (as in the text,) signifies a murderous or unjust assailant, or one who acts with unseasonable vehemence. The derivative, violence, therefore, exhibits force applied, an attack, an assault, a murder; outrage, unjust force, eagerness, vehemence; injury, infringement, &c.
These are characteristics that the humble followers of Christ who seek his kingdom do not desire, and nothing more is necessary to show them the absurdity of the idea than to compare the significance of the terms with their own experience and the scriptures. I conclude that the violent spoken of in the text, were the vehement Jews, and the blood-thirsty Romans who so unjustly assailed the first Baptists that the world ever saw, who have been ever since that time the "speckled bird," for such characters to be incessantly plucking at. The language in the text has reference to a specified time: "From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence." It is said in the following (13th) verse, "For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John." It therefore appears that the prophets were suffered to predict, and the law to prophesy by its rituals until John, but the first Baptist preacher must be set up as a mark for the arrows of "unjust force" to be hurled at. He was therefore soon violently thrust into prison, to remain for a time, and afterwards decapitated there. The circumstance of John's imprisonment, his mission and character, seems to have been the subject of conversation when the language of the text was spoken, as the preceding connection will show, and I suppose constituted a part of the violence which the kingdom of heaven suffered. But John was not the only Baptist, or subject, of the kingdom against whom the rage and vehemence of those carnal religionists and bloody Romans exercised their malignity. The great portion of their violence was directed against the most prominent Baptist of all the rest, the head and leader of the whole family was the great object of their ire, the subject of their wrath and violence from the time he first made his appearance in the world until now. The enunciation of his birth gave Herod and all Jerusalem with him great trouble, and soon the violent edict went flying through the land, carrying death and dismay upon its wings to hundreds of devoted victims, so that "In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation and weeping, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they were not." The word violence occurs at least fifty-nine times in the scriptures, but never to signify a commendable act. It has always reference to the unlawful deeds of unjust assailants. It is said of the Savior that "He done no violence," and of his people, "He shall redeem their souls from violence," and David prayed to be preserved from the violent man. But violence was a characteristic mark, and trailed in the footsteps of Herod and the Jews, from whom the kingdom of heaven suffered violence in the days of John the Baptist. It is said by some that the kingdom of heaven did not exist as such until the day of Pentecost; but this idea will not do for Old School Baptists. They may differ about the time of its organization, or formally being set up, but there should be no discrepancy about its existence. However we may differ about the time of its organization and the deliverance of its laws and ordinances by which its publicity was portrayed, that event did not give it being or existence.
It was said by Daniel that the "kingdom should be given to the saints of the Most High, whose kingdom is (present) an everlasting kingdom," &-c. But no sooner were its subjects developed in the pellucid light of the SUN of Righteousness, than they began to feel the force of the violent.
"And the violent take it by force." As this is an everlasting kingdom, the taking of it by force for a time could not destroy it. It is said of this kingdom, "It shall never be destroyed." And although it is said that the enemy shall "wear out the saints of the Most High," that they shall be given into his hand for a time, overcome, be made to flee into the wilderness, and be subjected to all manner of persecution, "it shall never be destroyed." When we consider the condition of the kingdom of heaven in its apparent infancy, its advocates so few, its enemies so numerous and violent, the former comparable to a "little flock" of sheep, scattered among numerous and ravenous wolves, often taken and lacerated in the most relentless manner, the powers of the most potent governments that the world knew incensed against them by the arch fiend of darkness, the enemy of all righteousness, we not only admire and extol the infinite wisdom that provided for, and the omnipotence that sustained them, but may "thank God and take courage," while we reflect that, although Zion has had to pass through many deep waters, and very many fiery trials, the waters have not overflown, nor the floods drowned; the fire has not burned, nor the flames kindled upon her.
"Zion, preserved by Jehovah her Lord,
May smile at the fire, the flood and the sword;
She'll outride the tempest's most violent blast,
And land in the haven of safety at last."
I have, as briefly as I could, given the best ideas I have on the text; and if brother Smith, or others, should receive either instruction or comfort from the foregoing remarks, I shall be remunerated.
In conclusion, that the wisdom of God may direct, his grace sustain, his love console, and peace pervade the entire household of faith, is my sincere prayer, for the Redeemer's sake.
Affectionately, your brother,
J. F. JOHNSON.
P. S. - I received a kick from a horse soon after seeing the request of brother Smith, which may apologize for the delay in my answer. J. F. J.