Georgetown, Ky., Feb. 19,1863.
"Will brother J. F. Johnson, of Kentucky, give his views on the number seven, as the term is used in the scriptures? What are we to understand by it? There has been a great deal said about the seven golden candlesticks, but the term seven was not explained to my satisfaction. It has been spoken of as a perfect number, but I want to know what we are to understand from it." John Crihfield.
Brother Beebe, I find the foregoing request in the 14th number of the past volume of the SIGNS OF THE TIMES. Past experience proves to me that I cannot render satisfaction to all the readers of the SIGNS OF THE TIMES in my attempts to answer their requests through that medium for my views on passages of the holy scriptures. I have received several private letters within the past few months; some commendatory and others adverse to the views I have heretofore given through the SIGNS OF THE TIMES. Permit me here to say that I am pleased that the columns of your periodical have been open for the discussion of the various subjects upon which we have written, if that discussion is conducted in a proper spirit, and that those who may see that I err, instead of my displeasure, will receive my hearty thanks for the detection of my errors through the same medium in which they are circulated. Whether I really know what we are to understand from the number seven as it is used in the scriptures, is a matter for those scriptures to decide, and for my brethren to judge when I shall have given them my views. The word seven, and its derivatives, are used perhaps over three hundred times in the holy scriptures, far exceeding in frequency that of any other number, which circumstance alone would induce us to suppose that an importance is attached to it above that of other numbers. Cruden, Butterworth and Brown all define it to be "a number of perfection," and they are the only theological lexicographers I have examined respecting it. Admitting those authors to be correct in their definition of the term, let us endeavor to examine it according to their description and in the light of scripture. In the second chapter of Genesis and second verse the number is first alluded to, where, it is said, "And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from his work which he had made." Concluding that seven is "a number of perfection," I suppose that we have here exhibited the perfection of God's creation as to time, manner, matter, and every thing else pertaining thereto. His wisdom, his power, his glory and his eternal Godhead were conspicuously developed on the seventh day. What a miraculous display of the perfection of the Deity was portrayed on that day! Above us the sun, "which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race," flings out from his golden face myriads of brilliant beams, spreading over the wide domain of God's creation a lustrous flood of effulgence to lay open to view and decorate with beauty the wide expanse and great variety of herbage and animalcules as they drifted in untold multitudes from the prolific breath of the Almighty, when he spake and it was done, commanded and it stood fast. In that lucid flood we behold the perfection of creation in all the verdure and beautiful scenery that surrounds us, in every crawling insect, rambling beast and fluttering fowl that we behold. Yonder, in the watery world, the aqueous tribes equally exhibit the perfection of the work of God. Ranged in perfect order from the lowest up to the highest grade, all, all occupying the precise location or moving in the exact sphere in which the perfection of his wisdom, in his undeviating counsel and immutable decree, had ordered, so that the sweet singer of Israel was constrained to cry out with rapture, "All thy works shall praise thee, O Lord, and thy saints shall bless thee." With profound adoration and ineffable delight, with hearts attuned with sweetest concord, and voices swelling the noblest strains of melody, caroling the highest praises of the great Creator, "The morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy" in view of the perfection of the handiwork of God. The same perfection is seen in the fair-faced moon, as she majestically moves onward in her nocturnal journey, the quivering stars, whether stationary or rolling along their shining pathway in their respective orbits, although they may glide onward with the rapidity of the electric flash, and although myriads of them were flung like flaming meteors from his almighty hand, each one under the directory of the perfect law of nature's God, has traced the line marked out by the finger of perfection, so that, in all the thousands of years that have gone by not one has been known to conflict with its fellow. Thus the "number of perfection" evinces the perfect time, the perfect manner and the perfect order in which the perfect works of God are seen as accomplished by the hand of perfection.
"Perfection is seen in the works of his hand,
In the spheres that they move, in the order they stand;
Perfection rules regent, Jehovah must reign,
In the heavens, the earth, and the wide spreading main."
Again, to prove the perfection of his providence and his purposes concerning the children of Israel in the land of Egypt, Pharaoh is made to see in his dreams seven well favored kine, fat-fleshed, and seven ill-favored ones, lean-fleshed, the latter eating up the former; and seven ears of corn to come up upon one stalk, rank and good, and seven blasted ones upon another, blasted with the east wind, the latter devouring the former; which Joseph interprets to be seven years of plenty and seven of famine, the latter consuming the production of the former; thus opening the way for the transition of the Israelites to Egypt, where the Lord perfected all his works there concerning them. In the giving of the law to his people Israel, and in their obedience of his statutes, he particularizes the seventh day, the seventh week, the seventh month, the seventh year, and the seven times seven or forty and ninth year, as a memorial and testimonial of the perfection of his work, of his rest, and of all his works of perfection concerning them. - Exodus xx. 10; Deuteronomy xvi. 9; and Numbers xxix. 1. Exhibiting the perfection of his conquests in their behalf, he drives out seven nations before them mightier than they, (Deut. vii. 1,) causing them to flee seven ways. (xxviii. 7) And when he led Joshua and his hosts before the strong-walled city of Jericho, to illustrate the perfection of the victory there; seven priests, bearing seven trumpets, were to compass the city seven days, and on the seventh seven times blowing upon their trumpets. Josh. vi. 4-16. If, indeed, our authors are correct, that the Lord designed and the Jews regarded the number seven as "a number of perfection," we shall find, of course, that where he uses it, or where they use it under his supervision, that perfection will be exhibited in connection with the use of the term. And is not that perfection clearly manifest in the circumstances thus far alluded to?
Next, let us refer to a few of the many cases where the term is used in relation to the sacramental order, the altar, offerings, sacrifices and purifications connected with that order. In the first place Aaron's habiliments were to consist of seven articles. The coat, the robe of the ephod, the breastplate, the girdle, the mitre and the holy crown upon the mitre. The son that succeeded him in the high priest's office, when he came into the congregation to minister in the holy place in his father's stead, was to put on those seven articles seven days; and seven days were necessary to make an atonement and sanctify the altar upon which the offerings were to be made. - Ex. xxix. 5, 6, 30-37, and Lev. xvi. 19. Again, the blood of the bullock which Aaron was to offer for himself and house was to be sprinkled upon the mercy seat seven times. - Lev. xvi. 14. Time would fail me to mention the different instances in which the number seven is used in the purifications, offerings and sacrifices, and in regard to the time of those rituals. In the cleansing of the leper the priest was to sprinkle him with the blood of the bleeding bird seven times, then the leper was to tarry out of his tent seven days, and the seventh day to shave off his hair; and a part of the offering which he was to make was "a log of oil," a portion of which the priest was to sprinkle before the Lord seven times. - Lev. xiv. 7-9, 16-27. The Syrian general, Naaman, was commanded by Elisha, the prophet, to wash in the Jordan seven times, and the result was a perfect cleansing of his leprosy. - 2 Kings v. 10-14. When David and his hosts went to the house of Obed-Edom to bring to the house of David the ark of the Lord, the Levites offered seven bullocks and seven rams; and when Hezekiah had thoroughly cleansed the house of the Lord he ordered to be offered for the kingdom, for the sanctuary and for Judah seven bullocks, seven rams, seven lambs and seven he goats. - 2 Chron. xxix. 21. All these, and numerous other texts of the same class which might be adduced, evidently stand as so many prominent directories to the one great propitiatory sacrifice that was offered on Calvary, and which "PERFECTED FOREVER them that are sanctified." In connection with the foregoing texts we might contemplate upon the seventh day on which God rested, and on which he commanded the twelve tribes to rest, as indicative of the perfect rest that remains for his people. To illustrate the perfection of God's work as to the time, manner, &c., of his dealings in reference to that people, a holy convocation was inaugurated for the seventh month, and within the same a feast of seven days. - Lev. xxiii. 21; Num. xxix. 1-12. In this holy convocation in the month Abib, which was the seventh month of the civil year, the feast of the Passover was observed by Moses, (Deut. xv. 1,) and in the month Ethanim, which is the seventh of the sacred year, the same feast was observed by Solomon when he assembled the elders of Israel, the heads of the tribes, fathers, &c., to bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord from the city of David to the house of the Lord, which Solomon built, (I Kings viii. 1, 2,) to memorialize the paschal lamb, the exit from Egyptian bondage, and point to the Lamb of God, the perfect sacrifice that perfected his people forever. In the seventh year, to indicate the "perfect law of liberty," and the rest which God vouchsafes to his people, every Hebrew that had been sold into bondage was to be peremptorily released, the land, servants, beasts, all were to rest. Not only was the seventh year thus to be celebrated, but the Lord said, "and thou shalt remember seven sabbaths of years unto thee, seven times seven years; and the space of the seven sabbaths of years shall be unto thee forty and nine years." Then came the year of general release or grand sabbatical year, when not only the Jews and hired servants were to be released who had been sold into bondage, but all debts were to be canceled, all lands and other property that had been alienated were to be restored to the tribes or families to which they formerly belonged; when the great trump of jubilee was to sound, and the Lord said, "And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof; it shall be a jubilee unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family. - Lev. xxv. 2-16. Thus we see typically and beautifully portrayed the perfect release of the people of God from the bondage of sin, the perfect liquidation of every claim that stood against them, and the perfect rest that remains for them. Moreover, the church, to exhibit the spotless purity with which Christ has enrobed her, is comparable to "a candlestick of pure gold;" and, in Zech. iv. 2, as having attached to it seven lamps and seven pipes, to exhibit the perfection of the light as it radiates from the lamps, and produced by the blazing oil, conducted through the seven pipes to the seven lamps at their terminus, from the bowl upon the top of it, which I suppose, represents Christ, united to the church as her head, and from whom emanates all the effulgence of the "Father of lights," in all its pristine purity and perfection. Then again, to remind us of the perfection of the instruction which his words afford her, they are compared to silver purified seven times. Psalm xii. 6. Still further to elicit the perfection of the church and the light afforded her, her seven branches in Asia are presented as seven golden candlesticks, and her seven servants as seven stars in the right hand of the "Alpha and Omega," to reflect, not their own light, but that of the "SUN of Righteousness," as the literal stars do the rays of the sun in the firmament. - Rev.i. 12-20. But we are not to suppose that seven, as used in the scriptures, always brings to view that definite number. It is often used to show a perfect fullness or sufficiency, as in Zech. iii. 9, "Behold the stone that I have laid before Joshua; upon one stone shall be seven eyes;" showing, as I suppose, the full, complete and perfect vision of the BRANCH, the foundation stone; and, in Rev. v. 6, the Lamb was seen, "having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God." Here, I think, is evinced the perfection of his power in the horns, the perfection of his vision in the eyes, all to exhibit the perfection of the work of the Spirit. Again, to show the perfect and final overthrow of the enemies of God and his people, John saw seven angels with seven trumpets to sound the alarm at the approach of the terrible judgments of God. - Rev. viii. 2-6. A mighty angel came down from heaven clothed with a cloud, and when he had cried, seven thunders uttered their voices. - Rev. x. 3. To consummate the dreadful destruction another sign is seen in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels having the seven last plagues of God, in which is filled up the wrath of God. "And the seven angels came out of the temple, having the seven plagues, clothed in pure and white linen &c." And one of the four beasts gave unto the seven angels seven golden vials full of the wrath of God, who liveth forever and ever. - Rev. xv. 1, 6, 7. But I am extending my remarks too far, and must look out for a lighting place. Volumes might be written on the subject. A cursory review and I shall have done. I have endeavored to elucidate, in my feeble way, some of the perfections of God in his works of creation, providence and grace. The entrance of sin into the world presents an opportunity for a sublime and conspicuous display of the latter. Therein is exemplified the counterpart of God's perfection. Man, the crowning piece of creation, engulfs himself and all his race into the dark abyss of sin, of imperfection. And, from the time he sets out on his dreary and wayward journey, whether by sea or land, imperfection trails in his wake or follows in his footsteps. The thoughts and imaginations of his heart are all imperfect - his words, his works, his ways, all, all imperfect. But God ordained to overrule all this to the development of his own glory, "to the praise of the glory of his grace;" for says David, "All thy works shall praise thee, O Lord;" and "surely the wrath of man shall praise thee, the remainder of wrath thou shalt restrain." The salvation of his people from their sins shall unfold the perfection of his grace; the destruction of his enemies by his power shall disclose the glory of his justice. O, my brethren, while we lament the imperfection of our depraved nature and OUR works, let us rejoice in the Lord and exult in HIS toward us, "for by one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified." Still, "it doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is." That will be perfection enough for us. "Now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face." Now we know in part only, "but when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part (or imperfect) shall be done away." Then, "let us go on unto perfection,” for thither shall we all appear at last. Our Savior will appear the second time, without sin unto salvation. Yes, "He that shall come will come, and will not tarry." "And then shall that wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming." That brightness, that divine effulgence shall dissipate the gloom, sweep away, as with angels' wings, all the rubbish of imperfection; therefore each one may confidently say, "The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me; thy mercy, O Lord, endureth forever; forsake not the works of thine own hands."
With unabated affection your brother in tribulation,
J. F. JOHNSON.