Lawrenceburg, Ky., March, 1875.
MY DEAR BROTHER WILLIAMS: - Yours of the 30th of January was received, after considerable delay on the way, and I use the first opportunity in reply. I sensibly feel my insufficiency in attempting a compliance with the request you have made, but do not feel at liberty to withhold such light as the Lord may afford me when called upon by my brethren who are "inquirers after truth."
The first instruction you ask relates to the Patrons of Husbandry, or Grangers. Now, my dear brother, you will excuse me for saying but little on this subject, because I know but little, and may say nothing about it; and I think prudence would dictate that I should say but little upon a subject that I am ignorant of, for to me it looks like "beating the air." I can say, so far as I am concerned, I have no use for the order; for I am not a farmer at present, and if I was I should want to know more about the Grangers than I do before I could unite with them. That manufacturers and speculators by forming "rings" and combinations have imposed upon the farming community, was palpably proved to me when I was a farmer; for they generally held the prices of their own articles, and also those of the farmer's products, in their own possession; and if the farmers' only object is to fortify themselves against those impositions, it may be well enough; but until Primitive Baptists know more about the order than does their humble servant, my advice to them is, "Stand from under," especially if it is calculated to wound the feelings of the brethren, which we should hold sacred under all circumstances.
The other subject upon which you ask instruction I consider of far greater importance, and worthy of our most solemn attention, and so far as I am concerned could plead ignorance; but is that a sufficient plea while we profess and hope that the Lord is our wisdom? There lies my only hope of writing to profit you or others. The text you ask my views on is found in I Thess. v. 23, particularly the middle clause: "spirit, and soul, and body." I have not heretofore thought particularly on the subject, and know not that I have any special light on it. My own views are all that I can promise, and leave the matter to be tried by the scriptures. The apostle speaks very commendably of the brethren at Thessalonica, both of their faith and practice; gives faithful warning, wholesome instruction, interspersed with very appropriate exhortations. In some of the verses immediately preceding the text under consideration is a most excellent exhortation which we would do well particularly to observe. In the 21st and 22nd verses he exhorts them to, "Prove all things, hold fast that which is good," and to "abstain from every appearance of evil." Then follows the 23rd verse, in the form of an intercession: "And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly, and I pray God your whole spirit, and soul, and body, be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." The petition of the apostle here is that the God of peace may sanctify, set them apart wholly, entirely to his service, in holding fast that which is good, abstaining from evil, and thereby keeping the unity of the Spirit in peace, securing the things presented not only in the foregoing surpassing exhortation, but throughout the entire epistle.
"Spirit, soul and body." These are the particular words you wish me to write on. I suppose the spirit here alluded to is "the spirit of man that is in him;" not the Spirit of God which we receive of him in the new birth. See Prov. xiii. 12, xiv. 29, xvi. 18, 1 Cor. ii. 11, & 2 Cor. viii. 1. This spirit is sinful, wicked, prone to evil, and like all the rest of our natural faculties disposed to lead us astray from God, and after the perishing things of this vain world, such as worldly religion, with the whole catalogue of the works of the flesh resulting therefrom. By it the throat exhibits the similitude of an open sepulchre; it prompts the tongue to use deceit, plants the poison of asps under the lips, fills the mouth with cursing and bitterness, incites the feet to shed blood, impels the possessor onward in the ways of destruction and misery, and blinds the eyes to the way of peace and the fear of God.
The "Rev." author of "The Bible Dictionary" defines the spirit in man to be "his immortal soul;" and right in connection with this let us take into consideration the word soul.
In treating upon this word I shall probably have to collide with the whole arminian fraternity, and may be with some of the saints. In the first place we must dispense with the idea of the Bible Dictionary gentleman, or with the apostle's, for Paul in speaking of the King of kings and Lord of lords, says, "Who only hath immortality," &c. Now, if Christ only hath immortality, we have nothing immortal about us until we have him. That man has and must have an interminable existence, is evident; but the endless existence of the wicked is spoken of as death, the opposite or counterplot of life; for immortality, according to Paul's definition, is eternal life. See Rom. ii. 7; 1 Tim. vi. 16.
Again, Mr. Wesley, in his poetical strain, says:
"A charge to keep I have,
A God to glorify,
A never dying soul to save,
And fit it for the skies."
Place this expression in juxtaposition with Ezekiel xviii. 4, 20, which says, "The soul that sinneth it shall die," and also Psalm lxxviii., "He spared not their soul from death," and where is the agreement?
This word soul, as used in the scriptures, is not applicable to any one particular part or faculty of man distinct from the rest. It is used in its original meaning in a complicated sense. Sometimes it implies the whole man with all his parts, passions and faculties, as in Gen. ii. 7, "Man became a living soul," and also I Cor. xv. 45, "The first man Adam was made a living soul." Sometimes the word refers simply to persons, as in Gen. xii. 5, Abraham and Lot took "the souls that they had gotten in Haran." Again, Exodus i. 5, "And all the souls that came out of the loins of Jacob were seventy souls." At other times it is spoken of as the life, as in Matt. xvi. 26 and Mark viii. 36, "For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul, or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" or life; for it is evident that the life is alluded to here, as much as to say, What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his life? He must die and leave it all; he cannot buy it. The different affections, passions and appetites are attributable to the soul, as love, hatred, joy, sorrow, hunger, thirst, &c.
All this convinces me that the first time the word is used in the scriptures exhibits its most full and complete meaning, "man became a living soul."
"And body." We are a perfect mystery to ourselves in spirit, soul and body. How little we know about either! And when we attempt to combine and explain the whole, we at once enter an awfully obscure labyrinth. The body is a mazy, complicated piece of machinery, and only moves when actuated by a motive power. Here we meet mystery again. What is the power? Look at the busy throng of human bodies moving hither and thither. What is it that is producing all this motion and commotion? Some agency is moving these bodies, this complex mass of machinery. Is it the spirit - the soul - the mind? What is it? If we go to our lexicographers for an explanation of the meaning and properties of these words, they leave us all bewildered, and tell us that the spirit is "the soul of man," that the soul is "the mind," the mind "the soul," making them all one; and there they leave us all in a maze.
Well, suppose we conclude that it is the spirit or mind that propels this intricate piece of mechanism, for we certainly follow the leading of our mind to a greater or less extent. Here we meet mystery again. How does, mind or spirit that is immaterial act upon matter or materiality, and why does it act so differently upon different ones? One man's mind directs him to certain pursuits in business, and directly his feet and hands, in obedience to the motive power of the mind, are put in motion to accomplish the work. Another one's mind directs him to a different pursuit, and his muscular powers obey the impetus, and his members are set to work to reach the prospective goal. Again, one man's mind or spirit will prompt him to an honorable and upright course and conduct in this life, and the motions of his body obey the mandate. Another's will dictate the most dishonorable and wicked one, and his misguided limbs will move him to the diabolical acts. Such is the diversity of the prompting of the human spirit or carnal mind that we cannot find two acting in concert throughout. But in one thing we find a partial unanimity, and that is the way of salvation. Whether it is the Hindu or the Hottentot, the Buddhist or Mohammedan, the Roman Catholic or the Arminian Protestant, all agree that it must be by works of some kind. This is depraved nature's religion. But one step further and all is complexity again, all Babylon or confusion, for they differ as widely as to the different kinds of work to be done as they do in other worldly matters.
This calls for some remarks on your third and last query. You say (and I think correctly) "that these three component parts constitute the man." I also think they constitute the natural man. Then you ask the question, "Is either of them, or all, quickened into divine life - born of the Spirit of God?" I answer unequivocally, that the scriptures do not show that all or any part of the natural or Adam man is born of the Spirit of God. You further say that a mere think so, in the absence of scripture, is worthless. So say I. Now, we are all born with this natural spirit, soul and body; and the Savior says, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh." So then, in this birth we are all flesh, including the "fleshly mind," "fleshly lusts," &c. Paul said, after he was born again, "I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing;" but the whole man (new man) that is born of the Spirit is good; for "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."
It is everywhere demonstrated that the birth never changes the nature of the thing born. What a miracle it would be to see the birth of a young goat turn or change it to a sheep, and vice versa. And more, everything that is born partakes of the precise nature of its parentage; hence what is born of God is like him, cannot sin, and what is born of the flesh is like it, cannot do good. "There is none that doeth good, no, not one." But, although the birth does not change the nature of the thing born, it does change its condition or circumstances. It receives its nutriment differently, its clothing or protection is different, and it is surrounded by different elements. Still, the flesh was flesh before the birth; it is neither more nor less afterward, the same by nature.
As has been shown, and cannot be denied, each offspring partakes of the nature of its parentage. It has further been shown by the scriptures that what is born of God is good, "cannot sin," and what is born of the flesh is bad, cannot do good. Then, if Paul's natural spirit, soul or body was born of God, how could he say, "I know that in me dwells no good thing?" If his natural spirit was born of God, would not that be good? And if his natural soul was born of God, would not that be good? And if his natural body was born of God, would not that be good? All these were born of the flesh, and if the Savior was correct in his definition, all that is born of the flesh is flesh. I think that instead of "virtually denying the resurrection of the bodies of the saints," this view of the subject is the only one upon which we can establish and confirm that doctrine; for if the old or Adam man is born of God, "worked over," as intimated in your letter, he "cannot sin," as the scriptures declare; and if he cannot sin, he cannot die, for death is but the effect of sin, and sin the only cause of death, and no effect can take place without a cause to produce it. The Savior says, "Whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die." This cannot be said of the old man, for he "shall die." I repeat, then, that if the old man is born of God he cannot die, and therefore there could be no resurrection of the dead bodies of the saints.
Christ died for his people because their sins were transferred to or laid on him. He died for them, and rose for them. In that death and resurrection he did ransom them from the power of the grave, redeem them from death, and thus was the "first born from the dead," "the first fruits of them that slept;" and I see no propriety in speaking of a first birth, or first fruits, if there be no succeeding birth or fruits to follow. So far as the spiritual family is concerned, in their first birth, the whole nation was born at once. See Isa. lxvi. 8. And when they are individually "born of God," when we "receive the Spirit which is of God," we are "born again." Then, when these natural bodies are first born they are "born of the flesh;" and when they are "born from the dead," they will be born again; and until we are born again, born from the dead, the natural man never can see the spiritual kingdom of God or enter into it. When that shall have been accomplished, the Lord's assertion, "Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God," will be fully realized. But, in order to that birth, a radical change must take place, not produced by the birth, but in order to it; and this is the first time that the word change is used in relation to the "old man," or any part of him. Hence it is said, "who (Christ) shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body," &c. - Phil. iii. 1. And again, "If the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you." And yet again, "It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory, it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body." Then, "This corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality," &c.
Now, I object to the expressions, "changed by grace," and "changed from nature to grace," as used by many in reference to the new birth, and relative to any change in the nature of the natural man. Those expressions are nowhere used in the scriptures, nor is a change spoken of at all in that sense. But then and there we anticipate a most glorious and heart thrilling change into the image and likeness of our all glorious Savior, to dwell in his peaceful presence forever.
"Soar we then where Christ has led,
Following our exalted Head;
Made like him, like him to rise,
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies."
In conclusion, my dear brother, as Christ has put away the sins of his people by the sacrifice of himself, redeemed them from the curse of the law, we may rest assured that the supplication of the apostle will be finally and fully answered, and the whole spirit and soul and body of each one will be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I have now endeavored, though in much weakness, to answer your request, which presents a fit subject upon which to exhibit "Christ and the resurrection," the joyful theme of the apostles and the lively hope of the saints.
Your friend and brother most truly,
J. F. JOHNSON.