Lexington, Ky., Jan. 20,1860.
DEAR BROTHER BEEBE: - In forwarding my remittance for the Signs, Banner and Messenger, I will communicate the following reflections to your consideration, and that of the household of faith, if you see proper to publish them.
I have many reflections on the present condition of Zion, the city of our God, so far as my acquaintance extends, and gladly would I contribute to her comfort and instruction. I know that my desire is to see her enjoying the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. But how is she to arrive at that desirable condition, is a grave question that all her children should seriously consider. When we look back over a few of the fleeting years that have gone by, and reflect upon the vehemence of the merciless elements that have raged upon her, the war that has been waged against her by those professing to be her friends, the question often recurs to our minds, From whence come wars and fightings among you? O that all her dear children could earnestly adopt the language, and feel more of the spirit that prompted David to say, "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; they shall prosper that love thee. Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces. For my brethren and companions sakes I will now say, Peace be within thee; because of the house of the Lord our God I will seek thy good."- Psa. cxxii. 6-9. Could these sentiments predominate in the sons and daughters of Jerusalem, how admirable would her courts appear. In retrospecting the past I am forcibly reminded of Isaiah ix. 14-16: "Therefore the Lord will cut off from Israel, head and tail, branch and rush in one day. The ancient and honorable, he is the head, and the prophet that teacheth lies, he is the tail. For the leaders of this people cause them to err," &c. A fearful retribution awaits the leaders who cause the children of Zion to err. Decapitation is a serious operation - cutting off the tail not so much so. Transient sojourners who teach lies are generally soon detected, and the cutting of them off produces but little effect, compared with cutting off the ancient and honorable. Yet, painful as it is, sometimes the ancient and honorable have to be cut off, and it seems often to be a necessary consequence that those who trail after them (the tail) must be cut off too. Nevertheless, Zion is still safe, and these painful visitations, like all other things, work together for (her) good, and are calculated to guard her against making flesh her arm, however ancient - or honorable, and prove to her that "the name of the Lord (only) is a strong tower; the righteous runneth into it and are safe." Yes, "In his name shall they rejoice, and in his righteousness shall they be exalted." The din of war may rattle in her midst, tribulation, like a sullen deluge, may be sweeping away her comforts, the fiery elements consuming her enjoyments, then may the encouraging voice of the Bridegroom be heard in the midst, "But now thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, fear not; for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters I will be with thee, and through the rivers they shall not overflow thee. When thou walkest through the fire thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flames kindle upon thee." With these divine assurances before us, and our hearts attuned by the life-inspiring Spirit of the living God of Israel, we can joyful join in one harmonious orchestra with the poet, and sing:
"Through floods and flames, if Jesus leads,
I'll follow where he goes;
Hinder me not, shall be my cry,
Though earth and hell oppose."
But, brethren, let us be careful to follow "where he goes," and when the enemy is hurling his carnal darts at us, not to act under the influence of the spirit that he did who drew the sword and cut off the ear. Remember that when our Leader was reviled, he reviled not again, and that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal; and though we have to contend against principalities and powers, the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places, let us be careful that we use "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." And remember that we wrestle not against flesh and blood. When flesh and blood are the belligerent parties, the contest is more equal; but take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, and you are invulnerable, for "the Lord is our strength, and his name is our high tower;" "For the name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous runneth into it and are safe." In that name alone there is safety. But the greatest difficulty with us is, that we have two ruling principles about us, and it is sometimes hard to distinguish which of them is governing us. We have a law in our members, warring against the law of our mind, and bringing us into captivity to the law of sin which is in our members.
Now we should not only set a strict guard over the actions and words of our members, but over the law also that governs them, for law is a governing principle. It would be preposterous to conclude that our members could sin without some impetus to actuate them. The overt act of sin never could be committed unless there was an internal principle to prompt it. But what is that impelling principle? I conclude that it is "the carnal mind," which is enmity against God, not subject to his law, neither indeed can be.
Then, as before remarked, let us keep a strict guard over that carnal mind or law in our members that prompts us to speak or act wrong; for though an overt act should not be committed actually, our Lawgiver has taught us that the principle that prompts us to do wrong is equally sinful. - See Matt. v. 28. I make this illustration to warn my dear brethren against indwelling and inadmissible evil thoughts, evil surmising and jealousies; for they are like vipers' eggs, that hatch out venomous serpents, or like deadly night-shade seeds that sprout up, vegetate and produce their legitimate poisonous fruits.
Dear brethren, my object in this communication, feeble and incompetent as I know I am, is to incite you to love and forbearance in your associations with and deportment toward each other. I think that in some parts of the country, particularly in some of the western states, there is an unusual and unjustifiable degree of criticism and fault-finding, and I know not but I might say fault-seeking, prevalent among the brethren; and perhaps some of the preachers take the lion's share in the tragedy, but many others of the brethren seem to catch the same spirit, and worst of all, it too often appears to be a spirit of - shall I say malignity? That's a hard spirit for a christian to possess. Well, what shall I call it? Perhaps I had best not name it, but try to explain its operations as well as I can.
One is speaking on some mysterious point of doctrine, (for it is all mysterious) and he drops a word that does not jingle exactly right in his brother's ear, and now there is ten chances for him to be made an offender for that word, where there is one for him to escape. Perhaps it is the doctrine of election, a cardinal point with Old School Baptists, set at naught by all other societies in the present day, so far as I am advised. It, however, has had its advocates and enemies in all ages of the world. Ever dear to its advocates is that soul-cheering doctrine. It remains a paramount principle in the doctrine of the Bible, underlying the whole system of salvation. Of course the friends of that doctrine have no difficulty in proving that the saints were chosen in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world, that the Lord has been their dwelling-place in all ages, that he bear them and carried them all the days of old. All this is plain enough, if he would stick to the Bible, and keep unprofitable criticism away. But now comes the hows, the whys, the whats, and the wherefores of the critic, and the when of the infidel, for he is apt to be about at these critical seasons. And I will just here observe that we need not want a better introduction to Mr. Infidelity than to hear him say, "O they were not really chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world; it was nothing more than a purpose to choose them." Now establish that as a fact, and there is no proof of the doctrine of election at all in the Bible; it sweeps it away, root, stem, top and all; for there is no proof there, that there was any such a choice made in Christ after the foundation of the world.
That species of infidelity, however, is pretty well purged from the Old School Baptists in this part of the country. I would that I could say as much of unprofitable criticism. But there appears to be a degree of restlessness in the minds of some, an eagerness to comprehend all the particulars of the divine mystery, and the preachers are called upon to explain, and at it they go. Now comes up the whys, whats, &c., for them to explain. Well, of course, those who believe and love the doctrine will tell all they know about it, and perhaps some of them more too. Well, but "why were they chosen in Christ?" says one. I believe the answer to that question, so far as I know, has been about as follows: "He chose them in Christ because they were in him, and didn't come down to this world, or go to some other place and choose them to put them in Christ." Now, I don't know that there could be a better answer than that found outside of the Bible. Another wants to know, "what was chosen in Christ?" or "who were chosen in Christ?" One says, All his spiritual children, or all his spiritual family. Another says, No; there never was any spiritual children until they were quickened by the Spirit in regeneration. And another says, The idea of a spiritual family in Christ before the foundation of the world, won't do at all, "How can that be?" Then follows a train of cross-questions and random answers, and now, before it is done with, it is a fortunate circumstance if some are not mad, and some others not in a good humor. What is to be done, in this case? Shall we drop the idea of a choice in Christ before the world was? No, that will not do; for the scriptures say, "chosen in him before the foundation of the world." What then? Are we to conclude that this "old" Adamic man, with his flesh, blood, and all his natural faculties were chosen in him before the foundation of this world? That would be a new theory amongst us, and contrary to the teaching of the Bible, which says he is "earthy," and therefore not heavenly. But, says the rejoinder, the idea of a spiritual family in Christ is what I want to understand. Well, is not Christ "spiritual?" (See 1 Cor. xv. 46.) And has he not a family? (See Eph. iii.15.) Is not that family "a spiritual house?" (l Pet. ii. 5.) And is not that house "the church of the living God?" (I Tim. iii.15.) Is not that church "in Jesus Christ?" See the commencement of most of the epistles. Is there more in him now than always were? If so, tell us when and how they got in him, or whether there are additional members added to his body, or whether he is not the same, yesterday, today, and forever.
Then comes up the doctrine of the new birth, or the christian warfare, each of which is subjected to the same routine of strict animadversion. We have to meet the question: Who are born again? We answer, perhaps, The children of God. How do you know that? Ans. They are "born of the Spirit," or "of God," and that proves them to be his children. Well, but what is it that is born? Ans. It "is spirit." Yes, but you must delineate and name the child. Well, it is - "a man." But whence are they? "Not of this world." But that does not tell whence they are. Well, John said he "saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, COMING DOWN FROM GOD OUT OF HEAVEN."
Now, if these Bible answers would satisfy the curious mind, we might get along; but now comes up a "knotty" question: What part of the man is born again? Now, if all were as ignorant as myself, I suppose it would be best to confess ignorance and let that matter rest, for the scripture does not tell me one word about a part of a man being born again. But one says it's the soul, and because his brother will not take proof from the back of the Bible he is a "heretic." Another says it is the mind, and because his brethren are not willing to receive proof from the same source they are numbered with heretics also. But the greater portion of those part regenerationists with whom I have conversed, conclude that, although some part of the old man must be born again, they cannot tell what part it is, but the preacher must tell all about it; and although they do not know themselves, if he does not explain to their satisfaction, and make them know what neither him nor they have ever seen in the scriptures, down he must go.
But what an immensity of trouble we have had to wade through here in the west, because some of the preachers and brethren have got smart enough to find out things that the scriptures never taught. The faithful servants of the churches suffer no little from this state of things. All this guess-work is thrown into their path, and they must throw it out, or get over it the best way they can. Then every word they speak is watched and weighed, (and sometimes in doubtful balances,) and for each one that is susceptible of a criticism, he is apt to be made an offender. It is right to watch the servants, but it is to be feared there are too many in some of the western states that watch their brethren for evil, rather than for good. But there is more to complain of than a mere criticism of words. They are contorted, misconstrued, and made to exhibit what the speaker never intended.
Yes, some of our enemies, professing to be Baptists, do worse yet. I have been credibly informed that a leading professed Baptist preacher of Ohio, said that J. F. Johnson preached that Christ's people existed in eternity as men, women and children, going about as they do here, than which, a greater absurdity, nor a more downright falsehood never dropped from the lips of man. But this was from an enemy, and could be borne without a murmur. I do not mind their fiery darts at all. To see my brethren disposed to find fault and fall out on trivial occasions, or obscure questions about words, is what wounds me, and I am made to exclaim with one of old, "For the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt."
I sit down here in Kentucky, or lie down on my bed at night, and think of the large circle of acquaintances among the saints, in and out of the United States. I hope I love them, and pray for their welfare, feel anxious to hear from them, and frequently do hear from many of them through the SIGNS OF THE TIMES, Southern Baptist Messenger, by private letters, and otherwise. I highly appreciate these vehicles by which our correspondence is conveyed from one part of the country to another. I hear from one quarter, and the mercy drops are falling there, the Sun of Righteousness warming, his love-inspiring beams causing the hearts of his children to thrill with joy, and peace among them flowing like a river.
Then I rejoice, and think how I would like to be there and participate in the feast. I hear from another, and they are cold, but in peace. I am glad to hear that. Not glad that they are cold, but that peace is there; and I comfort myself as well as I can as to the coldness, with the reflection that I have seen almost sixty winters, and all of them, but one, have been followed with spring and summer, and that one will be soon, in all probability. But occasionally I hear from another, and wars and contentions are there. Then my spirits sink and seem to wither, and I feel sad.
Again the question recurs to me, "From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? I think of the family relation, the kindred ties and should-be endearments. One Father, one mother, one elder Brother, one brotherhood, one joint, incorruptible inheritance, and one destiny throughout. I ask myself the question: Can it be possible that those eternal ties can be finally and forever sundered? "Never! NEVER!! NEVER!!! They may be covered over for a time with rubbish and thereby concealed from view, but never finally severed. But then I think you need not count it strange at last, that brethren fall out with each other, seeing they so frequently fall out with themselves. At any rate I am confident that I fall out with myself much more frequently than I do with my brethren. But why is all this? I think it is because we are component beings, possessing two adverse principles or natures.
And now, perhaps, right on this supposition the critic will come at me. Well, let him come; I shall not quail before him yet. No, nor will I fear the fair investigator if he comes. For should I be wrong and he convince me of my error, he will befriend me, and thereby place me under lasting obligations to him. At any rate I shall take the position that the christian, as we recognize him here, is a component of good and evil, and that there are two different sources from which those two principles or characters proceed. One is Adam, who is corrupt and defiled in every part throughout all his generation. The other is Christ, who is incorruptible and undefiled throughout all his generation.
There are two seminal heads, with their respective indwelling seed. One "is natural," the other "is spiritual." The seed of one is called "a seed of evil doers," "the seed of the wicked," &c.; that of the other, "a holy seed," "a godly seed," and it is said of Christ, "he shall see his seed." Two generations legitimately proceed from these two sources. One is called "the generations of Adam," the other "the generation of Jesus Christ." One is corrupt in all its parts, the other is born of incorruptible seed, and therefore cannot be corrupted. As one "is natural," his offspring is natural, and "the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them." The other "is spiritual," and his offspring "are built up a spiritual house," they eat spiritual meat, and drink spiritual drink, One "is born of the flesh (and) is flesh:" and "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God;" the other is "born of God," or "born of the Spirit (and) is spirit;" and "whosoever is born of God doth not sin, for his seed remaineth in him, and he cannot sin because he is born of God." In short, one of these heads "is earthy," the other "is heavenly;" and "as is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy; and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly." Now the question is, Do christians possess both these natures, (principles,) or shall I say men? I think I may safely say that the Bible shows conclusively that they do, and that every christian's experience testifies to that fact.
Paul said to his brethren; "Though our outward man perish, yet our inward man is renewed day by day." They were in possession of an "old man which is corrupt," and a new man which is created in righteousness and true holiness. He delighted in the law of God after the inward man, but found another law in his members warring against the law of his mind. The scripture says, "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin." I have no doubt but Paul was, and yet he says, "I am carnal, sold under sin." Nor can I doubt the christianity of Peter, yet Christ says to him, "Get thee behind me, Satan." Old father Erskine, I think, was one too, and he says:
"To good and evil equal bent,
I'm both a devil and a saint."
I conclude that the Lord's children are all materials of the same building, and yet there was seen in the Shulamite (the church) "the company of two armies." But why need I multiply proofs and refer to instances to establish the fact that the christian is a two-fold character?
My dear brethren, do you not feel the warfare raging within, while the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh? Do you not feel the struggling of the "carnal mind" and the mind of Christ? Do you not daily mourn over the multitude of the evil thoughts of your carnal mind, (for we cannot think without a mind,) as well as over your vain words and acts of folly, the legitimate fruits of that carnal mind? Now, brethren, if you feel all this, remember that your servants are "carnal, sold under sin," as well as yourselves, and therefore require lenity, and the exercise of your forbearance, as well as yourselves.
Have you a servant that is old and infirm, one who has long and faithfully battled with your enemies in the cause of truth, who has been galled and chafed thereby until his patience is worn threadbare? Remember that he is still in the flesh, and needs your forbearance, and then exercise patience towards him. Have you one that is young and inexperienced, sensitive and zealous in the cause of truth, one whom you have set apart for the ministry, believing that he profitable unto you? Remember too, that he only can "see in part," and when you see an error in him, like Aquilla and Priscilla, take him to yourselves and teach the way of God more perfectly. Have you one of full and mature age, strong and confident, and whose zeal sometimes seems to outstrip his knowledge? Teach him to put "no confidence in the flesh," but that "God (alone) is his strength."
But above all, let those brethren who are so tenacious as to conclude that all must be right with the servants, set them down and get them up in their places, and try whether they can guide themselves and their brethren straightforward over a smooth sea.
In conclusion, my dear brethren in the ministry, remember that you are to bear hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ. Be patient, meek, but faithful. And whether your perils be by land, by sea, or among false brethren, in your patience exercise your souls. And remember, too, that the best fruit trees are generally clubbed the most.
Commit yourselves to God and to the word of his grace, who is able to keep and preserve you blameless unto the day of Jesus Christ.
Your friend and brother in tribulation and patience,
J. F. JOHNSON.