Covington, GA., July 28, 1869.
DEAR BROTHER BEEBE: - After spending about seven weeks in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia, I returned in good health, and found all well. I have reason for gratitude to God for all his mercies to me. During my journey I baptized two of the Lord’s dear children, one at Occoquan, VA., and the other in Washington, D.C. Both of them were white females. In traveling and preaching I met with many dear brethren, sisters and friends.
I am not able to comply at present with the wishes of brethren and friends for my views through the SIGNS on different portions of the scriptures. In truth I am not able to comply at all with their wishes, unless the God of salvation illuminates my mind and makes my tongue as the pen of a ready writer. Simply to lean to my own understanding in the expression of my views of any scripture, without the sweet assurance of its application in the experience of the saints, is a cold and lifeless effort on my part; yet I sometimes write and preach in such a frame of mind.
I have had some reflection, especially of late, upon the sovereignty of God’s grace in the salvation of sinners, and the sovereignty of the carnal mind in all its ramifications, in the heart of man. They are in direct opposition. Saul of Tarsus, or Paul, stands on record as a striking instance of the calling of grace. In view of his character as a zealous pharisee, and his prominent position as a malignant persecutor of the church, he stands preeminently as a vivid illustration of the sovereignty of grace in his after course of life. Though he was an extreme case, it shows that his own pharisaic righteousness was no benefit to him, for he lost it all when God called him by his grace. And in every instance when a sinner attempts to manufacture a righteousness of his own in the work of salvation, when God takes a dealing with him by his grace, he suffers the loss of it, or it is utterly destroyed. We have on record the case of Mary Magdalene, a rich and fashionable courtesan, an extreme case in another direction, who, without any pretensions to pharisaical holiness of life, is made to acknowledge the sovereignty of grace in her salvation. She came to Jesus while he sat at meat in the pharisee’s house, and brought an alabaster box of ointment and stood at his feet behind him weeping. She came to him a broken-hearted sinner, showing the marks of godly sorrow on her part, producing penitential tears. She washed his feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head, kissed his feet, and anointed them with ointment. Though a great sinner in her former conduct, as well as in heart, here was the blessed effect of grace, or the fruit of faith, in her honesty, sincerity, affection, contrition, confession, and deep supplication. The Lord said to Ananias concerning Paul, “Behold he prayeth.” Also in relation to this woman it could have been said, Behold her tears of penitence, or in other words, Behold her weeping on account of her sins. Jesus is exalted to give repentance to the vessels of mercy, and behold the fruit. It was so in the case of Peter, when he went out and wept bitterly. Also on the day of Pentecost, when the multitude, under Peter’s preaching, cried out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” And from that time until now, when the sovereignty of the carnal mind is dethroned by the reign of grace, the deep sighs, bitter groans, mental agony, and penitential tears of millions of Adam’s race, bear testimony to the doctrine of Omnipotent grace.
But to state further in the case of Mary Magdalene, in Luke 7:37-50, the pharisee in conversation with Jesus evinces an ignorance of the character of Jesus, and also of the woman’s weeping, as the spontaneous overflowing of an humble spirit and a contrite heart. He was compelled, however, to acknowledge in the case of the creditor and his two debtors, that he to whom the most was forgiven loved him most. Jesus contrasted the difference of treatment between Simon the pharisee, and the woman, towards him in his own house, thereby showing in a very forcible manner that the woman loved him the most. Simon had not given Jesus any water for his feet, neither kissed him, nor anointed his head with oil; whereas the woman had washed his feet with her tears, wiped them with the hairs of her head, kissed his feet, and anointed them with oil. Jesus had turned to the woman, though addressing his conversation to Simon, “Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven her; for she loved much; but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.” He now said to the woman, “Thy sins are forgiven.” Jesus is not only exalted to give repentance to the heirs of promise, but forgiveness of sins. He is empowered on earth to forgive sins. This wretched woman, whose life had been licentious, had showed pure repentance for her sins, and they were now forgiven. The woman of Samaria, the thief on the cross, and those blood-red sinners on the day of Pentecost, were all forgiven. And many, very many, since that time have had their sins remitted by the atoning blood of the immaculate Son of God, and are now happy in the world of glory with those who have gone before into the realms of bliss.
It appears that those who sat at meat in Simon’s house with Jesus, said within themselves, “Who is this that forgiveth sins also?” This evinces that they did not know Jesus to be the Son of God. Flesh and blood cannot reveal an experimental knowledge of spiritual things. It is known only by the revelation of Jesus Christ. It cannot be taught in the schools and institutions of men. Jesus said to the woman, “Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.” The faith she possessed, and which was her salvation, was given to her, and belonged to her by the gift of grace; for Paul says, “By grace are ye saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast.” This was her salvation. This constrained her to come to Jesus, as her only hope of salvation, and as all her desire. She was at peace with God, and therefore could go in peace. Her after course of life shows she loved much, for she in company with Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, ministered unto Jesus of their substance. She stood by the cross of Jesus when he suffered, and was among those who bewailed and lamented him. She was present when the body of Jesus was laid in the sepulchre. She was first at the sepulchre on the eventful morning of his resurrection, and was the first to report to the disciples that she had seen the Lord.
The sovereignty of the carnal mind in the heart of man is still strong and powerful; but it is a consoling truth to the saints that grace reigns through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord. I may write more on this subject before long.
Joseph L. Purington.