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DEAR BROTHER BEEBE: - In the 16th number {present volume} of the SIGNS, there is a request from brother C. Jackson, of Virginia, for my views of I Pet. 4:17 & 18:

“For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God, and if it begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?”

Peter in verse 12, says, “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you as though some strange thing happened unto you.” In the verses intervening between this and verse 17, he exhorts them in reference to the fiery trial, and in his remarks, he shows that by it he refers to some special persecution about coming upon them, and then in verse 17, informs them that the occasion of this fiery trial, is, that the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God.

As Peter substitutes the word us for the house of God, in the second clause of the verse, and also from the connection, it is evident that from the expression, he meant the church of the saints, or Gospel church. And as Peter was an Apostle of the circumcision, his epistles were originally addressed to the believers among the Jews. Hence by the expression, “Them that obey not the Gospel,” he undoubtedly means the unbelieving Jews.

The time is come. This expression evidently refers to some anticipated period. Our Lord had foretold his disciples of the destruction of Jerusalem, and of the Jewish nation in their nationality, Matthew, chapter 24, and had limited the time to that generation. This judgment came upon that people and city in A.D. 70. Christ had also told his disciples that before these things, “They should lay their hands on them, and they should be brought before kings,” &c. Luke 21:12. The Jews had, from the commencement, persecuted the Christians, so far as they had the power, and had in some instances instigated the Roman governors to persecute them. But in A.D. 64, Nero, the Roman Emperor and tyrant, issued his edict against the Christians, authorizing them everywhere to be put to death. Thus commenced the first general persecution against the Christians, which lasted until Nero’s death, A.D. 68. In this persecution, multitudes of Christians were put to death by every species of cruelty. According to Chronologists, Peter wrote this epistle, A.D. 65; therefore, at the very time this severe persecution was about commencing, and this, no doubt, was the judgment he directly referred to.

Judgment must begin at the house of God. Why begin there? Because whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth, Heb.12:6. And as he said of the type, so also of the antitype, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth, therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” Amos 3:2. Hence, “the slaying must begin at God’s sanctuary.” Ezek.19:6.

But brother Jackson may be ready to enquire whether God inflicts judgment upon his people? I answer, Yes! “The Lord shall judge the people.” Again, “God judgeth the righteous.” Psal.7:8,11. “With righteousness shall he judge the world, and the people with equity.” Psal.98:9. God had, previous to Peter’s writing this, judged the church according to the strictness of his righteous law, and had inflicted the entire penalty due for her transgressions, upon her head and husband, Christ, who for this purpose, was made under the law. Again, her husband having, by enduring the curse, satisfied the demand of the law; she, by his resurrection from the dead, was judged clear from the law, or justified. Rom.4:25. But Peter says, “the time is come that judgment must begin.” This, therefore, refers to another judgment, and as the church had already been redeemed and justified from the demands of the law, this judgment could not be upon legal principles, but upon Gospel principles, or in love, as a father judgeth and chasteneth his son for his good.

The church and people of God, have in no age kept up the Gospel standard. They have come short in faith, in the order and discipline of the church, and in practice. In times of outward peace, the churches are apt to become careless in reference to these things; the living members will become lukewarm and too much disposed to conform to the world, and persons destitute of grace are suffered to get in and remain with the church. Hence the importance of the churches being first purged before God inflicts his judgments upon their enemies. In the times of persecution and some other judgments, these judgments will do for the churches what they had failed to do for themselves by a faithful and correct exercise of discipline; the dead members will fall away and go to their proper associates, and thus be in a place to meet the judgments awaiting the enemies of the truth. As in that judgment to which Peter particularly referred, many Jews no doubt had professed Christianity, without a living faith; these, when the Romans persecuted the Christians, would go back to Judaism, and thus become involved in the destruction which awaited that people. And although many christians, by this persecution, were taken from the church, and from their relations to the world; yet, there was no wrath in it to the church, nor to them, for still the Lord preserved a remnant sufficient to proclaim the Gospel, and to bear testimony to the truth. And as to those who suffered death, they were placed in their sufferings, in circumstances to bear a much more efficient testimony to the truth of the Gospel, and to the power of divine grace to sustain them, than they could have borne while living in peace; and besides, they were the sooner released from the world and its troubles, and from the corruptions of nature, and taken to rest.

Besides, these judgments tend to manifest the faith of the children of God. Hence, Peter speaks of these manifold temptations as being for the trial of their faith, chapter 1:6,7. Whilst living in comparative ease many of the children of God hardly know whether they have faith or not; indeed often much doubt having any, and cannot so clearly prove their faith to others; but when the judgments of God are upon them and the church, they are led to look to Christ as their wisdom, their strength, and their salvation. They now feel that without him they are lost, they can do nothing, they have neither wisdom, nor strength to meet their trials; he is, therefore, their only hope, and they know that he is able to save and keep them. What but faith would lead them thus to cling to Christ, under afflictions, divisions, reproaches, &c., as their last hope and trust? And in remaining steadfast in the doctrine and order of the Gospel, whilst the church is enduring these judgments, whether they be persecutions unto death, or reproaches and defaming, or divisions and a thinning of the members of the church, &c., they give evidence to their brethren of their faith. Again, these judgments often lead the children of God to see and feel the evil of errors, neglect of discipline, and sins which they had before overlooked or paid little attention to.

I now come to the part which brother Jackson wished me particularly to notice: “And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” In reference to the salvation of the righteous here spoken of, I will remark that there are two kinds of salvation spoken of in relation to them. There is the salvation from the law and its curse, from sin, death, and the grave, to a state of justification here, and of glorification hereafter. This is wholly through the redemption which Christ accomplished by his death, resurrection, and ascension. Christ is this salvation, it is found wholly in him. There can, therefore, be no scarcity in this salvation, for he is God all sufficient. The Scriptures represent the redemption of Christ of his people, as a complete triumph over the last enemy, death. Hence it is said in reference to his ascension as the Redeemer, Head, and Forerunner of his people, “God is gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet.” Psa.47:5. Again, “Thou hast ascended on high; thou hast led captivity captive.” Psa.68:18. Again, “Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lift up ye everlasting doors, and the king of glory shall come in. Who is this king of glory? The Lord strong and mighty; the Lord mighty in battle.” Psa.24:7,8. Surely when we consider that Christ’s people were quickened together with him, and raised up together, and made to sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, Eph.2:5,6; and that Christ has so signally triumphed over all he had to encounter in accomplishing their redemption, has led captivity itself captive, has subdued everything that could bring into or hold his people in captivity, has entered in and taken possession of eternal glory, and been honored as king of glory, as the forerunner and in behalf of his people; we must be convinced that there can be no deficiency in this salvation, that the word scarcely cannot be made to apply to it.

Again, the term righteous will not apply to the elect as objects of the salvation by Christ’s blood. They are made righteous by this salvation; but it is as sinners that they are saved. Christ came into the world to save sinners and only sinners; so that I think brother Jackson will be satisfied this is not the salvation intended in his text.

The other salvation spoken of, is a salvation in providence and grace, a being preserved in existence and from evils, and a being kept from the corruptions that are in the world from errors, from temptations, &c. Understanding this to be the salvation intended by the Apostle in relation to this judgment, it will readily be seen that the righteous were scarcely saved during such a severe and lengthy persecution. But a mere remnant at most, of those who belonged to the church at the commencement of the persecution were saved from its ravages; others were added to the church, and many of those met death at the very onset of their profession. John was, perhaps, the only apostle that survived it. So in the persecution of the Donatists in the sixth century, and of the Waldenses in the seventeenth century, in both cases these people were scarcely saved, mere remnants escaped and they scattered. In the repeated judgments of God upon his church since, in suffering errors from time to time, to get in and gain such an ascendancy as to cause divisions, and to compel the lovers of truth to separate from the multitude, mere remnants have been found to have escaped the prevailing corruptions or errors; so that the declaration of Scripture, “A remnant shall be saved,” applies not only to national Israel, but also to the visible church down to the present hour. I think, also, if the children of God will reflect on their own individual experience of the judgments of God upon them, in leaving them to encounter sore temptations, and in leaving them to feel something of the power of their own corruptions, they then have been brought to feel how weak was all their resistance, and it has not been till all hope was gone that they should be saved or escape, that the Lord appeared for their deliverance, and like Paul and his companions, when they escaped from the dreaded shipwreck of their profession, it was only on planks or broken pieces of the ship. So that they have known there was no safety in the ship, nor in themselves, nor in any resolutions, nor plans of theirs to weather the storm; and that nothing but the interposing mercy of God saved them. Hence all boasting in their strength, in their resolutions, in their love to holiness, &c., was excluded, and shame and self-abasement followed. Again, bodily and family afflictions, want, embarrassment in business, have been visited upon others as judgments, and when this has been the case they have been left for a season to darkness and unbelief; and under the influence of these, they have concluded that these adverse providences were evidences against their being children of God, and that they were but the beginning of God’s wrath against them for their hypocrisy in professing religion. Even unbelief had evidently got the better of Paul, when he said, “All hope that we should be saved was then taken away.” For before he left Jerusalem the Lord had stood by him and said, “Be of good cheer Paul, for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.” Acts 23:11. But this was forgotten of Paul, when “neither sun, nor stars in many days appeared, and no small tempest lay on them.” How many of the children of God have experienced such seasons spiritually, and if Paul could be left thus to unbelief, no wonder their unbelief of nature should prevail, when thus tried, until God is pleased to send some angelic message to them to revive their faith, as he did in Paul’s case. Acts 27:23. In fact, this shipwreck of Paul’s throughout, is a striking illustration of Peter’s declaration in our text, “If the righteous scarcely be saved,” &c. But when it is applied to the eternal salvation of the saints, as Arminian preachers frequently apply it, there is a gross degradation of Christ and of the efficacy of his blood, for it would represent Christ, the glorious ark of safety, could be broken in pieces. Amidst all these hair-breath escapes which the children of God meet in this world, and all that despondency of soul which they are left to, so that all hope is taken away that they shall be saved, the angel of the Lord stands by them, and as the angel said unto Paul, “Lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee,” so Christ, the angel of the covenant says, in his word unto his disciples, “Not an hair of your head shall perish. In your patience possess ye your souls.” Luke 21:18,19.

If the righteous thus scarcely be saved, when God visits them with his judgments for their wanderings, and their worldly mindedness, “where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear,” when God, laying judgment to the line and righteousness to the plumet, shall visit them for the enmity and rage they have manifested to his people and cause? This question, brother Jackson, I presume, does not wish me to answer. It is enough for us to know that God will deal righteously with them, and will vindicate his own and his people’s cause, that where they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, he will give them blood to drink.

Yours in love,
Fairfax County, Va., Oct.9, 1856.