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CIRCULAR LETTERS.

The Delaware Baptist Association, to the Brethren whom they represent, send love in the Lord.

DEAR BRETHREN: – We are yet in the wilderness surrounded with a variety of circumstances, rendering this a Bochim, a land of weeping. But we are not left to grope our way in the dark; but have a sure word of prophecy, to which we do well to take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day-star arise on our hearts.

In view of these afflictive circumstances to which we are exposed, the Apostle says: “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the First-fruits of them that slept.” Two ideas are here brought to view, the first is, that no people are more afflicted in this world than the followers of the Lamb: and second, that the hope of the resurrection affords the strongest consolation under them. Job received it as such when he said, For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth; and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God; whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another; though my veins be consumed within me. Job xix. 25-27. We cannot think that by flesh he meant the human nature of Christ, nor by eyes the eyes of faith, but the connexion (we think) will warrant the conclusion that he meant his own body which was then the seat of loathsome disease, but he consoled himself in the delightful contemplation of the change through which it should pass, and the perfect state in which it should appear in the morning of the resurrection. David says, As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness. I shall be satisfied when I awake with thy likeness. Psalms xvii. 15. Not that we are to suppose the Psalmist is now imperfect in happiness, no dissatisfaction in the common acceptation of the term can now molest his glorified spirit; it is perfectly happy. But his faith then looked forward to the resurrection of the body, as the last link in the golden chain of redemption; so the idea, as we understand it, is, Then shall my redemption be complete when I awake in the likeness of my glorious Redeemer, and not till then. This idea is fully confirmed by Paul to the Phillippians: “For our conversation is in heaven, from whence we look for the Saviour who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body.” Phil. iii. 20-21. Not give us new bodies which never before existed, but change our vile bodies and make them like unto his glorious or glorified body. Christ, previous to his death, had an innocent body, but subject to infirmities: he hungered, thirsted, &c., but after his resurrection he had a glorious or glorified body, and this glorious body constitutes the perfect model after which he will fashion the bodies of his saints. Consoling as is this doctrine, it meets with opposition, and that from some Baptists; but we find those objections generally if not uniformly founded in human philosophy. Vain man fain would be wise, and because he cannot reconcile this doctrine to his notions of philosophy, he rejects it as inadmissible. But we do not pretend to reach this sublime height by human reason; we admit that it is infinitely beyond its utmost stretch, and that it is purely a doctrine of revelation. To the law and to the testimony, if they speak not according to that, it is because there is no light in them. However, while we admit that it is above reason, we contend that it is not contrary to it. The creation of the world and its contents is above reason, (for by faith we understand that the worlds were framed,) but it is not contrary to it: the fact exists, and we are bound to believe it. The resurrection is above reason, though not contrary to it; when we reflect that the same power that created the world, is pledged to raise the dead; and is it incredible with you that God should raise the dead? Let us select a few of the proofs of this doctrine; and the first we shall select is in Matthew xxii. 23, 32. The Sadducees in this instance endeavored to embarrass Christ by presenting what they supposed an unanswerable objection to it; but after detecting their ignorance of the scripture and the power of God, Christ drew an evidence in its support from the declaration of God to Moses. I am, said he, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and asserts that God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. It may be thought strange, that he should have made this quotation, there are so many instances in the Old Testament where the subject is so plainly asserted; but he was talking to Sadducees who (it is said) admitted the authenticity of the books of Moses only, and hence the beautiful propriety of the quotation. But to the proof: This declaration was made long after the death of those men, and if their bodies were annihilated so as never again to rise, then their identity would be forever lost. It is by the existence of the body that identity is preserved: if the bodies of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, were not to rise, then they no longer exist as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; nor can they ever exist as such, nor did they exist as such when the above declaration was made.

In John v. 28, 29, this doctrine is clearly asserted: “Marvel not at this, for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in their graves shall hear his voice,” &c. Here is evidently a change of subjects: in verse 25 he was speaking of sinners dead in trespasses and sins, a work which has been going on from the foundation, and will continue till the last of God’s elect shall have been brought in. At this they marvelled, but he said unto them, Marvel not at this, for if this (as though he should have said) is so marvellous in your eyes, here is something more wonderful still. There is evidently a difference between the two events; the one is progressive, which is still going on: The hour is coming, and now is. The other is altogether future: the hour is coming, and to guard confounding the two subjects, the peculiar condition of the subjects of this wonderful change is stated: They that are in their graves; it cannot therefore apply to the quickening of the sinner, for though he is dead in sin, he is not in the grave. Again: the universality of the declaration forbids such an application, all that are in their graves. But all that are dead in trespasses and sin will not be made to live in a spiritual sense, neither will it do to apply it to the spirits as some would apply it, for the spirits of men are not confined to their graves. It is evident from the most obvious construction that the bodies of the men are intended, and that of all men, both righteous and unrighteous. Yet there is nothing in this passage to militate against a two-fold resurrection, for the dead in Christ shall rise first, and this pre-eminence is secured to them through the redemption that is in Christ, which redemption secured the glorious resurrection of the body as well as the salvation of the soul. In Psalm xlix. 14, David says of the wicked, Like sheep they are laid in the grave, death shall feed upon them, and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning. In the morning of the resurrection, no doubt, when the voice of the Son of God shall be heard; and such will be its power as to reach the deep caverns of the grave: yea, the sea shall give up its dead, the cave of Macpelah shall surrender its precious deposite, and we shall then see that the identity of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, shall have been preserved inviolate.

O glorious hour, O blessed above,
I shall be near, and like my God!

In the interview between Christ and Martha, occasioned by the death of Lazarus, Martha said, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. John xi. 24. Here we see that Martha fully believed in the resurrection of that identical body over which she was then weeping. I know that he shall rise, &c. She also believed there was a period in advance when there should be a general resurrection of the dead. I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. Now if this is an error, Martha was a subject of it, and we cannot think that the Master would have let it pass without correction. He would (perhaps) have said, Martha, you are in an error on this subject, such an event is impossible. How can the body, after having been decomposed, ever rise again? Such an idea is at war with all the principles of philosophy. But he replies, I am the Resurrection and the Life. I have the power of the resurrection in my own hands, and need not wait until that day to make it know, but can exert it now as well as then, and directly proceeds to give an exemplification of it by raising Lazarus from the tomb; and no greater power is requisite to raise the whole body of the saints than was displayed in raising Lazarus. But he has done more than this; he has asserted his power over death and the grave more fully by his own resurrection, by which he has left a certain pledge to all his chosen that they shall share in the same glorious victory. In support of this conclusion, the Apostle Paul connects the two events as inseparable, 1 Cor. xv. 16, For if the dead rise not, then is Christ not raised. There is evidently an agreement between Christ and the dead in this connexion they are both of the same kind identically, and if the raising of the dead here means only their regeneration, then the resurrection of Christ intended the same; a conclusion which, if admitted, would go to frustrate the whole plan of redemption, as it would place him in the same fallen and degenerate condition (by nature) as are his people, from which conclusion the mind of the christian revolts with horror. But the resurrection of the body is so evidently the subject here treated on, that to doubt it would be to reject the most natural and obvious construction of the language. Here then we are furnished with a conclusive evidence of the resurrection of the dead, to come at which we are not left to tax our logical and metaphysical powers, nor yet to follow the more uncertain guide of vain philosophy. But it is supported by a plain scriptural fact, and one ounce of fact is worth more than a thousand tons of speculative philosophy. There are two circumstances connected with this fact which go to place it beyond the reach of doubt: first, in the abundance of the testimony. In the Jewish law two witnesses were sufficient to substantiate any one fact; but here we have a host of testimony, an enumeration of testimony; an enumeration of which we have in 1 Cor. xv. 6-8: and that he was seen of Cephas and then of the twelve, and after that he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once, of whom the great part remain unto this present, but some have fallen asleep. After that he was seen of James, then of all the Apostles, and last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. Second. The character of the witnesses was such as to command our unqualified belief, but the proof of this we will defer till an objection is produced of sufficient importance to deserve a refutation, to produce which would defy the powers of earth and hell. The importance of this subject gives it a peculiar claim on our attention: it is found among the fundamental principles of the system of redemption. That it constituted an important feature in the ministry of the Apostles, is evident from various passages in the Acts. It was one of the main charges brought against them by their enemies. And as they spake unto the people, the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection of the dead, they laid hands on them and put them in hold. Acts vi. 1-3. Here the weight of the charge on them was preaching the resurrection of the dead. Again, Acts xxii. 6: When Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other, Pharisees, he cried out in the council, Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of a Pharisee; of the hope and resurrection of the dead, I am called in question. Here again the resurrection constituted a main charge, and after having in the most unequivocal manner denied the charge brought against him by Tertullas, and put him to his defence for proof, he then addressed himself to Felix and observed: But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things written in the law and the prophets, and have hope toward God, which they themselves also believe, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and of the unjust. Acts xxiv. 14, 15. Here we see that the resurrection was found in the law and the prophets, and that although his enemies acknowledged its truth, yet it was brought as a main charge against him, as will appear from 21st verse of said chapter. Except it be for this one voice that I cried standing among them, touching the resurrection of the dead, I am called in question this day. But let us examine the conclusions to which the Apostle arrives on the supposition that the dead rise not. These will be found in 1 Cor. xv. 14-17. And first, If the dead rise not, then hath Christ not rise, and of course all that delightful association of ideas connected with that event falls to the ground, and Peter was mistaken in that animated exclamation found in his first Epistle, 1 chapter, 3, and 4. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again to a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away; reserved in heaven for you who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time. Now all this delightful association of ideas is built on the reserved of Christ from the dead. But if the dead rise not, then is the foundation imaginary. The beautiful superstructure must fall, and Peter and all associated with him must lie eternally buried in its ruins. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the First Fruits of them that slept. The second is, That the Apostles are found false witnesses of God unto us; they unitedly bore testimony of the resurrection of Christ from the dead. /But if the dead rise not, then their testimony is false, and they stand charged with the odious character of false witnesses, and that of the worst kind. The importance of testimony is to be determined by the value of the consideration at issue. He that would deprive a man of his estate by false testimony is highly culpable, but he that would deprive a fellow being of his life, is more so. But those who would form a combination to deceive millions in relation to their eternal interests, are more criminal than either of the above. On the supposition that this is true of them, they would come fully under the character described by Jude 13, Wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever. There are certain stars that are of vast importance to the mariner; the north star for instance; but let us suppose that the helmsman should, through a mistake, fix his eye on a moveable planet instead of the polar star, we may easily conclude that the consequences would be disastrous both to the ship and crew. We have been wont to fix our eyes on the Apostles as a constellation of fixed stars in the gospel firmament; but let us suppose ourselves deceived in this (which is certainly the case if the dead rise not) and it will require no great effort of mind to come to the conclusion; a conclusion which will paralyze our fondest hopes, and leave us the most wretched victims of the most awful delusion.

Again: If the dead rise not our faith is vain. Christ and him crucified has been the object of our faith, and indeed of all that class of men called believers from Abel, the first martyr, down to the present, and will be in all future ages. But if the dead rise not, then the great enemy of souls will prove completely victorious, and his horrid den resound with acclamations of triumph.

Again: If the dead rise not we are yet in our sins, and if so, how and our delusion; how false and treacherous that peace we have derived of a hope of their forgiveness through the blood of the Lamb. How dreadful they once appeared when set in array before us, when for number they were like the stars in the firmament, and for guilt like mountains pressing us down. In view of which we stood like condemned criminals awaiting our dreadful sentence, Depart ye cursed, &c. But to our unspeakable joy (when least expected) Jesus appeared as our Days’ Man, and whispered peace and pardon to our trembling souls: we were enabled to run into his name as into a strong tower, from the enemy, as a refuge from the avenger of blood, and as a hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest. In a word, we found in him every thing we could wish. Since then we have been buoyed up under the fond hope that our sins have been cast behind his back into the sea of forgetfulness, and though sought for shall never be found. We have been wont to take comfort from such promises as these: I have blotted but as a thick cloud thy transgressions, and as a cloud thy sins: return unto me, for I have redeemed thee. Isaiah xliv.22. Again: I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins. These and such like have been to us as apples of gold in pictures of silver, they have been health to our souls and marrow to our bones. But if the dead rise not this is all fatal deception, we are yet in our sins, and if so, yet under the curse, and must lie under its dreadful weight to all eternity.

But, brethren, are we prepared to admit a hypothesis that must lead to such awful conclusions? We hope not: and these conclusions are not the hideous fancy of a disordered imagination, they are the solid deductions, the sober conclusions of that master reasoner, the great Apostle of the Gentiles. Yea, more: of the Holy Ghost, to whom the Apostle stood related, merely as the pen in the hand of the writer. From the importance given to this doctrine by the Apostle, we cannot consent to class it with those views on which a difference of opinion does not involve the question of fellowship. How can two walk together except they be agreed? And we do sincerely believe that an agreement in the fundamental principles of the gospel is necessary to constitute christian fellowship, and among these we feel bound to rank the doctrine of the resurrection of the body.

And now, dear brethren, we commend you to God and the word of his grace, which is able to make you wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus, to whom be glory forever, AMEN.

THOMAS BARTON, Mod.
Joseph Hughes, Clerk.

Signs of the Times.
Volume 11, No. 19.
October 1, 1843