Near Lexington Ky., April 20, 1841.
DEAR BROTHER BEEBE: – The 3d no., current vol. of the “Signs,” did not come to hand until a few days since: in looking over it I find a request from a “Correspondent” for my views on 1 John iii. 2, 3:
“Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself even as he is pure.”
Your “Correspondent” will perceive that the epistle is directed to Jewish believers generally, many of whom entertained very erroneous ideas in relation to the great principles of the christian religion. To correct those errors, and encourage to the discharge of christian duty, seems to have been the design of the Apostle.
The first error which the Apostle undertakes to correct seems to have been that which the enemies of truth have falsely charged against “Old School Baptists,” viz.: “That a sound declaration of faith (unaccompanied with a pious life and godly conversation) is all that is required to gain membership with Old School churches. To this charge “Old School Baptists” in the west respond, in the language of the Apostle, “If we say we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness [fail to exhibit the characteristics of the christian] we lie, and do not the truth: but if we walk in the light [if our conduct and conversation are such as becometh the gospel of Christ] we have fellowship one with another in the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” The Apostle proceeds to show who they are who walk in darkness, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” Such persons are blinded by the god of this world, and consequently are ignorant of their true character, feel no need of the cleansing blood of the Lord Jesus, and have no right to claim interest in his advoocacy. But those who walk in the light are convinced of the impurity of their hearts, the corruption of their nature realize the truth: “In me, that is in my flesh dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good I find not.” Hence they place a high estimate on the blood of atonement, in which alone they can hope for forgiveness: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Being convinced they cry, “Against thee only have I sinned.” “God be merciful to me a sinner.” “Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy upon me.” The first chapter is closed by warning those who say “we have not sinned,” that they make him a liar.
The 2d chapter is introduced with an admonition to abstain from sin, but being well aware of the frailty and imperfection of our nature, he encouraged his little children in the following remarks: “And if any man sin [that is any one of us] we [Jewish believers] have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous,” who pleads the merits of his blood in behalf of his redeemed, and whose name shall be called THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. “and he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for our sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” That is, he is the covering of our sins; has blotted them out; “redeemed us from all iniquity;” obtained “eternal redemption for us,” i. e., Jewish believers; and not for our sins only, but also for the sins of God’s elect among the gentiles. It is manifest that one of the errors into which the Jewish believers had fallen, was that the gentiles had no interest in the meditation of the Lord Jesus Christ, hence Paul said, “And when James, Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave unto me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, [gentiles] and they unto the circumcision” [Jews.] Gal. ii. 9. See Acts x. And xi. “When they [Jewish disciples] heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, then hath God also to the gentiles granted repentance unto life.” Acts xi. 18. See also John xi. 51, 52: “And this spake he not of himself: but being High Priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; and not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.” Hence it is manifest that John believed in the efficacy of the atonement of Christ, that he should gather together all the children of God, whether Jews or gentiles, that were scattered over the earth in one body. This was the object of the mediation of Christ, “And they sun a new song, saying, Thou art worthy: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by the blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people and nation.” Rev. v. 9. Not that thou hast redeemed all the kindreds, tongues, people, and nations: had the text read thus there would have been some plausability in the doctrine of general atonement. The special revelation of the atonement of Christ to his elect is too abundantly manifest in the sacred volume to elicit controversy among the followers of the Lamb, as is shown from the following quotations: “And I lay down my life for the sheep.” John x. 15. “Feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood,” Acts xx.28. “Husbands love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church and gave himself for it.” Eph. v. 25. “Neither by the blood of goats and calves but by his own blood, he entered once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.” Heb. ix. 12. “For by one suffering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified.” Heb. x. 14. “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us.” Gal. Iii. 13.
The Apostle proceeds to inform his brethren how they may determine whether they have a right to claim interest in Christ’s blood: “And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.” The Master said, “If ye keep my commandments ye shall abide in my love.” – John xv. 10. And then he assigns reasons why he has written unto them – exhorts them to love and to good works – informs them that anti-christ has come, and lays down a rule for his detection – proves the doctrine of the trinity – reminds them of the promise: “And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life.” After again telling them why he had written to them, concerning them that seduce you, and shewing the effects of the anointing which they had received, he concludes the chapter with an exhortation to abide in him – trust no where else – there is no other Saviour – “None other name under heaven given among men whereby ye must be saved.” “Trust ye in the Lord forever, for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength.”
He introduces the 3d chap. with calling their attention to the “Manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God, therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.” “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came to his own, and his own received him not (the Jews as a nation.) But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become (manifestavely) the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” Hence it is seen that none believe on his name but such as are born of God – born again – born of the Spirit. He invites their special attention to the manner of that love: it is eternal, everlasting – “Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love, therefore with loving kindness I have drawn thee.” The cause assigned for our loving him is given: “We love him because he first loved us.” He loved us “While we were yet sinners” – whilst “dead in sins,” – “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” – Rom. v. 8. “Since thou was precious in my sight thou hast been honorable and I have loved thee.” Isa. xliii. He loved us without any cause within us to sperinduce that love. He loved them and gave them “Grace in Christ Jesus before the world began.” “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us even when we were dead in sins hath quickened us together with Christ.” He displays his love in dispensing his grace in quickening our souls: – hence, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God:” not that we only just now became the sons of God, but the truth of our Sonship is just now manifested: “And because yea are sons God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying Abba Father.” Gal. iv. 6. “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” Christ, their spiritual Father, having imparted spiritual life to them, they are led by the Spirit of God to an acquaintance with the divine character, whence they learn
“How vain are all things here below,
How false and yet how fair!
Each pleasure hath its poison too,
And every sweet a snare:”
“The thought of foolishness is sin,” and are brought to renounce all confidence in the flesh, and rely exclusively on the atoning blood of Christ for acceptance in the presence of God. Their “affections are placed on things above,” and they are brought to realize that “In the Lord have I righteousness and strength.” His word becomes the man of their counsel: they are found “inquiring in his temple.” His laws and ordinances are their delight. They fear his name, and the “Son of righteousness arises with healing in his wings: they go forth and grow up as calves of the stall,” being enabled to say “My beloved is mine, and I am his.” “The Lord is my strength and my shield: he also is become my salvation.” This God is our God forever and ever; he will be our guide even unto death.” “Beloved, now are we the sons of God;” we now enjoy a comfortable hope of interest in his merits; rely upon his atoning sacrifice; appropriate his promises; trust his grace to sustain us in this wilderness of sorrow, remembering he has said, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee, therefore we may boldly say the Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.” “My grace is sufficient for thee.” “As thy day, so shall thy strength be.” “Fear not little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper, and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn: this is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord.” We have received his testimony, and set to “our seal that God is true.” He has spoken truth concerning our awfully wretched and helpless conditions as sinners; has pointed us to the only Saviour; we have realized peace in believing in his name and trusting in his blood; and although “It doth not appear what we shall be, yet we know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” Faithfulness in the discharge of christian duty gives confidence of future blessedness, and nothing is so transporting to the christian’s soul as the thought of being like Jesus: unworthy as I am, yet I feel encouraged to look to that day “When these vile bodies shall be changed and fashioned like his glorious body,” and humbly hope that I shall be of that happy number, because “salvation is of the Lord:” “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he hath saved us by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour.”
“Amazing grace how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me:
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.
‘Twas grace that caused my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear,
The hour I first believed!
The Lord has promised good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease;
I shall possess within the vail,
A life of joy and peace.
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sum forbear to shine;
But God who call’d me here below,
Will be forever mine.”
Well may such considerations transport the soul of the believer, “When he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” “For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, O death where is thy sting? O grave where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law, But thanks be unto God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” “And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself even as he is pure.” His faith in a precious Redeemer leads him to “Live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world, looking to Jesus who is the Author and Finisher of that faith.” He is zealous to keep his commandments that he may abide in his love, even as Jesus kept his Father’s commandments and abide in his love. He looks to Jesus as the great Exempler of the christian life, and desires to imitate his glorious example, to be “Faithful even unto death that he may receive a crown of life that fadeth not away.” The love of Christ constraineth him “to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with his God.” As they are “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ,” they feel that they should suffer with him, that they may be glorified together. In a word, brother Beebe, I would not give a cent for that man’s religion which does not influence him to deny himself “ungodliness and worldly lusts,” and to desire to “shew forth the praises of him, who hath called him out of darkness into his marvelous light.” “As the body without the spirit is dead, even so faith without works is dead also.”
It is quite manifest that the Apostle, in the latter clause of the text under consideration, had reference to the pious life and godly conversation of such as indulged the hope alluded to. “He is pure,” considered in the Lord Jesus Christ. “And ye are complete in him who is the Head of all principality and power.” “Thou art all fair my love, there is not spot in thee.” Notwithstanding which, he carries about him a body of sin and death which frequently extorts the cry, “Oh wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” “For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.”
Affectionately, as ever,
THOMAS P. DUDLEY.
P.S., BROTHER BEEBE: – As you will perceive from the date, the foregoing communication was prepared almost two years since, but owing to the feeling manifested through some of the communications published in the “Signs,” I concluded to withhold it for the time. In looking over some papers a day or two since I found it and concluded to send it on to be disposed of as your judgment may dictate.
Signs of the Times
Volume 11, No. 7
April 1, 1843