Lexington, Ky., March, 1880.
ELDER G. BEEBE & SON – DEAR BRETHREN: - For more than sixty years I have esteemed the Bible as among the unappreciable blessings that our God has bestowed upon his church, containing everything needful for us to know, believe and do in his service; but what solid comfort or instruction could it afford us in the absence of that other inestimable blessing, the holy interpreter, of whom it is said, “He shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you?” Especially shall we remember, “The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” In my younger days, when blessed with sight, I read its holy pages occasionally with some pleasure, I trust, not without some profit; but then, as now, clouds obscured my path, and doubts and fears arose with regard to the salvation it teaches. I was made to adopt the language of the poet,
“But when, great God, thy light divine,
Had shone in this dark soul of mine,
Then I beheld with trembling awe,
The terrors of thy holy law.
How dreadful now my guilt appears,
In childhood, youth and growing years;
Before thy pure, discerning eye,
Lord, what a filthy wretch am I!”
Nor did I find peace or rest until the blessed Comforter turned my mind to the declaration, “For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit.” Since then I have not varied in my conclusion that “there is salvation in none other; for there is none other name under heaven given amongst men whereby we must be saved,” but the name of Jesus Christ. Therefore I can most cordially adopt the language of the poet,
“None but Jesus, none but Jesus,
Can do helpless sinners good.”
If there were no other medium of comfort or consolation while on our pilgrimage through this world than that which is derived from reading the written word, how sad would be my condition; but I rejoice to know that our God is able to speak comfort to the poor distressed heart, independently of the written word. I know not if at any period of my life I have had more comfort in meditating on the divine word than since I have been deprived of the privilege of reading. This brings me to contrast faith and sight. Our God is not a corporeal being, but a spirit, invisible to natural sight, but believed on by faith. Man is a corporeal being, and can be felt of; and so of God manifest in the flesh. God was invisible to sense. The man Christ Jesus was seen and heard when he tabernacled among men on the earth. Hence he said, “Handle me; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.” Thus we see he was possessed of two whole and distinct natures – the divine and the fleshly. Not like the earthly, created man, who was created with only one nature. While the man Christ Jesus was on earth, those who lived in that day saw him with their natural eyes, and the miracles which he performed; yet they did not perceive the Godhead bodily that dwelt in him. The Bible tells us, “No man hath seen God at any time.” And the Savior says, “No man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.” I suppose that no intelligent person will fail to perceive the difference between matter and spirit. Matter is something seen by the natural eye, and is tangible. On the other hand, the spirit is only seen by the eye of the understanding being enlightened, and is intangible. I presume that no intelligent christian will question the appropriateness of the illustration given by the Savior of the new birth, “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh and whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” He also said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” I shall be allowed to suggest a few thoughts in relation to the birth of the Spirit, in connection with a circumstance which occurred in Boone County, Kentucky, nearly thirty years ago. Elder Wilson Thompson and I preached there, and as we entered the pulpit an aged Baptist minister said to me, “Tell the people what man it is that is born of the Spirit.” After preaching, the same minister said, “Why did you not tell the people it was the Adam man that is born of the Spirit?” I replied, “My Bible don’t say so.” I suppose that is the idea of those who differ from us on the subject of the new birth. But who, and of what is the Adam man composed? He is of that family of which the Bible tells us, “All flesh hath corrupted his way before God.” He is composed of flesh, blood and bones, or soul, body and spirit. I was unable then, as I have ever been, to conceive how such a mass of corrupt matter could have such an inbeing in the incorruptible Spirit as to be “born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever.” If the Adam man be born of the Spirit, he is spirit, and would be imperceptible to our natural sight, or of the touch or handling of our hands, as of the Spirit of which he is said to be born. We see the destruction of life and property by the wind, yet we cannot see the wind. To illustrate, a man was seen yesterday rolling sin under his tongue as a sweet morsel, drinking down iniquity as the ox drinketh water, and was heard to boast of his good heart, his approved conscience, and of the bright prospect before him. Today the same man is seen with his head bowed down as a bulrush, loathing himself on account of the abominations of his heart, and exclaiming, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” With haggard looks and downcast eyes, as if despair had seized on him, under a sense of his just condemnation he says,
“If my soul were sent to hell,
Thy righteous law approves it well.”
By-and-by his countenance brightens up, he is filled with peace and joy, and exclaims, “Jesus is revealed to me as the way whereby God can be just and save a poor sinner.” Now we have seen with our natural eyes his varied countenance, and heard his exclamations, but the power of the divine spirit of our God by which the varied countenance and language is heard is as impervious to our natural sight as to the wind that blows; and “so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” There are some who contend that the soul is born of the Spirit, and is spirit. The Bible says that the man, soul, body and spirit is born of the flesh; and are equally liable to contract blame. This could not be the case if the soul was born of the Spirit; for an apostle has said, “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” Intelligent persons concur in the belief that the soul is the intelligent part of man, that it exercises for the body and its members, and that they act and move at its bidding. If the soul is born of the Spirit, the body and its members will be incapable of sinning. Believer, have you no vain and foolish thoughts, nor unclean desires? Have you ceased to realize “that when I would do good, evil is present with me,” or, “the good that I would, I do not, but the evil that I would not, that do I?” Have you ceased to feel a war within? If you have no internal conflict, and can serve God as you wish, you have had a much more comfortable life than I have had for more than sixty years. Paul said, “I know that in me [that is, in my flesh] dwelleth no good thing.” The soul is located somewhere within the man that is born of the flesh; and Christ said, “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things [spiritual things] from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight.” I have known Gilbert Beebe after the flesh, as I have known other men, composed of soul, body and spirit, for nearly forty-six years, and have distinguished him from other men by his natural physiognomy; but this afforded me no evidence that he was born of the Spirit. Paul says, “He is not a Jew [christian] which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew [christian] which is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.” The apostle Peter said, “Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” The apostles concluded that true and vital religion pertained to the “hidden man of the heart,” and is made known by the heart that believeth unto righteousness, and by the mouth that maketh confession unto salvation, and is utterly intangible and impervious to the natural sight or touch. But I sincerely hope that I have known brother Beebe for this number of years by his knowledge of those spiritual truths which none but those who are born of the Spirit and taught in the school of Christ can comprehend. Thus has the warm fellowship of my heart been drawn out to him as a servant of God called to the work of the ministry, as was Aaron of old, and proving his faith by his works. “By their fruits ye shall know them.”
Allow me to sum up. The elder Brother, the Lord Jesus, is partaker of two whole and distinct natures. He is both God and man. “There is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” The younger brethren partake of two whole and distinct natures. The old man is corrupt with his deeds; the new man, after God, is created in righteousness and true holiness. Now we see the old man with our natural eyes; but the time is coming when we will no longer know him after the flesh. Hence an apostle said, “As we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall [in the future] also bear the image of the heavenly.” But when? When death shall have done his office with the body, and Christ shall have changed our vile body, and fashioned it like unto his glorious body; when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality. Hence John said, “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.”
Brother Beebe, my mind has been exercised with many thoughts. I have been utterly unable to place them on paper. I am dependent on friends to do all my writing. If you shall, in perusing this long letter, conclude that there is anything to throw light on the subject, and to comfort the pilgrims to Zion’s city bound, as they journey through life, you may publish it; otherwise throw it aside. With warm affection your companion and brother in the afflictions and consolations of the gospel,
Thomas P. Dudley.