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TRYING THE SPIRITS.

Near Lexington, Ky., Dec.19, 1870.

MY DEAR BROTHER BEEBE: - The inquiry is frequently made of me, Why do you not write more for the SIGNS OF THE TIMES? I can most truly say, It is not because I feel less interest in its success than formerly. My correspondence has been, and still is pretty extensive, and as I grow older I find my wounded shoulder gives me much more pain from writing than formerly. Hence it is becoming more of a task to write than in my younger days. In addition to which, the correspondents of the SIGNS are becoming more numerous, and I prefer giving way to them, thinking the patrons of the SIGNS may probably be more edified by their communications than from anything I may write. I regret much to see a spirit of intolerance abroad in the land, which tends rather to anything else than to godly edifying. The Bereans of old left an example for modern saints worthy of imitation. “These were nobler than they of Thessalonica, because they searched the scriptures daily, to see whether these things are so.”

The church has not yet arrived at her perfect state. “Now we see only in part.” Controversy, when guided by the spirit of the gospel, tends to the elucidation of truth. It is not allowable while in the present state of things, that we should engage in factious opposition, or should become piqued, because another has avowed sentiments that we cannot, at the present, comprehend the doctrine taught. We wrong ourselves and others when this spirit is manifested. No prophecy of scripture is subject to any private interpretation. Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. While we dare not claim divine inspiration, yet it is our privilege and duty to “try the spirits, whether they be of God.” I have no idea that any member of Christ’s mystical body on earth understands the entire volume of God’s holy word, and there seems some presumption on the part of Doctor Gill, Henry, Clark, and others, in attempting to give an exposition of the whole. While I am not sure but the church, in the persons of her members, combined, do not comprehend that portion which is “revealed to us and to our children,” according to the record given. I think I may say truly that in the last fifty years I have had dark and mysterious portions opened up to my understanding by God’s ministers, and private members of the flock of God.

The apology sometimes offered for objecting to new expositions of the sacred text, that our fathers and Elders, under whose ministry we have feasted on fat things, “marrow and fatness, wine upon the lees, well refined,” never advanced such ideas, is wholly inadmissible, unless we are prepared to take the ground that those fathers were divinely inspired. In the latter case we could see no propriety in the caution, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits, whether they be of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” Again, “To the law, and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word it is because there is no light in them.” If, indeed, we many times feel that “we need one to teach us which be the first principles of the oracles of God,” we should rather be thankful to God that he gave apostles, and prophets, and evangelists, and pastors and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ; till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the fulness of the stature of Christ.” I reckon our brethren will hardly contend that we have already arrived at that perfect state. If not, do we desire an increase of knowledge of divine things? Where a temperate and christian attempt to elucidate a part of divine truth is made by our brethren, would it not be more consistent with the christian character to “search the scriptures to see if these things be so,” rather than become impatient, and disposed to charge an attempt to propagate new things, without satisfying ourselves that the supposed new things are, or are not true things? A minister of Christ should be especially cautious that he propagate nothing to the flock that he is not willing should be criticized, and tested by the infallible standard of truth. Unwillingness to submit to such criticism betrays a disposition to be wise above that which is written, or to assume that which we cannot now accord to mortals – infallibility. I have now been a professed teacher in the church of God for more than fifty years, and I think I can say most conscientiously, that I have not desired the church to receive anything from me as gospel, which is not clearly sustained by the word of God. I am fully satisfied that no teaching can profit the church which is in conflict with the testimony borne by the Savior, his prophets and apostles.

May not the restiveness and impatience occasionally manifested by correspondents, have driven from the list some of the ablest writers for the SIGNS? Is not the church likely to suffer in her increase of knowledge from this source?

Whilst we all admit that we are imperfect, what better plan suggests itself to correct our errors in theory or practice, than a free interchange of views on the various points in the christian system? The contrast between truth and error, whence the exhortation, “That ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints.”

From our surroundings, I am not authorized to believe that saints on earth are free from the influence of judaizing teachers, or that they are all sound in the faith; and yet we occasionally hear them say, rather impatiently, O, go on and preach, and let other people alone. Is this the spirit of the gospel? Hear an apostle: “Rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith.” Again, “Reprove, rebuke and exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” And yet again, “My brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him, let him know that he that converteth a sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and hide a multitude of sins.” Shall we heed the importunities of brethren whose sympathies are enlisted in behalf of weak brethren, lest they be offended, or obey our Master?

Brother Beebe, you are fully aware of the controversies I have been party to, on the doctrine of justification; the indissovable union of Christ and the church; and the circular on the “Origin, nature, and effects of the christian warfare,” with several other topics, and yet have I not desired that my views should prevail, unless they should be found in strict harmony with the word of God, and I think I can say most sincerely, that so far from being unwilling that those views should be criticized, and brought directly to the Bible and christian experience, which is in harmony with the teachings of the word of God, I have been most anxious that they should be fully tested by the standard, and if found unharmonious therewith, that I might be convinced of the error. Yet, I must say, each and all those papers have met the closest scrutiny, and sometimes seemingly ill-natured comments, and denunciations, I have yet to be convinced that in them, the doctrine which is according to godliness, has not been taught.

You will not have forgotten, brother Beebe, how reluctant I was to publishing the circular on the christian warfare, when I found the pre-conceived views of some of the brethren to be antagonistic to its teachings. I do not now regret its publication, being, as I have no doubt it is, not only my own experience, but the experience of those who have gone before, and who “spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost,” as I find on record in the Bible. The unkind throws, the mis-representations, the perversions, and censures cast upon it, have done their office, in causing the word of God to be read, and as was said on another occasion, “I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.” I most ardently desire its teachings to be tested by the scriptures. To tell me, as many have, Our old preachers, whom we loved, did not preach the doctrine, is no substantial argument against it. Did Paul, and Peter, and James, and the Master, preach it? If so, the doctrine cannot be overturned, and to oppose it is to oppose what every christian finds in his or her own experience.

The Licking Association, composed of fifteen or sixteen churches, scattered over a large territory, are, so far as I know or believe, a unit with regard to those points of doctrine, and have expressed not only a willingness, but a desire that those who differ, try them by the standard of faith and practice, and if not true expose them.

But what have our brethren to offer in substitution of those truths expressed in the doctrine taught, and which have so often warmed our hearts and strengthened our hope in a Savior’s blood and righteousness? Assured we are that when any shall disprove by the word of God the antagonism existing in every christian’s bosom, between the “old man which is corrupt with his deeds,” and the “new man which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness,” out of which grows the warfare, we shall not only be prepared to surrender all hope of salvation, but to surrender the Bible as the word of God. If our brethren really think our views so easily confuted, and theirs so easily maintained by the holy oracles of God, are they not remiss in duty by not making the attempt? But, brother Beebe, I occasionally meet brethren who talk very much to the point when they speak of the effects which result from being born again; the fightings and strivings which so disturb the peace of God’s children; but when enquired of regarding the sources of that antagonism, seem to be entirely in the dark. They insist that some part of the old or earthly man is by some process, which they cannot explain, transformed into the “new man,” one of the contending parties. I tell them, I have not so learned Christ. I conclude the old man is an entire old man, composed of soul, body and spirit, and bears the image and likeness of his natural father; and the new man is an entire new man, bearing the exact image of his spiritual Father. The old man, being born of the flesh, is flesh. No change in his nature by the birth; and the new man, born of the Spirit, is spirit; the birth causing no change in his nature.

It would be quite as inconsistent for men to expect to gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles, or that part of the thorn was transformed into the thistle, as that any part of the Adamic man was a component part of the new man. The first man is of the earth, earthy, [soul, body and spirit.] The second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they that are earthy; and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. This doctrine is fully taught by the Savior in the declaration, “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die it bringeth forth much fruit.” Let us consider, that according to the laws of nature, nothing will ever be developed from that corn of wheat that has not a life existence in the germ before it fell into the ground. Hence it is said of the product, First the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear. The law of nature is carried out, and the seed produces his kind. It is quite as irrational to suppose that Adam could produce, or contribute to the production of a spiritual substance, as to suppose that men will gather a crop of tobacco from corn planted in the spring of the year, or that a buckeye planted will produce an oak or apple tree. It was quite as necessary that Christ should assume, not “the nature of angels, but the seed of Abraham,” that he should be “made like unto his brethren,” “partake of flesh and blood,” “fall into the ground,” that is, be “made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law;” fall into the “body which thou hast prepared me,” which is represented by the ground, and die the just for the unjust, as that he “should ever live to make intercession for us.”

We know that the rough exterior of the grain of corn must necessarily become decomposed or die, else the tender germ could never burst through it. Why all this? Because the adopted children, born of the flesh, were involved in sin and transgression, the law and justice of God holding claims against them, which must be fully met and canceled, or they could not be saved. Hence his whole work, sufferings and death, was for and on behalf of his people, who had gone into transgression. Those who have charged us with holding that nothing has been done for the sinner, should be ashamed of their calumny. Hence it is seen that just so long as the germ held oneness with the corn of wheat, in the figure, after the similitude, just as long as Christ has existed, his people had a living existence in him.

Brother Beebe, as the weather is too inclement to be out, I thought I would sit down and write you of matters and things in general, with some matters which are very special with christians, on which their hope of everlasting happiness is suspended. The older I grow, and the more I see and hear of the errors, delusions and false ways which are so industriously propagated by men professing to be ministers of Christ, to the subverting and leading astray from the simplicity of the truth, the more I feel like “spending and being spent” in its defense. I cannot perceive that age [although now more than seventy eight years] has at all cooled my ardor in maintaining the truth. With all my weakness, I feel that truth, gospel truth, is a jewel worth fighting for.

I learn from a distant brother, with whom I have no personal acquaintance, that a minister, who visited us some years since, when the controversy on the union of Christ and his church, and the circular on the warfare, were being canvassed more than at any other period I have known, and who, at that time, as is well remembered by many brethren, professed to be cordially with us in sentiment, now is so hostile to me that, learning the brother held correspondence with me, became so incensed that he would not speak to, but “treaded him with silent contempt.” I do not envy him his peace of mind in harboring his enmity against me.

Brother Beebe, a great deal of the preaching we have in these days of darkness and delusion, reminds me of a circumstance which occurred many years since. One of our old and tried sisters said to Elder Corbin, I heard Elder _____ preach the other day. Well, how did you like him, sister? said Elder Corbin. I did not like him at all, said the sister. But, said Elder C., did he not preach some good things? She replied, He quoted some scripture – that was good. But, said she, brother Corbin, I love milk, and if I were to see a mote, I could remove it and drink the milk; but if I found a rat drowned in it, I could drink none. It was a somewhat homely comparison, but I think a very forcible one. Such, indeed, is the most of the preaching had in our day, it is fouled with a dead rat, or something quite as loathsome.

Dispose of this long letter as you think most for the interest of Zion.

Most truly and affectionately your friend and brother,
Thomas P. Dudley.