"And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire."
In the Signs for February 1, brother W. B. McAdams requests my views on the above text particularly, and includes the whole chapter in the request. Desiring at all times to be subject to the brethren, I will endeavor to comply with the wish of brother McAdams, as the Lord may give me ability, hoping it will be distinctly understood that in this, as in every case in which I write or speak, no more importance is claimed for what is presented than what is due to the views of a fallible worm of the dust. Should the Lord lead me to present his truth, the glory belongs to him alone: should he leave me to my own blinded imaginations, the shame of my ignorance will appear to my own discredit.
In considering any portion of revealed truth, it is important to remember that the subject is too great, and the record too solemn, to be approached with the vain and polluted reasoning of the carnal mind; much less may the curious eye of natural intelligence hope to pierce the impenetrable veil which the Father has been pleased to interpose between the finite mind of mortals and the glory of his own revelation. Even the simple record of the evangelists is no more than history to the wisdom of this world; and in the powerful and irresistible logic of the inspired apostles, the worldly wise could see only evidence of madness. But to those who have been taught of the Lord, the word of the Lord is in deed and truth glad tidings; that is, gospel. While all the inspired record is thus by the sovereign pleasure of God hidden from the comprehension of the natural mind, there is no portion of the sacred record more deeply concealed, even in the letter of it, than the Revelation of Jesus Christ as signified to his servant John. The wisdom of scientific divines has stultified itself in the very title of his book by calling it "The Revelation of St. John the Divine," whereas the inspired apostle begins by declaring it to be "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him," &c. This was not given unto John, but the Lord Jesus sent and SIGNIFIED by his angel unto his servant John the mysteries recorded in this book.
It must, then, be borne in mind that all the marvelous record given herein is written in signs, and can no more be deciphered by the application of natural rules than the lights of heaven, which are ordained for signs in the natural firmament, may be read by the knowledge of the alphabet. As the direct revelation of the Father is the only power whereby anyone can know our Lord as the Son of God, so all the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God must be taught in the same way and by the same power. When it is his gracious will to reveal the glorious mystery recorded in any part of his word, it is manifested in the saint to whom he gives it, independently of intellectual powers or natural education. He shows his truth to an infant Samuel, or the unborn Jeremiah, or John, as easily as to the adult; and the educated Saul must feel his ignorance as deeply as the illiterate fishermen of Galilee. Nor can any of his people ever attain to strength to go alone, but all must ever feel dependent on his present grace.
The vision recorded in this chapter must be taken in its connection to express things signified therein, and not regarded as a literal record. The angel having the key of the bottomless pit, who bound the dragon, evidently signifies the Lord Jesus, who came down from heaven as the Angel or Messenger of the covenant, having the authority and power to do the will of God, by which he did through death destroy him that had the power of death, that is the devil, and in his resurrection he triumphantly led captivity captive. As the chain was in his hand when he came down from heaven, it is manifest that the result of his mission was in no wise uncertain. He came not to try to do the work given him to do, but to finish it, as he did, not leaving a jot or tittle unfulfilled. Thus his own arm [or power] brought salvation unto him, and his fury [or zeal] it upheld him. This was in his union with his body, the church, including all the children given to him in the eternal covenant of the immutable will of God. In his character as the eternal God he never needed salvation, for he was never lost; but as the Life of his body, "he was numbered with the trangressors, and he bare the sins of many, and made intercession for the transgressors." - See Isa. lxiii. and liii. 12. After the display of his victory over sin, death and hell, his exaltation and glory is signified, inverse four, by the thrones and the reigning power of their occupants, whose blessedness consists in their oneness with the Lord in his death, as in his life. This includes all his redeemed, as clearly stated by Paul in the inspired judgment delivered in 2 Cor. v. 14, "For the love of Christ constraineth us, because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead." And 2 Tim. ii. 11, "It is a faithful saying, For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him." Then, unquestionably these are they who have part in the first resurrection, on whom the second death hath no power. This blessedness is not offered as an inducement to influence the dead to take part in the first resurrection, as it is represented by those who preach an offered salvation; but the blessing is definite, and the partakers therein are specifically identified as they who shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years. Notice the positive declaration; there is no condition in the word. Like all the promises of God in Christ, it is clear, certain and sure. The specified time of their living and reigning I do not understand to indicate the years as measured in our finite chronology; but as the term exceeds our experience of time, so it is used to signify that life which our Lord calls eternal life, which can never perish. The experience of it here in time is limited to the span allotted to each of them here; but it is in them a well of water springing up into everlasting life. In this life every saint does reign with Christ; but not even the most favored of the apostles ever for a moment reigned without his presence.
The loosing of Satan after the thousand years are expired, cannot signify that his power shall then be unlimited by the supreme control of our Lord; but as he is said to have the power of death, it is the will of our God that he shall exhibit that power to the extent which shall develop the final deliverance of the saints from the bondage of corruption and result in good to them; thus manifesting the perfection of the glory of God. In the individual experience of each of the redeemed, the victory is given in all its effulgent glory, when they smiling joyously fall asleep in Jesus, with Stephen, and beholding the glorified Redeemer, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the spirit of the Lord. Looking on things seen by the natural mind, the dying saint seems to confess the triumph of Satan; but the faith of the Son of God converts the terrors of death into the gate of unimaginable bliss; when they can sing,
"Clasped in my precious Savior's arms,
I would forget my breath,
And lose my life amidst the charms
Of so divine a death."
In its application to the church in her organization, this loosing of Satan has been manifest from the primitive age to the present, as appears from the inspired record, and from the experience of the church since. But while wars and fighting among the saints attest the presence of this enemy among them, and the armies of their adversaries encompass them, the fire of the I word of God shall devour them all. And the devil that deceived them is consigned to the never ceasing condemnation signified by the lake of fire and brimstone, the abiding wrath of God, beyond the reach of hope.
The awfully sublime vision with which the chapter closes, of which the text is the conclusion, denotes the judgment of this world, which is rendered from the immaculate throne of the power of God, by the revelation of Jesus Christ. This judgment is not in the far distant future, but it is even now, as declared by the supreme Judge. - John xii. 31. He is now upon the throne of his power, and by his righteous word separating his sheep from the goats. The subjects of his grace are each of them made free from sin and death by the power of his own precious blood, justified freely by his grace, and shall not come into condemnation. Having passed the ordeal of the piercing scrutiny of divine justice and received the verdict of justification in their righteous Head, there is no more due to eternal justice from them; therefore they rest in the finished righteousness of their Redeemer, which is the only justification acceptable to God. This precious truth is made known to them by the Holy Spirit, who takes of the things of Jesus and shows unto them; and exactly as many as are led by the spirit of God are the sons of God, which includes all the children of Zion, as it is written in Isa. liv. 13. As God works in them to will and to do of his good pleasure, they can never be brought into bondage again, for they are no more under the law, but under grace. Hence the idea that they are to be again judged after time shall end, is inconsistent with itself and at variance with the plain testimony of the inspired record. The righteousness of God is theirs, and it is fully satisfactory for all his ransomed people. So that they are not merely saved from the penalty of their sins, but in their strong Redeemer they have righteousness in which they are perfect in him. These members of his body are all written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world; so that there can be no uncertainty as to who they are. They are kept by the power of God, therefore they cannot be lost. They are all known to the sovereign Judge, and there can be no need of a court of inquiry to identify them, after they have left this mortal state. Those dear children of God who have fallen asleep in Jesus and are enjoying the eternal rest of heaven, will not have to be arraigned again to ascertain their right to enjoy the light of God's favor. The dying thief did not have to wait till ages should drag their weary length away for his final judgment. He heard the precious word of assured peace even in his closing agony. TO-DAY, not after ages on ages have expired. "To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise." The inspired record clearly teaches the doctrine of the resurrection, and while I do not dare to claim that I understand that mystery, to which Paul sought to attain, and which did not yet appear to John, I tremblingly hope to realize its infinite glory when the body of this death shall be dissolved. How are the dead raised up? or with what body do they come? I dare not ask. It is enough for me to know what God has revealed in the scriptures; and there I would wait; while I have no controversy with any who may know more than has been shown to me on this vitally important doctrine.
The latter two verses of the chapter as quoted at the beginning of this article, being the close of the vision of the judgment, I could not detach from the connection in which the Spirit has placed them. The righteous judgment of God has disposed all his works in righteousness. And so even "death and hell are cast into the lake of fire." This is graciously explained to be the second death, which is just said, in verse six, to have no power on such as have part in the first resurrection. Unquestionably our Lord Jesus is the First Resurrection, and in him all his members have part. He is the Rock of our salvation. It is Christ in you which seals you as partakers in his resurrection life; and as that life is eternal, death has no power over it. While subject to vanity in this tabernacle, death works in our sinful nature, thus causing us to experience the tribulation assured us in the world. But all enemies are subjected to our victorious Lord, so that the certain destruction of this last enemy is expressly foretold. 1 Cor. xv. 26. Then only LIFE will survive when the last enemy shall have been destroyed.
Life is in the scriptures sometimes more than mere conscious existence. The natural man with all his carnal enmity against God, exists in natural life; yet in that condition he is said to be dead. And the apostle solemnly protests, saying, "I die daily." The close of the earthly career of the saints, I believe, is not after the resurrection of our Lord anywhere in the New Testament called dying, but only sleeping. They sleep, but they have not lost their life, for it is hid with Christ in God. So death also means all that brings darkness and sorrow in the experience of the saints. By the text is signified the banishment of all such elements as cloud our pilgrimage here, and their being with all other enemies of the peace of the saints consigned to that lake of fire where all the principles of iniquity writhe in everlasting torment, under the interminable condemnation of the burning wrath of the holy God. This is the perdition of ungodly men to which all the workers of iniquity are already condemned. And while the long-suffering of God endures these vessels of wrath fitted to destruction, their final destiny is as irrevocably fixed as is that of their moving spirit, the prince of darkness, and that destiny is determined by the righteous judgment of God. While he has power to execute his sovereign will, his judgments cannot be changed.
Of what I have sought to express this is the sum: Sin has brought upon all the human family the just sentence of death. This condemnation can never be revoked or commuted while God is immutable. The everlasting covenant in which all the members of the body of Christ are written, is the book of life. Jesus is that life which alone could satisfy the demand of eternal justice for the sins of his members in their relation to their earthly father. Justice being satisfied in Jesus, their life, they are by his blood cleansed from all sin, so that they are in him holy as he is holy. In their earthly existence it is given to them to feel in measure the bitterness of sin working death in them, while their life is hid with Christ in God. After they have suffered all that infinite wisdom has in love given them to endure, they shall be called from this world of tribulation to the full enjoyment of eternal rest in Jesus, which is heaven. Those sinners whose names are not written in the book of life, are still under the condemnation of death, not for rejecting the offers of salvation, but for sinning against the holy law of God. On such the wrath of God abides. - John iii. 36. This hopeless condemnation is the state of death and hell, or darkness and tormenting confusion signified by the lake of fire.
If these thoughts are consistent with the revealed word and the experience of the saints, I may hope they will be acceptable to brother McAdams and those of the saints who read. I have no desire to escape correction, if in any point I have written erroneously. I have no exclusive right to any truth. All my errors are original, and my own. He who shows me their inconsistency is entitled to my gratitude. If left to myself I shall doubtless go into error, and contend for it, but if I am led by the spirit of Christ, I shall thankfully yield to correction and reproof.
In the love of Christ, I am still the servant of all.
WM. L. BEEBE
LONGWOOD, Ontario, Canada, Feb. 12, 1880.