MY DEAR BROTHER IN CHRIST: – Please give us your views on the portion of scripture recorded in Romans vi. 23, which reads thus: “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Tell me, my brother, what death is spoken of here: are there not two deaths named in the scriptures? I believe I never have asked a like favor of you, and I now ask what the pure motive, desiring to know only the truth. May I hope to see your reply in the SIGNS as soon as convenient?
Your brother in hope,
JESSE T. FOX.
Port Deposit, Md., July 16, 1881.
REPLY. – In compliance with the request of brother Fox, I will express some of my reflections upon the subjects embraced in the scripture to which he has called my attention, and forward the same to the editors of the SIGNS OF THE TIMES for publication, if they see fit to publish my remarks.
The epistle to the Romans has attracted at times much attention, for the lovers of the gospel truth often appeal to it as containing a very sweet, precious and cheering declarations, while the opponents of particular redemption, efficacious grace, and the final triumph of the church over every foe, have often tried to harmonize the doctrine taught in this wonderful epistle with natural science and carnal merit; and although many subtle metaphysicians of modern times have made such an attempt, all their labors in that direction have been and ever will be abortive. But not much difference of interpretation has appeared amongst them who have been enabled by the grace of God to renounce their own carnal wisdom, and have felt to follow the obvious meaning of the written word of God. It appears to me that the spirit of speculation, novelty and unrest that is now manifest, should lead all lovers of divine truth close to the scriptures, for men have now risen up who in a plenitude of their carnal wisdom assumed to be wise above what is written in the scriptures; but some of them seem to have chosen the written word of God (not the spiritual reality, or eternal Logos, of Christ Jesus, for that is as far beyond the reach of their carnal sophistry as the heavens are above the earth), and the awful solemn and momentous truths therein contained, as the arena upon which to exercise their skill and show their ingenuity. But however much carnal professors may approbate and land such a course, it appears to me arrant blasphemy, and not that commendable and innocent occupation that carnal men consider it to be.
Having made the preceding prefatory remarks, I will now come more directly to the text. It should be distinctly understood that the eistle to the Romans was not divided into chapters adn numbered by the apostle, but such an arrangement is very convenitent for a reference, as thus prepared by the translators and compilers, remembering that such separation does not in the least “break” the true connection. In the first chapter the apostle commences by directing our attention to the Son of God and his incarnation in time, showing also that his divine nature was eternal; then he proceeds to show in the first two chapters, by undeniable facts, that we Gentiles as well as the Jews are by nature guilty before God; then in the third chapter Jews and Gentiles are placed together, adn their woeful condition is shown from the Old Testament scriptures, for the universal guilt and depravity of all mankind is thus declared, “There is none righteous, no, not one.” When the reighteous requirements of God's holy law are set forth, natural men, instead of believing such to be their condition in the sight of the just and righteous God, feel an indignation against the truth, and instead of being humbled by having thier condition as rebels against God clearly stated, it stimulates and calls into action the corruption of thier depraved hearts, while at the same time it condemns all who are under its dominion.
For the wages of sin is death. Here is the awful conclusion to which the inspired penman comes, under the direct guidance of the Holy Ghost, and death is contrasted with eternal life. My brother asks, “Are there not two deaths named in the scriptures?” The word death has a number of applications in the scriptures, and it does not mean anywhere in the scriptures annihilation, but separation, and presently some quotations will be made to show the separations, or some of them at least. The word used in the original Greek text for death in the passage now under consideration is thanatos, and with the same meaning is found more than one hundred times in the New Testament. “Who were dead in trespasses and sins.” “How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” “Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ.” “For to be carnally minded is death.” “For if ye live after the flesh ye shall die.” “For as in Adam all die.” “Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death.” And the dissolution of the body, or death of our flesh, is expressed by the word exodus, outgoing; for said Peter, “I will endeavor that you may be able after my decease [exodus] to have these things always in remembrance.” “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved [kataluo, to loose down,] we have a building of God.”
The quotations made from the New Testament are sufficient to show that the word death has many and very different meanings from the death of our fleshly bodies only. Sin causes in the lost race of mortals a service, and its reward is not merely the death of our bodies, but everlasting separation from holiness and God, which is eternal misery; but the dear Redeemer has by his righteous life and bitter and agonizing death delivered his people from the power of death, and there is no death for the members of his body, and when they pass away from their time state they are asleep in Jesus. – See 1 Thess. iv. 13-18. The finally impenitent will be sure to receive their wages, for our God is just. The term wages is from opsonion and signifies a soldier's rations, an allowance. What rations! what an allowance! Death, everlasting separation from holiness and God! As death is a terror to the great mass of mankind in this world, it being the separation of the natural life from the flesh, so the future punishment of the wicked in the eternal state is called the second death. “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power.” It is certain that our Lord speaks of death in that manner, for he says, “Whosoever believeth on me shall never die.” Death is certatinly the just recompense of sin, and the children of God learn that awful truth in their experience. After having had a knowledge of the righteous demands of God's holy law, they will not need to peruse the writings of any man or men to ascertain the meaning of sheol, hades, or gehenna, for they have brought to wonder how the just and holy God could save such wretches and his throne remain untarnished; and when hope sprang up in them by having some precious promise applied by the Spirit, they have felt to exclaim, “Wonder of wonders, that God should have mercy on one so vile as I am!” Such teaching will cause the sons and daughters of Adam to understand something of the force of the inspired psalmist's words when he said, “For great is thy mercy toward me; and thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell.”
The apostle does not add, But the wages of obedience is eternal life; for such is not the doctrine of the scriptures. In the most positive terms life and death are set forth in the scriptures. On the one hand, or side, indignation, wrath, anguish and woe; and on the other peace, glory, honor and consolation; and the dispostion of the race of mortals will be in perfect harmony with divine justice, for to one or the other of those states of endless existence every child of Adam will be finally consighed. “What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction; and that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles.” In this quotation the absolute sovereignty of God is so clearly set forth that there is no way to evade it but by a direct denial of the written word.
The wages of sin not only causes the dissolution of these fleshly bodies, but everlasting separation from God, and in the final judgment it will be, “Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for teh devil and his angels.” “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment; but the righteous into life eternal.” But it may be said this separating is taking place under and during the gospel dispensation, which is also cheerfully admitted; but is it not a finality? If a man hates holiness, God and his truth, as set forth and proclaimed by the inspired judges, adn in their measure by the servants of the church to-day, will the death of the body change that hatred? Certainly not, for the punishment of that death which was the penalty of the first transgression, according to scripture will overwhelm all its subjects for whom Christ did not cancel or blot out its righteous demands; for men are already and justly condemned, and no sophistry of mortals can turn away the wrath of God from the finally impenitent. But I feel that already sufficient has been adduced from teh divine testimony to convince my dear brother that death means something more than professed universalists admit, viz., the death of our natural bodies.
But the gift of God is eternal life. The very antithesis here shows that eternal life is in direct contrast with the death spoken of in the first clause of our text; and what a sweet and joy-inspiring theme is involved in the wonderfully significant meaning of the change respresented by the word but, for the gift God bestows is eternal life. While the doctrine of eternal happiness is generally admitted, the eternity of future punishment is doubted by a very large portion of mankind; but the declarations of scriptures respecting both are equally explicit, and the contrast now before us in this text is positive in the matter. The weakest and most ignorant vessel of mercy receives the same gift – eternal life, for a Peter and a Paul were both brought upon the same level, as it regarded worldly attainment ahving aught to do in thier salvation, and each equally exalted on the glorious mountain of salvation; for “the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.”
The gift of God thus bestowed upon sinners brings them under the greatest obligations to that grace by which they have been made to differ from others, and flee to the refuge set before them in the gospel. Said Paul, “But by the grace of God I am what I am; and his grace [caused me to be indifferent to the great gift bestowed on me? by no means] which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all; yet not I, but the grace of God which wa with me.” When enjoying the effects of that gift, instead of slothfulness, pure zeal, fervent love, a peaceful mind and heavenly desires lead the children of God to realize that they “are bought with a price” (the precious blood of Christ); therefore they are solemnly bound to glorify God in their body and spirit, “which are God's.” This great and glorious gift of eternal life is secured for the heirs from all possibility of harm; for, “This is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.” Again, “For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Chirst in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.”
Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Eternal life is that gift which comes to the vessels of mercy through Jesus Christ. The apostle says, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, eing now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.” And said the Redeemer, while in his incarnation, before his betrayal and crucifixion, “Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son may also glorify thee; as thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given im. And this is life eternal, tha they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.”
In the bestowment of this unspeakable glorious gift, the lost, ruined and depraved sinner, who si the recipient of this glorious blessing, is made completely passive, adn to give unto God glory, honor, majesty and power for the salvation, not only of the church, but of himself, as God enables him, affords him a satisfaction and delight, which can be understod and appreciated by tehm only who have experienced the same, and can say in sweet harmony with king David, “Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare that he hath done for my soul.” The children of God have no praise to give to any being but their heavenly Father for the redemption and final salvation of lost and ruined sinners, for to them it is all of grace from first to last; but the dear Redeemer, by his life, death and resurrection, has merited the salvation of his bride, and exactly equal to the merits will the bestowal be – not one less, not one more. That precious Savior suffered not only according to the sovereign will and purpose of his Father, but in equity; for in his agony in the garden he said, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” Often it is asserted by mortals that “the Lamb of God must have suffered the same agony if only one sinner is saved.” There is nothing in eitehr the Olt Testament or the New Testament scriptures to authorize any such declaration; and the very fact that the term cup is used by our Immanuel shows that the sins of the seed of Abraham, or the entire church, were upon him, and that his agony extended to and embraced every member of his body, the church, and no more. It is not only anti-scriptural, but against the principles of justice, to attempt to prove that he bore the sins of all the mortal race, and belivers only will be saved, for that sentiment leads to the heresy that men will be condemned eternally for rejecting, as it is termed, proffered grace; than which nothing is more diametrically opposed to the teaching of the scriptures, for the race of mortals is already condemned by God's holy and righteous law.
The blessing of eternal life is freely bestowed upon the objects of his love through our Lord Jesus Christ, and infinite wisdom never has erred in the bestowment of those blessings, but all are directed by unerring wisdom, from the smallest blessings, as they are sometimes termed, to the largest; for the record is, “Who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ, according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.” These declarations show the divine order, for Isaiah was chosen in Christ and blessed in him the same as Paul; but the prophet was manifested here on earth hundreds of years before Paul, and consequently his personal blessings and afflictions were appointed him as well as Job's or Paul's and Paul had his personal blessings and afflictions just according to the purpose of God concerning him. In the loss that we as a people have experienced in having our venerable brother and father in Israel taken from us, we should remember our God gave him to us as a valiant soldier of the cross, having appointed the blessings he as an individual should receive, adn the consolation and happiness thousands of God's children should receive through him; and when the work assigned him and the afflictions appointed him were completed, the natural life of that dear brother must cease, and he be taken hom to immortal glory. The question has been often asked, “Who will fill his place?” While we can readily understand what brethren mean by the question, we should remember no other mortal can fill his place, for that he was enabled to fill himself. No one filled the apostle Paul's place, but God raised up others to fill the places appointed them, and defend his word of truth according to the ability eternally purposed for them; and in that sense no one can fill the place of the other.
My brother, I have written enough to give you an idea as to my understanding of the scripture to which you called my attention, and as brevity is commendable, I will presently close my remarks. I wish you to receive what I have written as my views only, and examine them and test them by the scriptures. If there ever has been a time, since our separation from the popular organization called Baptists, that required firmness, faithfulness, and close adherence to the precepts, examples and injunctions recorded in the New Testament for the church, we are now in that day. This so-called new translation of the New Testament is not a translation, but a “modernizing” of the written word, and by examining it I find that error has been intoduced in such a manner and hidden with such artfulness that many, even some of my dear brethren, think it is a trifling matter; but in a few years other alterations will be introduced. But adored be the name of Israel's God, his will can never be changed by all the cunning craftiness of men.
WM. J. PURINGTON.
Hopewell, N. J., August 1, 1881.
Signs of the Times
Volume 49, No. 16
August 15, 1881