Dear Brother Smoot: Will you please give your views on Ezekiel xviii, 32, and oblige an inquirer after Truth. May the Lord bless you in your labors, is the prayer of your unworthy brother,
James V. Wright.
The brief note of brother Wright recalls to mind our visit to the churches of Missouri (Corresponding Association of Mo.,) in the fall of 1894. We hope never to for get the interesting scenes and incidents connected with this visit. Especially do we remember our dear and aged brother Wright, his kindness and love of Truth, and the enjoyment experienced in his company as he passed with us from place to place in our engagements upon that trip. We fear that we will never have the opportunity of meeting with this beloved brother again, as well as others, whose kindness and company were so pleasant to us upon this memorable journey. While we feel incompetent to write as we would like upon the Scripture referred to, yet we desire to comply with the request of our brother, and hope, if our reply does nothing more, that it may remind him and others in Missouri of our appreciation of their kindness to us in a memorable visit among them.
The text to which brother Wright refers reads as follows:
“For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God: wherefore turn, and live ye.”
We have left out the word “yourselves,” because it was supplied by the translators, and is of no benefit whatever in a correct understanding of the subject.
In the connection of this subject the prophet calls attention to the long and great transgressions of Israel, their continued violations of the holy law of our God. He reminds them of the justice and righteousness of that law, and of the infinite perfection of Him who gave it; a law which required perfect obedience from those unto whom it was given, “and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward.” The life found in its obedience was not the life of heaven, but the uninterrupted enjoyments of their inheritance in the land of Canaan, with all the blessed privileges of that favored land fostered by the wise ordinances of their God. The Lord warns them of their death from this favored condition in Isaiah i, 19, 20, – “If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land; but if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” Again in Ezekiel, “Behold, all souls are Mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is Mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die. But if a man be just, and do that which is lawful and right. . . . he shall surely live saith the Lord.” – Ezekiel xviii, 4-9. The intervening verses of this quotation describe the nature of the requirement to do “lawful and right” to be an inflexible obedience to the holy law, and that in this was the life of Israel. “Therefore, O thou son of man, speak unto the house of Israel; Thus ye speak, saying, If our transgressions and our sins be upon us, and we pine away in them, how should we then live? Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” – Ezekiel xxxiii, 10, 11. Their death finally, together with the complete taking away of that first covenant (Hebrews x: 9) and the establishing of the second, are facts abundantly referred to in the Scriptures. But this subject would not be of so much interest to us did it not call attention to something of which it was figurative, and in many respects similar under the Gospel ministration.
We are told that “whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning; that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” – Romans xv. 4. There is a life and death brought to view under the Gospel covenant. “For to be carnally minded,” says Paul, “is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” – Romans viii, 6. “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live” – Romans viii, 13. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit real life everlasting.” – Galatians vi. 7, 8. “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection; lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.” – 1 Cor. ix. 27.
Full well do we know that the life and death here referred to are not of an eternal character. In an earnest contention for doctrine assailed by enemies of Truth, we may not at times as clearly and constantly present the absolute effect of grace upon its recipients, the practical application of such doctrine in the walk and conversation of those who receive it. “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all (manner of) men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.” – Titus ii, 11,12. This is certainly the lesson taught in the revelation of Gospel Truth – a profession of religion that fails to manifest itself in morality, honesty, sobriety; gives no evidence of indwelling grace! The vile passions of our mortal body are held under by the power of endless life. “And the Lord said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger that the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.” – Genesis xxv.
As important, however, as this outward walk is, the higher developments of Christian virtue and excellence, the earnest zeal, the steadfast faith, the love of Gospel truth, of Gospel order, are vastly more important as a bright sequel to these first manifestations of Gospel life. The child of grace who has received a hope in Christ stands ever in his mortal pilgrimage at that judgment seat. Paul so states when he say, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” – 2 Cor. v. 10. He is writing here to the children of the living God (the church of God – i. 1), to a class who have already experienced the evidence of salvation, and he certainly refers to no judgment of an eternal character. The life found in obedience to the Gospel commandments is not the immortality of heaven nor the death experienced in their violation the final punishment of the unjust. There is life beyond expression to the children of our God found in the maintenance of Gospel order, in the enjoyments of the Gospel Kingdom. A church holding fast “the word of life,” observing the divine order is a real home to these dear children.
“There my best friends, my kindred dwell,
There God my Savior reigns.”
There is a death to such children found in reckless disregard of Gospel order. “For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy things, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace.” – Hebrews x. 26-29.
These are solemn considerations to the saints of our God. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” May we be enabled by His grace to “hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering,” and to “walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye (we) are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with long suffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling.” – Ephesians iv. 1-4. “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the Kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers. . . . . nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the Kingdom of God. And such were some of you; but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. . . . For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s. – 1 Corinthians vi. 9, 10, 11-20.
The outward sign of the inward seal of life eternal is manifested in this obedience to the divine commands, and the good pleasure of our God is found in this holy pathway. “The statutes of the Lord are right rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. . . . Moreover by them is Thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward.” – Psalm xix. 8-11. In the text the Lord declares that He has “no pleasure in the death of him that dieth.” The terrible judgments of God visited upon Israel in their transgressions are fearful evidences of this testimony. We might refer to the case of Zedekiah (see Jeremiah xxxviii, 40, 52) and to a host of other instances. And when frowns veil the face of the throne from the sight of the chastened children of grace, they are made to realize that He has no pleasure in their disobedient life. We rejoice, however, amid all the way over which we are led that He directs all for our good and His own great glory; and that even our transgressions and wanderings from the right path will eventually be made to redound to our good, and the glory of our God.
“His providence unfolds the book,
And makes His counsels shine;
Each opening leaf and every stroke
Fulfills some deep design.”
We hope if what we have written does nothing more, that it may remind brother Wright and the dear brethren in Missouri of our sincere fellowship for them, a “little flock,” who have “come out of great tribulation,” and like their brethren elsewhere have been despised, misrepresented and persecuted at the hands of a cruel, malignant and unprincipled for, who speaks of the bond of love and peace frequently. Yet these are they “which are arrayed in white robes,” and are made to “serve Him day and night in His temple.” When we have a view of the purity and holiness of Gospel fellowship, of the perfect character of the object of that worship, we are often made to shrink from the thought of an eternal interest in such infinite purity and holiness. It appears to us at such times to be presumption to dare claim to be followers of such an exalted order: fear and trembling almost paralyses every effort. “I was with you,” says Paul, “in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.” We rejoice to know that it is “God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure,” that the entire economy of Gospel worship is spiritual. The power of indwelling life is manifested in the walk, conversation and profession of its subjects, a seal which holds down, to an extent at least, the carnal passions of earth. Blessed, indeed, is the favored moment when we shall be done with the things of earth forever, when our vile body shall be changed, and we shall realize the glorious consummation of our hope. “Now to Him,” says Paul, “that is of power to stablish you according to my Gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith: To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.”
Elder William Smoot
The Sectarian, February, 1896