Harrisburg, IN, January 31, 1850.
Brother Beebe: – Having a remittance to make, I will write a few thoughts on 1 Corinthians xiii. 8-13.
“For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.”
In view of the variety of ideas published of late in the Signs, and the evident spirit of enquiry which is abroad among the brethren, and the deep investigations made, I cannot think it strange if some novel views are brought to light. Surely our brethren of former days knew but in part, and that some should not now be ready to receive novel discovered Truth, and that they should seem seriously alarmed at their exhibition, is not strange; for they too, only know in part. If these Truths should be imperfectly understood, and but imperfectly expressed, or if they should even be mixed with some erroneous speculations, we need not be much surprised; for these brethren also know but in part. If the editor of the SIGNS or any of his correspondents are asked for their views on any given subject, it is presumed that the request comes from one who knows but in part; and if the answer should be rejected by all, or by any, this would only show that the expositor, like all others, knows only in part. If one should set himself up as a standard of orthodoxy, and condemn every thing that is printed in the SIGNS, and withdraw his patronage because other writers differ from him on some matters, unless he is himself infallible, it would prove that even he, like others, knows only in part.
I have seen much, very much, in the SIGNS, to approve, yea, to admire, and some things to deplore. Much I have received as the honey and the honey-comb; and some things I have left as I found , in doubt; and a few things I have had to reject, and remember “We know but in part.” So long as we remain in this imperfect state, our thoughts and speech and understanding will be like those of a child, whose judgment is but forming, and many things are quite beyond his comprehension; of course its thoughts and communications will be like its half-formed understanding, only in part, and will show the imperfection of the state, age, and understanding of the minor; but when this child shall attain the age and maturity of perfect manhood, and his mental resources are all developed, he will rise to pursuits adapted to his expanded intellectual powers, and of course will put away childish things. It is so with the children of God; they are very imperfect in their judgment, and know but in part and have their childish things. They speak, even in the SIGNS, as children; and the reason is because they only understand as children; and perhaps some of them may have some new notions which please them as a toy would please a child well.
These are the childish things, like the child, if they will not give them up by persuasion, have patience, and soon they will lay them down, or forget them, or get tired of them, unless they are such as will injure themselves or others; in such cases, either watch them well, or take the dangerous toys from them, or put them away from other children. As in nature, so in grace, some children know more than others, and some think they know, and the minds of some run in one channel and some in another, and so their diverse spiritual gifts, some after this manner, and some after that, but all to profit the church. What is plain to one, may be obscure or quite out of the sight of another; for “we know in part.” If our knowledge is only in part, then our prophesying, teaching or writing, will only be in part. All the variety of spiritual gifts are designed to assist and edify the church, and with all these aids she is but a learner, and so must continue to be, until that which is in part shall be done away, and that which is perfect shall come. Then shall we know perfectly, even as we are known, and no longer look through a glass darkly, but we shall then see face to face. Then we shall have no farther need of these gifts, nor even of the Scriptures. Then the SIGNS and all the gifts employed in them will cease to be of use, and while we bless and praise the God of salvation for these seasonable aids, and for the succor they have afforded us during our pilgrimage, we shall praise Him that that which is in part is done away, and that which is perfect is come. Then all diversity of opinions will forever cease, and not one sign of discord will ever more appear to agitate the sons of peace. That we should out-leap each other here in our imperfect state, is only an evidence that like children, we know but in part. Even those who know the most, and who have the greatest gifts, dwindle into nothingness when compared with the perfect state that awaits the saints of God; for, whether there be prophesying, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. In our present imperfect state we have great need of all the aid we can derive from all the gifts and knowledge which God has bestowed on the church. And the SIGNS, as a vehicle of correspondence, is very convenient, in collecting and bringing to a focus, and in a condensed form, these aids from all parts of the country, and bringing them to our places of abode. If then among all the good, we detect some speculative trash, as evidence that the worthy brother who wrote it, like the rest of us, only knows in part, perhaps in his next letter his words and ideas will cause our hearts to tingle, and make our eyes to flow with tears of joy and gratitude to the chief Shepherd of Israel, because He has in His great love to Zion given her such under-shepherds to feed her sons with knowledge.
Now either the writer or the reader, or what is equally certain, both of them are imperfect, and consequently differ on some points, while they agree on others. Surely the correct conclusion is, that “We know in part.” But it may be inferred by some, that there is no limit to this rule, and that all sorts or error may be tolerated by it; but this I believe is fairly and fully guarded against, both by the first clause of the 8th verse, “Charity never faileth,” and also by the 13th verse, “And now”(in this our imperfect state) “abideth faith, hope, charity; these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” Now in matters of faith, in reference to its object, Author and Finisher, substance, exercise and manifestations in good works, or in relation to the word of faith, or any thing really belonging to the faith of God’s elect, I have not see any diversity among the brethren; but while all are earnestly contending for the faith which was once delivered to the saints, some approach the contest in one way, and some in another, and some illustrate and enforce the subject by one set of thoughts, and some by another. Their thoughts may be proper or improper, but the faith abides the same; and if some come to the contest through the woods, and get torn with the brush, like the pioneer, and others more timidly choose to stick to the beaten road, though it may be more circuitous, if all fight well in the same cause, and all have “One Lord, one faith, and one baptism,” I suppose that minor differences may be borne with, so long as we continue to know only in part.
If any should deny the faith, or teach the works of men in its place for justification, or as conditions for rewards in salvation, we may justly conclude that such do not even know in part, but in reality know nothing as they ought. So also in reference to hope, the desires and prospects of anticipated good which centre in Christ, who is our Hope, and is an anchor of the soul, which maketh not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in our heart by the Holy Ghost which He giveth us. This “good hope through grace,” abides with faith, in this imperfect state, and to deny a hope, or to make it depend on performances, as a creature of our obedience, dependent on our exertions, money, zeal, or use of means would clearly prove that such have neither part nor lot in the matter. And so now also, in our imperfect state “abideth Charity.” This is the bond of perfectness; the love of God in a pure heart, endureth all things, never faileth; it still abideth with all God’s children, while in this imperfect state. It rejoices not in iniquity; but it rejoices in Truth. It never fails, for God is love, and as such, He dwells in every one that is born of Him. This love is of God, and it embraces His word, His truth, His grace, His justice, His laws and ordinances and His people; and, of course it will approve the things that are excellent. While it embraces the divinely arranged and revealed system of salvation exclusively by free and sovereign grace, it leads all its subjects to rejoice in the Truth, and prepares them to endure all things for the elect’s sake, and to be kind one to another. It vaunteth not itself, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and it hides a multitude of sins,” or many faults. How very useful it is to us, while in our imperfect state. Surely brethren should let charity have its perfect work, and let brotherly love continue. Let it be without dissimilation, not in word only, but in deed and in Truth. Love in the Truth, and walk in the Truth, and for the Truth’s sake, as it is in Jesus.
Now brethren, while men love the Truth, defend the Truth, and suffer for the Truth’s sake, earnestly contend for the faith, and are righty on the great revealed system of grace, and firmly stand with us at all hazards, and with us oppose the common enemies of the cause of Truth and righteousness, shall we make such an one an offender for a word, or condemn him for some peculiarity in his views?
The SIGNS are designed only for the communication of the views of every brother and sister, and it cannot be reasonably expected that nothing but perfection of the thought and expression should appear in its pages. I think it rather astonishing, considering the great number of contributors, so widely scattered, so variously situated, and writing on so many subjects, and each writer only knowing in part, should all so completely harmonized in the one great system of revealed salvation by free grace; and all as one man, with sword in hand, stand to oppose and expose the allied powers of Mystery Babylon, and all her harlot daughters!
This unity we may expect, for all Zion’s children shall be taught of God, and great shall be her peace. They hear and learn of the Father, and come to Christ – come away from every thing else, in point of acceptance or justification before God. This is the “unity of the faith.” This is the “one hope of your calling.” These accompanied with charity are a kind of trinity in unity, distinguishing and characterizing the citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem here, while they know but in part. Probably if the most approved production that has ever appeared in the SIGNS was scrutinized by the light and standard of absolute perfection, though the substance were true, yet so many defects might be exposed as to make the writer and all his admirers exclaim, “Surely, we know but in part!” The variety of matter in the SIGNS, the seeming fears of some, and the readiness of some to condemn one another, for some peculiarity of views, and the sharpness which some good sound brethren have used in reference to some peculiar views of other sound brethren, and the apparent disposition of some to abandon the SIGNS, because some of the writers either know more about some things or less about some other things than they think themselves do, these things have led me to the above thoughts on the text referred to in the commencement of this letter.
If you think them worthy of room in the SIGNS, they are at your disposal, for I am a very imperfect creature, and am ready to confess to all the brotherhood, that, “if I really know any thing,” about spiritual things, I am very sure I only know in part. Nevertheless, with my brethren and sisters in the faith, hope, and love. Which now abideth, I anticipate the bright period when that which is in part shall be done away, and that which is perfect shall be realized. Then we shall all see as we are seen, and know as we are known. Then no peculiarity of views will excite our fears, or interrupt our tranquility. Then the SIGNS, like all other imperfect things, and things which are only in part, will be useful to us no longer.
But, until we arrive at that perfect state when it shall clearly appear what we shall be, and when we shall see our Lord as He is and be like Him – until that immortal light shall dawn on us all, may we be humble under the conviction that we only see as through a glass darkly; but then we shall see face to face. While here, let us be found forbearing one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace. Let us always keep this before us, when we write, and when we read what others have written, whether their or our ideas seem old or new, the word of God is true; but we still know but in part.
I remain, as ever, your imperfect but unshaken brother and companion in Truth.
Wilson Thompson, - 1850.