BROTHER BEEBE: - I propose to occupy a little space in your columns in compliance with a request made by brother S. H. Durand in a private letter, that I should write through the SIGNS on Isa. Iv. 6, 7: "Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon."
I feel incompetent to instruct brother Durand, and like I had better ask information of him; but such as I have give I unto him, and others who may take time to examine what I have to say. It seems to have been found out by many that it will not do to take all that I have written to be true, and my desire is that nothing that I may write shall be received as truth that falls short of it.
It appears scarcely necessary to notice the freaks and whimsical fancies of Arminians in endeavoring to make this and other similar portions of scripture harmonize with their theory of "general invitations," as they call them. A little attention to the foregoing and following parts of the chapter will make manifest their folly. The address in the text is, to no more than every thirsty sinner, just such as the Savior spoke of when he opened his mouth and taught his disciples, saying, "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness," which are blessed with life and holy desires - not such as are "dead in sins," and "past feeling;" and therefore the chapter commences by saying, "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters;" as Jesus in John vii. 37: "If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink." The scriptures always define the characters addressed therein. The pronouns ye, you, your, thou and thee, as they occur in the five preceding verses, clearly evince this fact, and the same thirsty character is addressed all the way through the chapter. The same thirsty character is commanded to "buy wine and milk without money and without price." A singular way of buying. This is not what modern missionists teach, that much money is requisite to acquire these blessings, for they come to the poor, thirsty soul "without money." Not that works or anything else can be given by us as price, for they are freely given to the poor "without price." Still the conclusion would be that something must be parted with, given up. Hence it is asked in the second verse, "Wherefore do YE (the same thirsty ones) spend money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which satisfieth not?" It is evident that all the money theory, and all the labor or work-mongrel theory is to be abandoned, yielded up, but not as a price for the precious boon. Thus the poor, thirsty one is directed to come to the Redeemer penniless, thirsty, hungry, saying, "Nothing in my hands I bring; simply to thy cross I cling," and receive the sure (not conditional) mercies of David, (the spiritual David) who is given for a witness, a leader, a commander to his people. In the fifth verse allusion is had to the calling of the Gentiles who shall run unto his people; but he says to them, it is "because of the Lord thy God, and for the Holy One of Israel; for he hath glorified thee." It is certainly the same character that is thirsty, that is to come to the waters without price, that is admonished to give up all else, to hearken to the Lord, that is promised the sure mercies of David, that he has glorified, the same YE that is called upon in the language of the text, saying, "Seek YE the Lord while he way be found," and not such characters as Jesus addressed in John vii. 34, where he says, "Ye shall seek me, and shall not find me; and where I am, thither ye cannot come;" and viii. 21, "Ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins; whither I go, ye cannot come." The language in the text evidently shows, as the words of Christ declare, that there are times and circumstances when, and under which, he cannot - yea, shall not, be found. Some there were who once sought him because they ate of the loaves and fishes and were filled; and doubtless many in our day seek him on similar occasions; those "whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things," and whose leading desire seems to be to fill that avaricious belly with the trash of this world. The truth is, "there is none that seeketh after God," until he first seeks and finds them; and he therefore says, "I will seek that which was lost, I will bring again that which was driven away." And Paul, quoting from Isaiah the Lord's words, says, "I was found of them that sought me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me." But when he finds and gives them to see their need of a Savior, and reveals himself to them, then they are prepared at his bidding to say, with David, "When thou saidst, Seek ye my face, my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek." - Psalm. xxvii. 8. Such are directed to "call upon him while he is near;" and we are not left to mere conjecture as to when or to whom he is near. When we see a poor, thirsty, hungry, heart-broken sinner, we at once recognize the character; for the scripture says, "The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart, and saveth such as are of a contrite spirit." - Psa. xxxiv. 18. He it is that wounds and that heals. - See Deut. xxxii. 39. "He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds." - Psa. cxlvii. 10. And we are assured that, "Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved." And none can call on him acceptably, or "say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost." Jesus said to such, (not to graceless, unborn, dead sinners, as Arminians do,) "Seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:" and none of his are sent empty away, for "he that seeketh findeth." - Matt. vii. 7,8.
The language is still addressed to the same subject when he says, "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts." Who are they that sensibly see and feel their wickedness and unrighteousness? Not the self-righteous, not the blind, the deaf, nor the dead in sins, who have neither eyes to see, ears to hear, nor capacities to understand. Nay; for when the Lord speaks to his living children, he uses language that they can feel and apply to themselves. Such as he came "to seek and to save;" not the self-righteous boaster, but living, feeling sinners; such as he has "granted repentance unto life." But this little "let" has a signification in the scriptures very different from the one that is generally attached to it now. As in the first chapter of Genesis, "Let there be light; let there be a firmament; let it divide the waters," &c., and such must be the meaning of the word in the text; not a mere permission to suffer things to occur, but a direct command that they shall take place. A command as imperious as when he said, "Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind;" or, "Look unto me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth;" or, "Come unto me, all ye that labor." And to show that such commands must be obeyed, he says, "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me." "He speaks and it is done; he commands and it stands fast." But what way is this that the wicked must forsake? The children of God have only to call to mind the time when they first saw themselves so wicked and unrighteous, and the way they hoped to find relief, and the matter will be understood by them. Our thoughts are apt to be, when in that condition, that we have gotten ourselves into a bad fix by doing bad, and now we must get ourselves into a better one by doing better; and at it we go in good earnest. But what progress do we make? Instead of getting better, we seem to grow like the old gentleman's young wolf did, "one day older and two days worse." The poor blind arminian can get along finely in that way if he will only "hold out faithful;" but it will not do for those whose eyes the Lord opens to see the wickedness, unrighteousness and utter depravity of their carnal natures. We are made then to see that no outward reform can reach or heal the deep-seated malady within. Shut our mouths that we may speak no evil word, tie our hands and feet that we may perform no overt act; but here lies the uncurbed monster, the heart! "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked." This is a critical period with us. Now the plaintive poem suits us,
"By wandering I have lost myself,
And here I make my moan;
O, whither, whither have I strayed?
Ah, Lord, what have I done?
The seeds of all the ills that grow,
Are in my nature sown;
And multitudes of them have sprung;
Ah! Lord, what have I done?"
Complete exhaustion, prostration, helplessness, paralyzes all our formerly supposed powers. Not until now can we understand the wise man when he says, "There is a way that seemeth right unto man; but the end thereof are the ways of death." - Prov. xvi. 26. Sin revives and we die. Not until now can we realize that we are "dead to the law." Here we forsake our own way and our thoughts. Not until now can we understand and appreciate the assertion of the dear Redeemer, "I am the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by me." Now it may be said with propriety of that disconsolate, heart-broken one, "Let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and unto our God for he will abundantly pardon." Like sheep these sons and daughters of Adam whom the Father gave to Christ, wandered far off from him, and became so deeply involved in debt, so terribly polluted in a loathsome sink of sin, that the fiery law of God hurled its awful denunciations against them. The separation was so complete that it was nothing short of death; (for death is simply a separation) and thus he found them, "dead in trespasses and sins," and under the curse of the law. But, before the world was, our God had made every requisite provision for the release and return of every one of these straying and lost sheep, by the setting up of a Redeemer or Mediator, "whose goings forth have been from old, from everlasting." All their sins and iniquities were charged to, or laid on him as the surety of his wandering sheep, and now the mandate can go forth, to deliver them from going down to the pit, for a ransom is found. Just the ransom price that the Redeemer paid was indispensably necessary for their release; nothing more was required by the violated law, nothing less would suffice. He must give his life a ransom, "shed his blood" to wash away their sins. The law demanded it, the ends of justice could not be met without it; and therefore the way for their return must forever have been sealed, the flaming sword of justice must guard the way, and all arminian attempts to approach it must have met, as they always will meet, a disastrous repulse. But blessed be his holy name, he has "redeemed us from all iniquity;" and now hear his consoling, heart-healing language, saying, "I have blotted out as a thick cloud thy transgressions, and as a cloud thy sins; return unto me for I have redeemed thee." - Isa. xliv. 22. Nothing now in heaven, earth or hell can ever prevent their return when the Lord commands it, and the predestinated time arrives for its accomplishment; for the Redeemer has said, "All that the Father giveth me SHALL come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." And Isa. xxxv. 10, "The ransomed of the Lord SHALL return, and come to Zion with songs, and everlasting joy upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrowing and sighing shall flee away." They return unto the Lord; (turn away from, abandon, forsake their former way and former thoughts) and there find the mercy of the Lord, the pardon of our God.
"What matchless mercy here is found;
Mercy and pardon here abound;
Mercy to soothe sin's dreadful smart,
To heal the broken, contrite heart."
And while enraptured with the gushing emotions of that mercy, the poor lawfully delivered captive is enabled to return unto the Lord; yes, to OUR God, and there find pardon in rich profusion, untold abundance. What a boon! What a treasure! OUR God! The relieved sufferer can now say as the spouse, "My beloved is mine, and I am his." Now the question propounded in Jer. iii. 19, is solved: "How shall I put thee among the children?" And the ransomed child can say by the spirit or law of adoption, "My Father."
"Here every bowel of our God,
With soft compassion rolls;
Here peace and pardon sealed with blood,
Are food for weary souls."
And how certainly will all this be accomplished.
For the consolation of all who know what it is to thirst after righteousness, let us remember that "our God" is the speaker throughout the chapter. That he addresses no more, nor less than every one that thirsteth, or in other words, all his children who have had life, light and sensations given them to feel and see their own wickedness and unrighteousness; to whom he has revealed in its superiority, and caused to thirst for his own righteousness, as spoken of in the close of the preceding chapter, where he says to them, "No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment, thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord." Then, the closing part of this chapter assures all such, that all that he has promised and commanded will be fully and effectually consummated. After telling us that his ways and thoughts are higher than ours, as the heavens are higher than the earth, (from which we may learn that ours will always prove abortive and result in perplexity, while his will always be crowned with success) he confirms the fact by saying, "As the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth; it shall not return unto me void; but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereunto I send it." How consonant is this language with the feelings experienced by the children of God, and produced by the Spirit's work within them, and how humiliating and at the same time how encouraging too! While they are taught in their weakness that they have no more power to command or call down the blessings than the earth has to call down the rain from heaven, they are also taught on the other hand, that the earth could as easily remand the rain and snow to heaven, and thereby prevent the desired or designed effect upon it, as the child of God could fail or refuse to partake of the "feast of fat things" sent "down from the Father of lights" by the resistless power of his love. Each can say,
" 'Twas the same love that spread the feast,
That sweetly forced me in,
Else I, if left to my own will,
Had perished in my sin."
Thus it is that we are "made willing in the day of his power." And when our devious ways lead us into difficulties, bewilderment, and sometimes almost to despair, we are constrained gladly to forsake them, and return to the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls. With what paternal care he watches over us in our wanderings, and with what endearing, mild and yet forcible language he addresses us: "Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings." And how readily they respond, "Behold, we come unto thee; for thou art the Lord our God." Now they heartily hymn the poem,
"Lo! glad I come, and thou, blest Lamb,
Wilt take me to thee as I am;
My sinful self to thee I give,
Nothing but love shall I receive."
I present the foregoing essay to brother Durand, and others who may give it any attention, and cannot complain if it should fail to give satisfaction; for I am not satisfied with it myself. Of course I believe it to be true in sentiment, but cannot express it as I wish.
Most truly and affectionately your brother,
J. F. JOHNSON.