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Written by James Oliphant/Silas Durand   

SOUTHAMPTON, PA., Nov. 16, 1899.

Dear Brother: You say that in some things I have misrepresented you. I do not wish to do so, and do not yet see that I have. You quote some sentences from my letter which you say contain all you have contended for concerning rewards arid punishments. Then I have misunderstood you, and we are agreed. But again you conclude the difference between us to be very great.

I will briefly notice some points in your letter. Referring to my suggestion that in teaching a “conditional time salvation” you appear to have bound burdens upon the helpless, you reply that unless these helpless ones are too helpless to desire, I am not justified in finding fault with your views, for all the liberty of will you have contended for is liberty to desire or to will. You say that you do not hold that they can secure the blessings at will, but only hold that they can desire them. I do not see how that would be the fulfillment of a condition at all, on which a salvation of any kind could be based. Paul said, “To will is present with me, but how to perform, that which is good I find not.” And again he said, “Ye can not do the things that ye would.” (Rom., vii, 18-25; Gal., v, 11, 18.) But until the good thing is done no salvation is experienced; so there must be, as in the case of Paul, a further revelation of Christ as the doer of the good things for and in us before salvation appears.

But I have understood you to attach the condition to the act of obedience, and not alone to the will. In a published article, after insisting upon conditionality in the words of Jesus in Matt., xi, 28, you say, “He plainly encourages them to obedience by promising them rest in case they obey. Parents do the same thing with their children. If you will obey me I will give you a toy, or give you my approval.” I will also cite you to this passage, and to the whole article, in reply to jour request to show a sentence where you have taught that God’s favor depends upon our will and choice and work. If you do not mean by your language here and elsewhere that God’s favor, and our time salvation by him, depend upon our performance of those conditions, then I have misunderstood your meaning, and also the meaning and use of the term, “conditional time salvation.”

In regard to the meaning of the word “if,” you have consulted authorities, and conclude that it is necessary to set aside either that word or my theory. But you have no need to do either. I do not intend to violate the meaning of any word, nor have I done so, though you, as well as I, will depart from Webster sometimes as to the scriptural meaning of a word, as for instance,  “baptize.” I grant the word “if” to generally introduce a condition or a supposition, though not always. Yet you have not produced a sentence from the New Testament which disproves the truth of my position that the word “if” does not anywhere in the New Testament imply a condition upon the performance of which by the creature a promise of favor and salvation is based; that faith, belief, hope, love, and every spiritual grace, are not spoken of in the Scriptures as though their possession and experience by us were regarded as depending upon our will, but as the gifts of God. The Savior did not say, “If you will believe you shall have eternal life;” “If you will believe that I can heal your son, I will heal him;” “If you will keep my commandments you shall have my presence and favor.”

Such language is not used under the new covenant of grace: it belongs to the old covenant of works. I do object to the use of old covenant language in speaking of new covenant things, except in its typical meaning. The Savior’s language is, “He that believeth hath everlasting life;” “Believest thou that I can do this? All things are possible to him that believeth,” In the one form of language it is implied that the man may or may not believe, or do whatever is spoken of, according as he wills or chooses, and that the gift of life or favor is made to depend upon his performance of the condition. In the form of language used in the New Testament the state or condition of mind at the time is referred to, a condition which the power and grace of God only can produce in the mind of anyone, and the proposition is presented as based upon that condition of mind.

I will notice three of the cases you refer to as showing my position to be incorrect:
First. “If a man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” Here there is nothing promised to a man if he will come after Jesus, as though that coming were a work of his own, decided upon by his own will, and to be rewarded by some favor from the Lord. But the “if” supposes a man to have the will or desire to come after Jesus; then he is told in what way alone he can come; not by the exercise of any will power of his own, but by denying himself, denying his own will, and by taking up his cross; by crucifying his flesh and fleshly mind, and following Jesus. Here is the test as to whether the man really has a will to come after Jesus. To some who thought they had already come to him he said, “Ye will not come to me.” (John vi.) The young man who offered to follow Jesus had no true will to do so, and when he found that Jesus was poorer than the foxes and the birds of the air, too poor to reward him as he desired, he disappeared. No man can of himself have a will to deny himself. God must work that will in him if he ever has it. Jesus teaches here what he teaches in our experience, that instead of coming after him by any power of our own, the will and power and work that bring about that self-denial, suffering and crucifixion in which this following consists, are all, like every other good and perfect gift, “from above, and come down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness neither shadow of turning;” James. i, 17.

Second. Peter says, “For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile;” I Peter, iii, 10. There is no conditional work proposed in this text by the word “if,” nor any reward offered. The “if” supposes a man to have already the love of God in his heart, and the will or desire to enjoy that holy life which no one can see in himself, and to see the good days of the Son of man. The apostle tells such a one of that same self-denial which the Savior said was necessary in order that a man should come after him, and in which alone the power and blessedness of divine life are experienced in this mortal state. “Everyone who knoweth the plague of his own heart,” knows that in this he “can not do the things that he would.” but will still find that evil is present with him, and, like David, must cry unto God to “set a watch before his mouth, and keep the door of his lips;” (Ps., cxli, 3,) or evil and guile will continually issue from them. Only as the dying of the Lord Jesus is felt in our body, can the life also of Jesus be manifested in our mortal flesh, (II Cor., iv, 10, 11,) and this is the life which God’s people will love and long to feel the power of; and these good days which we wish for are the days made by the light of this blessed life in our souls, while “we bear about in our body the dying of the Lord Jesus.” The life of suffering in the flesh and of faith in the Spirit is the life we truly live before God while in the flesh, and this the natural man can not desire.

A man might try to curb his tongue, and refrain his lips from speaking the sin and guile which he would really delight in speaking, if he hoped to receive some reward for his self-denial; but such self-denial is not the Bible kind. The spiritual rewards, which I still contend for, are the experience of the things we love in the Spirit. We hate sin and guile, if we have divine life, while we feel our nature to be full of them, and it is an unspeakable blessing, the richest kind of a reward, to feel a rest from that ever present sinfulness of the fleshly mind by the power of that faith by which we are enabled to see our standing in Christ, and to “walk in him.”
Third. “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” This presents no condition to be performed, but shows us one who longs for the water of that river which flows from the throne of God and the Lamb the promises and grace and salvation of God. This is the one who thirsts after righteousness. He sees that every blessing represented by the water of that river of life flows alone from the power of God, without the least possible help from man. His very soul goes out in thirstings and longings for those heavenly blessings. “But,” he says to himself, “I have no right to those holy things. They belong to the Lord’s people, to the righteous, while I am a vile sinner.” To every such poor, thirsty soul Jesus says, in his final words recorded in the book of inspiration, “Let him take of the water of life freely.” That command shows him his privilege to satisfy his thirsty soul upon the promises of God; to drink the blessed truth which flows to make glad the city of God; to walk in the order and ordinances of the gospel. He is now made to realize that he is the very character for whom those blessings were ordained and prepared. He could no more have taken them to himself before the command of Jesus came to him, than the man with the withered hand could have stretched it forth before that commanding word gave him the power. Now he can no more resist or refuse the blessing than the tender grass can resist or refuse the light and healing of the rising sun.

It is necessary to define what will it is in both Jesus and his people which you refer to by the term “liberty of will,” as necessarily exercised in what you call “conditional time salvation.” There is both a human and a divine will; which of these is in exercise when righteous works are done? The Scriptures must answer this question, and not human reason. I will here give what I understand to be the scriptural teaching upon the subject. The Savior, in his human nature, even though it was pure and free from sin, did not do his own will in performing the work of salvation, but the Father’s will which sent him; John, vi, 38. He lived a life of self-denial and suffering during his ministry in the flesh. His Father wrought all his works in him; John, v, 19; xiv, 10. He pleased not himself; Rom., xv, 3. Concerning him there could be nothing conditional in his work and trial, unless you change the ordinarily accepted meaning of the word conditional. In a conditional covenant or promise there is a supposed uncertainty as to whether the one party will perform the conditional work. Otherwise I can see no meaning in, or use for, the word conditional. Jesus could not disobey. The: principle of disobedience was not in him. There was nothing in him for the temptations of the devil to take a vital hold of, although he was so made under the law as to suffer under those temptations. He said, “The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me.” He was not on trial to prove merely that he would not, but that he could not disobey his Father’s will. It was the Fathers will which was done in him, and the same will is effectually done in his people.

The will, then, by which the Lord’s people desire and do spiritual works is not the natural or fleshly will, which every man has as well after as before he has been born of the Spirit, but it is the will wrought in us by the Lord. It is called in one place “the mind of Christ,” and in another place “the mind of the Spirit.” These two wills, the fleshly and the spiritual, are contrary the one to the other, so that we can not do the things that we would. (Gal., v,17.) Those who have been born of the Spirit can not see in their flesh any good thing. (Rom., vii, 18.) There must be a righteous motive, all you have clearly demonstrated, in order that an act shall be righteous. The flesh presents to the spiritual view no such righteous principle. Jesus, even, disclaimed goodness as a man, saying, “There is none good but one, that is God,” thus showing that all goodness is from God, and that Jesus would be called good only as the Son of God, and in oneness with the Father. The righteousness of a man will not do to make one acceptable before God. The Lord’s people are made the righteousness of God in his Son. (II Cor., v., 21.)

When the Lord has given us to see that he has wrought in us the desires that we have, then we can with a holy confidence work them out, yet with fear and trembling, No self confidence or fleshly zeal for the Lord in these works, but a holy fear causing us to walk softly before the Lord, desiring assurances from him that our work is not of the flesh, but of faith; “for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” I think it was for our encouragement in this respect that the apostle was inspired to say, when exhorting us to work out our own salvation, “For it is God that worketh in you, to will and to do of his own good pleasure.”

All neglect of this salvation, which we could not neglect if it were not ours: all acts of disobedience on the part of a living soul, are from the fleshly will, and will surely result in sorrow, self-abhorrence and death. The transgressions of the children of the dear Savior will be visited with the rod, and their iniquities with stripes; Ps., lxxxix. Yet the Lord’s lovingkindness will not be utterly taken from the Son. When the work of correction is done, all the wanderers shall be returned to the fold. It is written, “Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee;” Jer., ii, 19. In the Lord’s own time each transgressor shall taste the bitter fruits of his sins, shall be humbled under the just but loving chastisements of God, and shall be amazed to find the grace of God sufficient for him.
You say, “Now please explain the reason why some are more dutiful and obedient than others, and yet all have a sufficiency of grace at all times, and not one thing is dependent on the will?” And then you tell me that my hank is tangled, and that I must straighten it out along here. If I have a hank, and am trying to twist a theory out of two or more skeins that some one else has spun, it may as well get tangled, for it will be of no use. But I am talking about the plain declarations of the Scriptures, and am insisting that human reason, and the theories of worldly wisdom, shall not set them aside, whether we can comprehend them or not.

With regard to your question I will say, first, that it seems clearly to show that you do hold that some things needful for the Christian are left dependent upon his own will, and the form of that question appears to show that you regard that will as independent of grace. Second, does not your question imply that you regard their own will, and riot the grace of God, as the cause why some are more dutiful than others? Third, does not your question imply that you do not think that the grace of God is sufficient for all his people at ail times? Now, in reply to your question, I must say that I do not know. I must refer it to the infinite wisdom and mysterious purpose of God. If asked why Abel was righteous while Cain was not; why some are chosen unto salvation and some are not; why gospel things are hid from the wise and prudent and revealed to babes, you and I would respond with one accord in the words of Jesus, “Even so, I Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight.” If asked why Peter was left to deny his Lord, while John was not; why John Mark failed in what Paul thought his duty, and Paul and Barnabas had sharp contention about him: why, in short, some are more dutiful than others, I would have to give the same reason, referring it all primarily to the infinitely wise purpose of God, who was, to say the least, able to have prevented everything which he did not intend should result in final good to his chosen, and in his own glory. At the same time I feel it to be the duty of brethren to admonish and reprove me when they see a need for it, and I regard it as my duty, in my lot to warn the unruly, reprove the erring, and exhort and persuade men, the men of God, to take up their cross daily. I can only do the work commanded me. I can only sow the seed which the Husbandman places in my hand. The result must be left with the Lord. “All my times are in thy hand.”

But is not the grace of God sufficient for all his children at all times? Were not sufficient grace and all spiritual blessings given to each child of God in Christ before the world began? And will not that grace all be dispensed by him to each one just at the right time? “Of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace;” John, i, 16. That is, the grace we each receive is just the grace that was given each in him. The account is kept even. The grace is given according to the Lord’s knowledge of our needs, not according to our knowledge and will. It is when sorrow and death comes upon us, as the necessary consequence of our sin, that we are prepared to receive and appreciate the wonderful grace of God. It was when Paul was suffering under the rankling pain of the thorn in his flesh, the messenger of Satan, but given by the Lord, that he was ready for the wonderful and never-to-be-forgotten words of Jesus, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” It was his weakness, his infirmities, sorely felt and groaned under, that prepared him to rejoice in the power and grace of Christ as fully equal to all his needs. He did not know what he needed even while he was praying earnestly and repeatedly for deliverance. Neither his will, therefore, nor his prayers, would have indicated to the Lord what to do for him. But Jesus knew all the time what he needed, and Paul knew after, but not before, the answer to his prayer was given.

Peter was corrected and reproved and instructed by his terrible wickedness. He was just as wicked before he fell, but he did not know it. He was not at that time prepared to realize the riches of God’s grace, but depended upon his own will and power to do right. It was the same fleshly will that caused him to say, “Though all men forsake thee, yet I will never forsake thee,” which afterward prompted him to say with cursings, “I know not the man.” But it was the other will, the “pure mind,” stirred up by the Savior’s look, which caused him to go out and weep bitterly. And then was the time when the exceeding riches of God’s grace appeared to him, and he was humbled under the mighty hand of God, as a. little child. God had a purpose of love and mercy to be fulfilled in Peter’s fall. Would anyone dare to say that David’s terrible sin, and Jonah’s refusal to obey, and Peter’s denial of his Lord, were contrary to God s purpose and will? Great truths concerning the terrible nature of sin, the helpless state of man, and the greatness of God’s salvation, were to be taught by the awful experience of each of them. Jesus did not pray that Peter might not fall into the devil’s sieve, but only that his faith might not fail. That faith was all that made him please the Lord.

The teaching of such scriptural truth does cause a living soul to say, “Let us continue in sin,” but rather makes him hate and dread it more. And who has died to sin can not live any longer therein. To live after the flesh is death, not life, to such. They learn that they can depend only upon the Lord to uphold and lead them. When he walks in them then they walk in him; when he withdraws his presence they fall. The sun by his presence makes the day. By his absence “he maketh darkness and it is night, wherein all the beasts of the forest do come forth;” Ps., civ, 20.

I think you have implied in your published articles that those who declare the doctrine of God’s sovereign purpose, and his predestination of all things that come to pass, are apologizing for sin. I do not think you have a right to say so. God called Cyrus, who was a wicked man, compared to a ravenous bird, to execute his counsel, and he declared from ancient times the things that he should do. Does the statement of that scriptural truth attribute wickedness to God, or apologize for Cyrus’ sins? Isa., xlvi, 10,11. The wicked are God’s hand and sword; Ps., xvii, 13. When he works his will by them, is their wickedness his? Are they not justly condemned? Habakkuk declares that God has ordained the wicked for judgment, and established them for correction, in their terrible raids upon his people; yet the prophet can not understand why a holy God, who is of purer eyes than to behold evil, can even look upon them that deal so treacherously, and be silent. He does not however question that it is so, nor the Lord’s right to do so, because he can not understand it; Hab., i, 12, 13.

You conclude that I do not believe that man is a moral being, but I suppose we believe about alike on that subject as to the race of mankind. Yet I do not attach the same importance to the subject of the physical and moral government that you seem to in connection with salvation, because the Bible does not speak particularly about them. All men are by nature dead in sin, and do not know God or his kingdom or laws. When his people are given divine life, and Christ is revealed as their Savior, then from thenceforth they are under law to him. I can understand and talk a little about that law of the Spirit of life which has made them free from the law of sin and death, about the new covenant which is ordered in all things and sure, and their experience of it. In this they are separate from all other people. The laws are in their new minds and new hearts, not in the flesh, nor on tables of stone. Their obedience is from within, by the impulse of that Spirit of life, in which is their reward, not in something obtained by the obedient work, but in the work. This they will all learn sooner or later. They are led by the Lord as blind, (Isa., xlii, 16,) they are carried as children, even to their old age; Isa., xlvi, 4. They are chastened and scourged, everyone of them; Heb., xii, 6. They can not direct their steps. The Lord appoints their way, and sets the bounds of their habitation that they can not pass. And in the end they rejoice that all their times are in his hand.

The terms “freewill,” “free moral agency,” and the like, have been so long used to mean that a man can accept or reject offers of salvation as he pleases, that they will continue to mean that in the minds of men generally. What do we want of them anyway? The Bible terms will do for us. You remind me that the will of a stone has nothing to do with its movements. But you know the Lord’s people; in their experience of salvation, are spoken of under the figure of stones, “lively stones” -I Peter, ii, 5. Again, you remind me that my “theory” strips man of will choice as fully as a tree in its bearing or not bearing fruit. That is true; that figure is also used more than once in describing the Lord’s people in their gospel state. They are “trees of righteousness,” and he will be glorified in the fruit they shall bear; Isa., lxi, 3. They are branches of Christ, the true Vine, and he says, “From me is thy fruit found.” His will is effectually wrought in them. He will “make them perfect to do his will, working in them that which is well pleasing in his sight,” and he shall be glorified in them; Heb., xiii,-21.
Your questions have not been all expressly noticed, but have all been answered. The things I have written are very sweet truths to my soul. I hope we may find ourselves none the worse for our correspondence, but more manifestly of one mind.

Your brother in hope,

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 27 September 2006 )
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