A Letter To John Grace – August 31st, 1860
My dear friend, John Grace
I am much obliged to Mr ____ for his kind message. I have always held him in honour for his steadfast maintenance of sound doctrine. If we view religion as a body, may we not say that the doctrines of the Gospel are the bones, experience the flesh, and the blessed Spirit the life of both bones and flesh? The doctrines of the Gospel support all sound experience but at the same time are so clothed with it, that they are not visible except through the medium of the flesh. But in the body, the flesh could not stand without the support of the bones. So in religion, what would experience be unless supported by sound doctrine? But again, take the flesh from the bones and you have nothing but a dry skeleton. So take the experience of the truth from the doctrines of truth, and you have nothing but what Mr. Hart calls, “dry doctrine.” Again, without the blessed Spirit, what is either doctrine or experience, but a lifeless lump? The dead Calvinists have the bones without the flesh; the Arminians have the flesh without the bones; the daily experimentalists, for such there are, and such there were even under Mr. Huntington, have bones and flesh without life. But the living family of God have bones and flesh and life, for they have truth in doctrine, truth in experience, and truth in life and power; and thus religion with them is a living body. Of course I use it merely as a figure, and figures are necessarily imperfect; and as I have dictated just what has occurred to my mind, it may not be able to bear the test of rigid examination. Therefore receive it as I send it, and if you do not accept the figure, I believe you will accept what I mean to represent by it.
One effect of this late controversy has been to show me the necessity of bringing forward into prominent view the grand leading truths of our most holy faith. I have been very surprised, I will not say at the ignorance of private Christians, but even of some who are accepted as servants of God, upon that great leading point of vital truth, the real Sonship of our adorable Lord. Some have said they had never heard of the doctrine before, and others have expressed their regret that I should trouble, as they call it, the church with it, and have called it my hobby. Is not such ignorance greatly astounding, when the true and proper Sonship of the blessed Redeemer, through the whole of the New Testament, illuminating its pages with a sacred light, forms not only the fundamental article of a believer’s faith, but occupies nearly the whole of John’s blessed Epistle?
I very much like your remark, that anything that sets forth clearly the eternal Sonship of our blessed Lord, creates a glow of love to His glorious Person. It is precisely what I have felt myself in reading such works written by men of God as set it forth. I think you have Dr. Hawker’s works. If you possess Palmer’s edition of them in ten volumes, published in 1831, you will find at the end of Vol. 3 a blessed work of the good old Doctor entitled—The Personal Testimony of God the Father to the Person, Godhead, and Sonship of God the Son. I think it is one of the best works that ever fell from the Doctor’s pen, and must convince anybody who is willing to be convinced, what his views were on that important point. Mr. —, in the Earthen Vessel for August, has made mention of this work, and quoted a number of passages from it which must fall, one would think, with crushing weight upon those who would deny that the Doctor held the truth of Christ’s real Sonship.
There is one feature in the eternal Sonship of our blessed Lord, to which I think due prominence has hardly been given, that is, that without it you may have a Trinity, but not a unity in that Trinity. It is most true that we cannot comprehend the mystery of the subsistence of three Persons in one Godhead, but yet we see that the unity of Deity requires a mutual and eternal relationship between them, or else they would be three distinct Gods. We can see by faith, and I believe we have both felt far more than we could ever express, in seeing the blessed relationship which Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have to each other, from this mutual intercommunion in the one undivided Essence.
There is a most unspeakable blessedness in beholding by faith the Father as the eternal Father, the Son as the eternal Son, and the Spirit as the eternal Spirit. This mutual relationship must be eternal, and independent of any acting of the Persons in the Godhead out of themselves toward man; and must therefore exist independent of any foreview or fore-ordination of the Son of God as Mediator. To my mind then, to make the eternal relationship of the three Persons in the sacred Godhead dependent upon any covenant act of grace is, if I may use the expression, to break up the most blessed Trinity; for it destroys the eternal relationship which Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have to each other prior to, and independent of, any purposes of grace to man. According to their view, our blessed Lord would never have been the Son of God if man had neither birth nor being. What was He then in those eternal ages before man was formed out of the dust of the earth? Was He not then the Son of the Father in truth and love? How derogatory to the Son of God and to the Father, to deny that eternal and most blessed relationship which exists between them from all eternity, and to make the very name and nature of Son depend upon the actings of that grace which Father, Son, and Holy Spirit felt, as distinct from their mutual love and eternal intercommunion. But I forget that I am writing a letter and not a book, so please excuse the length of my thoughts on this most blessed subject.
I am now writing a very long letter to a Scotch minister upon the subject of the Law NOT being a rule of life to a believer. I did not wish to have any controversy on the subject, and kept silence as long as I possibly could, but he has plied me with letter after letter until I have been obliged at last to give him an answer. I shall keep a copy of it, and may perhaps put it in the Standard. Both Mr. Huntington and Mr. Gadsby have written most fully, clearly, and blessedly on the subject, but their works are not accessible to all who love the truth; and sometimes a short syllabus is useful to those who desire to have a Scriptural and experimental summary of the truth in a short and readable form. This was the reason why the Reformers in their time, drew up many Catechisms, that the people might be instructed in the truth in a simple compendious way. Great ignorance prevails among our people in many places, for very few ministers are now able to set forth the truth with clearness, and thus, like children, they are tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine.
Yours very affectionately,
J. C. P.