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Who Are Disciples?

By Elder Gilbert Beebe

ALEXANDRIA, D. C., February 29, 1838.

THIS is a question involving considerations of great importance to all those who profess to be the children of God. Our Lord has given us the rule (both negative and positive) by which we are to decide
this important matter.

In offering our readers a few remarks on this subject, we will premise that we understand, in the scripture sense of the term, as used by Christ and his apostles, in reference to his followers, something
more intended than an acknowledgment of their being the children of God, and consequently heirs of glory. All Old Testament saints, for instance, and the thief on the cross, were the children of God, and saved with an everlasting salvation; but they were not denominated disciples of Christ. Again, others were nominally called disciples, who evidently were not the children of God. There were some who followed our Lord because they did eat of the loaves, and were filled; who, when they heard Christ preach the distinguishing and fundamental principles of his doctrine, such as brought prominently to view the sovereignty, and eternal purpose of Jehovah, his electing love, his distinguishing grace bestowed exclusively on the election of grace, the utter impossibility of their being saved without coming to him, and the decree that all that the Father had given to him, should come to him, and that they shall not be cast out; and that all such should eat the bread which came down from heaven, even that which Moses or the law gave not to Israel in the wilderness; and finally when he informed them that all who had life in him, must eat his flesh and drink his blood, they being unable to bear the truth, went away, and walked no more with him.

Hence then, we discover that the scriptures inform us of two kinds of disciples. The one are the real heaven born, and heaven bound souls, who follow the Lamb whithersoever he leads the way, and who also live by faith upon the. Son of God. The others are those who seem to think that gain is godliness. This latter kind can be made without grace, and without that special operation of the Holy Ghost, by which the true disciples are quickened; they may always be found calling Jesus, Master, where loaves and fishes abound, or where such a profession would contribute to their worldly emolument and fame; but these, like their ancient brethren, spoken of in John vi, will invariably desert the ground when they can find nothing there better suited to their taste than the doctrine of God our Savior.

To be, in an evangelical sense, a disciple of Christ, the soul must first be a subject of grace, quickened by the life-giving power of the Holy Ghost, born of God, and made partaker experimentally of the good word of life; yet this of itself, although an indispensable prerequisite, does not fully constitute the character. “If any man come unto me, and hate not his father, and mother, &c., and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. And again: Whosoever he be of you; that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple. See Luke xvi. 26, 27, 33. Also Matt. x. 38. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. While by this negative testimony we are advised of the impossibility of being owned by Christ, as his disciples, in the absence of these indispensable qualifications, our blessed Lord has taught us in positive language, what constitutes disciples. We are aware that the term itself implies, a pupil, or learner, and necessarily that to be Christ’s disciple, we must belong to his Old School; (for he has instituted no new one within the last eighteen hundred years) we must be taught of him who teaches as never man taught. Hence we can no more be his disciples by virtue of human teaching, than we can become proficients in the Greek or Hebrew language, by learning the English. But for the positive instructions, and indispensable qualifications, as laid down by our Lord Jesus Christ: “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” – Matt. xvi. 24, Mark viii. 34, and x. 21. “And he said unto them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” – Luke ix. 23. “Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, rind the truth shall make you free.” – John viii. 31, 32. “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” – John xiii. 35. “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.” – John xv. 8. From these scriptures, with many others of the like import, we discover that we are not only to entertain hope for life and salvation through the blood and righteousness of Christ, but even having this, we must follow him, we must deny ourselves, we must take up our cross daily, we must know the truth, the truth must make us free, and we must; bring forth fruit. Where these evidences do not appear, we have no right to know or acknowledge any as the disciples of Christ. They cannot be his disciples.

But, what is it to follow Christ? We answer negatively, It is not to go before him, and form projects and plans for him, or for the building up of his cause or kingdom, and then call on him to follow us. It
would really seem that many of our zealous New School divines had forgotten that the place of the disciple is in the rear of his Lord; and that all who pretend to go before him are thieves and robbers,
(see John x.) or we should not be so harrassed with their new projects and contrivances, and so deafened by their calling on the Lord to come on and second their motions; saying, Lord, follow up our
enterprise with thy blessing; crown our undertaking for thy glory, and add thy sanction to our efforts for the salvation of sinners. What place does the above popular language assign our Lord? Is he  Captain, or Leader! No, they themselves go ahead, and call on him to follow them in their newly discovered schemes and plans. But add to the above picture. the bold and presumptuous manner in which they are often heard publicly to use the imperative mood, and cry, Lord, bless our Sunday Schools, Mission Societies, Theological Seminaries, &c. And can we in the face of the words of Christ, as above quoted, view or acknowledge them as the disciples of Christ? We cannot.

But the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, (Jew and Gentile) teaching us (the disciples of Christ) that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world. Titus ii. 11, 12. It is also written, All his children shall be taught of God; and Christ has assured us that all who hear and learn of the Father, cometh unto him. Yea, they learn of him who is meek and lowly, and they find rest to their souls; while all workmongers who sustain the character of nominal disciples, are compared to the troubled sea, which cannot rest, but continually casteth up mire and dirt. Ever getting up some muddy, filthy human device, and newfangled system, by which to perpetuate their own commotion, while they, like raging waves of the sea, continually lash the shore, and foam out their own shame and confusion.

Finally, to be a true disciple of Christ, it is required,

  • First, That we be quickened from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • Second, That we deny ourselves of all ungodliness and worldly lusts, laying aside, as Paul
    did, all that we have counted gain; and as our Lord has said in a passage quoted above,
    Forsaking all.
  • Third, That we become followers of Christ (not leaders) as dear children; observing all
    things whatsoever he has commanded us; going unto him without the camp, bearing his
  • Fourth, That we learn of him. Learning from any other source will not answer the purpose.
    Human learning is good in its place; but it will never do as a substitute for divine
    instruction, nor any amount of it lead us into a knowledge of the things of the Spirit, while
    it is written that God has hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and revealed them
    unto babes; or, while it pleased the Lord that men by wisdom shall not know him. We must
    be taught of God; not attempt to teach him, by making improvements on his doctrine, or
    ordinances, or on his method of salvation, and then calling on him, virtually, to lay aside his
    plan, purpose. and wisdom, and adopt our schemes.
  • Fifth, We must know the truth; not a truth, or any truth. There are many things true in
    themselves, which have no connection with the gospel of Christ. We must know THE
    TRUTH, and that very truth which sets the disciples of Christ free. This requisition,
    however, cannot be acquired from Sunday Schools, Theological, or any other humanly
    invented or humanly conducted schools; none but the Old School of Christ will by any
    means answer the purpose; none but Jesus, who teaches as never man taught, can teach
    these heavenly lessons; but he can and will astonish us with his doctrine, for he teaches as
    one having authority, and not as the Scribes.

In conclusion, we say to our Old School brethren, suffer the word of exhortation. We profess to be the disciples of him who is meek and lowly. Let us copy our blessed Instructor in meekness and humility; and whatever course others may pursue, be it ours to adorn the doctrine of God our Savior, in our lives and conversation; and let us remember we are not our own, we are bought with a price; wherefore, let us endeavor to glorify God in our bodies and in our spirits which are his.

There are two sights which would be somewhat unpleasant to human beings; the one, to see a body when its Spirit has departed; the other, to see a disembodied spirit; but to see them together produces no unpleasant sensations. James says, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” – James ii. 26. But living faith will invariably produce living works; and when we are in possession of that faith which is the fruit of the Spirit and the gift of God, it must and will lead us to a conformity with the precepts and examples of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Editorials of Elder Gilbert Beebe – Volume 1, 231-233