The Church of God should continually "contend for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints," (Jude 3) and in these darkening and disastrous days, our testimony should not be like muffled bells, but clear and distinct. "The children of Ephraim being armed, and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle." (Ps. 78:9) Was it cowardice, or expediency, or a fatal love of ease? We cannot but remember the words, "Help, Lord; for the godly man ceaseth; for the faithful fail from among the children of men." (Ps. 12:1) "Faithful," that is, men of truth; "Amen men," as Luther called them. Openness, as opposed to reticency, straightforwardness, thoroughness and steadfastness are qualities absolutely needed now; courage is required to call things by their right names; but righteous judgment is rare, and deflections, slight at first, may become gigantic at last.
Are our Churches thus bearing witness? Is there deep desire for pure doctrine, gracious experience, and godly practice? Is there that tenderness of conscience and solemn and sanctified purpose which well become those upon whom the Lord has had mercy? Doctrine, without spiritual life, can never save the soul. In former years, when many churches were prosperous, there was a setting of experimental religion in the forefront, that is, a vital experience of the liberating and sanctifying effects of truth made manifest in the walk and life. We need doctrine, crystallized in the strictest form, and preached by called and anointed men, who feel the power of it in their hearts and show its holy effects in blameless lives. Reality, vitality, power! May we have these by the gift and operation of the Holy Ghost! Then will there be a true revival. We have need to pray, personally and collectively "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." (Ps. 139:23,24)
In no acrimonious spirit, but from love to the truth of God would we urge upon our friends the importance of separation from the profession of the day. "Can two walk together except they be agreed?" (Amos 3:3) Can there be real union upon a basis of compromise, or upon an understanding that vital matters should be suppressed? How can the friends of a particular redemption walk with the friends of a universal one or the lovers of free grace unite with the lovers of free will? Or how can those who cleave wholly and solely to Christ's righteousness walk with those who hold with part of their own? Martin Luther says, "Doctrine is heaven," thus expressing its primary importance.
The "things which are most surely believed among us" are the warp and woof of Scripture, and have been made precious to us by the teaching of the Holy Spirit. If we thus hold them, we cannot unite with those who deny them. Great mischief is done, especially to our young people, where those who preach sovereign and distinguishing grace join its enemies upon public platforms for religious, social, or political objects; the inference is drawn that after all the difference between one and another is not of real importance. Read the solemn warning of 2 John 9-11, and consider the stand which the apostle besought should be taken "for the truth's sake." Did not Jehoshaphat act with Ahab, and was not the question put to him, "Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord? Therefore is wrath upon thee from before the Lord." (2 Chron. 19:2) "May not strict adherence to the Bible for the time at least be abandoned? May not alliances with the foes of discriminating truth, temporarily be formed?" What specious reasonings are these! How many are trifling with the meanings of words, as if there were no truth, no faith, no line of separation, no changeless revelation!
We rejoice in every opportunity of Christian union with those who, while differing from us denominationally, love and proclaim the fundamental truths dear to us. "The unity of the Spirit" is not any mere external bond, but it is that oneness of faith, hope and love which pervades every member of the mystical body; that oneness of heart and soul and affection of which the Holy Ghost is the sole and immediate Author. We are ready on every suitable occasion to welcome these friends, and to join them in the defense of the faith, and in support of such Christian enterprises as commend themselves to our consciences.
The Bible is an infallible Book, and in the noble words of Hooker, the writers "neither spoke nor wrote one word of their own, but uttered syllable by syllable as the Spirit put it into their mouths; no otherwise than the harp or the lute doth give a sound according to the discretion of his hands that holdeth and striketh it with skill." Nothing less than such a Word will suffice to anchor the fainting soul upon in the day of trouble and in the hour of death, or to satisfy a parched and weary spirit, athirst for the water of life, and craving the shadow of the great Rock. Unless the Scriptures be verbally inspired, there is no authoritative Court of Appeal; hence the great effort of Satan for more than fifty years past has been to assail the Bible as the very utterance of the Eternal. This has indeed ever been his aim, but especially in our times. Unreservedly we accept the declaration that the Word written is "the Scripture of truth;" (Dan. 10:21) that it "cannot be broken;" (John 10:35) that it is given in order "that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works;" (2 Tim. 3:17) that it is a "light that shineth in a dark place," (2 Pet. 1:19) and therefore cannot be quenched, but will be protected and upheld by God. Enemies fight against it, but they will never be able to extinguish the light of its testimonies. God's Word and God's works are absolutely harmonious. No one can dispute the facts of science, but the deductions drawn therefrom and the theories obtaining well nigh universal acceptance we unhesitatingly reject the moment they run counter to the plain and literal declarations of the Bible. To be faithful to it, is not only to preach truth, but to beat down hydra-headed error, and not to be afraid of the insolent or patronizing smile of down-grade and New Theology teachers. "Every word of God is pure," (Prov. 30:5) and when applied to the heart by the Holy Spirit what blessedness and power are felt, and what force there is in the ministry of those in whom it is "as a burning fire."
"Whene'er I read Thy sacred Word,
Bright on the page in glory shine;
And let me say this precious Lord
In all His full salvation mine."
The glorious, yet incomprehensible mystery of the Trinity is to be seen in every Book of Scripture. The earliest writers, after the Apostolic age, when they propose to give a summary of the faith, proceed no farther than the doctrine of the Trinity. Athanasius, for instance says: "The whole sum and body of our faith is comprised in the words 'in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost,'"--not mere characters and offices or mere names and titles, but expressive of what They are in Their eternal Being; Three in distinctness of Person, yet One in unity of Essence. In the Covenant of Grace the Father gave the Church to the Son who undertook the mighty work of salvation; the Holy Ghost entering into a Divine engagement to reveal and apply, inspire and anoint; God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost having equal glory in planning and accomplishing the scheme of eternal redemption. In the fullness of time, God's own Son, that is, His true, proper, eternal and only-begotten Son as to the very mode of His subsistence in the Godhead, came in the wondrous fulfillment of His covenant engagements, and took a real human body and a real human soul, essentially impeccable and immortal, into union with His Divine Person; as the Lord Jesus Christ, was born of the Virgin, and thus began His stupendous work on earth as the Substitute, Surety, High Priest, and "All and in all" to His people, that "multitude that no man can number." His work, His promises, His Priesthood rest upon what He is, hence it is essential, surrounded as we are by deadly teaching upon this subject, to cleave to the revelation given in the Scriptures of the Person of our holy Redeemer, the eternal Son of God. We need to pray, with Joseph Hart, "Come, Holy Spirit, come."
"Show us that loving Man
That rules the courts of bliss;
The Lord of Hosts, the Mighty God,
Th' eternal Prince of peace."
Covenant salvation has ever been the glory of the ministry in the Church of God, and where it is not proclaimed in its fullness, there are weakness and decay, and an approximation of the preaching to the colorless and feeble utterances of thousands of speakers today. It is of urgent importance that our younger men should prayerfully seek that the Holy Spirit would open up to their understandings, apply to their hearts, and enable them to tell out with power, the covenant security of God's covenant people; soul-establishing truth to the tried believer, and most gracious encouragement to the poor, seeking sinner. Salvation, in the wondrous love of God our Father, was settled and determined, fixed upon, agreed, infallibly secured before time began, and the Lord Jesus Christ came to accomplish this salvation. What a richness and security, what an adaptation and what certainty do we discover in that atoning blood which cleanses from all sin, and was not shed in vain, for it is "the blood of the everlasting covenant." (Heb. 13:20) Jehovah the Father keeps His covenant and says of His eternally loved people, captives to sin and Satan, "Let My people go." (Exo. 5:1) Jehovah the Son keeps the covenant, for "He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied." (Isa. 53:11) Jehovah the Holy Ghost keeps the covenant, for He regenerates, and applies and reveals redemption to every elect vessel of mercy; and therefore we know that each one, the purchase of Jesus' blood, shall be brought to His feet and made capable of enjoying God; nothing is left contingent. O the blessedness of having a manifest interest in the blood of the covenant, and thus of having a testimony that God has made a covenant with His dear Son on our behalf. What is earth, with all its attractions, compared with an interest in the everlasting covenant, and in the love and blood and righteousness of the Lord, the Lamb! To know and to feel this will help us to preach with unction and power.
Oliver Cromwell, in writing to his son-in-law, says of his daughter: "Bid her be joyful and rejoice in the Lord, once and again; if she knows the covenant she cannot but do so. For that transaction is without her, sure and steadfast between the Father and the Mediator in His blood; therefore leaning upon the Son, or looking to Him, thirsting after Him and embracing Him, we are His seed, and the covenant is sure to all the seed. The compact is for the seed; God is bound in faithfulness to Christ, and in Him to us; the covenant is a transaction between God and Christ. Look up to it. God engageth in it to pardon us; to write His law in our hearts; to plant His fear, so as we shall never depart from Him."
The question may be asked why, as compared with the men of two generations ago, many of our ministers say so little of the covenant and of the Headship of Adam and of Christ? Because there is not that deep sense of sin and that experience of spiritual conflict that have ever been marked when the Church has been most favored. "The spirit of the age" affects us, an age in which the solemn and awful fact of sin is ignored or belittled by the professing church; the false scientific theory of evolution has corrupted thought upon this momentous reality. He who has slight and superficial views and feelings of sin, will have equally slight and superficial views of the atonement made for sin, and his theology is poisoned from its beginning. All mankind fell in Adam; his transgression is ours; the poison penetrated into the soul and body and filled both with death and corruption, and the remedy and deliverance must be at least as full and complete as the ruin which has been entailed upon us. "Lord, show me myself," "Lord, show me Thyself," were petitions that were frequently used by a well-known minister in the early part of the last century. Union with the first Adam has ruined us all. Union with the last Adam is the spring of every blessing to the mystical body of Jesus. Dr. Goodwin says: "There are but two men who are seen standing before God, Adam and Jesus Christ; and these two men have all other men hanging at their girdles." This was the striking form in which this great teacher set forth the two Headships. O the mercy to be joined to Christ in inseparable grace-union! Dr. Goodwin's foundation book, "Unregenerate Man's Guiltiness," should be carefully read by all our ministers.
We use the singular number because the Bible does so, for salvation is a divine unity, and throughout the Scriptures this oneness is set forth. "That form of doctrine which was delivered you," (Rom. 6:17) "My doctrine," (John 7:16) "The apostles' doctrine," (Acts 2:42) "Sound doctrine." (2 Tim. 4:3) In writing and speaking we, of necessity, describe first one phase of the doctrine and then another; doctrines are, as Bunyan says of the two natures of Christ, "plain to be distinguished, but impossible to be divided," but all are comprehended in the word Grace, which means favor, and there can be no favor which is not sovereign and free. Grace always flows down to creatures who do not deserve it. Therefore all that God does for us in Christ, and all that is disclosed to us of His goodwill in the gospel, is called grace. The Church was chosen from eternity in the glorious Person of the Son of God; every member of it is washed in the fountain of the most precious blood of Christ, justified by His perfect obedience, and in due time quickened from spiritual death by the invincible power of the Holy Ghost, sanctified by His heavenly grace, conformed to the suffering image of God's dear Son, and at the last presented "faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy." (Jude 24) Election shines throughout the Word; without it not one sinner could have been saved. Man is fallen; there is no limit to the universality or extent of evil in his soul; his "carnal mind is enmity with God," and how could he choose to be a child of the all-holy God? How could his salvation ever be attained, if it were left to his own will? Can unbelieving ingenuity twist and warp Ephesians 1., and hundreds of other passages, to mean something conditional, uncertain, or contingent? The quickened sinner can never be satisfied with anything but a salvation that saves and a redemption that redeems. Arguments do but harden; we appeal to Scripture and to the experience of all who know and feel what sin is; with one accord they say, "God began with me."
That man is unfaithful who obscures this great truth; who apologizes for it; who says that he holds it, but that it should not be prominent in the ministry; or who, by the tenor of his speech or the company he keeps, practically declares that this foundation is not of primary importance to him. God will honor clear testimony when it comes from a heart graciously stirred. Why, "be afraid of a man that shall die, and of the son of man which shall be made as grass?" (Isa. 51:12) To be pitied, to be derided, to be shunned, to be spoken against, are distasteful to the flesh; but our Lord's smile, the powerful peace the Holy Ghost gives, and "the answer of a good conscience," will make amends for all.
We know of nothing more beautiful and scriptural upon justification by Christ and effectual calling than Great-heart's discourse to the pilgrims at the place where Christian's burden fell off his back. This "act of God's free grace, wherein He pardoneth all our sins and accepteth us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us and received by faith alone," is described in its blessedness by Bunyan. Pardon by word and by deed is explained: "The righteousness of His Godhead gives virtue to His obedience; the righteousness of His manhood giveth capability to His obedience to justify; and the righteousness that standeth in the union of these two natures to His office giveth authority to that righteousness to do the work for which it is ordained. Thus has He ransomed you from your transgressions by blood, and covered your polluted and deformed souls with righteousness."
The Holy Spirit, Lord and Life-giver, applies eternal redemption, laying its fruits upon the soul, and effectually and indissolubly making it ours. He works repentance and faith in us, and persuades and enables by His omnipotent grace. Every doctrine we are taught by Him, sanctifies; all holy and happy affections are to be traced to His indwelling and to the effusions of His grace. Through Him come assurance of God's love, and steadfastness, constancy, endurance, and final perseverance.
Let us seek never to preach Christ apart from His Church, or to speak of the Church apart from Him. To do so is to separate Head from body; to lose sight of Christ and to dwell on the Church, means Churchianity; and to separate in thought and ministry Christ from His Church is to be wrong in relation to the work of our blessed Redeemer and the plan of salvation.
Preach Christ in His Person, His finished work, His covenant offices, His High Priesthood in the heavens, and His second coming "without sin unto salvation." Dwell much upon His resurrection, of what it is a pledge and a token, and what it secures for all His people. The very dust of His children to Him is dear.
"God, my Redeemer, lives,
And often from the skies
Looks down and watches o'er my dust,
Till He shall bid it rise."
We preach to sinners; we have no one else to preach to. We are to describe the condition of all men by nature, responsible under God's holy law; we are to show its claims, and that "by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified in His sight;" (Rom. 3:20) we are solemnly to warn of the certain consequences of living and dying in sins. We are to preach the gospel with such ability as God gives us, telling of the riches of grace and mercy in Christ, and then we are to leave all with Him who has said of His Word, "It shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it." (Isa. 55:11)
A true ministry must be searching and discriminating. Natural conviction is not conversion; natural faith is not that faith which is "the gift of God." Nowhere in Scripture does God speak of His work as an offer He makes, nor have we any warrant for any man offering to his fellow that which God alone has the right and the power to bestow. How many virtually tell sinners they can do the work of the Holy Ghost. This is the plain English of much modern divinity. All the feelings and gracious influences which, in the Word of God, are attributed to or emanate from the Holy Ghost, man is addressed as capable of producing; and after all the infinitely costly expenditure of the doing and dying of Christ, it rests with the dead sinner to accept, receive, believe, and so be saved. The invitations of the gospel are to character; its blessings are purely spiritual, and therefore need spiritual eyes to see them, spiritual ears to hear them, spiritual hands to embrace them, and spiritual hearts to feel and enjoy them. To throw down a number of spiritual invitations for anybody and everybody to pick up is quite foreign to the spirit of the gospel, which is for the poor in spirit, the needy, and those described in Isaiah. 61:1-3)
Is there one of God's sent servants who preaches without feeling an earnest yearning for the salvation of poor sinners? Having experienced personally that the whole work is of the Lord, their wrestling is with Him that He would produce that wondrous life that is alone His gift. In conclusion on this point, let us ask, is there one living child of God that would affirm, "Yes, I heard the minister say, 'Come to Christ--come now, and you will be saved;' and so I came and was saved. It was my accepting the invitation that was the cause of my salvation?" Would not a child of God turn away from this, and sing with gratitude of heart:
"Grace first inscribed my name
In God's eternal book;
'Twas grace that gave me to the Lamb,
Who all my sorrows took.
"Grace all the work shall crown
Through everlasting days;
It lays in heaven the topmost stone,
And well deserves the praise."