THE THEOLOGY OF THE SO-CALLED PLYMOUTH BRETHREN EXAMINED AND REFUTED.
We cannot receive the teachings of the Prophetic Conference by reason of its quite clearly pronounced Calvinism. This is not a non-essential part of the scheme lugged in by the predestinarian essayists, but is fundamental in the system. The design of the dispensation of the Holy Spirit is not to save all men, but to take out of the Gentiles a people for Christ's name. These constitute His chosen Bride. He meets her for the first time in the air. She is to have special honors ever after. A large millennial family may spring from her, but they are inferior in dignity and privilege to the Bride, the Lamb's wife. Here we have an attempt to revive the moribund doctrine of unconditional election, by detaching and suppressing the twin tenet, unconditional reprobation.
Rev. Dr. A. J. Gordon, in his attempt to disprove the simultaneous resurrection of the human race at the second advent, and in his advocacy of the resurrection of the righteous, as "special and eclectic," a thousand years before the rising of the wicked, speaks thus: "The doctrine of election, which we profess to hold, should not be a mere abstraction of theology, an article of faith which we find it necessary to adopt in order to insure a consistent and Scriptural body of divinity, while we ignore its practical application. It is, perhaps, the most solemn and awful of all Scriptural revelations. It certainly can only be discussed and preached effectively by us in those rare states of mind where the exquisite balance has been reached between tender adoration of the sovereignty and holiness of God, and pathetic sympathy with the helplessness and sinfulness of man. While, therefore, it is the instinct of the truest piety to leave God to carry out what belongs wholly to the domain of His will, it should be equally the care of an exact and loyal theology to note the application of this principle at the various stages of redemption, and speak accordingly. Thus we speak very constantly of our missionary enterprises as destined to convert the heathen nations to Christ. The Holy Spirit says that God has visited the Gentiles, 'to take out of them a people for His name.' We speak about the world being converted. The Lord said to His first disciples what He says to us, and what He will say, we believe, to the last that shall be converted under this dispensation: 'Ye are not of this world, but I have chosen you out of the world.' We speak of Christ's coming at the last day to a race that has been redeemed and saved under the preaching of the Gospel. Christ, in speaking of that event, says that 'the Son of Man will send His angels to gather together his elect,' etc. We speak of all men being raised up together at the appearance of the Lord to be judged. Christ speaks of those who shall be 'accounted worthy to obtain that age and the resurrection from among the dead.'"
In this long quotation the reader will note a quiet rebuke for what "we say," in the use of terms which indicate the universality of the divine regards, and of the redemptive plan, and he will observe a narrowing of it down to the elect,' the selection of whom "belongs wholly to the domain of God's will." Thus it seems that we modern Christians, theologians and missionary boards, have become broader in our views and aims than our great Founder, Christ Himself. To be sure, He once said something about preaching His gospel to every creature, but He intended that it should be only a common call to all, while the Holy Spirit, who had looked into the depths of the Father's secret will, and had seen the names of the elect -- a definite number -- written there, would infallibly give these a special call, accompanied by irresistible grace. Hence it was absolutely certain before the foundation of the world that every person whose name was on that precious register, hidden in the bosom of God, would be found arrayed in white at the descent of His Son, the Bridegroom.
Dr. Gordon's resurrection for the elect only, needs only an atonement for the elect alone to put a very handsome finish upon the system, making it symmetrical and beautiful. This lacking ornament is supplied by Rev. H. M. Parsons, in his paper on "The Present Age and the Development of Anti-Christ." Hear him: "Each age (religious dispensation) had its assigned work in the recovery of heaven. Our own age has its section. It is to gather from out the nations (Gentiles) the redeemed people of God." Here is plainly taught the doctrine that the Gentiles are not redeemed, but only a people scattered among them are redeemed. The old doctrine of a limited atonement, preached in New England a century ago, but now almost universally banished by the presence of a biblical Arminianism, creeps forth again into the light of day in this convention of the prophets. Hear the peroration of Mr. Parsons: "Brethren and friends, we are called to preach the Gospel to every creature during this age, that from every nation, and tongue, and people, the Lord Jesus may gather in His dear Bride." We have always supposed that our commission was to every creature because Jesus Christ tasted death for every man. But according to Calvinian Millenarianism, we are to preach to every creature only because Christ omitted to put a chalk-mark on His Bride. If this mark had been made, it would have simplified our work, and we could pass by those whom Christ did not intend to woo and to wed, and devote all our efforts to the affianced ones, on whom He has set His heart. What a pity that preachers should be required to waste so much labor!
Many things in the paper of Dr. James H. Brooks were to us a means of grace, especially his vigorous and exhaustive presentation of the bearing of the coming of Christ on the fidelity and purity of believers. But we found no nutriment to our spiritual life when we read the following sentence: "The pre-millennial coming of our Lord alone indicates the divine honor and sovereignty. Those who reject the doctrine, constantly affirm that it disparages the Gospel by representing it as a failure, and the work of the Holy Spirit, by intimating that it is inadequate to the conversion of the world. But a moment's reflection is sufficient to show that it exalts the Gospel by proving that it accomplishes all it was designed to effect, and the work of the Holy Spirit by demonstrating that He saves all He intended to save during the present dispensation." If the words we have italicized "exalt the Gospel," they certainly blacken the character of its Author with a heartless indifference to the well-being of a portion of our race while pretending a deep interest in their salvation, and in mockery offering them everlasting life which they could not appropriate without the assistance of the Spirit. Whittier tells us that the indignant women of Marblehead, "tarred and feathered the sea captain, Floyd Ireson, and rode him on a cart" for not saving some poor fellows on a raft at sea when he saw their signals of distress. That he did not intend to save them was his crime against humanity, which outraged the moral sense and philanthropic instincts of these plucky women. It would have made the case no better, but rather worse, if that seaman had changed his course, gone to the wreck, taken off all that he intended to, and then sailed away, with abundant room in his cabin and provisions in his larder for those whom he had left to perish on the raft.
It would certainly be an alleviation of Dr. Brooks' doctrine, to attach to it the grand scheme of restorationism advocated by Mr. Barbour, of Rochester, by which all those whom the Holy Spirit did not intend to save under the present dispensation, will be raised from the dead and have a fair chance for salvation in the millennial age. The only difficulty in this theodicy is the fact that the wicked dead must remain in their graves, and not be raised till after the millennium is past, when they will be raised, judged, and cast into the lake of fire. So our suggested alleviation is an adjustment which cannot be applied.
A class of millenarians, not represented in the report of the Prophetic Conference, have found out just the number that the Holy Spirit intends to save and to present to Christ as His bride -- 144,000. By scrupulously keeping the Seventh day, and abstaining from meats ceremonially unclean, they are endeavoring to be among that number. They are the dolefulest saints we ever met. We think they should be despondent, with such a slender hope of salvation.
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