THE THEOLOGY OF THE SO-CALLED PLYMOUTH BRETHREN EXAMINED AND REFUTED.
We look in vain in all these writers of the Antinomian school, whether ancient or modern, any adequate definitions of saving faith. After a faithful and patient study, extending through ten years, I can find in these writings no better notion of faith than a bare intellectual assent to the fact that Jesus put away sin once and forever on His cross. There is no preliminary to this mental act, such as a heart-felt conviction of sin, and eternal abandonment of it in purpose and in reality. Nor is there any test of this faith in the genuineness of its fruits. The evangelical definition of saving faith is utterly ignored, -- that it has its root in genuine repentance, its bud and blossom in joyful obedience, and its fruitage in holiness of heart and life; that in addition to the assent of the intellect,--the fruitless faith of devils (James ii. 19),--there must be the consent of the will, the Christward movement of the moral sensibilities, and an unwavering reliance on Him, and on Him alone, as a present Saviour. Nor do the Antinomians teach that faith is continuous -- a life-long outgoing of the heart in glad obedience -- but rather that its efficacy is concentrated into a single act of assent to a past fact, an act which forever and forever justifies. We can easily predict the character of the edifice built upon a foundation so defective. On such a corner-stone we do not expect to find a love which purifies the heart and overcomes the world, a hunger and thirst after righteousness, an eager pursuit of holiness, and "pressing on unto perfection" (Heb. vi. 1, Rev. Ver.), and that "perfect love which casteth out all fear that has torment." We find rather a dry, intellectual religion, tena cious of its speculative theory, indifferent to inward and outward holiness, and reveling in imaginary graces, or, rather, in the perfections of Christ falsely imputed to themselves, and preferring to keep the old man alive rather than his summary crucifixion, in order "that the body of sin may be destroyed." We find a system which is a great comfort to the backslider in heart and life, and a pleasant refuge to those who have lost their inheritance among the sanctified, into which they once entered when under better religious instruction.
We have thus far spoken of an indefinite Antinomian faith; we now proceed to speak of
FAITH VERSUS FEELING
"The power of God," says Fletcher, "is frequently talked of, but rarely felt, and too often cried down under the despicable name of frames and feelings."
"If I had a mind," said the eloquent George Whitefield, "to hinder the progress of the Gospel, and to establish the kingdom of darkness, I would go about telling people they might have the Spirit of God, and yet not feel it," or which is much the same, that the pardon which Christ procured for them is already obtained by them, whether they enjoy the sense of it or not.
This is the kind of faith which multitudes of souls in utter spiritual barrenness are resting in for eternal life. They are exhorted to beware of looking for any changed feeling, that feeling is inconsistent with true faith. Says John Wesley, "It is easy to satisfy ourselves without being possessed of the holiness and happiness of the Gospel. It is easy to call these (holiness and happiness) frames and feelings, and then to oppose faith to one and Christ to the other. Frames (allowing the expression) are no other than heavenly tempers, the mind that was in Christ; feelings are the Divine consolations of the Holy Ghost shed abroad in the heart of him that truly believes. And wherever faith is, and wherever Christ is, there are these blessed frames and feelings. If they are not in us, it is a sure sign that though the wilderness become a pool, the pool is become a wilderness again." (Note on Peter iii. 18).
This is the process of inculcating this kind of faith. The religious teacher sits down in the inquiry room, by the side of the seeker, opens his Bible at Romans x. 9, and reads: "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus (Jesus as Lord, Rev. Ver.), and shalt believe in thy heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved." Do you confess that Jesus is your Lord? Yes. Do you believe that He arose from the dead? Yes. Well, praise the Lord, you are born again! you have found eternal life. But I do not experience any inward change. Never mind that; you are to believe without any feeling. If you look for feeling as the ground of your faith that you are now a child of God, you dishonor the Word. The Word says that you are saved, and you ought to believe the Bible. It is weak and childish to be looking for any change in your feelings. I strongly advise you to be baptized and join the Church. You have fulfilled the conditions of salvation. You are henceforth to count yourself a Christian, and by a resolved will to crush out all doubts respecting your conversion, whenever they arise. For they will arise. All true Christians have doubts of this kind. It is an evidence that they have a good hope in Christ. But, dear pastor, is this all there is in the new birth? I expected I should have unspeakable joy, arising from a sense of burning love. I thought I should be sure that I was saved by some inward impression by the Holy Ghost. Oh, says the pastor, you are not to expect a miraculous conversion. That kind is limited to the Apostolic age.
SIN "IN," AND SIN "ON," THE SOUL?
Through all their books and innumerable tracts runs a distinction between the prepositions "in" and "on." It is the aim of the Gospel to deliver from sin "on" the soul, but not from sin "in" the heart, till we pass through the gate of death. In other words, justification is affirmed, but entire sanctification in the present life is denied. The blood of Jesus Christ is efficacious for the removal of actual sins, but it fails to eradicate the sin principle, or inbred sin, till physical death comes to the aid of atonement, and completes its saving power. Thus the penalty of sin becomes its destroyer. "Death, that foul monster, the offspring of sin, shall have the important honor of killing his father," says Fletcher. "He alone is to give the great, the last, the decisive blow." In vain do we call for Scripture proofs for death sanctification, and for the important distinction between "in" and "on." When those Scriptures are cited which teach immediate perfect cleansing from all sin, as in 1 John i. 7, 9, we are assured that the verb "cleanse" here means judicial clearance, or justification, and not inherent purification. But this involves St. John in the Romish doctrine of good works as a condition of justification -- "If we walk in the light." This is certainly a course of good works prescribed as a condition of cleansing. If this is pardon, we have a condition unknown to St. Paul. But we have as great a difficulty in passages which urge us to cleanse ourselves, as 2 Cor. vii. 1. Here we have a cluster of absurdities. (1.) Self-justification: "Let us cleanse ourselves." (2.) Justification is divided and distributed into two parts, "flesh and spirit " -- a piece-meal pardon! (3.) "Filthiness" is a state. How can a state be justified, or have judicial clearance or acquittal?
It is easy to see that sin "in" the believer, who has been adopted into the family of God (2 Cor. vi. 18), or inbred, original depravity, is here intended, and the Corinthians are exhorted to seek its entire purgation as a condition to "perfecting holiness in the fear of the lord."
NOT UNDER THE LAW
"Free from the law, oh, happy condition!"
This is a verse which should never be sung except with those safeguards which the author of the hymn has not been careful to set up.
(1.) It is true that all mankind are, by the atonement, forever freed from the necessity of pleading that we have perfectly kept the law, in order to acceptance with God. We are freed from the necessity of legal justification. Such a necessity would shut up a sinful race in eternal despair. We are freed from the law as the ground of justification. Our ground of justification is the blood of Christ shed for us.
(2.) Nor are true believers, who have received the Spirit of adoption, under the law as the impulse to service. They are not spurred on to activity by the threatened penalties of God's law. Love to the Law-giver has taken the place of fear of the law as a motive. This is specially true of those advanced believers, out of whom perfect love has cast all servile, tormenting fear. Before emerging into this experience, there is a blending of fear and love as motives to service. In this state the believer is not wholly delivered from legalism. But the law is put into the heart of the full believer, and its fulfillment is spontaneous and free. "I will run the way of Thy commandments when Thou shalt enlarge my heart." The Septuagint Version, used by our Lord Jesus, reads: "I have run .... Since," etc. "Without the law," says St. Paul, as an outward yoke laid upon the neck, "but under law to Christ." Love to Christ absorbs into itself all the principles of the moral law, and prompts to their glad performance. Hence, "Love is the fulfillment of the law." This is the meaning of Rom. vii. 6, as translated in the Revision which corrects the blunder of King James' version from a faulty MS., making the law of God die, instead of the believer's dying to it; that is, ceasing to be actuated by its terrors, and becoming obedient from the new principle of love. "But now we have been discharged from the law, having died to that wherein we were holden; so that WE SERVE IN NEWNESS OF THE SPIRIT, and not in the oldness of the letter."
(3.) We are free from the law as the instrument of our sanctification. Christ has become our sanctification by purchasing with His blood the gift of the Holy Spirit. He is called "holy," not as a peculiar attribute, distinguishing Him from the Father and the Son, but because it is His great office to make men holy. We are "elect through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth."
(4.) Christ has freed us from the ceremonial law.
(5.) Believers in Christ are not delivered from the moral law, as the rule of life. The form of this law may change, but the essence is as immutable as its Author, out of whose bosom it goes forth. If believers were free from the law, as a ruIe of life, we should be obliged to change the verse--"Free from the law, oh, wretched condition"!
A moral intelligence, whether man or angel, thus freed from his proper norm, would dash into ruins like a locomotive or an express train freed from the rails. As the rails give direction to the mighty momentum of the train, so is the law designed to direct our moral progress to a destiny of unspeakable blessedness. Disobedience derails and destroys. Hence the law is a blessing of unspeakable value. The soul that despises it is in imminent peril. The theology which teaches that men mount to a "happy condition," by ridding themselves of the beneficent guidance of the moral law, merits the condemnation of all Christians. Jesus is a Law-giver to control, as well as a Redeemer to save.
THE SINNER HAS NOTHING TO DO
"Nothing, either great or small,
Nothing, sinner, no;
Jesus died and paid it all,
Long, long ago.
All that Jesus has done for the sinner will do him no good till he personally appropriates, by a faith which requires the highest effort to exercise, and which prompts to a continued course of good works. "This is the work of God -- which He requires -- that ye believe in His Son." In all cases there must be repentance and its fruits, forsaking wicked ways, and turning to God. In the case of the unbelieving Jews there were two severe preliminary works before they could believe. They must conquer their love for human honor, and through the use of prevenient grace, rise to the position where they are swayed by the honor that comes from God only, or the only God. Hic labor, hoc opus est--this is work, this is toil. Jesus sets another task before the Jews before they can believe in Him. They must believe in Moses. Men cannot indolently neglect inferior light, and, at a single bound, spring up to the highest exercise of faith in Jesus, the Light of the world. They must be of the truth before they can come to Him who is the Truth. They must so love the truth already within their reach as to be willing to search for it diligently, and to follow wherever the truth leads. This implies self-denial and cross-bearing, even before Jesus is apprehended as their Saviour. Then having found Him, they must consecrate all their powers of service to do His will; they must work while the day lasts. These works are rewardable, though not meritorious, in the sense of putting God under obligation to compensate the doers. In the light of these truths the following verses have an Antinomian sound: --
"Cast your deadly 'doing' down--
Down at Jesus' feet;
Stand in Him, in Him alone,
"Cease your doing; all was done
Long, long ago.
"'Doing' is a deadly thing --
'Doing' ends in death,"
There is a call in this latter quarter of the nineteenth century for St. James to go through the world preaching from his favorite text: "Faith without works is dead." Sinners are not saved by works, but they must work to be saved. "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Ye are workers together with God."
THE FLESH REMAINS FLESH
Two natures co-existing in the believer in his best possible earthly state, is proved by John iii. 6, which is amended to read thus: That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and remains flesh, and that which is born of the spirit is spirit." This is quoted to prove that the single nature is untouched in the new birth, while an entirely new nature, or, rather, new creature, is created, and associated therewith. this view assumes, without proof, the following:--
1. That John uses the term "flesh" in the Pauline sense, which as Meyer says, "is strange to him"; while Cremer, in his Biblico Theological Lexicon, quotes this passage as an instance of John's use of sarx, flesh, to signify merely that which "mediates and brings about man's connection with nature." He finds six shades of meaning to this important word, the last only embracing the idea of sin. He excludes from this meaning all passages in the four Gospels in which the word occurs.
2. It is assumed that such writers as Weiss, and Julius Muller, are in error when they say that the meaning of Jesus is, "the corporeal birth only produces the corporeal sensual part."
3. There is a confounding of birth with creation out of nothing. "For as generation," says Dr. Whedon, "is a modifying of substance or being, imparting to it a new principle of life, conforming it, as living being, to the likeness of the generator, so regeneration is a modification of the human spirit by the Holy Spirit, conforming the temper of the human to the Holy."
So that that which is born of the Spirit, is the same person as is born of the flesh. He is henceforth endowed with the new quality of spiritual life, instead of spiritual death. The identical man, soul, body, and spirit -- "for in the term flesh," says Alford, "is included every part of that which is born after the ordinary method of generation" -- is born gain by the endowment of spiritual life.
What is born again in the view of the imputationist? Not the fallen nature, -- that must remain fallen; nothing is born again; but a new man is created de novo and put into the believer, who is henceforth to live a dual life, his personality sometimes dwelling under the sway of the old man, and sometimes under the rule of the new. This is not a birth at all. For in a true birth there is a communication of life to non-living matter. So in the spiritual birth there is the impartation of life to a spiritually non-living soul.
4. Our best philosophers say that the only safeguard against materialism is the theory that the soul is created by a direct act of the Creator. This theory would seem to lie at the base of the reasonings of the imputationists on this text, and to afford them an analogy for the absolutely new creation of a spiritual man at the new birth.
Now it is well known in theological circles that there are three theories for the origin of the human spirit, (1) pre-existence from the date of the creation, and waiting to be incarnated, (2) traduction, or derivation from parents, the same as the body, and (3) direct creation at the time of birth, or of generation.
It is not incumbent on me to show which is the true theory. But he who builds on any of these hypotheses must first demonstrate its truth. We assert that the declaration of the imputationists, that a new man is created, not by a transformation and renewal of the old man, but by an immediate creation, rests analogically upon a misunderstood theory respecting the first birth. For this theory is not that of creation absolutely independent of all antecedents, but each soul is created as part of a system which has been dislocated by sin. The Adamic matrix, though marred by sin, being still used in the creation, and not the matrix of a new race.
Well does Augustine say, "Where the Scripture renders no certain testimony, human inquiry must beware of deciding one way or the other."
Let us emerge, then, from this region of speculation into that of common sense. Nicodemus was surely right when he understood that the new birth was a second birth of the same subject. The same man born of the flesh must be born again.
Jesus Himself fully explains the meaning which St. Paul puts into the words, "in Christ," in that wonderful discourse of Christ, in the sixth chapter of John, about the spiritual appropriation of the benefit of His atonement, by sacramentarians, erroneously interpreted as the reception of the Lord's Supper, Christ explains what is signified by being in Him: "He that eateth (continuously) my flesh, and (persistently) drinketh my blood, abideth in me, and I in him." Eternal blessedness is in Him, and is imparted to all who by faith continually appropriate it. With such souls there is a mystical union with Christ, an inter-penetratlon of Spirits. So long as Jesus abides in the believer, he abides in Him: "Christ in you the hope of glory." This union excludes willful sin. When this is committed, the union is dissolved. If Christ should continue to dwell in the heart which persists in a course of voluntary transgression of the known law of God, He would become what St. Paul styles, "the minister of sin," and not a destroyer of the works of the devil.
In Mr. Wesley's day, when an un-Scriptural view of the doctrine of imputed righteousness was much preached, he not unfrequently met men who, while claiming to be "perfect in Christ, not in themselves," affirmed that their faith canceled their obligations to obey the Divine law. They might, as they wickedly claimed, violate any or all the ten commandments without being guilty of sin, so long as they maintained faith in Christ. No wonder Mr. Wesley wrote of such men: "Surely, these are the first-born children of Satan."
The true doctrine of the result of union with Christ, is very truly expressed by Rev. Mr. Sears, of the Unitarian faith: "The atonement brings the believer into such a vital union with Christ as to produce from within, outwardly, not a putative, but a genuine, righteousness."
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