THE THEOLOGY OF THE SO-CALLED PLYMOUTH BRETHREN EXAMINED AND REFUTED.
DANIEL STEELE, S.T.D.
ETERNAL LIFE NON-FORFEITABLE
IN two instances Jesus speaks of everlasting life as a present possession: "He that heareth (continually) my words hath everlasting life" (John v. 24); "He that believeth (perseveringly) on me hath everlasting life" (John vi. 47).
The reader of the Greek Testament sees at a glance the condition expressed in the present tense of the verb "heareth" and "believeth." If these conditions are fulfilled, the new life inspired by the first act of evangelical faith becomes everlasting. This is the common sense view. If this faith, at any point of probation, lapses, the life expires. That everlasting life once begun can be lost, is no more a contradiction in terms than the Jew's forfeiture of the land which God gave to them for "an everlasting possession" (Gen. xvii. 8), nor the seed of Phineas losing "the everlasting priesthood," nor the Israelites breaking "the everlasting covenant" (Is. xxiv. 5), and finding out Jehovah's "breach of promise" (Num. xiv. 34). Hymeneus and Philetus forfeited the everlasting heritage of believers by "making shipwreck of faith and a good conscience."
We infer, therefore, that the words "hath everlasting life," were never designed as a non-forfeitable insurance policy, giving an unconditional and inalienable right to the rewards of Heaven. They are a compendious expression for the spiritual life already inspired, which is destined to become everlasting if its conditions are fulfilled through the whole of our probation.
A SOUL BORN OF GOD CAN NEVER BE UNBORN
An abuse of figurative language is a strong hold of religious error. Antinomianism seizes upon "the new birth," "the being born again," "a child or son of God," and presses these phrases into a proof of an unchangeable acceptance with God, however grossly sinful the once regenerate person may afterwards become. J. Fletcher thus points out the fallacy in this reasoning: "According to the oriental style, a follower of wisdom is called 'a son of wisdom'; and one that deviates from her path, 'a son of folly'; a wicked man is called ' a son of Belial, a child of the wicked one, and a child of the devil.' But when he turns from wicked works, by faith, he becomes a child of God. Hence the passing from the ways of Satan to the ways of God was naturally called conversion and a new birth. Hence some divines, who, like Nicodemus, carnalize the expressions new birth, child of God, and son of God, assert, that if men who once walked in God's ways turn back, even into adultery, murder, and incest, they are still God's dear people and pleasant children, in the Gospel sense of the words. They ask, "Can a man be a child of God to-day, and a child of the devil tomorrow? Can he be born this week, and unborn the next?" And with these questions they as much think they have overthrown the doctrine of holiness, and one-half of the Bible, as honest Nicodemus supposed he had demolished the doctrine of regeneration, and stopped our Lord's mouth, when he said, "Can a man enter the second time into his mother's womb and be born?"
The question would be easily answered, if, setting aside the oriental mode of speech, they simply asked, "May one who has 'ceased to do evil' and learned to do well to-day, cease to do well and learn to do evil to-morrow? To this we could directly reply, If the dying thief, the Philippian jailer, and multitudes of Jews, in one day went over from the sons of folly to the sons of wisdom, where is the absurdity of saying they could measure the same way back again in one day, and draw back in the horrid womb of sin as easily as Satan drew back into rebellion, Adam into disobedience, David into adultery, Solomon into idolatry, Judas into treason, and Ananias and Sapphira into covetousness? When Peter had shown himself a blessed son of heavenly wisdom, by confessing Jesus Christ, did he even stay till the next day to become a son of folly by following the "wisdom which is earthly, sensual, and devilish"? Was not our Lord directly obliged to rebuke him with utmost severity, by saying, "Get thee behind Me, Satan"?
A SHEEP CAN NEVER BECOME A GOAT
Here is another Antinomian abuse of figures. In the day of judgment the human race stand separate -- the sheep and the goats. It is said that since a sheep can never become a goat, because of the law of the invariability of species, so one once called by Christ a sheep can never become a goat. But this logic proves too much. Can a goat ever, by any power divine, become a sheep? Can a sinner ever become a saint if it s impossible for a saint ever to become an incorigible sinner? Yet multitudes, who live in open sin, build their hopes of heaven upon this palpable mistake. "Once I heard the Shepherd's voice," say these apostate souls; "I followed Him, and received His ear-mark, water baptism, and therefore I was one of His sheep; and now, though I follow the voice of a stranger who leads me into all manner of sins, into adultery and murder, I am undoubtedly a sheep; for it was never heard that a sheep became a goat." "A washed sow is no sheep," said Mr. Darby to the writer, with an air of logical conclusiveness. Says Fletcher, "Such persons do not observe that our Lord calls 'sheep' those who hear His voice, and 'goats' those who follow that of the tempter. Nor do they consider that Saul, a grievous wolf, 'breathing slaughter against Christ's sheep,' and 'making havoc' of His little flock, could in a short time be changed into a sheep and a shepherd; David, a harmless sheep (and shepherd of Israel), could in a short time commence a goat with Bathsheba, and prove a wolf in sheep's clothing to her husband." Fletcher shows the superlative fallacy of this style of logic by quoting the metaphors of John the Baptist and Jesus, who style the Jews a "brood of vipers and serpents." Christ afterwards compares this vipers' brood to a brood of a hen! Had the vipers become chickens? To convince the reader that this is
we quote the following from Tobias Crisp, D.D., eminent preacher and writer of the Anglican Church in the seventeenth century, that our readers may understand the logical outcome and immoral tendency of this pernicious doctrine:--
"Though a believer does sin, yet he is not to be reckoned as a sinner; his sins are reckoned to be taken away from him. God reckons not his sin to be his; he reckons it Christ's, therefore he cannot reckon it to be his. Christ does justify a person before he believes; we do not believe that we may be justified, but because we are justified. The elect are justified from eternity, at Christ's death; and the latest time is before we are born. It is a received conceit among persons that our obedience is the way to heaven; but I must tell you, all this sanctification of life is not a jot the way of that justified person to heaven. To what purpose do we propose to ourselves the gaining of that by our labor and industry which is already become ours before we do one jot? The Lord does nothing in his people upon conditions. He intends not that by our obedience we shall gain something, which in case of our failing we shall miscarry of. While you labor to get by duties, you provoke God as much as in you lies. We must work from life and not for life. Love to the brethren, universal obedience, and all other inherent qualifications, are no signs by which we are to judge of our state ("standing" is the modern term). Every elect vessel, from the first instant of his being, is as pure in the eyes of God from the charge of sin as he shall be in glory. Though such persons do act rebellion, yet the loathsomeness and hatefulness of this rebellion is laid on the back of Christ; He bears the sin, as well as the blame and shame; and God can dwell with such persons that act the thing, because all the filthiness of it is translated from them upon the back of Christ. It is the voice of a lying spirit in your hearts that says 'you that are believers (as David) have yet sin wasting your conscience.' David indeed says, 'My sins are gone over my head,' but he speaks from himself, and all that he speaks from himself was not truth. There is as much ground to be confident of the pardon of sin to a believer, as soon as he has committed it, as to believe it after he has performed all the humiliation in the world. A believer may be assured of pardon as soon as he has committed any sin, even adultery and murder. God does no longer stand displeased, though a believer do sin often. There no sin that even believers commit that can possibly do them any hurt. Therefore, as their sins cannot hurt them, so there is no cause of fear in their sins committed. Sins are but scarecrows and bugbears to frighten ignorant children, but men of understanding see they are counterfeit things. If we tell believers, except they walk thus and thus holily, and do these and these good works, God will be angry with them, we abuse the Scriptures, undo what Christ has done, injure believers, and tell God lies to His face. All our righteousness is filthy, full of menstruosity, the highest kind of filthiness; -- even what is the Spirit's must be involved within that which is man's own, under the general notion of doing."
"It is a soft and easy doctrine to bid men sit still and believe, as if God would translate them to heaven upon their couches! Christ expects that those who have grace should put forth the utmost power thereof in laboring after the salvation He has purchased for them." "So work with that earnestness, constancy, and unawareness in well doing, as if thy works alone were able to justify and save thee; and so absolutely depend and rely upon the merits of Christ for justification and salvation, as if thou never hadst performed one act of obedience in all thy life. This is the right Gospel frame of obedience, so to work as if we were only to be saved our own merits; and withal so to rest on the merits of Christ, as if we had never wrought anything. It is a difficult thing to give to each of these its due in practice. When we work, we are apt to neglect Christ; and when we rely on Christ we are apt to neglect working. But that Christian has got the right art of obedience who can mingle these two together; who can with one hand 'work the works of God,' and yet, at the same time, lay fast hold on the merit of Jesus Christ. Let this Antinomian principle be forever rooted out of the minds of men, that our working is derogatory to Christ's work. He gave himself for us, that He might redeem from all iniquity, and purify to Himself a peculiar people, ZEALOUS OF GOOD WORKS.'"
We quote from modern writers essentially the same doctrines as those taught by Dr. Crisp, only there is apparently a shrinking from the frank statement of their logical outcome. There is rather an attempt to draw a vail over those inferences which old Antinomianism plainly avowed. In this particular, the old is less dangerous than the new.
We turn to Macintosh's Notes on various books of the Bible, a series of diffuse annotations highly esteemed by D. L. Moody and many other evangelists: "The very moment in which a soul is born again, -- born from above, and sealed by the Holy Ghost, -- he is incorporated into the body of Christ. He can no longer view himself as a solitary individual --an independent person -- an isolated acorn; he is a member of a body, just as the hand or foot is a member of the human body." "There are two grand links in Christianity, which, though very intimately connected, are perfectly distinct; namely, the link of eternal life, and the link of personal communion. The former never can be snapped by anything, the latter can be snapped in a moment, by the weight of a feather." It seems that a sin as light as a feather can suspend communion, while the violation of every one of the ten commandments; over and over again, can never snap the link of eternal life! Comforting indeed to the backslider! His fear that he may at last be filled with his own ways, are groundless. "Beholders many faults may find; but, as regards our standing, our God sees us only in the comeliness of Christ; we are perfect in Him. When God looks at His people, He beholds in them His own workmanship; and it is to the glory of His holy name, and to the praise of His salvation, that not a blemish should be seen on those who are His -- those whom He, in sovereign grace, has made His own. His character, His name, His glory, and the perfection of His work, are all involved in the standing of those with whom He has linked Himself." Thus it would seem that David's workmanship, in making himself an adulterer and a murderer, is utterly ignored as a blemish. While in Uriah's bed his standing as perfectly holy is absolute. "We must never measure the stand ing by the state, but always judge the state by the standing. To lower the standing because of the state, is to give the death-blow to all progress in practical Christianity." That is, we must never judge the tree by the fruit, but always the fruit by the tree. If a crab scion, grafted on a golden pippin, still produces crab-apples, we must aver that they are golden pippins, because the crab has a golden pippin standing. "The people of God are seen only in the vision of the Almighty' - -seen as He sees them, without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing -- all their deformities hidden from view -- all His comeliness seen upon them." "He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel." The enemy may say, "There is iniquity and perverseness there all the while." "Yes; but who can make Jehovah behold it, when He Himself has been pleased to blot it all out as a thick cloud for His name's sake?" "God will never reverse His decision as to what His people are as to standing."
This is the comment on the shameless licentiousness of Israel on the plains of Moab, with the women of Midian. Their standing is still the same as it was when the prophet stood on Pisgah. "It reminds us of the opening and close of 2 Cor. xii. In the former we have the positive standing of the Christian; in the latter, the possible state into which he may fall, if not watchful. That shows us a "man in Christ" capable of being caught up into Paradise at any moment. This shows us saints of God capable of plunging into all manner of sin and folly." Of course the plunge into the cesspool has not the least damaging effect on their clean standing in Christ. These quotations are from McIntosh on Numbers.
Return to ANTINOMIANISM Table of Contents
HOME | FINNEY LIFE | FINNEY WORKS | TEXT INDEX | SUBJECT INDEX | GLOSSARY | BOOK STORE | E-MAIL