THE THEOLOGY OF THE SO-CALLED PLYMOUTH BRETHREN EXAMINED AND REFUTED.
IT is no secret that the author of this book believes in a large Gospel, an evangel co-exten sive with the present needs of the depraved offspring of Adam; yea, more: he believes that where sin hath abounded, grace doth here and now much more abound to those believers who insist that Christ is a perfect Saviour from inbred sin, through the efficacy of His blood, in procuring the indwelling Comforter and Sanctifier. He unhesitatingly proclaims and testifies to all the world that Jesus Christ can make clean the inside, as well as the outside of His vessels unto honor; that heart-purity is real and inwrought, and not a stainless robe, con cealing unspeakable moral filthiness and lep rosy. He believes with St. John against the Gnostics, that if any man asserts that he has by nature no defiling taint of depravity, no bent toward acts of sin, and hence, that he does not need the blood of atonement, that he self-deceived, and the truth is not in him; but if he will confess his lost condition, God is faithful and just, not only to forgive, but also to cleanse from all sin, "actual and original" (Bengel). He is bold to assert that we are living in the days when Ezekiel's prophecy is filled: "I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean; from ALL your filthiness and from ALL your idols I will cleanse you; I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes,"--a case of evangelical legalism, --"and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. I will also save you from all your uncleannesses"; and in the days when the words of Jehovah, by the lips of Moses, are verified in the experience of a multitude of believers: "The Lord thy God will circumcise thy heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live." He finds St. Paul's inspired unfoldings of the Gospel germs, dropped by Christ, to be the exact fulfilment and realization of these predictions, when the Apostle asserts that "our old man is crucified with him"--that is, in the same manner, and with as deadly an effect --"that the body of sin might be destroyed "-- "put out of existence" (Meyer); so that every advanced believer may truthfully assert, "it is no longer I that live" (R. V. Am. Com mittee).
He is confident that the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus does now "make us free from the law of sin and death," although it does not, this side of the grave, deliver us from errors, ignorances, and such innocent infirmities as St. Paul gloried in without detriment to his saintly character. Believing, as the author is not ashamed to confess with tongue and type and telegraph and telephone, in a genuine CHRISTIAN PERFECTION -- a Scriptural term which cannot be used "without raising the pity or indignation of one-half of the religious world, some making it the subject of their pious sneers"--he views with sorrow the resurrection of that spurious perfection which wrought disastrous effects in past generations, consisting in an imaginary perfect and inalienable stand ing in Christ wholly independent of moral con duct and character, the outcome of which must inevitably be, in many cases, the rejection of God's law as the rule of life, and a sad lower ing of the standard of Christian morality. It is an evil omen when Christian teachers make eloquent pleas for the flesh, and fallaciously construct ingenious Scriptural arguments for indwelling sin. So long as the believer dwells in the body, such preaching, instead of inspiring unspeakable abhorrence for sin, deadens men's sensibility to its dreadful nature and leads them "to speak of the corruptions of their hearts in as unaffected and airy a manner, as if they talked of freckles upon their faces, and to run down their sinful nature only to apologize for their sinful practices; or to appear great profi cients in self-knowledge, and court the praise due to genuine humility."
We have noted the fact that a school of pop ular evangelists have espoused the doctrines which lie at the base of Antinomianism, and that they are zealously inculcating these pecu liar tenets in Young Men's Christian Associations and summer schools. We have done what we could, by articles in our Christian periodi cals, to warn the public of the certain evil re sults which will ensue when these doctrines de scend from the few Christian teachers who, by well-established Christian habits, are for rifled against their pernicious tendency, to the multi tudes of weak believers who may be ensnared to their moral ruin by the pleasing doctrine that one act of faith in Christ secures a perpetual exemption from condemnation, and a life long license for walking in the flesh.
Some teachers of this doctrine may live in harmony with the purest ethical precepts of Christ, under what Joseph Cook calls "heredi tary momentum," and a personal experience of salvation in former years, before embracing their present theological errors. But what will be the legitimate fruit in those who give full credence to a theoretical error lying so near to conduct and character, and who are without the safeguards of which we have just spoken?
From our knowledge of the human heart we forebode many shipwrecks of moral character. Men generally live below their creeds; few rise above them. Illustration: A preacher riding on top of an omnibus, in London, addressed words of reproof to a tipsy man by his side, who was using very improper language, and warned him as a transgressor of the law of God. "Oh," said the man, "it is not by works, it is by faith, and I believe in Jesus Christ, and of course I shall be saved." Here is a man, a sample of myriads, who are living in willful sin, dreaming of final salvation on the ground of a barren, fruitless, speculative belief that Jesus Christ died for their salvation, a faith which no more reforms the conduct and transforms the character, than faith in the existence of the sea- serpent.
The fatal mistake is in ignoring the Scriptural test of saving faith, evangelical works. It is true that the penitent believer seeking the pardon of sin is justified by faith only. But it is also true that in the day of Judgment the same person will be judged by works only, works which attest the genuineness of his faith (Jer. xvii. 10; xxxii. 19; Ezek. vii. 3, 27:; xviii. 20, 30; 1 Cor. iii. 8, 13-15; 2 Cor. v. 10; GaI. vi. 5-8; especially Matt. xxv. 31-46).
It is due to the Christian public that I should acknowledge my sense of incompetency for the proper handling of this subject. I have long waited for some eminent theologian to lift up his voice in refutation of a system of error which is industriously promoted by persons whose zeal is worthy of a better cause. At length I have yielded to the importunity of many Christian men to expose the character and tendencies of that system of doctrines against which this book is prayerfully directed. I have made a free use of that great armory of weapons--"Fletcher's Checks to Antino mianism." Sometimes I have quoted sentences unchanged, noting them with quotation marks. But frequently these marks could not be used by reason of the alterations which I have made, either to abridge, to modernize, or to eliminate some personal allusion.
In my quotations from the writings of the Plymouth Brethren and their sympathizers, I have endeavored to give the exact idea of the writer as gathered from the context.
Whoever of my Christian friends may be grieved, I trust that the great day will reveal that truth has not been wounded, but rather cleared of errors and set forth in the robes of her native beauty.
HOME | FINNEY LIFE | FINNEY WORKS | TEXT INDEX | SUBJECT INDEX | GLOSSARY | BOOK STORE | E-MAIL