VOL. XIII. JULY 1, 1892. NO. 13.
PULPIT INFIDELITY OF TO-DAY.
In discussing this subject it seems necessary to call attention first to the difference between Infidelity and Atheism; because the popular mind is confused on the subject, and because when mentioning the Infidelity of the Pulpit we do not wish to be understood as claiming that ministers are becoming atheists. We cannot do better than quote on this subject from Webster's Unabridged Dictionary as follows:--
"An infidel, in common usage, is one who denies Christianity and the truth of the Scriptures. Some have endeavored to widen the sense of infidel so as to embrace atheism and every form of unbelief; but this use does not generally prevail....An atheist denies the being of God."
What we desire to call attention to is that, in the Protestant pulpits of leading influence in these United States, infidelity (the denial of the truth of the Scriptures, and of the doctrines taught by Christ and the apostles--Christianity) is fast displacing faith (in the Bible as the Word of God, and hence in the doctrines which it sets forth as being of divine revelation).
This strong statement we are abundantly able to prove by quotations from the public addresses of ministers recognized as the "great lights" of various denominations--men honored with titles such as neither our Lord nor any of the apostles ever owned--Reverend Doctors of Divinity; men who receive salaries such as no apostle ever received, ranging from six thousand to twenty-five thousand dollars a year; men who are recognized as among the best educated in all things pertaining to worldly wisdom; men, consequently, of more than ordinary ability and influence, either for or against the faith they have pledged themselves to defend, but which in reality they are doing far more than outward infidels to undermine and cast aside as rubbish good enough for the ignorance of the past, but unable to bear the light of what they are pleased to term the "higher criticism" of to-day.
Fed with this bread of worldly wisdom, which does not recognize God's providential care of his people in supplying them a revelation of his past dealings and of his future purposes in connection with them, but which prefers to arraign that revelation before an inferior court of fallible human philosophers and incompetent judges who vainly overrate their own knowledge and wisdom, what wonder that the pews also are skeptical--especially when we consider that aside from such food from the pulpit they are beset by the same spirit in the world, in the every-day walks of life. These worldly philosophers, instead of recognizing modern inventions as the God-given precursors of the yet greater blessings of the Millennial Day, account for them by a supposed greater brain-capacity, and call this the Brain-age. They sneer at the teachers and the philosophies of the past, and especially at the teachings of the prophets, our Lord and the apostles--that man, created in the glorious image of God, fell from that original perfection into sin and degradation, and needed to be redeemed and restored to "that [original perfection and God-likeness] which was lost."
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While exposing the infidelity which these "great teachers" are publishing from pulpits dedicated to God, we are far from accusing them of any desire to do evil. On the contrary, we believe them to be conscientious, but so misled by their own and other men's supposed wisdom that they can now see nothing of God in the Bible, and have therefore come to reverence it merely as an ancient and curious document, a relic of the remote past upon which these, its critics, could improve amazingly. They tolerate it as a book of texts from which to preach sermons (generally in direct opposition to the contexts) merely because the common people still reverence it and can as yet be better appealed to thus than in any other way. They tolerate the Bible only because of what they believe is the superstitious reverence of the people for it. And they are seeking quietly and skilfully to remove that superstition.
Of course it is true that some superstitions do attach to the popular reverence for the Bible, as for all sacred things. For instance, some keep a Family Bible upon the table, unused, as a sort of "charm," just as some hang an old horseshoe above their door. Others use it as an "oracle" and after prayer upon any perplexing point open their Bible and accept the verse upon which the eye first lights as an inspired answer to their petition--often torturing the words out of all proper sense and connection to obtain the desired answer. And some ignorantly presume that the English and some that the German translation is the original Bible, and that every word in these imperfect, uninspired translations is inspired. For this much of ignorance and superstition the Protestant ministers of the world are responsible; because they should have taught the people by expounding God's Word, instead of tickling their ears with pleasing essays upon other topics. And it is upon this degree of superstition which they helped to inculcate, that these "wise men" are now placing their levers and exerting the whole weight of their influence and learning to overthrow entirely the faith of many, their own faith having first perished in their culpable negligence of the prayerful study of the Word and their pride in human philosophies and speculations.
People of the world seem to realize the true state of affairs better far than many of God's children, most of whom seem to be asleep on the subject. As an instance, see the illustration which we give upon pages 200 and 201. It was published by "Life," a New York journal, in its issue of April 28th. Its publishers kindly granted us the privilege of reproducing it. It shows leading ministers and colleges* of the country in the forefront--blind leaders of the numerous blind followers who are shown groping after them in the background. The miasm of infidelity ["doubts"] is shown hovering over them as smoke, helping to injure their already darkened vision. All are shown as approaching, unconsciously, a great precipice into which some have already fallen headlong. The illustration brings forcibly to mind our Lord's words to the leaders and Doctors of the Jewish Church--"If the blind lead the blind both will fall into the ditch." And so it was fulfilled in the case of that typical House of Israel: they stumbled over that stumbling-stone --Christ; and the Apostle declares that the particular doctrine of Christ over which they stumbled was "the cross of Christ, to the Jew a stumbling-block and to the Greeks foolishness," but to us who believe the power and the wisdom of God.--`1 Cor. 1:18`.
And as God foresaw and foretold the fall of all the fleshly House of Israel except the believing little remnant, so he has foretold the stumbling and fall, not only of these blind leaders of the nominal spiritual House of Israel whom we see already stumbling, but the fall also of all, except "a remnant," of the great mass of the nominal Church, who will follow the pernicious ways of these false teachers and fall with them into the ditch of infidelity. Thus it is written--He will be for a stone of stumbling and rock of offense to both the houses of Israel. As the nominal fleshly house stumbled eighteen centuries ago, so the nominal spiritual house is now stumbling. And, as already pointed out, the present stumbling is
*Union Theological Seminary (representing Dr. Briggs and his friends) figures as the man laden with ponderous books and manuscripts illustrating the claim of higher criticism. Princeton College is shown as led by the Westminster Confession and about to collide with Union.
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like the former--over the doctrine of the pardon of sins by virtue of the death, the cross, of Christ. This now, as then, seems foolishness to the worldly-wise and proves a stumbling-block to all who are unworthy of the truth.
Those who have the TOWERS as far back as 1879 and '80 will notice that we then called attention to this very condition of testing upon this subject--as coming first upon those most advanced in the light, those upon the housetop of Babylon; and later upon all in her; and here we applied the words of the Apostle: "If it begin first with us [if some amongst us need to be sifted out and to fall], what shall the end be" to others? What, indeed, but that which God represents, a falling on every hand? "A thousand shall fall at thy side"--a thousand shall fall to one who will stand. No wonder the Apostle counsels: "Take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all to stand." --`Eph. 6:13`.
Whilst Colonel Ingersoll is thundering against the Bible and its inconsistencies--because he misinterprets it in the light of the conflicting creeds of Christendom--professed Bible expounders in some of the leading pulpits are exerting a ten-fold greater influence toward infidelity. They are handing stones and serpents to those who look to them for food. Under the name of The Findings of the Higher Criticism, they assure their confiding supporters that the Bible is not reliable; that, for instance, the finding of shells upon the tops of mountains was probably the origin of the story of the deluge in Noah's day, and that now these are known to have resulted from the upheaval of the mountains; that it has been discovered that although a whale has an enormous mouth it has a small throat, and that consequently the story of Jonah must be a fable; they proceed to deny that God created man in his own likeness
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and that he fell into sin and thereby lost almost all of that likeness, and insist that this and other accounts of Genesis are wholly unreliable and contrary to reason. They then claim that reason teaches evolution; that only a beginning of man's creation took place in Eden, and that, so far from falling from divine favor into sin and degradation, man has gradually been growing into God's likeness and favor for the past six thousand years.
They proceed to say that "higher criticism" shows that the canon of the Old Testament Scriptures was not completed until after the return of Israel from the Babylonian captivity, and that in that compilation serious errors were made-- for instance, that the collection of Psalms was merely a collection of Hebrew poetry and ascribed to David because he had written a few of them, and because of his reputation; and that the other psalms were written by various parties and are therefore to be considered as uninspired. Similar claims are made regarding others of the Old Testament books: for instance, that not more than the first twenty-eight chapters of Isaiah are really the writings of that prophet; that the remainder of the book bearing his name has distinctive peculiarities indicating that they were written by two or three other parties than wrote the first twenty-eight chapters.
We reply to this "higher criticism" that it is altogether too high--that it takes the standpoint of unbelief and therefore not the standpoint proper for the child of God, who reasonably expects that his Heavenly Father has given a revelation, and who, finding in the Bible that which commends it to his heart and head as being that revelation, seeks to prove rather than to disprove its authenticity and its truthfulness. Higher worldly wisdom ignores God's supervision of his Book, but the higher heavenly wisdom recognizes that supervision and therefore studies it reverently and expectantly.
The truly higher criticism would reason that as the olden-time prophets generally used scribes, to whom they dictated, so probably had Isaiah; and that as Isaiah's prophecy covered a number of years, he probably had several scribes, and while each scribe may have had his own peculiarities, the same God who was able and willing to give a revelation of his will through his prophet, Isaiah, was willing and able to overrule the scribes provided, so that the revelation should reach his people as he designed to give it.
The truly higher criticism, instead of being
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surprised that all the psalms of the Book of Psalms were not indited by King David, should remember that the book does not claim to be a book of David's Psalms, but a book of Psalms. It should notice, too, that whilst a majority of the psalms particularly claim that David was their author, some do not name their authors. One at least (`Psalm 90`) claims Moses as its writer. And although twelve are credited to Asaph, a Levite whom King David made Musical Director in the services of the Sanctuary, it is by no means certain that their dedication should not read as some scholars claim--"A Psalm for Asaph"--to set to music.
But no matter: suppose it could be proved conclusively that one fourth or one half or all of the Psalms had been written by some one else than David, would that invalidate their divine censorship? It is nowhere stated that David alone of all the prophets was permitted to put his messages into poetic form. The Jews recognized the Book of Psalms as a whole, as sacred scripture--as a holy or inspired writing. And our Lord and the apostles (the highest possible critics, in the estimation of God's people) made no objection to that popular thought of their day, but, on the contrary, they quoted directly or by allusion from sixty-one of the psalms, some of them repeatedly. Our Lord himself quoted from nineteen of them. And these quotations embrace, not only some of those definitely ascribed to David, but equally those whose authorship is not definitely stated. And in one case (`John 10:34,35`), our Lord, quoting from `Psalm 82:6` ("A Psalm of Asaph") distinctly terms it a part of the "Scriptures" which "cannot be broken." This, the highest possible criticism, makes the Book of Psalms entirely satisfactory to God's humble "little ones," whether or not it be hid from the wise and prudent according to the course of this world, whom the god of this world hath blinded with the brilliancy of their own earthly learning and with their love of honor of men. --Compare `Matt. 11:25-30`; `1 Cor. 1:19-31`; `2 Cor. 4:4`.
The arguments against the story of Jonah and the whale and against the story of the flood are fully met by the reminder that the Scriptures do not say that a whale swallowed Jonah, but that the Lord specially prepared a great fish for the purpose, and that our Lord and the apostles refer to both of these narratives without in any degree modifying or correcting them. If they were deceived upon such points we could place no reliance upon their superior guidance and inspiration upon other points. The "meek" will recognize that there is much more likelihood that the error lies with the modern critics. See `Isa. 29:10-14`.
But some of these wise men, whose wisdom is perishing, wax very bold and not only discredit the truthfulness of the records of the past, but declare that, if assured of their truthfulness, there is no reason to think them more inspired, nor even as much so, as the writings of good men of to-day. They claim that the prophesying of the past was merely the expression of the longing desires of naturally good hearts looking for and predicting a better state of things coming after. They assert that this is the natural order of evolution; that men desire something better and then aim for and attain it; they make light of the teaching of Genesis that man was created in God's image and fell from it; asserting that by a process of evolution the world has each century approached nearer and nearer to the likeness of God. The Rev. R. Heber Newton declares:--
"If the dear Christ's throne stood on any such flimsy basis of prophecy as men have built up under it, then, when the underpinnings [of faith, which he has been actively engaged in removing] come tumbling out, as to-day they are doing, we might fear that his authority was dropping in with them; that no longer we were to call him Master and King; that criticism had pronounced his decheance. But his throne really rests on a nation's [the Jews] growth of the human ideal and divine image. And since this nation's growth was on the same general basis as the religious and ethical progress of other races [i.e., there was nothing peculiar about the Jews religion--nothing better than that of other nations, except that they were more religiously inclined, as the writer elsewhere claims --although on the contrary, the Scriptures claim and show by their history that the Jews were "a stiff-necked" and idolatrously inclined people], his throne rests on no less secure
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foundation than humanity's evolution of the human ideal and divine image."
Here is a repudiation of all that Christ taught on the subject of the "things written" which "must be fulfilled," a repudiation of all his quotations from the Law and the Prophets; a repudiation of his repeated statements of God's choice of that nation and the house of David and seed of Abraham as heirs of the promises that of these should come the predicted Messiah; a repudiation of his statement of the necessity of his death: that thus it was written, and thus "it was necessary" that the Son of Man should suffer and rise from the dead in order that salvation and remission of sins, and consequently restitution from the penalty of sins, should be preached in his name unto all people. But whilst showing Christ to have been a wonderful Jew, and the great exemplar for both Jews and Gentiles, he utterly repudiates him as a Savior in the sense that the Master taught-- that he "gave his life a ransom for many"-- "to save [recover] that which was lost." Then, fearing to break the idol of our hearts too suddenly, and a little shocked by his own boldness as an iconoclast, he for the moment pacifies his own and his hearers hearts by (so to speak, saying, Hail, Master! and kissing the very one whose teachings he, as a "higher critic," is betraying) saying, "The dear Christ."
The Master prophetically rebuked such as say Lord, Lord, yet follow not his teachings. (`Matt. 7:22`.) And they still need rebuke, and it is the duty of every true disciple to rebuke them; for the outward opponents do far less harm than those who wear the Master's name whilst denying his doctrine.
As for the average nominal Christian, overcharged with the cares and business of this present life, and wholly ignorant of prophecy and its past, present and future fulfilments, he is just ready to swallow these suggestions of unbelief. The Apostle Peter's statement (`2 Pet. 1:21`) is that "prophecy came not in old time by the will of man [that they were not the imaginings of longing human hearts], but that holy men of old spoke as they were moved [to speak] by the holy spirit" of God. And so far from their utterances being their own ideas of what would come to pass, the Lord sends us word, through the Apostle Peter (`1 Pet. 1:10,11`), that the prophets did not know, but searched diligently to know what and what manner of time (whether literal or symbolic) the spirit which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand concerning the sufferings of Christ and concerning the glory and restitution of all things (`Acts 3:21`) that would follow as a result of his suffering--the just for the unjust. And not only does the Apostle tell us of this, but the prophets themselves acknowledge their own ignorance (`Dan. 8:26,27`; `12:4,8,9`; `Ezek. 20:49`); and the Apostle exclaims that they spoke and wrote not for themselves and the people then living, but for the instruction of the Gospel Church, and especially for the
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two ends, the opening and the closing of the Gospel age.--`1 Pet. 1:12`; `1 Cor. 10:11`.
But these worldly-wise teachers who put light for darkness and darkness for light go farther and farther into the "outer darkness" in their efforts to justify their theories and still be logical. They openly claim that the apostles were not inspired; that their belief in the inspiration of the prophets misled them; and that, although they were good-intentioned men, their writings are very misleading. Indeed, one of these preachers has attempted to prove from their own words that the New Testament writers did not claim infallibility, or a divine supervision of their writing. He quotes the preface to the Gospel according to Luke, saying: "No Biblical writer shows any consciousness of such supernatural influences upon him in his work as insured infallibility." We answer that it should not require a special inspiration to enable an honest man to set forth in historical form facts known to himself or testified to by his honorable friends who had been eye-witnesses of the facts recorded. The first five books of the New Testament are merely histories--good histories, reliable histories, histories written by men who gave their lives in devotion to the matters concerning which they here bear witness. The only superhuman influence that could be desired in this would be that the Lord should facilitate their work by bringing important matters clearly and forcibly to the attention
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of these historians, and guarding them against misunderstandings. This our Lord promised to do (`John 14:26`); and this we have every reason to believe he has done. But this "higher critic" declares that the Apostle Paul, the greatest of the New Testament writers, did not claim divine direction, or more than ordinary knowledge or authority for his teachings. In proof of this statement he cites us to `1 Cor. 7:10,12,25,40`. He argues from these citations that the Apostle was quite uncertain about his own teaching. We reason contrariwise, that the man who thus carefully marked off his own judgment or opinion and clearly specified that these particular items were his, and not of divine inspiration, not only implies that the remainder of his teachings are of divine authorization, and very positively so, but that his candid admission that some things here taught were without divine authorization proves that if his teachings had all been merely his own judgment, he had the courage which would have told the truth--the honesty which love of human approbation could not affect.
Let us hear what the Apostle has to say relative to the divine authority for his teachings aside from what is implied and stated in the citations already mentioned.-- `1 Cor. 7:12,25,40`.
He declares that "God hath set" first or chief in the Church the Apostles, as rulers and teachers of all. (And that the early Church so recognized the apostles is very evident.) He declares that he is one of the apostles--the last; points to the evidences of his apostleship-- how the Lord used him, not only in imparting to others through him a knowledge of the truth, but also in communicating the gifts of the spirit, which at that time outwardly witnessed the acceptance of all true believers, but also witnessed who were apostles--since only apostles could impart those gifts.--`1 Cor. 12:28`; `2 Cor. 1:1`; `1 Cor. 9:1,2`; `15:8-10`; `2 Tim. 1:6`.
Every time, therefore, that Paul announced himself an apostle, he declared (to those who appreciate the meaning of that office) that he was one of those twelve specially commissioned of God and recognized of the Church as God's representatives, through whom he would promulgate and establish in the world the truths concerning the New Covenant which had just been sealed with the precious blood [sacrificial death] of Christ. Every time he referred to his apostleship he announced himself one of those specially commissioned "by the holy spirit sent down from heaven" to preach and to establish the Gospel.--See `1 Pet. 1:12`.
His writings are toned not only with meekness, but also with that authority which should mark one who knows what he teaches to be the truth--unlike the uncertain "scribes." Not only so, but he affirms, "I have not shunned to declare unto you [not my own opinions, but] all the counsel of God."--`Acts 20:27`.
Hear the Apostle:--"I certify unto you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ." "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel than that we have preached unto you, let him be accursed." (`Gal. 1:8,11,12`.) "For my gospel [message of good tidings] came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the holy spirit, and in much assurance." "As we were permitted of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God." "We preached unto you the gospel of God"--exhorting "that ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory;" and we thank God that "when ye received the word of God WHICH YE HEARD OF US, ye received it not as the word of men, but, as it is in truth, the word of God." (`1 Thes. 1:5`; `2:4,9,12,13`.) "God...hath chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the spirit and belief of the truth: whereunto he called you by our gospel."--`2 Thes. 2:13,14`.
And yet so dense has the "outer darkness" become in some instances, that ministers who should know what the Apostle Paul claimed, and who would know if they studied his writings as much as they study the findings of "higher criticism," declare in the face of the foregoing and other statements of the Apostle that--
"Against his [Paul's] modest, cautious discriminations, our doctors [of divinity] set up
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their theory of the Bible, clothe all his utterances with the divine authority, and honor him with an infallibility which he explicitly disclaims." --R. Heber Newton.
Commenting upon the teachings of the Apostle Paul, Mr. Newton says:
"His intensely speculative mind had furnished a system of thought into which he built such ideas as these: The pre-existence of Christ, as in some mystic, undefined way the head of Humanity; the sacrificial nature of his death; the justification of the sinner through faith;... the speedy return of Christ to reign on earth; the resurrection of the pious dead; the translation of the living believers; the final victory of goodness over evil; and the ending of the mediatorship of Christ, God then becoming all in all....With the incoming of a more rational, ethical and spiritual age, we may surely expect a finer fashioning of the forms of thought."
As this higher critic philosophizes that Peter and James and Paul and especially Jesus were the developments of the Jewish age, by processes of moral and physical evolution, what wonder if he concludes that himself and his co-critics, as the developments of this Brain-age, are much better able than they to teach the world--and to doctor divinity. The fact that Christ and the apostles taught the doctrines of justification by faith in the great sacrifice for sins, of a second coming of Christ, and of the resurrection of the dead, would, of course, be the best of reason for the rejection of all those doctrines by the new lights of higher criticism; for, disbelieving in a plenary inspiration, they ask, How could any one get the true light eighteen centuries ago?
So far from regarding our Lord Jesus as the one and only and true Light of the world which sooner or later, in this or the next age, shall lighten every man that cometh into the world, this "higher criticism" asserts that the heathen "Bibles," as well as ours, though mostly error, were rays of the light which is now, as a result of their "higher criticism," about to burst upon the world with electrical brilliancy. But lo! we perceive that what they offer is only a rehash of the old heathen doctrine of evolution --the wisdom of the East--which has done so little for its votaries, whilst the Word of God, even misinterpreted, has been carrying blessings to every land.
But the most forcible element of this attack upon the Bible--to the average mind--is that which claims that there are discrepancies of statements between the books of Chronicles and the books of Kings; and that the Old Testament contains narratives too indecent for promiscuous reading. The argument is that the former prove the Bible to be uninspired and unreliable, and that the latter is a reason for believing it to have been written by men of impure minds, and gives the book an impure influence, and hence proves that it is not of God and is unfit for use by the pure minded and the young.
We answer that the Old Testament Scriptures comprise three classes of writings, viz.: History, Prophecy and Law. The history neither needed nor claimed any special inspiration, though we believe that God's supervision of the historical writings was exerted to the extent of seeing that such items were recorded by the historians as would be of special value in connection with the revelation of the divine plan of the ages. And so also we believe that God's supervision has to some extent been over modern history, by means of which we are enabled to read, upon reliable authority, the fulfilments of many ancient prophecies.
The errors or chronological differences between the books of Kings and Chronicles are, therefore, not to be considered errors of inspiration, but merely such slight discrepancies as we might expect to find in any history, and which
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God permitted for a purpose, while he supplied this deficiency in the Old Testament chronology by a fuller record on these obscure points in the New Testament. Thus we are assured of his supervision of the historical features of the Bible as a whole. At the same time, the Lord thus hid the exact chronology of events, and hence the knowledge of his times and seasons, both from Israel and from "the wise and prudent" of to-day, whose pride in human philosophies impels them more toward adverse criticism of the Bible than toward a reverent study of its hidden treasures of truth and grace.
We claim and have shown (MILLENNIAL DAWN, Vol. II., pages 44-49) that upon those very points where, by the historian's error or our
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misunderstanding, our faith in the chronology would be influenced, God has supplied the needed evidence through the apostles--thus cultivating the confidence of "the meek" in his supervision of the entire matter, and emphasizing his special use of the apostles.
In his eternal purpose God had designed not only the sending of his Son to be man's Redeemer and Deliverer, but also that when made flesh it should be in the line of the seed of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David. He designed also that every item of his plan should be accomplished "in due time," "in the fulness of the times appointed," and he desired that his reverent children should, in due time, know of his good purposes and their times and seasons. For these reasons it was expedient that records be clearly kept--including family genealogies. And it is in keeping a clear record of these necessary genealogies--the showing of who was the father and who the mother --that most of the unchaste narratives are introduced, none of which are approved, but many of them reproved. The reasons for mentioning these features of history are not always apparent without study. For instance, the narrative of King David's relations with Bathsheba were necessary, because her son Solomon succeeded to the throne, and his title to it depended on his relationship to David. Then the account of Absalom's estrangement from his father David made necessary the statement of his relationship to Tamar; and the account of Absalom's conduct toward his father's concubines was necessary as an item of history to prove that the Lord's penalty against David for his injustice toward Uriah was fulfilled. Another account of base wickedness in detail is made necessary as an item of Jewish history to account for the almost complete annihilation of the tribe of Benjamin. And so with other cases: if the reason for the account is not on the surface, let us look deeper, assured that in every instance there is a good reason. Furthermore, the fact that our Lord's ancestors, according to the flesh, were far from perfect, proves that his perfection did not result from evolution, but, as the Scriptures declare, from his divine origin and his miraculous conception and birth. But even its enemies must concede that these unchaste elements of Bible history are told briefly, and evidently without desire to awaken morbid sentiments, or to do more than the historian's simple duty of keeping the lines of history free from obscurity. This was specially needful because the line of our Lord's descent was to be traced, and because for a part of the course that was Israel's royal line or family. And it seems to have been a peculiarity of the Jewish historian to tell the story fearlessly, regardless of whether it related to king or peasant.
All familiar with ancient history know that the Jewish social system was much purer than that of other nations, and few are not aware that to-day the history of any large city of the world, for one week, if written as boldly as Scripture history, would record more unchastity than the Bible account of an entire nation covering centuries.
We do not urge a promiscuous reading of these unchaste portions of ancient history (either from the Bible or other works) before the family or to the young. The Bible is not a child's book, but a book for "believers."
And while the New Testament might be freely given into the hands of children, only selections from the Old Testament should be read to those of immature mind. Such was the custom in the days of the apostles: selections from the Law or from the Prophets were read to the people by the scribes: and the historical books were open for reference for any who had use for them.
As for persons of matured minds, the unchaste elements of Bible history can work no injury: the morbid and impure mind can find, alas! far more attractive tales upon the counter of every book-store and upon the shelves of every public library. The true Christian can trust himself to read and get a lesson from every department of God's Book--and it is for such only, and not for the worldly, nor for children; "that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto every good work."
As a further element of this discussion the reader is referred to Chapters ii., iii. and x. of MILLENNIAL DAWN, Vol. I. And thus we rest our argument for the present: urging all who have "laid hold upon the hope set before us in the gospel" to hold fast the confidence of their rejoicing firm unto the end--to hold fast to the Book. And how much more easy it is and will be for those who have learned the real plan of God and seen its beauty to stand firm upon the Bible, than for others. To many, alas! it is a jumbled mass of doctrinal contradictions, but to us it is the foundation of a clear, definite, grand plan of the ages. So grandly clear and symmetrical is the wonderful plan that all who see it are convinced that only God could have been its author, and that the book whose teachings it harmonizes must indeed be God's revelation.
STUDIES IN THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES.
--INTERNATIONAL S.S. LESSONS.--
SUGGESTIVE THOUGHTS DESIGNED TO ASSIST THOSE OF OUR READERS WHO ATTEND BIBLE CLASSES, WHERE THESE LESSONS ARE USED; THAT THEY MAY BE ENABLED TO LEAD OTHERS INTO THE FULNESS OF THE GOSPEL. PUBLISHED IN ADVANCE, AT THE REQUEST OF FOREIGN READERS.
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THE EARLY CHURCH--ITS SIMPLICITY.
III. QUAR., LESSON III., JULY 17, `Acts 2:37-47`.
Golden Text--"The Lord added to the Church daily such as should be saved."
`VERSES 37-41`. As soon as the disciples had received the begetting spirit and the qualifying gifts, they became preachers--all who received the spirit received a gift or ability to preach the truth in some way. They did not tarry to build colleges and seminaries, and to study astronomy, or geology, or even elocution, but straightway preached--using whatever talents they had, God being willing to use all who desired to serve him. They did not even stop to dispute about how they would "organize" and who should be the officers and which should be Reverend and which Most Reverend. They did not say, Let us make a creed which will elaborately state all that must be believed regarding this life and the next. Already, in being united to Christ, they had the only proper organization.
What then did they do? They preached! What did they preach? The words of Peter are briefly stated (`verses 14-36`) and were doubtless the text for all, as all preached. He simply explained to the people that these gifts of the spirit, which they saw displayed, were meant to designate these as acceptable to God, as the Prophet had foretold (see June TOWER); that their acceptance with God was the result, not of works of their own, but of faith in Christ's work (`verse 21`); then he explained about Christ, the Messiah, and how they as a people had slain him; how God had foreknown and foretold this, and how he had raised Christ from death, as also foretold by the prophets; and how this Messiah was now highly exalted by God and would yet conquer every foe; and that he had secured for his followers divine favor and adoption into the family of God, of which these gifts of the spirit of adoption were the outward witness. And with many other words and arguments in this same line Peter and the others preached the gospel and said to the people, "Save yourselves from this crooked generation," accept of Christ and through him have God's favor and unite with us in his service --telling the good tidings.
Some believed this plainly-told story, and asked, What must we do to be saved from the fate of our cast-off nation and to obtain the divine favor as you have it? The answer came quickly, Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. They did not say, You are all right now since you BELIEVE: there were certain works proper to show their belief. Their course of conduct as well as their belief was to be changed in conformity to the words of Jesus, whom they now accepted as Messiah, and they were to give outward expression to this change, and to show publicly that they believed in him and had consecrated their lives to his service, by baptism into his name.
They did not ask them which Church they would join, for there is but one true Church-- "The Church of the Living God," of which Christ is the Head, and of which every truly consecrated one who believes in him as his Savior is a member. They did not ask them to assent to a fixed creed devised by men, nor to bind or commit themselves in any manner, except as their faith in Christ and their allegiance to him would be expressed by their baptism into his name, in the likeness of his death. How beautifully simple was the organization of the early Church. The names were "written in heaven" (`Luke 10:20`), but we have no record to indicate that they were enrolled on earth. And all were just as free to leave the Church as to come into its gatherings; and when any "drew back" or proved unworthy,
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their names were "blotted out" in the heavenly records only, for no other records are mentioned. (`Rev. 3:5`.) About three thousand souls were added to the Church by that first day's preaching--but it is not stated that they were all immersed in the one day.
The statement that they were to be baptized for the remission of their sins is generally misunderstood. It should be remembered that those addressed were all Jews--already in covenant relationship with God, but about being cast off because of failure to live as nearly as they could up to the terms of their covenant. There was a difference, therefore, between them and the Gentiles who had always been aliens and strangers, afar off from God--"without God and without hope." And it was proper to tell the Jews to repent--to turn again to God and to their covenant--to be his people and to seek to do his will. To the Jew who had wandered away from God, baptism in the name of Jesus became a fresh witness of a covenant
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relationship with God which recognized Jesus as his appointed Messiah. If they would thus accept and acknowledge Christ, their sins against their covenant and their share in the sin of their nation in rejecting and crucifying him would be remitted or forgiven. Compare `Mark 1:4`; `Luke 3:3`; `Acts 13:24` and particularly `Acts 22:16`. These instances all relate to Jews, either natural born or proselyted.
`VERSE 42`. Recognizing the Apostles' teachings as divinely inspired, the early Church had a grand unity of sentiment, and "all believed the same things" (`1 Cor. 1:10`); they did not each try to rack his brain to make a new theory or a new kind of theology. How blessed it would be for the Church to-day if she were delivered from the confusion (Babel) of tongues-- doctrines--which now prevails, and if, instead of studying and endeavoring to harmonize the inconsistent teachings of men, all would unite in discussing the teachings of the Lord and the apostles, with a view of learning just what they (God's mouthpieces) meant to teach. How soon would "the faith once delivered to the saints" illuminate the hearts of all the humble.
The "breaking of bread" does not refer to the Lord's Supper; for in it the wine is no less important than the bread, and would surely have been mentioned had that yearly memorial been meant. Our Lord's resurrection from death on the first day of the week seems to have given rise to the custom in the early Church of meeting together on that day, so precious in its memory of revived hopes. And since after his resurrection our Lord made himself known to them several times in connection with their partaking of food (`Mark 16:14`; `Luke 24:30,31`; `John 21:5-12`), the early Church appears to have gotten into the habit of having a simple meal in common in remembrance of this--a sort of love-feast.
Prayers, of course, were not neglected. No soul appreciative of the great privilege of communion with the great Creator, opened to us by our Mediator through the sin-offering which he gave for our transgressions, would fail to use so precious a boon--to express his thanks for mercies received and to seek fresh supplies of grace and wisdom in the Redeemer's name.
`VERSES 44,45`. The tendency with all whose hearts are touched and sealed with God's spirit, the spirit of love, is to live together as one family--the new-found cup of blessings, joys of the Lord, being rendered the more sweet and precious by being shared in common; and if the spiritual so also the temporal joys and sorrows would be gladly shared. So it was in the early Church: such a spirit of love prevailed and speedily led to community of goods-- "They had all things in common"--"possessions (houses, etc.) and goods"--as one family, the family of God.
This beautiful and desirable condition of affairs doubtless affords a foreview of the blessed state of affairs already existing in heaven and of what will be found also upon earth when that which is perfect is come, and when as a result of the promised "times of restitution" God's will shall be done on earth as it is done in heaven. And God no doubt arranged for this sample of Christian Communism as an illustration of what a full measure of the holy spirit would lead to. But that God did not intend that such a communism should continue throughout this Gospel age seems evident. Having served its intended use as an object lesson, it was permitted to die. Indeed, it should be evident to all that the children of this world would be led into such a community by a spirit of selfishness and indolence as surely as if not more numerously than saints would be drawn into it by the spirit of love. And it is evident that it required the exercise of those special powers conferred upon the apostles, to keep the community from being imposed on by such selfish characters.--`Acts 5:1-11`; `8:18-24`.
When our Lord traveled throughout Palestine with his twelve disciples they had a common "bag" into which freewill offerings were put. Judas, who had a devil, was the treasurer, being naturally drawn to the position by his love of money, selfishness. And yet theirs was not a communism in the full sense; for John at least had "his own home."--`John 19:27`.
Furthermore, neither our Lord nor the apostles in any of their teachings urged believers to communism of goods; but, on the contrary, they urged each to esteem himself a steward of God's favors, temporal and spiritual, and to use them--"distributing to the necessities of the saints"--laying by on the first day of the week, according as God had prospered each, a fund from which the Lord's cause could be forwarded. And those who have, from time to time since, attempted religious socialism or communism have, as a rule, found the matter impracticable, because, although the spirit may be willing, the flesh is weak.
`VERSES 46,47`. Whilst it lasted, their full fellowship was delightful, and made even the ordinary affairs of life more blessed--"They ate their food with gladness." Such a blissful condition was well calculated to draw the attention and hearts of all Israelites indeed. And thus did the Lord draw out of the rejected nation into the Church such as it was proper to rescue or "save" from the "blindness" which he had sent upon that nation, because of unfitness of heart to share the blessings of the Gospel age.--`Rom. 11:7-11`.
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THE LAME MAN HEALED.
III. QUARTER, LESSON IV., JULY 24, `ACTS 3:1-16`.
Golden Text--"And his name, through faith in his name, hath made this man strong."--`Acts 3:16`.
`VERSE 1`. Peter and John were promptly about the Master's business. The Pentecostal blessing had filled their hearts, and in their zeal to find some opportunity for service they went up to the temple at the hour of prayer, hoping and expecting to find there some opportunity for testifying to the truth.
`VERSES 2,3`. At the gate of the temple they met a poor beggar, lame from his birth, who asked for alms; and immediately the Spirit of God suggested to Peter the healing of this man in the name of the Lord Jesus as a means of calling the attention of the people to the fact of his resurrection and power. The suggestion was accompanied by the gift of faith (`1 Cor. 12:9`), and the inspired Apostle, strong in the assurance that the Lord would work with him in this matter, boldly commanded the man in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth to rise up and walk.
`VERSES 4-7` show that a remarkable cure was effected as soon as the man made the effort to obey the command of the Lord Jesus through Peter. Herein is a lesson for us to manifest the disposition to obedience to the Lord if we would secure his blessing.
`VERSE 8` declares the completeness of the cure and the surprise and joy and gratitude of the man, as, walking and leaping and praising God, he entered the temple with Peter and John, a living witness to the power of the risen Lord Jesus whom they preached.
`VERSES 9-11` show that the miracle had the desired effect of drawing the attention of the people to the apostles' teaching.
`VERSES 12-16` are a part of the testimony concerning the Lord Jesus. How bold and fearless Peter here appears since that pentecostal baptism of the holy spirit. There is no disposition now to deny the Lord: he fearlessly stands before the people who only a few months previous had crucified the Lord, and charges them with the crime; describing, too, the enormity of their guilt, and then declaring the fact of his resurrection, of which fact he claimed to be one of the witnesses. And this miracle which had been wrought in their sight, in the name of Jesus, he pointed to as an evidence of his exaltation and power.
Here, strange to say, just at the most interesting point of his discourse, our lesson closes, and the succeeding lesson is chosen from the next chapter, thus omitting the glorious doctrine which Peter that day set forth to the eager listeners, and which the miracle was only intended to introduce to their attention and to prove to them that the doctrine was of God. But let us proceed.
`VERSES 17-19` were intended to encourage any who began to realize their national sin and
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their individual part in it, by showing that their sin might be forgiven, because they, as well as their rulers, had done it in at least partial ignorance. Thus he urges them to repentance in view of the fact that times of refreshing are coming from the presence of the Lord.
`VERSES 20-24` declare that the Lord Jesus is coming again, and that the times of refreshing or restitution are due at his return. Then the apostle calls attention to the fact that this promised restitution was the theme of all the prophets, and bids them specially note what Moses had to say about Christ as a great prophet and teacher with authority and power, all of which will be fully realized at his return.
Glorious tidings were these for those who heard in faith. They had before them that very day an illustration of the restitution blessings. These things did Jesus through his faithful witnesses and thus shadowed forth the glory and blessings of his future kingdom. Then the Apostle reminded them of the promise made to their father Abraham--"In thee and thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed:" i.e., that through the children of Abraham, exalted to power and great glory, these blessings of restitution were to flow to the whole world; and that they, as the children of Abraham and of the prophets who foretold these things, were the natural heirs of this promise--of the grand privilege of being exalted to such a position of favor with God and of power and influence as to be able to bless all the families of the earth.
Then he declares that it was for this very reason--because they were the natural seed of Abraham--that God was so gracious toward them as to offer to them first this special favor, over and above the great favor of restitution which he had promised for the whole world (`verses 25,26`); for, in order to bless others, they must of necessity be the more highly exalted. (`Heb. 7:7`.) Not indeed because of their personal worthiness was this offered to them. Ah, no: they had most signally manifested their unworthiness in killing the Prince of life. Nevertheless, they were told that God would forgive this terrible sin if they would repent and turn to their crucified and now highly exalted Lord and receive his great salvation. But if they would not repent they had no inheritance in the Abrahamic promise or covenant; they would not be owned as children
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of Abraham, but would be disinherited; "for God," said Jesus, "is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham."
The sermon that Peter preached that day, accompanied, as it was, by an actual demonstration of the Lord's power to accomplish the great restitution work, must have made a deep impression upon the minds of his hearers. And as we read it to-day, in the early dawn of the blessed times of restitution, our hearts are made to rejoice also in the glorious prospect; especially since we have come to realize that the special favor which the natural seed of Abraham, except a small remnant, failed to appreciate and accept, we, Gentile believers, being by faith counted as the seed of Abraham, have fallen heirs to. Blessed inheritance! How little poor, prejudice-blinded Israel realized what they were rejecting; and how careful should we be who have been adopted in their stead into the family of God, lest we become blinded by the god of this world to the great value of this favor, and so fall after the same example of unbelief. Let us remember the Apostle Paul's admonition--"Thou standest by faith. Be not high-minded, but fear."
Referring again to the subject of the lesson --the healing of the lame man--let it be observed that this was not a prayer-cure, since there was no prayer offered, nor was the subject anointed according to the directions of the Apostle James; nor was it a faith-cure, since the subject evidently had no faith or expectancy of such a thing; nor was it a mind-cure; nor was it a partial cure gradually effected in the course of days or weeks. It was instantaneous, miraculous and complete, and in all of these respects different from the healings witnessed to-day, some of which we regard as a beginning of the restitution work, or rather, as an introduction to that work, and designed principally to call attention to the possibilities of the restitution times. It was one of the results of the special gifts granted to the early Church for the purpose of confirming their testimony and establishing the truth in candid and pious minds.
To witness for the truth in those days required special power: a mere statement of the fact that the despised and hated Nazarene, against whom the nation had conspired, and whom they had very recently put to a cruel and ignominious death, would not suffice to convince the people that this was indeed Jehovah's Anointed, the long promised Messiah. Consequently, it was necessary for these chosen witnesses to these wonderful truths to have some supernatural powers granted to them to enforce their testimony, else they would be regarded merely as deluded fanatics; and, therefore, in addition to the blessings of the day of Pentecost, special gifts were conferred upon all the various members of the early Church, whereby the Lord endorsed their testimony.
There were, as Paul enumerated them (`1 Cor. 12:8-10`) gifts of wisdom, of knowledge, of faith, of healing, of miracles, of prophecy, of discerning of spirits, of speaking with unknown tongues. These gifts were necessary in those days, both for convincing the honest-hearted Israelites and for the edification of the infant Church, which was not then possessed of the bountiful supply of spiritual food now granted to us in the completed canon of both Old and New Testaments, with ability and helps to read them.
In the instance of our lesson two special gifts were exercised by the Apostle Peter, viz.: the gift of faith, and the gift of healing. Ordinarily, faith is not a gift, except in the remote sense of the God-given basis whereon a reasonable and sure hope may rest. But, in the case under consideration, Peter was made to know assuredly that the man before him was to be healed for the glory of God. This God-given persuasion seemed to come to him instantly, as soon as the lame man asked for alms. Observe that the man did not pray, either to God or to Peter and John, for healing. He evidently never thought of such a thing, much less expected it. Neither did the apostles pray for the man or ask the man to pray for himself; but, in the full assurance of the gift of special faith for this occasion, he exercised his gift of healing, commanding the man who had never walked before and who never expected to walk, and who needed the assuring hand of Peter to encourage him to make the effort, in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth to rise up and walk.
The cure which immediately followed was evidently a complete soundness of the lame ankle. The man, filled with wonder and surprise, could at first hardly believe it himself. He tried standing, then began to step; and then, realizing his new strength and soundness, he leaped for joy, and, praising the Lord, entered with the apostles into the temple to hear what more these men would have to say about this one in whose name the miracle had been performed.
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