« PreviousContinue »
THE NECESSITY AND IMPORTANCE OF CONTROVERSY. The capacity, extent, and province of reason, in reference to religious truths,—the design and authority of the Word of God!, as the standard of doctrine,—the nature, character and purposes of God,—the trinity of persons in the one eternal Godhead,—the deity, offices and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Divinity and work of the Holy Ghost,—the nature and necessity of the atonement,—these are subjects, which lie at the very foundation of all religion: the pillars and ground of all religious truth. The view we take of these doctrines makes us deists or believers --rationalists or christians,—the only true worshippers of the "true God, and our Saviour," or blasphemous idolaters. These truths underlie the very "first principles" of all piety, namely, the relation in which man stands to God, and God to man, the independence or absolute helplessness of the creature, the way of salvation, and the whole manner and matter of acceptable worship. They lead to two systems of belief, separated by a chasm of impassable depth, and "contrary, the one to the other.”
And yet both exist, and both claim the name, the authority, and the sanctions of christianity. Both are found among us. Both have their ministry, their ordinances, and their worshippers, and both hold forth their claims to the allegiance of ourselves and our children.
What course, then, are we to pursue? Both cannot be true. One or the other must be false, and if false, dangerous, delusive, and destructive. What are we to do? Above all things, says the world, do not controvert, do not quarrel. Peace is more important than opinion.
For modes of faith, let graceless zealots fight,
He can't be wrong whose life is in the right. Just similar was the condition in which the primitive believers were placed when the Apostle Jude wrote to them his epistie.
The object of God, in this epistle, was to warn christians of the existence of false and heretical teachers, from whose cunning guile they were in imminent danger,--to assure them of the Divine judgments to which such teachers, and ail who gave heed to their seducing errors, were exposed,--and to urge upon them the duty of strenuously maintaining and defending the truth and purity of the Gospel. The design of the epistle is practical. It proceeded from the love cherished towards those who professed to be the disciples of Christ. Their spiritual welfare deeply affected the Apostle's heart. Their salvation, and that salvation which was "the common" ground of hope and joy to all believers, was at stake. For the Gospel is the power of God to salvation only when it is understood in its purity, and received in its simplicity, and in Godly sincerity. He felt, therefore, under a pressing necessity to write unto them, because others were using efforts to pervert them. “For," says he, “there are certain men, crept in unawares, who were of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God unto lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ."
The Apostle, therefore, at once, and with earnest importunity, calls upon those endangered believers to realize the imoninent peril of their condition. All error is pernicious in its effects. But it is destructive in proportion as it affects those doctrines which relate to the Author and the way of salvation. And when men represent God as so gracious that they may continue to indulge the lusts of the eyes, and the pride of life,-and when they deny the essential Deity, and omnipotent, omnipresent power, and vicarious atonement of “the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ,"—then, as the Apostle Peter declares, they introduce "damnable heresies," — "pernicious ways,"—and bring upon themselves swift destruction.—(2 Pet. 2: 1.) This is what the Apostle Paul also taught, when he calls upon the Roman christians to "mark them who caused heresies among them, contrary to the doctrine which they had learned.”— (Rom. 16, 17.) The Apostle John goes still further. He makes the acknowledgment of the coming of Christ, as implying an antecedent divinity, and an assumed humanity the criterion of one who "is of God." "Every one professing to expound the Gospel, (says the Apostle,) who does not teach that Jesus was a man,-not, however, as was affirmed by the Docetæ, in appearance only, but in reality, and yet, that he was not merely a man, united, as the Corinthians alleged, to some super-angelic being—is not of God, but is that spirit of antichrist whereof ye have heard that it should come, and even now already is it in the world.—John, 4:3. That teacher only, therefore, is of God, who confesses that He 'who was in the beginning with God,' and who 'was God,' 'was made flesh,' and became the word of God incarnate, ‘God manifest in the fesh.'
The Apostle, therefore, under the guidance of inspiration, felt that any departure from "the truth as it is in Jesus," and, especially as it concerned the person, character, and work of Christ, endangered the salvation of immortal souls.
*See Horsley's Tracts.
They knew, also, that all religious error is traceable, ultimately, to the malign influence of that seducing spirit, who is denominated the father of lies.”—Matt. 13: 41.* To him the Apostle Peter expressly ascribes the fraud and hypocrisy of Ananias.-Acts, 5:3. The Apostle Paul warns the Corinthians that "the serpent who beguiled Eve, through his subtilty, would also corrupt their minds from the simplicity that is in Christ, by transforming himself into an angel of light, and in the character of a minister of Christ," preaching another Jesus whom he had not preached, and another gospel which had not been originally proclaimed.--2 Cor. 11:3, 4; Eph. 6: 11. And Christ himself warns the church of Thyatira against false doctrines, which he denominates "the depths of Satan."-Rev. 2: 24.
But how does Satan accomplish these hellish purposes ? Not singly, but by instigating “false Christs,” “false prophets,” and "false teachers," "false apostles," "deceitful workers," to transform thenselves into the ministers of righteousness. Such being the case,—such being the sleight and cunning craftiness with which false tachers, under a pretence of liberty, with feigned words make merchandize of souls, the Apostle calls upon believers to be on their guard. Not merely human eloquence and sophistry, and philosophy, he in effect tells them, not merely apparent zeal for God, and for the dignity and happiness of man, are employed to pervert, and, if possible, to deceive the very elect,—but principalities and powers, and spiritual wickedness in high places, are also leagued for the seduction and overthrow of believers. And it is only by taking to themselves the whole armour of God, and fighting the good fight of faith, that christians can hope to stand firm and true against the wiles of the devil.
The Apostle knew also that there is in every one of us an evil heart of unbelief leading us to depart from the living God, to hold the truth in unrighteousness, and to build upon the foundation of God's word, the hay, wood and stubble of man's teaching. There is, in the very best of men, a corrupt principle which, unrestrained by the grace of God, will lead to error in judgment, and impiety in practice. And when error is flattering to human pride, complaint to human infirmity, and tolerant to human opinions, practices, and fashions, and when it promises heaven and happiness without holiness, self-denial, regeneration and zeal for good works, it is far more congenial than that truth which teaches that “except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God,”-that "without holiness no man shall see the Lord,”—that if any man will come after Christ, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow him,"—come out from the world and be separated,—and that, "denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, he must live soberly. righteously and Godly, in this present evil world, looking for the coming of the great God, and our Saviour Jesus Christ.”
*Matt. 13: 19. Mark, 4: 15. Luke, 8: 12.
Believers, therefore, are vehemently and with great earnestness, exhorted to remember these things,—to consider their danger, corruption within, temptation without,--and to cleave with full purpose of heart unto the Lord, and to the word of His testimony. The great trust committed to every christian is the truth-"THE FAITH," as it is here called,—the faith which has God for its author, Christ for its object, sanctification for its evidence, and salvation for its end. It is by the hearing of the Gospel, this faith is produced. It is by the truth we are sanctified. And this Gospel, when accompanied by God's spirit, is “the power of God unto salvation.” . This faith God has delivered to believers in his word by holy men of God, who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. God's word alone can tell us what God is—what God wills—what God requires of man to believe, and to do, in order to salvation. All other lights are false lights, which lead only to precipices and to perdition. This alone is the true light shining in a dark place, to which we do well that we take heed. The world by wisdom knew not God, and it never entered into the heart of man to conceive the things now revealed, the mystery hid for ages.
And as Christ, the sum and substance of this faith, was "offered once to bear the sins of many,” (Heb. 9: 28,) so this faith has been “once” for all, that is, fully, finally and authoritatively, "delivered" in the Scriptures. It endureth for ever. It is the everlasting Gospel. It has been delivered once, and no more. ,
It is the same yesterday, to-day and forever. No other foundation for our faith and hope can any man lay, than that which is laid. As a testament, the Gospel contains the whole will of Christ. As a rule, it contains the whole law of Christ. As a creed, it contains the whole doctrine of Christ. As a guide, it is able to make wise unto salvation. And as the means of salvation, it is perfect, converting the soul.
This, then, was the common salvation,—"the faith,”—about which the Apostle gave all diligence to write, and earnestly and vehemently to exhort. And as this was the faith once and always delivered unto the saints, in divers manners, and in divers measures, from Adam until Christ, so it is the faith, the only faith, and the whole faith, now delivered unto the saints. And as in the Apostles' days, and from the days of Cain unti then, this faith was assailed and corrupted and derided, and
another gospel, which was not another, was, with cunning and persuasive craftiness, urged upon man's acceptance, so also is it, in these last days, and so will it be.
What then, we again ask, are we to do?
We appeal to common sense. If the faith is that in which our hope for everlasting life is founded,-if it is by the truth, as it is in Jesus, we are made free,-if it is through God's truth we are sanctified, -if it is the truth which purifies the heart,-if the truth is the source and motive to godliness,—if the truth is a part of the christian armour, by which every christian is to stand,-if this truth is to be believed, to be obeyed, to be manifested, and to dwell in the saints for ever,-if we are bound to love the truth, to speak the truth, to judge according to the truth, to rejoice in the truth, to deal in the truth, to buy the truth and sell it not, to abide in the truth, and to contend earnestly for it,-if the church is to be the pillar and ground of the truth, and has received a banner that she may be the preserver, the defender, and the propagator of the truth,-if God is the author of the truth, and the truth is the truth of God,-if Christ is the truth, and the truth is the truth as it is in Jesus,-if the Holy Ghost is the inspirer of truth-if He guides only into truth, and along the way of truth,-if He sanctifies and saves only by the truth, and is emphatically the Spirit of Truth,-if the Gospel is truth, and nothing but the Gospel is truth,-if it is as the truth, and only as the truth, the Gospel is the power of God to the salvation of then that believe,-if it is the great end and aim, and commission of the church, and of every individual member of that church, to endeavour to convert those who err from the truth, and to bring them into the way of truth,and, not to multiply these statements, which are all in the language of Scripture, if the enemies of Christ are represented as they who are devoid of the truth, who sell the truth, who speak not the truth, who love it not, and obey it not, who resist the truth, turn away from it, hold the truth in unrighteousness, change it into a lie, preach another gospel, and confess not that Christ is the sovereign Lord and Jehovah, God manifest in the flesh,-if I say these things are so, then what else can any lover of the truth do, than contend earnestly for it, whenever, wherever, and by whomsoever it is gainsayed.
We appeal to the common experience and conduct of men in regard to every other kind of truth than religious truth, and in reference to every other privilege and blessing, which they hold dear. Let the truth of civil and religious freedom, as involving the right of free inquiry, freedom of speech, freedom of action, and freedom of religious worship, be assailed,-let the constitutional rights and privileges secured by the charter of our