Friday, July 31, 2009
On standing on any high hill in this world, where a view is commanded over the adjacent country to any great extent, to a contemplative mind, under God's grace alone, there are many diversified feelings to rush, and ebb, and flow to and fro, at times, which appear to be profitable. "The scene that here lies stretched before me", says the spiritual beholder of such a prospect, "is a fit emblem of myself and of every one else. The various towers of the "churches", the distant towns, the parcelling out of the green earth with its sharp and prickly hedges, and the vast works of man here piled up and manifested at a glance to me from hence, "all things are full of labour; man cannot utter it; this sore travail hath God given to the sons of men to be exercised therewith." And a sore travail, sure enough, it is for any one to whom the most high God hath given such an occupation, spiritually, to have "a heart given to seek and search out, by wisdom, concerning all things that are done under heaven;" to be marked, see, and learn the difference as to what the work of the ever-blessed God is. (Eccl. 1:8, 13) For it is certain that, though we have none of the former in this country, except in shows; yet, God has created wolves and bears, as well as clean kinds of animals. (Ezek.44:23) And though, in the prospect, bears and wolves do not run wild before me, yet, I only have to pass my eye about for a little time before, and in the thorn hedge of this world I can find a pretty good stock any day, of bastard Calvinists - those briers with which we are told by the prophet as above, the whole land shall become infested. For it is certain God had made every thing beautiful to typify man, the chief of the works of God. (Eccl. 3:11) Thus, our blessed Saviour expressly calls the non-elect goats and tares. And both Isaiah and Paul divide God's rejected enemies into thorns and briers. As I have already, I trust, been enabled a little to fence my hands with iron, to thrust away those sons of Belial, the thorns that so beautifully emblify the Arminians, that must not be touched by any good man, except with the staff of a spear, I wish I could be enabled as easily to cause bastard Calvinism, like a vast bramble bush, "to be utterly burned with the fire in the same place." (II Sam. 23:6,7) Thus, again our most blessed Saviour calls those meek and pious hypocrites, those docile ministers of the letter, whose pictures face us in the magazines and picture shops, and who "creep into houses, leading silly women captive"; those meek bastard Calvinist preachers whom I have seen and known, to my sorrow, and whose skin-deep religion adorns all our religious tea-parties, where downright Arminianism, as rank weeds, does not grow; I say, all our mealy-mouthed bastard Calvinist preachers, those poor chaffy oracles, as wise in self-conceited religion, as seven men that can give a true reason; (Prov. 26:16) those poor sons of grimace who have a mask and false show of pulpit talents in public, and a mild, and pleasing, and catching show of sanctimonious talk and glum looks in private, concerning religion; I say, our Saviour ships off, as it were at one stroke, to Botany Bay, those polite hypocrites and accomplished deceivers, by calling them "ravening wolves." (Matt. 7:15) And so they are. The apostle calls them dogs. (Phil. 3:2) The apostle Peter, that heavenly-minded apostle, calls them every name that is spiritually bad. (See his 2nd Epistle, 2nd Chapter)
But I must touch the root of the bramble bush, for I cannot pretend to go over, within the limits of this paper, the multiplied branches of this tree which the Lord hath cursed. (Heb. 6:8) I say then, once for all, that the root of brambly bastard Calvinism is letter-knowledge.
"But", say some, "faith in Christ is taking God at His word, as revealed in holy Scripture." That I call letter-faith; it is man's taking, namely, taking God at His word. O, awful! I believe all these takers! will be in hell, if they die as they are, as surely as each of them has a head on his shoulders. Thus, what these takers get to build their brambly bastard Calvinism with. I believe they will be executed for, with all the rest of the non-elect, under the universal statute of heaven: namely, that "the wages of sin is death." For, if invading the prerogative of the Holy Ghost is not death, I know not what is. Thus, bastard Calvinism, for every one of its opinions, will be executed or theft in taking them out of the letter of holy Scriptures without the seal of the Holy Spirit in the work of experience in the soul, which is the only royal way pursued by the court of heaven towards its favourites, the elect. Thus the capital charge on which bastard Calvinists will be executed in their conscience, under the wrath of God, will be for taking their religion out of the letter of the holy Scripture in the face of the warnings to the contrary therein contained, namely, that "he is not a Jew who is one outwardly," in the letter, and that he alone is a manifested elect soul, who is "builded for an habitation of God, through the Spirit," in experience alone: for the experimental knowledge of God and Christ in the heart is through God the Holy Ghost alone. Therefore. I say, bastard Calvinists will all be executed for high treason against God the Holy Spirit, which is the unpardonable sin (sic). One might, indeed, have thought that the poor wretches might have been staggered out of letter-Calvinism by reading, in the letter, that a true saint in God's account is one who is "Gods husbandry building, and habitation;" and for whom Paul accordingly prays. "that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him; the eves of your understanding being enlightened, that ye may know what is the hope of His calling, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power to usward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power!" (Eph. 1:16,etc.) O, no; bastard Calvinists live in a different day to what the apostle Paul did! God had to teach the apostle Paul, but "the Scriptures can teach me," says the bastard Calvinist. Thus, in London, and in various of the counties in England, these bastard Calvinist preachers and churches are getting more common every day.
Thus (reverting again to the hill I might suppose myself standing on in the natural world) all these works of man which I can see, will be burnt up to utter desolation. "The things that are seen are temporal;" all mere letter-knowledge of Scripture, all mere letter-knowledge of God, all mere letter-knowledge of the Old and New Testaments, "for he is not a Jew who is one outwardly;" all mere bastard Calvinism which stands in the cold letter, and not in the Spiritï¿½s work internally; in the glorious experimental kingdom of God, in the soul experience; I say, under the mighty teachings of God alone, and not taken by mere reading; all bastard Calvinism, I say, will go off at the last day like a crack of thunder in a thunder storm; a sound, and nothing else. Thus, all things which I see from hence, trees, woods, hedges, towns, villages, grand mansion houses; the humble cottage of the peasant, and the swelling castle of the lord; the park of the square, the blazing grandeur of the dukeï¿½s high revelling hall, and the poor poverty-pinched cot of the day labourer; all these, the whole visible creation, every thing I see, must come down! "Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also the heaven." (Heb. 12:26) "The heavens shall pass away also with a great noise." Then, where will bastard Calvinism be? Far be it from me to say one word against the letter of holy Scripture. I know it to be true, but I equally know that it cannot save any one. Salvation stands in power, and in power only. Accordingly. Paul says of the Corinthians, "I will not know your speech, but your power; for knowledge puffeth up; but the demonstration of the Spirit and of power in the conscience and soul, is alone salvation." (See I Cor. 1-5) For "the kingdom of God," in the souls of the really elect, "is not in word, but in power." Now, the Psalmist says. "God hath spoken once; twice have I heard this; that power belongeth unto God." (Psa. 62:11) Now, what becomes of bastard Calvinism? Now, what becomes of "you ought" and "you ought not"? Now, what becomes of free will masked under good John Calvin? Now, what becomes of those taking truth out of the letter, and who are never compelled to wait only upon God? "My soul, wait thou only upon God." (Psa. 62:5) for the letter of holy Scripture is only the echo. "The voice of the Lord Himself, powerful and full of majesty," experienced in the soul, in the all and in all to the elect. (Psa 29:4; II Cor. 2:4, 3) And the inward teachings of God in the elect soul exactly agree with holy Scripture. The incarnate, inward, and written word agree. (Rev. 19:13)
Thus, the apostle cuts all bastard Calvinists off at a stroke; "As many as have not the Spirit of Christ are none of His." By this stroke He cuts off the whole family of bastard Calvinists, who shall find, at the last day, to their carnal and everlasting confusion, that crowds in hell, as well as they, have had the letter of holy Scripture, and have been as wise, more or less, as Ahithophel, too, in it; and have been damned, all one for that. (Matt. 6:22) Bastard Calvinists shall then suck the poison of asps; they shall gnaw their tongues; they shall see the folly of having made game of experience, and of having made light of experimental Christians, who are alone the Children of God, to the shutting out of all others else, whoever they may be. "For he is a Jew" only, like Christ, "who is so inwardly in the Spirit and not in the letter. Nay, our great bastard Calvinist preachers in London appear to me only to be grimalkins, buzzards, and apes; for, what think you, to my own knowledge, did I hear one of the Particular Baptist very popular bastard Calvinist preachers there saying? He, Philistine-like, called the experimental people "frogs, croaking in a stagnant pool about their sins. Did ever any one hear such glaring blasphemy? Again: I have heard of the great independent bastard Calvinist preachers there, just in the same way. Iron-hearted blasphemy they rave about, and preach up "the equitable right of claim(!)" of the elect for salvation from the ever adorable God; thus destroying at one blow, godly filial fear, which is one bright jewel in the crown of a hell. deserving sinner saved by grace; a jewel, so far like Christ, who "was heard in that He feared." (Heb. 5:7) I need not say that the iron-hearted Independent, like the Particular Baptist bastard Calvinist preachers, cry down experience because they have none. For, if the poor wretches knew one mite of experimental, deep, and saving teachings under the Holy Spirit alone, it would poison all their letter self-conceit, yea, and devil-conceit at one blow! Poor wretched "bastard Jews, Bar-jesuses" that they are. (Acts 13:6)
And it is my deliberate opinion that bastard Calvinism will flood the land. There shall, in the last days, be perilous times, in which there shall be a form of godliness, which form is bastard (fatherless) Calvinism, not built up in the soul by the living hand of experience alone, which is the work of God the Holy Spirit. The work of the Holy Ghost alone is the divine cement which holds together the spiritual house of a true elect man's knowledge of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. This is what teaches him also what man is, and what self is. Every thing short of this is a brier, even as an Arminian is a thorn in God's sight. And, as sure as God is living, they shall, dying so, be cast into hell together. So be it; "the whole land shall become briers and thorns."
(By John Kay - Selected from the Gospel Standard, 1838)
Thursday, July 30, 2009
“In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; but (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.”
(I Timothy 2:9-10)
From the beginning of creation, God created man and “male and female created He them.” (Genesis 1:27)
In specifically creating them differently, He gave them different forms and roles. This is made plain in that He called man “male,” which by translation means “remembered” as being noteworthy.
Noah, as a type of Christ, was “remembered” — “And God remembered Noah”. (Genesis 8:1)
In like manner, when He made the covenant with Abraham, it is recorded He “remembered Abraham.” (Genesis 19:29)
While our Blessed Lord was in the grave, it is written: “Thou shalt not leave (or forget) My soul in hell, neither shalt Thy Holy One see corruption.” (Acts 2:27)
The woman He called “female” which is interpreted from her form or anatomy. This difference is shown again in their respective curses upon having eaten of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Adam’s was to earn his bread by the sweat of his face — working under a continual curse of the earth; and Eve’s was to bring forth in travail and whose desire was to her own husband.
In nature, the created forms of the two bodies that make up Man are designed for the roles assigned to each and the temperment of mind of each is adapted to its role. In the church, they symbolize the precious and intimate relationship between Christ and His espoused Bride — the Church.
It is the male whom God has made His servant in the church, and thus through him the church is “remembered” because Christ is the Head of the church and the Head of every man. It is the female, representing the church, which brings forth in travail and whose desire is unto her own Husband. This desire unto her own husband is the desire to be in subjection “in everything” and which motivates a Gospel church to live, believe, and perform “all things” according to a “Thus saith the Lord.”
It is this desire which keeps the wife faithful and virtuous towards her own husband; and preserves the church of Christ as a chaste virgin espoused unto Christ.
Our specific text sets forth a portion of Biblical doctrine for godly women consistent with the pattern of heavenly things. Briefly, let her not adorn (or decorate — as the word means) herself as the world. The word “adorn” is in the Greek text “Kosmeo” which is derived from the word ‘kosmos” translated “world” throughout the New Testament.
Verse 9 of our text has several specifics mentioned for clarity.
First, let her adorn herself in “modest” apparel, or apparel which is “orderly arranged;” with shamefacedness. Shamefacedness is reticence (bashful) toward men and awe toward God. She is to adorn herself with “sobriety.”
In doing so, she demonstrates publicly the characteristics of the true church: humility, meekness, and solemnity in the presence of Christ as His chaste virgin.
Interestingly, the Greek word not only means self-control, but even sanity!
That is, being of sound mind.
In contrast, they are not to adorn themselves with “broided” (braided or plaited) hair, gold, pearls, or costly array.”
These are representative of carnal adornments of the harlot daughters of Mystery Babylon — stained glass windows, pagan symbols, golden altars, candle-sticks, steeples, crucifixes, etc., which are of fleshly pride. Rather, their adorning is to be that of good works which manifests the incorruptible “inner man of the heart” — the riches of a vital, changed heart.
What, basically, is the text saying?
Let the godly woman adorn herself in works which glorify God, and not in fleshly carnal appearances.
Paul was not alone in giving this interpretation. When Peter addressed the believing wives in I Peter 3:1-5, he commanded them to be in subjection to “your own husbands” with “chaste conversation” and “whose adorning let it not be that outward adoring of plaiting of hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.” Surely one who has seen the beauty of the church can relate this verse in its symbolic significance to those who make up the kingdom of God in truth.
Our text gives instructions relative to Gospel church order. Verse 11, “Let the woman learn with all subjection.”
This is consistent with shamefacedness, sobriety, and the “meek and quiet spirit.”
“But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.”
Two things the Scriptures forbid godly women:
(1) to teach or speak out in the church (unless requested or required by the church — to be thus in subjection), and
(2) to usurp authority over the man.
The word “usurp” means “to act of oneself; to dominate.”
As Paul instructed Timothy, so also, he instructed the wayward church at Corinth:
“Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.”
The true beauty of God’s order has almost become lost from sight, yet it is still found in true churches. God has exalted Christ above all:
“And hath put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be Head over all things to the church, which is HIS BODY, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all.”
In the church, His body, the “wives are to submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the Head of the church: and He is the Saviour of the body.
Therefore AS THE CHURCH is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands IN EVERYTHING. Husbands, LOVE YOUR WIVES, even AS Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it.... so ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.
For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourished and cherisheth it, even AS the Lord the church.”
The Holy Ghost did not have to use the word “own” in order to make a clear sentence; nor did He use it to fill up the page. Rather, just as the church has but one Husband, so too, a woman can have but one husband — her own, and not another’s — so long as he liveth. Otherwise, “she shall be called an adulteress,” which certainly the true church can never be. It should be clear from the above that husband and wife role-positions are to set forth the glorious doctrine of free grace in the union of Christ and His church.
Just as Christ is head of the church, the church is to be subject to Him IN ALL THINGS: in purity of doctrine; in purity of practices as He has commanded in His church; and in public and private deportment before those within and without the church. In like manner, as the representative of Christ before the church and world, the godly man is to love, nourish, and cherish his wife in such manner as to commend the glory of Christ’s love to His Bride. And, the woman, even as the church and bride of Christ, is to be in subjection to her own (and not another’s) husband in all.
This view is seen in as simple a manner as how one dresses. The godly women in the church are to adorn themselves in meekness and sobriety. Christ’s order and His church are to be visibly displayed in the male and female members of His body.
Christ is the glory of His Father, and thus is uncovered or unveiled before His Father’s face when He makes intercession for His church. Thus, too, the man is to pray with his head uncovered:
"But I would have you know, that the Head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the Head of Christ is God.
Every man praying or prophesying, HAVING HIS HEAD COVERED, dishonoreth his head."
(I Corinthians 11:3-4)
If this be so of the Headship of Christ over the man, what of the woman’s adornment?
The church is covered by the precious blood of Christ and His imputed righteousness. The church still has a veil over her so long as it remains in the fleshly tabernacle of this present evil world.
“But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head UNCOVERED dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were SHAVEN.”
(I Corinthians 11:5)
Would it be embarrassing for a woman to go into public bald-headed?
Has not God ordained EVEN IN NATURE that while the woman carries the genes for baldness, only her sons can inherit it?
Perhaps because it is not necessary to holy consistency for the man to be covered, seeing Christ is not. But, even nature gives the woman the veiled glory of God!
“For if a woman be NOT covered, let her also be SHORN: but if it BE A SHAME for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.”
(I Corinthians 11:6)
This same relationship is confirmed in the next verse:
“For a man indeed OUGHT NOT to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.” (verse 7)
Only two objections can be had to the above, and they are:
(1) it doesn’t really matter, and
(2) verse 15 clearly says the woman’s hair is given for a covering. The first is unworthy of any true believer, and we reply to the second thus: When verse 6 says “let her be covered”, the Greek word translated “covered” is Katakalupto — to cover fully; whereas in verse 15 relative to her hair, the Greek word is Peribolaion — something thrown around. Her hair is God’s own confirmation in nature of His reflected glory in the church and thus He has done two things:
(1) He has by nature covered the woman, but not necessarily the man, and
(2) He has given her natural vanity to cause her shame if she be found bald or shaven!
We know there are bald women due to various illnesses and medical treatments, but we never see their head bald in public!
But we do the men.
Thus the covering in verse 6 has an additional meaning, and that is to veil the head of hair, for the hair is the man’s glory, not the glory of God!
And MAN is not to have preeminence in His church!
Only Christ has that.
In the church, the same parallel is found as in the beginning of creation. The man must do the work of the ministry, for he is the servant of God. He bears the thorns and thistles of nominal believers and infidels in the church who creep in; the problems seasonally sent upon the churches to try and purge them; and the periodic seasons of dryness and dullness which accompany salvation in the church. He is the image and glory of God to the church and loves the church even as his Head, Christ Jesus.
The women, in sobriety, shamefacedness, and modesty of the inner man of the heart,
adorn the church in a way that all the costly array of the world can never attain. They are the glory of the men when adorned so as to display the salvation of the church to God.
These doctrinal points are almost lost today. In fact, the whole body of truth is almost lost. Perhaps “women professing godliness” have lost their profession in their wild pursuit to appear outwardly adorned.
One thing important is surely lost in such cases. The vital truth that true beauty is not in the outward adorning of the carnal flesh; but in the hidden riches of the godly woman’s heart. If the inward is missing, the outward facade will sooner or later decay with the passage of time.
Brethren, love your wives even as Christ loves His church. Sisters, be in subjection to Christ and to your OWN husbands as your heads, Thus the ‘‘twain’’, the ‘‘one flesh,” will declare the doctrine of revealed truth in daily devotion.
Is this new and strange doctrine?
Many of our older members can remember when no sister would enter divine worship uncovered, or be so brasen and bold as to speak out in the church. Only in the United States can one find women worshipping with heads uncovered.
Indeed, even the heathen are covered in their public worship!
Nature does, it seem, teach that it is a shame for a woman to pray or worship uncovered except where the conscience has been seared through the fashions of the wealthy worldings. In all candor, it is a puzzle to me that whereas women by nature, in nature, and for carnal fleshly pride, will rush to purchase a wig if their hair gets thin, yet in the spiritual and true usefulness of the covering, they do not now possess any embarrashment in worshipping bareheaded!
The light of nature is still there, but only for carnal lust; not for the glory of God. I can’t understand it; yet I know it is true. One thing none can deny is, our God has said: “To obey is better than sacrifice,” and it is the expressed will of God that His children follow Him in all things revealed.
To conclude this article, may I honestly ask a few question?
Does the Scripture teach that women are to have their heads covered when they go before God in public worship?
Is not the TRUE church in absolute subjection to Christ her Head?
And, did not our churches formerly insist upon such subjection?
Does the Scripture repeatedly forbid the women both to teach and usurp authority over the men in His church?
Did not our church hold such violations as disorder in the past?
Has God changed His word, mind, will, and purpose relative to these (or any other such) things?
Today we can compare and contrast the new order and the old order with the new society and old society. When women were in devoted subjection to their OWN husbands, the women in the church demonstrated the modesty and virtue becoming of the church’s subjection to Christ.
Not only was this so, but the churches remained strict in their subjection to Christ in doctrine, practice, and deportment. The churches were indeed adorned in the righteousness of Christ, and were the beauty of the whole earth.
The sisters were meek, sober, and chaste, and so were the churches. They both were characterized by unfeigned humility. Peace, as a mighty river flowed in Zion. The husbands loved, cherished, and honored their wives; and Christ manifested the same towards His churches. But alas, how this has changed now!
As “knowledge increased, the love of many waxed cold,” men lost their humility and became boastful and arrogant. In the churches, man’s work increased with their arrogance, and duty-faith, duty-works, and conditional meritorious salvation swelled as a raging sea. In the homes, peace was replaced by anger, wrath, and strife. As the homes broke asunder, so did the churches. The wars at home were followed by wars within the churches.
As women boldly symbolized carnal rebellion by uncovering their heads in worship, so too, the churches rebelled against Gospel order — and neither seemed to care or even imagine they were guilty of rebellion worse than witchcraft. As the uncovered heads symbolized the women’s and churches rebellion, immediately women became as arrogant as men and clamored for leadership in the world of work, politics, and the church.
Few churches now remain where the lamp stand has not been utterly removed. The gospel light is flickering out all over the land. The sun is set. As men failed to love their own wives as themselves, wives lost respect for their own husbands; and alas, both sought the carnal and filthy companionship of other mates, and broken marriages were the result.
And the reaction of the churches?
God forbid, (yet we know it) — churches took it lightly at first, then approved it, and finally ordained men to set forth the new order by example!
The communion of almost all churches by now has been adulterated with adulterers and fornicators.
If God spares the rod from any of His churches, it will be another great display of the attributes and works of Christ: free and amazing grace, long-suffering, and tender mercies.
All the above is a very serious indictment of our times — but not the most serious. The most serious must follow: from sea to sea, from the tundra to the gulf waters of our great land, few dare speak or cry out for Zion’s peace and chastity. The spirit of mourning for Zion’s glory, or prayers of intercession and supplication are dried up as a potsherd. And when one dares to proclaim these forsaken Gospel commandments, the most precious saints are embarrassed in the presence of their kinsmen mixed in the assemblies who are guilty of the wickedness, and the man called to speak out is considered the “troubler in Israel”!
But God shall honor His word and preserve His name and holiness in His church in the world — though few they may ultimately be.
“Upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it,” says the Bridegroom. And He also asked this question: “When the Son of man cometh, will He find faith on the earth?”
By implication, the answer is, “not many — but some”.
To those that love the Lord and Zion indeed, may the Eternal Spirit move mightily in all our hearts to do as the noble Bereans and “Search the Scriptures daily to see if these things be true;” and then give individuals hearts to abide therein. I say individuals — for only isolated individuals are left to restore the walls of Zion and mend the breaches that have violently torn down the walls.
I am fully aware that the above will not be received but by a precious few. I honestly doubt whether there are many that even care about such things today. And if there are any left who mourn over our demise, I doubt I’ll ever know of them; though surely I can expect to hear from the others more. But I love the things that accompany salvation, and if God so enable me, shall stand even alone if necessary for that which I am persuaded is the “old order;” or the order of God’s building. I know there is not another institution left that offers any stability or godly morality in our land. In this, we are indeed alone in this world; but ah, what a host we sojourn with through the ages untold!
“Come, Lord Jesus, Come”
By Stanley C. Phillips
I realize, first of all, that this article may offend some, yet I hope my writing (if I am enabled by the Spirit) will not be weak and just pleasing to the natural flesh of those whom God has decreed for me to contact.
God’s message from His Word is personal, and oftentimes, sharp and convicting. I desire that God would be pleased to bring tears of concern and repentance to all of His children who may be involved in the celebration of the pagan holiday called “Christmas;” or the “Mass for Christ.”
I have often wondered why many of those who profess a hope of eternal life are wrapped up in this evil holiday (and other holy days as well); and I have come to at least one conclusion: that not many who are called to preach Jesus Christ are faithful in admonishing the sheep from God’s Word concerning the evils of this world.
Hosea 4:6 says:
“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou has rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.”
Also Ezekiel 44:33 says:
“And they teach my people the difference between the holy and profane, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean.”
My subject needs little introduction except to mention the fact that for anyone to speak out against X-mas appears to be like attacking the American tradition of motherhood and apple pie. My objective in this article is, above all else, to be honest with the Scriptures.
In this article I want to bring out four reasons which individuals give to ease their consciences in celebrating the evil and satanic time of year called “Christmas.”
First, Many say, “I feel responsible to celebrate the birth of Christ.”
Yes, there are many that feel this way and have been taught this way, but of course this raises some questions that need to be answered:
1. I ask “what is your responsibility founded upon?
What commandment is given by the Lord to place anyone under any responsibility to celebrate His birth?
There is no command given by Christ in the Scriptures either in writing or by example to do so — NONE whatsoever. What our Lord has designed for His people to do — He laid down very plainly in His written Word or gives us a principle by example.
Three ways in which we can see this are: Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper and feet-washing.
But, one must search in vain for any commandment or responsibility or authority in regard to celebrating His birthday. In fact, the exact date of Christ’s birthday is unknown. It most certainly is NOT December 25th nor in December at all. This can be verified by the Scriptures and by secular historical records. We do know that the Lord was born six months after John the Baptist (Luke 1:26, 36).
The Scriptures verifies this as well as do Jewish historical records. John the Baptist was conceived (not born, but conceived) at the end of Zacharias’, the priest, course which was in June. (Luke 1:5,24) Nine months later puts John the Baptist’s birth in mid-March. Six months later is mid-September (not December!) which is the most probable date for Christ being born of Mary.
Also we read in Luke 2:8 that the shepherds were watching their sheep by night in the fields. December is an extremely cold rainy month in the hill country of Judea; it was only during the warm months of summer and fall that shepherds took their sheep into the open fields at night.
In Luke 2:1, we have one of the reasons for Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem and that was to be taxed. When were the people taxed? At the end of the harvest season.
Another reason, was the Feast of Tabernacles which was celebrated in the seventh (Jewish) month, or our September. In spite of what I have stated some may still feel responsible and say: “Christ never told us to celebrate X-mas but He never told us not to either.”
2. I ask: “If you feel responsible to celebrate His birth, in what manner do you intend to remember His birth?”
The best example for all to follow has been given for us. Christ Himself, nor the apostles, give us an example nor word as to how we should celebrate Christ’s birth.
But what if Christ had given His people an example to follow?
Would He have celebrated His birth in the manner in which people now do?
No, a thousand times, no!
Everything around the celebration has an evil spirit about it, not the Holy Spirit.
We can read from the Scriptures, the Encyclopedia Brittanica, and other available source materials that the early saints did not accept nor participate in any part of the pagan holiday called “Christmas.” It took a long time to creep into the so-called church through unregenerate people who professed to be saints.
Twice in the Gospels we find the birth of Christ mentioned and we are not told to celebrate it. There are only two birthday celebrations mentioned in the Bible. One is in Genesis 40:20-22, in regard to Pharoah’s, and in Mark 6:21-28, of Herod’s, and there was an evil about both of them.
In both cases someone had his head cut off!
When one celebrates the birthday of Christ he adds to religion something not in the Scriptures.
When one adds to religion what the Scriptures do not teach he is as the Pharisee and is adding the traditions of men. Most people want something to make them happy; they like the idea of the manger and happiness; a new baby promised; yes, the majority of people can grasp the idea of a new baby in the manger instead of the fact of a torturous death on the tree of Calvary, and the subsequent resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Anything to please the flesh; no concern whether it is right or wrong.
But they say: “I want to show my love in celebrating “Christmas” and giving gifts, etc.”
But if you really want to show your love and concern for people, tell them of this pagan holiday.
Preadventure the Lord, if He is pleased, might give them repentance from their evil ways.
3. Also I ask: “If Christ had given us an example to follow in remembering His
birthday, would not He have given us the manner in which His birthday is to be
Christ is the Holy, Eternal, Son of God and John tells us that light is come into the world and the darkness comprehendeth it not. To consider that Christ would have in any way identified His birth with the pagan gods of His day is blasphemous!
All that celebrate this day and identify the birth of Christ with these pagan things blaspheme the most Holy God.
The Scripture teaches the saints in Philippians 1, that we are to have the mind of Christ.
Now I ask, has the mind of Christ changed in almost 2000 years?
No, the mind of Christ the Lord never changes. One can go to the Old Testament and study the examples given in the progression of evil and it hasn’t changed either.
Second, But, perhaps, you would give as your reason for celebration, “My Christian liberty gives me the right to remember Christ’s birthday and you, you are a legalist.”
Those who hold this view go to Romans 14:4-6, which says “Who are thou that judgest another man’s servant? To his own master he standeth or fallest. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eatheth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.”
Their argument, ofcourse, is quite obvious — they use these verses to justify December 25 as the birthday of Christ even though it is not (and some will admit this), but they say they regard the day as unto the Lord. But, one must study the Scripture in context and with other Scripture.
The days to which Paul refers were holy feast days that were not pagan, but were legitimate, given by God under the Mosaic economy.
They were proper in the Old Testament days; but, and as some Jews were added to the New Testament Church, they still clung to the old things and Paul says that the other saints were to wait patiently until it pleased God to give more light to those who were still clinging to the old feast days. Paul gives us an explanation of those days in Colossians 2:16-17: feast days were a shadow of things to come in Christ.
No, Romans 14 does not give anyone the right to recognize heathen, or pagan festivals as days “unto the Lord.”
There are people today who are described in Galatians 4:9-11, “But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?” Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain.’
It is beyond my comprehension to understand people who say they are children of grace, after they hear the truth of the evil of “Christmas” and then still seem to have a desire to please the flesh, to please the world, and to follow after the traditions of men and not after the commandments of God.
Luke 16:15 says, “And He said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.”
Dear reader, if you would study a little you would find out what is said of the early saints in contrast to others. You would find that the Roman religion was purely external and consequently very impressive to the flesh. The Romans could not conceive of a religious service without temple images, altars, and sacrificial activities.
Henceforth, the Christians were considered as atheists to Roman religionists and Rome wanted nothing to do with them.
They said, “Away with the atheists.” The Romans advocated happiness, satisfaction and
pleasure for the flesh. The Christians preached self denial and emphasized the joy of the future life with Christ. The Christians would not decorate their houses for pagan festivals.
They would not advocate marriages into heathen families. They would not accept government offices which included the performances of heathen religious rites. They abstained from the “respectable” enjoyments.
Think of it, the Christians were looked upon as a sect — a sect that was averse to the philosophy of the great and noble “humanities.” Yes, they were accused of being hostile to humanity. They were called “haters of mankind,” evil doers. The early Christians stood out as a people, a peculiar people not ashamed that they had been crucified with Christ. They were bound together by love one to another, founded upon righteousness, truth, and a striving to conform to the image of Jesus Christ and having the mind of Christ. Call them what the Romans might: rabble rousers, controversalists, madmen, etc., and they said as Joshua of old:
“As for me and my house we shall serve the Lord.”
I ask you, dear readers, “How are your thoughts concerning the Lord and His commandments?”
Truth as it is in Christ is the foundation for all the children of grace.
Where are the people with courage?
Where are the preachers that are called of God who will stand up to proclaim the “whole counsel of God” rather than saying “Let’s not rock the boat. I don’t feel that I ought to cause waves?”
Hosea 4:6 says “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge..”
John 17:17 says that His people are sanctified through “Thy truth.”
Third, "My conscience does not convict me of the day being wrong; what’s the difference; I don’t look at it that way."
This excuse breaks down in the light of God’s revealed truth. A conscience can be “seared with a hot iron;” (I Timothy 4:2) and “even their mind and conscience is defiled.” (Titus 1:15) It is true that the saints use their minds and their conscience as a part ofreasoning but the conscience is never autonomous.
The saints cannot do what they please; they are bound by the Spirit of God to the revealed will of God. Yes, there are many who have the idea that they can do anything they please and they say their conscience is autonomous or free. That particular teachingand thinking is as Satan said: “I will be like the most high God.”
Some seem to think that whatever decision they make is determined by the way they look at it, but the child of God does not determine what is right or wrong by the way he views a situation; but it is determined as right or wrong by the way God says it.
God (and His Word) is the absolute standard of faith and practice for the saint; and the saint does not measure God with fleshly standards, but sees in the Scripture,
“Be ye holy for I am holy.”
One may ask, “How then does this pertain to “Christmas?”
It is simply “Can you say in your heart that it will be done to the glory of God; knowing of its origin; knowing of God’s holiness; knowing that God changes not; and knowing that whatever is not done for the glory of Christ is an abomination in His sight?”
In John 5:21, Jesus says, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”
The word “keep” means to guard yourself; that no intrusion of evil is found in the child of grace. The saints are led by, and do seek, the Spirit’s guidance in studying God’s precious Word, that they may know how to follow the commandments of God, and that they might stay away from the things of this world. The Church delights in the law of God and they meditate upon it.
Jeremiah in 10:1-5 says, “Hear ye the word which the Lord speaketh unto you, O house of Israel: Thus saith the Lord, LEARN NOT THE WAY OF THE HEATHEN, and be NOT dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. For the customs of the people are VAIN: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with NAILS AND WITH HAMMER, that it move not. They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good.”
One of the major things in the pagan nations’ worship was and is tree worship which is associated with Baal and Nimrod; yes, all the nations had this association, and still do today; — they even had a queen mother and had a little son (a little ‘incarnate’ son they said) — they had their own pagan imagery, a sun god and groves of evergreen trees. The emphasis in Jeremiah 10 is on the words “Learn not the way of the heathen.”
But what has happened?
Many of the people of God who seem to give evidence of being children of God, have learned the way of the heathen!
Dear reader, God changes not. He hasn’t changed since the day of Jeremiah. He hasn’t changed since the days He was here in the flesh some 2,000 years ago. He hasn’t changed today —not one bit. It is not how the world sees things, but how God Almighty ordains things. His Scripture teaches the child of grace to abhor evil in whatever form it takes, when sanctified by His Spirit.
Yes, I know someone says “But I don’t worship the tree or the ornaments - I worship Christ.”
The answer to this statement is found in the Book of Joshua. In actuality the whole
Book of Joshua teaches “Learn not the way of the heathen.”
We find recorded in Joshua 23:7, “That ye come not among these nations, these that remain among you; neither MAKE MENTION of the NAME OF THEIR GODS, nor cause to swear by them, neither serve them, nor bow yourselves unto them.”
Joshua says don’t even name them or identify with them and don’t have anything to do with them!
Exodus 20:24, says: “I am the thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:
Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.”
One thing we can get from Exodus 20 is that the child of God is not to use means, or aids, in his worship toward God. Dear reader, the Word of God leaves you, if you be a child of grace, without any excuse. It says to stay away from all parts of any pagan holiday.
Fourth, The last reason I find that people give for celebrating this day is this: “Everyone else is doing it and has been doing it for years.”
The Scriptures warn the child of grace not to follow a multitude to do evil (Exodus 23:2).
Child of grace, this means your friends, your relatives, father and mother, and the people with whom you work. It doesn’t matter who they might be, the child of God is not to identify with, or associate with, that which is evil and you are not to follow after the traditions of the fathers, nor anyone else.
The world, the wicked, love the things of “Christmas” and the things they associate with it. They love Christ in the cradle(?), they want Him wrapped up in swaddling clothes.
They are like the Pharisees who would not have Him as Lord of all things.
If you don’t put a two-edge sword in His mouth, if you don’t put royal robes upon Him, and if you keep Him in the manger, the world will love you and “that Christ.”
It may be that many who call themselves the children of grace are as those spoken of in John 21:43, where it says: “For they love the praise of men more than the praise of God.”
Praise everyone else, please everyone else, love the flesh, but have no love for the glory and honor of the Saviour, Jesus Christ. Many worry about what everyone else says and does, but have no concern for what God has said in His Word.
I hope I believe in the Christ who was born to die so that all His people would live
forever with Him, the Christ that is not in a cradle, but is the King of kings and Lord of lords, the Christ that is no longer in His mother’s arms, but is seated at the right hand of His Father. He is the King supreme, working all things according to His will and pleasure, raising up children of grace to praise His Name.
Yes, Christ is the One who holds the key to life and death. He is no longer a baby in a manger. He is triumphant over all.
He is the Mighty Conquerer, the Prince of Peace whose kingdom has no end.
What can we say?
“If God be for us, who can be against us.”
Let the world have the cradle but the children of grace’ thoughts are:
“as for me and my house, we shall serve the Lord.”
I leave you with the words of Paul in I Corinthians 2:5:
“That your faith should NOT stand in the WISDOM OF MEN, but in the POWER OF GOD.”
By Bruce Morgan
After reading several preachers’ views ondivorce and remarriage - their trying to justify receiving adulterous people into thefellowship of, and retaining them, in the
church - I feel led to write about what constitutes marriage, and the difference
between adultery and fornication. And to see if the church can Scripturally receive and retain adultery in her fellowship. It is appalling when the majority of elders,
deacons, and members of Primitive Baptist churches do not know the difference, and
worse, if they deceitfully misinterpret the Scriptures. Some want to call unlawful sex between married persons fornication to justify receiving and retaining adultery in the church.
The Great head and Saviour of the Church, and the chief apostle to the Gentiles certainly made a difference between the two.
Of course the act is the same, but the application is not the same, and we hope to
show the difference by the Scriptures and language. Jesus in reprimanding the Pharisees said,
“For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, ADULTERIES(moicheia), FORNI (porneia), thefts, false witness, blasphemies:”
The apostle Paul writing to the church at Corinth says,
“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not
deceived: neither FORNICATORS, nor ADULTERERS, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor
extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.”
(I Cor. 6: 9,10.)
Also, in admonishing the Galatian brethren, he said,
“Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; ADULTERY, FORNICATION,
uncleanness, lasciviousness, etc.,”
None of these things ought to be harbored in the church, when known, for the church is neither a harbor for criminals, nor a penitentiary (for reform). When the decorum of Scriptural faith and practice is followed, it is the House of God.
The meaning of words never really change from their original coining, but evil men, to suit their case often add, modify, or alter the original meaning. One of the axioms that I was taught in accounting was that “figures do not lie, hut liars will figure,” that is, in order to arrive at the answer they desire.
Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 3rd Ed., and the same International Unabridged Dictionary, 2nd Ed. give the following definitions:
“Adultery, voluntary sexual intercourse by a married man with another than his wife, or by a married woman with another than her husband.”
If it had not been voluntary it would have been rape.
“Fornication, sexual intercourse on the part of an unmarried person.”
This was the only definition of the two for fornication.
However, the Greek and Scriptural use of adultery is the same as above; while that of fornication is inclusive of all sexual uncleanness or pollution.
Many elders and churches in trying to justify adultery in the church misinterpret fornication in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 to mean adultery.
But to do this is to err, as there is a time element involved. Married persons cannot commit fornication in this act, but adultery.
Single persons cannot commit adultery, but can commit fornication.
The Scriptural example of adultery is, “For the man that committeth adultery with
another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbor’s wife, the
adulterer and adulteress shall surely be put to death.”
(Thus, no divorce and remarriage possible on the grounds of adultery.)
The Scripture is plain that each of these persons were married to another person. (Lev. 20:10)
Now, for an example of fornication: and “If a man entice (persuade) a maid (an unmarried woman, a virgin) that is not betrothed (engaged to be married) and lie with her (for sexual gratification), he shall surely endow her to be his wife.” (Ex. 22:16)
In this case, it is specifically stated that he may never put her away. The maid is an unmarried virgin, for a married woman is no more a maid or virgin, but a wife. In this situation, the two persons had committed fornication.
We said there was a time element that distinguished between adultery and fornication.
Here is the Scripture, “When a man hath taken a wife, and married her and it
come to pass that she find no favor in his eyes, because he hath found SOME UNCLEANNESS in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it into her hand, and send her out of his house... “(Deut. 24:1)
The phrase, “When a man hath taken a wife,” means, when he has wooed her and asks her to be his wife, and she agrees. They then perform the marriage rite, and vow before God and man to live together until death parts them. They are now bride bridegroom, but not man and wife. The phrase, “and married her,” tells us when they become man and wife. That, when the marriage is consummated by their first intimate union, she is no more a bride, but a wife, and he is no more a bridegroom, but a husband.
For him to put her away according to the sufferance of Moses, what must she be guilty
of, and when?
The cause is “some uncleanness,” but in our English translation this is too vague.
If we examine the words some and uncleanness in the Hebrew, we find what the cause as. Then if we refer to Deut. 22: 13,14, we find when the uncleanness was contracted. Translating our word some from the Hebrew, we find the word to be dabar, with its meaning to be “act, affair, matter or thing” and translated over a thousand times as “words about, spoke, commanded, reported, etc.” The word uncleanness is ervah which means nudity, or nakedness, and used forty-nine times as “uncovered the nakedness” of someone. So we find that the cause of “some uncleanness” to be the report, words of, or the matter of exposing her nakedness. And this exposure is for the act of fornication before marriage, which act is a specific form of fornication, or pornia, and the only form which does not carry the death penalty under the law except that which may legally be redeemed by marriage as given above. That this is so, Moses says:
“If any man take a wife, and go into her (first intimate union), and hate her, and bring an evil name upon her, and say, I took this woman, and when I came to her, I found her not a maid
(virgin).” (Deut. 22:13,14).
If the charge is true, she had intimate union with another before her marriage, and was guilty of fornication, and she was stoned to death. Again, in this situation, divorce and remarriage is not
possible under the law. But, if the charge was untrue, he must live with her until death. If he were a good man like Joseph, when he found Mary, the mother of Jesus, pregnant with him; he could have written her a bill of divorcement, and sent her out of his house, and not have her stoned her to death.
"And Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily."
He could, as a justified man, have only done so according to Deut. 24:1. Many professed christians think that if their spouse is unfaithful, that Matt. 19:9 gives them the right to divorce them and remarry, without themselves committing and living in adultery, and thereby retain fellowship in the church. But, how deceived they are. Unfaithfulness does not void the contract, and marriage is a contract, one that cannot ever be broken. God speaking through
God's Word says,
“Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave (be glued, welded, and united into one) unto his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh.”
Jesus says that Scripture cannot be broken, (John 10:35) and, “Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder”
(divorced. Matt. 19:6).
The apostle Paul said,
“The woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives.”
(Rom. 7:2,3, and I Cor. 7:13)
He gives NO grounds for putting away, for this is one thing God says he hateth, “For the Lord, the God of Israel saith that He hateth putting away... “ (Mal. 2:16) and this in the context rebuking Israel who dealt treacherously against “thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant.” Certainly Paul does not contradict His Master and Teacher. The contract can be violated, but not broken or made null and void.
“Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto.”
The marriage covenant or contract is formalized when there is a meeting or unity of minds and vows are taken, and the covenant or contract is consummated by the harmonious union of the man and woman in the flesh. Consider commercial contracts.
Neither buyer nor seller is free from their promises until every stipulation is fulfilled by both parties.
“Unto death” is the last stipulation, and with its occurrence the marriage is finally dissolved.
Jesus was answering the hypocritical Pharisees and their question in Matt. 19:3 and Mark 10:2
“Is it LAWFUL for a man to put his wife? tempting him.”
And in the house His disciples asked Him again. To them Jesus said, “Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if a woman shall put away
her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.”
(Mark 10: 10,11, 12)
“Whosoever putteth away his wife committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.”(Luke 16:18)
Can a true disciple of our Lord put away his or her spouse for any cause and marry
another, and retain fellowship with Christ Jesus and his family? The answer is an emphatic no!
One might ask, “What am I to DO if my spouse is unfaithful, or puts me
away? What must I do to retain fellowship with the church?” Jesus gave the answer to His disciples when they said, “If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is good not to marry. But Jesus said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom IT IS GIVEN. For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb; and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs which have MADE THEMSELVES eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. (as Paul) he that is able to receive it, let HIM receive it.”
(Matt. 19:10, 12).
If the above case should be our lot, and if we love the church and righteousness, we must remain unmarried and pure.
Shall we follow the Pharisees and their carnal traditions, or shall we follow and serve Christ? If our god is self and self gratification of the flesh, then we must go with the Pharisees, but if God is our God, we must say with every true child of God, and Joshua of old,
“But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord,”
(Jos. 24:15), by following Christ and His teaching. Marriage is a type of union between Christ and His church. The union of a marriage is for life and can only be broken by death, when time no
longer exist for us. The union with our spiritual Husband cannot be broken in time or
eternity, for God is eternal.
By Waddell Moore
We intimated on the wrapper of our last October Number that it was in our mind to take up the above subject, as involving considerations hidden from the eyes of men of one idea, who only know what they have been taught by the precept of men, and as having also an important bearing on many points of divine truth. This pledge, therefore, we shall now attempt to redeem.
Were it a mere idle, unprofitable question, or a point of dry and barren controversy, we would willingly let the whole subject drop, for we cannot but think most of our readers would consider that our proofs from the Scripture were decisive and conclusive of the truth of our views; but we believe it will be found on mature examination that it contains in its bosom some instructive lessons, and involves some important consequences which, perhaps, may not have presented themselves to their minds in the light in which we see them. The deep wisdom of the Holy Ghost, as manifested in this question, is altogether HIDDEN from superficial, ignorant professors, who know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God; and indeed is not only usually OVERLOOKED by ordinary readers of the New Testament, but, in our judgment, is not sufficiently understood or appreciated even by some who possess a deeper insight into the mysteries of the kingdom.
In examining, however, such points, we should bear in mind several important considerations. First, let it be remembered that the Scriptures, as given by inspiration of God, were written for ALL TIME, as well as for the then present time, and as such looked forward prospectively to ALL the various circumstances and phases in which the church should be placed down to the end of the world. Secondly, it should be recollected that there are certain strong, deep-seated tendencies in the human mind which are EVER displaying themselves, and unfolding, as a necessary consequence, different forms of error or evil. Now the Holy Ghost, possessing an infinite and infallible knowledge of the heart of man, and foreseeing with ineffable clearness and distinctness the whole end from the beginning, has in the depths of His wisdom provided beforehand suitable and sufficient remedies against these evils for the guidance of the family of God.
The amazing subtlety with which these tendencies of the human mind have been worked upon and drawn out so as to issue in the firm establishment of error and evil in the professing church, compels us to believe that Satan has been the main agent in this matter, and that he has employed these tendencies to the building up of HIS KINGDOM OF DARKNESS and wickedness. We trust we shall make this clear as we carry on our argument and work out the chief points of the question now before us. Two preliminary considerations will, however, be necessary:
1. We shall first, then, assume that there are two standing ordinances in the Lord’s house — ordinances of His own institution, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. And we shall assume that these are not sacraments, according to the views of the Church of Rome and the Church of England, but ordinances, the difference between the two consisting in this that sacraments are claimed to be immediate channels of grace, whilst ordinances are merely celebrations or memorials, which may or may not be attended with a divine blessing, but are not channels of spiritual life. This distinction between sacraments and ordinances it is most important clearly to understand, and ever to bear in mind, for without it neither this nor many similar questions can be fully comprehended.
2. We shall, secondly, assume that these ordinances of the Lord’s house, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, are LIMITED to believers in the Son of God; for not being sacraments to convey grace to the soul, but memorials of the sufferings, sacrifice, death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, faith is required in the recipient that they may not be lifeless forms, but spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.
But now comes the main gist of our present question — the administration of these ordinances of the Lord’s house.
Is their administration, for the same arguments apply to BOTH ordinances, LIMITED TO MINISTERS — in other words, may none but ministers either baptize or break bread?
WE HOLD that their administration is NOT so limited, and that the Holy Ghost has not confined the administration of the ordinances to one class of men — the ministers of the word of truth. If you deny this, you are bound to show us two things:
1. That the Scriptures of the New Testament have CLEARLY drawn this limit.
2. To inform us what you mean by the word “ministers.”
We shall take the last point first, as occupying less room for its examination and clearing the ground more fully for the consideration of the first.
What, then, do you mean by “ministers,” when you say that to them is limited the power or privilege of baptizing and breaking bread to believers?
Do you mean ordained ministers — men on whose heads have been laid the hands of the presbytery?
“No,” you answer, “we do not mean that, for we do not hold with human ordination.”
Do you mean then, pastors of churches, or will you in-clude supplies of various kinds, from the man who is regularly engaged in a wandering ministry to the man who sometimes reads a sermon, gives out a hymn, reads a chapter from the desk or pulpit, and comments a little on what he reads?
“No,” you answer, “I do not mean all who thus occasionally speak, but only generally recognized ministers, such men as those whose engagements appear every month on your wrapper.”
Well and good. But these very men — most of them, at least — began in a small way. They were led first to read a chapter and make some comments on it; then, as their grace and gifts became more manifest, and the Lord seemed more evidently with them, they advanced from the desk to the pulpit, and went gradually on from strength to strength till they obtained a firm footing in the esteem and affections of the church of God.
Now, if you limit baptizing and breaking bread to these recognized ministers, please tell us when they might begin to administer the ordinances of the Lord’s house?
Draw the line for us when this great blessing became theirs.
Was it when they mounted the pulpit?
Then you make a low box or a high box the exact turning point, and that a man in the low box is not a minister and must not baptize, but the same man, when mounted in the high box, is a minister and may. Hold the ordination of ministers as the Church of England and some dissenting churches do, and you can then draw a line between the ordained and the un-ordained, and say boldly, “None but an ordained minister may break bread or baptize.” But if once you give up the ordination of ministers as held by them, we defy you to draw a line, on one side of which there stands the man who speaks in public; but may not baptize, and, on the other, the man who speaks in public, and who may baptize. False principles necessarily lead to false conclusions, and to set out and walk in an unscriptural path must end in folly and confusion. If you, limit the administration of the ordinances to ministers, you are bound to show us who are ministers, and what makes them ministers, what sort of recognition is required to manifest them as such, and at what period of their ministry the blessing is to be conceded them to administer the ordinances of the Lord’s house. If you cannot do this, it is evident that you do not understand the question, and are talking of matters in which you possess neither earthly nor heavenly wisdom.
But now a few words upon this all important point: “Has the Holy Ghost LIMITED the administration of the ordinances to ministers of the word of truth?”
If He has, show us where. Point out the chapter and verse in which we find, either in word or substance: “None may baptize but a minister of Jesus Christ.” We are bold to say that there is no such limitation to be found in the New Testament.
And what is more, the precedents given us in the New Testament prove just the contrary; in other words, most plainly show that private believers may, if occasion need, Scripturally baptize their believing brethren. We have before adduced the remarkable instances of Paul and Cornelius, neither of whom was baptized by a minister. Ananias, who baptized Paul, was simply a “disciple at Damascus,” where there was no church or congregation, (See Acts 9:2 and verse 10 — these believers were in the Jewish synagogues still) but only a few scattered disciples, who had fled there for refuge, at the time of the persecution at the death of Stephen. There is not the slightest ground to believe that he was a minister in any sense of the word, as set apart to preach the word of faith.
Peter would not baptize Cornelius himself, moved probably by the same godly motive which kept Paul from himself baptizing at Corinth, lest any should say he baptized in his own name. (I Cor.1:15). He therefore simply “commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord,” (Acts 10:48) which was doubtless done by one of the brethren who had come with him from Joppa. They were simply believing brethren, what we should call members of the church, who accompanied him on his journey for his protection and comfort.
Indeed, to these men of God, Peter and Paul, as long as the candidate was a believer in the Son of God, as long as the ordinance of baptism was rightly attended to, it was a matter of little importance who took him down into the water and baptized him — that is, of course, so long as the baptizer was himself a true believing brother. Paul therefore considered it a matter of so little importance that he had almost forgotten whom he had and whom he had not baptized: “I thank God that I baptized NONE of you but Crispus and Gaius; lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name. And I baptized also the household of Stephanas; besides, I know not whether I baptized any other.” (I Cor. 1:14-16)
Custom and tradition have invested it with a factitious import-ance, and turned a simple memorial into a solemn ceremonial; but could we view the baptism of a believer as a mere memorative act, a simple, open profession of faith, we should see that it really mattered very little who led him into the water and immersed him in the name of the Godhead, so long as the administrator was a believing and baptized brother. IT IS THE FAITH AND PROFESSION of the candidate, NOT of the person who merely baptizes him, in which the chief stress of the whole act lies. Were it otherwise, and did its right administration depend on the ministerial office of the administrator, its validity might be CONTINUALLY IMPAIRED or CALLED IN QUESTION.
But now take a matter of fair inference, for this is admissible where positive proof seems defective.
Could the twelve apostles have baptized all the 3,000 who were called on the day of Pentacost?
It seems physically impossible that twelve men should have baptized 3,000 persons in that space of time. But assume that the 120 brethren who met with them aided them, and the difficulty much disappears. That allows about twenty-three candidates to each administrator, whereas to limit it to the twelve apostles would allot 250 to each apostle. (Note. The 5,000 with only Peter and John in Acts 4:4 — if baptized is even more staggering!)
But we pass on now to another part of our subject, to which we made some allusion in the opening of the present article. We have there alluded to the wis-dom of the Holy Ghost in not limiting the administration of baptism to ministers. To set this point forth more clearly, we shall consider it under the two following heads:
1. The genius, character, and spirit of the New Testament dispensation.
2. The tendency of the human mind to set up a system of its own distinct form and opposed to the mind of God.
1. Unless we can understand and enter into the character and spirit of the New Testament dispensation, we cannot properly understand the nature and bearing of the question now before us. Observe this, then, as a fundamental principle of the New Testament dispensation, that its main, its ruling spirit and character is, that it is a spiritual dispensation. Forms, rites, ceremonies are all foreign to, and alien from this spiritual character. Order is needful to prevent confusion, and ordinances have been graciously given as commemorative acts of the sacrifice, death, and resurrection of the blessed Lord, as well as pledges of His love, and distinctive badges of true discipleship. But these very ordinances are as if impregnated and permeated with the character and spirit of the whole dispensation. They are, therefore, on the one hand not sacrificial or sacramental rites, nor on the other mere forms and ceremonies, but spiritual institutions, and as such for believers only, and to be attended to by them in faith.
Now, if you assert that none but ministers may administer these ordinances, you at once endow them with a kind of sacramental character. You make their validity depend on the administrator being the member of a kind of priesthood — one of a privileged caste or body of men to whom in some mysterious, unexplained way belongs a peculiar privilege. But this is the very essence of the Old Testament dispensation, and to hold this is virtually a renunciation of the distinctive character of the New Testament. You are, therefore, as far as you have the power, bringing us back to the “beggarly elements” from which the gospel has delivered us, and thrusting our necks under the old yoke. You are virtually restoring priesthood as the peculiar privilege of a separate class, and thus overthrowing that grand and blessed truth that all believers are priests, for as they are “a chosen generation,” so are they “a holy nation, a royal priesthood,” (I Pet. 2:5) whom Christ Himself has made kings and priests unto God. (Rev. 1:6) We have all along admitted that, for the sake of order and other reasons, it is BEST for one to administer the ordinance of baptism who has some recognized standing IN THE CHURCH OF GOD. Our present argument is to show that it is NOT so limited, and that so to limit it is contrary to the free spirit of the new dispensation, which allows and sanctions a liberty unknown to the old.
2. But now see the evils which would have been produced had the administration of baptism been so limited. Never was there a time when these evils were more FORCED on our attention. What is the MAIN doctrine of what is called Puseyism or Ritualism? The doctrine of sacramental grace, that is that grace is communicated mainly if not solely by the sacraments, of which the chief are Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. But what thence follows? That they are only channels of grace as entrusted to, and administered by the ordained successors of the apostles to whom alone appertains the Christian priesthood. And who are these priests to whom alone appertains the right of baptizing infants and celebrating the Lord’s Supper? The regularly ordained ministers of the Church of England, who have been set apart as consecrated by the laying on of hands by the bishops, the only legitimate successors of the apostles. To them alone, according to this doctrine, are given the keys of the kingdom of heaven. They alone are priests, and all other ministers excepting their brethren of Rome, are schismatics, who have no more divine right to baptize or celebrate the Lord’s Supper, than the priests made by Jeroboam of the lowest of the people, which were not of the sons of Levi, (I Kings 12:31) had right to minister in the temple and offer sacrifice at Jerusalem.
We see, then, where we should be landed, were this doctrine true that none but ministers may baptize or break bread. What a stepping-stone to that domineering priesthood which is everywhere now lifting up its head. How soon would the doctrine be established on the following basis:
1. None but ministers may baptize or administer the Lord’s Supper.
2. If so, then they must be ordained ministers, that all may know their office, and that none should thrust themselves into it without proper testi-monials.
3. If ordained ministers, who is to ordain them? In whom is lodged the power to ordain? It must be some superior order, some SUCCESSION OF MEN, like Timothy and Titus, who ordained elders in every city. Then it must be the bishops, for these claim to be the only legitimate successors of the apostles. All this finely-spun web seems to us, and rightly seems, a mere figment. But it is the creed, and the advancing creed of thousands. How wisely, then, does the breath of the Holy Ghost blow away all this gossamer web by the simple fact that, in the Scriptures of the New Testament, the administration of the ordinances of God’s house is not limited to ministers, though, as a matter of order, they may be most suitably and conveniently administered by them.
But of all sects and denominations we should be the last to limit the administration of the ordinances to ministers.
For who and what are our ministers, and how are they distinguished from their believing brethren?
They are NOT educated at an Academy, and made into ministers there. They are not ordained by the laying on of hands at any chapel, and made ministers there. When called to the pastoral office by a church, and they accept the call, they are not made ministers there. They wear no distinctive dress, take no distinctive title, and assume no priestly position to separate or exalt them, as a peculiar and privileged caste, from above theft fellow believers. Some of them labour through the week at their secular business, and by honest industry maintain themselves and their families; some are deacons of churches, with the good will of the church still retaining their office; some assume no higher position than serving occasionally destitute places; few are pastors regularly settled over a church and congregation. As called of God to preach the gospel, as honoured instruments of good, as possessed of grace and gifts, as labouring many of them under poverty of circumstances, heavy trials, and many afflictions, they have an enduring place in the esteem and affections of their hearers, and to them is willingly entrusted the administration of the ordinances. To baptize, to break bread, falls as much within the scope of the pastor’s office as to take the chair at a church meeting; and we should be the last persons to wrest the administration of the ordinances out of their hands. Order, regularity, the giving of honour to whom honour is due, the avoiding of petty jealousies, and the general maintenance of peace and quietness in a church and congregation, all point to putting into the hands of the pastor the administration of the ordinances. And, by parity of reasoning, where there is no pastor, the same should be conceded to the minister who supplies the pulpit. But what is conceded as a matter of order must not be claimed as a matter of right, or, what is worse, demanded as a matter of divine warrant. For were it so, it would nullify our ordinances, unless it were proved in every instance that they were administered by an accredited minister. It would make them like the mass if the wafer were not consecrated by a priest --- profane, invalid ceremony. It would unchurch a large number of our members, fill our churches with strife and confusion, and land us next door to, if not actually within, the threshold of Ritualism and Popery. From all which evils, good Lord, deliver us.
(Editorial - Gospel Standard, January 1, 1867)
We are requested by a correspondent to give our views on Romans 7: 2-3.
"For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then, if while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man."
From this apostolic exposition of the law of God upon the subject of matrimony, we are fully sustained in asserting that nothing short of the death of the husband can so exonerate the
wife from her marriage obligations as to leave her at liberty to marry another man. That cases
may and do sometimes occur in which a wife may lawfully separate from her husband, or a
husband may put away his wife, we believe the Scriptures are sufficiently clear and to the
point, (See Matthew 5:32; also Matthew 19:9;) but in no case do we find authority for such persons to marry again.
Cases may occur in which a separation may take place against the will of one of the parties, and not for the cause mentioned, Matt. 19:9; but in such cases the parties are forbidden to marry again.
“But unto the married I COMMAND, yet not I, BUT THE LORD, let not the wife depart from her husband; but and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband.”
(1 Corinthians 7:10, 11)
“The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband
(I Cor. 7:39)
From the plain testimony of the Scriptures as referred to above, we give it as our decided conviction that no married wife can, under any circumstances whatever, marry another man while her husband is living, without involving herself in the crime of adultery. Nor can a man marry again while his wife lives, without involving the same sin. We do not say, first husband and first wife, for a second marriage does not constitute the parties husband and wife, where this legal impediment exists.
A bill of divorcement, legally obtained, may in the eye of our civil code disannual a
former marriage contract, so that, as far as the civil law is concerned, the parties may contract to live in adultery with impunity, and their issue be legally their heirs; but the Bible gives them no such liberty. Nor has the God of heaven given any authority to any earthly legislature to divide asunder what God has joined together.
We could as soon extend our fellowship and approbation to the direct crime of adultery, where no separation has taken place between the husband and wife, as where such separation has taken place, a divorce obtained and the new connection legalized by the marriage of parties where one or both have a living wife or husband.
We know there is a difference of opinion among professors of religion on this subject;but we have ever refused to perform the marriage service, in any such case, as we should as soon connive directly at or countenance the sin of adultery.
We hope never to hear of an instance among old school baptists; nor can we hold any as Old School Baptists who would thus live in adultery. The very use the apostles makes of this law, in the text at the head of this article, shows that the church of Christ could not be lawfully wedded to Him, in her visible Gospel order, until she became dead unto the law.
Her being put away and cursed by her former husband, (the law) did not release her — she must die, and she did die to the law; Christ became the end of the law, for righteousness to every one that believes. We might extend this article; but we hope enough is said to satisfy the mind of our inquiring correspondent.
(By Gilbert Beebe, September 15, 1840)
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Preached at North Street Chapel, Stamford, on Feb. 17, 1861, by J. C. Philpot
"But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead:
Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us."
(2 Corinthians 1:9-10)
We may admire Paul's grace, stand amazed at the depth and variety of his experience, and almost envy him the abundance of his revelations and consolations. But do we envy him his deep afflictions, his cruel persecutions, his heavy trials, his sore temptations, his unceasing sufferings for Christ's sake? When we read of his being caught up into the third heaven, and there hearing "unspeakable words which it was not lawful (or possible) for a man to utter," we may wish to be similarly favored; but what would we say if we had the subsequent lacerating thorn in the flesh, the pitiless, merciless messenger of Satan to buffet us? We may envy him his abundant consolations; but do we covet his stripes, his imprisonments, his tumults, his labors, his watchings, his fastings? And what should we think, say, or do, were his lot to be our own, as he himself has so vividly depicted it? "Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers." (2 Cor. 11:25, 26.) Could we endure a tenth of such afflictions as he here enumerates?
But these things must be set one against the other, for there is a proportion between them, as he declares in this chapter– "Blessed be God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort– who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, by the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds by Christ." (2 Cor. 1:3-5.)
And to show us that these sufferings and these consolations, both in their nature and in their proportion, are not peculiar to apostles and ministers, he says, addressing himself to his Corinthian brethren, "And our hope of you is steadfast, knowing that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so shall you be also of the consolation." If no suffering, then, no consolation; if no affliction, no enjoyment; if no trial, no support; if no temptation, no deliverance. Is not this apostolic argument? Is not this gracious reasoning? Is not this sound divinity? Yes; so sound, so scriptural, and so experimental that it can never be overthrown while the Church of God holds this epistle in her hands and has the substance of it in her heart.
But it would appear from the context, that over and above his usual amount of sufferings, a short time previous to the writing of this epistle, a trial of extraordinary depth and magnitude had, by God's sovereign will, befallen him, for he speaks in the verse immediately preceding our text, "We would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life." (2 Cor. 1:8.) What that trouble was he has not told us. Whether it were an affliction in providence, or whether it were a trial in grace, or, what is more probable, whether it were a temptation from Satan of extraordinary magnitude and of long endurance, we are not informed; but we are told what it was as regarded its extent and magnitude, for he says he was "pressed out of measure"– as though he had no measure of comparison to determine its greatness, for he was so pressed down by it that, like a heavy load under which a person might lie, he could not calculate its weight. It was beyond all his limited means, not only of natural endurance, but even of clear and exact description.
And not only so, it was "above strength," so that had he not been supported by Almighty power, he must have been crushed under its weight. No even then, supported as he was by Almighty power, so pressing was it that it almost reduced him to despair, for he adds "insomuch that we despaired even of life." He hardly knew whether he would be able to live through it, whether his mind might not give way, and whether he should escape even with the maintenance of his natural life or of his reasoning powers. He then goes on, in the words of our text, to show us from what quarter his deliverance came, and what was the effect which this trial wrought in his soul– "But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raises the dead– who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver– in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us."
Let us look at these words, if the Lord grant it, in the light of the Spirit, and may he graciously help me this morning so to open them up in harmony with the word of his truth and his teaching in the hearts of his saints, that they may be commended with divine unction, life, and power to your conscience, that being enabled according to the measure of your faith to trace out the work of God's grace in you heart, you may gather up a comfortable hope, or be favored with a sweet encouragement to believe that you are under the same teaching with which God blessed this eminent saint and servant of the Lord. But in doing so, I shall–
I. First, show you what it is to have the sentence of death in oneself. "But we have the sentence of death in ourselves."
II. Secondly, what is the effect of this internal sentence of death– the destruction of self-confidence, and the raising up of a trust in God– "that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raises the dead."
III. Thirdly, the appearing of God in answer to prayer, and the putting forth of his Almighty power in vouchsafing a gracious deliverance– "Who delivered us from so great a death."
IV. Fourthly, the present enjoyment of that deliverance, and the future anticipation that in every time of need there will be an experience of the same– "And does deliver– in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us."
I. What it is to have the sentence of death in oneself. "But we have the sentence of death in ourselves." There is a difference between "death" and "the sentence of death;" and there is a similar distinction between the sentence of death generally, and the sentence of death in ourselves. Let me by two simple illustrations endeavor more fully to explain my meaning, and to clear up the points of distinction which I have thus advanced.
A. All men are doomed to die. Every funeral bell, every passing funeral, the closed shutters of the house of mourning, the cemetery gleaming with its spire and white monuments in the distance, daily remind us of the mortality of man. Men may try to forget or drown the thoughts of this gloomy guest that haunts all their banquets of pleasure, but sooner or later he will strike his dart into the bosom of all that sit around the table. But though death hangs thus as a doomed sentence over the whole human race, over every one old or young within the reach of my voice, yet how few feel, how still fewer tremble at that sentence of death which they must know daily hangs over them!
But now look at a criminal, who, by the commission of some capital crime, say murder, has brought himself under the sentence of the statute law. As long as he was innocent of the crime, though the statute book denounces death as the penalty of murder, it reached not him. But directly he had imbrued his hands in innocent blood, that sentence which before lay in the statute book harmless as regarding him, began to lift up its angry brow and launch forth its thunder against him. Conscience brings it home to his bosom, and he who never trembled before now trembles at the sight of the officers of justice. But in spite of all his tremblings he is seized, brought before a jury of his fellow-countrymen, and found guilty of the crime laid to his charge; the judge puts on the black cap, and ratifies the verdict by pronouncing sentence of death against him. Now that man has "the sentence of death" recorded against him. You might stand in the court and hear the trial; you might see the criminal pallid and trembling at the bar; though you could not justify his crime, you might even sympathize with him in his mental sufferings and agonies. But however keenly you might suffer partly from horror at the act and partly from seeing a follow mortal doomed to die, how different would your feelings be from his who is anxiously watching the faces of the jury as they come in with their verdict– from his, who is eagerly scanning every look and listening to every word of the judge– from his, who is hanging as it were between life and death, and whose hope trembling in the scale sinks at the word "death" almost into despair!
Here then we have in the case of a criminal condemned to die "the sentence of death:" but still, though he has the sentence of death, he may not yet have the sentence of death in himself. It is in the criminal law; it is in the verdict of the jury; it is in the mouth of the judge; but it may not have reached his inmost soul. He may hope still to escape. The Queen may show mercy; he may still receive a pardon; he may have the sentence of death commuted into penal imprisonment for life. But when all hope is taken away; when every application to the Crown for mercy is rejected, when the day of execution is fixed, and he stands under the gallows with the rope round his neck, then not only has he the sentence of death in himself, for in a few moments he will be launched into eternity.
Take another figure to illustrate the meaning of the apostle. As long as you are in vigorous health and strength you may hear of sickness and disease, and you may see your weak and aged neighbors dropping around you almost like leaves in autumn. You may hear the funeral bell, and see the melancholy procession go to the cemetery, the hearse bearing away your next-door neighbor, whom you have so often seen and perhaps conversed with. But the sight does not touch you. The funeral bell strikes no note of alarm on your mind. You are young and healthy, sound and strong, and what is death to you? Yet the sentence of death is impending over you as it impended over your neighbor, who perhaps thought no more that he should die than you.
But say that you were, in the very midst of all your health and strength, seized by some disease which is well-known to be sooner or later fatal– say that cancer or consumption laid hold of you, and that after long and careful examination by an experienced physician, your case was pronounced incurable. Then the sentence of death would be recorded against you in the mind, if not by the mouth of the physician. The first glance of his eye, the first click of his fingers, have told him that the seeds of death are in you. He might not think it prudent to tell you; but even were you informed of it from his lips you might have hope that the disease might be palliated if not thoroughly cured, and that it might not actually shorten life, though it might abridge you of much of its enjoyment.
But should the disease make rapid and further progress, should all hope now be taken away, so as to be but a matter of a few weeks or days, and you inwardly felt that any moment might be your last, then not only would you have the sentence of death by the mouth of the physician and its seeds in your constitution, but the sentence of death would be in yourself.
So you see there is a distinction between these three things– death, the sentence of death, and having the sentence of death in oneself. Now take these ideas which I have thus endeavored to illustrate into spiritual things, and see how far they agree with the work of grace upon the heart and with the experience of a living saint of God.
B. The law is a minister of death, as the apostle speaks, "Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory." (2 Cor. 3:7.) By "the ministry that brought death" is meant that the law as a minister or messenger from God brings death as message from himself. It speaks his words, which are, "The soul that sins it shall die;" "Cursed is every one that continues not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them." (Ezek. 18:20; Gal. 3:10.) But though the law speaks thus, and by so speaking condemns every human being who transgresses it, yet as death in a general way impends over all, and yet men go about their usual occupations as if they never were to die; so until the law is applied to the conscience by the power of God, though it is actually hanging over men as a sentence of death, yet it is not felt by them as such.
The apostle describes in his own case how men are affected toward the law before it enters as a condemning sentence into their heart. He says, "I was alive without the law once." (Rom. 7:9.) The law was hanging over him as a condemning sentence, as a minister of death, as a messenger of wrath, as a consuming fire, but he felt it not. As with a thunderstorm in the remote distance, he might hear the low rumblings of the thunder which once rolled over Sinai's fiery mount, or might see from far the play of those lightnings which scorched its top. But at present the storm was in the distance. He went about without thinking, or feeling, or fearing, or caring whether the law was his friend or enemy. In fact he rather viewed it as his friend, for he was using it as a friendly help to build up his own righteousness. He had gone to it, but it had not come to him; he knew its letter but not its spirit; its outward commands but not its inward demands. He therefore speaks of himself as being "alive without the law," that is, without any knowledge of what it was as a ministration of condemnation and death.
But in God's own appointed time and way, "the commandment came;" that is, it came with power into his conscience. He found that he could keep every one of the commandments but the tenth; for according to his apprehension and his interpretation of them, they did not extend beyond an external obedience. But the tenth commandment, "You shall not covet," struck into the very depth of his conscience, for it was a prohibition from the mouth of God of the inward lusts of the heart, and that prohibition attended with a dreadful curse. Under this stroke sin, which before lay seemingly dead in his breast, revived like a sleeping serpent; and what was the consequence? It stung him to death, for he says, "And I died;" for the commandment which was ordained unto life he found to be unto death! (Rom. 7:9, 10.)
Sin could not brook to be thwarted or opposed– it therefore rose up in enmity against God, took advantage of the commandment to rebel against the authority of Jehovah, and its guilt in consequence falling upon his conscience made tender in the fear of God slew him. It would not have done so had there been no life in his soul; but there being light to see and life to feel the anger of God revealed in the commandment, when the law came into his conscience as a sentence from a just and holy Jehovah, the effect was to produce a sentence of death in himself. And this experience which the apostle describes as his own is what the law does and ever must do when applied to the conscience by the power of God. It kills, it slays the condemned sinner; it is a sentence of death in a man's own conscience, which only awaits the hour of death and the day of judgment to be carried into execution.
But the apostle, in the words before us, does not seem to be speaking of the work of the law in issuing the sentence of death. He had passed through that, had been delivered from it by a revelation of the Son of God to his soul, and been blessed with the love of God shed abroad in his heart, before he wrote this epistle and before he described the afflictions out of which the Lord delivered him, and in the midst of which he had so abundantly comforted him. He is not therefore speaking here particularly of the work of the law upon the conscience, but rather of those distressing trials, temptations, and exercises which in the hands of God bring the soul down, lay it low in the dust, cut it up as to any expectation in self, and slay it to any and every creature hope. "We had the sentence of death in ourselves."
C. But let us now see the various ways in which these trials and exercises bring about the inward sentence of death. You will see from what the apostle says that it is not once or twice only that this sentence of death is recorded or felt. Thus we find him speaking of "Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus;" again, "For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake." (2 Cor. 4:10, 11.) And thus again he says, "In deaths often," that is, spiritual and experimental as well as natural and literal; for he could only once die literally, though in deaths often spiritually. And again, "I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily." (1 Cor. 15:31.)
Now what is life naturally and what is death naturally? Is not that life in which there is breath, energy, movement, activity? And what is death but the utter cessation of all this moving activity and vital energy? To die is to lose life, and by losing life to lose all the movements of life. Thus, when the Lord takes, as it were, out of our heart and hands everything in which we once had life, in which we lived and moved and seemed to have our earthly, natural, and enjoyed being, and condemns it by his holy word, so as to record therein, and in our conscience as an echo to his voice, a continual sentence of death against it, he delivers us over unto death.
And you will observe that none but the living family of God are so delivered– "For we who live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake" and observe also that the reason for this mysterious dispensation is to bring to light the hidden life of Jesus within, for the apostle adds, "that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh." And observe also the connection which this sentence of death has with the death of Christ– "Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus."
We must suffer with Jesus if we are to be glorified with him; must die with him if we are to live with him. (2 Tim. 2:11, 12.) His death is the exemplar, the model, and the means of our own; and as he had the sentence of death in himself upon the cross, so must we be crucified with him, that we may be conformed to his suffering, dying image. (Rom. 8:29; Gal. 2:20.) Thus not only is there a death by, under, and unto the law, so as to kill the soul to all creature hope and help, to all vain confidence, and all self-righteousness; but in the continual teachings and dealings of God upon the heart, and especially in times and by means of heavy affliction, painful trial, and powerful temptation, does the Lord by his Spirit and grace execute a sentence of death in all those to whom he is giving to drink of Christ's cup and to be baptized with Christ's baptism.
D. But if there be a sentence of death in oneself it will produce some sensible, experimental effect. The apostle in the same epistle in which he speaks of being crucified with Christ adds, "But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world." (Gal. 6:14.) There is then a crucifixion of the flesh, which we may call a dying unto it by having the sentence in our own souls against it. Look at this in the light of your own experience.
1. What influence the world, for instance, naturally has over us, and how we are sure to be entangled in it, except so far as delivered from it by the power of sovereign grace! Look at the hold that worldly business has over the mind when fully engaged in it. Look at the power which pride and covetousness have over the human heart; how easily we get entangled almost before we are aware in a worldly spirit, and are drawn aside into carnal thoughts, plans, schemes, and anticipations, and spend time and stretch forth vain and foolish desires after objects which we know can never bring with them any real peace to our conscience, or indeed any profit to our soul. The Lord, therefore, at times sees it necessary to put a check on this worldly spirit, to crucify the world unto us and to crucify us unto the world, by putting a sentence of death in it and upon it.
But in order to do this he sends some heavy affliction, brings some painful trial, or allows Satan to set upon us with some severe temptation. What is the effect? An inward sentence of death against it. In the light of the Lord's teaching, as shining through the dark clouds of affliction and temptation, we begin to see what the world truly and really is– a dying world, agonizing as it were in the last throes of death, and carrying upon its heaving, struggling bosom dying men and women, gasping, groaning, and falling in all directions. As with a dreary desert, or volcanic region strewed with wreck and ruin, covered with lava and ashes, no plant lives and thrives in its burnt and arid soil. Can happiness then be gathered from it? Do the flowers of Paradise, does the tree of life, grow amid these ashes? No! According to the primeval curse, nothing grows therein but thorns and thistles.
Is not this then the effect of afflictions, trials, and temptations; that every expectation of happiness or comfort from the world is effectually cut off; and that if we attempt to gather pleasure from it, all it can do for us is to lead us into snares, cast temptations into our path, and, as the miserable outcome of such courses, to bring guilt and trouble into our conscience? In this way then do we learn to find and feel the sentence of death in ourselves as pronounced by the voice of the Lord against the world, and more especially against that worldly spirit which makes the world within a greater snare and a more dangerous enemy than the world without.
2. But look at it again as regards our own righteousness. How few even of the living family of God are delivered from self-righteousness! What a Pharisaic spirit is plainly and evidently to be seen in some of the best of men! How slight and superficial a view many who fear God seem to have of the depths of the fall, of the utter ruin and thorough helplessness into which it has cast the whole human race! What a slight, slender acquaintance have many gracious people with the corruptions of their heart, and how little they seem to know and feel of their inward leprosy, their wounds and bruises and putrefying sores, and what pollution and defilement are in them to the very core!
But need we wonder at this when we see them so little tried, tempted, or exercised? It is for lack of these inward exercises that there are so many Pharisees in the inner court, and so few lepers outside the camp with the covering on the upper lip and the cry, "Unclean, unclean," out of their mouth. This is the reason why so many are secretly trusting to their own righteousness; for until we have the sentence of death in ourselves, to cut up, pull down, root out, and destroy our own righteousness, we shall in some way or other, and that probably hidden from ourselves, put trust in it. But when we have a discovery to our heart and conscience of the holiness of God, of the infinite purity of his righteous character, and have a corresponding sense of our deep sinfulness and desperate depravity before him; when seeing light in his light and feeling life in his life we see and feel how holy he is and how vile we are, then a sentence of death enters the conscience against our own righteousness and we view it as a condemned thing, as doomed to die, as having no more chance of escape from the justice of God than a malefactor has of evading the law when he stands upon the gallows with the executioner behind him. We view it as a guilty, condemned criminal justly doomed to die under the wrath of God. Thus we die to it, as the wife of the criminal dies to him at the gallows' foot, and by dying to it, it effectually dies unto us; we renounce it; we see death in it, and it drops out of our arms as a corpse falls to the ground when death strikes its natural life out of it.
3. So again as regards our own strength. There was a time with us when we thought we could do something towards our own salvation; when we might repent, or believe, or pray, or praise in our own strength; when we proposed to ourselves a vast number and variety of good works, whereby we hoped in some measure to gain the favor of God, and if not by them altogether to scale the battlements of heaven, at least to secure a sense of the Lord's approbation in our own conscience. This was indeed a pleasing dream in which many have so deeply slumbered that they never waked out of it until they opened their eyes in hell.
But what dispelled so pleasing a dream as this? What aroused the soul out of a sleep worse than Samson's or Jonah's? The loud and angry voice of the Lord in the conscience. And this voice spoke through heavy trials, powerful temptations, and a distressing sense of our thorough ruin in the Adam-fall. Here was the sentence of death passed and executed against this imaginary strength of ours, this thief, this robber, who would not only spoil the soul of the strength of Christ made perfect in weakness, but even rob the Lord himself of his grace and glory. So, then, how there issues, as if from the mouth of God, a sentence of condemnation against all creature strength under which it passes as a condemned thing. Does not the Lord himself say, "Without me you can do nothing;" and again, "As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abides in the vine, no more can you except you abide in me?" (John 15:4.)
And is it not the express testimony of the Holy Spirit, "When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly?" (Rom. 5:6.) Is it not also the express declaration of the apostle, "I know that in me, that is in my flesh, dwells no good thing?" (Rom. 7:18.) It is God that must work in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure (Phil. 2:13), for from him and from him only is our fruit found. (Hosea 14:8.) Thus we have the testimony of the word of God as well as the experience of our own hearts to prove to us that we have no strength to believe, to hope, or to love; no power even to command a good thought, no power even to raise a hearty sigh, to bid a single tear to drop from the eye, or a groan of contrition to gush out of the bosom.
4. Then again, as regards our own wisdom. Against this too, as against every fancied good in the creature, is the sentence of death recorded in the word and in the experience of the tried and tempted saint of God. There was a time probably with us when we thought we could easily understand the scriptures and could explain them to others; the little light which we had seemed to us much greater than it really was, and, what through pride and what through ignorance, it seemed as if we could understand all mysteries and all knowledge. There are few things young Christians are more blind to than their own ignorance and their own folly! But apart from any light upon the scripture, in our fancied wisdom we thought we could easily see our way through this trial, or mode of escape through that temptation; that we could shape our own path, design our own way, and model our own end, both in providence and grace.
But after a time, when brought into very trying circumstances, so as to despair even of life, then we began to find that much of the light which was in us was darkness; that in ourselves we really had no wisdom to see the snares laid for our feet or to escape them; that whatever knowledge we might have of the letter of scripture or of the truth in the mere doctrine of it, a thick veil of darkness was drawn over the whole word of God as regarded our experience of its saving, sanctifying power; that we might read the Bible until our eyes dropped out of their sockets, and yet remain in ignorance of the sweetness and savor of divine truth as applied to the heart by the power of God. We began also to see from innumerable stumblings and staggerings, backslidings and wanderings, slips and falls, that we had in ourselves no real or available wisdom to guide our own steps into the strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life, or keep ourselves in it when found; that we could not direct our own thoughts and meditations so as to be fixed upon the things of God; that we could not experimentally understand the scriptures of truth, know the mind and will of God, or find any mode of escape from besetting sins or besetting fears. We thus began to know the meaning of those words, "If any man among you seems to be wise in this world, let him become a fool that he may be wise" (1 Cor. 3:18); and, again, "We are fools for Christ's sake." (I Cor. 4:10.) Our wisdom then being shown in the light of God's teaching to be folly, a sentence of death was executed a against it, and it hung as it were before our eyes as a crucified thing.
5. But then, again, there is our own fleshly holiness which is one of the last things with which we are willing to part. It is as if the youngest and fairest of the little ones of Babylon is to be taken and dashed against the stones. (Psalm. 137:9.) The law may have cut to pieces our self-righteousness, as Saul destroyed the Amalekites with the edge of the sword. But as he spared Agag who walked delicately, and the best of the sheep and of the oxen, so we might have had some secret reserve of our own holiness which we spared, when everything that was vile and worthless, we were willing should be destroyed utterly. But O, this 'delicately walking religion' of ours! Must that go too, must that be hewed in pieces in Gilgal? Our long and earnest prayers, our diligent and constant reading of the Scriptures, our careful and continued separation from the world, our consistent lives, our devotedness to the service of God in the house of prayer, and in the observance of his ordinances, our attention to every moral, social, and relative duty– that is, assuming that we had rigidly observed all these matters– must all this fair, pleasing reserve of fleshly holiness, which we have toiled for so laboriously and so hardly won– must this youngest babe die?
But do not mistake me here. I am not condemning those things, but condemning the wrong use made of them. They are all good as appointed means of grace, but when they are abused to lift up the heart with pride and self-righteousness, then it is necessary that we should be shown what is their real character, and that that they are so defiled by sin that they cannot stand for a single moment before the eye of infinite Purity. When, then, through trials and temptations, all this rubbish which we have gathered up with so much toil and labor, is scattered like chaff before the wind; when God discovers to the heart and conscience, in the light and life of his Spirit's teaching, his holiness and purity, and the glorious majesty of his all-seeing presence and power; when this fancied holiness of ours is dispersed to the four winds of Heaven, all its beauty becomes filth, and all its loveliness, shame and disgrace. Was not this the case with Isaiah, when he behold the glory of the Lord in his temple? What was his cry but, "Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips– for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts?" (Isaiah. 6:5.) So was it with Daniel when his loveliness was turned in him to corruption (Dan. 10:8); and so with Habakkuk, when his lips quivered at God's voice, and rottenness entered into his bones. (Hab. 3:16.)
Thus have we seen, both from Scripture and experience, how the sentence of death is passed and executed upon all our righteousness, strength, wisdom, and holiness.
II. But, to come to the second point, let us now see what is the EFFECT of this inward sentence of death. Two things are effected thereby; 1, the destruction of self-confidence; and 2, the raising up of a trust in God, according to the apostle's description of his own experience– "That we should not trust in ourselves, but in God, who raises the dead."
1. The destruction of self-confidence. As, then, the sentence of death is felt in our conscience, it cuts off all hope of escape by the deeds of the law, and indeed by any word or work of the creature. To effect this is God's intention in sending the sentence of death into our heart. As an illustration, look for a moment at the condemned criminal to whom I have before referred. He is put in the condemned cell; he is there heavily ironed; the bolts and bars of his prison door are firmly fastened against him; warders are on the watch to prevent him from making the least attempt to escape. See him there in gloom and solitude, shut up without any hope of escape, or any possibility of avoiding his sentence. Or to revert for a moment to my second illustration. Look at a person upon his bed gasping for breath, emaciated to the last degree, worn out with pain and disease, in the last stage of consumption. Now both these persons, by the very sentence of death which they carry in themselves, are precluded from all creature hope; if they are to escape their allotted doom it must be by the interposition of some power distinct from their own. It must be in the case of the criminal, by the Queen in a most unexpected manner showing mercy almost at the last hour; it must be in the case of the consumptive, by God himself almost working a miracle.
Thus it is in grace. The effect of the sentence of death in a living conscience, is this, that we should not trust in ourselves. Can the guilty criminal, can the dying consumptive trust in themselves? How can they with the sentence of death against them and in them? But without this experience of the sentence of death, there will always be a measure of self-confidence. I do believe that every person, whatever be his knowledge of the letter of truth, however high or low he stand in a profession of religion, will ever trust in himself until he has felt and experienced something of the sentence of death in his own conscience, whereby all hope of escape from the wrath to come through creature obedience, wisdom, strength, or righteousness, is utterly taken away.
But what a state a man must be in to have the sentence of death in his conscience, so as to despair even of life; not to know what to do to obtain deliverance, and all hope effectually cut off to procure it by any exertion of his own strength, wisdom knowledge or ability! If the danger is very great and pressing; if as Elihu describes, "his soul drew near to the grave, and his life to the destroyers," if God does not interpose perhaps at the last moment, what can save him from utter despair? And God has dealt so with many of his people, as to lay them in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps, until their soul is full of troubles, and their life draws near unto the grave. (Psalm. 88:3, 6.)
But it is God's purpose thus to wean them from trusting in themselves, that they might look out of self to seek help from whom help comes, and hope in Him from and by whom deliverance will be granted. It is thus that the saint of God is taught to cast himself as a dying wretch, as a guilty criminal, as one past all help and hope, upon the affections of free mercy, upon the super-aboundings of sovereign grace, and to depend for salvation on the finished work of the Son of God, and the manifestation of that finished work to his conscience. It is easy to say, "We do not trust in ourselves." The lowest Arminian will say as much as this; but in what situation are we when we say that we are not trusting to ourselves? Say, for instance, that you were on the very borders of death; say that every evidence of your interest in Christ was removed from your eyes; say that the law was discharging its dreadful curses into your bosom, an angry God frowning over your bed, conscience recording a thousand unpardoned sins, the king of terrors staring you in the face, and the death-rattle almost in your throat– then to look round and see what you are in yourself as a poor condemned sinner, and not to have the shadow of a hope as springing from anything you have done or can now expect to do!
Were you ever brought here in anticipation, in experience? Here you would have learned so to have the sentence of death in you as to despair even of life, and thus be taught not to trust in yourself. But what a way is this for God to take to teach us experimentally! How deep-rooted must be our self-confidence that God is obliged, so to speak, to take such a way as this to root it out! If there were a tree in your garden but lately planted, it might be almost pulled up by the hand; but if it had stood long and struck its roots deep into the soil, if thirty or forty years had passed over its head, it might be the work of a day to remove it. You would need to bring axe and saw to cut it down, and then spade and mattock to dig about the roots, before you could pull it up from the bottom.
So God knows what a deep root self-confidence has struck the human breast. It is not then a slight effort that will pull it out thoroughly; he must dig deep, and that with his own hands, and pull it out by the very roots, that he may plant in it the tree of life of his own providing, even Christ in the heart, the hope of glory.
Then do not think that you are hardly dealt with, or that God is your enemy, because he at times brings into your conscience this most painful sentence of death. Is he an unkind surgeon who, when a patient goes to him with a cancer in her breast, cuts out the diseased part? She may shrink and wince and cry under the keen knife, but the operator knows that every diseased part must be fully cut out, or the disease will spread and be worse than before. And is God unkind if he puts his knife deep into your heart to cut out the cancer of self-righteousness and vain confidence, which even now is growing within? For if there be any left, it will assuredly grow again. Yet it will grow again, for, like the cancer, the roots are too deep to be fully gotten out, and therefore again and again must the keen knife be thrust in. But his hand is as skillful as it is powerful. He will not let us bleed to death under his hand. All that he does, he does for our good; and this is the object of all these dealings, that we should not trust in ourselves.
2. But this is not the only effect. As, when the old worn-out or barren tree is cut down and taken out of the garden, it is only preparatory to the planting of another and better in its room; as when the cancer is cut out it is that the breast may kindly heal and health be restored, if God pleases to bless the operation, so the sentence of death is not to destroy but to save, not to kill, but to make alive. Out of this sentence of death then, there springs by the power of divine grace, a trusting in God "who raises the dead."
Most men, and indeed, in a sense, many even of those who desire to fear God's name, are practical atheists. As far as regards vital faith, they live without God, and without hope in the world. They know little or nothing of any close dealings with God, as not far from every one of us (Acts 17:27); and indeed, so far from coveting any nearer acquaintance with him they view him rather as an enemy, and thus, if I dare use the expression, think him best at a distance. And indeed, how few of the Lord's own family are brought into any intimate union and communion with the God of all their mercies! And why? Because they have not yet felt their deep need of him; therefore God and they are as if strangers to each other. But the Lord will not allow his people to be always strangers to him– they shall not live and die alienated from the life of God. Though once alienated, and enemies in their mind by wicked works, yet having reconciled them unto himself through the blood of the cross, he will bring them near to his bosom, will make it manifest that they have a place in his eternal love and a saving interest in the finished work of his dear Son.
It is for this reason that he sends the law with its curse and bondage into their conscience, to purge out that miserable self-confidence which keeps them looking to themselves and not unto him. As, then, this is driven away like the smoke out of the chimney by the furnace which God has set in Zion, and they find that unless God appear for them they must sink forever, they begin to look outside of themselves that they may find some hope or help in the Lord. And as the Lord is pleased to help them with a little help, and to raise up and strengthen faith in their heart, they look unto him, according to his own invitation, "Look unto me and be saved, all the ends of the earth." And what a God they have to look to! He is described in our text as he who "raises the dead." These words admit of several explanations.
1. First, as simply pointing out the Almighty POWER of God. Think, for a moment, of the multitudes who have died since the creation of the world. To concentrate more closely your thoughts, think of some individual who died a hundred years ago, or a thousand years ago. Where is he? Open the grave– where is the body committed to it? A heap of dust; and how much of that dust which was once a human being has long ago been scattered to the winds? How almighty then must be the power of God to collect from the four winds of heaven, the scattered dust of the millions of human beings who have been interred since the foundation of the world!
Let us assume for a moment that you are a believer in Jesus. The time must come when your body must be laid in earth until the resurrection morn, in the sure hope that God will then raise you from the dead; that he will know your sleeping dust, call up your body from its narrow bed, and re-unite it to your glorified soul. Mighty must that power be to raise up millions in the twinkling of an eye at the sound of the great trumpet! But if, as the Apostle here intimates, God must exert the same power in delivering a soul from going down into the pit that he will put forth when he raises up the sleeping dust of millions, what a view it gives us of that mighty power which is needed to liberate, to deliver, and to bless a soul under the sentence of death! Yet nothing less than the same almighty power which raises the dead out of the grave, can raise up a soul sinking under wrath and condemnation unto a good hope through grace.
2. But take the words in another sense– view them as having a reference to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which Scripture ascribes again and again to the mighty power of God. We have in the first chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians, a comparison drawn between the power put forth by God in raising Christ from the dead and the exceeding greatness of his power to those who believe, and it seems plain from the language of the apostle, that this power is one and the same. (Eph. 1:19, 20.) How great then must that power be!
Now the apostle says of himself that he was reduced by the trial which came upon him in Asia to that degree of self-despair that he could not trust in himself; but was compelled by the necessity of the case, as well as led and enabled by the inward teaching of the Spirit and the promptings of his grace, to cast the whole weight of his sinking soul upon him "who raises the dead." He had, no doubt, a view in his soul of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and of the power that God displayed in raising up his dear Son when he had sunk into the tomb under the weight of the sins of millions; and thus looking up to the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, as having highly exalted him to the right hand of his power, he felt he could trust in him as able to support him under, and deliver him out of his pressing trial.
3. But take another sense of the words– God "raises the dead" when he quickens the soul into spiritual life. Paul needed the exertion of the same power, the manifestation of the same grace, and a display of the same sovereign authority, as that whereby he had been called and quickened at Damascus' gate. Many think that when life has been once implanted in the soul there is power to exercise faith. But such people have never passed through severe trials and powerful temptations, or they would speak a purer language. I am sure that we have no more power to believe after the Lord has called us than we had before. We therefore need that the Lord should put forth again and again the same power which he manifested in raising us up from the death of unregeneracy.
4. But there is one meaning more of the words "God which raises from the dead," for you will observe it is in the present tense, and therefore implies some continued actings of that mighty power. In this sense therefore God may be said to raise the dead in self-condemnation, those who are, through the strength of temptation, sunk into self-despair, and have no hope but in the power of God to raise them up out of that sentence of condemnation and death, which they carry in their own consciences. Have you not sometimes fallen down before God with a feeling sense in your soul that none but he can save you from death and hell; that it must be an act of his sovereign grace to give you any present or even any hope of future deliverance; that to have your sins pardoned and your soul saved with an everlasting salvation, must come from the heart of his free mercy; and that he, and he alone, can exercise that power in saving you from what you have most justly merited, even the lowest hell?
If, then, you have felt anything of the sentence of death in yourself and have been brought no longer to trust in yourself, but in God who raises the dead, you have had wrought in your soul a measure of the same experience that Paul speaks of as wrought in his. But remember this– a man may have a sentence of death in himself, yet never know what it is to trust in God which raises the dead. Saul had the sentence of death in himself when he fell upon his sword. Athithophel had the sentence of death in himself when he went home and hanged himself. Judas had the sentence of death in himself when he put a halter round his neck. Many such characters have lived and died in dreadful despair under the tremendous displeasure of God, who never were able by his power and grace to trust in him who raises the dead. It is not then conviction, or condemnation, or doubt and fear, nor even a distressing sense of your state before God that can save your soul. These things are necessary to bring you down to his feet; but you must have something given beyond this, even a living faith, whereby you trust in God who raises the dead, and cast the whole weight of your soul upon him who is able to save from death and hell.
Now can you find in your conscience those two distinct acts– 1, condemnation by the sentence of death in yourself, and yet, 2, a measure of faith communicated to your soul, whereby, looking up to the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ who raised him from the dead, you feel that you can put your trust in him? But how can you do this if you have no ground to go upon? which brings me to the third point, that is,
III. To show HOW God wrought this faith in his apostle's heart, and given him a gracious deliverance– "Who delivered us from so great a death." It was "a great death." The death was so great that it must have killed him if God had not interposed. And so your sins will kill you and sentence your soul to eternal condemnation unless you get some deliverance from their guilt, filth, and power from the same God of all grace from whom Paul got it, and receive it into your breast as a message from Him with the same savor and sweetness that he experienced when he felt that as his afflictions abounded, so his consolations abounded also.
1. "Who delivered us from so great a death." Now in delivering the apostle, the first thing God delivered him from was self-despair. There are two things, the exact opposites of each other, which are greatly to be dreaded, and I hardly know which is the worse, for if one has slain its thousands, the other has slain its tens of thousands– self-confidence and despair. Despair has slain its thousands; self-confidence its tens of thousands. The Lord keep us from both, for the path to heaven seems to lie between the two– on the one hand rise the lofty crags of presumption, on the other sinks the precipice of despair. God delivered Paul from despair, for he tells us that he despaired even of life. I do not say that a child of God ever falls into real despair, but he may feel as much of it as for a time stops the voice of prayer, grievously hinders, if it does not altogether destroy, the actings of faith, and leaves the soul in possession of little else but a sense of guilt and misery.
To break up, then, those dark and gloomy clouds of despondency, the Lord graciously sent a ray of hope into the apostle's heart. He does not tell us how it came; but it evidently must have come, or he could not have had the deliverance of which he speaks. It might have been by bringing to his recollection his past dealings with him; it might be by applying some passage of scripture to his heart with power; it might be by favoring him in an unexpected manner with a Spirit of grace and of supplications, enabling him to pour out his heart before him; it might be by vouchsafing a sense of his gracious presence to support him under his trial, and give him some testimony that he would in due time appear. For in all these ways the Lord deals with his people in delivering them out of temptations and trials.
Thus he sometimes delivers by sending a promise into their heart; sometimes by shining with a peculiar light upon a passage of his holy word; sometimes by a blessed manifestation of Christ and a revelation of his Person, blood, and work; and sometimes by strengthening faith and drawing it forth upon his own promises, so that the soul holds him by his own faithfulness, as Jacob held the angel.
But in whatever way the apostle was delivered there was a most blessed reality in it, so that he could say in the language of the firmest confidence, "Who delivered us from so great a death." The Lord assured him that however great was the death he would not die under it, but live through it and come out of it unharmed, as the three children came out of the fire and not a hair of their head was singed. So in love to the soul of Hezekiah, he delivered it from the pit of corruption. (Isa. 38:17.) So he assured repenting David by the mouth of Nathan, "The Lord has put away your sins; you shall not die." (2 Sam. 12:13.) It was "a great death," so great that none but the Lord could deliver him from it. But the Lord did deliver him, as he will deliver all that trust in him; and this deliverance gave him a most blessed testimony that the Lord was his God.
2. But you may depend upon it that he was not delivered except in answer to prayer and supplication; for the effect of a beam of hope shining into the mind or of any manifested presence of the Lord of life and glory, is to raise up a Spirit of prayer and to enable the heart to pour itself out before him. Indeed we may lay it down as a most unerring rule that whenever the Lord is pleased to pour out upon the soul a Spirit of prayer, he is sure in his own time and way to give the answer; for he sends that Spirit of prayer as a forerunner of the answer. It is meant to draw the promise out of his hands and to bring deliverance out of his breast. To be in guilt and condemnation, or under trial and temptation, and yet to be enabled by the power of God to pour out the heart before him; to confess our sins, to seek his face, to call upon him for mercy, and wrestle with him that he would in due time appear– this is like the dawning of the day before the sun rises; it is like the parting of the clouds in the midst of a storm, like the hushing of the wind in gale, like the blooming of the grape before we have the fruit– all being certain heralds and indications of good things to come, and intimations that the Lord will deliver us.
Now in proportion as the soul sinks, so must it rise. If you sink very deep, you will need a very long arm and a very strong arm to pull you out. If you fell into a well of only two, three, or four feet depth from the surface of the soil, you might extricate yourself; if it were six or eight feet deep, you would need help from another; but O, if it were twenty or thirty feet deep, how much more then would you require assistance from above to deliver you from death!
So in grace– if you have little trials, you will need but little support under them; if your sinkings be few and small, few and small will be your risings; should you sink lower than usually, you will need to be raised up more than usually; but should you sink very deep into trouble and sorrow, then you will need the display of such a mighty and supernatural power to pull you up and lift you out and bring you to the very bosom of God as perhaps you have not yet experienced since you made a profession.
IV. But, to come to our last point, the apostle not only had experienced a blessed deliverance from so great a death, but he was in some measure enjoying it at the time, and in the strength of faith was anticipating similar blessings for the future. "And does deliver; in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us." This is one of the richest mercies of delivering grace, that when the Lord is pleased in any measure to bless the soul he does not leave it as he found it, but goes on to bless it more and more, so that day by day it sees and acknowledges God's delivering hand. Now it may not be above once or twice or thrice in our lives that we are plunged into very deep trouble, brought into such trying circumstances as I have described, so as to despair even of life. But all through the course of our spiritual life, we shall know something of being continually delivered over unto death. As the apostle says, "I die daily." The sentence of death will be ever taking place in our conscience against our strength, wisdom, righteousness and holiness; not indeed always or often to the same degree, to overwhelm the soul in guilt or despair, but sufficiently to keep alive the sentence of condemnation in the breast, sufficiently to make us feel that we are still in the flesh, and carry about with us a body of sin and death. The criminal, according to my figure, might be respited; he might be delivered from the hand of the executioner, but he would be remitted to penal servitude for the rest of his life, and thus still carry about with him the sentence of death, though delivered from its full execution.
So the Christian; though delivered from death eternal by the blood of the Lamb and from death spiritual by regenerating grace, still he carries with him the sad mementos of the fall. He still is reminded of what he has been and what he ever must be, but for the grace of God. Thus there is a continual sentence of death in the conscience of the man who lives and walks before God in godly fear. Every day sentence of death is recorded in his conscience against the world without and the worldly spirit within; against pride in its risings; against covetousness in its workings; against self-righteousness in its deceptive movements; against the flesh in all its cravings. Thus more or less a daily sentence of death is passed in a godly man's conscience, so that he dies daily in that sense as to any hope or expectation in himself.
And as he thus dies in self, the Lord keeps giving him deliverance– not to the same extent, not in the same marked way as in times passed when he needed the special deliverances of which I have spoken. These he does not now need; but deliverances suitable to his actual state and case; deliverance from coldness, carnality, and death by communicating a spirit of prayer; deliverance from love of the world, by dropping in a taste of love divine; deliverance from the snares spread in his path by causing godly fear to spring up in the heart; deliverance from the power of sin by showing him that he is not under the law but grace.
The Lord is always delivering his people– sometimes from evil, sometimes from error, and sometimes from the strength and subtlety of the flesh in all its various deceptive workings. The Lord is ever putting forth his mighty power to deliver the soul. It is but once a year that the trees are sharply pruned; but the good gardener is ever watching how they are going on. And so in grace– sharp pruning times may be rare, yet the husbandman is ever attending to the state of his vine, and purging (or "cleansing," as the word means) the branches that they may bring forth more fruit. Does not he himself say, "I the Lord do keep it; I will water it every moment!" (Isaiah. 27:3.)
And this present deliverance made him look forward confidently to the future– "In whom we trust that he will yet deliver us." The Lord's delivering hand experienced day by day not only makes and keeps the conscience tender, but faith trusting, hope expecting, and love flowing. He who being thus favored looks to the Lord day by day as his only hope and help, can also look forward even to expiring moments, trusting that when death comes the Lord will be with him even in nature's darkest hour, to smile upon his soul, to give him a peaceable death-bed, and then to take his ransomed spirit to be forever with himself in the realms of eternal bliss.
How kindly, then, yet how wisely, does the Lord deal with his people! If he afflicts them, it is in mercy; if he casts them down, it is to raise them up; if he brings a trial, it is as a preparation for deliverance; if he sends a sentence of death into their conscience, it is not to execute it and hang them up like a murderer upon the gallows to be a spectacle to men and devils; but to prepare them for the communication of his grace, to make a place for the manifestation of his dying love, to work in them a fitness for the inheritance of the saints in light, that instead of being, as they deserve, hung upon a gibbet, the scorn of men, they might be monuments in heaven, and that to all eternity, of the heights and depths, the lengths and breadths of redeeming love and super-abounding grace.