Thursday, May 24, 2018

Conjectural Criticism - W.G.T. Shedd

There are two views of the origin of the Bible, 1. That it is the production of a limited circle of authors mostly contemporaneous with the events, whose names are mentioned in the work itself, and who were divinely inspired for the purpose of producing a book having infallible accuracy and authority. 2. That it is the production of late and unknown editors, who gathered up oral traditions from unknown and often mythical sources, and put them in the form in which they now appear. The first is the Historical view, or that commonly held in ancient, mediaeval, and modern Christendom. The second is the Fragmentary theory, and is confined to individuals and schools in modern Christendom. According to the historical theory, the Pentateuch has Moses for its responsible and inspired author. According to the fragmentary theory, with the exception of a few parts which perhaps may be ascribed to Moses, no man knows who wrote the Pentateuch, any more than where the sepulchre of Moses is. According to the historical theory, the four Gospels are the inspired productions of four men, Matthew, Peter-Mark, Paul-Luke, and John, who received and obeyed their Lord's commission to prepare his biography for the use of the church in all time. According to the fragmentary theory, the four Gospels are the uninspired product of unauthorized persons, later than the apostles, who gathered up the traditions concerning Christ that were floating about in the church, and wrought them into their present shape. Such, briefly stated, is the substantial difference between the two theories. One ascribes the Bible to known and infallible authors; the other to unknown and fallible editors.

1. The first objection to the fragmentary theory of the origin of the Scriptures is that it is late and modern. This, to some persons, is a recommendation. But in estimating theories, if time is to be taken into account, one that has all time behind it is preferable to one that has only a fraction. To be modern and new is a good recommendation for the fashion of a hat, but not for an opinion in science. The latest intelligence from the stock market is more valuable than the latest intelligence in Hebrew. The superficiality characteristic of the present decade is due to a rage for "the last thing out," and the neglect of ancient and standard learning. If a person's reading is confined to works composed in his own time, he will become the victim of a theorist or a coterie of them. His knowledge will be narrow, while he supposes it to be omniscient.

The hypothesis that the Scriptures are a collection and combination by unknown editors is a modern conjecture. Though occasionally broached in the Ancient church, it obtained no currency. It dates from Spinoza and Hobbes, in the seven teenth century, and more particularly in the eighteenth century from Astruc (1725), who applied it to the Pentateuch, and Semler (1750), who applied it to the Gospels and the canon generally. The newness of the theory is an objection to it. For it is highly improbable that all the investigations of Biblical philologists for seventeen hundred years, which corroborate the traditional theory of the origin of the Bible, should suddenly be invalidated by the alleged discoveries of a few theorists in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Sudden conversions in religion, like that of St. Paul, are possible, but they suppose an Almighty Author. Such a sudden revolution in Biblical criticism as the refutation of the historical theory and the demonstration of the fragmentary, would be a phenomenon without parallel in literary history.

2. A second objection to the fragmentary theory is, that it is wholly conjectural. Conjecture has its place in all investigation, but it is a very narrow place. It must be employed cautiously and sparingly, and only by the most learned, balanced and judicial minds. That which now goes under the name of "higher criticism" was formerly known as "conjectural criticism," when those standard editions of the Greek and Roman classics were being prepared by the great scholars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which it would now be beyond the power of the nineteenth century to produce, because of its neglect of classical literature and overestimate of physical science. But when these erudite editors of the classics used the conjectural method, it was infrequently and timidly. Whoever ventured to declare a passage to be spurious, or to suggest a new reading that differed from the manuscripts, or new interpretations that departed from those of previous scholars, must furnish strong and conclusive reasons. His ipse dixit would not do. Individual opinions when contradictory to historical were looked upon with suspicion, even when there was extraordinary learning and acumen. Bentley was the most learned classical scholar of his century, and was better qualified to make use of conjecture in editing the Greek and Latin classics than any other one of his tim; but Pope, probably with some of the extravagance and injustice of satire, said of his editions of Milton and Horace:
"To Milton lending sense, and Horace wit,
He made them write what poet never writ."
But this fear of conjectural criticism, and caution in its use, is not characteristic of those modern schools of Biblical philology which are now employing it for the purpose of recasting the Scriptures, in order to force them into the service of anti-supernaturalism and infidelity. In endeavoring to disprove the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, and the Apostolic authorship of the Gospels, they rely chiefly upon the inventiveness and ingenuity of their own intellects in constructing schemes that are unsupported either by documents or testimony. The utmost rashness and recklessness characterize their work. It would be startling, and a refutation of the whole procedure, to see a Hebrew text of the Pentateuch actually edited and published in accordance with the conjectural criticism of Kuenen and Wellhausen, or a Greek text of the Gospels in accordance with that of Baur and Strauss. Critics of this class make hypothesis the substance and staple of their method, employing it excessively and almost exclusively. The Hebrew text of the Pentateuch, without regard to the manuscripts and the history of the text, and with no support from them, is arbitrarily parcelled out into sections and fractions designated by letters of the alphabet, and this fragment is assigned to the "Elohist," and that to the "Jehovist," this to Moses and that to an unknown editor after the exile, and a fifth to the time of Josiah, purely upon the individual guess of a man living three thousand years after Moses. The Greek text of the four Gospels, without regard to the authority of numerous, and some of them very ancient manuscripts, and in contradiction to the early testimony of scholars like Origen and Jerome, and the consensus of Christendom for fifteen hundred years, is declared to be spurious in all such Gospels, and also in such Epistles, as the scheme of the critic requires.

Such effrontery and dogmatism in claiming that the ipse dixit of an individual or a party outweighs the evidence of documents and historical data, and the learning of all the Christian centuries, would not be endured for a moment within the province of secular literature. Nor is such "higher criticism" as this attempted in this department. No one has endeavored to disconnect the Platonic dialogues from the name of Plato, and to prove that they are the production of later editors working over oral discourses of Socrates that were floating in fragmentary form among the circles of the Academy. No one has pretended to a knowledge of Greek literature so much superior to that of the Cudworths and Porsons, the Hermanns and Stallbaums, as to be able to reverse their judgment and demonstrate the spuriousness and late origin of large portions of the Phaedo, Symposium, and Laws. No one has composed a new life of Socrates, evincing that the traditional account of him is erroneous. The credulity that trusts such assurance as this is to be found only among students of the Bible. "The children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light." The only important attempt of this kind in classical literature, that of Wolf, though made by the most eminent German philologist of the eighteenth century, was a failure. He did not succeed in persuading the classical circles that the Iliad and Odyssey were not the work of Homer, but of a school of rhapsodists whose oral poems were collected and combined by later editors.

3. A third objection to the fragmentary theory of the origin of the Bible is that it is fatal to its inspiration. If, as a conjectural critic asserts, "the great body of the Old Testament was written by authors whose names are lost in oblivion" (Briggs-Inaugural, p. 33), it was written by uninspired men. Because inspiration, from the nature of the case, was always bestowed upon a particular known person, and is so represented. "God spake unto Moses." "The Lord said unto Samuel." "The word of God came to Nathan." "The word of the Lord came unto David." "The vision of Isaiah which he saw concerning Judah." "The word of the Lord came expressly unto Ezekiel." "God at sundry times spake unto the fathers by the prophets," and the names of these prophets were well known to those to whom they spoke. Inspiration is not an indiscriminate gift of God, like air and water, to anybody and everybody, in any age and every age. It is an extraordinary and rare gift to only a few persons, chosen out of the common mass for the purpose of Divine communications to mankind. The "holy men of God" who "spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost" were not anonymous authors, like Walter Scott when he was the great Unknown. They belonged to the Jewish people, and their names are generally mentioned in the Bible in connection with the fact of their inspiration and the time of its occurrence. The moment therefore that inspiration is severed from known individuals, the moment it is disconnected from the college of prophets and apostles, it becomes inspiration "in the air," without locality, history, or evidence. The self consistent advocates of the fragmentary theory, like Kuenen and Wellhausen, perceive that it is incompatible with inspiration, and deny inspiration; but some who are less logical, or more under the restraints of an evangelical connection, try to retain the inspiration of the Pentateuch while denying that Moses is its author. The Pentateuch, they say, was composed long after Moses by some persons no one knows who; but whoever they were they were inspired. This is the inspiration of imaginary persons like John Doe and Richard Roe, and not of definite historical persons like Moses and David, Matthew and John, chosen of God by name and known to men.

The notion that there is an inspiration outside of the Biblical circle of the prophets and apostles, existing anywhere and at all times, and that the unknown collectors and redactors of the Scriptures partook of it, was invented by the recent latitudinarian party in the Presbyterian church who adopted the critical principles of Rationalism, but who from their ecclesiastical connection did not venture to draw the logical conclusion of all Rationalists and deny inspiration altogether. The assertion that an utterly unknown person was an inspired person is absurd on the face of it, and untenable because it is not only destitute of proof but is absolutely incapable of proof. No testimony is possible in the case. No one has ever seen an unknown man work a miracle as evidence of a divine commission; has heard him speak a prophecy or deliver a divine message while under a divine afflatus; or can attest that he was the author of a particular book of Scripture. No proof whatever on such important points as these can be furnished by eye-witnesses and contemporaries. An unknown man, virtually, has no con temporaries; for as no one knows when the man himself lived, so no one knows when his contemporaries did. The only testimony conceivable in the case is that of the conjectural critic, living two or three thousand years later, who merely asserts that the unknown author of the Pentateuch, or Psalms, or Isaiah, was inspired. This, of course, is not of the nature of testimony, because the critic "is of yesterday and knows nothing" of ancient events, and has observed nothing with any of his senses, in the case.

The absurdity of this notion is apparent, when it is considered that nothing whatever can be predicated of an utterly unknown person, any more than of a non-existent one. Attributes and characteristics of every kind are impossible in both cases alike. No one would think of asserting that an utterly unknown man, any more than a non existent man, is black, or has a large nose, or underwent a surgical operation. Such particulars as these can neither be affirmed nor denied in these instances, because nothing at all is known about the person in question, and consequently nothing can be testified to. But an inspiration that cannot be proved is worthless. Mankind demand evidence when the claim to this unique and extraordinary gift of God to the human mind is made. And in the instance of that limited circle of prophets and apostles whose names are mentioned in Scripture as the authors of most of the books, and are copied from Scripture into the catalogue of the canonical books given in the Westminster Confession (i. 2), and into all the Christian creeds that contain articles upon this point, the proof is forth coming. That Moses, Samuel, David and Isaiah were inspired, rests upon testimony of two kinds: first, that of Jesus Christ, who authoritatively indorses the inspiration of the traditional authors of the Old Testament; secondly, that of contemporaries and those who were nearest to contemporaries. These latter do not authoritatively indorse like the Son of God, but only give witness respecting the prophetical and apostolical authorship. The evidence in this last instance relates only to canonicity, and is precisely like that for the authorship of the writings of Plato and Cicero, respecting which there is no scepticism in the literary world. The evidence in the first instance is wholly unlike anything in secular literature, and infinitely higher and more trustworthy, provided that Jesus Christ was not an impostor, but God incarnate. The assertion of the critic to whom we have referred, that it is "not of great importance that we should know the names of those authors chosen by God to mediate his revelation" (Briggs-Inaugural, p. 33), overlooks the fact that in revealed religion the credibility of a doctrine depends upon its source, as well as upon its nature and contents. For example, the doctrine of the resurrection of the body, judged by its mere contents, is the same in the Egyptian Book of the Dead (Rawlinson's Egypt, I. 319) as in 1 Cor. 15:51, 52. Resurrection is resurrection. But when Egyptian priests assert a resurrection of the body, and St. Paul asserts it, the ground of belief for the doctrine is wholly different in the two instances. And the difference is due to the difference in the author ship. In case of an ipse dixit like this, it is important to know who ipse is. St. Paul is a known man, and his inspiration can be proved. The Egyptian priests are unknown men, and if they were known there is no proof that they were inspired. Hence the questions of authorship, and genuineness of authorship, have always been regarded in Christian apologetics as vital; and the endeavor from the first has been to connect every one of the books of the Old and New Testaments with some known inspired prophet or apostle. The sceptical criticism, on the contrary, has from the first endeavored to disconnect them. That the first endeavor is difficult in regard to a few of the books, is no reason why the whole position of Christian apologetics should be surrendered, and the authorship of the Bible be ascribed to utterly unknown persons, living no one knows where, and no one knows when.

A deadly thrust is given to the doctrine of infallible inspiration, by the denial that "the Scriptures were written by or under the superintendence of prophets and apostles." (Briggs-Inaugural, p. 32.) This severs them entirely from that particular circle of persons who were called of God by name, and inspired by him to receive and record his supernatural communications. The Westminster Confession, as well as the creeds of Christendom generally, teaches that the Scriptures were composed by or under the superintendence of the prophets of the Old dispensation, and the apostles of the New, and that these persons, and these only, were "the holy men of God who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." One of the principal endeavors of Christian apologetics from Eusebius down, has been to present the proof of this. And there is a general consensus in Christian apologetics, respecting the authorship of the canonical books mentioned in the Westminster Confession (i. 2). Its contention is, that they were composed by the persons to whom from the first they have been ascribed by both Jewish and Christian tradition. Respecting the authorship of a few of these books, there is a difference of opinion among Christian apologetes. But the author ship in these instances is still kept within the inspired circle of prophets and apostles, and the endeavor is always made to give the name of the prophet or apostle. It is assumed that if it could be incontrovertibly proved that a particular book was not written by or under the guidance of a prophet or apostle, it is not inspired. Rationalistic criticism dissents from and combats this consensus of Christian apologetics. The reason for this constant aim and office of all the learning of evangelical as opposed to rationalistic criticism is: first, because the books themselves generally claim to be the composition of these particular persons to the exclusion of all other extraneous persons known or unknown; and second, because there were no other inspired persons but the prophets and apostles. If the Bible cannot be proved to be written by the prophets and apostles, it cannot be proved to be inspired at all; because it cannot be proved that there were ever any human beings whatever, excepting these prophets and apostles, that were "moved by the Holy Ghost." The origin of an inspired writing must therefore be brought by competent testimony within this inspired circle or nowhere. And if it is thus brought by ancient Jewish testimony in the case of the Old Testament, and by ancient Christian testimony in the case of the New, it cannot be said to be the product of an utterly unknown author even in the instances when the name of the particular prophet or apostle is debated. For this testimony connects it with a definite circle of inspired per sons whose nationality, time, and place are known. If, for illustration, there is sufficient reason for believing, from Patristic testimony, that the epistle to the Hebrews was composed under the supervision of St. Paul, the doubt whether the penman was Luke, Apollos, or Barnabas, does not make it the product of an "unknown inspired man." The maintenance of this position in apologetics is vital, and has always been so considered. In disconnecting, as the conjectural critic does, the Pentateuch from Moses as its responsible and inspired author, and connecting it with an unknown editor or editors a thousand years later than Moses, he has destroyed its inspiration, because, as we have seen, an unknown man cannot be proved to be one of the "holy men of God who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." There is no testimony or tradition, either for him or against him, in regard to this point. In algebra, the value of the unknown x can be determined, but there is no assignable value to an unknown inspired man. The denial that the Pentateuch is what our Lord frequently called it, "the book of Moses " (Mark 12:26; Luke 24:27; John 7:19, 22, 23), has the same effect upon its inspired authority and credibility, which the denial that the four Gospels were composed by the four Evangelists has upon the inspiration and credibility of the only source the world has for the life of its divine Redeemer. There were no infallibly inspired persons upon earth between a.d. 33 and a.d. 100, excepting the company of the Apostles chosen by Christ to be the founders of his church, and, if we may so say, his literary executors to write his life for the church in all time; and if the four Gospels were not composed by them, or under their superintendence, they are neither inspired nor infallible. No persons but these were authorized or qualified to prepare the memoirs of his marvellous origin and generation, and of his merciful and sorrowful life (Luke 24:49; John 14:26; 15:26; Acts 1:8). Whoever denies this, and enlarges the circle of New Testament inspiration by asserting that others than the Apostles were inspired by the Holy Ghost, is bound to prove his assertion. As the four Evangelists do in the instance of the "Twelve Apostles," he must mention the names of the persons, the circumstances under which they were called to this office, and the supernatural signs of their inspiration (Matt. 10:1-5; Mark 3:14-19; Luke 6:13-16). The burden of proof is upon the affirmative, not upon the negative. The inspiration of a Biblical writing, therefore, stands or falls with its authenticity and genuineness. If its authorship is forged and spurious; if it is falsely ascribed to the prophets and apostles, and is not their work; it was not written by "holy men of God who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost."

W.G.T. Shedd, Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy (1893)

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Faith, The Sole Saving Act - William G.T. Shedd


W.G.T. Shedd
Sermons to the Natural Man
(Sermon 20)

John 6:28, 29. — Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe ou him whom he hath sent."

In asking their question, the Jews intended to inquire of Christ what particular things they must do, before all others, in order to please God. The "works of God," as they denominate them, were not any and every duty, but those more special and important acts, by which the creature might secure the Divine approval and favor. Our Lord under stood their question in this sense, and in His reply tells them, that the great and only work for them to do was to exercise faith in Him. They had employed the plural number in their question; but in His answer He employs the singular. They had asked, "What shall we do that we might work the works of God, — as if there were several of them. His reply is, "This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent." He narrows down the terms of salvation to a single one; and makes the destiny of the soul to depend upon the performance of a particular individual act. In this, as in many other incidental ways, our Lord teaches His own divinity. If He were a mere creature; if He were only an inspired teacher like David or Paul; how would He dare, when asked to give in a single word the condition and means of human salvation, to say that they consist in resting the soul upon Him? Would David have dared to say: "This is the work of God, — this is the saving act, — that ye believe in me?" Would Paul have presumed to say to the anxious inquirer: "Your soul is safe, if you trust in me?" But Christ makes this declaration, without any qualification. Yet He was meek and lowly of heart, and never assumed an honor or a prerogative that did not belong to Him. It is only upon the supposition that He was "very God of very God," the Divine Redeemer of the children of men, that we can justify such an answer to such a question.

The belief is spontaneous and natural to man, that something must be done in order to salvation. No man expects to reach heaven by inaction. Even the indifferent and supine soul expects to rouse it self up at some future time, and work out its salvation. The most thoughtless and inactive man, in religious respects, will acknowledge that thoughtlessness and inactivity if continued will end in perdition. But he intends at a future day to think, and act, and be saved. So natural is it, to every man, to believe in salvation by works; so ready is every one to concede that heaven is reached, and hell is escaped, only by an earnest effort of some kind; so natural is it to every man to ask with these Jews, "What shall we do, that we may work the works of God? "

But mankind generally, like the Jews in the days of our Lord, are under a delusion respecting the nature of the work which must be performed in order to salvation. And in order to understand this delusion, we must first examine the common notion upon the subject.

When a man begins to think of God, and of his own relations to Him, he finds that he owes Him service and obedience. He has a work to perform, as a subject of the Divine government; and this work is to obey the Divine law. He finds himself obligated to love God with all his heart, and his neighbor as himself, and to discharge all the duties that spring out of his relations to God and man. He perceives that this is the "work" given him to do by creation, and that if he does it he will attain the true end of his existence, and be happy in time and eternity. When therefore he begins to think of a religious life, his first spontaneous impulse is to begin the performance of this work which he has hitherto neglected, and to reinstate himself in the Divine favor by the ordinary method of keeping the law of God. He perceives that this is the mode in which the angels preserve themselves holy and happy; that this is the original mode appointed by God, when He established the covenant of works; and he does not see why it is not the method for him. The law expressly affirms that the man that doeth these things shall live by them; he proposes to take the law just as it reads, and just as it stands, — to do the deeds of the law, to perform the works which it enjoins, and to live by the service. This we say, is the common notion, natural to man, of the species of work which must be performed in order to eternal life. This was the idea which filled the mind of the Jews when they put the question of the text, and received for answer from Christ, "This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent." Our Lord does not draw out the whole truth, in detail. He gives only the positive part of the answer,' leaving His hearers to infer the negative part of it. For the whole doctrine of Christ, fully stated, would run thus: "No work of the kind of which you are thinking can save you; no obedience of the law, ceremonial or moral, can reinstate you in right relations to God. I do not summon you to the performance of any such service as that which you have in mind, in order to your justification and acceptance before the Divine tribunal. This is the work of God, — this is the sole and single act which you are to perform, — namely, that you believe on Him whom He hath sent as a propitiation for sin. I do not summon you to works of the law, but to faith in Me the Redeemer. Your first duty is not to attempt to acquire a righteousness in the old method, by doing something of yourselves, but to receive a righteousness in the new method, by trusting in what another has done for you."

I. What is the ground and reason of such an answer as this? Why is man invited to the method of faith in another, instead of the method of faith in himself? Why is not his first spontaneous thought the true one? Why should he not obtain eternal life by resolutely proceeding to do his duty, and keeping the law of God? Why can he not be saved by the law of works? Why is he so summarily shut up to the law of faith?

We answer: Because it is too late for him to adopt the method of salvation by works. The law is indeed explicit in its assertion, that the man that doeth these things shall live by them; but then it supposes that the man begin at the beginning. A subject of government cannot disobey a civil statute for five or ten years, and then put himself in right relations to it again, by obeying it for the remainder of his life. Can a man who has been a thief or an adulterer for twenty years, and then practises honesty and purity for the following thirty years, stand up before the seventh and eighth commandments and be acquitted by them? It is too late for any being who has violated a law even in a single instance, to attempt to be justified by that law. For, the law demands and supposes that obedience begin at the very beginning of existence, and continue down uninterruptedly to the end of it. No man can come in at the middle of a process of obedience, any more than he can come in at the last end of it, if he proposes to be accepted upon the ground of obedience. I testify," says St. Paul, "to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law" (Gal. v. 3). The whole, or none, is the just and inexorable rule which law lays down in the matter of justification. If any subject of the Divine government can show a clean record, from the beginning to the end of his existence, the statute says to him, " Well done," and gives him the reward which he has earned. And it gives it to him not as a matter of grace, but of debt. The law never makes a present of wages. It never pays out wages, until they are earned, — fairly and fully earned. But when a perfect obedience from first to last is rendered to its claims, the compensation follows as matter of debt. The law, in this instance, is itself brought under obligation. It owes a re ward to the perfectly obedient subject of law, and it considers itself his debtor until it is paid. "Now to him that worketh, is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. If it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work " (Rom. iv. 4; xi. 6) .

But, on the other hand, law is equally exact and inflexible, in case the work has not been performed. It will not give eternal life to a soul that has sinned ten years, and then perfectly obeyed ten years, — supposing that there is any such soul. The obedience, as we have remarked, must run parallel with the entire existence, in order to be a ground of justification. Infancy, childhood, youth, manhood, old age, and then the whole immortality that succeeds, must all be unintermittently sinless and holy, in order to make eternal life a matter of debt. Justice is as exact and punctilious upon this side, as it is upon the other. We have seen, that when a perfect obedience has been rendered, justice will not palm off the wages that are due as if they were some gracious gift; and on the other hand, when a perfect obedience has not been rendered, it will not be cajoled into the bestowment of wages as if they had been earned. There is no principle that is so intelligent, so upright, and so exact, as justice; and no creature can expect either to warp it, or to circumvent it.

In the light of these remarks, it is evident that it is too late for a sinner to avail himself of the method of salvation by works. For, that method requires that sinless obedience begin at the beginning of his existence, and never be interrupted. But no man thus begins, and no man thus continues. "The wick ed are estranged from the womb; they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies" (Ps. lviii. 3). Man comes into the world a sinful and alienated creature. He is by nature a child of wrath (Eph. ii. 3). Instead of beginning life with holiness, he begins it with sin. His heart at birth is apostate and corrupt; and his conduct from the very first is contrary to law. Such is the teaching of Scripture, such is the statement of the Creeds, and such is the testimony of consciousness, respecting the character which man brings into the world with him. The very dawn of human life is cloud ed with depravity; is marked by the carnal mind which is at enmity with the law of God, and is not subject to that law, neither indeed can be. How is it possible, then, for man to attain eternal life by a method that supposes, and requires, that the very dawn of his being be holy like that of Christ's, and that every thought, feeling, purpose, and act be conformed to law through the entire existence? Is it not too late for such a creature as man now is to adopt the method of salvation by the works of the law?

But we will not crowd you, with the doctrine of native depravity and the sin in Adam. We have no doubt that it is the scriptural and true doctrine concerning human nature; and have no fears that it will be contradicted by either a profound self- knowledge, or a profound metaphysics. But perhaps you are one who doubts it; and therefore, for the sake of argument, we will let you set the commencement of sin where you please. If you tell us that it begins in the second, or the fourth, or the tenth year of life, it still remains true that it is too late to employ the method of justification by works. If you concede any sin at all, at any point whatsoever, in the history of a human soul, you preclude it from salvation by the deeds of the law, and shut it up to salvation by grace. Go back as far as you can in your memory, and you must acknowledge that you find sin as far as you go; and even if, in the face of Scripture and the symbols of the Church, you should deny that the sin runs back to birth and apostasy in Adam, it still remains true that the first years of your conscious existence were not years of holiness, nor the first acts which you re member, acts of obedience. Even upon your own theory, you begin with sin, and therefore you can not be justified by the law.

This, then, is a conclusive reason and ground for the declaration of our Lord, that the one great work which every fallen man has to perform, and must perform, in order to salvation, is faith in another's work, and confidence in another's righteousness. If man is to be saved by his own righteousness, that righteousness must begin at the very beginning of his existence, and go on without interruption. If he is to be saved by his own good works, there never must be a single instant in his life when he is not working such works. But beyond all controversy such is not the fact. It is, therefore, impossible for him to be justified by trusting in himself; and the only possible mode that now remains, is to trust in another.

II. And this brings us to the second part of our subject. "This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom He hath sent." It will be observed that faith is here denominated a "work." And it is so indeed. It is a mental act; and an act of the most comprehensive and energetic species. Faith is an active principle that carries the whole man with it, and in it, — head and heart, will and affections, body soul and spirit. There is no act so all- embracing in its reach, and so total in its momentum, as the act of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In this sense, it is a "work." It is no supine and torpid thing; but the most vital and vigorous activity that can be conceived of. When a sinner, moved by the Holy Ghost the very source of spiritual life and energy, casts himself in utter helplessness, and with all his weight, upon his Redeemer for salvation, never is he more active, and never does he do a greater work.

And yet, faith is not a work in the common signification of the word. In the Pauline Epistles, it is generally opposed to works, in such a way as to exclude them. For example: " Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith, without the deeds of the law. Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ and not by the works of the law. Received ye the Spirit, by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith" (Romans iii. 27, 28; Galatians ii. 16, iii. 2). In these and other passages, faith and works are directly contrary to each other; so that in this connection, faith is not a "work." Let us examine this point, a little in detail, for it will throw light upon the subject under discussion.

In the opening of the discourse, we alluded to the fact that when a man's attention is directed to the subject of his soul's salvation, his first spontaneous thought is, that he must of himself render some thing to God, as an offset for his sins; that he must perform his duty by his own power and effort, and thereby acquire a personal merit before his Maker and Judge. The thought of appropriating another person's work, of making use of what another being has done in his stead, does not occur to him; or if it does, it is repulsive to him. His thought is, that it is his own soul that is to be saved, and it is his own work that must save it. Hence, he begins to perform religious duties in the ordinary use of his own faculties, and in his own strength, for the purpose, and with the expectation, of settling the ac count which he knows is unsettled between himself and his Judge. As yet, there is no faith in another Being. He is not trusting and resting in another person; but he is trusting and resting in himself. He is not making use of the work or services which another has wrought in his behalf, but he is employing his own powers and faculties, in performing these his own works, which he owes, and which, if paid in this style, he thinks will save his soul. This is the spontaneous, and it is the correct, idea of a "work," — of what St. Paul so often calls a " work of the law." And it is the exact contrary of faith.

For, faith never does anything in this independent and self-reliant manner. It does not perform a service in its own strength, and then hold it out to God as something for Him to receive, and for which He must pay back wages in the form of remitting sin and bestowing happiness. Faith is wholly occupied with another's work, and another's merit. The believing soul deserts all its own doings, and betakes itself to what a third person has wrought for it, and in its stead. When, for illustration, a sinner discovers that he owes a satisfaction to Eternal Justice for the sins that are past, if he adopts the method of works, he will offer up his endeavors to obey the law, as an offset, and a reason why he should be forgiven. He will say in his heart, if he does not in his prayer: "I am striving to atone for the past, by doing my duty in the future; my resolutions, my prayers and alms-giving, all this hard struggle to be better and to do better, ought certainly to avail for my pardon." Or, if he has been educated in a superstitious Church, he will offer up his penances, and mortifications, and pilgrimages, as a satisfaction to justice, and a reason why he should be forgiven and made blessed forever in heaven. That is a very instructive anecdote which St. Simon relates respecting the last hours of the profligate Louis XIV. "One day," — he says, — "the king recovering from loss of consciousness asked his confessor, Pere Tellier, to give him absolution I for all his sins. Pere Tellier asked him if he suffered much. 'No,' replied the king, 'that's what troubles me. I should like to suffer more, for the expiation of my sins.'” Here was a poor mortal who had spent his days in carnality and transgression of the pure law of God. He is conscious of guilt, and feels the need of its atonement. And now, upon the very edge of eternity and brink of doom, he pro poses to make his own atonement, to be his own redeemer and save his own soul, by offering up to the eternal nemesis that was racking his conscience a few hours of finite suffering, instead of betaking himself to the infinite passion and agony of Calvary. This is a "work;" and, alas, a "dead work," as St. Paul so often denominates it. This is the method of justification by works. But when a man adopts the method of justification by faith, his course is exactly opposite to all this. Upon discovering that he owes a satisfaction to Eternal Justice for the sins that are past, instead of holding up his prayers, or alms-giving, or penances, or moral efforts, or any work of his own, he holds up the sacrificial work of Christ. In his prayer to God, he interposes the agony and death of the Great Substitute between his guilty soul, and the arrows of justice He knows that the very best of his own works, that even the most perfect obedience that a creature could render, would be pierced through and through by the glittering shafts of violated law. And there fore he takes the "shield of faith." He places the oblation of the God-man, — not his own work and not his own suffering, but another's work and an other's suffering, — between himself and the judicial vengeance of the Most High. And in so doing, he works no work of his own, and no dead work; but he works the " work of God; " he believes on Him whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation for his sins, and not for his only but for the sins of the whole world.

This then is the great doctrine which our Lord taught the Jews, when they asked Him what particular thing or things they must do in order to eternal life. The apostle John, who recorded the answer of Christ in this instance, repeats the doctrine again in his first Epistle: “Whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him, because we keep His commandment, and do those things that are pleasing in His sight. And this is His commandment, that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ" (1 John iii, 22, 23). The whole duty of sinful man is here summed up, and concentrated, in the duty to trust in another person than himself, and in another work than his own. The apostle, like his Lord before him, employs the singular number: "This is His commandment," — as if there were no other commandment upon record. And this corresponds with the answer which Paul and Silas gave to the despairing jailor: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ," — do this one single thing, — "and thou shalt be saved." And all of these teachings accord with that solemn declaration of our Lord: "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on, him." In the matter of salvation, where there is faith in Christ, there is everything; and where there is not faith in Christ, there is nothing.

1. And it is with this thought that we would close this discourse, and enforce the doctrine of the text. Do whatever else you may in the matter of religion, you have done nothing until you have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who God hath sent into the world to be the propitiation for sin. There are two reasons for this. In the first place, it is the appointment and declaration of God, that man, if saved at all, must be saved by faith in the Person and Work of the Mediator. 'Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.' (Acts vi.12). It of course rests entirely with the Most High God, to determine the mode and manner in which He will enter into negotiations with His creatures, and especially with His rebellious creatures. He must make the terms, and the creature must come to them. Even, therefore, if we could not see the reasonableness and adaptation of the method, we should be obligated to accept it. The creature, and particularly the guilty creature, cannot dictate to his Sovereign and Judge respecting the terms and conditions by which he is to be received into favor, and secure eternal life. Men overlook this fact, when they presume as they do, to sit in judgment upon the method of redemption by the blood of atonement and to quarrel with it.

In the first Punic war, Hannibal laid siege to Saguntum, a rich and strongly-fortified city on the eastern coast of Spain. It was defended with a desperate obstinacy by its inhabitants. But the discipline, the energy, and the persistence of the Carthaginian army, were too much for them; and just as the city was about to fall, Alorcus, a Spanish chieftain, and a mutual friend of both of the contending parties, undertook to mediate between them. He proposed to the Saguntines that they should surrender, allowing the Carthaginian general to make his own terms. And the argument he used was this: "Your city is captured, in any event. Further resistance will only bring down upon you the rage of an incensed soldiery, and the horrors of a sack. Therefore, surrender immediately, and take whatever Hannibal shall please to give. You cannot lose anything by the procedure, and you may gain something, even though it be little." (Livius: Historia, Lib. xxi.18) Now, although there is no resemblance between the government of the good and merciful God and the cruel purposes and conduct of a heathen warrior, and we shrink from bringing the two into any kind of juxtaposition, still, the advice of the wise Alorcus to the Saguntines is good advice for every sinful man, in reference to his relations to Eternal Justice. We are all of us at the mercy of God. Should He make no terms at all; had He never given His Son to die for our sins, and never sent His Spirit to exert a subduing influence upon our hard hearts, but had let guilt and justice take their inexorable course with us; not a word could be uttered against the procedure by heaven, earth, or hell. No creature, anywhere can complain of justice. That is an attribute that cannot even be at tacked. But the All-Holy is also the All-Merciful. He has made certain terms, and has offered certain conditions of pardon, without asking leave of His creatures and without taking them into council, and were these terms as strict as Draco, instead of being as tender and pitiful as the tears and blood of Jesus, it would become us criminals to make no criticisms even in that extreme case, but accept them precisely as they were offered by the Sovereign and the Arbiter. We exhort you, therefore, to take these terms of salvation simply as they are given, asking no questions, and being thankful that there are any terms at all between the offended majesty of Heaven and the guilty criminals of earth. Believe on Him whom God hath sent, because it is the appointment and declaration of God, that if guilty man is to be saved at all, he must be saved by faith in the Person and Work of the Mediator. The very dis position to quarrel with this method implies arrogance in dealing with the Most High. The least inclination to alter the conditions shows that the creature is attempting to criticise the Creator, and, what is yet more, that the criminal has no true perception of his crime, no sense of his exposed and helpless situation, and presumes to dictate the terms of his own pardon!

2. We might therefore leave the matter here, and there would be a sufficient reason for exercising the act of faith in Christ. But there is a second and additional reason which we will also briefly urge upon you. Not only is it the Divine appointment, that man shall be saved, if saved at all, by the substituted work of another; but there are needs, there are crying wants, in the human con science, that can be supplied by no other method. There is a perfect adaptation between the Redemption that is in Christ Jesus, and the guilt of sinners. As we have seen, we could reasonably urge you to believe in Him whom God hath sent, simply because God has sent Him, and because He has told you that He will save you through no other name and in no other way, and will save you in this name and in this way. But we now urge you to the act of faith in this substituted work of Christ, because it has an atoning virtue, and can pacify a perturbed and angry conscience; can wash out the stains of guilt that are grained into it; can extract the sting of sin which ulcerates and burns there. It is the idea of expiation and satisfaction that we now single out, and press upon your notice. Sin must be expiated, — expiated either by the blood of the criminal, or by the blood of his Substitute. You must either die for your own sin, or some one who is able and willing must die for you. This is founded and fixed in the nature of God, and the nature of man, and the nature of sin. There is an eternal and necessary connection between crime and penalty. The wages of sin is death. But, all this inexorable necessity has been completely provided for, by the sacrificial work of the Son of God. In the gospel, God satisfies His own justice for the sinner, and now offers you the full benefit of the satisfaction, if you will humbly and penitently accept it. "What compassion can equal the words of God the Father addressed to the sinner condemned to eternal punishment, and having no means of redeeming himself: 'Take my Only-Begotten Son, and make Him an offering for thyself;' or the words of the Son: 'Take Me, and ransom thy soul?' For this is what both say, when they invite and draw man to faith in the gospel." (Anselm: Cur Deus Homo? II.20). In urging you, therefore, to trust in Christ's vicarious sufferings for sin, instead of going down to hell and suffering for sin in your own person; in entreating you to escape the stroke of justice upon yourself, by believing in Him who was smitten in your stead, who "was wounded for your transgressions and bruised for your iniquities;" in beseeching you to let the Eternal Son of God be your Substitute in this awful judicial transaction; we are summoning you to no arbitrary and irrational act. The peace of God which it will introduce into your conscience, and the love of God which it will shed abroad through your soul, will be the most convincing of all proofs that the act of faith in the great Atonement does no violence to the ideas and principles of the human constitution. No act that contravenes those intuitions and convictions which are part and particle of man's moral nature could possibly produce peace and joy. It would be revolutionary and anarchical. The soul could not rest an instant. And yet it is the uniform testimony of all believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, that the act of simple confiding faith in His blood and righteousness is the most peaceful, the most joyful act they ever performed, — nay, that it was the first blessed experience they ever felt in this world of sin, this world of remorse, this world of fears and forebodings concerning judgment and doom.

Is the question, then, of the Jews, pressing upon your mind? Do you ask, What one particular single thing shall I do, that I may be safe for time and eternity? Hear the answer of the Son of God Himself: "This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent."

Friday, May 11, 2018

R.L. Dabney on Using Fiction to Defend Truth

The following paragraphs come from a book review written by R.L. Dabney. The book in question was entitled “Theodosia Ernest,” - the protagonsist's name. The book was written by a Baptist minister, who by use of a fictional story, attempted to defend the doctrine of believer's baptism and refute the Presbyterian doctrine of infant baptism. Dabney rightly takes issue with the author's innumerable misrepresentations of Presbyterian doctrine, practice, and polity. But, in this particular section, he raises the question of the legitimacy of using fiction as a method for presenting and defending theological truth. To be sure, no leading Reformed theologian that I can think of raises this question.

“The folly and unfairness of such a mode of inculcating or defending what is supposed to be religious truth, can scarcely be too strongly represented. In the first place, a moment's consideration should have taught the author, that his selecting such a vehicle for his discussion was really a confession of weakness and defeat. Having failed to overthrow the sturdy Presbyterian champions in the fields of true and legitimate discussion, he is compelled to manufacture fictitious adversaries, in the pretended persons of Pastor Johnson, Dr. McKought, and elder Jones,who should be stupid and foolish enough to give this doughty Don Quixote a chance to claim the victory — If he wished to try conclusions with a veritable Presbyterian champion, why did he not select a bonafide and live controversialist, in the person of some N. L. Rice, or Wm. L. McCalla? Ah; it was easier to gain a seeming victory over a man of straw! And this is not all: Conscious, as it seems,of the intrinsic weakness of his argument,the author must needs throw around it the factitious and illegitimate interest of a love-story. He did not believe, it seems, that his principles were important and interesting enough, to make Christian people read an honest and straightforward discussion of them for its own sake: he must needs sugar the nauseous dose, to make it go down. And then, one of his foremost champions forsooth, is a young, pretty and ingenuous girl, who is painted as attractively as the author's bungling hand knew how; in order to gain the unfair advantage of the feelings of readers for youth, beauty and sex. Sophistries from the mouth of a bearded man would be handled as they deserved; but when they drop from the pretty mouth of a pretty woman, gallantry forbids our testing them too narrowly! So that the author, afraid to meet men, and as a man, skulks behind the petticoats of his heroine.

“And indeed: what is the intrinsic absurdity of sending Christian people to hunt for truth (and that sacred truth), in a work of fiction? It is an insult to the understandings of readers; and a disgrace to the denomination which is judged to need such a mode of defense. No seeming triumph gained over an imaginary antagonist can prove anything; for, as the same author constructed both his adversary's argument and his own, of course he would make the victory fall on his side. Æsop tells us, in one of his fables, how the man and the lion were once, during a truce in their warfare, amicably walking out together to take the air. They passed a picture where a lion was represented as bound, and crouching under the cudgel of a man. The man says to his lion friend: 'You see there the superiority of our race to yours.' 'Nay,' quoth the lion, 'it is because a man was the painter. If a lion had held the brush, the parties would have been in a rather different position.' Let the reader make the application.

“It is said indeed, that Immersionists justify the circulation of the work by saving, that though there is a fictitious plot to make the book readable, all is fair, because the arguments put into the mouths of the Presbyterian characters are the standard arguments which we use when defending ourselves, and that they are fairly stated. But we beg leave to dispute both facts. According to all fair forensic rules, our mere word, repudiating those arguments as fair and full statements of our side, entitles us to arrest a debate conducted on such a plan. When plaintiff and defendant come into court, each party has a sovereign discretion in selecting his own advocate. If the defendant says that the counsel who has volunteered in his cause is not the man of his choice; and that, instead of representing him fairly, he is betraying him, this is enough. It is only necessary for the defendant to say that he considers this volunteer advocate as unfaithful; it is not necessary for him to prove him such. He is entitled to make his own selection of a defender. So, we Presbyterians now and hereby notify Messrs. Graves, Marks & Co., and Messrs. Sheldon, Blakeman & Co., and all Immersionist preachers, colporteurs, members and proselyters, in these United States and the British Provinces, and wherever the far famed Theodosia may be running, that we do not consider, and never have considered the fair water-nymph (who was a full blooded Immersionist before she began the investigation) nor the Presbyterian elder, Uncle Jones, (who was evidently fishy, i. e. indulging partial tendencies to go under the water, from the beginning,) nor poor, old parson Johnson, (who confesses he had never examined the subject much,) as suitable advocates of our cause; that we hereby repudiate them as such; and that we now lay our formal 'injunction' on the progress of the discussion in such feeble and treacherous hands. Now, will our Immersionist neighbors arrest the debate; will they suspend the circulation of the ex parte and repudiated discussion, until the justice of our assertion can be tested; as they are forensically bound to do, in all fairness and honesty? We shall see. But if they are very anxious to prosecute this great cause of Immersionism versus Presbyterianism, at once; let them take the arguments of some real, actual Presbyterians, such as Dr. John H. Rice's Irenicum, Dr. John M. Mason's Treatise on the Church of God, or Dr. N. L. Rice's Debate with Campbell; print the whole of the Presbyterian argument in Presbyterian works, [and not a few disjointed scraps, falsely and treacherously torn from them] along with the best refutations they can get; and lay these two pleas before the great jury of the Religious Public. This, if fairly done, might be fair.

“The real motive and design of this advocacy of pretended truth by fiction, is this: It was hoped that the love-tale, the pictorial illustrations, the influence of sex and youth in the heroines favor, would make a multitude of ignorant people swallow the book, with its whole dose of misrepresentations, false issues, and unfounded assertions; who would never have taste, patience, or capacity, to read any such reply as Presbyterians could condescend to write. These readers would gulph down the low novel, but they would be very secure from the danger of reading a manly, straight-forward discussion of its pretended arguments and statements, unseasoned with fiction or demagogueism. The whole enterprise is a calculation on the gullibility of mankind; and it must be confessed, a calculation which was certain of realization to a large degree. But then it is also true, that the very element which ensures this partial success to the book, is the element also of its unfairness. It is successful because it is so unfair. So, in crimes of blacker character, the very treachery of the assault is oftentimes the thing which makes resistance ineffectual. When an honorable enemy meets us fairly by daylight, and face to face, we have a chance of successful self-defense, according to that measure of prowess which God has given us. But if our adversary is wicked enough to turn assassin, and waylay our path, we are very free to confess that we are in his power; except so far as a good Providence interposes, the strength and skill of a Hercules will not avail.

“Let it be distinctly understood then, that we neither hope nor expect to be attentively and dispassionately read by the persons for whom the shrewd managers of Theodosia Earnest have set their trap. People who are foolish enough to go to a work of fiction to learn sacred truth, are not likely to attend to a scholarly and solid discussion.” - R.L. Dabney, Fiction, No Defense of Truth

Monday, January 22, 2018

The Nature And Remedy of Sinful Shame


Psalm119:6.—“Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments.” 

To be able to look up to God with humble confidence, and to obey his commands with freedom and fidelity before the world, is, at once, the comfort and the glory of a Christian. This, however, is an attainment not to be made without a vigorous conflict—“For the flesh lusteth against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary the one to the other; so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.” The pleadings of corrupt nature, conspiring with the temptations of the world, and the suggestions of the great enemy of souls, seduce the Christian to the omission or violation of duty; and thus deprive him of the light of the divine countenance, and of firmness and activity in the divine life. The inspired Psalmist seems to have contemplated this evil, and to have intended to prescribe its remedy, when he exclaimed, in the words of the text—“Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments.”—In discoursing on the words, therefore, I will, in reliance on divine assistance, endeavour
  1. To explain the nature and operations of the sinful shame which the inspired writer appears so desirous to avoid.
  2. Show how a regard to all God’s commandments will destroy the existence of such shame, or prevent its embarrassments.

After this, a few practical reflections will conclude the address.

I. First, then, I am to endeavour to explain the nature and operations of that shame, which the sacred writer appears so desirous to avoid.

Shame has been defined—“the passion which is felt when reputation is supposed to be lost.” This is no doubt the popular import of the term; and yet it is not, as we shall presently see, the only sense in which it is used by the sacred writers. I would remark, however, that con sidering it merely as a principle of the mind, which renders us sensible to the ill opinion of our fellow men, it is no inconsiderable guard on our virtue. It is, indeed, true, that this, in common with every other useful principle of our nature, may, by being turned into a wrong channel, produce injury instead of benefit. It too often happens, in fact, that good men, from being unduly influenced by a regard to the opinion of the worldly or profane, are brought to be ashamed of their duty; and this is a part of the very evil against which the text is directed. Still, however, it must be admitted, that a sense of shame is, in itself, extremely useful, and when suitably regulated and rightly directed, is a restraint against vice and an incentive to virtue. A destitution of this principle is ever considered as marking the extreme of human depravity—We usually join together the epithets shameless and abandoned. The extirpation or extinction of the sentiment of shame, therefore, is by no means to be attempted. Our endeavours are only to be directed against suffering it to be perverted, and against laying ourselves open to those wounds which it may justly inflict. Now, with this view, we are looking for the origin and source of these evils; and I think we shall find them, by turning our attention from the creature to the Creator—from man to God.

In the sacred writings, the word we consider is frequently used to denote those painful feelings of the mind, which are produced by a conviction of our offences against the Majesty of Heaven; especially when those offences partake peculiarly of the nature, or are seen re markably in the light of baseness, unreasonableness, and ingratitude. Thus, when the Jews, who had been mercifully restored from the Babylonish captivity, violated the command of the Most High, by improper connexions with the idolatrous nations, Ezra thus addresses Jehovah—“Oh my God! I blush and am ashamed to lift up my face to thee my God, for our iniquities are increased over our heads, and our trespass is gone up unto the heavens”—Here shame is used to denote little else than the operations of conscience; or the oppression of soul which is produced by the sense of being guilty and vile in the sight of a holy God: And you will carefully observe, that the effect of this is, the destruction of all freedom and confidence in addressing the Father of mercies, and almost of the hope of pardon and acceptance with him. This, my brethren, is undoubtedly the origin of the evil which the text contemplates. It takes its rise from this point, and its baneful influence is extended through a long train of unhappy consequences. We may trace them thus—

All practical religion has its very foundation in a realizing belief of an all-seeing God, who, while he is perfectly acquainted with all the secrets of the soul, and with every action of life, is also of purer eyes than to behold any iniquity, but with detestation and abhorrence. But the mind, we say, in which this belief and apprehension exists, is conscious of dealing treacherously with the Most High; conscious that its affections are shamefully divided between him and inferior objects; conscious of not seeking his favour in secret with that holy earnestness which its value demands; conscious that its penitence for sin is miserably imperfect; conscious that hidden lusts and corruptions, not only rise and plead for indulgence, but actually obtain it; conscious that certain duties have been most criminally neglected and certain sins allowed; conscious of presumptuous sinning against light and know ledge; conscious of repeated violations of the most solemn resolutions and engagements; conscious, in a word, not merely of remaining pollution, but of inexcusable neglect, unfaithfulness and insincerity, in duty to God and devotion to his service. How, I ask, can he whose mind informs him of all this, look up, with any confidence, to that infinite Being who, he realizes, is perfectly acquainted with all this baseness? He cannot do it:—shame and confusion drive him away from the divine throne. He fears to draw near to God; or if he at tempts it, the service is hasty and superficial. The mind is afraid of its own reflections, and seeks temporary and imperfect ease by overlooking or endeavouring to forget its state. Still, a secret uneasiness continually preys upon it, nor will ever cease to corrode it, while it remains thus unsettled and divided.

Follow, now, this victim of shame before God, into his intercourse among men. Suppose that he has never openly professed a religious character. Then you see him most piteously embarrassed, confounded and distressed. Wicked companions solicit and endeavour to lead him into vice. His conscience is too much awake to permit him to comply with pleasure, and yet he is sensible of too much insincerity to allow him to refuse with firmness. He half refuses and half complies; and thus becomes the scorn of the licentious, without obtaining the countenance of the pious. Those who are strictly religious regard his friendship as uncertain; those who are openly profane consider his con duct as dastardly; and thus the hesitating wretch is covered with shame before the world, as well as before his Maker.

Or suppose—and, alas! that it is not a mere supposition—that the unhappy state of mind we have described, belongs to one who publicly professes to be a follower of Christ. How painfully must he feel the inconsistency of his profession, with the inward temper of his heart? How misgiving and wavering must be his mind? How unfurnished is he, while destitute of inward support, for all those conflicts with the world, and all those reproaches from it, with which he will be sure to meet? With what face can he reprove others, while secretly he condemns himself? When called to speak for God, how will his mind misgive him, and his face crimson with blushes, while his heart in forms him, that he is espousing a cause in which his own sincerity is doubtful? How will it often seal his lips in silence, when he ought to speak? When censured and condemned by the profligate, how will he be wounded by the recollection that the sentence is partly merited? When his good works, themselves, are evil spoken of, how will he be dismayed by seeing the just chastisement of heaven for the improper disposition with which he performed them? When charged with the black crime of hypocrisy, how will he be confounded to think that, in the sight of God, the charge is bottomed on truth? When called to suffer for conscience sake, or to hazard his life in the discharge of duty, how will he be appalled and shrink back with fear, while conscience tells him that he is a backslider from God, if not a settled enemy to him? When only called to the open avowal of his Christian character, in the solemn acts of religious worship, how will inward upbraidings fill him with trembling and embarrassment, and mar the performance, by a diffidence equally distressing and dishonourable?—Nay, will not these causes drive him altogether from attempting many duties, and go near to turn him wholly from his Christian course? Yes, my brethren, these are the consequences of the shame of which I have spoken, as they take place in the discharge of religious obligations in the sight of men. The summary of its history, therefore, is—that it originates in a sense of guilt, arising from the consciousness of being unfaithful to God; which first destroys or prevents a filial intercourse with him, and confidence of his favour; and then, as a necessary consequence, abashes and confounds its subject, when in the eye of the world, he assumes a character, or attempts a practice, which is contrary to the feelings of his heart. This is the evil contemplated in the text—an evil of unspeakable magnitude, in the estimation of all who have not wholly lost their regard both to their duty and their comfort, in the Christian life. Listen, then, to the remedy prescribed—while I attempt to show -

II. How a regard to all God’s commandments will destroy the existence, or prevent the embarrassments, of this sinful shame.

In entering on this part of the subject, it may be of some importance to endeavour to obtain clear and distinct ideas of what was in tended to be conveyed by the expression—“having a respect unto all God’s commandments.” Does it intend a perfect obedience to all the divine laws, or a sinless observance of them? Certainly not—For the inspired penman evidently fixed his views on an attainment, which he not only proposed to labour after, but which he actually hoped to make, in the present life;—and we have the unequivocal testimony of revelation “that there is not a just man on earth, who doth good and sinneth not,” and that “if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” Neither can it be intended, that any man will ever yield such an obedience to the divine requisitions as shall, of itself, be the just ground of his confidence before God; or so place him on the , footing of merit, as that he may claim the approbation and favour of heaven, as a matter of right. The impossibility of this is, indeed, implied in the last remark; for nothing less than an unsinning respect to the commands of God, through the whole of our existence, could entitle us to this claim. The finished work of the Redeemer,—his atoning sacrifice, his complete and perfect righteousness, and his prevalent intercession, constitute the only meritorious cause of par don and acceptance with God, for any of the apostate race of Adam —It is only in Christ Jesus that God is “reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them;” because “he hath made him to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” The first freedom, which any soul that has been suitably convinced of sin obtains, to look up to a holy God with a measure of filial confidence, is wholly derived from seeing the ample provision which is made in the plan of salvation, for extending pardon and eternal life to the sinner, in consistency with the divine honour; and from a disposition to embrace this plan with thankfulness, and to trust it in faith. It is, therefore, so far from being true that the expression warrants any reliance on our own merits, that it necessarily implies the opposite doctrine: “As it is written, behold I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offence, and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed”—Not to be ashamed, is here predicated, and it is certainly true, only of those who believe in Christ. It is, moreover, written, “This is his commandment, that we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ,” and therefore we cannot have respect unto all the commandments of God, while a compliance with this is wanting.

I detain you with this statement, my brethren, because it is to be regarded, not merely in the light of a negative, or as intended to guard against a misapprehension" of the truth, but because it contains the essence of the truth itself. It is an undoubted fact, as I am sure every exercised Christian will testify, that when he has wandered from God, and is sunk down into despondence under a sense of his backsliding and unworthiness, the first and only relief that he obtains is, from a heart melting, and a heart attracting view of the infinite fulness of his Redeemer, and the freeness of the riches of his grace. It is this view that encourages him to return; it is this that brings him back with true brokenness of heart; it is this that enables him to cherish hope though most undeserving; and it is this that sweetly constrains him to devote himself more unreservedly to God than ever he had done before, from a strong sense of gratitude and obligation. In having such respect, therefore, unto all God’s commandments as will deliver us from the influence of shame, a lively exercise of faith in Christ, lies at the bottom of all. It is also the constraining influence of the love of Christ, which is the source of that new obedience, which reaches the extent of the requisition—It produces what has sometimes been called a gracious sincerity, in the heart of the believer. It awakens in him a strong desire to be delivered from the dominion of all sin; so that he will not knowingly and allowedly indulge in any transgression; he will desire that every lust and corruption may be mortified, and subdued; and will pant after greater conformity to God. He will be so far from desiring to rest short of any thing which Christ requires of his people, that he will press forward, and ardently long after the highest attainment, and lament that higher attainments are not made. He will, in short, seek his supreme happiness in communion with God, in the diligent use of all the appropriate means of holy intercourse with him. Thus the author of the text, in the 8th verse of the psalm where it is found, says—“Let my heart be sound in thy statutes, that I be not ashamed.” It is this soundness of heart—this gracious sincerity in the sight of God—this impartial regard or respect to every command of the Most High, without taking one and leaving another—this careful employment of all the means and methods of avoiding transgression that answers completely the condition of the assertion on which I dis course. And let us now see how strictly the assertion will be verified, in those who comply with the condition.

I remark then, in the first place, that a compliance with this condition removes, naturally and radically, the cause of all the guilty shame, and embarrassment of which I have spoken, by producing a consistent character. Shame is the natural consequence and proper punishment of guilt. The only methods of getting rid of the pain which it occasions are, to extinguish the principle, or to avoid the causes of its excitement. The former of these methods is actually and frequently pursued by the abandoned. By plunging into the excesses of vice, and familiarizing themselves with all its pollutions, they extinguish shame and conscience together—On the middle character, contemplated in the former part of this discourse, that character in which there is still a sensibility to the demands of duty, and where, notwithstanding, those demands are disregarded or left unsatisfied, it is here that the principle of shame inflicts, as we have seen, all its chastisements. But where the demands of duty are satisfied, there the cause of shame itself is taken away; and though the utmost sensibility be retained, it creates no uneasiness, because it meets with no violation. This is the case of those who have that respect unto all God’s commandments, which we have just considered. Through the peace speaking blood of Jesus, they have received the full remission of all their sins. By maintaining a close and humble walk with God, they preserve an habitual persuasion of this comfortable truth; or rather they experience a daily and habitual renewal of its effects. In the exercise of the spirit of adoption, they draw near with a holy confidence, and cry “Abba, Father”— They have a blessed assurance, that God will realize to them all the benefits of the covenant of grace; and esteeming “his favour as life, and his loving kindness as better than life,” they rejoice in him “with a joy which is exceeding great and full of glory.” In one word, they verify in their own experience the declaration of the Apostle, where he says—“Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God: and whatsoever we ask we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight”—And thus when that which we have seen to be the very fountain of shame, namely, a want of confidence in God, is dried up in the heart of a Christian, it can send forth none of its bitter streams to poison his pleasure, or to wither his strength, in the public discharge of his duty. “His heart is fixed, trusting in God.” His heart is in all that he says, and in all that he does; and therefore he becomes—as we are told the righteous shall become—“bold as a lion.” Is it incumbent on him to reprove the vicious and profane? he can do it without embarrassment, for he only speaks against that which his soul abhors. Is an occasion offered to speak for God? his mouth speaketh from the abundance of his heart, and therefore he speaks freely, pertinently, and composedly; and he is ever ready to speak, when a fit opportunity occurs. Is he branded as a hypocrite? he is sensible that his all-seeing Judge knows the charge to be groundless, and therefore it disturbs him not he pities and forgives his accuser. Is he called to avow his Christian character? he does it freely and cheerfully, for it is the character in which he most of all glories. Is he subjected to reproach for the cause of Christ? he even glories that “he is counted worthy to suffer shame for his name,” remembering that “if any man suffer as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but to glorify God in this behalf.” Or if he is called to give up life itself, in an adherence to his duty, he can do it cheer fully, even though it were amidst the scoffs of a deriding world; for he knows that the honour which cometh from God, and of which he is sure, is infinitely greater than that which cometh from man only.

Brethren, the history of the church is a continual confirmation of these truths. Supported by the principles I have explained, three unprotected young men could face an assembled nation, could face a burning fiery furnace, could face the mightiest monarch on earth, and say—“Be it known unto thee, O king! that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.” Supported by these principles, two ignorant and unlearned fishermen, dragged from prison, and from chains before the Jewish Sanhedrin, could say—“Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, doth this man stand here before you whole.” Supported by these principles, a host of martyrs, in later ages, have courted a scaffold, or been consumed at the stake. And, without recurring to such striking instances, it is the support of these principles which enables every Christian, who leads a life of real nearness to God, to adorn the doctrine of his Saviour in all things—The blessed assurance which he habitually maintains that his God is his friend, makes him fearless of the world—It raises him far above its influence, and puts, without his seeking it, a dignity into his conduct and his very presence, which nothing else can confer.

2. By having respect to all God’s commandments, we acquire the advantage which arises from a decided character, and are thus delivered from many temptations to those sinful compliances which are the cause of shame. The person who cherishes the inward sentiments, and maintains the outward deportment which has been explained, will unavoidably assume, in the eye of the world, an appearance and character which will distinguish him as one who is not governed by its maxims, and who does not follow its fashions. It will no longer be doubtful to whom he belongs—Those who are conformed to this world, will see and feel that he is guided by other principles than those which influence them, and pursues a totally different system of living and of happiness, from that which they have adopted. Hence they will not so licit an intimacy with him; for intimacies exist only between parties of a similar taste. When thrown together by the calls of business, or in the intercourse of life, (for this character by no means requires austerity or abstractedness,) it will not be expected that the decided friend of piety will relish or take part in questionable liberties. His presence will even prove a restraint on others; or to say the least, his character will be a protection to himself, from solicitations to unlawful practices. That character will also be both a guard on himself against doing or saying any thing that might wound his conscience, and will afford him an advantage in speaking or acting against every thing improper. The desire of appearing consistent, will be a natural call on him to defend what he professes to esteem, and the expectation that he will act this part, will enable him to do it with freedom and with advantage. And thus will temptations to those sinful compliances which are the cause of shame, be greatly diminished, and the principles of religion be guarded, even by the care of reputation.

This decided character for piety, will moreover, render its possessor extremely dear to all who are Christians indeed; and from this cause he will gain an immense advantage. The influence of social inter course, on all our opinions and practice, is ever great; and it is not less in regard to religion, than in reference to any other subject. Christians inform each other by their conversation, encourage and animate each other by their exhortations, assist each other by a comparison of their exercises, embolden each other by a recital of their hopes, and help and strengthen each other by their prayers. He who is joined to this happy society, is continually imbibing more of the spirit which distinguishes and animates it, and is therefore less in danger of acting unworthily of his Christian character, and of wounding his own peace.

3. A respect unto all God’s commandments, will deliver us from the influence of sinful shame, inasmuch as it will exceedingly lower the world, and every created object, in our estimation and regard. This idea has been a little anticipated, but it is of so much importance, that it deserves to be brought distinctly into view. When men are conscious of guilt, it has been admitted that they ought to blush and be con founded—But whence proceeds that fear of man which bringeth a snare? why are men timid and abashed in the discharge of duty? in doing that which their consciences dictate and approve? In some individuals, this, no doubt, must be in part resolved into constitutional make, or natural infirmity. But after every just allowance, much will still remain to be attributed to the high estimation in which we hold the opinions of our fellow men, even when they come in competition with duty and conscience. If it were with us, as it was with the apostle, “a small thing to be judged of man’s judgment,” we should be wholly delivered from this inconvenience, as far as it arises from principle; and should go far to get the victory over it, even as a natural infirmity. Now, a life of nearness to God, will assuredly give us this estimation of all human opinions, so far as they militate with our Christian obligations. The fear of man whose breath is in his nostrils, will be absorbed in the fear of him “who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell.” The mind which takes clear and frequent views of an infinite God, and a boundless eternity; which places them often be fore it, brings them into ideal presence, and dwells as it were sur rounded by them; such a mind will look down on the world with a holy indifference. Its censure or its applause, its smiles or its frowns, will be regarded as matters of small estimation:

“His hand the good man fastens on the skies,
Then bids earth turn, nor feels the idle whirl.”

He feels that his heart and his treasure are in heaven; his thoughts, his hopes, his desires, are principally there. Not setting a high estimation on earthly possessions or human applause, he is not much agitated with anxiety when he contemplates them, nor when they are denied him. This appears to have been eminently the temper of the Psalmist, when he said—“Whom have I in heaven but thee, and there is none on earth that I desire beside thee.” This was the temper of the great apostle of the Gentiles, when he said—“I am crucified to the world and the world to me—Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung that I may win Christ.” This, in fine, is the temper which every one will, in a good degree, possess, whose conversation is in heaven; and possessing this, he will, as a natural consequence, rise above a sinful and ensnaring fear of man, and be able, with comfort and composure, to support and adorn his Christian profession.

Thus, it appears that a respect to all God’s commandments, by giving us a consistent character-producing confidence in God; by rendering that character decided, in the view of the world; and by lessening our estimation for the things of time and the opinions of men; will deliver us from shame and embarrassment in the discharge of every duty.

In how strong a light, my brethren, does this subject place the folly of those, who are balancing in their minds between the demands of religion and the allurements of the world; and endeavouring to reconcile a regard to both? We see that, in fact, they obtain satisfaction from neither—they are the most unhappy persons upon earth. If I speak to any of this description; to any who are doubting and hesitating about coming forward to an open avowal of a Christian character; to any who are half inclined to this, but are held back by a fear of the world; I would entreat them to lay aside their hostility to their own happiness, by a resolute discharge of duty. Believe it, your efforts to reconcile the service of God and the friendship of the world, will be forever vain, and you will be forever tormented while you attempt it. If you will be for God, you must be for him wholly and unreservedly; without seeking to accommodate his service to the opinions and feelings of unsanctified men. Your interest, no less than your duty, en joins this—“Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you, and will be a father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.”

In a still stronger light does this subject place both the folly and impiety of professing Christians, who are stealing away to the forbidden pleasures of sin; as if religion were not able to afford them happiness. Be it known that the very reason why it does not afford you happiness, if I speak to such, is because you are not devoted to it; because you mingle it so much with the world, that you debase its nature; because you only retain enough of it to wound your consciences, and to cover you with shame and confusion, but have not enough to enable you to take hold of its divine supports, and to taste its heavenly consolations. Cease then to pierce yourselves through with many sorrows—Return unto the Lord, and cleave unto him with all your heart, and with all your soul, and you shall find that it is not a vain thing to serve him.

On the whole, let us all be exhorted to endeavour to walk more with God—We cannot wander from his presence, without unspeakable in jury to ourselves. In his presence only is the light of life—While we remain here, we bring down a portion of heaven to earth. Let us, therefore, set it as our mark to obey all God’s commandments, without choice or exception. Let us pray unceasingly for the aids of his Holy Spirit, that we may be enabled to do so; and let us guard against every thing that might have a tendency to interrupt our intercourse with our Father in heaven. Amen.

From: Practical Sermons, Extracted From “The Christian Advocate”

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