AMIDST the various capacities in which the christian is called to act, it must not be forgotten, that he sustains the character of a witness, “Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord.” To support the honour of this character, it becomes necessary to exhibit a proper testimony for Christ and for the word of his patience. It deserves consideration, what may be some of the distinguishing characteristics of such a testimony.
Whether the deed of this kind be verbal or written, it should unquestionably be stated and exhibited under the influence of pure inward motives; the party, whether an individual or a society at large, having it as the great concern, to act in the fear of the Lord, and with a suitable regard to his declarative glory amongst men. Though our fellow-christians cannot enter into the springs of action in our heart, nor have they any title to do it; yet it is the Lord’s prerogative, to search the heart, and to try the reins. Accordingly, we owe it as a tribute unto his omniscience, to keep our heart with all diligence, and to examine carefully, if they be right with him, in this, as well as in every other duty; especially as there are many deceits, by which we are liable to be ensnared. A self-righteous principle, disposing the party to say unto his neighbour, “Stand by thyself, for I am holier than thou;” a kind of malicious pleasure in finding fault; a desire of making a fair show in the flesh, by having a name to live, amongst those around us; or wantonly assuming the fair cloak of a flaming profession, as a cover for practical irregularities; these, or such like sinister motives, may, peradventure, be frequently found to actuate many professors of religion. The Scribes and Pharisees of our Saviour’s time, could manifest a warm zeal for the sanctification of the Sabbath; while the malicious design was, to asperse the character of Him who could not possibly be convicted of sin. Of all such motives the witness for Christ should ever be aware.
Let it also be remarked, that a testimony for the truth, as it is in Jesus, should be wholly regulated by the Sacred Scriptures. These are JEHOVAH’S own testimony, for asserting the honour of his kingdom, and the glory of his excellent Majesty. And wherever they are enjoyed, they should be considered as the infallible standard, for directing the conduct of his reasonable offspring, in both their ecclesiastic and civil capacity. If the Church of the living God candidly confess that he is their Judge and their Lawgiver, as well as their Saviour; if they view themselves as moral agents, responsible to him for every part of their conduct; and if Christ, who, as Mediator, now exhibits the law, for the rule of his people’s life, be recognised as the rightful Lord and Master of all his witnessing disciples; it necessarily follows, that their public appearances, for the interests of his kingdom, as well as all their other conduct, must be regulated by what the Spirit saith unto the churches. Even in the inferior concerns of human life, wise men at least always act upon a plan, observe some one rule or other, for directing their procedure, and have some distinct object before them. This, surely, cannot be less necessary in the honourable employment of bearing witness for Christ. With respect then, to both the matter, and the manner of a public testimony, the sacred injunction must ever be observed, “To the law, and to the testimony,” that is, to the revealed will of God, in the oracles of truth, “if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.”
The laudable deed of which we speak, though it cannot possibly comprehend a minute detail of every particular, should, notwithstanding, exhibit an unbiassed summary of Divine truth in general. In giving the outline of the precious doctrines contended for, and of the errors and immoralities testified against, there should be no consultations with flesh and blood, in order to avoid reproach. Even such articles as may be more obnoxious to a lukewarm generation, or calculated to render the testimony more unpopular, ought not, for that reason, to be omitted. Every branch of the truth as it is Christ, acknowledges the same Divine Author, and therefore challenges our sincere veneration. The Apostle of the Gentiles “shunned not to declare unto the elders of the Ephesian church, ALL the counsel of God.” And when the Redeemer sent his ambassadors to disciple the nations, baptizing them, his positive injunction was, “Teaching them to observe ALL things whatsoever I have commanded you.” The modern division of Scripture doctrines into circumstantial, and fundamental, is exceedingly ensnaring, inasmuch as no certain rule can be given, for properly drawing the line between these. Whence it is obvious, that every one will do it as best suits his own purpose. Aided by this delusive distinction, the professors of religion may, if they choose, very conveniently exclude from their testimony, even seasonable and important truths, or precious attainments of former times, under the fair pretence, that these are only the circumstantials of religion.
In order to exhibit a proper testimony to the world, it is no less necessary, that it be conducted with impartiality, as to the persons, or parties, who are justly to be blamed. We are no advocates for the scheme of levelling all distinctions in human society. We readily grant a subordination of rank; and admit the propriety of “giving honour to whom honour is due.” Meanwhile we apprehend, that it is fully consistent with doing so, impartially to testify, against the errors and vices of high and low, rich and poor. Even a famous king of Judah may be plainly told, by a faithful minister of the sanctuary, “it appertaineth not unto thee, Uzziah, to burn incense unto the Lord.” Daniel could give the proud Babylonish monarch his ordinary and distinguishing titles; and yet honestly warn him “To break off his sins by righteousness, and his iniquities by shewing mercy to the poor.” Yea, in full consistency with esteem for exalted character, even one eminent apostle of the Lamb may “withstand another to the face, because he is to be blamed,” for his partiality and unfaithfulness. The plain call of Heaven is, “Cry aloud, spare not; lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.”
A testimony, expected to meet the Divine approbation, must also comprehend the great doctrines of eternal life and happiness, through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.—Paul, who belonged to that noble cloud of witnesses, with whom the believers of his time were compassed about, declared of himself, “that he was set for the defence of the Gospel.” Necessity was laid upon him, to preach the doctrines of free grace and salvation. He determines, comparatively speaking, “to know nothing, but Christ and him crucified.” When the Corinthians were made willing in the day of power, and Divinely taught to embrace Christ and his salvation, the same Apostle tells them, for their comfort, “The testimony of Christ was confirmed in you.” The beloved disciple was a strenuous advocate for the Eternal Deity, the true messiahship, the prophetical, priestly, and kingly character, and for the sovereign love, and rich grace of his Divine Lord; and he says of himself as a witness for these things, “That he bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.” In like manner, the two witnesses, to whom the Lord gives power to prophesy in sackcloth, during the reign of antichrist, are uniformly represented, not only as “keeping the commandments of God,” but, also, as “having the testimony of Jesus Christ.” That is, as a judicious expositor well expresses it, “maintaining both a doctrinal and practical witness to the purity of the Gospel, and of all its ordinances of worship, according to Christ’s institutions.” Indeed, a proper concern for the honour of the Redeemer, and the happiness of immortal souls, renders this part of a public testimony indispensably necessary.
It must not be forgotten, that every such deed, as properly deserves the name of an honourable testimony for Christ, and for the word of his patience, must also, in a special manner, include those truths, which are particularly opposed, in the time and place in which the witnessing party’s lot has fallen. The conduct of the valiant soldier, in the armies of earthly kings; might serve for the christian’s example here. A garrison, appointed to defend a town, or other important place, will carefully observe where the danger is greatest, or the most furious assault is made; and will manage the defence accordingly. Let not the spiritual and good soldiers of Jesus Christ, required to endure hardness in his cause, be behind in this duty. Let them ever observe, and zealously contend for the PRESENT truth. That Jesus of Nazareth was the true Messiah, promised to the fathers; that he came not to destroy the law and the prophets, but to fulfil them; that he died for his people’s offences, and rose again for their justification; that he was exalted as a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance unto Israel and the forgiveness of sins; and that there was no salvation in any other;—these were the great truths most violently attacked, and vigorously opposed, in the days of the Apostles. Accordingly, they set themselves for the defence of these, in the most strenuous manner; not loving their lives even unto the death. In this, as in many other things, they have left us a noble example, that we should follow their steps. Once more,
A testimony, rightly stated for the interests of religion, should, undoubtedly, embrace all the honourable attainments of former times. Either this must be admitted; or some excuse must be found for going back, even after we have known the way of righteousness. But for this the word of God makes no allowance. On the other hand, it teaches us to examine, not only if the things contended for, be good and important in themselves, abstractly considered; but also if they have been known and received before. And if it be found, that they make a part of the “faith once delivered to the saints,” and have been comprehended in the former faithful testimonies of the church, this is always viewed as an additional consideration, for enforcing our steadfast adherence unto them. It is well known, agreeably to what hath been noticed in the above abstract, how many terrible things in righteousness are spoken, by the inspired prophets of old, and by Christ and his Apostles, in New Testament times, against the sin of backsliding, or leaving our first love. And also, what solemn injunctions are given, “To remember how we have received and heard; and to hold fast that which we have, that no man take our crown.” Every testimony therefore, which drops even a part only of former honourable attainments, must be in so far deficient, and liable to exception. Seriously attending to these things, the danger of going back on the one hand, and the satisfaction of obeying the Lord’s will on the other, should powerfully influence us all, “Whereunto we have already attained, to walk by the same rule, and to mind the same things.”
ANDREW YOUNG, PRINTER, 150, Trongate, Glasgow.