[from The Associate Presbyterian, Vol. XV, No. 5, October 1873, pp. 137-140.]
The present which despises the past will never give birth to a better future.—Emilio Castelar.
Messrs. Editors.—The substance of the following article was offered for insertion in The Christian Instructor. Its publication was declined, “as it would open discussion”! The reader will readily perceive that the Instructor opened the discussion!
Love, which is often translated charity, is one of the graces of the Holy Spirit; and its Author declares it to be greater than faith or hope. (1 Cor. 13:13.) It “never faileth,” as these graces shall, because it is the sum of the moral law, which is eternal.
All graces may be counterfeited, and perhaps none more so in our time than charity. This counterfeit is one of the manifold phrases of legalism: for love, when genuine, is the “fulfilling of the law.” (Rom. 13:10.) It cannot be antagonistic to the truth of God. No, it “rejoiceth in the truth,” (1 Cor. 13:6.) Its counterfeit may always be detected by its disregarding or speaking lightly of the truth, its confidence and self-assertion. It is independent, “vaunteth itself, is puffed up;” hates dogma, except its own, and peaks with contempt of “hoary-headed opinions.” Yet, as there is a tincture of legalism in the Christian till the last breath, even good men may be partially while unconsciously under the influence of this false charity; more especially when it becomes socially epidemic and chronic. Then those conditions of ecclesiastical fellowship which learning and piety have constructed, called terms of communion, are assailed; they are next contemned; and at length ridiculed. Thus when the “landmarks which the fathers had set” are removed, modern charity—“sporting itself with its own deceivings,”—quickly substitutes what is vaguely termed “the unity of the spirit, visible discipleship,” or some equivalent vacuity. Then the “garden enclosed, the spring shut up, the fountain sealed,” becomes the world’s common. Not only “the little foxes spoil the vines; but the boar out of the wood doth waste it, and the beast of the field doth devour it.”
All men know that it is perilous to remove their neighbours’ landmarks in a literal sense; and it is certainly not less so to remove or displace the hedge which the divine Husbandman has placed between the church and the world. Yet those who claim a monopoly of charity, and look upon any who oppose their measures as of “doubtful Christianity,” sometimes venture to question the inspired authority by which the metes and bounds of Zion were determined. While sapping and mining are thus in progress, too many of her watchman seem to be asleep, or worse—conniving, aiding, and abetting.
Some such thoughts as the foregoing were prompted when reading an article in the Christian Instructor for July 26th, under the caption, “Shall the Past Govern us?”
This heading is exceedingly indefinite; but its import may be partly gathered from what follows. The article closes with two assertions thus,—“God must be obeyed; man may be.” These two positions, sufficiently emphasized, were obviously intended to embody the pith of the article. We consider them very exceptionable; and as intentionally emphasized, they are very dangerous in their necessary consequences. The two assertions are evidently antithetical, while they are in the writer’s view, in some vague sense, homogeneous. It is, certain, however, that obedience to man may be, and often is, disobedience to God. “The statutes of Omri were kept” in violation of God’s law. With wicked hands out Lord was crucified in obedience to man, the representatives of church and state. We know the Instructor will say, “We ought to obey God rather than man,” when their commands are in conflict. What then does he mean by emphatically asserting the truism—“may be obeyed?” for, it is certain he means something. Why is the meaning so occult? In view of the law of love, we cannot but think a declaration of the plain meaning would be unpopular; and therefore it is kept sedulously cryptic.
The meaning, however concealed, may be brought to the light thus. “Man may be obeyed” when he commands what God has forbidden! No, not that exactly. That would be too manifestly wicked to assert; yet Popery goes this length, and is still sustained by the majority of the Christian world! The Christian Instructor qualifies his emphatic assertion thus: “Man may be obeyed” only when he enjoins what God has not “clearly laid down as a” sin; a position in casuistry condemned by all sound moralists. According to this teaching, we may do or not do whatever “God has not clearly laid down as” duty or sin. The phrase, “clearly laid down,” as employed in this article, would subvert the GREAT PROTESTANT principle, That necessary deductions from Scripture are authoritative. On this principle we observe the Sabbath, baptize children, &c. &c.
The Instructor says, “Where a custom or practice is clearly laid down as duty, let it be followed though it lead to the martyr’s stake.”—Very well; is it “clearly laid down” that he is a regular gospel minister? Papists and Prelates do not think so. Alas! for bold assertion and illogical conclusions. These are but poor preparatives for risking martyrdom. The “martyrs of Jesus” have all along suffered, and their legitimate successors will continue to suffer for many “practices, not clearly laid down as duties,” from which sufferings the Instructor’s logic will keep him exempt.
The selection of an English prelate, the “bishop of Lincoln,” was peculiarly unhappy, when the Instructor wished to illustrate the application of the Law of Love, by abolishing a fast before the Lord’s Supper. It would have been more natural to resort to the tradition of his fathers in this matter; such as [John] Hemphill of South Carolina, or [John Mitchell] Mason of New York.
Can the Instructor direct the reader to the place where “God has clearly laid down as a duty” what is now called “Christian burial,” with its “religious services?” These are “clearly laid down,” we know, in Papal and Pagan history and practice.
On the other hand, it seems to be pretty “clearly laid down as duty,” if not in so many words, that the “lines be given out in public worship,” as well as in preaching the word, “that the church may receive edifying;” because edification is the immediate end of the second table of the Law of Love. To “speak in an unknown tongue” is to defeat the very end of edification. Not to speak at all, will have the same results. “And if there come in those that are unlearned or unbelieving—one that believeth not, or one unlearned; will they not say that ye are mad?” (1 Cor. 14:23, 24.) Much more will such have cause to come to this conclusion, if “repeating tunes”—those Papal “tunes in report”—be employed in worship; which “vain repetitions” were banished from the sanctuary by the Reformers in the seventeenth century, as tending to mar edification, in violation of the great Law of Love.
Ignorance and contempt of this law has resulted in an almost total subversion of all the positive institutions of religion by the church of Rome. Can there be a more evident contempt of the Holy Spirit’s teaching and rebuke in the 14th chapter of 1 Corinthians than in the Popish mass? And almost equal perversity and disregard of heaven-born charity is displayed by a majority of Protestant churches, in cleaving to the “beggarly elements” of instruments, while rejecting the only inspired matter of praise!
The Law of Love requires us to “rebuke sharply” those who “err from the truth,” that we may thereby “hide a multitude of sins.” (see Lev. 19:17; Ps. 141:15; Prov. 10:12; 1 Cor. 13:4-7; 1 Pet. 4:8; Tit. 1:13; 2:15; Rom. 13:8; Jas. 2:8.)
August, 1873. DAVID STEELE, senior.