Text.–“Enter in at the strait gate.”–Matt. 12:13.
It is a circumstance not to be denied, that immense confusion exists in the public mind touching the way of salvation. No matter whether the cause of this confusion can be pointed out or not, the fact of its existence can not be denied. It is also a fact that many men of good character, fine intelligence, and who are excellent citizens, are standing aloof from all connection with any church, or identification with religion in any form. No doubt, a main cause of this is that a large amount of the preaching is either insipid, lifeless, and powerless talk, and nothing more, or wholly unintelligible; so that, on one hand; there is no interest in it, and, on the other hand, they can not understand it. No matter whether the fact can be accounted for or not, it is a fact, and an indisputable fact, that darkness pervades the public mind on the very matter of the highest importance to man of all others–the way to eternal happiness and renown. It is useless to try to blur it over, to disguise or deny it. There stands the stumbling-block before the people. One teaches this way and another that; one says, lo here, and another, lo there. Many stand confounded, and know not which way to go.
Turning to the clear teaching of the Savior, the command is found: “Enter you in at the strait gate; for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be who go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” This is a candid and solemn warning, and shows that the Lord saw the narrow way in which His followers would have to walk to gain everlasting life. A speculative man, more interested in some perplexing question than in regard to his own salvation, and, probably, desiring to procure some means of prejudicing the public mind against the Lord’s teaching, came to the Savior and said, “Lord, are there few that be saved?” The Lord gave him a more extended answer than he desired. He said:
“Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. When once the Master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are. Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets. But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity.” Luke 13:24-27.
The Lord warned the people to be on their guard; to be careful and not be deceived. You can not determine which is the right way by the multitude walking in a way, for many are walking in the broad road, leading to ruin. An important reason for being cautious that no mistake be made in finding the right way, is that each person is to make but one trip. If you were to travel the road many times after missing the way once, you might avoid the mistake next time. But we pass over the way but once, and if we miss it, the mistake can never be corrected. All should make sure work of it, and be certain not to miss the way.
In the midst, then, of all the confusion of these times, the different ways held up to the people, as leading to heaven, is there any possible course that a human being can pursue that is infallibly safe? The purpose of this discourse is to give an affirmative answer to this question–to show that there is a course to pursue that is infallibly safe. The labor of this discourse will not be to refute those opposed to the positions maintained, but to show an honest and humble person what course to pursue in the midst of all the confusion of the times to be infallibly safe. In order to this end, a few of the most serious difficulties existing will be handled and disposed of in such a way as to show the safe course.
What, then, is the first difficulty to be encountered? It is the difficulty between the infidel and the Christian. A man says: “I have read Hume, Voltaire, Volney, Gibbon, Paine, etc., and you admit that some of these were, at least, men of learning, extended knowledge in antiquity, with vast libraries and time for reading; and they maintain stoutly, and most determinedly, that the Bible is the work of man, and nothing else; that they have no confidence in it. On the other hand, I have read Paley, Watson, Faber, Nelson, Barnes, etc., men of learning, vast knowledge, antiquity, immense libraries, with any amount of time for research, and they say that the Bible contains a revelation from God, and that the man who does not believe it will be condemned. Now, if these great and learned men, on each side, can not decide the matter, settle the question, and put it beyond dispute, how am I ever to decide the matter? If any means were at command by which this difficulty could be made to appear more difficult, such means should be employed, as the intention is to meet the difficulty itself, and not to demolish a man of straw.”
Now, do not forget the purpose had in view–to show what course to pursue to be infallibly safe. To what danger is the man exposed who believes the Bible with his whole heart, and honestly practices it, in any conceivable event? To say the least, the man who believes the Bible, and practices its teaching, is as good as the unbeliever. He is certainly as happy. Beyond all dispute, he does as much for his race as the unbeliever. So far as this world is concerned, he is certainly infallibly safe in any possible or conceivable event. Nor does any man doubt that he is infallibly safe so far as the world to come is concerned.
Conceive the idea, if you please, that, in the final winding up of human affairs, it were possible for every thing to turn out as the skeptic has argued; the Bible to be entirely of man–as Robert Owen argued, all religion founded in ignorance; to what danger is the man who honestly believed and obeyed the Bible exposed? Conceive the possibility, if you please, for every thing to turn out finally as skeptics have argued, and the Christian to have honestly believed the Bible with his whole heart and practiced it faithfully; to have preached it, written it, published it, and advocated it with all the power in him, through his entire life, and to have opposed infidelity, fought against and done every thing in his power to put it down, to what danger will he stand exposed, living or dying, in this world or that which is to come? No danger of any sort.
No man living can show that he has lost any thing that can in any way contribute to greatness, goodness, or happiness in this life, and the skeptic himself will not claim that he has endangered himself in reference to the life to come. No man of any sort, no matter where he stands, nor what he holds, maintains that any great danger can befall a man on account of his believing and practicing the Bible; that he is, on this account, in any sense, not safe for this world and that which is to come, even if all the skeptic claims could, by any conceivable event, prove true. If, in the end, he shall find that all he believed concerning God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, angels, and men–in one word, all he believed about the Bible–to be true, he will be an eternal gainer; he will have gained all things. But if you conceive the possibility of his being entirely mistaken, and the skeptic right in every particular, he is then as safe as any skeptic on earth, living and dying, in time and eternity. You may confidently defy any skeptic to show that he is not infallibly safe in any event.
But, now, turn round and look at the other side of the question. Let the skeptic prove mistaken, and look to the consequences of his mistake. He finds himself, in the end, standing in opposition to his merciful Creator, who has, in kindness and compassion, put forth His hand to save him; opposed his gracious Redeemer, who died for him, and to the Bible, intended to guide him to happiness and eternal glory. He believed not the God who created him, and the Lord who gave Himself for him.
The sentence is, “He who believes not shall be condemned.” “He who believes not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” He knows that his skepticism can not possibly make him any better in this life, any more happy; that it can not do the world any possible good; that it has nothing in it to elevate, ennoble, and adorn humanity; that it can not possibly bring any thing great and good to a single soul of the human race; that it can not civilize, educate, or enlighten mankind; in one word, that its whole tendency is to pull down morals, education, and enlightenment in general; and if all its claims could, by any conceivable event, prove true, every believer in the Bible would be as safe in all respects as he for time and eternity!
Skepticism is an awful experiment. It is simply taking the risk of losing every thing, without the possibility of gaining any thing for this world or the world to come.
It is like this: A father tells his son that he has ten thousand dollars to set him out in business; to select a business and he will give him the money. The son goes out, looks around, and comes home delighted; he has found a grand speculation, and calls for the money. The father calls for an explanation of the speculation. The young man sets it forth with much eloquence and fluency. The father listens to him with deep interest, and, when he is through, calls his attention to a certain point in the speculation, and inquires what the result would be should he be mistaken at said point.
The young man’s countenance falls. He admits that he had not thought of that; that a mistake there would involve the loss of the whole ten thousand dollars. In a few minutes the father calls his attention to many points, at any one of which a single mistake would involve the loss of all his money. His father then turns to the other side and inquires for the result, in case there shall be no mistake, and finds that the best that can possibly be the result, in any event, will be to come out even with the amount with which he started in. “What!” says the father, “a speculation in which there are many chances to lose every thing and no chance to gain any thing! No, sir; you can not have the money.” This is the speculation of skeptics. They not only have many chances to lose every thing without any chance to gain any thing, but are certain to lose all, and have no chance to gain any thing in any possible or even conceivable event.
Well may skeptics say, “It is a leap in the dark.” Shall a man of intelligence make such an experiment, take such a risk, when he can be infallibly safe? It is infallibly safe to believe the Bible with the whole heart and practice its teaching. This no man denies. This is indisputable. It would be exceedingly strange if that which is infallibly safe were not infallibly correct.
Why is it that such a large proportion of skeptics, when near the close of their lives, or are in the immediate expectation of death, renounce and repudiate their skepticism? Why does their foundation fail them at the very time when they need support more than at any former period? Why is it that, at the gate of death, so many of them renounce what had been upon their lips for years? Why is it that the most impudent scoffers, bold and ridiculing unbelievers, in such large proportions, when they approach the change of worlds, repudiate, frequently with their last words, the unbelief that had dwelt upon their lips for years?
Why does the meekest believer in the kingdom of God press his faith to his heart the more closely as he approaches death? Why is it that not a man who claimed to believe the Bible, while in life and health, ever denied it when he approached death? The answer is, that the divine testimony is sufficient for all confidence, worthy of all acceptation; and the human soul, at the hour of dissolution, when it needs support, leans on that which is infallibly safe, as also infallibly correct.
It matters not, then, whether you can remove all the difficulties skeptics can produce, answer all their questions, or understand all their subtleties or not; they can point the honest believer to no danger to which he is exposed, no serious consequences that can result from his faith in any conceivable event. To believe the Bible, then, and practice its teaching is infallibly safe for this world and the world to come.
Does some man reply that this is no refutation of skepticism? It does not propose to be, but shows you what course to pursue to be infallibly safe, whether you can refute skepticism or not, or even whether you can understand it. It has nothing in it good for you in any conceivable event, whether true or false, and it is useless to trouble your mind about it.
“Well,” says a man, “I supposed you could dispose of the difficulty so far as skepticism is concerned; but I have a difficulty beyond that. My difficulty is among the preachers. For instance, one man says he can prove, clear as holy writ, that all mankind will be finally made holy and happy; quotes Scripture; talks of Latin, Greek, Hebrew; of lexicons, concordances, and exegesis. Another man argues that ‘the wicked shall be turned into hell with all the nations that forget God.’ I find that there are men of learning and talent on both sides; men of reading and books; and if they can not settle the question, and show who is right, I do not see how I am ever to settle it.”
There is not much difficulty in that case. If the man was here who says he can prove so clearly that all will be saved, it would be well to ask him a few questions, such as the following: Do you not admit that all mankind ought to believe the Bible and honestly obey its teaching? He would reply, Certainly I do. Is not the man who believes and obeys the teaching of the Bible as happy as any one in this life? He will answer, Certainly he is the happiest man in this world. Very well; will he not be happy in the world to come? Undoubtedly he will, he will readily reply, for all will be saved in the world to come. Then, being yourself the judge, all who believe the Bible, and obey its teaching, are infallibly safe for this world and that world to come. He will reply, Certainly they are.
But what if a man does not happen to believe the Bible and obey its teachings in this life? He is not safe, and no argument can make him safe. He stands on doubtful ground, while he might stand on safe ground. He takes a risk, while he might have a certainty. He admits that all who believe and honestly obey the Bible are safe–infallibly safe. This nobody denies. All men can, then, believe the Bible and obey its teaching, and thus be infallibly safe. Conceive the idea, if you can, that it could possibly turn out that all men will be saved, the man who believes the Bible and obeys its teaching will be saved. Those who believe the Bible and obey it are infallibly safe in any conceivable event.
“But,” says a man, “one preacher says ‘God unchangeably foreordains whatever comes to pass,’ and that the number of the ‘elect is so definite that it can neither be increased nor diminished;’ and another says, Christ died for all, and that all can come to Christ and be saved. Now, if those preachers themselves can not settle this matter, and show who is right, how can I ever decide it?” Suppose you never should decide that matter in this life, might you not still be happy for this world and that which is to come? Explaining these intricate matters, while it may be some satisfaction to the curious, will never save one human being. It would have been transcendently better for mankind if such subtleties had never been started. Men have gotten much credit from the people for starting, handling, and seeming to know much of such matters, as men of learning, depth of thought, and wonderful genius; but they have, to an alarming extent, confused the world thereby and obstructed the way of salvation. They have involved millions of our race in utter confusion.
But now, what is to be done? Is there any clear course that can be pursued to avoid all this? There certainly is; and that course is not to try to settle these intricate questions, nor even thoroughly to understand them. It is much shorter and easier than all that. It is obvious that the apostles preached the Gospel to all wherever they went. They approved those who believed and obeyed, and disapproved those who did not believe. The grounds of consideration are various. Not more than two need be mentioned now. Unbelief is a ground of condemnation: “He who believes not shall be condemned.” Disobedience is mentioned as a ground of condemnation: “The Lord will take vengeance on those who know not God, and obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Gospel is, then, the only thing to be preached. It is to be preached to all nations for the obedience of faith. It is infallibly safe to preach the Gospel to all men, for all men to believe it and obey it. In any event this is safe. If it could possibly turn out that “God did unchangeably ordain whatever comes to pass,” and that the number of “the elect is so definite that it can neither be increased nor diminished,” those who believe the Gospel with all their heart, and obey it, are certainly as safe as any body. It can not possibly make the matter any worse for them to have believed and obeyed the Gospel in any event. They are infallibly safe in their belief and obedience. Even if Calvinism should prove true, and they should turn out non-elect, their condition is by no means worsted by their belief and obedience. This is infallibly safe for all men: to make the best possible effort to know and to do the will of God. If this is not safe, there is no safety. We must live and die in uncertainty. But it is safe–infallibly safe. The strongest Calvinist admits that it is right to preach the Gospel to all. It is right for all to believe the Gospel. It is right for all to obey the Gospel. There is nobody, who believes that the Bible came from God, that does not admit that it is right to believe and obey its teaching. This is infallibly right, as all admit. That which is infallibly right is, beyond all doubt, infallibly safe.
Another man says: “I have a difficulty beyond all you have mentioned, that I know not how to settle. It is this: One preacher maintains that baptism is essential to salvation; another, equally learned, denies it. If learned preachers, on each side of this question, can not settle it, and thus end the controversy, how am I to decide who is right?” That may appear puzzling to a man at first thought, but a little reflection will open a clear path to any man who is simply looking for a safe course to pursue. There is much in shaping questions. The teacher who desires to keep the public mind clear, states all his positions and questions with a view to that end. The man who desires to mystify, confuse, and perplex the public mind, frames his questions and takes his position with a view to that end. Now, why should any one discuss the question whether baptism is essential to salvation? Why discuss the question whether any thing the Lord has commanded is essential? All such questions have their foundation in disloyalty to the divine government. There is a much easier method of investigation than this, and more satisfactory. There is no need of starting the question whether baptism is essential to salvation.
Do you inquire for the simpler and easier way of arriving at something satisfactory and safe? Then start with the inquiry, Is baptism a commandment of God? All parties of any note respond, Certainly it is a commandment. About this there is no dispute of importance. It being admitted that baptism is a commandment of God, the next question is simply this: Is it right to obey the commandment of God? Here, again, there is but one answer. All admit that it is right. Is there any man of any note that does not admit that? So far he is safe. But what if he is not baptized? He, then, does not obey this commandment, and is not thus far safe. But there is no necessity for this. If all agree, as all of any consequence do, that baptism is a commandment of God, it is infallibly right to be baptized; and, if infallibly right, beyond all doubt infallibly safe. This is all a conscientious man wants. He only wants to know what is right and safe, and this is right and infallibly safe.
“But many good people have died without being baptized, and must I believe that they will not be saved, simply because they were not baptized?” says one. No, sir; that is taking unnecessary trouble on yourself. No one says you must believe that. Belief is not in what will not be. Belief is not negative, but affirmative. Belief is not that something will not be, but that something is, or will be. In certain cases you may lack the evidence that persons will be saved. Where you have not the evidence to believe, you do not believe. It is not the same not to have the evidence to prove that a person will be saved, as to have the evidence to prove that one will be lost. It is not the same not to believe a person will be saved, and believe one will be lost. In the one case you tell what you believe; in the other, you tell what you do not believe. But the matter in hand is not to settle the question of being saved or lost, so as to say with certainty precisely who or how many will be saved or lost. The matter is to determine what is right, and how to do it. The commandment is baptism, and it is right to obey it. Those who are baptized do right. Those who do right are safe.
But since so much is said about baptism being essential, it may be well to inquire how essential the popular churches in this country make it? The Episcopalian Church makes it so essential, that you can not get into it without what it calls baptism. If the salvation of the Lord is in that church, no one can get that salvation without what the church calls baptism; for, without that, no one can get into the church at all. The same is true of the Presbyterian Church. No one can get into it at all without what it calls baptism. Essential or not, they will not receive a man without it. There is no Presbyterian salvation without baptism. The same is true of the Methodist Church. There is no “full membership,” as the Methodist friends phrase it, without what the church calls baptism. The same is true of the Baptist Church. There is no salvation for any body in the Baptist Church without baptism, for there is no admittance without it–no membership. If the salvation of the Lord is in the Baptist Church, no person can obtain it without baptism. Whatever salvation the Baptist Church has for the human race, or blessings of any sort, baptism is essential to all there is in it. No man can obtain present or future salvation, or any blessing from the Lord in the Baptist Church, without baptism. Baptism is essential to Baptist communion, and to every thing else in the Baptist Church.
How essential, then, is baptism in the kingdom of God! It is so essential that you can not get into the kingdom without it. “Except a man be born of water, and of the Spirit, he can not enter into the kingdom of God,” says the great Head of the Church. The kingdom of God, here, is the Church. “He who believes, and is immersed, shall be saved,” says the Lord. “Repent, and be immersed, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” “Go, therefore, and disciple all nations, immersing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatever I have commanded you.”
“We are all baptized into one body.” Such is a sample of the expressions used in Scripture, sometimes connecting baptism with remission of sins; in one instance with induction “into the name,” one instance with induction “into one body,” one “into the kingdom of God,” and there is also an instance where we read of baptizing into Christ, or induction “into Christ.” These expressions all, in amount, are the same. “Into the name,” “into the kingdom,” “into Christ,” “into one body,” and “for the remission of sins,” in substance, all amount to the same. If a man is in the name, he is in Christ, in the body, has the remission of sins, is in the Church, in the kingdom. So, if a man is in the kingdom, he is in the body, in Christ, in the name and is pardoned.
There is not an intimation of any man being in the Church, in the time of the apostles, without baptism. Where is the ground, then, for disputing about baptism being essential? If it is the initiatory rite of the new institution, none was in the first Church without it, and none is admitted into any church now, of any note, without what the Church calls baptism, where is the ground for the dispute about its being essential? There is no ground for this skeptical dispute. All admit that it is a commandment of God, and that it is right to obey the commandment. Then, let all do what they admit to be right, and they will be safe so far as baptism is concerned.
“I have another difficulty about baptism,” says a man. “One preacher says nothing but immersion is baptism; another says sprinkling or pouring will do as well–that he would as soon have sprinkling as any thing. I find that there are strong, talented, and learned men on both sides of this question, and if the preachers can not settle it and decide which is right, how am I to determine what to do?” There need be but little dispute about that.
Who denies that immersion is valid as the initiatory rite? The whole Romish Church admits not only the validity of immersion, but that it was the original practice. The Greek Church has practiced immersion from the beginning. The Episcopalian Church admits that immersion was the original practice. The Methodist Church has endorsed immersion in its creed, its standard works, and its occasional practice, from the commencement of its existence. The great historians, John L. Mosheim, Neander, and Wall, admit the validity of immersion, and that it was the original practice. There is not a better authenticated fact in history than that immersion was the invariable practice for the first two centuries, and, from the commencement of sprinkling or pouring in the third century the invariable practice for the first thirteen hundred years among all Christians, except clinics, or persons supposed to be too weak to bear immersion; but, in these cases, they were never permitted to hold any office in the Church, because their baptism was not considered regular.
Luther, Calvin, Wesley, and more than three hundred others, whose names appear in the quotations from the learned authorities on this subject, of the most distinguished religious teachers that have appeared in the past three centuries; reformers, critics, commentators, historians, and translators, in one form or other, have committed to writing, and left the testimony, that immersion was the original practice and valid. You will inquire, then, why so many of them sprinkled? They did it, not on the ground that there was any authority in the Bible for sprinkling or pouring, but on the ground that a change in the form would not vitiate the ordinance if they retained the substance. They admitted the change from the original practice–immersion to sprinkling or pouring–to accommodate the ordinance to supposed cases that might occur in cold countries, or where water would be difficult to obtain, and cases of weakness where they could not bear immersion, arguing only the law of expediency for it, but claiming no divine authority for the change.
This has been the ground all the time taken by all who practiced sprinkling or pouring at all, till within the past fifty or seventy-five years. More recently a class of men have arisen, less enlightened and far less scrupulous, who talk about proving sprinkling or pouring by Scripture, and talk of different modes of baptism. A few religious adventurers are now found who care nothing for the authority of history, critics, commentators, lexicographers, translators–and, probably, many of them know as little as they care about these authorities–who deny immersion outright as having any authority in the Bible or anywhere, and utterly refuse to immerse at all. But these are no guide to any body, nor are they to be reached by any weight of authority or argument. They are what they are, because they are, and intend to be. These irresponsible men are the only exception to the universal proposition, that immersion has been received as valid by all Christians; that it has never been in doubt or dispute. Up to this time there has not been a debate on the simple question, Is immersion baptism? On this question the friends of immersion are ready and willing to affirm all the time. But no man of learning and reputation is willing to deny this in discussion.
The validity of immersion remains unquestioned by any thing deserving the name of authority, and is sanctioned by the weight of all the historians, critics, commentators, lexicographers, translators. No matter what you may think of sprinkling or pouring, there is no question about immersion. It has never been in dispute nor doubt. It remains unquestioned and unquestionable, so far as men of learning and reputation are concerned. Those who receive immersion are satisfied, living and dying. Their minds are at rest about the ordinance. They never hear any preaching that unsettles their minds. Their conscience is at rest so far as baptism is concerned. They have no doubt about it, living or dying.
This is not the case with those who have received sprinkling or pouring for baptism. Their conscience is not at rest. Many of them live in continual doubt and perplexity about their baptism. They are continually hearing preaching, or reading books or tracts, such as unsettle their minds and fill them with doubts and confusion. Their preacher visits them, prays with them, talks with them, brings them tracts and books to read, and preaches on baptism. In this way he occasionally pacifies them for the time being, but again they hear some one quoting the admissions of the learned authorities, that immersion was the invariable practice of the original Church; and that “buried in baptism”–Col. 2:12–and “buried by baptism”–Rom. 6:4–and immersion comes into the mind in spite of all efforts to keep it out. The mind is again unsettled more than ever. The minds of many of this class are unsettled in death, and they go thus unsettled and in doubts into the presence of God.
What, then, is the safe course to pursue? Undoubtedly, to practice that which never was in doubt; that which never was in dispute among great, good, and pious men. “Go,” according to the Scriptures, “to a certain water,” where there is “much water,” go “down into the water,” be “buried in baptism,” come “up out of the water,” and the controversy is ended so far as you are concerned. Touching this institution, your soul is at rest. This is infallibly safe. No matter what they can prove about sprinkling or pouring, your baptism stands unquestioned and your conscience is at rest. It may be illustrated in this way:
You owe a man fifty dollars, and show him a fifty-dollar bill on some private bank, admitting that many to whom you have showed it say it is counterfeit; but you add that you have shown it to others, who say it is good, and they would as soon have it as any. You show him another bill, making similar admissions, at the same time asserting that you would as soon have either as a ten-dollar greenback, and lay this last-named along-side of the others, proposing to the man to take his choice. Do you suppose you would find a man in fifty miles round green enough to take either of the doubtful bills when one about which there is no doubt is offered? No, sir; in matters of this kind you take nothing doubtful when you can get that which never was in doubt.
What would you give for a farm with a doubtful title? No matter if three-fourths of the attorneys in your acquaintance would declare the title good, and only one-fourth declare it doubtful, you would not have it. Use the same good sense in your acts of obedience to God. Do nothing that is doubtful as an act of obedience to the Lord, when you can do that which was never doubtful. If you are aiming to please God, be certain and do that which all of any note admit to be valid, and leave the doubtful. This is infallibly safe. Be immersed on a confession of your faith, into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and you will have no more trouble about baptism.
“But there is a difficulty about the operation of the Spirit. The preachers do not agree on this subject; and, if the preachers can not settle this question, how am I ever to decide who is right?” says some one.
Could you not be a Christian and be saved if you never do settle that question, or if you never can determine who is right? The operation of the Spirit, whatever it may be and however it may be, is something which you are not to perform yourself Whatever men may say about it, there is one thing about which there is no dispute, and that is, whatever influence God may please to exercise is from Himself and not from man, and he will exercise it, and that, too, whether men understand how He does it or not. No matter whether men understand how the Lord raises the water into the atmosphere, and causes the rain to descend or not. The Lord sends the rain. No theorizing about it, on the part of men, hinders or accelerates the rain. In the same way, no theorizing of men hinders or accelerates the influence of the Spirit. What men must do, they, of course, must know how to do it. That which the Lord does himself, he knows how to do it, and will do it, in his own way, whether men theorize correctly about it or not.
Preaching theories about the influence of the Spirit, or the operation of the Spirit, may sound religious to those who do not understand the matter, but there is nothing in it to save a single human being. The thing for man to do is to listen to the word of the Lord, believe it with the whole heart, and do what the Lord commands. This is the best man can do. It is all that he can do. If he believes all the Lord has said, and makes every effort in his power to do all the Lord requires, the Lord will do every thing right on his part. The matter for man to do is to exercise faith in God that He will do His part, in all things, faithfully, whether man can understand how He will do it or not. All should come to God in full assurance of faith, all confidence that he is able and willing to do all things well–to do all for man that he needs–to save his soul. The Lord will do his part whether man understands how he will do it or not. It is faith men need–confidence in God that he is able and willing to do for man more than he asks or thinks, whether he understand how the Lord will do it or not. It is not theories about the influence of the Spirit that man needs, but faith and obedience to the commandments of God. There is no threat against any man because he does not understand any theory about the influence of the Spirit, but there are terrible threats against the disobedient and unbelieving.
“Some preachers say that justification is by faith only, and others say it is not by faith only. I know not how to decide,” says one. What if you never do decide? You know that it is commanded to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Then, it is clearly right to believe. So far, there is no difficulty. You know that God has commanded all men everywhere to repent. Then, it is right to repent. So far, the way is clear. Baptism is commanded: “Then Peter commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.” Then, it is right to be baptized. So far, the way is clear. It is always safe to do what you know to be right. You know it is right to believe with all your heart. You know it is right to repent. You know it is right to be baptized. Do what you know to be right, and you are safe so far as these matters are concerned. Then, if it should turn out that justification is “by faith only,” you are safe, for you have the faith. There will be no disappointment, only that you were justified a little sooner than you thought you were. You will certainly not regret that you obeyed the commands to repent and be baptized. But if you should stop at faith, and find that justification is not “by faith only,” you would find yourself still not justified. It is, then, infallibly safe to believe, repent, and be immersed. So far, there is no difficulty where the desire is simply to do right–to be safe.
“But there are so many creeds, all claiming to be right, that I should not know which to take. They were all made by learned men, and if they can not agree on the kind of a creed, how am I to decide which is right?” says one. It is a matter of great moment and of much relief that, aside from all these conflicting, clashing, and erring creeds, there is one book that all parties concede is right. They all agree that the Bible is right–that it came from God. They all further agree that it contains the law of God–that the law of the Lord is perfect. The only wonder is, that man ever attempted to make any other creed or law for the Church. Such an undertaking could not have commenced without two wicked assumptions:
1. That the law of God, as set forth in the Bible, is not sufficient–is a failure.
2. That the insufficiency or failure can be remedied by weak, erring, and uninspired men.
No man of intelligence will affirm, in plain terms, that the Bible is not sufficient for the government of the saints; or that man–uninspired man–can make a creed that will serve a better purpose than the Bible. Still such affirmations are implied in every attempt made by uninspired men to make a creed. If you admit, as all are bound to do, that the law of God is in the Bible; that nothing may be added to it, nothing taken from it, and that no part of it may be changed, there is not an excuse in the world for making another law. The law of God in the Bible is the law, the divine law, the supreme law, in the kingdom of God; and it is a treasonable movement to attempt to get up another constitution, law, name, body, or officers, apart from the constitution, law, name, body, and officers as found in the Bible.
But the matter now in hand is to find a safe course to pursue. Can this be done? All admit the Bible is right. All admit that the law of God in the Bible is right. All admit that those who follow the Bible honestly and faithfully, in faith and practice, will be saved. All admit that wherever any creed differs from the Bible it is wrong. Then it is infallibly safe to take the Bible and follow it. When men undertake to prove that a human creed is a good one, they argue that it is like the Bible. If a creed like the Bible is a good one, why will not the Bible itself do? If the Bible will not serve the purpose–is insufficient and a failure–a creed like it would be equally insufficient. When men make a creed to do what the Bible would not do, they should certainly make it different from the Bible, or it would serve no better purpose than the Bible itself.
Why does not some man, who thinks we can not govern the Church with the law of God, come out and show us wherein the law of God is deficient; where the creed should be made different from the law of God, so as to serve the purpose better? No man does this; but every advocate of a human creed maintains that he took his creed from the Bible; that he can prove it by the Bible, or that it is like the Bible. There are not many positions that are conceivable touching this matter. It might be a source of some satisfaction to look at the positions possible:
1. Did the Lord design the Bible, or his law set forth in it, as the creed–the rule of faith and practice? He certainly did; for the first Christians and the Church had no creed or rule of faith and practice but the instructions found in the sacred writings, the law of God, as now found in the Bible. It is simply a matter of fact, that the first Christians and Church had no guide but the teaching of Christ and the apostles. Then, the apostolic requirement to “preach the word”–to commit the things learned of the apostles to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also; to preach no other Gospel, nor even pervert the Gospel; to add nothing, take away nothing; to continue in the things learned; to hold fast the form of sound words–sound speech, that can not be condemned, shows that the Lord intended us to go to Him for the creed, the rule of faith and practice; to adhere to his teaching, as set forth by Him and His apostles, and not to be turned away after the commandments of men and the rudiments of the world.
The grand statement of Paul, that “all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished to all good works,” shows the use that the Lord intended should be made of the Scriptures. They were intended to perfect the man of God, and thoroughly furnish him for every good work. This leaves no room for any human creed, and no excuse for any man to hanker after one. It shows, also, the Lord’s design–that He designed the inspired Scriptures to be the rule of faith and practice.
2. Seeing, now, the Lord’s design, to make the inspired Scriptures the rule of faith and practice, has he failed in that design? And shall some man, or set of men, presume to improve on the Lord’s design, and accomplish that wherein the Lord failed? This would be presumption added to presumption.
3. But it is a fact, that no human creed existed for about three hundred years after the birth of Christ. During the most successful and triumphant period of the existence of the Church, she had no human creed, but was governed wholly by the law of God. This ought to satisfy all good men.
4. But what is gained when you make a creed? Nothing, only that a foundation is laid for a party. No man nor set of men can make a creed that will give general satisfaction to any considerable number even of the best men in the world. Vast numbers of them will never endorse it, and will never unite with those who hold the creed. Even those who endorse it, every few years will get into contentions about it, and split asunder. Take the Presbyterians as an example. They have a creed with as much human skill, wisdom, and labor bestowed on it as any creed in the world. What has resulted from it?
A. It has barred them from all other denominations.
B. It is not believed nor received by any people in the world except themselves.
C. They have had eight or ten divisions over it.
D. The Old and New School are now divided about the interpretation of the creed.
E. After a struggle of some two hundred years, all the sorts of Presbyterians together in the United States amount to not more than five hundred thousand, or about one in seventy of our entire population! The effort to return to apostolic ground and teaching, in all things, in the great reformatory movement of the nineteenth century, has risen up and outnumbered them in fifty years, in defiance of the combined opposition of all the parties in the land. The same has been illustrated by the Methodist and Baptist creeds, only that they have been more prolific in both numbers and divisions.
5. There is not a human creed in the world that has any popularity in a single party on the face of the earth, except the one that has adopted it. All other religious parties utterly disregard it. The idea of any extended success on a human creed is utterly hopeless. There is nothing clearer than that the parties built on these human platforms are decomposing and crumbling away to nothing. The man bowed down under a human creed, at this late date, with the history of the past three hundred years before him, must be a dull scholar truly.
6. The Bible has the advantage in every respect. All admit that it is from God, that it is right in all respects; that it is perfect in all its parts; that it contains all things that pertain to life and godliness; that it contains the whole will of God to man; that it contains the law of God; that it contains the teaching of Christ and the apostles; the word of God, able to save the soul, to build up the saints, and give them an inheritance among the sanctified; thoroughly furnish them for every good work; that it contains the rule by which all shall be judged in the last day. It has the weight of divine authority in it. It has the power of God in it. It is backed up by the Almighty Father of heaven and earth; by His oath, by the throne, and Him who sits on the throne; by the crown and all the armies of the upper world.
The men who stand by it defend it, and commit their all to it; are girded as with the everlasting hills, and continually realize that the everlasting arms are underneath. They depend not on their own wisdom, but on the wisdom of God, as set forth in the holy teaching of Scripture; the power of God and the wisdom of God, as played in the preaching of the cross of Christ. They depend on no teaching of their own, views, nor theories, but of their great Master, the Messiah; His teaching, and that of His apostles; His cause and His work. They have identified themselves with Him and His cause, and have lost sight of themselves in beholding the glories of their Lord and Redeemer. They have taken their stand behind their great Leader, the Lord, the King, who sits on the throne in heaven, and intend to keep Him in front of them. They have planted themselves squarely on the foundation which the Lord laid, on which the Church was at the first planted, and on the law of the Lord, and intend to stand by their Lord, His cause, all He said and did; to defend and maintain that and nothing else. This, they know, is infallibly safe for this world and that which is to come.
They intend to stand by every man, side by side, in full fellowship, who is identified with their Lord and His cause, and push the Bible, the law of the Lord, the teaching of Christ and His apostles, through the world. The Gospel of Christ is their theme. Those for the Gospel of Christ, His teaching, and that of the apostles, and nothing else, will find themselves all united in one cause and one work, under their one great Leader and Commander. The Lord of hosts will be with them.
On the other hand, those on the side of human creeds, if they have not seen enough to satisfy them, will soon see enough. They have no cohesion. They are splitting on every pretext. They are crumbling and falling to pieces on every hand. They are convincing sensible men that they have nothing tangible nor intelligible. They are groping their way in the dark. They can not stand before Bible men. For they admit that the Bible is right; that it is from God; that it is perfect; that their creed is not right, not from God, not perfect. With these admissions, they can not stand before the Bible and Bible men. They can not maintain their plea for a creed which they admit is not right, not from God, not perfect, in competition with the book which all admit is from God, right, perfect. They can not withstand the men for Christ, His cause, His Gospel, His teaching, and that of His apostles, and nothing else. There is no standing before the Lord and His cause, nor before His word–His Gospel.
The men who intend to oppose the friends of Jesus, should be informed what they will have to withstand, so as to enable them to make up the issue and prepare themselves for the contest. It is now in tangible and intelligible form, so that they can understand it. They need not commence isolating scraps from writings among Christians of the present day, or of any day, as exponents of the teaching of Bible men. Many of these scraps might be shown to be all right, if taken in their contextual connection; but whether this can be done in every instance or not, is a matter of no importance. The slips of the pens of good men, the chance erroneous positions taken by them, or mistakes made, are not the teaching, or a fair representation of their effort. No man is bound to defend these. They are not the ground of Bible men.
The Gospel, the teaching of the Lord and His apostles, the ground on which the first Christians stood, is the ground, the Gospel, and teaching maintained, advocated, and defended. As one man, the friends of the Lord Jesus stand here, and, by the grace of God, intend to stand here till the last. If it is not safe, then all the Christians for the first three hundred years were not safe, for they all stood here. They believed the Gospel, and became obedient to the faith. They, then, followed the apostles’ teaching faithfully, and had the promise of a crown of life. This is infallibly safe for this world and the world to come.
May all the friends of the Lord prove themselves worthy of this ground, defend and maintain it with integrity till the Lord shall come, and thus be able to say, “I have kept the faith.” In the Lord, their strength and Redeemer, is their everlasting trust. To his name be the honor and power everlasting.
This sermon was published by the author in 1869 in a book entitled, “The Gospel Preacher.” For a complete online edition of that publication click here.
It was later published in Z.T. Sweeney’s series, “New Testament Christianity.” Our posting was taken from the Z.T. Sweeney publication.
Published by Z. T. Sweeney
New Testament Christianity, Vol. III. (1930)
Find the online version of Vol. III here