F. W. Grant.
The immediate occasion of the following pages has been a recent attack upon "the theology of the so-called Plymouth Brethren" by a professor of didactic theology in Boston University, in which what many beside the present writer regard as some of the most precious doctrines of the Word of God are stigmatized as antinomianism. This will account for whatever controversial character may he found in them; a thing scarcely to be regretted if it serve, as it does undoubtedly serve, to bring out and emphasize the fundamental questions, as well as to exhibit the strength of the arguments on either side. Truth will only suffer if there should be found in this a spirit of acrimony or a contention for the mastery rather than the truth: both which, alas are apt to be engendered by controversy. This, if it should be found in me, I shall not beg my reader to excuse. Holiness is not a theme to be discussed in a manner so essentially unholy.
I do not think Dr. Steele will deny my competence to speak in behalf of the doctrines he incriminates. If he has studied them, as he tells us, for ten years (p. 100), I have done so for twenty-five; and while he has done this from an outside (if not a hostile) stand-point, I have known them from inside, estimating them by internal experience (a very different thing), and bringing them daily to the test of the Word of God. I speak of this the rather, because I do not propose to bring forward in general the testimony of men, but to appeal to the Word itself throughout, while yet I shall have again and again to disclaim Dr. Steele's representation of the views he has attacked, of which I must say he has still very partial knowledge. If he dispute my own, I am ready to meet him on that ground also. In the meanwhile, I am sure that those who are acquainted with the writings of those referred to will confirm my presentation of them.
It is Dr. Steele who should have proved that the views he attacks are really the views of representative writers among the "so-called Plymouth Brethren." He has certainly not done so with any thing like the care that might be expected in so grave a question. With the exception of a quotation or two from Mackintosh's "Notes," and one from the "Eight Lectures on Prophecy," he has given little or nothing with which one can properly credit "Mr. Darby and his school" (p. 86). Some of his quotations are without clue to the writer; others are from the large number of (supposed) "sympathizers" (p. 30), as to whom nothing is given to show how far their sympathy extends, or that the doctrine presented in them is really that of those they "sympathize" with. Dr. Steele speaks of Mr. Darby as "their leading mind" and the head of the school.
He has studied their writings for ten years, knows of course that Mr. Darby's own fill thirty-seven volumes of near six hundred pages each, and it would be reasonable to expect that he would quote largely from these. So far as I know, there is not one quotation. Dr. Steele's "Darbyism" somehow leaves out Darby! And this is all the more strange, because he brings forward six times what that "venerable Christian scholar" said to the writer (pp.18, 60, 131, 158, 181), which of course we have no means of verifying; but not one line or sentence from his written books!
But Mr. McDonald, in the preface, has quoted Mr. Darby: "Any thing which looks like church prosperity is, with Plymouth Brethren, a delusion. 'The year-books of Christianity,' says Mr. Darby, 'are the year-books of hell.'" (p. 15.)
Yet even this is given without a clue to whence it is derived. I have taken some trouble to find it, but as yet without success. Mr. McDonald may be surprised, however, to learn that it is from a Romish historian (I think, Baronius), and not from Mr. Darby at all; although it is used by him somewhere to show the state of the professing church. This is not an extreme specimen of that kind of mis-representation of which the book before us has many instances. Intentional misrepresentations I do not mean, but the effect is the same for readers of such things. Take one example from Dr. Steele himself as proof: — "At my request, Mr. Darby gave an exposition of Matt. 25:31-46. What pitiable makeshifts to explain away this most solemn and awful passage in holy Scripture. 'It was not a final and universal judgment, but a review of the Gentile nations. Individuals are not here judged, but nations other than the Jews.'" (p. 185.)
This is all put within quotation-marks, as if it were the very words used on this occasion. In fact, it is only Dr. Steele's impression of what was meant, and a very false one. Take the written statement of the Synopsis (vol. 3. p. 164), as evidence: "It is the judgement of the living, so far at least as regards the nations — a judgment as final as that of the dead." And if any one will turn to his tract upon eternal punishment, he will find this very passage argued upon in proof of it. "Eternal life and eternal or everlasting punishment answer to one another, and mean the same in either case. The punishment of the wicked, then, is said to be of equal duration with the life of the blessed." This settles the question conclusively as to whether in Mr. Darby's thought individuals or nations (as such) are before us in this text. Inasmuch as it is with him a final judgment to eternal life or eternal punishment, there can be no question that it is of individuals. "All the nations" means simply "all the Gentiles," as he affirms.
It is a strange excess of prejudice that can cause gross misconceptions such as these. And then with thirty-seven volumes that lie open to criticism, to prefer to give judgment upon private conversations! Assuredly no honest mind will accept Dr. Steele's account in defiance of published statements such as these. I am sorry to say that it is not only in such ways that Dr. Steele shows the spirit that can animate one who "is not ashamed to confess with tongue and type and telegraph and telephone" that he believes in "a genuine CHRISTIAN PERFECTION." (p. 25.) Not only are sentiments imputed to the objects of his attack which they refuse and abhor, but immoral practices also. They are stigmatized as Antinomians, who believe that the sins of Christians are not real sins (p. 89), that the efficacy of faith is concentrated into a single act of assent to a past fact (p. 50), who are indifferent to inward and outward holiness (p. 101), concealing the offensive features of their doctrine with Jesuitical cunning (p.130), and so on. Perhaps the title of Dr. Steele's book should have prepared us for such charges. It would have served his purpose better to have proved them; especially as somehow these people "insist on deadness to the world, and entire devotion to God"! (p. 55.)
But we are sanctified only by the truth: if, then, the doctrines in question are not truth, we must concede they do not sanctify. Our business at this time is wholly with the doctrines.
Antinomianism : where is it?
Mr. Fletcher's definition of antinomianism is a curious illustration of the value attaching to names of this kind in such controversies. Luther invented the term to designate the views of Agricola, who denied the use of the law to produce conviction and repentance, as well as sanctification. Mr. Fletcher's statement would condemn Luther himself, and it was intended to include the chiefs of the Calvinistic evangelical party of his day. Dr. Hodge says ("Outlines of Theology," p. 404), "Antinomianism] has often been ignorantly or maliciously charged upon Calvinism as a necessary inference by Arminians," — such as Mr. Fletcher and Dr. Steele; and he retorts the charge upon them thus: "It is evident that all systems of perfectionism, which teach (as the Pelagian and Oberlin theories,) that men's ability to obey is the measure of their responsibility, or (as the papal and Arminian theories,) that God for Christ's sake has graciously reduced His demand from absolute moral perfection to faith and evangelical obedience, are essentially Antinomian." (p. 526.)
Thus it seems the Plymouth Brethren have companions under the same imputation with themselves. As I have said, Mr. Fletcher's definition was admittedly not made for them, but for such men as Hervey, Toplady, Romaine, Whitefield, and others, — men with whom it would be an honour to be condemned, but whom Dr. Steele seems anxious to associate with those who "decry that evangelical legality (!) which all true Christians are in love with — a cleaving to Christ by that kind of faith which works righteousness"! And, reader, you are, according to the definition, an Antinomian, unless you expect to be justified before God by your own personal obedience, and not by the obedience of Christ, in the great day of final account. (pp. 31, 32.) That is the test of antinomianism for Mr. Fletcher. — Dr. Steele, in summing it up, however, adds new features, which are some of them indeed part of the creed of hyper-Calvinism, while some of them probably no one would own in the present day, and none but a fanatic could ever hold. Let Dr. S. produce, if he can, from the thirty-seven volumes of the "leader" of the school, or from the numerous writings of C. H. M., or Wm. Kelly, — wide enough scope, if this be the Plymouth doctrine, — the least intimation that "my faith is simply a waking up to the fact that I have always been saved or that "a believer is not bound to mourn for sin, because it was pardoned before it was committed, and pardoned sin is no sin;" or that "by God's laying our iniquities upon Christ, He became as completely sinful as I;" or that "no sin can do a believer any ultimate harm;" or that "the conditions of the new covenant, repentance, faith, and obedience, are not on our side, but on Christ's side, who repented, believed, and obeyed in such a way as to relieve us from these unpleasant acts." (pp. 35, 36.) After ten years of patient inquiry, an accuser cannot be guiltless in putting out such things in a book professedly against the Plymouth Brethren without guarding his readers against attributing them to them as they would do necessarily otherwise. It is true Dr. S. has not directly charged them with them; but this is the creed of an Antinomian, and they are Antinomians. The argument is too simple and necessary not to be made, and he must know it would be.
We now have a historical sketch of antinomianism, which is of no special importance for our purpose. It only needs to remind the reader again that the doctrines attributed to one and another in it are not to be supposed transferable to that class of people in whom we are told it has been in these days "revived." They are responsible for their own views, but for nothing more. And the association with Dr. Crisp and others only can avail to stir up feeling and create prejudice before the real cause is taken up. Dr. Hodge states as to Crisp, that he denied the inferences put upon his doctrine ("Outlines of Theology," p. 404), and certainly it is hard to believe that he actually wrote or said, "Sins are but scarecrows and bugbears to frighten ignorant children, but men of understanding see they are counterfeit things' (p. 141). If he did say this, it is altogether needless to bring him up from merited oblivion.
It is strange, however, that whereas Agricola, Tobias Crisp, and such like come conspicuously to the front, as do "John Wesley, the apostle of experimental godliness and of Christian perfection," and "the seraphic John Fletcher," we are not once told with whom these contended in their day, or with what.
On the whole, we are well pleased with Wesley's definition of antinomianism. According to its root idea ("against law,") the only scriptural definition must be "the doctrine which makes void the law through faith." (p. 38.) We have, then, to find the real Antinomian to take the New Testament doctrine of the law, and inquire who makes void the law? who refuses to take it for whatever purpose God has given it? who perverts it to any other use? who takes off the edge of its requirement? Searching along these lines, we can scarcely fail to find the Antinomian in the only proper sense.
What, then, is the office of the law according to Scripture?
It is (1), to give the "knowledge of sin" (Rom. 3:20), not only by putting it into account, — reckoning it up as the items of a bill (Rom. 5:13), and making it exceeding sinful, as breach of plain command (7:13), but also by detecting it in the heart in the shape of lust (7:7) and giving it power by the very prohibition (7:8, 9).
(2) Although ready to justify the doer of it (Rom. 2:3), yet requiring complete obedience (James 2, Gal. 3:10), and finding none (Gal. 3:10), it only condemns and curses and never justifies — (Rom. 3:19; 4:15; Gal. 2:16, 21; 3:11; 5:4).
(3) Its principle is not faith (Gal. 3:12), and it cannot be added to or dis-annul the promise of grace, which 430 years before had declared the way of blessing for all the earth (vv. 17, 18); being given for a certain time and purpose till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made (v. 19).
(4) For those under it in the day of judgment, there can be therefore no escape (Rom. 2:12; 4:11).
(5) As to holiness, sin shall not have dominion over you, because you are not under it, but under grace (Rom. 6:4); it is the strength of sin (1 Cor. 15:56), even to those delighting in it (Rom. 7:22); in order to live to God and serve Him, we are delivered from and dead to it by the cross (7:7, 6; Gal. 2: is), and dead, that we might belong to Christ, and so bring forth fruit to God (Rom. 7:4): we cannot have the law and Christ, as a woman cannot have two husbands at the same time (vv. 1-3.). The "righteousness of the law" is thus, and only thus, fulfilled (8:4).
This is the Scripture-doctrine of the law, and to the whole of it the so-called Plymouth Brethren fully, and with a free heart, subscribe. It will be difficult, therefore, to prove them Antinomians. As for their "rule of life," it is most certainly true that they do not believe it to be the law, but to result from their place in Christ, a new creation. This is what the epistle to the Galatians explicitly teaches: "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature (ktisis, creation). And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy" (chap. 6:15, 16). Thus the exhortation is, "As ye have received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk ye in Him" (Col. 2:6). Or, as the apostle John says, "He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked" (1 John 2:6). This manifestly includes the "righteousness" — all the practical, moral excellence — "of the law," as the greater includes the less. Or, if Dr. Steele will say it does not, he will no doubt let us know it. But, in fact, Dr. Steele evidently does not speak the whole truth about the objects of his attacks. He only permits you to see partially, and then through coloured glasses. I am not aware that once throughout his book he speaks of the "rule" which the Plymouth Brethren acknowledge. Yet their writings abound with exhortations as to it, and he has studied them for ten years! Why this utter silence, when he can permit himself to say of the "consistent Antinomian," and they are such for him, "He thinks that the Son of God magnified the law that we might vilify it; that He made it honourable that we might make it contemptible; that He came to fulfill it that we might be discharged from fulfilling it, according to our capacity" (p. 34). On his own part, it is only simple truth to say, nothing that can vilify is omitted; nothing that could brighten the picture is allowed to be seen.
But the antinomianism is here, that we "affirm that our evangelical or new-covenant righteousness is in Christ and not in ourselves," and that we are not under the law — modified to make it practicable (here is Dr. Steele's own real antinomianism) as a rule of judgment. For the opposite view, he quotes Baxter (Aphor. Prop. 14-17,) — "Though Christ performed the conditions of the law (of Paradisaical innocence), and made satisfaction for our non-performance, YET WE OURSELVES MUST PERFORM THE CONDITIONS OF THE GOSPEL. These (last) two propositions seem to me so clear, that I wonder that any able divines should deny them. Methinks they should be articles of our creed, and a point of children's catechisms. To affirm that our evangelical or new-covenant righteousness is in Christ and not in ourselves, or performed by Christ and not by ourselves, is such a monstrous piece of Antinomian doctrine as no man who knows the nature and difference of the covenants can possibly entertain." (pp. 92, 93.)
So we must give up "His name whereby He shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS." (Jer. 23:6.) We must give up that Christ "of God is made unto us wisdom, and RIGHTEOUSNESS, and sanctification, and redemption." (1 Cor. 1:20.) To affirm that our righteousness is in Christ and not in ourselves is but a monstrous piece of antinomianism! Do Wesleyan Methodists indeed hold this? Let them speak out if they do not, and disown this attempt to take from the Lord of glory one of His "many crowns"! For our part, the name of Richard Baxter affixed to this bold heresy will be of no avail to make it truth, nor weigh the lightest feather-weight against the NAME we are thus called to renounce. Be it so, we are Antinomians for it, then Antinomians we will be, and one of our proudest titles it will be forever.
Do we believe, then, that we have not to "perform the conditions of the gospel"? If this means that Christ repents and believes for us so that we need not, away with the utter absurdity, and saddle it where it belongs! If Dr. Steele can find a sentence or hint to this effect in any of the writers with whom he has been ten years familiar, then we give up the man to the scorn and condemnation of all sane, moral men. But neither repentance, nor faith, nor both together, are the righteousness in which a believer stands before God. Faith is but that in which we rest in Another, — the hand with which we lay hold upon Him. Repentance is the acceptance of the divine sentence upon ourselves which leaves us hopeless except in that other. Thus they are both included in true conversion, and never found separate. As conversion is a spiritual turning round, so if the back is turned on self, the face is turned to Christ, and vice versa. These are, if you will, conditions of the gospel, although sovereign grace alone brings about in any the fulfillment of them, but their fulfillment leaves us just as much Christ as righteousness***, — the only righteousness in which we are accepted.
Dr. Steele's comment upon Baxter contains the full endorsement of these errors, with others of his own: — "Thus speaks this pious, practical, well-balanced dissenter against the fatal errors arising from confounding the Adamic law with the law of Christ, the first demanding of a perfect man a faultless life, the other requiring an imperfect man, inheriting damaged intellectual and moral powers, to render perfect, that is, pure love to God his heavenly Father through Christ his adorable Saviour, with the assistance of regenerating and sanctifying grace." (p. 93.)
There are here about as many mistakes as lines, and they are serious ones. Where does he find this Adamic law demanding of a perfect man a faultless life? From Genesis to Revelation there is not even a hint of it. "Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." This, as I understand it, was the law to Adam. Was there a lex non scripta***, different from this? Where have you it, Dr. Steele? But there is small danger of confounding this with the law of Christ, methinks. Theology perhaps may affirm what Dr. S. maintains; but theology has fallen on evil days: we have learned nullius Jurare in verba magistri***, save of our "One Master," Jesus Christ. Now for this "law of Christ" cited, once more to the statute book, Dr. Steele! We know that the apostle says to the Galatians who "desired to be under the law," but were biting and devouring one another, "Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." (Gal. 6:2). And we concede fully that the will of Christ is law to the Christian. We believe fully that we are "inlawed," as it has been literally expressed, "to Christ." (1 Cor. 9:21.)
But all this fails to show that peculiar character of law which our reviewer insists on, that immoral law (as it would surely be) that lets off easily a man of damaged moral powers, and allows him to proclaim aloud "with tongue and type and telegraph and telephone" his "genuine CHRISTIAN PERFECTION." Oh, sir, if this be all, you should, methinks, take your way more humbly into heaven; and if this is the righteousness in which you hope to stand accepted before God, allow us to thank Him that for you and us He has provided a better, — even in Him whom you, alas! refuse as that.
This is fairly and fully the very antinomianism with which Dr. Hodge, not without cause we see, charges the school of perfectionists to which our author belongs. And notice, that while he contrasts his strict Adamic ***with his relaxed law, which we will not call the law of Christ, the only law which God gave to man, what is called such in Old Testament and New, contrasted as such with the gospel and its grace, that law on which the apostle in Christian times insists as of unbending holy requirement, — this law escapes somewhere into the darkness, evaporates, and is lost.
With Dr. Steele, thus, there is no right standard of holiness; the Christian is let off easier than the Jew while there is no true "salvation of God" at all. God puts man in a salvable state, that is all; his final salvation is of himself, with God's assistance. As for peace, upon this system none ought to have it, and, indeed, Dr. S. does not say any one ought. "The removal of the wholesome safeguard found in the fear of being morally shipwrecked and cast away, must tend to looseness of living in not a few cases. It is possible that a few might suffer no detriment from embracing such a theory, but they would be exceptions." (p. 96.)
And this is for people in whom no "sin in the flesh" remains, — in whom spirit and soul and body are entirely sanctified. So that along the easy road of the relaxed law the perfect Christian requires to be driven with a scourge of this kind! And these are they — for the absurdity cannot be left incomplete in this strange and incongruous mixture of contradictory things, — in whom perfect love casteth out fear, because fear hath torment!
In fine***, we have neither peace, nor salvation, nor law, nor grace, and certainly not holiness. Such is the really Antinomian law-gospel of Dr. Steele.
Holiness Rooted in a True Atonement.
The questions that are now to occupy us I prefer to take in their real sequence rather than as presented by Dr. Steele. The doctrine of atonement is fundamental to that of holiness, as he evidently admits. We begin, then, with atonement. And here we have a right to complain that, instead of taking the "Plymouth view," as given by a "Plymouth" writer, he takes a representative from the large group of supposed "sympathizers," for all whose statements we are held responsible. How would Dr. S. treat us if we were to take our views of Wesleyan Methodism, not from Wesley or Fletcher or any acknowledged authorities, but, let us say, from Oberlin Presbyterianism instead? Yet this last is in very evident "sympathy" with it. Why should our author, after ten years' study, prefer to take his own views from Dr. Bishop rather than from Mr. Darby, the head of the school? It is plain what would suggest itself to most; but we would rather leave the question for himself to answer. Why will he not accept our own statements of doctrines with which he charges us? Surely it is not a righteous course.
Moreover, what Dr. S. charges upon us as "Plymouth" doctrine is no more that than it is of all the many who hold a true satisfaction for sin, — a true substitutionary work in the cross of Christ. As elsewhere also, he often charges us with what we do not hold at all. He quite expects to have his word taken for proof, if there be no other. Yet he is not consistent. On p. 40 he says, — "Theologians who state the doctrine of the atonement with proper safeguards, are careful to limit its vicarious efficacy to the passive obedience of the Son of God, His sufferings and death. His active obedience constitutes no part of His substitutional work. The germ of antinomianism is found in the inclusion of the latter in the atonement!" Now it is notorious that the "Plymouth" doctrine is completely cleared by this, and no germ of antinomianism can be found in it! For the people in question, it is well known, hold precisely that the Lord's sufferings and death were vicarious, but not His life, and they do not include the latter in atonement!
But they are not allowed to escape so easily. On p. 121, the charge is quite a different one. Here he says, — "The basis of the doctrine of imputed holiness is that theory of the atonement which represents that Christ Jesus, the sinless Son of God, in whom He was well pleased, was literally identified with sin so as to be 'wholly chargeable therewith, that we might be identified and wholly charged with righteousness.' This quotation is from Dr. Geo. S. Bishop, who proceeds to say, 'The atonement which we preach is one of absolute exchange, that Christ took our place literally — that God regarded and treated Christ as the sinner, and that He regards and treats the believing sinner as Christ. From the moment we believe, God looks upon us as if we were Christ. . . . We then are saved, straight through eternity, by what the Son of God has done in our place. . . . Other considerations have nothing to do with it. It matters nothing what we have been, what we are, or what we shall be. From the moment we believe on Christ, we are forever, in God's sight, AS Christ. Of course, it is involved in this that men are saved, not by preparing first, — that is, by repenting and praying, and reading the Bible, and then trusting Christ; nor the converse of this — by trusting Christ first, and then preparing something — repentance, reformation, good works, — which God will accept; but that sinners are saved, irrespective of what they are — how they feel — what they have done — what they hope to do — by trusting on Christ only; that the instant Christ is seen and rested on, the soul's eternity, by God's free promise, and regardless of all character and works, is fixed.' (pp. 121, 122.)
Now, as I have said, Dr. Steele has not the least right to demand that I should defend all this, any more than he, as a representative of Wesleyan Methodism, could be forced to defend all that Dr. Mahan or Mr. Finney might say for Christian perfection." Nor do I at all maintain that Dr. Bishop has guarded his words from abuse, as they might easily he guarded. Dr. Steele, on the other hand, has, after his usual manner, told us nothing as to whence he has derived this passage, or we might have found the necessary guarding in close proximity to what he has quoted. Again, I say, I am not concerned to defend it. Dr. Bishop would very likely refuse for himself with perfect justice to be held as representing the views of Plymouth Brethren in the matter. For the sake of truth, however, and to meet fairly all issues, I am not going to shelter myself from Dr. Steele's attack thus, but to state freely for myself how much I hold of this, and why I hold it. I prefer, however, to let Dr. S. state his objections, as he does at length, and to examine them one by one, as he states them. We shall thus have all before us whereon to found a judgment.
"1. Repentance is not necessary to saving faith." This I have, in fact, already answered. There is no true faith without repentance, no true repentance apart from faith. God has, in His perfect wisdom, provided for this. It would indeed be impardonable to represent God as if He were careless about repentance; and I am sure that Dr. Bishop would earnestly disclaim the thought. But nevertheless, what atones for sin, expiates it, purges sin from the soul, is not at all repentance, — nay, not even faith, but the precious blood of Christ. And the essence of repentance itself is that real rejection of the filthy rags of our own righteousness, no less than of our sins. Thus the eye of the convicted sinner is to be fixed, not upon his own repentance, as if that were any thing, but wholly and altogether upon Christ. And this is what is absolutely necessary to make repentance itself real and availing. Dr. S. will thus see that I contend fully for the necessity of repentance, and I can only trust that here, as often, his own heart is sounder than his creed.
Fix a sinner's eye upon his repentance, as if that were to be a make-weight in the scale of his acceptance, you will find, if he be real, that he will never he free from the torturing doubt, "Have I sufficiently repented ?" On the other hand, let him flee from all the vain refuges of his own performances to Christ as Saviour, here is the best evidence of a satisfactory repentance. Christ, not repentance, is the Saviour, not a half not a whole one. What does not wash away my sin can never save; and a blessed thing it is to be enabled to turn a poor convicted one away from self in every shape — repentance, faith, or any thing else, to the blood of Jesus.
"It is not thy tears of repentance, or prayers,
But the blood that atones for the soul
On Him, then, who shed it, thou mayest at once
Thy weight of iniquities roll.''
Does not Dr. S. believe this? In spite of his words, I must believe it of him. Otherwise what becomes of that initial justification which the "seraphic Fletcher" preached, but to which he was not indeed, any more than our author, always true, — " by faith without works"? Good works, as the fruit of saving faith, and proof of its genuineness, have no place in this scheme of salvation, and are distinctly repudiated; and well they may be, since by the first act of faith, as a bare intellectual, impenitent apprehension that God punished His Son for our past, present, and future sins, 'the soul's eternal salvation, regardless of character and conduct, is FIXED.' 'What we shall be matters nothing, since we have a through ticket for heaven. St. James is an impertinence in this scheme of salvation, and his epistle may well be called 'straw'!"
Here is, indeed, the most serious objection to Mr. Bishop's language, while I am sure he would refuse the interpretation which I must say is here quite naturally put upon it. But the truth is, that He who fixes the salvation of the soul, fixes in this way no less its moral condition also: "We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." (Eph. 2.) Blessed it is to know that a poor lost sinner coming to a living Saviour finds a salvation secured for him which is internal as well as external, from the power of sin as well as from guilt and from wrath. Will Dr. Steele say this is unworthy of Him? or that it is impossible to Him? And if it be possible, is it not most worthy? would he not be delighted to find it true? Dr. S. can put his hand upon no writings of "Plymouth Brethren," that I am aware of, that consider the epistle of James as a "strawy" epistle, or depreciate good works as the fruit and test of saving faith. They are surely both, but that does not for a moment make the works to be saving. Nor does it imply that we are to rest upon the works. "Lord, when saw we Thee a hungered and fed Thee?" is a distinct repudiation of good works in this respect on the part of the righteous, exceedingly significant for Dr. Steele, since we know he accepts the "sheep" here as Christians in the day of judgment. Peace is through the work and word of Christ, and will never be found in any other way; while, if "sin shall not have dominion over you, because ye are not under the law, but under grace," we are right to press this as fully against laxity on the one side as on legality on the other.
Again, we do not account that saving faith is "a bare, intellectual, impenitent (!) apprehension" at all. And I boldly challenge Dr. S. to prove we do, not by fragmentary quotations from nameless writers, but by honest proof from accepted leaders among us. Yet again and again he asserts something similar to this. We all believe that a fruitless faith is no faith, and the best proof that Dr. S. has NOT found faith to be defined as a mere intellectual assent in our writings is that he has not produced it. The writings are easily to be found. They are in honest black and white, and know not how to prevaricate or deal falsely in the matter. The charge on Dr. Steele's part is a rash and unworthy charge, and nothing else.
We go on to his third objection: —
3. That God regarded and treated Christ as a sinner, in other words, that He actually punished His Son because He was guilty of our sins." This language, again, I repudiate with all my heart. God did not "regard" His Son as a sinner. He regarded and treated Him as the Substitute for sinners. Nor was Christ "guilty of our sins," or punished because "guilty" of them. "Guilt" — at least in the sense in which we ordinarily use the word, — is not transferable, but penalty may be. "The chastisement of our sins was upon Him," says the prophet; "God hath laid upon Him the iniquity of us all." We alone were the guilty ones; the punishment was of our sins, but it was punishment. What avails it to quote Martin Luther against us, or an ex-president of the Y.M.C.A.? Dr. Steele's title-page says, "The Theology of the Plymouth Brethren Examined and Refuted." Luther, we had thought, at least, dated some centuries before. Some Calvinistic text-books use very much the language Dr. S. condemns. With what fairness could this be called the theology of Plymouth Brethren if even some of these may have used it? And this their accuser never undertakes to prove!
But his own theology is much more erroneous: — "We indignantly repudiate the monstrous idea that Jesus on the cross was a sinner overwhelmed with the bolts of the of Father's personal wrath. What we do affirm is that His suffering and death were in no sense a punishment, but a substitute for punishment, answering the same end, the conservation of God's moral government and the vindication of His holy character while He pardons penitent believers." (p. 124.)
This is what is called the "governmental theory" of atonement. It is indeed a theory, nothing else; and a theory against which Scripture is decisive. The one text which Dr. Steele cites and seeks to explain — 2 Cor. 5:21: "He was made sin for us who knew no sin," — is not only not the one argument, but not even the most conclusive one.
Yet, even here, if he would look a little below the surface, he might see that, granting the word "sin" to stand in this place for "sin-offering" (which the analogy of the Hebrew may be held to justify), there must yet be a reason for so significant a fact as that the same word stands for both these very different things. Why should this be, but because that which is made sin becomes thus the sin-offering.
And if we look at the type in the Old Testament, what means this, that in the highest grade of it we see the beast so offered carried without the camp and burnt upon the ground without an altar? It is the thing, as the apostle in Heb. 13 remarks, that makes the blood of the victim able to penetrate into the sanctuary, — that is, really to sanctify the offerer. "Without the camp" was the place outside of all that was owned of God; and without an altar, shows that that which sanctifieth the gift is absent; the victim is in the awful place of sin upon which a pure God cannot look. This, at the cross, the darkness shows, — the withdrawal of light, and "God is light;" while the Lord's voice out of it interprets for us, — "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me ?"
Beside, however the word in 2 Cor. 5:21 may by itself be capable of the rendering "a sin-offering," yet if we look but a little further we shall see clearly why the Revisers did not so put it here. It is that "sin" is contrasted with "righteousness," as well as connected with the same word, "sin," following: "He was made sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made God's righteousness in Him."Thus Dr. Steele has by no means justified the proposed rendering, nor if he had, has he got rid of the idea that is plainly to be found in the passage before us. "Common sense exegesis" is here at fault, as it often is, for what it means often is but a superficial, off-hand view, without the need of true spirituality or careful study of the Word; and such, I grieve to say, is often the character of Dr. Steele's interpretations. But apart from this passage, what does Dr. Steele think of the passage in the prophecy already adduced, — "The chastisement of our peace was upon Him"? or of this: "The Lord hath laid upon Him the iniquity of us all"? Or of this from Gal. 3:10: "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us"? Or this from Peter (1 Peter 2:24): "Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree"? Was not the curse on sin the punishment of sin? And this special curse, — so unaccountable in itself — that "he that hangeth upon a tree is accursed of God ": how can we view it, save as typically designed to mark out this one "death of the cross," which for those who realized the glory of the Sufferer would seem to be impossible to bear this character?
But Dr. Steele openly rejects the teaching of Scripture. His fourth objection is, —
4. We have insuperable philosophical and ethical difficulties in the way of receiving the statement that the guilt of the race was transferred to Christ. Character is personal, and cannot be transferred. Sin is not an entity, a substance which can be separated from the sinner and transferred to another and be made an attribute of his character by such a transfer. Sin is the act or state of a sinner, as thought is the act or state of a thinker. Neither can have an essential existence separate from their personal subject, any more than any attribute can exist separate from its substance." (p. 126.)
Much of this is mere misconception. The guilt of the race was not transferred to Christ. Could it have been, all men would be necessarily saved. Nor was guilt transferred, but penalty, as I have before said. Sins were laid upon Him, borne by Him, — transferred to Him therefore: so the Word (and we have quoted it) directly says. But they were laid upon, borne by Him, as a burden, — i.e., in their penalty. Sin was not made an "attribute of His character;" who ever supposed it but Dr. Steele?
Thus his fifth objection we may for the most part pass over as already answered, and we shall leave Dr. Bishop to defend himself as to what is replied to him. Our author contends, however, that "while it is true that Jesus is our substitute, He is our substitute truly and strictly only in suffering, not in punishment. Sin cannot be punished and pardoned also. This would be a moral contradiction. . . . Sin was not punished on the cross. Calvary was the scene of wondrous mercy and love, not of wrath and penalty." (pp. 128, 129.) Yet Scripture says, none the less, "The chastisement of our peace was upon Him." Delitzsch says of the word emphasized, "We have rendered 'musar' 'punishment,' and there was no other word in the language for this idea. . . . David, when he prayed that God might not punish him in His anger and hot displeasure (Ps. 6:2), could not find a more suitable expression for punishment, regarded as the execution of judgment." (Isaiah, vol. 2, p. 318.) Think of any one saying of the dread cross of our Redeemer, "Calvary was not the scene of wrath and penalty"!
But "sin cannot be punished and pardoned also: this would be a moral contradiction." Not in the least! If the person who sinned were punished, this would be: but he to whom the due of sin is remitted is pardoned, though the due of his sin has been paid. For He who paid is He who remits.
If it were otherwise, and the due were not paid, there might be pardon, there could not be justification. Justification is only possible in one of two ways: either by the proving of innocence, which on our part is impossible, or by the proof that the punishment of sin has been borne. This is our case: we are "justified through Christ's blood." (Rom. 5:9.) Justification and pardon are in the same way opposed to one another, as are punishment and pardon: contrasted, indeed, in thought, but not contradictory in fact, in God's wonderful plan of salvation. All this, on Dr. Steele's part, is ignorance of plain Scripture. His closing sentence we shall have to look at further on. I only say that the "imputed holiness" with which he there charges us, we repudiate as much as he does.
One last objection remains
6. A limited atonement is the inevitable outcome of the doctrine that sin was punished on the cross. Whose sin?
If it be answered, That of the whole human race, then universalism emerges, for God cannot in justice punish sin twice. It must be, then, that the sins of the elect only were punished. Hence, at the bottom, this system rests on the tenet of a particular, in distinction from a universal, atonement." (p. 130.)
And the writer goes on to inveigh against the "Jesuitical cunning" of those he is attacking in not confessing their Calvinistic tendencies, closing with a report of a conversation with Mr. Darby, in which he answers a question upon election, in the frankest and most outspoken way possible!
But the truth is, the Plymouth Brethren in general do not believe in "limited atonement" in the sense in which this is usually understood. They accept Christ's being a propitiation for the whole world, in the ordinary acceptation of "world;" and in ten years of study our author should have discovered this. Nay, in another place he does give us some inkling of the truth. "They make a distinction," he says, "between the death of Christ for all, and the blood of Christ shed only for those who are through faith sprinkled and cleansed thereby. By this means God saves believers, and presents an 'aspect of mercy' toward all mankind." (p. 59.)
Dr. S. will allow me to put this in my own way, without meaning to pledge all my brethren to acceptance of it. I do not believe in what he calls "the old and exploded commercial theory — so much suffering by Christ equals so much suffering by the sinners saved by Christ." (p. 59.) I believe that Christ paid the penalty of sin, not an "equivalent" penalty merely, as even those who believe in a true "satisfaction" are mostly content to say. No, it was the PENALTY ITSELF upon men — death and judgment, the full wrath of God. True, He could not be holden of it. The Holy One of God could not remain under that which for the glory of God He had taken. He was "heard for His piety," "raised from the dead by the glory of the Father." But though necessarily and in righteousness delivered from it, He went into it, bore sin in its dread penalty, vindicated God's holiness as against it by submitting to its real due, glorified Him fully so.
The value of this obedience unto death is infinite. It is not a quantum of suffering — so much for so much sin; but God glorifies in a true Substitute drinking actually the sinner's cup; not Himself one, but a substitute.
For whom then a substitute? For the world as such? No: that would be universalism. For the elect as such, a definite number of people marked by this election? Again, no: that would be a strictly limited atonement, which would give no basis for a universal offer of salvation, and would not allow of Christ a "propitiation for the sins of the whole world."
These are the two alternatives of Dr. Steele: is there no other possible? There is, and it completely answers all demands. It is here: "Upon the seed of Abraham He taketh hold. Wherefore it behoved Him in all things to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful high-priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people." (Heb. 2:16, ii.)***
It is for His people, for the seed of Abraham, for believers, the atonement is made, — a satisfaction available for all the world upon condition of faith; actually such for all believers. It is an atonement unlimited in value and availability for all men; limited only by the unbelief that slights or rejects it. This must be to Arminians at least a very intelligible thought. It answers, as I have said, all demands, and removes all difficulties.
Thus only when one believes does he cross from the place of condemnation into that of acceptance with God, and find sin really removed. "My faith" is NOT "a waking up to the fact that I have always been saved" (p. 35), as Dr. S. represents it for me, but a faith by means of which I am actually justified; although that which is the ground of justification is the blood of Christ simply and solely. And it was not God's laying the sins of believers upon Him that did or could remove mine UNTIL I was a believer. I grant this is opposed to the "commercial view" of atonement — so much suffering for so much sin, which Dr. Steele would insist on my defending. This would require just a definite number of foreseen and exactly appreciated sins to be laid on Christ, — mine, and no other's — in order to ***my salvation; and then it might be justly argued, I was justified before I was born. Scripture refuses this, and I refuse it. Yet as a believer I can say that my sins were really laid upon Him, and that He put them away from me by the sacrifice of Himself.
Upon a subject so central and fundamental as atonement I desire to be very plain, and I trust Dr. S. will find these statements free from the Jesuitical cunning which he so freely imputes. Is this the love that thinketh no evil? Is it not unworthy of himself?
Justification and Acceptance in Christ.
We are now to look at the question of justification, and to see what is the righteousness in which the believer stands before God from the moment of his being such. Here again it will be found how far from accurate are Dr. Steele's representations of the views he has been so long (vainly, it would seem) studying. Thus he says, — "The idea of justification is not that it is a present act taking place in the mind of God in favour of the penitent believer, but it is a past, completed, wholesale transaction on Calvary ages ago." (p. 60.)
This, understood in the way I have already stated it, would not be so bad; but the trouble is that Dr. S. applies it evidently in such a way as to make it clash with present justification by faith, as if we did not hold the latter. I confess the connection between the two things has not always been clearly put or conceived by writers among us. But the fact is, that, instead of the two things being contradictory, the one naturally and necessarily proceeds from the other.
We may put it as a syllogism, thus: — The blood shed on Calvary was the justification of every true believer. A man becomes today a true believer; He is now, therefore (and not before), justified through faith.
And this shows, as plainly as possible, the different sense in which faith justifies and the blood of Christ justifies. My justification by faith is only my entrance by faith into the sphere in which justification by blood applies to me. It is not as if my faith were a meritorious somewhat added to the work of atonement. The work remains in its own peerless transcendency, while faith is the way I come into the provision made for me, — made for all the world as well as for me. Election does not touch the fullness of the provision. It secures that (spite of man's rejection of it naturally), ***there shall be fruit of Christ's work.
As believers, then, we are justified by the blood of Christ, — by what was done more than eighteen centuries ago on Calvary. "Himself bare our sins in His own body on the tree." Did He not? Was not the bearing of them accomplished then?
Moreover, as "He was delivered for our offences," so "He was raised for our justification. (Rom. 4:25.) His resurrection is the public act of God on our behalf: the testimony that the burden is gone, the sin removed, the debt cancelled. Justification for believers is not an act merely "in the mind of God," but a sentence openly given on our behalf. "If Christ be not risen, — ye are yet in your sins." (1 Cor. 15:17.)
Faith, then, has the work of Christ and the Word of God to rest upon; and this it needs to be faith. Frames and feelings apart from this are absolutely untrustworthy. The work of the Spirit is to take of the things that are Christ's and show them to us. (John 16:14). Apart from this, what we may regard as an "impression from the Holy Ghost" (p. 105) may be only a delusion. It is not, as Dr. Steele puts it, that feelings are to be scouted, but to be tested and certified. It is certain that Scripture says that we are justified by faith, never by feelings. "To him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." (Rom. 4:5.) This is the Scripture*** method of assurance. Joy and peace come in believing (Rom. 15:13), and it remains for Dr. S. to prove that they come rightly in any other way. From Scripture he has not attempted to do so, and I believe he will hardly attempt it. It will be time enough, at any rate, then to listen.
This justification by the blood of a substitute, how far does it go? Is it from sins past, present, and to come? (p. 34.) Is it, as some would define it, simply the pardon of past sins?
The latter is founded upon a wrong view of Rom. 3:25, 26; where the "I say" of the translators, not found in the original, confounds two distinct and contrasted things; "the passing over of the sins done aforetime" (R.V.) — of believers up to the cross; — and, now that God's righteousness is fully shown forth in it, the justification of him that believeth in Jesus.
On the other hand, it is freely admitted that Scripture never speaks of a justification from future sins; and that for very obvious reasons. It does not speak as if there were to be future sins for a believer, — certainly not as if they were tolerated or of little account. It would be the language of license, not of divine holiness, and I refuse and condemn it altogether.
But yet Scripture does not leave the future doubtful, or the standing of the believer uncertain for a moment. First, justification by the blood of One standing in our place before God, — our Substitute, — means His death counted to be our death. We have thus died with Him: and though we live, it is in Him we live. The force of these expressions we shall have shortly to examine, but it will be seen at once how they carry out and complete the thought of justification by death meaning Christ's death ***our death.
If, then, in God's sight in the death of Christ we died, let us consider that death is the limit of man's natural responsibility. In the day of judgment itself men are only judged for the "deeds done in the body." There is no such thought, save in theology sometimes, of any sins in the disembodied state, or in hell, to be accounted for. Thus, if we have died, we have passed beyond the limit of accountability as sinners: our responsibility as saints is another matter. Justification by the blood of Christ is thus complete and eternal. No wonder, then, that the apostle declares, "Much more, then, being now justified by His blood, we shall he saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall he saved through His life." (Rom. 5:9, 10.)
Here the completeness of the justification in the present settles triumphantly the question of the future, and the life of the Lord in heaven, — " Because I live, ye shall live also" (John 14:19), — is the abundant guarantee of the continuance of the reconciliation by His death. In Him we live, and this is eternal life.
Dr. Steele mixes up this question of standing with another, — that of "imputed holiness." The last, I refuse most fully and earnestly. It is nonsense, and worse; only Dr. S. must prove that Plymouth Brethren hold it. Of this at another time; but standing and acceptance are very different from it, and Dr. S. has apparently confounded them together. He says, "The phrase "in Christ'' is perpetually quoted as a proof-text to sustain the doctrine of imputed holiness, an attribute of Jesus Christ regarded by God as belonging to Christians, even when they are unholy in character and wicked in conduct. The theory is, that Jesus Christ is standing today in the presence of the Father as a specimen and representative of glorified humanity, and that faith in Him so intimately unites us with Him, that all His personal excellencies become ours in such a sense as to excuse us if we lack them"! (p. 151.)
This abominable doctrine, if it be true that Plymouth Brethren hold it, should have been proved against them by decisive quotations, and fastened as a mill-stone round their neck to sink them forever with Great Babylon itself under the reprobation of all decent persons. Dr. S. need not then have written a book of 266 pages to expose their views. Yet, strange to say, this most necessary thing he has neglected to do. Mr. McDonald has, indeed, tried to remedy the deficiency, and given us an extract, from whom, he knows best himself. (p. 19.) I simply desire him to give the name, and let us know where he belongs. Meanwhile, those who make these charges without proof expose themselves to reprobation only. No man has a right to fling such charges broadcast without fullest evidence of where they belong.
I speak of what I know when I say that imputed holiness is not a doctrine of Plymouth Brethren. Holiness is state, not standing, and Dr. S. is witness that they keep these separate. They never say that people may be "in Christ" either,*** without being new creatures, or God's children without God's image, or born of the Spirit without the fruit of the Spirit. That "there is no condemnation to those that are in Christ Jesus" they quote for what it says, not to prove any thing of this sort. And let me tell Dr. Steele, if, alas! he does not know it, that if God's eye could be turned from Christ for us, to accept or reject us for what He saw in us, not one of all of us could stand in His holy presence for a moment. Take the standard — that we walk as Christ walked, and, let him say, if at his best (not worst) he dare face the eye of God in this manner.
"In Christ" is not "used to prove an actual incorporation into His person," — at least by those intelligent as to it. Nor is "an actual incorporation into His person" an intelligent expression. We are by the Spirit baptized into His body, — not His actual glorified person, but His mystical body, as we are accustomed to say. This is union, which "in Christ" does not express, but identification. Dr. S. is therefore in a wrong contention, while it is plain the phrase means for him as little as possible. It meant much for him who said "There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus," however; it involved the whole fact of justification. But think of one who can quickly paraphrase, "But of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption," thus he is quoting Meyer: "But truly it is God's work that ye are Christians, and so partakers of the greatest divine blessings, that none of you should in any way boast himself save only in God"! That Christ is made these things to those "in Him," drops thus out of the account.
If Dr. Steele had looked a little further into Romans, he might have found that the expression here points out Christ as our spiritual head, as "in Adam" speaks of our natural one. By life and birth we come to be in Adam; by spiritual life and new birth we come to be in Christ. As in Adam we inherit corruption and condemnation only; in Christ we come into possession of a new nature and a righteous standing, — "justification of life." (Chap. 5:18.)
The expression, then, is a simple one, and full of blessing for us. Its meaning can never be decided by Scripture handled in the fragmentary way in which our author handles it. God's Word may thus mean almost any thing or nothing, according to our taste. It does not mould us, but our thoughts mould it. Dr. Steele's treatment of it is as little reverent as may be.
Take a text Dr. S. is venturous enough to quote; it may surely stand for a scriptural definition; "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." (2 Cor. 5) Here, first, any one in Christ is a new creature: by a new birth he belongs to that creation which replaces the old one. But then also "old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." Will Dr. S. say this is true of every one born again as such? In Christ, it is true of him indeed, for in Christ — identified with Him, — his standing is perfect, absolutely so. In Christ, — represented by Him, — God's holy eye itself can find nothing but perfection.
Is There Such a Thing as Being Born Again?
We are now arrived at the question of holiness, — a question which divides, however, into a number of others. Before we can consider the motives to it which the Word of God supplies, — for we are all agreed that it must be a free and voluntary disposition of heart acted on by these, — we must consider who and what the man is to whom they are addressed. What is it to be a child of God? and who is a child of God?
Dr. Steele gives us an answer from his favourite Mr. Fletcher, which, for its evaporation into nothing of blessed Christian truth, is scarcely to be exceeded by any thing we have met in the whole range of theology. It is a special invention to meet a special difficulty with the Arminian creed, which converts and reconverts any number of times that may be needed to save its free-will theory from shipwreck. What do you think, child of God, if such I am addressing, — what do you think that this precious term implies? Relationship? Any real affinity, such as, in nature, your being your father's child suggests? Well, then, you are mistaken: it is just an orientalism, a figure of speech. Had you learnt Hebrew in your youth, you would have been better instructed.
"But I thought I was born again? People are not born again to be children of the devil, are they?"
Ah, you are uninstructed! "Born again"! Why, you should remember what a mistake "honest Nicodemus" made about it. Are you carnal enough to think of any thing real in it? It is all the oriental mode of speech, dear friend: a figure, just a figure!
"They ask, 'Can a man be a child of God today and a child of the devil tomorrow?' . . . The question would be easily answered, if, setting aside the oriental mode of speech, they simply asked, 'May one who has 'ceased to do evil' and learned to do well today, cease to do well and learn to do evil tomorrow? . . . If the dying thief, the Philippian jailer, and multitudes of Jews in one day went over from the sons of folly to the sons of wisdom, where is the absurdity of saying, they could measure the same way back again in one day, and draw back in the horrid womb of sin as early as Satan drew back into rebellion," etc., etc., etc.? (p. 135.)
Yes, why not even ten times a day? It is all very easy to the imagination, if — let our author still pardon the doubt; — if new birth be only a figure of speech, and man is converted by his own will simply, or the Holy Ghost's work be just like a friend's words in the ear, and nothing more!
So it must be for Dr. Steele. He simply makes nothing of it. "Common sense exegesis" does not too narrowly scan texts, nor are God's ways so unlike human ways, it seems, for this to be any great objection!
But we have Dr. Steele's exposition, with the help of some of his favored exegetes, of the doctrine of new birth as found in the crucial passage (John 3): — "Two natures coexisting in the believer, in his best possible earthly state, is proved by John 3:6, which is amended to read thus: 'That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and remains flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.' This is quoted to prove that the single nature is untouched in the new birth, while an entirely new nature, or rather new creature, is created and associated therewith." (p. 114.)
His own exposition is found in his objections
1. That John uses the term 'flesh' in the Pauline sense, which, as Meyer says, is strange to him, while Cremer, in his 'Biblico-Theological Lexicon,' quotes this passage as an instance of John's use of sarx, 'flesh,' to signify merely that which 'mediates and brings about man's connection with nature.' He finds six shades of meaning to this important word, the last only embracing the idea of sin. He excludes from this meaning all passages in the four gospels in which the word occurs."
Bold it may seem to take up again what Cremer and Meyer have thus settled for us. No need to give their reasons, even! Yet, spite of the temerity of the undertaking, we are going to look at the passage for ourselves. Let us, however, now go on with the objections:
2. It is assumed that such writers as Weiss and Julius Muller are in error when they say that the meaning of Jesus is, 'the corporeal birth only produces the corporeal sensual part.'" (p. 115.)
Dr. S. and his commentators seem to forget one thing essential to all exposition of a text, — the context. The question raised here is, Why cannot a man enter the kingdom of God without being born again? It is no answer to say, "The corporeal birth only produces the corporeal sensual part." What, in fact, do these words mean? That the human spirit is not the product of natural generation? That has nothing to do with the matter; for then it would mean that the work of the Spirit was needed to produce the higher part, and the Lord would be talking throughout of natural birth, not of being born again.
It is plain that man as he is cannot go into the kingdom of God; he may have spirit and soul and body, as every natural man has, yet he must be born again. 'That which is born of the flesh must be, then, the whole man; and the whole natural man — spirit and soul and body — is only 'flesh.' This is not, therefore, "what mediates and brings about man's connection with nature," as Cremer says; it is the proof that he is a fallen being. Spirit and soul and body are all only characterized by their lowest part; and that is, the fallen, the sinful state: men must be born again. Let us hear the next objection.
3. There is a confounding of birth with creation out of nothing. 'For, as generation,' says Dr. Whedon, 'is a modification of substance or being, imparting to it a new principle of life, conforming it, as living being, to the likeness of the generator, so regeneration is a modification of the human spirit by the Holy Spirit, conforming the temper of the human to the holy.'"
But Scripture calls new birth a creation, Dr. Steele. "We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works." (Eph. 2: l0.) A natural birth must not be confounded with a supernatural. A supernatural birth means for man human nature raised to a higher plane, even to the likeness of the Generator, as Dr. Whedon well says; thus "that which is born of the Spirit is spirit."
This is, as Dr. Steele quite truly says, not the creation of a new man put into the believer, but the impartation of life to one before dead in trespasses and sins. I grant to him that this language about the new man is a mistake often made, but which many of the Plymouth Brethren have a good while since protested against. A new life and a new man are different thoughts. But a new life means a new nature. In this way, however, it would be plainly wrong to speak of a change taking place in the old nature. It might give place to it: how far it does so we must prove, not assert; and to say that "soul, body, and spirit" are "born again by the endowment of spiritual life" (pp. i i6,)*** is to go beyond Scripture. "If Christ is in you," says the apostle, "the body is dead because of sin." (Rom. 8:10.) This is too plain a text to admit of controversy. The question of the two natures I reserve for the present.
But this new life given of God is not merely a moral change, — a ceasing to do evil and learning to do well. It is a real new element of being in the believer, though it may be impossible to define; and no wonder, for natural life is impossible to define. By it we are actually, not putatively, the children of God, — really born of Him: "not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." (John 1:13.)
Change there is as the result of it, — real, moral, permanent. "Born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth forever" (1 Peter 1:23). "Whosoever is born of God does not practice sin, for His seed remaineth in him, and he cannot sin, because he is born of God." (1 John 3:9.) This is not stated of a special class among Christians, as it is often applied — a class who have attained a perfection which others have not, but of all that are born of God. And it announces as clearly as can be the permanence of the change which new birth produces. It is impossible for the child of God to go back into the condition from whence he has been delivered. His seed remaineth in him. The life which he has received is "eternal life."
But what is eternal life? Alas, that among Christians the question should yet need to be asked, and that the answer should be received by many with controversy, instead of joy and worship. "God hath given unto us eternal life, and this life is in His Son." "In Him was life; and the life was the light of men." (1 John 5:11; John 1.) It is the "divine nature" of which we are made partakers (2 Peter 1), which in Him displayed itself in undimmed brightness amid the moral darkness of the world, a darkness which comprehended not the light. In us, it is indeed dimmed in manifestation; yet we have it, — already have it, — have "passed out of death into life." (John 5:24, R. V) It is eternal life, because in Him it never had beginning; and having it, though dependently, "in Him," its possession constitutes us really "children of God."
Thus we see why, in the one born of God, His seed remaineth. There is no condition here as Dr. Steele would have it, nor do we "see at a glance," or see at all, in the Greek, as he declares, the conditions of continuance or perseverance, where the Lord says, "He that heareth My words, and believeth . . hath everlasting life." The Greek, if we are to be precise, simply says, "He that is hearing and believing hath." It is not, therefore, that "if these conditions are fulfilled, the new life inspired by the first act of evangelical faith becomes everlasting" (p. 132.) It is not so said, nor does this give the true meaning of everlasting life at all. "This is the commonsense view," perhaps, — the loose, careless view, as these words so often mean. The truth of eternal life is gone, or rather, never was in the author's mind. New birth, there is none. Moral suasion by the Holy Ghost upon the natural man, this is all the divine work in it.
It is plain to see how in this way it is as easy to turn one way as to turn the other way, for a saint to become a sinner as for a sinner to become a saint. Nay, it should be easier, for gravitation is only too natural. The descent to hell is easy.
And thus where these views are entertained, after every "revival" you will find a numerous host of backsliders; people who are scarce ever taught to doubt the truth of their conversion, though their goodness was like the early dew: who think they have known all there is in "religion," though for them it did as little as possible. But if they want it, it can be obtained again where they got it before; and they must be more careful that they keep it. Not so, Dr. Steele: new birth is indeed a "creation." It takes the power of Omnipotence to accomplish this wondrous work. And into God's new creation no new curse shall ever enter: there shall be no more return to night and chaos. Are not these the terms of the new covenant: "I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts; and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to Me a people; . . for I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.
Christian Security and its Moral Results.
"Salvation!" "Saved!" O blessed, peace-inspiring words to him who knows the reality of them! What do they mean? Do they leave still the doubt that after all by that from which we are saved we may still be overtaken, overcome, and perish? Then, for pity's sake, and in the interests of truth itself, let us not use the words, — let us not inspire a hope which may be so mistaken!
But Scripture, which uses the words, is not responsible for the doubt, preaches not the uncertainty. Its "hope" is not one which possibly may make ashamed; therefore there is patience in it: "If we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it." We can wait with patience just because it is sure. "He is faithful who promised." Yes, He is faithful, but we? Well, when we came, helpless and hopeless, to Him, was it not just part of our intense misery that we could not trust in ourselves? Had He not to teach us that faith's object was not ourselves, but Himself? that every particle of self-trust was only robbing Him by so much of His due? But are we now as Christians to go back to that principle from which we were delivered?
Not so! "This is the right gospel frame of obedience: so to work as if we were only to be saved by our own merits; and withal so to rest on the merits of Christ as if we had never wrought any thing." (p. 142.) Yes; but if indeed we had never wrought any thing, would we be entitled to "rest in Christ"? Ah, that would be perilously near to antinomianism, would it not? For we are to be justified at last by works altogether, are we not? How then rest in Christ as if we had done nothing?
Nay, is not fear — fear lest we should perhaps be lost — a wholesome and needed motive to work? Is it not the check that the Arminian has to deter him from sin, that he "is told that the holiest saint on earth may fall from grace and drop into hell"? And do you not say that "human nature at its best estate can never be safely released from the salutary restraint of fear"? (p. 86.) How then can we rest in Christ as if we were not doing what if we did not, we should assuredly "drop into hell"?
I see you confess it is "a difficult thing" to unite these things together. (p. 142.) And I note too that you say elsewhere, "Nor are true believers, who have received the Spirit of adoption, under the law as the impulse to service. They are not spurred on to activity by the threatened penalties of God's law. Love to the Law-giver has taken the place of the fear of the law as a motive. This is specially true of those advanced believers out of whom perfect love has cast out all servile, tormenting fear." Yet you add, "Before emerging into this experience, there is a blending of fear and love as motives to service. But the law is put into the heart of the full believer, and its fulfillment is spontaneous and free." (p. 108.)
Why do you say, "Into the heart of the full believer"? Is not that one of the promises of the new covenant? Is it not true in principle of all those, therefore, of whom God says at the same time, "And I will be their God, and they shall be My people" and again, "Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more"? Why, then, do you insert this "full" believer? Is it on the warrant of Scripture, or of experience?
But how is it, then, that "human nature at its best estate can never be safely released from the salutary restraint of fear"?
And how can you say of the greater number even of believers, they are "not spurred on by the threatened penalties of God's law"? and "they are not under the law as an impulse to service"?
Yet it seems that they are exposed to these penalties, or the possibility of them; that they are (most of them) under the fear of these, that it is a salutary thing and that they need the spur!
Truly it is a difficult thing to unite these things together.
I do not forget that you tell us that "we are freed from the law as a ground of justification. Our ground of justification is the blood of Christ shed for us." This we might rejoice in if you had not before defined this that "all mankind are, by the atonement, forever freed from the necessity of pleading that we have perfectly kept the law in order to acceptance with God." (p. 108.) And you have given us elsewhere the "evangelical form in which it was defined by His adorable Son, "Thou shalt love God with all thy heart, and thy neighbour as thyself." (p. 41.) Thus, it seems, Christ's work has put us under the milder condition of only loving God with all our heart, and our neighbour as ourselves. This you call "the evangelic form." The Lord justifies us, then, by His blood (correct me, if I should misunderstand you), and puts us under this milder law — the law of Christ, to be judged by; and you say that in the day of judgment we shall "be judged by works only" (p. 29), so that the blood of Christ shed for us will not be the ground of justification then. This is "salvation," as you say, "not by the merit of works, but by works as a condition."(p.45.)
Now if this be so, there are some serious questions, which a good many beside myself would probably like to have answered.
(1) Is it to be shown that we have obeyed this law perfectly?
(2) If so, for how long? — from the time of our justification? or how much later?
(3) If not perfectly, how far perfectly? where shall the all-important line be drawn?
(4) If the day of judgment is to decide where we are, for whom is it to decide it? Not for God; that cannot be. For ourselves? then can we be sure before it comes? or is it decided before it is decided?
Surely a thing of such solemn moment should not be left with so much haze upon it. Nor can you say that Scripture has left it in this condition. Scripture, blessed be God! is as plain as possible. It is theology only that is responsible for it all.
We know, then, how far our freedom from the law as a ground of justification goes. It certainly does not go far enough to entitle any one to rest wholly in Christ in view of eternity. Faith in Dr. Steele is, I doubt not, better than his creed, but it is the creed we are speaking of. After all, the great thing is, What says Scripture? And here we are in another atmosphere, and under clear and luminous skies. "He that heareth My words, and believeth on Him that sent Me," saith the Lord, "hath everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but is passed out of death into life." (John 5) It will not do to say, even with Alford (p. 88), "comes not into (krisis) separation, the damnatory part of the judgment." Krisis is the common word for "judgment," as every one who knows Greek knows. Dean Alford is interpreting, not translating; and even his interpretation does not avail. For "separation" in this sense would apply to the whole judgment-work, not necessarily to any damnatory part. But we are not left to argument. How are the dead saints raised? The apostle answers: "So also is the resurrection of the dead: it is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption; it is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body." (1 Cor. 15:42-44.) Now it is beyond controversy, that he is speaking here simply of the resurrection of the saints. How are they raised? I ask. In incorruption, power, and glory, are they not? And "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump, . . the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed" — the living (v. 52).
When shall this be? "Every man in his own order," adds the apostle, "Christ the first-fruits; afterward, they that are Christ's, at His coming" (v. 23).
And again: "For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain to the coming of the Lord shall not prevent (go before) them which are asleep; for the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and the trump of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord." (1 Thess. 4:15-17.) Thus "them that sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him," and "when Christ who is our life shall appear, then shall we also appear with Him in glory." (Col. 3:3.) It is plain, then, not from the interpretation of a single text, but from the plainly given character and "order" of the resurrection, that the saints, dead or living when Christ comes, are caught up in one glorious company to meet Him in the air; and when He appears for the judgment of the world, they appear with Him. Thus, before judgment can possibly take place, all is decided. Into judgment personally they do not come.
Yet we shall all give an account to God, all be manifested before the judgment-seat of Christ, and receive for the things done in the body. But it should be already plain that the separative judgment of the sheep and goats cannot have to do with us. And think of Paul, John, and others waiting to be picked out in this way from unbelievers! Is Dr. Steele really waiting for this? I do not think so. Why then a judgment to decide which does not decide?
No: all is decided here. Here men are lost or saved, and he that believeth on Christ shall not come into judgment, but is passed out of death into life. And that life is eternal life: "I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any one pluck them out of My hand." (John 10:28.)
Those who would put conditions or exceptions into such texts as these should mark that they belong to a class into which these never are put. There is many an "if" in Scripture: when professing Christians as such are addressed, they are often tested in order to prevent the fatal deceit which men may practice on themselves; but never are those singled out and pronounced upon as having eternal life, or salvation, or justification, or being born again, or children of God, or any thing analogous to these, put under conditions, as if it were doubtful how they would turn out. This is surely noteworthy, and should go far itself to establish the truth. If Scripture makes no doubt, should we? But we can say much more than this. In every way, from every side, we are thronged with assurances as to the safety of the saint.. . . . .
If justified, or reconciled, much more shall he be saved.
If he has eternal life, he shall never perish.
If born of incorruptible seed, his seed remaineth in him.
Whom He calls He justifies, and whom He justifies He glorifies.
If the apostle speaks of apostasy, better things accompany salvation.
If a man draw back, we are not of them that draw back.
Neither things present nor to come can separate from God's love in Christ.
He that loveth not his brother is in darkness even until now.
They who go out from us are proved by the fact not to have been of us.
Because the plant has no root, it withers away.
He that sinneth hath not seen Him, neither known Him.
I never knew you: depart from Me, ye that work iniquity.
What avails it to interpolate certain texts with conditions, when this is the web and woof of Scripture? What profit indeed in limiting the wonderful grace of God which pledges itself in Christ to the poor and helpless, beggared in self-assurance. "I will NEVER leave thee, nor forsake thee." Blessed, blessed grace! without it, who that knows himself could have peace a moment?
Sad would it be, then, to find that the more this grace abounds, the more man will abuse it. It is not so the apostle speaks. "Sin shall not have dominion over you, because ye are not under the law, but under grace." (Rom. 6:14.) The real knowledge of grace it is that is the spring of holiness, as the "strength of sin," on the other hand, "is the law." No doubt there are those who, secretly or openly, would make God's precious grace a cover for licentiousness. No doubt also there are many who, through lack of knowledge of deliverance, find to their sorrow the law of sin authoritative, to the blighting of their practical life and testimony for God. Yet all true Christian experience agrees with, if it is not needed to confirm, the apostle's testimony. We must not slight grace because men have little learned or abused it. We must not supplement it with legal conditions in order to make it effectual. We must hold it more simply and learn it better.
Grace cannot assimilate with legal conditions. It is their essential opposite. "If it be of grace, then it is no more work; otherwise grace is no more grace." (Rom. 11:6.) No relaxation or modification of law can make it assimilate with it. As to moral content, the law is holy, just, and good. As a principle of fruitfulness, it is a necessary, fully announced failure. The Christian is dead to and delivered from it, not that he may be justified merely, but that he may bring forth fruit to God.
Baptize it as you may, you cannot make it Christian. Relax it, you have spoilt it as law without making it gospel. Call it, without warrant, the "law of Christ," your apparent scripturalness will not hinder the necessary result of an adoption of what is not of Him. "The law is not of faith; but the man that doeth them shall live in them." (Gal. 3:12.) Now the gospel most surely requires obedience to it, and Christ's commandments admit no relaxation and lack no authority. But commandments and obedience do not constitute law in its essential principle, its absolute contrast with grace. And grace is the one power for holiness, the only thing that can deliver from the dominion of sin.
A moral law supposes a sinner as the one to whom it is given, and it works by the influence of fear, its authority being maintained by penalties. It requires: it does not enable for the requirement. The fulfillment of the law is the thing impossible to the law.
This is what the apostle insists on in Rom. 8:1-4, which Dr. Steele so little understands, that to him it makes no difference whether you find "who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit" appended to the first verse or the fourth! (p. 153.) If the words be found, what matter the connection in which they are found? Certainly no matter, if Scripture be a collection of fragments without relation to one another. If a relative clause even does not depend upon its antecedent, then indeed it is no matter. But if sentences acquire any meaning from their relation to one another, then it does surely make a difference whether our walk as Christians be introduced into the question of "no condemnation" or into the statement of how grace enables us for what is impossible to the law.
"For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteousness of the law may be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit."
The law says, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God," and the conscience approves this; but though it say, Do this, or thou shalt die, the terrible alternative can never prevail to set my affections on Him from whom they have wandered. "We love Him because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19) is the Christian experience of grace as certified by an apostle, fulfilling in us the righteousness of the law. Sin in the flesh is condemned for us in that cross of Christ on which He died to redeem us, and thus we find deliverance from the condemnation and the power of it together.
Now if this be the principle of Christian fruitfulness, we must adhere to it consistently. The effect will not be found except as we allow that to act which will produce the effect. It will not do to mingle grace and law, — that is, to cancel the grace by an inconsistent addition to it, — and then declaim against grace as if it were itself unholy. It is thus, in fact, with a large number of those who professedly accept it. On the other hand we must of course distinguish grace from laxity — from the result of an indifferent and careless spirit which may use the language to cover its laxity.
"The law is not of faith," and faith is the character and power of the child of God as such. It is the working principle, so that the faith which has not works is dead, — it is not true faith at all. With all our heart we accept and emphasize this teaching of the apostle. With all our heart we reject Dr. Steele's assertion for us, that "its efficacy is concentrated into a single act of assent to a past fact." (p. 101.) Such statements scattered through his book, proved by fragmentary sentences no one knows from whence, are a dishonour to the one who makes them. Our author who claims so much for law should heed the law. If a witness is put upon the stand in any court of justice worthy to be called one, he is first asked his name, and where he belongs. Dr. Steele seems to care nothing, and to argue that his readers will care nothing for these things, without which his book is, however, a mere string of unsupported assertions, and will be rated by an upright mind as that.
On the contrary, faith is the character of the new nature, necessarily continuous as such, and the working principle in every one who has it. Nor does it only "grasp past and finished acts" (p. 59), but cleaves first of all to a living Saviour. "For you are all the children of God through faith in Christ Jesus." (Gal. 3:26.) Instead of setting aside faith in the way charged, I would press it as of all importance in the question before us. It would be a sad and terrible thing to be told that faith might justify and yet not purify. We have read our Bibles at least enough to know that the heart is purified by faith (Acts 15:9), and we believe and thank God that it is so.
But "the law is not of faith:" it does not appeal to or recognize it. Its principle, fear, tormenting fear, is not in love: "there is no fear in love, but perfect love casteth out fear, because fear hath torment." (1 John 4:18.) Our author uses often enough this text no doubt: has he apprehended its significance in this respect? Does he remember, not only that faith it is that worketh, but that "faith worketh by love"? (Gal. 5:6.) How is it, then, that this works, where he upholds as the Arminian check upon sin, the knowledge that "the holiest saint on earth may fall from grace, and drop into hell"? Is it not already one fallen from grace who can think and speak so?
Is this the grace which does not allow the dominion of sin? Is the fear that hath torment banished by it? Does it not rather make it a thing impossible to be banished by the holiest saint on earth? Nay, is it not openly contended that "human nature in its best estate can never be safely released from the salutary restraint of fear"? Is this the doctrine of Scripture, or an open break with it?
Talk no more, then, of fruitless faith, while you boast of a "perfect love" fruitless as any Antinomian faith could be! and while you set aside faith as fruitless, to take up terror to do its work instead. O sir, your theology halts where it should walk upright; and your holiness of the whip will never reach, nor come in sight of a "GENUINE CHRISTIAN PERFECTION." With all my soul, I turn from the perfection you present to me, to realize, if I may, that rest of faith which God's Word calls me to, and find a yoke for which "the joy of the Lord," not the terrors of hell, can be "strength." If, then, these are the divine principles of holiness, — if faith it is that worketh, and worketh by love, and a perfect love is to cast out fear, then the gospel of eternal security is also the gospel of holiness. We are set free from self-care to care for Christ and serve Him. The things are wide as heaven and earth asunder.
The more you work for salvation, the more you work for self: is it not so? a sad and foolish work, breaking the Sabbath which God has ordained, and for which He has provided. Please Him you cannot, while you set aside the efficacy of that one peerless work which secures all for the believer.
"The life which I live in the flesh," says one of old, "I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain" (Gal. 2:20. 21.)
Sin in the Believer.
We are come now to the discussion of one of the most sorrowful of topics. That, spite of grace, sin should be in the believer; that, spite of perfect power over it provided, (for in the Spirit of God dwelling in us there must be perfect power,) sin should prevail, so far as it must be acknowledged it does, over the mass at least; that for absolutely sinless perfection in any, few will contend, — this is surely a dark and difficult problem to solve, — a sad and humbling fact to contemplate.
Dr. Steele's confession, that "human nature in its best estate can never be safely released from the salutary restraint of fear," is surely as humbling as any. While his doctrine of perfection is one that only adds difficulty to the problem, instead of throwing light upon it.
"He is confident that the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus does now 'make us free from the law of sin and death,' although it does not, this side of the grave, deliver us from errors, ignorances, and such innocent infirmities as St. Paul gloried in without detriment to his saintly character." (p.25.)
Again : "If he will confess his lost condition, God is faithful and just, not only to forgive, but also to cleanse from all sin 'actual and original'" (Bengel) (p. 24). Original sin is thought to mean the corruption of nature as born of fallen parents; so that Dr. S. admits in these cleansed ones "no defiling taint of depravity, no bent toward acts of sin." Yet he cannot "be safely released from the salutary restraint of fear"! Perfect and free from everything but errors, ignorances, and infirmities a saint may glory in, and yet —! The passage referred to in 1 John 1 cannot by any possibility be made to apply merely to a certain class of "advanced Christians." If one confessing his lost condition is cleansed by God from all sin, actual and original, then it is surely plain that every Christian must be so cleansed*** for where one who has never confessed his lost condition?
If, however, every Christian is not thus cleansed (and Dr. S. cannot but allow this), then, as God cannot be unfaithful, it is perfectly plain that cleansing from all sin cannot go as far as this. But this does not necessitate that "judicial clearance or justification" must be in that case understood." (p. 106.) It is plain from ver. 7, which is parallel to ver. 9, that cleansing by blood is meant, and this is not, that I am aware, ever applied to inward sanctification, — holiness. This latter is by the Spirit, and the truth, "washing of water by the Word." (Eph. 5:26.) Cleansing by blood is not justification either, but its effect, "the heart sprinkled from an evil conscience." (Heb. 10:22.) "How shall not the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works, to serve the living God" (chap. 9:14)?
But Dr. Steele would still urge that "this involves St. John in the Romish doctrine of good works as a condition of justification — 'If ye walk in the light'. This is certainly a course of good works prescribed as a condition of cleansing." (p. 106)
But this is not so, it is not how we walk, but where. "That which doth make manifest is light." (Eph. 5:13.) And "God is light" (1 John 1:5) — said only a few verses before. It is of a soul before God, brought to conviction in His presence, that the apostle is speaking. Here sins are brought out only to be removed; and that, in fact, as charged against us, and so for the conscience also.
As for 2 Cor. 7:1, God's cleansing and our "cleansing ourselves" are somewhat different. But the first is not justification, as I have said.
This is the place also to say that "it is of the utmost importance that we accurately distinguish between sin in the flesh and sin on the conscience" (p. 82), and that where the apostle says, "There is no more conscience of sins," he does not mean "no more consciousness of sins." "Conscience," says Dr. S., "is nothing more than consciousness when the question of right or wrong is before the mind." (p. 81.) As usual, he has not a thought of looking at the context.
"For the law," says the apostle, "having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the corners thereto perfect: for then would they not have ceased to be offered? because the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins." (Heb. 10:1, 2.) Now here it should be plain that it is all a question, not of the commission of sins, but of the efficacy of the Jewish sacrifices to purge or perfect the conscience as to them. For Dr. S., it should be a most convincing lesson. Why should not the sacrifices have been offered year by year? Not designed, of course, to put away again the old sins, but those of the year since the last, why should they not? Because the conscience could never be perfected after that method. One year's sins would hardly be put away before another's would begin to accumulate. Sin would be always thus, not merely in their consciousness, but on their conscience. But that could never be the divine thought. No, the worshippers once divinely purged would have complete settlement and perfect rest; they would have had no more conscience of sins.
Consciousness of sins, no doubt, is the work of conscience; but conscience of sins means not to be at rest because of them. A perfected conscience should be, according to Dr. Steele, a conscience made fully alive and sensitive to right and wrong; a perfected conscience, for the apostle, means a conscience completely at peace through the blood of atonement.
As for sin in the flesh and sin on the conscience, it is hard to see how any one could confound them although we might not all agree — as I could not, — to use the passage in John cited in proof of the distinction. I must not be expected to defend this use of it therefore.
We have in fact discussed sin on the conscience, and looked at the divine way in which it is met. Sin in the flesh is our present theme. It is of course sin in the nature; and Dr. Steele must allow that Gal. 5:17 is at least a convincing proof that in many Christians it is thus yet found. The Galatians were backsliders, he contends; in them, the flesh might lust against the Spirit. It does not, I suppose we are to infer, in him. But has he observed that where the apostle enjoins "Walk in the Spirit," he does not say, and you shall not have the flesh, but "you shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh:" a very poor result for a modern perfectionist! Moreover, the fact of the conflict is stated in direct sequence to this: "for the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh." Thus it seems surely to follow that those lusts of the flesh might indeed be there, though they walked in the Spirit.
In Romans also, if the apostle does say, "The law of the Spirit hath freed me from the law of sin and death," that is another thing from the presence of sin in the flesh. Moreover, he definitely states, as we have seen, "If Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin." By and by, but not in the present life, "He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal body." (Rom. 8:10, 11.) Not till we are raised or changed, then, shall the body partake of the new life which the Spirit has received. As a consequence of this, the apostle exhorts, "Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh; for if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die, but if ye, through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live." So again in the twelfth chapter: "I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice," — sacrifice in life, and not in death, — "holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service."
And again in Col. 3: "Mortify, therefore, your members which are upon the earth, — fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry."
It is plain from these passages, —
1. That the body and the flesh are connected, though not confounded. Indeed it is evident that the "flesh" as a name for the old nature is derived from the body.
2 That the new life received in new birth has yet not been communicated to the body, nor will be till our final change comes.
3. That however sin is not of course to be conceived of as if it were a material thing, nor the body, as if it were unconnected with the soul, which is ever in Scripture the seat of its lusts and appetites.
4. That never in this life can sin be extirpated from the person, so as that the body shall not be "dead because of sin," to be rendered up therefore a sacrifice, not to be treated as a living thing, but a passive instrument by which under the control of the Spirit of God, He may be glorified.
I have no thought that this goes to the bottom of the question or covers the whole ground. I merely give what is enough to show that the perfection which Dr. Steele imagines is not the scriptural one. And he himself conclusively shows this when he cannot allow that these perfect ones, in whom "no bent toward the acts of sin" is conceived to remain, can be safely freed from the "salutary restraint" — restraint upon what? — of fear as to their ultimate salvation!
All the terms in which this sinless perfection is described are taken from passages in which, not a special class, but all the children of God are spoken of, who yet are confessedly not in the condition which they are supposed to picture: a conclusive proof of how imaginary the condition is.
While, to accommodate the experience to the condition supposed, "lusts of the flesh" are constantly, by perfectionists, ascribed to Satan, and spoken of as temptations when they should be judged as sin.
The standard is always and necessarily lowered: for who that admits that "he that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also to walk even as He walked" would dare to prate of a perfect fulfillment of this obligation?These are marks of essential antinomianism in all who profess a perfection such as Dr. Steele so loudly trumpets forth.
Yet it does not follow that because sin in the flesh is admitted, it is at all admitted that there is the least apology to be made for sin ruling over any. We should surely realize a "law of the Spirit" which set us "free from the law of sin and death." There is no doubt that the strength of perfectionism lies in the revolt of the conscience from the thought which makes the experience of the seventh of Romans the proper and inevitable Christian state. A loyal adherence to Scripture will not consist with the maintenance of either of these positions.
God's History of His People.
There are thus two natures in the Christian. There is in all a "flesh" which "lusteth against the Spirit." The experience which does not conform to this is a delusive experience.
It is thus undoubtedly true that in this respect "the believer's state can never correspond with his standing." (p. 16.) His state would have indeed to be perfect to be just what his standing is. His standing is in Christ, and therefore as Christ. To quote "As He is, so are we in this world" (1 John 4:17) as Dr. Steele does (p.68) — to show the actual state, is monstrous, even though he is not by any means alone in it. The apostle connects it with "boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world"! Think of Dr. Steele finding boldness for that time in the assurance that he is morally perfectly like Christ. Such utterances require, not argument, but rebuke.
So he "translates into the Plymouth idiom" John Wesley's very moderate and scriptural caution, "Let none ever presume to rest in any supposed testimony of the Spirit which is separate from the fruit of it," thus: — "Let none ever presume to rest in any supposed standing in Christ, while his actual state of character is not RADIANT WITH ALL THE EXCELLENCIES OF CHRIST." (p. 87.)
It is hard to realize the state of those who can thus speak. But "not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth." The testimony of most Christians would be very far from this, that they were "radiant with all the excellencies of Christ," and the testimony of Scripture as to them is assuredly very different.
I would like to ask our author what proportion of Christians, if he look the centuries fairly in the face, he can suppose to have realized the experience he contends for, or to have held the doctrine which matches the experience. He may plead that the latter is the reason of the former. But account for it as he may, it is certain that a very small proportion has had either the one or the other. While this negatives the application of all the passages he cites, it is in itself a thing worthy of examination. As we look back along the ages, from the beginning to the present time, what is the reflection we should naturally make upon them? I shall perhaps be considered a pessimist if I say that, with a certain number of stars shining out all the more brightly on account of it, the impression is one of darkness, not of brightness, — not even growing into that. And I am not now speaking of the world as that, but of the professing people of God themselves.
In the Old Testament, the stars are seldom in galaxies. The generation before the flood came under judgment in a manner which testified of almost universal departure. Thence on to Abraham, the history of the family of saved ones is almost a blank, where it is not worse. Babel and idolatry are its most conspicuous features. Abraham and Melchisedek are then twin lights, though not seen equally. Lot is but Abraham's designed contrast. Isaac, bright in his early years, falls into decrepitude. Jacob's life at its latter end is bright, but his many days are in his own estimation "few and evil." Joseph stands out once more in contrast with his brethren.
We turn the page, and Israel has become a people; but in bondage less to Egypt's monarch than to Egypt's gods, and not knowing their deliverer. In the wilderness, two persons wholly follow the Lord their God; the rest of the generation are cut off in it. In the land, Joshua's life ends with a noble appeal to a halting people. The Judges give us, in the deliverers themselves, the failure of the choicest. Samuel is a pillar upright amid ruins. David's history is one of trial and of triumph, then of a terrible fall and its bitter consequences. Solomon lapses into idolatry, the fruit of a heart given to strange women. Then a divided kingdom, struggling against itself, on to a fall delayed only by God's long-suffering. In Judah there are pious kings generally with some marked defect specially pointed out for us. Asa seeks not the Lord, but the physicians. Jehoshaphat leagues with the guilty house of Ahab. Uzziah invades the high-priest's office. Hezekiah even fails in the matter of the king of Babylon. Josiah is one bright exception. Then the end comes.
In Israel it had come long before, though here are seen the great figures of two mighty prophets who might have availed, if any could, to avert destruction. But even Elijah knows not of God's seven thousand hidden ones, and Elisha with many disciples has no successor. Need we speak of the feeble remnant of Ezra's and Nehemiah's times? Malachi sums up against them.
Save for the increasing light of prophecy, the day of Old Testament glory ends in darkness and sorrow.
But this is under the law? It is four thousand years of the world's history. What seems its one lesson as to man in his best estate? Is it not that he is vanity?
Since then, near two thousand years of Christianity have passed. The sixteenth century was signalized in God's mercy by a Reformation. The eastern Church for her sins had been almost engulphed in the floods of Mohammedanism. The western had passed through her dark ages, never darker than when the spiritual power had the most unquestioned supremacy. Since Protestantism, Germany, Switzerland, England, have passed through phases of rationalism and infidelity which would we could say were ended. And now we hear of a downgrade among the most orthodox, which, as it comes to light, appears "ten times more widely spread than" at first it was known to be. And of another large orthodox body in England we hear that scarcely a minister is sound as to eternal punishment.
Dr. Steele can speak, no doubt, of many counter-balancing things, and the wide evangelization going on may make those hopeful who can forget the centuries that are past. Scripture, for those who are able to read, declares the end from the beginning, and a Laodicea to follow the revivals of Philadelphia. But in all this it may be said, we judge from our own stand-points, and we judge very differently. Be it so, and let us turn back, not forward, and look at incontestable facts as to the primitive Church itself. We shall gain in exactness here by taking the epistles chronologically, although they embrace but a history — apart from those of the apostle John, — of about fifteen years (A.D. 54-68.) Small time, it will be thought, for declension. The Revelation epistles are considered to come twenty-eight years after this (A.D. 95-96.) John's own epistles may come a short time before this. Of Jude's we have no date.
The epistles to the Thessalonians claim the first place. They were converts of somewhat over a year's standing, and their faith was being spoken of through the world around. In his first epistle he exhorts and charges them, supplies them with an important doctrine for their comfort; but has no rebuke. The second epistle, written the same year, speaks even of their faith growing exceedingly, yet there were some walking disorderly, and he directs them as to these. What he has to say as to the state of things, however, is already solemn. Before the day of the Lord an apostasy is to come, and the mystery of iniquity is already working among Christians, with a present hindrance, indeed, which when removed, the man of sin will be revealed, and strong delusion carry away those who had not really received the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
The Corinthian epistles stand next in order. The character of the first is well known. In from three to five years from their conversion, a spirit of division had begun among them, the product of worldliness; along with this, the toleration of evil such as was not named among the Gentiles, going to law with one another, sitting at meat in idol's temples, drunk at the Lord's table, and a denial, on the part of some, of the resurrection of the dead. In the second epistle, Paul is comforted with the effect of the first, yet with a joy not unmixed. He is afraid that if he came he should not find them such as he would, and he would have to bewail many who had "not repented of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they had committed."
In the same year, it is supposed, the epistle to the Galatians was written. Among them, legality was at work, introduced by Judaizing teachers. They seemed already (in some six years) removed from him that called them into the grace of Christ unto a different gospel. He was afraid lest he had bestowed on them labour in vain. The rapture of their conversion was gone, and a legal spirit was engendering pride, censoriousness, and strife with one another.
A year after follows the epistle to the Romans — a doctrinal treatise in the main; but their faith, in the world's capital, is reported throughout the whole world. We find no reproof; but he has to warn them of those who cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine they had learned, and bid them avoid them.
Four years pass, and the apostle is now a prisoner at Rome. Thence he writes to the Ephesian church as faithful in Christ Jesus. To the Colossians also, praising their faith and love. Finally, to the Philippians, no less faithful; but he had grievous things now to say of those at Rome. He hopes to send them Timothy, for he has none beside who will naturally care for their state, but "all seek their own, not the things of Jesus Christ," and "many walk of whom he had told them before, and now tells them even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ."Somewhat later, it is thought, the epistle to the Hebrews was written. It was hard to utter the things he had to say, seeing they were dull of hearing, and had need to be taught over again the first principles of Christianity. Some had already apostatized (Heb. 6:6, R.V.). Others were forsaking the Christian assemblies. They were to look diligently, lest any one lacked the grace of God, and not to be carried about with divers and strange doctrines.
The pastoral epistles come latest, and here it is easy to see the decline which has set in. In the first epistle to Timothy we find that he had been left at Ephesus to charge some not to teach another doctrine. Some had set up for teachers of the law. Hymenaeus and Philetus had made shipwreck of the faith. Others had gone astray through love of money. He warns him finally of apostasy in the latter times.
Titus is full of warnings as to the connection between truth and godliness. The Cretans, among whom he is, are always liars, evil beasts, slow bellies, and must be sharply rebuked. Finally, the second epistle to Timothy closes the Pauline series, — brightly, for he knows his God, and is now going to Him, but with a solemn survey of things around, and a still more solemn outlook for the future. All they which are in Asia have turned away from him; the faith of some is being overthrown, and there are vessels of dishonor from which one is to purge himself. Already there were resisters of the truth, men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith. Demas had forsaken him; at his first defence no man stood with him.
As to the future, evil men and seducers would grow worse and worse, and the time would come when sound doctrine would no more be received, they would turn away their ears from the truth and turn to fables. In the last days perilous times would come; men being "self-lovers, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy lovers of pleasures more than of God, having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof."
Such being the times of the apostle Paul, we can expect no difference when we open the other epistles. We may be therefore briefer. James and Peter both address themselves to the circumcision. And in James we find in the Christian assembly the poor man made to give place to the rich, even though he might be an unbeliever; and the insisting upon the works that are the fruit of faith is an indication of the tendency to mere orthodoxy. Similarly speak the blessing and cursing from the same mouth, the evil speaking, the friendship of the world, the boasting of the morrow.
The first epistle of Peter, written to the dispersion, gives a favourable picture of the Christian character. The second contemplates the inroads of evil, false teachers with damnable heresies and covetous hearts, turning back into the world those that had escaped from its pollutions; scoffers, walking in their own lusts, saying, "Where is the promise of His coming?" and unlearned and unstable men wresting the Scripture to their own destruction.
The epistle of Jude, coming apparently shortly after this, carries it further. Here the men of the second epistle of Peter are already crept into the Christian ranks, and their course is traced to full apostasy, and judgment at the coming of the Lord. John's epistles come a good while later. There are now many antichrists, by which we know it is the last time. He marks them out for rejection.
Finally, in the assembly a Diotrephes receives not the apostle's word, nor the brethren, and forbiddeth those who would, and casteth them out of the church.
One glance more before the New Testament closes, and here we find the Lord Himself among the seven candlesticks, God’s light-bearers for the world, judging them. His voice it is we hear, and seven times we are solemnly and emphatically called to hear it.Seven actually existing assemblies, representative of the state of the Church then ere the last apostle leaves it, and the voice of inspiration is silent. A sevenfold successive unfolding of the Church's history, as many believe it, until Christ gathers His people to Himself.
First, Ephesus, now, alas! declined from its first love.
Then Smyrna, under the twofold, the open and secret, assault of Satan.
Next Pergamos, dwelling where Satan's throne is, with its Balaam-teachers and Nicolaitanes.
Then Thyatira, under the rule of the false prophetess Jezebel.
Fifthly, Sardis, with a name to live, but dead.
Philadelphia, with still a little strength, and cautioned to hold fast.
And last, lukewarm Laodicea, with Christ outside ready to spue it out of His mouth.
Make of it what you may, here is the closing picture, the last view of the Church on earth left with us. Does it give the impression of an overcomer, though there are overcomers? Of triumph? or, alas! of failure and defeat?
And what is this story of man from the beginning? of man even when God's way of grace has been revealed? of the people of God at all times? Does it not seem one of the deepest mysteries of His ways that He should be (if we may say so,) content to have so little apparent result, on the earth-side at least, of all His wondrous works among the sons of men?
Does it not seem as if ever the lesson was to be, "Cease ye from man"? Does it not seem as if we might still say of it, in the sense Dr. Steele objects to, "I have seen an end of all perfection"? Is this condemnation and setting aside of man really a lesson of holiness that it is so enforced? It would surely seem to be so. God's lessons are all holy lessons. Let us take up the Word once more and see.
The Moral Application for the Christian.
Therefore let no man glory in men," says the apostle (1 Cor. 3:21); and he says it of such men as "Paul or Apollos or Cephas." And of himself he says, "To me it is a very small matter to be judged of you, or of man's judgment; yea, I judge not mine own self: for I know nothing against myself, yet am I not hereby justified, but He that judgeth me is the Lord." (1 Cor. 4:3, 4.)
How simply and decidedly has Paul accepted, as we may say, the lesson of this long, sad history! How he disclaims the very ability to form even a really trustworthy estimate of himself! Not in the least to set aside the necessity of self-judgment: "Herein," says he, "do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men." (Acts 24:16.) But having done all, — searching and finding nothing whereof to accuse himself, instead of pronouncing as to his condition, he refers that to Christ's judgment, and not his own.
And to this all Scripture seems, as if with one voice, to call us. On the one hand, it puts before us a perfect standard, the very highest, — to walk as He walked. When also it speaks of a Christian according to the divine thought, it draws a perfect exemplar, — no blots, nor defects. For a copy, it would not do: we should copy faithfully the defects: and this is what Dr. Steele has forgotten, easily and conclusively proved by this, that the picture is of the Christian as such, — not of a certain class. Then, on the other hand, if you look at the actual men and women, it seems as if your attention were to be specially called to their imperfections, and worse than imperfections. Scripture biographers differ from human ones so in this respect that it has been the subject of common remark.
So with the dealing of the Spirit of God with us individually. Do we dream that He is going to exhibit us to our own eyes "radiant with all the excellencies of Christ"? It would indeed be perilous: "Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty; thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness" (Ezek. 28:17), it was said of old. "Lest, being lifted up with pride," says the apostle, "he fall into the condemnation of the devil." (1 Tim. 3:6.)
No; there is one place indeed in which we may contemplate ourselves without danger, but that is in Christ: the very thing which Dr. Steele so refuses. "I knew a man in Christ," says the apostle again: . . . of such an one will I glory; but in myself I will NOT glory, save in mine infirmities." (2 Cor. 12:2, 3.)
Holiness God seeks and requires from us, and He means it be real — imparted, not imputed. But God's way of it is still by faith, and in Christ for us in this sense, that it is as "we all with open face behold as in a glass the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the same image from glory to glory." (2 Cor. 3:18.)
It is just while we have our eyes thus upon and are occupied with Christ that this effect is found. It is just because all legal effort means occupation with ourselves that it avails nothing to produce the holiness it requires. This is the true lesson of Rom. 7:4. To find deliverance from this experience, and power for a right walk, the "law of the Spirit," — or, as I would suggest it may be more clearly read, "the Spirit's law of life in Christ Jesus," is what sets us "free from the law of sin and death."
For this deliverance, we must know that in the cross God has not only put away our sins, but has put us away in all that we were and are as sinners; and this is what is meant by our old man being "crucified with Christ." It is not true for inward experience, for sense, or feeling. It is true for faith alone. And as "Christ died unto sin once, and in that He liveth, liveth unto God," so are we told, not feel or find, but "reckon yourselves dead indeed unto sin, and alive unto God in Christ Jesus."
It is thus we are set free from the necessity of self-occupation, and given ability to turn away entirely to Him whom God has made to us not only "righteousness," but "sanctification" also. It is faith realizing this that says, in words so misapprehended by Dr. Steele, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." (Gal.2:20.)
We shall now take Dr. Steele's objections to all this as he conceives it, and his own very meagre statement of his own views, as they lie, scattered with very little order through his book. We shall thus have the main points in controversy fully before us, and with this, so far as holiness is concerned, our task will be at an end. We must go back to the doctrine of the two natures first; — he says, reporting the views he is condemning, — "In regeneration, the new man is created in the believer, and the old man remains with all his powers unchanged" same as the new man, nor of course the old nature synonymous with the old man. Nature and person are essentially different. Scripture does not state that the old man exists side by side with the new in the believer, but that we have put off the old man and put on the new.
The old man is myself as I look back upon myself — a sinner in my sins. The new man is what I am now in Christ Jesus. It is manifest that these two things could not exist together. This leads us to what must be our next quotation. "The doctrine of the two natures is not completely stated till the fact is brought out that neither is regarded as responsible for the acts of the other. For they are conceived of as persons. If the flesh of the believer behaves badly, that is none of the believer's business.''
This is an inference, and not at all the doctrine of those Dr. Steele is reviewing. It gains plausibility from that confusion of nature and person which I entirely refuse. Accountability belongs to a person, not a nature.
It is not the flesh that sins, but the man; and if a believer does so, he comes under the divine government as liable for it. "The time is come," says the apostle Peter, "that judgment must begin at the house of God. And if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous be with difficulty saved, where shall the ungodly and sinner appear?" (1 Peter 4:17, 18.) ''And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here with fear; forasmuch as ye know that ye are not redeemed with corruptible things, as with silver and gold, . . . but with the precious blood of Christ." (chap. 1:17-19.) "For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world." (1 Cor. 11:31, 32.)
Thus it is not true that there is not accountability, but it is to a Father's holy government, and any needed chastening is itself the fruit of grace.
As to the distinctness of the two natures, it should be plain that they must be distinct and opposed. The good is from God, — His nature and His gift. He could not be or communicate a half-evil thing. Life, it is true, we cannot define; how much less a life which is spiritual: but it is life we receive, and eternal life.
Moreover, we are absolutely assured that "the mind of the flesh," — not, as in our version, "the carnal mind" — "is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." (Rom. 8:7.) Flesh cannot be changed into spirit, nor spirit into flesh: they are opposed ever and only.
This may be difficult to understand psychologically. But as far as experience goes, Dr. Steele will not deny it to be the experience of most Christians. Even supposing it not to be his, and that he has never known it, this would have to be accounted for as an anomaly on his side.
It will be seen, therefore, that I do not adopt the "favorite method of exegesis of 1 John 3:9," which, our author says, "is, to substitute 'whatsoever' for 'whosoever,' and to say, 'That part of our nature which is born of God doth not commit sin,' the unregenerate part will continue to sin." And as to the illustration which follows, he should have informed us whether it is his own putting into words the thoughts of others, or from what nameless writer he derives it, or why he cannot give the name. It is "whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin," and applies, therefore, to all the children of God. It is their character, not that they are always (alas!) consistent with themselves.
The questions which follow (pp. 65-68) are all therefore set aside by this, where they have not been answered. We turn to the passage which shows us God's way of power in this condition.
"Says McIntosh, 'It is no part of the work of the Spirit to improve human nature,' — that seems to be past praying for, — but to make a brand-new man to dwell in the same body with the old man till physical death luckily comes and kills the old Adam, who had successfully defied all power in heaven and earth to crucify him. Henceforth the new man has the entire possession of the disembodied soul. How different this from the holiness bearing its heavenly fruit this side of the grave.
The only scripture cited for this doctrine of death-sanctification is Rom. 6:7 — 'He that is dead is free from sin.' This evidently means (see ver. 6), He who has died unto sin is freed, or justified (R.V.), from sin" (pp. 60, 61).
I must not question Dr. Steele's uprightness. I can only, therefore, say that his incapacity for even understanding what he is opposing is indeed phenomenal. I never, that I can remember, heard the text in question quoted for "death-sanctification" in the sense in which he speaks of it. Nor does he appeal to any particular writer, but says it is so. The writings of the "Brethren" in general are to be, I suppose, the proof. Then I say, it is simply, and without any qualification, an untruth. Let Dr. S. meet the challenge, and show proof. But it is a little too gross to say that we do not believe in "a holiness bearing its heavenly fruit this side of the grave"! If nothing less than "freedom from all sin, original and actual," be holiness, then the charge is true; but no more true of us than of the mass of Christians. But will even our author contend for this? The fact is, that the use of Rom. 6:7 is in the interest of present holiness, and always for this end. The application of it Dr. S. makes is true as such, that "he who has died to sin is justified from sin;" but his thought about this is another matter. He supposes that to have died to sin is to have ceased from it practically and altogether, whether actual or original.
"He finds St. Paul's inspired unfoldings of the gospel-germs dropped by Christ to be the exact fulfillment and realization of these predictions, when the apostle asserts that 'our old man is crucified with Him' — that is, in the same manner, and with as deadly effect — that the body of sin might be destroyed' — 'put out of existence' (Meyer); so that every advanced believer may truthfully assert, 'It is no longer I that live'" (p. 25).
Thus, then, it is only "the advanced believer" who can be "justified from sin"! Is that true, Dr. Steele? There is, then, in this case, no such thing as the justification of the ungodly! Or is this another thing from justification before God? or is it a second justification of the believer, not the first?
I know that it is maintained by Mr. Fletcher that the sinner is justified by faith without works, but the Christian is justified by faith and works, and by and by in the day of judgment to be justified by works without faith! But even Mr. Fletcher hardly maintains that a Christian can only be justified by absolute freedom from sin. If it be indeed so, then it must be the case that every one who is first justified by faith without works must be immediately cleansed from all sin, actual and original, and his justification thereafter must depend upon his maintaining this condition. But a consequence of this will be that instead of its being an "advanced Christian" who can speak as our author, every Christian who is not perfect must have fallen from perfection; and, in the same act, fallen from justification. There can be no justified Christians but these perfect ones! And those so fallen must begin again as sinners, and be justified afresh! Justified how often also must the mass of Christians be! One would think, upon this plan, as often as you shake a friend's hand in the street you would have to ask, Do you belong to Christ today? and that Methodist pastors must find it their chief labour to bring back souls to justification! As for the rest of Christians, — the imperfect ones, — there are none. It ought to be earnestly protested against as a delusion that there can be such!
I should not impute such consequences to Dr. Steele except that they seem necessarily to result from his view of 1 John 1:7, which we have considered. But if this is not his thought of justification from sin, he should surely tell us what it is. Can it mean simply that you cannot charge with sin a man who is practically dead to it, — if it refer to the past, this is not true: former sins might still be charged; if it refer to the present, it is a mere truism. Think of the apostle solemnly telling you that a man who had no sin could not be (properly) charged with any!
So that we are tired of finding meanings for Dr. Steele: very unnecessary work, no doubt; only he seems to want to be (and to suppose that he is) intelligible. It remains that if "justified from sin" cannot be taken in the way he takes it, the door is open for an interpretation that will stand the test of intelligibility and of Scripture. The truth is, that "he that has died is justified from sin" is simply an appeal to fact. Death cancels all possible indictments. He who has died is passed beyond them. The death to which he applies this is our death to sin. How, then, are we dead to sin?
The fundamental basis of all the reasoning here is in the latter part of the fifth chapter, — the doctrine of the two heads. Adam, the head of the old creation, is the figure of Christ, the Head of new creation.
Our relation to the first Adam is by life, a life actually communicated from him, and by which corruption of nature becomes ours, and death the stamp upon a fallen being. Our relation to Christ is by life also, real and holy in its nature, as we have seen, — a life eternal, upon which death can never pass.
But this would not be enough if it were all. There must be also complete atonement for sin, and justification.
Death is the removal of the fallen creature from the place for which he was originally created, the sign of divine displeasure, by which the old creation comes to an end in judgment. Christ's death for us on the cross glorifies God in this setting aside of the old creation; not, therefore, to restore it, but to separate us from it, as those who have their part in new creation with Himself.
For those, then, who have life in Christ, that they are "dead with Christ" has the very deepest meaning. It speaks, not of an inward change, but of a change of relation. It is that in which our relation to the old creation is judicially ended. In this sense, as a question of liability on this ground, we have died to sin, and to have died to sin is to be justified from it. This, then, is the fact for every child of God; but it is a fact, not to be felt or experienced, but reckoned; not for sense or of attainment, but a basis-fact for faith. "In that Christ died, He died unto sin once; but in that He liveth, He liveth unto God. So," as the word is better, reckon ye yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God in Christ Jesus" (Rom 6:10, 11, R.V.).
Immediately there follows, "Let not sin, therefore, reign in your mortal body." Not, let it not be, but Let it not reign: a very meagre result if we were actually and experimentally dead to it. But this is to be the moral result: "Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Christ, that the body of sin might be destroyed" — or rather, spite of Meyer, — "annulled," made to be as though it were not, — "that henceforth we should not be slaves to sin" (Rom 6:6, Gk.).
The power is in this, that we are thus freed from all need of self-occupation. By the cross, for faith, our old self is set entirely aside; not that we may be occupied even with a new self in its place, but with Christ, in whom we live, and who, as this is practically realized, lives in us. This is the true meaning of what Dr. Steele quotes: "I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." (Gal. 2:19, 20.) It is certain, therefore, that Dr. Steele is again under misconception when he represents us as saying that "those scriptures in which the old man is to be crucified, mortified, or killed are all understood to imply a life-long torture on the cross, — a killing that continues through scores of years" (p. 62). Not merely do the Plymouth Brethren never speak of a life-long torture, but, with Scripture, they absolutely never speak of the old man as to be killed at all. "Our old man was crucified," and we reckon ourselves, not dying, but dead. The seventh of Romans shows the working of this practically, in contrast with legal effort and self-occupation. Deliverance is by turning from it all to Christ, in whom we are, that beholding His glory we may be changed into His image. "To me, to live is Christ" is necessary holiness; "To me, to live is holiness" leaves out Christ.
On my side, to sum up: — I object to the system Dr. Steele advocates, first, because its relaxed law for men of "damaged moral powers" is really and manifestly Antinomian.
Secondly, because in it righteousness in Christ is repudiated, and our own obedience to this law as a "rule of judgment" is substituted for it.
Thirdly, because Christ's work, according to it, merely puts man in a salvable condition — does not save him.
Fourthly, because the penalty of sin is not really borne, and God, therefore, as inflicting it, not really glorified.
Fifthly, because new birth is made merely a work of moral suasion, to be undone as easily as it was done.
Sixthly, because fear, which would have torment, is made an essential means of holiness, and perfect rest in Christ is made impossible.
Seventhly, because, to maintain perfection in the flesh the standard of walk is lowered, and sin in the believer is palliated or denied.
These are grave charges. They have been sufficiently substantiated by his own words, and I have, I trust, faithfully and fully examined these. It is for our readers now to judge by Scripture, and in the presence of God, where the truth is. The question of practical holiness is one of the greatest importance, and connects itself, as we have seen, with the fundamental doctrines of Christianity. It is the outcome of these when wrought by the Spirit of God into the life. Well may it be, then, a test of any creed, how it provides for this. As such, we may not shrink from it, although able to make no such pretensions as Dr. Steele makes for himself. We dare not say that in us the flesh does not lust against the Spirit. We dare not claim to walk up to our standard, Christ's own perfect walk. We are unfeignedly thankful to find thus in the cross that which has set aside for us the need of a self-occupation which we have found fruitless in the accomplishment of deliverance from the law of sin; and in Christ risen from the dead, an absolute acceptance and an object for the heart which we are persuaded ***are the only power for holiness practicable to man, Occupation of heart with One who has passed into the heavens is deliverance from self, from the world, from sin. In Him there we have an eternal satisfying portion, which frees from the corruption which is in the world through lust. But we are feeble and dependent, and all Scripture unites in pressing this upon us; our wisdom is, to know how truly so. Weakness is not discouragement when a God of infinite resources and unfailing power bids us take hold upon His strength. And this gives Him also His place and glory: "I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me," becomes thus indeed a blessed reality.
For this He would remove all tormenting fear out of our hearts, that He Himself may be trusted fully, and dwell fully in them. Faith worketh, not by fear, but by love. Chastening itself is from a Father's hand, and a token of sonship: "What son is he whom the father chasteneth not?" Thus we may indeed need to be recalled to ourselves and to Him. But "work of faith, labour of love, patience of hope," these are the three tokens of our "election of God."
Imperfectly I have expressed all this, I am sure; but Dr. Steele has attacked as the theology of brethren what is truth, and vital truth. What the "brethren" hold may be in itself quite unimportant — save indeed to themselves. What is the truth on the great themes we have been discussing is of the greatest importance. May the Lord guide His people in judgment!
Of "brethren" themselves I have designedly said nothing. Those who are interested in this can easily have their desire satisfied. Only I would say that they should be judged by their own statements, and not otherwise. Upon the matter of prophecy also I do not enter. It is a wide subject, there are plenty of helps to be obtained, and the attention of Christians is being largely, thank God, directed to it.
F. W. Grant.