The Ancient Faith
READER, you observe that this piece is entitled “An essay on teaching Christianity.” Perhaps you are at a loss to know what it means. You will understand it better by and by. . . . There yet exists a certain, uniform, authorized plan of preaching Jesus, a plan consecrated by the high examples of all the heavens, and the holy apostles and prophets.
RETURN TO THE GOD’S PLAN
The path of duty is before us, and we ought to pursue it. What shall we say of the present babel-like confusion among those calling themselves teachers of Christianity? The champions of each sect forming schemes for themselves of teaching as chance, or whim, or interest directs, and all employing themselves in confirming certain factional dogmas–in making merchandize of the people, or in propagating damnable heresies. Timothy had known the holy scriptures from a child, and the apostle assured him that they alone were able to make him wise unto salvation; that they were profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and instruction in righteousness; conjuring him at the same time, as he hoped to account for his conduct before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, to be instant in season and out of season, in teaching the word of God; asserting for it as a reason that the time was approaching when the professors of the religion, having itching ears, would, after their own lusts, (the love of novelty and of eloquence,) become disgusted with the scriptures, and make for themselves teachers, who would turn away people’s ears from the truth and entertain them with fables.
THE CHURCH OF CHRIST
First, the peace and union of a church of Christ are not the result of any sort of ecclesiastical government. Secondly, the increase of Christ’s body is not predicated on any thing so exceedingly exceptionable as modern confessions of faith; but on the confession of the first truth. Thirdly, the worshipping establishments now in operation throughout Christendom, increased and cemented by their respective voluminous confessions of faith, and their ecclesiastical constitutions, are not churches of Jesus Christ, but the legitimate daughters of that Mother of Harlots, the Church of Rome. In these establishments a breach of canon is punished with ejection, and to nauseate their vitiated creeds is a certain bar to induction, unless a man is rich, and then he may do or deny anything.
But, in order that the reader may entertain no doubt respecting the above mentioned propositions, let us attend to the scriptures–let us attend to the voice of the beloved Savior, speaking in Matthew 16:13.
“When he came into the coasts of Cesarea, he asked his disciples, saying, who do men say that I the Son of Man am? And they said, some say that you are John the Baptist; some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He said unto them, but whom say you that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, you are the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said to him, blessed are you, Simon Barjona; for flesh and blood has not revealed it to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say also to you, that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:13-18).
In this beautiful, interesting, and highly significant passage, four things are particularly remarkable:
First, the name, Christ, Son of the living God, which Simon gives to Jesus. Second, the name Petros, stone, which Jesus gives to Simon. Third, the truth itself, which Simon confesses. And fourth, the name Petra, rock, by which the Saviour, figuratively, in allusion to Simon’s name, Petros, stone, designates this eternal truth, that he is the Christ the Son of the living God. On the belief of this fact, then, his church is founded, and by it is held together.
The Lord Jesus was very apt to speak in metaphor too. He styles Herod a fox; he calls his own body a temple, in allusion to the temple in which he at that time was. When he is on Mount Olivet among the vines, he styles himself the vine; he calls death sleep; his own death a baptism; Simon a stone, Cephas: and in the above passage he calls the grand truth that he was the Son of the living God, a Petra, Rock, in allusion to Simon’s name, Stone, and on account of its stedfast and indestructible certainty; and he adds, that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it;” i. e. as I suppose, his death, which was soon to be effected by the wicked Jews, should not disprove his pretensions to the Messiahship; or perhaps he means that the grave should not interrupt the fellowship of his church, which was to be founded on this imperishable fact, that he was the Christ.
But that the glorious truth, and nothing else, holds the saints together in particular churches, is evident from the holy epistles which are addressed to them in their individual capacities. Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, who were beginning to name themselves by their respective favorites, as the moderns do, informs that church, that, when he had first come among them, he had determined to know nothing among them but the bare gospel fact, that Jesus was the Christ, and had been crucified (1 Co.2:2); nor did he attempt to ornament it with the eloquence of words (1 Co.2:3), thinking, as I suppose, that a truth so supremely magnificent in itself, was perfectly insusceptible of extrinsic ornament, and in its own native excellency defied the united pens and tongues of men and angels. His only aim was to demonstrate its reality by the spirit and power of God which filled him, that the disciple’s faith might not stand in his word, but in the power of God–the miracles. Knowing that if this great argument, supported as it was with miracles, failed to reduce men to union and to Christ, he had nothing of equal importance to propose for this purpose.
The apostle, therefore, in order to reduce them to unity, reminds them of the fundamental bond of union by which they had been originally congregated thus: “according to the grace (apostleship) of God to me, as a wise master-builder, I have laid the foundation and another builds thereon; but let every man take heed how he builds thereon, for other foundation (of union) can no man lay than that is laid, which is, Jesus is the Christ” (1 Co.3:10,11). These things may suffice to show that the bond of union among christians is the belief of a matter of fact, viz. that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God. The reader may consult Ephesians, ii., iii. and iv. chapters, all the Galatians, epistles to the Colossians, Romans, Timothy, &c. &c., where the apostles lay it down as a universal maxim, that this truth or word of salvation works effectually in all them that believe it!
THE GOOD CONFESSION
To the same purpose Paul says, “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you shall be saved” (Romans 10:9). Now, if modern confessions of faith had such blessing and such salvation appended to them by such authorities, their abettors might well boast. But they who bow down to such idols shall go down to the grave with a lie in their right hand. The sword of the Lord’s mouth is unsheathed against the man of sin, nor will it kiss the scabbard until his enemies are consumed. O Gamaliel! O Socrates! O Satan! save your sinking disciples whose judgment now of a long time lingers not, and their damnation slumbers not!
But our second proposition, viz. that the body of Christ is increased by belief of the bare truth that Jesus is the Son of God, and our Saviour, is a scripture doctrine, which the populars nauseate, if possible, more than our first. It is so simple, so manifestly foolish, that the sons of Gamaliel and Socrates are equally scandalized and ashamed of it. Yet, says Paul, it saves them that believe it. But it is chiefly abhorrent to modern establishments on account of the consequences of which it is pregnant–it sets aside all canon, all confession, every thing indeed which opposes and exalts itself against Christ and the New Testament. Nevertheless, this second prefatory article, that the body is increased by the confession and belief of the truth, is perfectly obvious from scripture. “Whosoever shall confess me before men, says the Redeemer, him will the Son of Man confess before the angels of God” (Mt.10:32). Peter, we have seen, confessed him to be the Son of the living God, though apparently a mere man; and the blessed Saviour honored his confession with a most gracious benediction–“blessed are you Simon, son of Jonas, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Mt.16:17). Now Peter at this moment was perfectly ignorant of everything besides this truth, which he had learned from the Father, by the miraculous evidence which he had vouchsafed in support of it. It is wonderful the honor which the scripture writers everywhere do this single truth, that “Jesus was the Son of God.” Paul would not dare to use learned words in speaking it, cautions the Hebrews against letting it slip out of their minds, and says to the Corinthians, that they are saved by it if they keep it in mind! John, 1st epistle, chap. v. declared that the man who believed it is born of God; and wrote and recorded all the miracles in his gospel to prove this illustrious fact. “These things are written,” says he, “that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you might have life through his name” (John 20:31).
In John’s days there were many antichrists; but that holy man did not dare to use any unlawful means for securing the disciples against their deleterious influence. He did not write to them that they should covenant like the Covenanters, form any sort of ecclesiastic government, make confessions of faith, liturgy, rubric, &c. No–these things, says he, I have written concerning them that (would) seduce you–these things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may (continue to) believe in the name of the Son of God. One has only to believe in this name, and his is eternal life. The body of Christ, thus, then, is also increased by the belief of this excellent truth; and to be convinced of this, the reader has only to turn to any page of the New Testament, and he will read it in every line.
We have glanced at the vast honor every where in scripture put upon this majestic truth, that Jesus is the Son of Almighty God; we have seen how Paul and John exalted it, and also that it is the foundation and bond of union in the church of God, and how that the body of Christ is increased by the belief of it. But look at the marvelous evidence vouchsafed in support of it; the amazing concatenation of miracles drawn out to identify the person of the Christ; miracle after miracle follows each other in rapid succession, surprisingly diversified in manner, kind, and form; until the mighty chain terminates in that amazing and inscrutable wonder, his resurrection from the dead; a miracle which, for its transcendent peculiarities, the apostle, Eph. 1:19, singles out as affording the most illustrious display of the mighty power of God. But the Holy Spirit also, in all his diversified working of gifts and graces, in wisdom and knowledge, and miracles, and healings, discoursing of spirits, tongues, prophecy, and interpretations, was given to prove that Jesus was the Christ.
And Peter makes this use of them on the day of Pentecost, when pointing to the multitude of separated tongues that crowned the heads of the apostles, he said, let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly, that God has made that Jesus whom ye have crucified both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). It was to preach and prove this that all the apostles were sent to the nations. But greater reverence could not be paid to any truth than the Lord Jesus himself pays to this, that he was the Son of God; when he bids all men worship him as they would the Father, he says, it is eternal life to know him; and in the moment of quitting this world enforces the belief of the truth with the sanctions of eternal life and death–“he that believes (that he is the Son of God) [and is baptized] shall be saved; he that believes not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16) The philosophers indeed have stolen away these sanctions from the faith of Jesus, and have pinned them to their jejune, pretended science of moral philosophy, where the name of the Saviour is perhaps never once mentioned. But they had better confine themselves to their own baubles, and let the truth of God alone, otherwise believe it; for if they do not, he will philosophize them when he comes to be glorified in his saints, when he shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, taking vengeance on them that obey not God. and believe not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thess.1:7,8).
[This article originally appeared the Christian Baptist vol.1, no. 4, Nov.3, 1823. Only certain excerpts from the article were included because of its extreme length. In addition, scripture references were added and titles were added for reading ease. Walter Scott, known as the golden oracle for his eloquence, left out the phrase “and is baptized” from Mark 16:16. Hence, this error has been corrected. Our confession of faith is none other than the New Testament Scripture itself. – P. M.]