The Widening Breach.
THE believer is exhorted to "let his yieldingness be known unto all men," but this exhortation has no place where the foundations of the faith are in question. It is the fashion of the hour to preach compromise and plead for toleration, and this is carried to such an extent in some quarters, that almost every fundamental element of the gospel is sacrificed for the sake of peace and in the name of "charity." Heresy-hunting is never a profitable pursuit, but heresy and truth are now expected to dwell together, like the lion and the lamb in the millennium.
The happiest and most profitable occupation for the Christian at all times, is to proclaim what is POSITIVE and EDIFYING, but it behooves us all to be awake to the strength of the enemy's attack, so that we may not be taken unawares. It may be stated therefore, as a fact that can be demonstrated, that of recent years, the departure from the faith has developed in the most alarming fashion. In almost every “denomination," the same distressing features are easily discerned. So completely in fact, is error in the ascendancy, that practically no attempt is made to deal with it. If a clergyman or minister commits adultery or disgraces "the cloth," he is still liable to discipline for decency's sake, but let him break his ordination vows, repudiate the authority of Scripture, and deny the Deity of the Lord Jesus, he pursues his way without a protest. This is no exaggerated statement, but a sober fact, as the following extracts from recent utterances will prove:—
At a conference of representatives of Sunday-school Unions at Swanwick, held last month, one of the speakers (G. K. Hibbert, M.A., B.D.) is reported to have said that there were one or two miracles recorded in the New Testament which he could not accept as authentic because they seemed to be false to the conception he had of Christ, namely: the finding of the coin in the fish's mouth, and the withered fig tree. The former he regarded as “an Arabian Night's story, invented at a later age." As to the latter, he refused to believe that Jesus, in a moment of petty spite, performed such an act unworthy of His character. It was a parable and not a miracle, in which conclusion, there was the support of St. Luke, as against the narrative of St. Matthew and St. Mark. Nor did he believe the actual record of the Gadarene swine, a story which provoked the mirth of Huxley. . . . As to the resurrection, it was no more a miracle than any act of healing—such a personality as Jesus could not die. He did not believe the story of the turning of water into wine as an actual record, but as a sign or symbol of the old dispensation giving place to the new ("Yorkshire Post," March 24, 1913).
We may well ask, with mingled feelings of indignation and dismay, what will become of the scholars in the Sunday-schools if the teachers pronounce or tolerate such statements, undermining the truth of the Gospel records?
A lengthy correspondence was carried on in the "Methodist Times," not long ago on the subject of "Liberal Theology." The promoter of the discussion, who styled himself "A Lay Representative," openly avowed that he regarded "the Eden story as simply a Hebrew myth, founded on ancient Babylonish legends.” He "regards the doctrine that God could not forgive sin without exacting an equivalent penalty, as due to a false Eastern conception of God as a sort of 'Sultan in the skies,' as totally contrary to the whole spirit of Christ's teaching; and ‘in particular’ as diametrically opposed to the lesson of the parable of the Prodigal Son."
Further, he regards the doctrine that “spiritual blessings” (‘salvation' if some of your readers prefer the term), are only to be obtained by the shedding of innocent blood, as Jewish or Pagan, but not Christian. Careful readers of the New Testament can easily see that Christ nowhere gives this doctrine any sort of sanction. . . . The idea of 'imputed righteousness' is a figment, and the Lutheran doctrine of ‘salvation by faith' is full of danger to morality."
As to the Bible, he regards it as "worthy of all reverence, and repaying the most diligent study, but Liberal Christianity cannot shut its eyes to the obvious fact that the sacred volume contains a large alloy of myth, legend, perverted history, contradictory statements, and imperfect morality." Moreover, this Lay Representative “fails to see why the Christian conscience of the twentieth century should be bound by Paul's view of the sacrificial character of Christ's death, any more than by his injunction that women must keep silence in the church." “Liberal Christianity," he asserts, “rejects the doctrine of the Fall, and its corollary-human depravity; and sees in man, a being very imperfect indeed, and retaining the traces of his lowly origin, but more prone to good than to evil, and slowly evolving to a higher plane."
The foregoing statements might be dismissed as the idle words of an open enemy of the truth, but unfortunately, this would be a grave mistake, for in summing up at the close of the correspondence, the editor of the “Methodist Times,” (the Rev. J. Scott-Lidgett, M.A., D.D.) refers to the writer as “A DISTINGUISHED MEMBER OF OUR CHURCH." Comment is superfluous.
The same correspondence reveals the distressing fact that the above negations are shared by many others in the Methodist Church, and even so well-known a preacher as Professor W. J. Moulton, M.A., is quoted as saying:—
“Archaeology has forced us to rewrite the early history of civilized man. Once it was possible to read the Old Testament and to think that the oldest records of the human race lay before us. . . . Now all is changed, and some adjustment of our views has become absolutely necessary."
A more famous preacher, no less a person than the Rev. R. F. Horton, M.A., D.D., an ex-President of the Free Church Council and an ex-Chairman of the Congregational Union, makes the following pronouncement:—
"We may assume to-day, that the great majority of people who are instructed, and who think, are quite aware that it is impossible to maintain either from the Bible itself or from any external authority, that the Book was guaranteed by the Divine Spirit against the possibilities of error. It is impossible to say that it was either written, or transmitted to posterity, under such guarantees that we are entitled to speak of it as infallible. . . . This theory (of an infallible Bible) is, in a word, an idol of the creation of man. As soon as the iconoclast with a keen mind, and without reverence, begins to handle the Bible in the light of this theory, to bring it to the bar of criticism, historical or literary, he is able to overflow it with derision, and just as the infallibility of the Church is the cause of unbelief in Catholic churches, the doctrine of the infallibility of the Bible is the cause of almost all the difficulty in Protestant communities. Our great object, therefore, should be to save men from the delusion, the error, which asserts that the Bible is an infallible Book."
In the same strain and with equal emphasis the Rev. E. Griffith-Jones, B.A., Principal of the Yorkshire United College, Bradford, writes as follows:—
"No progressive theologian can any longer take for granted that a statement is true simply because it is found in Holy Writ, or that a doctrine is true simply because it can be deduced from a verse of Scripture, much less that the inspiration of various portions of Scripture is on the same plane of authority.”
In the same article we read: "I fully accept the new factors which historic criticism have introduced into the realm of Christology, and I have parted gladly from the old, unreal way of conceiving Jesus as omniscient, potentially omnipotent, and so on, as a modern form of Docetism, which we have happily outgrown."
Seeing that the foregoing are all quotations from prominent ministers and "leaders of religious thought," it must be admitted that it is difficult to over-estimate the seriousness of the position, in the light of faithfulness to the Word of God and loyalty to Christ.
A striking commentary upon the present religious position is furnished by the decision of the University of Oxford, to recommend the grant of the D.D. degree to successful candidates by examination without any statement of faith being required. It is thus—as has been pointed out—quite possible for an atheist or a Mohammedan to qualify as a Doctor of Divinity.
What is perhaps the saddest feature of the present apostasy—we can scarcely use a milder term—is the way in which those who set out professedly as "Defenders of the Faith," play into the enemy's hands. For instance, the Rev. A. J. Waldron, Vicar of Brixton, one of the best known preachers in London, and a prominent lecturer on "Christian Evidence," thus overthrows the faith he defends: “I was taught as a lad that you could escape (suffering) if you believed in Jesus, and if you did not believe in the theological Christ, then God would punish you, but the whole view of suffering was the view almost of vindictive punishment, attached to which was the ghastly doctrine of eternal punishment. People no longer believe this. I am astounded if I come across a man who occupies the position of a Christian minister and does believe it.” . . . Here and there you may meet a man who believes in everlasting punishment—but always for somebody else, never for himself! . . . Take another doctrine. It used to be preached that it is necessary for a man to believe certain things about Jesus Christ. I may say what I have said in my own pulpit: My father [Lemuel Allingham Westcott] was an extremely good and kind man who at that time was a Plymouth Brother. But he would rather have had me come home drunk than have me come home and say, 'Father, I don't believe in the virgin birth.' He would have thought if I had died a drunkard that night, there would have been a chance for me; but if I had died disbelieving in the virgin birth, I was destined to eternal torment."
A very distressing feature about an inquiry of this kind is that we are confronted at almost every turn with overwhelming evidence that the precious truths which some of us hold dearer than life itself, are repudiated by the majority of the great preachers of the day. For example, the Rev. Frank Y. Leggatt, M.A., speaking first for himself, says, "I do not believe that the stories of the miraculous birth are essential to faith; it seems to me that a man may be a believer in every adequate and proper sense of the term, even when he cannot give assent to these miraculous stories." He then proceeds to say: "And let me say not that this is the opinion of Mr. R. J. Campbell, because some of you do not trust Mr. Campbell at this moment, nor take him as your lead—but let me say that this is the opinion of Principal Forsyth, who is a pillar of orthodoxy, while it is the opinion of Dr. Horton, who is trusted among evangelicals, and of the Dean of Westminster as well. It is not essential to faith to believe that Jesus was 'conceived of the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary,' as the Creed says."
“I cannot help," he concludes, "including the birth stories among the things that do not matter. There are some things that matter a great deal. There are some life and death matters, if it comes to that, but this is not one of them. It does not matter."
The inspiration of the Bible—in the traditional use of the term—is so generally denied to-day, that it is a difficult matter to select a representative statement. The Rev. Newton H. Marshall, M.A., D.D., preaching before the Baptist Union, affirms emphatically the general trend indicated above:—
“To-day it is impossible for a well-informed man to take up this attitude (as to verbal inspiration) with regard to the books we have in the New Testament. The doctrine of verbal inspiration has been given up by the vast majority of theologians. . . . In short, to-day theologians have to recognize that the historic sense of the age insists that error is possible in respect of any statement of fact involved in the Gospel story, and that whether error in any given case is actual, or not, must be decided by the historian according to the evidence. . . . History must be allowed to examine and check the historic statements involved in the Gospel, applying her own standards."
Instances might be given of prominent religious leaders who proclaim the Universal Fatherhood of God, and along with this, deny the eternity of punishment. So much, in fact, is the last-named doctrine scouted to-day, that it is almost impossible to name half a dozen preachers of note who believe in it.
Exaggeration has been carefully avoided in this article, and no extracts have been given from such notorious “heretics" as Mr. R. J. Campbell; nor have the withering utterances of the leading Higher Critics—such as Professors Cheyne and Driver— been cited.
Enough, however, has surely been given to prove that we are faced with a widespread departure from the Truth on the part of those who occupy prominent positions in the religious world, and it is time that a halt was called. There is no need for uneasiness on the part of those who firmly believe the great facts of the Christian faith, and who acknowledge the Holy Scriptures as the Word of God. “Magna est veritas et prevalebit." But it is no time for such to hold back or hide their convictions. In the firm belief that while "there are many devices in a man's heart, nevertheless, the counsel of the Lord, THAT SHALL STAND"—we must “preach the Word, be vehement in season and out of season." The breach is widening daily between those who desire to “keep His Word, and not deny His Name," and the great mass of mere religionists who are drifting to apostasy. It is not ours to judge others, or to determine their relations with God, but we dare not parley with error, or compromise the truth.
The judgment-seat is at hand, for the Lord is coming quickly. There are true believers greatly distressed by the existing state of things, and a bold and fearless proclamation of the eternal truth will strengthen and encourage them.
The unveiling of error is a painful—albeit sometimes a necessary task, but to witness for the truth is happy, edifying and God-glorifying work. Let us remember that it is but a little while and the Lord's “Well done!" will amply compensate for any suffering that faithfulness involves.
“Scripture Truth” 1913