The Place Where God Records His Name

The thoughts recorded here are from a discourse delivered
at the dedication
of the Second Presbyterian Church, Chicago,
Illinois, Friday Evening, January 24, 1851.
Written and delivered by, R. W. Patterson, Pastor
Edited for universal application and
condensed for easier reading.
 Gods_House_Title_Slide-SQUARE-400x400

“In all places where I record my name l will come unto thee, and I will bless thee.”
–Exodus 20: 24.

WHEN God spoke to his ancient people from the cloud and fire of Sinai…

…they were on their journey through the great and terrible wilderness, and they had neither temple nor tabernacle, wherein they might present to him their offerings and adorations. But they were not denied the privilege, even then, of building temporary altars of earth, and of paying acts of devout homage to the God who brought them out from the house of bondage.

They were told, for their encouragement and consolation, that in every place which should be consecrated to the honor of Jehovah’s name, in accordance with his revealed will, he would meet with them and bless them.

Then, as now, the breathings of the humble and contrite heart, were graciously regarded by the Father of mercies, whether the suppliant were on a consecrated spot, in the lonely desert, or upon the rolling deep. But there were peculiar acts of devotion, such as the offering of sacrifice, and the exercises of social worship, which might be most appropriately performed in places set apart in a special manner for such purposes. In consideration of this, there were, under the Old dispensation, reasons which no longer exist for the restricting the public worship of God to particular localities. And hence we find that before the nation of Israel were planted in the land of promise, and for a considerable time afterwards, a Tabernacle, constructed according to the peculiar pattern which was shown to Moses in the mount, was set up in different places, which were thus consecrated for seasons longer or shorter, to the special service of God.

In due time a Temple was built for Jehovah’s name, on Mount Moriah, at Jerusalem, which had been long before designated as the place to be thus honored. Most of the rites and ordinances prescribed in the Levitical Statutes were observed at this Temple, and could be lawfully performed nowhere else. For this was the place in which Jehovah had chosen, in a peculiar sense, to record his name. But the hour came in which the middle wall of partition between Jews and Gentiles was to be broken down, and when the true worshippers were no longer to be restricted either to Mount Gerizim or Jerusalem, in the offering of acceptable sacrifices to that God, who as a Spirit, requires his creatures to worship him in spirit and in truth. This was a great outward change. But even the introduction of the Christian dispensation has not superseded the necessity of enlisting the social principle in religion; nor has it set aside the propriety of employing mental association as an auxiliary in the devotional acts of finite creatures such as we are.

It is freely conceded that we have in the New Testament neither command nor precedent for the formal consecration of Churches.

But we know that in Apostolic times, Christians were accustomed to meet together for religious purposes, at appointed seasons and places, and that suitable houses were erected for the accommodation of their assemblies, as soon as the circumstances of the new converts permitted them to make such provisions for the furtherance of the Gospel, and they did so in the particular communities to which they belonged. And we know, too, that it is highly consonant with the genius of our holy religion to open houses which are designed for the public worship of God, with a humble and formal recognition of his right to the exclusive use of them as Sanctuaries dedicated in a peculiar sense to Himself.

We are aware that the materials of which an edifice consists, cannot, as some imagine, have an inherent sacredness and we utterly discard all such conceptions as superstitious and incompatible with true ideas of holiness.

But we believe that God hears prayer, and that he is able and willing to sanctify our mental associations as they may become clustered around a place of habitual worship and to bless the means of grace which may be employed there, all in accordance with His plans for his people, and in accordance with the indications and orderings of his good Providence. It is for this reason we assemble in compliance with the time honored custom of the Christian Church in her various communions, to acknowledge that Glorious Being for whose honor and service this new edifice has been erected and is now Opened. Let us, therefore, notice the characteristics of a place in which God records his name under the Christian dispensation; and the promise which He has given to his people who worship him aright in such a place.

I   God may be properly said to record his name wherever he Providentially directs that his worship and ordinances shall be set aside for the observance and the promotion of his honor and the furtherance of his Spiritual Kingdom.

He causes his name to be in a special manner associated with every such place. Now, as we have seen, there is, since the abrogation of the Ancient Theocracy, no one point where God may be worshipped more acceptably than in other places; and, hence, every house which is erected by a Christian Congregation, under the guidance of Divine Providence, and is set apart to be used as a Christian Sanctuary, can be said to be a place where Jehovah records his name.

Let us inquire briefly, what are the characteristics of a truly Christian house of worship;

#1.   It is, in the first place, a house designed and employed for the service of the revealed God; the God of the Bible; the God of the Old Testament and the New. It is not a temple for the worship of Reason or Philosophy, or of any Deity erroneously supposed to be made known in the New Testament, but misrepresented and dishonored in the Old, or of any imaginary God whose character and government. are partly made out from the Sacred Oracles, and partly from what men are pleased to conceive that their Maker and Moral Governor ought to be and do, –Christianity is a religion of faith founded upon Divine testimony; a testimony to be received as it is given in the Bible, in its most obvious import, and not construed by the canons of scientific or rationalistic theories.

Christianity is the religion of the two Testaments inseparably bound together and sustained by the same Divine authority, but related to each other as Type and Substance, Letter and Spirit, Law and Gospel, Promise and Fulfillment, Savior to come and Savior Crucified.

And the God of Judaism, as it originally was, is also the God of genuine Christianity. For the Savior came not to destroy the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill; not to displace the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, but to do his will, more clearly reveal his character, and fully develop and execute his plans of mercy and grace. If the bush on fire but unconsumed, is no longer visible, the God who burned in it before the eyes of Moses, is still in the midst of his one Church, and the gates of hell can never prevail against it. If the outer court of the Temple has disappeared, the inner court yet remains, and the same Shechinah is there, present to the eye of faith, though concealed from the eye of sense. In the truly Christian house of worship the one God of the Bible is acknowledged and honored in his revealed character and relations. He receives adoration and homage, not alone as an Omnipotent and Omniscient Being, but as the High and Lofty One who inhabits Eternity and fills Heaven and Earth with his presence not only as great and holy, but as just and good; as the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, slow to anger and of great kindness, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, though by no means clearing the guilty.

He is neither too high to look after the affairs of mortals, nor too attentive to his own interests to not permit his own creatures to suffer if they presume too far upon his goodness. Neither is he too just to pardon the penitent, nor too merciful to punish the incorrigible sinner.

This is the God who dwelt in the Holy of Holies, at Jerusalem, and it is the same God that is worshipped in every Church appropriately called Christian. In the house where the God of the Bible is truly worshipped, Jesus Christ is honored as the Divine Savior of men, and as the Prophet, Priest, and King, foretold in the Old Testament, and fully declared and proclaimed in the New. All judgment has been committed to him, that all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. In him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. He was God manifested in the flesh. He is the Prophet spoken of by Moses, who appeared as the Light of the world. He is the Priest forever after the order of Melchisadec; the propitiation for the sins of believers, and the Everlasting Intercessor of his disciples, at the Father’s right hand. He is the exalted Prince and Savior who gives repentance and remission of sins. He is head over all things pertaining to the Church, and he is God whose throne is forever and ever. His is the scepter whose kingdom is forever. His scepter is a right scepter. He is the Lord upon whose name, the Apostles declare salvation. He is the Lord of Hosts, upon whom the saints call upon in every place. And he it is who is worshipped as the Lamb that once was slain. He is glorified by all the adoring hosts of Heaven. Is He not our Great Teacher; our Atoning Sacrifice; our Lord and our God And shall we not adore him as such? Can we refuse to own him as the only hope and helper of sinners and yet reasonably expect that God will record his name in the place of our worship?

We must not omit to say further, that in the house where the God of the Bible is truly served, the Holy Spirit is honored as the great author of regeneration and sanctification in the human soul.

The Christian convert is baptized into the name of this Divine Agent, as well as into the names of the Father and the Son. He is the promised Comforter, whose office it is to convince the world of sin, righteousness and judgment, and to dwell with the disciples of Christ forever; in all ages of the world. He acts in obedience to the one divine plan, and is therefore said to speak not of himself, in the same manner as the Son declares that he speaks not of himself. And the Holy Spirit, who is thus distinguished, as a Person, from the Father and the Son, is uniformly referred to in Scripture as the Renewer and Sanctifier of those who become the children of God. Christians are declared to have been saved, not by their own works of righteousness, but by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, and to have purified their souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit.

Indeed, the Divine Spirit seems to have been denominated “Holy,” because he is the only real, efficient producer of holiness in the hearts of men. And this great truth implies the natural and total alienation of sinners from God, which is a fact always assumed in the Gospel as the basis of all its appeals and invitations.

Why do we all need to be born again? Because we have by nature no holiness of heart, and no disposition to seek reconciliation with our Maker in a proper manner, even after a sufficient sacrifice has been offered in our behalf.

And when regenerated, we are still so far from confirmed and perfect holiness, that left to ourselves, we should never become fitted for heaven. Therefore, the Spirit of God must renew and sanctify us before we can be prepared to see the Lord in peace. And it thus becomes plain that we cannot duly honor the Holy Spirit, in the worship of God, without a full, practical recognition of our entire depravity while in the natural state, and our dependence upon this Divine Agent for all right purposes, desires and works.

Christianity finds man a lost sinner, and proposes to save him, not by natural, but by supernatural means and agencies; not through his own meritorious efforts, but through a Savior crucified for him; not through his own spontaneous endeavors after holiness of heart and life, but through the subduing and renovating operations of that Divine Spirit who is abroad in the world and works with the Word of truth wherever the Gospel is faithfully preached and pressed upon the human conscience. Our religion is genuine Supernaturalism Not Superstition. The living God is in it, but works not by miracle, but mysteriously in connection with appointed instrumentalities and means. And how can the God of the Bible record his name where this great truth, and the facts which it obviously implies, are not duly acknowledged to the honor of the Eternal Spirit of grace?

#2.  Permit me to remark in the next place, that a truly Christian house of worship is one which is designed and used for the promotion of holiness and the glory of God, in accordance with the true genius of Christianity. It is not an edifice planned and erected merely to attract the admiration of the passing multitude, or to gratify the taste or pride of those who may assemble in it, by the splendor of its architecture, and the brilliancy or beauty of its decorations and ornaments. It may be inviting, and may afford evidence that Christians have as much respect for the house of God as for their own dwellings. But if it has not a higher purpose to which all else that pertains to it is made sub ordinate, it is not a place where God records his name; it is not a Christian Sanctuary. Holiness, says the Psalmist, becometh thine house forever. This is as true of a Christian Church as it was of the ancient Temple. For what end do we assemble ourselves in a place of worship, but to enlist the social element in our religion; to aid one another in the great effort to learn and do the will of God to unite in our humble pleadings at the mercy seat for grace to help us in time of need, and to spread the truths and motives of the Gospel before the minds of our fellow travelers to eternity, that they too may be led to seek and obtain that holiness without which no man shall see the Lord. We come together to acknowledge the God of the Bible in a public manner, and thus to glorify him. We come to extend the influence of divine truth to those who worship and serve the creature more than the Creator, and thus to follow out the spirit and aim of our Christianity, which is designed and fitted to subdue the world to the obedience of the faith of Christ We come to strengthen our religious habits and principles and to give stimulus and efficiency to Christian zeal in its outgoings towards the multitudes in our own community and country, and in other lands, who are perishing in sin.

The dispensation under which we live, differs widely from that which went before it, especially in the fact that our religion, which is that of the whole Bible, is essentially aggressive, in contradistinction to the less perfect religion of the Old Testament alone, which occupied a strictly defensive position. A Christian Temple therefore, is a house designed not only to preserve the true faith in its purity, but to extend the influences of the Gospel to those who are aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenant of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. It is a place of training for soldiers in the army of Christ, and of systematic preparation for well directed and oft-repeated assaults upon the. kingdom of darkness. And wo be to that people who on Opening a church and dedicating it to God, feel that the time has now come when they may quietly sit down and take their ease, caring henceforth only for the spiritual welfare of themselves and their children, and leaving the world to go on undisturbed in its downward march towards the gates of destruction.

The new sanctuary is a place not for inglorious repose, but for enlarged activity and more resolute efforts in the work of extending the salvation of the Gospel, and co-operating with Christ in the furtherance of his gracious kingdom of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. This, then, is no place to flatter vanity, or please the fancy, or satisfy the cravings of morbid imaginations. It is a spiritual laboratory where thoughts are to be analyzed and the intents of many hearts to be revealed; where light is to be poured into darkness, and heat is to be applied for the fusion of precious but most unyielding materials It is a place for spiritual struggles, and solemn resolves, and mighty prayers, and the poising and settling of eternal destinies.

It is a place for God’s omnipotence to work on human souls stirred up to vigorous strife by the application of truth and motive under the conditions of moral agency in a world of probation. It is a place for life and progress in individual hearts given to God with reference to the enlargement of Zion at home and abroad. It is a fountain for sending forth streams to deepen and widen as they advance, until they shall become a river which no man can pass over. And these streams must proceed from the bosoms of true believers, in whom the Savior has caused the waters of his abounding grace to spring up unto everlasting life. This is a place of privilege and of responsibility. It is one of those points which God selects for the special application of his Almighty energies in the execution of his eternal counsels. And he records his name in it, in characters more or less legible and enduring, according as it is more or less truly devoted to the great ends of promoting holiness and extending the kingdom of Christin the world.

#3.  It is almost needless to add, after what has been said, that a truly Christian house of worship is ordinarily one which is occupied by a Scriptural Church, maintaining a visible form, and cultivating the spirit of Godliness by a faithful observance of those ordinances which Christ has appointed. We know from the New Testament that it is a part of the Savior’s plan that his disciples should be organized into local churches, and that these associations should hold regular meetings in their several places of worship, for the purposes of exhortation, hearing the word, uniting their petitions before the throne of grace, and receiving the holy Sacraments. A Scriptural Church is a body composed of Christians united together in covenant for mutual edification, and governed by the principles of the Gospel. Such a body cannot long prosper without a careful exercise of discipline and the pervading influence of a truly spiritual piety. Gross offenders must be admonished and if need be cast out, that the whole mass may not be corrupted by the working of the evil leaven. The Christian ordinances must neither be profaned nor neglected, if holiness is to be preserved and kept on the advance in the Church; and the faith once delivered to the saints must be watchfully defended against all the encroachments and insidious devices of the enemy, whether they present themselves under the form of false charity on the one hand, or of zeal for the defense of moldy traditions on the other.

A local Church deserving the name of Christian, is one whose faith is substantially Scriptural, whose discipline is at least sufficiently thorough to preserve in a good measure the practical distinction between the professed followers of Christ and the world, and whose internal unity and fellowship are such as to illustrate, in some degree, the power of the one Gospel in assimilating hearts made kindred by the same celestial birth. God records his name in a house which is habitually occupied by such a brotherhood of Christian disciples, and will never blot out this record so long as such a branch of his great Spiritual family continues to abide in the place. He will do more than record his name here, if the characteristics which have been indicated truly belong to this new edifice. For he has said to his people, “In all places where I record my name, I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee.”

#1.  Let us dwell for a few moments (in this cheering promise. What could we hope for, if we had no such divine pledges What may we not hope for with them? Where two or three are gathered together in my name, says our Savior, there am I in the midst of them. This promise is the same in its spirit with that contained in our text. Christ is spiritually present with his disciples where they have assembled in his name, as God meets with his children when they come before him as he requires, in a place of worship truly consecrated to him. And for what purpose is the Saviour in the midst of his followers, –but to bless them, as God has declared that he will do to his people in all places where He records his name. What now is the blessing which we are authorized to expect from the God who spoke to Israel in the Mount, and who speaks to us from Heaven, in the person of Jesus Christ?

#2.  He will bless his children in the place which he has chosen, by giving them all needful external prosperity. He always grants to his true followers favor and good understanding in the sight of the people, so far as he sees to be consistent with their spiritual interests. And he affords to them the means of sustaining the institutions of the Church and of doing good to others, in proportion as he regards it wise and safe to entrust such talents to their care. If this shall be truly a place where God will delight to dwell, we shall neither have too much nor too little outward prosperity as a Christian Congregation. But if He with draw from us and leave us to the empty forms of religion without the Holy Ghost to give life to our worship, how soon may dissension and evil counsels destroy us, or worldliness come in like a flood and sweep us away into spiritual ruin. It will be an unspeakable blessing to have the All-wise God measure out to us just the right amount of pecuniary ability and of personal and social influence among our fellow-men. And he will do it if we trust him.

#3.  God blesses his people where he records his name, with internal peace and spiritual strength. The more fully and truly the house of worship is devoted to the great ends to be contemplated in the consecration of such a place, the more richly will the Holy Spirit of promise dwell in the hearts of those for whose benefit it was erected and is set apart. And it is alone by the indwelling of this Divine Agent that the hearts of Christians can be brought into close and abiding sympathy with one another, and be kept under the dominion of brotherly love. With the unity of the Spirit we can preserve the bond of peace; for this will keep alive in our souls a common consciousness of our connection with the body of Christ, which will make our mutual fellowship sweet, and will effectually overpower all those trivial occasions of collision and conflict, or of distrust and coldness, which so often hold brethren bought with the same blood, in painful separation from each other.

And with religious peace and confidence within the Christian body, there must be also Spiritual strength. When the members learn to have fervent charity among themselves and all suffer and rejoice together, it becomes possible to bring the several powers of the body into harmonious cooperation, and the vigor Of the whole and of each part is by a natural law steadily increased, while the Divine Spirit pervades all, by his life-giving energies. It is the privilege of every Christian Church to secure such concentration and power, and the more, as their facilities for religious worship and usefulness are improved and expanded. The dedication of a new edifice to God ought to operate as a means of Opening the hearts Of Christians for the reception of those special influences from on high which are needful to quicken the body of Christ and to give it renewed efficiency and fresh preparation for its great work. For this is an occasion which calls up into clear view, the necessity of Divine help, and the fullness of those promises which are given for the encouragement of God’s people in the Opening of a house for his honor and praise.

#4.  The Lord will bless His true Israel wherever he records His name, with continued spiritual progress. Progress is a law Of Christianity; progress in the hearts of believers; progress in the world. Christians never in this life, reach the end of their spiritual warfare. But this one thing they are bound to do; forgetting the things which are behind, they ought to press toward the mark, for the prize of their high calling; they ought to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And when they continue to assemble together with honest and earnest reference to this great object, with one accord in one place, the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier, is sent down to dwell in the midst of them and take up his abode in their hearts. This is the true and only method of ensuring spiritual progress in a Church. Paul may plant and Apollos water, but it is God who giveth the increase, both in quickening and purifying the souls of individuals, and in adding to the body of believers such as shall be saved.

And though the treasure of the Gospel is committed to earthen vessels, but the excellency of the power is of God! Remember, God’s ministers and people can do all things through Christ, strengthening them. The weapons of their warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God, to the pulling down of strong holds. There is no reason why the holiness and moral power and usefulness of a Church should not increase from year to year, and from generation to generation, if the people as well as the house, are consecrated to God. Why should there be a limit to our religious growth! Why should the members and the children of this congregation be alone in receiving the blessings of saving grace through the means and instrumentalities to be here employed! Why should not our faith extend to them that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God will call!

In conclusion permit me to remind you, my brethren, that the promise which we have been contemplating, is not given without an implied condition. God does not record his name, as we have seen, where the people do not truly acknowledge Him and His ordinances and Institutions. And if he should make the record because the condition of it exists at any particular time, he will erase it, if at another time he should cease to be honored in the place. Let us bear in mind, then, the solemn declaration, “Them that honor me, I will honor; and they that despise me shall be lightly esteem.”

This transition point, my brethren, is one around which momentous interests are clustered. It is to us a time of joy; but it suggests a train of reflections that carry us far beyond the period of the living generation, through all the ages of coming time, and brings us in thought, before the Great White Throne of Judgment, where we shall review the results of the moral causes here set in motion, under the radiance of a light too bright for our present powers of endurance. This is God’s house. Here the Shechinah is to dwell. Here saints are to be quickened and souls renewed. Here the seeds of immortal life are to be sown and watered Here vessels of mercy are to be prepared for glory and vessels of wrath, we fear, will be fitted for destruction. For here, doubtless, the Gospel will prove a sweet savor of God in them that are saved and in them that perish to the one a savor of life unto life; to the other a savor of death unto death.

What, my hearers, shall be the nature of the impulse given by this occasion to the spiritual influences here set in operation! What shall be the character and direction of the streams that shall begin now to issue from this Sanctuary! Shall they be pure, and shall they go out to make glad the City of our God!  It may be so; it will be so, if both place and people are dedicated, without reserve, to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; and if the vows implied in this consecration are faith fully kept.

Having, therefore, Brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which he hath consecrated for us, through the vail, that is to say, his flesh; and having a High Priest over the house Of God, let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; “for he is faithful that promised.” Let us consider one another, to provoke unto love and to good works! not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another; and so much the more as ye see the day approaching.

And now, 0 LORD, arise and enter into Thy rest, Thou and the ark of thy strength. THOU GLORIOUS TRINITY, FATHER, SON, AND HOLY GHOST, record thy name in this place, and here come to us and bless us. May this be truly Thy Tabernacle, O Lord of Hosts. Here may the name Of God be glorified, His people be quickened, comforted, instructed and sanctified, His Gospel be made powerful in calling dead souls to life, and His truth be held forth in its purity and saving efficacy, long after the present speaker and the present congregation shall have gone to their final homes.

 

Amen.

Towards Understanding the Early Christian Church and its Times Through the Life of Justin Martyr

Taken from, “GREAT MEN OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH”
Written by, Williston Walker
Edited and adapted for easier reading

justin.martyr.jpg

To pass from the time of the Pauline epistles to the middle of the second century is to come into a very different world of thought.

The Old battle which Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, had bravely fought against the imposition of a legalistic Jewish yoke upon heathen converts, had become well-nigh forgotten ancient history. 

The destruction of Jerusalem (A. D. 70) and the rapid growth of churches on Gentile soil had shifted the center of gravity of the Christian population, so that the vast majority of disciples were now of heathen antecedents. Of all parts of the Roman Empire, Asia Minor was that in which the church was now most strongly represented. Syria, northward of Palestine, Macedonia, and Greece were only in less degree its home. Probably it was already growing strong in Egypt. A close knit, extensive, influential, Greek-speaking congregation was to be found in Rome, and a group of small assemblies existed in the Rhone Valley of what is now France. Probably, but less certainly, the church was already well represented in the old Carthaginian region of Africa; but, in general, the Latin portion of the Empire was as yet little reached by the gospel.

Christians, though rapidly growing in numbers, were still chiefly from the lower classes of the population and of slight social influence. They were knit to one another by a common belief in God and Christ; a confidence in a divine revelation contained in the Old Testament and continued through men of the gospel age and subsequent times by the ever-working Spirit of God; a morality relatively high as compared with that of surrounding heathenism; and a confident hope that the present evil world was Speedily to pass away, and the Kingdom of God to be established in its stead. As sojourners separated from the world they owed each other aid, and developed a noble Christian benevolence.

Yet, though the Christianity of the middle of the second century had possessed itself fully of Paul’s freedom from Jewish ceremonialism, it was far from being Pauline. It did not consciously reject him; but it was unable to grasp his more spiritual conceptions of sin and grace and the significance of Christ’s death. Paul had been only one, if the greatest, of the missionaries by whom Christianity had been preached. To ordinary disciples of heathen antecedents, Christ seemed primarily the revealer of the one true God of whom heathenism had but dimly known, and was the proclaimer of a new and purer law of right living. God, through Christ, had revealed his nature and purposes, and had given new commandments which were to be fulfilled by chaste living and upright conduct. “Keep the commandments of the Lord, and thou shalt be well -pleasing to God, and shalt be enrolled among the number of them that keep his commandments,” said Hermas, writing at Rome between 130 and 140; and adding another utterly un-Pauline feeling of the possibility of works of supererogation: “but if thou do any good thing outside the commandment of God thou shalt win for thyself more exceeding glory. Fasting is better than prayer, but almsgiving than both,” said a preacher to his hearers a few years later, probably in Corinth or Rome.”

These changing conceptions of the Christian life were not the chief perils, however, which Christianity was encountering. It had come not into a world empty of thought. And, as we do now, that age attempted to interpret the gospel message in the light of its own science and its own conceptions. It had its own philosophies and its own religions with their secrets for those initiated into their mysteries. The result was a number of interpretations of Christianity, called in general Knowledge, (γνῶσις), the thought being that those who possessed this inner and deeper understanding knew the real essence of the gospel much better than the ordinary believer. Gnosticism had its beginnings before the later books of the New Testament were written. The Pastoral Epistles and the Johannine literature contain clear references to it (Examples would be; I Tim. I:4; 6:20; II Tim. 3:6-8; I John 4:2-3.). The Gnostics, however, as a full system of beliefs, did not however develop their power till the second quarter of the second century.

Gnosticism had many forms, but its essential feature was that it made the God of the Old Testament a relatively weak and imperfect being. It taught that the perfect and hitherto unknown God, far abler and better than the God of the Old Testament, sent Christ to reveal himself and to give men the knowledge by which they can be brought from the kingdom of evil to that of light. Since most Gnostics regarded this physical world as evil, any real incarnation was unthinkable, and Christ’s death can have been in appearance only. If his body was more than a ghostly deception, then Jesus was a man indwelt by the divine Christ only from his baptism to shortly before his expiring agony on the cross.

This thinking, though urged by men of great ability, denied the historic continuity of Christianity with the Old Testament revelation, it rejected a real incarnation, and it changed Christianity from a historic faith to a higher form of knowledge for the initiated, explanatory of the origin and nature of the universe. This Gnostic crisis was the most severe through which the church had yet passed; and its dangers were doubly increased when essentially Gnostic views of the Old Testament and of the inferior character of the God therein revealed, though by no means all the Gnostic positions, were advocated by a man of deep religious spirit, in some respects the first church reformer of history, Marcion.

Having come from Asia Minor to Rome about 140, Marcion broke with the Roman church in 144, charging it, –not wholly groundlessly, with having perverted Paul’s Gospel to a new Jewish legalism. To him Paul was the only genuine apostle; and he gathered a little collection of sacred writings, including ten of Paul’s epistles and the Gospel of Luke, but shorn of all passages intimating that the God of the Old Testament was identical with Him whom Christ revealed. All the rest of the apostles and of our New Testament writings he rejected. It was indeed true that the church of his day was very un-Pauline; but his Paulinism was of a type which Paul himself would have been the first to discredit.

To answer the Gnostics, the party within the church representing historic Christianity replied by gathering a collection of authoritative writings, the major part forms our New Testament; and presented their teachings by the preparation of creeds. The first Creed which was formed, is what we wrongly call the “Apostles Creed.  The basis and authority of these creeds were established by appealing to the teaching handed down in the individual churches which were personally founded by the apostles, and whose authenticity was guaranteed by the continuity of those church’s officers. Out of this struggle, the rigid, doctrinally conservative, legalistic church of the third century —the Old Catholic church — came into being.

To these perils from within were added the dangers which sprang from popular hatred, due to heathen misunderstanding and jealousy, and to the occasional active hostility of the Roman government, which viewed the new religion as unpatriotic and stubborn because of the unwillingness of its adherents to conform to the worship prescribed by the state . Its feeling was much that which would animate many among us should any considerable party now refuse to honor the flag. To the unthinking, because they refused to join in the worship which the state required, the Christians seemed at once atheistic and unpatriotic. Popular superstition, because of their refusal to share in heathen festivals and their worship by themselves, –charged them with practices of revolting immorality. The Jews, also, though politically insignificant, were critical of Christianity; and, existing as they did in every large Roman community, their objections had to be met. These conditions determined Justin Martyr’s work. He would defend Christianity against its heathen Opponents, its Jewish critics, and its enemies within its own household. Hence the threefold battle which he fought.

Justin Martyr, is one of the most characteristic Christian figures, and one of the most useful Christian writers, of the second century. He was a native of Flavia Neapolis, near the older Shechem, in ancient Samaria. Though thus born within the bounds of Palestine, and speaking of himself as a Samaritan, he was certainly uncircumcised and doubtless of heathen origin and training. It was not till after his conversion that he became familiar with the Old Testament.

Of the date of his birth nothing certain is known; but it must have been not far from the year 100. From early youth he was evidently studious, and he gives, in his Dialogue with Trypho, a picturesque account of his search for a satisfactory philosophy. His first initiation was through a Stoic, but when he sought knowledge of God this instructor told him it was needless. He then turned to the Aristotelians, but the promptness with which the teacher sought his fee made him doubt the genuineness of such interested claims. A Pythagorean next was sought, but this philosopher insisted on extensive preliminary acquaintance with music, astronomy, and geometry. Discouraged thus, Justin now turned with hope to a Platonist, and found real satisfaction in this most spiritual of ancient philosophies. He must have made no little progress in his new Studies, for he now adopted the philosopher’s cloak as his distinctive garb— a dress which he thenceforth always wore Yet, even while a Platonist, the constancy with which Christians met death impressed him, and led him to doubt the crimes with which they were popularly charged.

Nevertheless, it was through the gateway of his beloved philosophy that Justin was to be brought, however, into the Christian fold. As he tells the story, a chance meeting with an old man, as he walked by the sea, probably near Ephesus, resulted in a discussion in which his adviser turned his attention to the prophets as “men more ancient than all those who are esteemed philosophers, both righteous and beloved of God, who Spoke by the Divine Spirit, and foretold events which would take place, and which are now taking place Their writings are still extant.” The effect upon the inquirer was immediate and powerful. “Straightway,” he records, “a flame was kindled in my soul; and a love of the prophets, and of those men who are friends of Christ, possessed me; and I found this philosophy alone to be safe and profitable. Thus, and for this reason, I am a philosopher.

This conversion, whether the exact circumstances narrated are historic or are the product of Justin’s literary skill, actually did take place, and we may conjecture them occurring before A. D. I35, –and therefore before he had reached middle life.  Further, this fundamental experience was in entire harmony with Justin’s previous philosophic training. Principally, because its central features were not, as with Paul, based upon a profound sense of sin, and of new life through union with Christ, but rather a conviction that God had spoken through the prophets and revealed His truth in Christ, –and in this message alone was to be found the true philosophy of conduct and life and the real explanation of the world here and hereafter .

To him the Old Testament was always the Book of books; but primarily because it foretold the Christ that was to come. For these truths he was willing to suffer; and to teach them became henceforth his employment. Just where he lived after this, and labored, it is in general impossible to say; but he was in Rome soon after the year 150, and it was there that he was later to meet his death. It was also at Rome, not improbably in 152 or 153, and certainly within the four or five years immediately subsequent to 150, that Justin wrote his noteworthy defense of Christianity against its heathen Opponents which placed him first among Christian apologists. This earnest appeal for justice— the ‘Apology’ is addressed to the emperor, Antoninus Pius (138-162) and his adopted sons, Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus.

In a direct and manly fashion, Justin calls upon these rulers to ascertain whether Christians are really guilty of the charges popularly laid against them and not to condemn them on the mere name. The Christians are accused of atheism, but they disown only the Old gods, whose existence Justin does not deny, but whom he regards as wicked demons. “We confess that we are atheists, so far as gods of this sort are concerned, but not with respect to the most true God, the Father of righteousness and temperance and the other virtues, who is free from all impurity.”  “The Christians are charged with disloyalty to the Roman state,” Justin maintains, “but that is due to a misunderstanding of the nature of the kingdom that Christians seek. When you hear that we look for a kingdom you suppose, without making any inquiry, that we speak of a human kingdom; whereas we speak of that which is with God. Christians are not disloyal. On the contrary their principles make them the best of citizens. More than all other men we are your helpers and allies in promoting peace, seeing that we hold this view, that it is alike impossible for the wicked, the covetous, the conspirator, and for the virtuous, to escape the notice of God, and that each man goes to everlasting punishment or salvation according to the value of his actions. Christians worship God, Justin declares, rationally; not by destroying the good things he has given by useless sacrifices, but offering thanks by invocations and hymns for our creation, and for all the means of health, and for the various qualities of the different kinds of things, and for the changes of the seasons; and to present before Him petitions for our existing again in incorruption through faith in Him. Our teacher of these things is Jesus Christ, who also was born for this purpose, and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea, in the times of Tiberius Caesar; and that we reasonably worship Him, having learned that He is the son of the true God Himself, and holding Him in the second place, and the prophetic Spirit in the third, we will prove.”

The last quotation shows that Justin’s view of Christ had not developed the form which we are accustomed to connecting with the doctrine of the Trinity, but judged by the standards of the fourth and fifth centuries. He does have a doctrine of the Trinity, but it is relatively unthought-out.

Yet his view of Christ is lofty indeed. It sees in him the divine activity always manifesting itself in the world, the constant outflowing of the wisdom of God, or we might say, the intelligence of God in action. Taking up the “Logos doctrine of the Stoic philosophers, so akin in many respects to that of the Fourth Gospel, and so easily combined with the conception of the divine “Wisdom,” set forth, for example in Proverbs. Justin taught that the divine intelligence had been always at work, not merely in creation and in the revelation of God to an Abraham or a Moses, but illuminating a Socrates or a Heraclitus, and the source of all good everywhere. In Jesus, this divine Wisdom was fully revealed. It, or to reflect Justin’s view we should say He, “took shape, and became man, and was called Jesus Christ.”

In speaking of Justin’s conversion, mention was made of the importance which he attached to the prophets and to the fulfilment of their utterances. They were men “through whom the prophetic Spirit published beforehand things that were to come to pass.” It was therefore natural that a large part of his Apology and of his Dialogue with Trypho was devoted to an exposition of such of their utterances as he believed bore on the life and significance of Christ; but he went much farther. Like Jewish writers before him, he looked upon the philosophers of Greece, especially his honored Plato, as having borrowed much from Moses. In Christianity was that true philosophy which all the philosophers, in so far as they have seen truth at all, have dimly perceived. The Jews, in his Opinion, had special ordinances, such as the Sabbath, circumcision, and abstinence from unclean meats, given them on account of the peculiar “hardness of their hearts;” but Christ has now established “another covenant and another law.” He has revealed God and God’s will to men; has overcome the demons who deceived men and delighted in their sins, whom Justin identifies with the old gods; and has appointed baptism as the rite effecting the remission of offenses. Christ’s work is, in Justin’s estimation, essentially that of a Revealer and Lawgiver, though he is not without some appreciation of the saving significance of his life and death and declares that “we trust in the blood of salvation.” This redeeming aspect of Christ’s work remains, however, relatively undeveloped in his thinking.

Thus, Justin defended Christianity against its heathen and its Jewish critics. He also replied to its foes of its own household, but his writings against Marcion are lost. His attitude may, however, be surmised from his declaration that the devils put forward Marcion of Pontus. The contest with Gnosticism was, indeed, strenuous; but charity toward those deemed “heretics” was never one of the virtues of the early church.

A most interesting glimpse is afforded in Justin’s Apology of the yet simple worship of the Roman church in the middle of the second century.

Admission to its membership was by faith, repentance, an upright life, and baptism, though in Justin’s view faith is primarily an acceptance of Christ’s teachings rather than as with Paul a new personal relationship. As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly, are instructed to pray and to entreat God with fasting, for the remission of their sins that are past, we are praying and fasting with them. Then they are brought by us to where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. He who was baptized was counted fully of the church and shares in its worship. On Sunday the congregations gathered in city or country; the “memoirs of the apostles,” i. e., the gospels, or “the writings Of the prophets were read. Then the “president, for Justin avoids technical terms for church officers, verbally instructed, that is, preached a sermon. Next, all rose and prayed standing, the “president” doubtless leading, and the people responding “Amen.” Prayer ended, they saluted one another with a kiss. Bread and wine mingled with water were next brought to the “president,” probably by the deacons; and “after prayers and thanksgivings” offered by him, the Lord’s Supper was administered to those present, and the consecrated elements were taken by the deacons to the absent. The service closed with a collection, from which the necessities of widows, orphans, the ill, prisoners, and strangers were relieved; for the wealthy among us help the needy, and we always keep together.

A pleasing picture, surely, of the simple worship and mutual helpfulness of what it must be remembered were still close-knit little congregations, regarding themselves as separate from the world, and all too unjustly looked upon by it as misanthropic, unpatriotic, atheistic, and guilty of secret crimes. Justin himself was to receive the crown of martyrdom. After the composition of his Apology he left Rome, but of his journeys we know nothing, and he was back in the City where he was to die during the governorship of its prefect, Junius Rusticus, that is between 163 and 167, in the early part of the reign of Marcus Aurelius.

 The account of his trial gives an interesting picture of the examination of a company of Christians at ‘the bar of Roman justice.’ In form, as in all ancient procedure, it was much like an examination in a modern police court, the judge questioning and sentencing the prisoners. Justin was brought before Rusticus, with six other Christians, one a woman, whom the judge evidently regarded as his disciples. Rusticus the prefect said to Justin, “Obey the gods at once, and submit to the Kings. Justin said, “To obey the commandments of our Savior, Jesus Christ, is worthy neither of blame nor of condemnation. Rusticus the prefect said, “What kind of doctrines do you profess?” Justin said, “I have endeavored to learn all doctrines; but I have acquiesced at last in the true doctrines, namely of the Christians, even though they do not please those who hold false opinions.” Rusticus the prefect said, “Are those the doctrines that please you, you utterly wretched man?” Justin said, “Yes, since I adhere to them with orthodoxy. Justin then tried to explain Christianity; but the judge soon cut him short. Rusticus the prefect said, “Tell me where you assemble, or into what place do you collect your followers?” Justin said, “I live above one Martinus, at the Timiotinian Bath; and during the whole time (and I am now living in Rome for the second time) I am unaware of any other meeting than his.” (Possibly Justin meant that his was the only school where Christianity was taught in Rome. See Harnack, Die Missiou and Ausbreitung des Christentums, p. 260.)

Whether this was literally so maybe doubted, but Justin does not seem to be unnaturally anxious to prevent persecution extending to his fellow-Christians. Rusticus said, “Are you not then a Christian?” Justin said, “Yes, I am a Christian.” Thus, satisfied of the guilt of the prisoner, the judge turned to his six fellow-accused, and tried to make several of them acknowledge themselves Justin’s disciples. They all promptly owned themselves Christians, but gave evasive answers as to Justin’s share in their conversion, doubtless wishing to shield him. But the judge was disposed to overlook the past provided the prisoners would now yield full obedience.

Here came, as in most early Christian trials, the real test of steadfastness; and a terrible test it was. A pinch of incense cast on the fire burning on the altar before the bench would have freed them; but it would, in the opinion of the time, have been a total denial of Christ. The prefect says to Justin, “Hearken, you who are called learned, and think that you know true doctrines; if you are scourged and beheaded, do you believe you will ascend into heaven?” Justin said, “I hope that, if I endure these things, I shall have His gifts. For I know that, to all who have thus lived, there abides the divine favor until the completion of the whole world.” Rusticus the prefect said, “Do you suppose, then, that you will ascend into heaven to receive some recompense? Justin said, I do not suppose it, but I know and am fully persuaded of it.” Rusticus the prefect said, “Let us, then, now come to the matter in hand, and which presses. Having come together, offer sacrifice with one accord to the gods. Justin said, “No right-thinking person falls away from piety to impiety. Rusticus the prefect said, “Unless ye obey, ye shall be mercilessly punished. Justin said, “Through prayer we can be saved on account of our Lord Jesus Christ, even when we have been punished, because this shall become to us salvation and confidence at the more fearful and universal judgment-seat of our Lord and Savior. Thus, also said the other martyrs: “Do what you will, for we are Christians, and do not sacrifice to idols. Rusticus the prefect pronounced sentence, saying, “Let those who have refused to sacrifice to the gods and to yield to the command of the emperor be scourged, and led away to suffer the punishment of decapitation, according to the laws.

So died a martyr for his faith, and one of the most deserving of the Christian leaders of the second century.

The Nature and Calling of Free Grace

Written by J.C. Philpot

I admire and love the grace of God; and the longer I live, the more do I love and admire it.

My sins, my corruptions, my infirmities make me feel my deep and daily need of it; and as its freeness, fulness, suitability and inexpressible blessedness are more and more opened up to my heart and conscience, so do I more and more cleave to and delight in it. What, in fact, is there which you can substitute for it?

I assume that you have some concern about religion; that the solemn realities of eternity press with more or less weight on your conscience, and that you are awakened to see the evil of sin and your own evil case as sinners. I speak not to stocks and stones; I speak to you who desire to fear God and to have your hearts right before Him. If you have no concern about the salvation of your soul, you will love many things far beyond free grace. Money, dress, amusements, the pleasures that present themselves on every side, though hollow as the tomb and vain as a drunkard’s mirth, will so charm your mind and occupy your thoughts that Christ and His gospel will have no place in your conscience. But if you have any anxiety about your eternal condition, and are brought to cry, “What shall I do to be saved?” then I ask you, what can you put in the place of free grace? Surely, you cannot be so foolish as to put your own works in its stead. Surely, you cannot be so ignorant of your ruined condition before God, and of what is revealed in the Scriptures of the way of salvation by the atoning blood of Jesus, as to substitute the words and works of man for the words and works of the God-Man?

You may doubt your own interest in His atoning blood; but you do not doubt that salvation is all of grace, and that if saved your soul can be saved by grace alone.

And why not YOU be saved? What countless trophies has grace already at the Redeemer’s feet! What hosts of ruined wretches, of souls sunk beyond all other help or hope, has free grace sought out, rescued from their destructions, plucked from the jaws of hell, and ransomed from the hand of him that was stronger than they, so that they have come and sung in the height of Zion, and flowed together to the goodness of the Lord!

Look at Paul. Where can we find among the sons of men a parallel to the great Apostle of the Gentiles? What a large capacity! What a powerful intellect he naturally possessed, but how subdued and subjugated it became by grace, and how devoted to the glory of God and the advancement of His Dear Son! How grace arrested him at Damascus’ gate, cast him down body and soul at the Redeemer’s feet, translated him from the power of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son, and changed a bloodthirsty persecutor of the church of Christ into a minister and an apostle, the greatest ever seen. As such, what a deep humility, thorough disinterestedness, noble simplicity, godly zeal, unwearied labors distinguished him from first to last-a course of more than thirty years.

How in his inspired writings he pours, as it were, from his pen the richest streams of heavenly truth! With what clearness, power, and savor he describes and enforces the way of salvation through the blood shedding and obedience of the Son of God, the blessings of free grace, the glorious privileges of the saints, and the things that make for their happiness and holiness! How in every epistle it seems as if his pen could hardly drop a line without in some way setting forth the infinite grace, the boundless mercy, and unfathomable love of God, as displayed in the gift of His dear Son, and the blessings that flow to the church through His blood and love.

But look not at Paul only. View the jewels on every side that grace has set in the Redeemer’s crown out of the most depraved and abject materials! Who, for instance, were those Ephesians to whom Paul wrote that wonderful epistle? The most foolish and besotted of idolaters, so infatuated with their image which fell down from Jupiter-most probably some huge meteoric stone, that had fallen from the sky-that they spent two hours until they wearied out their throats with crying, Great is Diana of the Ephesians; ! men debased with every lust, ripe and ready for every crime. How rich, how marvelous the grace that changed worshippers of Diana into worshippers of Jehovah, brutal howlers into singers who made melody in their heart to the Lord (Eph. 5:19), and magicians, full of curious arts and Satanic witchcraft, into saints built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets!

Now cannot the same grace, that did so much for them, do the same or similar things for us?

Is the nature of man now less vile, or is the grace of Christ now less full and free? Has the lapse of 1800 years raised man out of the depths of the Fall, eradicated sin from his constitution, cleansed the foul leprosy of his nature, and purified it into holiness? Let the thin sheet of decent morality and civilization be taken off the corpse, and here it lies in all its hideous ghastliness.

Human nature is still what it ever was dead in trespasses and sins. Or has time, which changes so many things on earth, changed things in heaven? Is not God the same gracious Father, Jesus the same compassionate Savior, the Holy Spirit the same heavenly Teacher? Is not the gospel the same glad tidings of salvation, and the power of the gospel the same to everyone that believeth? Then why should not we be blessed with the same spiritual blessings as the saints at Ephesus? Why may not the same Jesus be to us what He was to them, the same Spirit to do for us and in us what He did for and in them, and the same grace save and sanctify us which saved and sanctified them? Here and here alone is our strength, our help, our hope, our all.

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Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage:  Joseph Charles Philpot (1802 – 1869) was known as “The Seceder”. He resigned from the Church of England in 1835 and became a Strict & Particular Baptist. While with the Church of England he was a Fellow of Worchester College, Oxford. After becoming a Strict and Particular Baptist he became the Editor of the Gospel Standard magazine and served in that capacity for twenty years.

Educated at Oxford University, he was elected a fellow of Worcester College, and appeared to have a brilliant scholastic career before him. But he was brought into solemn concern spiritually and the Lord led him into the ministry. He first preached in the Established Church at Stadhampton (Oxfordshire). In 1835, however, he was constrained, for the truth’s sake, to sever his connection with the Church of England and to resign his curacy and his fellowship. The letter to the provost stating his reasons was published and went into several editions.

The same year, he was baptized by John Warburton at Allington (Wilts). The rest of his life was spent ministering among the Strict Baptists. For 26 years, he held a joint pastorate at Stamford (Lines) and Oakham (Rutland). In addition for over twenty years, he was editor of “The Gospel Standard”, where many of his sermons first appeared.

–Theopedia

A Simple Understanding of the Transcendence and Sovereignty of God from a Historical and Biblical Christian Context

eye-looking-up

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In the early part of the fifth century these two types of religious thought came into direct conflict in a remarkably clear contrast as embodied in two fifth-century theologians, Augustine and Pelagius.

Augustine pointed men to God as the source of all true spiritual wisdom and strength, while Pelagius instead threw men back on themselves and said that they would be able in their own strength to do all that God commanded, otherwise God would not command it. We believe that Arminianism represents something of a compromise between these two systems, including its more evangelical form, early Wesleyanism. And while Arminianism approaches the form of a religion of faith, it nevertheless does so while containing some serious elements of error.

We are living in a day in which practically all of the historic churches are being attacked from within by unbelief. Many of them have already succumbed. And almost invariably the line of descent has been from a historic, biblical Christianity to Arminianism, from Arminianism to Liberalism, and then to Unitarianism. And the history of Liberalism and Unitarianism shows that they deteriorate into a social gospel which is a system too weak to sustain itself. Therefore, we are convinced that the future of Christianity is bound up with that system of theology which goes back to its historic, and biblical roots.

Where God-centered principles of the Bible have been abandoned, there inevitably has been a strong tendency downward into the depths of man-centered naturalism or secularism. Some have declared (rightly, we believe) that there is no consistent stopping or halfway place between an orthodox Biblical Christianity and atheism.

The basic principle of Christianity is the sovereignty of God. This represents the purpose of the Triune God as absolute, unconditional, and independent of the whole finite creation, which originated solely in the eternal counsel of His will. Therefore, He appoints the course of nature and directs the course of history down to the minutest details. His decrees therefore are eternal, unchangeable, holy, wise and sovereign. They are represented in the Bible as being the evidence and basis of God’s divine foreknowledge of all future events, and that His will is not conditioned by that foreknowledge or by anything originating in the events themselves.

Every thinking person readily sees that some sovereignty rules his life. For instance, he was not asked whether or not he would have existence, or when or what or where he would be born, or whether it would be in the twentieth century or before the Flood, or even whether male or female, whether white or black, whether in the United States, or China, or Africa. All of those things were sovereignly decided for him before he had any existence. It has been recognized by Christians in all ages that God is the Creator and Ruler of the world, and that as such He is the ultimate source of all power that is found in the world. Hence nothing can come to pass apart from His sovereign will, otherwise He would not be truly GOD. And when we dwell on this truth we find that it involves considerations which establishes both the true orthodox, Biblical position,  and disproves the Arminian position.

By virtue of the fact that God has created everything that exists, He is the absolute Owner and final Disposer of all that He has made. He exerts not merely a general influence, but actually rules in the affairs of men (Acts 4:24-28). Even the nations are as the small dust of the balance when compared with His greatness (Isaiah 40:12-17).

Amid all the apparent defeats and inconsistencies of our human lives, God is actually controlling all things in undisturbed majesty. Even the sinful actions of men can occur only by His permission and with the strength that he gives the creature. And since He permits not unwillingly but willingly, then all that comes to pass – including even the sinful actions and ultimate destiny of men – must be, in some sense, in accordance with what He has eternally purposed and decreed. Just in proportion as this is denied, God is excluded from the government of the world, and we have only a finite God. Naturally, some problems arise which in our present state of knowledge we are not able fully to explain. But that is not a sufficient reason for rejecting what the Scriptures and the plain dictates of reason affirm to be true.

And shall we not believe that God can convert a sinner when He pleases? Cannot the Almighty, the omnipotent Ruler of heaven and earth, change the character of the creatures He has made? He changed the water into wine at Cana and converted Saul on the road to Damascus. The leper said, “Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean” (Mathew. 8:2). And at a word his leprosy was cleansed. Let us not believe, as do the Arminians, that God cannot control the human will, or that He cannot regenerate a soul when He pleases. He is as able to cleanse the soul as the body. If He chose He could raise up such a flood of Christian ministers, missionaries and workers of various kinds, and could so work through His Holy Spirit, that the entire world would be converted in a very short time. If He had purposed to save all men He could have sent hosts of angels to instruct them and to do supernatural works on the earth. He could have worked marvelously in the heart of every person so that no one would have been lost.

Since evil exists only by His permission, He could, if He chose, blot it out of existence. His power in this respect was shown, for instance, in the work of the destroying angel who in one night slew all of the first-born of the Egyptians (Exodus 12:29), and in another night slew 185,000 of the Assyrian army (II Kings 19:35). It was shown when the earth opened and swallowed Korah and his rebellious allies (Numbers 16.31-35). King Herod was smitten and died a horrible death (Acts 12:23). In Daniel 4:34-35 we read that the Most High God’s “dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom from generation to generation; and all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; and he doeth according to his will in the armies of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and no one can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?”

All of this brings out the basic principle of the true, Biblical, Christian Faith – the sovereignty of God.

God created this world in which we find ourselves, He owns it, and He is running it according to His own sovereign good pleasure. God has lost none of His power, and it is highly dishonoring to Him to suppose that He is struggling along with the human race, doing the best He can to persuade men to do right, but unable to accomplish His eternal, unchangeable, holy, wise, and sovereign purpose.

Any religious system which teaches that the serious intentions of God can in some cases be defeated, and that man, who is not only a creature but a sinful creature, can exercise veto power over the plans of Almighty God, is in striking contrast to the biblical idea of his immeasurable exaltation by which He is removed from all weaknesses of humanity. That the plans of men are not always executed is due to a lack of power, or a lack of wisdom, or both.

But since God is unlimited in these and in all other resources, no unforeseen emergencies can arise. To Him the causes for change have no existence. To assume that His plan fails and that he strives to no effect is to reduce Him to the level of His creatures and make Him no God at all.

———————————–
Taken from, “The Reformed Faith,” condensed, edited and adapted with apologies for a younger, audience. 
“The Reformed Faith,”
was originally written by, Loraine Boettner in 1983.

History: When Augustine Reintroduced Christmas to England

 Taken from, “Christmas, its Origin and Associations”
Written by, W.F. Dawson.

leo crowns charlemagne

The outgoing of the Romans and the incoming of the Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes disastrously affected the festival of Christmas…

…for the invaders were heathens, and Christianity was swept westward before them. They had lived in a part of the Continent which had not been reached by Christianity nor classic culture, and they worshipped the false gods of Woden and Thunder, and were addicted to various heathenish practices, some of which now mingled with the festivities of Christmastide.

Still, as these Angles came to stay and have given their name to our country, it may be well to note that they came over to Britain from the one country which is known to have borne the name of Angeln or the Engle-land, and which is now called Sleswick, a district in the middle of that peninsula which parts the Baltic from the North Sea or German Ocean. The Romans having become weakened through their conflicts with Germany and other nations, at the beginning of the fifth century, the Emperor Honorius recalled the Roman legions from Britain, and this made it much easier for the Angles and Saxons (who had previously tried to get in)”to come and remain in this country.

Thus our Teuton forefathers came and conquered much the greater part of Britain, the Picts and Scots remaining in the north and the Welsh in the west of the island. It was their custom to kill or make slaves of all the people they could, and so completely did they conquer that part of Britain in which they settled that they kept their own language and manners and their own heathenish religion,and destroyed or desecrated Christian churches which had been set up. Hence Christian missionaries were required to convert our ancestral worshippers of Woden and Thunder, and a difficult business it was to Christianise such pagans, for they stuck to their false gods with the same tenacity that the northern nations did.

In his poem ofKing Olaf’s Christmas” Longfellow refers to the worship of Thor and Odin alongside with the worship of Christ in the northern nations:”

“At Drontheim, Olaf the King
Heard the bells of Yule-tide ring,
As he sat in his banquet-hall.
Drinking the nut-brown ale,
With his bearded Berserks hale
And tall.
O’er his drinking horn, the sign
He made of the Cross divine
As he drank, and muttered his prayers ;
But the Berserks evermore
Made the sign of the Hammer of Thor
Over theirs.”

In England, too, Christ and Thor were worshipped side by side for at least 150 years after the introduction of Christianity, for while some of the English accepted Christ as their true friend and Saviour, He was not accepted by all the people. Indeed, the struggle against Him is still going on, but we anticipate the time when He shall be victorious all along the line.

The Christmas festival was duly observed by the missionaries who came to the South of England from Rome, headed by Augustine of Canterbury, (not Augustine of Hippo) and in the northern parts of the country the Christian festivities were revived by the Celtic missionaries from lona, under Aidan, the famous Colombian monk. At least half of England was covered by the Columbian monks, whose great foundation upon the rocky island of lona, in the Hebrides, was the source of Christianity to Scotland. The ritual of the Celtic differed from that of the Romish missionaries, and caused confusion, till at the Synod of Whitby (664) the Northumbrian Kingdom adopted the Roman usages, and England obtained ecclesiastical unity as a branch of the Church of Rome. Thus unity in the Church preceded bv several centuries unity in the State.

In connection with Augustine’s mission to England, a memorable story (recorded in Green’s “History of the English People”) tells how, when but a young Roman deacon, Gregory had noted the white bodies, the fair faces, the golden hair of some youths who stood bound in the market-place of Rome. “From what country do these slaves come?” he asked the traders who brought them. “They are English, Angles!” the slave-dealers answered. The deacon’s pity veiled itself in poetic humour. “Not Angles, but Angels,” he said, ”with faces so angel-like! From what countrv come they?” “They come,” said the merchants, “from Deira.” “De ira!” was the untranslatable reply; “aye, plucked from God’s wrath, and called to Christ’s mercy! And what is the name of their king?” “AElla,” they told him, and Gregory seized on the words as of good omen. “Alleluia shall be sung in AElla’s land!” he cried, and passed on, musing how the angel-faces should be brought to sing it.

Only three or four years had gone by when the deacon had become Bishop of Rome, and the marriage of Bertha, daughter of the Prankish king, Charibert of Paris, with AEthelberht, King of Kent, gave him the opening he sought; for Bertha, like her Prankish kinsfolk, was a Christian. And so, after negotiations with the rulers of Gaul, Gregory sent Augustine, at the head of a band of monks, to preach the gospel to the English people. The missionaries landed in 597, on the very spot where Hengest had landed more than a century before,in the Isle of Thanet; and the king received them sitting in the open air on the chalk-down above Minster, where the eye nowadays catches, miles away over the marshes, the dim tower of Canterbury.

Rowbotham, in his “History of Music,” says that wherever Gregory sent missionaries he also sent copies of the Gregorian song as he had arranged it in his “Antiphonary.” And he bade them go singing among the people. And Augustine entered Kent bearing a silver cross and a banner with the image of Christ painted on it, while a long train of choristers walked behind him chanting the Kyrie Elcison. In this way they came to the court of Aethelberht, who assigned them Canterbury as an abode; and they entered Canterbury with similar pomp, and as they passed through the gates they sang this petition: “Lord, we beseech Thee to keep Thy wrath away from this citv and from Thy holy Church, Alleluia!”

As papal Rome preserved many relics of heathen Rome, so, in like manner, Pope Gregory, in sending Augustine over to convert the Anglo-Saxons, directed him to accommodate the ceremonies of the Christian worship as much as possible to those of the heathen, that the people might not be much startled at the change; and, in particular,he advised him to allow converts to kill and eat at the Christmas festival a great number of oxen to the glory of God, as they had formerly done to the honor of the devil.

The clergy, therefore, endeavored to connect the remnants of Pagan idolatry with Christianity, and also allowed some of the practices of our British ancestors to mingle in the festivities of Christmastide. The religion of the Druids, the priests of the ancient Britons, is supposed to have been somewhat similar to that of the Brahmins of India, the Magi of Persia, and the Chaldeans of Syria. They worshipped in groves, regarded the oak and mistletoe as objects of veneration, and offered sacrifices. Before Christianity came to Britain December was called “Aerra Geola,” because the sun then ” turns his glorious course.” And under different names. such as Woden (another form of Odin), Thor, Thunder, Saturn, etc., the pagans held their festivals of rejoicing at the winter solstice; and so many of the ancient customs connected with these festivals were modified and made subservient to Christianity.

Some of the English even tried to serve Christ and the older gods together, like the Roman Emperor, Alexander Severus, “whose chapel contained Orpheus side by side with Abraham and Christ.” Roedwald of East Anglia resolved to serve Christ and the older gods together, and a pagan and a Christian altar fronted one another in the same royal temple.” Kent, however, seems to have been evangelised rapidly, for it is recorded that on Christmas Day, 597, no less than ten thousand persons were baptized.

Before his death Augustine was able to see almost the whole of Kent and Essex nominally Christian. Christmas was now celebrated as the principal festival of the year, for our Anglo-Saxon forefathers delighted in the festivities of the Halig-Monath (holy month), as they called the month of December, in allusion to Christmas Day. At the great festival of Christmas the meetings of the Witenagemot were held, as well as at Easter and Whitsuntide, wherever the Court happened to be. And at these times the Anglo-Saxon, and afterwards the Danish, Kings of England lived in state, wore their crowns, and were surrounded by all the great men of their kingdoms (together with strangers of rank) who were sumptuously entertained, and the most important affairs of state were brought under consideration. There was also an outflow of generous hospitality towards the poor, who had a hard time of it during the rest of the year, and who required the Christmas giftsto provide them with such creature comforts as would help them through the inclement season of the year.

Readers of Saxon history will remember that chieftains in the festive hall are alluded to in the comparison made by one of King Edwin’s chiefs, in discussing the welcome to he given to the Christian missionary Paulinus: “The present life of man, O King, seems to me, in comparison of that time which is unknown to us, like to the swift flight of a sparrow through the hall where you sit at your meal in winter, with your chiefs and attendants, warmed by a fire made in the middle of the hall, while storms of rain or snow prevail without.”

The “hall” was the principal part of a gentleman’s house in Saxon times “the place of entertainment and hospitality” and at Christmastide the doors were never shut against any who appeared to be worthy of welcome. And with such modes of travelling as were in vogue in those days one can readily understand that, not only at Christmas, but also at other seasons, the rule of hospitality to strangers was a necessity.

True Christianity Before the Reformation???

obj19386geo18359pg18p295It is an error to believe that Christianity did not exist before the Reformation save under the Roman Catholic form.


Anselm of Canterbury laid down as the very essence of Christianity the doctrines of the Incarnation and Atonement
; and in a work in which he teaches us how to die. He says to the departing soul, “Look only to the merits of Jesus Christ.”

St. Bernard proclaimed with a powerful voice the mysteries of Redemption. “If my sin cometh from another,” says he, “why should not my righteousness be granted me in the same way!”

Reflect about all the thousands of souls obscure and unknown to the world who have nevertheless been partakers of the real life of Christ.


A monk named Arnoldi every day offered up this fervent prayer in his quiet cell,
O Lord Jesus Christ! I believe that Thou alone art my redemption and my righteousness.”

Christopher of Utenheim, a pious bishop of Basle, had his name inscribed on a picture painted on glass, which is still in that city, and surrounded it with this motto, which he desired to have continually before his eyes, “My hope is in the cross of Christ; I seek grace and not works”

A poor Carthusian friar named Martin wrote a touching confession, in which he says, “O most merciful God! I know that I cannot be saved and satisfy Thy righteousness than by the merits, of the most innocent passion, and by the death of thy dearly beloved Son. Holy Jesus I all my salvation is in Thy hands.” Then the good Carthusian placed his confession in a wooden box, and enclosed it in a hole he made in the walls of his cell.

The piety of Brother Martin would never have been known if the box had not been discovered in 1776 as some workmen were pulling down an old building that had formed part of the Carthusian convent at Basle. D’ Aubigne

IS ORGANIZED CHRISTIANITY OF GOD?

christianity-under-attackUpon reflection, the title should be considered somewhat assuming…

…because if organized Christianity be not of God, then the obvious conclusion is that it must be of men. Usually, the object of such a paper as the one that I read, is to expose the defects and abuses of all existing organized Christian denominations, and then to endeavour to prove from these observations that all Church organizations are wrong. This case was no exception, the writing was a personal creedal statement, commenting on the writer’s views, desires, and endeavors of a class of Christian brethren, who assume for themselves the possession of superior piety,larger zeal, broader charity,and deeper acquaintance with Scripture, especially its prophetic portions, than that enjoyed by others. As such it requires a careful notice, and we will endeavour to examine it from the stand-points of Nature and Revelation.

 The question resolves itself into two: Is Christianity of God? ” And, is Organization of God?” For, if both be of God we may expect to find organization, one of God’s methods, in Christianity, one of God’s works. In reference to the former question, I think that most Christians are agreed. We all believe alike in the Divine origin of Christianity. That is why we are here. Only the second question, therefore, requires consideration ” Is organization of God?

And here replies come crowding in from all quarters of the universe of matter.

The fact is that the illustrative evidences are so numerous and diversified as to be appreciable only by their Divine Author Himself. Their cumulative force is incalculable. The study of them might well occupy a lifetime,- and then leave the subject unexhausted, as in the case of our own great philosopher,who felt that he had only picked up a few specimens on the shores of truth while the great ocean lay unexplored before him.

Organization is the arrangement of parts with a view to use or service…

…and wherever we look into the Divine operations we meet with examples of it. It is evidently a principle very precious to the Divine mind. It is impossible to refer to anything which God has ever said or done upon any other principle. Every word He has spoken was spoken at the right time and occupied the right place in the complete Revelation; and every creature which He has formed occupies its proper place in relation to every other creature and to the universe. Even the smallest atom is so arranged as to fulfil its service, by the laws of cohesion, to other atoms, and by the laws of gravitation, to the near and distant masses of the Creation.

The construction of the leaf is such that the arrangement of its parts serves the life, beauty, and fragrance of the whole, so that it forms a suitable home for the microscopic multitudes which dwell upon it. The organism of the minutest protoplasm is perfect; and everywhere, as we pass upward through the various walks of animal life, we see that “Circumstances are adapted to Being,” and “Being to Circumstances.”

Every observation of creative effect constrains us to say “this also comes forth from the Lord of Hosts, who is wonderful in counsel and excellent in working.” 

In the great realm of Providence though a much more difficult subject for research, we meet with innumerable illustrations of the same principle in the histories of individuals and of the race. Events are manifestly related to each other, and to the great plan of the invisible Designer; and all the minor circumstances from which they happen are necessarily,although less perceptibly, under the same law. Many events whose meaning long remained an unsearchable mystery have been explained by the great Interpreter, and now appear, like some apparent exceptional phenomena in nature, in their beneficent relation to the Divine purpose.

And now may we venture to draw aside the veil from the Holy of Holies? Or rather, may we venture to gaze upon the glories which our Saviour has revealed, and dare to gather principles from the facts which He has declared? Assuredly we may. And as we look into the heavenly world, we find all most distantly removed from anything like confusion or disorder. The “King of Kings” is “Lord of Hosts:” “He doeth according to His will in the armies of heaven.” In that “general assembly and Church of the firstborn,” “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all Churches of the saints.” “The angels that excel in strength do His commandments, hearkening unto the voice of His Word.” The archangel Michael has his office, and the angel Gabriel has his duty. There are “thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers.” And even the mystic symbols of the Apocalypse curiously illustrate the same great principle. The “living creatures” are four; “the elders,” twice twelve; the numbers of the sealed, twelve times twelve thousand; and each angel has his work assigned. And the most luminous description in the whole book, that of the glorified Church, Paradise regained, the bridal Jerusalem, is full of organization.

Even the heavenly Jerusalem, like the earthly, “is built as a city that is fitted together.” Most singular imagery is made use of, to represent its perfect relation of parts. “The city is shaped four-square, and the length is as large as the breadth. The length, and the breadth, and the height of it are equal.” Taken literally, this description of a city as a cube; but, even taken figuratively, according to the spirit and purpose of the whole book, it gives the idea of perfect symmetrical arrangement. It rests on twelve foundations; its walls which face the quarters of the heavens have each of them three gates; and each pearly gate is kept by a guardian angel. The street of the city, which is pure gold, as if it were transparent glass,” as it receives no alloy, reflects no disorder. Our Saviour has taught us to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is done in heaven.” There is a world where organization does not prevail, but that is a world of woe, where the will of the Creator is constantly violated, where they are “hateful and hating one another.”

We contend that organization is a universal principle in the Divine operations: and that,as Christianity is of God, we shall infallibly meet with organization in Christianity. Further, Christianity displays more of the wisdom of God than any of God’s His other works.

It has more of God in it. Christianity has, that is, the Church has, God in it personally; not bodily, it is true, but spiritually; which is of infinitely greater importance. Christ is the head of the Church, which is His Body,” the fulness of Him that filleth all in all,” i.e., that without which He who filleth all in all, would not, in His mediatorial relation, be complete.

Unspeakably grand are the words of the Apostle; “He created all things by Jesus Christ, to the intent that now, unto the principalities and powers, in heavenly places, might be known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God.” We therefore feel confident, that, as organization is a universal principle with God, and as the Church is the chief work of His Divine Wisdom, we shall see the principle distinctly exhibited in it. 

For the Great Head of the Church has Himself given to His people, by Inspiration, a complete record that is historical, doctrinal, practical and ecclesiastical. The New Testament is the Divine Church-Manual; the perfect  book of ready reference for the Christian community. We therefore look to it, with the confident assurance that all shall find sufficient directions for church organization,nor are we disinterested. For, in addition to all the important scattered statements, from which we learn that our Saviour’s wisdom is not of this world,” and therefore not to be added to, supported by, or directed by, the earthly wisdom. We also find that the church consists of regenerated persons, banded together in fellowship by common consent, authorized in each case, to direct their own affairs,and elect their own officers –we have three epistles given le special purpose of guiding in choice of suitable men, and using them when chosen, in the discharge of their duty.

Unfortunately, by some of brethren the epistles to Timothy and that to Titus appear to have entirely forgotten. These important apostolical epistles are especially devoted to Church organization. These epistles indicate the two kinds of offices held in the Church, and presents the duties of one of them in the most detailed and elaborate manner, that the “man of God*’ might know how he ought to behave himself in the house of God, which is church of the living God.” Look deeply into these epistles, and you find, not only that there are offices in the Church, but also what are ” that of the Bishop and of the Deacon. These two are carefully presented, and no other is named. Now, with regard to office of Deacon, as stated in the sixth chapter of the Acts they to serve the secular of the Church. Only the office Bishop has to be considered, and the meaning is immediately clear, –that bis work is strictly spiritual. Another thing is equally evident, is that he is not an officer set over a number of subordinates; he stands alone. His name denotes his duty –to oversee; to superintend. He is elsewhere described as a pastor, or shepherd, and the term is sometimes used interchangeably with presbyter or elder, as in Acts 20:17, 28, where the elders of the Church are admonished as the overseers of the flock to feed the Church of God. See also 1 Peter 5:1-4, where the elders are exhorted to feed the flock of God, “taking the oversight.”

Some kind spirit will,no doubt, suggest –Why do you not read the remainder of the verse last quoted? “and that disagreeable clause about “filthy lucre;” for our brethren whose manifesto has called forth these remarks, are very fond of denying, and, many of them, very much given to maligning an ordained, educated, and paid ministry. “To the law and to the testimony; for if we speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in us.” Let our brethren kindly remember that, if they speak not according to it,they are under the same condemnation. Refer to the Church-Manual then, and you find Ordination in 1 Timothy 4:14; and in Titus 1:5. Education you find in 1 Timothy 4:13; and 2 Timothy, 4:13. Consider also the fact that Paul was highly educated both in Hebrew and Classic literature, that he possessed a highly cultivated logical faculty,and that these attainments were eminently made use of by the great Head of the Church, Jesus Christ, himself. 

Perhaps we could use the greatest example of an organized, ordained, educated, and paid ministry, and that is that of the poor fishermen apostles who were supernaturally educated by the Holy Ghost, at least in Languages, Sacred Literature, and Composition, all to counterbalance the deficient training of their early life.

And now as it regards to “filthy lucre;” Remuneration is found in 1 Timothy 5:17, 18 ; and 2 Timothy 2:4. It is rather cruel, and certainly not in accordance with their boasted charity, that a sweeping charge of mercenariness should be brought forward by a body of Christians who have every opportunity of increasing their income, many of whom have already made or inherited their fortunes, and who are not, as a body, remarkable for the largeness of their liberality, against a body of men, many of whom have given up all worldly prospects, that they may serve the cause of Christ, and almost all of whom would have realized more of this world’s goods had they followed other walks in life. “And truly had they been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.”

Enough, we think, has been said to prove that the Organized Christianity of the New Testament is of God. With other organizations than are found in the Divine Church Manual, we have nothing to do. While we mourn over the human imperfections which often mar the working of even Christ’s own method, we cannot charge the Divine method itself. Instead, we thank God that He has not left us without the pattern showed to us in the Sermon on Mount, and we pray for the time when the spirit of the Church shall better exemplify the skill and beauty of the model.

We close these thoughts by asking ourselves, in all charity but in all faithfulness, another question, “Disorganized Christianity” –Is it of God?”

Taken, and largely edited from, “The Christian Witness,” written sometime near 1867.