Secret Service Theologian



A preceding page records a pleasing incident of many years ago. An episode of a very different character still rankles in my memory. The sons of the 1860 revival, like the early converts of Pentecostal times, were zealous in making known to others the gospel which brought blessing to themselves. Not a few, however, were embarrassed and restrained by the doctrine of Election. One of my friends in particular was greatly troubled on that score ; and after a brief correspondence with him I arranged to visit him at his house in the country.

On my arrival I found he had another visitor, a famous preacher of those days ; and on the Saturday evening we had an earnest discussion, during which I sought to unfold the clear distinction between the Scriptural truth, and the theological doctrine, of election; and I told how my own difficulties on the subject had been removed by the teaching and counsel of Dr. Horatius Bonar. His book, God's Way of Peace, had helped me much. He there warns his readers against "the awful thought" that "the sovereignty of God " could ever be a hindrance to a sinner, or a restraint upon the Spirit's work on his behalf; "The whole Bible (he declares) takes for granted that this is absolutely impossible."

These and other kindred statements in his most helpful book seemed unequivocal; and yet they failed to satisfy me, for I was aware of the treatment accorded by Christian teachers to some of the plainest statements in Scripture on this subject. Just at this time, however, Dr. Bonar came to stay with us at my father's house, and I thus found ample opportunities for unreserved conversation with him. And I was relieved to find that he was utterly opposed to "handling the Word of God deceitfully." When I pressed the question how we could reconcile certain seemingly conflicting statements of Scripture, his answer was honest and clear: truths, he said, may seem to us irreconcilable only because our finite minds cannot view them from the standpoint of the Infinite. Never therefore should we allow our faulty apprehension of the counsels of God to hinder unreserved acceptance of the plain words of the gospel of grace.

Great was my surprise and distress to find that all this was vehemently opposed by my fellow-guest. Taking his stand upon the teaching of the Latin Fathers, he boldly repudiated the great basal truth of the Christian revelation - the sovereignty of Divine grace. And in his sermon to the villagers on the Sunday morning he took "election" as his subject, and his exposition of it reached a climax in the following words: " I have a little child of my own : if he is elect he will be converted, he will be saved; if he is not elect, he will be damned, he will be damned, he will be damned!" Three times, with dramatic emphasis, he repeated these awful and evil words.

To record them here save for a useful purpose would be an offence against good taste. But the blackest of clouds makes the rainbow shine all the brighter; and I use them as a dark background for the Saviour's words of grace. Seated in the living room of a house in Capernaum - presumably the Apostle Peter's home - He called a little child to Him, and setting him in the midst of His twelve disciples, He used him as an object-lesson to teach them some much-needed truth. And then, taking the child in His arms - a proof that it was but a little one, perhaps about the age of the preacher's child of my story - He spoke those words of infinite tenderness and grace:-"It is not the will of your Father which is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish."
1 "The form of the proposition has all the force that belongs to the rhetorical negative . . . i.e. that the will of the Father is the very opposite of that."- Bishop Ellicott's New Testament Commentary; Matt, xviii. 14.

Words such as those of that village sermon leave us benumbed and crushed by the hard and inscrutable decrees of a far-off God, immutable and stern; but here we are at peace in the presence of "our Father which is in heaven," whose heart-thoughts about our little ones are thus revealed to us. For as we listen to the Saviour's words we remember the voice that fell from the cloud which overshadowed the disciples on the
Transfiguration Mount, "This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased, hear ye Him." "It is not the will of your Father which is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish." What a text to display in the nursery of every Christian home! What a text to cheer the heart and stimulate the faith of every Christian parent! And we might bracket with it, not indeed on the nursery wall, but in memory and heart, the Apostolic precept, " Bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord."

The language of the English Bible is a national inheritance; but it sometimes fails us, and this hard, stiff phrase, "bring them up," is a poor rendering of the Apostle's word. He uses it again in the verse, "No one ever yet hated his own flesh but nourisheth and cherisheth it." The thought is not of a disciplinarian's duty task, but of the care of a loving parent. And losing sight of this, the passage is sometimes made an excuse for the very evil which the Apostle's precept is designed to warn against. The Revised Version reading is better, "Nurture them in the chastening and admonition of the Lord." Yet even here we must be on our guard, lest we should put a one-sided meaning upon chastening.1 We need ever to keep in mind that it is "the chastening and admonition of the Lord" and that grace is the ruling principle of all His dealings with us. The barriers and bolts by which we protect our houses are intended to keep out thieves and other law-breakers, not to restrain, nor even to guide, the law-abiding citizen as he passes on his way. And so here, "The law is not made for the righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient." "The grace of God has been manifested . . . training us ... to live soberly, righteously, and godly." It is not law but grace that characterises the Divine discipline of the Christian life. And yet it is a deplorable fact that in the nursery of many a Christian home these Divine principles are ignored, and the children are ruled by law.
1 In English, " chastening " is not a synonym for chastisement, although that element may not be foreign to it. For in Eph. vi. 4, paideia is rendered by "nurture," and in 2 Tim. iii. 16 by "instruction." And in Titus ii. 12 the kindred verb is translated " teaching."

Another aspect of the contrast between law and grace is given us in the 32nd Psalm. " I will counsel thee, with mine eye upon thee "- that is grace. - "Be not as the horse, or the mule, which have no understanding; whose trappings must be bit and bridle to hold them in." "Brute force" is needed with the brute creation. But it is not thus that God deals with His people; and yet it is on that principle that many Christian parents control their children. Obedience enforced on the bit-and-bridle system will last only while the child is within reach of the parent's arm; for law is impotent beyond the sphere in which its sanctions prevail. But to the grace-taught child the influence of an absent parent is what the eye of an unseen God is to the Christian.

The late Mr. Justice Wills, who combined the heart of a philanthropist with the brain of a lawyer, used to deplore the ill-advised legislation which so multiplies petty offences that high-spirited lads, without any criminal intention, are caught in the meshes of the criminal law. But the traps laid by modern bye-law legislation are few as compared with the "don'ts" which confront the children of many a home during all their waking hours. And against this it is that the Apostle's "Don't" is aimed: "You fathers, don't irritate1 your children."
1 The word is used again in Rom. x, 19.

For the children his only precept is "Obey your parents"; let parents see to it then that they deserve obedience; and more than this, that they make obedience easy. The law, which for the Christian is summed up in the word " love," is formulated in " thou shalt not" for the lawless and disobedient. And the " thou-shalt-nots" of Sinai have their counterpart in the "don'ts" of the nursery. Grace teaches us to keep His commandments, law warns us not to break them. And it is on this latter principle that children are generally trained. " Don't be naughty " is the nursery version of it.

The story is told of William Carey, that pioneer and prince of missionaries to the heathen, that when sitting as an honoured guest at the Viceroy's table in Calcutta, he overheard a fellow-guest's inquiry whether it was really true that he had been a shoemaker. And he intervened by replying, "No, it is not true, I was a journeyman cobbler." This was the man who wrote to his son, "Remember, a gentleman is the next best character to a Christian, and the Christian includes the gentleman." And if a little of the effort used to teach the children not to be naughty were devoted to training them to be gentlemen and ladies, parents would come nearer to fulfilling the Apostolic precept!

The words "good" and "naughty," like disciplinary punishments, should be reserved for very exceptional occasions. Moreover, they are often unintelligent; for the "good " child may be a heavy-headed creature with a sound digestion, who takes life placidly and gives little trouble; whereas the "naughty" child is one who has high spirits, and wants to know things and to do things. And it is the "naughty" children that will make a mark in life, and prove a blessing to their generation - unless indeed they are crushed or soured by ill-advised efforts to make them " good." Here comes in a warning which the Apostle adds, when giving the Christian parents of Colosse the precept above quoted from his Epistle to the Ephesians: "You fathers, don't irritate your children lest they be disheartened"1 Children are never made really good by enforcing bye-law "don'ts" but by constantly appealing to their better nature, and keeping ever before them a worthy standard and a right motive. (1 Col. iii. 21. )
A book that won a well deserved popularity half a century ago records a father's parting admonition to his boy when sending him to school. "Remember (said he) that you are the son of a gentleman, and don't disgrace your father." What a charming illustration of William Carey's admirable dictum! Indeed it displays, though on a lower plane, the system and the spirit in which a Christian's children should be trained.

For a gentleman is not a person who has learned by the study of a Book of Manners to avoid vulgarities; he is one whose bearing and conduct are governed by consideration for others. "Don't be looking each of you to his own interests, but each of you also to those of other people." Anyone who acts in the spirit of these words is in the best sense a gentleman. And yet these are the very words in which the Apostle exhorted the Philippian Christians to cultivate the mind that was in Christ Jesus.1 William Carey was right! "Now, children, remember that Uncle and Auntie are coming to-day on a visit, and while they are here you're not to —— and you're not to —— and you mustn't be naughty." This is law. And any poor little brat who succeeds in fulfilling it will develop into a prig, which is the nursery phase of being a pharisee. The other method is, "Now, children, you must all do what you can to make Uncle and Auntie's visit a pleasant one: we must find out what they like and what they don't like, and do our best to make them happy." Such is the teaching of grace; and whatever the uncle and aunt may think of the result, their visit will prove a blessing to the children.
1 Phil. ii. 4." Lest they be discouraged."

Here is the unfortunate Lady Jane Grey's account of her home life : " When I am in presence either of father or mother, whether I speak, keep silence, sit, stand, or go, eat, drink, be merry or sad, be sewing, playing, dancing, or doing anything else, I must do it even so perfectly as God made the world, or else I am so sharply taunted or cruelly threatened. . . ." 1 A peculiarly flagrant illustration this, of the evil warned against by the Apostle's words, " Don't irritate your children."
1 Roger Ascham's Germany, in which he records his leave-taking visit to Lady Jane before he left England.

The present generation is fast forgetting the great Lord Shaftesbury ; and few there are who know anything of the story of his childhood. His parents, we are told, were content as long as he kept out of their way ; and the sort of teaching and of sympathy that most of us associate with a mother's love, the lonely child received from a devout and faithful servant maid, who used to take him on her knee, to read the Bible to him and tell him about Christ. And in the day when all things shall be brought to light, her humble ministry, ignored and forgotten now,1 will be openly rewarded by Him who immortalised the poor widow's farthing gift to the Temple Treasury ; and the name of Maria Millis will be for ever associated with all that made Lord Shaftesbury's life such a signal blessing to this nation and to the world.
1 It was not forgotten by Lord Shaftesbury himself, albeit she died while he was still a schoolboy. Her gold watch, which she bequeathed to him on her death-bed, he treasured as a keepsake, and wore it all his life.

What an incentive her story ought to be to any Christian servant who is entrusted with the care of children ! And has it no voice for Christian parents ? Many a mother takes less care in engaging a nursemaid than the owner of a stud devotes to the choice of his grooms. And yet just as a high-spirited colt may be ruined by an ill-tempered groom, permanent harm may be done to a high-spirited child by an ill-tempered servant. And many a Christian mother leaves her children for hours every day in the charge of a servant who is not herself a Christian. I do not mean who is not " religious " ; for no one is more "religious" than a Jesuit; and religion without Christ is generally anti-Christian. To plead that in the case of very young children, considerations of this kind may be neglected displays ignorance of human nature and indifference to the will of God.

Another element of much practical importance claims a passing notice here. Most of us are intelligent enough to recognise that not only our temper but our conduct may be influenced by purely physical causes. In a vastly greater degree is this the case with little children; and when thus thrown off their balance they are apt " to run amuck " in any home that is bristling with "don'ts." Many a child, moreover, is injured by nagging discipline at a time when its real need is a dose of medicine, or careful doctoring. But this is a digression. For these pages are not meant to be a vade mecum on the general subject of training the young. Their aim is to elucidate the precepts and principles which Scripture gives us for our guidance.
Go To Chapter Three

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