SIR ROBERT ANDERSON
Secret Service Theologian
THE BIBLE OR THE CHURCH
T HE intelligent reader will have noticed that the
blessings enumerated in the preceding chapter were only for the covenant
people, "the Israel of God." But men by nature are "aliens from the
commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise :"' How,
then, can the gulf be passed which separates these positions?
This is a question to which we may reasonably demand a plain answer. Latin theology, ignoring Divine grace, points men to priestly mediation and mystical rite as the appointed means of bringing them within the covenant, which is thus widened and lowered to reach men in their natural condition. Here, for example, is the opening sentence of the treatise on "Apostolic Succession," already referred to: "Jesus Christ founded a visible society, which, as embodying God's new covenant with men and representing His goodwill towards them, was intended to embrace all mankind."' This amazing state ment, so pregnant with error and yet so "orthodox," merits close attention and careful analysis.
It tells us (i) That Jesus Christ founded a Church. (Not the Lord Jesus Christ, and the omission is significant.)
(2) That the Church embodies God's new covenant.
(3) That the new covenant is with men, i.e., with the Adamic race.
(4) That the Church therefore represents His goodwill toward men; and this being so,
(5) That the Church was intended to embrace all mankind
These propositions display the hopeless confusion which Latin theology makes between the' Church and the Kingdom - the Church of this dispensation, and the Kingdom which was preached in the early period of the Lord's earthly ministry, and which will again be preached hereafter, when Israel is restored to Divine favour. The very word (Greek) refutes the error. The Church is not the world Christianised, but an election out of the world. In these days it may seem hypercritical to distinguish thus between the Church and the Kingdom; but it was this blind and guilty ignorance which led the historic Church to burn the martyrs.'
God was on the side of the martyrs; the devil was on the side of the Church and its theology. And yet we are told that the Church represents the goodwill of God toward men! If it were so, we might well pray to be delivered from His goodwill! In view of the Church's actual history, the statement is an insult to our intelligence. And, whatever the Church's history, to put it thus in the place of Christ is an outrage upon Divine truth, and a hall-mark of apostasy. "IN THIS was manifested the love of God toward us, that God sent His only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him."
Underlying all this is the fiction of salvation ' through a covenant made with men as men - an error from which acquaintance with "the first, principles of the oracles of God" (to quote Hebrews again) would guard us. The covenant, as we have seen, was made with a people already redeemed and saved. And "the new covenant" is not for the race of Adam, but for "the seed of Abraham," "the house of Israel" '- not "Israel after the flesh," but the "Israel of God."
But this only brings us back to the question, How can we, who by nature are estranged from the covenant, be brought within the covenant?
Some who are teachers of the teachers of Christianity, in ignorance of the very alphabet of the language in which the New Testament is written (namely, the typology of the Old Testament), point to the difference between Matt. xxvi. 28 and 1 Cor. xi. 25 as an "inaccuracy." Its significance is that whereas the Jew, reached Christ in virtue of the covenant, the Gentile becomes a partaker of the covenant in virtue of union with Christ. In the one, therefore, it is, "This is My blood of the new covenant"; in the other, "This is the new covenant in My blood."
The answer is to be found in the great characteristic truth of Christianity, the forgotten truth of Grace - a truth which has dropped out of human theologies. Men are ready to believe in Divine benevolence to a favoured class. The popular description of this class would be that of good, religious people. Some would define it as the elect; others as the sacramentally initiated; but all would agree in setting limits to the Divine benevolence. And this, in fact, characterised the Old Testament revelation on the public side of it. And the same is true even of the Lord's earthly ministry. Hence such words as, "Salvation is of the Jews "; " I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." He was Israel's Messiah, "a minister of the circumcision."' But the ministry and death of Christ were infinitely more than this. They were the supreme revelation of Divine love to a lost world. In the estimation of Christendom, the crucifixion of Christ was merely an event in history, the greatest of all events perhaps - what the Exodus was to Israel - the basis of religion and the beginning of a new era. But in fact it was the world's "crisis." And it was this, because it was the supreme manifestation of Divine love to man, and of man's hatred to God. "God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son"; man so hated God that he crucified His only-begotten Son The Jew has thus lost the position of religious privilege under the covenant. Every covenant has been broken, every promise forfeited. Man's probation has closed: he is shut up to wrath, and there is no appeal and no escape. The whole world has become guilty before God. Nothing remains but the day of judgment. But this was made the occasion for "the revelation of a mystery which was kept secret since the world began "the great "mystery" of Grace in the Gospel. To the Son the Father has assigned the Divine prerogative of judgment; and His own throne is a throne of judgment. But judgment is postponed. The only Being in the universe who can condemn a sinner is the Crucified of Calvary, and He is now sitting on the throne of God as a Saviour. When the day of judgment comes He will be only a Judge; but in this day of grace He is only a Saviour. It is not that there is grace for the elect, or the good, or the sacramentally initiated; but that grace is the principle on which God is dealing with a lost world. Grace is supreme. Grace reigns, "through righteousness, unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ our Lord."'
The Epistle to the Hebrews is given to teach us how a redeemed sinner can draw near to God as a worshipper, in virtue of the blood of the covenant, with a great Priest to bless and succour him. The 'Epistle to the Romans is given to teach how a lost sinner can be saved, and reach the place where alone worship is possible and the need of a priest arises. The one begins with the burnt-offerings and peace-offerings of the covenant; the other with the passover in Egypt. And it is the full display of that which the passover prefigured but dimly. The Gospel has revealed God, but it has not changed Him. Grace there always was, but it was veiled.
The distinction here made is one that ordinary intelligence can grasp. Grace may lead a man to write a money bill, or to adopt a child; but it is not grace that makes him meet the bill when due, or support the child he has adopted. And when God took up the Hebrews as His favoured people and brought tlem into special relationship with Himself, covenant superseded Grace as the characteristic of the Jewish dispensation. But when that people became the betrayers and murderers of Christ, when the Cross stood between an outraged God and a guilty and doomed world, then the only possible alternatives were grace and judgment. God must either deal with men according to their deserts, or else, in infinite mercy and love, pardon and bless them in spite of all.
And this, and nothing less than this, is "the Gospel of the grace of God." "God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved."' "By grace are ye saved, through faith, and that (salvation) not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any one should boast." "The wages of sin is death" (that is what men have earned), "but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."' A gift may be deserved, but these words are the climax of an argument in which it is emphatically called "the gift by grace."
This will not be quoted in the newspapers. Neither will men believe it. The religion of Christendom is a systematised denial of it. But human religion is always anti-Christian. The Lord Jesus Christ preached the Gospel to sinners, and "the common people heard Him gladly," for they owned that they were sinners; but the religious people retaliated by crucifying Him. And when His Apostle, addressing his co-religionists, announced that he had been commissioned to preach this gospel to the heathen, they flew into a frenzy of passion, cast off their clothes, threw dust into the air, and shouted, "Away with such a fellow from the earth; it is not fit that he should live." He had not committed odious crimes, like some of his "successors" he had only preached forgiveness to common sinners in their sins, not through religion, but through Christ. And if this preaching excited fury in the days of real priests with real altars, need we ponder at opposition to it in these days of sham priests with sham altars! Theirs is the religion of Christendom, which, like a pirate, holds the tortuous channel of salvation by ordinances; while Divine grace has cleared the way right out to the open sea.
This doctrine is met by the profane taunt that it makes every one "his own absolver," and tends to levity and sin. But, in fact, it is "the truth which is according to godliness."' Writing to men who were converts from paganism, the Apostle declared that everywhere it brought forth fruit, even from the day they "heard and knew the grace of God in truth." This Gospel changed Onesimus, a runaway slave who robbed his master, into a "profitable" servant and a "faithful and beloved brother." For grace not merely saves a man, but it moulds his character and controls his conduct. "For" (we read) "the grace of God hath appeared, salvation-bringing to all men, instructing us, to the intent that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly and righteously and godly in this present world."
"Love your enemies and do them good," said the Lord to His disciples, "and ye shall be sons of the Most High; for He is kind loward Me unthankful and evil."
Is this true? Or is the prevailing belief well founded, that Divine benevolence is for those who give proof in some way that they deserve it, or who have by religious ordinances attained some vantage-ground of favour? No one can pretend to be indifferent upon such a question, for the issues at stake are of overwhelming interest and importance. If the popular belief be false- if the words of Holy Writ be true - then even one who may hitherto have led a godless life, ignoring alike the claims and the benefits of Christianity, is nevertheless an object of Divine pity and love, and may cast himself upon God with the certainty of being accepted and forgiven. "For He is kind to the unthankful and to the evil."
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