Secret Service Theologian


Chapter Four

IT is the peculiar circumstances of our own times that give both point and urgency to the appeal and protest of the present volume. And this consideration may weigh with any who might well resent our seeming to cast a slur upon the writings of devout and spiritual men in days when infidelity stood far apart from the Christian camp. An infidel paper lately boasted that everything for which Tom Paine was persecuted is openly preached today in Christian pulpits by the descendants of the men who persecuted him. It is all too true. And the coarse profanity of the "New Theology" is not so dangerous as the promulgation of its blasphemies by men of culture and gentlemanly feeling.
To illustrate my words I give the following extracts from a sermon preached on Christmas Day in one of the most prominent of our London churches. And I do so, not to pillory a particular ecclesiastic, but to indicate what is now being taught in some of our theological colleges, and preached from numberless pulpits throughout the land.
'The birth narratives, which were included in the First and Third of the Synoptic Gospels, did not appear to belong to the oldest tradition about our Saviour. . . . The gospel which the Apostles preached did not include any story of the birth of Jesus. These birth narratives stood apart with no clearly perceptible relation to the rest of the New Testament. . . The Christians of the second century were not capable of applying to the mingled traditions which they had received from the Apostolic age those laws of evidence which had now received the adhesion of historical students the divineness of Jesus did not at the first, and need not now, consist of a dogma as to His miraculous birth."
This will suffice to indicate the import of the sermon, namely the denial of 'the virgin birth.' The objection that the Apostles' preaching did not include that truth is extraordinary. The Resurrection was a public fact to which the Apostles could appeal, and of which they were the accredited witnesses But to most of us the suggestion that they should in the same way have given their personal testimony to the virginity of Mary is grotesquely absurd. If, as is implicitly asserted in the sermon, that basal fact-a fact from which the truth of the Incarnation is inseparable-be not fact at all, but fiction, the Nazarene may still claim our homage as the best and noblest of men, but to worship him as divine is to brand ourselves as idolaters and fools. In support of his heresy the preacher appealed to "the laws of evidence." The laws of evidence had better be left to those who have practical experience of them. Unless the Gospel narratives be utterly unreliable and worthless even as human records, it is as certain as human testimony can make it that Mary's firstborn was not her husband's child. And that this was a matter of common knowledge with the Jews, witness the taunt by which they met the Lord's refusal to acknowledge them as being true children of Abraham. If therefore the Nazarene was not the Son of God in the sense which the Christian faith maintains, he was an outcast of that wretched class to whom the divine law denied the right of citizenship in the Commonwealth of Israel. And if the story of the "virgin birth" be fiction, the infidel may reasonably hold that it was invented to screen the shameful circumstances of his origin.
And if the Nazarene was not the Son of God, the Lord of Glory, what becomes of the Atonement? Well may we exclaim-

"The tree of knowledge now
Yields its last ripest fruit!
The blind now lead the blind,
Man has become as God!

The Cross is growing old,
And the great Sepulchre
Is but a Hebrew tomb!
The Christ has died in vain!

The Christ of ages past
Is now the Christ no more!
Altar and fire are gone,
The Victim but a dream!"

"The Lord of Glory"- it is one of His divinely given titles. As the inspired Apostle writes, the world leaders, being ignorant of the hidden wisdom of God, "crucified the Lord of Glory." But if the Christianised sceptic be right, the man they crucified was the son of a Jew, who profanely claimed Divine honour. And in putting him to death they were obeying one of the plainest commands of the Divine law.
What then, I repeat, becomes of the Atonement? The thorough-going infidel faces the question boldly, and demands, "What has the death of Jesus effected in the unseen, so as to make it possible for God to forgive us?" And here is his answer: "Nothing whatever, and nothing was ever needed." For "Jesus was the child of Joseph and Mary;" and "there is no such thing as punishment, no far-off Judgment Day, no great white throne, and no Judge external to ourselves."'
This is both consistent and intelligible. For no one whose mind is not blinded and warped by religious superstitions would tolerate the figment that the death of a Jewish mechanic's son could influence in any way our present relations with God, or our future destiny. The infidel stands by human reason. The Christian's faith rests upon a divine revelation. The one position is effectually as unassailable as the other. But
"With too much knowledge for the sceptic's side, With too much weakness for the stoic's pride,"
the Christianised sceptic "hangs between."
In quoting this Christmas sermon I have no wish to attack an individual. The preacher is an exceptionally distinguished representative of a large and daily growing class of accredited religious teachers who are using Christian pulpits to spread infidelity broadcast throughout the land. And therefore it is that I have cited him, my object being to strengthen the appeal I make to all spiritual Christians that, in face of the rapidly developing apostasy of the day, it behoves them to shun the prevailing habit of speaking of the Lord of Glory with a familiarity unwarranted by Scripture, and thus in their every mention of Him to give proof that they are of the number of those who own Him as LORD, and who "think upon His Name."
Having regard to the solemn declaration of unfeigned belief in Holy Scripture, required of every candidate for ordination, to the language of the Creed which a clergyman repeats continually, and to the doctrinal standards to which he publicly assents when entering on a benefice, sermons such as that above quoted seem to indicate that clerical morality is different from that which governs the conduct of honourable men in the City and the Clubs. Half a century ago such a sermon would have raised a wild storm of indignation; today it passes without notice.

EARLY in my Christian life I enjoyed the friendship of an eminent theologian of the time, and I once appealed to him to explain on what ground we could draw a clear line of demarcation between the Epistles of the New Testament and the writings of the Fathers. He was usually patient in dealing with my difficulties, and I expected an elaborate reply. But after a pause he asked me abruptly whether I had ever studied Patristic theology; and on my replying in the negative, he added, "If you will read some of the best of their works, I will then discuss the matter with you" I took up the task he set me, and as the result I had no need to trouble him further in the matter. "The best of their works" are indeed a priceless heritage, but a gulf separates them from the inspired Scriptures.
Bearing in mind that within two years of the Exodus "the Jewish Church" apostatised from God, we need not wonder that "the Christian Church" had seriously lapsed from the faith within two centuries of Pentecost. And when the hard discipline of persecution ceased, the downward lapse became more marked. Indeed the errors we deplore in the fully developed apostasy of Christendom are the fruit of seed that is scattered freely throughout the Patristic writings. And when we read "The Fathers" in the light of the Epistles we cannot fail to see to what an extent the "Jesus" of "the Christian religion" was already supplanting the living Lord of the pristine faith.' And the "Christian religionist" who regards the Patristic Church as a Court of Appeal in all questions of faith and practice, will find sufficient warrant for naming the Lord Jesus Christ in the fashion common with Christians today. But Christians whose only standard is the Holy Scriptures will all welcome a warning and a protest against a practice which was unknown in New Testament times.
(Note - An illustrative instance will explain my meaning. The Gospels record that at the Last Supper "Jesus took bread"; but in 1 Cor. xi. it is "The Lord Jesus took bread." And mark the Apostle's statement that he received this formula from the Lord Himself (1 Cor. xi. 23).)
"The modern familiar use of the simple name 'Jesus' has little authority in Apostolic usage." If we substitute no for "little" in this sentence, it will accurately express the truth. For an examination of the various passages where "the simple name" occurs in the Epistles will make it plain that the "modern use" has no Apostolic authority whatever. And a glance at the Concordance will indicate that the task is by no means a laborious one. For though in the Gospels the occurrences of "the simple name" are to be reckoned by hundreds, the passages where it is used in the Epistles scarcely exceed a score.
And here another striking fact claims notice. In the Gospels the narratival mention of Christ is always by the name of His humiliation, but never in the Epistles. How is this to be accounted for? If the chronological order of the New Testament writings were different, and a gap of many years separated the Epistles from the Gospels, an obvious explanation of it would suggest itself; but in view of the known facts, we must seek a solution of another kind. And if the following solution be rejected, the enigma must remain inexplicable. With all who worship the Man of Bethlehem and Nazareth as being the Son of God, it must surely seem incredible that God should not have made provision for our possessing an accurate record of the Lord's earthly mission and ministry. And the sort of guidance we attribute to what is called "Providence " would be wholly inadequate to account for the Gospels. Full proof of this would need a lengthy treatise, but even a few sentences may be sufficient here. Let us, for example, compare the First and Fourth Gospels. Their authors had shared the same teaching; and their close companionship throughout the years of the Ministry had continued after the Resurrection. How then can we account for the extraordinary differences which characterise their Gospels - differences to which the Rationalist points in proof that they are hopelessly conflicting.
Matthew opens with the Lord's pedigree as son of Abraham and son of David - the recipients of Israel's great covenants of blessing and of earthly sovereignty - and then proceeds to give particulars respecting His birth and infancy. And in keeping with this opening, the burden of the Book from first to last is the presentation of Christ as Israel's Messiah. In the strongest possible contrast with this, the Fourth Gospel opens by declaring that "In the beginning the Word was with God, and the Word was God." And instead of an account of the Saviour's birth, we read, "The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us." And the only express reference to the Lord's special mission to Israel is found in the words, "He came unto His own and His own received Him not."
It was not that the Apostle John lacked knowledge of the details given us in the first two chapters of Matthew - on the contrary, he must have had far fuller knowledge of them than any of the other Evangelists. For with him it was that after the Crucifixion the mother of our Lord found a home. From her lips he must have heard, again and again repeated, all that a mother's heart would remember of the sacred birth in Bethlehem, and the no less sacred life at Nazareth. But not a single word of it all does this Gospel give us. Yet again: though he was the only one of the Evangelists who witnessed the Transfiguration, his is the only Gospel that contains no record of it. Nor are these the only instances of a silence that is so extraordinary, but these will suffice for our present purpose. What explanation can be given of them?
"Put yourself in his place" is a challenge we may fairly offer to those who scoff at inspiration. Could any man possessed of such special knowledge on a subject of such overwhelming interest, write a treatise relating to it without the slightest mention of extremely important details peculiarly his own? An inspiration so limited that it means no more than human reason working under providential guidance, is here of no avail. Unless the Gospels are "God-breathed" in the fullest sense, they present psychological phenomena that have no parallel in all the literature of the world, whether modern or ancient.
To the intelligent and thoughtful Christian the divine authorship of Scripture is as plainly manifest as is that human authorship which all men recognise. Therefore it is that each of the Four Gospels gives us a portrait of Christ so distinctively characteristic. Therefore is it that, as the beloved disciple was commissioned to write of Him as the Son of God, the Divine Spirit held him strictly to that golden path, and checked all his natural craving to tell of the Lord's human birth in Bethlehem, and of the vision of the Holy Mount, which manifested His glory as the Son of Man.
Here then is the solution of the problem. It is God Himself who has given us the records of that "Coming" which was the burden of all the Scriptures, from the Eden promise of the woman's seed down to the latest word of the last of the Hebrew prophets. And therefore it is that throughout the Gospels the Son of God is always "Jesus," for it is His Father who has given us the story of His life.
To foretell His coming, He had used the lips of prophets to utter God-breathed words, as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. And He guided the pens of Apostles and Evangelists to frame, in words as God-breathed, the records of His Advent.
But some one will exclaim, Are not the Epistles also inspired of God? Most assuredly they are. But their purpose is wholly different; and in no respect does this appear more plainly than by the way the several writers of them name the Lord. Not that the change is due to the idiosyncrasies of the human authors. Indeed it is nowhere so noticeable as in the writings of the Apostle John. For though in his Gospel "the simple name" is used narratively more than two hundred times, never once does he use it thus in his Epistles. In each of its four occurrences it is used with a doctrinal meaning, and in conjunction with a title connoting Deity. No one can fail to see that there is something here of exceptional interest, and worthy of our closest attention.
And the more we investigate it, the plainer will the proof appear, that while throughout the Gospels the Lord is habitually called "Jesus," "the simple name" is never used in the Epistles, save with some peculiar significance either of doctrine or of emphasis. The Apostle Peter never uses it even once. And in no single instance does "James the Lord's brother" ever name the Lord without some title of Deity. And in the passages already quoted from the First Epistle of John, "the simple name" is used with an obvious significance. To speak of believing that Christ is the Christ, or that the Son of God is Son of God, would be quite unmeaning. But to believe that Jesus - the Man of Nazareth, "the crucified Jew," is the Christ, the Son of God - this is a faith that overcomes the world, for it betokens a new birth by the Spirit of God.'
Chapter Six

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