Secret Service Theologian




I N the preceding chapter it has been shown that on this question of the evidential value of miracles the infidel is right and the Christian is wrong. It is not true that a revelation can only be made by miracles. The error of Paley's thesis can be demonstrated by argument. It can be exemplified moreover by reference to the case of the Baptist, who, though the bearer of a Divine revelation of supreme importance, had no miracles to appeal to in support of it. It has been further argued that, so far as their evidential force was concerned, the "Christian miracles" were for that favoured people "of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came." And if this be well founded we shall be prepared to find that so long as the kingdom was being preached to Jews, miracles abounded, but that when the gospel appealed to thc heathen world, miracles lost their prominence, and soon entirely ceased.
The question remains whether the sacred record will confirm this supposition. Who can fail to mark the contrast between the earlier and the later chapters of the Acts of the Apostles? Measured by years the period they embrace is comparatively brief; but morally the latter portion of the narrative seems to belong to a different age. And such is in fact the case. A new dispensation has begun, and the Book of the Acts covers historically the period of the transition. "the Jew first" is stamped on every page of it. The Saviour's prayer upon the Cross had secured for the favoured nation a respite from judgment And the forgiveness asked for carried with it a right to priority in the proclamation of the great amnesty. When "the apostle of the circumcision," by express revelation, brought the gospel to the Gentiles they were relegated to a position akin to that formerly held by the "proselytes of the gate." And even "the apostle of the Gentiles" addressed himself first, in every place he visited, to the children of his own people. And this not from prejudice, but by Divine appointment. "It was necessary," he declared at Pisidian Antioch, "that the word of God should first be spoken to you." Even at Rome, deeply though he longed to visit the Christians there, his first care was to summon "the chief of the Jews," and to them "he testified the kingdom of God." And not until the testimony had been rejected by the favoured people did the word go forth, "The salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and they will hear it."
But, it will be objected, the Epistle to the Romans had been already written. True; but this only makes the narrative of the Acts still more significant. Those who profess to account for the Bible on natural principles seem ignorant of some of the main facts of the problem they pretend to solve. They give no explanation of the omissions of Scripture. Contrast, for example, the first Gospel with the fourth. The writers of both shared the same teaching and were instructed in the same truths. How is it, then, that Matthew contains not a single sentence which is foreign to the purpose for which it was written. as presenting Israel's Messiah, the "son of David, the son of Abraham"? How is it that John, which presents Him as the Son of God, omits even the record of his birth, and deals throughout with truth for all scenes and all time? And so with the Acts of the Apostles. As St. Paul's companion and fellow-labourer, the writer must have been familiar with the great truths revealed to the Church in the earlier Epistles, but not a trace of them appears in his treatise. Written under the Divine guidance for a definite purpose, nothing foreign to that purpose finds a place. To the superficial it may appear but a chance collection of incidents and memoirs, and yet, as has been rightly said, "there is not a book upon earth in which the principle of intentional selection is more evident to a careful observer."' The special and distinctive position enjoyed by the Jew was a main feature of the economy then about to close. " There is no difference" is a canon of Christian doctrine. Men talk of the Divine history of the human race, but there is no such history. The Old Testament is the Divine history of the family of Abraham. The call of Abraham was chronologically the central point between the creation of Adam and the Cross of Christ, and yet the story of all the ages from Adam to Abraham is dismissed in eleven chapters. And if during the history of Israel the light of revelation rested for a time upon heathen nations, it was because the favoured nation was temporarily in captivity. But God took up the Hebrew race that they might be a centre and channel of blessing to the world. It was owing to their pride that they came to regard themselves as the only objects of Divine benevolence.
When some great French wine-grower appoints an agent in this country, he no longer supplies his wines except through that agent. His object, however, is not to hinder but to facilitate the sale, and to ensure that spurious wines shall not be palmed off upon the public in his name. Akin to this was the purpose with which Israel was called out in blessing. The knowledge of the true God was thus to be maintained on earth.' But the Jews perverted agency into a monopoly of Divine favour. That temple which was to have been a "house of prayer for all nations" they treated as though it were not God's house, but their own, and ended by degrading it till it became at last "a den of thieves." But the position thus Divinely accorded them implied a priority in blessing. And this principle pervades not only the Old Testament Scriptures but the Gospels. To us indeed it is natural to read the Gospels in the light of the Epistles, and thus "to read into them" the wider truths Such was the spirit of their inspired Scriptures. But if the canon of Scripture ended with the Gospels this would be impossible.
(Footnote - "If," says the author of "Supernatural Religion," "Christianity consist of the doctrines preached in the Fourth Gospel, it is not too much to say that the Synoptics do not teach Christianity at all. The extraordinary phenomenon is presented of three Gospels, each professing to be complete in itself, and to convey the good tidings of salvation to man, which have actually omitted the doctrines which are the conditions of that salvation." This is a fine specimen of the sort of statement which, owing to prevailing ignorance of Holy Scripture, suffices to undermine the faith even of cultured people in our day. The Gospels were not written "to teach Christianity," but to reveal Christ in the different aspects of His person and work as Israel's Messiah, Jehovah's servant, Son of Man and Son of God. No one of them is "complete in itself"; and the Fourth alone expressly professes to teach the way of salvation (John xx. 35). )
Suppose again the Epistles were there, but the Acts of the Apostles left out, how startling would appear the heading "To the Romans," which would confront us on turning from the study of the Evangelists! How could we account for the transition thus involved? How could we explain the great thesis of the Epistle, that there is no difference between Jew and Gentile, both being by nature on a common level of sin and ruin, both being called in grace to equal privileges and glory? The earlier Scriptures will be searched in vain for teaching such as this. Not the Old Testament merely but even the Gospels themselves are seemingly separated from the Epistles by a gulf. To bridge over that gulf is the Divine purpose for which the Acts of the Apostles has been given to the Church. The earlier portion of the book is the completion of and sequel to the Gospels; its concluding narrative is introductory to the great revelation of Christianity.
But was not the death of Stephen, recorded in the seventh chapter, the crisis of the Pentecostal testimony? Undoubtedly it was; and thereupon "the apostle to the Gentiles" received his commission. But it was a crisis akin to that which marked the ministry of our blessed Lord Himself when the Council at Jerusalem decreed his destruction. From that time He enjoined silence respecting His miracles, and His teaching became veiled in parables. But though His ministry entered upon this altered phase, it continued until His death. So was it in the record of the Acts. Progress in revelation, like growth in nature, is gradual, and sometimes can be appreciated only by its developments. The apostle to the circumcision gives place to the apostle to the Gentiles as the central figure in the narrative, but yet in every place the Jew is still accorded a priority in the offer of blessing, and it is not until, in every place from Jerusalem round to Rome, that blessing has been despised, that the Pentecostal dispensation is brought to a close by the promulgation of the solemn decree, "The salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles."
The hopes excited in the breasts of the disciples by their Lord's last words of cheer and promise were more than realised. Converts flocked to them by thousands, and "signs and wonders were wrought among the people." And, as already noticed, not only was Divine power in exercise to accredit their testimony, but also to deliver them from outrage, and rescue them from bonds and imprisonment. Nor was St. Paul behind the rest in these respects. But compare the record of Pentecostal days with the narrative of his imprisonment in Rome, and mark the change! When dragged to gaol at Philippi as a common disturber of the peace, Heaven came down to earth in answer to his midnight prayer, the prison doors flew open, his gaoler became a disciple, and the magistrates who had committed him, besought him, with obsequious words, to comply with commands they no longer dared to enforce. But now he is "the prisoner of the Lord." His bonds are known everywhere to be for Christ.' In other words, there is no side issue, no incidental charge, as at Philippi, to conceal the true character of the accusation against him. It is a public fact that it is only because he is a teacher of Christianity that he is held in bonds. If the received theory respecting miracles be well founded, this is the scene and here is the occasion for "signs and wonders and mighty deeds," such as he had appealed to in his earlier career. But Heaven is silent. There is no earthquake now to awe his persecutors. No angel messenger strikes off his chains. He stands alone, forsaken of men, even as his Master was, and seemingly forsaken of God. How natural the sceptic's taunt that miracles were cheap with the peasants of Galilee and the rabble of Jerusalem! A miracle at Nero's Court might indeed have "accredited Christianity." In truth, it might have shaken the world. But miracle there was none; for, the special testimony to the Jew having ceased, the purpose for which miracles were given was accomplished.
Like a day that breaks with unclouded splendour, and approaches noontide in all the glory of perfect summer, but then begins to wane, and early closes in amidst the gloom of gathering storm-clouds that shut out the sky and darken all the scene, so was it with the course of that brief story. At the first great Pentecost three thousand converts were baptized in a single day, the manifested power of God filled every soul with awe, and those who were His own had "gladness of heart" and "favour with all the people." And when the first threat of persecution drove them together in prayer, "the place was shaken where they were assembled . . . and with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus."' The seeming check of the first martyr's death was followed by the conversion of him who caused it, the fierce persecutor and blasphemer, won over to the faith he had struggled to destroy, and chained to the chariot-wheels of the triumph of the gospel. But now we see that same Paul, albeit the greatest of the apostles and the foremost champion the faith has ever known, standing alone at Cesar's judgment-seat, a weak, crushed man, given up to death to satisfy the policy or caprice of Imperial Rome. In days to come "the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb" shall mingle once again in the anthem of the redeemed: the song of Moses- "I will sing unto the Lord for He hath triumphed gloriously, The horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea"- that song of the public triumph of Divine power openly displayed; and the song of the Lamb- the song of that deeper but hidden triumph of faith in the unseen. But now the song of Moses has ceased, and the Church's only song is the song of Him who overcame, and won the throne through open defeat and shame. The days of the "rushing mighty wind," "the tongues of fire," the earthquake shock, are past. The anchor of the Christian's hope is firmly fixed in the veiled realities of heaven. He endures "as seeing Him who is invisible."


THE Sovereign of the Universe is on the whole a good Sovereign, but with so much business on His hands that He has not time to look into details. Such was Cicero's apology two thousand years ago for Jupiter's neglect of his terrestrial kingdom. And the words would fairly express the vague thoughts which float through the minds of common men if they think of God at all in relation to the affairs of earth. But there are times in every life when, in the language of the old Psalm, "heart and flesh cry out for the living God." The living God: not a mere Providence, but a real Person -a God to help us as our fellow-man would help if only he had the power. And at such times men pray who never prayed before; and men who are used to pray, pray with a passionate earnestness they never knew before. But what comes of it? "When I cry and call for help He shutteth out my prayer" such is the experience of thousands. Men do not speak of these things; but, as they brood over them, the cold mist of a settled unbelief quenches the last spark of faith in hearts chilled by a sense of utter desolation, or roused to rebellion by a sense of wrong.
To some no doubt all this will savour of the mingled profanity and ignorance of unbelief. But by many these pages will be welcomed as giving full and fair expression to familiar thoughts. And the statement of these difficulties here is made with a view to their solution. But where is that solution to be found? It is no novel experience with men that Heaven should be silent. But what is new and strange and startling is that the silence should be so absolute and so prolonged; that, through all the changing vicissitudes of the Church's history for nearly two thousand years that silence should have remained unbroken. This it is which tries faith, and hardens unfaith into open infidelity.
Can this mystery be solved? Mere speculations respecting it are profitless. The solution must be found in Holy Scripture, if at all. The Old Testament, of course, will throw no light on it. Neither will the Gospels afford a clew; for these are the record of "days of heaven upon earth." Nor yet need it be sought in the Acts of the Apostles, for, as already seen, the Book is the record of a transitory dispensation marked by abundant displays of the power of God among men. Is it not clear that if the key to the great secret of the Gentile dispensation can be found at all, it is in the writings of the apostle to the Gentiles that we must make search for it? But here the ways divide. The wide and well-worn highway of religious controversy will never lead us to the truth we seek. That is reached only by a path which the general reader will refuse. Our choice lies between a study of these Epistles viewed as disclosing the "Pauline" developments, or perversions, of the teaching of the great Rabbi of Nazareth, or as containing that further revelation promised and foreshadowed by our Divine Lord in the later discourses of His ministry on earth. The one road is deemed the highway of modern enlightenment, the other is disparaged as a by-path now disused, or frequented only by the mystic and the unlearned. But in this sphere popularity is no test of truth. Let the atheistic evolutionist account for it if he can, the fact remains that man is essentially a religious being. He may sink so low as to deify humanity and make self his god, but a god of some sort he must have. Religion is a necessity to him. The Christian religion prevails in Christendom; other systems hold sway among the decaying civilisations of the world; but neither the deepest degradation nor the highest enlightenment has ever produced a single nation or tribe of atheists.
This undoubted fact, however, may well give rise to most serious thoughts. It cannot be admitted that the element of truth is of no account in religion, or that all these religions are equally acceptable. And once we come to the question of their relative excellence the religion of Christendom defies all comparison. May we, then, maintain that all adherents of the Christian religion are assured of Divine favour? Let us for a moment, forgetting what is due to "the spirit of the age," assume the Divine authority of Scripture, and we shall find ourselves confronted by doubts whether religion in this sense is of any avail whatever. Judaism was, indeed, a Divine religion. It had "ordinances of Divine service and its sanctuary,"' Divinely appointed in a sense to which no other system could pretend. And yet we read: "He is not a Jew who is one outwardly, neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart." And again, "For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature." Now, if in a religion which seemed to consist so much in externals, the externals were absolutely of no value whatever save Heb. ix. i (R.V.). Rom. ii. 28- Gal. vi. 15. as they had their counterpart and reality in a man's heart and life, this surely must be still more true of Christianity. May we not assert with confidence that he is not a Christian who is one outwardly, but he only is a Christian who is one inwardly? May we not maintain that there is a distinction sharp and clear between Christianity and the religion of Christendom.
In the case of the Roman and Greek Churches, this distinction becomes a deep and yawning gulf. And further, as Mr. Froude has well said, in those countries which rejected thc Reformation, "culture and intelligence have ceased to interest themselves in a creed which they no longer believe. The laity are contemptuously indifferent, and leave the priests in possession of the field in which reasonable men have ceased to expect any good thing to grow. This is the only fruit of the Catholic reaction of the sixteenth century." And he adds: "If the same phenomena are beginning to be visible in England, coincident with the repudiation by some of the clergy of the principles of the Reformation; and if they are permitted to carry through their Catholic 'revival,' the divorce between intelligence and Christianity will be as complete among ourselves as it is elsewhere." "Between intelligence and Christianity" a divorce is impossible. But by "Christianity" the author here means "the religion of Christendom"; and with this correction his assertion is irrefutable. Mr. Balfour's "Foundations of Belief" escapes the difficulty here suggested by stopping short at the very threshold. His work is "introductory to the study of theology." And here his criticisms are searching, and his logic is without a flaw. But one step more would have brought him to the point where the ways divide. What is the theology he is aiming at? Is it the religion of Christendom - a human religion based on a Divine ideal, framed to reach and regulate men's opinions and conduct so far as the spiritual side of their complex being is concerned? Or is it Christianity-a Divine revelation commanding the faith and thus moulding the character and controlling the whole life of those who receive it?
In the estimation of some the great religion of Asia compares favourably with that of Christendom, on account of its freedom from priestcraft and ceremonial observances, its repudiation of penance and everything of mere asceticism, and the singular truth and beauty of its doctrine of "the middle path." But the comparison is altogether dishonest. It is drawn between the ideal Buddhism of our English admirers of Gautama, and the Christian system in its more corrupt developments. The practical Buddhism of Buddhist races is a gross and degrading superstition, and it cannot compare with the Christian religion even at its worst. And even the refined Buddhism presented by its Western exponents is wanting in that ennobling element which is distinctive of Christianity. The wholly legendary and half mythical story of Gautama's life are a poor equivalent for the well-ascertained facts of the ministry of Christ. Here let a witness speak whose judgment is warped by no religious bias.
"It was reserved for Christianity," says Mr. Lecky, "to present to the world an ideal character which, through all the changes of eighteen centuries has filled the hearts of men with an impassioned love, has shown itself capable of acting on all ages, nations, temperaments, and conditions; has not only been the highest pattern of virtue, but the highest incentive to its practice, and has exerted so deep an influence that it may be truly said that the simple record of three short years of active life has done more to regenerate and soften mankind than all the disquisitions of philosophers and all the exhortations of moralists. This has, indeed, been the well-spring of whatever has been best and purest in the Christian life. Amid all the sins and failings, amid all the priestcraft, the persecutions, and fanaticism which have defaced the Church, it has preserved in the character and example of its Founder an enduring principle of regeneration."
If the Christian religion, even in its outward and himself their God. And the Buddhism of later times has invariably assimilated some of the elements of the base polytheisms by which it has been surrounded. human side, can justly claim such a testimony as this, what words are adequate to describe CHRISTIANITY in the higher and deeper sense? And let no one carp at this distinction as fanciful or forced. In fact, it is broad and vital. Just as the religion of Asia is based on the life and teaching of Gautama, so the religion of Christendom, regarded as a human system, claims to be based on the life and teaching of the great Rabbi of Nazareth. But the advent and ministry of Christ were, in fact, introductory to the great revelation of Christianity. Thus was crowned and completed, as it were, the fabric which had been rearing for ages. In the public aspect of it His mission had relation to the economy about to close. He was "born under the law."' He "was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God." Hence His words, "I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel." And as the result, infinite love, and grace which knows no distinctions, were restrained. "I have a baptism to be baptized with," He exclaimed, "and how am I straitened till it be accmplished!"

Literature | Photos | Links | Home