SIR ROBERT ANDERSON
Secret Service Theologian
THE SILENCE OF GOD
JUST half a century ago the theologians of Christendom were
startled by the publication of Ferdinand Christian Baur's treatise on Paul. It
was an epoch-making book. The author's critical researches had led him to
assert the unquestionable authenticity of the Epistles to the Romans, the
Corinthians, and the Galatians. And fastening on these writings as our safest
guides in historical inquiries respecting the cha-racter and rise of primitive
Christianity, he went on to demonstrate its Pauline origin. "These authentic
documents," he urged (to quote a recent writer), "reveal antitheses of thought,
a Petrine and a Pauline party in the Apostolic Church. The Petrine was the
primitive Christian, made up of men who, while believing in Jesus as the
Messiah, did not cease to be Jews, whose Christianity was but a narrow
neo-Judaism. The Pauline was a reformed and Gentile Christianity, which aimed
at universalising the faith in Jesus by freeing it from the Jewish law and
traditions. The universalism of Christianity, and, therefore, its historical
importance and achievements, are thus really the work of the Apostle Paul. His
work he accomplished not with the approval and consent, but against the will
and in spite of the efforts and oppositions, of the older apostles, and
especially of their more inveterate adherents who claimed to be the party of
If we are to understand the sequel to the present argument we must rescue from its false environment of German rationalism the important truth which Baur thus brought to light and distorted, We must needs recognise the intensely Jewish character of the Pentecostal dispensation. And in this connection we must also apprehend the two-fold aspect of the death of Christ. The Cross was the manifestation of Divine love without reserve or limit; but it was also the expression of man's unutterable malignity. Did reverence permit us to give play to imagination on such a subject, we might suppose the death of Christ accomplished by the Roman power in spite of protests and appeals from an aggrieved and down-trodden Jewish people. More than this, we might suppose "the King of the Jews" given up to death on grounds of public policy, yet treated to the last with all the respect and homage due to His personal character and royal claims.
And who will dare to aver that the atoning efficacy of the death of our Divine Lord, how-ever accomplished, could be less than infinite? But mark the emphasis which Scripture lays upon the manner of His death. It was "the death of the Cross." No element of contempt or hate was wanting. Imperial Rome decreed it, but it was the favoured people who demanded it. The "wicked hands" by which they murdered their messiah were those of their heathen masters, but the responsibility for the act was all their own. Nor was it the ignorant rabble of Jerusalem that forced the Roman government to set up the cross on Calvary. Behind the mob was the great Council of the nation. Neither was it a sudden burst of passion that led these men to clamour for His death. Hostile sects forgot their differences in deep-laid plots to compass His destruction. The time, moreover, was the Paschal feast, when Jews from every land were gathered in Jerusalem. Every interest, every class, every section of that people shared in the great crime. Never was there a clearer case of national guilt. Never was there an act for which a nation could more justly be summoned to account.
But Infinite mercy could forgive even that transcendent sin, and in Jerusalem itself it was that the great amnesty was first proclaimed. Pardon and peace were preached, by Divine command, to the very men who crucified the Son of God! But here prevailing misconceptions are so fixed that the whole significance of the narrative is lost. The apostles were Divinely guid.d to declare that if, even then, the "men of Israel" repented, their Messiah would return to fulfil to them all that their own prophets had foretold and promised of spiritual and national blessing.'
(Though the Revisers have reproduced St. Peter's words in one important passage which the Authorised Version has misread, yet to take these simple words in their plain and obvious meaning is to risk being looked upon as either fool or faddist. The words are: "Repent ye therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that so there may come seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord; and that He may send the Christ who hath been appointed for you, even Jesus; whom the heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, whereof Gcd spake by the mouth of His holy prophets. . . . Ye are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with your fathers" (Acts iii. '9, &c.). The whole passage should be carefully studied, and by all means see Alford's notes, showing how fully and definitely all this refers to Jewish hopes and promises. )
To represent this as Christian doctrine, or the institution of "a new religion," is to betray ignorance alike of Judaism and of Christianity The speakers were Jews -the apostles of One who was Himself "a minister of the circumcision." Their hearers were Jews, and as Jews they were addressed. The Pentecostal Church which was based upon the testimony was intensely and altogether Jewish. It was not merely that the converts were Jews, and none but Jews, but that the idea of evangelising Gentiles never was even mooted. When the first great persecution scattered the disciples, and they "went everywhere preaching the Word," they preached, we are expressly told, "to none but to the Jews."' And when after the lapse of years Peter entered a Gentile house, he was publicly called to account for conduct that seemed so strange and wrong.
In a word, if "To the Jew first" is characteristic of the Acts of the Apostles as a whole, "To the Jew only" is plainly stamped upon every part of these early chapters, described by theologians as the "Hebraic section" of the book. The fact is clear as light. And if any are prepared to account for it by Jewish prejudice and ignorance, they may at once throw down this volume, for it is here assumed that the apostles of the Lord, speaking and acting in the memorable days of Pentecostal power, were Divinely guided in their work and testimony.
The Jerusalem Church, then, was Jewish. Their Bible was the Jewish Scriptures. The Jewish temple was their house of prayer and common meeting-place. Their beliefs and hopes and words and acts all marked them out as Jews. Hence the amazing number of the converts. On the day of Pentecost alone three thousand were baptized. Soon afterwards their company would seem to have more than trebled. At the time of the sin and death of Ananias and Sapphira, still further "multitudes, both of men and women," were added to their company. And at the time of the appointment of the men who, by a strange vagary of tradition, have been misnamed "the deacons," it is recorded that "the number of the disciples multiplied In Jerusalem greatly, and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith." Nothing was further from the thoughts of these men than "founding a new religion." On the contrary, while hailing the rejected Nazarene as their national Messiah, they clung with passionate devotion to the religion of their fathers.
But what bearing has all this upon the question here? The Jews had crucified the Messiah. But now, when vengeance swift and terrible might have been expected to fall upon that guilty people, Divine mercy held back the judgment and called them once again to repentance. The testimony was full and clear, and it was confirmed by a signal display of miraculous power. But what was the answer of the men who sat "in Moses' seat "- the accredited leaders and representatives of the nation? By the murder of Stephen they re-enacted, so far as it was in their power to re-enact, the supreme tragedy of Calvary. Having regard to all the events which marked the interval, that further crime betokened a more deliberate hate, and therefore a greater depth of guilt even than the Crucifixion itself. There was no popular clamour now to blind their judgment. When, some months before, in a formal meeting of their national senate, the plot to murder the apostles was first mooted, it was one of the great doctors of the Sanhedrin who intervened on their behalf. Gamaliel's words, moreover, and the action which the council took on them, give proof how entirely the position and teaching of the apostles were within the scope of Jewish beliefs and hopes, and how thoroughly they were regarded as a Jewish sect. But these men were so blinded by religious rancour that no voice, human or Divine, could avail to restrain them.
Heaven's best gifts, when perverted or abused, often turn to what is virulently bad; and religion, when divorced from spiritual life, appears to have some mysterious power to narrow and harden and deprave the human heart. "It cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem!" The pathos of the words does not conceal their scathing irony. Among common men, however evil or degraded, a prophet might pass unharmed though men alone would persecute and murder him ! In every age, indeed, religion has been the most implacable enemy of God, the most relentless persecutor of His people. Witness the tombs of the prophets! Witness the blood-stained pages of the Church's history! The Christian martyrs in unnumbered millions -for though their names are written in heaven, earth has kept no record of them - the best and purest and noblest of mankind, have been tortured and done to death in the name of religion. How just is the infidel's taunt that it radically vitiates the standard of human morals!
The men by whose hands the "first martyr" died were the very men who had been "the betrayers and murderers" of Christ. In times of riot or excitement mobs will commit excesses which, in his better moments, every man of them would deprecate. But these men were not of the class that mobs are made of. The high priest presided. Around him were the elders and the scribes. By the great Gouncil of the nation it was that the deed was done. Its members were the acknowledged religious leaders of the people. Many of them, like Saul of Tarsus, himself the formal witness of the death, were men of blameless life, of untiring zeal and intensest piety. And as the cruel stones were showered upon that face which had shone like an angel's as they looked on it, it was hatred to the Nazarene that fired their hearts. Their King they had driven out: Stephen was the messenger sent after Him to declare anew their deliberate purpose to reject Him.' This was their answer to the heaven-sent testimony of Pentecost. "All manner of sin" against the Son might be forgiven; they had now committed that deeper sin against the Holy Ghost, for which there could be no forgiveness.
During the forty years of Jeremiah's ministry the first destruction of Jerusalem was delayed. So now well-nigh forty years elapsed before the crash of that still more awful judgment which engulfed them. God is very pitiful, and then, as now, "He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling-place. But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised His words, and misused His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people till there was no remedy." But though the public event which marked their fall was thus deferred, the death of Stephen was the secret crisis of their destiny. Never again was a public miracle witnessed in Jerusalem. The special Pentecostal proclamation was withdrawn. The Pentecostal Church was scattered. The apostle of the Gentiles forthwith received his commission, and the current of events set steadily, and with continually increasing force, toward the open rejection of the long-favoured people and the public proclamation of the great characteristic truth of Christianity. Within that truth lies concealed the key to the mystery of a silent Heaven.
WE have now reached a stage in this inquiry where a
retrospect may be opportune. Expression has been given to difficulties and
doubts to which no thoughtful person is a stranger. And these, it has been
seen, are rather intensified, than answered or removed, by an appeal to the
mere surface current of Scripture testimony. The "Christian argument" from
miracles has been shown to be not only inadequate, but faulty. And we have
turned to the Acts of the Apostles to find how fallacious is the popular belief
that the Jerusalem Church was Christian. In fact, it was thoroughly and
altogether Jewish. The only difference, indeed, between the position of the
disciples during the "Hebraic period" of the Acts, and during the period of the
Lord's earthly ministry, was that the great fact of the Resurrection became the
burden of their testimony. And finally we have seen how the rejection of that
testimony by the favoured nation led to the unfolding of the Divine purpose to
deprive the Jew of his vantage-ground of privilege and to usher in the
The Divine religion of Judaism in every part of it, both in the spirit and the letter, pointed to the coming of a promised Messiah; and to maintain that a man ceased to be a Jew because he cherished that hope, and accepted the Messiah when He came - this is a position absolutely grotesque in its absurdity. It would not be one whit more monstrous to declare that in our own day a man ceases to be a Christian if and when faith in Christ, from being a mere shibboleth of his creed, becomes a reality in his heart and life.
Twenty years after the Pentecostal Church was formed, the disciples were still regarded by their own nation as a Jewish sect. "The sect of the Nazarenes," Tertullus called them in his arraignment of Paul before Felix; and Paul, in his defence, repudiated the charge, claiming that the followers of the Way were the true worshippers of the ancestral God of his nation.' Israel fell, not because the disciples, alive to the spiritual significance of their religion, accepted Christ, but because the nation rejected Him, and persisted in that rejection, "despising His words and misusing His prophets, till there was no remedy."
It would be an idle and profitless speculation to discuss what would have been the course of the dispensation if the Pentecostal testimony had led the Jews to repentance. What concerns us is the fact that Israel's fall was due to the national rejection of Messiah, and that that fall was "the reconciling of the world" -a radical change in God's attitude toward men, such as the Old Testament Scriptures gave no indica tion of, and even the Gospels foreshadowed but vaguely. We thus steer our course unswayed by the ignorance of the Christian sceptic and the animus of the avowed unbeliever. The one, disparaging the Epistles, turns back to the Sermon on the Mount to seek there an ideal Christianity: the other has no difficulty in showing that the teaching of Christ, when so perverted, is the dream of a visionary. The Sermon on the Mount combines principles of limitless scope with precepts designed for the time at which they were spoken, and the spiritually intelligent cannot fail to discriminate between the two. It was for such the Bible was written, and neither for infidels nor fools.'
We conclude, then, as we study the records of the Pentecostal Jewish Church, that the characteristic truths of Christianity have yet to be revealed. Turning back to the earlier Scriptures with the knowledge we now possess, we may find them there in embryo, but the full and formal promulgation of them must be sought in the Epistles. But here the parting of the ways will become still more definitely marked. In passing away from the ministry of "the apostle to the circumcision," we leave behind us, of course, the religion of Christendom -for is not St. Peter its patron saint? Mere Protestantism, moreover, has but little sympathy with studies of this kind. And as for that school of religious thought which seems for the moment to stand highest in the popular favour, we break with it entirely on entering upon the inquiry which lies before us. None such will accompany the truth-seeker as he passes on his lonely way.
But while other schools will be simply indifferent to this inquiry, open hostility will be the attitude of those who claim to be the party of progress and enlightenment. It may be well, therefore, to turn aside once again to examine their pretensions. No generous mind would willingly insult a man's religion, whether he be Christian or Jew, Mahometan or Buddhist. But when "religious" men pose as sceptics and critics, they come out into the open, and forfeit all "right of sanctuary.' Courtesy is due to the religious man who stands behind the labarum of his creed. Courtesy is no less due to the agnostic who refuses faith in all that lies outside the sphere of sense or demonstration. But what shall be said for those who discard belief in the supernatural while they claim to be the true exponents of a system which has the supernatural as its only basis; or who deprecate belief in the inspiration of the Scriptures, while they profess to hold and teach that to which, apart from inspiration in the strictest sense, none but the credulous would listen?
These men pretend to mental superiority; but we only need to tear away the lion's skin they masquerade in to find exactly what we might expect! Here is a dilemma from which there is no escape. If the New Testament be Divinely inspired, we accept its teaching; we believe that Jesus was the Son of God, that He was born of a virgin, that He died and rose again, that He ascended to heaven, and now sits as man at the right hand of God; in a word, we are Christians, and to take any other position is to stultify ourselves by dethroning reason itself. If, on the other hand, the New Testament be not inspired, no consensus of mere human opinion or testimony, however ancient or venerable or widespread, would warrant our accepting figments so essentially incredible; in a word, we are agnostics, and to take any other position is to pose as superstitious fools who would believe anything.
The Christian and. the infidel cannot both be right, yet both are entitled to respect, for the one position is logically as unassailable as the other. But what shall be said for the unbelieving Christian, or the Christianised infidel? If he be dishonest he is almost bad enough for a gaol; if he be honest he is almost weak enough for an asylum. The weak deserve our pity; the wicked our contempt. And their claim to be freethinkers, their affectation of intellectual superiority, give proof that with the majority the more generous alternative is the true one. The old Jewish proverb about straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel well describes their attempt to combine the most fastidious scepticism with the blindest faith. These modern Sadducees talk "as though wisdom were born with them"; whereas, in fact, like their prototypes of old, they are the stupid advocates of an impossible compromise.
Let there be no misunderstanding here. It is not a question of demanding faith on grounds which are either false or inadequate. It is not a question of trading on the superstitious element in human nature, lest common men, in throwing off the restraints of religion, should allow liberty to degenerate into licence. This appeal is addressed to the fair-minded, the intelligent, the thoughtful. If we possess a revelation, and if the doctrines of Christianity are Divinely accredited as true, reason commands our acceptance of them, and unbelief is an outrage upon reason itself. If, on the other hand, we have no revelation; or, what comes to the same thing, if the Divine element in Scripture is merely traditional, and must be separated from abounding error-picked out like treasure from a dust-heap - then we must either give up our Protestantism and fall back on the authority of the Church, or else we must needs face the matter fairly, and accept and act upon the dictum that "the rational attitude of the thinking mind towards the supernatural is that of scepticism." The superstitious will take refuge in the former alternative; the latter will commend itself to all free and fearless thinkers. The former, indeed, is not only intellectually deplorable, but logically absurd. We are called upon to believe the Scriptures because the Church accredits them. The Bible is not infallible, but the Church is infallible, and upon the authority of the Church our faith can find a sure foundation.' But how do we know that the Church is to be trusted? The ready answer is, We know it upon the authority of the Bible. That is to say, we trust the Bible on the authority of the Church, and we trust the Church on the authority of the Bible! It is a bad case of "the confidence trick."
But, it will be said, is it not to the Church that we owe the Bible? Regarded as a book we owe it indeed in a sense to the Church, just as we owe it to the printer. But in a sense which, appeals to us more closely here in England we owe it to noble men who rescued it for us in defiance of the Church. Let not the Protestants of England forget William Tyndale. His life-work was to bring the Bible within reach even of the humblest peasant. And for no other offence than this the Church hounded him to his death, never resting till it strangled him at the stake and flung his body to the flames.
(The Church of England teaches unequivocally that there is neither salvation nor infallibility in the Church, and that the Church's-authority in matters of faith is controlled and limited by Holy Writ (see Articles xviii.-.xxi.). And this is Protestantism; not a repudiation of authority in the spiritual sphere, but a revolt against the bondage of mere human authority falsely claiming to be Divine. It delivers us from the authority of "the Church," that we may be free to bow to the authority of God. "The Church" claims to mediate between God and man. But Christianity teaches that all pretensions of the kind are both false and profane, and points to our Divine Lord as the only Mediator. Protestantism is not our religion, but it leaves us with a free conscience and an open Bible, face to face with God. It is not an anchorage for faith; but It is like the breakwater which renders our anchorage secure. It shields us from influences which make Christianity impossible.)
But the Bible is more than a book-it is a revelation; and thus regarded, it is above the Church. We do not judge the Bible by the Church; we judge the Church and its teaching bythe Bible. This is our safeguard against the ignorance and tyranny of priestcraft. But in our day those who deprecate most strongly the tyranny of the priest are precisely those who champion most loudly the tyranny of the professor and the pundit. The occupant of a University chair cannot fail to be eminent in the branch of knowledge in which he excels, and his value as a specialist is unquestionable. But he may be so utterly unspiritual, and withal so deficient in judgment and common sense, that his opinion may be worth less than that of an intelligent peasant or a Christian schoolboy. The fabric of the Bible, he tells us, is wholly unreliable, but some of its most unbelievable mysteries are truths Divinely revealed. But what claim has he to be listened to in such a case? The setting of the trinket is worthless, and most of its seeming gems are spurious, but here and there he indicates a diamond or a pearl. But the profoundest knowledge of mathematics or Oriental dialects does not qualify a man to judge of pearls and diamonds, Still less does it fit him to recognise spiritual truths.
If the Bible has really been discredited by modern research, let us have the honesty to own the fact and the manliness to face its consequences. But if the Bible has not been thus discredited, if the results of modern research have been entirely its favour,' then let us show a bolder front in our stand for faith. And let faith and unbelief measure their distance once again.
The Bible was written for honest hearts. It is addressed, moreover, to spiritual men. And what is the practical test of spirituality? "If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord" these words betoken, not the insolence of a priest, but the authority of an inspired apostle. It is as believers then, and in the spirit of faith, that we turn to the Epistles.
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