SIR ROBERT ANDERSON
Secret Service Theologian
TEXTS OF THE BIBLE
THE NEW TESTAMENT
"I TELL YOU earnestly and authoritatively (I know I am
right in this), you must get into the habit of looking intensely at words,
assuring yourself of their meaning, syllable by syllable - nay, letter by
letter." These words of Ruskins glaringly exaggerate the worth of mere
human writings, but they might fitly be inscribed on the flyleaf of every
Testament and Bible. For the words of God are like the works of God, in that we
often need the microscope to enable us to appreciate them. And yet at times
this element is of secondary importance. For, unless we understand the Divine
scheme and purpose of the Bible as a whole, we cannot read even the New
The following travesty of the teaching of Scripture is a fair statement of the views - beliefs we can scarcely call them - which are commonly held. "Adams sin so thoroughly depraved the nature of his descendants, that God destroyed them in the Flood, and began again with Noah. But the Noachian dispensation was as great a failure as that which it succeeded. In the Babylonian apostasy, indeed, the corruption of the primeval revelation was so radical - and permeating that even the Christian religion is leavened with its distinctive errors. So God then resorted to another plan. He singled out Abraham and his race to be His " peculiar people," and unto them were committed the oracles of God."
But if previous dispensations collapsed in failure, the Abrahamic ended in disaster. For the covenant people crucified the Messiah when He came to fulfil to them the prophecies and promises of all the Scriptures. Therefore the Divine purposes for earth, so plainly unfolded in those Scriptures, have now been jettisoned; and in this Christian dispensation - "the last great aeon of Gods dealings with mankind" - earth is a mere recruiting-ground for heaven, and it will be given up to judgment-fire as soon as the number of the elect has been completed.
Is it any wonder that the Bible is neglected by the profane, and that so much of it is accepted by t.he devout on the principle of "shut your eyes and open your mouth" ? For this sort of Biblical interpretation leaves the Old Testament an easy prey to the German "Culture " of the infidel Higher Criticism crusade. And in the case even of the New Testament, not only isolated texts but considerable portions must needs be explained in the sense of being "explained away." Very specially does this apply to its opening and closing books. The loss of either of them would destroy the unity and completeness of the Bible. And yet the Apocalypse is regarded as a mere appendix, provided for the delectation of people of leisure with a taste for mysticism. And the First Gospel is too often used to modify, if not to "correct," the teaching of the Epistles. But the closing book of the Canon might fitly be described as the stocktaking book of the Bible; for the unfulfilled prophecies iid promises of the Hebrew Scriptures are there traced to their consummation. And Matthew supplies the link which binds the Old Testament to the New.
For the purpose of these pages, however, it will suffice to explain the place which the First Gospel holds in the Divine scheme of revelation. Our theology is largely based on the teaching of the Latin Fathers, and with them it was an accepted fact that God has "cast away His people whom He foreknew." The prophecies relating to Israel, and to Gods purposes of blessing for earth, have therefore to be "spiritualised" to make them, applicable to the Church. But the simple prose of Matthew will not allow of treatment of this kind. And so that Gospel is regarded as a sort of poor relation of the others; whereas to the student of prophecy it is in some respects the most important book of the New Testament.
The Gospels are not, as infidels suppose, imperfect and often conflicting records of the life and ministry of "Jesus," but separate portraits, as it were, of the Lord Jesus Christ with reference to His various relationships and offices. This appears very strikingly when we compare the First Gospel with the Fourth. For the Fourth is the revelation of the Son of God, who came not to judge, but to save the world (John xii. 47); whereas the First records His advent and ministry as Israels Messiah ; and we scan it in vain for words of the kind we value in the Fourth - words which we. as Gentiles, can take to ourselves without reserve. This notable fact is not to be explained by suggesting that the Apostle Matthew was a narrow-minded Jew who refused to identify himself with the teaching of his Lord whenever it passed beyond the sphere of Jewish hopes and interests. And the only alternative to this is that, writing by Divine inspiration, he was so guided and restrained that nothing came from his pen, save what was strictly germane to the special revelation entrusted to him by the Holy Spirit.
"He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not." Thus it is that the Fourth Gospel opens; while the First begins by recording His birth and lineage - not, indeed, as infidels would tell us, as the descendant of an Arab sheikh aud a petty tribal king, but as the promised "Seed" of Abraham, and as "Davids greater Son" - the glories of whose coming reign over this earth of ours fill so prominent a place in Hebrew Scripture.
To that reign it was that the Baptists testimony pointed, when he came "preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, "Repent; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." The same testimony was afterwards taken up by the Lord Himself, and in due course entrusted to His Apostles. The popular belief that it was meant to herald what we call the "Christian dispensation " is utterly mistaken.
"The kingdom of the heavens" (for such is the right rendering of the Greek words) occurs three-and-thirty times in Matthew, and nowhere else in the New Testament. What are we to understand by the phrase? It cannot mean that God would soon begin to rule the heavens! And the only possible alternative is that the time was near when He would assume the government of earth.
Much that is true of our island-home may be predicated of every land on which floats the "Union Jack": but England is not the British Empire. And there is a like distinction between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God. They are not synonymous; for the kingdom of heaven relates exclusively to earth.
But here a strange fact claims notice. By untold millions of lips the prayer is daily uttered: "Thy kingdom come." And yet, with the unbeliever who uses that prayer, the suggestion of Divine government on earth would be scouted as a dream of visionaries; and among believers there is not one in a hundred who would not be shocked at the suggestion that the kingdom has not already come. Does not Scripture tell us (they would indignantly exclaim) that "the Lord God omnipotent reigneth" ?
And it was not the crucifixion that postponed the fulfilment of the Lords words. For His prayer upon the cross secured forgiveness for His murderers - witness the amnesty proclaimed at Pentecost by His inspired Apostle (Acts iii. 19 - 24). But the preaching of that Pentecostal Gospel, first in Jerusalem, and afterwards throughout all Jewry and round as far as Rome, evoked never a response from even a local synagogue. The Acts of the Apostles contains the record of it ; and it closes with the "Ichabod" pronounced upon that obdurate and guilty people. Instead, therefore, of sending "the Christ foreordained unto them," God sent the awful judgment that so soon engulfed them; and the times of the Gentiles, which had seemed about to end, have lingered on for nineteen centuries. Though the purposes of God cannot be thwarted by the sins of men, the fulfilment of them may be thus postponed. And just as the wilderness apostasy of Israel prolonged their wanderings for forty years, although Canaan was but a few days march from Sinai, so the far more gross apostasy of Christendom has prolonged for nigh two thousand years an era which the Lord and His Apostles taught the early saints to look upon as brief.
Not that "the times of the Gentiles" are co-terminous with "the Christian dispensation." The subjection of the Jewish nation to the supremacy of Babylon was the epoch of that era; and it will continue until the restoration of their national polity - an event which awaits the return of their Messiah. According to words familiar to every Jew, " His feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the cast" (Zechariah xiv. 4). And when upon the day of the Ascension the disciples saw Him standing there, forgetful of the warning He had given them so recently,1 they put to Him the question "Wilt Thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" And the Lords reply implicitly accredited the question as Scriptural and right, albeit it was not for them to know "times or seasons " (Acts i. 6, 7).
Here, then, is a principle to guide us in studying the Scriptures. Divine promises and prophecies are not like bank-cheques that become invalid by lapse of time. Every word "which God hath spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began" about "the times of restitution of all things" - that is, the times when all things shall be put right on earth - shall be fulfilled as literally as were the seemingly incredible predictions of Bethlehem and Calvary. And when the Lord proclaimed that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, He meant that the time was near when these " times of restitution " would bring peace and blessedness to this sin-blighted world.
Let us then apply this to His teaching at the close of His ministry, as recorded in the First Gospel. No one could have imagined that between the fulfilment of the great prophecy of Isaiah liii. and of the prophecy which immediately follows it, there would be an interval of twenty centuries; or that a like period would intervene between the fulfilment of the prophecy of Matthew xxiv. and the event which the Lord foretold in the second verse of that same chapter. But the explanation of this will plainly appear if we bear in mind, first, that all Messianic prophecy relating to earth runs in the channel of Israels national history and therefore, so to speak, the clock of prophetic time is stopped while their national history is in abeyance. And secondly, that Israels rejection during this Christian dispensation is a New Testament "mystery."
It was not that our Lord spoke in ignorance. But though His Divine knowledge was full and absolute, His use of that knowledge, during all His earthly ministry, was subject to definite limitations. For He never spoke save as the Father gave Him to speak, and "times and seasons" the Father had kept in His own exousia (Acts i. 7).
As we read these Scriptures, we must bear in mind that the kingdom of heaven is for earth, and that the earthly people of the Abrahamic promise are the Divinely appointed agency for the administration of it. And Matthew is the Gospel that speaks of it, because it. is the Gospel which reveals Christ in His relationships with the earthly people. And if we are to understand that Gospel aright, we need to give a first reading to much of it as from the standpoint of the disciples to whom it was specially addressed. For the man of God "all Scripture is profitable," and therefore none may be neglected. But we must distinguish between interpretation and application. And, above all, we must clear our minds from the ignorance of Latin theology. "God hath not cast away His people whom He foreknew" ; and in His own good time "all Israel shall be saved." Not, as the Apostle explains, that every Israelite shall be saved, but that Israel as a nation shall be restored to the place assigned to them in Holy Scripture (Romans xi. 2, 25 - 29).
The scheme of the First Gospel is as definite as it is simple. It opens, as we have seen, by recording the birth of Christ as the " Seed " of the Abrahamic covenant, and the King of Israel. Then we have the Baptists ministry, which was a provisional fulfilment of the promised advent of Elijah (see ch. xi. 14). Then, after the Temptation, the Lord Himself proclaimed the same Gospel of the coming kingdom, and accredited His testimony by that marvellous display of miraculous power recorded at the close of chapter iv. In the three succeeding chapters He unfolded to His disciples the principles of the kingdom. In chapter x. He commissioned the Twelve to take up the kingdom ministry; and the following chapter chronicles a series of typical acts and utterances of power, and mercy, and judgment. In chapter xii. we reach a crisis in the ministry.
Just as by " spiritualising " all the prophecies relating to His earthly kingdom glories, the "Christian Church" has either perverted or ignored them, so by a like process the " Jewish Church " perverted or ignored the prophecies relating to His earthly sufferings and death. And therefore the abundant proofs of His Messiahship had no voice for men who were looking only for the Son of David to deliver them from the Roman yoke; and the Sanhedrin decided that "the Galilean " was an impostor, and they decreed His death (ch. xii. 14).
His ministry forthwith entered upon a new phase. Till then, His teaching had been open and plain but now it became veiled in parables (ch. xiii.). As those evil men had scorned His testimony, they were now to hear without understanding, and to see without perceiving (V. 14). None but His disciples were to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven - mysteries, namely, a phase of things till then unrevealed. The Hebrew Scriptures spoke of a king coming to reign, the Lord now speaks of a sower going forth to sow. This was not merely an enigma to the Jewish leaders, it must have deepened their hostility ; and the meaning of it was explained to none but His own disciples (v. 11).
An analysis of the succeeding chapters would point the same moral and be no less important ; for across every section of the book may be inscribed the words. "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not." But for our present purpose a further notice of "the second Sermon on the Mount" will suffice and even this will involve some repetition.
To understand the Lords teaching in these twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth chapters, I repeat with emphasis, we must give them a first reading from the standpoint of those to whom they were addressed - Hebrew disciples, who were rightly looking for the restoration of the kingdom to Israel. Messiah had come, and was in their midst. But, in some way that is not told us, they had learned that there was to be yet another "Coming" to wind up the age of Gentile supremacy, and to bring in "the times of restitution of all things." And these chapters record the Lords reply to their inquiry, "What shall be the sign of Thy coming and of the winding-up of the age?" (Not its telos, but its sunteleia.) It seems extraordinary that any student of Scripture should fail to distinguish between the coming of the Lord to call His people away to heaven at the close of this Christian dispensation, and His coming as Son of Man to establish His kingdom upon earth. But the writings of the Fathers have such a dominating influence upon the theology of Christendom that this confusion is enshrined as truth. The various Scriptures which tell of the future appearings of Christ have all been "thrown into hotchpot" (as the lawyers would say), and the doctrine of " the Second Advent" is the result.
These Scriptures have nothing in common, save that they speak of the same Christ. I will not deal here with the last great coming at the end of all things. But the language of the Epistles respecting that coming which Bengel calls "the hope of the Church," gives colour to the figment that it will be entirely secret; whereas Scripture is explicit that His coming as the Son of Man to earth will he open and manifest. And in foretelling it, the Lord emphatically warned the disciples that it would not take place until after certain notable events and movements foretold in Hebrew prophecy; whereas, in marked contrast with this, the early saints of this dispensation were taught by the inspired Apostles to live in constant expectation of His coming. And there is not a word in the Epistles to suggest that any event foretold in prophecy must intervene before the fulfilment of "that blessed hope." And the long delay in its fulfilment is amply accounted for by the hopeless and shameless apostasy of the professing Church on earth, even from the earliest times.
The world-war now raging is not the fulfilment of Revelation xvi. 16. For "a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon" is not situate in either France or Flanders, but in Palestine; and the future of the land and people of the covenant will be a main issue in the great battle yet to be fought on that historic plain. And yet the present war may result in preparing the stage for the resumption of the drama of Hebrew prophecy. For if the Turk should be expelled from the Holy Land, it seems reasonably certain that Palestine will become a protected Jewish State. A protected State, I say advisedly, for until the end of "the times of the Gentiles" the Jews are to remain subject to Gentile suzerainty.
The Lords words in Matthew xxiv. 15 refer explicitly to the seventieth week of Daniel (ch. ix. 27). Some future "Kaiser" will make a treaty with the Jews, guaranteeing the free observance of their religion. And his violation of that treaty after three and a half years. - "in the midst of the week " - will be the epoch of "the great tribulation," a persecution unparalleled in all the past (v. 21). And as the Lord tells us in verse 29. the tribulation will be followed "immediately" by the appalling convulsions in the sphere of nature which are to usher in the day of the Lord (Isaiah xiii. 9, 10 ; Joel ii. 31).
This exposition of Matthew xxiv. is strikingly confirmed by the Apocalyptic visions. For under the fifth seal we have the martyrs of the tribulation (Revelation vi. 9); and the events o the sixth seal (v. 12) are identical with those which the Lord declared would immediately follow the tribulation (Matthew xxiv. 29).
So far all is clear. But owing to the ambiguity of a minor word in the thirtieth verse, the sequel is commonly misread. The Greek tote has a meaning as elastic as our English "then." And here, as in the first verse of chapter xxv., it covers the whole period between the end of the tribulation and the coming of the Son of Man. And the signal change in the Lords teaching at this point claims very special notice. He had warned the disciples to watch, not for His coming, but for the events which must precede it. But now, the tribulation past, these events are all fulfilled, and His word is, "Watch, for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come" (v. 42).
The duration of that waiting period we cannot estimate, save that apparently it will be within the lifetime of that generation (v. 34). But it will be sufficiently prolonged to make the world forget the preceding terrors (vv. 38, 39), and to make His people need repeated exhortations to continued watchfulness. For though signs and portents mark the sunteleia of that future age, the coming of the Son of Man will be unheralded and sudden (v. 44). This is the event foretold by the Lord in xxiv. 30, 31. and again in xxv. 81; and the intervening passage contains His teaching relating to the waiting period between the end of the tribulation and His actual coming. For here, as so often in the prophetic Scriptures, after the ultimate issue is declared, a prophecy is intercalated leading up to the same goal. The Lords second and fuller statement of it is as follows When the Son of Man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then shall He sit on the throne of His glory, and before Him shall be gathered all nations . . ." (xxv. 31, 32).
This is indeed a "misunderstood text" For under the influence of Patristic theology, eminent commentators would have us believe that it describes "the great and universal judgment, in which all the dead, small and great, shall stand before God. Revelation xx. 11 - 15." The editor of the Speakers Commentary declares that "it is hardly possible" to regard it in any other light. But Revelation xx. and Matthew xxv. have absolutely nothing in common save that both relate to sessions of Divine judgment. The one is a judgment of the dead, in a vastly remote future; the other is a judgment of living nations upon earth, and, for aught we know, it may fall within the lifetime of the present generation. For the Lords words imply that, but for the intervention of the present mystery dispensation, the disciples to whom they were addressed might have witnessed their fulfilment. And, as already suggested, the hands of the clock of prophetic time will again begin to move after His coming to bring this dispensation to an end.
We have no definite data by which to measure either the interval between that Coming and the beginning of the seventieth week of Daniel, or the interval between the end of that week and His Coming as Son of Man. We know, however, that before His Coming to His earthly people "the gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world for a testimony to all the nations " - not the gospel of this age of grace, but the gospel of the kingdom. And the last fourteen verses of chapter xxv. are explicit, that the question at issue in the judgment will be the treatment of the messengers accredited to proclaim that gospel to the world. This is no novel principle. As the Lord had already said to His disciples, " He that receiveth you receiveth Me." And wherever the gospel comes, it is receiving or rejecting Christ that fixes the destiny of men.
But it may be asked, How could hundreds of millions of people appear before the Son of Man on earth? Just in the same way that, in the ages succeeding this very judgment, they will go up to Jerusalem year by year to keep the Feast of Tabernacles (Zechariah xiv. 16). Their accredited leaders will represent them. To read Scripture aright we need both spiritual intelligence and common sense. If the spiritual fitness be lacking, we shall refuse to believe anything that seems to go beyond our ordinary experience; and a want of common sense will often betray us into an excessive literalness that may make the language of Scripture seem impossible. But is not this narrative so incredible that we are reasonably justified in refusing to take it literally? If that is to be the test, we may at once reject the great truths of revelation - the Incarnation, the Atonement, the Resurrection, the Ascension. For in the wildest superstitions of false religions there is nothing so incredible as these truths. But our spiritual being is by nature so depraved that we are ready to believe anything, whether it be a seemingly transparent lie, like transubstantiation, or a seemingly impossible truth, like "the virgin birth," provided it is acclimatised in our religion! But there we draw the line. And the great "mystery" truths of this Christian dispensation, including the Coming of the Lord, as revealed in the Epistles, and also the truths of the kingdom, including the Coming of the Son of Man, as foretold by the Lord Himself, have not been thus acclimatised ; and so they are either rejected or ignored.
True it is, no doubt, as already noticed, that Christendom, million-mouthed, uses the Divinely-given words, "Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is done in heaven." But with the mass of men this is merely a meaningless incantation. For such is "the covert atheism" of our nature, that though we are willing to believe in a "Second Advent," provided it be too remote to affect us in any way, we are slow to believe in a "Coming" that is a present hope, to influence our daily life. And just in the same way we are willing to believe in a kingdom of heaven beyond the stars. But when the infidel intelligently argues that, if our God were not a myth, He would establish His rule upon this earth of ours ; instead of making the reply which ought to be ready on our lips, we throw into "hotchpot" all that Scripture teaches about the kingdom of God, and the Church of God, and the kingdom of heaven; and over the incongruous mass we indulge in feeble platitudes about Divine wisdom and goodness!
And in an age of keen, intelligent activity, this method of "handling the Word of God" has done more than aggressive infidelity to undermine faith. It has driven multitudes to scepticism. To its baneful influence is due the success of the infidel crusade which masquerades as " Higher Criticism - a movement that has degraded Germany to its present level of barbarism, and has so corrupted "organised Christianity" in Britain that there is not one of the Churches of the Reformation that would hold together if called upon to give corporately an unequivocal and explicit testimony, such as in other days they gave with united voice, to the Deity of Christ and the Divine origin, truth, and authority of the Bible as the Word of God.
Though the follies and falsehoods of this movement have been thoroughly exposed and refuted, it has taught men to shake free from traditional beliefs, and to study these subjects with an open mind. And it is because our Divinity Schools and Theological Colleges teach the theology of the Fathers, instead of teaching the Bible, that so many of their alumni are either the dupes of medieval superstition or the exponents of a half faith which is near allied to scepticism.
Plain words are needed here. In the interval between the Apostolic age and the era of the Patristic theologians, the main truths of the distinctively Christian revelation were lost in the Early Church and they were never fully recovered until the Evangelical Revival of the nineteenth century. But our commentators ignore the Revival, and continue to trade upon the writings of the Fathers. And the results are disastrous. For while an intelligent study of Scripture always tends to faith, the Christianised infidelity which now prevails in our churches is largely due to a revolt against the traditional exegesis of Scripture. And so, as Adolph Saphir wrote, "It is out of the arsenal of the orthodox that the very fundamental truths of the Gospel have been assailed." For, he added, this traditional interpretation "paved the way for Rationalism and Neology."
If Christians fail to distinguish between what the Scriptures teach, and what men teach about the Scriptures, it is not strange that unbelievers should be thus misled. And so it comes about that the orthodox of one generation sow seeds of scepticism for the next. Some of us remember, for example, when it was taught as " Bible truth " that the reign of righteousness and peace on earth would come automatically by the preaching of the gospel. But people who had a better knowledge, both of the Bible and of human nature, gave no heed to a delusion so baseless and so foolish. Nor did we need the horrors and infamies of German Kultur to teach us that earth can never be the home of peace and happiness, save under the stern and righteous government of Heaven.
And in the same way a misuse of Matthew xxiv. is now sowing seeds of scepticism to be reaped in the near future. For it is asked, Is not this world-war the fulfilment of the Lords words recorded in that chapter? Some are thus led to infer that a supreme crisis in earths history is so near, that efforts for the extension of missionary enterprise may be relaxed. And others again are clear that the war will be followed by an era of millennial peace. And the champions of these rival errors appeal to Scripture with equal confidence. But while the second Sermon on the Mount may throw much light on events and movements of our own day, both on the battlefield and in the Professing Church, the fulfilment of that great prophecy belongs to a future age. And Christians who, ignoring this, declare cx cathedra that they, forsooth! have acquired a knowledge of "times and seasons," denied to the Apostles of the Lord, are recklessly sowing evil seed which may hereafter choke the faith crop of many fields.
Scripture warns us that "in the last days perilous times shall come" ; and proofs are many that those times may be close upon us. But we seem to be blind to their significance and their perils. In wartime the decks of our battleships are ruthlessly cleared of everything that might imperil safety. And though "the children of this world are wiser than the children of light," they are not wiser than Divine Scripture ; as witness the Apostles words in view of the incipient apostasy of the Early Church, " I commend you to God and the word of His grace." But in these days, when the apostasy has developed with a force and subtlety unknown in all the past, instead of taking heed to the warning and the exhortation, and falling back on Holy Scripture, we refuse to jettison the "tophamper" of traditional exegesis. And as the result of this, and of thus ignoring the great " mystery " truths revealed in the Epistles, the whole scheme of the Biblical revelation is dislocated, all sense of its Divine unity is lost, and faith in its Divine authority is undermined. Those of us who have watched the course of the German infidel movement ever since it gained a foothold in Britain, must recognise that it is energised by a sinister spiritual influence which makes it indifferent to controversy. But to some of us that movement has proved " a blessing in disguise " ; for it has taught us to study the Bible with a mind untrammelled by Patristic exegesis. And as the result we have attained a more intelligent, and therefore a firmer, faith in Holy Scripture as the Word of God.
A personal experience is sometimes helpful to others. When I became a Christian in the truer sense of the word, I supposed that sceptical difficulties respecting the Gospels would no longer trouble me. But I was distressed to find that the more closely I studied them, the attempt to harmonisc them seemed to become more hopeless. While in this state of mind I heard a lecture which ran somewhat on the lines indicated in the preceding pages. The effect of it was electrical. It was a revelation to me ; and I began to study the First Gospel with fresh intelligence and new interest. Every section of it seemed to glow with new light, a light that threw its rays back upon the Hebrew Scriptures, and forward to the Apocalypse. And I caine to realise, as I had never realised before, the " hidden harmony " of the Bible as a whole. The headmaster of Etons "Love your enemies" sermon, preached in St. Margarets, Westminster, on 25th March 1915, gave striking proof how a misreading of the First Gospel may bring Holy Scripture into contempt. His purpose was to urge that the conduct of our war with Germany should be governed by the precepts of the Sermon on the Mount. If such a proposition had emanated from a secular publicist, it might have passed without notice. But it was put forward, ex cathedra, as the teaching of Scripture, by an officially accredited exponent of Scripture. And as the result, it was assumed by the secular Press, and by men of the world generally, that this folly had Scriptural sanction.
"Love your enemies" is the last in a group of precepts which the Lord enjoined upon His disciples in view of their mission as ministers of grace. They were not to resist evil. If struck upon one cheek they were to turn the other cheek. If a thief took their coat they were to let him take their cloak also. They were to give to every applicant, and to turn away from no would-bc borrower (Matthew x, 39 - 44).
Could a country be governed on the lines of these precepts? or a public school? Why, if even a shopkeeper in a village street were to conduct his business in this way, he would be bankrupt within a month! And yet these were the words of the Lord of Glory; and, like all His words, they are Divine and eternal. But He prefaced them by the warning that they were not to be taken as destroying "the law and the prophets " - a phrase which every Hebrew would rightly understand to mean what we Christians call the Old Testament Scriptures. And with still greater definiteness He declared that not "one jot or one tittle" of the law was abrogated by His teaching (vv. 17, 18). And yet both in his sermon and in his letters to the Press in defence of it, Dr. Lyttelton assumed that the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount has entirely superseded the Old Testament Scriptures; whereas it is mainly by these very Scriptures that we ought to be guided in our conduct of affairs in every sphere of public life.
But in fulfilling their ministry of grace, His disciples were not to appeal to law. While He was with them they were to act as He acted. And at the close of their mission He asked them, in view of His leaving them, "When I sent you without purse and scrip and shoes, lacked ye anything?" "But now (He went on to say) he that hath a purse let him take it, and likewise his scrip; and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one "(Luke xxii. 35, 36). In other words, they were to fall back on their position as citizens. Peter, Oriental though he was, took these last words literally; but we understand them better. Living in a civilised community, we carry the sword by proxy. If any one strikes us on the cheek, or steals our coat, we hand him over to the police; and the magistrate awards a fitting punishment, to which the gaoler gives effect. But if, instead of seizing and punishing the law-breaker, these officers of the law treated him in accordance with the precepts of the Sermon on the Mount, they would "bear the sword in vain," and utterly fail in their duty as "the ministers of God" (Romans xiii. 4).
But the police and the criminal courts can deal only with crimes committed within the realm. In the case of crimes committed by an alien enemy, recourse must be had to the naval and military forces of the Crown. But here the same principle applies. And with a far greater definiteness ; for in the case of crimes committed by a nation, theme is no room for sentiment. or pity, which might claim a hearing in the case of individual offenders. And the crimes which are now crying to heaven for vengeance have been instigated by the Government of Germany; and they have been condoned and justified by the German nation, not excepting the " Christian " churches of that land. If then God should give the victory to the Allies, and the Governments of the Allies should decide to rifle and destroy every national building in Berlin, and utterly to crush the power of Germany, the Christian must not forget that law is as Divine as grace. And, moreover, our chief purpose in this war is not to punish Germany for flagrant and hideous atrocities and crime, but to secure the future peace of Europe.
My purpose here, however, is not to discuss the conduct of the war, hut to expose and refute a flagrant misuse of the Sermon on the Mount. And let no one suppose that this involves our ignoring its application to ourselves. Though, in common with not a little of the Lords teaching recorded in the First Gospel, its full and final purpose will not be realised until the future age of the kingdom, its words of grace ought to have a special voice for His people in this dispensation of grace. If, for example, some Christian who is mourning the death of a dearly loved relative or friend, wantonly butchered in cold blood in this ghastly war, could come face to face with the German murderer, grace would teach him to show his love for his enemy by telling him of gospel pardon even for a crime so heinous and so hateful.
But this has nothing in common with that illadvised sermon. A notable commentary upon it was supplied by sermons preached last Christmas in Berlin and other German towns. Here are typical extracts from published reports of them: Pastor Zoebel, speaking in the great Lutheran Church in Leipsic, referred to the German guns beating down the children of Satan, and to German submarines as "instruments to execute the Divine vengeance," to send to the bottom of the sea thousands of the non-elect. "There ought to be no compromise with hell, no mercy for the servants of Satan - in other words, no pity for the English, French, and Russians; nor, indeed, for any nation that has sold itself to the devil. They have all been condemned to death by a Divine decree."
Professor Rheinold Seeby, a teacher of theology in the Berlin University, preaching in the Cathedral of the city, said that in killing their enemies, burning their houses, and invading their territories, the Germans simply performed a work of charity.
Pastor Fritz Philippi, of Berlin, preaching from his Protestant pulpit on the Divine mission of Germany, said that as the Almighty allowed His Son to be crucified that the scheme of redemption might be accomplished, so Germany was destined to crucify humanity, in order that its salvation might be secured. Thc human race could only be saved by blood, fire, and sword. "It is really because we are pure that we have been chosen by the Almighty as His instruments to punish the envious, to chastise the wicked, and to slay with the sword the sinful nations. The Divine mission of Germany, oh brethren! is to crucify humanity; the duty of German soldiers, therefore, is to strike without mercy. They must kill, burn, and destroy, and any half measures would be wicked. Let it then be a war without pity."
He must be a poor sort of Christian who can regard such men, and their countless sympathisers of the pews, without feelings of aversion, deliberate and deep. Do we not well to remember the Lords emphatic commendation of the Church of Ephesus: "Thou canst not tolerate evil men"? (Revelation ii. 2; cf. Matthew xviii. 17). It is not for us to anticipate the Divine judgment respecting the eternal destiny of these men. What concerns us has regard to our attitude toward them here and now; and to recognise them as Christians would betoken disloyalty to Christ.
MISUNDERSTOOD TEXTS Chapter Two
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