Secret Service Theologian



THE Lord Jesus Christ would never have been crucified, neither would Stephen have been martyred, nor Paul imprisoned, but for words or acts that were deemed derogatory to the Temple. And in these days a man may with impunity deny all the vital truths of Christianity, and reject our Divine Lord’s teaching about the Scriptures which He came to fulfil; but let him say a word in disparagement of "the Church" or of any human element of the "Christian religion," and he is at once cast out of the synagogue. And yet false conceptions of the Church are working grave mischief.
(Footnote - The case of Mr. J. N. Darby, the greatest of the very great men of the "Brethren" movement, is a notable instance of this. Like his contemporaries of the High Church movement, the false conception of the Church, which obtains in Christendom, ensnared him. Quite extraordinary in his case, for his early writings bore clear and emphatic testimony against it, The unity of the Church was the rock on which his life work was wrecked; and a movement which might have proved a blessing to all the churches ended in adding another to their number.)
Most of the perverts to Rome are duped by them; and advocates of the sham "Higher Criticism" appeal to them to justify their rejection of Scripture. For with mingled effrontery and folly they make the doctrine of the Spirit’s presence in the Church an excuse for rejecting the teaching of the inspired Apostles and prophets of the New Testament. These false conceptions, moreover, are a fruitful cause of unfaithfulness to Christ on the part of many earnest and spiritual Christians.
It is essential to distinguish between "the Church" as a society the administration of which was entrusted to men on earth, and "the Church" as the Body of Christ, dependent only upon Himself as its Lord and Head. The building of "the Church which is His Body" is His own work, and it cannot fail. But surely fanaticism or folly alone can refuse to recognise that "the gates of hell" have prevailed against the organised society on earth -" the outward frame," as Alford calls it, which, in its full and final development of evil, will yet appear as "the woman drunken with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus" (Rev. xvii. 6).
The Epistle to the Ephesians deals with the Church as the Body of Christ, and gives the provision for its perfecting (chap. iv. 8—1,2). The Epistle to the Corinthians deals with the Church as a human society (chap. xii. 8). In Ephesians we have nothing but spiritual ministry; and evangelists are prominently named, for it is by the preaching of the Gospel in the world that men are brought to Christ. Corinthians omits evangelists, because the sphere of their ministry is the world and not the Church; and it includes "helps, governments," &c. &c., which are necessary to the outward society, but not to the vital unity.
And here I venture to think that, through overlooking this distinction, Bishop Lightfoot, in his great treatise on "The Christian Ministry" unduly disparages the ministry. For the New Testament clearly distinguishes between office in the Church, and spiritual ministry. Bishops (or elders, for the terms are interchangeable) had to do with the administration and discipline of the Society; ministers with the spiritual needs of the flock. In 1 Tim. v. 17, we read, "Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine." Their essential duty was connected with rule; if they excelled in this, they merited double honour; and that honour was to be greater still if they "laboured in the word and doctrine." It was not a case of "two orders," but of a combination of office and gift. Timothy himself was both a bishop and a minister.
The Elders, or Bishops, were appointed by Apostolic authority, but not the ministers. For Ephesians iv. 8—11 tells us that evangelists and pastors and teachers were, like the apostles and prophets, gifts of the ascended Christ. And I Tim. iii. 8—10 tells us that a minister was to be tried by certain specified tests, and, if "found blameless," he was to be recognised. The injunction is not "let him be ordained," but "let him minister."
The only instance given in the New Testament of "ordaining" ministers of the Gospel, is the "ordaining" of the Apostles Barnabas and Paul by the Christians of Antioch (Acts xiii. 3). The laying on of hands was a Jewish custom, the meaning of which is not doubtful. When the Israelite laid his hands upon his sin-offering, he made himself one with it, so that the victim died in his stead. And this is precisely the significance of the act here. The Christians of Antioch conferred no mystical powers - that is a thought, as Bishop Lightfoot shows, unknown to Scripture; it is altogether pagan - but they identified themselves with the Apostles. They said, by an act more eloquent than words, "We are going forth with you in this mission to which God has called you." And when the Apostles conferred spiritual gifts by laying on of hands, their action was not an exception to, but a further instance of, this same principle of identification; just as when the Lord Jesus touched the leper, and laid His hands upon the sick (Matt. viii. 3, 15; cf. Luke iv. 40).
The distinction between the appointment of an elder or bishop and the recognition of a minister may be illustrated by the analogous case of the priest and the prophet in Israel. By Divine decree none but the sons of Aaron were to be consecrated as priests. But the consecration conferred no mystical powers. There was nothing which even the high priest had to do that any Israelite could not have done. But the absurdity of appointing a man to be a prophet is obvious. The prophet declared himself by the exercise of his gift, and the duty of the people was to acknowledge him. No less absurd is the suggestion that human appointment could constitute a man a minister in the spiritual sense. The duty of the Church was to recognise him, and the laying on of hands was merely a method of public and formal recognition. There is no evidence that in Apostolic times the practice prevailed in the case of ministers. And in the Church of the Fathers the practice was not universal even in the appointment of bishops. And "it is impossible that, if it was not universal, it can have been regarded as essential."
I use the word "minister" advisedly, for, of course, that is the meaning of the word . The word occurs thirty times in the New Testament. It means primarily a servant in the ordinary sense; and in the Gospels it is used only in that sense, save in John xii. 26. In the Epistles it is the equivalent of our word "minister." The Apostle Paul uses it of himself seven times, and of the Lord Jesus once (Rom. xv. 8). It is never applied to Stephen and his fellows, with whom it is popularly associated (Acts vi.). As Dr. Hatch shows, the duties temporarily assigned to them were essentially those of the bishops when the Church was fully organised. For, as Dean Alford says bluntly, "the 'ministers' of the New Testament have officially nothing in common with our bishops."
But this is a digression. What we need to keep in view is that the apostasy of "the visible Church" in no way affects the Divine provision "for the building up of the Body of Christ" (Eph. iv. 11, 12). "The visible Church" is competent to select and appoint its own officers to administer its affairs; but in this other sphere its duty is to recognise and honour those who are "truly called to the ministry, according to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ." Having regard to the black and hateful history of Christendom, God help us if we are dependent for anything upon a historical succession. But here at least we are dependent only upon our Divine Lord. And we cannot have too high thoughts of Him, or trust too implicitly to His faithfulness and care, come what may of evil or of peril. But of the Professing Church, the lowest and worst estimate we can form cannot be much amiss. Ordinary Christians know nothing of its history, and Protestantism stultifies itself with the theory that its corruptions are due to Rome. Rome has merely systematised the errors of the "Primitive Church" of the Fathers; and the shameless immorality of its pre-Reformation days will bear comparison with the condition of the "Primitive Church." "The virgins of the Church," held in special honour for their sanctity, were denounced by Cyprian for violating "the commonest dictates of feminine modesty." At a single visitation the great Chrysostom had to depose no fewer than thirteen bishops for simony and licentiousness. To call "the Catholic Church " - which drove that great saint into exile and practically to death - the Church of God savours of profanity. In characterising "Saint" Cyril of Alexandria, nephew of Theophilus, one of Chrysostom’s enemies, Dean Milman uses the words ambition, intrigue, arrogance, rapacity, barbarity, persecution, bloodshed. And this evil man was the ruling spirit in the third of the "(Ecumenical" Councils, held at Ephesus (431), to deal with the Nestorian heresy. Theology holds that this Council was controlled by the Holy Ghost. History testifies that it was controlled by a hired mob, and that at last the Emperor, unable to restrain the disorder which prevailed, dismissed the bishops with the scathing rebuke, "Return to your provinces, and may your private virtues repair the mischief and scandal of your meeting."
The great names of Jerome and Augustine have raised a glamour round the Church of their time. But the famous treatise of their contemporary, Salvian of Marseilles, published ten years after Augustine’s death, discloses what the state of the Church actually was in that age. I will not soil the page with details, but content myself with a single sentence, in which he sums up his terrible indictment: "Almost every assembly of Christians has become a sink of vices." Even the heathen world was scandalised by the exhibition of immorality and hatred presented by what is profanely called the Church of Christ. "See how these Christians love one another!" had long given place to "See how these Christians hate one another!" In one of the fights for the bishopric of Rome, one hundred and thirty-seven corpses were left on the pavement of one of the churches in a single day. What wonder that a Pagan historian of that age - a man whose writings are praised for the moderation with which he speaks of the Christians - declared that no savage beasts could equal the cruelty of Christians to one another! What wonder that penal laws of merciless severity were needed to keep the baptismally regenerated Pagans from turning back to paganism !
Religious superstition is deaf both to Reason and to Scripture; but people who are guided either by their Bibles or their brains will take account of these things. And they will recognise that no reasonable compromise is possible between the superstitious and profane traditional view of "the Church" and the intelligent and Scriptural view of the Reformers.
"Clear the decks" is one of the first orders issued in naval warfare. And in the battle for the faith, now raging so fiercely, our safety requires that we shall ruthlessly jettison all superstitious beliefs on this subject. In his Commentary upon Matt. xii. 43 - 45, Dean Alford, after noticing the application of the passage to "the Jewish Church," uses these words : -
"Strikingly parallel with this runs the history of the Christian Church. Not long after the Apostolic times, the golden calves of idolatry were set up by the Church of Rome. What the effect of the captivity was to the Jews, that of the Reformation has been to Christendom. The first evil spirit has been cast out. But by the growth of hypocrisy, secularity, and rationalism, the house has become empty, swept, and garnished: swept and garnished by the decencies of civilisation and discoveries of secular knowledge, but empty of living and earnest faith. And he must read prophecy but ill, who does not see under all these seeming improvements the preparation for the final development of the man of sin, the great repossession, when idolatry and the seven [more wicked spirits] shall bring the outward frame of so-called Christendom to a fearful end."
This is entirely in keeping with the teaching of the Reformers.The claim of the Churches of the Reformation to be Churches of Christ depends only upon the Scriptures, and upon the presence of Christ in heaven and of the Holy Spirit on earth. To base it upon a succession from the historic "Christian Church" of Christendom is to incur participation in the awful guilt and doom of that hideous apostasy.
‘The only true "Holy Catholic Church" is the Church of the Martyrs, "the whole company of Christian people dispersed throughout the whole world." The Catholic Church of Apostolic Succession is stained with the martyrs’ blood. If "the validity of orders" depends on "Apostolic Succession," the chain includes such links as Pope John XXIII., who was deposed by the Council of Constance on charges of "piracy, murder, rape, sodomy, and incest"; and of Alexander VI., whose vices and crimes, albeit he was never deposed, are declared by the historian to be "totally unmentionable." In dealing with such subjects people are apt to ignore their Bibles; but surely they might be expected to have some respect for their own brains, and to maintain diplomatic relations with common sense.

1 Thess.4:1-18

"Words are the index of thoughts, and where an unusual construction is found, it points to some reason in the mind of the writer for using it, which reason is lost in the ordinary shallow method of accounting for it by saying that it is ‘put for’ some other word." This sentence, quoted from Dean Alford’s Commentary (Greek Testament, John i. 18), may fitly preface the present note upon 1 Thess. iv. 14; for our translators have given us, not what the Apostle wrote, but what they suppose he ought to have written. But the authorised rendering is popular, because the expression "sleeping in Jesus" fosters the sort of sentiment in which "religion" delights. No one, however, who has made a study of the use of the Lord’s names in the New Testament can fail to recognise that it is foreign to Scripture. "The dead in Christ," and "the dead which die in the Lord " - these are Scriptural expressions; but "sleeping (or dying) in Jesus" is a phrase the Apostle would never have written. And a kindred objection applies to the alternative rendering, " that God will through Jesus bring with Him the sleeping ones." "A clause which I am persuaded the Apostle could never have written," is Dean Alford’s comment upon it. And it is certain that no English writer would pen such a sentence.
I venture to think that commentators have erred in taking "the sleeping ones" of verse 13 as identical with "the dead in Christ" of verse 16. Verse 16 deals with the righteous dead in general; verses 13 and 14 with the particular individuals whose death they were mourning.
And the first eight verses of chapter iii. indicate that those deaths affected them so deeply that the Apostle feared lest their faith in Christ should give way, and "his labour be in vain." Will the reader, then, carefully peruse the first chapter of the Epistle, and ask himself the question, Is it credible, is it possible, that Christians such as are there described could have been in danger of apostatising because some of their number had died in the ordinary course of nature? It is absolutely certain that what tried their faith was not the fact that deaths had occurred, but the circumstances in which they had occurred.
And what were the circumstances? The reference to martyrdom in chapters ii. 14, 15, and iii. 3, supplies the obvious clue. For obvious that clue seems to me now; and yet I acknowledge humbly and gratefully that it is to my friend the Rev. C. H. Waller, D.D., that I am indebted for this solution of a difficulty which perplexed me for forty years.
To recapitulate. As already noticed (see pp. 117 - 120 ante), the words of 1 Thess. iv. 15 are not Apostolic teaching about "the dead in Christ" in general, but a definite Divine message to the Thessalonians with reference to the death of certain definitely known persons - "the sleeping ones" of verse 13. Of course, the words may bear the meaning given them by the Revisers. But Dean Alford’s translation, "them which are sleeping" (or, as we should say in colloquial English, "the sleeping ones") is the simple and natural rendering, and the context makes it clear that this is what is intended. If the Revisers’ gloss were correct, we should expect the repetition of the present participle in verse 15.
Now a general statement that, at the Lord’s coming, the righteous dead shall not be at a disadvantage relatively to people then living upon earth, is very different from a specific statement to the Thessalonians about certain individuals whose death they were mourning. If by a Divine decree the Coming were a far-distant event, that would not affect the truth of the one statement, whereas it would render the other at least disingenuous.
Certain it is, therefore, that when these words were written, there was nothing to preclude their fulfilment at the time. And that being so, it is certain there can be nothing in prophecy to necessitate delay in these days of ours. For the question is not whether any foretold events may intervene - that may be conceded - but whether they must intervene; in other words, not whether the Coming may be further delayed, but whether delay is inevitable.
The fact that the promise, "Surely I am coming quickly" remains unfulfilled, does not clash with the truth that "God is not slack concerning His promise." And the explanation of the seeming paradox is to be sought in the history of Christendom and not in the prophetic Scriptures.
"The Apostolic age maintained that which ought to be the attitude of all ages, constant expectation of the Lord’s return" (Alford: 1 Tim. vi. 14). 14

Literature | Photos | Links | Home