Secret Service Theologian



WHAT does it mean to be "a Christian"? In Christendom we are all Christians, for the Christian religion prevails. But as every one who has even an elementary knowledge of history is aware, "the Christian religion" has been a bitter opponent, and relentless persecutor, of Christianity. We distinguish, therefore, between a real Christian and a person who merely professes the Christian religion. Scripture declares that "he is not a Jew that is one outwardly." And if this principle obtained in the case of a religion in which such importance attached to externals, how much more applicable it must be to Christianity.
But there are other distinctions which, though not so obvious, are of great practical moment. WThen we say that a man is not a gentleman, we usually mean, not to impugn his social status, but to aver that his character and conduct are unworthy of it. And when we assert that a barrister is no lawyer, or that a military officer is no soldier, we do not question that the one was duly "called," or that the other holds his Majesty’s commission. What we mean is that the barrister is unversed in law, and the officer is ignorant of the art of war. And in a precisely similar sense, if a man is devoid of Christian truth, or if his conduct is un-Christian, we may challenge his right to be called a Christian, without claiming in the least to decide whether he has life in Christ, or is a mere professor.
In the Epistle to the Colossians the Apostle Paul puts the Christian position in a single sentence : " As ye have received Christ Jesus the Lord " - or to give the words more accurately, "As ye received the Christ, Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him."’ With the Jew the divinity of the Christ could never be in doubt. In his case, therefore, the burden of the Gospel testimony was " that Jesus was the Christ." But the Gentile, to whom Jesus Christ " was a mere name which meant no more than Pontius Pilate, nor half so much as Julius Caesar, it was necessary to unfold the meaning of the Christ, and to enforce the truth that He was Lord. Hence the Apostle’s words to the Corinthians : " We preach Christ .Jesus as Lord."To the Jew the emphasis was on the Christ " ; to the Gentile on "the Lord."
An attempt to limit the use of the word "Christian" would be mere pedantry. But yet in its highest sense the title belongs only to those who are of "The Way," or in other words, to those who combine Christian doctrine with Christian life or who, in the language of the Apostle have received the Christ, Jesus the Lord, and are walking in Him. There is much to be learned from Greek tenses. The word is, "As ye received the Christ," pointing back to a definite event or crisis in the life. And the Apostle adds, "so walk in Him": a present tense this, implying not an act, but a course of living. Walk about" is the literal rendering, signifying the whole tenor of the life. But how can we walk about in a person? Though the phrase is quite un-English, its significance in Greek is clear and simple. It means that the whole life is to be characterised by all that is implied in receiving the Lord Jesus Christ. As some one has sung
"From various cares my soul retires;
Though deep and boundless its desires, I’ve now to please but ONE."

Heaping metaphors together, the Apostle proceeds, "Rooted and being continually builded up in Him." "Rooted" is in the perfect tense, signifying a past event, continuous in its effect. A baby’s idea of gardening is to plant a thing one week, and to pull it up the next, to see if it is growing. And the Christian experience of some people is very like a baby’s gardening. But those who have really received the Lord Jesus Christ are rooted in Him once for all.
And what is needed now is to be continually builded up in Him, and continually established in the faith. "Even as ye were taught," the Apostle adds, again reverting to the aorist tense, and thus pointing back to the time when they received the Lord Jesus Christ. For in receiving Him they received the truth. And so he goes on to warn them lest any man should make spoil of them "through his philosophy and empty deceit." For a heretic is always a cheat. He defrauds his dupes into bartering the gold of Divine truth for the tinsel that is his stock-in-trade. And then follow the words, "For in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the godhead bodily; and in Him ye are made full."
One sentence has been omitted: "Abounding in thanksgiving." If the walls of the city of God are salvation, her gates are praise; and to abound in thanksgiving is to have "an abundant entrance" there. Such, then, is the meaning of being A CHRISTIAN.
But while in apostolic times the converts "received Christ Jesus the Lord," nowadays people "take Jesus." In this respect Ritualism, Rationalism, and Revivalism are at one - the three R’s by which Christianity is travestied. Ritual is often useful: too rational we cannot be in the religious sphere; and every true Christian delights in Revival.
But the "ists" and "isms" are only evil. Unlike the Ritualist, the old High Churchman was noted for devotion to the Lord and reverence for His name. And his errors were mainly due to a "Council of Trent" conception of the Church. With most Evangelicals that figment is but a vague theory; while with him it was not only Divine truth, but truth of principal importance. But errors and excesses springing from a false conception of the Church are not quite on the same level as the trivialities and superstitions of mere religion. If the Kingdom of God is not in meat and drink, it is certainly not in incense and millinery. If "taking Jesus" constituted a Christian, the present-day Rationalist would have an indisputable claim to the title. For Rationalism is no longer a cloak for loose living. The teaching of "Jesus," as recorded in the Gospels, is its code of ethics, and the life there portrayed is its practical ideal.
Dr. Harnack’s "What is Christianity?" is an exquisite presentation of the system. Of course a fallacy pervades it. For if the Gospels are relegated to the category of merely human writings, "Jesus" is as obviously the creation of the Evangelists as, according to the same school, Moses is the creation of the priests of the later days of the monarchy. Here is an inexorable dilemma. If the Fourth Gospel is authentic, Rationalism collapses like a house of cards. And if not authentic, then the fact confronts us that this writer’s "discourses" (as Dr. Harnack calls them) have throughout the whole Christian era exercised a wider and profounder influence upon the hearts and minds of men than the sayings of "Jesus" Himself. But let that pass. Dr. Harnack’s treatise is written to remind us "that a man of the name of Jesus Christ" once lived and taught upon earth. A man of the name of Judas Iscariot betrayed him, and a man of the name of Pontius Pilate gave him up to be crucified. And that was the end of him. And yet in a sense he lives; for the resurrection is a beautiful "idea," and all such ideas contain elements of truth. Not only so, for (under the influence of Spiritualism, no doubt) the coarse infidelity of the past has given place to Rationalism, and Rationalism is not quite irrational, nor altogether devoid of sentiment; and therefore the very miracles may now receive "a more intelligent and benevolent judgment" than of old. Nor is this all; even the doctrine of the Atonement may be accepted, for it "belongs to a class of ideas" that "respond to a religious need."
This is the sort of thing that now passes for Christianity in some of our most popular pulpits. Its exponents pose as persons of superior intelligence and of mental independence. As a matter of fact, their "religion" is borrowed from Germany, and the only element of "independence" they display is their amazing folly in still clinging to belief in the Deity of Christ. Which only proves that a Divine truth revealed to faith may be degraded to the level of a religious superstition. These teachers give proof that "taking Jesus" is not a synonym for "receiving Christ." "But," some one will demand, "do not these men live beautiful and useful lives, and is not such a life better than the possession of an orthodox creed?" The question is legitimate and interesting, but it is quite irrelevant here. For unless the words are to be dismissed as meaningless, "receiving the Christ" implies the acknowledgment of Him as the One "of whom Moses in the law, ajid the prophets, did write." As He said to His disciples after His resurrection, "These are My words which I spake unto you while I was yet with you, how that all things must needs be fulfilled, which are written in the law of Moses, and the prophets, and the Psalms, concerning Me." "The Law, the Prophets, and the Writings" is the title-page of the Jewish Bible. And as the Psalter comes first in the third division of the Canon, "the Psalms" stands colloquially for the whole. It is as though He said, "Which are written in all the Scriptures." This indeed is precisely the expression used in a preceding verse:
"He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself." To receive "the Christ" meant therefore receiving Him "in the full and glorious sense in which that term was prophetically known."
If men to whom the names of David and Abraham in the opening sentence of the New Testament represent merely a brigand chief and a lunar myth - men who have got rid of "Moses," and who explain away all the Messianic prophecies and Psalms, are to be called Christians because they accord Him the highest human homage, accept His teaching in so far as it commends itself to them, and lead pure and devout lives, then infidels of the type of Renan and John Stuart Mill are Christians. And indeed, having regard to the present standard of faith and clerical morality, there is no reason why such men should not become Ministers of Christian Churches and Professors of Christian Universities.
The Satan myth of the Christian religion is the obscene monster of the cult of ancient Babylon. But the Satan of Scripture is that marvellous spiritual being who "fashions himself into an angel of light," and whose ministers "fashion themselves as ministers of righteousness" (2 Cor. xi. 14, 15, Revised Version). Ignorance of this deludes people into assuming that a man of "spiritual" power, who is "a minister of righteousness," must be a minister of Christ. The time may be near when "Christian" pulpits will be occupied by demon-possessed men. For another popular error is that of supposing that evil spirits must be unclean spirits.
"Revivalism" may be described as the parodying by natural methods, and in the natural sphere, the results which, in a true revival, the Spirit of God produces in the hearts and lives of men. To attain this end it hucksters Divine realities, bringing everything down to a human level.
The subject is embarrassing. For I fear lest my words should be misread as though they were aimed at men who abundantly approve themselves as true ministers of Christ. Some such, unfortunately, incur the unmerited reproach of belonging to a camp which is abhorrent to them. They err grievously, for example, in copying the Rationalists and Revivalists in the manner in which they speak of the Lord Jesus Christ. In this respect the habitual language of their lips belies the reverence of their hearts. For not only do they name Him in a way that seems to savour of undue freedom, but they foster this habit in others who, unlike themselves, are devoid of the worshipping spirit of the true disciple. It is not strange that Rationalists should habitually call Him "Jesus" or "Jesus Christ," but that those who believe in His Deity should do so gives proof how thoroughly the leaven of the apostasy has spread. Examples of, and precedents for, this evil practice abound. Having regard to the spirit of our newest "Bible Dictionaries" and "Encyclopaedias," and many other theological works, we are not surprised to find that it is of the dead Buddha, and not of the living Lord, that the writers speak. And in their references to our Divine Lord, even the authors of books of a wholly different class generally convey the impression of being under the influence of a great personality, rather than of being conscious of a Divine presence. They turn our thoughts back to the ministry and the Passion, but not up to "the Living One," who was dead and is alive for ever more.
In the case of most religious books, indeed, Mary’s lament might be written across the page, "They have taken away my Lord." And too often it happens that true ministers of the Gospel so speak of Him as to leave this sense of injury and sadness in the hearts of many of their hearers.
"Ye call Me ‘Master,’ and ‘Lord,’ and ye say well," ought surely to be enough for His people. And the significance of the words is indicated by the fact that the Gospels do not record a single instance in which a disciple ever spoke of Him in any other way. Yes, there is a solitary exception. The Emmaus disciples "had trusted that it had been He which should have redeemed Israel." But from that bright dream they had suffered a rude awakening. For the chief priests and their rulers had crucified Him, and He was no longer their Lord and Master, but only "Jesus of Nazareth."
As "Jesus of Nazareth" He was known to the world; and if one of the Jews had been sent to fetch the beast to carry him in His entry into Jerusalem, or to bespeak the guest chamber for the paschal supper, he would have said that "Jesus" required it. But His disciples declared themselves in the very mention of His Name. With them it was, "The Master saith;" " The Lord hath need of it."
Let me not be misunderstood. In the narrative of the Gospels He is spoken of by His personal name, because God is the narrator. But when the narrative introduces words spoken by the disciples as men, whether addressed to Him, or to others about Him, a title of reverence is used.
The use of the Lord’s name in the later Scriptures is a study of very great interest and of principal importance. But it is too large a subject for discussion here. Suffice it to urge that the Lord’s express words, and the example set us by His disciples under His teaching, should be our guide in this respect. For even the most elevated and solemn of mere human utterances are separated by an immeasurable distance from the inspired Scriptures.
(See the author's "The Honour of His Name")
(In our Christian literature the only guide known in using the names and titles of the Lord Jesus is euphony, and the writer’s reverence (or irreverence) of spirit, whereas in their use in Scripture there is an unexplored mine of deep and important teaching. Unexplored, I say, for theology ignores the subject altogether. For example, there is definite significance in the fact that the title of Lord is used only three times of Christ in the Epistle to the Hebrews, and not even once in the Epistle of John. But Christians notice this only, if at all, as a plea for their omitting the title in naming Him.
My reference to this subject in these pages is only by way of appeal to those who err thoughtlessly and by a habit acquired by reading theological and "Christian" literature. I am not confounding them with the Rationalists, to whom He is "a man of the name of Jesus Christ," nor yet with that class of men who thus offend through native vulgarity and slovenliness of mind; who call Him "Jesus" because it costs less time and breath than "the Lord Jesus," or because they have never learned to render honour to whom honour is due.)


NATURAL life gravitates to the grave: death is its legitimate catastrophe. And yet death is none the less an outrage. "Death thy friend" is mere poetic sentiment. It is not a friend but an enemy. "The last enemy," Scripture calls it; and this the human heart, so seldom in accord with Scripture, emphatically endorses.
One of the greatest of philosophers has said that it is as natural to die as to be born. Yes, as natural for the fallen creature who lies under the Eden sentence upon sin. But man’s natural instincts rebel against the Divine decree that has made the grave the goal of life. And the higher and truer instincts of our spiritual being respond to the promise which raises us above the sentence. The life which is from heaven turns upward to the God who gave it. The Christian has been "begotten to a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."’ And the fulfilment of that hope awaits the coming of the Lord. But here "the Christian religion" parts company with Christianity. For while Christendom believes that He has come, it refuses to believe that He is coming. Or if a "Second Advent" be acknowledged at all, it is dismissed as a mere dogma, too vague and too remote to have any influence upon heart or life. The doctrine of His first coming is connected with public facts of history, but that of His return rests upon the bare word of God. Therefore it is that the one is accepted while the other is refused.
Therefore it is also that the hope affords a test whether belief in His first coming is genuine faith in God. For human superstition may fasten on Divine truth, and bring it down to its own level; and the basis of "the Christian religion" (as contrasted with vital Christianity) is Divine truth which has been thus appropriated.
Scepticism about the promise of the Lord’s return is utterly unintelligent. Indeed, the absence of such a promise would go far to discredit belief in His resurrection and ascension. If it be true that He who died on Calvary was raised from the dead, and sojourned with His disciples on earth for forty days before He ascended to Heaven, the wonder is, not that He is coming back again, but that His coming is so long delayed.
The promise of His first coming was so utterly incredible that it may well have staggered faith. But now that He has been upon earth and gone back to heaven, His coming again seems but a natural sequence to His ascension. So much so indeed, that if we were left to reason out the matter, we should expect Him to come, not once, but again and again. And this is precisely what Scripture tells us to look for. Common sense vetoes the suggestion that His coming as Avenger and Judge is the event described as "that blessed hope." "We are looking for the Saviour." Then again, an intelligent child can understand that the angels’ words to the bewildered disciples on the Mount of the Ascension do not relate to the same coming as the Apostle’s words to the sorrowing Thessalonians.
It is admitted that the early Christians expected the Lord to come during their own lifetime, and that belief was clearly based on Apostolic teaching. And this being so, it is certain there can be nothing to bar His coming in these days of ours. It is idle to plead that certain events foretold in prophecy may intervene. To maintain that they must intervene is to betray ignorance of the elementary principles of prophetic interpretation. For "the times and seasons" belong to the chronology of prophecy, and have to do with earth and the fortunes of the earthly people.
(Footnote - The prophetic period relates to Israel’s national existence as God’s people, and is therefore interrupted during this dispensation of the Church, when Israel is "Lo-ammi" (Hos. i. 9). The prophetic period of Dan. ix. 24 - 27 is seventy weeks (of years), dating from the "going forth of the commandment to rebuild Jerusalem," which afterwards occurred in Nehemiah’s time, i.e. B.C. 445. This period is divided into three parts of 7, 62, and 1 = 70. The first reached to the time when the prophetic voice became silent in Judah, i.e. the date of the Book of Malachi. The next period of sixty-two weeks, or 434 years, closed with "the cutting off of Messiah" (verse 26). And the seventieth week, which is all that remains of the prophetic period, will not begin to run its course until Israel’s national position is restored, which event will be held to date from the signing of a covenant or treaty between them and the Prince of verse 27, who, we know from other Scriptures, is the last great Emperor of Christendom. The course of unfulfilled prophecy is tided back till Israel is restored; and not one line of Scripture intervenes to bar the realisation of the Church’s hope. The scheme of prophecy, with special reference to the seventy weeks, is dealt with in the author’s books, "The Coming Prince," and "Daniel in the Critics’ Den.")
But the error which the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians was designed to correct, is now the creed of Christendom; the coming of the Lord as Saviour is confounded with "the day of the Lord" - the day of wrath - when He will be manifested as Avenger and Judge. The words of 1 Thessalonians v. 9 are definite and striking: "God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ." For "salvation" read deliverance, and the meaning stands out still more plainly, it is ours to look forward, not to the day of wrath, but to obtaining deliverance from that awful day by the fulfilment of the promise of the preceding chapter.
To appreciate the full significance of that promise we must take note of the circumstances in which the Epistle was written. While the Apostle was still at Athens he received such grave tidings from Thessalonica that he deemed it necessary to send Timotheus back there at once. And what led to the writing of the Epistle was the report which Timothy brought him after he had moved to Corinth. What can have been the trouble which produced effects so momentous?
His stay in Athens was admittedly brief. That, in such a small community as the Thessalonian Church, any deaths should have occurred during the interval was somewhat remarkable. And that a few deaths in the ordinary course of nature would have so shattered their faith as to imperil the results of the Apostle’s labours among them, is quite incredible. How then can the mystery be explained?
We learn from the Epistle that a storm of persecution had passed over them. And the deaths they mourned were evidently connected with it. The inference therefore is obvious that some of their number had been martyred. They had been told that the Lord had "all power in heaven and upon earth," and would never forsake His people. But He had left them a prey to their enemies. Either the doctrine was false, or else their lost ones had fallen under Divine displeasure, and were thus doubly lost to them. So the Apostle begins by reminding them of the warnings he had given them - warnings which, doubtless, had been as unheeded as warnings always are in bright days of gladness and hope. And then he goes on to give them a special message of comfort. Let us here appeal to some pagan pundit who will translate the Greek for us without any doctrinal bias. He will tell us that the Apostle deplored the ignorance which led the Thessalonians to grieve with a hopeless grief over "the sleeping ones." "For," he proceeds, "if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which were put to sleep through Jesus will God bring with Him." Which means that it was by His agency they were put to sleep, or, in other words, that He was the cause of their being put to death. For so our pundit will explain this plain and simple phrase. A new light will now illumine the whole passage. For this was precisely what must have perplexed and distressed the Thessalonian Church. It was faithfulness to the Lord that had brought all the trouble upon them. They had been true to Him, but He had failed them. The mystery of a silent heaven which weighs so heavily even upon us, to whom the whole story of the Church’s sorrows is an open page, may well have staggered faith in those early days. And mark the infinite grace and exquisite tenderness with which the Lord deals with the troubles and trials, and even with the doubts and murmurs, of His people. It is as though He said to them, "I admit all you say; I accept the responsibility for their having been put to death. But was not I Myself put to death? And so surely as I was raised from the dead, they, too, shall be raised. God will bring them back to you with Me when I return. There will be no interval of separation; nor will you, the living who remain till I come, have any advantage over them."
Could this have been written if His return had been fixed as a far distant event in the Divine chronology? Could it have been written if a Divine decree had interposed the Great Tribulation of Old and New Testament prophecy before His coming? The accepted theory that the Apostle blundered is a disgrace to theology. Such a blunder would discredit the whole Apostolic writings. But what we have here is not merely the belief of an inspired Apostle, though such a belief ought not to be lightly dismissed. "We are saying this to you in the word of the Lord," he declares. And this "schoolboy translation" may suggest what the Greek original explicitly conveys; that he was communicating a definite message which the Lord had entrusted to him for His sorrowing people.
And the words were clearly meant to awake in them the hope of His near return. How, then, can the lapse of centuries be accounted for? The forty years’ sojourn of Israel in the wilderness may suggest the answer. Theirs was a true hope who fled from Egypt, with their faces toward the promised land which lay but a few days’ march across the desert; and yet two men alone of all that host ever planted foot upon the soil of Palestine. And why? Because they let slip the hope, and in heart turned back to Egypt. And can any one read the later Epistles, and the Revelation, and fail to mark how closely the Christian Church followed in the footsteps of the Jewish people? Can we wonder, then, that "the same example of unbelief" should reap the same results? Apostasy on earth, and long-suffering in heaven, afford the true solution of the mystery of long centuries of desert wandering and trial for a Church which, in its pristine purity and life, was called to wait for, and expect with joyful confidence, its absent Lord’s return.
The Thessalonians "turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven." And so absolutely is this attitude of soul the proof and test of faithfulness, that the crown of faithfulness is declared to be for "them that love His appearing." "The grace of God has appeared, teaching us that we should live looking for that blessed hope;" and if Christians are not looking for it, it is because grace has not had its due influence upon their hearts. It is a hope to strengthen amid trials, to cheer in sorrow, to solemnise in days of prosperity and ease, and to keep us through the even tenor of an uneventful life. "Rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings," was Peter’s word to the saints in view of a "fiery trial" coming, "that, when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy."
"Therefore comfort one another with these words," expressed the purpose with which Paul unfolded the doctrine to the Thessalonians, And it needs no flight of fancy to picture the "beloved disciple "taking leave of some happy home circle where peace and contentment reigned, with the words, "And now, little children, abide in Him; that, when He shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before Him at His coming." But the hope has another aspect; and it is one which claims prominence here, not only as being the most practical, but also the least noticed, application of the truth of His appearing. With most of us heaven is such a fools’ paradise that it has no influence upon our life on earth. Hearts may be filled with longings for the rest and glory it will bring; but there is nothing in it for the conscience. For death is to wipe out for ever all memories of earth, and the white robes and harps of gold and ever-swelling hymn are to banish every thought of our sojourn here, just as a midnight dream is lost when the sleeper awakes to the sunlight of a new day. What a fools’ paradise, to be sure! For he to whom yesterday is a blank is but a fool, and in entering such a heaven we should pass from a higher to a lower elevation, intellectually and morally. Strange thoughts they have of heaven who think that Martha and Mary could forget the scene around their brother’s grave, or the Magdalene the sins by which she proved and gauged the depths of grace; that Paul will ever cease to testify that once he was a blasphemer, or Peter to recall his denial of his Lord. As though the saints of God who here have learned to love and trust Him by the remembrance of the many sins forgiven, and of the waywardness and wanderings through which His grace has kept them, shall, the moment their eyes behold Him, be swept into a stream that is to swamp their individuality for ever, and, in destroying their memories of earth, to destroy the special emphasis with which on earth they praised Him. McCheyne’s well- known hymn suggests a truer, healthier thought : -

"When this passing world is done,
When has sunk yon glaring sun,
When I stand with Christ in glory,
Looking o’er life’s finished story,
Then, Lord, shall I fully know - Not till then - how much I owe."

As the traveller ascends some mountain side, each turning in the path shuts out from view the way behind him; but when the summit has been reached he sees his track mapped out from first to last, and can in thought retrace his journey even to the far-off village he set out from. And such shall be the change from earth to heaven. In the ceaseless vicissitudes and toils of life the narrow present too often fills our thoughts, and the past slips from us as each "to-day" falls back among the forgotten "yesterdays"; but when the great to-morrow comes we shall remember all the way which the Lord our God has led us,’ and at every reminiscence of it we shall bless the Lord our God.
Chapter 12

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