Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Power of the Son of Man

What this article asks is: "What did Jesus Christ, the Son of God, teach about forgiveness?" Christians will agree that since Jesus (as the promised Messiah and culmination of the prophets) came into the world as the Light of the world, to show us the ultimate revelation of the Father, He must have the final word. But what is that word? What did He show us? What did He teach about forgiveness? There really are few questions we could ask more important than this one. Yet one could easily become discouraged realizing that there is a wide spectrum of answers given by teachers to this question. Some say that Jesus' teaching on forgiveness and the apostles' teaching on forgiveness contradict each another, and that therefore we must pick sides and throw one, or both of them, away. Others try to explain the words of Jesus in such a way that seem to make them say the opposite of what His words imply. But no one needs to be discouraged. Jesus' words on forgiveness are clear and unambiguous, nor do they at all contradict the teaching of apostles. On this crucial question I would now like to share my own answer (which I trust is the Biblical one), in the hopes of pointing people to the life-giving message of God's gracious forgiveness through the power of Jesus Christ.

Probably the most familiar saying of Jesus on forgiveness that comes immediately to mind is the one contained in the Lord's Prayer: “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” (Matt. 6:12)

How we understand this saying speaks volumes about what we think our relationship with God is like. Jesus taught men to ask God for forgiveness in the Lord's Prayer, and many Christians accept the saying without giving any further attention to its meaning and serious implications. The Lord's Prayer, as well as Christ's subsequent teaching on forgiveness (Matt. 6:14-15) is a part of the Sermon on the Mount. The way we think about the Sermon on the Mount will affect the way we think about the Lord’s Prayer and the matter of forgiveness. Many read the Sermon on the Mount without thinking very deeply about its meaning and implications also.

Leon Morris, who was one the great theologians of our time, commented on this problem: "There are those who suggest that the theologians are complicating life for ordinary Christians. 'All that is necessary,' we are told, 'is that people should live according to the simple teaching of the Sermon on the Mount.' Anyone who says this kind of thing has almost certainly not read the Sermon on the Mount, or, if he has, has not paid attention to it." (Glory in the Cross, p. 29-30)

How are we to think about the Sermon on the Mount (and thus the teaching contained therein on forgiveness)? What is the Biblical perspective we should have? Naively, some say, "You don't have to complicate things. Jesus is teaching us how to live as Christians, and the Sermon is what Christianity is all about. Enough said." But, as Morris points out, upon further reflection this doesn't hold true. The Sermon on the Mount, if taken seriously, should cause us great pause. If Jesus meant what He said (and He most certainly did), the Sermon condemns the hearer/reader, for it is evidently not a guideline for redeemed Christians on how to live the Christian life, nor a mere collection of wise moral sayings for anyone to practice at their leisure; but when we actively listen to what Jesus is preaching, we notice at once that He is preaching something far more frightening. Heaven and hell are in the foreground. Eternal blessedness and eternal destruction are His keynote. Jesus is laying down the law: the way to be eternally blessed or cursed depending on your behavior - and He isn’t joking but is perfectly serious. "If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for one of your members to perish than to have your whole body thrown into hell." (Matt. 5:29) He urges the same regarding other parts: “And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. For it is better for you that one of your members perish, than to have your whole body thrown into hell.” (Matt. 5:30) The point is crystal clear: better to lose your body members and not sin, than to sin and go to hell. And what kind of horrible sin is Jesus talking about, that would merit such extreme measures? What had He just before stated? “I say unto you. That whoever looks upon a woman lustfully has committed adultery already with her in his heart.” (Matt. 5:28) Again, "I say unto you, whoever shall say to another "You fool", shall be in danger of hell fire." (Matt. 5:22) His point is inescapable: call someone a fool... look with lust... and to hell you will go if you don’t cut it out. That is scathing. Does this sound like Christianity? No. There's nothing evangelical about it.

A.M. Hunter put it this way: "From time to time one hears people declare that they 'like' the Sermon on the Mount. It is in fact the most terrible indictment of human nature in all literature... Who is sufficient for these merciless moral demands? Who is able to fulfill them? Not Tolstoy or any other. If that is the ideal, God have mercy on us all, sinners." (The Unity of the New Testament, p. 84f)

The same is true when we examine carefully the Lord's Prayer. It is of utmost importance that we understand what Jesus actually said. He did not merely teach us that we should ask God to forgive us of our sins. He was teaching much more than that. What Jesus actually taught was that we should ask God to forgive us of our sins just as we forgive those who sin against us. Far from this being a prayer for mercy, it is actually a pray for justice. It is an appeal unto God to treat us in the way that we deserve; to give us back what we have been giving out; to recompense us for our forgiving. Jesus makes this explicit in the two verses immediately following the Prayer (which perhaps show us that this matter of forgiving is the main thing in the Prayer): "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." (Matt. 6:14-15) That is pure justice. It is strict and dreadful like the sayings above. If you do not forgive men their sins, God will not forgive you of yours, and you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven. You had better forgive men their sins so that God may forgive yours. Such is the Lord's Prayer. In fact, there is nothing exclusively evangelical in the Lord's Prayer at all - nothing that only a Christian can pray, or which a devout Jew could not.

The point of all these terrifying moral lessons is that Jesus is explaining to the people the law of Moses as it is in truth. Jesus states emphatically at the beginning of the Sermon that He "did not come to destroy the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them." (Matt. 5:17) "Truly I say unto you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one jot nor one tittle shall in any way pass from the law, until all be fulfilled. Whoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men to do so, shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 5:18-19) Teaching the commandments in all their perfect glory is precisely what Jesus is doing. "For I say unto you, that unless your righteousness shall exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you shall in no way enter into the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 5:20) He goes on to explain the false way the scribes and Pharisees both teach and live the law, warning you that if you want to enter into life you must exceed what they are teaching and doing. How much better must you be? Just a little? Jesus tells us: "Be perfect, therefore, as your Father in heaven is perfect." (Matt. 5:48)

John Calvin saw clearly what Christ was doing. Christ was not delivering an evangelical sermon but rather was preaching to the people the law of Moses in all its glory, which had been obscured by the teaching and practice of the scribes and Pharisees. The law was therefore in need of re-exposition: "Those who have not perceived this, have pretended that Christ was only a second Moses, the giver of an evangelical [law], to supply the deficiency of the Mosaic Law. Hence the common axiom as to the perfection of the Evangelical Law, and its great superiority to that of Moses. This idea is in many ways most pernicious. For it will appear from Moses himself, when we come to give a summary of his precepts, that great indignity is thus done to the Divine Law. It certainly... leads us away from that one unvarying rule of righteousness. It is very easy, however, to confute this error, which proceeds on the supposition that Christ added to the Law, whereas He only restored it to its integrity by maintaining and purifying it when obscured by the falsehood, and defiled by the leaven of the Pharisees." (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book II, Ch. 8, Section 7)

The Sermon on the Mount, then, is Christ's re-exposition of the law of Moses, not a new and better evangelical law for Christians that transcends the law of Moses - as if it needed improvement! Such a thought is totally foreign to the Bible, which always speaks of the law of Moses with the highest possible reverence, as it is the greatest possible moral standard given to man by God. The essence of the law is love for God and for your neighbor. One cannot go higher than this (Mark 12:28-31, Rom. 13:8-10). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is showing the people what obedience to the law (which is love) actually looks like. It means not sinning against God and your neighbor in thought, word or deed... It means not being a hypocrite... It means not being unforgiving and unmerciful to others, etc... How could one claim to love God and their neighbor according to the law of Moses if they failed at these things? They could not, and that is the whole point. Jesus is not preaching the gospel or Christianity. He is preaching the law of Moses to show men their sins, so that they might look elsewhere for salvation. That is the purpose of the law (Gal. 3:21-24). Let me make this clear: I am not saying that what Christ taught in the Sermon on the Mount was false. Far from it: it is true! Painfully true. And since it is true, we are hopelessly lost if that is all there is to be said. What I am saying is this: what Christ taught in the Sermon on the Mount is the truth about the law of Moses, but there is much more to be said; indeed, much more that Christ did say. Therefore, the Sermon on the Mount (and many other teachings and sayings of Jesus) must not be carelessly taken as our guide for all things Christian, but we must learn to pay careful attention to the place and purpose of His teachings in the greater motif of law and gospel.

In light of this, I submit that Christ's teaching on "forgive in order to be forgiven" (Matt. 6:12, 14-15, 18:21-35) falls under the category of law, not gospel. As Christians, I think we get excited about the word "forgiveness" and forget that forgiveness is a concept just as relevant and important to the Old Covenant as well as to the New. Forgiveness has to do with sin, and sin and forgiveness are just as much an issue under law as they are under gospel. The law offers its solution to sin as does the gospel, and forgiveness is sought by legalists. Forgiveness is of absolute necessity for sinners under the law in order for them to be in right relationship with God. The following verse is typical in the law: "And the priest shall make an atonement for him with the ram of the trespass offering before the Lord for his sin which he has done: and the sin which he has done will be forgiven him." (Lev. 19:22) They needed it. They were seeking it. The gospel is all about our sins being forgiven, but we must not therefore think that forgiveness is a concept exclusive to the gospel, and read "gospel" into every mention of "forgiveness".

"How may I receive the forgiveness of my sins?" This is the question every sinner must ask. What is the answer that the law gives? Quite simply, it says: "Do what is right, and you will be forgiven": "If the wicked will turn from all his sins that he has committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. All his transgressions that he has committed will not be mentioned to him: in his righteousness that he has done shall he live." (Ezekiel 18:21-22) This means much more than merely offering a sacrifice. Sacrifice was a part of it, but just a part. If a man did not turn from his sins and obey all the commandments of God, though he brought a sacrifice, that sacrifice would avail him nothing. "To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken better than the fat of rams." (1 Sam. 15:22) Jesus also remarks upon this in the Sermon on the Mount: "Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift." (Matt. 5:23-24) What the law requires is moral uprightness (love, as mentioned before), and only when that condition has been met can forgiveness be legally granted. "He that covers his sins shall not prosper; but whoever confesses and forsakes them shall have mercy." (Prov. 28:13) Such is the way of forgiveness according to the law.

Now it is obvious according to this way that if a person has not forgiven his neighbor, he justly should not receive forgiveness himself. Notice, again, that the issue is all about justice. An unforgiving person doesn't deserve to be forgiven. An unmerciful person doesn't deserve mercy. It wouldn't be just and equal. But where, I ask, is the gospel in this? There's nothing evangelical about it. And that is precisely my point: that Christ's teaching of "forgive in order to be forgiven" is not Christianity but law. The Pharisees taught that a person was not required to forgive an offender more than three times. They assured people that God, according to the law, would forgive those who don't extend forgiveness to others. Christ responded with a resounding, "No!" If you want to be forgiven, according to the law you must be righteous, and to be righteous you must love your neighbor, and to love your neighbor means to forgive him. And to top it all off, how can sinners think to be forgiven of their enormous offenses against God, and yet not forgive their fellow sinners of their comparatively small offenses against them? It doesn't make any sense, and more importantly, it isn't just.

But this is not all that can be said, nor all that Jesus did say, about forgiveness. The gospel is all about God's gracious forgiveness toward sinners who don't deserve it, and one cannot point to these sayings of Jesus and ignore everything else that Jesus said about the forgiveness of sins. He said a world more, and everything depends on it. To the man lowered through a roof Jesus unconditionally and spontaneously declared, "Man, your sins be forgiven you" (Luke 5:20), upon which hearing, the Pharisees sneered, "Who can forgive sins but God alone?" This moment was an earth-shaking disclosure of that full heart of forgiveness that Christ, who is the exact image of the Father, abundantly has toward men. The glory of the Son of man is being displayed here: “The Son of man has power on earth to forgive sins" (Luke 5:23-24); an authority that amazingly transcends the restrictive conditions of the law. This power He has because He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Another example of Christ's authority to forgive sins over and against the authority of the law is the profound incident of the woman caught in adultery. The law was stacked against her, and the words of Jesus themselves on this occasion show that there was no case to be made for her defense. She was guilty, and the law required her to be stoned to death. There was no disputing it; no way of escape by law. Jesus concedes that the crowd’s demand is just: she should be stoned indeed. "He that is without sin, cast the first stone." (John 8:7) The green light is given, but no one in the crowd is worthy to execute the judgment of the law upon the sinner because all are sinners themselves. It would not be just for them to condemn her. We are reminded here of Christ's teaching from the Sermon on the Mount: "Judge not, that you be not judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you shall be forgiven." (Luke 6:37) We see here vividly that the teaching of "forgive in order to be forgiven" and "he that is without sin, cast the first stone" is fully in accordance with the law; but it is not the gospel. To see the gospel here we must see what happens next. The one person in this moment who is able to cast the first stone is "He who has no sin": Christ Himself. Jesus has every right to stone her, and if there was no authority greater than the law, then it was incumbent upon Him to do it, and to not do it would be lawlessness. But what does He say? "'Woman, where are your accusers? Has no man condemned you?' She said, 'No man, Lord.' And Jesus said to her, 'Neither do I condemn you..." (John 8:10-11) No man can condemn her, but the Lord Jesus, who is not like other men in that He is sinless and thus can justly condemn her, does not condemn her either! His reason is entirely different from the crowd: they could not stone her because of the law, but He would not stone her because of grace. By what greater authority can He do this, and seemingly disregard the just demands of the law? It is by the power of the New Covenant, which transcends (yet satisfies) the authority of the Old Covenant in the very person of Jesus Christ, for He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Christ is the revelation of the grace and true forgiveness of God toward men, which flows freely and abundantly unto undeserving sinners thanks to the blood of His cross. Grace is the final authority, not the law; and although the law is a true revelation of the justice of God, it is Christ who is the true revelation of the Father, full of grace and truth.

Doubtless, the greatest and most important teaching on forgiveness ever given by Jesus on earth was at the Last Supper. Here, immediately before His Passion, He discloses in prophecy the meaning of His death to His disciples, and shares with them the secret of His wonderful forgiving life. Taking the cup that represents His blood about to be offered up to God, He solemnly pronounces over it: "This is the blood of the New Covenant, which is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins." (Matt. 26:28) Here is the true teaching of Christ on forgiveness. It is not to be found in His exposition of the law of Moses on the Mount, as correct as that was, but in His explanation of His blood shed as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. This love-sacrifice for sin reveals to men the free, unconditional and overflowing heart of forgiveness that God the Father has for undeserving sinners. Through Christ, God's love for sinners has overcome the obstacle of His justice, which alienated sinners from Himself. This is what the New Covenant is all about, and what distinguishes it from the Old Covenant. It is through the blood of Christ, not through the law of Moses, that we draw near unto God. "For the law came by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. No one has seen the Father at any time, but the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has made declared Him." (John 1:17-18) The demonstration of this love of God - and therefore the forgiveness of God - toward sinners is to be seen in that "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom. 5:8) That means that while we were yet lawbreakers, unforgiving, hateful and hating one another, Christ died for us. His blood was shed for all of our sins, including our unforgiveness and unmercifulness, and there is therefore no legal conditions that keep men from being reconciled to God through the blood of Christ, but only their unbelief in this almost unbelievable message about God.

Christ says to the unforgiving man these shocking words: "Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more". We are not forgiven because we are forgiving. God's forgiveness comes first and comes freely, and our forgiving others follows afterward. This is the same pattern regarding every sin. It must be, or the gospel is not true. If the sin of unforgiveness were some kind of exceptional sin so that Christ could not say these words to that kind of sinner, then law, and not grace, would be the final word. We would be left with a Christ who is not far above but far beneath the principalities and powers, who does not have "all power in heaven and earth" to forgive sins (Matt. 28:18). Only certain kinds of men would be within His ability to graciously save, while others would not be, rendering Christ impotent to save them before the demands of a broken law. In that case we don't have good news to preach in "all the world". In a world like that, law, not grace, reigns - having the final word.

But that is not the world of the New Covenant. Jesus declared immediately before ascending into heaven that "the forgiveness of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem" (Luke 24:53), and we find this exact thing being proclaimed in the Book of Acts by the apostles: "To Him give all the prophets witness, that through His name whosoever believes in Him shall receive the forgiveness of sins." (Acts 10:43) Through the name (authority) of Jesus, all who believe in Jesus Christ are forgiven, and all means all - not the deserving forgiving kind of believers, but the undeserving kind of believers (which is the only kind there is). Can you conceive that God the Father would ever say to someone in the hereafter: “I’m sorry... I know that you were relying upon the grace of my Son Jesus Christ for your salvation, but unfortunately you did not forgive your neighbor his sin against you, and Jesus’ blood doesn’t cover that one. You don’t deserve to be saved... you weren’t the right kind of sinner”? Unthinkable.

This is why when we turn to the entire corpus of the New Testament letters, from Romans to Revelation, we cannot find the teaching on "forgive in order to be forgiven"; no, not anywhere. If Christ's teaching on "forgive in order to be forgiven" was not His exposition of the law but was in reality His ultimate evangelical message to Christians, then we most assuredly would find it in apostles' letters. It would be too important not to be included and to be omitted. The apostles are fully occupied with the doctrine of forgiveness, and they are fully committed to Christ's teaching about it, but when it comes to the teaching of "forgive in order to be forgiven" they are absolutely silent. This can only mean one thing: that the teaching of "forgive in order to be forgiven" was not ultimately Christ's teaching, but Moses'. Christ had put it in its proper place. What we do find in the apostles, however, is quite the opposite: "And be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake has forgiven you." (Eph. 4:32) "Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man has a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye." (Col. 3:13) These beautiful sayings are but echoes of Christ's "neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more": that is, now you forgive, because you are forgiven. They are beautiful because they are evangelical and full of grace - not the conditions of law - void of all notions of deserving. And how has God forgiven us, that we might imitate Him? Not for the law's sake, but for Christ's sake. Not because we deserved it, but freely and abundantly without condition. This is how we are to forgive too. For the Christian, forgiveness is no longer a requirement he must meet in order to be forgiven, but forgiveness is rather an experience of love he has received from God the Father through faith in Christ, which inspires him to forgive others. This is the difference between the Old and New Covenant - for what the former strictly requires, the latter graciously provides. In the gospel forgiveness has found its proper place.

It is from Jesus, then, that we learn the truth about forgiveness. Jesus came into the world to show us the Father, full of grace and truth. By teaching the law, by exemplifying unconditional forgiveness, and by His sacrificial death on the cross, Christ has brought the light of heaven to earth and dispelled the darkness. It is not by ignoring the teachings of Jesus on forgiveness and by setting the apostles' doctrine against His, but by taking His teachings seriously, and by considering them in their fullness, that we come to understand forgiveness. What we then see is that the apostles' doctrine of forgiveness is nothing more than Christ’s own doctrine of forgiveness.

The good news which Jesus Christ has for the world is that God is a forgiving God toward undeserving sinners, and that grace, not law, is the final word. No matter what kind of sinner you are, no matter how tangled up in sin you may be, no matter how badly the Sermon on the Mount condemns you and exposes you to be a wicked sinner, the message of God's forgiving heart is true for you, and you may take refuge in Him. Whoever trusts in the blood of Christ will find a sure Deliverer from all condemnation. As the old hymn goes,

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name
On Christ, the Solid Rock, I stand
All other ground is sinking sand
All other ground is sinking sand

Trusting in your own forgiveness of others and appealing to God to forgive you for that reason may seem like the sweetest frame, but it is nothing more than the sinking sand of self-righteousness. To seek refuge in the law always at first glance appears right, but it turns out to be the broad road that leads to condemnation and destruction. God has provided the sacrifice for all of your sins, and with outstretched arms He lovingly beckons you to come to Him through the power of Jesus Christ. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be whiter than snow. What are you waiting for? There is no reason to delay. The law surely condemns you, but God's word to you in Christ is not a word of condemnation. It is the word of salvation! It is the word of grace! Believe even now. Stand upon the Solid Rock of the name of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Horatius Bonar on Repentance

"The word "repentance" signifies in the Greek, "change of mind"; and this change the Holy Spirit produces in connection with the gospel, not the law. "Repent and believe the gospel" (Mark 1:15) does not mean, "get repentance by the law, and then believe the gospel"; but "let this good news about the kingdom which I am preaching lead you to change your views and receive the gospel." Repentance being put before faith here simply implies that there must be a turning from what is false in order to the reception of what is true. If I would turn my face to the north, I must turn it from the south; yet I should not think of calling the one of these preparatory to the other. If I want to get rid of the darkness, I must let in the light; but I should not say that the getting rid of the darkness is a preparation for receiving the light. These must, in the nature of things, go together. Repentance then is not, in any sense, a preliminary qualification for faith; least of all in the sense of sorrow for sin." (God's Way of Peace, p. 67)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Great Meaning of Metanoia

Dear J---,

Your question about repentance is timely, as Brad, myself and several other brothers here in Logan have been discussing it at length. We recently discovered an outstanding little book on the subject written in the late 19th century, which you must get your hands on. It's called "The Great Meaning of Metanoia" by an Episcopalian minister named Treadwell Walden. He wrote it about a month after the Revised Version of the Bible was published, which was anticipated to be a corrective translation of the traditional English version (KJV). Unfortunately, the Revised Version left untouched the word "repentance", and Walden wrote to express his disappointment. Scholars who worked on the Revised Version and other New Testament professors wrote to Walden expressing their support of his position, admitting that the word "repentance" is a bad translation of "metanoia", for it doesn't carry the word's meaning at all. Walden's original essay is brilliant and full of apostolic character which is often so lacking in traditional Christianity. The book is out of print, but the University of California Library prints it on demand for somewhere between $15-$20 dollars (here). I think it is worth every penny.

Simply put, metanoia is a word filled with remarkable meaning by the preaching of Christ and the apostles. It is not a word that comes replete with it's own meaning.  The English word "repentance", on the other hand, comes filled with it's own meaning - it needs no supplementation by context. Repentance means to feel remorse or regret for your sins; it's Latin root literally means "pain; suffering in view of being liable to punishment". Metanoia has no such meaning associated with it. The word is Greek, and it is made up of two words: meta & nous. Meta means "after" or "change", and nous is the Greek word for "mind". The word means "after-mind" and signifies a change of mind: thinking one way, but then afterwards thinking another. It is the opposite of pronoia (pro-nous) which means before-mind: the mind or thinking you have before. Interestingly, there is another Greek word we frequently use in English that is related to metanoia: it is paranoia (para-nous). Literally, the word means to be beside-mind, or we would say "out of your mind", or "beside yourself". Paranoia is not being in a right mind, but having a mind that is off center - that is, not where it should be (http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=paranoia&allowed_in_frame=0). If you compare metanoia and paranoia together, you get the idea of what the New Testament call for metanoia is: it is a command to change your mind and get it where it should be.

Of course, metanoia, when used as a command ("change your mind") needs supplementation by context; it needs to be filled with more information because we need to know what we are supposed to change our mind about. It can be something small (metanoia about how to spell "judgment"), to something enormously large (metanoia about your religious worldview). The sky is the limit with metanoia, and that is precisely the point of the remarkable function of the word in the New Testament. It is not restricted, like "repentance", to a narrow meaning of pain and sorrow for sin, which we then have to force unnaturally to fit with the gospel. It is a change of mind unto the gospel itself. The gospel is what the change of mind is about. The preaching of Jesus and the apostles speaks to the nous and men change or don't change their mind as they hear it. When a man changes his mind at the preaching of the gospel, he has experienced metanoia. Thus, the proclamation of metanoia at the beginning of the New Testament is the doorway into the entire rest of the doctrine of the New Testament: Change your mind! About what? Listen! A radical mindshift in the religious world is about to happen... no, it is happening now... What we thought about God and the law and righteousness and forgiveness is all about to change. Hear! Metanoia and believe the gospel!

New Testament metanoia is a divine call to a radical mind-shift in the way men think about religion. Therefore "repentance" is an entirely unsatisfactory translation of the amazing word "metanoia" which gives a completely different feeling to the preaching of Jesus and His apostles. Was the major proclamation of Jesus and the apostles "Repent! Feel sorry for your sins"? Or was it "Metanoia! Think a new way"! Do you see what a difference these two words make? Which one is in keeping with the gospel of grace as we know it from the New Testament? Not the first, but the second. The gospel calls us to a new way of thinking about religion. Whereas men think that they are good, and that obedience to the law is the way of salvation, and that the law only requires partial obedience, and that most people won't perish, Jesus calls us to believe that there is none good, and that no one will be saved by obedience to the law, because the law requires perfect obedience, and that broad is the road that leads to destruction. The apostles call us to believe that the cross of Christ is the power and the wisdom of God, the only way whereby we are saved, and live, through faith, while the world thinks that the cross is foolishness. Which word best summarizes this kind of preaching: "repent", or "metanoia"? Certainly not the first, but the second.

How did we lose this apostolic feature from our understanding and preaching of the gospel? Our loss of the meaning of metanoia came from early Latin Christianity, which failed to comprehend what was happening in the New Testament. It failed to understand the meaning of the gospel of grace, and envisioned Christianity to be primarily concerned with amending men's behavior - in which Jesus, the God-man, came to teach men the highest principles of piety and morality. In keeping with this sentiment, the Latin Vulgate made the colossal error of translating "metanoia" as "poenitentiam agite" (do penance). But how could they do this, since the two concepts are so radically different? It is because the early Latin scholars, who indeed recognized that the Greek word "metanoia" meant to "change the mind", did not understand what the New Testament gospel of grace was all about, and consequently, since the word is hollow and requires filling, they filled the word metanoia with something other than what Christ and the apostles filled it with. They interpreted the mind-change as changing your mind about how you are behaving - to regret your sinful lifestyle and to amend your life, rather than as changing your mind about the way of righteousness - that righteousness does not come through the law but through faith in Christ. Having interpreted the call to change your mind this way, the Latin scholars thought it would be more helpful to skip the more hollow word "metanoia" with the fuller paraphrase "poenitentiam agite", which they believed best communicated the purpose of the mind change. Thus they paraphrased the word metanoia as they thought best; they did not translate the word. And it stuck. The Latin Vulgate possessed sole and unquestioned authority for over one thousand years, and therefore this erroneous paraphrase, "peoenitentiam agite" (do penance), became deeply rooted in the Church's vocabulary and teaching.

By the time of the Reformation, the doctrine and practice of penitence ("repentance") was so assuredly believed to be Biblical that even the Reformers could not see clearly enough to root it out of their own systems. Though they rightly saw afresh that the gospel of Jesus Christ was all about righteousness through faith apart from works, they continued to confuse "metanoia" with penitence, and the rest of Protestant history has been an awkward and uncomfortable effort to somehow fit the necessity of repentance alongside the proclamation of sola fide. The proposed solution to the problem was to move repentance from one side of salvation to the other; so that, instead of having to repent in order to be saved (as the Roman Catholics saw it), the Reformers argued that repentance was a fruit and effect of being saved. In this way, salvation produced the amended life, but was not dependent upon it, so preserving the gospel of grace. However, while it indeed is true that salvation produces the transformed life and not the other way around, the Scriptures remained clear that Jesus and the apostles preached that in order for men to be saved, they must "metanoia" (ex. Luke 13:3, Acts 3:19, etc.) - and the real problem was not in the order of salvation and repentance, but in the word "repentance" itself. The Roman Catholics understood the order correctly, but had the wrong definition of metanoia, while the Reformers understood the order incorrectly, and likewise had the wrong definition of metanoia! This incorrect order and definition has caused the strange unapostolic juggling of sola fide and repentance within Protestantism, a juggling we have has seen for the last 500 years, and which is still just as prevelant today. All that is needed for the juggling to stop is to simply see the true meaning of metanoia.

I believe that one of the greatest perpetuating sources of this error within Protestantism is the Westminster Confession of Faith - the impressive and definitive English statement of Reformed theology - which is defended and taught zealously in the majority of Reformed churches. I truly appreciate much in the Westminster Confession, but I believe it is in grave error when it defines "repentance" as follows (underlines mine):

I. Repentance unto life is an evangelical grace, the doctrine whereof is to be preached by every minister of the gospel, as well as that of faith in Christ.

II. By it a sinner, out of the sight and sense, not only of the danger, but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins, as contrary to the holy nature and righteous law of God, and upon the apprehension of his mercy in Christ to such as are penitent, so grieves for, and hates his sins, as to turn from them all unto God, purposing and endeavoring to walk with him in all the ways of his commandments.

III. Although repentance be not to be rested in as any satisfaction for sin, or any cause of the pardon thereof, which is the act of God's free grace in Christ; yet is it of such necessity to all sinners, that none may expect pardon without it.

IV. As there is no sin so small but it deserves damnation; so there is no sin so great that it can bring damnation upon those who truly repent.

V. Men ought not to content themselves with a general repentance, but it is every man's duty to endeavor to repent of his particular sins, particularly.

VI. As every man is bound to make private confession of his sins to God, praying for the pardon thereof, upon which, and the forsaking of them, he shall find mercy: so he that scandalizeth his brother, or the Church of Christ, ought to be willing, by a private or public confession and sorrow for his sin, to declare his repentance to those that are offended; who are thereupon to be reconciled to him, and in love to receive him. (WCF, XV, Repentance Unto Life)

Notice the juggling that takes place in this explanation of "repentance". Repentance is not to be rested in as the cause of our salvation, but yet you dare not rest unless you have repentance! Repentance is necessary for the sinner, as well as faith in Christ! This is simply unbiblical and unevangelical. It does not carry with it the free and gracious character of the New Testament gospel, but rather attaches to the free offer of the gospel an awkward and burdensome system of penance - that residual vestige of old Latin theology. The Reformers, while seeing correctly that righteousness comes by faith alone in Christ alone, failed to see the beautiful meaning of metanoia. Metanoia is but the change of mind to this gospel, and it is the call for men who are ignorant of the righteousness of God by faith to see this new and living way of righteousness in Christ and the futility of their own attempt to be righteous by the law. But the Reformers, unable to see past the deeply entrenched Latin concept of poenitentiam agite to the original apostolic meaning and preaching of metanoia, were left with nothing else to do but juggle awkwardly in order to be faithful to Scripture and to preserve the gospel they had come to see and love.

It would be helpful to ask any Reformed Christian if they have "repented" according to the definition of the Westminster Confession of Faith. Have they "turned from all their sins unto God, endeavoring to walk with Him in all the ways of His commandments?" Have they "repented of their particular sins, particularly?" And if not, does this mean that they are not saved? Of course, they will admit that no one has, but experience has typically shown that rather than admit the Confession is wrong, the standards get lowered so that people can feel like they have repented. If we don't lower the standards and are honest about our sins, we will admit that none of us truly feel sorry for all our sins, and none of us have turned from all our sins particularly, nor do we obey all the commandments. If we did, we wouldn't be sinners! But the gospel is the good news for sinners, that as sinners, we are "justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 3:24) through nothing but faith alone. "To the one who does not work, but believes upon Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted unto righteousness." (Rom. 4:5) Reformed churches believe this! Why not then drop the the erroneous and awkward doctrine of "Repentance unto Life" for the Scriptural and apostolic doctrine of metanoia unto life?

"Whosoever will, let him take freely of the waters of life." (Rev. 22:17) "'Sirs, what must I do to be saved?' And they said to him, 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved." (Acts 16:30-31) "The Lord is... not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to metanoia." (2 Pet. 3:9) God calls sinners to eat freely of the bread of life, the broken body and shed blood of His Son. This is a meal He has set for the ungodly, not for the righteous nor for some phony level of righteousness. He wants sinners to eat of it, and He does not set up signs that say: "Only for those who are penitent". God sees our dire need and says, "Eat, sinner, and live! Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ! Look and your soul shall be filled! Do not think that you must worthy to receive My salvation. Behold and believe My righteous generous grace for you displayed in the cross of Christ. Metanoia!"

I hope this is helpful to you, J---. I love you, dear brother, and pray for you to have wisdom and clarity in this matter. Looking forward to hearing from you again,

Much affection,
-Eli

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Bible and Homosexuality: A Reply to Matthew Vines


I recently watched a video lecture by a Harvard student named Matthew Vines entitled "The Bible and Homosexuality" (http://matthewvines.tumblr.com/ hereafter referred to). In the lecture, Vines seeks to present the Biblical case for homosexuality, and attempts to prove that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality as sinful, thus allowing homosexuality to be a valid form of sexuality and marriage within the Christian worldview. I was glad to hear a thoughtful, intellectual argument for homosexuality based upon the Bible. Vines seems to understand that the Bible is the big issue in the debate. I agree that it is. God's revelation is everything. If we are to be people who conform our lives to the truth of God, we must hear from God. This means resisting every temptation to go along with what we merely want or feel; it means clearing out misinformation and dogma; it means honestly listening to the only one who is wise and omniscient: our loving Maker who knows what is best for us.

What follows is an exegetical examination of Vines' lecture and is said in Christian love.

I believe Vines is wrong in his conclusion that the Bible does not teach that homosexuality is sin, or that it is ambiguous at best. I believe the Bible teaches quite clearly that homosexuality is sin, and that to say otherwise is Scripture twisting. Let me explain why I am convinced of this.

Vines' argument for Biblical homosexuality is as follows. He first takes the position that homosexuality is natural (this position is not arrived at from the Bible), and then proceeds toward the text, seeking to show that the common verses used against homosexuality are invalid. Since the Biblical case against homosexuality is based upon what is regarded as explicit texts which negatively condemn homosexuality, he must of course deal with them. In this way, he is not so much bringing forth positive Biblical evidence for homosexuality (as I think he himself admits that there is none), but is only trying to show that there isn't any Biblical evidence against it. Fair enough given the Biblical data. But it is important to note this, that the Biblical case against homosexuality is in fact based upon what is believed to be explicit evidence in the Bible, while the Biblical case for homosexuality is in fact not based upon explicit evidence in the Bible, but upon what is conceived to be silence concerning homosexuality in the Bible, and the extra-Biblica belief that homosexuality is natural. Vines' positive argument from the Bible is that Christianity is all about love, and that it is unloving to deprive homosexuals of their natural God-given desires. Thus it is Christian and Biblical to accept homosexuality.

If the Bible were explicitly silent about homosexuality, that wouldn't necessarily make homosexuality right, but nor would it necessarily make it wrong. At that point we would have to govern our belief of the Bible's stance concerning homosexuality upon general principles in the Bible which would reveal God's implicit will concerning it. I believe there is an implicit case that could be made against homosexuality from the Bible. The original design of God with Adam and Eve, the numberless examples of relationships in the Bible between a man and woman, the absence of any homosexual relationship in the Bible, the order and convenience of creation that is stressed in the Bible, the raising of godly seed that is one major divine purpose of sexuality, and the true marriage of Christ and the Church of which earthly marriage is but a picture. The implicit case that Vines is purporting is not as strong as the implicit case that can be made from the other side.

Vines argues from Matthew 7:15-20 that "good teachings, according to Jesus, have good consequences" (Vines, 12:22), and that the consequences of the Church's position against homosexuality have not been good but bad, thus showing that the Church's traditional position against homosexuality is bad teaching. But there are two serious problems with this argument. First, deciding what is a good consequence and what is a bad consequence is highly subjective and relative. What may be seen as a good consequence to one may not be seen as a good consequence to another, and therefore it becomes impossible to discern what is good teaching based upon this criteria. One could argue just the same against Vines' position using this criteria, since good and bad consequences are in the eye of the beholder, so to speak. But Jesus was most certainly not giving us an impossible subjective standard to judge teaching by, which brings us to the second problem with this argument. Vines is actually misunderstanding this saying of Jesus, for if you compare this passage with its parallel passage in Luke 6:43-43, and with its counterpart passage in Matthew 12:33-37, you see immediately that Jesus was not saying that you know a teaching is good or bad based upon its consequences, but rather that you know a teacher is good or bad based upon his teaching. "A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks." (Luke 6:45) "For by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned." (Matthew 12:37) What Jesus is actually talking about is false teachers and their words, which words enable you to know whether they are false teachers or not. In fact, you won't be able to discern false teachers based upon any other criteria, because "they come to you as wolves in sheep's clothing". By saying this, Jesus is in keeping with the Old Testament which gives only one method of testing false prophets: by what they say - that is, whether their words agree with what God has revealed or not (Deuteronomy 13:1-5, Isaiah 8:20).

Therefore, the ultimate question concerning our topic at hand is: does the Biblical case for homosexuality or the Biblical case against homosexuality agree with what God has revealed in the Bible? Simple enough. That is the test of whether a teaching is Biblical or not; not whether it's consequences are good to whoever thinks it is.

Having said all that, we must now turn to the main body of his lecture, and to the main issue of the debate. Vines attempts to show that the Bible does not explicitly condemn homosexuality as sinful (which he must do if his case will stand) and concentrates his efforts on dispelling this idea. In this attempt I am convinced Vines fails. Beside there being an implicit case in the Bible against homosexuality, there is an explict case to be made against homosexuality from the Bible, which I am certain Vines did not dispel. So long as there remains an explicit case to be made, it necessarily ends the debate for all who take the Bible seriously as God's revelation. But let us take a look at the relevant Scriptures to see for ourselves. Though Vines discussed six different passages in the Bible, I'll consider the three which I believe are most important.

Sodom and Gomorrah. Some have commented that this is his strongest point, and I agree. But it is not that strong. Vines argues that while Christians have traditionally thought that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because of homosexuality - thus proving that homosexuality is sin - the Bible in fact states that God destroyed these cities because of other sins instead, such as pride, selfishness and greed.

The Bible certainly points to other sins as well which brought the wrath of God down upon them (Ezekiel 16:49). Certainly homosexuality was not the only sin of Sodom and Gomorrah nor the sole reason the wrath of God was kindled against them. This is important for people to realize. But to point out these other sins of Sodom and Gomorrah is not an argument that homosexuality was not also their sin. One very important verse concerning Sodom and Gomorrah that Vines failed to mention was Jude 1:7. "Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going aside after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire." Here we see that fornication (unlawful sex) was indeed a major sin of Sodom and Gomorrah, and one that contributed to their overthrow. It is no coincidence that the only type of sex that we know Sodom and Gomorrah had from the Old Testament was homosexual sex, and that the following phrase in Jude 1:7 confirms this as an explanation of the fornication: "going aside after strange flesh". Given that we have no other details in the story as to what else this could mean, it must mean homosexuality. Vines point is therefore pressed too far. It is true that the traditional view of Sodom and Gomorrah needs to be modified, but it does not need to be wholly consumed by fire and brimstone.

Leviticus 18:22. This verse is most certainly the clearest prohibition of homosexuality in the Bible. Therefore it is extremely important to the debate, and both sides know this. It is as follows: "You shall not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is an abomination." Its counterpart in Leviticus 20:13 is equally as clear: "If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them." Vines argues that these verses are no longer valid to us today because of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He points out how the New Testament teachings make clear that, because of Christ, Christians are no longer under obligation to obey the Old Testament Israelite law. He highlights the fact that many laws of the Old Testament have never been observed by the Christian Church, such as the vast array of dietary laws and ceremonial commandments contained in the law of Moses, and Vines proceeds to argue that homosexuality should be seen in the same light. "Christians have always regarded the Book of Leviticus, in particular, as being inapplicable to them in light of Christ’s fulfillment of the law." (Vines, 26:51)

Now I am a huge advocate of the gospel of Christ setting us free from the law; that is my favorite subject! However, it is absolutely critical that we realize that it is one thing to say that as Christians we are set free from the obligation of having to keep the law, and quite another thing to say that the law's commandments are morally irrelevant to us. I am confident Vines would wholeheartedly agree with me. For example, Leviticus - which Vines states is a book that has been regarded as inapplicable by Christians - contains what Jesus Himself said is the second greatest commandment in the law: to love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18, the chapter immediately following the verse in question). As Christians, we are no longer obligated to love our neighbor as ourselves as a condition for inheriting eternal life (otherwise we'd all be damned), yet loving one's neighbor still remains morally relevant and something we should do as Christians. Likewise the commandment to not steal is no longer obligatory to a Christian as a condition to inherit eternal life (since it is by grace we are saved), but it is still morally relevant nonetheless. So the question of Leviticus 18:22 is not whether we are obligated to obey it or not as a condition for inheriting eternal life, but whether it is still morally relevant to us today. Or to put it another way: is Leviticus 18:22 in that class of commandments which we would label moral and thus still relevant to us today, or does it belong to that class of commandments which we would label ceremonial and symbolic (ex. Col. 2:16-17) and thus morally irrelevant to us today?

The simplest and most natural answer is that Leviticus 18:22 falls into the moral category, and that it is still relevant to us today. The entire chapter concerns sexual sin, all of which we would consider moral and relevant today (except, as Vines points out, 18:19, where there may be some debate regarding a woman on her period. One could argue that it is therefore immoral to have sex with a woman on her period, and that the common Christian position on this command is wrong. If, however, we take 18:19 as ceremonial, then we still must ask whether 18:22 fits more naturally with 18:19, or with the rest of the verses in the chapter. I believe it is obvious that 18:22 fits most naturally with the rest of the chapter. In 18:19, the ceremonial aspect is clearly given. It states, "Also you shall not approach unto a woman to uncover her nakedness, as long as she is put apart for her uncleanness." Because she is ceremonially unclean, she is "put apart", and therefore to have sex with her when she is "put apart" is to sin. Sex with a woman is not prohibited here, but only sex with a woman when she is ceremonially unclean. The issue in 18:19 is about when you should not have sex, it is not about who or what you shouldn't have sex with, as the rest of the chapter and 18:22 is concerned about. There is simply no reason to suppose that the prohibition of homosexuality falls into the category of ceremonial law). 18:22 is in keeping with the rest of the chapter which prohibits who and what you should have sex with. Incest, beastiality and homosexuality are all similarly prohibited. God reveals that it is not morally acceptable to have sex with your family members, animals, or people of your same sex. It follows that therefore this verse remains a clear and explicit pronouncement against homosexuality in the Bible.

In John chapter 8, when the crowd brought to Jesus a woman caught in adultery, the law clearly required that she be stoned to death (see Leviticus 20:10), but Jesus remarkably rescued her from the demands of the law, telling her, "Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more." (John 8:11) Truly, because of Christ, we are set free from the demands of the law and the penalty that we deserve. He bore our sins on the cross so that we do not have to bear them ourselves. But by saying, "Go and sin no more", Jesus showed us that the morality of the law is still relevant to forgiven sinners. We do not have to obey the law in order to be forgiven: indeed we need forgiveness because we do not obey the law! Nor should we pick up stones to execute justice upon others who have broken in the law: God alone is the judge, and we are in no place to judge our neighbor, and God has in love undertaken to save sinners through His Son Jesus Christ. But the morality of the law is still righteous, holy and good, relevant to us today in the 21st century. We ought to go and sin no more.

Romans 1:26-27. Vines is right that this is the largest treatment of homosexuality in the Bible, and that because it is in the New Testament it does not have any of the Old Testament legal intricacies that could be appealed to in order to escape its claims. The passage is as follows: "For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: and likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet." Vines' explanation goes like this: the real issue in this chapter is idolatry. Men exchange the truth of God for a lie, and by so doing, they also exchange what is natural for what is unnatural. But here is Vines' kicker: Vines argues that if these people were heterosexual, then what is unnatural and sinful for them is homosexuality, but if what is natural for people is homosexuality, then they commit no sin by being homosexuals, since that is natural for them, and there involves no exchange. To Vines, the exchange of natural to unnatural itself is the main point, not what is exchanged - not what is natural or unnatural.

Vines fails to see that exchanging one's sexuality from X to Y or from Y to X is not the point that Paul is getting at. It is not exchange itself that is wrong to Paul, but what is exchanged for what. Exchanging the truth of God for a lie is sin, and exchanging the natural use of sex for the unnatural use of sex is sin. And to Paul, the natural use of sex is clearly said to be between a man and a woman, and the unnatural use of sex is clearly said to be homosexual. This point can only be escaped by manipulating the passage to say what it is not saying. Paul uses words such as "vile affection", "against nature", and "unseemly" to describe woman to woman and man to man sex. This is how he describes X, not the exchange from Y to X. X, or homosexuality, is sinful in this passage, and I do not see how this conclusion can be avoided unless we completely ignore Paul's definition of what is natural and unnatural, leaving them undefined - something Paul does not do.

The danger of Vines' idea, that exchange itself is the sin, is that this can be utilized to justify all behavior. So long as someone states that a behavior is natural to them, then it is no longer sin for them to do it, but it actually becomes sin for them not to do it! If a man says he has a natural attraction to animals, then it would be sin for him to not have sex with them, and sin for him to have sex with a human. If a man said he was naturally attracted to children, then before God he is justified in having sex with children, since that is what is natural to him, and to exchange this with adult sex (something he is not attracted to) is itself a perversion of nature! It is absurd to argue this way. It is not Paul's point, and it is subjective and capricious to make your case from what is natural for you. Our convictions must rest upon the word of God and what He says is natural and unnatural according to His design. If we find ourselves lusting after what is unnatural, we need to recognize this for what it is.

I am convinced from our study of the most important passages of Scripture on homosexuality that the explicit Biblical argument against homosexuality still stands. If this is difficult for homosexuals to accept, at least let them acknowledge that the case for Biblical homosexuality is not as bulletproof as they would like, and that the traditional Biblical case is not as irresponsible as they may have thought. I hope Vines acknowledges this.

I am truly glad he gave the lecture and that he is grappling with the Biblical text. The more we do this the better, and the clearer things will become.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Homosexuality: What Does God Have to Say?


What does God have to say about homosexuality? Is homosexuality sin, or is it not? Is there enough information in the Bible to discern the will of God on the issue? What is the message that Jesus Christ has for homosexuals? Is there really truth in the midst of so much disagreement?

ASSESSING THE SITUATION

Homosexuality has a lot of people asking questions. Not too long ago, most people simply took it for granted that homosexuality was unnatural, sinful, and should not be accepted as an alternative lifestyle; yet things have changed. Today, many people are uncertain as to how to answer questions about homosexuality, while sharp lines are being drawn in the sand as people take their side on an issue that has become greatly obtrusive and controversial. Polemics are engaged in from both sides; slander and name-calling are not uncommon. Whether it is "fag" or "homophobe", such insults stem from fear and an inability to explain or convince another of one's point of view. Even violence has been resorted to and is increasing in frequency. Where will all this lead, and when will it end? Will truth prevail in the long run?

What is urgently needed is for God’s voice to speak into the chaos, and to calm the storm that threatens to sink us. Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. If a hungry man eats bread but does not listen to the words of God, he is not better off. It does not matter if one side wins through political muscling and gets their own way; if we are not listening to God it profits nothing. “Unless the Lord builds the house, they that build labor in vain. Unless the Lord guard the city, they that guard watch in vain. ” (Psalm 127:1) Are both sides willing to humble themselves before God and before each other so they can listen to the voice that matters? If not, how can mere political victory be real victory? The objective for both sides needs to be to hear from God and obey His voice, rather than merely to get their own way. Truth, not preference, must be our desire.

It is important for those who are opposed to homosexuality to understand and empathize with the homosexual man or woman. Homosexuals are under great pressure and feel that their fight is a fight, not only for their liberty, but for their very identity. Such issues are not to be handled insensitively. If they lose the fight, they feel they will have lost everything, and must resign themselves to an existence within a hostile society that is, for them, without a hope and a future. The high rate of suicide among homosexuals must not be passed over lightly. The homosexual is in a desperate struggle for meaning, acceptance and survival, and understandably cannot see much comfort in anything short of victory.

It is likewise important for those who are pro-homosexual to understand and empathize with the heterosexual man or woman who is opposed to homosexuality. For them, they too feel belittled and are made to seem stupid simply because they disagree that homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle, while at the same time they feel that their concerns have not been answered in any satisfying way. Thus they feel ignored and swept aside as contemptible for their convictions, without any explanation. Such treatment inevitably causes frustration. It is vital that pro-homosexuals understand that most often the conviction of people who are opposed to homosexuality is the result of a sincere faith in God, which faith involves the belief that God has revealed to mankind, both through reason and revelation, that homosexuality is sinful. Thus for them it is not merely a stuffy tradition nor an insensible fear of progress that causes them to oppose; it is a much deeper and fundamental conviction that such "progress" is not actually progress at all, but rather digression, because it goes against the will of God. This must be taken into full consideration and likewise treated with sensitivity.

If we reflect upon these things, we should see quite quickly that the answer to the confusion has absolutely everything to do with God. If the belief in God's revelation of the sinfulness of homosexuality were satisfactorily refuted, then the case for homosexuality would surely stand, and religious people would feel like they were not ignored and their objections were answered. Such a strategy is now being undertaken by many; yet the main strategy from the pro-homosexual side has unfortunately been one of aggressive domineering through politics and the media rather than intellectual engagement. This is, in my opinion, immoral. If the pro-homosexual cause desires to achieve their goal in an honest manner, they would command more respect if they were more concerned about truth than about airtime. Ends do not justify means, and it is not right to silence another voice without hearing it out and satisfactorily answering it. If there is a God, and if God has revealed His judgment concerning homosexuality, and if that judgment is that homosexuality is sinful, then the matter is settled, and it only remains to show the homosexual how there is a hope and a future with God through Jesus Christ. I am persuaded that homosexuals would not feel the need to fight so desperately for their identity and for hope if they only knew what incredible things belong to them in the promises of God, and sadly I do not think the Church has clearly communicated this to the homosexual, thus contributing to the despair. It is my desire now to share that good news with homosexuals.

GOOD NEWS FOR HOMOSEXUALS

I'm sure most people who are involved in this discussion have read the prominent Scriptures that relate to homosexuality in the Bible (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Romans 1:26-28, 1 Timothy 1:9-11, Jude 1:6-7, etc), and since so much good information on the subject can readily be found, I won't reinvent the wheel by reproducing what has already been done. It is, in my opinion, beyond a reasonable doubt that the Bible clearly condemns homosexuality as sinful. Any attempt to prove this plain fact otherwise must engage in Scripture twisting of the worst kind, and therefore, it is far more honest to disagree with the Bible than to try and make the Bible disagree with itself (for an example, see here). Whatever may be said about the Bible and homosexuality, it is that the Bible reveals God's judgment concerning homosexuality, which is that homosexuality is unnatural and sinful. Such was the conviction of people in the past.

But what, then, is God's will for the homosexual? Is it that they perish in hell, because they are sinning? Such is often the impression churchmen give. I am persuaded that this question has not been answered satisfactorily by many Christians who are ignorant of what Christ actually has to say to the homosexual person. I want to apologize to anyone who has had a bad experience with Christians regarding this issue of homosexuality. The gospel means "good news", and that includes good news for homosexuals. God's message from heaven is glad tidings for sinners; all sinners, everwhere. Absolutely no one should be excluded from the hope, peace and joy that the gospel offers to all! To exclude anyone because they are a certain kind of sinner is to distort the very nature of the gospel itself. What is worse: homosexuality or distorting the gospel of God?

I recall once having a conversation with a very angry homosexual. He was angry because he discovered that I was Christian, and though I had said nothing about the matter, he was certain that my belief was that all homosexuals should be hamstrung and hung upside by the feet until they recanted their homosexuality (reminds me of the "show me your horns" stereotype)! Finally he thrust his finger into my chest and in an accusatory tone he demanded an answer: "Do I have to stop being a homosexual in order to be saved? Tell me!" I got the impression that he fully expected what I would answer and was just waiting for me to say it so that he could counterattack with a vengeance. I said, "No." Suddenly his face went from a look of anger to utter astonishment. His jaw fell involuntarily, and the once belligerent man was suddenly silent. He had just heard what he had not expected; most likely he had just heard what he had never heard before. This homosexual had never before heard the gospel of grace. I then said, "But once you are saved, you will want to stop being a homosexual." He still could not say anything. Several seconds passed and what had just been said hung heavy in the air; then he changed the subject. He was completely disarmed.

Most homosexuals have never heard the true gospel before, and therefore they are fighting against a god and a gospel of their own incorrect imagination. They do not even know God, since it is the gospel alone which reveals who God is to us. God is revealed through the gospel to be our Father in heaven. The good news is, a homosexual does not need to stop being a homosexual in order to be forgiven and reconciled to the Father. For what does the Bible say? "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by God's grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." (Romans 3:23-24) "By grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9) "But we believe that through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they." (Acts 15:11) This is just a small sampling of the Scriptures which tell us of the wonderful news of salvation. What so many do not realize is that the Bible is a book about grace, not about rules. The only thing a homosexual needs to do in order to be saved is the same thing that any and all sinners need to do in order to be saved: believe in Jesus Christ, trusting alone in what Christ accomplished on man's behalf. This is not to say that homosexuality is not sin, but that homosexuality, just like every other sin, has been atoned for by Christ 2000 years ago. The gospel is the joyous news that "God so loves the world that He gave us His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but has eternal life." (John 3:16) God the Father gave His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Christ died once for all on the cross to reconcile us to God the Father, by paying the penalty that our sins justly deserve. Now, no matter how sinful you are, no matter what kind of a sinner you are, you are invited to the feast of God's amazing goodness and grace! A homosexual sinner, like any other sinner, simply needs to believe the gospel to be saved. Isn't that wonderful news? Isn't God good? God loves sinners. God loves homosexuals.

When Christ was crucified, He revealed two crucial truths about God. First, Christ revealed that God is a righteous God. All sin, regardless of what kind, is not passed over. Every sin that is committed is judged. At the cross, the Father demonstrated that His justice will never be slackened, even in the act of forgiveness. "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid upon Him the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:6) All sin, including lying, pride and homosexuality, was laid upon Jesus Christ at the cross, so that we can be forgiven. The cross teaches us that sin is never forgiven cheaply or superficially: God can only forgive us because Christ suffered the penalty for our sins, otherwise forgiveness would not be possible. When God forgives us, it is not that He overlooks our sins as if they were no big deal, but it is that Christ died for sin, and in the very act of forgiving us He has dealt with our sins in the way that sin deserves. By way of simple analogy, “we did the crime, and Jesus paid the fine”. Sin is forgiven in such a way that it is not ignored or made out to be anything less than what it is. This is a powerful truth not to be forgotten! It tells us volumes about the Father.

The second truth which the cross of Christ reveals is this: that God is love. It was the Father's love that sent His only begotten Son to the cross to bear our sins so that we might be saved. It is not as if Christ had to die on the cross in order to change the Father's mind about us! Rather, the cross of Christ tells us exactly what the Father thinks about us: that He loves sinners and doesn't want them to perish for their sins. Christ came in obedience to the Father. Far from the cross being a statement of God's unwillingness, it is rather the definitive statement of God's willingness to forgive us the only way He can: justly. God must be true to Himself. He is righteous, and therefore sin must be justly dealt with. But God is also love. In the atoning death of Christ we see God's perfect love and perfect justice meet in the broken body and poured out blood of Jesus.


Here is love, vast as the ocean; lovingkindness as a flood,
When the Prince of Life, our ransom, shed for us His precious blood.
Who, His love, will not remember? Who can cease to sing His praise?
He can never be forgotten throughout heavens eternal days.
On the mount of crucifixion fountains opened deep and wide,
Through the floodgates of God's mercy flowed a vast and gracious tide;
Grace and love like mighty rivers, poured incessant from above;
And heaven's peace and perfect justice, kissed a guilty world in love.

Let us learn the lessons of the cross. To all sinners everywhere: God loves you! Because of your sins you have incurred great wrath, but greater still is the grace of the Father for you. Look to Jesus Christ, and there you will see the Father’s redeeming love and unfathomable righteousness. He will not let anything go unjudged, and yet you can be saved! Oh what a mystery! Trust yourself to God to save you from God. Who but He can save you from Himself? "There is no God else beside me; a just God and a Savior; there is none beside me. Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else." (Isaiah 45:21-22) Simply believe in Him, and be forgiven and saved forever.


NEW AND ABUNDANT LIFE

Such is the awesome good news for homosexuals everywhere as it is in the Bible. Homosexuality is indeed sinful, but you do not need to stop being a homosexual in order to be saved; otherwise we would have to be consistent and say that you would have to stop being sinful entirely in order to be saved, which is impossible. We are not to arbitrarily draw lines and say that this sin or that sin must be stopped in order to qualify for God's grace. All sin is equally damnable in God’s sight, and therefore if we had to qualify for grace we would never obtain it, and moreover, grace would cease to be grace! Grace is receiving something that you do not work for nor deserve (Romans 4:4-5). It is the unmerited favor of God. If you have to be worthy of it, then it isn’t grace anymore.

So rather than be hypocrites and judge one another, we should rather build one another up in the grace of the Father. The Bible shows us that the grace of God not only saves our souls, but it also teaches us how to live in this life as people of grace. We are not saved by what we do, but what we do as Christians is inspired by the salvation we received through Christ. "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of our great God and our Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a special people, zealous for good works." (Titus 2:11-14) Thus the only appropriate response to the amazing salvation which we received from the Father is to seek to live our lives in a manner that is pleasing to Him. It is not that He will take salvation back from us if we don't; it is a matter of loving the Father because He first loved us. God's love for us is unconditional and unrelenting. But such wondrous love inspires within us a love for Him: how can we not fall in love with our God, who gave Himself for us? (If we do not, we are simply insensitive and do not know love when we see it!) When we love someone, we desire to do what pleases them. Since sin is displeasing to God, and was condemned at the cross, it is only right to put it away. We should be motivated, not out of fear, but out of love, and love is a powerful motivator. Let us remember that the Father will never take His grace away from us. Even when we sin as Christians, "there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Romans 8:1)

Therefore homosexuals who have believed in Jesus Christ should, out of love for God, and in the light of the grace of God, turn away from homosexuality. There is a new life to be lived. They should join the rest of the Christian community in together seeking to put away sin and to learn holiness and sanctification of heart and body. "For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor." (1 Thessalonians 4:3-4) This is the Father's will for His beloved children, and He will faithfully work in them both to will and to do according to His good pleasure. The Christian community is also there to help and love each another in the process. We are all sinners saved by grace, and many have gone through the same struggles. The Church is not a group of perfect people; just a group of forgiven people who know the Father and love Him and each other all because of grace. Because of grace, no one needs to hide anymore but may come into the light and experience real joy and peace in Jesus Christ!

It is vitally important that Christians begin to share the good news of salvation and new life with homosexuals, and stop judging them as if they were worse sinners than others. None of us stand before God by anything other than grace, and God only forgives any of us because of His Son. We need to learn to see people through the eyes of Christ, and realize that Christ is for the homosexual, not against them. He loves them and does not want them to perish, and salvation is extended to them the same way it is extended to us all: freely. Failure to see people this way sadly results in turning them away from the Father due to misrepresentation.

A word to homosexuals: Even though, to God, the pro-homosexual cause is sinful and should not be fought, there is hope and salvation for you in Jesus Christ. You do not need to find your identity in homosexuality; indeed you will not find it there. Discover your true identity as one who is created in God's image, who, though fallen by sin, is loved and redeemed by your Father in heaven. You do not need to throw your life away because you are a homosexual: you have a glorious hope and a future in Jesus Christ! God loves you so much! We can rejoice together in the truth that the Lord God Almighty loves us sinners and has done an amazing work of reconciliation through His Son at the cross. We can have peace knowing our sins are forgiven. We can have joy knowing that we have eternal life forever. And there is abundant life to be lived with God right now, lived in His amazing grace, as well as eternal life in the hereafter! All this is the free gift of the Father to you through Christ. This is definitely good news! Good news for all men, including homosexuals. You can receive this new life today. If you are still uncertain, ask questions and investigate the things I have written about. Read the words of Jesus and find out about this amazing salvation through God's grace. You will be surprised at what you find.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Romans 6:23)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

J. Gresham Machen - Doctrine

The following is from Machen's excellent book Christianity and Liberalism and is so very worth taking the time to read and ponder.

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Modern liberalism in the Church, whatever judgment may be passed upon it, is at any rate no longer merely an academic matter. It is no longer a matter merely of theological seminaries or universities. On the contrary its attack upon the fundamentals of the Christian faith is being carried on vigorously by Sunday-School ‘lesson-helps,’ by the pulpit, and by the religious press. If such an attack be unjustified, the remedy is not to be found, as some devout persons have suggested, in the abolition of theological seminaries, or the abandonment of scientific theology, but rather in a more earnest search after truth and a more loyal devotion to it when once it is found.

At the theological seminaries and universities, however, the roots of the great issue are more clearly seen than in the world at large; among students the reassuring employment of traditional phrases is often abandoned, and the advocates of a new religion are not at pains, as they are in the Church at large, to maintain an appearance of conformity with the past. But such frankness, we are convinced, ought to be extended to the people as a whole. Few desires on the part of religious teachers have been more harmfully exaggerated than the desire to ‘avoid giving offense.’ Only too often that desire has come perilously near dishonesty; the religious teacher, in his heart of hearts, is well aware of the radicalism of his views, but is unwilling to relinquish his place in the hallowed atmosphere of the Church by speaking his whole mind. Against all such policy of concealment or palliation, our sympathies are altogether with those men, whether radicals or conservatives, who have a passion for light.

What then, at bottom, when the traditional phrases have all been stripped away, is the real meaning of the present revolt against the fundamentals of the Christian faith? What, in brief, are the teachings of modern liberalism as over against the teachings of Christianity?

At the outset, we are met with an objection. ‘Teachings,’ it is said, ‘are unimportant; the exposition of the teachings of liberalism and the teachings of Christianity, therefore, can arouse no interest at the present day; creeds are merely the changing expression of a unitary Christian experience, and provided only theyexpress that experience they are all equally good. The teachings of liberalism, therefore, might be as far removed as possible from the teachings of historic Christianity, and yet the two might be at bottom the same.’

Such is the way in which expression is often given to the modern hostility to ‘doctrine.’ But is it really doctrine as such that is objected to, and not rather one particular doctrine in the interests of another? Undoubtedly, in many forms of liberalism it is the latter alternative which fits the case. There are doctrines of modern liberalism, just as tenaciously and intolerantly upheld as any doctrines that find a place in the historic creeds. Such for example are the liberal doctrines of the universal fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man. These doctrines are, as we shall see, contrary to the doctrines of the Christian religion. But doctrines they are all the same, and as such they require intellectual defence. In seeming to object to all theology, the liberal preacher is often merely objecting to one system of theology in the interests of another. And the desired immunity from theological controversy has not yet been attained.

Sometimes, however, the modern objection to doctrine is more seriously meant. And whether the objection be well-founded or not, the real meaning of it should at least be faced.

That meaning is perfectly plain. The objection involves an out-and-out skepticism. If all creeds are equally true, then since they are contradictory to one another, they are all equally false, or at least equally uncertain. We are indulging, therefore, in a mere juggling with words. To say that all creeds are equally true, and that they are based upon experience, is merely to fall back upon that agnosticism which fifty years ago was regarded as the deadliest enemy of the Church. The enemy has not really been changed into a friend merely because he has been received within the camp. Very different is the Christian conception of a creed. According to the Christian conception, a creed is not a mere expression of Christian experience, but on the contrary it is a setting forth of those facts upon which experience is based.

But, it will be said, Christianity is a life, not a doctrine. The assertion is often made, and it has an appearance of godliness. But it is radically false, and to detect its falsity one does not even need to be a Christian. For to say that ‘Christianity is a life’ is to make an assertion in the sphere of history. The assertion does not lie in the sphere of ideals; it is far different from saying that Christianity ought to be a life, or that the ideal religion is a life. The assertion that Christianity is a life issubject to historical investigation exactly as is the assertion that the Roman Empire under Nero was a free democracy. Possibly the Roman Empire under Nero would have been better if it had been a free democracy, but the historical question is simply whether as a matter of fact it was a free democracy or no. Christianity is an historical phenomenon, like the Roman Empire, or the Kingdom of Prussia, or the United States of America. And as an historical phenomenon it must be investigated on the basis of historical evidence.

Is it true, then, that Christianity is not a doctrine but a life? The question can be settled only by an examination of the beginnings of Christianity. Recognition of that fact does not involve any acceptance of Christian belief; it is merely a matter of common sense and common honesty. At the foundation of the life of every corporation is the incorporation paper, in which the objects of the corporation are set forth. Other objects may be vastly more desirable than those objects, but if the directors use the name and the resources of the corporation to pursue the other objects they are acting ultra vires of the corporation. So it is with Christianity. It is perfectly conceivable that the originators of the Christian movement had no right to legislate for subsequent generations i but at any rate they did have an inalienable right to legislate for all generations that should choose to bear the name of ‘Christian.’ It is conceivable that Christianity may now have to be abandoned, and another religion substituted for it; but at any rate the question what Christianity is can be determined only by an examination of the beginnings of Christianity.

The beginnings of Christianity constitute a fairly definite historical phenomenon. The Christian movement originated a few days after the death of Jesus of Nazareth. It is doubtful whether anything that preceded the death of Jesus can be called Christianity. At any rate, if Christianity existed before that event, it was Christianity only in a preliminary stage. The name originated after the death of Jesus, and the thing itself was also something new. Evidently there was an important new beginning among the disciples of Jesus in Jerusalem after the crucifixion. At that time is to be placed the beginning of the remarkable movement which spread out from Jerusalem into the Gentile world—the movement which is called Christianity.

About the early stages of this movement definite historical information has been preserved in the Epistles of Paul, which are regarded by all serious historians as genuine products of the first Christian generation. The writer of the Epistles had been in direct communication with those intimate friends of Jesus who had begun the Christian movement in Jerusalem, and in the Epistles he makes it abundantly plain what the fundamental character of the movement was. But if any one fact is clear, on the basis of this evidence, it is that the Christian movement at its inception was not just a way of life in the modern sense, but a way of life founded upon a message. It was based, not upon mere feeling, not upon a mere program of work, but upon an account of facts. In other words it was based upon doctrine.

Certainly with regard to Paul himself there should be no debate; Paul certainly was not indifferent to doctrine; on the contrary, doctrine was the very basis of his life. His devotion to doctrine did not, it is true, make him incapable of a magnificent tolerance. One notable example of such tolerance is to be found during his imprisonment at Rome, as attested by the Epistle to the Philippians. Apparently certain Christian teachers at Rome had been jealous of Paul’s greatness. As long as he had been at liberty they had been obliged to take a secondary place; but now that he was in prison, they seized the supremacy. They sought to raise up affliction for Paul in his bonds; they preached Christ even of envy and strife. In short, the rival preachers made of the preaching of the gospel a means to the gratification of low personal ambition; it seems to have been about as mean a piece of business as could well be conceived. But Paul was not disturbed. ‘Whether in presence, or in truth,’ he said, ‘Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice’ (Phil. i. 18). The way in which the preaching was being carried on was wrong, but the message itself was true; and Paul was far more interested in the content of the message than in the manner of its presentation. It is impossible to conceive a finer piece of broad-minded tolerance.

But the tolerance of Paul was not indiscriminate. He displayed no tolerance, for example, in Galatia. There, too, there were rival preachers. But Paul had no tolerance for them. ‘But though we,’ he said, ‘or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed’ (Gal. i. 8). What is the reason for the difference in the apostle’s attitudein the two cases? What is the reason for the broad tolerance in Rome, and the fierce anathemas in Galatia? The answer is perfectly plain. In Rome, Paul was tolerant, because there the content of the message that was being proclaimed by the rival teachers was true; in Galatia he was intolerant, because there the content of the rival message was false. In neither case did personalities have anything to do with Paul’s attitude. No doubt the motives of the Judaizers in Galatia were far from pure, and in an incidental way Paul does point out their impurity. But that was not the ground of his opposition. The Judaizers no doubt were morally far from perfect, but Paul’s opposition to them would have been exactly the same if they had all been angels from heaven. His opposition was based altogether upon the falsity of their teaching; they were substituting for the one true gospel a false gospel which was no gospel at all. It never occurred to Paul that a gospel might be true for one man and not for another; the blight of pragmatism had never fallen upon his soul. Paul was convinced of the objective truth of the gospel message, and devotion to that truth was the great passion of his life.

Christianity for Paul was not only a life, but also a doctrine, and logically the doctrine came first.

But what was the difference between the teaching of Paul and the teaching of the Judaizers ? What was it that gave rise to the stupendous polemic of the Epistle to the Galatians? To the modern Church the difference would have seemed to be a mere theological subtlety. About many things the Judaizers were in perfect agreement with Paul. The Judaizers believed that Jesus was the Messiah; there is not a shadow of evidence that they objected to Paul’s lofty view of the person of Christ. Without the slightest doubt, they believed that Jesus had really risen from the dead. They believed, moreover, that faith in Christ was necessary to salvation. But the trouble was, they believed that something else was also necessary; they believed that what Christ had done needed to be pieced out by the believer’s own effort to keep the Law. From the modern point of view the difference would have seemed to be very slight. Paul as well as the Judaizers believed that the keeping of the law of God, in its deepest import, is inseparably connected with faith. The difference concerned only the logical—not even, perhaps, the temporal—order of three steps. Paul said that a man (1) first believes on Christ, (2) then is justified before God, (3) then immediately proceeds to keep God’s law. The Judaizers said that a man (1) believes on Christ and (2) keeps the law of God the best he can, and then (3) is justified. The difference would seem to modern ‘practical’ Christians to be a highly subtle and intangible matter, hardly worthy of consideration at all in view of the large measure of agreement in the practical realm. What a splendid cleaning up of the Gentile cities it would have been if the Judaizers had succeeded in extending to those cities the observance of the Mosaic law, even including the unfortunate ceremonial observances! Surely Paul ought to have made common cause with teachers who were so nearly in agreement with him; surely he ought to have applied to them the great principle of Christian unity.

As a matter of fact, however, Paul did nothing of the kind; and only because he (and others) did nothing of the kind does the Christian Church exist today. Paul saw very clearly that the differences between the Judaizers and himself was the differences between two entirely distinct types of religion; it was the differences between a religion of merit and a religion of grace. If Christ provides only a part of our salvation, leaving us to provide the rest, then we are still hopeless under the load of sin. For no matter how small the gap which must be bridged before salvation can be attained, the awakened conscience sees clearly that our wretched attempt at goodness is insufficient even to bridge that gap. The guilty soul enters again into the hopeless reckoning with God, to determine whether we have really done our part. And thus we groan again under the old bondage of the law. Such an attempt to piece out the work of Christ by our own merit, Paul saw clearly, is the very essence of unbelief; Christ will do everything or nothing, and the only hope is to throw ourselves unreservedly on His mercy and trust Him for all.

Paul certainly was right. The differences which divided him from the Judaizers was no mere theological subtlety, but concerned the very heart and core of the religion of Christ. ‘Just as I am without one plea, But that Thy blood was shed for me’— that was what Paul was contending for in Galatia; that hymn would never have been written if the Judaizers had won. And without the thing which that hymn expresses there is no Christianity at all.

Certainly, then, Paul was no advocate of an undogmatic religion; he was interestedabove everything else in the objective and universal truth of his message. So much will probably be admitted by serious historians, no matter what their own personal attitude toward the religion of Paul may be. Sometimes, indeed, the modern liberal preacher seeks to produce an opposite impression by quoting out of their context words of Paul which he interprets in a way as far removed as possible from the original sense. The truth is, it is hard to give Paul up. The modern liberal desires to produce upon the minds of simple Christians (and upon his own mind) the impression of some sort of continuity between modern liberalism and the thought and life of the great Apostle. But such an impression is altogether misleading. Paul was not interested merely in the ethical principles of Jesus; he was not interested merely in general principles of religion or of ethics. On the contrary, he was interested in the redeeming work of Christ and its effect upon us. His primary interest was in Christian doctrine, and Christian doctrine not merely in its presuppositions but at its center. If Christianity is to be made independent of doctrine, then Paulinism must be removed from Christianity root and branch.

But what of that? Some men are not afraid of the conclusion. If Paulinism must be removed, they say, we can get along without it. May it not turn out that in introducing a doctrinal element into the life of the Church Paul was only perverting a primitive Christianity which was as independent of doctrine as even the modern liberal preacher could desire?

This suggestion is clearly overruled by the historical evidence. The problem certainly cannot be solved in so easy a way. Many attempts have indeed been made to separate the religion of Paul sharply from that of the primitive Jerusalem Church; many attempts have been made to show that Paul introduced an entirely new principle into the Christian movement or even was the founder of a new religion. But all such attempts have resulted in failure. The Pauline Epistles themselves attest a fundamental unity of principle between Paul and the original companions of Jesus, and the whole early history of the Church becomes unintelligible except on the basis of such unity. Certainly with regard to the fundamentally doctrinal character of Christianity Paul was no innovator. The fact appears in the whole character of Paul’s relationship to the Jerusalem Church as it is attested by the Epistles, and it also appears with startling clearness in the precious passage in 1 Cor. xv. 3-7, where Paul summarizes the tradition which he had received from the primitive Church. What is it that forms the content of that primitive teaching? Is it a general principle of the fatherliness of God or the brotherliness of man? Is it a vague admiration for the character of Jesus such as that which prevails in the modern Church? Nothing could be further from the fact. ‘Christ died for our sins,’ said the primitive disciples, ‘according to the Scriptures; he was buried; he has been raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.’ From the beginning, the Christian gospel, as indeed the name ‘gospel’ or ‘good news’ implies, consisted in an account of something that had happened. And from the beginning, the meaning of the happening was set forth; and when the meaning of the happening was set forth then there was Christian doctrine. ‘Christ died’—that is history; ‘Christ died for our sins’—that is doctrine. Without these two elements, joined in an absolutely indissoluble union, there is no Christianity.

It is perfectly clear, then, that the first Christian missionaries did not simply come forward with an exhortation they did not say: ‘Jesus of Nazareth lived a wonderful life of filial piety, and we call upon you our hearers to yield yourselves, as we have done, to the spell of that life.’ Certainly that is what modern historians would have expected the first Christian missionaries to say, but it must be recognized that as a matter of fact they said nothing of the kind. Conceivably the first disciples of Jesus, after the catastrophe of His death, might have engaged in quiet meditation upon His teaching. They might have said to themselves that ‘Our Father which art in heaven’ was a good way of addressing God even though the One who had taught them that prayer was dead. They might have clung to the ethical principles of Jesus and cherished the vague hope that the One who enunciated such principles had some personal existence beyond the grave. Such redactions might have seemed very natural to the modern man. But to Peter, James and John they certainly never occurred. Jesus had raised in them high hopes; those hopes were destroyed by the Cross; and reflections on the general principles of religion and ethics were quite powerless to revive the hopes again. The disciples of Jesus had evidently been far inferior to their Master in every possible way; they had not understood His lofty spiritual teaching, but even in the hour of solemn crisis had quarreled over great places in the approaching Kingdom. What hope was there that such men could succeed where their Master had failed? Even when Hehad been with them, they had been powerless; and now that He was taken from them, what little power they may have had was gone.

Yet those same weak, discouraged men, within a few days after the death of their Master, instituted the most important spiritual movement that the world has ever seen. What had produced the astonishing change? What had transformed the weak and cowardly disciples into the spiritual conquerors of the world? Evidently it was not the mere memory of Jesus’ life, for that was a source of sadness rather than of joy. Evidently the disciples of Jesus, within the few days between the crucifixion and the beginning of their work in Jerusalem, had received some new equipment for their task. What that new equipment was, at least the outstanding and external element in it (to say nothing of the endowment which Christian men believe to have been received at Pentecost), is perfectly plain. The great weapon with which the disciples of Jesus set out to conquer the world was not a mere comprehension of eternal principles; it was an historical message, an account of something that had recently happened, it was the message, ‘

But the message of the resurrection was not isolated. It was connected with the death of Jesus, seen now to be not a failure but a triumphant act of divine grace; it was connected with the entire appearance of Jesus upon earth. The coming of Jesus was understood now as an act of God by which sinful men were saved. The primitive Church was concerned not merely with what Jesus had said, but also, and primarily, with what Jesus had done. The world was to be redeemed through the proclamation of an event. And with the event went the meaning of the event; and the setting forth of the event with the meaning of the event was doctrine. These two elements are always combined in the Christian message. The narration of the facts is history; the narration of the facts with the meaning of the facts is doctrine. ‘Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried’—that is history. ‘He loved me and gave Himself for me’—that is doctrine. Such was the Christianity of the primitive Church.

‘But,’ it may be said, ‘even if the Christianity of the primitive Church was dependent upon doctrine, we may still emancipate ourselves from such dependence; we may appeal from the primitive Church to Jesus Himself. It has already been admitted that if doctrine is to be abandoned Paul must be abandoned:it may now be admitted that if doctrine is to be abandoned, even the primitive Jerusalem Church, with its message of the resurrection, must be abandoned. But possibly we can still find in Jesus Himself the simple, non-doctrinal religion that we desire.’ Such is the real meaning of the modern slogan, ‘Back to Christ.’

Must we really take such a step as that? It would certainly be an extraordinary step. A great religion derived its power from the message of the redeeming work of Christ; without that message Jesus and His disciples would soon have been forgotten. The same message, with its implications, has been the very heart and soul of the Christian movement throughout the centuries. Yet we are now asked to believe that the thing that has given Christianity its power all through the centuries was a blunder, that the originators of the movement misunderstood radically the meaning of their Master’s life and work, and that it has been left to us moderns to get the first inkling of the initial mistake. Even if this view of the case were correct, and even if Jesus Himself taught a religion like that of modern liberalism, it would still be doubtful whether such a religion could rightly be called Christianity; for the name Christian was first applied only after the supposed decisive change had taken place, and it is very doubtful whether a name which through nineteen centuries has been so firmly attached to one religion ought now suddenly to be applied to another. If the first disciples of Jesus really departed so radically from their Master, then the better terminology would probably lead us to say simply that Jesus was not the founder of Christianity, but of a simple, non-doctrinal religion, long forgotten, but now rediscovered by modern men. Even so, the contrast between liberalism and Christianity would still appear.

But as a matter of fact, such a strange state of affairs does not prevail at all. It is not true that in basing Christianity upon an event the disciples of Jesus were departing from the teaching of their Master. For certainly Jesus Himself did the same thing. Jesus did not content Himself with enunciating general principles of religion and ethics; the picture of Jesus as a sage similar to Confucius, uttering wise maxims about conduct, may satisfy Mr. H. G.Wells, as he trips along lightly over the problems of history, but it disappears so soon as one engages seriously in historical research. ‘Repent,’ said Jesus, ‘for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.’ The gospel which Jesus proclaimed in Galilee consisted in the proclamation of a coming Kingdom. But clearly Jesus regarded the coming of the Kingdom as an event, or as a series of events. No doubt He also regarded the Kingdom as a present reality in the souls of men; no doubt He represented the Kingdom in one sense as already present. We shall not really succeed in getting along without this aspect of the matter in our interpretation of Jesus’ words. But we shall also not get along without the other aspect, according to which the coming of the Kingdom depended upon definite and catastrophic events. But if Jesus regarded the coming of the Kingdom as dependent upon a definite event, then His teaching was similar at the decisive point to that of the primitive Church; neither He nor the primitive Church enunciated merely general and permanent principles of religion; both of them, on the contrary, made the message depend upon something that happened. Only, in the teaching of Jesus the happening was represented as being still in the future, while in that of the Jerusalem Church the first act of it at least lay already in the past. Jesus proclaimed the event as coming; the disciples proclaimed part of it at least as already past; but the important thing is that both Jesus and the disciples did proclaim an event. Jesus was certainly not a mere enunciator of permanent truths, like the modern liberal preacher; on the contrary He was conscious of standing at the turning-point of the ages, when what had never been was now to come to be.

But Jesus announced not only an event; He announced also the meaning of the event. It is natural, indeed, that the full meaning could be made clear only after the event had taken place. If Jesus really came, then, to announce, and to bring about, an event, the disciples were not departing from His purpose, if they set forth the meaning of the event more fully than it could be set forth during the preliminary period constituted by the earthly ministry of their Master. But Jesus Himself, though by way of prophecy, did set forth the meaning of the great happening that was to be at the basis of the new era.

Certainly He did so, and grandly, if the words attributed to Him in all of the Gospels are really His. But even if the Fourth Gospel be rejected, and even if the most radical criticism be applied to the other three, it will still be impossible to get rid of this element in Jesus’ teaching. The significant words attributed to Jesus atthe Last Supper with regard to His approaching death, and the utterance of Jesus in Mk. x. 45 (‘The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many’), have indeed been the subject of vigorous debate. It is difficult to accept such words as authentic and yet maintain the modern view of Jesus at all. Yet it is also difficult to get rid of them on any critical theory. What we are now concerned with, however, is something more general than the authenticity even of these precious words. What we are now concerned to observe is that Jesus certainly did not content Himself with the enunciation of permanent moral principles; He certainly did announce an approaching event; and He certainly did not announce the event without giving some account of its meaning. But when He gave an account of the meaning of the event, no matter how brief that account may have been, He was overstepping the line that separates an undogmatic religion, or even a dogmatic religion that teaches only eternal principles, from one that is rooted in the significance of definite historical facts; He was placing a great gulf between Himself and the philosophic modern liberalism which today incorrectly bears His name.

In another way also the teaching of Jesus was rooted in doctrine. It was rooted in doctrine because it depended upon a stupendous presentation of Jesus’ own Person. The assertion is often made, indeed, that Jesus kept His own Person out of His gospel, and came forward merely as the supreme prophet of God. That assertion lies at the very root of the modern liberal conception of the life of Christ. But common as it is, it is radically false. And it is interesting to observe how the liberal historians themselves, so soon as they begin to deal seriously with the sources, are obliged to admit that the real Jesus was not all that they could have liked Jesus to be. A Houston Stewart Chamberlain,1 indeed, can construct a Jesus who was the advocate of a pure, ‘formless,’ non-doctrinal religion; but trained historians, despite their own desires, are obliged to admit that there was an element in the real Jesus which refuses to be pressed into any such mold. There is to the liberal historians, as Heitmuller has significantly said, ‘something almost uncanny’ about Jesus.

This ‘uncanny’ element in Jesus is found in His Messianic consciousness. The strange fact is that this pure teacher of righteousness appealed to by modern liberalism, this classical exponent of the non-doctrinal religion which is supposed to underlie all the historical religions as the irreducible truth remaining after the doctrinal accretions have been removed—the strange fact is that this supreme revealer of eternal truth supposed that He was to be the chief actor in a world catastrophe and was to sit in judgment upon the whole earth. Such is the stupendous form in which Jesus applied to Himself the category of Messiahship.

It is interesting to observe how modern men have dealt with the Messianic consciousness of Jesus. Some, like Mr. H. G. Wells, have practically ignored it. Without discussing the question whether it be historical or not they have practically treated it as though it did not exist, and have not allowed it to disturb them at all in their construction of the sage of Nazareth. The Jesus thus reconstructed may be useful as investing modern programs with the sanctity of His hallowed name; Mr. Wells may find it edifying to associate Jesus with Confucius in a brotherhood of beneficent vagueness. But what ought to be clearly understood is that such a Jesus has nothing to do with history. He is a purely imaginary figure, a symbol and not a fact.

Others, more seriously, have recognized the existence of the problem, but have sought to avoid it by denying that Jesus ever thought that He was the Messiah, and by supporting their denial, not by mere assertions, but by a critical examination of the sources. Such was the effort, for example, of W. Wrede, and a brilliant effort it was. But it has resulted in failure. The Messianic consciousness of Jesus is not merely rooted in the sources considered as documents, but it lies at the very basis of the whole edifice of the Church. If, as J. Weiss has pertinently said, the disciples before the crucifixion had merely been told that the Kingdom of God was coming, if Jesus had really kept altogether in the background His own part in the Kingdom, then why when despair finally gave place to joy did the disciples not merely say, ‘Despite Jesus’ death, the Kingdom that He foretold will truly come’? Why did they say rather, ‘Despite His death, He is the Messiah’? From no point of view, then, can the fact be denied that Jesus did claim to be the Messiah—neither from the point of view of acceptance of the Gospel witness as a whole, nor from the point of view of modernnaturalism.

And when the Gospel account of Jesus is considered closely, it is found to involve the Messianic consciousness throughout. Even those parts of the Gospels which have been regarded as most purely ethical are found to be based altogether upon Jesus’ lofty claims. The Sermon on the Mount is a striking example. It is the fashion now to place the Sermon on the Mount in contrast with the rest of the New Testament. ‘We will have nothing to do with theology,’ men say in effect, ‘we will have nothing to do with miracles, with atonement, or with heaven or with hell. For us the Golden Rule is a sufficient guide of life; in the simple principles of the Sermon on the Mount we discover a solution of all the problems of society.’ It is indeed rather strange that men can speak in this way. Certainly it is rather derogatory to Jesus to assert that never except in one brief part of His recorded words did He say anything that is worth while. But even in the Sermon on the Mount there is far more than some men suppose. Men say that it contains no theology) in reality it contains theology of the most stupendous kind. In particular, it contains the loftiest possible presentation of Jesus’ own Person. That presentation appears in the strange note of authority which pervades the whole discourse; it appears in the recurrent words, ‘But I say unto you.’ Jesus plainly puts His own words on an equality with what He certainly regarded as the divine words of Scripture; He claimed the right to legislate for the Kingdom of God. Let it not be objected that this note of authority involves merely a prophetic consciousness in Jesus, a mere right to speak in God’s name as God’s Spirit might lead. For what prophet ever spoke in this way? The prophets said, ‘Thus saith the Lord,’ but Jesus said, ‘I say.’ We have no mere prophet here, no mere humble exponent of the will of God; but a stupendous Person speaking in a manner which for any other person would be abominable and absurd. The same thing appears in the passage Matt. vii. 21-23: ‘Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord, shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many shall say to me in that day: Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name cast out demons, and in thy name done many mighty works? And then I shall confess to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work lawlessness.” This passage is in some respects a favorite with modern liberal teachers; for it is interpreted—falsely, it is true, yet plausibly—as meaning thatall that a man needs to attain standing with God is an approximately right performance of his duties to his fellow-men, and not any assent to a creed or even any direct relation to Jesus. But have those who quote the passage 80 triumphantly in this way ever stopped to reflect upon the other side of the picture—upon the stupendous fact that in this same passage the eternal destinies of men are made dependent upon the word of Jesus ? Jesus here represents Himself as seated on the judgment-seat of all the earth, separating whom He will forever from the bliss that is involved in being present with Him. Could anything be further removed than such a Jesus from the humble teacher of righteousness appealed to by modern liberalism? Clearly it is impossible to escape from theology, even in the chosen precincts of the Sermon on the Mount. A stupendous theology, with Jesus’ own Person at the center of it, is the presupposition of the whole teaching.

But may not that theology still be removed? May we not get rid of the bizarre, theological element which has intruded itself even into the Sermon on the Mount, and content ourselves merely with the ethical portion of the discourse? The question, from the point of view of modern liberalism, is natural. But it must be answered with an emphatic negative. For the fact is that the ethic of the discourse, taken by itself, will not work at all. The Golden Rule furnishes an example. ‘Do unto others as you would have others do unto you’—is that rule a rule of universal application, will it really solve all the problems of society? A little experience shows that such is not the case. Help a drunkard to get rid of his evil habit, and you will soon come to distrust the modern interpretation of the Golden Rule. The trouble is that the drunkard’s companions apply the rule only too well; they do unto him exactly what they would have him do unto them —by buying him a drink. The Golden Rule becomes a powerful obstacle in the way of moral advance. But the trouble does not lie in the rule itself; it lies in the modern interpretation of the rule. The error consists in supposing that the Golden Rule, with the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, is addressed to the whole world. As a matter of fact the whole discourse is expressly addressed to Jesus’ disciples; and from them the great world outside is distinguished in the plainest possible way. The persons to whom the Golden Ruleis addressed are persons in whom a great change has been wrought—a change which fits them for entrance into the Kingdom of God. Such persons will have pure desires; they, and they only, can safely do unto others as they would have others do unto them, for the things that they would have others do unto them are high and pure.

So it is with the whole of the discourse. The new law of the Sermon on the Mount, in itself, can only produce despair. Strange indeed is the complacency with which modern men can say that the Golden Rule and the high ethical principles of Jesus are all that they need. In reality, if the requirements for entrance into the Kingdom of God are what Jesus declares them to be, we are all undone; we have not even attained to the external righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, and how shall we attain to that righteousness of the heart which Jesus demands ? The Sermon on the Mount, rightly interpreted, then, makes man a seeker after some divine means of salvation by which entrance into the Kingdom can be obtained. Even Moses was too high for us; but before this higher law of Jesus who shall stand without being condemned? The Sermon on the Mount, like all the rest of the New Testament, really leads a man straight to the foot of the Cross.

Even the disciples, to whom the teaching of Jesus was first addressed, knew well that they needed more than guidance in the way that they should go. It is only a superficial reading of the Gospels that can find in the relation which the disciples sustained to Jesus a mere relation of pupil to Master. When Jesus said, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,’ he was speaking not as a philosopher calling pupils to his school) but as One who was in possession of rich stores of divine grace. And this much at least the disciples knew. They knew well in their heart of hearts that they had no right to stand in the Kingdom; they knew that only Jesus could win them entrance there. They did not yet know fully how Jesus could make them children of God; but they did know that He could do it and He alone. And in that trust all the theology of the great Christian creeds was in expectation contained.

At this point, an objection may arise. May we not—the modern liberal will say— may we not now return to that simple trust of the disciples? May we not cease to ask how Jesus saves; may we not simply leave the way to Him? What need is there, then, of defining ‘effectual calling,’ what need of enumerating ‘justification, adoption and sanctification and the several benefits which in this life do eitheraccompany or flow from them’? What need even of rehearsing the steps in the saving work of Christ as they were rehearsed by the Jerusalem Church; what need of saying that ‘Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he has been raised on the third day according to the Scriptures’? Should not our trust be in a Person rather than in a message; in Jesus, rather than in what Jesus did; in Jesus’ character rather than in Jesus’ death?

Plausible words these are—plausible, and pitifully vain. Can we really return to Galilee; are we really in the same situation as those who came to Jesus when He was on earth? Can we hear Him say to us, ‘Thy sins are forgiven thee’? These are serious questions, and they cannot possibly be ignored. The plain fact is that Jesus of Nazareth died these nineteen hundred years ago. It was possible for the men of Galilee in the first century to trust Him; for to them He extended His aid. For them, life’s problem was easy. They needed only to push in through the crowd or be lowered through some Capernaum roof and the long search was over. But we are separated by nineteen centuries from the One who alone could give us aid. How can we bridge the gulf of time that separates us from Jesus?

Some persons would bridge the gulf by the mere use of the historical imagination. ‘Jesus is not dead,’ we are told, ‘but lives on through His recorded words and deeds; we do not need even to believe it all; even a part is sufficient; the wonderful personality of Jesus shines out clear from the Gospel story. Jesus, in other words, may still be known; let us simply—without theology, without controversy, without inquiry about miracles—abandon ourselves to His spell, and He will heal us.’

There is a certain plausibility about that. It may readily be admitted that Jesus lives on in the Gospel record. In that narrative we see not merely a lifeless picture, but receive the impression of a living Person. We can still, as we read, share the astonishment of those who listened to the new teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum. We can sympathize with the faith and devotion of the little band of disciples who would not leave Him when others were offended at the hard saying. We feel a sympathetic thrill of joy at the blessed relief which was given to those who were ill in body and in mind. We can appreciate the wonderful love and compassion of Him who was sent to seek and to save that which was lost. A wonderful story it is indeed—not dead, but pulsating with life at every turn.

Certainly the Jesus of the Gospels is a real, a living Person. But that is not the only question. We are going forward far too fast. Jesus lives in the Gospels—so much may freely be admitted—but we of the twentieth century, how may we come into vital relation to Him? He died nineteen hundred years ago. The life which He now lives in the Gospels is simply the old life lived over and over again. And in that life we have no place; in that life we are spectators, not actors. The life which Jesus lives in the Gospels is after all for us but the spurious life of the stage. We sit silent in the playhouse and watch the absorbing Gospel drama of forgiveness and healing and love and courage and high endeavor; in rapt attention we follow the fortunes of those who came to Jesus laboring and heavy laden and found rest. For a time our own troubles are forgotten. But suddenly the curtain falls, with the closing of the book, and out we go again into the cold humdrum of our own lives. Gone are the warmth and gladness of an ideal world, and ‘in their stead a sense of real things comes doubly strong.’ We are no longer living over again the lives of Peter and James and John. Alas, we are living our own lives once more, with our own problems and our own misery and our own sin. And still we are seeking our own Savior.

Let us not deceive ourselves. A Jewish teacher of the first century can never satisfy the longing of our souls. Clothe Him with all the art of modern research, throw upon Him the warm, deceptive calcium-light of modern sentimentality; and despite it all common sense will come to its rights again, and for our brief hour of self-deception— as though we had been with Jesus—will wreak upon us the revenge of hopeless disillusionment.

But, says the modern preacher, are we not, in being satisfied with the ‘historical’ Jesus, the great teacher who proclaimed the Kingdom of God, merely restoring the simplicity of the primitive gospel? No, we answer, you are not, but, temporally at least, you are not so very far wrong. You are really returning to a very primitive stage in the life of the Church. Only, that stage is not the Galilean springtime. For in Galilee men had a living Savior. There was one time and one time only when the disciples lived, like you, merely on the memory of Jesus. When was it? It was a gloomy, desperate time. It was the three sad days after the crucifixion. Then and then only did Jesus’ disciples regard Him merely as a blessed memory. ‘Wetrusted,’ they said, ‘that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel.’ ‘We trusted’—but now our trust is gone. Shall we remain, with modern liberalism, forever in the gloom of those sad days? Or shall we pass out from it to the warmth and joy of Pentecost?

Certainly we shall remain forever in the gloom if we attend merely to the character of Jesus and neglect the thing that He has done, if we try to attend to the Person and neglect the message. We may have joy for sadness and power for weakness; but not by easy half-way measures, not by avoidance of controversy, not by trying to hold on to Jesus and yet reject the gospel. What was it that within a few days transformed a band of mourners into the spiritual conquerors of the world? It was not the memory of Jesus’ life; it was not the inspiration which came from past contact with Him. But it was the message, ‘He is risen.’ That message alone gave to the disciples a living Savior i and it alone can give to us a living Savior today. We shall never have vital contact with Jesus if we attend to His person and neglect the message; for it is the message which makes Him ours.

But the Christian message contains more than the fact of the resurrection. It is not enough to know that Jesus is alive; it is not enough to know that a wonderful Person lived in the first century of the Christian era and that Person still lives, somewhere and somehow, today. Jesus lives, and that is well; but what good is it to us ? We are like the inhabitants of far-off Syria or Phoenicia in the days of His flesh. There is a wonderful Person who can heal every ill of body and mind. But, alas, we are not with Him, and the way is far. How shall we come into His presence? How shall contact be established between us and Him? For the people of ancient Galilee contact was established by a touch of Jesus’ hand or a word from His lips. But for us the problem is not so easy. We cannot find Him by the lake shore or in crowded houses; we cannot be lowered into any room where He sits amid scribes and Pharisees. If we employ only our own methods of search, we shall find ourselves on a fruitless pilgrimage. Surely we need guidance, if we are to find our Savior.

And in the New Testament we find guidance full and free—guidance so complete as to remove all doubt, yet so simple that a child can understand. Contact with Jesus according to the New Testament is established by what Jesus does, not for others, but for us. The account of what Jesus did for others is indeed necessary. Byreading how He went about doing good, how He healed the sick and raised the dead and forgave sins, we learn that He is a Person who is worthy of trust. But such knowledge is to the Christian man not an end in itself, but a means to an end. It is not enough to know that Jesus is a Person worthy of trust; it is also necessary to know that He is willing to have us trust Him. It is not enough that He saved others; we need to know also that He has saved us. That knowledge is given in the story of the Cross. For us Jesus does not merely place His fingers in the ears and say, ‘Be opened”; for us He does not merely say ‘Arise and walk.’ For us He has done a greater thing—for us He died. Our dreadful guilt, the condemnation of God’s law—it was wiped out by an act of grace. That is the message which brings Jesus near to us, and makes Him not merely the Savior of the men of Galilee long ago, but the Savior of you and me.

It is vain, then, to speak of reposing trust in the Person without believing the message. For trust involves a personal relation between the one who trusts and him in whom the trust is reposed. And in this case the personal relation is set up by the blessed theology of the Cross. Without the eighth chapter of Romans, the mere story of the earthly life of Jesus would be remote and dead; for it is through the eighth chapter of Romans, or the message which that chapter contains, that Jesus becomes our Savior today.

The truth is that when men speak of trust in Jesus’ Person, as being possible without acceptance of the message of His death and resurrection, they do not really mean trust at all. What they designate as trust is really admiration or reverence. They reverence Jesus as the supreme Person of all history and the supreme revealer of God. But trust can come only when the supreme Person extends His saving power to us. ‘He went about doing good,’ ‘He spake words such as never man spake,’ ‘He is the express image of God’—that is reverence; ‘He loved me and gave Himself for me’—that is faith.

But the words ‘He loved me and gave Himself for me’ are in historical form; they constitute an account of something that happened. And they add to the fact the meaning of the fact; they contain in essence the whole profound theology of redemption through the blood of Christ. Christian doctrine lies at the very roots of faith. It must be admitted, then, that if we are to have a nondoctrinal religion, or a doctrinal religion founded merely on general truth, we must give up not only Paul, not only the primitive Jerusalem Church, but also Jesus Himself. But what is meant by doctrine? It has been interpreted here as meaning any presentation of the facts which lie at the basis of the Christian religion with the true meaning of the facts. But is that the only sense of the word? May the word not also be taken in a narrower sense? May it not also mean a systematic and minute and one-sidedly scientific presentation of the facts? And if the word is taken in this narrower sense, may not the modern objection to doctrine involve merely an objection to the excessive subtlety of controversial theology, and not at all an objection to the glowing words of the New Testament, an objection to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and not at all to the first century? Undoubtedly the word is so taken by many occupants of the pews when they listen to the modern exaltation of ‘life’ at the expense of ‘doctrine.’ The pious hearer labors under the impression that he is merely being asked to return to the simplicity of the New Testament, instead of attending to the subtleties of the theologians. Since it has never occurred to him to attend to the subtleties of the theologians, he has that comfortable feeling which always comes to the churchgoer when some one else’s sins are being attacked. It is no wonder that the modern invectives against doctrine constitute a popular type of preaching. At any rate, an attack upon Calvin or Turrettin or the Westminster divines does not seem to the modern churchgoer to be a very dangerous thing. In point of fact, however, the attack upon doctrine is not nearly so innocent a matter as our simple churchgoer supposes; for the things Objected to in the theology of the Church are also at the very heart of the New Testament. Ultimately the attack is not against the seventeenth century, but against the Bible and against Jesus Himself.

Even if it were an attack not upon the Bible but only upon the great historic presentations of Biblical teaching, it would still be unfortunate. If the Church were led to wipe out of existence all products of the thinking of nineteen Christian centuries and start fresh, the loss, even if the Bible were retained, would be immense. When it is once admitted that a body of facts lies at the basis of the Christian religion, the efforts which past generations have made toward the classification of the facts will have to be treated with respect. In no branch ofscience would there be any real advance if every generation started fresh with no dependence upon what past generations have achieved. Yet in theology, vituperation of the past seems to be thought essential to progress. And upon what base slanders the vituperation is based! After listening to modern tirades against the great creeds of the Church, one receives rather a shock when one turns to the Westminster Confession, for example, or to that tenderest and most theological of books, the ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ of John Bunyan, and discovers that in doing so one has turned from shallow modern phrases to a ‘dead orthodoxy’ that is pulsating with life in every word. In such orthodoxy there is life enough to set the whole world aglow with Christian love.

As a matter of fact, however, in the modern vituperation of ‘doctrine,’ it is not merely the great theologians or the great creeds that are being attacked, but the New Testament and our Lord Himself. In rejecting doctrine, the liberal preacher is rejecting the simple words of Paul’ ‘Who loved me and gave Himself for me,’ just as much as the homoousion of the Nicene Creed. For the word ‘doctrine’ is really used not in its narrowest, but in its broadest sense. The liberal preacher is really rejecting the whole basis of Christianity, which is a religion founded not on aspirations, but on facts. Here is found the most fundamental difference between liberalism and Christianity—liberalism is altogether in the imperative mood, while Christianity begins with a triumphant indicative; liberalism appeals to man’s will, while Christianity announces, first, a gracious act of God.

In maintaining the doctrinal basis of Christianity, we are particularly anxious not to be misunderstood. There are certain things that we do not mean.

In the first place, we do not mean that if doctrine is sound it makes no difference about life. On the contrary, it makes all the difference in the world. From the beginning, Christianity was certainly a way of life; the salvation that it offered was a salvation from sin, and salvation from sin appeared not merely in a blessed hope but also in an immediate moral change. The early Christians, to the astonishment of their neighbors, lived a strange new kind of life—a life of honesty, of purity and of unselfishness. And from the Christian community all other types of life were excluded in the strictest way. From the beginning Christianity was certainly a life.

But how was the life produced? It might conceivably have been produced by exhortation. That method had often been tried in the ancient world; in the Hellenistic age there were many wandering preachers who told men how theyought to live. But such exhortation proved to be powerless. Although the ideals of the Cynic and Stoic preachers were high, these preachers never succeeded ._ transforming society. The strange thing about Christianity was that it adopted an entirely different method. It transformed the lives of men not by appealing to the human will, but by telling a story; not by exhortation, but by the narration of an event. It is no wonder that such a method seemed strange. Could anything be more impractical than the attempt to influence conduct by rehearsing events concerning the death of a religious teacher? That is what Paul called ‘the foolishness of the message.’ It seemed foolish to the ancient world, and it seems foolish to liberal preachers today. But the strange thing is that it works. The effects of it appear even in this world. Where the most eloquent exhortation fails, the simple story of an event succeeds; the lives of men are transformed by a piece of news.

It is especially by such transformation of life, today as always, that the Christian message is commended to the attention of men. Certainly, then, it does make an enormous difference whether our lives be right. If our doctrine be true, and our lives be wrong, how terrible is our sin! For then we have brought despite upon the truth itself. On the other hand, however, it is also very sad when men use the social graces which God has given them, and the moral momentum of a godly ancestry, to commend a message which is false. Nothing in the world can take the place of truth.

In the second place, we do not mean, in insisting upon the doctrinal basis of Christianity, that all points of doctrine are equally important. It is perfectly possible for Christian fellowship to be maintained despite differences of opinion.

One such difference of opinion, which has been attaining increasing prominence in recent years, concerns the order of events in connection with the Lord’s return. A large number of Christian people believe that when evil has reached its climax in the world, the Lord Jesus will return to this earth in bodily presence to bring about a reign of righteousness which will last a thousand years, and that only after that period the end of the world will come. That belief, in the opinion of the present writer, is an error, arrived at by a false interpretation of the Word of God; we do not think thatthe prophecies of the Bible permit so definite a mapping-out of future events. The Lord will come again, and it will be no mere ‘spiritual’ coming in the modern sense—so much is clear—but that so little will be accomplished by the present dispensation of the Holy Spirit and so much will be left to be accomplished by the Lord in bodily presence—such a view we cannot find to be justified by the words of Scripture. What is our attitude, then, with regard to this debate? Certainly it cannot be an attitude of indifference. The recrudescence of ‘Chiliasm’ or ‘premillennialism’ in the modern Church causes us serious concern; it is coupled, we think, with a false method of interpreting Scripture which in the long run will be productive of harm. Yet how great is our agreement with those who hold the premillennial view! They share to the full our reverence for the authority of the Bible, and differ from us only in the interpretation of the Bible; they share our ascription of deity to the Lord Jesus, and our supernaturalistic conception both of the entrance of Jesus into the world and of the consummation when He shall come again. Certainly, then, from our point of view, their error, serious though it may be, is not deadly error; and Christian fellowship, with loyalty not only to the Bible but to the great creeds of the Church, can still unite us with them. It is therefore highly misleading when modern liberals represent the present issue in the Church, both in the mission field and at home, as being an issue between premillennialism and the opposite view. It is really an issue between Christianity, whether premillennial or not, on the one side, and a naturalistic negation of all Christianity on the other.

Another difference of opinion which can subsist in the midst of Christian fellowship is the difference of opinion about the mode of efficacy of the sacraments. That difference is indeed serious, and to deny its seriousness is a far greater error than to take the wrong side in the controversy itself. It is often said that the divided condition of Christendom is an evil, and so it is. But the evil consists in the existence of the errors which cause the divisions and not at all in the recognition of those errors when once they exist. It was a great calamity when at the ‘Marburg Conference’ between Luther and the representatives of the Swiss Reformation, Luther wrote on the table with regard to the Lord’s Supper, ‘This is my body,’ and said to Zwingli and Oecolampadius, ‘You have another spirit.’ That difference of opinion led to the breach between the Lutheran and the Reformed branches of the Church, and caused Protestantism to lose much of the ground that might otherwise have been gained. It was a great calamity indeed. But the calamity was due to the fact that Luther (as we believe) was wrong about the Lord’s Supper;and it would have been a far greater calamity if being wrong about the Supper he had represented the whole question as a trifling affair. Luther was wrong about the Supper, but not nearly so wrong as he would have been if, being wrong, he had said to his opponents: ‘Brethren, this matter is a trifle; and it makes really very little difference what a man thinks about the table of the Lord.’ Such indifferentism would have been far more deadly than all the divisions between the branches of the Church. A Luther who would have compromised with regard to the Lord’s Supper never would have said at the Diet of Worms, ‘Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise, God help me, Amen.’ Indifferentism about doctrine makes no heroes of the faith.

Still another difference of opinion concerns the nature and prerogatives of the Christian ministry. According to Anglican doctrine, the bishops are in possession of an authority which has been handed down to them, by successive ordination, from the apostles of the Lord, and without such ordination there is no valid priesthood. Other churches deny this doctrine of ‘apostolic succession,’ and hold a different view of the ministry. Here again, the difference is no trifle, and we have little sympathy with those who in the mere interests of Church efficiency try to induce Anglicans to let down the barrier which their principles have led them to erect. But despite the importance of this difference, it does not descend to the very roots. Even to the conscientious Anglican himself, though he regards the members of other bodies as in schism, Christian fellowship with individuals in those other bodies is still possible; and certainly those who reject the Anglican view of the ministry can regard the Anglican Church as a genuine and very noble member in the body of Christ.

Another difference of opinion is that between the Calvinistic or Reformed theology and the Arminianism which appears in the Methodist Church. It is difficult to see how any one who has really studied the question can regard that difference as an unimportant matter. On the contrary’ it touches very closely some of the profoundest things of the Christian faith. A Calvinist is constrained to regard the Arminian theology as a serious impoverishment of the Scripture doctrine of divine grace, and equally serious is the view which the Arminian must hold as to the doctrine of the Reformed Churches. Yet here again, true evangelical fellowship is possible between those who hold, with regard to some exceedingly important matters, sharply opposing views.

Far more serious still is the division between the Church of Rome and evangelical Protestantism in all its forms. Yet how great is the common heritage which unites the Roman Catholic Church, with its maintenance of the authority of Holy Scripture and with its acceptance of the great early creeds, to devout Protestants today! We would not indeed obscure the difference which divides us from Rome. The gulf is indeed profound. But profound as it is, it seems almost trifling compared to the abyss which stands between us and many ministers of our own Church. The Church of Rome may represent a perversion of the Christian religion; but naturalistic liberalism is not Christianity at all.

That does not mean that conservatives and liberals must live in personal animosity. It does not involve any lack of sympathy on our part for those who have felt obliged by the current of the times to relinquish their confidence in the strange message of the Cross. Many ties—ties of blood, of citizenship, of ethical aims, of humanitarian endeavor—unite us to those who have abandoned the gospel. We trust that those ties may never be weakened, and that ultimately they may serve some purpose in the propagation of the Christian faith. But Christian service consists primarily in the propagation of a message, and specifically Christian fellowship exists only between those to whom the message has become the very basis of all life.

The character of Christianity as founded upon a message is summed up in the words of the eighth verse of the first chapter of Acts—’Ye shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.’ It is entirely unnecessary, for the present purpose, to argue about the historical value of the Book of Acts or to discuss the question whether Jesus really spoke the words just quoted. In any case the verse must be recognized as an adequate summary of what is known about primitive Christianity. From the beginning Christianity was a campaign of witnessing. And the witnessing did not concern merely what Jesus was doing within the recesses of the individual life. To take the words of Acts in that way is to do violence to the context and to all the evidence. On the contrary, the Epistles of Paul and all the sources make it abundantly plain that the testimony was primarily not to inner spiritual facts but to what Jesus had done once for all in His death and resurrection.

Christianity is based, then, upon an account of something that happened, and the Christian worker is primarily a witness. But if so, it is rather important that the Christian worker should tell the truth. When a man takes his seat upon the witness stand, it makes little difference what the cut of his coat is, or whether his sentences are nicely turned. The important thing is that he tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. If we are to be truly Christians, then, it does make a vast difference what our teachings are, and it is by no means aside from the point to set forth the teachings of Christianity in contrast with the teachings of the chief modern rival of Christianity.

The chief modern rival of Christianity is ‘liberalism.’ An examination of the teachings of liberalism in comparison with those of Christianity will show that at every point the two movements are in direct opposition. That examination will now be undertaken, though merely in a summary and cursory way.