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quantity of theological speculation is speculation without life, that like cold ashes, puts out a fire, but cannot kindle.
We are doubtless in danger of giving more heed to books, reviews, philosophies, and the latest methods, or scientific concoctions of fact and thought, than we do to the Word of God and prayer. The intellect has the greater part of our attention, and that, too, in an almost servile dependence upon others; and therefore we are weak. The apostle John said of the young men to whom he wrote, “Ye are strong, and the Word of God abideth in you.” That is the true originality and independence. We need to get what we get from God, and not man, and to use men's books as a carpenter does his saws. But the stuff we must get out for ourselves. Nay, rather, our work is with living plants, and not dead stuff, cut, squared, and polished to our hand. We are reminded of what Lord Bacon said in his day, that “the delivery of knowledge, as it is now used, is as of fair trees without the roots, good for the carpenter, but not for the planter." But none of our knowledge of divine things ought to be without roots, or cut and dried for us at second-hand by others; it ought to be all a lifeknowledgem-knowledge rooted in Christ, by ourselves being rooted in him, and receiving knowledge from him in the way of life. That makes all things fresh and original.
“HOLD FAST THE FORM OF SOUND WORDS, WHICH THOU HAST HEARD OF ME, IN FAITH AND LOVE WHICH IS IN CHRIST JESUS.
THAT GOOD THING WHICH WAS COMMITTED UNTO THEE, KEEP BY THE HOLY GHOST, WHICH DWELLETH IN us.” Grand, profound, comprehensive rule of independence and of life ! Not by tradition, nor creeds, nor councils, nor the church, nor history, nor apostolical, nor historical succession, but by the Holy Ghost, nothing else ; dependence only on the Holy Ghost, and on the truth, as the Holy Ghost reveals it in God's Word, and keeps it in the heart. Sanctify them by thy truth ; thy word is truth. Moreover, keep it by the Holy Ghost, not which dwelleth in the church, but in us, as individuals ; private judgment of the Scriptures, in entire dependence on the Spirit of God, not on the Church of God. The Holy Ghost must keep the church, or the church cannot keep the truth; and the Holy Ghost can keep the church only by keeping individual believers in Christ Jesus ; and can teach the truth to the church, and keep the truth in the church, and sanctify the church by it, only by teaching the truth to individuals, and keeping the truth in individuals, and sanctifying individuals by it. And just so, the Holy Ghost increases and builds up the church, not by successional or organic life in history, but by bringing in continually new living stones into the temple, new regenerated souls into the church, through the door of the church, which is Christ.
The truth is to be kept by the Holy Ghost, and the form of sound words is to be held fast in faith and love, which is in Christ Jesus. Without this, it may be kept in creeds and councils, and denied in spirit ; it may be kept as the source of power, and yet withheld and darkened on purpose to maintain exclusive control of the power ; it may be kept and affirmed as the key of the kingdom of heaven, only that its keepers may assume authority over that kingdom ; a fact, in the light of which we should judge the apologies made in certain quarters for the iniquities of the papal church and the popes in consideration of their alleged merits in preserving orthodoxy. They kept it to keep their power by it, and corrupted it at their pleasure. They kept it from the world to keep their own dominion over the world, but not in faith and love in Christ Jesus,-not by the Holy Ghost dwelling in the heart. But it must be held thus, or it is held in unrighteousness; held as a savor of death, not of life; held unto condemnation, not justification. It may be also held and used for selfish and sectarian purposes ; a thing which makes the ministers of Christ little better than the sons of Eli, that were sons of Belial, and knew not the Lord. The gospel itself in such hands, and for such purposes, becomes a thing, like those old priest's flesh-hooks, with sectarian teeth ; for they struck the flesh-hook with their teeth into the pan, or kettle, or caldron, or pot, and all that the flesh-hook brought up, the priest took for himself. Such is genuine sectarianism, but not such the truth, kept by the Holy Ghost dwelling in the heart, and held fast in faith and love in Christ Jesus.
To be kept by the Holy Spirit, it must be received by the Holy Spirit. “Thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” The knowledge is not enough, unless it be received by faith, and so become wisdom unto salvation ; otherwise, it is not life, and cannot give life, any more than a plant could experience or diffuse the virtue of the sunlight by merely reflecting it. If nature should withhold her active co-operation with the sun ; if the leaves and flowers, the seeds, germs, and shoots, should only look, and not receive ; should let the light fall on them, and return, unabsorbed, unacted on, not circulated within the veins, nor made part of the life-blood of the vegetable,--in that case, not life, but death would ensue from the very action of the sun.; its rays would destroy the plant that might have fed upon them. And just so it is with the light of truth divine, if the heart refuse its co-operation, if it be entertained as a mere speculation. It must be received into a good, honest, believing, loving heart, in order to be understood and experienced as an element of life. Thus only do we purify our souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit, and thus only are we prepared for that for which the keeping of the Word by the Spirit is intended, namely, the preaching of the Word.
This then must be the source of our theology, THE WORD OF GOD, BY THE SPIRIT or God. Primitive granite, as to the material, cut by ourselves, as much as possible, and not boulders of pudding-stone, big and little, that have been bandied about by floods of philosophy, opinion, dogmatism, and taken where we found them. Divine doctrines themselves, subjected to such attrition in the great caldron of human philosophies, come out at length like blocks whirled in a cataract, all rounded and smoothed, as if turned upon a lathe, but unfit for any thing better than firewood. Blocks of granite itself may be thus rounded, and spoiled for building. The stones must be angular, and well defined, to lie plumb together, and make a strong, durable wall. An angular theology is better than mere pumiced and mortared work of rubble stone, that after a few rains, if a fox run over it, will crumble. "Now Tobiah the Ammonite was by him, and he said, Even that which they build, if a fox go up, he shall even break down their stone wall.” The building with human materials, at second hand, a little here, a little there, now English, now German, now French, with mortar ground in mills of excruciating philosophy, under the care of uncircumcised Titans for speculative architects, must lead to such results, that the Sanballats and Tobiahs of a scoffing world may at length have good reason for their infidelity. It is impossible that men who have not themselves learned of God, can teach others; neither can those learned men teach us, whose theology, or history of the church, consists of speculation from a human philosophical standing point; neither is it good to be conversant with men, whose critical acumen is tasked and displayed in mooting objections ; for all living theology is a theology of grand positives, that move on to victory by creating life, not analyzing death ; rough, majestic, tangible positives, like moving mountains ; not refinements, nor subtleties, nor silken theories that rise inflated like balloons.
Neither is it good to take those for teachers, whose views of divine inspiration lead them to trace the different aspects of divine doctrine mainly to different tendencies of mind, philosophy, learning, and preconceived opinion, in the instruments employed of God, instead of attributing all to the providence and grace of one and the self-same Spirit, dividing to each, and on purpose, the measures of wisdom and knowledge according to his will. Against that insidious tendency, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ, we need to be upon our guard ; that root-growth from the stump of a worn-out rationalism, which, under the appearance of subtle investigation and distinction, divides revelation into Petrine, Pauline, Johannean and Jamesian peculiarities, assuming the divers colorings of truth to be of man first, and accidental, and thus lowering the independent authority of the Word of God. That dangerous tendency likewise to mould theology upon ecclesiastical history, instead of bringing ecclesiastical history before the tribunal of New Testament theology; and that wild, unscriptural, dreaming delusion, which sets up one apostle for the development of the Judaic Church, another for the development of the Romish Church, as if God had himself caused that vast corruption, as a providential and essential development of his own Churc!, giving it a guardian apostolic angel beforehand, and another for the Church of the Reformation, and yet another for the Church of the Future, which is to combine all, by a retro-active, all-digesting, all-assimilating, catholic sweep. All this is no better than philosophy and vain deceit, for we are not complete in Paul, or Peter, or James, or John, but in Christ; and neither one nor the other teach any one-sided or human peculiarity or excrescence, or any exclusive organic church-life, but all lead to one, and centre in one, Christ Jesus, from whom all proceeded, and in whom all are appointed for one and the same church in all ages.
Of national theologies, viewed through the whole two past centuries, the German development is far more one-sided than the English and Scotch ; the German development is human-sided, the English, divinesided ; the German development submits to man and philosophy, the English to God and faith ; the German development holds by philosophy, the English by the Holy Ghost ; the German development is that of subtle speculative ingenuity, and opinion-learning, the English that of experimental piety and sound sense ; the German development is occupied with the letter of the Word, and searches all things, yea, all deep things, about the Scriptures, the English with the Scriptures themselves, the pith and marrow of them; the German development fills the field of its operations, as the workmen fill a quarry with blocks and chips, the English raises the stones to a living temple in Christ, a habitation of God through the Spirit.
“ Beware Jest any man spoil you," is the direction of the apostle. There is great profoundness of meaning in the choice of this epithet. Philosophy in such a case does not pretend to reject the truth, but claims to be its exponent, its interpreter, and to add a grace to it, which simple believers in the pure simple word of God cannot possess. Philosophy takes an idea from Revelation, and dresses it up in philosophic garb, and by and by presents it as an original discovery from depths of science or of metaphysics which the Word of God never sounded; and there are not a few fools in every age, who will be caught and dazzled and deluded by such pretences ; and some will receive from Pantheism and Atheism itself such plagiarisms, and will tell us of the obligations of Christianity to philosophy. It reminds us of the anecdote told by a traveller in the Oriental world, of a cunning servant, who, when his master had invited some English fellow-traveller on the Nile to dine with him, provided the dinner out of the other's boat, and regaled him with costly delicacies stolen from his own hampers. This is the game that philosophy has often played with Christianity, but always spoils the stolen viands in cooking them. Philosophy is a miserable preacher, always flattering men's own dignity and abstruseness, and cajoling them with high-flown ideas of the profoundness of their own faculties, but in the end setting them with their faces direct from Zion, instead of thitherward. Philosophy takes the doctrine of the divine decrees, and the divine all-ruling providence, and dresses it up as a theory of development, and a philosophy of history, apart from God, and then calls us to bow down, and wonder, and adore the march of intellect, and to bring all history, the history of Christianity itself, and even theology, to submit to the canons of this wonderful discovery. There is no end to the Jack-o-lantern pranks it will play, or the marshes across which its wild lights will send you dancing, or the bogs in which it will plunge your unwary steps, if you undertake to follow up its vagaries, or put your mind under its guidance. There are such vain and foolish teachers, vainly puffed up by their fleshly mind, and teaching after the elements of this world, and not after Christ, in regard to whom the only course that we can safely follow is that which our Lord Jesus commands, “Let them alone, they be blind leaders of the blind.” Let them alone ; have nothing to do with them. From such turn away. From such withdraw thyself. Do not imagine that you must go over into their schools, and learn their tactics, and so be able to contend against them with their own weapons. You can manage them with nothing but the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. If they challenge you, choose your own weapons, and take simply God's Word. The Word of God is suited to a heart inspired and animated by the Spirit of God; but philosophy takes away all a man's ardor, courage, and aggressive spirit, and makes him rely upon external things; it palsies the power of his soul, and destroys his confidence, and fills him with distrust and skepticism. It keeps him tugging at many a knot, time enough, wisely employed, to have saved a hundred souls, when the only direct and wise way was to cut it, and let it go,
and proclaim the truth, as the truth is in Jesus. This is the manner of the sacred writers themselves in dealing with speculative difficulties; one single Thus saith the Lord, settles the whole matter.
The celebrated Whitefield is said to have once declared that the main part of his preparation for the ministry was the reading of the whole Bible, with Henry's Commentary, through upon his knees. It was an admirable discipline of heart and mind, but it would have been of little value without the heart-work of that remarkable man, his work in prayer. He read and studied with his heart all the while directed to the Lord Jesus, and thus, while reading and studying, was all the while himself advancing from power to power, changing from glory to glory. His study of the Word of God was not analytical merely, but experimental, and the knowledge he gained