Page images
PDF
EPUB

that he would no longer adhere to it, nor discuss it, that he would neither mention nor teach it, as he had been fully convinced by the opposite arguments. The other Brethren present rejoiced also at this conference, and at the conciliatory spirit and unanimity exhibited by all'” (Eccles. Hist. vii. 24).

This is an interesting portion of ecclesiastical history, for scarcely anywhere else shall we find an oasis in the deadly region of ancient religious controversy. The malice, violence, and injustice of the ecclesiastics against their theological opponents are painfully notorious, so that we rest in this particular dispute with unexpected satisfaction, for whatever may have been the termination of it, the manner in which it was conducted, and the kind things which Dionysius says of those who differed from him in opinion are as commendable as they are unusual.

It is, however, deeply to be regretted that the work of Nepos is lost; for by the account here given of it, we may fairly judge that it was a scriptural investigation of the subject, and that all its merit consisted in a calm and careful investigation of this great question as it is contained in the Bible. No work of such a nature, professedly on the theme of the millennium, has been handed down to us from antiquity. The Chiliasm of the fathers is tainted with traditions of the Book of Enoch, of the Talmud, and of the Sybilline oracles, or disfigured with such idle stories as Tertullian has not been ashamed to leave on record.

Victorinus, who has been honoured with the title of Saint in the Romish Calendar, and who suffered martyrdom in the Dioclesian persecution, professed the Millennarian opinions in most of his writings; but no authentic work of that father has reached us.

The doctrine of a Millennium is so clearly that of the Apocalypse, that its authority must ever be shaken where this is denied. Hence it is instructive to find, by the testimony of Dionysius of Alexandria, that in the early period of the third century its merits and authenticity were freely canvassed, and that too in consequence of the Millennarian controversy. “Some indeed,” says he,“ before us have set aside the Apocalypse, and have attempted to refute the whole book, criticising every chapter, and pronouncing it without sense and without reason. They say it has a false title, for it is not of John. Nay, that it is not even a revelation, as it is covered with such a dense and thick veil of ignorance, that not one of the Apostles, and not one of the holy men, or those of the church could be its author; but that Cerinthus, the founder of the sect of Cerinthians, so called from him, wishing to have reputable authority for his own fiction, prefixed the title. For this is the doctrine of Cerinthus, that there will be an earthly reign of Christ; and as Cerinthus was a lover of the body, and altogether sensual in those things which he so eagerly craved, he dreamed that he would revel in the gratification of the sensual appetite: i.e., in eating and drinking, and marrying, and to give the things a milder aspect and expression, in festivals and sacrifices, and the slaying of victims. For my part, I would not venture to set this book aside, as there are many brethren that value it much; but having formed a conception of its subject as exceeding my capacity, I consider it also containing a certain concealed and wonderful intimation in each particular. For though I do not understand, yet I suspect that some deeper sense is enveloped in the words, and these do I measure and judge by my private reason; but allowing more to faith, I have regarded them as too lofty to be comprehended by me; and those things which I do not understand, I do not reject; but I wonder the more that I cannot comprehend” (Euseb. Ecc. Hist. vii. 25).

Enough then has been said to give the reader a general idea of the Chiliasm of the second and third centuries; and we think it may be concluded from the evi'dence adduced, that it was scarcely of a nature to command our respect, because it was vitiated by tradition from various quarters, and was not based exclusively on the Scriptures. An opinion prevails with some Christians that the apostasy made its inroads in the church in proportion as the early Christians denied the millennium,* but such an opinion we are persuaded cannot be sustained, both because the millennarian statements of those days which have come down to us are such as no scholar of the scriptures would in these days admit, and because the apostasy had achieved enormous aggressions on the church long before millennarian opinions were

* It is another and a most important question ;-whether it was not in proportion as the practical power of the hope (1 John iii. 3.) of the return of the Lord Jesus was forgotten, that the church sunk into apostasy.

silenced. Lactantius, who flourished in the reign of the Emperor Constantine, and was indeed tutor to the Emperor's son, wrote at large, and with great elegance of language in defence of the millennium and of the personal reign of Christ, and it need scarcely be mentioned that by that time the apostasy was in high force; and seventy years later down in history, Jerome assures us that the advocates of the millennium amongst the orthodox were very numerous and influential; so much so, that partly out of respect for the saints and martyrs who had professed the millennarian sentiments, and partly on consideration of the large party amongst his contemporaries who were enlisted on that side of the question, he does not dare, on the whole, to condemn that which has met with so much approbation in the church.

ON THE TESTIMONY OF A SAINT.

THERE is, perhaps, to the saint, nothing more sad or sorrowful in the retrospect of this world's history, than the fact that man has marred every gift of the grace of God. Not only was the fair scene in Eden's lovely garden spoiled and ruined by man, but, as time has rolled on, and the grace of God has been dispensing larger and larger gifts, each gift has been misapplied, its object forgotten, and its right use neglected by man; and alas ! too frequently, not by the ruined mass lying in ignorance and estrangement from God, but by the very ones whom God has chosen out of it, to himself

, to be the witnesses of redeeming love and favour. Humbling picture of the irreparableness of the carnal mind of man! Look, for instance, at the form in which the grace of God displayed its vast fulness, its exceeding power, and untraceable riches, at the opening of the history of the present Church. The Son of God, in the form of a man, calling from the throne of the majesty in the heavens, and witnessing that they that heard the testimony were one with himself; and the mighty power of the Holy Ghost, come down to earth, sealing to such all the blessedness of that word—“In that day, ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.”. These were the blessings. And thus the saints were launched IN SERVICE, in the power of a blessing which was consequent upon a sacrifice finished and ACCEPTED, even fellowship in the life of the Lord; perfect also in acceptableness to God (His Father and theirs), according to the measure of the obedience of the Son of God as Son of man, redeeming both heirs and inheritance unto God. These “labourers together with God” (1 Cor. iii. 9), these “ workers together with him” (2 Cor. vi. 1), where are they now, and what are they about ? The state of the Lord's heritage is a sad answer :-Saints mastered by self-through the world, the flesh, and the devil; instead of being servants of God, and, as dear children, labouring and working together with Him. But how did the contrast (strange and painfully apparent as it is) between the state of Christendom now, and the state of Christendom in primitive times, come in? No violence from without produced it; the Church has done it all herself, and has none else to thank for it : Îike Samson with his weakness, his blindness, and his mill, the Church's present state is owing to self-will, folly, and disobedience.

But low as the Lord's heritage is, and weak, and blind, and feeble as the saints everywhere are, God's purposes and objects about his Church are not changed : and this, I take it, is at once, in itself, the sure, unfailing ground of our safety, and, in the knowledge of it, the sure, unfailing ground of our guidance. I may be weak, and blind, and groping (God knows how much so I am!); yet let me but confess it, and cast myself upon the unchangeableness of the ways and mind of God, and I at once find a covert and a guide. Did He ever shut his door upon a returning prodigal ? Could God, as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and of us, ever look forth from the window upon us, when we have wandered from Him, but are returning, and make as though he knew us not ? Impossible. There would be nothing meet in such conduct ; though the evil heart of unbelief may oft tell us He does so, or the

eye, dimmed by sin, be unable to read His gracious, ready love ;—no!—Christ Jesus is the purpose of God and not the Church; and this purpose and this object never change. This is our strength. The distinct understanding and remembrance of this is of primary importance to the saint. Without it, he can never know his own place, security, acceptance, privileges, hopes, or service aright. And though it

3 x

VOL. II.

be a thing so simple as to seem almost a truism, that the Lord Jesus (and not the Church) is the purpose and object of God, it is yet a truth habitually denied in practice by most, especially by those who most pique themselves and are most looked up to foro" high doctrine.” Where this is not seen, self comes in necessarily, and then all is spoiled. There are three places in which self is thus oft brought in. Its doings are constantly intermingled, to say the least, with the works of the Son; and then, instead of known present deliverance through His one accepted sacrifice, and present acceptance in the power of His perfect obedience, dark uncertainty shrouds the mind. This is the most common case of all. But where displaced by the recognition of the perfect sacrifice and work of the Son, self is not unfrequently brought in as the source of energy; in other words, in place of the Holy Ghost the Comforter ; and then, instead of comfort, anguish and vexation are the result. This is not so unfrequent as some may suppose. There is, however, another lodgment which self takes up, and that more undetected than either of the preceding, and that is, as to the purpose in the Divine Mind of the actions of God in redemption and grace. The spring of God's actions is His own glory;* His purpose, the glory of His holy child Jesus: and if this is not seen, self, in our thoughts, becomes the object and purpose, and weakness ensues in every way. There is a great deal of this often mixed up with the thoughts and desires of those who are now set upon converting the whole world by the preaching of the Gospel ; of those, too, who are busily engaged in carrying on the machinery by which reformation, whether spiritual or moral, or merely intellectual, is thought to be produceable; though, to my own mind, the worst form of all is in those who, under the pretence of high doctrine, practically make self the grand subject of thought, the grand topic of conversation, and can see and perceive nothing in Scripture save so far as they can force (and that often most violently) comfort from its contents to themselves. They forget that the mind of God, and object of the Spirit while writing the word, were upon Jesus ; they eject him from being the one subject of testimony in the word, and place themselves there; and so wrest the Scriptures to their own destruction. This case is the more to be deprecated, because usually carried on in the pretence of great humility and self-distrust. To the enlightened mind, it will, however, be detected to be in itself pride of the very worst kind, even the pride of unbelief; and the veil of depression which covers it, and makes it seem humble, is the simple and natural result of that uncertainty and moral darkness which proceed from perversely looking at self, and so practically denying the value and

efficacy of the atonement and righteousness of Jesus, and the Church's standing in Him.

The purpose of God is Jesus Christ, not the Church; and thus we are taught (Eph. i. 3—5):-"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ : according as he hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love : having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.” And so, in what follows after, we read of our being beloved;"

;" “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins ;"

IN whom also we have obtained an inheritance;" “IN whom also, after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession." For this was “ the good pleasure which He hath purposed

in himself; that in the dispensation of the fulness of times, He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth, even in Him :" " For the man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man; neither was the man created for the woman, but the woman for the man” (1 Cor. xi. 8, 9, compare with Gen. ii

, and Eph. v. 22, 23). Blessed be God! we have nothing save in and from and by and for Christ ; though, as His glory, all things are ours; as it is written, “ Al things are ars; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come ; all are yours, and ye are Christ's, and Christ is God's” (1 Cor. iii. 21-23).

* How beautifully do we find Abraham, in Gen. xviii. 23–33, acting on this, in intercessory prayer, and prevailing! See also Moses, Exodus xxxii. 9–14; Num. xiv. 11-20; Dan. ix. How sweetly do these living lessons teach the man of God the secret of his strength!

66

accepted in the

66

66

in

Dead, then, and our life hid with Christ in God (Col. iii. 3), God looks upon us as He looks upon His beloved Son; and we, knowing that as He is, so are we, though in this world (1 John iv. 17), ought so likewise to regard ourselves. This at once associates us, in the Spirit, upon the basis of what Christ has done and is, with God, as workers together with Him," as “labourers together with God ;" and places us in our proper position of service as witnesses giving testimony for God. And this, though there were a few anticipatory remarks which occurred, was the subject proposed for inquiry ; in the following out of which I shall be as concise as may be. The secret springs of the individual saint's testimony, as well as its character and power, must be looked for in that which gave its form to the witness. For the discovery of this, two passages will perhaps suffice. In the eighth chapter of Isaiah, we find the record of a vision which flitted before the mind of the prophet in spirit, presenting in type all the leading features of the Church, as a witness contrasted with Israel.

Israel, God's earthly witness, to whom, corporately, all the power of this world belonged, had failed, and the Lord was come in to judge. In the power of the promise that Immanuel should yet have the land, though Israel, that is, the earthly witness of glory in this world, were for a time set aside,--the Lord takes up Isaiah and his two sons, * Shear-jashub an Maher-shalal-hash-baz (both of whose names are, like Isaiah's, beautifully significant), as his witnesses. His letter of instructions to Isaiah is most beautifully instructive to us. I would notice the following particulars ; 1st, it was an individual call (viii. 11), “ The Lord spake thus to me;" 2dly, it was

power, “ with a strong hand:” 3dly, the principle on which he was dealing was that simply of discipleship,

66 and instructed me." The points of which instruction are then given :

I. Not to walk in the way of that people, especially guarding against the recognition in any way of their confederacies, and the allowing their fears (which were the result of occupation with circumstances instead of with God) to fill the mind; but to fear and dread him who then would be for a sanctuary.

II. And then comes the word : Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my DISCIPLES. And I will wait upon the Lord, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for Him. Behold I, and the children whom the Lord hath given me, are for signs and for wonders in Israel, from the Lord of Hosts".

·(ver. 16-18). The distinct quotation and application of this by the Holy Ghost to Jesus and the Church, in Heb. iiif may settle, even to the most timid mind, the propriety of the use I am now making of it. If a Jew had been asked, Who are these DISCIPLES ? What is their service? I think he must have answered, “ Their service is evident; they are the depositories of the testimony and the law: but who they are I cannot at all tell.” Surely this passage was very strange to a Jewish mind; most blessed as it

A new order is taken up, not according to the order of the family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, which was the order in which Israel, in Egypt, was taken up (see Exod. ii. 24), but the order of “discipleship.” They were called, as individuals, with power, set by instruction against confederacies and the fear of circumstances, and kept there by the fear of the Lord, their sanctuary. How beautifully descriptive of the Church, as well as in their honour,“ the depository of the testimony and the law,” in their name of disciples, and in the high and holy service, witnesses, because sons (though not yet in possession, but still waiting upon God) to all on earth. To my own soul, this is a very lovely picture of the Church, and aptly introduces the second

passage I would refer to, viz. the close of chap. xii. and the opening of chap. xiii. of Matthew. The flesh and the world in the religionists of that day had been

is to us.

* How naturally does Matt. xviii. 20. occur to the mind, Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” While we thus look upon these two little ones, "the remnant shall return” and “speed the spoil, haste the prey,” standing, each a witness in himself, under the good hand of the “ salvation of Jehovah :” each, I say, looked at separately and individually, a witness ; yet united by the identity of that which had made them each so by the identity of their object and means of attaining that object, so as that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word might be established.

+ The first quotation, in the 13th ver. of Heb. ii., which has puzzled some to find, is quoted from this very passage, as found in the LXX.

leading them, as we read in the substance of chap. xii., to follow the example of Satan (as recorded in chap. iv.); and their wit had been strained to ensnare Him who was full of grace and truth. Alas! the hardness of man's heart! And the heart of the blessed gracious Lord had led him to tell them plainly (from ver. 39—45) of their wretched estate, and of that which his eye discerned as the inevitable result - and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation,” given up to the unhindered power of the wicked spirits they had chosen to themselves. Here was the setting aside of Israel, definitively, as a thing to which he could look as for witness; and accordingly, immediately afterwards, we find him speaking of a new relationship—“ His mother and His brethren stood without desiring to speak with him.”—As a Jew, this claim was an imperative one, and as a man, his loving heart must have at once responded to it; but something else was now before his mind, and so we read, “ But he answered, Who is my mother, and who are my brethren ? And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren ; for whosoever shall do the will of my father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister; and mother.” And then, a little while after, in the same day, we find him settling himself to instruct : and the first parable is that of the sower.

Now, we find here just the same “order” of blessing as in Isaiah-the order of discipleship—whosoever had been made willing of God to be obedient, they were the kindred, and the word coming to them as individuals, not only from God, but in the power of God, if for blessing; a thing which admitted of no such thing as confederacies of any kind, for it came in the power of its own claim to each soul as an individual, testing, in its coming, the state of the soul, whether subject to the devil

, the flesh, or the world, or to the good hand and eye of God (see the parable),—yet a thing, the substance of which brought them (as the word of the kingdom ever does) out of the fear of all the circumstances of " man's day," and into the Lord, as a sanctuary; itself the appointed power of their life, and strength, and nourishment, tlırough the Spirit; their solace through the lonely hours of the night of man's day, and that by which they get the enjoyment of communion and intercourse with God.

There is nothing which necessarily impedes and restricts communion with God (save sin) more than ignorance of Scripture; for grace and truth are not, with God, separated, though some of us would fain have it so; and it seems to me that remarks I have lately heard of disparagement and questioning as to the Church's responsibility about the word are entirely destructive of saintship itself. For myself, I confess, I can no more entertain the question of the value of Scripture knowledge, as a saint, than I can en. tertain the question of the value of my saintship, or of that fulness of grace and truth by which it was effected and is sustained,—the very glory of God the Father, God the son, and God the Holy Ghost. I would press this plenary and paramount authority of the word, the written word of God, believing it to be very near to the mind and heart of God that it should be pressed as the safeguard of the saint at all times, but especially in these last days. Discipleship is based upon the reception of the word, and the whole development of it is but the appropriation, through the Spirit, of the word; so that we might almost say that obedience to the word is of the essence of discipleship. I would desire to use great plainness of speech here, and to be very clear. The church of God is a divine thing; it is wholly in Christ; its nature, though derived, is divine, and there is nothing standing between it and the Father save Christ and the Spirit; by the works of the former of whom, as applied by the latter, through faith, her various members are brought into being and sustained. To divide the word of God from faith, or faith from the Spirit, is impossible. The word is God's testimony about His Son, the mirror in which (to faith) the Son is seen, the record which the Holy Ghost has addressed to man about the Son. Now it matters not what is substituted for it, added to it, or taken from it; the sin of so doing is a direct, immediate sin against the Son and the Father, of whom that Son witnesses. If I take from it, I take from the Son and from the Father ; and this I may do as much by neglect of studying any of its parts, or by carelessness

* Prayer is, I believe, often misplaced by the saint in the present day. Prayer is properly the expression of want-my own wants. This may be a needful preparative to receiv. ing more fully out of God. The Scriptures are the expression of his mind; and it is from them we get, as it were, into contact with what He has and is.

« EelmineJätka »