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OOME GEERT—A PROFILE OF GREAT UNCLE GERRIT VERKUYL

 

Grandma Den Ouden , Mrs. Nys Den Ouden (6-9-1881/2-14 -1952) came from a large and distinguished family.  There were eleven children born to Matthys Verkuyl (born 10-1-1833) and Jannetje Streefkerk (born 1840) : Meitje, Hendrick, Arie, Gerrit, Anna, Anneke, Naatje, Jannetje,  Johannes, Pieternella, and Mathila.

Only three of the family emigrated to the United States: Gerrit in 1894, Jannetje (Grandma) in 1912 and Naatje(Nellie—Mrs. Peter Cole—date unknown) who settled in Sacramento, CA.

Tante Anna came for a visit to Grandpa and Grandma in the 30s.  I remember vividly a large trunk and she wore a beautiful black satin dress with black velvet and netting insets.  She was the most regal person I had ever met and now I wonder what she thought of the very modest farmhouse where her sister and family lived.

In 1972 on our first sabbatical, we invited my parents to join us in visiting relatives in Holland.  We made an appointment to see Tante Pie (pronounced pea) (Pieternella) in Leyden at one o’clock.  We had great difficulty in finding the address, De Witte Singel

(The White Canal) and finally parked our VW so close to the canal that my mother feared we would all fall in the water.  The neighborhood was extremely affluent and the house we entered was like a museum with many art objects and vases and statues all over.  I had never been in such a house.  The home had been furnished from their many travels, especially while her husband was in the Dutch consulate in Indonesia. There she sat royally among the rich décor as she “received” us with considerable warmth.  Our children, Christine, 11, Alicia, 8, and David, 4, were angelic and even graciously accepted and ate some overly sweet candy they were offered.  It still is an hour deep in my memory.

But it was Oome Geert, one of Grandma’s older brothers, who with my uncle Bernard, provided and still provide models for me of the Christian scholar.

On my second Christmas (1933), I received a little book, Children’s Devotions, published by Westminster Press in Philadelphia in 1917 with a subtitle: Containing private and united prayers for children, and suggestions for Bible reading, memory work, and clean books.

The inscription reads in flowing European-style writing: To my grand nephew, Nelvin Leroy Vos.  Gerrit Verkuyl.  Christmas 1933.  The dedication states: To the memory of a Christian home in Holland and to the service of every home in America this little book is dedicated.

The book has simple prayers for children divided into various sections such as For Children under Eight and Suggestions for Young People.  In the middle of the book are several pages, God’s Special Messages to Children with passages from the Bible.  And the book concludes with a section, Splendid Reading for Boys and Girls, a remarkably diverse listing of five pages with titles such as Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Robinson Crusoe(for and Iboys eight years old! ), Hans Brinker, Little Women, and Song of Hiawatha.

My next most prized possession of Oome Gerrit is an undated hand written letter. but within the letter, he indicates he is age 93 so it must have been  about 1966.   I had sent him my resume and a copy of my first book, The Drama of Comedy: Victim and Victor.

He begins by congratulating me: “I am glad you completed your schooling and are happy in the thick of your interesting engagement for which you have been so well prepared.”  He continues by describing his career:” When to me the choice had to be made between teaching and preaching, I decided that teaching was my hobby with preaching occasionally and almost from the first I wrote occasionally for publication.”,,

(An understatement since Amazon lists nine books!).  He then writes of “the joy of seeing your thoughts presented to the public.  This requires intense application, the best that is in you.  It is also a service to your fellow man, also to women, and affords both satisfaction and stimulus for worthwhile production.”  All of this, he writes “has made my life experience interesting to others and to myself.  Now at 93, I am through with the zest and the ability no longer suffice.  But I am still somewhat better for those efforts.”  Then comes a benediction: ”May grace, wisdom and power  be granted you to share with others the Christian experience and ideas you are finding helpful, enriching to others and fostering growth as you move on.” He ends with:” it means to me a happy, useful, life for which I thank God, Nelvin, and those who have inspired me and of whom you are one.  I am glad to have enjoyed partnership with you.  May God continue to bless you and keep you humble.  Yours for Him, Gerrit Verkuyl.

The third item is a small hardbound book, Berkeley Version of the New Testament with Footnotes, published by Zondervan  in 1945. This translation, and later of the Old Testament (he called them Berkeley since his residence was there for many

years) were clearly his most important work.  He had begun the New Testament already in 1936 and began the Old Testament with twenty other scholars in the 50s and published this volume in 1959.

It was some time in the mid-50s when I was teaching at Calvin that the committee preparing the Old Testament met on the Calvin campus.  (I have a Banner photo of the group from my mother’s scrapbook.) Oome Gerrit invited me to sit among the scholars for a session.  All I recall is that it was a passage from Proverbs that was under discussion and that I felt very honored to be among them and to know that it was my great uncle who was the leader of this momentous task.

The website, www.Bible collectors.org reprints an article in which Dr. Verkuyl explains his work with the New Testament.  The first sentence is representative of his direct style:” The conviction that God wants His truth conveyed to His offspring in the language in which they think and live led me to produce the Berkeley Version of the New Testament.”  He says that his work with children and youth made him aware that the King James Version, beautiful as it is, is not easy to comprehend.  So in the light of his concern for such an audience, he began translating the story of the baby Moses in Exodus 2 . Then when he was later employed by the Presbyterian Board of Christian Education, he said:” This work allowed me to make use of the New Testament in the original language in hope that someday I might do my own translating of it.”

All did not go easily with the translations. There is an exchange of many letters from 1950 to 1953 located in the archives of the Presbyterian Church in America between Doctor Verkuyl and Dr. J. Oliver Buswell, president of the National Bible Institute and also a professor at a conservative institution, Faith Theolological Seminary, in which several difficulties surface.  Dr. Verkuyl had considerable trouble recruiting scholars for his Old Testament translation.  He had done the New Testament by himself, but did not feel adequate in Hebrew to do The Old Testament although he writes: “Have been digging down into my Hebrew now for a year and am gaining on it.”  The people are busy; they are getting older.  The scholar who translated Isaiah and Job was 89, and Uncle Gerrit was now in his 80s.

And he knew what he was looking for:” But we are now searching for the right men.  We know we want Conservatives…” Later he writes: “And no trend or bias in the footnotes except adherents to the evangelical truth.”  Dr. Martin Wyngaarden of Calvin Seminary did become one of the scholars in the work and Uncle Gerrit comments: “Those Dutchman can work when they have a mind to.”

The correspondence includes a discussion of a Lutheran biblical scholar, Dr. Charles M. Cooper of the Lutheran Seminary in Philadelphia, in which a professor from the National Bible Institute calls Cooper “a very pronounced liberal higher critic.”  Buswell adds: “When I showed your letter to the head of our Semitics department, he recognized the name [Cooper]as that of a rather radical liberal.  Now, granted that translation work must be an entirely our objective, nevertheless, there will be an important points.  Radical differences of opinion between those who believe that the Bible is the Word of God, and those who believe it is a collection of Oriental myths.  Would it not seem wise to make this stipulation for members of the committee?”  My comment would be that although Dr. Cooper was not a conservative such as those who were invited to participate in the translations, he was not by any means a radical liberal who believed the Bible was a collection of Oriental myths.

Three larger issues lurk between the lines of this correspondence.  The first is tension between Uncle Gerrit and Buswell.  He wants Buswell to be involved in the next edition of the New Testament: “… I am inclined to believe we might join forces.”  But Buswell appears to want to do his own translation.  Later, Dr. Verkuyl writes: “my work is not perfect and neither would his be, but by laboring together, it will be much better.  I would be perfectly willing to have Buswell-Verkuyl or Verkuyl-Buswell  as the translators of the N. T. and I wish you might seriously consider it.”  But as far as I know, Buswell did not get involved in the work.

The second is Uncle Gerrit’s difficulty with Zondervan Publishing, the company which did his New Testament and will now be working with the entire Bible.  The company appears to want Uncle Gerrit to do the entire work of revising the New Testament and translating the Old Testament obviously because to involve Buswell and a large committee would increase the royalties.  Zondervan did compromise since later; a committee of twenty was formed to work with the Old Testament.

The third issue is the competition.  The Revised Standard Version of the Bible published by National Council of Churches of Christ was to come out in 1952.  The conservative scholars wanted to give an alternative to what they saw as too liberal a translation and from Uncle Gerrit’s point of view did not do the job well: “The R.S.V., by retaining so much of the K. J. V. [King James Version] vocabulary has succeeded in presenting the Word in the most Elizabethan language of all 20th century translations at the expense of clarity for today’s readers.  To me in modern translation is next to useless that fails to bring God’s thoughts to the Bible-readers in the best words of current use.”  That statement catches the vision and intent of Uncle Gerrit’s momentous almost lifelong undertaking of translating the Bible.

Later, in one of the letters in the Calvin College archives dated September 1956, he writes:  “The work on the Old Testament started six years ago is not yet finished.  Right now it is especially difficult, since four books were turned down by members of the staff when we met in Grand Rapids in June.  I have turned over the book of Isaiah to a new translator to start all over.  But I am correcting the books of Deuteronomy, Job and Ezekiel myself.  Two of those are finished, but I am still wrestling with Ezekiel.  In one more month this too should be ready.  After that, of course it has to be read through once more.  The fault was using more or less than the original text allows.”

Nevertheless, the Berkeley Version is frequently cited on websites by conservative scholars and institutions.  One commentator writes:” A European moved to the United States, so mastered Greek and English languages that in his translating the original, he produced highly readable Scripture.”

The original Berkeley Version is out of print, but Amazon has used copies for sale.  The Modern Language Bible which is called a revision of the Berkeley Version is available at www.Christian book.com for $14.99(hardbound) and $9.99(paperbound).

Dr. Verkuyl’s other publications mostly center on his work in Christian education

(also all out of print  with some used available from Amazon):

— Scripture Memory Work: A Handbook containing selections with helps for the

reader(1918)

— Devotional Leadership: Private Preparation for Public Worship(1925)

— Things Most Surely Believed: A Study in Christian Essentials for Growing Workers

(1926)

— Qualifying Men for Church Work(1927)

— Adolescent Worship: With Emphasis on Senior Age(1929)

— Christ in the Home: Studies in Christian Nurture(1932)

— Christ in American Education(1934)

— Reclaim Those Unitarian Wastes(1935)

— Teen -Age Worship(1950)

 

In contrast to his scholarly achievements, particularly his translations of the Bible, it  has been quite difficult to uncover personal details about Oome Gerrit. He was born on September 14, 1872, in Niewe Vennep, Holland, the same home presumably where Grandma Den Ouden was raised.  He married Tante Minnie in 1912.  They had two children, Janet and Dorothy(one letter speaks of her being on the mission field).  Aunt Gerdena told me that they too lived in California and our family continued to have some correspondence with them in later years.  She also told me that Uncle Gerrit was disappointed and angry that the Woodstock Presbyterian Church did not allow him to preach there when he was visiting our family in the 30s.

According to Ellis Island records, he emigrated to the United States in 1894 at age 21 on the ship Werkendam sailing out of Rotterdam. In 1901, he graduated from Park College in Parksville, Missouri, whose website says that it was founded “as a Christian college” in 1875.  This college awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1921.  He earned a Master of Divinity in 1904 at Princeton Theological Seminary, a very distinguished Presbyterian school, and at the same time, he earned an M.A. (in what?) at Princeton University in 1903.  Then to a New Testament Fellowship to Germany at the University of Leipzig where he received his Ph.D. in 1906.  He also studied at the University of Berlin in 1906.The German universities were and still are noted for their prominence in Biblical studies.   A scholar, indeed!

He was ordained by the Presbytery of North Philadelphia on November 13, 1906, and began serving a Presbyterian church in northeast Philadelphia, Wissinoming, from 1906 to 1908.

He found his true calling when he was appointed to serve as National Field Representative for Leadership Training of the Presbyterian Board of Christian Education which he did from 1908 to 1939 until his retirement at age 67.  According to the archives at Princeton Theological Seminary from which I derived much of the above personal information, he did occasional supply in various churches in the Bay area here and there from 1939 to 1952.  In 1952 to 1953, he served as interim pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Richmond, California.  There is no more information about his later years other than that which we know about his translation of the Bible. Thus I could not discover the date of his death.

His position with the Presbyterian Board of Christian education must have included a lot of teaching.  Calvin College and Seminary archives (why?) has three of his letters in his Dutch handwriting, re-typed in Dutch, and then translated into English, one from which I already quoted.  The first was written on the day I was born (July 11, 1932).  The letterhead gives his title and the address of College Avenue, Wheaton, Illinois.  It is written to his sister, Pie, (Pieternella) and her family.  He speaks of working “a lot in Wisconsin.”  He continues:” Now I will leave for New York state to teach there for four weeks; after that two weeks in Indiana.  I will be preaching somewhere not so far from Jannetje in Iowa.  I will take the train to visit her for a day or so.”  So that must have been one of his visits soon after I was born.

In the letter he also speaks of translating his new book, Christ In the Family, and sending a copy to H. Colijn, a very prominent Dutch political figure who was in the Verkuyl family.  Later he asks:” Would you ask Chris [her husband] what conditions Dutch publishers have when they publish a book?  Here in the USA, the publisher takes all the financial risks.  I am contemplating sending Colijn a copy so that it may be placed in “de Heraut”[I could find no Dutch translation for this word] later on.  But the ideas in it may be too radical for Holland.”

And that last comment may well sum up Uncle Gerrit’s dilemma and perhaps his strength.  Although a conservative in his background and in his Biblical translations, he was a progressive in challenging the tradition by doing his very own version of the Scriptures.  Clearly, many of his ideas about leadership and Christian education were ahead of his time.

I was so privileged to know him: his very tall and stately bearing, his warm smile, and his gentlemanly but kindly manner to me — all this is a memory I deeply cherish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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STUDIES IN THE WESTMINSTER SHORTER CATECHISM
by Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn

Q. 33. — What is justification?

A. — Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ. imputed to us, and received by faith alone.

Scripture References: Eph. 1:7; II Cor. 5:19, 21; Rom. 4:5; Rom. 3:22, 24, 25; Rom. 5:17-19; Rom. 5:1; Act. 10:43; Gal. 2:16.

Questions:

1. What does the word “justify” mean in the New Testament?

The word means “to deem to be right” in the New Testament. It signifies two things: (1) to show to be right or righteous; (2) to declare to be righteous.

2.
Who is the author of our justification?

God is the author of our justification. In this Question we have the first of a series in which the words “an act of God’s free grace” is used. We are justified freely through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. The grace of God is the deepest ground and final cause of our justification.

3.
What are the two parts to justification?

The two parts are: (1) the pardoning of our sins; (2) the accepting us as righteous in his sight.

4.
What two great truths are present in these two parts?

The first truth is that the pardoning of our sins is a continued act. (See Calvin on John 1:29). All our sins are forgiven. The second truth is that we are not only pardoned but our Lord does not abhor us but accepts us as righteous.

5.
How is it possible that he accepts us as righteous?

It is possible for him to accept us as righteous because his righteousness is made ours by imputation. (Rom. 4:6).

6. What is imputation and how does it apply to us?

Imputation is God’s act of reckoning righteousness or guilt to a person’s credit or debit. It is as if we had obeyed the law and had satisfied justice.

7. How are we justified?

We are justified purely by faith without any kind of work beings involved.

JUSTIFICATION – FAITH AND WORKS

In the Epistles of Paul, the Apostle tells us time and time again that we are justified freely by the grace of God. A. A. Hodge tells us, “It (Justification) is ‘in the name of Christ,’ I Cor. 6:11; ‘by his blood,’ Rom. 5:9; ‘freely,’: ‘by his grace,’ ‘by faith.’ Rom. 3:24, 28.” And yet so many times the argument is presented, “James stated: ‘Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.’ (James 2:24) How can both Paul and James be right?”

It is true that both Paul and James are right. The apostle Paul affirms and proves by many arguments that justification is by faith, faith in the object of Christ and his righteousness. Paul affirms and proves that it is by faith and without works. Paul goes on to prove that instead of our being justified by good works, the works are only possible to us in that new relationship to God into which we are introduced by justification.

James does not treat the matter of justification by faith in the chapter cited above. He is treating the very important matter of what relationship the good works of the believer have to be a genuine faith. James is simply saying that a genuine faith, which A. A. Hodge calls “the instrumental cause of justification”, will produce a living faith, a faith with works. An old divine used to say, “Faith justifies our persons, but works justify our faith, and declares us to be justified before men, who cannot see nor know our faith but by our works.”

Combining Paul and James the believer has two important truths:
(1) Justification by faith includes two wonderful elements, both freely bestowed upon the believer by God. The first is remission of sIns and the second, restoration to divine favor.
(2) Because we are justified by faith the justification will always be accompanied with sanctification, without which our justification cannot be true.

Two verses that combine the above two truths, and two verses that would help the believer greatly, are Philippians 3:8,9. Commit them to memory and pray that they will be living and vital in the life, all to His glory!

Published By: THE SHIELD and SWORD, INC.
Vol 3 No. 33 (September 1963)
Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn, Editor

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Pioneer Translator Among Presbyterians

We all know and love the John Newton of “Amazing Grace” fame, but this John Newton, while named after that beloved minister, was a Presbyterian missionary who sailed to India with his wife in the middle nineteenth century.  He was to have a fifty-six year ministry to the inhabitants of that country.

Leaving in 1835, he took along a printing press and countless pieces of literature.  Not only did he learn the language in Panjabi, he prepared a dictionary and grammar for the people. He translated the entire New Testament and a whole series of tracts for his congregations.

He was characterized as being a powerful preacher both in English as well as in the native language.  Yet it was said that he won respect and confidence from his patience and tact in dealing with the masses. There wasn’t any narrow-mindedness in him. He invited the Church of England missions into his field of labor. By that, there was a span of forty years of fraternal relationships which only doubled the spiritual workers in India.

He went to be with the Lord on July 2, 1891, reaping the fruits of his labors on those foreign shores.

Words to Live By: When both character and conduct agree as one in a Christian’s life, you can be sure that the witness for Christ will be amplified to both the glory of God as well as the everlasting good of the unsaved people around us.  Work, dear reader, in both of these areas in your lives.

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Charles Hodge enters into eternity

Hodge’s death came on this day, June 19, in 1878. Then early in July of that same year on the pages of The Christian Observer, this brief note appeared under the title, “Calvinism and Piety,” :

The Christian Union, which has no friendship for Calvinism, closes its article on the death of Dr. Hodge, as follows:

Dr. Hodge, who was the foremost of the old Calvinists in this country, was, in character, one of the sweetest, gentlest and most lovable of men. His face was itself a benediction. We doubt whether he had any other than a theological enemy in the world. Curiously too, the peculiar tenets of his theology were reserved for the class-room and for philosophical writings. In the pulpit he preached a simple and unsectarian gospel; his favorite texts were such as “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved;” and his sermons were such as the most successful missionaries delight to preach in foreign lands. In Princeton he is regarded as without peer in the conduct of the prayer meeting. His piety was as deep and as genuine as his learning was varied and profound. The system of theology of which he was the ablest American representative seems to us, in some points, foreign to the teaching of the New Testament, but the life and personality of the man were luminous with the spirit of an indwelling Christ.

Words to Live By: May we all—those of us who name the name of Christ and who also claim that same biblical faith commonly called Calvinism—so find our maturity in Christ as to live in a similar way, luminous with the spirit of the indwelling Christ, pointing all men and women to the only Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

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aubaff_1924The Auburn Affirmation was first issued on December 26, 1923, in response to the action of the 1923 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. It was then published in its first edition in January of 1924. Affixed to that document were the names of 150 pastors and elders within the Presbyterian Church of the U.S.A. A subsequent printing issued on May 5, 1924 contained the final list of signators, numbering 1274 names.

The Affirmation was a thinly veiled attack upon core tenets of the Christian faith. By most accounts the Affirmation was a gauntlet thrown down in response to five fundamentals espoused originally in The Doctrinal Deliverance of 1910, a deliverance which was later reaffirmed by the PCUSA General Assemblies of 1916 and 1923. It was specifically the action of the 1923 Assembly that brought about the reaction that was the Auburn Affirmation.

Among those five key doctrines that the Doctrinal Deliverance sought to protect, the virgin birth of Christ was second on the list:

2. It is an essential doctrine of the Word of God and our Standards, that our Lord Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary. The Shorter Catechism states, Question 22: “Christ, the Son of God, became man, by taking to Himself a true body and a reasonable soul, being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and born of her, yet without sin.”

machen02It was this subject that J. Gresham Machen took up in in the December 1924 issue of The Bible Today, the house organ of The National Bible Institute, an evangelical school located in New York City. Given the issues at hand before the Church that year, Machen’s article would have to be considered one of the earliest replies to the Affirmation signatories, though he does not specifically mention the Affirmation by name in this first part of his discussion. And since we only have the first part of this article available to us, we will have to leave it stand at that, until some gracious donor comes forward with other issues of The Bible Today. We’re looking particularly for vol. 19, no. 4, January 1925. From another source we know that part two of this article appeared on pages 111-115 of that issue. (We’re also looking for any other issues of The Bible Today from the years before 1941). 

So, introduction aside, here is the text of “The Virgin Birth” by J. Gresham Machen (1924).

THE BIBLE TO-DAY, 19.3 (December, 1924): 75-79.

The Virgin Birth
By J. Gresham Machen, D.D.,
Assistant Professor of New Testament Literature and Exegesis in Princeton Theological Seminary

An address delivered at a National Bible Institute Bible Conference, New York City.

ACCORDING to the belief of all the historic branches of the Christian Church, Jesus of Nazareth was born without human father, being conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary. In the present lecture we shall consider very briefly the origin of this belief. The belief of the Christian Church in the virgin birth of Christ is a fact of history which requires an explanation. And two kinds of explanation are possible. In the first place, the belief may be explained as being based upon fact. It may be held that the Church came to believe in the virgin birth because as a matter of fact Jesus was born of a virgin. Or in the second place it may be held that the belief arose in some other way. The task of the historian is to balance these two kinds of explanation against each other. Is it easier to explain the belief of the Church in the virgin birth on the hypothesis that it originated in fact or on the hypothesis that it arose in some other way?

I. Belief in the Virgin Birth Based on Fact

We shall first examine the former hypothesis—that the belief in the virgin birth is based upon fact. Of course, the most obvious thing to say is that this belief appears in the New Testament in the clearest possible terms. And most of our time will be taken up in examining the New Testament evidence. But before we come to examine the New Testament evidence it may be well to glance at the later Christian literature.

At the close of the second century, when the Christian literature outside of the New Testament becomes abundant, when we have full information about the belief of the Church at Alexandria, in Asia Minor, at Rome and in the West, we find that everywhere the virgin birth was accepted as a matter of course as one of the essential things in the Christian view of Christ. But this same kind of belief appears also at an earlier time; for example in the old Roman baptismal confession which was the basis of our Apostles’ Creed, in Justin Martyr at the middle of the second century, and in Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, at the beginning of the century. There were, it is true, denials of the virgin birth not only by opponents of Christianity but also by some who professed a kind of Christian faith.

But all of these denials look far more as though they were due to philosophical prepossession than to any genuine historical tradition. The plain fact is that the virgin birth appears just as firmly fixed at the beginning of the second century as at the end of it; it is quite impossible to detect any gradual establishment of the doctrine as though it had to make its way against opposition. Particularly the testimony of Ignatius and of the Apostles’ Creed shows not only that the virgin birth was accepted at a very early time, but that it was accepted as a matter of course and as one of the facts singled out for inclusion even in the briefest summaries of the most important things which the Christian needed to know about Christ. Even this evidence from outside the New Testament would suffice to show that a firm belief in the virgin birth existed in the Christian Church well before the close of the first century.

But still more important is the New Testament evidence, and to that evidence we now turn.

The virgin birth is attested in two of the New Testament books, the Gospel according to Matthew and the Gospel according to Luke. The value which will be attributed to this testimony depends of course to a considerable extent upon the view which one holds of each of these two Gospels as a whole. Obviously it will not be possible to discuss these questions here; it would carry us too far afield to discuss the evidence for the early date and high historical value of the two Gospels in which the virgin birth appears. But one remark at least may be made in passing : it may at least be observed that the credit of the great double work, Luke-Acts, has been steadily rising in recent years even in circles which were formerly most hostile. The extraordinary strength of the literary evidence has led even men like Professor von Harnack of Berlin, Professor C. C. Torrey of Yale, and the distinguished historian Professor Eduard Meyer, despite their rejection of the whole supernatural content of the book, to accept the traditional view that Luke-Acts was actually written by Luke the physician, a companion of Paul. It will not be possible here to review that literary evidence in detail; but surely the evidence must be very strong if it has been able to convince even those whose presuppositions render the hypothesis of Lucan authorship so extremely uncomfortable.

But if the Third Gospel was really written by Luke, its testimony as to events in Palestine must surely be received with the greatest possible respect. According to the information derived from the use of the first person plural in the Book of Acts, Luke had been in contact with James, the Lord’s own brother, and with many other members of the primitive Jerusalem Church. Moreover he was in Palestine in A.D. 58 and appears there again two years later; so that presumably he was in the country during the interval. Obviously such a man had the fullest possible opportunity for acquainting himself, not only with events concerning the Gentile mission of Paul but also with events in the life of our Lord in Palestine. It is therefore a matter of no small importance that the virgin birth is narrated in the Third Gospel.

But the virgin birth is not merely narrated in the Third Gospel; it is narrated in a very peculiar part of that Gospel. The first two chapters of the Gospel are possessed of very remarkable literary characteristics. The hand of the author of the whole book has indeed been at work in these chapters, as the elaborate researches of von Harnack and others have clearly shown; but the author’s hand has not been allowed to destroy the underlying literary character of the narrative. And that underlying character is very strongly marked. The truth is that the first two chapters of Luke, with the exception of the typical Greek sentence in Luke 1:1-4, are in spirit and style, as well as in thought, nothing in the world but a bit of the Old Testament embedded in the midst of the New Testament. Nowhere is there a narrative more transparently Jewish and Palestinian than this. It is another question how the Palestinian character of the narrative is to be explained. Some have supposed that Luke used a written Palestinian source, which had already been translated into Greek or which he himself translated; others have supposed that without written sources he has simply caught the truly Semitic flavor of the oral information that came to him in Palestine. At any rate, however the Palestinian character of the narrative is to be explained, that Palestinian character itself is perfectly plain; in the first two chapters of Luke we are evidently dealing with a narrative that came from Palestinian soil.

That fact is of great importance for the question of the virgin birth. It shows that the virgin birth was narrated not merely in Gentile Christian documents but also in the country which was the scene of the narrated event. But there is still another reason why the Palestinian character of the narrative is important. We shall observe in the latter part of the lecture that the great majority of those modern scholars who reject the fact of the virgin birth suppose that the idea of the virgin birth was derived from pagan sources. But if that hypothesis be accepted, the question arises how a pagan idea came to be attested just by the most transparently Jewish and Palestinian portion of the whole New Testament. The Palestinian Judaism of the first century was passionately opposed to pagan influences, especially that loyal type of Palestinian Judaism which appears with such beautiful clearness in Luke 1:2. How could a pagan idea possibly find a place in such a narrative ?

The question is really unanswerable; and in order to attempt to answer it, many modern scholars have had recourse to a truly desperate expedient—they have maintained that the virgin birth was not originally contained in the Palestinian narrative found in the first two chapters of Luke but has been inserted later into that narrative by interpolation. This interpolation theory has been held in two forms. According to the more radical form the virgin birth has been interpolated into the completed Gospel. This hypothesis is opposed by the great weight of manuscript attestation, there being not the slightest evidence among the many hundreds of manuscripts containing the Gospel of Luke that there ever was a form of that Gospel without the verses narrating the virgin birth. A more cautious form of the interpolation theory has therefore sometimes been preferred. According to that more cautious form, although the words attesting the virgin birth formed an original part of the Third Gospel they did not form an original part of the Palestinian source which the author of the Gospel was using in the first two chapters, but were interpolated by the author himself into the source which elsewhere he was closely following.

The Interpolation Theory

What shall be said of this interpolation theory? Very often the best and only refutation of an interpolation theory is the refutation which a distinguished preacher is once said to have applied to theosophy. A lady is reported to have asked the preacher, after one of his lectures, to give her the strongest evidence against theosophy. “Madam,” he replied, “the strongest evidence against theosophy is that there is no evidence in its favor.” Similarly it may be said that the burden of proof is clearly against those who advance an interpolation hypothesis; if no clear evidence can be adduced in its favor the hypothesis must be rejected, and the narrative must be taken as it stands. Even such a consideration alone would be decisive against the interpolation theory regarding the virgin birth in the infancy narrative of the Third Gospel. The advocates of the theory have signally failed to prove their point. The virgin birth is not merely narrated with great clearness in Luke 1:34, 35, but is implied in several other verses; and no reason at all adequate for supposing that these portions of the narrative have been tampered with has yet been adduced. But as a matter of fact we are in the present case by no means limited to such a merely negative method of defense. The truth is that in the present case we can do far more than disprove the arguments for the interpolation hypothesis; we can also actually prove positively that that hypothesis is false. A careful examination shows clearly that the virgin birth, far from being an addition to the narrative in the first chapter of Luke, is the thing for which the whole narrative exists. There is a clear parallelism between the account of the birth of John and that of the birth of Jesus. Even the birth of John was wonderful, since his parents were old. But the birth of Jesus was more wonderful still, and clearly it is the intention of the narrator to show that it was more wonderful. Are we to suppose that while narrating the wonderful birth of John the narrator simply mentioned an ordinary, non-miraculous birth of Jesus? The supposition is quite contrary to the entire manner in which the narrative is constructed. The truth is that if the virgin birth be removed from the first chapter of Luke the whole point is removed, and the narrative becomes quite meaningless. Never was an interpolation hypothesis more clearly false.

But personally I am very glad that the interpolation hypothesis has been proposed, because it indicates the desperate expedients to which those who deny the virgin birth are reduced. The great majority of those who reject the virgin birth of Christ suppose that the idea arose on pagan ground, and admit that other derivations of the idea are inadequate. But in order to hold this view they are simply forced to hold the interpolation theory regarding the first chapter of Luke; for only so can they explain how a pagan idea came to find a place in so transparently Jewish a narrative. But the interpolation theory being demonstrably false, the whole modern way of explaining the idea of the virgin birth of Christ results in signal failure. The naturalistic historians in other words are forced by their theory to hold the interpolation hypothesis; they stake their all upon that hypothesis. But that hypothesis is clearly false; hence the entire construction falls to the ground.

The Virgin Birth in Matthew

So much then for the account of the virgin birth in Luke. Let us now turn to the Gospel according to Matthew. Here the virgin birth is narrated with a plainness which leaves nothing to be desired. Some men used to say that the first two chapters of the Gospel are a later addition, but this hypothesis has now been almost universally abandoned.

The value of this testimony depends of course upon the view that is held of the Gospel as a whole. But it is generally admitted by scholars of the most diverse points of view that the Gospel was written especially for Jews, and the Jewish character of the infancy narrative in the first two chapters is particularly plain.

If this lecture were being delivered under the conditions that prevailed some years ago it might be thought necessary for us to enter at length into the question of Matthew 1:16. Some time ago the textual question regarding this verse was discussed even in the newspapers and created a good deal of excitement. It was maintained by some persons that an ancient manuscript of the Gospels which was discovered in the monastery of St. Catherine on Mount Sinai provided a testimony against the virgin birth. The manuscript referred to is the so-called Sinaitic Syriac, a manuscript of an ancient translation of the Gospels into the Syriac language. This manuscript is not, as has sometimes been falsely asserted, the most ancient New Testament manuscript; since it is later than the two greatest
manuscripts, the Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaiticus, which also have the inestimable advantage of being manuscripts of the original Greek, not of a mere Syriac translation. But the Sinaitic Syriac is a very ancient manuscript, having been produced at about 400 A.D., and despite the fact that the extravagant claims made for it have now for the most part been abandoned, a few words about it may still be in place.

The Sinaitic Syriac Manuscript

The Sinaitic Syriac has a curious reading at Matthew 1:16. But the importance of this witness must not be exaggerated. In order to accept the witness of the Sinaitic Syriac against all other documents one must suppose (1) that this manuscript has correctly reproduced at the point in question the ancient Syriac translation from which it is descended by a process of transmission, (2) that this ancient Syriac translation (which was probably produced in the latter part of the second century) correctly represented at this point the Greek manuscript from which the translation was made, and (3) that that Greek manuscript correctly represented at this point the autograph of the Gospel from which it was descended by a process of transmission. All of this is exceedingly uncertain in view of the over-whelming mass of evidence on the other side. To accept one witness against all the other witnesses is a very precarious kind of textual criticism where the evidence is so exceedingly abundant as it is in the case of the New Testament.

But as a matter of fact the Sinaitic Syriac does not deny the virgin birth at all. It attests the virgin birth in Matthew 1:18-25 just as clearly as do the other manuscripts, and it implies it even in Matthew 1:16. The reading of the Sinaitic Syriac which has given rise to the discussion is (translated into English by Burkett) as follows : “Jacob begat Joseph. Joseph, to whom was betrothed Mary the virgin, begat Jesus that is called the Messiah.” That would be self-contradictory if the word “begat” meant what it means in English. But as a matter of fact the scribe of the Sinaitic Syriac, if he thought of what he was doing and was not simply making a careless mistake, clearly used the word “begat” in the sense, “had as a legal descendant.” It is interesting to note that Professor F. C. Burkitt, the greatest British authority on the Syriac manuscripts, who certainly is far from being prejudiced in favor of the virgin birth, holds that even if the original text were simply “Joseph begat Jesus” (which as a matter of fact appears in no manuscript) it would be absolutely without significance as a testimony against the virgin birth; for it would only mean that Joseph had Jesus as his legal heir. The author of the First Gospel is interested in two things, in one of them just as much as in the other. He is interested in showing (1) that Jesus was the heir of David through Joseph and (2) that He was a gift of God to the house of David in a more wonderful way than would have been the case if He had been descended from David by ordinary generation.

Thus even if the Sinaitic Syriac did represent the original text, it would not deny the virgin birth. But as a matter of fact it does not represent the original text at all. The original text of Matthew 1:16 is exactly the text that we are familiar with in our Bibles.

Accordingly we have an unequivocal double witness to the virgin birth of Christ in the Gospels of Matthew and of Luke. These two witnesses are clearly independent. If one thing is clear to modern scholars—and to every common-sense reader—it is that Matthew has not used Luke and Luke has not used Matthew. The very difficulty of fitting the two infancy narratives together is, to the believer in the virgin birth, a blessing in disguise; for it demonstrates at least the complete independence of the two accounts. The unanimity of these two independent witnesses constitutes the very strongest possible testimony to the central fact about which they are perfectly and obviously agreed.

But at this point an objection is often made. The rest of the New Testament, we are told, says nothing about the virgin birth; Paul says nothing about it, neither does Mark. Hence the testimony in favor of it is often said to be weak; and men are often impressed with this argument from silence.

Argument from Silence

Now the argument from silence needs to be used with a great deal of caution. The silence of a writer about any detail is without significance unless it has been shown that if the writer in question had known and accepted that detail he would have been obliged to mention it.

But that is just exactly what cannot be shown in the case of the silence about the virgin birth. Paul, for example, does not mention the virgin birth, and much has been made of his silence. “What is good enough for Paul,” we are told in effect, “is good enough for us; if he got along without the virgin birth we can get along without it too.” It is rather surprising, indeed, to find the Modernists of today advancing that particular argument; it is rather surprising to find them laying down the principle that what is good enough for Paul is good enough for them, and that things which are not found in Paul cannot be essential to Christianity. For the center of their religion is found in the ethical teaching of Jesus, especially in the Golden Rule. But where does Paul say anything about the Golden Rule, and where does he quote at any length the ethical teachings of Jesus? We do not mean at all that the silence about such things in the Epistles shows that Paul did not know or care about the words and example of our Lord. On the contrary there are clear intimations that the reason why the Apostle does not tell more about what Jesus did and said in Palestine is not that these things were to him unimportant but that they were so important that instruction about them had been given at the very beginning in the churches and so did not need to be repeated in the Epistles, which are addressed to special needs. And where Paul does give details about Jesus the incidental way in which he does so shows clearly that there is a great deal else which he would have told if he had found occasion. The all-important passage in I Corinthians 15:3-8 provides a striking example. In that passage Paul gives a list of appearances of the risen Christ. He would not have done so if it had not been for the chance (humanly speaking) of certain mis-understandings that had arisen in Corinth. Yet if he had not done so, it is appalling to think of the inferences which would have been drawn from his silence by modern scholars. And yet, even if the occasion for mentioning the list of appearances had not happened to arise in the Epistles it would still have remained true that that list of appearances was one of the absolutely fundamental elements of teaching which Paul gave to the churches at the very beginning.

That example should make us extremely cautious about drawing inferences from the silence of Paul. In the Epistles Paul mentions very few things about the earthly life of Jesus; yet clearly he knew far more than in the Epistles he has found occasion to tell. It does not at all follow therefore that because he does not mention a thing in the Epistles he did not know about it. Hence the fact that he does not mention the virgin birth does not prove that the virgin birth was to him unknown.

Moreover, although Paul does not mention the virgin birth the entire account which he gives of Jesus as an entirely new beginning in humanity, as the second Adam, is profoundly incongruous with the view that makes Jesus the son, by ordinary generation, of Joseph and Mary. The entire Christology of Paul is a powerful witness to the same event that is narrated in Matthew and Luke; the religion of Paul presupposes a Jesus who was conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary.

The silence of Mark is of just as little importance as the silence of Paul. The Gospel according to Mark seems to have been pre-eminently the missionary gospel; it was not intended to give all the facts about Jesus, but simply those which needed to be given first to those who had not already been won to Christ. Reading the Second Gospel, you stand in astonishment like those who were in the synagogue at Capernaum in the scene described in the first chapter. You see the wonderful works of Jesus; you stand afar off looking at Him; you are not introduced to Him with the intimacy of detail which one finds in Matthew and Luke. The fact that Mark does not narrate the virgin birth does not prove that he does not believe in the virgin birth or that it is to him less important than other facts; but shows merely that the narration of the birth of Jesus in any form is quite contrary to the plan of his Gospel, which begins with the public ministry. The most important things that need to be said are not always the first things; and Mark is concerned with the first things that would make an impression even upon those who had not already been won to Christ.

The New Testament does indeed imply that the contemporaries of Jesus in Palestine were unaware of the story of the virgin birth, and perhaps it also “makes probable that the virgin birth formed no part of the earliest missionary preaching of the apostles in Jerusalem. But all that is just what would be expected even if the virgin birth was a fact. The virgin birth was a holy mystery which was capable of the grossest misunderstanding; certainly it would not be spoken of by a person like Mary whose meditative character is so delicately and so vividly depicted in the first two chapters of Luke. It would not be spoken of to the hostile multitude, and least of all would it be spoken of to the brothers of Jesus. Also it would certainly not be mentioned in the earliest public missionary preaching before the crowds in Jerusalem. Only at some time after the resurrection, when the miracle of the virgin birth had at last been vindicated by the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus would Mary breathe the mystery of Jesus’ birth to sympathetic ears. Hence it found its way into the wonderful narrative preserved by Luke and from there into the hearts of Christians of all the ages.

Such is the course of events which would be expected if the virgin birth was a fact. And the attestation of the event in the New Testament is just exactly what is suited to these antecedent probabilities. The attestation in the very nature of the case could not be equal to that of an event like the resurrection, of which there were many eye-witnesses; but it is just what it would naturally be if the event really occurred in the manner in which it is said to have occurred in Matthew and Luke.

But the full force of the New Testament evidence can be appreciated only if the accounts are allowed to speak for themselves. These narratives are wonderfully self-evidencing; they certainly do not read as though they are based on fiction; and they are profoundly congruous with that entire account of Jesus without” which the origin of the Christian religion is an insoluble puzzle.

(To be continued – that is, if we can locate that next issue from 1925!)

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greenJBJames Benjamin Green was born on May 10, 1871 to parents Curtis and Sarah Hammond Green, and died on September 8, 1967, at the age of 96. He had received his education at the Peabody Teachers College, Nashville, TN (1889-1891) and the University of Nashville (1891-1893, BA), with postgraduate  work there, (1895-96), followed by his preparation for the ministry at the Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, 1898-1901.

He was both licensed and ordained in 1901 by Columbia Presbytery, and installed as pastor of the Frierson Memorial Presbyterian church in Columbia, Tennessee, serving there from 1901 through 1903. He then answered a call to serve as pastor of the church in Fayetteville, TN, 1903-1907. His third pulpit and longest pastorate was with the Presbyterian church in Greenwood, SC, where he labored from 1908 to 1921. From this pulpit he was then called to serve as professor of Systematic Theology at the Columbia Theological Seminary, 1921-1950. Announcing his intent to retire in 1946, he was that same year elected to serve as Moderator of the General Assembly (PCUS). Other honors awarded during his life included the Doctor of Divinity degree, conferred by the Presbyterian College of South Carolina (1914) and the Doctor of Letters degree, conferred by Southwest College (1940).

It was on this day, August 14, 1957, that The Southern Presbyterian Journal published an article by Dr. Green on the subject of baptism, which we take the liberty of reproducing here in full. Demand for the article was such that the Journal saw fit to issue it in tract form, publishing at least four editions in the years that followed. While this might be a longer post than you care to read right now, it would certainly be worth printing and filing away for future use.

WHY WE BAPTIZE BY SPRINKLING
by Rev. J. B. Green, D.D.
Columbia Theological Seminary Decatur, Ga.

We differ from our immersionist friends not only in our view of the mode, but also in our view of the meaning of baptism. They think  that baptism points to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. We object to that in­terpretation:

  1. green_1957_sprinklingBecause it is generally agreed that the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper refers to the death and resurrection of Christ. If baptism also signifies the death and resurrection of Christ, then we have two Sacraments which are signs and symbols of the same facts of the life of Christ. Why this double representation of these facts? In that case we have no sign and symbol of the work of the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament it was not so. There the passover pointed to the work of Christ, but cir­cumcision pointed to the work of the Holy Spirit. For circumcision meant the putting away of carnality, the removal of the sinful flesh. This is the peculiar work of the Holy Spirit. Bap­tism means the same thing; it means the wash­ing away of sin. We object to the immersion- ist’s view of the meaning of baptism for another reason. The burial of Christ has no redemptive value. Christ would have saved the world if he had not been buried. Why should a rite be ordained to signify a fact which is not essen­tial to the accomplishment of salvation?

We think that baptism represents the work of the Holy Spirit. Why do we so think? For several reasons. There are three Bible symbols of the Holy Spirit. One is oil. In 1 Samuel 10:1-6 we have an account of the anointing of Saul by Samuel, setting him apart to the King­ship. The oil was poured on Saul’s head, and in connection with that anointing the Holy Spirit came upon him.

In I Samuel 16th chapter we have an account of the anointing of David by Samuel. The oil ’ was poured upon David’s head and the Spirit came upon him. These passages indicate that the anointing with oil is typical of the anoint­ing with the Holy Spirit.

Another symbol of the Spirit is water. In Ezekiel 36:25-27, the Lord Jehovah says, “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you . . . And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep mine ordinances, and do them.” The gift of the spirit is associated with the sprinkling with water. In Matthew 3:16, there is an ac­count of two baptisms. One with water, one with the Spirit. The water baptism was sym­bolic of the Spirit baptism. In John 7:37-38, Jesus stood and cried, saying, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink. He that be- lieveth on me, as the scripture hath said, from within him shall flow rivers of living water. But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that be­lieve on him were to receive.”

The third symbol is fire. In Acts 2:3-4, we * have an account of the gift of the Holy Spirit to the first group of believers. “There appeared unto them tongues parting asunder like as of fire, and it sat upon each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.”

These symbols point to the Spirit and his work, and not to Christ and his redemptive action.

Now by what mode were these symbols ap­plied? The oil was poured upon the head. The water, throughout the Jewish dispensation, was sprinkled or poured, and the fire descended upon the heads of the believers.

There is one other passage to which I must t direct your attention: 1 John 5:8, “There are three who bear witness, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and the three agree in one.” These three, the Spirit, the water, and the blood agree, says the Apostle. In what re­spect? In meaning for one thing, they all signify cleansing. Do they not agree also in mode? The blood was always sprinkled. The water of puri­fication among the Jews was always sprinkled. And the Spirit, as we shall see, always descended upon.

It thus appears from Scripture that water bap­tism symbolizes the work of the Spirit. If so, it should not be supposed that the mode of baptism is by immersion.

But some — many — say that the question of mode is settled by the word baptizo, the Greek word which gives the name to the rite. We do not think so. The Greek word for the Lord’s Supper, the second Sacrament, does not settle the question of the mode of its administration. The Greek word for the Supper is deipnon, which signifies a full meal; a table spread with sufficient food to satisfy a man’s hunger. The Greek Christians at Corinth, perhaps reasoning from the meaning of that word, misobserved the Lord’s Supper; and the Apostle had to cor­rect them. 1 Corinthians 11:20-22. If reasoning from the literal meaning of the classic word for the second Sacrament leads to error, may not reasoning from the literal meaning of the word for the first Sacrament also lead to error? It not only may, but does.

In the Lord’s Supper we have not a physical feast, as the word for it suggests, but physical signs of a spiritual feast. In baptism we have not a physical bath, but a physical sign of a spiritual cleansing. A small quantity of bread and wine is sufficient to signify a spiritual ban­quet. And a little water is sufficient as a sign of spiritual purifying.

But it is contended by many that baptizo always means to dip, to plunge, etc. Not in the Bible.

At the beginning of my ministry in Tennessee I attended a debate on the subject of the mode of baptism between a Baptist minister and a min­ister of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. The Baptist brought many books of authority by which he intended to prove that baptizo always means to dip, to plunge, etc. The Cumberland Presbyterian brought only his Bible. He said he proposed to show that baptizo in the Bible does not mean to immerse. What he proposed to do, he did.

Some years ago a Baptist publishing house in the north requested Dr. Edmund B. Fairfield to prepare a book in defense of the Baptist view of the mode of baptism. This man had been a Baptist minister for more than a quarter of a century, and no man was more certain of being right than he was. He said he had no doubt on the subject. For two years he investigated the evidence relating to the mode of baptism. To his surprise, the farther he went in his investigation, the more he saw that the evidence was against the Baptist position. In the presence of his accumulated evidence, honesty required him to surrender his former view. He wrote a book, but it was on the other side of the question.

I will now give you instances of the use of the word in the New Testament where baptizo does not, cannot, mean to immerse. Luke 11:37-38: There we are told that a Pharisee asked Jesus to dine with him; and Jesus went in, and sat down to meat. And when the Pharisee saw it, he mar­veled that he had not first bathed himself before dinner. The word there rendered bathed, is the word baptizo. Was the Pharisee surprised that Jesus did not first immerse himself before sitting down to meat? Impossible!

Hebrews: The author in the 9th chapter is describing the ordinances of divine service in the old sanctuary. “The priest offered both gifts and sacrifices that cannot as touching the con­science make the worshipper perfect, being only (with meats, drinks, and divers washings) carnal ordinances.” The word rendered washing is baptizmois. These washings were called bap­tisms. There were many washings, purifyings, among the Jews, but no immersions.

The third instance of the use of the word bap­tizo, where it cannot mean immerse, is in the accounts of the baptisms with the Holy Spirit. John the Baptizer, (would you say John the Immerser?) says: “I indeed baptize you with water; but there cometh he that is mightier than I; . . .He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Was baptism with the Holy Spirit by im­mersion? Was anybody ever immersed in the Holy Spirit? The idea is foreign to Scripture, foreign to reason. The Spirit was always applied to the person, never the person to the Spirit. The same is true of water in the Bible. It is always applied to the person, and that by sprinkling. The immersionist applies the person to the water, we apply the water to the person, that is the Bible way, there is no exception.

The same is true of the use of blood in the Bible, as we have seen. There is a song we some­times sing:

“There is a fountain filled with blood,
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.”

I like the music, but not words of the first stanza. The words are thoroughly unscriptural. When was any sinner ever plunged beneath a flood of the blood!

Let Peter tell you how the blood was applied. His First Epistle addressed to the “elect . . . according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit unto obedi­ence and the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.” And listen to the author of Hebrews: “Having a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in fullness of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water …” 10:21-22. The washing with pure water is a reference to water baptism. In the passage there are two cleansings, the cleansing of the body and the cleansing of the heart. It says that the heart was cleansed by sprinkling. Was the body cleansed by immersion?

Now all will agree that the greater, the better baptism, is the Spirit baptism. John says: “I baptize you with water, but he that cometh after me shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” John’s baptism was typical of Jesus’ baptism. Jesus’ baptism with the Spirit was the real, the important baptism. For the mode of it, read Joel’s prophecy: “It shall come to pass that I will pour out my Spirit in all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions and also upon the servants and the handmaids in those days will I pour out my Spirit.” 2.28-29. Now read the account of the fulfillment of that prophesy in Acts 2:3-4: “There came from heaven tongues parting asun­der like as of fire, and it sat upon each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” The tongues of fire and the Holy Spirit came from above, from heaven, upon the be­lievers.

In Acts, the 10th chapter, we are told that while Peter was yet speaking, the Holy Spirit fell on all them that heard the word. That is the invariable rule, the Spirit always falls upon, descends upon, or is poured upon the subjects. If water baptism is to present a picture of Spirit baptism, it should be in mode like Spirit bap­tism. Well, if the mode is not given in the word which designates the rite, how are we to learn what the mode is? In two ways: 1. By the mean­ing of the rite in Scripture. I have dealt with that already. 2. By the examples of its admin­istration. The passages in the New Testament that relate to the administration of baptism are divided into three classes: First, those which taken by themselves seem to favor immersion. Matthew 3:16. The authorized version says that Jesus when he was baptized went up straightway out of the water. The revised version says that he went up straightway from the water. The preposition used is not ex, meaning out of, but apo, which means from the water. He could have gone up from the water without going up out of the water. In Acts 8:38-39, we have an account of the baptism of the eunuch by Philip. The record says that both went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he bap­tized him. And when they came up out of the water the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip. The immersionist says that this language indi­cates that the baptism was by immersion, but t the passage, correctly read, indicates no such thing. If going into the water and the com­ing up out of it were parts of the baptism, then both Philip and the eunuch were baptized; for they both went down into the water and came up out of the water. The passage says that the Baptism took place between the going into the water and the coming up out of the water. And all the lawyers of Philadelphia cannot tell how the baptism was performed. No valid argument can be based on prepositions. In the 8th chapter of the Acts, the preposition en is used several times, but only in the account of the baptism of the eunuch is it translated into. Elsewhere in that chapter it is translated at, by, etc. So I say that this class of Scripture only seems to favor immersion.

Second, there is a second class of passages relat­ing to the administration of baptism from which the idea of immersion is excluded. Under this head belong the accounts of baptism with the Holy Spirit. With this class of passages we have dealt already.

Third, there is a third class of passages which, in themselves, are not decisive, but which are altogether favorable to baptism by sprinkling. First, the baptism of the 3,000 at Jerusalem. Was it by immersion? Where? In what water? Jerusalem’s water supply was mostly in cisterns under the ground, no river flowed by Jerusalem, only a little brook which was a wet weather branch, at other seasons its bed was dry. There was no large pool or lake at Jerusalem. If there had been, it would have been under the control of the Pharisees, who, of course, would have for­bidden it to those despised followers of the crucified pretender to Messiahship. It there had been a body of water sufficient for baptism by immersion and the Apostles had used it for that purpose, the whole body of the water would have been polluted, rendered unfit for use by any Jew fearing defilement. The facts of the situation in Jerusalem are dead against the notion that the 3,000 converts were baptized by immersion.

Take now the baptism of the case of the eunuch, which was down toward Gaza, which was desert. Some tourists were shown the place where it was said the eunuch was baptized. And what did they see? A little stream no bigger than your little finger flowing out of a rock. A Bap­tist in the party exclaimed, “Oh it didn’t take place here, it didn’t take place here, not enough water,” Exactly, not enough water for immer­sion, but a plenty for sprinkling.

Next, the case of Cornelius and his household. While Peter was yet speaking the Holy Spirit fell on all that heard the Word. Did Peter say, “Is there a baptistry here, or a pool convenient where these may be baptized?” No, he said, “Can any man forbid the water that these should not be baptized?” He then commanded them to be baptized then and there. Was it by immersion?

The case of the jailer at Philippi. His baptism took place without delay at midnight at the jail. Was it by immersion? The case of Paul is pe­culiarly clear and convincing. Ananias was sent to administer to Paul, then called Saul. Laying his hands on him, Ananias said, “Brother Saul, the Lord has sent me that thou mayest receive thy sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And straightway there fell from his eyes as it were scales, and he received his sight. And he arose and was baptized. Baptized then and there, standing up. Was it by immersion?

Two points more and I am done.

  1. According to our view of baptism there is unity and harmony in Scripture. There is one method of purification in Both Testaments and that is by sprinkling — sprinkling of water, sprinkling of blood.
  2. Baptism by sprinkling is universally ap­plicable. Universally applicable as to place. Wherever there is water enough to sustain life, there people can be baptized by sprinkling. In World War I there was a large military camp in Greenville, South Carolina. The Baptists complained that no provision was made for ad­ministering baptism by their mode. They seemed to think that the government should run a river into the camp, or create a lake for their con­venience. A distinguished Baptist minister, Dr. Norwood, pastor of City Temple, London, Eng­land, was a Chaplain at the battle front in France. He said the application of the rite of baptism by immersion was out of the question there. He said he did not repudiate that mode of baptism, he simply had no use for it in that situation. He could never again insist that the quantity of water was important in Baptism.

Baptism by sprinkling is universally applicable as to time. It can be safely administered in the frozen North in winter, as in the balmy South.

It is universally applicable as to people. It can be applied to infants as well as to adults; to the sick as well as to the healthy; to the dying as well as to the living.

Remember, according to the Bible, people were baptized with water, not in water; they were baptized with the Holy Spirit, not in the Holy Spirit. The water was applied to the per­son, not the person to the water. The Spirit was applied to the person, not the person to the Spirit. And believers were baptized immediately on the spot.

Reasoning from the use of baptizo in Scripture, from the meaning of the rite of baptism, and from the instances of its administration, we con­clude that baptism was, and should be now, by sprinkling or pouring.

“I will sprinkle clear water upon you,” sayeth the Lord, “and ye shall be clean; from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.” “Wherefore, let us all draw near with a true heart in fullness of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and having our bodies washed with clean water.”

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Charles Hodge enters into eternity

hodgeCharles_grayEarly in July of 1878, on the pages of The Christian Observer,this brief note appeared under the title, “Calvinism and Piety,” :

The Christian Union, which has no friendship for Calvinism, closes its article on the death of Dr. Hodge, as follows:

“Dr. Hodge, who was the foremost of the old Calvinists in this country, was, in character, one of the sweetest, gentlest and most lovable of men. His face was itself a benediction. We doubt whether he had any other than a theological enemy in the world. Curiously too, the peculiar tenets of his theology were reserved for the class-room and for philosophical writings. In the pulpit he preached a simple and unsectarian gospel; his favorite texts were such as “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved;” and his sermons were such as the most successful missionaries delight to preach in foreign lands. In Princeton he is regarded as without peer in the conduct of the prayer meeting. His piety was as deep and as genuine as his learning was varied and profound. The system of theology of which he was the ablest American representative seems to us, in some points, foreign to the teaching of the New Testament, but the life and personality of the man were luminous with the spirit of an indwelling Christ.”

Words to Live By: May we all—those of us who name the name of Christ and who also claim that same biblical faith commonly called Calvinism—so find our maturity in Christ as to live in a similar way, luminous with the spirit of the indwelling Christ, pointing all men and women to the only Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

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Our post today is drawn from Richard Webster’s History of the Presbyterian Church.

wilsonJamesPatriot_02The son of Rev. Dr. Matthew* and Elizabeth Wilson, James Patriot Wilson was born at Lewes, Sussex County, Delaware, February 21, 1769. His father was eminent as a physician and clergyman, and his mother was deemed a model in all her domestic and social relations. He was graduated with high honor at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, Pa., in August of 1788. So distinguished was he in the various branches, included in his collegiate course, that at the time of his graduation it was the expressed opinion of the Faculty that he was competent to instruct his classmates. He was at the same time offered a place in the University as Assistant Professor of Mathematics, but as his health was somewhat impaired and the air of his native place was more congenial with his constitution, he became an assistant in the Academy at Lewes, taking measures to regain his health, and occupying his leisure with reading history. Having devoted himself for sometime to the study of the law he was admitted to the bar in Sussex County, Delaware, in 1790.

In June, 1792, he was married to Elizabeth, daughter of John and Hannah Woods, of Lewes, Delaware, with whom he lived but little more than three years, as she died in December, 1795. She had two children, but neither of them survived her.

Though he had acquired a reputation as a lawyer that was perhaps unsurpassed perhaps in Delaware at the time, yet it was not long before he gave up this profession and entered the ministry. The death of his first wife may well have been what contributed to this change of course.

He was licensed to preach the gospel in 1804 by the Presbytery of Lewes, and in the same year was ordained and installed as pastor over the united congregations of Lewes, Cool Spring, and Indian River—the very congregations which had for many years enjoyed the ministry of his father.

In May of 1806, he was called, upon the death of Dr. Benjamin Rush (who had been his early and constant friend), to the pastoral charge of the First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. He accepted the call, under the encouragement of his Presbytery, and relocateded to Philadelphia that same year. In May of 1828, he retired to his farm, near Hartsville, in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, about twenty miles from the city, on account of the infirm state of his health, preaching nevertheless to his congregation as often as his health permitted. His resignation of his pastoral charge was not accepted till the spring of 1830. In the course of that season he visited the city and preached for the last time to his people. He died at his farm in the utmost peace, on December 9, 1830, and was buried on the 13th, in a spot selected by himself in the grave-yard of Neshaminy Church. His remains lie near the tomb of the celebrated William Tennant, the founder of the “Log College.” The degree of Doctor of Divinity was conferred upon him by the University of Pennsylvania, in 1807.

Dr. Wilson was in person above the middle height, and had a countenance rather grave than animated, and expressive at once of strong benevolent feelings and high intelligence. He was affable and communicative, and generally talked so sensibly, or so learnedly, or so profoundly, that he was listened to with earnest attention.

About three years after the death of his first wife, he was married in May of 1798 to Mary, daughter of David and Mary M. Hall, and sister of the late Governor Hall, of Delaware. Mrs. Wilson later survived her husband by nine years, and died January 5, 1839. They had nine children, only two of whom survived into adulthood; one of which was the Rev. Dr. James P. Wilson, of Newark, New Jersey.

As an author Rev. Wilson published lectures upon some of the Parables and Historical Passages of the New Testament, in 1810; An Easy Introduction to the Knowledge of the Hebrew Language, 1812; Ridgely’s Body of Divinity, with Notes, 1814 ; A Series of Articles on The Primitive Government of the Christian Churches; also Liturgical Considerations (1833), along with many tracts and essays. For more on his various publications, see Annals of American Pulpit, by William B. Sprague, vol. 4, page 353.

[* A Memoir of Rev. Dr. Matthew Wilson can be found published in The Presbyterian Historical Almanac for 1863, on page 48.]

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Befitting a long name, a longish sermon on a most important point.

sheddWGTWilliam Greenough Thayer Shedd was born in June of 1820 of a distinguished New England lineage. Sensing the call to the ministry, he attended Andover Theological Seminary, and then became a pastor in the Congregational denomination in Vermont. Even though he was Old School Reformed in his thinking, he taught briefly at the New School Presbyterian institution of Auburn Theological Seminary, from 1852-1854. Leaving Auburn, he was professor of church history at Andover from 1853-1862, and then for two years as co-pastor at the Brick Presbyterian Church in New York City. His life’s primary work occurred while teaching at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, where he was to teach for eleven years, 1874-1892. He died on November 17, 1894.

SIN IN THE HEART THE SOURCE OF ERROR IN THE HEAD

ROMANS i. 28.—”As they did not like to retain God in their knowledge,
God gave them over to a reprobate mind.”

In the opening of the most logical and systematic treatise in the New Testament, the Epistle to the Romans, the apostle Paul enters upon a line of argument to demonstrate the ill-desert of every human creature without exception. In order to this, he shows that no excuse can be urged upon the ground of moral ignorance. He explicitly teaches that the pagan knows that there is one Supreme God (Rom. i. 20); that He is a spirit (Rom. i. 23); that He is holy and sin-hating (Rom. i. 18); that He is worthy to be worshipped (Rom. i. 21, 25); and that men ought to be thankful for His benefits (Rom. i. 21). He affirms that the heathen knows that an idol is a lie (Rom. i. 25); that licentiousness is a sin (Rom. i. 26, 32); that envy, malice, and deceit are wicked (Rom. i. 29, 32); and that those who practise such sins deserve eternal punishment (Rom. i. 32).

In these teachings and assertions, the apostle has attributed no small amount and degree of moral knowledge to man as man,—to man outside of Revelation, as well as under its shining light. The question very naturally arises: How comes it to pass that this knowledge which Divine inspiration postulates, and affirms to be innate and constitutional to the human mind, should become so vitiated? The majority of mankind are idolaters and polytheists, and have been for thousands of years. Can it be that the truth that there is only one God is native to the human spirit, and that the pagan “knows” this God? The majority of men are earthly and sensual, and have been for thousands of years. Can it be that there is a moral law written upon their hearts forbidding such carnality, and enjoining purity and holiness?

Some theorizers argue that because the pagan man has not obeyed the law, therefore he does not know the law; and that because he has not revered and worshipped the one Supreme Deity, therefore he does not possess the idea of any such Being. They look out upon the heathen populations and see them bowing down to stocks and stones, and witness their immersion in the abominations of heathenism, and conclude that these millions of human beings really know no better, and that therefore it is unjust to hold them responsible for their polytheism and their moral corruption. But why do they confine this species of reasoning to the pagan world? Why do they not bring it into nominal Christendom, and apply it there? Why does not this theorist go into the midst of European civilization, into the heart of London or Paris, and gauge the moral knowledge of the sensualist by the moral character of the sensualist? Why does he not tell us that because this civilized man acts no better, therefore he knows no better? Why does he not maintain that because this voluptuary breaks all the commandments in the decalogue, therefore he must be ignorant of all the commandments in the decalogue? that because he neither fears nor loves the one only God, therefore he does not know that there is any such Being?

It will never do to estimate man’s moral knowledge by man’s moral character. He knows more than he practises. And there is not so much difference in this particular between some men in nominal Christendom, and some men in Heathendom, as is sometimes imagined. The moral knowledge of those who lie in the lower strata of Christian civilization, and those who lie in the higher strata of Paganism, is probably not so very far apart. Place the imbruted outcasts of our metropolitan population beside the Indian hunter, with his belief in the Great Spirit, and his worship without images or pictorial representations;[1] beside the stalwart Mandingo of the high table-lands of Central Africa, with his active and enterprising spirit, carrying on manufactures and trade with all the keenness of any civilized worldling; beside the native merchants and lawyers of Calcutta, who still cling to their ancestral Boodhism, or else substitute French infidelity in its place; place the lowest of the highest beside the highest of the lowest, and tell us if the difference is so very marked. Sin, like holiness, is a mighty leveler. The “dislike to retain God” in the consciousness, the aversion of the heart towards the purity of the moral law, vitiates the native perceptions alike in Christendom and Paganism.

The theory that the pagan is possessed of such an amount and degree of moral knowledge as has been specified has awakened some apprehension in the minds of some Christian theologians, and has led them, unintentionally to foster the opposite theory, which, if strictly adhered, to, would lift off all responsibility from the pagan world, would bring them in innocent at the bar of God, and would render the whole enterprise of Christian missions a superfluity and an absurdity. Their motive has been good. They have feared to attribute any degree of accurate knowledge of God and the moral law, to the pagan world, lest they should thereby conflict with the doctrine of total depravity. They have mistakenly supposed, that if they should concede to every man, by virtue of his moral constitution, some correct apprehensions of ethics and natural religion, it would follow that there is some native goodness in him. But light in the intellect is very different from life in the heart. It is one thing to know the law of God, and quite another thing to be conformed to it. Even if we should concede to the degraded pagan, or the degraded dweller in the haunts of vice in Christian lands, all the intellectual knowledge of God and the moral law that is possessed by the ruined archangel himself, we should not be adding a particle to his moral character or his moral excellence. There is nothing of a holy quality in the mere intellectual perception that there is one Supreme Deity, and that He has issued a pure and holy law for the guidance of all rational beings. The mere doctrine of the Divine Unity will save no man. “Thou believest,” says St. James, “that there is one God; thou doest well, the devils also believe and tremble.” Satan himself is a monotheist, and knows very clearly all the commandments of God; but his heart and will are in demoniacal antagonism with them. And so it is, only in a lower degree, in the instance of the pagan, and of the natural man, in every age, and in every clime. He knows more than he practises. This intellectual perception therefore, this inborn constitutional apprehension, instead of lifting up man into a higher and more favorable position before the eternal bar, casts him down to perdition. If he knew nothing at all of his Maker and his duty, he could not be held responsible, and could, not be summoned to judgment. As St. Paul affirms: “Where there is no law there is no transgression.” But if, when he knew God in some degree, he glorified him not as God to that degree; and if, when the moral law was written upon the heart he went counter to its requirements, and heard the accusing voice of his own conscience; then his mouth must be stopped, and he must become guilty before his Judge, like any and every other disobedient creature.

It is this serious and damning fact in the history of man upon the globe, that St. Paul brings to view, in the passage which we have selected as the foundation of this discourse. He accounts for all the idolatry and sensuality, all the darkness and vain imaginations of paganism, by referring to the aversion of the natural heart towards the one only holy God. “Men,” he says,—these pagan men—”did not like to retain God in their knowledge.” The primary difficulty was in their affections, and not in their understandings. They knew too much for their own comfort in sin. The contrast between the Divine purity that was mirrored in their conscience, and the sinfulness that was wrought into their heart and will, rendered this inborn constitutional idea of God a very painful one. It was a fire in the bones. If the Psalmist, a renewed man, yet not entirely free from human corruption, could say: “I thought of God and was troubled,” much more must the totally depraved man of paganism be filled with terror when, in the thoughts of his heart, in the hour when the accusing conscience was at work, he brought to mind the one great God of gods whom he did not glorify, and whom he had offended. It was no wonder, therefore, that he did not like to retain the idea of such a Being in his consciousness, and that he adopted all possible expedients to get rid of it. The apostle informs us that the pagan actually called in his imagination to his aid, in order to extirpate, if possible, all his native and rational ideas and convictions upon religious subjects. He became vain in his imaginations, and his foolish heart as a consequence was darkened, and he changed the glory of the incorruptible God, the spiritual unity of the Deity, into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things (Rom. i. 21-23). He invented idolatry, and all those “gay religions full of pomp and gold,” in order to blunt the edge of that sharp spiritual conception of God which was continually cutting and lacerating his wicked and sensual heart. Hiding himself amidst the columns of his idolatrous temples, and under the smoke of his idolatrous incense, he thought like Adam to escape from the view and inspection of that Infinite One who, from the creation of the world downward, makes known to all men his eternal power and godhead; who, as St. Paul taught the philosophers of Athens, is not far from anyone of his rational creatures (Acts xvii. 27); and who, as the same apostle taught the pagan Lycaonians, though in times past he suffered all nations to walk in their own ways, yet left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave them rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling their hearts with food and gladness. (Acts xiv. 16, 17).

The first step in the process of mutilating the original idea of God, as a unity and an unseen Spirit, is seen in those pantheistic religions which lie behind all the mythologies of the ancient world, like a nebulous vapor out of which the more distinct idols and images of paganism are struggling. Here the notion of the Divine unity is still preserved; but the Divine personality and holiness are lost. God becomes a vague impersonal Power, with no moral qualities, and no religious attributes; and it is difficult to say which is worst in its moral influence, this pantheism which while retaining the doctrine of the Divine unity yet denudes the Deity of all that renders him an object of either love or reverence, or the grosser idolatries that succeeded it. For man cannot love, with all his mind and heart and soul and strength, a vast impersonal force working blindly through infinite space and everlasting time.

And the second and last stage in this process of vitiating the true idea of God appears in that polytheism in the midst of which St. Paul lived, and labored, and preached, and died; in that seductive and beautiful paganism, that classical idolatry, which still addresses the human taste in such a fascinating manner, in the Venus de Medici, and the Apollo Belvidere. The idea of the unity of God is now mangled and cut up into the “gods many” and the “lords many,” into the thirty thousand divinities of the pagan pantheon. This completes the process. God now gives his guilty creature over to these vain imaginations of naturalism, materialism, and idolatry, and to an increasingly darkening mind, until in the lowest forms of heathenism he so distorts and suppresses the concreated idea of the Deity that some speculatists assert that it does not belong to his constitution, and that his Maker never endowed him with it. How is the gold become dim! How is the most fine gold changed!

But it will be objected that all this lies in the past. This is the account of a process that has required centuries, yea millenniums, to bring about. A hundred generations have been engaged in transmuting the monotheism with which the human race started, into the pantheism and polytheism in which the great majority of it is now involved. How do you establish the guilt of those at the end of the line? How can you charge upon the present generation of pagans the same culpability that Paul imputed to their ancestors eighteen centuries ago, and that Noah the preacher of righteousness denounced, upon the antediluvian pagan? As the deteriorating process advances, does not the guilt diminish? and now, in these ends of the ages, and in these dark habitations of cruelty, has not the culpability run down to a minimum, which God in the day of judgment will “wink at?”

We answer No: Because the structure of the human mind is precisely the same that it was when the Sodomites held down the truth in unrighteousness, and the Roman populace turned up their thumbs that they might see the last drops of blood ebb slowly from the red gash in the dying gladiator’s side. Man, in his deepest degradation, in his most hardened depravity, is still a rational intelligence; and though he should continue to sin on indefinitely, through cycles of time as long as those of geology, he cannot unmake himself; he cannot unmould his immortal essence, and absolutely eradicate all his moral ideas. Paganism itself has its fluctuations of moral knowledge. The early Roman, in the days of Numa, was highly ethical in his views of the Deity, and his conceptions of moral law. Varro informs us that for a period of one hundred and seventy years the Romans worshipped their gods without any images;[2] and Sallust denominates these pristine Romans “religiosissimi mortales.” And how often does the missionary discover a tribe or a race, whose moral intelligence is higher than that of the average of paganism. Nay, the same race, or tribe, passes from one phase of polytheism to another; in one instance exhibiting many of the elements and truths of natural religion, and in another almost entirely suppressing them. These facts prove that the pagan man is under supervision; that he is under the righteous despotism of moral ideas and convictions; that God is not far from him; that he lives and moves and has his being in his Maker; and that God does not leave himself without witness in his constitutional structure. Therefore it is, that this sea of rational intelligence thus surges and sways in the masses of paganism; sometimes dashing the creature up the heights, and sometimes sending him down into the depths.

But while this subject has this general application to mankind outside of Revelation; while it throws so much light upon the question of the heathens’ responsibility and guilt; while it tends to deepen our interest in the work of Christian missions, and to stimulate us to obey our Redeemer’s command to go and preach the gospel to them, in order to save them from the wrath of God which abideth upon them as it does upon ourselves; while this subject has these profound and far-reaching applications, it also presses with sharpness and energy upon the case, and the position, of millions of men in Christendom. And to this more particular aspect of the theme, we ask attention for a moment.

This same process of corruption, and vitiation of a correct knowledge of God, which we have seen to go on upon a large scale in the instance of the heathen world, also often goes on in the instance of a single individual under the light of Revelation itself. Have you never known a person to have been well educated in childhood and youth respecting the character and government of God, and yet in middle life and old age to have altered and corrupted all his early and accurate apprehensions, by the gradual adoption of contrary views and sentiments? In his childhood, and youth, he believed that God distinguishes between the righteous and the wicked, that he rewards the one and punishes the other, and hence he cherished a salutary fear of his Maker that agreed well with the dictates of his unsophisticated reason, and the teachings of nature and revelation. But when, he became a man, he put away these childish things, in a far different sense from that of the Apostle. As the years rolled, along, he succeeded, by a career of worldliness and of sensuality, in expelling this stock of religious knowledge, this right way of conceiving of God, from his mind, and now at the close of life and upon the very brink of eternity and of doom, this very same person is as unbelieving respecting the moral attributes of Jehovah, and as unfearing with regard to them, as if the entire experience and creed of his childhood and youth were a delusion and a lie. This rational and immortal creature in the morning of his existence looked up into the clear sky with reverence, being impressed by the eternal power and godhead that are there, and when he had committed a sin he felt remorseful and guilty; but the very same person now sins recklessly and with flinty hardness of heart, casts sullen or scowling glances upward, and says: “There is no God.” Compare the Edward Gibbon whose childhood expanded under the teachings of a beloved Christian matron trained in the school of the devout William Law, and whose youth exhibited unwonted religions sensibility,—compare this Edward Gibbon with the Edward Gibbon whose manhood was saturated with utter unbelief, and whose departure into the dread hereafter was, in his own phrase, “a leap in the dark.” Compare the Aaron Burr whose blood was deduced from one of the most saintly lineages in the history of the American church, and all of whose early life was embosomed in ancestral piety,—compare this Aaron Burr with the Aaron Burr whose middle life and prolonged old age was unimpressible as marble to all religious ideas and influences. In both of these instances, it was the aversion of the heart that for a season (not for eternity, be it remembered) quenched out the light in the head. These men, like the pagan of whom St. Paul speaks, did not like to retain a holy God in their knowledge, and He gave them over to a reprobate mind.

These fluctuations and changes in doctrinal belief, both in the general and the individual mind, furnish materials for deep reflection by both the philosopher and the Christian; and such an one will often be led to notice the exact parallel and similarity there is between religious deterioration in races, and religious deterioration in individuals. The dislike to retain a knowledge already furnished, because it is painful, because it rebukes worldliness and sin, is that which ruins both mankind in general, and the man in particular. Were the heart only conformed to the truth, the truth never would be corrupted, never would be even temporarily darkened in the human soul. Should the pagan, himself, actually obey the dictates of his own reason and conscience, he would find the light that was in him growing still clearer and brighter. God himself, the author of his rational mind, and the Light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world, would reward him for his obedience by granting him yet more knowledge. We cannot say in what particular mode the Divine providence would bring it about, but it is as certain as that God lives, that if the pagan world should act up to the degree of light which they enjoy, they would be conducted ultimately to the truth as it is in Jesus, and would be saved by the Redeemer of the world. The instance of the Roman centurion Cornelius is a case in point. This was a thoughtful and serious pagan. It is indeed very probable that his military residence in Palestine had cleared up, to some degree, his natural intuitions of moral truth; but we know that he was ignorant of the way of salvation through Christ, from the fact that the apostle Peter was instructed in a vision to go and preach it unto him. The sincere endeavor of this Gentile, this then pagan in reference to Christianity, to improve the little knowledge which he had, met with the Divine approbation, and was crowned with a saving acquaintance with the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Peter himself testified to this, when, after hearing from the lips of Cornelius the account of his previous life, and of the way in which God had led him, “he opened his mouth and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation, he that feareth him and worketh righteousness is accepted with him” (Acts x. 34, 35).[3]

But such instances as this of Cornelius are not one in millions upon millions. The light shines in the darkness that comprehends it not. Almost without an exception, so far as the human eye can see, the unevangelized world holds the truth in unrighteousness, and does not like to retain the idea of a holy God, and a holy law, in its knowledge. Therefore the knowledge continually diminishes; the light of natural reason and conscience grows dimmer and dimmer; and the soul sinks down in the mire of sin and sensuality, apparently devoid of all the higher ideas of God, and law, and immortal life.

We have thus considered the truth which St. Paul teaches in the text, that the ultimate source of all human error is in the character of the human heart. Mankind do not like to retain God in their knowledge, and therefore they come to possess a reprobate mind. The origin of idolatry, and of infidelity, is not in the original constitution with which the Creator endowed the creature, but in that evil heart of unbelief by which he departed from the living God. Sinful man shapes his creed in accordance with his wishes, and not in accordance with the unbiased decisions of his reason and conscience. He does not like to think of a holy God, and therefore he denies that God is holy. He does not like to think of the eternal punishment of sin, and therefore he denies that punishment is eternal. He does not like to be pardoned through the substituted sufferings of the Son of God, and therefore he denies the doctrine of atonement. He does not like the truth that man is so totally alienated from God that he needs to be renewed in the spirit of his mind by the Holy Ghost, and therefore he denies the doctrines of depravity and regeneration. Run through the creed which the Church has lived by and died by, and you will discover that the only obstacle to its reception is the aversion of the human heart. It is a rational creed in all its parts and combinations. It has outlived the collisions and conflicts of a hundred schools of infidelity that have had their brief day, and died with their devotees. A hundred systems of philosophy falsely so called have come and gone, but the one old religion of the patriarchs, and the prophets, and the apostles, holds on its way through the centuries, conquering and to conquer. Can it be that sheer imposture and error have such a tenacious vitality as this? If reason is upon the side of infidelity, why does not infidelity remain one and the same unchanging thing, like Christianity, from age to age, and subdue all men unto it? If Christianity is a delusion and a lie, why does it not die out, and disappear? The difficulty is not upon the side of the human reason, but of the human heart. Skeptical men do not like the religion of the New Testament, these doctrines of sin and grace, and therefore they shape their creed by their sympathies and antipathies; by what they wish to have true; by their heart rather than by their head. As the Founder of Christianity said to the Jews, so he says to every man who rejects His doctrine of grace and redemption: “Ye will not come unto me that ye might have life.” It is an inclination of the will, and not a conviction of the reason, that prevents the reception of the Christian religion.

Among the many reflections that are suggested by this subject and its discussion, our limits permit only the following:

1. It betokens deep wickedness, in any man, to change the truth of God into a lie,—to substitute a false theory in religion for the true one. “Woe unto them,” says the prophet, “that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter.” There is no form of moral evil that is more hateful in the sight of Infinite Truth, than that intellectual depravity which does not like to retain a holy God in its knowledge, and therefore mutilates the very idea of the Deity, and attempts to make him other than he is. There is no sinner that will be visited with a heavier vengeance than that cool and calculating man, who, because he dislikes the unyielding purity of the moral law, and the awful sanctions by which it is accompanied, deliberately alters it to suit his wishes and his self-indulgence. If a person is tempted and falls into sin, and yet does not change his religious creed in order to escape the reproaches of conscience and the fear of retribution, there is hope that the orthodoxy of his head may result, by God’s blessing upon his own truth, in sorrow for the sin and a forsaking thereof. A man, for instance, who amidst all his temptations and transgressions still retains the truth taught him from the Scriptures, at his mother’s knees, that a finally impenitent sinner will go down to eternal torment, feels a powerful check upon his passions, and is often kept from outward and actual transgressions by his creed. But if he deliberately, and by an act of will, says in his heart: “There is no hell;” if he substitutes for the theory that renders the commission of sin dangerous and fearful, a theory that relieves it from all danger and all fear, there is no hope that he will ever cease from sinning. On the contrary, having brought his head into harmony with his heart; having adjusted his theory to his practice; having shaped his creed by his passions; having changed the truth of God into a lie; he then plunges into sin with an abandonment and a momentum that is awful. In the phrase of the prophet, he “draws iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were with a cart-rope.”

It is here that we see the deep guilt of those, who, by false theories of God and man and law and penalty, tempt the young or the old to their eternal destruction. It is sad and fearful, when the weak physical nature is plied with all the enticements of earth and sense; but it is yet sadder and more fearful, when the intellectual nature is sought to be perverted and ensnared by specious theories that annihilate the distinction between virtue and vice, that take away all holy fear of God, and reverence for His law, that represent the everlasting future either as an everlasting elysium for all, or else as an eternal sleep. The demoralization, in this instance, is central and radical. It is in the brain, in the very understanding itself. If the foundations themselves of morals and religion are destroyed, what can be done for the salvation of the creature? A heavy woe is denounced against any and every one who tempts a fellow-being. Temptation implies malice. It is Satanic. It betokens a desire to ruin an immortal spirit. When therefore the siren would allure a human creature from the path of virtue, the inspiration of God utters a deep and bitter curse against her. But when the cold-blooded Mephistopheles endeavors to sophisticate the reason, to debauch the judgment, to sear the conscience; when the temptation is addressed to the intellect, and the desire of the tempter is to overthrow the entire religious creed of a human being,—perhaps a youth just entering upon that hazardous enterprise of life in which he needs every jot and tittle of eternal truth to guide and protect him,—when the enticement assumes this purely mental form and aspect, it betokens the most malignant and heaven-daring guilt in the tempter. And we may be certain that the retribution that will be meted out to it, by Him who is true and The Truth; who abhors all falsehood and all lies with an infinite intensity; will be terrible beyond conception. “Woe unto you ye blind guides! Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell! If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book. And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things that are written in this book.”

2. In the second place, we perceive, in the light of this subject, the great danger of not reducing religious truth to practice. There are two fatal hazards in not obeying the doctrines of the Bible while yet there is an intellectual assent to them. The first is, that these doctrines shall themselves become diluted and corrupted. So long as the affectionate submission of the heart is not yielded to their authority; so long as there is any dislike towards their holy claims; there is great danger that, as in the instance of the pagan, they will not be retained in the knowledge. The sinful man becomes weary of a form of doctrine that continually rebukes him, and gradually changes it into one that is less truthful and restraining. But a second and equally alarming danger is, that the heart shall become accustomed to the truth, and grow hard and indifferent towards it. There are a multitude of persons who hear the word of God and never dream of disputing it, who yet, alas, never dream of obeying it. To such the living truth of the gospel becomes a petrifaction, and a savor of death unto death.

We urge you, therefore, ye who know the doctrines of the law and the doctrines of the gospel, to give an affectionate and hearty assent to them both. When the divine Word asserts that you are guilty, and that you cannot stand in the judgment before God, make answer: “It is so, it is so.” Practically and deeply acknowledge the doctrine of human guilt and corruption. Let it no longer be a theory in the head, but a humbling salutary consciousness in the heart. And when the divine Word affirms that God so loved the world that he gave his Only-Begotten Son to redeem it, make a quick and joyful response: “It is so, it is so.” Instead of changing the truth of God into a lie, as the guilty world have been doing for six thousand years, change it into a blessed consciousness of the soul. Believe_ what you know; and then what you know will be the wisdom of God to your salvation.

[Footnote 1: “There are no profane words in the (Iowa) Indian language: no light or profane way of speaking of the ‘Great Spirit.'”—FOREIGN MISSIONARY: May, 1863, p. 337.]

[Footnote 2: PLUTARCH: Numa, 8; AUGUSTINE: De Civitate, iv. 31.]

[Footnote 3: It should be noticed that Cornelius was not prepared for another life, by the moral virtue which he had practised before meeting with Peter, but by his penitence for sin and faith in Jesus Christ, whom Peter preached to him as the Saviour from sin (Acts x. 43). Good works can no more prepare a pagan for eternity than they can a nominal Christian. Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius could no more be justified by their personal character, than Saul of Tarsus could be. First, because the virtue is imperfect, at the best: and, secondly, it does not begin at the beginning of existence upon earth, and continue unintermittently to the end of it. A sense of sin is a far more hopeful indication, in the instance of a heathen, than a sense of virtue. The utter absence of humility and sorrow in the “Meditations” of the philosophic Emperor, and the omnipresence in them of pride and self-satisfaction, place him out of all relations to the Divine mercy. In trying to judge of the final condition of a pagan outside of revelation, we must ask the question: Was he penitent? rather than the question: Was he virtuous?]

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He was a wanted man

George Tybout Purves [27 September 1852 - 24 September 1901]The Presbyterian pastor teacher was a wanted man, that is, wanted by theological seminaries to teach at their school.  Princeton Seminary wanted George T.  Purves to teach church history on their faculty.  Western Seminary wanted the scholar to teach theology.  McCormick Seminary in Chicago want the veteran pastor to teach theology on their faculty.  But the heart of this Princeton Seminary alumni was in New Testament, so when a vacancy opened up with the death of Caspar Wistar Hodge, he came to Princeton Seminary.

George Tybout Purves was born on September 27, 1852 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  His undergraduate studies were at the University of Pennsylvania, from which he graduated in 1872.  Immediately, he went to Princeton Seminary for the years of 1873 to 1877.  Becoming ordained by the Chester Presbytery, he served three Presbyterian churches in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and back in Pennsylvania at the First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh.  With pastoral experience behind him then, he went back to Princeton where for the next eight years (1892 – 1900), he taught New Testament Literature and Exegesis.

In 1900, Rev. Purves resigned his professorship in New Testament at the seminary to return to the pastorate.  When he was a pastor Dr. Purves was sought by the seminaries, and when he became a professor he was besieged by the churches.  B. B. Warfield said of him, “He was never more the profoundly instructed scholar than when he stood in the pulpit: he was never more the preacher of righteousness than when he sat in the classroom.”  During his eight years at Princeton, Purves taught New Testament and preached regularly, serving for a time as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Princeton.  During 1897 the church experienced “a year of prosperity greater than at any previous time” in its history and credited this to “the very faithful and efficient labors of Dr. Purves.”  In 1899 Purves accepted a call to the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City (once served by J. W. Alexander).  After a short ministry there of eighteen months he died in 1901, at the age of forty-nine.

Not known for his authorship of volumes (though he wrote about twenty books), his spiritual legacy was found in the men who sat under him in classes and graduated to change the world for Christ.  That legacy continued in the pastoral field as during his teaching duties at the seminary, he also supplied the pulpit of the First Presbyterian Church of Princeton.

Words to live by:  What spiritual gifts this man of God possessed!  When he was in the pastorate, the theological schools wanted him. When he was in the sacred halls of seminaries, the churches wanted him. The point is this! Everyone, every Christian, has been given at least one, and no doubt many more Spirit-given abilities for service, or spiritual gifts.  In one sense, it doesn’t matter where you use them.  The important thing is that you use them somewhere. Do you know what your spiritual gift is?  Ask your spouse, or a close Christian friend, or your elder, or your pastor. Then finding it, use it for God’s glory and the good of His church.

For further study : Dr. Purves’s inaugural lecture at Princeton, “St. Paul and Inspiration,” can be read on the web here.
The George Tybout Purves Manuscript Collection is preserved at the Department of Special Collections at the Princeton Theological Seminary, and described in a finding aid, here. [I note that this finding aid was written by PCA pastor Ray Cannata, back when he was a student at PTS.]

Image source : Frontispiece portrait from Joy in Service, from a copy preserved in the PCA Historical Center. Scan prepared by the Center’s staff. This was Dr. Purves’s final work, published posthumously by the American Tract Society (New York, 1901).

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