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VIEW FROM THE TOWER
The falling away from the foundation principles of the Gospel of Christ continues. It is not confined to any one denomination, either. It will soon, as the Scriptures predict, affect all classes and sects. The stars [bright ones] shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be mightily shaken before they finally pass away with great confusion, to give place to the new heavens, the spiritual ruling powers of the Millennial age.
The New York Witness seems to be awake to the fact that a great falling away is in progress, but evidently fails to grasp the real situation clearly. In an editorial on Theological Seminaries, it shows that these, instead of being bulwarks for the truth, are hot-beds of error. It deplores all desertions of „Orthodoxy,” and evidently fails to see that the large proportion of error held by „Orthodoxy” is the cause for many now stumbling over and rejecting fundamental truths, such as the doctrine of the Atonement.
After criticizing a Presbyterian deflection, it turns its attention to the same tendency among the leaders of thought in Methodism, as follows:—
„A very notable manifestation of this disposition to appeal from the teaching of Scriptures to the bar of human reason was given by Bishop Fowler, of the M.E. Church, at the great Quadrennial Conference of that denomination held in this city in May, 1888. Bishop Fowler delivered a sermon on the Atonement before the Conference which was reported in full in the Christian Advocate, and that report contained the following paragraph:
„‚(1) Let me be specific. No debt has been paid. It is not in the field of commercial values. (2) If it were a debt to be paid by the sufferings of Christ, then it would be already paid and there could be no further claim against the sinner. He would need no pardon. His release would be demanded by justice. But such is not the case. (3) No debt has been paid. No penalty has been inflicted. The innocent may suffer for the guilty as a mother suffers for a bad child. But it is the coarsest kind of cruelty to punish, to inflict a penalty upon the innocent for the guilty. (4) If penalty were inflicted it would be all that justice could demand: when one has endured the penalty of a crime, then he is entitled to a discharge. He does not plead for pardon, but demands a discharge. (5) It is not thinkable that guilt can be transferred to the innocent. It inheres in the party sinning. It is monstrous and unthinkable injustice to hold the innocent as guilty. The fiction of substituting a supposed penalty inflicted upon Jesus for a penalty due to the guilty must be revolting to all sense of justice. (6) Guilt could not be transferred. Penalty could not be inflicted upon the innocent. Penalty inflicted at all must be upon the guilty, and then pardon would be impossible. There would be nothing to pardon. (7) No penalty has been inflicted.’
„We called special attention to this paragraph at the time, and doubtless it was observed by many others both in and out of the Methodist communion, yet we have never heard of any special notice having been taken of it by the
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authorities of the Methodist Church, or of any determined protest against it on the part of the official organs of that body.”
* * *
It is certainly astounding to find such a wholesale falling away; for silence on the part of the others present at that great Conference, which
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represented every Methodist of the United States, gave the tacit consent of all to this denial of the foundation principles of Christianity. But though astounding, this is only in harmony with the Lord’s testimony that in this „evil day” a thousand shall fall to one who will stand.
We have numbered the various propositions in the above declaration by Bishop Fowler of his lack of faith, in order that we may the more conveniently examine and criticize each proposition separately. Let us see how the bishop’s statements coincide with „the faith once delivered to the saints.”
(1) In this pointed, unmistakable statement of his position the gentleman’s candor is to be appreciated. Nowhere does honesty show to better advantage than in a theological discussion, where so many writers and speakers feel free to handle not only the Word of God but also the English language deceitfully in order to gloss and cover a portion of their views.
(2) In his second proposition, while reasoning well, the bishop falls into a difficulty from not being familiar enough with the Scriptural presentation of the subject. He is quite correct in reasoning that if man’s debt were paid and canceled, there could be no further just claim against any, and that justice, instead of still following the sinner, demanding repentance, etc., as conditions of life, would be bound to demand that all whose debt was canceled should be set free at once, and unconditionally.
But this is not the Scriptural presentation of the subject. The sinner’s debt was not canceled but it was transferred or made over to our Lord Jesus, who assumed our debt, paid our penalty, BOUGHT US. He therefore, instead of freeing us, owns us; by virtue of having paid in full the claims of justice against us. True, he bought us in order to free us, but the purchase and the freeing are entirely distinct and separate transactions.
The transaction between our Lord Jesus and the Heavenly Father, „finished” at Calvary, was indeed a transaction in which mankind was deeply interested, since it had special reference to their release from sin, condemnation and death; but man was not in any sense a party to that transaction. By giving himself a ransom for all, by paying to Justice the full penalty due from Adam—the one original culprit recognized and condemned by Justice, and the one through whom all his posterity suffered loss—the claim of Justice was indeed satisfied, but not as some have assumed by a credit of the sinners’ account—thus: „The debt of Adam is hereby canceled, and he and his posterity are set free from all penalty.” On the contrary, the transaction on the books of Justice would read thus—”This account against Adam and his race has been sold and assigned in full to the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave therefor the full, corresponding price.”
Thus seen, the sinner is not freed from sin or condemnation or death by the work „finished” at Calvary. What there occurred was a satisfaction of Justice which removed the legal barrier which, unless removed, would have prevented and estopped any recovery of man. Justice is the foundation of God’s government (Psa. 97:2), and his love could not operate in violation of his justice.
The statement of the Scriptures is that the world still lieth in wickedness, that the original condemnation, which passed upon all men through Adam’s transgression, is still upon all except the few, who, accepting forgiveness through Christ, have escaped the condemnation that is on the world.—1 John 5:19; 2 Pet. 1:4; Rom. 8:1.
These statements of God’s own Word are amply borne out in our every-day experiences. We do not see that men are freed from sin or its penalty, death—”dying thou shalt die.”
If we knew no more than this of God’s plan we would have little cause to rejoice; but, thank God, he has revealed to us the object of the transfer of our debt to the great Messiah who
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by his sacrifice redeemed us and transferred our cause from the tribunal of Justice to the tribunal of Grace. That transaction, in which we had no part, was to open up the way, by which God could be just and yet justify and restore to his favor those whom he had justly sentenced as unworthy of life or other favors. The case is thus put into such a state that God may justly show mercy to the sinners.
As the representative of the Father and his plan, our Lord Jesus, the purchaser of the claims of Justice, will offer pardon, reconciliation and restoration to all that was lost, to all the race whose ransom-price he paid. He bought them for the very purpose of setting them free; but he has a time and an order and a method for presenting his gracious offer to all. And he will offer it to none unconditionally. The conditions, always the same, are faith and loving obedience. These are the conditions of the New Covenant which he sealed for all with his precious blood [his sacrificed life]—that any of the race who will to do so may through him return to fellowship with God and to everlasting life.
This same principle of dealing with a debtor is in vogue to-day. If a man has a judgment against him for a thousand dollars, and a friend step forward and purchase that judgment, the debtor is not thereby freed from the debt; but after the purchase he owes the sum to the friend who bought the judgment; and it is for that friend to say upon what terms the debt may be forgiven or canceled. To this agree the words of the Apostles. „Ye are not your own—ye are bought with a price, even the precious blood of Christ.” „The man Christ Jesus gave himself a ransom [a corresponding price] for all, to be testified in due time.” But he did not release all: on the contrary, he arranged that there should be but one way for any to get free, and that is by faith in his sacrifice, and under the terms of the New Covenant which he made and sealed and ratified with his blood [his sacrificed life]. Yes, declares the Apostle, For to this end Christ both died and rose again, that he might be Lord [master, owner] both of the dead and living.—Rom. 14:9.
But he did not desire to own and to rule mankind for any selfish purpose, but for their good—that he might discipline, instruct and ultimately restore all who, under his discipline, will come into harmony with the will of Jehovah. Such he will restore to the full liberty proper to sons of God [on whatever plane of being], but never granted to any rebellious creatures.
„If the Son make you free, ye shall be free indeed,” is a statement which shows at once that all were not made free by the death of Christ, but that by his death he legally purchased us, so that he can righteously bestow life and freedom upon all who apply for these blessings on his reasonable terms.
(3) Proposition third we dispute. The debt has been paid so far as Justice is concerned; for though we are still debtors, our obligation is toward our Redeemer, who, by reason of the claims of Justice being settled, is now in position to forgive or pardon all who come unto God by him. The legal barrier to our emancipation has been removed, though the great work of emancipation has not been effected, as it will be, for all those who will accept of freedom on the terms dictated by the wise and loving Judge who bought the right to free us with his own precious blood. The love of God has arranged a way by which he who justly sentenced mankind to destruction can maintain his justice and yet grant them reconciliation and eternal life through the Redeemer—”to all those who obey him.” The very penalty that had been pronounced against the human family, namely, „death,” „destruction,” has been paid by our Redeemer: „He died for our sins.” „He died, the just for the unjust.” „Jehovah hath let fall upon him the chastisement of us all.” He became a man for the very purpose of giving this, our only ransom-price, and he gave it once and forever. The man Christ Jesus is dead forever: he gave himself a ransom for all. Though put to death in the flesh, he was not quickened (resurrected) in the flesh, but in spirit; he was sown a natural body, he was raised a spiritual body. Though we have known Christ after the flesh, henceforth
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we know him so no more. We now know him as the (quickening) life-giving Spirit, the express image of the Father’s person and of the divine nature. Our ransom-price, the man Christ Jesus is in destruction, in death, as our substitute before Justice, in order that all that are in their graves and under the sentence of death may, in God’s due time, go free, under the terms of the New Covenant. He gave himself as a man, and, thank God, never took back the price. His resurrection by the Father, on a higher plane of being, in no way invalidates the ransom given. The innocent did suffer for the guilty, voluntarily, freely, lovingly, just as a mother sometimes suffers and denies herself proper comforts to pay the fine of a law-breaking son. And it is a gross injustice to fair argument as well as a libel upon God’s Word to infer that he compelled our sinless Lord to suffer for man the penalty of man’s sin. Justice could not and did not compel; but it did permit and it did immensely reward (Phil. 2:9) the Lord’s willing sacrifice.
(4) The fourth proposition is conceded so far as our Lord Jesus, our substitute, is concerned. He paid the full price and no more can be required of him. But this argument does not apply to men at all, because Justice was not dealing with men but with Christ Jesus, our substitute, who, having paid the price, now owns us, and may do what he will with his own. God accepted of Jesus’ death as the full, equivalent or corresponding price for Adam’s guilt; and the case is no longer under the control of inexorable justice. If absolute justice had jurisdiction, it would condemn all, because all are imperfect and actually unworthy of life everlasting. But God’s purpose in the
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work of redemption was to transfer man’s case from the bar of justice and to provide for all another trial additional to the one lost for all by father Adam. And thus it is written, that though the Father had tried and sentenced Adam, and had now provided for the redemption in Christ, all future trial of the imperfect fallen race shall be conducted by the Son, our Lord Jesus, who bought all with his own precious blood.—John 5:22.
(5) Proposition fifth is an uncandid, unfair statement. No theologian is excusable for ignorance of the fact that the Scriptures everywhere teach that, instead of the penalty of sin being „inflicted” upon our Redeemer, our Lord Jesus gladly and freely gave himself as our ransom, in harmony with the Father’s gracious plan, with which he was most fully in accord. „Himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses.” He truly declared, „No man taketh my life from me; I lay it down of myself.”—John 10:18.
(6) Proposition sixth we dispute upon the strength of the decision of the supreme court and highest standard of Justice. The Judge of all judges, Jehovah himself, has rendered his decision upon the question at issue. He has decided that both guilt and righteousness can be transferred under certain conditions. True, God has not decided that an unrepentant rebel and wilful sinner can be declared and accepted as righteous, when he is unrighteous to the core, not subject to the law of God, etc.; but he has decided that, inasmuch as the ransom-price for all hereditary sin has been paid by the Redeemer, any of the redeemed who have only this entailed or hereditary sin in them, and are not at heart antagonists of God and righteousness, may be considered to have had their sins imputed to the great Sin-bearer, and, receiving the imputation of the merit of their Redeemer’s sacrifice, may be released from condemnation as sinners and receive the favor of God as sons. He who knew no sin was made sin for us [a sin-sacrifice or sin-offering], that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. (2 Cor. 5:21.) In consequence we are told that we may reckon the righteousness of Christ as imputed to us, though our present attainment is not to righteousness; we are reckoned as though we possessed the full, complete righteousness which is offered us in Christ and to which we shall fully attain in the resurrection, if we follow on to know and to obey our Redeemer. Our sins were laid upon him and his righteousness is by faith imputed to us.
(7) „No penalty has been inflicted” says the bishop. Ah! where has he lived on this sin-cursed
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earth that he has never seen evidences of the infliction of the penalty. „The wrath of God is revealed against all unrighteousness,” says the Apostle; how can the bishop have escaped it? Possibly he has gotten his theological ideas so confused that he does not recognize the evidences of God’s wrath, the evidences of the infliction of the penalty? Let us suggest to him that whenever he sees a funeral procession he is a witness of the infliction of the penalty which God pronounced against sin: „The wages of sin is death.” Whenever we witness a death, or pain and suffering, which are but parts of the dying process, we have seen the wrath of God revealed in the very way and of the very kind the Scriptures describe.
The trouble lies with a false theology which makes void the word of God by its false theories and philosophies; which declares that death is not death but a more abundant entrance into life. Having thus disposed of the real enemy and the real manifestation of God’s wrath, and having pronounced it their friend, despite every instinct of sense and reason, and in opposition to God’s Word, many feel called upon to make some other wrath and some other penalty for sin, and so turn and twist out of symbolic passages and parables a doctrine of an everlasting torment, either physical in flames, or what some declare worse, an endless mental torment.
It is this „orthodox” penalty for sin for which the bishop has failed to find a place, either in reason or in Scripture; and failing to recognize the real, just and reasonable penalty, he declares that no penalty has been inflicted. The fact is that the bishop, like many others, is drifting into Infidelity.
The only cure for this is the truth. Let death, the real penalty, be recognized, and it will soon be seen that this is just what our Redeemer paid for Adam and his race; and that it was a corresponding price, and met fully the penalty against the race. Let this be recognized and the light will soon stream in, showing that the due time must come when all shall be brought in contact with the privileges of reconciliation to God and restitution to human perfection in his likeness. Let this be seen, and the necessity for the resurrection will be recognized, and the Kingdom of God will be recognized as God’s agency for bringing all the promised blessings to his redeemed creatures, to afford all a full opportunity to attain life everlasting. Then, too, the selection of the Kingdom class will be seen—how God is now bringing, through much tribulation and trial of faith, obedience and love, the „little flock” of saints who, as the bride of Christ, will be his joint-heirs in the Millennial Kingdom.
Well, the bishops are not generally so ready or willing to hear as some of the humbler ones of God’s people. But let those who see the light, like Gideon’s faithful band, blow the trumpet and break their vessels, and let the light shine out. The victory is not so very near, but it is sure. Press nobly on, ye soldiers of the cross:—
„The heavenly race demands thy zeal,
And an immortal crown.”
— February, 1891 —