While the popular religionists of our day may boast of and rely upon the doctrines taught and theories held by ancient and modern writers, which they have adopted as their standard authors, the church of God are not to regard any uninspired men, however learned they may be, however popular, pious, or even correct, their teachings may be, as standards to the people of God. The writings and teachings of those who are approved as the ministers of the gospel, whom God has called and qualified to proclaim his everlasting gospel, are at the least only standard-bearers, who, to the extent of the ability which they have received of God, exhibit the standard of our faith and rule of our conduct as given in the inspired scriptures of eternal truth; and all they proclaim and testify to us is to be carefully tested by the infallible scriptures. In this matter we are forbidden to call any man father, for one is our Father, even God. The inspired prophets and apostles may be properly regarded as standard writers to the primitive saints; for God himself spake to the Old Testament by the prophets, and under the gospel dispensation God hath and still doth speak to us by his Son, who having in his Mediatorial triumph received and given gifts unto men, by them he still continues to speak to us the word, which at the first of the gospel dispensation began to be spoken by the Lord (Christ), and was confirmed unto us by them (the apostles) who heard him. God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his will. – Heb. ii. 3,4. No minister of Christ at the present day, unless swayed by carnal ambition, would willingly be regarded as a standard writer or preacher; but would rather admonish the brethren to accept his views only so far as they are sustained by the testimony of God, as contained in his inspired word.
We would by no means encourage a morbid spirit of jealousy, suspicion or unreasonable criticism, for we are to cherish a confidence in those who labor among us in word and doctrine, and esteem them highly for their work’s sake. Still we should regard them as men in the flesh, liable to err; and therefore the saints, who are to judge angels, are to carefully compare what they hear with their own experience and what they hear or read with the holy scriptures.
Ancient and modern writers have undoubtedly written many very excellent things on the subject of religion, and so far as their writings are sustained by the scriptures, they are useful for edification to the saints; but when they come to be regarded as standard writers, they are liable to be placed between us and the bible, and so become a snare and a trap to mislead those who so adopt them into pernicious errors.
The popular religious denominations, whose religion is regarded as a science to be taught in the schools of men, have their standard expositors of the scriptures, whose decisions are by them regarded as orthodox, and all who do not so regard them are denounced as heterodox. The uninspired commentators of the first three centuries of the Christian era, which were approved by the papal council of Nice, were called Ante Nicene fathers; and such as have been approved by Catholics and Protestants subsequently, are distinguished as Post Nicene fathers; and by the popular voice of the learned and prudent of this world, all are denounced as schismatic, unsound and heretical who prefer the plain teachings of the word and spirit of God to what men have laid down as orthodox. The creeds of papal and protestant councils have been, whenever the secular powers could be enlisted, enforced by pains and penalties, imprisonment, tortures and death. Nor is the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience at this late age any less intolerant; it only lacks the power to enforce its dogmas by such agencies, as prisons, flames and fagots.
A restless spirit is still painfully perceptible among the worldly religionists of the present time, even in our own beloved land of boasted light and liberty, to ignore the sacred rights of conscience in matters of religion, which is guaranteed to every class of our citizens in the constitution of our State and Federal Government. And we would to God that we could say in truth, that even those who claim to be Old School or Primitive Baptists were altogether free from a proscriptive and persecuting spirit. There was a time when our Lord said to some of his dear disciples, “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.” It certainly becomes the saints to try the spirits, whether they are of God, because many false prophets are gone out into the world. We are admonished to “Prove all things, and hold fast that which is good.” All that has been written on the subject of religion should be tested by the word and spirit of God, and whatever will not bear that test should be rejected, and all that is sustained by the scriptures should be held fast; but nothing should be relied on as the infallible truth of God but the holy scriptures.
In all ages of the church men uninspired have written what they have believed to be the truth; but nothing that they have written should be allowed, however excellent, to occupy a place between us and the scriptures. The writing master gives his pupils a perfect lesson of penmanship to copy, and every line they write should be with an eye upon the original copy, which they should endeavor to imitate; but if instead of the copy written by the teacher, they take the lines written by themselves, they will not advance in the art. Even so, if in tracing the opinions written by good or bad men, we lose sight of what has been written by the inspired apostles of the Savior, we shall fail to be profited.
Some who are still living can remember the condition of the Baptist church fifty or sixty years ago, when, instead of a strict adherence to the bible, the harmony of the church was interrupted by the conflicting teachings of Doctor John Gill and Doctor Andrew Fuller. By one party Dr. Gill was accepted as a standard commentator, and by the other Dr. Fuller was an oracle, and the scriptures were cast in the shade, only so far as interpreted by one or the other of these commentators. There were undoubtedly some good things written by both of them, but accepting either of them as standard men led to the final division and ultimate separation and disfellowship of their adherents.
The true and faithful ministers of the gospel should not be regarded as standards, but so far as they preach the gospel of Christ in its purity they are standard-bearers; and standard-bearers to the people of God only so far as they present in their ministry the inspired testimony of the scriptures as the infallible testimony of eternal truth. We would commend the noble example of the citizens of Berea, who received the word with readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily whether these things were so. We should bear in mind that the ministers of the gospel of the present times are men in the flesh, subject to the infirmities incidental to us all: that they are not, nor do they claim to be, like the apostles of our Savior, immediately inspired by the Holy Ghost, as they were; hence while we are bound to receive the testimony of the inspired apostles as the standard of truth, we are to bring what the ministers of our times assert to that standard for trial. What the apostles have bound on earth is the testimony of the Holy Ghost, who spake by and through them, and is therefore bound also in heaven.
There is danger in relying implicitly on what any uninspired writer or preacher may give us their understanding of the things of the Spirit. Only so far as we are taught of God do any of us know the truth as it is in Jesus; and to that extent our instruction will be sustained by our divinely authorized standard authors, the holy apostles.
We do not know that there has been any period in the history of the church since the apostles were here in the flesh, in which the church of Christ in all her members were perfectly free from error in some form, or to some extent, either in doctrine or practice. The reproofs given to nearly all the seven churches of Asia should teach us of the unreliability of any as standards for the saints, except those inspired men of God who have spoken and written as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. The exultation and air of triumph assumed by those who contend for unscriptural doctrines or practices, when they bring from history some examples of their cherished errors, showing them to have existed or been tolerated a hundred or a thousand years ago in the church, shows a strong propensity on their part to stop short of the holy scriptures as the only standard by which to test the truth of what they wish to sustain as pleasing to God or profitable to his people.
Our object in this article is to impress upon the minds of our readers the importance of regarding only the divinely inspired writers of the holy scriptures as our standard writers. However excellent may be the testimony of those who now proclaim the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ unto us, we cannot follow Christ, or receive their doctrine only so far as it is set forth in the scriptures of truth, without rejecting the scriptures as our only rule of faith and practice. The scriptures are to us the sure word of prophecy, to which we do well to take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day-star arise in our heart. And we are most solemnly admonished that “we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.” – Heb. ii. 1. “Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware, lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness. But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever. Amen.” – 2 Peter iii. 17, 18.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Middletown, N. Y.
SIGNS OF THE TIMES
Volume 48, No. 1
January 1, 1880