ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY AND CHURCH CREEDS.

It is important for us to know what extent to religious events, and the uninspired creeds which have been written, may be beneficial to the people of God at the present day. We know that the inspired psalmist “considered the days of old, the years of ancient times.” He says, “I call to remembrance my song in the night: I commune with mine own heart: and my spirit made diligent search.” But this solemn retrospection was not to subserve an idle curiosity or vain ambition to acquire that knowledge of past events which serves only to inflate the mind with pride; for his mind was sorely perplexed with the soul-trying inquiry, “Will the Lord cast off forever? and will he be favorable no more? Hath God forgotten to be gracious? Hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies?” It was when under these trying circumstances that he said, “I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High. I will remember the works of the Lord: surely I will remember thy wonders of old. I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings.” – Psalm lxxvii. 5-12. He was not searching for some record of what he had done for the Lord, nor of what he had done for himself, nor yet for what men or angels had performed. A knowledge of what men or angels had done or could do could not reassure his faith that the mercy and truth of God were built up forever, and his faithfulness established in the very heavens. – Psalm lxxxix. 2. For these blessed assurances are not found among the uninspired records of men, but in the sacred archives of the eternal counsel of God, and revealed by the Holy Spirit to the sons of God and heirs of eternal glory. To look back to the rock when they are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence they are digged, is confirming to their faith and confidence in the God of their salvation. As the ancient patriarchs and saints sometimes set up monuments and Ebenezers as reminiscences of God's special favors towards them, so it is profitable for the children of God at the present time to remember all the way in which the Lord their God has led them, and with gratitude and praises to acknowledge that his goodness and mercy have followed them all their days. But while we fully appreciate God's wonderful works of old to usward, and to the children of men, we should rely along on what the Lord has taught us by his word and spirit, and read with great caution the religious history of uninspired men.

Since the apostles of the Lamb have finished their course with us in the flesh, no history of the church of God should be allowed to lure us from the doctrine which they taught, the judgments they have recorded, the ordinances they have enjoined; nothing is to be added nor aught diminished from the perfect standard of faith and order they established, which is confirmed by all the valid authority of earth and heaven. What they have bound on earth is bound in heaven, and what they have loosed on earth is loosed in heaven. The question with us now is not or should not be, What was believed or practiced in the church one hundred or a thousand years ago? but rather, What was the faith which was once delivered to the saints? We are not now to ask, Are our ministers by succession of ordination, through the dark ages of papal abominations, traceable to the apostles? but rather let it be asked, Are they such men as the Holy Ghost commanded the church to separate to the work where-unto he had called them?

Much is said at the present time, both by Catholics and Protestants, of what they claim to be a regular succession from the apostles, as establishing their claims to be the true church of Christ. But the fallacy of their vain boasting is clearly apparent when we compare their faith and order with that by which the primitive church was distinguished in her original organization at Jerusalem. The constituent members of the church at pentecost were such as had by the outpouring of the Spirit and the preaching of the word been pricked in their hearts and made to feel their wretched, guilty and helpless condition, and gladly to receive the word, and to repent, or turn away from their former delusions, and be baptized and added to the church, and of them it is said, They continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayer. – Acts ii. 37-42. This church of the First-born was built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto a holy temple in the Lord. – Eph. ii. 20, 21. They held no other doctrine than that of the apostles, aspired to no other religious fellowship, rested on no other foundation or chief corner stone; but these all, to Christ the Lord coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God and precious, were, as lively stones, quickened by their immortal and life-giving foundation, built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. – 1 Peter ii. 4-6. In seeking for the kingdom of God and his righteousness it is expedient for those who are called by grace and born from above (as none but such can see it) to look as far back as to the description of the church as faithfully given in the New Testament. Not even in the history of the first century of the gospel church are we to look for a perfect rule for our faith and practice as disciples of our Savior Jesus Christ; for while the apostles were still in the flesh carnality was detected in the church at Corinth, heresy and witchcraft in the churches of Galatia, and dissensions at Antioch; and in the days of the apostle John there were many antichrists which went out from the church because they were not of them. And Paul, Peter and Jude admonished the saints that many should depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils. And even of the Elders who wept and fell on Paul's neck, because he had told them they should see his face no more, should men arise speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. The primitive saints could only abide in the apostles' fellowship as they continued steadfastly in their doctrine; they were allowed to follow no man only so far as they followed Christ. Can it then be safe for us to accept of the usages or traditions of the church, or of any organization claiming to be the church, as a standard of faith or rule of practice, which have existed since the time the apostles were in the flesh? If in the days of their sojourn on earth no church was perfectly free from defect, at what period from that to the present time have any of the churches surpassed the primitive churches in purity? We have a more sure guide and directory. The doctrine, examples and precepts of God our Savior, as given us in the New Testament, and written by the Holy Spirit in the heart of all who are born of God, alone are reliable. To them only are we exhorted to give heed, as unto a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns, and the day star shall arise in our hearts. A faithful record of the history of the church of God through the intervening ages which have elapsed since the scriptures were written, could such a history be produced, would only be valuable in showing the long-suffering, tender kindness and boundless faithfulness of our covenant-keeping God in being merciful to our unrighteousness, and in warning us to beware of and avoid every error or departure from the divinely inspired rule, into which the church has been lured or betrayed at any time. In no age or period of the existence of the church has it been any less expedient to test her faith and practice by the unerring rule than at the present time. Individuals and churches have perhaps as frequently been drawn into error by tradition as by any other influence. Things which have been held as sacred by pious parents, esteemed preachers and learned instructors, are too often accepted by the unsuspecting disciples for truth, which will by no means bear the scrutiny of investigation in the light of the scriptures. The saints can only be redeemed from their vain conversation, received by tradition from their fathers, by the cleansing blood of Christ; and even those who by him do believe in God, and have purified their souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit, are admonished to stand fast: “For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein and over come, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning.” – 1 Peter i. 22; 2 Peter ii. 20, 21. We cannot obey the truth if we give heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils; and all spirits are seductive which would divert us from following our Lord, and tempt us to accept any other religious oracle than the holy scriptures which he has given as our infallible guide; and all religious doctrines or practices that are not approved by our Lord Jesus Christ and authorized by him, are doctrines of devils. All that he has taught and commanded is obligatory on his disciples, while all that he has not taught or commanded is forbidden.

Written creeds also, as embodying the opinions of men, or the decisions of prelates and councils on religious subjects, are to be treated with the utmost caution, and accepted only so far s they are sustained by the inspired scriptures. A brief statement or summary of what we believe is taught in the bible may be useful in distinguishing the church of God and children of his kingdom from others who profess to believe the scriptures, and yet reject what we believe them to establish as the truth of God; but when such professions of faith assume the form of edicts, of improvements upon the scriptures, or as infallible interpretations of them, or as an absolute standard of orthodoxy, their tendency cannot fail to be pernicious. If they claim to be more plain, clear or reliable than the scriptures, they are sacrilegious and blasphemously insulting to the infinite wisdom of God. To receive them as anything more than a belief of what the scriptures teach, is to ignore the scriptures and take the open ground of rank infidelity. However sound and orthodox written creeds or articles of faith may be, they can only express the convictions of uninspired men, who are liable to err; and when written only to express our convictions or understanding of the divine testimony, we should explicitly state that nothing in them shall be construed as in any wise binding on the saints, only so far as by a close and prayerful investigation they shall be fully sustained by the scriptures. While therefore we give an expression of what we believe is taught in the scriptures, great care should be taken lest we make our views or understanding of them the test of fellowship, instead of the scriptures themselves. It is true the saints are admonished to be of one mind and one judgment, to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, and any palpable departure from the faith of the gospel must unavoidably affect our fellowship; but such a departure must be ascertained and determined by the unerring standard of the scriptures, and not by any humanly-devised creed, for every written creed or abstract of the faith which we may have accepted, as well as the questionable theory to be settled, must be tested alike by the scriptures as the only reliable and infallible standard. If we set up our creeds or traditions above the inspired word, we make ourselves wise above what is written, and may fall under the rebuke of him who charged the Jews with making void the law of God by their traditions, and of whom he said, “In vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” – Matt. xv. 9. The repudiation of long cherished traditions, or the ignoring of creeds, can only amount to heresy so far as the repudiating or ignoring party can be convicted of departure from the doctrine and precepts of our Lord and his apostles, as given to us in the New Testament.

In more than three score years of our labors in the gospel ministry we have never demanded or required of any candidates for baptism that they should sign any pledge to adhere to any other standard of faith or practice than that which is given in the scriptures. We have said to them, “If thou believest in the Lord Jesus Christ with all thy heart, thou mayest.” After hearing from them a satisfactory relation of what we believe to be a genuine experience of the new birth, we have usually asked them if they believe the doctrine and order held and preached by the Old or Primitive Baptists, so far as they understand it, and if their experience is in harmony with it. Upon receiving an affirmative reply, we bid them welcome to the ordinance, and hold ourself ready, if need be in the same hour of the night or of the day, to administer that sacred ordinance. WE know of no divine authority for delaying the administration for a more convenient season, or to first bury a father, or take leave of those we are to leave behind us. As every one who is born from above, and who loves the precious Savior, is commanded to take his yoke, bear his cross and follow him, and as baptism is the first act of obedience of the heaven-born child, no other duty or religious privilege can be in order until this is performed. But upon this subject of baptism we may hereafter write, if the Lord shall so permit.

[As this is the last editorial left by our dear father, and written but a few days before he was called home, the one contemplated in the last sentence was not written. May not this fact imply a reproof to those who love and hope for salvation through our Lord Jesus, yet wait for something more than his plain command to urge them to obey him in following his great example?]

Elder Gilbert Beebe
Middletown, N. Y.

Signs of the Times
Volume 49, No. 16
August 15, 1881