We are glad to hear of brother Duley’s visit to Kentucky, and of the goodness of the Lord in visiting him and the brethren with an heavenly shower of blessing. How good his glorious presence to revive our drooping spirits and cause us to receive the gospel in power, in the Holy Ghost and in much assurance; at such times it is pleasant both to speak and hear. We have enjoyed brother Duley’s letter, and feel sure many will be comforted in reading it. There are a few statements in it, however, which we think well to comment upon for the consideration of brother Duley and the brotherhood. It has been much in our mind the last few months to offer some thoughts upon these very points. We feel sure that brother Duley will not be offended; his love for and interest in the cause of Christ is equal, no doubt, to our own. It is well for us all to understand each other in matters pertaining to salvation.
Brother Duley says, “There is much letter preaching, concerning which there is no objection to the words, but the spirit is not in it.” We have often wondered if it can be possible that there is “letter preaching” in the church of God, by the servants of Jesus Christ? Before this question can be answered we must first ascertain what “letter preaching” is. Paul says the apostles were made “able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit;” he also tells us “the law is spiritual.” Surely the gospel, which is the power of God, is spiritual; where then do we find “the letter?” We have thought more particularly in the ceremonial law; Christ blotted “out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross.” The following Scripture, with brief comment, may answer to make clear our position upon this point: “For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members, to bring forth fruit unto death. But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held: that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.” “In the flesh” signifies, we think, an unregenerate state, which was the condition of Israel under the covenant of works. (Such was also the condition of the Gentiles who were without law.) Hence “the motions of sins, which were by the law,” did work in them to bring forth fruit unto death. But now, being delivered from the law wherein they were held, Paul says, “We should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.” Now being dead to the law (ceremonial) by the body of Christ, they were to serve God, not in circumcision, meats, drinks, divers washings, &c, but “in spirit and in truth.” “Circumcision [now] is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter.” – Rom. ii. 29. The service of the apostles therefore was not to minister in those things (the letter) which had been observed under the covenant of works, which had men appointed specially for such service, but were to minister in spiritual things. Therefore, said Paul, we are made able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit. To preach “the letter “is to preach the doctrine of works, which is the direct opposite of grace. The apostles did not preach “the deeds of the law “(ordinances) as means of salvation, but Christ and him crucified. There were some, however, who did preach “the letter “(deeds of the law), saying, “Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.” It is said of them they “would pervert the gospel of Christ.” When the apostles were in council at Jerusalem they said with regard to such “letter preaching,” it would “put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear.” This was called preaching Moses. The apostles wrote a letter to the brethren, who had been disturbed by the preaching of those letter preachers, telling them how to walk and from what things to abstain, and also assured them that they (apostles) had given no commandment to those men to preach circumcision, or to command that the law of Moses be kept in order to be saved. They assured the church that the only means of salvation was in the blood of Jesus Christ the Son of God. “In Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them.” If indeed the preaching of “the deeds of the law “for justification before God is “the letter,” (and we believe it is) can it be said now, or since the resurrection of Jesus, that his servants preach “the letter?” Some of our very ablest ministers have been accused of preaching “the letter “because they are not experimental preachers. Did the writer of Hebrews preach “the letter” when he presented Christ in contrasting the priesthood of Aaron and Melchizedek with the priesthood of Christ? or when he contrasted the blood of goats and calves with the blood of Jesus? Surely he was not preaching or writing the experience of the children of God nor anything that would excite their emotions. Read Paul’s sermons as recorded in the Acts of the apostles, and also Stephen’s sermon; see if they were preaching “the letter” when they declared the wonderful works of God in salvation, beginning with the promise to Abraham and tracing Christ through the different generations until manifest in the flesh, then to the cross, to the tomb and to the right hand of God. The gospel is “the power of God,” not tears, frames or feelings. It is true that men and women are often brought to tears when under the sound of real gospel preaching; this is godly sorrow, and it worketh repentance. It is also true that men and women are more often brought to tears when some sad experience, of an earthly nature, is being related in the pulpit. If we are blessed at all with the spirit of discernment, we have not as yet found the gospel, the power of God unto salvation, in that; it is worldly sorrow, and it worketh death. There is no such thing in the dispensation of grace as the gospel being preached in “the letter;” there is no such gospel. The gospel is always the same (the power of God), but it does not always affect the children alike; the preparation of the heart is as necessary as the answer of the tongue; when we are thus prepared it always comes in power, in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance. If there were more sound, fearless, faithful doctrinal preachers, the church generally would be better established in the doctrine of grace; could readily detect heresy when preached, hence less confusion and disorder. Peter thought it well that the brethren be established in the truth; Paul thought it necessary that they be established in the principles of the doctrine of Christ.
We have no thought or intention of criticising the experimental gift, it tills its place in the purpose of God; neither is it proper to belittle the doctrinal gift, which also fills its place. That God has given both to the church we have no doubt; the Lord gives each gift of the ministry for the edification of the body of Christ.
Again, brother Duley says, “I have heard men preach smart, systematic sermons, when I knew full well that there was no gospel in it; God’s children have no time to sleep when the gospel is coming to them in the power of the Holy Ghost.” If system in preaching is an evidence of “no gospel,” we will have to do away with Christ’s sermon on the mount; the mind of man cannot conceive such system as he manifested. The sermon of Stephen in Acts vii. 2-5,3, will also have to be cast one side, for no man, save Jesus, was ever more systematic in preaching than he. Some true servants of God have been accused of preparing their sermons, because they deliver them in an orderly or systematic way. We should not be too harsh in our judgment of our brethren; it is as natural for some men to speak orderly as it is for others not to do so. This is due to the mind of the man; some men are orderly at home and at business, a place for everything and everything in its place, while others are the opposite. An orderly mind is a “good gift,” therefore it is of the Lord.
With regard to the children of God going to sleep during preaching, if this is an evidence of “no gospel,” but “letter,” we shall be compelled to examine the preaching of Paul and the prayer of Jesus to see if the power of God, or the Holy Ghost, was present. During the preaching of Paul on one occasion a certain young man went to sleep “and fell down from the third loft.” During that agonizing prayer of Christ in the garden, Peter, James and John went to sleep; they could not watch with him one hour. If the preaching of Paul and the prayer of Jesus did not keep the children awake, why should we feel disturbed or doubt the presence of the Holy Ghost when some go to sleep under the sound of our preaching? Jesus said to the disciples who slept, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” The spirit is as willing now as it was then, and we feel confident that the flesh is as weak now as it was then. Should the entire congregation go to sleep it would not evidence that the gospel was not being preached. We imagine that brother Duley has preached as good gospel sermons when no one was in sight or hearing as he has ever done before congregations, and perhaps better if he has attempted to use those sermons before assemblies. We feel sure he was not depressed and so discouraged that he stopped preaching because no one was there to hear him; why should he feel so in the pulpit, if all were asleep, if it be the same gospel he preached when entirely alone? No doubt it has ever been the same.
Brother Duley says, “It is an injury to the cause of God to continue to drag along when one sees that he has no liberty, and the brethren are not edified.” We feel very certain that one can judge when he has no liberty to himself in speaking, but we question the judgment, at such times, of the speaker concerning the edification of the hearers. They all appear to him just as he feels, but they do not always feel as they appear to him. It is often easier to stop than to go on, but it is not always best; it is easy to get into the habit of stopping after a fifteen or twenty minute talk, but this is very unsatisfactory to the brethren; often they make special effort to be present, and feel disappointed when the minister stops after a very brief discourse. Gospel ministers frequently preach their most able sermons when, to them, they are in utter darkness.
We leave these remarks for your consideration. We hold our dear brother Duley in high esteem, and have no intention of wounding him in commenting upon his letter; if mistake is made in so doing, we assure him it is not of the heart. Faithfulness, charity and longsuffering toward one another are essential to the well-being of the brotherhood which we are commanded to love. K.
Editorial – Elder H. C. Ker
Signs Of The Times
Volume 74., No. 17.
SEPTEMBER 1, 1906.