Dear Brother Beebe: - I noticed some time back in the Signs of the Times a request from brother Hughes of Pennsylvania for my views through the Signs of Col. 2:8.
"Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world and not after Christ."
First it may be proper to explain the reason for not sooner attempting a compliance with brother Hughes' request. I am a poor writer at best, and having no certain dwelling place, it is seldom I can find a suitable opportunity for answering my numerous private correspondents. Long absence from my usual field of labor, attending the Northern associations this spring and summer has made it still more inconvenient for me to write any thing for publication.
This epistle seems to be a joint production of Paul and Timotheus, addressed to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ at Colosse. Although there may be some things in the epistle peculiarly and specially applicable to that particular church, yet an admonition like the one contained in the text is as applicable to the saints and faithful brethren in one place and age of the world as another, and to them only. The nature and character of the religion of Jesus is the same now that it ever was, and those who possess it are subject to like temptations and infirmities, have the same need of being vigilant and watchful lest they should be enticed away from the simplicity of the gospel of Christ by the traditions of men and the rudiments of the world. We have an account in the 17th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles of Paul having to defend himself against certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, with the Jews in the synagogue and devout persons, and also against certain philosophers of the Epicurians and Stoics. It was this latter encounter that called forth that masterly defence of the truth delivered from Mars' Hill, which resulted in the silencing of his adversaries and the conversion of Dionysius the Ariopagite, and others. Philosophy is a science of nature and teaches that all its operations are by certain fixed and well established laws. Even where these laws have not been studied and reduced to science, there seems to exist in the minds of men a sort of undefined theory that certain causes will produce certain effects. Christianity, or the religion of Jesus, on the other hand is spiritual; is not dependent for its existence or any of its enjoyments, upon any natural cause or any laws of nature. Various attempts have been, and are still being made, to reduce the religion of Jesus to a science, or to explain and illustrate it upon philosophical principles. The result has always been and always will be, to present a theory as widely different from the teachings of Christ as true philosophy differs from blind chance. All that is known of God, or all that is enjoyed by the Christian of a spiritual nature, is comprehended through faith. The natural mind of man is as incapable of receiving or knowing them as the mind of a brute is of comprehending the science of philosophy. Herein lies the foundation of all the errors that exist in the world upon the subject of religion. Believing the natural mind as capable of being instructed in the things of the Spirit as it is in the science of philosophy, or any other natural science, men have resorted to all the most approved methods of imparting to natural minds a knowledge of the true God; hence the almost universal use of Sunday Schools, Bible classes, tract and Bible societies, Young Men's Christian Associations, protracted meetings, and all the different measures that are employed for the purpose of advancing the Redeemer's kingdom, and teaching the people Christianity. They may be and are taught sectarianism, which is in direct antagonism to the truth. We have Episcopal Sunday Schools to make Episcopalians, Presbyterian schools to make Presbyterians, Methodist schools to make Methodists, New School Baptist schools to make New School Baptists. Only Old School Baptists discard the whole theory, and contend that because the natural mind of man is incapable of comprehending spiritual things, therefore he must be born again or he cannot see the kingdom of God. If religion was a science to be studied or acquired as is the science of philosophy, then all the advantages would be in favor of the wise and prudent; but these things are hidden from the wise and prudent, and revealed unto babes. "Not many wise, not many noble are called; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and base things, and things that are not, to bring to naught things that are, that no flesh should glory in his presence." That there are certain laws or fixed decrees of Jehovah that govern the whole system of salvation, it is our joy to believe; but these laws are of a higher order, and in no sense dependent for their execution upon the laws of nature; but on the contrary, the laws of nature are made subservient to, and dependent upon, the provisions of that covenant that is ordered in all things and sure. Hence the dividing of the Red Sea, the rolling back of Jordan's tide, the standing still of the sun, the burning bush, and the harmlessness of the flaming furnace upon the Hebrew children, with other suspensions or perversions of nature's laws recorded in the scriptures. Christ, though promised long before, could not come until the fullness of the time had come; all that he did and suffered was that the scriptures might be fulfilled. These scripture prophecies were but declarations of the determinate counsel of God, and could not be departed from, even in what might seem to be a matter of no consequence. When he arose from the dead it was at the appointed time; and not only unaided by any philosophical science, but in open defiance of all the well established principles of nature, strengthened by art, and human precaution to prevent it. Experience and revelation alike teach that when sinners are quickened into life, it is by a power subversive of all the laws of nature; and that all his after enjoyments come entirely independent of any philosophical principles. The sun may shine in all his noontide brightness and yet the Christian have no light. All nature may be enveloped in the sable shades of midnight darkness, yet even the night shall be light about him. The verdant earth, the singing birds and fragrant flowers may all proclaim that stern winter is past and lovely spring is upon us, and yet bring no joy to the troubled Christian's breast. Anon, though nature be bound in icy bands, and all is dread and bleak without, yet the saint may sing, "The winter is past, the rain is over and gone, and the time of the singing of birds has come."
How often do we hear from scientific religionists an argument like this: As we clear our land of rubbish, put in the plow and break the sod, sow the seed, and cultivate with industry, that we may keep down the weeds and reap a crop, (sound philosophy this) so we must abandon all vicious habits, break up the fallow ground of the heart, plant the seeds of faith and repentance, in order that we may reap a crop of grace. This argument seems so reasonable, so consistent with common sense, and more than all, contains such sound philosophy, that it is not only calculated to deceive the simple, but also to spoil the Christian. Bildad, Eliphas and Zophar philosophized extensively in Job's case; but they could not spoil him; there was a comfort (although all earthly comforts and friends had failed) in the reflection and knowledge that his Redeemer lived.
To spoil is to rob; and although every Christian, like Mary, the sister of Martha, has that which shall never be taken from him, yet there are certain enjoyments and privileges flowing from the possession of this, of which they may be deprived, in consequence of imbibing erroneous principles; and among these is the fellowship and communion with the saints, which to every saint is of priceless value. It is remarkable with what earnestness these religious philosophers will call upon the traditions of the fathers, and the rudiments or elements of the world as the basis of their religious dogmas. Instead of quoting from Paul, Peter, John, etc., they tell you what John Calvin, Martin Luther, or John Wesley have said. Instead of regarding the religion of Jesus as one and the same in all ages and countries, they conform to the rudiments of the world, and tell us about this enlightened age, and about exploded and worn out systems. Take from this class of religionists all their traditions and all their worldly policy, or the rudiments of the world, and what would they have left? Absolutely nothing. Take from them their natural offspring and their fleshly excitements, and natural causes~ and they would have so few assessions to their number that they would ere long perish from natural causes. These are the things they look to and rely upon, and not upon our Lord Jesus Christ. The apostle shows of what little value these things are to the Christian, and how dependent he is upon Christ for every thing, by declaring in the verse following our test: "For in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily."
Now we would not be understood by any thing we have written as depreciating a knowledge of the principles of philosophy or any other science that the natural mind is capable of comprehending, but as drawing a distinction between the wisdom of this world which cometh to nought, and that which is of God. Worldly wisdom is very well in its place, and much to be desired, but contributes nothing to Christian knowledge or enjoyment. And now, brother Hughes and others, how shall we avoid being spoiled through philosophy? I know of no better plan than that recommended by the apostle Peter, 1st epistle 5:8,9; and to take the scriptures as the man of our counsel, as the lamp to our feet and the light to our path, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith. Never attempt to defend the truth by carnal reasoning, for sound philosophy will overturn all your arguments; but plant yourself square upon the plain declarations of scripture; and when these learned philosophers and deceitful workers have exhausted all their ammunition, it will be found that the scripture reads just as it did before they commenced their assault.
May the Lord enable us to stand against the wiles of the devil, and to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints.
Yours in love,
Elder R. C. Leachman.
Re-published in The Remnant
Volume 10, No. 1 - January-February, 1996