Landmarks and Stumblingblocks: Part 1

Deuteronomy 19:14  •  13 min. read  •  grade level: 8
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What tender care, what gracious considerateness, breathe in the above passages! The ancient landmarks were not to be removed; but the stumblingblocks were to be taken up. The inheritance of God’s people was to stand forth in all its length and breadth, while the stumblingblocks were to be sedulously removed out of their pathway. Such was the grace of Israel’s God! Such His care for His people! The portion which God had given to each was to be enjoyed, while, at the same time, the path in which each was called to walk should be kept free from every occasion of stumbling.
Now, if we are to judge from the tone and character of several recent communications, we believe we are called upon to give attention to the spirit of those ancient enactments. Some of our friends have, in their letters to us, opened their minds, very freely, as to their spiritual condition. They have told us of their doubts and fears, their difficulties and dangers, their conflicts and exercises. We must say we feel truly grateful for such confidence; and it is our earnest desire to be used of God in the interesting work of helping our readers by pointing out the landmarks which He, by His Spirit, has set up, and removing the stumblingblocks, which the enemy has so diligently flung in their path. It never was our object merely to conduct a Magazine — to bring out a monthly number — to fill so many pages. But we have desired, and that most earnestly, that “Things New and Old” should be a direct agent in the hands of the Holy Ghost, in the great work of quickening, liberating, and edifying souls. The day will declare how far our desire has been answered. We have abundant reason to bless God for the fruit which He has allowed us to gather; and our earnest prayer is that when our little serial ceases to be useful, it may cease to exist — that its issue may cease with its interest — that it may never outlive its freshness. For this we count on God; and to Him we look for grace to say the right thing in the right way, and at the right time.
In pondering the cases which have lately been submitted to us, we have found some in which the enemy was most manifestly using as a stumblingblock the doctrine of election misplaced. We have reason to believe that thousands have stumbled over this stumblingblock, and we are most anxious to see it taken up. The doctrine of election, in its right place, instead of being a stumblingblock in the pathway of anxious enquirers, will be found to be a landmark set by them of old time, even by the inspired apostles of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, in the inheritance of God’s spiritual Israel. But we all know that misplaced truth is more dangerous, by far, than positive error. If a man were to stand up, and boldly declare that the doctrine of election is false, we should, without hesitation, reject his words. But we might not be quite so well prepared to meet one who, while admitting the doctrine to be true and important, puts it out of its divinely appointed place. And yet this latter is the very thing which is so constantly done, to the damaging of the truth of God, and the darkening of the souls of men.
What, then, is the true place of the doctrine of election? Its true, its divinely appointed place, is in the inside of the house, in the hands of the teacher, for the establishment of true believers. Instead of this, the enemy has put it outside the house, in the hands of the evangelist, for the stumbling of anxious enquirers. Hearken to the following language of a deeply exercised soul. “If I only knew that I was one of the elect I should be quite happy, inasmuch as I could then confidently apply to myself the benefits of the death of Christ.”
Doubtless, this would be the language of many, were they only to tell out the feelings of their hearts. They are making a wrong use of the doctrine of election — a doctrine blessedly true in itself — a most valuable “landmark,” but a most dangerous “stumblingblock.” It is very needful for the anxious enquirer to bear in mind that it is as a lost sinner, and not as “one of the elect,” that he can apply to himself the benefits of the death of Christ. The proper stand-point from which to get a saving view of the death of Christ is not election but conscious ruin. This is an unspeakable mercy, inasmuch as I know I am a lost sinner; but I do not know that I am one of the elect until I have received, through the Spirit’s testimony and teaching, the glad tidings of salvation through the blood of the Lamb. Salvation — free as the sunbeams, full as the ocean, permanent as the throne of the eternal God — is preached to me, not as one of the elect, but as one utterly lost, guilty, and undone; and when I have received this salvation there is conclusive evidence of my election. “Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God; for (οτι) our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance.” (1 Thess. 1:4, 54Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God. 5For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake. (1 Thessalonians 1:4‑5).) Election is not my warrant for accepting salvation; but the reception of salvation is the proof of election. For how is any sinner to know that he is one of the elect? Where is he to find it? It must be a matter of divine revelation, else it cannot be a matter of faith. But where is it revealed? Where is the knowledge of election made an indispensable prerequisite, an essential preliminary, to the acceptance of salvation? Nowhere, in the word of God. My only title to salvation is that I am a poor good-for-nothing, guilty, hell-deserving sinner. If I wait for any other title, I am only removing a most valuable landmark from its proper place, and flinging it as a stumblingblock in my way. This, to say the least of it, is very unwise.
But it is more than unwise. It is positive opposition to the word of God, not only to the quotations which stand at the head of this paper, but to the spirit and teaching of the entire volume. Hearken to the risen Savior’s commission to His first heralds: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:1515And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. (Mark 16:15).) Is there so much as a single hair’s breadth of ground, in these words, on which to base a question about election? Is anyone, to whom this glorious gospel is preached, called to settle a prior question about his election? Assuredly not. “All the world” and “Every creature” are expressions which set aside every difficulty, and render salvation as free as the air, and as wide as the human family. It is not said, “Go ye into a given section of the world, and preach the gospel to a certain number.” No; this would not be in keeping with that grace which was to be proclaimed to the wide, wide world. “When the law was in question it was addressed to a certain number, in a given section; but when the gospel was to be proclaimed, its mighty range was to be, “All the world,” and its object, “Every creature.”
Again, hear what the Holy Ghost saith, by the apostle Paul: “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” (1 Tim. 1:1515This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. (1 Timothy 1:15).) Is there any room here for raising a question as to one’s title to salvation? None whatever. If Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and that I am a sinner, then I am entitled to apply to my own soul the benefits of His precious sacrifice. Ere I can possibly exclude myself there from I must be something else than a sinner. No doubt, if it were anywhere declared in scripture that Christ Jesus came to save only the elect, then clearly, I Should, in some way or another prove myself one of that number, ere I could make my own of the benefits of His death. But, thanks be to God, there is nothing the least like this in the whole gospel scheme. “The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:1010For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost. (Luke 19:10).) And is not that just what I am? Truly so. Well then is it not from the standpoint of a lost one that I can look at the death of Christ? Doubtless. And can I not, while contemplating that precious mystery from thence, adopt the language of faith and say, “He loved me, and gave himself for me?” Yes, as unreservedly and unconditionally as though I were the only sinner on the surface of the globe.
Nothing can be more soothing and tranquilizing to the spirit of an anxious enquirer than to mark the way in which salvation is brought to him in the very condition in which he is, and on the very ground which he occupies. There is not so much as a single stumblingblock along the entire path leading to the glorious inheritance of the saints — an inheritance settled by landmarks which neither men nor devils can ever remove. The God of all grace has left nothing undone, nothing unsaid, which could possibly give rest, assurance, and perfect satisfaction to the soul. He has set forth the very condition and character of those for whom Christ died, in such terms as to leave no room for any demur or hesitation. Listen to the following glowing words: “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” “For if when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son,” &c. Rom. 5:6, 8, 106For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:6)
8But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
10For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. (Romans 5:10)
Can aught be plainer or more pointed than these passages? Is there a single term made use of which could possibly raise a question in the heart of any sinner as to his full and undisputed title to the benefits of the death of Christ? Not one. Am I “ungodly?” It was for such Christ died. Am I a sinner? “It is to such that God commendeth His love. Am I “an enemy?” It is such God reconciles by the death of His Son. Thus all is made as plain as a sunbeam, and as for the theological stumblingblock caused by misplacing the doctrine of election, it is entirely removed. It is as a sinner I get the benefit of Christ’s death. It is as a lost one I get a salvation which is as free as it is permanent, and as permanent as it is free. All I want, in order to apply to myself the value of the blood of Jesus, is to know myself a guilty sinner. It would not help me, the least, in this matter, to be told that I am one of the elect, inasmuch as it is not in that character God addresses me in the gospel, but in another character altogether, even as a lost sinner.
But then, some may feel disposed to ask, “Do you want to set aside the doctrine of election?” God forbid. We only want to see it in its right place. We want it as a landmark, not as a stumblingblock. We believe the evangelist has no business to preach election. Paul never preached election. He taught election, but He preached Christ. This makes all the difference. We believe that no one can be a proper evangelist who is, in any wise, hampered by the doctrine of election misplaced. We have seen serious damage done to two classes of people by preaching election instead of preaching Christ. Careless sinners are made more careless still, while anxious souls have had their anxiety intensified.
These, surely, are sad results, and they ought to be sufficient to awaken very serious thoughts in the minds of all who desire to be successful preachers of that free and full salvation which shines in the gospel of Christ, and leaves all who hear it without a shadow of an excuse. The grand business of the evangelist is to set forth, in his preaching, the perfect love of God, the efficacy of the blood of Christ, and the faithful record of the Holy Ghost. His spirit should be entirely untrammeled, and his gospel unclouded. He should preach a present salvation, free to all, and stable as the pillars which support the throne of God. The gospel is nothing more nor less than the unfolding of the heart of God as it expresses itself in the death of His Son, and in the deathless record of His Spirit.
Were this more carefully attended to there would be more power in replying to the oft-repeated objection of the careless, as well as in hushing the deep anxieties of exercised and burdened souls. The former would have no just ground of objection; the latter, no reason to fear. When persons reject the gospel on the ground of God’s eternal decrees, they are rejecting what is revealed on the ground of what is hidden. “What can they possibly know about God’s decrees? Just nothing. How then can that which is secret be urged as a reason for rejecting what is revealed? Why refuse what can be known, on the ground of what cannot? It is obvious that men do not act thus in cases where they wish to believe a matter. Only let a man be willing to believe a tiling, and you will not find him anxiously looking for a ground of objection. But alas! men do not want to believe God. They reject His precious testimony which is clear as the sun’s meridian brightness, and urge as their plea for so doing His decrees which are wrapped in impenetrable darkness. What folly! What blindness! What guilt!
And then as to anxious souls who harass themselves with questions about election, we long to show them that it is not in accordance with the divine mind, that they should raise any such difficulty. God addresses them in the exact state in which He sees them and in which they can see themselves. He addresses them as sinners, and this is exactly what they are. There is nothing but salvation for any sinner, the moment he takes his true place as a sinner. This is simple enough for any simple soul. To raise questions about election is sheer unbelief. It is, in another way, to reject what is revealed on the ground of what is hidden; it is to refuse what I can know, on the ground of what I cannot. God has revealed Himself in the face of Jesus Christ, so that we may know Him and trust Him. Moreover, He has made full provision in the atonement of the cross, for all our need and all our guilt. Hence, therefore, instead of perplexing myself with the question, “Am I one of the elect?” it is my happy privilege to rest in the perfect love of God, the all-sufficiency of Christ, and the faithful record of the Holy Ghost.
We must here close, though there are other stumbling-blocks which we long to see removed out of the way of God’s people, as well as landmarks which are sadly lost sight of.