Thoughts for the Times.

 •  9 min. read  •  grade level: 9
WE live in strange and perilous times. Many worthy men, I am aware, see no danger. They are unwilling to see what they do not like to see, or to believe what it is unpleasant to believe. I cannot agree with them. I think it unwise to shut our eyes to facts, and to cry "Peace" when there is no peace. Let me explain what I mean.
1. We are in danger from the growing disposition to ignore the sufficiency and supremacy of the written Word of God.
Years ago the only question asked about faith and duty was, What saith the Scripture? About the meaning of particular texts men often disagreed, but few men ever disputed the paramount authority of the Bible.
A change has come over the minds of many in late years. The whole subject of inspiration is surrounded with doubts by the inroads of "scientific criticism." Parts of the Bible are declared to be of no authority. Some tell us that the Pentateuch was not written by Moses, and the facts related in Genesis never took place at all. Others tell us that David only wrote one Psalm in the one hundred and fifty—if any at all. In short, the whole Book is stripped of much of its value and made a mass of uncertainty.
It is vain to shut our eyes, to the fact that a general miasma of unbelief seems to fill the air in this day. A great northern divine once told the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, “Agnosticism and Materialism have become the fashion. The great reviews and magazines are full of it. Young misses fresh from school, and who are not sound on the multiplication table, will lisp to you that they are not sound in the faith. Young boys will tell you that they go in for Agnosticism, a word of which they hardly know the meaning, and which they would find it hard to spell.”
And what is the source of all this mischief? I believe it is the result of the constant attacks made by learned critics on the inspiration of the Old Testament, producing a general feeling of skepticism about the New among that large class of people who know nothing of any criticism, but are glad of some excuse for doubting the truth of the whole Bible. The consequence is a general "shakiness" in men's minds about Bible religion altogether.
Against this danger I desire to raise a warning voice. Give up the inspiration and authority of the Bible, and you give up the only thing which will provide any of us with peace and hope at the last. Wretched indeed is that man who lies on a dying bed, and does not repose his soul on plain texts of God's written Word. The Church without an inspired Bible is a lighthouse without, a lantern, and a soldier without arms. Stand fast, I entreat you, on the authority of the whole Bible After all, let no man's heart fail, when he reads strange and painful statements made by learned Hebraists about the inspiration of the Old Testament, and feels puzzled and unable to answer them. Let him rest assured that there are many equally learned Hebraists who entirely deny the validity of modern scientific criticism, and stand firmly in the old paths. It is my own conviction that the Ark is safe, though the oxen may seem to shake it. I entreat you to cling to the old doctrine of complete inspiration of the whole Bible. Let not your hearts be troubled or afraid.
I grant that an age of skepticism must needs be an age of trial to Bible-loving Christians. But I charge you to cultivate faith and patience. Doubt not that truth will prevail. The Scripture has survived many an attack, and will survive many more.
2. We are in danger from the 'increasing dislike of all positive and distinct statements of doctrine.
This dislike is a fact, I am bold to say, which wants realizing and recognizing. It does not receive the attention it deserves. Whether we like to hear it or not, I declare my conviction that it is a sore disease, which is eating like a canker. It is a pestilence walking in darkness, which threatens to infect a large proportion of the rising generation.
The evidences of this dislike of positive doctrine are so abundant that the only difficulty lies in selection. Unless we are men who having eyes see not and having ears hear not, we may see them on every side.
The consequences of this widespread dislike of positive and distinct doctrine are very serious. Whether we like to allow it or not, it is an epidemic which is just now doing great harm, and especially among young people. It creates, fosters, and keeps up an immense amount of instability in religion. It produces what I must venture to call, if I may coin the phrase, a "jelly-fish" Christianity; that is, a Christianity without bone or muscle or power. A jelly-fish, as everyone knows who has been much by the seaside, is a pretty and graceful object when it floats in the sea, contracting and expanding like a little delicate transparent umbrella. Yet the same jelly-fish, when cast on the shore, is a mere helpless lump, without capacity for movement, self-defense, or self-preservation. Alas! it is a vivid type of much of the religion of this day, of which the leading principle is, "No distinct tenets, no positive doctrine." We have hundreds of jelly-fish preachers, who seem not to have a single bone in their body of divinity. They have no definite opinions; they are so afraid of "extreme views" that they have no views at all. We have thousands of jelly-fish sermons preached every year—sermons without an edge or a point, or a corner, smooth as billiard-balls, awakening no sinner and edifying no saint. We have legions of jelly-fish young men annually turned out from our Universities, armed with a few scraps of second-hand philosophy, who think it a mark of cleverness and intellect to have no decided opinions about anything in religion, and to be utterly unable to make up their minds as to what is Christian truth. They are sure and positive about nothing. And last, and worst of all, we have myriads of jelly-fish worshippers—respectable people—who have no distinct and definite views about anything religious. They cannot discern things that differ any more than color-blind people can distinguish colors. They think everybody is right and nobody wrong, everything is true and nothing is false, all sermons are good and none are bad. They are "tossed to and fro like children, by every wind of doctrine"; often carried away by any new excitement and sensational movement; ever ready for new things, because they have no firm grasp on the old; and utterly unable to "render a reason of the hope that is in them." All this, and much more, of which I cannot now speak particularly, is the result of the unhappy dread of "doctrine" which has been so strongly developed, and has laid such hold on many in these latter days.
Let me once more express my earnest hope that no scorn of the world; no ridicule of smart writers, no sneers of liberal critics, no secret desire to please and conciliate will tempt us for one moment to leave the old paths and drop the old practice of enunciating clear, distinct, well-defined doctrine in all our utterances and teachings. Let us beware of being vague and foggy and hazy in our statements. Let us be specially particular about such points as original sin, the inspiration and authority of Scripture, the finished work of Christ, the complete atonement made by His death, the priestly office which He exercises at the right hand of God, the inward work of the Holy Ghost on hearts, the absolute necessity of repentance and conversion, the resurrection of our bodies, the coming judgment of quick and dead, the reality and eternity of future punishment. On all these points let our testimony be, not Yea and Nay, but Yea and Amen; and let the tone of our witness be plain, ringing, and unmistakable. "If the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?" (1 Cor. 14:88For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? (1 Corinthians 14:8)). If we handle such subjects in a timid, faltering, half-hearted way, as if we were handling hot iron, and had not made up our minds "what` is truth," it is vain to expect people who hear us to believe anything at all. It was distinct doctrine in the apostolic ages which emptied the heathen temples and shook Greece and Rome. It was distinct doctrine which awoke Christendom from its slumbers at the time of the Reformation. It was distinct doctrine which, in the days of Whitefield, Wesley, Venn, and Romaine, revived and blew up our dying Christianity into a burning flame. It is distinct doctrine at this moment which reaches the lapsed masses and gives power to every successful mission, whether at home or abroad. It is doctrine—doctrine, clear, ringing doctrine—which, like the rams' horns at Jericho, casts down the opposition of the devil and sin. Let us beware of a vague, boneless theology. Let, us go on clinging to doctrine, whatever some may please to say.
Never, never let us compromise and give up one jot or tittle of the Word of God. By this the victories of Christianity have always been won; by telling men of Christ's incarnation, vicarious death and sacrifice, His glorious resurrection and ascension to glory; by showing them Christ's substitution on the cross, and His precious blood; by teaching them justification by faith, and bidding them believe on a crucified and risen Savior; by preaching ruin by sin, redemption by Christ, regeneration by the Spirit; by lifting up the Brazen Serpent; by telling men to look and live—to believe, repent, be converted, and live thoroughly holy lives. This—this is the only teaching which for eighteen centuries God has honored with success, and is honoring at the present day both at home and abroad.