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Vol. 1, No. 2
Feb., 1992

What Is the Wedding Garment?

Matt. 22:1-14

by Glenn Conjurske

The garment in the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is the well known symbol of righteousness. This is seen in the garments of skins which the Lord made for Adam and Eve, as also in the fig leaves which they sewed for themselves. It is seen in the fine linen worn by the bride at the marriage supper of the Lamb. It is alluded to in Isaiah 64:6, where the self-righteousness of man is referred to as “filthy rags,” or a soiled or polluted garment, as others translate it. The wedding garment, then, represents righteousness.

But the question arises, What kind of righteousness? Imputed righteousness, is the standard “orthodox” answer, and this is supported by alluding to a supposed custom of the ancient kings to provide such a garment for all of their guests. The inference to be drawn from such a custom agrees so well with the requirements of modern theology that the custom itself is assumed without inquiry to be true, and is taught as an undoubted fact by almost everybody today. Real and thorough scholars, however, who belonged to better days than ours, have another story to tell. Henry Alford says, “it is not distinctly proved that such a custom existed.”1

Even R. C. Trench, who bases his interpretation of the parable on the supposition of such a custom, yet honestly says, “Others, on the contrary, deny that any certain traces of such a custom can anywhere be found, . . . and perhaps no distinct evidence of any such practice is forthcoming.”2 Certain instances of such a thing might be cited, but these do not prove a custom----much less a universal custom which would have been certainly known by the Lord's hearers.

But this leads me to two observations. First, a great deal of what is put forth as ancient history by the teachers of the church in our day is really nothing more than modern conjecture. But in the second place, I utterly deny the notion that we must know all about ancient culture and customs in order to understand the Bible. This second point requires further comment:

I believe the Bible to be, generally speaking, sufficient in itself. Beyond the common knowledge of man and animals, birds and plants, earth and sky, which every man whose eyes are open may easily acquire, we have no need of learning from extraneous sources in order to understand the Bible. There are exceptions to this----notably portions of the book of Daniel. But there God has dropped us a few hints in that direction, in the facts that the theme of Daniel is “the times of the Gentiles,” parts of the book being written by Gentiles, and in a Gentile language. To understand the Bible in general, however, I deny any necessity of a knowledge of the world. It is such a book as may be understood by the unlearned and uncivilized peoples of the South Sea Islands, the jungles of Africa, or the Australian outback. For my part, I profess myself to be almost entirely ignorant of those supposed ancient customs which form so large a part of much of modern preaching. I do not own a “Bible dictionary” or a “Bible encyclopedia,” and I usually pay no attention to what I hear others teach on such subjects.

But further----I do not merely regard such knowledge as generally unnecessary: I regard it as often evil in its tendencies and results. In many cases it quite effectually diverts the mind from the Bible itself, and it is often used to weaken the Bible's message, or to alter it. This I believe to be the case in the passage under consideration.

Absolutely all that we need to know to understand this parable is that there was such a thing as a “wedding garment,” and that every guest was expected to wear it----and that much we may learn from the parable itself. What that garment represents we are to learn from the Bible itself.

Nor does the Bible leave us long in doubt. Any mind familiar with the Scriptures will naturally associate this parable with the marriage supper of the Lamb, in Revelation 19. That the two passages speak of the same thing should be evident to all. In the one (Matt. 22) we read of “a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, . . . saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner.” In the other (Rev. 19), “Blessed are they which are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” Here are four plain marks of identification between these two passages, the marriage, the son, (who is the Lamb), those who are called, or bidden, and the supper, or dinner. He must bring forward some pretty strong proofs who would pretend to deny that these two passages speak of the same thing, and we can hardly be faulted if we find a fifth mark of identification in the garments. “Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment?” (Matt. 22:12). “For the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her is granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white.” (Rev. 19:7-8).

Grant, then, that the fine linen of Rev. 19:8 speaks symbolically of the same thing as the wedding garment, and all guessing is immediately at an end as to what the wedding garment represents. We are plainly told, “for the fine linen is the righteousness of the saints.” “Imputed righteousness,” some will yet be bold enough to affirm. But this I disprove three ways:

First, it would be very strange to refer to imputed righteousness as “the righteousness of the saints.” This I take to be self-evident. Who, anywhere, ever, refers to “imputed righteousness” (whatever they may mean by it) as “the righteousness of the saints”? “The righteousness of God,” or (mistakenly) “the righteousness of Christ,” are the usual terms. And to put the matter altogether beyond doubt, the scripture says, “his wife hath made herself ready.” This certainly appears to refer to something which she has done, and not something done to her or for her. That it is something she has done herself will plainly appear as we proceed to our further proofs. To begin with, the saints have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Rev. 7:14). They did not wash the righteousness of God, but their own polluted souls.

Second, the word “righteousness” is not singular as our version has it, but plural, so that the proper rendering of it is “the righteousnesses of the saints.” If this had been more truly translated from the beginning, no one would ever have dreamed of thrusting in imputed righteousness here.

My third and strongest proof is that the word “righteousnesses” in this text is not the same word as is used of imputed righteousness in the book of Romans. That is abstract righteousness----righteousness as a principle or state. This is concrete righteousness----righteous acts or righteous works. It is a simple impossibility that the righteous works of the saints can refer to imputed righteousness.

The wedding garment, then, is the righteous works of the saints. It is the same garment which righteous Job wore, when he said, “I delivered the poor that cried, and the fatherless, and him that had none to help him. The blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon me, and I caused the widow's heart to sing for joy. I put on righteousness, and it clothed me: my judgement was as a robe and a diadem. I was eyes to the blind, and feet was I to the lame. I was a father to the poor; and the cause which I knew not I searched out. And I brake the jaws of the wicked, and plucked the spoil out of his teeth.” (Job 29:12-17). Now Job was neither a liar nor a hypocrite, nor a self-righteous Pharisee, but a servant of God, “a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil,” so much so that there was “none like him in the earth,” God himself being the judge. (Job 1:8).

Some will raise a great hue and cry over this, calling it legal doctrine or popery. To the first I answer, it is Bible doctrine. Let that suffice thee. As for the second, both John Wesley and Richard Baxter were accused of popery for preaching just such doctrines as this, and I let that suffice me.

But I will not end the matter here. Another scripture, obviously on the same subject, calls for our attention. “Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy. He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment.” (Rev. 3:4-5). How can men defile imputed righteousness? Who would dream that they could defile “the spotless robe of Christ's righteousness” (as mistaken theology calls it)? This is clearly out of the question. They have no more power to defile imputed righteousness in Revelation chapter 3 than they have to wash it in chapter 7. The garments which they have not defiled must evidently represent their own righteousness.

What?----“not defiled their garments”? Have they never sinned, then? None would dare to dream it. What then? Plainly this: they “washed their garments and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” when they entered the narrow gate, by repentance and faith; they kept their garments undefiled by walking in the narrow way. These are “the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord. ... They also do no iniquity: they walk in his ways” (Psalm 119:1, 3)----in obedience, self-denial, watchfulness, faithfulness, righteousness, and holiness. This is all personal and practical righteousness. They “overcome” (Rev. 3:5)----overcome the snares of the world, overcome the lusts of the flesh, overcome the temptations of the devil----and therefore “the same shall be clothed in white raiment.” The white raiment is “the righteousnesses of the saints,” here as in Rev. 19.

But this text contains a stronger statement: “they shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy.” The word “worthy,” when applied to persons, properly means deserving. This is the first of seven times the word is used in the book of Revelation, and in all of the other six there is no question that the proper sense is deserving. The seven instances are:

“They shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy.” (3:4).

“Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power.” (4:11).

“Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?” (5:2).

“No man was found worthy to open and to read the book.” (5:4).

“Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof.” (5:9).

“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches,” etc. (5:12).

“They have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and thou hast given them blood to drink; for they are worthy.” (16:6).

Elsewhere in the New Testament we see:

“...for the workman is worthy of his meat. And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, enquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence. And when ye come into an house, salute it. And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you.” (Matt. 10:10-13).

“He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.” (Matt. 10:37-38).

“I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.” (Luke 15:21).

“Of whom the world was not worthy.” (Heb. 11:38).

In all of these the obvious sense is worthy----deserving of good or ill, on the basis of what they are or have done, as is perfectly plain in “the laborer is worthy of his hire.” I am not able to find a single instance in the New Testament where the word does not evidently have this sense, though where people's theology requires it of them, they will contend for a lower sense.

When applied to things rather than persons, the word does sometimes have a lower sense, namely, meet or fitting, for inanimate things are not capable of being worthy of anything. A few examples of this might be found in the New Testament, as “if it be meet that I should go also” in

I Cor. 16:4. Men whose theology causes them to stumble at the word “worthy” in Rev. 3:4 will of course insist that there it has the lower sense: they are meet or fit to walk with Christ, though not deserving of it. Should we grant this, still we remain just where we were, so far as it concerns our present discussion. Those who are fit to walk with Christ are the righteous and the holy. They are those who walk in the light and do the truth, and so “have fellowship with” him (I John 1:6), or “walk with” him. They are those who have overcome, and so will sit with Christ in his throne, even as he overcame, and is set down with the Father in his throne. (Rev. 3:21). They are those----for whatever the word means here we may assume it to mean there----who have loved Christ more than father or mother, or son or daughter, and have taken up the cross and followed him----none else being “worthy” of him. (Matt. 10:37-38).

Grant, then, that “worthy” means no more than “fit,” and it will still remain that the white raiment is personal and practical, not imputed, righteousness. It is nothing other than “the righteousnesses of the saints,” by which the bride has “made herself ready.”

Observe further, in Rev. 3:4, those who shall walk with Christ in white are those who are now worthy. “Thou hast”----present tense, now, in this life----“a few names, even in Sardis----and Sardis, of course, is here on this earth----“which have not defiled their garments; and they shall”----in eternity----“walk with me in white, for they are”----now, in this life----“worthy.” This cuts up all antinomian notions by the roots. It cuts to shreds the modern shallow and easy gospel which promises eternal life to everyone who “believes.” Those who are not in this life, on this earth, worthy to walk with Christ in white have no right or reason to expect that they shall ever do so. They need not expect to be made fit at their death, or at the coming of Christ. Oh, no: for it will then be said, “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still, and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still; and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still, and he that is holy, let him be holy still.” (Rev. 22:11). None will then go in to the marriage supper of the Lamb but those who have----already, for the tense is past----made themselves ready. There is not one ray of hope for those who expect to get to heaven by “imputed righteousness,” who have no personal, practical righteousnesses, or righteous works, of their own. This is the wedding garment, and all who have it not shall be cast into outer darkness, where shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matt. 22:13).

“Sell That Ye Have”
by Glenn Conjurske

“Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Luke 12:33-34.

This plain command of Christ, though its substance is repeated several times in the New Testament, is one of the many which are smugly ignored by the modern evangelical church. Consider your own ways: do you act upon this scripture? Do you live by it? Have you ever so much as seriously inquired, in the presence and the fear of God, exactly what it is that he here requires of you? Do you live one whit differently now than you would if this scripture had never been written?

As to the meaning of this scripture, there can be little doubt about that. It means what it says. It means that we are to sell what we have, and give alms. George Müller, much admired in the modern church, but little known and less followed, says the following on this and other scriptures: “`Sell that ye have, and give alms.' Luke xii. 33. `Owe no man anything.' Rom. xiii. 8. It may be said, surely these passages cannot be taken literally, for how then would the people of God be able to pass through the world. The state of mind enjoined in John vii. 17, will cause such objections to vanish. WHOSOEVER IS WILLING TO ACT OUT these commandments of the Lord LITERALLY, will, I believe, be led with me to see that, to take them LITERALLY, is the will of God.”

At this point folks will begin to cavil, and say, “What? does this mean that we are to sell every last article which we possess?” The simple answer to that is, Of course not. Nor does the Lord mean so in those other places where he says “Sell whatsoever thou hast,” and “Sell all that thou hast.” Common sense forbids such a thought. Common sense tells you that the Lord did not mean for you to sell your last potato, and starve. He that instructed his disciples to gather up the very broken fragments of bread, “that nothing be lost,” and evidently approved of their having baskets with which to do the gathering, cannot have meant that. Common sense tells you that he did not mean for you to sell your last shirt or dress, and go naked. To do so would be sin, which the Lord never required of anyone.

But common sense will equally teach us that the Lord certainly must have meant something by these solemn injunctions. A single eye, which is set upon doing the will of God regardless of what it is or what it costs, will search deeper, to find out exactly what he did mean. The careless and lukewarm, the soft and self-indulgent, will content themselves to suppose (if they think of this scripture at all) that it obviously cannot mean literally all that it says----and think or care nothing further about what it does mean.

But as said, the Lord obviously means something by these solemn words, and something very important, too, for it is by obedience to this command that we are to provide for ourselves treasures in heaven. He says, “Sell that ye have.” What does this mean? That it does not mean to sell every last article we possess, common sense tells us, and so does Scripture, for the Bible says, “Be content with such things as ye have,” and “Having food and raiment, let us be therewith content.” (Heb. 13:5;

I Tim. 6:8). The former of these scriptures plainly teaches us that it is permissible for us to have certain things, and the latter informs us what sort of things are acceptable----namely, the necessities of life. “Food and raiment”----or food and shelter, as some would interpret it. Alford (The Greek Testament) says, “some take it of both clothing and dwelling: perhaps rightly.”

And if common sense (supported by Scripture) will allow us to have the common necessities of life, it will of course allow us also to have the means of procuring them----the tools of our craft or trade. Paul did not make tents out of nothing. If it will allow us food, it will of course allow us the means of preparing and eating our food. Dishes, a table and chairs

----a bed, all of the common necessities of life. If it will allow us a place of shelter, it will allow the means of maintaining it----a ladder, a saw, a hammer and nails. Neither God nor any sober-minded man will grudge to any man to have such like things, and all of this can be easily proved from the Bible as well as from common sense.

But further, as we are not here merely to subsist, but to do the work of the Lord, we may certainly have those things which will facilitate our doing it----“books and parchments” (II Tim. 4:13)----“paper and ink”

(II Jn. 12)----“ink and pen” (III Jn. 13)----a typewriter, a desk, a printing press, a mode of transportation.

Still further. All necessity is relative. One thing may be necessary to sustain life, but it may require something further to sustain health. One tool may not be necessary merely to do a task, but it may be necessary to do it well. One thing may be necessary merely to do a job, but something else may be necessary to save time in doing it. I am neither so ascetic or so hyperspiritual as to quarrel with any of this, though I would insist that there is need of great carefulness, and of a single eye, in the application of it. Define necessity as broadly as you will, as broadly as you can, in the presence and fear of God, with a single eye to his glory, and a heart fully consecrated to his cause, and neither God, nor Scripture, nor I, will have any quarrel with you.

But after all of this is freely granted, we are still left with the obvious fact that “Sell that ye have” must mean something. Neither is its meaning far to seek. If the Bible admonishes us to be content with common necessities, this plainly implies that we ought to part with those things which are not necessities. “Sell that ye have”----not those things which are necessary for good and godly purposes, to sustain life and health, or to do the work of the Lord----(unless we have them in unnecessary abundance or elegance, such as is a practical denial that we are pilgrims and strangers on the earth)----but those things which contribute nothing to such legitimate ends. “Sell that ye have,” your needless and useless things----your luxuries and adornments----your collections and collectibles----your pets and hobbies, none of which contribute anything to the legitimate ends of your being, but rob you instead of the time and money which ought to be devoted to those ends----your pictures and antiques and ornaments and knickknacks, which you possess for no higher purpose than to gratify the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. “Sell that ye have, and give alms” is the plain command of him whom you call your Lord. And what avails it for you to call him “Lord, Lord,” if you do not the things which he says?

Alas! instead of simple single-eyed obedience to this plain command of Christ, we find the modern church filled with excuses for not obeying it. Many such excuses I have heard. People will excuse their having useless or luxurious things by saying, “It didn't cost me very much.” But what has that to do with the subject? Your Lord does not say, “Sell what you paid a high price for,” but “Sell that ye have.”

We hear further, “It was given to me.” But again, the Lord does not say, “Sell what you bought,” but “Sell that ye have”----regardless of where you may have gotten it. A little of faithfulness to the spirit of this scripture----a little of faithfulness to the principle which it so plainly sets forth----will lead you to refuse in the first place many of those things which people might give to you. If we ought to sell the needless things which we have, then it goes without saying that we ought to refrain from acquiring any more of the same sort of things.

But we come to a more plausible excuse: “The reason for selling what we have is to give alms----to give to those who have need----but many of those things which I possess are worth very little, and would hardly contribute anything to that end.” To this I answer, The reason for selling what you have is certainly not primarily to give alms, as I shall point out shortly from the text itself. But supposing that were the primary reason, or even the only reason, the text does not say, “Sell that which will bring a good price,” but “Sell that ye have.”

Some may carry this objection farther, and say, “Many of those things which I have are not worth selling, or perhaps not saleable at all. It is probable that no one would buy them, and if they would, the money which they would bring would not repay me for the time and trouble of selling them.” Well, suppose all of this to be strictly true. Is that a legitimate excuse not to “sell that ye have”? Does it not rather plainly appear that things which are not worth selling are not worth keeping? If it is really worth nothing, by all means throw it away!

But I suppose I have mistaken your meaning. You do not mean to imply that those things are worth nothing at all. You mean rather to say, “The things which I have may not be worth anything to anyone else, but they are worth something to me.” Yes, indeed, and you have just rehearsed the very best of all reasons why you should get rid of them. You have, in fact, arrived at the true and spiritual reason, enunciated by the Lord himself in the text of this article, why you should part with those things: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:34).

The real purpose which underlies this commandment is not for the good of the poor, but for your own good. It is that you might “provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not.” The giving alms----and indeed the selling----are only the means to that end. The real spiritual reason which underlies all is to wean your heart from earth and attach it to heaven. I have heard some excuse themselves by saying “We have these things, but they are not our treasures.” But your plea is lame. You give yourself the lie. If they are not your treasures, why are you so unwilling to part with them? Why will you disobey the plain command of Christ in order to cling to them? Moreover, your excuse goes directly against the plain meaning of the text. “Sell that ye have, and give alms, ... for where your treasure is, there will your heart be.” This certainly teaches that what “ye have” is “your treasure,” plain and simple. Part, therefore, with your treasures on the earth, and lay up treasures in heaven.

This you may do by giving to the poor. “Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, that when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.” (Luke 16:9). Those who have this world's goods are charged to be “rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate, laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.” (I Tim. 6:18-19). You need no great depth or spirituality or knowledge or spiritual gifts to do this. The simplest saint of God may thus lay up for himself treasures in heaven, for “He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord; and that which he hath given will he pay him again” (Prov. 19:17)----and not merely in the perishing things of this life, but in “treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth.”

But as it is for your own good to obey this command of your Lord and Master, so it will certainly be to your eternal detriment to ignore it, for you will have an account to give not only for your treatment of the command of Christ, but also for the use you have made of the goods he has committed to you. On this point the great John Wesley writes, “Many years ago, when I was at Oxford, in a cold winter's day, a young maid (one of those we kept at school) called upon me. I said, You seem half starved. Have you nothing to cover you but that thin linen gown? She said, `Sir, this is all I have!' I put my hand in my pocket; but found I had scarce any money left, having just paid away what I had. It immediately struck me, Will thy Master say, `Well done, good and faithful steward! Thou hast adorned thy walls with the money which might have screened this poor creature from the cold!' Oh, justice! Oh mercy! Are not these pictures the blood of this poor maid! See thy expensive apparel in the same light: thy gown, hat, head dress! Every thing about thee, which cost more than Christian duty required thee to lay out, is the blood of the poor! Oh be wise for the time to come! Be more merciful! More faithful to God and man! More abundantly adorned (like men and women professing godliness) with good works!” It is safe enough for modern Christians to admire John Wesley, provided it be at a distance. Who follows in his footsteps?

But it may be that in these days of fulness of bread and abundance of idleness you are honestly at a loss to find cases of legitimate poverty. An ancient English proverb says, “There is God's poor, and the devil's poor,” and a later form of it adds, “the first from Providence, the other from vice.” I can scarcely suppose we ought to relieve “the devil's poor”----the gamblers, the drunken, and the lazy. I used to give to every beggar on the street, when I was too simple to know that they were spending it up for drink. The Bible says also, “If any man will not work, neither should he eat.” (II Thes. 3:10). This plainly implies that we ought not to support or feed such a man. D. L. Moody says on this subject, “A man was talking to me, out here the other day, that he didn't believe there was any love at all, that Christians professed to have love, but he didn't believe men could have two coats; and I think he reflected on me, because I had on my overcoat at the time, and he hadn't got any. I looked at him and said: `Suppose I should give you one of my coats, you would drink it up before sundown. I love you too much to give you my coat and have you drink it up.' A good many people are complaining now that Christians don't have the love they ought to have; but I tell you it is no sign of want of love that we don't love the lazy man. I have no sympathy with those men that are just begging twelve months of the year. It would be a good thing, I believe, to have them die off. They are of no good.” This is very strong language, and such as I would not use myself. Nevertheless, I am in complete agreement with the principle which underlies it.

The primary reason for the command in our text is that we might put our treasures and our hearts in heaven. The selling and giving alms, I suppose, is enjoined in order that we might make a wise disposition of our earthly goods. But where is the wisdom of giving to “the devil's poor,” only to increase their capabilities for laziness and vice? And yet in this land so highly favored by Providence, “God's poor” may be few and far between. What then? Does this relieve you of your responsibility to “sell that ye have, and give alms”? Not in the least, for remember, this commandment does not exist merely for the physical good of the poor, but for the spiritual good of your own soul. It exists to move you to part with your treasures on the earth and lay up treasures in heaven, “for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Supposing the poor are actually scarce in these days of plenty and luxury, is there never a faithful servant of God whose burdens you might help to ease, who may struggle to feed many mouths with few dollars, who may lack the money he could use to print or to travel for the work of the Lord, who perhaps can ill afford the books he could use to feed his own soul and the souls of the people?

Many even of women thus ministered unto the Lord of their substance (Luke 8:3), and if you are able to find a faithful and self-denying servant of his, you also may certainly lay up treasures above by giving to such a man, as Paul's beloved Philippians did to Paul “once and again,” and yet “again” (Phil. 4:16, 10), thus contributing to relieve the man of God of some of his earthly cares, and free him to care for the things of God and the souls of men, and thus at the same time gaining fruit to abound to their own account (vs. 17), providing for themselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens which faileth not. What a treasure in the heavens we may suppose those men now have who four hundred years ago contributed to the maintenance of poor John Foxe (pressed all of his life by poverty), while he devoted all of his powers to researching and writing his famous Book of Martyrs, which has so much blessed the church of God from that day to this. Do they now regret that they then parted with their needless possessions in order to serve the cause and testimony of Christ?

But how will you give account to your Master if you live your life careless and heedless of his plain commandment?

Self - Interest
by Glenn Conjurske

The Bible consistently and continually sets before us one grand reason or motive for what we do----namely, our own good. Every “commandment with promise” (Eph. 6:2) is a proof of this, and so is every commandment with a threat. The Bible is full of both, from “in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 2:17), to “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life” (Rev. 22:14). These and a thousand things between them appeal to every man's self good as the primary motive for doing as he ought to do.

But what need is there to assert a thing so obvious? Who would dream of denying it? Unfortunately, there are many who teach hyperspiritual notions on this subject which utterly subvert the simple doctrine of the Scriptures. It is taught that it is sin to act with a view to my own good----that it is selfishness, which is the root and essence of sin----that if I repent in order that my soul might be saved, my repentance is sin, and I remain lost and deceived----that if I pray in order to receive blessings for myself, my prayer is sin, and will not be heard. These hyperspiritual notions overthrow the truth on both the nature of man and the goodness of God, and thus undermine the warp and the woof of the very fabric of the Bible as a whole.

The root of all of these notions is New England theology. The father of it all (though not exactly the fountainhead, as I shall point out shortly) is Jonathan Edwards. From him and his immediate disciples it was passed down (with some modifications and accretions) from generation to generation, even as far as Charles G. Finney and his disciples, and it is my suspicion that the resurgence of such doctrines in our day is due largely to a renewed interest in the writings of Charles G. Finney.

To begin at the beginning, at a young age Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) was greatly influenced by the philosopher John Locke (1632-1704). Frank Hugh Foster says, “...at fourteen he was reading Locke's Essay upon Human Understanding and enjoying a far higher pleasure in the perusal of its pages `than the most greedy miser finds when gathering up handfuls of silver and gold from some newly discovered treasure.' With the sensational philosophy of this great thinker he became entirely familiar.” “That early reading,” the same writer says elsewhere, “seems to have made the strongest impression upon his mind.” One of Edwards' biographers adds, “The impression it left upon his mind was a deep and in some respects an abiding one.” Foster, who studied the entire subject with the greatest thoroughness, speaks elsewhere of “Edwards' entire dependence upon Locke for both doctrine and arguments.” The result of all of this is that in many particulars what Edwards produced was in reality a system of philosophy rather than of theology. The particular doctrine which I am opposing in the present article was developed in Edwards' Dissertation Concerning the Nature of True Virtue. It is a surprising fact that this dissertation, which covers over 60 pages in my edition of Edwards' works, contains in the whole of it scarcely even an oblique allusion to Scripture. The Bible is ignored, and we read page after page after page of reasoning. Thus the very method employed is apt to lead us far astray, and in fact it does so. Turn almost anywhere we will in the Bible, and we find Edwards' whole fabric overturned by a simple quotation of what the Bible says. To that I shall come shortly, but first a further glance at New England theology:

Jonathan Edwards writes, “True virtue most essentially consists in BENEVOLENCE TO BEING IN GENERAL.” This is the foundation of the whole philosophical system, and this doctrine, and even the very terms in which it is stated, continued to be the standard teaching of New England divines down to the days of Finney, and beyond. And here we see at once, in the very terms employed, the cold intellectualism of philosophy. Even if we could embrace the doctrine involved in it (that all holiness consists of love), how vastly would we prefer the simple phrase so often in the mouth of John Wesley, of “love to God and man”! But be that as it may, this “disinterested benevolence” to “being in general”----to “the universality of existence”----to “general existence”----to “the whole existence”----to “the universal system” (to use a few of Edwards' phrases)----was conceived to stand in opposition to self love, which these philosophers speak of contemptuously as selfishness. Edwards' own statements on this are not clear and explicit, but he always treats self love as clashing with disinterested benevolence, and so as opposite in its nature from true virtue. He devotes a lengthy chapter to illustrating and proving this. He held that self love could be virtuous only as a subordinate part of love to “being in general”----only, that is, insofar as self was viewed as an infinitesimal part of “being, simply considered.”

Samuel Hopkins (1721-1803) was a disciple of Edwards, who studied theology under him for a time, and taught the same philosophical system. He writes, “It being thus evident that the love required in the divine law, in which holiness consists, is disinterested benevolence, which is primary and most essential in all virtuous love; and in which all is included; it appears from what has been observed, that sin consists in that affection and those exercises, which are directly opposed to disinterested benevolence to being in general, and all those affections and exercises which are implied in true benevolence or good will to others. And this must be self love, or selfish affection and exercises; for this, and this only is, or can be opposed to disinterested regard and good will to other beings; and to all those exercises which are implied in true benevolence. ...every degree of self love, be there more or less, is in its own nature opposed to the love required in the divine law: And therefore is in its nature, and in every degree of it, sin, being contrary to true holiness. And if a person be not wholly selfish, but exercises some degree of disinterested regard and good will to other beings; yet every degree of self love which he exercises is as opposite to disinterested affection, as if he had no benevolence; and therefore as sinful. ... Still every exertion of self love is as really sin, as if it were exercised in a higher degree, and were not counteracted by opposite, disinterested love. ...

“Hence it is evident, that sin consists in self love, and those affections and exercises which are implied in this, and naturally flow from it as their root. This is in its own nature opposite to all virtuous, holy affection, to all truth and reason; and is of a criminal nature, in every degree of it, wherever it is found.” This is more clear and explicit than any of Edwards' statements, but the doctrine is essentially that of Edwards. Hopkins carried it to its logical conclusion, and held that a man must be willing to be damned (in case that should chance to be “for the public good”) in order to be saved.

Generations later Charles G. Finney inherited the same system, and powerfully preached it. Some will doubtless be surprised, not to say shocked, to see the systems of Edwards and Finney thus identified. But I need only say, Read them both, and you will plainly see not only the same philosophical method and much of the same philosophical system, but even the same terminology. As early as the beginning of 1826 Finney was reading Edwards' works at the house of Samuel Aiken in Utica, New York, and (says Mr. Aiken) “often spoke with rapture” of them. Finney apparently soon after this bought his own set of Edwards' works, for the set which he owned was published in 1829----a ten volume set which has been in my possession for years, every volume of it containing Finney's autograph signature. I actually suppose, however that Finney was as much influenced by the theology of his day, which had descended from Edwards, as he was by reading Edwards himself. But however that may be, or wherever he may have gotten it, there is no doubt that Finney's doctrine on this subject came originally from Edwards. Read the following and judge: “We have seen in former lectures, that disinterested benevolence is all that the spirit of moral law requires, that is, that the love which it requires to God and our neighbour is good-willing, willing the highest good, or well-being of God, and of being in general, as an end, or for its own sake.”

In a sermon on “True and False Conversion” Finney says:

“To glorify God; the true saint because he loves to see God glorified, and the deceived person because he knows that is the way to be saved. The true convert has his heart set on the glory of God, as his great end, and he desires to glorify God as an end, for its own sake. The other desires it as a means to HIS great end, the benefit of himself.

“To repent. The true convert abhors sin on account of its hateful nature, because it dishonours God, and therefore he desires to repent of it. The other desires to repent, because he knows that unless he does repent he will be damned.

“To believe in Jesus Christ. The true saint desires it to glorify God, and because he loves the truth for its own sake. The other desires to believe, that he may have a stronger hope of going to heaven.

“To obey God. The true saint that he may increase in holiness; the false professor because he desires the rewards of obedience.”

In another sermon he says, “It is astonishing that many, within a few years, have maintained that it is right for man to aim directly at his own salvation, and make his own happiness the great object of his pursuit. But it is plain that God's law is different from this, and requires every one to prize God's interest supremely.”

Where, I ask, does God's law require this? Not even the law in all of its rigor required such a thing----nay, not even the commandment given to sinless man in the Garden of Eden. Much less does the gospel.

To sinless man in the paradise of Eden it was said, “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” (Gen. 2:17). This plainly sets before the man his own good as the proper motive for his obedience. Never a word was said to him about the glory of God, much less the good of the universe. His own good was the only motive mentioned to him.

To sinful man under the law it was said, “Ye shall therefore keep my statutes and my judgements: which if a man do, he shall live in them.” (Lev. 18:5).

To sinful man under the gospel it is said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” (Acts 16:31). “Repent ye, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out.” (Acts 3:19). There is not the slightest hint in any of this about the glory of God or regard for “the public good,” and God never anywhere requires a man to repent except with a view to securing his own good. This is the one motive which God continually and consistently holds out to the sinner from one end of the Bible to the other.

Indeed, as I contemplate this theme, the scriptures which illustrate and prove it flood so thick and fast into my mind, from all parts of the Bible, that I scarcely know where to begin----much less where to end.

To Cain God said, “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted?”

(Gen. 4:7). Self-interest, pure and simple.

To Israel God says, “Observe and hear all these words which I command thee, that it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee for ever, when thou doest that which is good and right in the sight of the Lord thy God.” (Deut. 12:28). Ten times this motive is held out to Israel in the book of Deuteronomy, and one of those instances is quoted in Ephesians 6:3 as the first “commandment with promise.” There is no question that this so-often-repeated expression, “that it may go well with thee,” plainly teaches man to obey and serve God for his own good. Those who affirm that it is sinful to act upon that motive have in effect made God the great tempter of the race of men, who from one end of the Bible to the other continually incites the whole human race----saints and sinners alike----to that which is in itself the very essence of sin.

“Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way. (Psalm 2:12).

“Hear instruction, and be wise, and refuse it not. Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors. For whoso findeth me findeth life, and shall obtain favour of the Lord. But he that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul: all they that hate me love death.” (Prov. 8:33-36).

“Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” (Is. 55:7).

“Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions: so iniquity shall not be your ruin. Cast away from you all your transgressions whereby ye have transgressed, and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” (Ezek. 18:30-31).

“Break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by shewing mercy to the poor, if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquility.” (Dan. 4:27).

To this sampling of Old Testament texts we may add the whole of Deuteronomy 28, the lengthy chapter which so graphically and powerfully sets forth the blessings and cursings consequent upon Israel's obedience or disobedience. I cite only the beginning of each section. “And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the Lord thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth: and all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God.” (1 & 2). “But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day, that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee.” (Verse 15). It is scarcely possible to imagine a more powerful appeal than this to their own interest as the grand motive of their life, backed up as it is by a dozen verses of blessings for obedience, and more than fifty verses of curses for disobedience. And are we to believe that it is sinful for them thus to regard their own interests?

Turning to the New Testament, we find the same thing everywhere. Our own profit, our own advantage, our own benefit, our own salvation, self regard, self good, self-interest----self love, if you please----is the one motive constantly, consistently, and continually appealed to.

“And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.” (Matt. 5:29).

“But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” (Matt. 6:6).

“Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” (Matt. 6:20).

“Judge not, that ye be not judged.” (Matt. 7:1).

“For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36).

“Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.” (Luke 6:38).

“For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away?” (Luke 9:25).

“Provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth.” (Luke 12:33).

“Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:3).

“Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, that when ye fail they may receive you into everlasting habitations.” (Luke 16:9).

“So run, that ye may obtain. ... Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible.”
(I Cor. 9:24-25).

“Godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.” (I Tim. 4:8). Such language unquestionably teaches us to embrace godliness with a view to our own interest.

“How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?” (Heb 2:3).

“Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.” (Heb. 11:35).

“Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward.” (II Jn. 8).

“To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life.” (Rev. 2:7).

“Hold fast that which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.” (Rev. 3:11).

Now it is perfectly obvious that self-interest is the one compelling motive in every one of these scriptures. No other motive is so much as mentioned in any of them. But where does Scripture ever require us to repent or serve God purely for the glory of God? Where does it ever require us to act as we do solely for the good of “universal being”? For philosophical theologians to come in here with reasonings, and assert that it is selfish, sinful, and unavailing for a man to repent and to serve God with a view to his own benefit, is simply to set aside with one stroke the testimony of the whole Bible. The doctrine that all self-seeking is sin turns the gospel into a law more rigorous than any that God ever gave to man. And it is a doctrine which greatly troubles sincere and righteous souls. They find by experience that self love and a regard for their own well-being belongs to the very fabric of their being, and they are unable to rid themselves of it, try as they might. Thus are they led to fear that they are but hypocrites, having no true godliness at all.

And alas, that very fear is a manifestation of regard for self, and so must be regarded as only so much more of sin. But what saith the Scripture? “Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.” (Heb. 4:1). But fear as a motive does not set very well with the hyperspiritual doctrines which we here oppose. Finney says,

“With sinners the question of religion is one of loss and gain. But with Christians, it is only a question of right and duty towards God. This makes truth to him all important, and duty imperative. But the sinner only asks, What shall I gain? or What shall I lose? It is wholly a question of danger. Indeed, so true is this, that ministers often assume that the only availing motive with a sinner must be an appeal to his hopes and fears. They have mostly dropped out the consideration of right as between the sinner and God. They seem to have forgotten that so far forth as they stop short of the idea of right, and appeal only to the sinner's selfishness, their influence tends to make spurious converts. For if men enter upon the Christian life only for gain in the line of their hopes and fears, you must keep up the influence of these consideratons, and must expect to work upon these only; that is, you must expect to have selfish Christians and a selfish church.”

Some of what Finney says here only clouds the issue. Why must it be a question of either doing right or looking after my own interest? Why may I not do both? Why may I not do my duty for my own good? I may, and God himself continually incites me thereto. But this Finney will not allow, and regards it as a great evil if fear must be used as a motive to keep men in the path of duty. But again, what saith the Scripture? “A wise man feareth, and departeth from evil.” (Prov. 14:16). “Happy is the man that feareth alway.” (Prov. 28:14). “Let not thine heart envy sinners, but be thou in the fear of the Lord all the day long, for surely there is an end, and thine expectation shall not be cut off.” (Prov. 23:17-18).

The New Testament tells the same story. “And if ye call upon the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear.” (I Pet. 1:17). Fear (which always implies self-interest----a careful regard for my own welfare) is here presented as the constant, life-long motive of all who call upon the Father.

So again, “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (II Cor. 7:1). The pursuit of holiness which proceeds upon regard to promises, and motivated by fear, is obviously and indisputably based upon a regard for my own benefit.

“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Phil. 2:12). This is self regard, pure and simple.

“By faith Noah, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house.” (Heb. 11:7).

Yet in the face of all of this Scripture some will tell us that fear is no proper motive. We must be moved by love----or “benevolence”----which acts not for its own welfare, but for the glory of God or the good of “the universal existence.” Thus infatuation with a philosophical system sets aside scores of plain scriptures. No man----nor God himself, either----is or ought to be governed solely by love. But if he were, I am bold to affirm that not even love is without self-interest. True, love “seeketh not its own” (I Cor. 13:5). Love will give, and sacrifice, and deny its own interests to seek the welfare of another----yes, even “spend and be spent for you, though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.” (II Cor. 12:15). But we cannot conclude from this that true love has no self-interest, when both the Bible and the common experience of mankind teach us that it does. Love, when driven to it by necessity, will lay down all of its own interest, and live and die for its beloved, even though the more it love the less it be loved. But this is not the ordinary way of love. Love ordinarily acts in its own interest, as well as in the interest of its object.

We must understand that there are varying degrees of love. Paul speaks, in the verse just quoted, of “more” and “less” of love, and so does Christ in Luke 7:47. And Christ teaches that the love which lays aside its own interests, and acts solely for the benefit of its objects, is the highest degree of love, for he says, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13). But it is folly to affirm that there is no virtue in any love less than this. It is evident also that even the greatest and purest and deepest love does not prefer to give its life for its friends, but rather to live in love with them. When driven by necessity, love will sacrifice itself for its beloved, but under all ordinary circumstances love certainly has an interest of its own, and acts so as to promote it. “He that loveth his wife loveth himself” (Eph. 5:28)----that is, by promoting her happiness he promotes his own.

“And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her.” (Gen. 29:20). Who would be so foolish as to affirm that his love was without any motives of personal gain? Who so fond as to contend that his great love moved him to work seven years solely for her benefit? Who so absurd as to contend that he labored seven years solely for the glory of God----or “the good of the universe”?! Here we reach the realm of the ridiculous. It is certain that it was love which moved him, and equally certain that that love acted in its own interest.

It is HYPERSPIRITUALITY which overturns all of this, endeavoring to press all love into the mould of the extraordinary extremity of the highest degree of love. And to maintain such doctrine men must deny the facts of life and the common experience of their own nature. It is the very nature of love to desire to possess, as well as to bless, its object. If Jacob loved Rachel, then he desired to possess her to be his wife. If I love a friend, then I desire to possess that person as a friend----and not solely for his benefit. In all of its ordinary workings, love certainly does not act “without motives of personal gain,” but always seeks a reciprocation of love. The cold “charity” of the world may be content without this, and so may the cold “benevolence” of mistaken theology, but love cannot be----and it is not worthy the name of love if it can.

So in the verse immediately preceding the one in which Paul speaks of loving the more the less he be loved, he writes, “I seek not yours, but you” (II Cor. 12:14). I seek “you”----your hearts, your love and affection. This is love's ordinary, natural, and proper endeavor. And so far from being “selfish” or sinful, it is the way of God himself. Paul writes also, “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing.” (I Cor. 13:3). Love, then, profits me----and to what end does Paul mention this, except as a compelling motive to love?

And as this hyperspiritual doctrine overthrows the true nature of love, so it overthrows the true nature of faith also. “BY FAITH Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, MOVED WITH FEAR, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is BY FAITH.” (Heb. 11:7). Now fear, as remarked before, always implies self-interest, and this is perfectly obvious in Noah's case.

Moses, the Bible tells us, exchanged the treasures of Egypt and the pleasures of sin for the reproach of Christ and the afflictions of his people, “for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward.” (Heb 11:26). In plain English, he acted for his own good. True, he gave up his temporal interests, but he did this in order to secure his eternal interests. And this he did “by faith.”

Now what is faith? “Faith is the substance of things hoped for.” (Heb. 11:1). The things which faith thus hopes for are the things which are for its own eternal benefit. This is implied in the very meaning of the word “hope,” and thus it becomes plain that it is of the very essence of faith to serve God for my own good----for the “recompense of the reward”----for the “better country,” the “better resurrection,” the “better thing” upon which the faith of the saints of all ages has been fixed.

Faith is confidence in the love of God. It rests upon the “great and precious promises of God.” It counts upon the goodness of God. It acts in the confidence that God will do me good if I submit to him on his own terms. “The goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance.” (Rom. 2:4). Now the plain fact is, the man who does not thus serve God does not serve him by faith. And “Without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Heb. 11:6). It is of the essence of faith to come to God as to a rewarder. He that cometh to God must come to him thus. This puts God in his proper place, as the great lover and giver, and puts man in his proper place, as the humble and grateful receiver. To speak as Finney does (along with the whole New England school, from Edwards down) of acting solely for “the well-being of God, and of being in general,” actually puts man in the place of God. Nay, it actually puts man above God, for not even God acts so, without regard to his own interests.

But all of this being said, we will yet allow that a man may rise entirely above self-interest, and act solely for the glory of God, or the good of others. Moses certainly did so when he prayed, “Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin----; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of the book which thou hast written.” (Ex. 32:32). And Paul rose above all self regard when he wrote, “For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” (Rom. 9:3). These men spoke out of the highest degree of love; yet in so doing they did not abandon their faith. Moses served God for “the recompense of the reward.” Paul ran the race to “obtain” the crown (I Cor. 9:24-27), and treats it as an absurdity to do otherwise, saying, “And why stand we in jeopardy every hour? ... If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (I Cor. 15:30, 32). “Why” do we serve God through so much pain and trouble, if there is nothing to be gained by it? In plain English, if there is no “recompense of reward,”----“if the dead rise not”----“if in this life only we have hope in Christ”----let us give up the service of God, and become Epicureans. So thought Paul.

And that the truth may be known, and hyperspiritual sentimentality abandoned, we must go deeper yet, and affirm that even when Christ went to the cross, it was not without self-interest. “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for THE JOY THAT WAS SET BEFORE HIM endured the cross.” (Heb. 12:2). He went to the cross in faith, which is “the substance of things hoped for,” the same faith which has dwelt in the saints of all ages, the faith by which they have suffered with Christ, “that we may be also glorified together.” (Rom. 8:17).

This is that faith which looks ever to its own eternal benefit, the recompense of the reward, the city whose builder and maker is God, the eternal weight of glory, the inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, the pleasures for evermore at God's right hand----and so runs that it may obtain.

Separation: Not Fusion
by C. H. Mackintosh (1820-1896)

“Therefore, thus saith the Lord, If thou return, then will I bring thee again, and thou shalt stand before me; and if thou take forth the precious from the vile, thou shalt be as my mouth; let them return unto thee; but return not thou unto them.” Jeremiah xv. l9.

The principle laid down in the foregoing passage is of the deepest possible importance to all who desire to walk with God. It is by no means a popular principle; very far from it. But this does not detract from its value in the judgment of those who are taught of God. In an evil world the popular thing is almost sure to be the wrong thing; and whatever has most of God----most of Christ----most of pure truth----is sure to be most unpopular. This is an axiom in the judgment of faith, inasmuch as Christ and the world are at opposite points of the moral compass.

Now, one of the most popular ideas of the day is fusion, or amalgamation; and all who desire to be accounted men of broad sympathies and liberal sentiments go thoroughly in for this grand object. But we hesitate not to avow that nothing can be more opposed to the revealed mind of God. We make this statement in the full consciousness of its opposition to the universal judgment of Christendom. For this we are quite prepared. Not that we court opposition; but we have long since learnt to distrust the judgment of what is called the religious world, because we have so constantly found that judgment to be diametrically opposed to the plainest teaching of holy scripture; and it is, we can truly say, our deep and earnest desire to stand with the word of God against every thing and every one; for we are well assured that nothing can abide for ever, save that which is based upon the imperishable foundation of holy scripture.

What, then, does scripture teach on the subject of this paper? Is it separation, or fusion? What was the instruction to Jeremiah in the passage quoted above? Was he told to try and amalgamate with those around him? Was he to seek to mingle the precious with the vile? The very reverse. Jeremiah was taught of God first of all to return himself----to stand apart even from those who were the professed people of God, but whose ways were contrary to His mind. And what then? “I will bring thee again, and thou shalt stand before me.”

Here, then, we have Jeremiah's personal path and position most clearly laid down. He was to return, and take his stand with God in thorough separation from evil. This was his bounden duty, regardless of the thoughts of men, or of his brethren. They might deem and pronounce him narrow, bigoted, exclusive, intolerant, and the like; but with that he had nothing whatever to do. His one grand business was to obey. Separation from evil was the divine rule, not amalgamation with it. The latter might seem to offer a wider field of usefulness, but mere usefulness is not the object of a true servant of Christ, but simple obedience. The business of a servant is to do what he is told, not what he considers right or good. If this were better understood, it would simplify matters amazingly. If God calls us to separation from evil, and we imagine we can do more good by amalgamation with it, how shall we stand before Him? How shall we meet Him? Will He call that good which resulted from positive disobedience to His word? Is it not plain that our first, our last, our only duty, is to obey? Assuredly. This is the foundation, yea, it is the sum and substance of all that can really be called good.

But was there not something for Jeremiah to do in his narrow path and circumscribed position? There was. His practice was defined with all possible clearness. And what was it? “If thou separate the precious from the vile, thou shalt be as my mouth.” He was not only to stand and walk in separation himself, but he was to try and separate others also. This might give him the appearance of a proselytizer, or of one whose object was to draw people over to his way of thinking. But here again he had to rise above all the thoughts of men. It was far better, far higher, far more blessed, for Jeremiah to be as God's mouth, than to stand well with his fellows. What are man's thoughts worth? Just nothing. When his breath goeth out of him, in that very hour his thoughts perish. But God's thoughts shall endure for ever. If Jeremiah had set about mingling the precious with the vile, he would not have been as God's mouth; nay, he would have been as the devil's mouth. Separation is God's principle; fusion is Satan's.

It is counted liberal, large-hearted, and charitable, to be ready to associate with all sorts of people. Confederacy, association, limited liabilities, are the order of the day. The Christian must stand apart from all such things; not because he is better than other people, but because God says, “Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” It was not because Jeremiah was better than his brethren that he had to separate himself, but simply because he was commanded to do so by Him whose word must ever define the course, govern the conduct, and form the character of His people. And, further, we may rest assured it was not in sourness of temper, or severity of spirit, but in profound sorrow of heart and humility of mind that Jeremiah separated himself from those around him. He could weep day and night over the condition of his people; but the necessity of separation was as plain as the word of God could make it. He might tread the path of separation with broken heart and weeping eyes, but tread it he must if he would be as God's mouth. Had he refused to tread it, he would have been making himself to be wiser than God. What, though those around him, his brethren and friends, might not be able to understand or appreciate his conduct; with this he had nothing whatever to do. He might refer them to Jehovah for an explanation, but his business was to obey, not to explain or apologize.

Thus it is always. “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” 2 Corinthians vi. 14-18.

It may seem very plausible and very popular to say, “We ought not to judge other people. How can we tell whether people are believers or not? It is not for us to set ourselves up as holier than others. It is charitable to hope the best. If people are sincere, what difference does it make as to creeds? Each one is entitled to hold his own opinions. It is only a matter of views after all.”

To all this we reply, God's word commands Christians to judge, to discern, to discriminate, to come out, to be separate. This being so, all the plausible arguments and reasonings that can possibly be adduced are, in the judgment of a true-hearted, single-eyed, servant of Christ, lighter by far than the small dust of the balance.

Hearken to the following weighty words from the blessed apostle Paul to his son Timothy----words bearing down with unmistakable clearness upon all the Lord's people at this very moment: “Nevertheless, the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, the Lord knoweth them that are his. And let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity. But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honor, and some to dishonor. If a man purge himself from these (the dishonourable vessels), he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work.” 2 Timothy ii. 19-21.

Here we see that if any man desires to be a sanctified vessel, meet for the Master's use, and prepared unto every good work, he must separate himself from the iniquity and the dishonourable vessels around him. There is no getting over this without flinging God's word overboard; and surely to reject God's word is to reject Himself. His word commands me to purge myself, to depart from iniquity, to turn away from those who have only a form of godliness, but deny its power.

----Things New & Old (edited by C. H. Mackintosh), Vol. XX, l877, pp. 161-166.

Chats from my Library
By Glenn Conjurske

“Things New and Old”

I have heard a rumor about myself that I will not buy a book unless it is at least a hundred years old. This, like other rumors I have heard about myself, is mostly fabrication and prevarication, but it does contain a half a grain of truth. The fact is, the great majority of the books in my library are old and out of print, and I assuredly prefer the old to the new----not because the old are older, but because they are better. For a while in my younger days I was as much enamored with the new books as I now am devoted to the old, for I knew nothing else. But when once I had begun to drink of the old wine, I could no longer desire the new, for I said, The old is better. Forty years ago William R. Newell referred to the present day as the most shallow age the world has yet seen----and things are certainly worse today than they were forty years ago. The church of our day is lukewarm, worldly, and extremely shallow, and in general the books which come forth from its authors and publishers are of exactly the same description. Make no mistake about it: I prefer the old, and have neither time nor money to throw away on the new.

But understand: I do not believe a book to be good merely because it is old. Far from it. I firmly believe that most of the books which have been published in the history of the church, whether old or new, ought never to have been written. The best of our modern day may scarcely equal the worst of other and better days, but neither the one nor the other are worth buying. What, then, is worth buying? We may take a hint here from the Scriptures. The Bible is mostly made up of history and biography, and the writings of “holy men of God.” For years I have concentrated primarily on acquiring the lives and writings of the well-known men of God. The great men, the men who have made the history of the church----Wycliffe and Huss----Luther and Tyndale----Menno Simons----Bunyan and Baxter----Whitefield and the Wesleys----Howell Harris----Christmas Evans----Spurgeon, Finney, Moody, Torrey----William Carey and Adoniram Judson----these men are worth knowing. In all that concerns the men of this stamp (and even many lesser lights), the following cherished piece from Charles Wesley is the exact expression of my own soul:

“We gather up with pious care

What happy saints have left behind,

Their writings in our memory bear,

Their sayings on our faithful mind;

Their works which traced them to the skies

For patterns to ourselves we take,

And dearly love, and highly prize,

The mantle for the wearer's sake.”

And yes, it is generally the old biographies of these men that I am after. I have known my own age too long and too well to expect much good from it. Modern biographers generally lack the spirituality, the depth, and even the knowledge, to understand the old giants. Much of modern evangelicalism is sunk so low that it can no longer tell the difference between Henry Ward Beecher and C. H. Spurgeon, or between T. DeWitt Talmage and D. L. Moody. May God deliver the reader from such an evangelicalism, and from its books!

Along with the lives and writings of the great men of God I seek the histories of the workings of God's Spirit among men. Accounts of revivals I value the most, but I also seek the histories of all the great movements of the church. The Waldenses, the Reformation, the Anabaptists, the Puritans, the Quakers, the Methodists, the Plymouth Brethren, the Fundamentalists----in all of these we may “gather up with pious care” the records of the workings of God's Spirit. And yes, in all of these we may also take solemn warnings from the workings of the flesh. My most earnest advice to all who wish to be men of God----capable of steering a straight course between many evils and errors on the right hand and on the left----is: know your Bible first, and then the history of the church. This means the controversies of the church also. The best doctrinal works are those written in controversy. The wits of men are sharpest in controversy----though alas, sometimes so are their spirits. And unlike many ponderous tomes of theology, controversial works are usually not dull. If you love the truth, read the controversies, and read both sides.

Now, having said so much to credit the old and discredit the new, I must be careful to affirm that some few among the books of our day are really worth while, and it would ill become an author to assert that no new books are worth buying. Though I am fully persuaded that in depth, in spirituality, and in scholarship, the church of our day falls far below that of a hundred and twenty years ago, yet occasionally a new book appears which is really worth something. But granting this, I must yet affirm that usually the modern books which are worthy of attention lie in the sphere of biographical and historical research, while the doctrinal and practical books which flood the market can only be described as a lamentable reflection of the shallow age which produced them.

Recent books have a disadvantage of another sort, however, which is that most of them are shackled with copyrights. This may be of little consequence if you do nothing with your books but read them. I usually wish to do more----to pass on the good which I have found, and use it for the blessing of the church. I must also confess that some recent books (and some not so recent) I have and hold for purely negative reasons: to observe what sort of stuff is being taught in the church, and to raise my voice against it. Copyrights may cause difficulties here also. And it is not only brand new books which are shackled with copyrights, but also many which have been out of print for many years. Thus I was early obliged to learn the copyright laws, and over the years I have spent many tedious hours in the “Government Documents” section of the library at the Wisconsin State Historical Society checking the Catalog of Copyright Entries for copyright renewals, so to learn which books I may freely use, and which are still shackled. I am generally unwilling to shackle my own books by using copyrighted material in them, though I have reluctantly made a few exceptions to this in my hymn book.

The one kind of “new” books which are always welcome are the reprints of the old, solid, spiritual books from better days (though I always buy original editions if I can get them). Many such have been on the market in recent years, such as the Journals of Charles Wesley and George Whitefield, the Works of John Wesley, many of C. H. Spurgeon's books, Richard Baxter's practical writings, and numerous others. But alas, the publishers of our day too often fill the church with the most mediocre books, while they leave the old gold untouched. This may be because they lack the sense to know what is worth printing, or it may be because they have the sense to know what this shallow age will read. Doubtless in many cases they don't know the gold exists. Certain secular reprint specialists, catering to university libraries, have printed much that is good, but almost always at exorbitant prices, and the Christian booksellers seem to be generally unaware that these reprints exist. Or do they know that Christians don't have enough interest in these books to pay the price for them? I am referring to such works as John Foxe's Acts and Monuments, in eight volumes, and the complete works of George Whitefield, in six. One of the great dreams of my life is to set on foot a work which will flood the church with the best of books at reasonable prices. May God hasten the day!


EDITOR'S NOTE: Just received from one of the largest evangelical booksellers in America (Christian Book Distributors, of Peabody, Mass.) is an enthusiastic advertisement for Makers of the Modern Theological Mind, edited by Bob E. Patterson of the modernistic Baylor University (Southern Baptist), and featuring such men as Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoffer, Reinhold Niebuhr, Emil Brunner, Rudolf Bultmann, and Sören Kierkegaard, with Carl F. H. Henry thrown in----the whole pack applauded as “your teachers, your counselors, the great theological minds that Christian leaders like you can turn to for inspiration.” The ad also speaks of the enthusiastic response the series is receiving. Are truth and discernment altogether gone from modern evangelicalism? Those who wish to lead souls from the quagmire of “the modern theological mind,” to the terra firma of the OLD PATHS AND ANCIENT LANDMARKS, might consider what they can do to increase the circulation of this magazine. Let your friends know about it, or subscribe for them. Do you know students at Christian schools who should be reading this?

Editorial Policies

Old articles are reprinted without alteration (except for corrections of printing errors), unless stated otherwise. The editor inserts articles by other writers if they are judged profitable for scriptural instruction or historical information, without endorsing everything in them. The editor's own views are to be taken from his own writings.