What Is the Wedding Garment?
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,
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
----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
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.
----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
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.
----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
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
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.
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.
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
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
----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
(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
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
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)
not merely in the perishing things of this life, but in treasure in
the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth
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
----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
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
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
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,
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
----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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
Hold fast that which thou hast, that no man take thy crown. (Rev.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
----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
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.