Ethical Implications


IN closing this brief synopsis of doctrine, I cannot omit all allusion to things that should follow. The apostle Paul was never content to leave his theology by itself, as if it were a mere play of rhetoric, or an exercise of philosophical speculation. The one word " Therefore," in Rom. 12:1, shows that, to him, doctrine had more serious consequences. It was the source of ethics; and, if it did not lead to ethics, it had no validity or right to be. "The proof of the pudding is in the eating," says an old proverb, and that is true most of all in theology.

I deeply feel the necessity of vindicating my own work by this principle. But here also I feel that my teaching must be more than ever dogmatic and autobiographical. After what I have already taught, I trust the reader will bear with me if I strain his attention and his faith to the utmost limit; for this is no child's play, but a statement of personal relations between the personal God and each individual person whom he has made. As the whole of God is in every place, this bit of ethics has to do with your soul, as much as if you and God were the only persons in the universe. I put my thought into four great statements:

1. Here is Something to Believe

In writing this Primer I have had a new experience. It began with a dream. I seemed to be in great darkness, and that darkness seemed to be God's coming down to judgment. His universe seemed to be full of evil; and he had come to put that evil away, not by wrath and justice, but by taking it to himself, and bearing all its sin and misery in his own great heart.

Out of the darkness I heard a mighty word, and the word was " NOW." I saw a garden, and a trembling human form. It was God himself, narrowed down into the person of his Son. And that frail mortal was drinking the cup of sorrow and shame, till his sweat and blood fell in drops to the ground.

Never before had I realized what it was for the Man of Sorrows to take upon himself the sins of the world. As his heart broke for sorrow, so my heart broke for sympathy, till I heard the word: "It is finished" (John 19:20). Then came a sudden change, and all was light. Since Christ had "trodden the winepress alone" (Is. 63:3), the ransom had been paid, the atonement had been made, and the universe was free. It seemed to me as if all the sons of God were shouting for joy. The sound of celestial music met my ears and I awoke.

I am not much of a believer in dreams, though they suggest and revive many good suggestions of the day. But this dream led me to reflection. What was the meaning of that word " NOW"?

In the dream, I seemed imprisoned in the bonds of space and time. In my sounder sense, I remembered that God is not so imprisoned. I had heard what may really be the language of eternity.

That scene of appropriated suffering was not matter of an hour, a day, or even of a lifetime, but was God's eternal vindication of himself in his treatment of sin.

I saw more clearly than ever that this is God's way of atonement,—not laying the burden and responsibility of it upon man, but providing himself the sacrifice, as he did of old to Abraham (Gen. 22: 8-14). "The Lord will provide,"—not merely earthly good, but all good, for the body and for the soul, for time and for eternity. Believe this, and you have solved the problem of the universe, and have learned that God had a right to make you, because he could redeem you.

2. Here is Something to Confess

I think no one can really believe what I have written thus far without being moved to confession, both of his own sin, and of God's mercy in his salvation. All idea of comparing his own proud and self-moved righteousness with the holiness of God, is like thrusting an electric lamp against the sun; the astronomer with his smoked glass sees it as a black spot upon that blazing disk. Infinite generosity calls for generous response. Not to feel that one is a sinner, in the presence of such love, is to declare that one is "past feeling" and is doomed to death.

The redeemed soul hungers and thirsts to make his redemption known (Acts 4: 20) ; he cannot stay; he must speak forth the things which he has seen and heard. Non-confession proves lack of belief.

And here is the error of our churches. We seek effects, without thinking of causes. When the seven churches of Asia ceased to be evangelical, they ceased also to be evangelistic; and when they lost their message, they lost also their existence.

We are running the same course of futility: much hole-drilling, but no dynamite; many missionaries, but no Gospel. What we need is to see the Cross anew, as Luther did; to cry: "Fur mich?" "For me?" as Luther did. Then we, too, could face the Diet of Worms, and brave its terrors, and eur work like his would abide.

So I plead for spiritual revival, instead of six-penny socialism, as the only means of present salvation; for internal union with Christ, instead of theatrical effort to bring about an external union with other bodies of Christians.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus! Give us the spirit of confession! Let us pledge ourselves and our institutions, to make evangelical confession not simply possible, as the basis of gifts, but also prerequisite to all our reception and disbursement of funds. So shall we be ourselves confessed, when we meet our Lord in his judgment.

3. Here is Something to Preach

Can we doubt that this is the truth that will capture the world? Christ himself did not doubt it. "And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me," were his own words (John 12:32).

What are we to think of the recent sneers at evangelization, as compared with effort to preach the Gospel? Does it not show that Christian men have lost their faith in that Gospel, and that they are trusting to their own works, instead of trusting to God's appointed method of salvation?

Has not every great missionary conquest begun with the touching of heathen hearts by the story of the Cross? From Greenland to Cape Town, and from China to Peru, that story has done more than any economic benefits to civilize and to reform.

Thank God for hospitals and for schools! But remember that these are secondary and not primary means of blessing, and that they may become instruments of evil, unless purified and accompanied by the preaching of the Cross.

I even go so far as to say that, without an experience of the truth of union with Christ, no young man has a right to enter the Christian ministry. It is certain that without such experience he will be as feeble and abashed as I myself was at the beginning of my work. I long to see the day when ordaining councils and presbyteries will refuse to lay hands on students who have no settled faith, and will tell them to go back to Jericho till their beards are grown.

One man with settled faith is worth a hundred who know not where they stand in theology. Red-hot zeal, even with many defects of training, wins more souls to Christ, than do all the modern philanthropies; for it is the Gospel, and not merely its applications, which is "the power of God unto salvation" (Rom. 1:16).

4. Here is Something to Live By, and to Die By

Was there ever such intensity of effort as that of the Apostle Paul? Read 2 Cor. 11:23-28, and remember his shipwrecks and scourgings!

Compare with these the half-heartedness and dilly-dallying of our Christian service,—our men so plainly given to money-making, our women so plainly given to social ambitions outside the church, and only a few laying all their gifts and influence at the feet of Christ, their Lord!

I do not excuse myself, but rather mourn that I have come so far short of the intensity of zeal which ought to characterize every true believer.

"Lord, it is my chief complaint
That my love is weak and faint;
Yet I love thee, and adore!
Oh for grace to love thee more!"

And I close this Primer by saying that I would wish to have only two inscriptions on the tablet that preserves my memory. The first is: "For me to live is Christ." And the second is: "I have kept the faith."

Dear Reader, you and I must soon stand at the judgment-seat of Christ. It will be then as if he and you were the only persons in the universe—all his sacrifice endured for you alone— all his revelation in nature and in Scripture made to show you the way of life.

Will you say that you have never seen God? The answer will be that you have never seen anything else, for every atom in the universe has been a manifestation of him.

Will you say that he has never spoken to you? The answer will be that every word of Scripture was his voice to your soul.

The only question then will be that question of the ages: "What think ye of the Christ? Whose son is he?" (Matt. 22:42).

How have you used the talent with which he endowed you? What has been your attitude toward that great movement of the world to God? Have you fallen in with it and promoted it, or have you turned aside, to make your selfish interest supreme?

Will you now join yourself to Christ, and so launch your barque on the vast tide that is everywhere flowing toward God, or will you be left high and dry on the shores of time, as the merest refuse of the universe?

In short will you chose to worship Christ, or the works of his hands?

Your answer will determine your real character, and decide your eternal destiny. Christ, or the Universe? Choose you this day whom you will serve!

May your answer be the words of the poet:

"The holy, meek, unspotted Lamb,
Who from the Father's bosom came
For me and for my sins to atone,
Him for my Lord and God I own."

May this answer be the result of reading this Primer of Theology, in the case of some one who has been led by it to see his own sin and his need of Christ as a Savior! For Christ is near to save, and his words are: "Him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out" (John 6: 37).

In the Pilgrim's Progress, John Bunyan sees a man with a muck-rake, who is gathering a few straws, while a glittering crown hangs, all unnoticed, over his head. Let us leave the straws, and take the crown; for "now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation" (2 Cor. 6:2)!