The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church voted last year that some amendments to its creed should be made, and appointed a conservative committee to make suggestions as to just what the changes should be, enjoining, however, that no modification of the Confession should be considered which would not be within Calvinistic limits. That committee has reported and its suggestions have been accepted by the General Assembly; but they will not be passed upon finally until next year, so as to give all the Presbyteries an opportunity to pass upon them.
Quite apropos in this connection is the opinion of this revised Confession recently expressed by one of the leading Presbyterian ministers, Dr. C. A. Parkhurst, whose discourse is thus reported in the daily press.
"'The attempt to make of Presbyterianism an aggressive, widening, moving power in the world, and yet break it on the wheel with the name of John Calvin or any other name, is like getting into your carriage with a crack of your whip and a great show of travel before you have loosened your horse from the hitching post. To tie it to the 16th century is an attempt to drive the Presbyterian buggy with a hitched horse, and any one who supposes that that kind of a church in this age of the world is going to draw into its membership a great many people besides children before they begin to think and old men and women after they have gotten through thinking is badly mistaken. There would have been no Princeton Theological Seminary in existence to-day if the Apostles had looked at it as Princeton does. The spirit of such an institution is to make theology as the shoemaker makes the pegs; as the baker turns out the crackers, all the crackers from the [R1308 : page 88] same dough and with precisely the same stamp upon them.
"'The question that is on the lips of thousands of young men that are on the threshold of the ministry, and that are looking in the direction of the Presbyterian Church, is: 'Can I enter the Presbyterian ministry and still retain my intellectual self-respect? Must I pluck out my eyes and replace my brains with sawdust, as candidacy for Presbyterian orders? Can I be an independent thinker and at the same time a loyal Presbyterian?' It was in view of such interrogatives, Dr. Parkhurst continues, that he would go on to express it as his frank conviction that the General Assembly stultified itself one year ago, when it bound its revision committee to confine its modification of the confession within Calvinistic limits. 'Our objection,' he said, 'is to the idea of trying a great Church in a live century to a man that has been 300 years under ground. It touches the spot in a keen, wide awake man when he keeps his disappointment and his contempt to himself. Perhaps we can never improve on Calvin, but it hurts my feelings to feel that the Church that my heart and life are bound up in is anchored to a cemetery.'"
This Reverend Doctor of Divinity evidently sees the question clearly, but we consider that he has thus far set his young friends—the students—a very poor example of the courage and loyalty to conviction which, as he intimates, is the only true manly or Christian course. Would it not be much easier for him than for them to act conscientiously? Has he not under the care of Presbyterianism earned a reputation which would give him an influence and call and salary outside as well as inside that denomination? Does not his example speak to them as loudly as his words and say that as he for years has been able to stay inside the system whose Calvinistic faith he does not believe, so can they? May we not rest assured that so long as Presbyterianism is popular and its ministers well paid, so long there will be a good supply of young students willing to stultify themselves, by taking vows which they cannot and will not live up to; so long will they teach what they do not believe though they will not for shame's sake teach any more of it than they can avoid?
And have not Doctor Parkhurst and others "highly esteemed among men" (Luke 16:15) shown these young students (who look up to them as models of Christian nobility and honor) how to secure and retain the emoluments of their respective sects without "plucking out their eyes" or "substituting sawdust for their brains?" And moreover some of the reverend gentlemen are showing them how they may now go a step farther and cheaply gain reputations as independent thinkers, and still hold on to their honors and salaries as ministers in those sects. Dr. Parkhurst and all others who thus talk about love for and "loyalty to Presbyterianism," and who at the same time ridicule and stab her, force thinking people to the conclusion that it is the great name, the influence and the wealth of Presbyterianism and not itself that they love—for in the creed alone consists the ism.
The Doctor supposes a student asking, "Can I enter the Presbyterian ministry and still retain my intellectual self-respect?" He does not tell us how it is with himself and others, old in Presbyterianism, but he leaves us to the inference that he has realized the loss of his own self-respect when he remains in a system with which he professes radical disagreement. The gentleman should awake to a realization of the fact that it is such double dealing as his own that is fast making the name Christian a synonym for anything else than candor.
And the same principle holds good in other matters. He that is unfaithful in that which is small will be unfaithful in greater matters, is the Master's decision (Luke 16:10), which we must expect will hold good in every case. Those who can treat lightly their vows to men, and twist and turn a human creed to suit their own convenience, and whose consciences are elastic in such matters, thereby contract habits which do them untold injury. When they come to God's word the same spirit of conscienceless twisting and avoiding issues will hinder their getting at the simplest elements of divine truth.
Honesty is the need of the hour, both in the pulpit and in the pew, among Presbyterians and among all professing Christ. If honesty were practiced, present pews and pulpits would lose half their occupants and the other half would speedily overthrow the error and the superstition fostered by the creeds and traditions of men, and very shortly there would be a oneness [R1309 : page 89] of faith among the real children of God, and a realization of that glorious liberty which the spirit of the truth alone can give, and which but few understand or appreciate now.
But instead of this noble, honest course, which would deserve and share the respect of all honest people (though it would wonderfully sift and humiliate the nominal Church before the world), the method pursued in all denominations is the very reverse of this. Ministers and laymen stultify themselves by remaining in, and thus upholding before men, denominations whose creeds, if ever believed, they have outgrown. So common is this form of deception and hypocrisy that few realize it under its proper name; and the clergyman who now publicly confesses his dishonesty in this respect is lionized as a most courageous person, whereas really this is glorying in his shame.
Dr. Parkhurst declares that his heart and life are bound up in "a cemetery"—the Presbyterian Church. What is there about that cemetery that he so dearly loves? Not the dead Calvinism, he freely confesses. What, then, but the living honors and emoluments of Presbyterianism?
Not such was the love of Christ and the Apostles. They neither knew of nor loved either Calvinism, Presbyterianism or any other ism. They rebuked just such sectarianism and declared it an evidence of carnality. (1 Cor. 3:1-4.) The Church which they loved, and served to the extent of laying down their lives, was the one Church, the members of the one body of Christ, whose names are written, not on earthly scrolls, but in heaven.—Col. 1:24,28; 1 Jno. 3:14,16; Heb. 12:23; Luke 10:20; Phil. 4:3; Rev. 13:8.
The Doctor is correct when he infers that there would have been no such institution as Princeton if the Apostolic teachings had prevailed. And, we may add, there would have been no Presbyterianism, no Roman Catholicism, no Methodism and no other ism, but one Church, with one Lord, one faith and one baptism.
The changes in the Presbyterian Confession, we believe, are improvements, though they will be found still very far from satisfactory to thinking people. Dr. Parkhurst and others admit that they are still a "cemetery" faith, and it is concerning the proposed amended confession that he charges that thinking students will see that to accept it they cannot retain their self-respect, or think independently while loyal to Presbyterianism. Dr. Parkhurst, the students and all others endowed with reason should at once consistently step out from all confessions of men and believe and teach all that they find taught in God's word. Then they would be members of the Apostolic Church and in fellowship with all the saints.
IV. These angels and men, thus predestinated and fore-ordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed; and their number is so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished.
V. Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will, hath chosen, in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of his mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith, or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions or causes moving him thereunto; and all to the praise of his glorious grace.
VI. The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of his own will, whereby he extendeth or withholdeth mercy as he pleaseth, for the glory of his sovereign power over his creatures, to pass by, and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of his glorious justice.
III. God, before the foundation of the World was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good [R1309 : page 90] pleasure of his will, hath predestinated some of mankind unto life, and hath particularly and unchangeably chosen them in Christ unto everlasting glory, out of his mere free grace and love, without any foresight [on God's part] of faith, or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions or causes moving him thereunto; and all to the praise of his glorious grace.
V. The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of his own will, whereby he extendeth or withholdeth mercy as he pleaseth, not to elect unto everlasting life, but to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of his glorious justice; yet so as thereby neither is any limitation put upon the offer of salvation to all, upon condition of faith in Christ; nor is restraint laid upon the freedom of any one to hinder his acceptance of this offer.
[The statements in italics are merely subterfuges to take off the harsh edge of Calvinistic doctrine, which right-minded people can no longer accept. For if Section III. be true—if all who are saved are saved not on account of faith or good works or any other thing—it is very manifest that non-election is a most decided limitation, and that there is no salvation or offer of it to any but the elect, and the non-elect are restrained and have no freedom to accept an offer of salvation never made actually to them.]
IV. (Amended) From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all that is spiritually good, and wholly inclined to evil, do proceed all actual transgressions. Nevertheless the Providence of God, and the common operations of his Spirit, restrain unregenerate men from much that is evil, and lead them to exercise many social and civil virtues.
III. (Original) Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so as a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.
III. (Amended) Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so as a natural man, being altogether indisposed to that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto. Yet is his responsibility as a free moral agent not thereby impaired.
[Here we find another unsuccessful attempt to straddle both truth and error. If man is morally so fettered and enslaved that he has lost all ability to will any good thing, how can it be consistently said that his responsibility as a free moral agent is not thereby impaired? This is nonsense. The truth which they are "feeling after" is this: By their fall into sin and under its penalty, men have become morally and physically impaired, and their wills or desires perverted so that they do not naturally recognize or choose the ways of God. Nevertheless, when the revelation of the grace of God in Christ reaches any of them they are thereafter responsible for the exercise of their wills to the extent of their understanding of that revelation; because their wills remain free to choose between right and wrong, when they discern them, whether or not they have the moral and physical strength to carry out such will or choice.]
I. God so loved the world that he provided in the covenant of grace, through the mediation and sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, a way of life and salvation sufficient for and adapted to the whole lost race of man; and he doth freely offer this salvation to all men in the Gospel.
II. The Gospel declares the love of God for the world, and his desire for the salvation of all men. It sets forth fully and clearly the only way of salvation, which is through Christ alone; promises that all who truly repent and believe in him shall be saved; commands, exhorts, and invites all to embrace the offered mercy; and urges every motive to induce men to accept its gracious invitations. This free and universal offer of the Gospel is accompanied [R1310 : page 90] by the Holy Spirit, striving with and [R1310 : page 91] entreating men to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.
III. It is the duty and privilege of every one who hears the Gospel immediately to accept its merciful provisions. Great guilt and danger are incurred by delay or neglect. And they who continue to disobey the Gospel perish by their own fault and are wholly without excuse, because they have resisted the Holy Spirit and rejected God's gracious offer of eternal life.
IV. As there is no other way of salvation than that revealed in the Gospel, and as in the divinely established and ordinary method of grace faith cometh by hearing the Word of God, Christ hath given to his Church the written Word, the sacraments, and the ministry; endowed her with the Holy Spirit, and commissioned her to go with his Gospel into all the world and to make disciples of all nations. It is, therefore, the duty and privilege of all believers to sustain the means of grace where they are already established, and to contribute by their prayers, gifts, and personal efforts to the extension of the kingdom of Christ throughout the whole earth.
[This is a new chapter added to the confession because the old confession lacked any statement of divine sympathy for the world. It is decidedly the best and most Scriptural chapter. But who cannot see that it is the reverse of Calvinistic? and that it is directly opposed to the statements first above quoted from the same Confession?
If God loves the whole world and has made provision for the salvation of "the whole lost race of men," and if in his Word he declares "his desire for the salvation of all men" and "uses every motive to induce them to accept" it, how can it also be true that only the elect are chosen of God's free grace and love, irrespective of faith or good works or any other thing in said elected ones; and that he "withholdeth mercy as he pleaseth not to elect unto everlasting life but to ordain to dishonor and wrath?" Whence comes this conflict? and how can men of intelligence stultify themselves by declaring before the world that they believe these opposite statements? It is evident that if the revision committee had discarded the old confession and had made a new one, they would have come much nearer the truth. But then what would have become of Presbyterianism, Calvinism? It would be gone; and many of the ministers and people would have felt that they had lost their faith and wished they had died before the doctrine of election without reference to faith or works ended. They would have been in a pitiable condition for a while; but how much more they would have been blessed in finding afterward the true Bible doctrine of election—that God, having predetermined that every individual member of the redeemed race shall come to a knowledge of the truth and to an opportunity for faith and obedience and eternal life, has predestinated the election (or selection) of a Church under the headship of Christ Jesus, their Redeemer, composed of a "little flock" of overcoming saints, who, after being tried in all points, and found faithful, will be highly exalted as God's spiritual, Millennial kingdom, and shall then, as the Royal Priesthood, with Christ Jesus, their great Chief Priest, fulfil the promise made to Abraham (Gal. 3:16,29), by blessing all the families of the earth with knowledge and every assistance, bringing back to God whosoever freely wills to come.
This glorious election once seen in its true light, the Apostle's injunction to make our calling and election sure, by so running as to obtain the great prize, would be appreciated as their error on the subject will not now permit them to appreciate it.]
II. (Original) This effectual call is of God's free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man, who is altogether passive therein, until, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit, he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it.
II. (As amended) This effectual call is of God's free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man, who is altogether passive in the act of regeneration wherein, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit, he is enabled to answer God's call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it.
[Here is another futile endeavor to bend the word of God into harmony with the false view of election. The Scriptures declare that "many are called but few are chosen" or elected to the [R1310 : page 92] high honor of being Christ's bride, joint-heir and co-worker in the Millennial work of blessing the world in general. But this scripture did not harmonize with what John Calvin had decided on the subject; so he got around the statement that "many are called and few chosen" by making two calls—the effectual call for the elect and, as a matter of course, the ineffectual call for the non-elect. But the framers of the confession, ashamed to attribute such double dealing to the great Jehovah, refer to the ineffectual call only inferentially and logically. If the "effectual call" includes the giving of an indispensable ability to accept, then any other call would not only be ineffectual, but a hollow mockery and fraud.
On the contrary, how simple and easy of explanation is the testimony of God's Word upon the subject: that all were unworthy of any favor, but that God graciously provided a ransom for the condemned ones, and then offered justification to all who, when they understand, accept of his favor of justification, not by works, nor without faith, but by faith. Then, so many, during the Gospel age, as hear and believingly accept of this justification are called or invited to become sons of God on a higher plane—to "become partakers of the divine nature" and joint-heirs with their Redeemer in his Kingdom.
Many—all believers during the Gospel age—are thus called, but all do not care to accept the conditions of sacrifice which are attached to the call. "If we suffer with him we shall also reign with him." (2 Tim. 2:12.) "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." (Matt. 16:24.) He that loveth not less than me, houses and lands, father and mother, sisters and brothers, yea, and his own life also, is not worthy of me. (Matt. 10:37,38; Luke 14:26.) Because few live up to these conditions, therefore few of the many called are chosen. The call was a genuine or effectual call in every case; but the response of the called ones was frequently insincere and ineffectual because they did not comply with the conditions. They did not so run as to obtain the prize, and thus make their calling and election sure or effectual.]
III. (Original.) Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how he pleaseth. So also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the word.
III. (As amended.) All infants dying in infancy, and all other persons, who, from birth to death, are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the word, are redeemed by Christ and regenerated by the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how he pleaseth.
[Another inconsistency. This statement belies the statement or confession first quoted above (Chapter III., Sections III. and IV.), on election and predestination. If it be true that "God hath predestined some of mankind unto life," and "the rest of mankind God was pleased—not to elect unto everlasting life, but to ordain them to dishonor, and wrath," then it cannot be true that all infants and others incapable of understanding are saved. Or, if it be true that all infants and all others without understanding are saved, it proves conclusively that the doctrine of the election of the saved and the non-election of others is a gross error—unless it be claimed that God's elections are according to unfitness, ignorance and degradation. And who would take such a position?
This is the question specially troubling Doctor Briggs. He sees, sensibly enough, that if the non-elect class includes the majority of the thinking people, and if the elect includes with the "little flock" of saints all the insane and savages and infants, heavenly society would be rather undesirable unless some instructive training were given to the ignorant ones before full induction to the heavenly experiences, felicities and liberties. He, therefore, has adopted the very erroneous idea of an intermediate state of purgatory which, he presumes, such as are unsanctified and unfit for heaven enter at death.
We shall not attempt here to give the true or Scriptural solution of the question of the future of infants and others incapable of faith, but will leave that for our next issue, to be treated in connection with a criticism of Dr. Briggs—his rights and his wrongs.*]
IV. (Original.) Others, not elected, although they may be called by the ministry of the word, and may have some common operations of the Spirit, yet never truly come to Christ, and therefore cannot be saved; much less can men, not professing the Christian religion, be saved in any other way whatsoever, be they never so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature, and the law of that religion they do profess; and to assert and maintain that they may is very pernicious, and to be detested.
IV. (As amended.) Others, not elected, although they may be called by the ministry of the word, and may have some common operations of the Spirit, yet inasmuch as they never truly come to Christ, they cannot be saved: neither is there salvation in any other way than [R1311 : page 93] by Christ through the Spirit, however diligent men may be in framing their lives according to the light of nature, and the law of that religion they do profess.
[How inconsistent to say that the non-elect, though called, cannot be saved; and what a slur upon God's honesty to say that his Word calls those who are not elected and who consequently cannot be saved!
That the hearts of our Presbyterian brethren are better than their heads and their Confession is evident from the endeavor to throw the blame off God and upon men by the statement that they are such as never truly come to Christ. But the effort is unsuccessful, for this portion of the Confession must be interpreted in harmony with the definition of election and non-election which precedes it, and which, as amended, declares that the elect are not chosen because of foreseen faith or good works, but purely of grace were predestinated to life, and that the rest of mankind God was pleased...not to elect unto everlasting life, but to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for the same sins which in the elect he forgives.
Again, does it not seem to our Presbyterian friends rather a reflection upon the Lord's character to declare, as this revised clause does, that there is no hope of salvation for the millions who profess other religions than that of Christ—not even for the honestly deluded ones who are striving to shape their lives according to the light of nature they possess? Those in the class described are certainly honest if living up to the light of nature they do possess. If God loves them, why should he not give them, as he has given the elect, "a light to shine upon the road that leads men to the Lamb?"
They are Scriptural in speaking of an elect class, the Church; they are correct, too, in calling the remainder of the human family non-elect. They are wrong, however, in the inference they draw, that all the non-elect are damned to torment forever. No scripture so teaches. The Scriptures show, on the contrary, that the elect little flock, when completed, is to be the long-promised "Seed of Abraham," by whom God declares all the families of the earth (the non-elect) shall be blessed. (Gal. 3:16,29.) To support the Presbyterian view, that passage should read, In thy seed shall all the families of the earth be hopelessly damned. This is their mistake. The Bible doctrine of Election is a grand one when rightly seen: the elect Church, with her elect Head, Christ Jesus, is to constitute the Kingdom of God, to be exalted to glory and honor at the second advent, for the very purpose of blessing all for whom Christ died—all the human family—by bringing all to the full knowledge and full opportunity necessary to their acceptance of Christ and his proffered gift of life everlasting.
They are right, too, when they declare that there is no salvation except through Christ and the spirit of the truth, however diligent men may be in framing their lives according to the light of nature and the laws of other religions; but they are wrong in the meaning which they attach to these words, indicated by the remainder of the Confession.
The Scriptural view is that man has no claim upon the Creator for lasting life; that the giving of the ransom for all as an offset or cancellation of the claims of justice against all was an act of God's free grace, unmerited by any; and that the conditions upon which each may avail himself of this favor is by an acceptance of the fact and a framing of the life in obedience to the new covenant. There is no other name or way or light by which full salvation can be attained by any. But God, who provided this way, this [R1311 : page 94] only way, this light, this only light by which men may get back to God and to life, has made a broader provision for men to find that way and to see that light than our Presbyterian brethren realize. Our Redeemer not only gave himself a ransom for all, but the knowledge of this shall be testified in due time to all. (1 Tim. 2:6.) Nor can this be assumed to be a mere casual hearing of Christ and his work without satisfactory evidences to convict and satisfy the hearer as to the facts; for a preceding verse, 4th, declares positively that it is God's will that an accurate knowledge (see Greek text) of the truth on this subject shall reach all, in order that this salvation which he has provided in Christ for all may thus be available to all.
No one can dispute that the vast majority of the living as well as the dead members of our race have never yet come to an accurate knowledge of God and Christ, and of the plan and conditions upon which eternal life is provided for them in the ransom sacrifice given for all, eighteen centuries ago. For those who have not received that knowledge in the present, there remains the sure promise of a coming blessing—the very blessing so long promised, that all the families of the earth shall be blessed in and by the Church, the little flock, with the Master—the Christ.
It is evident that those persons who frame their lives according to the light of nature and those religions which they do profess are such as would gladly accept of Christ if they ever came to an accurate knowledge of the truth. They are evidently using the best light they possess. God's promise to these benighted ones is much better than our Presbyterian brethren confess, and it would be much more to their comfort and much more to God's glory if they confessed the truth as God's Word states it, that Jesus Christ is the true light which lighteth [or will light] every man born into the world. (John 1:9.) None will dispute that this light is the truth—the knowledge of God's plan; yet it must be evident to all that thus far only the few have seen it. It is in the future that this promise will be fulfilled—when the Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, shall arise with healing in his beams. (Compare Mal. 4:3 and Matt. 13:43.) "Then shall the blind see out of obscurity."—Isa. 29:18; 32:1-5; 35:1-5.
VI. (Original.) There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ. Nor can the Pope of Rome in any sense be head thereof, but is that antichrist, that man of sin, the son of perdition, that exalteth himself, in the Church, against Christ, and all that is called God.
VI. (As amended.) There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ, and the claim of the Pope of Rome to be the vicar of Christ, and the head of the Church universal, is without warrant in the Scripture or in fact; and a usurpation dishonoring to the Lord Jesus Christ.
[This is a denial of the original basis of the word Protestant. Calvin, Luther and others who protested claimed that there should be only one Church, but excused themselves from acknowledging the Church of Rome as that true Church because of its being Antichrist. Now they deny that it is Antichrist, and accordingly withdraw their protest by the above change.]
II. (Original.) To these officers the keys of the kingdom of heaven are committed, by virtue whereof they have power respectively to retain and remit sins, to shut that kingdom against the impenitent, both by the Word and censures; and to open it unto penitent sinners, by the ministry of the Gospel, and by absolution from censures, as occasion shall require.
II. (As amended.) To these officers the keys of the kingdom of heaven are committed, by virtue whereof they have ministerial and declarative power respectively to retain and remit sins, to shut that kingdom against the impenitent, both by the Word and censures; and to open it unto penitent sinners, by the ministry of the Gospel, and by absolution from censures, as occasion shall require.
[Another very good, sensible change. Yet how inconsistent still—to tell us first that God has unalterably fixed the election or non-election of all, regardless of their faith or works, and then to say that the officers of the Presbyterian Church can in any sense either open or close the Kingdom for any whose fate God has fixed from all eternity!]