|There Be Some That Trouble You|
by C. H. Spurgeon
From the March 1867 Sword and Trowel
HE early history of the Christian church bears a remarkable witness to the profound reverence with which Gentile believers honored the names of the venerable fathers of the Jewish people. These grafts from an alien stock into the true vine felt peculiarly sensitive on the question of pedigree. The argument so plentifully employed by the apostle Paul to prove that in Christ Jesus there is no difference, sufficed not to disabuse their minds of inferiority. Just as we can now suppose that generations must elapse before the negro, not only liberated, but enfranchised, will cease to feel that his sable skin betrays a debased ancestry; so then, there was; a sense of shame when, reflecting on themselves, and a sense of envy when regarding their Jewish brethren, which prompted the converts of the gospelwhether Greeks or barbariansto seek out and establish some points of alliance with the blessed patriarchs and prophets of the Israelitish faith. Their very credulity is instructive. You might easily persuade them to submit in ripe years to the ordinance of circumcision; they would willingly observe any fasts or feasts, undertake long and tedious journeys to Jerusalem, or conform to any Judaical usages, lured by the tempting bait of association with the favoured race "to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever."
The epistle to the Galatians was written with an express purpose to check the Judaizing tendencies of those churches. In prosecuting this object, the apostle used extraordinary severity while denouncing the false teachers. But his tender sympathy towards the weak consciences of disciples is no less conspicuous. He gives and repeats assurance after assurance that their apprehensions of disability were groundless. They possessed an indefeasible title to all patrimonial and federal blessings. This was sealed by the Spirit of God, and would rather be compromised than confirmed by any carnal acts.
"IF YE BE CHRIST'S, THEN ARE YE ABRAHAM'S SEED, AND HEIRS ACCORDING TO THE PROMISE."
An error of an opposite kind has attained some notoriety in our day. The Gentile element is predominant almost to exclusiveness in the Christian Church. Occupying a place of privilege which our forefathers knew not, there have arisen among us certain brethren who stealthily at first, and afterwards more boldly, have disparaged the Jewish patriarchs, and vaunted for themselves a superior claim to the love of God, and a higher place in the destinies of heaven than they deem it possible for the saints of the pre-Christian era to inherit. Profane rivalry! not more pretentious than unwarranted; not more audacious than unscriptural. Does the proposition admit of debate, or is it necessary to do more than refer every enquirer to the plain, unequivocal testimony of the New Testament? So we thought at first, as our spiritual instincts revolted at the heresy. In obedience to the divine counsel"foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strife"we would have contented ourselves with warning the flock we delight to feed. For divers reasons, the obligation of another article is forced upon us. We give place to no one in the intense sympathy we feel with the honest scruples of every soul that conscientiously seeks the light of truth. If he be a penitent who has stumbled on the very threshold of revelation, or if he be a believer who has fallen into the hands of unsafe guides, and become embarrassed in the effort to find his way into the deeper mysteries of its inner courts, we would offer our prayer to God for the Spirit of wisdom that shall enable us to direct him aright.
From the tenor of the correspondence we have received, we infer that there are not a few such sincere believers in Christ, who have had their minds unhinged by the various tracts and publications which have been, for the most part, anonymously put into circulation. Their question is"In view of the various dispensations under which it has pleased God to gather an elect and faithful people out of the world, has it not been reserved to the Christian dispensation to furnish the privileged company which, in their unity, is called 'the Church,' 'the bride of Jesus,' 'the Lamb's wife?'" We have already refuted this notion. Still it appears that stumbling-blocks have been laid in the path of those who diligently search the Scriptures, which, by the grace of God, we will endeavor to remove.
And first of all, do not, we beseech you, be cajoled by any appeal to "God's dispensational arrangements," knowing that, however various they may have been, his covenant has endured the same through them all. It is a mere truism that Abel was not circumcised, that Noah did not observe the passover, and Abraham was not baptized.
Difference of dispensation does not involve a difference of covenant; and it is according to the covenant of grace that all spiritual blessings are bestowed. So far as dispensations reach they indicate degrees of knowledge, degrees of privilege, and variety in the ordinances of worship. The unity of the faith is not affected by these, as we are taught in the eleventh chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews. The faithful of every age concur in looking for one city, and that city is identically the same with the New Jerusalem described in the Apocalypse as "a bride adorned for her husband." Surely, beloved brethren, you ought not to stumble at the anachronism of comprising Abraham, David, and others, in the fellowship of the Church! If you can understand how we, who live under the present economy, and unlike those Jews have never been circumcised, are nevertheless accounted the true circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, and not in the fleshyou Can have very little difficulty in perceiving that those Old Testament saints, who were participators in the faith of Christ's death and resurrection, were verily baptized into him according to the Spirit. Neither time nor circumstance bounded the faith of Abraham. He rejoiced to see Messiah's day; and he saw it, and was glad. He believed in God who "called those things that be not as though they were." It were well for us to walk in the footsteps of this same faith. Dispensations are not like individuals, the day of whose birth and the day of whose death can be accurately chronicled; they are rather like generations which are gradually dissolved; they do not terminate abruptly, but one melts and fuses into another. Would you tell us when the Abrahamic dispensation began and when it closed?we had rather you did not attempt to guess for fear of a fresh strife. If you were to say it began on the day that Abraham received the sign in his flesh, we should remind you that it was not imposed on Lot, though he was a believer. Or would you tell us when that same dispensation closed, equal differences of opinion might arise? Only one dispensation was like a walled city; and our Lord Jesus Christ broke down the partition-wall of that, in order to unite Jews and. Gentiles in one body.
It was doubtless with an advance of knowledge, privilege and worship, beyond measure bright, that the Christian dispensation, like the kingdom of heaven upon earth, was ushered in. We may regard it as inaugurated by the personal ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ himself, attested by his resurrection, and unfolded by the Spirit of God. But who among us will venture to think that this economy, under which we are called, in contrast with the economies that preceded it is perfect? Perfect in what? Are we perfect in knowledge? We know in part, we prophesy in part; when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. Are we perfect in privilege? Alas! the great majority of believers walk in bondage, failing to enjoy a clear assurance of their pardon, a thorough immunity from the fear of death, or a joyful anticipation of the glory that is yet to be revealed. Would you dream that we are perfect in organization? In how few instances are all the component offices of fellowship filled by men who are moved and actuated by the Holy Spirit! Is there in any one of the churches, that claim allegiance to the commandment of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, such a complete presence of true believers and such a complete exclusion of all unholy persons, as to warrant our supposing that that particular church represents the bride of Christ? Was it anticipated in the parables of "the kingdom of heaven," that there ever would be?
Let the Plymouth Brethren define "the church" from which, by injunction or consent of their leaders, Abraham, Moses, David, and others, "as individual servants," are to be kept aloof. Their "plain papers" will tell us, "it is the actual living unity with Christ and with each other of those who, since Christ's resurrection, are formed into this unity by the Holy Ghost come down from heaven." Turn aside now and see this great sight. Where is it to be beheld? In the ecumenical church of Rome! In the Episcopal church of England, by law established! In the sections of Presbyterianism! Among the Methodist societies! Among the Congregationalists! Or is it, after all, among the Plymouth Brethren themselves, whose diversities and disunion are so notorious? We venture to suggest that the church, which is the bride, has not her counterpart on this earth. While Christ who is our life is absent, the life of the saints is hiddenhid with Christ in God. The new Jerusalem is out of sight. The Epiphany of the church is a feast yet to be celebrated. That fair damsel has not yet (in the language of courtly fashion) come out. She has not been introduced. Her appearance will be the signal for nuptial festivities. Not all who claim to be church-members on earth, because they live under this dispensation, will be acknowledged in the day of the Lord. Nor will the accident or circumstance of having lived before this dispensation, preclude the recognition of any saints in living unity with Christ at his appearing.
Who hath bewitched you, ye simple-hearted Christians, that ye should depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits? There be some that trouble you. Do not these crudities proceed from individual professors of an unincorporated society, which has not at present sufficient development to be reckoned in law, in equity, or in reason among the sects or sections of the visible church? If they have any organization, is it not of the lowest typebased upon the incipient pre-Pentecostal model of discipleship? Had they received the gifts of the Spirit, would they not fill those offices in the body which they not only neglect but ignore?
It is high time we asked these specious agitators to declare themselves. Are they phantoms flirting across our path? They come in such a questionable shape. In simplicity and godly sincerity, let a statement of their principles, and, if need be, a register of their individual names and acknowledged communities, be published. For their own welfare, it should be done without delay. Why do they not say with the apostle, "We write none other things unto you than what ye read or acknowledge, and I trust ye shall acknowledge even unto the end?" A "so-called brother," is an intangible style of subscription; it savors neither of flesh nor spirit. Yet the folly of some in this matter does not pertain to all who have attempted to foist this novelty upon our churches. We extract the following note from the January number of "Things New and Old," the editor of whom is a gentleman to be easily recognized by his initials as well as his name:
"'M. G.' Your kind communication did not reach us in time for our December issue. The difficulty of your friend arises, very much, we should say, from not seeing that the church, as such, is not before the apostle's mind in Galatians or Romans. He is speaking of believers, and the ground on which they are individually justified before God. They are justified by faith, as Abraham was, and, hence, are morally the children of Abraham. And, further, though Abraham did not and could not belong to a body which had no existence, save in the purpose of God, until, the Head ascended into the heavens, still, most assuredly, Abraham and all the Old Testament saints will share in the heavenly glory. Very many, we doubt not, are perplexed as to this point, because, they make it a question of comparing individuals one with another. If it be a question of personal worthiness, holiness, or devotedness, Abraham might stand above the most holy and devoted amongst us. But it is not so at all, but simply a question of God's dispensational arrangements; and if any be disposed to find fault with these, we are not at all disposed to argue with them. Some, now-a-days, have a way of turning the subject into ridicule, which savors far more of wit than of spirituality or acquaintance with the Word of God. But we trust that we shall never surrender the truth of God in order to escape the shafts of human ridicule."
Here is the very gist of the matter. But as for the remark that the apostle Paul was handling "simply a question of God's dispensational arrangements," this view is so contrary to that which he has himself put forth in his "Notes on Genesis," that we need only refer our readers to his own commentary on the sixteenth and twenty-second chapters of Genesis for a candid admission that Paul's allegory drawn from the history of Hagar and Sarah referred to the covenants, and not the dispensations. We may, however, still be allowed to express our profound astonishment at the declaration that the church is not before the apostle's mind in either the epistle to the Galatians or that to the Romans. If "Jerusalem which is above which is free," does not mean "the church," what does it mean? We are aware that some annotators have interpreted it of the church militant, and others of the church triumphant. The news had yet to reach us that "individuals justified before God" were alluded to in this maternity. Supposing that "the church" is not the mother of us all, the inference stands transparently forth, "Abraham is the father of the faithful, but each justified man is his own mother:" q. e. ducens ad absurdum.
Let this suffice. We have no intention to open the pages of this magazine to vain jangling. An earnest study of those Scriptures which disclose "the everlasting covenant" as it was gradually but distinctly revealed, will do more than any arguments of ours to dissipate the mist of those strange doctrines we have referred to. That covenant was declared to Noah; it was still further opened to Abraham and Isaac; it was confirmed to David; Isaiah rejoiced in its sure mercies; Jeremiah was privileged to relate many of its special provisions; and Paul avers in his epistle to the Hebrews that this is the covenant, under the provisions of which the precious blood of Christ was shed: it is the blood of the new covenant. The priesthood of Christ is declared to be after the order of Melchizedec; it was, therefore, revealed in the days of Abraham. The word of the oath by which he was consecrated is communicated to us in the 110th Psalm; and so it was well known to David. In like manner, the gift of the Holy Spirit, though not bestowed till after the ascension of Christ, was explained by the apostle Peter, on the day of Pentecost, to be a fulfillment of prophecy that was spoken before the incarnation. The dispensational succession of events does not affect the covenant. If it did, then Abraham could have no more interest in the Jewish than in the Christian economy, Canaan not having come into possession of his posterity till centuries after the patriarch's sojourn on earth had terminated. Had none of those believers any interest in the death of Christ, they must have died in their sins; but if they were interested in his death, why not in all the blessings that ensued? Is it pretended that though their welfare was deeply involved in the fact that "Jesus should die for that nation, and not for that nation only," they are wittingly excluded from participating in the immediate consequence"that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad"? According to the terms of the everlasting covenant, and not according to the law, nor yet according to the tenor of any transient dispensations, the Old Testament saints were justified by faith and accepted of God.
The testimony to the bride is not peculiar to the New Testament. Her praise and her destiny were sung by those who went before. And it does appear to us that the whole discussion that has been raised should excite a sigh deep and solemn in our breasts. Where has humility fled? Has it ceased to be a cardinal virtue among the followers of the Lamb?
When our readers lay down this magazine, let them take up the gospel of Matthew and read at the eighth chapter, and the eleventh verse: "And I say unto you, that many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven." Mark the words "kingdom of heaven" so often used by Christ to signify the gospel dispensation. The next words make this construction more obvious: "But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
Let us implore you to invert the question you have propounded to us. Those blessed patriarchs are undoubtedly heirs of the promises. Christ has acknowledged them. You need not ask whether they shall sit down with you, but your inquiry may well be whether you shall sit down with them in the kingdom of heaven.