"Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning in Jerusalem."--Luke xxiv:46, 47.
THIS Scripture is selected with the intention of discoursing on the beginning of repentance and remission of sins in the name of Christ among all nations, or what is the same, the beginning of the reign of Christ, or the inauguration of the new institution. There was a grand change when the law ended and the Gospel commenced; when the Mosaic dispensation terminated and the Christian was introduced; when the work of the mediator of the first covenant closed, and the work of the mediator of the second covenant had culminated in an established institution, fully and completely set in operation.
Some have become weary of discussing such themes, call them "first principles," and say "we must go on to perfection." But there is reason to question the soundness of any man who talks of "leaving the first principles." The child may learn the English alphabet by the time it is four years of age, but it will never advance so far in literature as to have no use for that alphabet; or it may learn figures by the same period in life, but will never go on to such perfection as not to have use for these numerals. So the faith that first moved the heart of the sinner to turn to the Lord, then comforted the heart of the saint, will be his support when dying. He will never leave faith, unless he apostatizes from the Lord. In the same way, we can never leave any thing that is truly a principle of the Gospel, but must hold on to the first, middle, and last principles till we die.
Not only so, but there is a rising generation constantly coming on, that have never heard nor understood the first principles of the Gospel, who must be taught from the starting-point, and the principles shown up to them. For the want of this, in many instances, where churches have stood for a long time, and people have grown up without much religious instruction, they have, by personal influence and some warm and affectionate appeals, been brought into the Church not knowing the first principles or any other principles of the Gospel, and without having any love of the truth, or even knowing what it is. There are but few who understand the first principles who do not know all the principles; but it is hard to find one who, knows not the first principles well, does not love them; who knows or loves any of the principles of the Gospel, or respects, adores, or honors Him who gave them. But to the subject in hand.
He who devotes himself to the disastrous work of perverting men, delights in obscuring that which should be clear, in darkening counsel where there should be light, in throwing that into doubt where there should be the full assurance of faith. Hence the efforts to hide from the understandings of men the beginning of the reign of Christ. Such desire no man to have the clear light of the beginning and setting in operation the new Church, with the development of the clear and easy terms of reconciliation. This knowledge is fatal to his work of delusion and deception. One man perverts till he denies that there is any kingdom even yet in existence, and leads others to think that the kingdom has not yet come. Another is busily engaged in maintaining that the kingdom was established in the time of John the Immerser. In one word, in all his machinations, he is satisfied with any way, not only in this matter, but every other, except the right way. The right way never suits him. Attention must now be given to these perversions.
1. Is the kingdom now in existence? Is Jesus now King? The main burden of the mission of John the Immerser was to announce that "the kingdom of heaven is at hand." This, too, was a main item in the preaching of the apostles under the first commission, as also of the seventy. Could it have been proper for them to have preached that the kingdom is at hand, when its establishment was eighteen hundred years off? During this same period He taught them to pray, "Thy kingdom come." The Lord said to them, "Fear not, little Flock; it is the Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." "There be some of them standing here who shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power." See Mark ix:1, and Luke ix:27. Some seek a fulfillment of this in the transfiguration, but the kingdom of heaven did not there "come with power," nor in any other way. To say the most of it, that was no more than a representation of the king in his state of glory, as he now appears in heaven, and not even a representation of the kingdom. He unquestionably intended them to understand that, while some of them were yet living, they should see the kingdom come with power. They preached, then, that the kingdom was at hand, prayed for it to come, and had the promise that some of them should see it come with power before they should taste death. This all points to the establishment of the kingdom at an early period.
After the ascension of the Savior, we find not an intimation of any man praying "Thy kingdom come," nor any divine teacher enjoining any such prayer. They continued to preach that "the kingdom is at hand," and to pray for it to come till it did come--till they saw it come with power, but never preached or prayed so from that time forward.
That the Church and kingdom mean the same, note the following:
"Thou art Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever thou shalt bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven; and whatever thou shalt loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven." See Matt. xvi:18, 19. What is the Lord's theme here? Certainly the foundation of the Church, the rock on which Christ will build his Church. "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church," and to you "will I give the keys of the kingdom." Has he changed to another theme? or is not what he calls "my Church" the same as "the kingdom of heaven?" The Church here is unquestionably the same as the kingdom. "Keys," here, symbolize the power to open the Church or kingdom, or, which is the same thing, the terms of pardon; the terms of pardon being the same as the terms of induction into the kingdom. Where was Peter to use these keys? "Whatever you shall bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you shall loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven." Where is he who has the keys of the kingdom of heaven to do this binding and loosing? "Whatever you shall bind on earth"--"whatever you shall loose on earth." It is to be done on earth. How is Peter to use the keys of the kingdom, in binding and loosing, or opening and shutting, on earth, if the kingdom itself, the door of which he is to open, is not on earth? No man who denies the existence of the kingdom "on earth," in the time of Peter, can tell how this could have been done. But the truth is, the kingdom is the Church, and the keys, the power conferred on Peter by the great Head of the Church, to open the way into the Church, or kingdom, which he did by laying down the terms of salvation.
These things being so, we have the following clear statements in reference to an existing kingdom after Peter had used the keys. Col. i:13, Paul says of the disciples, that they "had been delivered from the power of darkness, and translated into the kingdom of God's dear Son." Could they have been translated into a kingdom that was not in existence? The kingdom had come, as the Lord promised, and in answer to the prayer "Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth," and was in existence, and the saints at Colossee were in the kingdom of God's dear Son. In Paul's letter to the Hebrews, xii:22-28, he speaks of "the church of the first-born" and the "kingdom" as the same, not as something in the future; but says, "You have come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to the general assembly and church of the first-born, who are enrolled in heaven;" and further on, he adds: "Wherefore, we receiving a kingdom which can not be moved, let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably." 1 Thess. ii:13, Paul said to the saints, "God has called you into his kingdom and glory." Rev. i:9, John speaks of the seven churches in Asia as "his companions in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ." This is enough to show that the kingdom was in existence in the time of the apostles, and the saints had been "called into it," "received it," been "translated into it," and were actually "in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ." This must suffice for those who deny the existence of any kingdom on earth at the present.
2. Did the kingdom come in the life-time of the Savior? Was the Gospel fully preached and were any introduced into the kingdom during that period? In these questions will be found the main theme for the present discourse. Several things must be clearly observed here:
1. When the kingdom was founded, the keys of the kingdom were used, the door opened, the Gospel fully preached, and persons introduced into the kingdom.
2. No person can learn the way into the kingdom without hearing the Gospel preached, not in promise, nor in prophecy, but in its completeness as a full revelation.
3. What, then, is the Gospel? "All the preachers claim to preach the Gospel, and how am I to tell which is the Gospel?"
There must, then, be some method by which we may identify the Gospel, or, at least, we must have some marks without which we can not have the Gospel fully preached. The Bible is not a book of definitions, but it defines some things, and among these the Gospel. I Cor. xv:3, 4, Paul says, "For I delivered to you first of all, that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures." This passage develops three things, without which we can not have the the Gospel in its full development.
1. It must be preached that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. 2. That He was buried. 3. That He rose from the dead according to the Scriptures.
Whatever may be required more, these central and fundamental items must exist in the Gospel. Any thing claiming to be the Gospel without these items would be utterly empty. To these items, two more must be added. That Jesus shed his blood for many for the remission of sins, must as certainly be found in it as that the Lord Jesus is divine. The office and work of the Holy Spirit must also be set forth in the Gospel. Any system without the death of Christ, His burial, resurrection, His blood, with the office and work of the Holy Spirit, would not be received by any intelligent people. To this, all worthy of any note will agree.
The way is now clear to look for the Gospel and see if we can find where it was fully preached first. It will be simpler and easier to divide off into periods. Take, then, the entire period from Adam to John the Immerser, and inquire which one of the holy men, the ancient seers, or men whom God authorized to speak to man, ever preached that Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures? The answer certainly is, none of them. Which one of these holy men preached that the Lord was buried? Not a man of them. Which one of them ever preached that he rose from the dead according to the Scriptures? Not a single man of them. Which one of them ever preached that the Lord shed His blood for many for the remission of sins? Not a man during the entire period to which reference is here made. Which one of them ever set forth the office and work of the Holy Spirit? None of them. No matter how good the men, how strong their faith, nor how pious, these were not their themes. These great fundamental and central matters of the kingdom, filling such a large space in the apostles' preaching, had no place in their teaching. These were matters but dimly shadowed forth in their predictions and not understood by any man of that entire period. How, then, let it be inquired, did they preach the Gospel without preaching that Jesus died, was buried, rose again, shed his blood, or even setting forth the office and work of the Holy Spirit? The answer is simply that they never preached the Gospel of Christ in all its fullness or completeness.
Some one says, "I grant that the Gospel was not preached in its completeness and fullness during the period just specified. But my ground is this: John the Immerser was the first great Gospel preacher. He founded the Church, opened the door, preached the Gospel in all its fullness, and introduced the first persons into the kingdom." Are you sure of that? In what part of John's preaching did he preach that the Lord died for our sins according to the Scriptures? Most assuredly he never preached it at all, for he preached his last sermon and died himself before the Lord died. He certainly never preached that Jesus died before he did die. Nor did he ever preach that the Lord was buried before he was buried. The preaching of John was all over before the Lord was buried. His preaching was all done before the Lord was risen, and he unquestionably never preached that the Lord was risen before he was risen. The same is true in regard to the shedding of his blood. John had preached the last sermon, and his own blood was shed before the Lord shed his blood. He certainly did not preach that Jesus shed his blood before he did shed it. These were not the themes on which John dwelt, not the themes which the Lord put into his mouth. The Lord was not ready for these themes yet.
The inquiry now comes up touching the meaning of preaching the Gospel "in its fullness or completeness." This must now be explained. "The Gospel was preached to Abraham;" and, again, "the Gospel was preached to them as well as to us." "What is the meaning of all this," says a man, "if the Gospel was not preached before John the Immerser, nor by him?" The Gospel was preached before John, and "the Gospel of the kingdom" by him, but not in a complete revelation, or it was only in a mystery. This must now be explained.
1. There is something in the Scriptures called "the eternal purpose" of God. This "eternal purpose" was in the fullness of time to send the Savior, publish the Gospel, establish the Church, and unite the Jews and Gentiles in "one body." This purpose contained Christ, the Gospel, and all things pertaining to the new institution, in a mystery, or a secret. It contained the Gospel, "hid in God who created all things by Jesus Christ." No human being knew any thing about it.
2. We then have something called "the promise." What promise? The promise that God made to Abraham. See Gen. ii: also, Gal. iii:8. That which was contained in the purpose of God is now embodied in a promise--the promise of God to Abraham. This promise contains Christ, the Gospel, the Church--the entire new institution. It is all couched in the few brief words: "In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed." Still no man understood what was contained in this promise. It was the Gospel in promise.
3. Then comes the prophecies. The same that existed in the purpose of God, and then in the promise, is next found embodied in prophecy--it is the Gospel in prophecy.
4. Then came John the Immerser, the twelve apostles, the Savior, and seventy others, preaching the good news of the kingdom--that the kingdom is at hand--the kingdom approaches. This was the Gospel and the kingdom in a preparatory or an incipient state, or not fully developed and unfolded.
5. When Jesus had died, been buried, shed His blood, risen, and ascended into heaven; when He sent the Holy Spirit to guide the apostles into all truth, under the last commission, they made a full revelation of that which had previously existed in a mystery in the different forms just described.
To illustrate what is here meant, suppose some man in your community conceives the idea of building a great factory, and, after maturing it for a time purposes to do it. There is now a factory in purpose, but not in fact, neither running nor doing work. Nor does any man know any thing of it except the man who has it in his purpose, nor has it any existence anywhere except in his purpose. It is all a secret. After a time, in a conversation with some prominent men in the community, he embodies his purpose in a promise to build a factory. There is yet no factory in existence, except in purpose and promise. The promise being known in the community, excites some interest and sets inquiry in motion. He now advances another step and makes sundry predictions in reference to the factory, touching the time when it will be completed, the amount of work it will do, the advantage it will be to the community, etc. The factory still has no existence only in purpose, promise, and prophecy. The next thing you hear is that the ground has been broken, the foundation laid, materials brought together, machinery purchased, etc. It is now a factory in a preparatory or an incipient state, but not complete nor doing any work. But finally it is finished and set in motion; the looms clatter, the spindles hum; it is now complete and doing work. It was a factory first in purpose, then in promise, then in prophecy, then in a preparatory or incipient state, then in fact, in actual existence, complete in all its parts, doing work. So the Gospel and kingdom of God first existed only in the purpose of God, then in the promise to Abraham, then in the prophecies of the Old Testament, then in the preparatory or incipient state, and finally in a state of completeness and perfection, in full operation an Pentecost.
But now one more period must be considered. Some man will say, "I will go to the apostles during the life-time of the Savior, while they were bosom companions with him and receiving daily lessons of instruction from his lips. They then understood all about the Gospel and kingdom, and set out these matters rightly." A very brief consideration of the matter will show that you are greatly mistaken in that. During the Lord's personal ministry the apostles neither understood the Gospel nor the kingdom. There is nothing clearer than that they did not understand their Master and Leader during this period. They had their minds in one direction and the Lord had his in another. The matter worked according to his mind and not according to theirs. They found their views full of mistakes and blunders, and his without a single mistake. You never find Him disappointed. But take a few examples:
If any one thinks the apostles preached the Gospel fully, during the life-time of the Savior, such an one should consult Matt. xvi:20, "Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ." How could they preach the Gospel fully without telling any man that "Jesus is the Christ?" This is the very first thing to tell in preaching the Gospel fully, and the very first thing they did tell after commencing under the last commission. This restriction had to be taken off before they could preach the Gospel fully.
Again, Matt. xvi:21, the Lord said to the disciples, "That he must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders, and chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day." How did Peter take this? "Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him' saying, Be it far from thee, Lord, this shall not be to thee." Was Peter all right in this? Certainly not; hence, the Lord said, "Get thee behind me, Satan; thou art an offense to me, for thou savorest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men." What did Peter mean? He had his heart on an earthly kingdom and an earthly king, and he did not believe that his king would be put to death, nor intend to permit it. He intended to encourage his Master with assurances that he would stand by him. If a man doubts the correctness of this, he can turn to Matt. xxvi, and read the account of the matter. True to his purpose, he "drew a sword and struck a servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear." This little comment shows what he meant. He did not believe at this time that Jesus would die, and intended to fight to defend him, still believing that he would be an earthly king. The Lord told him to "put up the sword again, for all those who take the sword shall perish with the sword."
Again, "Peter said to him, though all men shall be offended because of thee, I never will be offended." The Lord replied, "Verily, I say to thee, that this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. Peter said to him, though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee. Likewise said also all the disciples." See Matt. xxvi. How did the matter turn out? While the Lord was on trial, and needed a friend more than he had ever done before, Peter sat "without the palace, and a damsel came to him, saying, Thou also was with Jesus of Galilee. But he denied before them all, saying, I know not what thou sayest." Presently, the matter was pressed on him, one saying, "This fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth." This "he denied with an oath," declaring, "I do not know the man." The third time the matter was pressed on him, saying, "Surely thou art also one of them, for thy speech betrayeth thee. Then he began to curse and swear, saying, I know not the man." See Matt. xxvi:69-75. Surely no man's attainments in divine things are to be envied who can not see that this was a preparatory period; that things were not ready yet; that the apostles were not yet qualified nor able to preach the Gospel in all its fullness. It was in view of this the Lord said, "Peter, when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren." The mind of Peter and all the apostles, to say nothing of the disciples and the balance of the people, needed turning from their expectation of an earthly kingdom to a kingdom not of this world. When he saw the Lord on trial, he did not desire to be identified with Him, as He was on trial for His life. He did not know what His fate might be.
Some one might conclude that some of those good women that followed him had a better understanding than these men. What, then, was the purpose of those who went to the sepulcher early on the morning of the third day? They were probably as intelligent as any of their time. Were they expecting Him to rise? Not a word of it. But they were making preparation to embalm his body, to preserve it. When they came to the sepulcher, saw the stone rolled away, an angel sitting on it, looked in, saw the clean linen and napkin laid aside in order, but the body was missing, they were overwhelmed, and asked the angel, thinking he was a man, "Sir, have you removed the body of Jesus?" The angel said, "He is not here, but has risen as he told you he would, and goes before you into Galilee. Hasten and tell his disciples."
They hastened away, with the grand theme burning in their hearts, and told it to the disciples, "and their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not." See Luke xxiv:11. Thomas said, "Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger in the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe." See John xx:25. From considerations like these, any person of ordinary intelligence can see that the apostles did not understand that the kingdom would be spiritual, but supposed it would be a worldly, civil government till Jesus died; and, even after he rose from the dead and appeared to them, they said, "Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" See Acts i:6. This puts it out of the question about their preaching the Gospel in its fullness, or the kingdom being fully established and the reign of Christ in operation while he was in this world.
The time was now come to open a brighter chapter than any in the past, and see whether we have no better light than can be obtained from the apostles while they were unbelievers themselves in the main matters to be preached. Now turn attention to where the Lord appears in the midst of the disciples, as you read John xx:26-28, and hear Him address Thomas: "Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand and thrust it into my side; and be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas answered and said to him, My Lord and my God." There is no account of Thomas waiting to examine the nail-prints or the scar in his side. He is utterly overwhelmed when he sees the Lord standing before him alive. The Lord now proceeds:
"All authority in heaven and earth is given to me. Go, therefore, and teach all nations, immersing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit"--"Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. He who believes and is immersed shall be saved, but he who believes not shall be condemned."
This was entirely new, and the first time they were ever commanded to go into "all the world" and "preach the Gospel to every creature." Their former commission was to the "lost sheep of the house of Israel," but "not in the way of the Gentiles." This limitation is now taken off, and they have the divine authority to "go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature"--to "disciple all nations." This new commission not only differs from the first one in the extent of the territory, or the population to which they were to go, but also in the substance of it. It contains different matter. Under the first commission, they were to preach that "the kingdom is at hand;" under the second, to "preach repentance and remission of sins in my name." The first commission was preparatory to the coming kingdom; the second was the administration of the Gospel under the new reign or institution.
But the Lord commanded them to "wait for the promise;" to "tarry in Jerusalem till you shall be endued with power from on high;" for the "Comforter shall come, and when he is come, he shall guide you into all truth." He was still not ready for them to proceed, but continued to appear to them at intervals, giving abundant opportunity to see him, hear him, handle him, eat with him, and drink with him, thus making themselves competent witnesses of his resurrection. When about forty days had expired, and the preparatory work was all done, the time came for his departure. He loved the disciples and made a special request for them that they might be with him, and behold his glory which the Father gave him. See John xvii:24. He took them out to Mount Olive, imparted to them his last benediction while on earth, bade them adieu, rose up in their presence and started away toward heaven. A heavy cloud was thrown in the background--it might be to give grandeur and splendor to the scene. As they stood gazing after Him as He ascended up into heaven, a convoy of angels appeared and shouted, "Galileans, why stand you gazing up into heaven? That same Jesus that you see going up into heaven, shall so come in like manner as you have seen him going up into heaven."
As he approaches the everlasting city, the mandate is heard, "Lift up your heads, O you gates; and be you lift up, you everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in." Then a response is heard, "Who is this King of glory?" The answer is, "The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle." Then the shout is raised again, "Lift up your heads, O you gates; even lift them up, you everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in." Again the question is heard, "Who is this King of glory?" Then follows the final reply. "The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory." He entered heaven with all our names engraven on His breast, amidst the shouts of joy of all the hierarchs of the upper world, and the Almighty commanded all the angels to bow down and worship the Christian's Lord, the Messiah, Immanuel, God with us.
Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, and Uriel, with all the shining and burning hosts before the throne, bowed in profound awe, and worshiped the glorified Redeemer. The Infinite One, the I Am, the Jehovah, rose up and invited Him to a seat in His throne. While all the celestial grandees of the spiritual world looked on our King, "the only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords" ascended the throne; "sat down at the right hand of the throne of the majesty in the heavens." With His own hands the Almighty Father crowned Him Lord of all; and as He could swear by no greater, He took oath by His own great name, that He should reign till all His enemies should be put under His feet; till every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Lord, to the glory of God.
The coronation ceremonies lasted about a week. During this period all was quiet on earth. Indeed, from the death of Jesus till this period there was not a preacher in the world authorized to utter a word in the form of preaching. All was silence and waiting. But when the King had ascended the throne and was crowned Lord of all--when all things were ready--the preparatory work was all done, the King proceeded, as He had promised, to send the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, to guide the apostles into all truth. The apostles, with about one hundred and twenty brethren, were all together in one place, waiting for the promise. The day of Pentecost had "fully come," and "suddenly there was a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting." See Acts ii:2. "And there appeared to them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat on each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance."
This brings us up to the place of beginning. The Lord said that "repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem." Jerusalem is, then, the place of beginning. Peter, after his first sermon to the Gentiles, in his vindication before his Jewish brethren, in view of receiving the first Gentile converts, said, "As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them (the Gentiles, at the house of Cornelius) as on us (the Jews, on Pentecost) at the beginning." That which was done on Pentecost was in the right place (in Jerusalem) and at the right time ("at the beginning"). Here, in Jerusalem, is the beginning place, and on the day of Pentecost the beginning time. The beginning time and place of what? The beginning of the reign of Christ; of preaching under the new, and, as may be justly said, the last commission; of repentance and remission of sins in the name of Jesus Christ.
But some man inquires, what have you gained by preaching so long to find the place and time of beginning? Much is gained by it. Without finding this beginning there can be no clear and intelligible understanding nor preaching of the Gospel. The preacher without this beginning distinctly fixed in his mind, can no more preach intelligently than a pilot can run his ship to a given point placed out at sea without knowing what sea he is in, or without knowing where his starting-point is. He could run toward any point of the compass called for, but he could not tell you where nor when you would land, unless you would give him the place of beginning. In like manner, not a surveyor in the world can run a line till you give him the "place of beginning." You can not even make a deed to a lot of land till you find what is called "the place of beginning."
Since surveying has come up, as an illustration, it may be used still further to good advantage. Suppose A and B join lands. They purchased their lands many years ago when lands were cheap, and they were not particular about the lines. But now the lands are worth one hundred dollars per acre. Mr. A is looking at a fine spring near where the line is supposed to be, and noticing the crystal water as it ripples over the pebbles below. He also views a magnificent row of apple-trees and valuable fence, and thinks if the line were run out correctly the spring, trees, and fence would be on his land. He talks about it to his neighbors, and those who agree with him he regards as very intelligent people, much better and more desirable associates than those who differ from him. Indeed, those who differ from him he considers not very good people, and does not seek their company. Mr. B esteems those who think the spring, the trees, and fence are on his land, and seeks them for his associates.
Thus the controversy continues for a time; but, finally, they decide to have the controversy settled. To this end they call the surveyor. But, on examination, the surveyor fails to find a corner-stone, a witness-tree, or land-mark of any description on the entire premises. What is now to be done? He refers to his field-notes and finds an established corner, it may be, some distance from the line to be run. After surveying, running lines in different directions, and sundry measurements, he points to a spot and orders the loose rail that he sees has been made there to be removed. When this is done they find the corner-stone, with the land-marks on it, corresponding to his field-notes. He plants his staff at "the place of beginning," places the compass on it, the needle settles, and he is now ready to take a look through the compass.
A and B are no idle spectators, but are looking on with intense interest. No danger of either becoming drowsy now, though they may be first-class sleepers in church. Mr. A slips up and peeps through the compass, and perceives that his spring, trees, and fence are about to be out off. Under much excitement and not in a very pleasant manner, he turns to the surveyor, and exclaims, "It is all wrong, sir." The surveyor inquires deliberately, "What makes you think so?" He replies, with much feeling, "Why, do you not see that you are about to cut off my fine spring, my fruit trees and fence?"
How much attention do you suppose a surveyor would give to such talk? About as much as a Gospel preacher would give to the man who thinks the Gospel line wrong because it cuts off his church. He would probably tell him that he should have built his fence and planted his fruit-trees on the other side of the line, and that he will run the line according to law, as he is bound by his oath to do, if it cut off his house and barn into the bargain.
"But," shouts a man, "what would you do, when the Gospel line is run, if you should find yourself on the wrong side of the line?" Simply as the man did who had his land run off, and found his cabin was on the wrong side of the line; he moved over the line, on to the right side, and on to his own land." But," says a man, "I despise to see a turn-coat; a man leaving one church and going to another." True, there is something a little unpleasant in turning one's coat. Still, there is one thing more ridiculous than a man turning his coat, and that is to see a man so obstinate as to wear his coat wrong side out rather than to turn it. It is much wiser and better to turn it, when it is found to be wrong side out, than to persist in wearing it wrong side out, even if some bigot should say "a turn-coat." If you make a mistake in roads, and go a wrong road several miles, it is unpleasant to turn and go back to where you got out of the road, but it is much wiser and better to do it than to continue on in the wrong road. Who will not admit that Luther did better, in turning, than he would have done to have continued in Romanism? The matter of turning all depends on the question whether you are right or not. If you are right, then by all means never turn. If you are not right then turn, the sooner the better.
But since a good illustration is at hand, it must not be thrown aside till well used. Suppose, then, that partition running through the center of the pews in front of the stand is the Gospel line, and that man sitting a little to one side of it is occupying the position of his church. As the preacher is starting out to run the line, he sees that he is to be left slightly on the wrong side, and rises and appeals to the preacher as follows:
"Hold on, if you please, a little. I do love a charitable man. You see that my church is only a little to the wrong side; now we have many good praying members and good paying members, too; do please be charitable and bend the line only a little, and take my church in."
Say the preacher is one of your pliable and charitable men, with an easy conscience, and he yields, saying, "There are good and bad in all churches; they are all right at heart," and bends the Gospel line so as to take them in.
As soon as this is done, up spring three men, pleading for their three churches, only a little further from the line, telling how many good people they have, and that they are all good at heart, though they do not see precisely as other people. They, too, tell how they love a charitable preacher, and how good a man they think the preacher is. He has now commenced the work of bending the line, and will not make the matter any worse to bend it a little more. He, therefore, bends it and takes them in. Thus they continue to praise him for his charity, tell him how good a man he is, and persuade him to bend it a little more and a little more, till, finally, he is a Universalist, runs the line clear round the human family, and takes them all in, leaving no church, or no world, or all church and all world. This is the result of what these charitable folks will do when they carry out their principles, or rather, their want of principles, to their legitimate result. They would nullify the entire Gospel and make nothing of it.
Now, turn your eye back to Peter, as he stands up with the eleven, under the infallible power of the Spirit of God to guide him into all truth, on the brightest day the Lord ever created, the great Pentecost. He has a new commission, under which he had never preached. The Lord has gone into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of the majesty in the heavens, and is crowned Lord of all. He now stands at the beginning. He has the keys of the kingdom of God. He now has the death of Jesus, his burial, his resurrection, the shedding of his blood, the office and work of the Holy Spirit, the ascension and coronation of the king, for the first time to preach repentance and remission of sins in the name of Jesus. He has before him Jews and proselytes, devout men from every nation under heaven. He is in the right place, in Jerusalem, and at the right time, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on them "at the beginning." For the first time he opens out: "You men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles, and wonders, and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as you yourselves also know; him being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain; whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains, death; because it was not possible that he should be holden of it." He declared to them that David had said that God had sworn that "he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne," and that "this Jesus, God had raised up" and "exalted to his own right hand." This was all new, having never been understood or preached before by any of the apostles, or anybody else; and when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and cried out, "What shall we do?" Here stood the man who had the keys of the kingdom, ready to open the door, and, in one sentence he exercised the power, symbolized by the keys, opened the door, or, which is the same, the way to God, the terms of pardon, in the following words: "Repent and be immersed, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, in order to the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
Here one of the most singular things, in these times of apostasy and disloyalty to God, makes its appearance. Men talk about "called and sent preachers," but very few of them ever come to this grandest occasion since creation's dawn, where we have an account of "called and sent preachers," of their preaching, what they preached, that the preaching cut the hearers to the heart, what they inquired, and what they were commanded to do. They rarely come to those grand occasions, where the Holy Spirit came to guide their "called and sent preachers" into all truth and follow the directions given by the apostles to those inquiring the way into the kingdom. Why do they come not here if they have any love for what was preached "by the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven?" Why do they come not here if they have what was preached by truly "called and sent preachers?" Why do they come not here if they delight in that which is truly the work of the Holy Spirit? Why, if they would understand how things were at the start, not come up here to the "beginning?"
The reason is at hand; they do not receive the terms of pardon as laid down by Peter. They do not accept the use of the keys of the kingdom, as set forth in his words, opening the kingdom, or giving the terms of pardon. They have "another Gospel, which is not another," but a perversion of the Gospel of Christ. In turning away from the terms of pardon, set forth by the Holy Spirit through Peter, they have no terms. They have no plan of salvation, no definite terms, with which any person can comply, and have the promise of remission of sins. They can exhort the sinner to seek, to believe, to give up his whole heart, to keep back nothing, but never come to the promise of God that he "shall be saved." They have closed their eyes to the light of the Gospel, and are literally in the dark, on the way of salvation.
Some man responds, "But I do not believe in baptism for the remission of sins." Who has preached any "baptism for the remission of sins?" "You have done it, not five minutes since," he replies. Are you sure of that? "I am; I can not be mistaken," he replies. Well, you are not mistaken. You heard it, but it was when the precise words of Peter were quoted, "Repent and be immersed, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins," or, as before quoted, "in order to the remission of sins." Do you say you can not receive any such teaching? If you do, it is to be regretted; but it can not be helped if you should refuse to receive one-half that is in the Bible. It is the precise language of Scripture, and if you refuse to receive it, you refuse to receive the precise language of Scripture.
"I do not mean that," says a man, "but I do not receive your interpretation of it." There has been no interpretation of it given, nor any thing but the precise words of Scripture, and if you reject any thing it must be the language of Scripture. It is the language of Scripture that is here adopted, and not any man's interpretation.
"I want the evidence of pardon," says a man. That is all right. You ought to have the evidence of pardon. But where is the evidence of pardon? Is it an old revelation or a new one, in the Bible or not in the Bible, through Christ or immediately from God? You say "In the Bible." Right; it is in the Bible. Here it is: "He who believes and is immersed, shall be saved." Mark xvi:16. Here is the evidence of pardon in the promise of Jesus, "Shall be saved." "Is that all the evidence of pardon?" says one. Is not that enough? "That is the mere word," continues the objector. What do you mean in calling the Lord's word "the mere word?" Do you mean that it is not sufficient; that you can not rely on it? "The thief on the cross was saved without baptism," continues the objector. How do you know that the thief was saved at all? "I did not know that any body denied that." No matter whether any body denies it or not, how do you know that he was saved? Jesus said to him, "To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise." True, Jesus said that, but that is "the mere word!" "Is not that sufficient?" Certainly it is; and if you have got so far that you can believe the word, turn back to the commission: "He who believes and is immersed, shall be saved." The words of Jesus are as true in one case as they are in the other. They are beyond all doubt true in both cases. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, repent and be immersed, and you have the promise that you shall be saved. Think of the power of the three words "shall be saved." If you can not depend on these words, it is not immersion you need, but faith. Immersion is of no value to any man who has no faith in the word of God, or not faith enough in it to rely on it for pardon, and even for the hope of heaven.
If the Lord were to take you from your seat to heaven, and set you down before the throne, and you should exclaim, as one of old, "Lord Jesus, I am a poor sinful man;" and the Lord should then reply, "Thy sins, which are many, are all forgiven," and then return you to your seat, you would spring to your feet in an ecstasy, exclaiming, "I am pardoned." But where is the evidence? Only in the words "Thy sins are all forgiven." You may trifle with them as you please, call them "mere words" or any thing else; but they contain the evidence of your pardon. Strike them out and you have no evidence of pardon.
"I intend to turn to God before I die; but there is time enough yet," says one. How do you know how much time there is yet? You are like the man in a yawl, two miles above the falls of Niagara, with two good oars, with his hands folded, floating directly on toward the great cataract. A man on shore calls to him: "My dear friend, there is danger ahead, lay hold of your oars and come to the shore, or you will go over the falls and precipitate one hundred and fifty feet down." He looks up with an air of indifference, and says, "I know there is danger ahead, but I am coming to the shore before I get to it." On he moves one mile, when another friend calls to him and entreats him to come to the shore. He still thinks there is time yet, and goes on another half mile. The last friend calls to him and entreats him to be aroused for his condition. He lifts his eyes, sees the vast spray rising, the rainbow in the mist, and hears the roar of the immense waters as they pour in majesty down; sees the mighty rush of the waters and the white-caps on the rapids above the falls; is filled with alarm; seizes the oars and struggles, but in a few moments discovers that it is too late. He calls to a man on the tower, "O, for help!" The man exhorts him to struggle for his life. This he does, now nobly, but it is too late. He writhes and cries, "O, why was I so simple as to wait till it was too late?" Over he precipitates, down he plunges into the fearful deep below, and is gone forever.
Will you, men and women of the world, waste your manhood and womanhood in sin and folly, and then entertain the thought of performing the work of a life-time in a death struggle, and being saved? If you do, depend on it, you may lament your folly where lamentation will avail nothing, where there is no repentance, but where the worm dies not and the fire is not quenched. "Turn, O turn, why will you die?" While there is mercy, grace, and compassion, turn and live forever. "Whoever will," says the Lord, "let him come." "Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden; and you shall find rest." Come, O, come, and have the peace of God which passes all understanding.