THE present trend of events in the world of religion can only be understood by consulting the infallible chart of Scripture. Thereon, with a divine accuracy, depicted all that will take place to the end of time, with all the changes that are merely the ripples on the ocean surface.
The germ of every error may be clearly seen in the question asked in the garden: “Yea, hath God said?” in the third of Genesis. And the germ of all truth is in the Lord’s own declaration in the third of John: “Ye must be born again.” All the conflicts between hell and heaven are waged around these two standards; and the war is fierce and incessant. Our own individual position on this battleground is a matter of supreme and vital importance.
By whatever distinctive temporary names the combatants are known, and however varied the colors and shapes of the small flags seen in the war, there are only two armies. However varying the apparent successes and defeats of either side, the final victory is determined and certain. It is in fact already won. The wilderness of temptation, Gethsemane, Calvary, the open tomb, have foreviewed the assured issue; and the gates of heaven have received the crowned Conqueror. The all-important thing now, therefore, is to be under the banner that already has victory inscribed upon it.
The present time is one of disintegration, unrest, and rapid change. Each event of to-day occurs with a rapidity unknown in former days. Systems of religion, forms of belief, human organizations, crumble into dust to give place to others newly-born. With an increased circulation of Holy Scripture, and in one sense an increasing knowledge of it, has grown a tacit denial of its Divine Authorship. The owl dares to deny the supremacy of the mid-day sun; the penknife ( Jeremiah 36:23) lifts itself up against the two-edged sword ( Hebrews 4:12). This word, which is a “critic” of the thoughts and intents of the heart, is criticized by the darkened understanding of man. This “criticism” may be “higher” or lower; but it is of necessity atheism in its inception and in its fruit. It may be disguised as “freedom of thought and enquiry”; but it is most miserable bondage and slavery. The principle at its root is discernible in each of its assumed features.
It may be that the discontinuance of Catechisms and Confessions of Faith have helped this downward movement; it may be an effect rather than a cause. What is certain is that an intelligent grasp of essential Divine truths is less common than formerly; and this is much to be regretted. There may be a danger in being thus indoctrinated from childhood into a “system” of truth, inasmuch as no System can possibly embrace the whole of truth; but there is another danger to be avoided on the other side. The only complete and perfect creed is the entire Word of God. Dr. Horatius Bonar was not the only humble disciple who longed for this “perfect creed” and yearned for this “scholarship of heaven.” Every loyal servant of his Master, every faithful warrior under His standard, familiar daily with temptation, toil, defeat, and victory desires to know all truth in its influence on life and fruit.
If therefore a “system of truth,” whether called a Catechism, a Confession, or a Creed, may sometimes involve a partial view of what God has revealed, yet, rightly held, loved, and practiced, it certainly builds up character. It was here that John Calvin excelled. His Institutes form a grand repository of truths, logically deduced from Scripture, and forming one harmonious whole—a Confession, a Creed, a fundamental Basis of belief.
His Commentaries open those truths, and take the reader by the hand through all the treasure-houses. Dry bones may make a skeleton; but the living body cannot fight without bones. Creed makes character; and character wins the victory.
It is our priceless privilege to enjoy the heritage committed to us by the Reformers, the Martyrs, the Teachers of former days; and not merely to enjoy it, but to hold it as a sacred trust. They shed their blood to secure our inheritance to us; and it were a shameful betrayal of our trust to hold it loosely. To them, under God, we are indebted for our liberty of conscience, our national greatness, our open Bibles. If “righteousness exalteth a nation” ( Proverbs 14:34), then verily a fatal Nemesis awaits the nation that builds its throne upon a lie. Let Italy, and Spain, and other Roman Catholic ruins tell us to tell our children the meaning of bondage, darkness, decay, and death. The only supremacy worthy the name is that of truth and light. The only liberty is that of the Word of God, the truth that makes the freeman.
Perhaps the most ominous feature of to-day is the decay of a sturdy Protestant feeling in the face of a stealthy and underground advance of the designs of Romanist; the apathy and indifference that says it matters not.
It is surely not for the stability of our throne to alter the Coronation Oath.
It cannot be any bulwark to our shores to allow the agents of Rome, with unlimited wealth at command, to secure the best estates of old England for the purposes of the papacy. It cannot contribute to our national honor to allow the imprisonment of women in the darkness of nunneries, and to forbid the light of heaven to shine into those houses of bondage. Why the apathy of the average Briton as he sees these things? Is it that God has judicially poured upon us a spirit of slumber? Is it that He intends to take us at our word, and allow us to squander our priceless inheritance? If so, let us instruct our dear children to be ready for darker days than England has yet seen, and for a struggle far more strenuous than girded our forefathers to the war.
The last sentence has recalled to mind another grave danger that is ever present. I refer here to the tampering with history in our educational books. It is the fact that in many of these the Reformation is called a blunder or a crime; and that contempt is suggested towards our glorious martyrs. I will quote one instance out of many,—from the “Cambridge Modern History,” Volume 2, pages 537 and 538, occurring in a chapter by J. B. Mullinger, M.A.: “The social eminence, high character, and personal popularity of not a few of the English martyrs, unalloyed, as in many cases these qualities were, with political disaffection, served to invest their fate with a peculiar interest in the eyes of their fellow-countrymen,—an interest which Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, chained to the ‘eagle-brass’ of many a parish church, did much to perpetuate. The prominence thus secured for that partial record was the means of winning for its contents an amount of attention from later historical writers greatly in excess of its actual merits.”
Let every parent read the last sentence through twice, very slowly; and then resolve to examine every educational book placed in the hands of the children he loves. “Privilege” and “responsibility” are the two ways of spelling the same fact. Our duty is to “hold” and “hold fast” and “hold forth” the living truth of God to the uttermost of our love and of our energy. For, although the victory is assured, it is only assured to those who fight. Controversy about forms and words is waste of strength in this warfare: controversy such as God asks us for is nine-tenths prayer, and is certain of success.
Profession of truth, whether more or less “Calvinistic,” if alone, will fade either at death or at an earlier date; confession of truth, in heart and life, in word and deed, in storm and stress and conflict to the death,—this is victory.
May it be the happy lot of reader and writer to have it said of him at the last, as Theodore Beza said of JOHN CALVIN: He endured, as seeing Him who is invisible.”