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The Ancient Church by William Dool Killen


The same system of doctrine is inculcated throughout the whole of the sacred volume. Though upwards of fifteen hundred years elapsed between the commencement and the completion of the canon of Scripture; though its authors were variously educated; though they were distinguished, as well by their tastes, as by their temperaments; and though they lived in different countries and in different ages; all the parts of the volume called the Bible exhibit the clearest indications of unity of design. Each writer testifies to the |one faith,| and each contributes something to its illustration. Thus it is that, even at the present day, every book in the canon is |good to the use of edifying.| The announcements made to our first parents will continue to impart spiritual refreshment to their posterity of the latest generations; and the believer can now give utterance to his devotional feelings in the language of the Psalms, as appropriately as could the worshipper of old, when surrounded by all the types and shadows of the Levitical ceremonial.

The Old Testament is related to the New as the dawn to the day, or the prophecy to its accomplishment. Jesus appeared merely to consummate the Redemption which |the promises made to the fathers| had announced. |Think not,| said he, |that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets, I am not come to destroy but to fulfil.| [189:1] The mission of our Lord explained many things which had long remained mysterious; and, in allusion to the great amount of fresh information thus communicated, He is said to have |brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.| [189:2]

When the apostles first became disciples of the Son of Mary, their views were certainly very indefinite and circumscribed. Acting under the influence of strong attachment to the Wonderful Personage who exhibited such wisdom and performed so many mighty works, they promptly obeyed the invitation to come and follow Him; and yet when required to tell who was this Great Teacher to whom they were attached by the charm of such a holy yet mysterious fascination, they could do little more than declare their conviction that Jesus was THE CHRIST. [189:3] They knew, indeed, that the Messiah, or the Great Prophet, was to be a redeemer, and a King; [189:4] but they did not understand how their lowly Master was to establish His title to such high offices. [189:5] Though they |looked for redemption,| and |waited for the kingdom of God,| [189:6] there was much that was vague, as well as much that was visionary, in their notions of the Redemption and the Kingdom. We may well suppose that the views of the multitude were still less correct and perspicuous. Some, perhaps, expected that Christ, as a prophet, would decide the ecclesiastical controversies of the age; [189:7] others, probably, anticipated that, as a Redeemer, he would deliver His countrymen from Roman domination; [189:8] whilst others again cherished the hope that, as a King, he would erect in Judea a mighty monarchy. [189:9] The expectation that he would assert the possession of temporal dominion was long entertained even by those who had been taught to regard Him as a spiritual Saviour. [190:1]

During the interval between the resurrection and ascension, the apostles profited greatly by the teaching of our Lord. |Then opened He their understanding that they might understand the Scriptures,| [190:2] shewing that all things were |fulfilled which were written in the law of Moses, and in the Prophets, and in the Psalms| [190:3] concerning Him. The true nature of Christ's Kingdom was now fully disclosed to them; they saw that the history of Jesus was embodied in the ancient predictions; and thus their ideas were brought into harmony with the revelations of the Old Testament. On the day of Pentecost they, doubtless, received additional illumination; and thus, maturely qualified for the duties of their apostleship, they began to publish the great salvation. Even afterwards, their knowledge continued to expand; for they had yet to be taught that the Gentiles also were heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven; [190:4] that uncircumcised believers were to be admitted to all the privileges of ecclesiastical fellowship; [190:5] and that the ceremonial law had ceased to be obligatory. [190:6]

We do not require, however, to trace the progress of enlightenment in the minds of the original heralds of the gospel, that we may ascertain the doctrine of the Apostolic Church; for in the New Testament we have a complete and unerring exposition of the faith delivered to the saints. We have seen that, with a few comparatively trivial exceptions, all the documents dictated by the apostles and evangelists were at once recognised as inspired, [190:7] so that in them, combined with the Jewish Scriptures, we have a perfect ecclesiastical statute-book. The doctrine set forth in the New Testament was cordially embraced in the first century by all genuine believers. And it cannot be too emphatically inculcated that the written Word was of paramount authority among the primitive Christians. The Israelites had traditions which they professed to have received from Moses; but our Lord repudiated these fables, and asserted the supremacy of the book of inspiration. [191:1] In His own discourses He honoured the Scriptures by continually quoting from them; [191:2] and He commanded the Jews to refer to them as the only sure arbiters of his pretensions. [191:3] The apostles followed His example. More than one-half of the sermon preached by Peter on the day of Pentecost consisted of passages selected from the Old Testament. [191:4] The Scriptures, too, inculcate, not only their claims as standards of ultimate appeal, but also their sufficiency to meet all the wants of the faithful; for they are said to be |able to make wise unto salvation,| [191:5] and to be |profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.| [191:6] The sacred records teach, with equal clearness, their own plenary inspiration. Each writer has his peculiarities of style, and yet each uses language which the Holy Spirit dictates. In the New Testament a single word is more than once made the basis of an argument; [191:7] and doctrines are repeatedly established by a critical examination of particular forms of expression, [191:8] When statements advanced by Moses, or David, or Isaiah, are adduced, they are often prefaced with the intimation that thus |the Holy Ghost saith,| [191:9] or thus |it is spoken of the Lord.| [191:10] The apostles plainly aver that they employ language of infallible authority. |We speak,| says Paul, |in the words which the Holy Ghost teacheth,| [192:1] |All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.| [192:2]

It is of unutterable importance that the Scriptures are the very word of the Lord, for they relate to our highest interests, and were they of less authority, they could not command our entire confidence. The momentous truths which they reveal are in every way worthy to be recorded in memorials given by inspiration of God. Under the ancient economy the sinner was assured of a Redeemer; [192:3] and intimations were not wanting that his deliverance would be wrought out in a way which would excite the wonder of the whole intelligent creation; [192:4] but the New Testament uplifts the veil, and sheds a glorious radiance over the revelation of mercy. According to the doctrine of the Apostolic Church the human race are at once |guilty before God,| [192:5] and |dead in trespasses and sins;| [192:6] and as Christ in the days of His flesh called forth Lazarus from the tomb, and made him a monument of His wonder-working power, so by His word He still awakens dead sinners and calls them with an holy calling, that they may be trophies of His grace throughout all eternity. And as the restoration of hearing is an evidence of the restoration of life, so the reception of the word by faith is a sure token of spiritual vitality. |He that heareth my word,| said Christ, |and believeth on Him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life.| [192:7]

Faith is to the soul of the believer what the living organs are to his body. It is the ear, the eye, the hand, and the palate of the spiritual man. By faith he hears the voice of the Son of God; [192:8] by faith he sees Him who is invisible; [192:9] by faith he looks unto Jesus; [193:1] by faith he lays hold upon the Hope set before him; [193:2] and by faith he tastes that the Lord is gracious. [193:3] All the promises are addressed to faith; and by faith they are appropriated and enjoyed. By faith the believer is pardoned, [193:4] sanctified, [193:5] sustained, [193:6] and comforted. [193:7] Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen; [193:8] for it enables us to anticipate the happiness of heaven, and to realize the truth of God.

The word of the Lord is to the faith of the Christian what the material world is to his bodily senses. As the eye gazes with delight on the magnificent scenery of creation, the eye of faith contemplates with joy unspeakable the exceedingly great and precious promises. And as the eye can look with pleasure only on those objects which it sees, faith can rest with satisfaction only on those things which are written in the book of God's testimony. It has been |written that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing we might have life through his name.| [193:9]

The Scriptures are not to be regarded as a storehouse of facts, promises, and precepts, without relation or dependency; but a volume in which may be found a collection of glorious truths, all forming one great and well-balanced system. Every part of revelation refers to the Redeemer; and His earthly history is the key by means of which its various announcements may be illustrated and harmonized. In the theology of the New Testament Christ is indeed the |All in all.| In addition to many other illustrious titles which He bears, He is represented as |the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world,| [193:10] |the End of the Law for righteousness to every one that believeth,| [193:11] |the Head of the Church,| [194:1] the |King of kings,| [194:2] and |the Hope of glory.| [194:3] During His public ministry He performed miracles such as had been previously understood to mark the peculiar energy of Omnipotence; for He opened the eyes of the blind; [194:4] He walked upon the waves of the sea; [194:5] He made the storm a calm; [194:6] and He declared to man what was his thought. [194:7] In His capacity of Saviour He exercises attributes which are essentially divine; as He redeems from all iniquity, [194:8] and pardons sin, [194:9] and sanctifies the Church, [194:10] and opens the heart, [194:11] and searches the reins. [194:12] Had Jesus of Nazareth failed to assert His divine dignity, the credentials of His mission would have been incomplete, for the Messiah of the Old Testament is no other than the Monarch of the universe. Nothing can be more obvious than that the ancient prophets invest Him with the various titles and attributes of Deity. He is called |the Lord,| [194:13] |Jehovah,| [194:14] and |God;| [194:15] He is represented as the object of worship; [194:16] He is set forth as the King's Son who shall daily be praised; [194:17] and He is exhibited as an Almighty and Eternal Friend in whom all that put their trust are blessed. [194:18]

During the public ministry of our Lord the Twelve do not seem to have been altogether ignorant of His exalted dignity; [194:19] and yet the most decisive attestations to His Godhead do not occur until after His resurrection. [194:20] When the apostles surveyed the humble individual with whom they were in daily intercourse, it is not extraordinary that their faith faltered, and that their powers of apprehension failed, as they pondered the prophecies relating to His advent. When they attempted closely to grapple with the amazing truths there presented to their contemplation, and thought of |the Word made flesh,| well might they be overwhelmed with a feeling of giddy and dubious wonder. Even after the resurrection had illustrated so marvellously the announcements of the Old Testament, the disciples still continued to regard them with a species of bewilderment; and our Saviour himself found it necessary to point out in detail their meaning and their fulfilment. |Beginning at Moses and all the prophets he expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.| [195:1] The whole truth as to the glory of His person now flashed upon their minds, and henceforth they do not scruple to apply to Him all the lofty titles bestowed of old on the Messiah. The writers of the New Testament say expressly that |Jesus is the Lord,| [195:2] and |God blessed for ever;| [195:3] they describe believers as trusting in Him, [195:4] as serving Him, [195:5] and as calling upon His name; [195:6] and they tell of saints and angels, uniting in the celebration of His praise. [195:7] Such testimonies leave no doubt as to their ideas of His dignity. Divine incarnations were recognised in the heathen mythology, so that the Gentiles could not well object to the doctrine of the assumption of our nature by the Son of God; but Christianity asserts its immense superiority to paganism in its account of the design of the union of humanity and Deity in the person of the Redeemer. According to the poets of Greece and Rome, the gods often adopted material forms for the vilest of purposes; but the Lord of glory was made partaker of our flesh and blood, [196:1] that He might satisfy the claims of eternal justice, and purchase for us a happy and immortal inheritance. In the cross of Christ sin appears |exceedingly sinful,| and the divine law has been more signally honoured by His sufferings than if all men of all generations had for ever groaned under its chastisements. The Jewish ritual must have made the apostles perfectly familiar with the doctrine of atonement; but they were |slow of heart to believe| that their Master was Himself the Mighty Sacrifice represented in the types of the Mosaic ceremonial [196:2] The evangelist informs us that He expounded this subject after His resurrection, shewing them that |thus it behoved Christ to suffer.| [196:3] Still, the crucifixion of the Saviour was to multitudes a |rock of offence.| The ambitious Israelite, who expected that the Messiah would go forth conquering and to conquer, and that He would make Palestine the seat of universal empire, could not brook the thought that the Great Deliverer was to die; and the learned Greek, who looked upon all religion with no little scepticism, was prepared to ridicule the idea of the burial of the Son of God; but the very circumstance which awakened such prejudices, suggested to those possessed of spiritual discernment discoveries of stupendous grandeur. Justice demands the punishment of transgressors; mercy pleads for their forgiveness: holiness requires the execution of God's threatenings; goodness insists on the fulfilment of His promises: and all these attributes are harmonized in the doctrine of a Saviour sacrificed. God is |just, and the justifier of him which, believeth in Jesus.| [196:4] The Son of Man |by his own blood obtained eternal redemption| [197:1] for His Church; |mercy and truth meet together| in His expiation; and His death is thus the central point to which the eye of faith is now directed. Hence Paul says -- |We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ, the power of God, and the wisdom of God.| [197:2]

The doctrine of the Apostolic Church is simple and consistent, as well as spiritual and sublime. The way of redemption it discloses is not an extempore provision of Supreme benevolence called forth by an unforeseen contingency, but a plan devised from eternity, and fitted to display all the divine perfections in most impressive combination. Whilst it recognises the voluntary agency of man, it upholds the sovereignty of God. Jehovah graciously secures the salvation of every heir of the promises by both contriving and carrying out all the arrangements of the |well ordered covenant.| His Spirit quickens the dead soul, and works in us |to will and to do of His good pleasure.| [197:3] |The Father hath chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love; having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the Beloved.| [197:4]

The theological term Trinity was not in use in the days of the apostles, but it does not follow that the doctrine now so designated was then unknown; for the New Testament clearly indicates that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost exist in the unity of the Godhead. [197:5] Neither can it be inferred from the absence of any fixed formula of doctrine that the early followers of our Lord did not all profess the same sentiments, for they had |one Lord, one faith, one baptism.| [198:1] The document commonly called |the Apostles' Creed| is certainly of very great antiquity, but no part of it proceeded from those to whom it is attributed by its title; [198:2] and its rather bald and dry detail of facts and principles obviously betokens a decline from the simple and earnest spirit of primitive Christianity. Though the early converts, before baptism, made a declaration of their faith, [198:3] there is in the sacred volume no authorised summary of doctrinal belief; and in this fact we have a proof of the far-seeing wisdom by which the New Testament was dictated; as heresy is ever changing its features, and a test of orthodoxy, suited to the wants of one age, would not exclude the errorists of another. It has been left to the existing rulers of the Church to frame such ecclesiastical symbols as circumstances require; and it is a striking evidence of the perfection of the Bible that it has been found capable of furnishing an antidote to every form of heterodoxy which has ever appeared.

It may be added that the doctrine of the Apostolic Church is eminently practical. The great object of the mission of Jesus was to |save His people from their sins;| [198:4] and the tendency of all the teachings of the New Testament is to promote sanctification. But the holiness of the gospel is not a shy asceticism which sits in a cloister in moody melancholy, so that its light never shines before men; but a generous consecration of the heart to God, which leads us to confess Christ in the presence of gainsayers, and which prompts us to delight in works of benevolence. The true Christian should be happy as well as holy; for the knowledge of the highest truth is connected with the purest enjoyment. This |wisdom is better than rubies, and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it.| [199:1] The Apostle Paul, when a prisoner at Rome, had comforts to which Nero was an utter stranger. Even then he could say -- |I have learned in whatsoever state I am therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound; everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.| [199:2] When all around the believer may be dark and discouraging, there may be sunshine in his soul. There are no joys comparable to the joys of a Christian. They are the gifts of the Spirit of God, and the first-fruits of eternal blessedness; they are serene and heavenly, solid and satisfying.

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