Words of the Spirit (A Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things. No. 4)

[By Alexander Campbell, with emphasis added in bold by Scott Shifferd Jr.]

THAT the word of the apostles shall be the only creed, formula, and directory of faith, worship, and Christian practice, when the ancient order of things is restored, we have offered some evidence to show. The constitution and law of the primitive church shall be the constitution and law of the restored church. As the constitution and law then admitted all the faithful disciples of the Lord to an equal participation of all privileges; so when the same is again adopted, the same privileges will be extended to every orderly citizen of the kingdom. Without any of our modern creeds in substance or in form the church was once united, complete, and happy, and will be so again. For the same cause will always produce the same effect. When the disciples shall return to the Lord he will return to them.

In receiving members or citizens into the kingdom, or in naturalizing foreigners, it appeared, in our last essay, that nothing was required of them but an acknowledgment of the word or testimony of the witnesses concerning the King, Jesus of Nazareth. A hearty declaration, or confession with their lips, that they believed in their hearts, that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, the Son of the living God, the King and Lord of all, qualified them as applicants for naturalization. In the act of immersion into this name, they renounced every other Messiah, Lord, King, or Saviour; they put off their former religion, and renounced every religious obligation to any other system or authority, and put on Jesus, as their Lord and King. From a consideration of the ancient order it appeared, that the apostles did not command men to be baptized into their own experience, but into the faith then delivered to the saints. It was affirmed that the ancient order was wiser, safer, and more honorable to the saving truth, than the modern way of receiving members into a Baptist society, and some proof was presented.

In the present essay we shall make a few remarks upon another important preliminary to the restoration of the ancient order of things. There must be, and there shall be, an abandonment of the new and corrupt nomenclature, and a restoration of the inspired one. In other words, there must be an abandonment of the Babylonish or corrupt phraseology of the dark ages and of modern discoveries, in the fixed style of the Christian vocabulary. This is a matter of greater importance than may, at first sight, appear to all. Words and names long consecrated, and sanctified by long prescription, have a very imposing influence upon the human understanding. We think as well as speak by means of words. It is just as impossible for an adult to think as to speak without words. Let him that doubts make the experiment. Now as all correct ideas of God and things invisible are supernatural ideas, no other terms can so suitably express them as the terms adopted by the Holy Spirit, in adapting those supernatural truths to our apprehension. He that taught man to speak, would, doubtless, adopt the most suitable terms in his language to reveal himself to his understanding. To disparage those terms, by adopting others to preference, is presumptuous and insolent on the part of man. Besides, when men adopt terms to express supernatural truths, it is not the truths themselves, but their ideas of them they communicate. They select such terms as suit their apprehensions of revealed truth, and hence the terms they use are expressive only of their conceptions of divine things, and must just be as imperfect as their conceptions are. It is impossible for any man, unless by accident, to express accurately that which he apprehends imperfectly. From this source spring most of our doctrinal controversies. Men’s opinions, expressed in their own terms, are often called bible truths. In order, then, to a full restoration of the ancient order of things, there must be “a pure speech” restored. And I think the Lord once said, in order to a restoration, that he would restore to the people “a pure speech.” We know that the ancient order of things, amongst the Jews, could not be restored, after their captivity in Babylon, until the law of the Lord, containing the primitive institutions of the Jews’ religion, was read and understood by the people, and the dialect of Babylon abandoned, as far as it corrupted the primitive simplicity of that religion. Hence the scribes read them the law from morning to evening, gave them the sense and made them understand the reading. This became necessary because of the corrupt dialect they had learned in Babylon, on account of which their revelation was unintelligible to them, until the language of Canaan was purged from the phraseology of Ashdod. It will, we apprehend, be found precisely similar in the antitype, or in the return of the people of God from the captivity of Babylon the great, the mother of abominations.

But we shall go on to specify a sample of those Babylonish terms and phrases which must be purified from the Christian vocabulary, before the saints can understand the religion they profess, or one another as fellow disciples. I select these from the approved standards of the most popular establishments; for from these they have become current and sacred style. Such are the following: “Trinity. First, second, and third person in the adorable Trinity: God the Son; and God the Holy Ghost. Eternal Son. The Son is eternally begotten by the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son. The divinity of Jesus Christ; the humanity of Jesus Christ; the incarnation of Jesus Christ. This he said as man; and that as God. The common operations, and the special operations of the Spirit of God. Original sin, and original righteousness. Spiritual death; spiritual life. Covenant of works, covenant of grace, and covenant of redemption; a dispensation of the covenant of grace, and administration of the covenant. Effectual calling. Free will. Free grace. Total depravity. Eternal justification. Eternal sleep. Elect world. Elect infants. Light of nature. Natural religion. General and particular atonement. Legal and evangelical repentance. Moral, ceremonial, and judicial law. Under the law as a covenant of works, and as a rule of life. Christian Sabbath. Holy sacrament. Administration of the sacrament. Different kinds of faith and grace. Divine service; the public worship of God,” &c. &c.

These are but a mere sample, and all of one species. It will be said that men cannot speak of Bible truths without adopting other terms than those found in the written word. This will be granted, and yet there will be found no excuse for the above species of unauthorized and Babylonish phraseology. It is one thing to speak of divine truths in our own language, and another to adopt a fixed style of expressing revealed truths to the exclusion of, or in preference to, that fixed by the Spirit, and sometimes, too, at variance with it. For instance, the terms Trinity, first and second person of–Eternal Son, and the eternal procession of the Spirit, are now the fixed style in speaking of God, his Son Jesus Christ, and of the Spirit, in reference to their “personal character.” Now this is not the style of the oracles of God. It is all human, and may be as freely criticized as one of the numbers of the Spectator. Yet because of the sanctified character of these terms, having been baptized, or authorized by the orthodox and pious for centuries, it is at the risque of my reputation for orthodoxy, and at the expense of being charged with heresy, that I simply affirm that they are terms that the wisdom of this world teaches, and not the Spirit of God. I would not be startled to hear that I have denied the faith and rejected the revealed character of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, because I have said that the fixed style in speaking of them in the popular establishments is of human origin and of the language of Ashdod, and not of the language of Canaan. This, however, only proves that the terms of human philosophy are held more sacred, than the words of the Holy Spirit.

These terms originate new doctrines. Thus the term “trinity” gives rise to the doctrine of the trinity. And what fierce controversies have originated out of this doctrine! How many creeds and martyrs has it made! Courteous and pious reader, would it not be as wise, as humble, and as modest, too, for us, on such topics, to prefer the words of the Holy Spirit, and to speak of God, his Son, and Spirit, as the apostles did. Moreover, these terms do not help our conceptions of God at all. They rather impede than facilitate our understanding the divine oracles. It is more difficult to conceive of an eternal Son eternally begotten, and of a Spirit eternally proceeding, than to understand anything God has ever spoken to men. And see on what a slender thread those distinctions hang! Because Jesus Christ told his disciples that he would send them the Spirit, which Spirit would or was to proceed from his Father, or to be sent forth by his Father as well as by himself; therefore the schoolmen affirm that the Spirit eternally proceeded, or was eternally coming from the Father!! This is the whole thread on which this “doctrine” hangs. I only instance this, and cannot now pause on the others.

But besides this species of sophistry there is another more dangerous, because more specious. This is really as foreign and as barbarous a dialect as that we have noticed, though in Bible terms. It consists in selecting Bible terms and sentences and in applying to them ideas totally different from those attached to them by the Holy Spirit. Of this sort are the following: “The natural man, spiritual man; in the flesh, in the spirit; regeneration, washing of regeneration; ministration of the Spirit, demonstration of the Spirit; power of God, faith of the operation of God, the grace of God; the letter, the spirit; the old and new covenant; word of God; the ministry of the word; truth of the gospel; mystery, election, charity, heretic, heresy, blasphemy, church communion, baptism, faith,” &c. &c. &c. The former dialect rejects the words of the Holy Spirit, and adopts others as more intelligible, less ambiguous, and better adapted to preserve a pure church. The latter dialect takes the terms and sentences of the Spirit, and makes them convey ideas diverse from those communicated by the Spirit. We shall in this, as in the former dialect, specify one instance. Take for this purpose the sentence, “Through faith of the operation of God.” This the populars use to designate a faith wrought in the human heart by the operation of the great power of God. But the Spirit of God intended by this phrase to shew that Christians in baptism had represented to them their resurrection with Christ to a new life, through a belief of the great power of God, exhibited in raising Christ from the dead. So the wisest teachers, and so all the learned translators of the last century understood it, amongst whom are, Pierce, Tompson, Macknight, and others. Macknight reads it thus: “Being buried with him in baptism, in which also we have been raised with him through the belief of the strong working of God who raised him from the dead.” Now in relation to these two dialects there is one easy and safe course. The first is to be totally abandoned as transubstantiation and purgatory are by Protestants, and the other is to be tried by the context or design of the writer.

We cannot at present be more particular; but of these terms and sentences we shall not be forgetful hereafter. It is enough at one time to suggest them to the consideration and examination of our readers.

The adoption and constant use of this barbarous dialect, was the cause of making divisions, and is still one existing cause of their continuance. This style furnishes much matter, and many a topic to the gloomy Doctors who delight in metaphysical subtleties, and gains them much credit for their skill in mysteries, which they exhibit in their weekly attempts to unravel the webs which themselves and their worthy predecessors have woven. Let it be remembered that, as these terms were not to be heard in the primitive church, in restoring the ancient order of things they must be sent home to the regions of darkness whence they arose.

EDITOR.

About Scott J Shifferd

Minister, church of Christ in Jacksonville, FL. Husband and father of four. Email: ScottJon82[at]yahoo.com
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