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IV. Necessity.—The necessity of theology has its grounds…

(a) In the organizing instinct of the human mind. This organizing principle is a part of our constitution. The mind cannot endure confusion or apparent contradiction in known facts. The tendency to harmonize and unify its knowledge appears as soon as the mind becomes reflective; just in proportion to its endowments and culture does the impulse to systematize and formulate increase. This is true of all departments of human inquiry, but it is peculiarly true of our knowledge of God. Since the truth with regard to God is the most important of all, theology meets the deepest want of man’s rational nature. Theology is a rational necessity. If all existing theological systems were destroyed to-day, new systems would rise to-morrow. So inevitable is the operation of this law, that those who most decry theology show nevertheless that they have made a theology for themselves, and often one sufficiently meagre and blundering. Hostility to theology, where it does not originate in mistaken fears for the corruption of God’s truth or in a naturally illogical structure of mind, often proceeds from a license of speculation which cannot brook the restraints of a complete Scriptural system.

President E. G. Robinson: “Every man has as much theology as he can hold.” Consciously or unconsciously, we philosophize, as naturally as we speak prose. “Se moquer de la philosophie c’est vraiment philosopher.” Gore, Incarnation, 21—“Christianity became metaphysical, only because man is rational. This rationality means that he must attempt ‘to give account of things,’ as Plato said, ‘because he was a man, not merely because he was a Greek.’ ” Men often denounce systematic theology, while they extol the sciences of matter. Has God then left only the facts with regard to himself in so unrelated a state that man cannot put them together? All other sciences are valuable only as they contain or promote the knowledge of God. If it is praiseworthy to classify beetles, one science may be allowed to reason concerning God and the soul. In speaking of Schelling, Royce, Spirit of Modern Philosophy, 173, satirically exhorts us: “Trust your genius; follow your noble heart; change your doctrine whenever your heart changes, and change your heart often,—such is the practical creed of the romanticists.” Ritchie, Darwin and Hegel, 3—“Just those persons who disclaim metaphysics are sometimes most apt to be infected with the disease they profess to abhor—and not to know when they have it.” See Shedd, Discourses and Essays, 27–52; Murphy, Scientific Bases of Faith, 195–199.

(b) In the relation of systematic truth to the development of character. Truth thoroughly digested is essential to the growth of Christian character in the individual and in the church. All knowledge of God has its influence upon character, but most of all the knowledge of spiritual facts in their relations. Theology cannot, as has sometimes been objected, deaden the religious affections, since it only draws out from their sources and puts into rational connection with each other the truths which are best adapted to nourish the religious affections. On the other hand, the strongest Christians are those who have the firmest grasp upon the great doctrines of Christianity; the heroic ages of the church are those which have witnessed most consistently to them; the piety that can be injured by the systematic exhibition of them must be weak, or mystical, or mistaken.

Some knowledge is necessary to conversion—at least, knowledge of sin and knowledge of a Savior; and the putting together of these two great truths is a beginning of theology. All subsequent growth of character is conditioned upon the increase of this knowledge. Col. 1:10—αξανόμενοι τ ἐπιγνώσει το Θεο [omit ν] “increasing by the knowledge of God”—the instrumental dative represents the knowledge of God as the dew or rain which nurtures the growth of the plant; cf. 2 Pet. 3:18—“grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” For texts which represent truth as nourishment, see Jer. 3:15—“feed you with knowledge and understanding”; Mat. 4:4—“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God”; 1 Cor. 3:1, 2—“babes in Christ … I fed you with milk, not with meat”; Heb. 5:14—“but solid food is for full-grown men.” Christian character rests upon Christian truth as its foundation; see 1 Cor. 3:10–15—“I laid a foundation, and another buildeth thereon.” See Dorus Clarke, Saying the Catechism; Simon, on Christ Doct. and Lift, in Bib. Sac., July, 1884:433–439.

Ignorance is the mother of superstition, not of devotion. Talbot W. Chambers:—“Doctrine without duty is a tree without fruits; duty without doctrine is a tree without roots.” Christian morality is a fruit which grows only from the tree of Christian doctrine. We cannot long keep the fruits of faith after we have cut down the tree upon which they have grown. Balfour, Foundations of Belief, 82—“Naturalistic virtue is parasitic, and when the host perishes, the parasite perishes also. Virtue without religion will die.” Kidd, Social Evolution, 214—“Because the fruit survives for a time when removed from the tree, and even mellows and ripens, shall we say that it is independent of the tree?” The twelve manner of fruits on the Christmas-tree are only tacked on,—they never grew there, and they can never reproduce their kind. The withered apple swells out under the exhausted receiver, but it will go back again to its former shrunken form; so the self-righteousness of those who get out of the atmosphere of Christ and have no divine ideal with which to compare themselves. W. M. Lisle: “It is the mistake and disaster of the Christian world that effects are sought instead of causes.” George A. Gordon, Christ of To-day, 28—“Without the historical Christ and personal love for that Christ, the broad theology of our day will reduce itself to a dream, powerless to rouse a sleeping church.”

(c) In the importance to the preacher of definite and just views of Christian doctrine. His chief intellectual qualification must be the power clearly and comprehensively to conceive, and accurately and powerfully to express, the truth. He can be the agent of the Holy Spirit in converting and sanctifying men, only as he can wield “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17), or, in other language, only as he can impress truth upon the minds and consciences of his hearers. Nothing more certainly nullifies his efforts than confusion and inconsistency in his statements of doctrine. His object is to replace obscure and erroneous conceptions among his hearers by those which are correct and vivid. He cannot do this without knowing the facts with regard to God in their relations—knowing them, in short, as parts of a system. With this truth he is put in trust. To mutilate it or misrepresent it, is not only sin against the Revealer of it,—it may prove the ruin of men’s souls. The best safeguard against such mutilation or misrepresentation, is the diligent study of the several doctrines of the faith in their relations to one another, and especially to the central theme of theology, the person and work of Jesus Christ.

The more refined and reflective the age, the more it requires reasons for feeling. Imagination, as exercised in poetry and eloquence and as exhibited in politics or war, is not less strong than of old,—it is only more rational. Notice the progress from “Buncombe”, in legislative and forensic oratory, to sensible and logical address. Bassanio in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, 1:1:113—“Gratiano speaks an infinite deal of nothing.… His reasons are as two grains of wheat hid in two bushels of chaff.” So in pulpit oratory, mere Scripture quotation and fervid appeal are no longer sufficient. As well be a howling dervish, as to indulge in windy declamation. Thought is the staple of preaching. Feeling must be roused, but only by bringing men to “the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 2:25). The preacher must furnish the basis for feeling by producing intelligent conviction. He must instruct before he can move. If the object of the preacher is first to know God, and secondly to make God known, then the study of theology is absolutely necessary to his success.

Shall the physician practice medicine without study of physiology, or the lawyer practice law without study of jurisprudence? Professor Blackie: “One may as well expect to make a great patriot out of a fencing-master, as to make a great orator out of a mere rhetorician.” The preacher needs doctrine, to prevent his being a mere barrel-organ, playing over and over the same tunes. John Henry Newman: “The false preacher is one who has to say something; the true preacher is one who has something to say.” Spurgeon, Autobiography, 1:167—“Constant change of creed is sure loss. If a tree has to be taken up two or three times a year, you will not need to build a very large loft in which to store the apples. When people are shifting their doctrinal principles, they do not bring forth much fruit.… We shall never have great preachers till we have great divines. You cannot build a man of war out of a currant-bush, nor can great soul-moving preachers be formed out of superficial students.” Illustrate the harmfulness of ignorant and erroneous preaching, by the mistake in a physician’s prescription; by the wrong trail at Lake Placid which led astray those ascending Whiteface; by the sowing of acorns whose crop was gathered only after a hundred years. Slight divergences from correct doctrine on our part may be ruinously exaggerated in those who come after us. Though the moth-miller has no teeth, its offspring has. 2 Tim. 2:2—“And the things which thou hast heard from me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.”

(d) In the intimate connection between correct doctrine and the safety and aggressive power of the church. The safety and progress of the church is dependent upon her “holding the pattern of sound words” (2 Tim. 1:13), and serving as “pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). Defective understanding of the truth results sooner or later in defects of organization, of operation, and of life. Thorough comprehension of Christian truth as an organized system furnishes, on the other hand, not only an invaluable defense against heresy and immorality, but also an indispensable stimulus and instrument in aggressive labor for the world’s conversion.

The creeds of Christendom have not originated in mere speculative curiosity and logical hair-splitting. They are statements of doctrine in which the attacked and imperiled church has sought to express the truth which constitutes her very life. Those who deride the early creeds have small conception of the intellectual acumen and the moral earnestness which went to the making of them. The creeds of the third and fourth centuries embody the results of controversies which exhausted the possibilities of heresy with regard to the Trinity and the person of Christ, and which set up bars against false doctrine to the end of time. Mahaffy: “What converted the world was not the example of Christ’s life,—it was the dogma of his death.” Coleridge: “He who does not withstand, has no standing ground of his own.” Mrs. Browning: “Entire intellectual toleration is the mark of those who believe nothing.” E. G. Robinson, Christian Theology, 360–362—“A doctrine is but a precept in the style of a proposition; and a precept is but a doctrine in the form of a command.… Theology is God’s garden; its trees are trees of his planting; and ‘all the trees of the Lord are full of sap’ (Ps. 104:16).”

Bose, Ecumenical Councils: “A creed is not catholic because a council of many or of few bishops decreed it, but because it expresses the common conviction of entire generations of men and women who turned their understanding of the New Testament into those forms of words.” Dorner: “The creeds are the precipitate of the religious consciousness of mighty men and times.” Foster, Christ. Life and Theol., 162—“It ordinarily requires the shock of some great event to startle men into clear apprehension and crystallization of their substantial belief. Such a shock was given by the rough and coarse doctrine of Arius, upon which the conclusion arrived at in the Council of Nice followed as rapidly as in chilled water the crystals of ice will sometimes form when the containing vessel receives a blow.” Balfour, Foundations of Belief, 287—“The creeds were not explanations, but rather denials that the Arian and Gnostic explanations were sufficient, and declarations that they irremediably impoverished the idea of the Godhead. They insisted on preserving that idea in all its inexplicable fulness.” Denny, Studies in Theology, 192—“Pagan philosophies tried to capture the church for their own ends, and to turn it into a school. In self-defense the church was compelled to become somewhat of a school on its own account. It had to assert its facts; it had to define its ideas; it had to interpret in its own way those facts which men were misinterpreting.”

Professor Howard Osgood: “A creed is like a backbone. A man does not need to wear his backbone in front of him; but he must have a backbone, and a straight one, or he will be a flexible if not a humpbacked Christian.” Yet we must remember that creeds are credita, and not credenda; historical statements of what the church has believed, not infallible prescriptions of what the church must believe. George Dana Boardman, The Church, 98—“Creeds are apt to become cages.” Schurman, Agnosticism, 151—“The creeds were meant to be defensive fortifications of religion; alas, that they should have sometimes turned their artillery against the citadel itself.” T. H. Green: “We are told that we must be loyal to the beliefs of the Fathers. Yes, but who knows what the Fathers believe now?” George A. Gordon, Christ of To-day, 60—“The assumption that the Holy Spirit is not concerned in the development of theological thought, nor manifest in the intellectual evolution of mankind, is the superlative heresy of our generation.… The metaphysics of Jesus are absolutely essential to his ethics.… If his thought is a dream, his endeavor for man is a delusion.” See Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, 1:8, 15, 16; Storrs, Div. Origin of Christianity, 121; Ian Maclaren (John Watson), Cure of Souls, 152; Frederick Harrison, in Fortnightly Rev., Jan. 1889.

(e) In the direct and indirect injunctions of Scripture. The Scripture urges upon us the thorough and comprehensive study of the truth (John 5:39, marg.,—“Search the Scriptures”), the comparing and harmonizing of its different parts (1 Cor. 2:13—“comparing spiritual things with spiritual”), the gathering of all about the great central fact of revelation (Col. 1:27—“which is Christ in you, the hope of glory”), the preaching of it in its wholeness as well as in its due proportions (2 Tim. 4:2—“Preach the word”). The minister of the Gospel is called “a scribe who hath been made a disciple to the kingdom of heaven” (Mat. 13:52); the “pastors” of the churches are at the same time to be “teachers” (Eph. 4:11); the bishop must be “apt to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2), “handling aright the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15), “holding to the faithful word which is according to the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in the sound doctrine and to convict the gainsayers” (Tit. 1:9).

As a means of instructing the church and of securing progress in his own understanding of Christian truth, it is well for the pastor to preach regularly each month a doctrinal sermon, and to expound in course the principal articles of the faith. The treatment of doctrine in these sermons should be simple enough to be comprehensible by intelligent youth; it should be made vivid and interesting by the help of brief illustrations; and at least one-third of each sermon should be devoted to the practical applications of the doctrine propounded. See Jonathan Edwards’s sermon on the Importance of the Knowledge of Divine Truth, in Works, 4:1–15. The actual sermons of Edwards, however, are not models of doctrinal preaching for our generation. They are too scholastic in form, too metaphysical for substance; there is too little of Scripture and too little of illustration. The doctrinal preaching of the English Puritans in a similar manner addressed itself almost wholly to adults. The preaching of our Lord on the other hand was adapted also to children. No pastor should count himself faithful, who permits his young people to grow up without regular instruction from the pulpit in the whole circle of Christian doctrine. Shakespeare, K. Henry VI, 2nd part, 4:7—“Ignorance is the curse of God; knowledge the wing wherewith we fly to heaven.”1

 

1 Augustus Hopkins Strong, Systematic Theology (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1907), 15–19.

January 14

ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL
“He went on his way rejoicing.”—Acts viii. 39.

HE came worshipping. All the way from Ethiopia to Jerusalem he journeyed, to do homage to the one true God. My soul will never approach Him in vain, if it approaches Him with such earnestness and such lowliness, such whole-hearted intensity of desire and expectation—

“Like plants in mines which never saw the sun,
But dream of him, and guess where he may be,
And do their best to climb and get to him.”

To this man He will look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth at His word.

He returned searching. For in Jerusalem he had not found all that he sought, and he still continued reading in the book of the Evangelical Prophet. It is a lesson to me: not to be spasmodic, and fitful, and easily discouraged in my quest of the divinest blessings ; to knock and knock till the door is opened to me. Goodwill, the porter, loves a persistent and importunate seeker. Then shall I know, if I follow on to know the Lord.

He went on his way rejoicing. Afier the midnight of weeping, after the twilight of dimness and uncertainty, his was the daydawn of unspeakable gladness. So Christ, if I inquire after Him, if I cling about His feet and refuse to let Him go, will bless me with the assurance of His pardoning mercy, with the sweetness of His sanctifying grace, with the delights of communion with Himself, with the inheritance that fadeth not awuy. The vision will not always tarry.

Let me repeat the eunuch’s significant history, and I shall be diademed with his crown.

January 13

YET A LITTLE WHILE
“Ye know not on what day your Lord cometh.”—Matthew 24:42

SO many and so different are the days of my earthly life, and on any one of them my Lord may come. It is a thought to hallow them all.

It may be a day of ordinary business and toil. Then whatsoever I do I must do heartily, as unto my Master. If He should surprise me when I am engaged in my usual task, He must find the task honourably and faithfully and fully discharged. Let mine be the eye which ” winces at false work, and loves the true.”

It may be a day of weakness and suffering. Then I must suffer patiently, meekly, quietly, even thankfully. I must kiss the cross which He has laid on my shoulders. I must show that His grace has a marvellous power to sustain me. How sorrowstricken I shall be if, when He comes, He hears me murmur and complain!

It may be a day bright with a special gladness and success. Then I must trace my joy to no secondary and subordinate cause but to Him, and must praise Him for it, and must glory not in myself but in His goodness and mercy. It will be an eternal regret to me if He should discover me boastful and proud.

It may be a day of worship and prayer. Then there must be the reality behind the form. No fair and seemly dress must cover a heart hollow and insincere. How infinitely mournful it will be if, in His searching eyes, my religion should be hypocrisy, and my holy things a falsehood!

This day let me live as though my Lord were to show Himself to me now.:

“He cometh soon! at dawn or noon,
Or set of sun, He cometh soon!”

January 12

A HAPPY WINNOWING
“Whose fan is in His hand, and He will throughly purge His floor.”—Matthew 3:12.

HE fan of Jesus is in His hand, and He will thoroughly cleanse His threshing-floor.

The words are not words of terror alone. They do not tell me simply that He will separate false souls from true at last, those who have merely a name to live from those within whom the power of godliness dwells and advances. That is solemn fact which I have need to lay to heart ; but there is more than that.

The words are words of richest comfort also. For the wheat and the chaff are within the same life— the life which the Saviour has redeemed and is regenerating from day to day. Is this life mine?

Then in my history He will employ His winnowing and cleansing fan. It is the fan of His testing and purifying providence. It is the fan of His teaching and purging Word. It is the fan of His sifting and sanctifying Spirit. Through one agency and through another He will busy Himself about my nature, until all that is worthless and all that is evil have gone from me completely and for ever.

He can be satisfied with nothing short of my absolute and stainless perfection. It will mean a long, long patience on His part. It will mean an arduous and sometimes an agonising discipline for me. But by and by the chaff will have disappeared from my soul. By and by I shall be pure and ripe and precious wheat, which, in His great harvest home, He will carry with joy into His heavenly garner. It is a hope which may bring tears of gladness to my eyes. It is an expectation to fill my heart with melody and music.

January 10

NONE OF SELF, ALL OF THEE
“He must increase, but I must decrease.”—John 3:30

IT is how I am justified and forgiven. Not by the hopeless endeavour to win and fight my way to the favour of God and the Celestial City; but by looking to Jesus only, and by leaning on Him absolutely.

“Nothing in my hands I bring.
Simply to Thy cross I cling.”

It is how I find assurance. I am tossed with tempest, overcast with doubt, haunted with fear, while I scrutinise my frames and feelings ; but when I fix; my gaze on Him, so all-sufficient, so perfect, the morning awakens and the shadows decay; lo, the winter is past, and the flowers appear. For my own comfort I would see Him as a glorious Sun filling my firmament.

It is how I grow holy. While indeed I am bidden work out my own salvation with fear and trembling, it must not be as if everything depended on me : it must rather be by a perpetual faith in Him, and a perpetual prayer to Him, who worketh in me to will and to do: the battle is not mine but His. He sows the seed and He ripens the harvest. He lays the foundation and puts the copestone in its fitting place.

It is how I shall be glorified in the end. Self will have vanished in the better country, and Christ will be All. I shall follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth. I shall find my safety, my peace, my victory, in keeping very close to Him. He will be familiar, and yet He will be new every morning. And I shall discover in Him a subject of study, and wonder, and worship, and love, that is illimitable and unfathomable.

Yes. He must increase, but I must decrease.

January 9

THEN AND NOW
“At that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world.”— Ephesians 2:12

CHRISTLESS I was in the old time. I had heard of Jesus with the hearing of the ear, but I did not know Him. He was not my Saviour, my Teacher, my King, my Friend—the Necessity of my life, to whom I turned perpetually and gladly. I was separate from Christ.

Homeless I was in the old time. I was frequently within the walls of the church, but I found no heartjoy in it. It was not the Palace Beautiful to me ; it was not my spiritual birthplace, my resort, my delight. I was alienated from the commonwealth of Israel.

Messageless I was in the old time. The Bible was often in my hands—no book so often. But its warnings did not move me, its precepts did not command me, its good news did not rejoice me. I was a stranger from the covenants of promise.

Hopeless I was in the old time. Probably I professed to believe in my immortality. But the belief, whenever I looked it fairly in the face, brought me alarm. I would have preferred to ” have drunken of Lethe at last, to have eaten of lotus.” For I had no hope.

Godless I was in the old time. Not an atheist in theory and by profession, but practically an atheist. Not governed by the thought of His presence who fills all heaven and earth. Not rejoicing in His fellowship. Not seeking His glory. Nay, I was without God in the world which God’s fingers made.

My Lord, who hast changed all this, I will look back to-day to the pit whence Thou hast digged me. It will deepen my humility. It will heighten my praise.

January 8

JESUS BROOKS NO RIVAL
“Neither is there salvation in any other.”—Acts 4:12

HERE is the holy intolerance and exclusiveness of the gospel of Christ. It will brook no rival to Him who is its Centre and its Glory. It crowns Him supreme and only Lord.

Modern culture makes much of other saviours. Buddha, Confucius, Socrates, stand almost on a level with Jesus. It reverences them well-nigh as much.

“One in a Judaean manger,
And one by Avon stream,
One over against the mouths of Nile,
And one in the Academe “—

that is what it says. But there is none other name.

And society turns to other refuges. It is impatient of the old-fashioned creed, that outside of Christ there is no help or hope. It has its own conventions and rules and ideals; and if a man honour them, he has nothing to fear. They must surely be without reproach who abide by its standards and who win its respect. But there is none other name.

And my own heart would seek its life and peace elsewhere—In my prayers, my gifts, my tears, my labours. In the good opinion of my fellows, and the approval of my own conscience. In my indifference to the sterner side of God’s character and my neglect of the terrors of the Lord. In my hopes and dreams that all will go well. But—but there is none other name.

It is an all-sufficing Name. Let me esteem it my one Foundation, one Hiding-place, one Hope. Jesus, the Puritans said, had one hundred and eight names; and in every one of them there is salvation, free and full/present and eternal.

January 7

I WILL LIFT UP MINE EYES
“When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord.” —Jonah 2:7

When my soul faints within me, I will remember my Lord. That memory is the best of medicines and anodynes.

For instance, I will remember His promises. Those gracious words of His—every one of them His strong and unfaltering “Yea” in Christ Jesus—they are stars of heaven kindled for my comfort in the darkest night. They are as countless as the stars and as bright and full of cheer.

And I will remember His mighty deeds. I am not by any means the first pilgrim to pass through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Multitudes have been in its gloom and peril before me, and each of them He has delivered out of his distresses. Me, too. He will bless and keep. For me He will do as much as for those who have gone this way before.

And I will remember His glorious attributes. “Infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth” —what a crowd of shining perfections I have here! And they are all enlisted on my side; they are all my strong defenders and allies.

And I will remember His experience. For— strange, yet blessed truth—my God has been out in the loneliness before me. He has drained a far bitterer cup than mine. But to-day He wears the crown that will never fade. And He has said that I am to follow Him through sorrow to glory, through death to life.

Is it not a potent and priceless memory—the memory of the Lord?