Past And Present Characteristics Of Methodism
In the previous chapter we were summing up the characteristics of present spiritualdecline, in the points of contrast between the primitive church in her purity, and after hercorruption by the influx of a million worldlings, in the days of Constantine. The first of these wasgreat darkness in the official church and ministry. A darkness which largely obscured the sacredoracles, found a sepulcher for the doctrine of salvation by faith in Jesus, and sent millionsblundering through the ages in the effort to save themselves by repeating human rituals, complyingwith heathen rites, inflicting self-tortures, and “working” their way back to God!Would it be wise to study the rapid development of nearly all these features in our historyin the past thirty years? Are we increasing rituals? Are we drifting from the simplicity of primitiveworship? Are we substituting church membership and service for repentance, saving faith, and thenew birth? Are we bringing God’s children now to be sanctified wholly by an act of faith in Jesus,as we taught for sixty years, or are we sending multitudes of hungry souls, through an endlessseries of their own performances, to make themselves holy?
Is there now a premium put on completely sanctified men and ministers, as in the days ofour simplicity, or are such men and ministers, held at a discount by a great majority of our leadingministers and official boards? Is it true that we now mourn if a sufficient number of holy mencannot be found in a single church to constitute a board of stewards, or, as a rule, are these now chosen for their business capacities, or wealth, or both, regardless of their spirituality? Is it truethat a brother who has testified to God’s sanctifying grace is therefore preferred and chosen to be atrustee of church property? Is it true that a pastor responding to a call from a first-class churchshould state, that if he come, he was sure he would come in the “fullness of the blessing,” bethereby more certainly chosen? None can deny that these questions are plain, practical andappropriate, and that the answers we are compelled to give would be exactly opposite to what wewould have given, if applied to the Methodist Church seventy years ago.
Who that is intelligent, as to her past and present history, can fail to see the wondrous trendtoward spirituality in the former, and the trend toward unspirituality in the latter? Holiness then ata premium; holiness now at a discount! God took the church of the Wesleys out of labyrinths offormalism, and the consequent reign of spiritual death (for formalism and spiritual death are neverseparate long), as He brought the church of Pentecost out of the darkness and ritualistic bondage offallen Judaism. He gave to her a tongue of fire and heart of flame, when infidelity had crept like apestilence into the pulpits and pews of Christian Protestantism, and boasted that God’s holy bookwould never be read after another century had gone! Despite the rage of skeptics and the scorn offallen prelates, with well nigh the confederate opposition of the Christian world, Wesleyorganized his little holiness bands, and one day, coming out of the holy of holies, he gave utteranceto those triumphal, prophetic words: “The World Is My Parish!”
Holiness being the central truth of the Bible, it now became the central doctrine of theWesleyan system. Wesley, with the historians of an hundred years, have united in declaring thatGod raised up Methodism to spread Scriptural holiness. He, with the Methodist Episcopal Church,for a like period have declared that we are first justified and afterwards sanctified, and that entiresanctification was the act of God’s grace by which we are made holy. He and it, also thought thatas we are justified by faith, we are sanctified by faith, and that new converts should be pressedright on into this holy experience. Surely no intelligent man in the teachings of Wesley and thischurch will think of denying either of the above statements.
Above everything else from the beginning, Methodism insisted on the necessity of genuinerepentance, saving faith in Jesus, a full, free pardon of all past sins, a real regeneration, or theimparted life of God to the soul, adoption, and entire sanctification, to which the Holy Spirit is towitness. This necessity was always predicated on the fall of man, the inherited depravity of everyhuman heart, and the fact that every man has been a sinner. That salvation was only made possiblethrough the atonement made by Jesus Christ, and without the shedding of His blood there was noremission of sins. I have heard it stated by great and good men, from 1846 to 1900, I think everyyear, that Methodism had never had any divisions on doctrine; that, doctrinally, she had alwaysbeen a unit. This statement was wondrously true, probably for nearly one hundred years; but whowould dare to repeat it, as applied to the twentieth century?
The most efficient way to bury a Christian doctrine or any Christian experience, is simplyto ignore it. What is true as to the majority of the leading pulpits of the Methodist Church, as topreaching on our inherited depravity, sin, the atonement, repentance, the new birth, adoption, thewitness of the Spirit, entire sanctification, the judgment day, and the perdition of the ungodly? Noquestion that there are many in the rank and file of her glorious ministry who are holding as bestthey can to her true centers, but these, every one of them, are more or less under pressure. Spiritual
declines have never been led by lowly people, in church or pulpit, but against their protest haveGod’s altars been overturned. Spiritual people always forge toward the front when God is beingsought; but unspiritual people never fail to get in lead when the trend is worldward. Hence theincalculable damage of filling the church with unconverted people.
1. We thereby put them in a false relation. The church is the body of Christ, and is designedonly for those who are in Christ Jesus. An earnest seeker might be consistently found in theantechamber of the church, as in a state of preparation for membership; but the church is for God’schildren, and you cannot be God’s child till you are born of God.
2. This false relation tends to self-deception. Having put himself among God’s people, he ismore easily persuaded that he is God’s child, when he is not. He has complied with Christianordinances, is acting like a Christian in keeping with church order, and therefore concludes hemust be a Christian.
3. The absence of preaching on the great gospel centers, involving sin and real Christianexperience, makes it an easy task for the devil to persuade him that he is now all right, and hasnothing to fear. This was almost impossible under the ministry of early Methodist preachers, ashistory shows. Their fearful denunciations of sin, the exactions of Divine righteousness, and thecertainty of a judgment day, with the perdition of ungodly men to follow, furnished a bed of thornsfor such men upon which rest was made impossible. Then Methodism was largely a hot-bed ofprayer, and such hangers on would be either prayed in or out of the Church. Her ministers broughtout the atonement, with the circumstances of Christ’s death for sin and the sinner, in such a way asto make sin appear “exceedingly sinful.” Their great insistence on the glad knowledge offorgiveness through atoning blood was a burning lamp held up before the unsaved church member.
4. The testimony of the early Methodists relating to real Holy Ghost experiences made itdifficult for any to be deceived, and was probably the greatest instrument to save men they everused. A learned Baptist minister said once in my hearing, and in presence of a throng of people:
“There is no use in talking. The Methodists have girt the world with power, and they havedone it largely with their testimony!”
This was her great power, both in pulpit and pew, which made her invincible wherever shewent, and it is only in proportion as she has lost it that she has been compelled to makecompromises with the world. Nothing has ever been so convincing of the truth of Christian religionas the testimony of its saved subjects. The subtle subterfuge resorted to in all times of spiritualdeclension to release unsaved church members from being Christ’s witnesses, is that they shalltestify with their lives. Why not insist that this procedure be introduced into all the courts, andhave the witness-boxes filled with silent men and women, living out their testimony before thejudges, and juries of the country?
The Book and the Gospel bring Christ to us as a Saviour from sin. If he is not a Saviourfrom sin, he is an impostor. Millions of people have complied with His conditions, and He hassaved them. They and they only, of all the human race, know Jesus Christ as a Saviour. These Hehas chosen to be His witnesses. His salvation, provided and promised, in distinct statements,
includes the complete pardon of all your past transgressions; and He has pardoned you. How canyou testify to this great basal truth by your life? I am guilty and lost, and have heard that you havefound Christ as a sin-pardoning Saviour, and go to you for light; you fear to testify about this withyour lips, but refer me to your life. How can you show me by your life that God for Christ’s sakehas forgiven your past sins?
Then salvation includes the impartation of a new life from God, which you never hadbefore, and I go to you knowing I am spiritually dead, and hungering for this promised life, toinquire if God has given it to you. I have much confidence in you, and if you testify that God hasgiven it to you I can easily believe He will give it to me; but you do not dare to say that He has, butI must in the coming months, or years, spell it out through your holy living?!
I am fully conscious that I am a child of the devil, and not a child of God, and the Booksays that Christ has made provision to adopt me into the family of God and make me His child, so Icome to you to find whether you have been adopted. In response to my inquiries, you say youwould not dare to testify that you were now a child of God, but I might be helped by dailyobserving your future correct deportment. How long would my observations have to continue toconvince me that you have been adopted into the family of God?
I see the Scriptures promise the witness of the Holy Spirit to all who are truly saved, andcome to you to find whether He has thus witnessed with your spirit; and you are too humble totestify that He has, but hope by your holy life hereafter to convince me that He had — could thatconvince me? Why, brother, if you were as holy in your life as St. John that could not prove to anysoul in earth or heaven that you had the direct witness of the Spirit to your adoption. There is muchin personal experience that can never be revealed to others but through the testimony of our lips, orthrough the use of words.
I am convinced of my need of a holy heart, and you have been sanctified wholly; so theHoly Spirit sends me to you for help. The devil is sorely thrusting at my wounded soul, and theway seems dark and difficult; but you have been over the road and know as to the truth of thisexperience. So I tell you of my longings and battle with doubts; and ask if you know the “blood ofJesus Christ cleanseth you from all sin?” Your meekness will not permit you to testify to this truth,but you urge me to watch your holy living, and I will find the promise is true by your life. But,brother, your life is what you do; but I am wanting to know as to what Jesus can do. I did not cometo find what a wonderful man you are, nor as to what wonderful things you have done or proposeto do. I want to know as to the truth of this promise, that Jesus Christ is a complete Saviour fromall sin! You know His blood has cleansed you from all sin. Correct and holy living is of greatimportance, and if I profess to be holy and live an unholy life my life will destroy my testimony;but correct living, unaccompanied with the testimony of your lips, can never prove that Jesus savedyou.
People often live a correct outward life, on purpose to prove that Jesus is not needed as aSaviour. You offer Christ to any boasting moralist, as a Saviour, and he will practically tell youso.
1. Opposition to Christian testimony is largely urged against testifying to entiresanctification, but no man can show that it is right to witness for Christ as the justifier and wrong towitness for Him as the sanctifier of your soul. The opposition in that case is not primarily toChristian testimony, but to sanctification. Hence testimony has been cut off entirely in many casesfrom the prayer meeting, where it was cherished, because a few saints would testify to thisglorious experience. Doctor Adam Clarke said if there were no other evidence to the depravity ofthe human heart than its opposition to Christian perfection, this alone would be sufficient.
2. Keep in mind that Christian testimony does not consist in testifying for yourself; whatyou have done, or propose to do, but for Christ. When people are intensely spiritual they cannotbut witness for Christ. When He fills the heart with Divine love it is difficult to refrain fromexpressing it with your lips. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth will speak! Hearts offlame cannot but touch the lips with fire. The real state of holiness, well maintained, brings realself-abnegation, and exalts Christ. To such a soul He is always new and beautiful. We see, as wecould not before, the depths of our obligation to Him. The glory of His character is made so real.The greatness of His love so thrills the whole realm of consciousness that we must speak!
3. The world cannot be saved if God’s people refuse to testify with their lips. This isneeded to enable you to testify with your life. I have been healed by a celebrated doctor of adreadful malady that crippled my body throughout, and a thousand others are in like mannerafflicted. My doctor alone can cure this malady. How can I get these sufferers to my physician? Doyou say, “Go and show them that you are healed, and in presence of these sufferers I lift a500-pound weight, run a mile in eight minutes and do the work of two common men each day fortwenty days! Have I convinced them that I have been healed? No. I have shown them I am well andstrong; but they insist I was never sick. Suppose I bring forty witnesses and prove to thesesufferers that I was crippled just as they are now? Well, if they believe the testimony they nowbelieve I am healed; but WHO healed me? Have I brought them to my doctor? No, I have broughtthem to myself; and my whole procedure has gone to show that everything I have done was toattract them to ME and my performances! Have I testified for my doctor in any sense whatever?
Not in the slightest. This parable illustrates the utter futility and unmeaningness, of testifying forChrist with your life, without the testimony of your lips. The former cannot be given without thelatter, and the latter cannot stand if contradicted by the former. “What God hath joined together, letno man put asunder.”