ROTHERHAM'S REMINISCENCES - CHAPTER 8
CHAPTER 8. - LITERARY WORK IN THE EIGHTIES.
The "Churches of Christ" and the American Evangelists - The "Christian Commonwealth" - Spurgeon's Words of Welcome - J.B.R.'s writings in the "Commonwealth" - A short article entitled "Golden Chances."
No record of my father's life could be regarded as at all complete without at least a passing reference to a subject regarding which he differed from many brethren whom he held in the highest esteem.
From a very early period in the "Restoration Movement" until the present time the "Churches of Christ" in this country, and in the United States, have been agitated by what is known as the "Communion Question." For the information of any readers of these notes who may not be familiar with the subject, it may be briefly stated that amongst the "Churches of Christ" on both sides of the Atlantic there is full agreement as to the importance of making known Scripture teaching regarding Believer's Baptism by immersion "for the remission of sins." The "question" arises as to what should be the position of those who so teach with reference to such of the unimmersed as may desire to participate in communion at the Lord's Table.
Some sixty years ago the controversy between the leaders of the movement in this country and those in the United States was carried on chiefly by correspondence and magazine articles. The able editor of the Ecclesiastical Observer wrote many letters expressing the conviction that loyalty to New Testament teaching required that all unimmersed persons should be excluded from participation at the Lord's Table. On the other side, the position of the "Restoration Advocates" in the United States, as recently re-stated in the columns of the Christian Standard, was said to be that: "In the light of scriptural teaching they could find no warrant for setting themselves up as judges in respect to the worthiness or unworthiness of those who wished to commune at the Lord's Table. Hence they neither invited nor rejected any who came. They simply announced that the Table was spread, and left
the decision as to whether those present should participate or not with the individual consciences of the men and women who constituted the audience. To draw a line based upon the single question of baptism, by no means the only or the chief consideration in determining one's fitness to commune appeared to them to be a violation of the whole spirit of the ordinance."
In the controversy of the earlier years my father does not appear to have taken any active part, but the coming of American evangelists to this country, and the beginning (in the early eighties) of what is known as the Anglo-American Movement, induced my father to give the subject his earnest and concentrated attention. The results of this study he embodied in a pamphlet on "The Communion Question," and ten years later (in 1890) he wrote a second very vigorous pamphlet, entitled "How our Freedom was Won," "a survey of the Epistle to the Galatians and an argument for to-day derived therefrom." These pamphlets are still available.
Probably nearly all Christians would agree in theory that it should be possible for earnest men and women holding pronounced views on controversial matters to "differ in fellowship" (to use Dr. Campbell Morgan's fine phrase), but it is to be feared that in practice, in many cases, the hard lesson is never learnt.
All that need further be said here is simply to record the fact that in later life my father became absorbed in other Bible studies, and the "question" referred to above ceased to be with him a very "live" subject.
THE "CHRISTIAN COMMONWEALTH."
In October, 1881, the Christian Commonwealth was first issued. It was very ably edited, and for a good many years it commanded a wide circulation and created a good deal of interest in the Christian world. To the first number of the Commonwealth C.H. Spurgeon contributed a .short article. Written in a style thoroughly characteristic of the great preacher, the following extracts from this article will be read with interest. Mr. Spurgeon said:-
"A friend Who saw the title of the paper remarked that it required no common wealth to carry on a paper at the first, and he might have added that it will require no
common wealth of talent and skill to conduct it with success ... The word 'Commonwealth' had a grand meaning in Cromwell's days, and never were the Commons of England more wealthy in the best of riches, than in the brave and gracious puritan times ...
"Ironsides are well enough in their way, but it is not by might of their arms, nor by power of their arms, that the Kingdom of Christ can be set up among men ... The fight was won by carnal weapons, and therefore it has to be fought over again in the Lord's own way, by the Sword of the Spirit and the force of conviction ... As in a sea-dyke every single rat is an enemy to every Dutchman, so every wrong in this Kingdom wounds us all more or less. It were well that all good men felt this and stirred themselves. To benefit the community we must seek the good of every individual man, woman, and child; and for a nation to do well, each individual must work righteousness.
"May this view of the Commonwealth lead everyone to seek the prosperity of all his fellows. In the hope that this paper may have its share in rousing all to duty, I wish it success.
"So far as it shall plead for God, proclaim His salvation, and press upon men the great precept of love, I desire for it growing influence.
"Reader, pardon these few words of fraternal goodwill.-
From yours heartily,
For several years my father was a constant and regular contributor to the Christian Commonwealth, and his articles and essays, for the most part on Biblical themes written between the years 1883-9, would alone provide ample material for a separate volume. The titles of these articles indicate that some were inspired by matters of general interest, while others obviously grew out of his own personal experiences during the years mentioned. The writer's interest in the Revised Version is evident from articles bearing such titles as "First Findings in the Revised Bible," "Old Testament Revision," "How to Read the Revised Bible," etc. An article entitled "Exegesis and Genesis" contains such pungent sentences as the following:-
"There are indeed many things in Divine revelation which, by reason of their explicitness, or the convergence of
various lines of evidence regarding them, have in themselves a strong inherent force for commanding general assent; and this they should be ungrudgingly, very joyfully, allowed to do - every Bible reader being more delighted than every other, that herein his views are not peculiar, herein all, or nearly all, his brethren see eye to eye with himself. But it is simply absurd to pretend that everything, however interesting or even important it may be, stands forth to view with equal clearness, or can be grasped with a like certainty.
"Some interpreters of the Bible are frightfully positive and exacting, and their cherished conclusions from the book are, not only for themselves, but (in their own opinion) for others also, just as authoritative as if they found them explicitly stated in the book. Such dogmatists forget that although they may have an encouraging measure of commonsense and of the Spirit of God, yet they have no absolute monopoly of these priceless gifts."
In March, 1883, my dear mother died, after years of patient suffering; and it was during this period of domestic sorrow that my father wrote an article for the Commonwealth entitled
The writer says:-
"Without fixed beliefs there can be no stability of character, no concentration of action, no steadiness of thought, no well-educated experiments in business or in science, no solid advance in discovery, no stay and comfort in the face of disappointment and sorrow. A man without fixed beliefs is like a ship without a rudder ; like a steam-engine without rails to run on. He either blunders continually, and has ever and anon to undo what he has done; or he is uncertain and unready when action, prompt and determined, is imperatively demanded. In nothing is firmness of conviction more needed than in matters related to the invisible world, to the conscience, to morals, to motives, to the hidden life, to the great hereafter. It is true there must be personal examination if there is to be any individuality of conviction; and there is some truth in the well-known observation, that he who has never doubted
has never believed. It is further true - and this is a matter of no mean importance-that every healthy mind must leave itself room to grow. In short, unless we suppose we can now have a race of religious infallibles, every honest man must be ready occasionally to re-examine his most sacred convictions.
"But all this allowed, it must yet be maintained that a continual process of unsettling is nothing less than disastrous. We cannot always be examining our guns or criticising our practice - we must go into action, must risk in mortal combat all that we have learned and gained. Temptation comes, and we must either yield or resist - must either say yes or no to the seducer. Sickness comes; when we cannot read - when we can scarcely think - certainly are unfit to break up new ground. Have we in the former case - that of temptation - no fixed principles for the guidance of our lives? Have we in the latter case - that of personal affliction - no settled conclusions to well up in thoughts of solace and stay? Or bereavement comes; the ties of years are snapped; our home is made desolate. What then are we to do without fixed beliefs? That is not the time to get them. Why, our very thoughts are in a whirl. The fountains of the great deep are broken up. We are agitated, feverish, worn out. We have been watching, ministering, hoping, fearing, and crying mightily unto God in our trouble, and He has not heard us as we wished. In mercy, in tenderest love, doubtless, He has not given us what we asked. We cannot read; calm, philosophic meditation is impossible; for our thoughts inevitably come round to the same vexed and heart-chafing centre. What now are we to do without fixed beliefs; beliefs old enough, and deep enough, and central enough to cry out above the storm, 'Peace, doubting heart, my God's I am; who made me man forbids my fear?' And these are ordeals which men in thousands all around are passing through; to which all are liable; into the like of which you, sir, may be plunged to-morrow! We say, then, what are your fixed beliefs? Have you any? If not, you are to be pitied.
"From this point of view there is one little stroke in the story of Bethany, when Lazarus was dead, which may be appreciated at its just value. It comes out in Martha's
words when she met the Lord. She had expressed to Jesus her regretful assurance that had He only been present at Bethany her brother Lazarus had not died; and Jesus had, thereupon, tendered to her the great assertion that He Himself was the Resurrection and the Life; asking her pointedly whether she believed it? What was she to say - what could she say? Did she so much as know what the Master meant? To go into an inquiry was impossible. There is a time for everything. Mark what she did. She fell back on a fixed belief. 'Yea, Lord, I (pepisteuka) have believed that Thou art the Christ, the Son of God, even He that cometh into the world.' She had, therefore, in happier moments, with calmer thought than was now possible, come to that great conclusion; and she could hold to that. So, as the greater contained the less, as it was not reasonable to doubt the word or the power, or the love of the Christ, the Son of God, she could even now say to the newly-put proposition, 'Yea, Lord.' It is a beautiful example of a fixed belief standing good stead in the hour of trial. And not only is it true that out of an old faith springs a new assurance, but it is equally true and equally suggested by the incident to which we have just referred, that out of a general conclusion a particular application may derive its support. Therefore, as fixed beliefs, to be of the fullest working value, must be acquired in early life, it follows that the young and the newly-converted should be taught the Gospel simply. Their minds should be directed to foundation truths, to first principles, to something which is at once central, fruitful, and commanding. It needs to be a very alphabet of faith, learned at the outset and used ever after. This something - which shall ultimately approve itself to be everything - is neither more nor less than a personal object - Martha's Friend and Lord, Jesus, the Son of God and Saviour of men. Fixed belief in Him is what every man needs."
One further excerpt from my father's writings during this period must suffice. The following article, which appeared in the Christian Commonwealth of January 10th, 1884, illustrate the writer's style, and his desire to improve the occasion. The article is entitled
and the writer says:-
"Times and seasons, eras and epochs, spaces of time and points of time, intervals of gradual development, and crises of speedy accomplishment - of such is life made up, of such is history composed. 'Times' are always passing, without break; 'seasons' are here to-day, and gone to-morrow, and it is of their very nature to be broken and parted, with intervals between them. Year-time, life-time, know no break ; but the season of harvest, for instance, comes only when the time is ripe and the ear is mellow. 'Time,' as such, is associated with working, plodding, waiting with patience, allowing for another day than the present, leaving the seed sown to take its chance, to receive the visible and invisible benedictions of the unwearied Creator; but 'seasons' are linked with special activities, with the ingathering of results, with golden opportunities, which must be promptly and resolutely seized when they come, or be lost for ever. The full moon will soon wane; the high tide will soon ebb ; the harvest will not long wait - it must be reaped or it will soon rot. These reflections are naturally suggested by the transition from the old year to the new through which we have just passed; and they may be profitably connected with the beautiful distinction between 'times' (chronoi) and 'seasons' (kairoi), which has been skilfully traced by Archbishop Trench in his 'Synonyms of the. New Testament,' as generally observed in the Christian Scriptures.
"It is singular indeed to notice how little account we can give of time in the abstract. Time in itself seems to be nothing. All we can say is that it is duration, measured and limited; as, indeed, all we can say of eternity is that it is duration measured and unlimited. What eternity is to the Infinite Mind we know not, but the finite mind can form no conception of it, save as, like time, measured, though it be into 'ages of ages' in unbounded succession. We suppose that for the creature there can be no such thing as an 'eternal now.' Certain it is that our minds revolt from every idea of an eternal stagnation. We shrink from imagining that all creation will ever come to a stand; that, after reaching a given point, the heavens will never more
move; that all the divine clockwork of the universe will ever absolutely and finally stop. It is indeed observable that the word 'eternity' occurs but once in all the English Bible (Isaiah 57:15), and if Delitsch be right in explaining that passage as meaning 'the eternally dwelling One, i.e., He whose life lasts for ever and is always the same,' it does not appear certain that the abstract word 'eternity' is required even once in all the Bible - so little does the Bible deal in abstractions; so widely, perhaps we may add without offence, is the modern ever-recurring contrast between 'Time' and 'Eternity' a departure from the wise simplicity of Biblical speech. Little, however, though it be that we know of time in the abstract, the practical value of time is set home upon us in an unmistakable and striking manner. Recurring to the approximate notion of time as measured duration, it would scarcely be an exaggeration to say that God has hung creation with clocks. There are chronometers within us and chronometers without us on all hands. Within us are the beating heart and the heaving bosom - both of them time-measurers that never cease till life ends. Day and night, summer and winter, in consciousness and in unconsciousness, their periodic and ever-advancing movements, heeded to dread dismay or utterly disregarded, on, on they go. Without us are the daily sun, the monthly moon, the yearly seasons, and the longer revolutions of the heavens. Life itself is measured: it has its spring of youth, its summer of ripened manhood; its autumn of advanced maturity; its winter of old age. Nations rise and fall; rocks decay; shores advance and recede ; islands sink and rise. All these time-markers are independent of the hand of man. The lesson is obvious ; time flies, time never stays, time never returns. On all hands we are reminded of this. And time - even though we know not what in itself it is - time is essential to all creature life. Thought is quick; but we must have time to think, time to repent, time to remember; as also we must have time to praise and time to serve. We can do nothing and be nothing, but time goes into the essence of the being and of the doing. Time for thought and work and joy - what a boon! The needless loss or the misuse of time - what a sin! Used or abused, all the same it is going: the last hour will strike, though we know not when - it is ever drawing nearer.
"Time cannot, strictly speaking, be redeemed: it is impossible to buy it back; once gone, it is gone for ever. Time may be improved as it passes, nothing more: its spaces cultivated; its golden moments seized. 'Redeeming the time' should not have been perpetuated in the Revised Version of Ephesians. 'Buying up the opportunity' (margin, Revised Version) is very much better; though, if we might be so fastidious, we should prefer the yet more literal 'buying out the opportunity.' We may not 'buy up' our neighbour's opportunity in the spirit of envy; we can scarcely 'buy and store up' opportunities for ourselves, though it be unselfishly, so as to bespeak opportunities before they arrive. No; the future opportunity may never come. The present 'nick of time,' just as and when it can be discovered in the open market of life - that is ours to buy and claim. It should be detected by the quick eye that discerns between things seasonable and unseasonable. The price should be in our hand - the longing to do good, the courage, the wakeful outlook, the memory of what experience has taught us, the forethought of how best to use our gifts - and then the right thing be done at the right time, the word in season be spoken. With reflections such as these would we urge our readers to see to it that they promptly enter the glorious service of our Redeeming Lord, and, in that service, buy out all the best possible opportunities for doing work for Him, knowing that 'in due season we shall reap if we faint not.'"
JOSEPH BRYANT ROTHERHAM INDEX