MATTHEW XV. 1-20.—MARK VII. 1-23.
WHILE our Lord was “teaching in the cities and villages of Galilee,” a number of “doctors of the law,” belonging to the sect of the Pharisees, whose ordinary residence was Jerusalem, came to him. Whether they were deputed by some public body—or, of their own accord, came expressly for the purpose of hearing the discourses and witnessing the miracles of Jesus— or, being in that remote district of the country at any rate, took the opportunity of obtaining personal information respecting an individual whose character and claims had become a subject of general interest, it is needless to inquire, for it is impossible to learn. From the general character of the body to which they belonged, and from their own conduct on this occasion, there can be little doubt that their object was not to find out the truth, but rather to “entangle Jesus in his talk,” and, if possible, to obtain some ground of accusation against him, either before the ecclesiastical or civil authorities.—the Jewish Sanhedrim, or the Roman Governor.
While they were with him, they seem to have witnessed our Lord and his apostles taking their frugal meal, and remarked, with surprise, that they sat down to meat without observing the ordinary Jewish rite of washing the hands. The Mosaic law required a variety of ablutions; this, however, was none of them. But the Jewish Rabbis—” the elders,” as they are called by the evangelist—had added many ceremonial injunctions of their own to those of Divine appointment, and insisted on obedience to these as a necessary part of religious duty. Among these, that of washing the hand and arm up towards the elbow (for that seems the meaning of the word in Mark, rendered by our translators oft) previously to sitting down to meals, was considered of very great importance. “Whosoever,” says one of the Rabbis, “despiseth the washing of hands, is worthy to be excommunicated.” “He that eats bread,” says another, “with unwashed hands, acts as wickedly as if he had committed whoredom.” Rabbi Akiba, when in prison, not having water sufficient both to quench his thirst and wash his hands, employed what he had for the latter purpose, saying, “It is better to die for thirst than to transgress the traditions of the elders.” “Whosoever,” says another Talmudist, “hath his seat in the land of Israel, and eateth his common food in cleanness, and speaks the holy language, and recites his phylacteries morning and evening, let him be confident that he shall obtain the life of the world to come.”
With these views of the importance of keeping the traditions generally, and particularly of washing the hands, as a religious rite, before eating, it is not wonderful that it was with a mixture of surprise and indignation that they saw the followers of a professed religious teacher neglect so important an observance; and, concluding that he approved of their conduct, from his not condemning it, they inquired, “Why walk not thy disciples according to the traditions of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands?” (Mark vii. 5)
Our Lord’s reply consists of two parts: a general condemnation of the practice of attending to those unauthorised observances, as if they were religious duties, and a particular exemplification of their mischievous tendency. These two parts are not given by the two evangelists in the same order. (Matt. xv. 3-9. Mark vii. 6-13) We follow the order of Mark, who, after his usual manner, obviously gives the more circumstantial account of the whole matter. According to our Lord, these traditionary observances were both useless and mischievous.
They were useless. They were not, they could not be, acceptable as pieces of religious worship; for they were not required nor authorised by the great object of worship. As religious services, they were utterly “vain.” They could serve no good purpose. This sentiment our Lord expresses by quoting a passage from the book of the prophet Isaiah, and asserting that it is a prophetic description and condemnation of the very practice which they so highly approved, and for the neglect of which they were disposed so severely to censure his disciples. “Well,” said he, “hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites.” It is as if he had said, ‘Ye are hypocrites;’ i.e., ‘you assume a character that does not at all belong to you; you profess to be very zealous for the law and honour of Jehovah—and how do you show your zeal? While insisting on observances, as necessary parts of religious duty, which He has never required, and in conforming to which, not His honour, but the honour of you and your Rabbis is involved, and at the same time dispensing with what his law has rendered absolutely obligatory, you profess to acknowledge his authority; but what do you actually do by these traditions? You usurp that authority equally by making that a duty which he has not made a duty, and by superseding the obligation of that which he has made a duty. “Esaias has prophesied well of you hypocrites.” He has accurately described your character; he has strongly condemned your conduct.’
The quotation is from Isaiah xxix. 13. The words are not a literal translation of the passage as it stands in our Hebrew bibles; but they accurately enough express the prophet’s meaning. Many expositors consider our Lord’s words as merely signifying that the terms in which Isaiah described certain persons in his own times, were strictly applicable to those whom he now addressed. I rather think our Lord meant to say, that they were the very persons whom the prophet, in the spirit of prediction, describes. I apprehend that both the twenty-eighth and twenty-ninth chapters of the book of the prophet Isaiah have a direct and sole reference to the state of the Jewish people immediately before, at, and after, the appearance of the Messiah. “This people draw nigh unto me with the mouth, and honour me with the lip, but their heart is far from me.”(Matt. xv. 8) This people profess a great regard for my authority and law; but they are destitute of that regard for my authority and law which they profess. “Their fear of me “—their religion—” is taught by the precept of men” (Isa. xxix. 13)—the services they profess to perform to me, are performed from a regard, not to my authority, but to the authority of men. Their teachers impose their own doctrines as of equal, as of superior, authority to my commandments; and they submit to this impious usurpation. What they call the worship of God, is indeed the worship of men. What they offer to me as worship, must then be vain—“In vain do they worship me.”(Matt xv. 9. Mark vii. 7) It cannot serve the purpose of worship. It cannot be acceptable to me. It cannot be useful to them. No religious service can be acceptable to God if he has not enjoined it; and even a religious service which he has enjoined, can be acceptable to him only if it be performed out of regard to his authority, and not from any other motive.
But our Lord denounces these traditions, not only as useless, but as mischievous. The hypocrisy of the Jewish doctors, in pretending a supreme regard to the Divine authority, was manifested, not only in adding to, but in taking from, the Divine law—not only in making that duty which God had never made duty, and that sin which he had never made sin—but in making that sin which he had made duty, and that duty which he had made sin. They not only placed themselves on a level with Him by making new laws in religion, but they even placed themselves above Him by holding that when His laws and theirs came into collision, His—not theirs—must give way. “Laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men.” “Ye transgress the commandment of God by your tradition.”(Mark vii.. 8. Matt. xv. 3)
Of this our Lord gives a very striking example, introducing it with these words of most severe irony—“Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your own tradition.”(Mark vii. 9) ‘With what admirable consistency do you profess such a high regard for God, while you trample on His authority to exalt your own!’ “For Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother; and, whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death: but ye say, If a man shall say to his father and mother, It is CORBAN, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; he shall be free. And ye suffer him no more to (to ought for his father or his mother; making the word of God of none effect through your tradition.” (Mark vii. 10-13)
The general meaning of our Lord’s words is quite plain. ‘Filial duty is most strongly enjoined in the law of God, and the neglect of it is represented as a very great sin; but by one of your traditions this part of the Divine law is frustrated—made void—as it were, cancelled.’
The word “honour,” in the fifth commandment, is a general term for that respectful affection, and all proper expressions of it, which a child ought to cherish towards a parent. One of the proper modes of expressing this feeling, is for the child to support the parent, either wholly or in part, when the parent’s circumstances require, and the child’s permit this. To “curse” a parent—to treat a father or a mother with disrespect or cruelty— is condemned in the strongest terms in the Divine law. Now, it seems the Jews had a tradition of the elders, the tendency of which was to invalidate both what God had enjoined and forbidden on the subject of filial duty; but what was the precise nature of that tradition, and how it had the effect of making void the Divine law with regard to filial duty, are points on which interpreters are not agreed.
Some have supposed that the tradition referred to was this—‘The support of destitute parents is optional, not obligatory; it is a gift, not a debt. He who yields it is very praiseworthy, but he who withholds it cannot be justly blamed.’ Such a tradition would, no doubt, materially cancel the fifth commandment. But simple, and on that account probable, as this mode of interpretation is, there are insuperable objections to its adoption. We have no reason to think that the Jews had any such tradition; even although they had, they could scarcely be said by it “not to suffer men to do ought for their parents;” and, besides, this interpretation does not account for the word CORBAN, which properly signifies a sacred gift,—something devoted to God.
Another class of interpreters suppose that this was the tradition:—‘If a man declare that he will devote to sacred purposes that which otherwise he would have been bound to devote to the support of his parents, he is not only freed from the obligation to support his parents, but he would sin if he were employing any of his property for this purpose.’ No doubt this, too, would make void the fifth commandment; and this would indeed be a refusing to suffer the man to do aught for his father and mother. But there is a want of evidence that this was one of the ways in which the Scribes and Pharisees “spoiled widows’ houses.”
The following appears to me the most probable account of the matter. There seems to be a reference to the doctrines of the Jewish rabbis with regard to vows. Their doctrine on this subject has been thus stated by the learned Dr Pococke, one of the most accomplished of our rabbinical scholars:—“A man may be so bound by vows that he cannot, without great sin, do what God in his law hath required to be done; so that if he made a vow which laid him under the necessity of violating God’s law that he might observe it, his vow must stand, and the law be abrogated.” The words in the 11th verse, in Mark’s Gospel, are the terms of the vow—“It is CORBAN”—or “let it be CORBAN—by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me.” CORBAN signifies what is dedicated to God, and what cannot be turned to any other purpose without sacrilege. If a Jew were about to take a vow against the use of wine, he would say, “Let this wine be CORBAN;” i. e., ‘I vow I shall not drink it; and if I do, I will incur the same degree of guilt that I should by violating the sacredness of anything devoted to God.’ The vow before us is, ‘Let everything by which I may be profitable to my parents be CORBAN. I vow that I will not do anything for the support of my parents; and if I do, may I draw down on myself the punishment due to a violation of sacred property.’
Such a vow, in ordinary circumstances, could only be made in a moment of passion. No man could approve of such a vow. We have no reason to think the Scribes or Pharisees did so. They would readily, I have no doubt, have condemned it; but still, according to their doctrine, the vow, though a rash one, was an obligatory one. To the man who had made such a vow, they would have said, ‘You should not have made it; but, having made it, you must keep it. By keeping your vow, you no doubt expose yourself to the penalty connected with the breach of the fifth commandment; but by breaking it, you will expose yourself to the punishment you have invoked on yourself,—the punishment due to the violation of sacred property,—a much greater punishment than that due for filial undutifulness. There is only a choice of evils; but there is, in this case, a greater evil in breaking the vow than in keeping the vow.’
Such were the absurd refinements of rabbinical casuistry, by which they confounded the plainest moral distinctions, and made sin duty, and duty sin. The plain, scriptural, common sense decision, on such a case, would be, ‘You sinned greatly in making such a vow, and you would sin still more were you keeping it. Repent of your wickedness in making so rash, profane, and unnatural a vow, and show your repentance by redoubled assiduity in the performance of every variety of filial duty.’
Our Lord concluded his stringent address to these Scribes and Pharisees with these words:—“And many such like things ye do.” (Mark vii. 13) ‘This is but a specimen of your traditions; and are my disciples to be censured for disregarding such traditions— which can be of no use—which are so mischievous? and is it for you, hypocrites, to pretend zeal for the Divine authority, and to manifest displeasure at my disciples, as if they disowned it, while you set the throne of human authority not only on a level with, but above, the throne of Divine authority?’
We are all ready enough to condemn these Scribes and Pharisees for “teaching for doctrines the commandments of men,” and “making void the commandment of God by their traditions.” But let us remember that this pestilent spirit is by no means extinct, and let us guard against its influence. In every country and age, men have discovered a disposition to mould the doctrines and worship of God according to their own fancy. Whence but from this came the mummeries of popish superstition—its masses and penances and fasts and festivals and pilgrimages? and whence come the unauthorised rites, and ceremonies, and office-bearers, that are to be found in churches calling themselves reformed? Whence came the unholy connection between church and state, and all its diversified and innumerable fatal results? whence have come those terms of communion, unsanctioned by the authority of Jesus Christ, that are to be found in so many societies which profess to be his churches? All these spring from one “root of bitterness,” the substituting tradition in the room of revelation—the authority of man in the room of the authority of God.
We have great reason to deplore, and we sometimes think we have reason to wonder, that so little of the Divine blessing rests on the ministers and churches of Christ. We should probably cease to wonder, though not to deplore, were we recollecting that Jesus promises to be always with a ministry who teach men to observe “all things whatsoever he has commanded,” and nothing else; and with churches who “walk in his commandments and ordinances blameless.”
That will be a happy day which sees the empire of human authority within the christian church completely overthrown. “By setting their thresholds by his thresholds, by setting their posts by his posts,” there has been a wall raised between God and his people. When these are cast down, and God’s people made thoroughly “ashamed” of having erected them, a voice will be heard from heaven, “The place of my throne, and the place of the soles of my feet, and my holy name, shall the house of Israel no more defile,” “and I will dwell in the midst of them for ever.” (Ezek. xliii. 7-9)
Whenever human authority has found its way into the church of God, it has not rested satisfied with merely adding to the laws and institutions of Christ; it has always in some measure altered and annulled them. When, in the Roman Catholic church, so many ceremonies were added to the simple rite of the Lord’s Supper, the result was, that the one half of the original ordinance was abolished, by the cup being denied to the laity. Wherever saints’ days are observed on human authority, the Lord’s day, appointed by Divine authority, is neglected. Whenever the ministers of religion are supported by state endowments, the Divine financial law, “Let him who is taught in the word communicate to him that teacheth in all good things,”(Gal. vi. 6) is superseded, and, so far as man can do it, repealed. When men introduce their own terms of communion, Christ’s terms of communion are sure to be disregarded; and when, in the presbyterian churches of this country, a host of unauthorised, or at any rate unappointed, services, were connected with the administration of the Lord’s Supper, then an ordinance, which in the primitive age was observed every Lord’s day, was converted into an annual religious festival.
The christian church is even yet but very imperfectly freed from the unholy influence, and the mischievous operation of human authority. The house requires to be more carefully swept than it was at the reformation from Popery, and a more thorough search must be made for the old leaven, that it may be completely cast out. Let all individual Christians, let all christian churches, learn to act on the principle, that in reference to christian faith, and duty, and worship, the question is not, ‘How thinkest thou?’ but, “How readest thou?” not, ‘What is use and wont?’ but, “What is written in the law?“ not, ‘How is it to be arranged by us?’ but, “How has it been settled by our Master?” Let us “seek out of the book of the Lord and read.” However sincere a man may be in a creed or worship. of his own invention, or of other men’s invention, it will profit him nothing. “The faithful witness” pronounces such a creed and such a worship “vain.” May God, by the mighty power of his truth, overturn all the altars to human authority erected in christian churches and christian hearts; and in the implicit belief of divine truth, because it is divine—the unquestioning obedience of divine precepts, because they are divine— and the cheerful observance of divine ordinances, because they are divine, may “the Lord alone be exalted.”
The pharisaic doctors could make no reply to these words of holy rebuke. They retired silenced, but not convinced—covered with shame, and full of malignity. As they were retiring, and still within hearing, our Lord took the opportunity of endeavouring to lodge in the minds of the multitude, in whose presence the conversation had taken place, an important general principle in the form of an apothegmatic remark, which was well fitted to show the absurdity of the doctrine of the Scribes and Pharisees respecting the uncleanness which they asserted was contracted by violating the tradition of the elders respecting eating food with unwashen hands. Having called the surrounding crowd near him, he said to them, “hearken unto me every one and understand.”(Mark vii. 14. Matt. xv. 10)
These words are equivalent to—‘Give close attention, and exert to the utmost your faculty of mental perception. I am about to make a statement which at once deserves and requires attention. It is of great importance that you should rightly and fully understand it. Without mental exertion, you cannot do this. With mental exertion, you may do it.’
in endeavouring thus to fix the attention, and to engage in active operation the mental faculties, of his hearers, our Lord sets an example which should be followed by every religious teacher. There is no pouring christian truth passively into the minds of men. If men will not listen, and reflect, and examine the meaning of statements, the validity of arguments, and the force of motives, the best possible teaching will not make them wiser and better. It is anything but a recommendation to a sermon, that it saves the audience the trouble of thinking.
According to the evangelist Mark, who, as we have already remarked, gives us the most circumstantial account of this discourse, our Lord, after this solemn introduction, proceeded to say, “There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man;”(Mark vii.15) and according to Matthew, “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.” (Matt. xv. 11)
I think it probable, that our Lord used in succession, first the words recorded by Mark, and then those recorded by Matthew, and that the two statements are not to be considered as the different modes in which two witnesses report the same saying. The words in Mark are the statement of a general principle: ‘It is not anything extrinsic and material, anything which affects merely the outer man—the animal frame—that, properly speaking, makes a man morally impure; whatever does so must be something residing within, proceeding from the inner man—time spiritual—the intellectual—the moral nature.’ The words in Matthew are the application of the principle to the case before them: ‘Food, even although, from being eaten with unwashen hands, not so clean as it might be, cannot make a man morally impure; but such “evil thoughts,” or rather “wicked reasonings,” as come out of the mouths of the pharisaic Scribes, when they “make void the commandment of God through their traditions,” they indeed make a man morally impure. My disciples, in neglecting a mere human tradition, have incurred no guilt, have done nothing displeasing to God; but these men, with all their pretended sanctity, who would bring them in guilty before God, unfit for fellowship with him, make it evident, by their wicked reasonings, which “proceed out of their mouth,” that in their inner man they are “full of what is abomination” to Him who requires truth in the hidden part.’
it is quite obvious that our Lord, in these words, has no reference to the Divine law, prohibiting the use of certain articles of food to the Israelitish people. Our Lord, when he was “made of a woman,” was “made under the law,” (Gal. iv. 4) and scrupulously observed every one of its requisitions. He informs us, that “till all things were fulfilled,” an iota or a tittle of that law was not to lose its authority; and he condemns the pharisaic Scribes for using unholy freedoms with that law—stating that “whosoever shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven:
but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. v. 18, 19) For the disciples to have eaten swine’s flesh, would, without doubt, have made them “un clean;” but it would have done so, not from any physical quality in the food itself, but in consequence of its showing that the evil thing—indisposition to comply with the clearly revealed will of God, in an unrepealed code of law—was within. Even in this case it would have been, not so much what went into the mouth, but what came from the heart, which morally defiled the man.
What our Lord says here, however, seems just to be this, ‘Food, though physically, not ceremonially, impure, cannot make a man morally impure;’ the reverse of which very obviously true remark was implied in the Pharisees’ insisting that the use of food permitted by God, unless attended by a usage not appointed by him, did make men morally impure, i. e., guilty, objects of disgust to the Holy, Holy, Holy One.
Having laid down this principle, and applied it to the case be fore him, our Lord adds, “If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.” (Mark vii. 16) This was a formula of speech often employed by our Lord, and is just synonymous with the words with which he introduced the somewhat enigmatical statement he had made. ‘This statement may seem to you strange; but it is true, and it is important. It deserves, it requires, considerate attention; let it receive it.’
Leaving the multitude, our Lord retired with his disciples into the house where he ordinarily resided; and when they were by themselves, his disciples said to him, “Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended after they heard this saying ?“ (Matt xv. 12) The Pharisees were a numerous and influential class among the Jews, and the Scribes belonging to the party were their leaders. In the partially enlightened state of the disciples’ minds, it must have appeared to them a very desirable thing that these persons should be induced to recognise the validity of their Master’s claims; and that, therefore, it was advisable to avoid, as much as possible, whatever was calculated to disgust or displease them. Such seems to have been the state of mind which dictated their address to their Master. Probably they heard the Scribes murmuring as they retired: ‘This can be no true prophet who thus pours contempt on the traditions of the elders;’ and their feeling seems to have been, ‘What a pity that their prejudices were so directly attacked.’ The import of the question appears to be, ‘Are you aware of the effect produced by “the saying” (rather, ‘the discourse,’) you have just uttered? Do you know that these Scribes and Pharisees, who, we hoped, might have become thy disciples, and joined our company, were quite “offended”—quite stumbled at it? However much they might have been disposed beforehand to become thy disciples, it is all over with them now.’
Instead of sympathising with these views of his disciples,— instead of expressing anything like regret at what he had said, or a wish that he had been more cautious in his language,—he replied, “Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up.” (Matt xv. 13)) The only question which affects the interpretation of these words is, What does the word “plant” refer to? Does it refer to the Pharisees, or to their doctrine, fore him, our Lord adds, “If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.” (Mark vii. 16) This was a formula of speech often employed by our Lord, and is just synonymous with the words with which he introduced the somewhat enigmatical statement he had made. ‘This statement may seem to you strange; but it is true, and it is important. It deserves, it requires, considerate attention; let it receive it.’
Leaving the multitude, our Lord retired with his disciples into the house where he ordinarily resided; and when they were by themselves, his disciples said to him, “Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended after they heard this saying?“ (Matt xv. 12) The Pharisees were a numerous and influential class among the Jews, and the Scribes belonging to the party were their leaders. In the partially enlightened state of the disciples’ minds, it must have appeared to them a very desirable thing that these persons should be induced to recognise the validity of their Master’s claims; and that, therefore, it was advisable to avoid, as much as possible, whatever was calculated to disgust or displease them. Such seems to have been the state of mind which dictated their address to their Master. Probably they heard the Scribes murmuring as they retired: ‘This can be no true prophet who thus pours contempt on the traditions of the elders;’ and their feeling seems to have been, ‘What a pity that their prejudices were so directly attacked.’ The import of the question appears to be, ‘Are you aware of the effect produced by “the saying” (rather, ‘the discourse,’) you have just uttered? Do you know that these Scribes and Pharisees, who, we hoped, might have become thy disciples, and joined our company, were quite “offended”—quite stumbled at it? However much they might have been disposed beforehand to become thy disciples, it is all over with them now.’
Instead of sympathising with these views of his disciples,— instead of expressing anything like regret at what he had said, or a wish that he had been more cautious in his language,—he replied, “Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up.” (Matt xv. 13)) The only question which affects the interpretation of these words is, What does the word “plant” refer to? Does it refer to the Pharisees, or to their doctrine, thing when the truth, with regard to the spirituality of our Lord’s kingdom—with regard to the danger of building “hay and stubble” on the only foundation—with regard to the only financial law of the church, and the guilt and the danger of neglecting, and still more attempting to repeal, that law ;—it is no uncommon thing, when the truth on these subjects is spoken, however calmly, for persons of great influence and worldly respectability to be dissatisfied and offended. And some very well- intentioned persons, like the disciples, are disposed to say, ‘It is a pity,—would it not have been better to avoid such subjects?' But is the truth to be concealed? This would be, on the part of him who knows it, unkindness to his mistaken brethren, injustice to truth, treason against the God of truth.
To all men, especially to well-meaning though mistaken brethren in Christ, we ought to avoid giving unnecessary offence. We ought to be ready to sacrifice personal comfort, to a great extent, rather than incur this evil. “If meat make my brother to fall, I will eat no meat while the world standeth.” But we must not sacrifice a jot or a tittle of Christ’s truth to gain this or any other end, however apparently desirable.1 The “teaching for doctrines the commandments of men,”—the “making void God’s commandments by men’s tradition,” we must clearly expose, and strongly condemn, undiverted from our course by the fear of shocking the prejudices even of those genuine Christians who have been entangled in the snares of any of those systems where man holds the place of God, however much we may love their persons, and value what is genuine in their christian faith and character. This is kindness to them, as well as justice to truth. With regard to everything in the shape of religious doctrine, which we cannot find in the Bible—with regard to everything in the shape of religious institution, unsanctioned by its authority—we must “lift up our voices like a trumpet,” and proclaim, whosoever may be offended, “Every plant which our heavenly Father hath not planted,” should—must—“shall, be rooted up.”
If the reference in the figurative maxim of our Lord be not to the doctrine and usages of the Scribes and Pharisees respecting tradition, but to the sect itself 2—its bearing on our duty is not less direct and important. God instituted no SECTS in the Jewish church. Christ instituted no SECTS in the Christian church. Every church which is sectarian in its constitution is so far unchristian—anti-christian. Alas! how many churches are sectarian more or less in their constitution. Alas ! how few are not sectarian in their spirit and practice.
In proportion as we separate ourselves from other Christians, we bear marks of a plant which our Master in heaven has not planted. His design was that his disciples should be ONE. And those churches give best proof of their being plants of his own right hand planting, who, in their, practice as well as their principle, to use the words of our excellent Confession of Faith, “are ever ready, as God offereth opportunity, to extend the communion of saints—that holy fellowship which consists in communion in the worship of God, and in performing such other spiritual services as tend to their mutual edification, as well as in relieving each other in outward things, according to their several abilities and necessities, to all those who in every place call upon the name of the Lord Jesus;” and who cordially, in action as well as in words, say, “Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.” (Eph vi. 24).
The time will come—may the Lord hasten it I—when the SECTS shall be utterly abolished, when the middle walls of partition, which at such a misplaced expense have been raised and maintained between different churches of Christ, shall be pulled down, and their materials employed in rebuilding the great wall of partition between the church and the world, which has been allowed to fall into ruins; when there shall be visibly, as already there is really, but “one flock,” as there is but “one shepherd,” and when the united church, feeling the whole emphasis of meaning contained in the 133d Psalm, shall sing it with grace in their hearts to the Lord.
“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head that ran down the beard, even Aaron’s beard; that went down to the skirts of his garments. As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended on the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.” Or in the words of the old Paraphrast:—
bless’d estate! bless’d from above
This discourse was preached immediately after the disruption in the Established Church of Scotland, which led to the formation of the Free Church, in May 1843. It was published by request, and had prefixed to it the following Advertisement:—
Impurity in doctrine, or in worship, or in discipline, and sectarianism in constitution or in spirit, are the master maladies under which, in various degrees, all the churches of Christ are labouring. A leading cause of those evils is an undue regard to human authority, a principle endlessly varied in its forms, and most malignantly efficient in its operation. The only cure for both these evils, which are more closely connected than is generally apprehended, is to be found in a return to entire submission to Divine authority. That—that alone—will bring back the purity and unity of the apostolical age. To promote this most desirable object, all who in any measure know the truth on this subject, should speak it,—and speak it in its own spirit, which is that of love. When thus spoken, it will not be spoken in vain.
These truths are of intrinsic abiding importance; but circumstances may, at particular seasons, give them additional interest. When something like re-organisation is taking place in one section of the christian body, the change is likely to be advantageous or otherwise to those more immediately concerned, to the church generally, and to the world, just in the degree in which these truths are understood and acted on, or are overlooked and disregarded. It is by all christian churches acting on these principles themselves, rather than by one christian church exposing, however justly, the deficiencies and faults of another, in reference to this subject, that that union, which to all genuine Christians is an object of earnest constant desire, is to be attained. Let us all get close to the one Master, and we cannot remain far from each other.
The preceding discourse was thought, by some who heard it, likely to be of some use in fixing the mind on the grand secondary cause of impurity and sectarianism, and on the only means of their cure; and it is in the hope that it may, in some degree, answer the purpose contemplated, that it is given to the public.