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Saturday, November 22, 2014


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The Sect Everywhere Spoken Against

Part 1


Reprint of a Lecture by Robert Roberts


he Christadelphians are becoming more known every day, and where known, they are "everywhere spoken against." This fact stumbles many. It need not, and will not stumble men who look at things as they are in themselves, and not as they appear, through the medium of popular rumour.

The community developed by the labours of the apostles in the first century were in a precisely similar position, as we learn from words the Jews of Rome addressed to Paul on his arrival there: "As concerning this sect, we know that everywhere it is spoken against" (Acts 28:22). Not only so, but Jesus gave his disciples expressly to understand that this would be their lot. "The time cometh" he said, "that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service" (John 16:2). He further said, "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you . . . The servant is not greater than his Lord" (15:18, 20). No term of opprobrium could be more severe than the one applied to him: "He hath a demon and is mad; why hear him?" (10:20), concerning which, Jesus said his servants were to expect no better treatment; "If they have called the Master of the House Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household" (Matt. 10:25). So far, therefore, as this feature of being spoken against is concerned, it is in favour of the Christadelphians, and not against them.

All depends, doubtless, upon the reason why they are spoken against. In some cases, the reason may be such as can afford no satisfaction. It may be that a contentious, harsh, and arrogant spirit on the part of some bearing the name Christadelphian has given occasion for unfavourable speech. This will be regretted by none more than the true Christadelphian, who disowns everything not in harmony with the spirit of the Scriptures, which, though a spirit of faithfulness and firmness, and courage in the maintenance of the faith once delivered to the saints, is, nevertheless, a spirit of true kindness, and courtesy, and gentleness, so far as the polemics of the truth in a hostile world allow. It is not, however, excessive zeal carried to the point of harshness on the part of a few that has led to the Christadelphians being everywhere spoken against. The cause of the antipathy is much deeper and more far-reaching than that. It lays hold of several reasons. We shall soon find some of these.


Not a New Sect, But the Old Apostolic Sect Revived

But, before entering upon them particularly, it is well to realise, in passing, that the Christadelphians are not a new sect in the ordinary sense of that phrase. They have not originated in any new inspiration or notion, nor in the strict sense, do they owe their existence to a new leader. They are not a new sect in the sense in which the Swedenborgians were so, and, the followers of Joanna Southcote. They have no Swedenborg, no Joanna Southcote. They claim to have received no new revelation: they profess no new principle: they own to no new teachership. They are simply and purely the result of Bible study, thoroughly conducted. They owe their development to the application of a principle, in which it has been customary for all Englishmen to boast--the right of private judgment in the discernment of religious truth. Men rejoice in the work of Martin Luther because they rejoice in this, that the Bible is the word of God, and that God intended men to make themselves acquainted with it, and to embrace what it teaches, and reject what it denounces, however many may be arrayed against the conclusions to which the study of it may lead them.

Now, Christadelphianism is nothing more nor less than the result of that principle strictly carried out. Christadelphianism takes its stand on the Bible. It maintains that the Bible can be proved to be divine, and that it is the only source of divine ideas at present in the earth on the subject of religion; and that all systems and doctrines are to be discarded that conflict with what is to be found in the Bible, however ancient or popularly supported such systems or doctrines may be. In maintaining this, they only maintain what the bulk of the English people profess to believe. If they go a step further, and say that the popular systems of the day are in conflict with the Bible, they raise an issue which may disturb complacency, but which ought to receive a sympathetic attention at the hands of so ultra-Protestant a nation as the British. It is a plain, intelligible and debatable issue, in which there is no fanaticism, or anything to offend the highest culture, or the purest reason.

It is the result of the issue that excites the offence, and causes the Christadelphians to be everywhere spoken against. The ordinary neighbour says he could do with the Christadelphians holding the Bible up; he may even go to the length of saying he admires the fidelity of the Christadelphians on this point; but what he cannot do with is their pulling down everybody else as wrong. Well, this is not exactly the right way of putting it. The Christadelphians put down nobody. It is natural for our good-humoured neighbours to feel in just this way about it; but the question is, are the Christadelphians right in what they say the Bible teaches? Because, if so, it follows that those who reject the teaching must be wrong; and that it is a pity to divert attention from the main issue by questions of style.

The Grounds of Offence

Now, what have the Christadelphians to say about the teaching of the Bible which gives such mortal offence? They affirm two things which the Old and New Testaments separately sustain, though also sustaining both in a general way. The Christadelphians affirm that mankind is separated from God, not only as regards their moral condition, but as regards

what may be called their legal relation to Him: that is, they are all under condemnation-all under sentence of death,-a sentence written in their very constitution, and that they cannot by any contrivance of their own escape from, or alter, this position. The Christadelphians point, in proof of this view, not only to the garden of Eden, where sentence of death was passed on Adam (and, in him, on all men), but to the system of the law of Moses, which, in all its details and significances, teaches one thing above all others: that man is an exile from God, whom we cannot approach, even afar off, except under the most stringent appointments which uphold the authority and greatness of God and abase man to the very dust.

Now, this contention is naturally very unacceptable to the mass of the people. They prefer to take the humanitarian view, that God is a Being of unconditional goodness, who embraces all mankind in His bosom as a Father, and that although men are sinners, God's goodness is equal to the overlooking of all their sins, and giving salvation somehow or other to all at last. If this view is the truth, let us accept it and rejoice in it by all means; but how is the question of its truthfulness or otherwise to be determined? It is not to be settled by what men think or prefer. It is to be settled by what God has declared: for He only knows. Now, the Bible contains His declaration, and by this the Christadelphians maintain we are bound. They bind themselves by it: they say it is binding on others, whether they submit or not. Christ's resurrection sets at rest all question as to the authority of the Old Testament: for he endorsed it unreservedly as the Word of God which could not be broken: and if he rose from the dead, his endorsement proves all: and therefore this, that man is alien from God and cannot restore himself. This is an unpopular doctrine, but true. It is one of the doctrines which cause the Christadelphians to be "everywhere spoken against."

Jesus says, "I am the Way"

The second thing which they maintain, and which, if possible, gives more offence than the first, is this, that God has appointed a way by which man may return from his alienated position, and obtain the forgiveness of his sins, and the hope of life everlasting. They say there is no other than this one way. They say that this "way" centres in one man-Jesus Christ, the Son of God: apart from whom, no man can be saved, however estimable he may be or consider himself in a moral sense. Are they to be considered "uncharitable" for believing and maintaining this, if it be true? Who can deny its truth that believes the Bible? Has not Jesus proclaimed himself "the Way?" Has he not said: "No man cometh unto the Father but by me?"-(John 14:6)-and "If ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins". (John 8:24). Has not Peter, his leading apostle, proclaimed, "There is: none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved"? (Acts 4:12). And Paul, "Through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins; and by him all that believe are justified from all things from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses" (Acts 13:38). It may be considered narrow; it may be stigmatised as uncharitable; but it cannot be proved unscriptural, for the Christadelphians to maintain that there is only one way to salvation, and that way is in Christ, and in Christ alone.

Belief of the Gospel Necessary for Salvation

But here comes another point of objection. Our opponents, some of them, do not object to Christ being held up as the way of salvation. They say, "We rather admire that, and would say 'Amen' to that; but we object to the idea that Christ will save none but those who hold Christadelphian doctrines." Here there is a little unhappiness in the way of putting the objection. It obscures the issue to put it in that way, and raises needless prejudice. The question is, "Will any be saved but those complying with Christ's own conditions?" To this, there can be but one answer on the part of those who believe the Bible, and that answer is, No, however harshly it may appear to bear. The ways of God are unimpeachable, however hard they may seem sometimes from a human point of view, as when He destroyed the antediluvians, the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, the army of Pharaoh in the Red Sea, seven nations of Canaan by the sword of Israel; or as when He required His own dear Son to submit to crucifixion. It may seem to men hard, but it cannot be held unreasonable that Christ should dictate the conditions on which alone men will be saved.

The question is, what are the conditions? In answer to this, nothing is more undeniable than the fact that the very first condition is a belief of the Gospel. Friends may object to the condition, but they cannot deny that it is the condition as laid down both by Christ and his apostles. What did Christ send out his apostles to do? To preach the gospel. To what end did he wish them to preach the gospel? He answers this in what he said to them when sending them: "He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved: he that believeth not shall be condemned." You must be aware how distinctly the apostles themselves reiterated this view, Paul speaks of the gospel as "the gospel of your salvation" (Eph. 1:13). He says men are saved by it " they keep in memory the things" constituting it (I Cor 15:2). He says, "It is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth" (Rom. 1:16), and that "it hath pleased God by the foolishness of preaching (it) to save them that believe" (1 Cor. 1:21).

Why, then, should the Christadelphians be spoken against, for maintaining that men cannot be saved without believing in the gospel? They maintain only what the apostolic writings reveal. It is popular objection that is in fault. It opposes what the apostles teach.

What is "the Gospel"?

But, here again comes our well-meaning, religious-minded friend. He says: "It is not your contention for the necessity of the gospel, that we object to. We object to your version of the gospel." Well, let us see. It comes to this: What is the gospel, as apostolically proclaimed for the salvation of men? When the apostles speak of the gospel, they speak of a definite conception of truth, of course. It is not an indefinite phrase in their mouth. In the abstract, it means glad tidings: but glad tidings, before they can be glad tidings, must be definite. This is their very character-definiteness. Without definiteness they cannot be glad tidings: for who can be glad about that which is indefinite? Glad tidings are definite of some sort, that on account of their intelligibility in some direction of goodness, make the believers of them glad. Now the apostles not only preached glad tidings, but they spoke of them as "the" glad tidings-the Gospel which makes the necessity for definiteness more imperative still. The question is, what was the Gospel they preached?

Before ascertaining the New Testament answer to this question, let us ask for a moment, what is the gospel preached in the churches and chapels? Is it not this, that Christ died to save immortal souls from the torments of hell? No one will demur to this as a correct definition of the gospel, as understood by all denominations of Christendom. Now, the Christadelphians say that this is not the gospel the apostles preached. This assertion of theirs may stagger people, and offend them; but it certainly ought also to arouse them, for, if it is true, of what overwhelming importance is the fact to all who believe the popular gospel-and there are thousands upon thousands who do so without considering for a moment whether it is apostolic or not. The assertion can be disproved, if it is untrue. On what grounds do the Christadelphians advance it? On a variety of grounds.


Continued Resurrection