And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul.—Acts 4.32.

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THE RELATION BETWEEN THE DISTINCTIVE PRINCIPLES

OF THE REFORMED PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

AND PERSONAL RELIGION.

By JOHN LYND, BELFAST.

X

TrueCovenanter.com Editor’s Introduction.

The following is excerpted from the 1896 volume for the First International Convention of Reformed Presbyterian Churches which was held in Scotland.  Decay in personal religion, and the very basics of Christianity, seems to be evident in all communities in the present day, by the manner in which their public testimonies are maintained, or neglected.  Consequently, the following paper is very suitable for us and our generation, and can only be regarded otherwise by those for whom its simple instructions and gentle warnings are the more needful.

2014.08.30::JTKer.

IT is not necessary here to state the Distinctive Principles of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, or to prove that they are Scriptural.  These things have been done in papers already presented before this Convention.  It will be sufficient in this {187} paper to state broadly that these distinctive principles have to do with the relations of the visible Church and of nations to Jesus Christ, the Mediator between God and men, and with a testimony for the fulfilment and against the non-fulfilment of the obligations arising out of these relations.

Personal religion has to do with the relation and attitude of the individual to God through Jesus Christ.  There are in it the elements of faith and love, and consecration, and obedience toward God; and justice, and love and service toward men.  In considering the relation between these, let us note:—

I. That personal religion is necessary in order to bearing a public testimony for Christ Jesus the Lord as Head of the Church and Governor among the nations.  It was a service that, ere His Ascension, the Lord laid upon His disciples that they should bear witness of Him—a service in which they were joined with the Comforter.  “He shall testify of Me; and ye also shall bear witness.”  Witnessing for Christ in any of His offices, or any of His claims, is a co-operating with the Holy Ghost, who glorifies the Son.  And such co-operation is possible only to those in whom the Spirit dwells.  It is a service to Christ, and can be rightly rendered only by those who are His servants indeed.  Others may be used.  Wicked men, and their selfish and wicked plans and doings have been used of God to work out His will.  But He who would not accept the testimony of evil spirits, neither needs nor desires the testimony of evil men.  “To the wicked God saith: What hast thou to do to declare my statutes?”  He who serves before the Lord must himself be “Holiness to the Lord.”

Owing to the deceitfulness and desperate wickedness of the human heart, there is a strong and a constant tendency to make religion a matter of externals.  And because of this tendency we need to watch and pray lest we make a public testimony a substitute for personal godliness, a sedative to conscience, a palliation for injustice to men.  It is an easier thing, it requires less keenness of spiritual discernment, and it is a more flattering thing to see and to denounce a nation’s {188} sins than it is to know the depths of Satan in our own souls, and to cultivate with all watchfulness and prayer love to God and men.  But a public testimony, in order to be with demonstration of the Spirit and power, must have behind it in the life the Spirit of God and the power He imparts.  Of all who were called to be prophets or teachers in Israel, whether to instruct or warn or rebuke the Church, there was not one who, whatever his failings or sins, was not at heart a fearer of God.  The men whom our Lord called to be witnesses to Him were men who had been with Him in His tribulation, and each of them, if questioned, might have said, as did one of them, “Thou knowest that I love Thee.”

The men who were prominent in the Covenanting struggle in Scotland were men of deep personal piety.  Samuel Rutherford is perhaps better known to-day as a man whose love for Christ was a veritable passion than as one of the ablest defenders of the Church’s liberties and the citizens’ rights.  Donald Cargill was the author of the Queensferry Paper.  It was he who at Torwood pronounced sentence of excommunication against the King and the Dukes of York, Monmouth, and others associated with them, for their contempt of God and persecution of His saints.  And this is part of his dying testimony:—“I have followed holiness; I have taught truth; and I have been most in the main things; not that I thought the thing concerning our times little, but that I thought none could do anything to purpose in God’s great and public matters till they were right in their own conditions.  And,” he proceeds to say, “O that all had taken this method, for then there had been fewer apostasies.”  That they were “right in their own conditions“ was the secret of the power of Rutherford and Cargill and Cameron and Renwick.  And reading the sermons of the ministers who, at the peril of their lives declared God’s message to the people in the fields, one cannot but be struck with the personal, heart-searching nature of their preaching, and how anxious they were that those who heard the word at their lips should first of all and above all “be {189} right in their own conditions.”  And the humble men and women who, through sore peril and bitter persecution and often death itself, bore their testimony for Christ, His Crown and Covenant, were fearers of God, lovers of His Word, and followers of peace and righteousness.  This their history impresses upon us, that personal religion is a pre-requisite to bearing a public testimony for Christ the King.  It has ever been the men of faith, of personal devotion and obedience to God, who have subdued kingdoms, and wrought righteousness, and obtained promises.

II. Personal religion tends to grow out into a public testimony for Christ the King and Lord of all.

It may be checked and hindered in its growth by imperfect knowledge or by false theories, and it may not rise to such a testimony as that borne in the distinctive principles of our Church; but when fed upon the truth given in the Scriptures and nurtured by the Spirit of God who uses the truth, its natural tendency is to expand into a testimony for the Lord the Redeemer, and to seek that all homage and honour due should be rendered to Him.  Personal religion, in its inception, may be the cry of the sin-burdened soul—“What must I do to be saved?”  But from that it passes on to ask—“What shall I render to the Lord for all His gifts to me?”  Personal religion has in it knowledge of God and of His Son Jesus Christ, and that knowledge grows; it has in it grateful love; it has in it consecration; it has in it the mind of Christ, which seeks to serve and honour the Father in heaven in all things.  It needs but direction; yea, it might be said that it requires only the removal of obstacles that it may become a testimony for Christ as the Head of the Church and the Prince of the Kings of the earth.  It is the Spirit of God that, by revealing Jesus Christ, regenerates the soul.  But the Spirit ceases not His teaching and leading in the day of regeneration: He but begins them.  And He glorifies Christ, giving new and enlarged conceptions of the beauty of His person, the far-reaching purpose of His Cross, the meaning of His Ascension, {190} the extent and nature of His reign.  And we ministers, and all who are put in charge of the Gospel of the grace of God, are called to be workers together with the Holy Spirit, witnesses with Him, exhibitors of the fulness of Christ; and wherein we fail in this, and present but one aspect of our Lord’s person and work, we check the work of the Holy Spirit, and prevent personal religion from attaining its proper growth.  All unintentionally, but none the less surely, we create an atmosphere which chills the blade, and hinders it from growing out to the full corn in the ear.  And wherein, recognizing that we stand between the Cross and the Throne, we present Christ Crucified and Enthroned, we follow the leading of the Spirit of God.  And we may expect that those to whom we bear the Word of the Lord shall not be babes in knowledge and in service, but shall come to the stature of perfect men in Christ Jesus. [Eph. 4.13.]

“Bless the Lord, O my soul,” says the believer, “who forgiveth all thine iniquities, who healeth all thy diseases, who redeemeth thy life from destruction, who crowneth thee with loving-kindness and tender mercies.” [Psalm 103.2-4.]  But the grateful contemplation of personal blessings bestowed by God’s hand lifts us into a higher region, till the thankful spirit is rejoicing that God’s kingdom ruleth over all, and is calling on all the hosts of the Lord, and all His ministers, and all His works in all places of His dominions to bless the Lord.  Personal religion, under the leading of the Divine Spirit, is so expansive.  The 22nd Psalm, whatever may have been its primary reference, depicts, by the spirit of prophecy, the Crucifixion.  And there we see the mind, that under the teaching of the Holy Spirit contemplates that event, weighted with its awful tragedy, exalted by its glorious issues, led on to think of all the ends of the earth remembering and turning to the Lord, and all kindreds of the nations worshipped before Him, and moved to testify that the kingdom is the Lord’s, and He is the Governor among the nations.  Personal religion expands into public testimony for God’s authority over all and His claims upon all.  Samuel Rutherford says: “I should be happy if I {191} had an errand to the world but for some few years to spread proclamations and outcries and love-letters of the highness—the highness for evermore, the glory—the glory for evermore of the Ransomer whose clothes are wet and dyed in blood.”  And when a poor earthly king sought to snatch the crown from the brow which had bled beneath the thorns, and the sceptre from the hand which had been nailed to the tree, what could such a man as Samuel Rutherford do but testify by voice and pen, at home and in exile—if need be, by death—for the kingly authority and rights of the Ransomer and against the usurpation?  And where there is in any degree the spirit of Rutherford, is it not natural that it should at once maintain the honour of the Ransomer, and against all and every dishonour done Him protest in word and deed?

Personal religion is related to the Distinctive Principles of the Reformed Presbyterian Church as foundation to building, as the green blade to the full corn in the ear.  It becomes us to see both that the foundation be well and securely laid, and that the building cease not with the foundation; both that the seed of the Word be sown, and that it be nurtured till it grow to the full corn.  And it becomes us to recognize gratefully and joyfully the labours of all who seek through the Word, and in faith on the Holy Spirit, to turn men from sin to holiness.  These are not our opponents but our friends and fellow-labourers, even though they catch not sight of the perfect structure in God’s plan.  Whatsoever makes for personal godliness makes also for the honour of the King.

III. The maintenance of the Distinctive Principles of the Reformed Presbyterian Church makes for the increase of personal religion.

The personal knowledge and faith and devotion which are requisite to a consistent testimony for Christ as Head of the Church and Ruler over the nations gain new strength from that testimony intelligently and faithfully borne.  There is a circle here, but it is not a vicious one.  “Out of His fulness do we receive, and grace for grace.” [John 1.16.]  In the Church’s public testimony {192} we are called to look upon the Lion of the royal tribe of Judah, and, behold! before our vision more distinctly than ever stands a Lamb as it had been slain.  And as we see Him open the book and loose the seals, we are moved to join in the song: “Thou art worthy to take the book and to open the seals thereof, for Thou wast slain and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood.” Can we see the grace and the glory of the Ransomer in any of His offices unless we see His grace and glory in each of them?  The exaltation sheds light upon the Cross.  Who that has held the truth of Christ’s Headship of the Church and over the nations has ever minimized the Atonement?  All such have seen in the death of Jesus Christ God’s appointed propitiation for sin.  And that view of His death works ever, under the Divine Spirit, godly sorrow for sin, and inspires with faith and love, and moves to consecration and new obedience.  And the clearer the view of the honour to which, because of the suffering of death, He is exalted, the deeper the penitence, the stronger the faith and holy affection, and the fuller the consecration.  If nothing more were accomplished by our testimony than keeping a complete view of the glorious person and work of Jesus Christ the Lord before the Church, and so of building men up in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation, that testimony were not borne in vain.

And many who do not join in a public testimony for the honour of the King have fuller Christian knowledge, and stronger adherence to truth, and render better service to God and men, because for two centuries and a half there has been a Church that, through good report and bad, has witnessed for the homage due to Him to whom every knee should bow.  It is impossible to analyze and tabulate the influences which have contributed to the building-up of strong Christian characters; but it is quite possible, in multitudes of cases, to trace among them the influence of the words, the lives, and the deaths of those who with steadfast hands have upheld the banner for Christ’s Crown and Covenant. {193}

There is no effectual trammelling-up of consequences.  “The Word of God is living and active.”  And though our witness is set at nought or opposed by many, the Churches about us, and the nations that speak our tongue, are nearer—far nearer—the Divine ideal to-day, even in their non-acceptance—in their rejection, if you will—of this testimony than they would or could have been had it never been borne.  And that such is the case makes insensibly, perhaps, but still most powerfully for personal religion.

A great ideal is a precious possession.  It blesses those who cherish it; and it works, under God, to its own realization.

“The high that proved too high, the heroic for earth too hard,
  The passion that left the ground to lose itself in the sky,
Are music sent up to God by the lover and the bard;
  Enough that he heard it once: we shall hear it by-and-by.”

Our forefathers had a great ideal.  It was not a dream of human ambition.  It was a thought from God and for God.  It is good for us, far beyond our knowing, to cherish it.  “The vision is yet for the appointed time, and it hasteth toward the end, and shall not lie; though it tarry, wait for it.”


[ Habakkuk 2.3. ]


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