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VIEW FROM THE TOWER
“THE POWERS OF THE HEAVENS SHALL BE SHAKEN”
“Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven.”—Heb. 12:26. Compare Matt. 24:29
Those who, when reading the above and similar expressions of Scripture, suppose them to refer to the heaven of God’s throne and to literal earthquakes, fail to comprehend their true signification, and are unprepared to see that they are now in process of fulfilment. When, however, it is recognized that, in Bible symbolism, the earth represents the law-abiding classes of society, that mountains represent kingdoms, that seas represent the restless and anarchistic classes, and that heavens represent the religious powers and influences of the world, then it can be seen that the shaking of “the heavens” is already begun.
A great and very general storm is even now in progress. The thunders roll and the lightnings flash in every quarter of the ecclesiastical heavens—among the Presbyterians, Reformed Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians, Roman Catholics—yes, the entire heavens are being shaken; and many stars [bright ones] are falling from heaven. The true gospel sunlight is already darkened; and the light of the moon (the reflected sunlight of the gospel, shining in the typical sacrifices of the Jewish law) has become obscured. The effect already is to cause the hearts of the great and rich and mighty (ecclesiastically and socially) to fail for fear and for looking forward to those things coming upon the earth—society. (Luke 21:26.) They see that the creed-smashing already begun will, if it continue, release from the bonds of superstition and ignorance many who know no other restraints. And they see that the result of such a liberation of such a class means a shaking of the earth (society) as it has never before been shaken.
Nor are these fears of the great ones of earth unfounded; for the Scriptures reveal the fact that the shaking, unsettling and incidental trouble will be such as was not since there was a nation (Dan. 12:1; Matt. 24:21), the only settlement of which will be accomplished by the establishment of the kingdom of God, for which his saints have long prayed, “Thy kingdom come! Thy will be done on earth as it is done in heaven!”
But not in a day, nor in a year, will the great crisis be reached, though events are progressing to that end at tremendous speed, and the storm is daily gathering momentum. True, if things were to continue as at present, three years of such commotions would shake the present heavens to fragments; but this is merely a time for the letting loose of opinions by men who think it a favorable time to strike the chord of public sympathy to the advancement of themselves to public notice. Men who lacked the courage of their convictions, and who did not speak out their sentiments before, are now vying with each other as to which can most loudly proclaim that he does not and never did hold
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the doctrines of the sect with which he has stood associated. They thus declare, to thinking people, that they joined those sects and subscribed to those confessions and vowed to teach what they believed to be false doctrines simply for the purpose of grasping, wielding and diverting to their own aggrandizement the denominational influences. However much or little truth such men may utter, they surely have forfeited the respect and confidence of truth-loving people. Does it not seem that any man who solemnly avows faith in and allegiance to certain doctrines which he does not believe, is unworthy of belief in matters of subsequent utterance, even though he may again vow that he speaks the truth? And does not the man who has outgrown the creed he once held, and who, for the sake of financial and social advantage or other reasons of policy, continues a representative of doctrines which he no longer believes, equally forfeit the respect of the truly noble and truly honest? And now that public sentiment and sympathy is ebbing away from the dead creed-carcasses, when such ministers speak out boldly against those creeds to which they subscribed, and yet stay under the banners and influences of those creeds and dare their more conscientious colleagues to brave public sentiment by expelling them, are such policy-men, we ask, likely to get the truth? No matter how much “orthodox” error they get rid of, there is little hope that such will get the truth. “Light [truth] is sown for the righteous,” and “the meek will God teach his way.” And he is able to “hide it from the wise and prudent and to reveal it unto babes.” (Psa. 97:11; 25:9; Matt. 11:25.) Would men who thus stultify themselves be the Master’s choice for servants, to bear the pure and precious bread of life to the awakening and hungry people who have been so long fed upon the husks of human tradition? Will not the Master rather show favor to the humble, pure in heart, honest ones who, as they get the true light, walk up to it; who leave the Confession found to be false, and the denomination found to be in error, regardless of the loss of earthly name, position and emoluments? True, some may in the present commotion come to see matters in a new light, and may step out and speak out; but such should, and if honest will, declare that their change of view is recent and that they acted as soon as convinced.
The present shaking has not only afforded an opportunity for some to manifest their unfaithfulness to the dogmas hitherto confessed, but it has also indirectly done some good in awakening thought and bursting some of the fetters of superstition which will never be refastened. But while making an opening for the spread and influence of the Truth, it has as well opened the way for the spread of general infidelity under the guise of advanced thought and higher criticism, which will spread much faster than the truth—the faith once delivered to the saints but early swamped, and so sadly mixed since with the errors of the dark ages from which but few have yet gotten entirely free.
So far from all denominations being suddenly wrecked, the finger of divine prophecy points out that a grand union of all Protestant denominations is to be the next great evil, which will be generally esteemed as a blessing and hailed as a mark of divine favor and of great spiritual growth. Our anticipation, therefore, is that the conservative men of all Protestant denominations will be forced by circumstances into a church confederacy or church trust. But the same finger of prophecy indicates that such a confederacy and its Roman Catholic colleague will last but a short time, and that they will be wholly and forever dissolved when anarchy shall shake and dissolve the earth—society.
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Those in Zion who are awake and watching, and who are heartily serving the truth, and they alone, can sing in the words of the prophet (Psa. 46):—”We will not fear though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved; he uttered his voice, the earth melted. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”
The extent of the shaking now in progress may be inferred from the following resume of religious news gleaned from one page of a single issue of the New York Herald:
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(a) An account of the confirmation, as an Episcopalian, of Dr. Bridgman, recently a Baptist minister, who, having lately declared his unbelief in the doctrine of eternal torment, was given to understand that he was no longer a good Baptist. The gentleman has not yet experienced fully the freedom wherewith Christ makes free, and believes that he has found a bondage with a longer chain in the Episcopal church. Dr. Bridgman is quoted as follows:
“Baptist churches are independent communities. It is claimed on behalf of their polity that it allows private judgment beyond what is tolerated in other communions. Of course, there is a general understanding that the churches must be in harmony with the orthodox Christian faith and be in accord as to the subject and method of baptism. If any one of these should be untrue to Baptist traditions and practice a council could be called by the local association of which it is a member, to decide whether it should be retained in the fellowship of the Church.
“So a minister is subject to the same method of discipline. But there may be such an assumption of authority by certain theological teachers and religious editors and such a violent assertion of it that the whole denomination may be subdued to their will. Word has come forth from Rochester that unless a man believe the doctrine of endless torment he is no longer to be recognized as a Baptist minister, and except the Christian Inquirer, of this city, and the National Baptist, of Philadelphia, every other denominational paper is ready to enforce such a mediaeval doctrine.”
Here the Doctor paused to read another letter addressed to him by one of the foremost Baptist divines in the land. The letter ran:—
“Theoretically and ideally I have always held that our denomination is the freest in the world. Sadly has it fallen short of its ideal. We have had Pharisees and Popes. We have felt the tyranny of creeds—that very tyranny against which the existence of the Baptist Church is an historic protest.”
(b) Dr. Abbott preached from 1 Cor. 1:10—”Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions [sects] among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” He said in opening, “This seems a pretty good text to preach on at this time to all the various Protestant denominations.” The gentleman proceeded, however, to show his disagreement with, and misunderstanding of, his text, giving it as his opinion that, “It is better to think and not think the same thing than to stop thinking and let somebody else do the thinking for you.” He, however, wound up his discourse with the sensible observation that Christ and his apostles did not attempt to produce union by stopping thought, but by assisting it to a correct plane or basis of reasoning. “Christ did not say, ‘Come unto me, all ye that believe in the thirty-nine articles, or the thirty-four articles, or the five articles.’ That which Christ made the centre of unity was personal loyalty to him.”
Yes, we reply, the one article of Christ’s doctrine is, faith in God and in Christ as the Son of God, whose willing sacrifice for the sins of the world is available by all who repent of sin and come unto God for forgiveness through the merit of that sin-offering. Upon this one article, comprehensive but simple, there is room enough for all true Christians to stand as individuals and to grow in grace, knowledge and love to full faith-stature in Christ.
(c) Rev. Dr. W. Rainsford, of St. George’s Episcopal church, preached from the text, “For through him we both have access by one spirit unto the Father.”—Eph. 2:18.
In the course of his observations (says the reporter) Dr. R. touched quite extensively on the question of creeds, declaring that they might do as crutches for the lame of humanity to hobble with, but should not be used as clubs to break each other’s heads. “It is deplorable that some good Christian men are so misled and so carried away with prejudice that they want to insist upon the acceptance of their own crude conception of a creed.” He claimed that it is folly to claim that any of the many humanly formed creeds are of divine authority; for they are merely human deductions.
(d) Rev. B. F. De Costa, in his sermon, said: “Do not come to the holy communion with doubts and misgivings. Do not come to discuss or argue the truths of the Bible—have faith. Our reason cannot comprehend the various marvelous ways in which God makes himself known to us. Therefore let us not doubt, discuss or argue, but let us have faith.”
(e) The spiritualists of Brooklyn discussed the subject of “Heresy—what shall we do with heretics?” A tribute was paid to Heber Newton, Doctor Briggs, and other clergymen recently made prominent by difficulties with the denominations with which they are connected.
(f) A hundred or more members of a Methodist
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Episcopal congregation, of Elizabeth, N.J., have recently bolted and organized as a congregation of the Methodist Protestant denomination.
(g) The Rev. Dr. Talmage, in a discourse on Psa. 19:8—”‘The statutes of the Lord are right’—scored young ‘scientists,’ who, when they have learned the difference between a beetle and spider, think they know more than the Bible.” He showed how other books of olden time have lost their interest and value and become obsolete; declared that many large libraries are simply cemeteries for dead books; and then contrasted with these the Bible, the oldest of all, and showed its freshness, and that nearly all the great books of the world are only the Bible diluted. He concluded: “There are only two doctrines in the Bible—man a sinner and Christ a savior.”
(h) Dr. Heber Newton (Episcopal) preached about church creeds. “He threw down the gage of battle to those clamoring to have him turned out of the Episcopal Church. He practically threw overboard the ‘thirty nine articles’ and declared that they contained no statements of faith that were binding upon him.”
(i) The Rev. G. H. Smyth (Collegiate Reformed Church) resigned his pastorate, but ingeniously, if not ingenuously, made it to take effect from next September, and is taking advantage of the interim to batter down the sect under whose name he still sails. His apology for this course, which violates his ordination vow, is, that under that arrangement (common to all sects), if lived up to, he would be obliged to “crawl out as if he were a mean criminal,” without explaining matters to his congregation.
(j) The North Reformed Church, of Schralenburg, N.J., has been suffering from internal dissensions for a month past, brought on, it is said, by the jealousy of the pastor.
(k) “Dr. Parkhurst cast a bomb into the Presbyterian camp yesterday, and some of his criticisms of those who condemned Dr. Briggs are anything but complimentary. He said:
“‘The Church has always fought new ideas, and the man who has a new understanding of things is always a hated man. No matter what his character may be, no matter what his integrity, no matter how profound, no matter how willing he may be to lay down his life for the truth, as he apprehends it, he is a feared and hated man, and they always try to kill him. Of course as civilization has advanced, modes of burning and burying alive have been modified and have assumed more aesthetic forms.'”
And the New York Herald, quoted above, is only one of the hundreds of journals reporting the utterances of hundreds of pulpits in hundreds of cities. We will quote a few extracts from other journals of recent date:
“In the Evangelical Alliance last evening Bishop Huntington, of New York, spoke on ‘The Gospel of the People,’ and queried: ‘May not the non-acceptance by the masses of the gospel we preach be because it is not in fact the gospel?'”
[If the meaning of the word gospel—good news—is borne in mind it can readily be seen that what is generally preached and believed by all the sects of Christendom, viz., that the vast majority of mankind are en route for eternal torment, is not gospel, not good news in any sense? Can it be that the common sense of the masses has instinctively helped them out of the errors of the dark ages, while theologians and Bible students, bound by sectarian creeds and perversions, are now behind the world so far as an appreciation of the gospel is concerned?]
The Rev. J. C. McFeeters, of Philadelphia, preached from Isaiah 26:21. He said, among other things:
“The signs of distress are everywhere, in all nations and in all the callings of life. The nations are disturbed, and even the people of God and God’s Church are in the path of the storm.
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The countries of the world are preparing for disturbances of the future that seem to beat hard, and even our own peaceful land must take part by demanding sea coast defenses and a navy. The country is disturbed in its commercial relations by the troubles and distress of labor. While all this is taking place the Church, and I speak in a collective sense, has also been found to be directly in the path of the storm.
“The long-established laws of Episcopacy have been rent; the old usages and forms of the Presbyterian Church with its Calvinism have been assailed; our own little Church [the Reformed Presbyterian] has not escaped and is as badly hurt as any. The trouble among us, which we all know so well, is deplorable and is the cause for this day of prayer. It is said with a display of confidence that all these things will disappear before the Word of God and the work of God’s people as the mist before the rays of the sun. This is a most lamentable folly. What has the Church accomplished and where does she stand in the contest? Here in this great country of ours the Church is sinking in its work.”
[Truly this is a comprehensive statement of the case. Yet how strange it seems that with
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such a realization of their need of the truth, ministers of all denominations are the least ready to receive it. Their difficulty evidently is the same that our Lord pointed out among the Doctors of Divinity—Doctors of the Law—at the first advent, when he declared that it was their love of the good opinion of each other and of men in general that blinded them to the truth—”How can ye believe who receive honor one of another and seek not [solely] that honor which cometh from God?” If the truth were popular, or if the divine plan of the ages were but championed by some of the great ones of the theological world and backed by influence and wealth, it would be generally and speedily received.]
Referring to the session of the Reformed Presbyterian Synod, recently held in Pittsburgh, one of our daily journals, the Times, editorially says:
“If some one were to reproduce faithfully in a novel the scenes and language of the Reformed Presbyterian Synod sitting in Pittsburgh he would be execrated as a slanderer. There are thousands of innocent souls who would refuse to believe that representatives of a faith of love and charity would so misrepresent both.
“The passions displayed there originated in a question of creed. It was not necessary for Heber Newton to refer to the synods and councils of the early church to show that the spirit in which most creeds were made was anything but Christian. There were living illustrations for him. Is it a wonder, then, that the authority of creeds is questioned? In business one would not leave his interests to men whose judgment was so warped by anger. In politics a platform made under such circumstances would not command the respect of the party. A creed is an intensely human thing. The trouble which the churches have now is due to the fact that the world is finding that out.
The same writer comments upon Dr. Briggs’ heresy thus:
“AN ALARMING VICTORY”
“A majority of the New York Presbytery voted for the report which found Dr. Briggs guilty of heresy, but the majority must feel alarm at its victory. That 31 of the 75 members stood by him was as much a revelation as were some of the remarks made in that Presbytery when the revision of the Westminster Confession was under discussion. It is true that this Presbytery is more advanced in opinion than many others in the Presbyterian Church, but if this vote is at all near the division which will occur in others when the case is finally met, it may well be deemed a case which the Church approaches with trepidation.
“Unsettled questions forbid the repose of nations. Repose of the Church is impossible so long as the questions raised by Dr. Briggs remain open. They go to the very roots of dogmas which are essential to the existence of orthodoxy. The founders of New England Unitarianism did not go so far in some particulars as he does. Unitarianism would hardly ask for a better hold in orthodoxy than he furnishes, for it knows that his views lead straight to the broadest of free thought. If, for instance, the Scriptures are inspired only in concept, every man must be at liberty to determine what the concept is, and it will not take long to reduce the inspiration of the Hebrew prophets to the inspiration of some of the classical philosophers. It is impossible to see how orthodoxy is to be reconciled to this.
“But if not reconciled, what? It will be a dangerous undertaking to put down such a minority as stood up for Dr. Briggs yesterday. This is not an age of divisions, and the prediction that a split in Presbyterianism is inevitable, made by a New York paper, may be doubted. There are equally wide differences in the Episcopal Church, and it never was more prosperous than now. It escapes the effect of the differences by ignoring them.
“That, judged by the standards of orthodoxy, Dr. Briggs is heretical, it would be preposterous to deny. The triumph of his teaching would be the death of orthodoxy according to the standards. One should never lose sight of the fact, though, that orthodoxy in life and orthodoxy in the books are two different things. There is not a Protestant Church in the United States that would dare to enforce the orthodoxy of its standards. By laymen and preachers alike it is constantly ignored, now in one particular and now in another, but not in an offensive way, and it is overlooked. To call every one to account for an expression of opinion against the leading tenets of the fathers would cause such an explosion as was never seen in the theological world. Orthodoxy in life is a pulsating thing, inspiring hope and cheering to good deeds; orthodoxy in the books is the grinning skeleton of a thing which ceased to live long ago. The offense of Briggs is in preferring the living thing to the dead.
“It has been remarked that this trouble in the Presbyterian Church has been brought on entirely by the ministers, and that is what
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makes it serious. The men who were expected to keep peace in Zion are they who have drawn the sword. After the sword is drawn it is hard to make peace. It must puzzle all Presbyterians to know how the living orthodoxy of Briggs and all who agree with him, in the pulpits and training schools for ministers, is to be reconciled to the dead and buried orthodoxy of the books.”
[Yes; this secular journal sees the true state of the case. The cause of the present unrest in all the sects of Christendom lies in the fact that the masses of the people, as they become informed, are losing faith in the creeds that have so long fettered their thoughts and bound them to the opinions of men who lived in a darker age, and who, however good, were sadly in error. The trouble is that the present and increasing enlightenment is fast tending to infidelity. As sectarians awake and throw away their musty creeds, which for so long they have almost worshiped, they are likely to discard the Bible at the same time, believing that if the various creeds of Christendom are all wrong, the Bible, upon which they all claim to be based, must be radically wrong, and hence not at all a divine revelation. They did not consider, as they should, that the fact of the radical disagreements between the creeds proves that some, if not all of them, have misinterpreted the Bible’s teachings. How thankful we should be who see the real gospel. How we are lifted out of the perplexity now upon the nominal churches, out of the miry clay of human tradition and given a firm foundation upon the Word of God. Ours is a foundation that is reasonable in itself, as well as supported by every testimony of the Bible—neither of which can be claimed for any of the creeds of Christendom.
Blessed are our eyes for they see, and our ears for they hear; for verily many prophets and righteous persons have desired [before the due time] to see the things which we see and to hear the things which we are hearing from the Lord’s Word.—Matt. 13:16,17.
Since the Scriptures have foretold this present shaking, and have indicated that many will fall into doubt and infidelity, let us remember that God is at the helm: we need not fear. We see that in the very midst of the great commotion God is surely and steadily working out his deep designs for the final and complete overthrow of false doctrine, superstition, hypocrisy, injustice and every iniquitous device and institution of men which sought to hide truth and to establish and maintain oppression. He shakes and sifts because he would separate the many who have assumed the name of Christ but who are not truly his people. It is because only one in a thousand of nominal Christians are really consecrated wholly to the Lord that “a thousand shall fall at thy side.” (Psa. 91:7.) The genuine saints will not fall, even though some of them may for a time stumble; for the Lord will uphold such with the right hand of his righteousness (with the power of his truth).—Isa. 41:10; Psa. 91:11,12.]
Dr. Newton, after declaring that all the Churches are in a panic, says:
“Christendom is torn and dismembered before our eyes. It is paralyzed with doubt. It is distracted with the contentions over dogma. Through every branch of Christendom the strife of creeds is seen. The mind of man is seeking a creed form for his faith under which he can rest with intellectual honesty and with spiritual satisfaction. He cannot find such a shelter under the reformation confessions of faith, with their long-drawn metaphysics, their intolerable opinionativeness, their infallibility in points where knowledge is blasphemy. He
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who reads the signs of the times sees clearly two alternatives before our American Protestantism: the throwing overboard of its creeds or their simplification.”
We quote another item on
“TRUTH AND HERESY”
“It was the above theme which the Rev. Mr. Phelps, of Albany, N.Y., selected for his evening sermon, and his text was John 16:13: ‘When the spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all truth.’ He said substantially: ‘That a mighty uprising of religious thought is taking place throughout the world must be evident to even a careless observer. Scientific research has made great inroads upon certain forms of belief, the veil of centuries is being uplifted, the darkness is being dispelled and the light of truth is illuminating the hitherto impregnable strongholds of tradition and dogma. It is true that criticism, heartless and cynical, has been pursuing shadows and phantoms; but its value is now becoming manifest in the awakening
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of dormant energies, and in the liberating of chained minds.”
[Yes, truly, the present commotion, not only upon religious but upon social questions, is the result of the uplifting of the veil of centuries. God is letting in the light, and those who love darkness and error rather than light are put to confusion. The lifting of the veil began with the invention of printing in the fifteenth century. So long as knowledge was confined to the wealthy and the clergy, no considerable trouble could result; for these had common interests to subserve, and the masses, bound by ignorance and superstition, were the tools of the educated. But the sudden enlightenment of the masses through public schools, a free press and other sources has considerably reversed the situation.
This condition of things the Lord predicted long ago by the mouth of Daniel the prophet, saying: “In the time of the end … many shall run to and fro and knowledge (in general) shall be increased, and the wise (toward God—the humble disciples of the Lord) shall understand (God’s plan); but none of the wicked shall understand (it). … And at that time shall Michael [Christ] stand up [to render judgment], and there shall be a time of trouble such as was not since there was a nation—no, nor ever shall be (afterward).”—Dan. 12:1-4.
The trouble and shaking of the Church, to shake out of profession of faith all who are not really saints, built upon the rock (Matt. 7:24-27), is because the election of the Church is almost complete; and the shaking will be the means of God for the liberating of some now chained by superstition. The trouble upon the earth [society] will not reach its intensity until the shaking of the heavens [ecclesiasticism, or the church nominal] has broken the fetters of superstition and plunged the masses into skepticism and open infidelity. Then the many kingdoms of God, so called, and the many churches of God, will pass away to make room for the one true kingdom of God, which will be the one true Church glorified (composed of all the truly consecrated “overcomers” in Christ from Pentecost down). It will take the place of power, and the Millennial blessing of the world will begin—first with those then in the world, and afterward extending to all that are in their graves, who shall be awakened and come forth to a full knowledge and to a full opportunity of reaching perfection and everlasting life, which opportunity was secured for all in the ransom-price given once for all.
— July, 1891 —