Introduction to Miscellaneous Writings - Volume 2

Christian Holiness


The immediate occasion of the following pages has been a recent attack upon "the theology of the so-called Plymouth Brethren" by a professor of didactic theology in Boston University, in which what many beside the present writer regard as some of the most precious doctrines of the Word of God are stigmatized as antinomianism. This will account for whatever controversial character may he found in them; a thing scarcely to be regretted if it serve, as it does undoubtedly serve, to bring out and emphasize the fundamental questions, as well as to exhibit the strength of the arguments on either side. Truth will only suffer if there should be found in this a spirit of acrimony or a contention for the mastery rather than the truth: both which, alas are apt to be engendered by controversy. This, if it should be found in me, I shall not beg my reader to excuse. Holiness is not a theme to be discussed in a manner so essentially unholy.

I do not think Dr. Steele will deny my competence to speak in behalf of the doctrines he incriminates. If he has studied them, as he tells us, for ten years (p.ioo), I have done so for twenty-five; and while he has done this from an outside (if not a hostile) stand-point, I have known them from inside, estimating them by internal experience (a very different thing), and bringing them daily to the test of the Word of God. I speak of this the rather, because I do not propose to bring forward in general the testimony of men, but to appeal to the Word itself throughout, while yet I shall have again and again to disclaim Dr. Steele's representation of the views he has attacked, of which I must say he has still very partial knowledge. If he dispute my own, I am ready to meet him on that ground also. In the meanwhile, I am sure that those who are acquainted with the writings of those referred to will confirm my presentation of them.

It is Dr. Steele who should have proved that the views he attacks are really the views of representative writers among the "so-called Plymouth Brethren." He has certainly not done so with any thing like the care that might be expected in so grave a question. With the exception of a quotation or two from Mackintosh's "Notes," and one from the "Eight Lectures on Prophecy," he has given little or nothing with which one can properly credit "Mr. Darby and his school" (p. 86). Some of his quotations are without clue to the writer; others are from the large number of (supposed) "sympathizers" (p. 30), as to whom nothing is given to show how far their sympathy extends, or that the doctrine presented in them is really that of those they "sympathize" with. Dr. Steele speaks of Mr. Darby as "their leading mind" and the head of the school.

He has studied their writings for ten years, knows of course that Mr. Darby's own fill thirty-seven volumes of near six hundred pages each, and it would be reasonable to expect that he would quote largely from these so far as I know, there is not one quotation. Dr. Steele's "Darbyism" somehow leaves out Darby! And this is all the more strange, because he brings forward six times what that "venerable Christian scholar" said to the writer (pp.18, 6o, 131, 158, i81), which of course we have no means of verifying; but not one line or sentence from his written books!

But Mr. McDonald, in the preface, has quoted Mr. Darby: "Any thing which looks like church prosperity is, with Plymouth Brethren, a delusion. 'The year-books of Christianity,' says Mr. Darby, 'are the year-books of hell.'" (p. 15.)

Yet even this is given without a clue to whence it is derived. I have taken some trouble to find it, but as yet without success. Mr. McDonald may be surprised, however, to learn that it is from a Romish historian (I think, Baronius), and not from Mr. Darby at all; although it is used by him somewhere to show the state of the professing church. This is not an extreme specimen of that kind of mis-representation of which the book before us has many instances. Intentional misrepresentations I do not mean, but the effect is the same for readers of such things. Take one example from Dr. Steele himself as proof:- "At my request, Mr. Darby gave an exposition of Matt. xxv. 31-46. What pitiable makeshifts to explain away this most solemn and awful passage in holy Scripture 'It was not a final and universal judgment, but a review of the Gentile nations. Individuals are not here judged, but nations other than the Jews.'" (p. 185.)

This is all put within quotation-marks, as if it were the very words used on this occasion. In fact, it is only Dr. Steele's impression of what was meant, and a very false one. Take the written statement of the Synopsis (vol. iii.. p. 164), as evidence: "It is the judgement of the living, so far at least as regards the nations - a judgment as final as that of the dead." And if any one will turn to his tract upon eternal punishment, he will find this very passage argued upon in proof of it. "Eternal life and eternal or everlasting punishment answer to one another, and mean the same in either case he punishment of the wicked, then, is said to be of equal duration with the life of the blessed." This settles the question conclusively as to whether in Mr. Darby's thought individuals or nations (as such) are before us in this text. Inasmuch as it is with him a final judgment to eternal life or eternal punishment, there can be no question that it is of individuals. "All the nations" means simply "all the Gentiles," as he affirms.

It is a strange excess of prejudice that can cause gross misconceptions such as these. And then with thirty-seven volumes that lie open to criticism, to prefer to give judgment upon private conversations! Assuredly no honest mind will accept Dr. Steele's account in defiance of published statements such as these. I am sorry to say that it is not only in such ways that Dr. Steele shows the spirit that can animate one who "is not ashamed to confess with tongue and type and telegraph and telephone" that he believes in "a genuine CHRISTIAN PERFECTION." (p. 25.) Not only are sentiments imputed to the objects of his attack which they refuse and abhor, but immoral practices also. They are stigmatized as Antinomians, who believe that the sins of Christians are not real sins (p. 89), that the efficacy of faith is concentrated into a single act of assent to a past fact (p. 5oi), who are indifferent to inward and outward holiness (p. 101), concealing the offensive features of their doctrine with Jesuitical cuninng (p.130), and soon. Perhaps the title of Dr. Steele's book should have prepared us for such charges. It would have served his purpose better to have proved them; especially as somehow these people "insist on deadness to the world, and entire devotion to God" ! (p. 55.)

But we are sanctified only by the truth: if, then, the doctrines in question are not truth, we must concede they do not sanctify. Our business at this time is wholly with the doctrines.