Archibald G. Brown, November 5th, 1871, Stepney Green Tabernacle
"Do not remove the ancient landmark which your ancestors have set up." Proverbs 22:28
Every age has its distinguishing character and mark. Some have been military ages above everything else, and the pages of their history might appropriately be written in blood, and illustrated by battle scenes. Others may be truthfully described as "scientific," and some few as "profligate."
The present age I am inclined to catalogue as "radical." On every hand there has arisen a bold and defiant spirit of inquiry. Respectfulness for anything is at a discount. The oldest theories are now put to the most searching tests, and things that were looked upon with something akin to pious awe by our forefathers, are now handled freely, and often with laughter. Old landmarks are being most unceremoniously shifted into remote corners, or else moved off the face of the earth entirely. This spirit pervades the political, scientific, and religious worlds alike, and in all three its reckless boldness seems on the increase.
Most of you know that I am not prepared to condemn this spirit in unmeasured terms. I do not have one atom of sympathy with those who venerate everything that happens to be old. The very fact that some things have been permitted to grow old is cause for shame, and only increases my antagonism to their existence. An old error is the worst error of all; and though there may have grown around it associations and traditions linking it with the history of past ages, I still say "down with it!" Its hoary locks call for condemnation, not compassion.
But while recognizing the serviceable element in radicalism, I am convinced that, like fire, it makes a good servant — but a bad and mad master. Kept within proper restraints, it will cure many things; unrestrained, it will curse everything. The fire behind the grate is a source of comfort and delight — but scattered, broadcast, it leads to a Chicago conflagration. In moderation this spirit serves as a timely preservative against the chilling influences of formalism, pure and simple. But once it is allowed to pass beyond reasonable bounds, the danger of the fire is greater than that of the frost.
Scriptural landmarks are threatened as much, perhaps more, than any other. Not content to work in its own lawful sphere, the spirit that is now abroad, impiously puts its hand on the declarations of inspired writ, and proposes to shift or remove them as coolly as if they were so many conclusions of men who, living in early days, knew no better.
Against this we do and will protest with all the power that God has given us. There can be no parallel drawn between scripture truths and political or scientific matters. The latter are the outgrowth of man's ideas and are therefore capable of improvement. Scripture truths are the thoughts of infinite wisdom and the utterances of one who knows no change. They are declared truths and divine facts. When man ventures to tamper with these, he puts his hands on things entirely and utterly beyond his province.
I hardly need say that I am not going to teach from the text, that we are bound to accept as binding all landmarks raised even by the best of men. Many a present landmark has no better reason for its continuance than "ancient custom," or "our fathers respected it." No, this night we speak only of those landmarks planted by God through his prophets, Son, and apostles. Those landmarks that have deeply engraved on their front, "Thus says the Lord."
We shall divide our subject into two parts, as follows.
1. We will look at some landmarks that are threatened.
2. We will offer a few reasons why they should be left as they stand.
I. Notice some of the Landmarks that are threatened.I will divide these landmarks into two classes, namely, those of doctrine and those of Christian life.
First then, those of DOCTRINE. According to the new standard of orthodoxy, it is almost heterodox to have any doctrine at all. It claims that all clearly defined views are but a proof of ignorance, and dogmatic teaching is an irrefutable evidence of shallowness of brain. To be thoroughly intellectual you must be certain of nothing, and hold all your views as changeable. Your theology, if you have any, must be of the molluscan type, devoid of all backbone and capable of being twisted into any shape — something soft and flabby that can hurt the feelings of no one. Anything more than this will bring the sneer of "puritan."
It is a strange thing indeed and lamentable as an evidence of where we have gotten to, that the word "puritan" should ever be uttered with any other feeling than that of profound respect. These were the men who among general superstition still held the truth, and were willing to lose everything, even life itself, to maintain the integrity of their faith. These were the men who were loyal to Christ even to poverty and prison. It is enough to make the blood boil with indignation, to hear these grand old men spoken of in tones of sneering pity by miniature men not worthy, in intellectual wealth, to tie their shoe strings. Truly, "there were giants in those days." Doubtless, their sermons were rather long and divided into almost innumerable parts — but then there was something in them to divide, which is more than can be said of the productions of their self-elected critics. Doctrine with them meant something, and we pray, "God give the church in this respect a new race of puritans."
The present feeling of many was doubtless truthfully expressed by a minister who said to me not long ago, "O doctrine; we are done with that now!"
The old landmarks seem by many to be only useful as tests for agility. With a smile of great delight, they tell you how many they have succeeded in vaulting; while a semi-religious paper has the audacity to say that the only crowded and prosperous places are those that have ministers who have leaped over the boundaries of old-fashioned orthodoxy.
I purpose now, by God's help, to take you with me around the frontier — to show you the landmarks planted there by God's hand, and ask you to read the different inscriptions engraved on them. For a reason I will hereafter explain, I will be particularly careful to keep close to the actual words of scripture. The landmarks I will select will be those that can only be slighted at the peril of the soul. I select them, not because I think it likely there are many if any present, who despise them — but on the principle of "forewarned, forearmed."
The first is the Deity of Christ. This landmark is high and massive, with many an inscription indelibly written on it. Let us read them; and I ask everyone who has a bible to turn with me to the different passages mentioned. We want tonight to have God's truth in His own words.
In Matthew, first chapter and twenty-third verse, it is declared "Behold a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and His name shall be called Emmanuel, which being interpreted, is God with us." In John, the first chapter and first verse, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." In the tenth chapter of the same gospel, and the thirtieth verse, you have Christ's own solemn declaration, "I and my Father are one." In Romans 9:5, "Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen." Colossians 2:9, "For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." Lastly, in the first book of Timothy, the third chapter and sixteenth verse, we have those noble words "And without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the spirit, seen by angels, preached to the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory."
These are but a few declarations culled from the many; but they are sufficient. In tones that can only be willfully misunderstood, they proclaim the fact that He who was born in the manger — who taught in the streets — bled in Gethsemane — died at Calvary — was very God. He was not a mere man with God with Him — but God Himself veiled in flesh.
Beloved friends, the deity of Christ is no doctrine that can be accepted or rejected at pleasure. It is no mere "non-essential" — a term I much object to — which may be held or cast aside without peril to the soul. If this landmark goes, everything goes with it. Or to change the figure, this doctrine is the foundation of the entire temple of salvation. Remove it and every hope we have for eternity comes falling down around our ears. Believe everything else in the bible but the divinity of Jesus, and you believe a collection of impossibilities. Apart from this, the atonement is meaningless, the blood is powerless, and the intercession is valueless.
Much might be said upon this point — but time forbids; I therefore simply entreat you by your loyalty to Christ, and by every hope you have of Heaven, to stand by this glorious landmark and reckon that every hand that touches it is guilty of a higher treason than ever Hell dared breathe; for even the devils said, "We know You who you are the Son of God!" Mark 3.11
The second doctrinal landmark I would lead you to is salvation by substitutionary atonement. This is a landmark stained with blood. Many are the declarations engraved on it. Let us read a few. There is one marked in Matthew twenty-six and twenty-eight. It runs thus, "This is my blood of the new testament which is shed for many for the remission of sins." Another, Romans four and twenty-five, "who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification." Another, Galatians, three and thirteen, "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us; for it is written, cursed is everyone that hangs on a tree." Surely if words teach anything plainly, these teach the momentous fact that our salvation is procured by blood. It could not be more distinctly stated that atonement is made by a substitute, and that substitute is a dying one.
This truth is the pith and marrow of the gospel. It is the "good news." Christ in the sinner's place, bearing the sinner's sins, and enduring the sinner's punishment. Pardon bought with blood. Peace brought by the cross. Life by a Savior's death. Bold must be the hands that dare to shift this solemn landmark of Jehovah. Yet they are found. Words have been uttered concerning the doctrine of atonement so full of blasphemy that we cannot force our lips to repeat them. The blood of the everlasting covenant has been accounted an unholy thing and trodden under foot.
And where no syllable is breathed against it — yet it is often despised by silence. Is there not preaching of salvation by the virtue of morality? Are not repentance and sacraments put in the holy place of atonement? "Yes." Let it be it said with shame — and by those that call themselves the preachers of the cross. O, members of this church and you who love the Lord in every place, I charge you to revere this landmark set up from before the foundation of the world. In solitary grandeur let this truth stand forth, both in heart and word, salvation by blood alone.
The third doctrinal landmark I point you to, is the necessity of regeneration. Inscribed on it are the words in John, third chapter and the third verse. "Jesus said, truly, truly I say to you, except a man is born again, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." This doctrine is one that needs to be kept in the front and constantly preached, for the professing church seems apt to forget it. It was the declaration of this truth by George Whitefield, that shook England from shore to shore. I wish that there were a hundred Whitefields now, declaring in trumpet tones that conversion is no improvement of the old nature — but the implantation of a new one; not an old man altered — but a new-born man. Remember this landmark fellow-laborers for the Lord, and whether your work lies among the children or adults, bring them face to face with this great "except." Remember that however moral, pure, and educated a man may be, there is as great a necessity for his regeneration, as for the vilest and most openly depraved.
One other doctrinal landmark and I close this portion of our subject. It is the eternal ruin consequent upon rejection of Christ. With solemn hearts let us read the words of warning written. "He who does not believe shall be damned." Mark 16.16. "They shall go away into everlasting punishment." Mat 25.46. "Their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched." Mar 9.24.
This landmark has been assailed more fiercely than any other; some are for doing away with it altogether, others for abolishing its eternity. Some argue that its fires restore and prepare for after bliss, others that its fires destroy to annihilation. It is enough for me to know that scripture reveals a Hell — but reveals no termination of its woe, nor even hints at restoration. The answer put by our Lord into the mouth of Abraham, given to the rich man in Hell, shuts the door against such hope: "And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that those who would pass from here to you cannot: nor can those pass to us who would come from there." Luke 16.26
These are a few of the great doctrinal landmarks of scripture. Beware lest you be tempted to remove them. There are many others we have no time to dwell on, which if less momentous in their subjects, are equally from God. It is not for us to spurn the smallest boundary stone of doctrine, nor cross one step beyond the frontier line. All work for God must be done within the area He has marked.
"But" it is objected, "if you keep to these old-fashioned truths you will lose the ear of the public. Would it not be better to let a few landmarks go, and by meeting the popular taste, secure its sympathy and attendance?" Without for one moment believing in the danger hinted at, I deliberately declare before God that I would rather preach in a half empty place — keeping within God's boundary mark — than draw the greatest crowd by the smallest compromise of truth! The preacher's mission is to declare what the Lord says, let the consequences be what they may. The results are God's — obedience is ours.
Secondly. Let us now turn to the landmarks of CHRISTIAN LIFE.Laxity in doctrine is certain to result in laxity of life. It has done so in the present day. I state, without any fear of refutation, that the religious life of the professing church, taken as a whole, is at a miserably low ebb. The old standard has been lowered to enable modern dwarfs to pass muster. Anything like a life of "dead to the world" is laughed at as "narrow-minded bigoted canting." If Paul was to rise from the dead and be introduced to many of the members of our churches, he would be marvelously surprised to see the practical commentary given to his epistles. He would find that being "crucified to the world," and having the "world crucified" to us, means something very different now, to what it did when he penned the words. He would be told that the old hard and fast lines had been obliterated as an insult to the intelligence of the age; and that going "to meet" the world was a modern improvement on "coming out of it". Let us however turn to the word and the testimony, and see what landmarks are deciding our non-conformity to the world.
You will find the first in John, the seventeenth chapter, from the fourteenth verse, "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not pray that you should take them out of the world — but that you should keep them from the evil. They are not of the world even as I am not of the world." Look at John, the first epistle, second chapter, fifteenth verse, "Do not love the world, nor the things that are in the world. If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." Once more, and this reference comes with peculiar power to members of a Baptist Church. Turn to Romans six and verse three, "Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ, were baptized into His death? Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death; that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life."
In these verses you have the old landmarks of Christian life. How do we stand in relation to them? Where are the Christs in our churches? I use this expression with reverence, and I believe in accordance with scripture. Where are the men of whom Jesus could say they are not of the world even as I am not of the world? Where are the anointed ones only caring for the world in order to reclaim it? Where are the Christly ones living separated lives from the world's joys — but weeping over the world's sins? Where are the men, who like Christ, are living "outside the camps"? Thank God there are many — but they are almost lost to view in the masses of the semi-worldly professors.
Where are our dead men? Men who care no more for the world's maxims and pleasures than a corpse — but are daily living a resurrection life with Christ? There are such — but I would to God they were multiplied a thousand fold. How our churches would be decimated if all those who evince a love of the world, were excluded as lacking the love of the Father.
Brethren, let us not seek to lower the standard because we fail to reach its height; but rather, let us cry to the Lord mightily to make us the type of Christian described on these landmarks. It is time to shout in the ears of the church, "Back, back to primitive non-conformity to the world ; you have forsaken the old paths!!" We want to see this non-conformity to the world displayed in spirit and in conversation.
We want to see it in integrity of life, refusing to stoop to the world's paltry tricks of trade. We even want to see it in the very dress of the Christian. I know that here I am treading on delicate ground — but bear with me, sisters in Christ, when I say, that although I am recommending no distinguishing garb as do the followers of George Fox, I yet believe that there should be the manifestation of a sanctified spirit in the neatness and simplicity of your attire. To Christian young men I say the same.
There is another landmark of Christian life I wish for a moment to remind you. It is self-denial. The inscription runs thus: "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me, is not worthy of Me." I fear this landmark is more slighted than any other. The age has become effeminate and self-indulgent, and a religion that makes great sacrifice is hard to find. This is not to be wondered at, for it now requires so little courage to profess Christ, that half-hearted ones come within the borders of the church who would never have thought of taking the name of Christian in the early ages.
Then it meant something to declare yourself for Christ. Poverty and reproach with probable torture and martyrdom confronted the early professor. This kept the church pure, and frightened from her ranks all but those who were willing to sacrifice and be sacrificed for the truth.
But how is it now? Are the churches of the present day composed of men who resolutely place the things of Christ before their own affairs, and willingly deny themselves for the honor of Christ and His cause? Only one answer can be given — no they are not! Time cannot be spared now — where life-blood was spilled before. A few shillings are now thought as great a sacrifice as a fortune and life were in those early days.
Let it be clearly understood that I do not say there are none such in the church at the present time. I rejoice to believe there are as bright and self-denying saints now as in any age; but they are isolated and exceptional cases. The general aspect of the church is worldly and self-indulgent to an extreme. The services and worship of the church are admirable things to the multitudes, so long as they entail no privation and no loss.
I believe, that as a church, we have more spiritual life than most; and yet, on looking around, I can see those who have not been to five prayer meetings in five years! Why not? The real answer is — because there has been no willingness to make any sacrifice in order to come. Beloved friends, God knows that I say these words in no spirit of bitterness — but of grief, and only that I may be faithful with you. The standard is not mine — but my Lord's. The landmark is not man's — but Christ's. O read its inscription over and over again, and pray God to raise you to its height of consecration and self-denial.
Thus have I tried to notice some of the great landmarks of scripture. Why are many seeking to remove them? I can answer the question in very few words. Their removal is sought because they are galling to our pride, and because they demand a higher life and a deeper devotion than this age of worldly Christianity is prepared to give.
So much for our first point. Let us now, for a few moments only, pass to the second point.
II. A few reasons why these Landmarks should be left.
First, because God put these Landmarks there. You will remember that I said at the commencement of the sermon, I had a particular reason for wishing to give you God's truth in His own words. It was that I might be able to say to you, as I do now, that all the landmarks of tonight are the Lord's. I have simply led you to them, and read their inscriptions in your hearing. Now surely, loyalty to Him as King, forbids our tampering with them; and affection to Him as a Father, says "respect them."
Suppose some of these landmarks do lay my pride in the dust, and condemn my previous life as unworthy of Him. Shall I refuse to acknowledge them on that account? He who is willing to save, may surely say how He will save; and He who made me a Christian, has a right to say what kind of a Christian He expects me to be. Besides which, remember that He has committed these truths to us as a sacred trust, and we are devoid of every spark of honor if we accept anything in their place.
What would you think of a son who, having a family heirloom entrusted to his care by a dying father, soon after that father's death let the heirloom go to the pawnbroker so that he might wear some modern flashy jewelry? You would cry "shame" to him, and refuse to accept as an excuse, "that the thing was old-fashioned." So it is with the truths we have been meditating on this evening. They are the Lord's — but committed to our keeping. Do not remove them.
These Landmarks are moreover the ramparts of the church. The doctrinal landmarks I have taken you to this evening are the church's "lines of defense." Let one go, and you imperil the next. Surrender one to the foe, and you give him a vantage ground that leaves the rest of little value. Let these truths be maintained, and his fiercest onsets can avail nothing. Let them be abandoned once, and his road is open.
While the doctrinal landmarks are the lines of defense, the landmarks of Christian character are our power for assault. O when God's children rise to His standard of non-conformity to the world and self-denial, then the church shall be well-near omnipotent — but not before. Her worldliness is her weakness. I will only mention two other reasons.
These Landmarks are the foundations of all true happiness, and the men who have most faithfully stood by them, and most humbly paid homage to them, have been the men who have been the glory of the church. Let modern infidelity say what it will about the old-fashioned truths of Scripture being unsuited to human thought, the fact yet remains that those most honored by God, and most successful in reaching the masses, have been those who have most rigidly kept within the landmarks of tonight.
Long after all the flimsy cobwebs of human speculation have broken down by the weight of their own dust — the faith once delivered to the saints shall remain "the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believes." May the Lord raise up a generation of bold defenders for the old landmarks.
The Son of God goes forth to war,
A kingly crown to gain;
His blood-red banner streams afar,
Who follows in His train?
A glorious band, the chosen few,
On whom the Spirit came;
Twelve valiant saints, their hope they knew,
And mocked the cross and shame.
A noble army, men and boys,
The matron and the maid.
Around the Savior's throne rejoice
In robes of light arrayed.
They climbed the steep ascent of Heaven.
Through peril, toil, and pain;
O God, to us may grace be given.
To follow in their train.