Revolving upon its own axis, and describing an ample circuit through the boundless fields of space, is a planet of the solar system bearing upon its surface a population of nearly a thousand millions subject to sin, disease and death. This orb of the starry heavens shines with a glory similar to that of its kindred spheres. Viewed from them it is seen sparkling "like a diamond in the sky," and with the rest of the heavens declares the glory of God, and shews forth the handywork of Him that did create it.
This celestial orb, which is a world or system of itself, is styled "the earth." It is the habitation of races of animals which graze its fields, lurk in its forests, soar through its atmosphere and pass through the paths of its seas. At the head of all these is a creature like themselves, animal, sensual and mortal. He is called "man." He has replenished the earth and subdued it, and filled it with his renown. His crimes, however, rather than his virtues, have illustrated and distinguished him with an unhappy pre-eminence above all other created things. His heart is evil, and, left to its uncontrolled impulses, he becomes licentious, merciless and more cruel than the fiercest beasts of prey.
Such is the being that claims the independent sovereignty of the globe. He has founded dominions, principalities and powers; he has built great cities and vaunted himself in the works of his hands, saying, "are not these by the might of my power and for the honour of my majesty?" He repudiates all lordship over him and claims the inalienable and inherent right of self government, and of establishing whatever civil and ecclesiastical institutions are best suited to his sensuality and caprice. Hence, at successive periods, the earth has become the area of fierce and pandemoniac conflicts; its tragedies have baptised its soil in blood, and the mingled cries of the oppressor and the victim have ascended to the throne of the Most High.
Skilled in the wisdom which comes from beneath, he is by nature ignorant of that which is "first pure, and then peaceable, gentle and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy." This is a disposition to which the animal man, under the guidance of his fleshly mind has no affinity. His propensity is to obey the lust of his nature, and to do its evil works, "which are adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, sects, envying, murders, drunkenness, revellings and such like" (Gal 5:19). All these make up the character of the world, "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye and the pride of life," upon which is enstamped the seal of God's eternal reprobation. "They who do such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God," but "they shall die."
Such is the world of human kind-the great and impious enemy of God upon the earth. Its mind is not subject to His law neither indeed can it be. What shall we say to these things? Is the world as we behold it a finality? Are generations of men, rebellious against God, and destroyers of the earth, to occupy it successively through an endless series of ages? Are men to repeat the history of the past for ever? Is the earth always to be cursed and sin and death to reign victorious? Who can answer these enquiries? If we survey the starry canopy, thence no sign or voice is given expressive of the truth. They declare the eternal power and divinity of their Creator, but they speak not of the destiny of the earth or of man upon it. If we question the mountains and hills, the plains and valleys, the rivers, seas and oceans of the earth, and demand their origin, why they were created, their rocks, their strata, their fossils or deposits afford us no response. Turn we to man and ask him "whence camest thou, and what is thy destiny, whence all the evil of thy nature, why art thou mortal, who made thee, who involved thee in this widespread ruin and calamity on every side"? Ask an infant of days the history of the past, and he can as well detail it as man can answer these enquiries without a revelation from Him who is before all and to whom is known from the beginning all He intends shall come to pass. So true is it, that, unaided by light from heaven, "since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside Thee, what is prepared for him that waiteth for Him; but" adds the apostle in his comment upon these words of the prophet, "God hath revealed these things unto us by His spirit which things we apostles speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth but which the Holy Spirit teacheth, interpreting spiritual things in spiritual words" (1Cor 2:9-10,13).
To the Bible, then, all must come at last if they would be truly wise in spiritual things, This is a great truth which few of the sons of men have learned to appreciate according to its importance. A man may be a theologian profoundly skilled in all questions of "divinity;" he may be well versed in the mythology of the heathen world, be able to speak all languages of the nations, compute the distances of orb from orb, and weigh them in the scales of rigid calculation; he may know all science and be able to solve all mysteries-but if he know not the true meaning of the Bible he seemeth only to be wise, while he is, in fact, a fool. Therefore the apostle says "Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness. And again, the Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain. Therefore let no man glory in men" (1Cor 3:18-21). If our contemporaries could only attain to the adoption of this great precept "let no man glory in men," they would have overleaped a barrier which as a fatal obstacle prevents myriads from understanding and obeying the Truth.
But while God lightly esteems the wisdom of the reputed wise, there is a wisdom which He invites all men to embrace. This is styled "the wisdom of God in a mystery." It is also termed "the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the world, which none of the princes of this world knew." It is said to be hidden in a mystery, because until the apostolic age it was not clearly made known. This will appear from the following texts:--"Now Him that is of power to establish you according to the revelation of THE MYSTERY which was kept secret in the times of the ages, but now (in the time, or age, of the apostles) is made manifest, and by the Scriptures of the prophets made known to all nations for the obedience of faith" (Rom 16:25-26). "By revelation God made known unto me (Paul) THE MYSTERY which in other ages (former ages under the law of Moses) was not made known unto the sons of men as it is now revealed unto the holy apostles and prophets by the spirit, that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel" (Eph 3:3,5-6). Here is "the knowledge of God," in which are contained "exceeding great and precious promises," the understanding of which is able to make a man wise, and a "partaker of the divine nature." Now although these hidden things have been clearly made known they still continue to be styled "the mystery," not because of their unintelligibility, but because they were once secret. Hence the things preached unto the Gentiles, and by them believed, are styled by Paul "the mystery of the faith," and the "the mystery of godliness," some of the items of which he enumerates, such as "God manifest in the flesh, justified by the spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory" (1Tim 3:16). Thus an intelligible mystery characterises the once hidden wisdom of God, and becomes the subject matter of an enlightened faith. This, however, is not the case with regard to religious systems which are not of the Truth. Unintelligible mystery if the ultima ratio for all difficulties which are insoluble by the symbols of ecclesiastical communities, whose text of universal application is, that "secret things belong to God, but the things which are revealed, to us and to our children." This is true; but then those things which were secret in the days of Moses have been revealed by God to the apostles and prophets for our information. No one has any right to set up his own ignorance as the limit of that which God has revealed. A thing may be unknown to such a man, but it does not therefore follow that it is either absolutely unintelligible or a secret. He may not know of it, or, if explained to him, he may not have intellect enough to comprehend it, or his prejudices or sectarian bias may darken his understanding-this by no means makes the thing unintelligible or mysterious to other people. All that such persons have a right to say is, "we do not know anything about it." They may confess their own ignorance and resolve to look into the matter, or not but they are presumptuously overstepping the bounds of propriety to venture to do more. This, however, is not the practice of those who have no secondary interests to subserve apart from the Truth. They only desire to know that they may believe and do; but where to know more would jeopardise the vested interests of a sect and extort the confession of its leaders and members that they were in error and knew not the Truth, investigation is discouraged and the things proscribed as too speculative and mysterious for comprehension, or if understood, of no practical utility. In this way mankind infold themselves as in the mantle of their self-esteem. They repress all progress and glorify their own ignorance by detracting from things which they fear to look into, or apprehend are far above their reach.
Besides glorying in men, this unfortunate peculiarity of the human mind has developed the organisation of a system of things impiously hostile to the institutions and wisdom of Jehovah. It is a system of many subordinate parts. It is animated by one spirit which, under various modifications, pervades and actuates the whole. It is an evil spirit and may be detected wherever the dogma of unintelligible mystery is at work. The name of this system is "Mystery." Its baneful effects began to be visible in the apostolic age. It was then styled "the mystery of iniquity" which, as was predicted, has, like a cancer, eaten out the Truth, and substituted in place thereof a civil and ecclesiastical constitution, styled "harlots and abominations of the earth," such as we behold on every side.
"Wisdom," says the Scripture, "is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom; and with all thy getting get understanding. Exalt her, and she shall promote thee: she shall bring thee to honour when thou dost embrace her. She shall give to thy head an ornament of grace; a crown of glory shall she deliver to thee." If thou would'st, O reader, get this wisdom, happy art thou if thou findest it. "For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and gain thereof then fine gold. She is more precious than rubies, and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared to her. Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand riches and honour. Her ways are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her; and happy is everyone that retaineth her" (Prov 3:14,18). Before the Son of God sent forth His apostles to proclaim the gospel of the Kingdom in His name, "He opened their understandings that they might understand the Scriptures." If thou would'st gain the knowledge of the wisdom of God which is so inestimable, and which is contained in the word they preached, thou must also be the subject of the same illumination. This is indispensable; for there is no obtaining of this commodity except through the Scriptures of Truth. These "are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. For all Scripture given by inspiration of God is also profitable for teaching, for conviction, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works" (2Tim 3:15-17). What more dost thou want than perfection, and a crown of life and glory in the age to come? Search the Scriptures with the teachableness of a little child and thy labour will not be in vain. Cast away to the owls and to the bats the traditions of men and the prejudices indoctrinated into thy mind by their means; make a whole burnt offering of their creeds, confessions, catechisms and articles of religion; and, after the example of the Ephesian disciples, hand over your books of curious theological arts, and burn them before all" (Acts 19:19). These mountains of rubbish have served the purposes of a dark and barbarous age; the word, the word of the living God alone, can meet the necessities of the times. Let the example of the noble minded Bereans be ours. They searched the Scriptures daily to see if the things taught by the apostle were worthy of belief; "therefore they believed" (Acts 17:12). If then not even the preaching of an apostle was credited unaccompanied by Scriptural investigation, is it not infinitely more incumbent on us that we should bring to a like test the opinions and precepts of the uninspired and fallible professional theologists of our day? Let us believe nothing that comes from the pulpit, the altar or the press, not demonstrated by the grammatical sense of the Scriptures. Let us be contented with nothing less than a "thus it is written" and a "thus saith the Lord;" who does not speak after this rule. "To the law and to the testimony, if they speak not according to this word it is because there is no light in them." (Isa 8:20). If then their light be darkness, how great is that darkness!
The Scriptures can do everything for us in relation to the light. This is known, felt and keenly appreciated by all interested in the support of error. Hence, in the days of Diocletian, one of the pagan predecessors of Constantine, a decree was issued commanding the surrender of all copies of the Holy Scriptures, for it was found that so long as they obtained circulation the Christian doctrine could never be suppressed. The popes, as deadly, and more insidious, enemies of the Truth than the pagan Roman emperors, followed the example of Diocletian. The Bible and popery are as mutually hostile as the light of the sun and the thick darkness of Egypt that might be felt. But it is not paganism and popery alone that are practically hostile to a free and untrammelled investigation of the Word of God. The protestant world, while it deludes itself with the conceit that "the Bible, the Bible alone, is the religion of protestants"-while it spends its thousands for its circulation among the nations in their native tongues-is itself hostile to the belief and practice of what it proclaims. The Bible alone is not its religion; for, if it were, why encumber its professors with the "Common Prayer," "Thirty-nine Articles" and all the other "notions" of a similar kind? To believe and practice the Bible alone would be a sufficient ground of exclusion from all "orthodox" churches. When Chillingworth uttered the sentiment there was more truth in it than at this day; but now it is as far from the fact as that protestantism is the religion of Christ. To protest against an error such as Romanism, and to affirm that every man has a right to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience, is a very different thing from believing and obeying the gospel of the Kingdom of God and walking in all the ordinances of the Lord blameless. To do this would unchristianise a man in the estimation of state churches and sectarian denominations; for the Bible religion requires a man to "contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints" (Jud 1:3), which in these times cannot be done without upheaving the very foundations of the self-complacent, self-glorifying and self-laudatory communions of the anti-papal constitution of things. It is true that no man or power has a right to interfere between God and the conscience; but it is also true that no man has a right to worship God as he pleases. This is a protestant fallacy. Man has a right to worship God only in the way God has Himself appointed. "In vain do ye worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." This is the judgment pronounced by the wisdom of God upon all worship which He has not instituted. He declares it to be vain worship, concerning which the apostle to the Gentiles says "Let no man judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath; let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels. Be not subject to dogmatisms after the commandments and traditions of men; which things have indeed a show of wisdom in WILL-WORSHIP and humility" (Col 2:16,18). These exhortations apply to all faith and worship, papal and protestant. If popery judges men in meats, protestantism does the same in drinks and in the sabbath; they both judge men in holy-days and movable feasts; and though protestantism repudiates the worshipping of angels, it proclaims in its fasts, preparations, concerts etc., a voluntary humility, and celebration of "saints and martyrs," renowned in legendary tales for "the pride that apes humility." Let the reader search the Scriptures from beginning to end, and he will nowhere find such systems of faith and worship as those comprehended in the papal and protestant systems. The gospel of the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus is not preached among them; they are communions which are uncircumcised of heart; theological dissertations on texts, called "sermons," are substituted for "reasoning out of the Scriptures"-for "expounding and testifying the Kingdom of God, and persuading men concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses and out of the prophets" (Acts 28:23,31); Puseyism Swedenborgianism, and all sorts of 'isms, to which, in apostolic time the world was a total stranger, run riot among them; the lusts of the flesh, of the eye and of the pride of life, have extinguished even the energy and zeal of the anti-papal rebellion out of which they have arisen; they are dead, twice dead, plucked up by the roots, and therefore the time is come to cut them off as a rotten branch from the good olive tree (Rom 11:17,20,22). Let therefore every man that would eschew the wrath which is begun and who would become an heir of the Kingdom of God, save himself from the unholy, lifeless and effete denominations of these "latter days." By remaining in them a man partakes of their evil deeds and subjects himself to their evil influences. The world of man has silenced the Word of God in their midst, and religion has degenerated into a professional commodity sold for cash according to the taste which most prevails in the soul markets of the world.
Let us then "cease from men whose breath is in their nostrils, for wherein are they to be accounted of?" "They be blind leaders of the blind" in whom is no light, because they speak not according to the law and the testimony of God. Let us repudiate their dogmatisms; let us renounce their mysteries; and let us declare our independence of all human authority in matters of faith and practice extra the Word of God. The Scriptures are able to make us wise, which the traditions of "divines" are not. Let us then come to these Scriptures, for we have the assurance that he who seeks shall find; though we must also bear in mind that "many shall seek to enter in but shall not be able." We must seek by the light of Scripture, and not permit that light to be obscured by high thoughts and vain imaginations which exalt themselves against the knowledge of God. Great is the consolation that "the wise shall understand," and "shine as the brightness of the firmament." Be this then our happiness to understand believe and do, that we may be blessed in our deed and attain to the glorious liberty and manifestation of the sons of God.
To the Bible then let us turn, as to "a light shining in a dark place," and with humility, teachableness and independence of mind let us diligently enquire into the things which it reveals for the obedience and confirmation of faith. The object before us then will be to present such a connected view of this truthful and wonderful Book as will open the reader's eyes and enable him to understand it and expound it to others, that he may become a "workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth," and be able intelligently to "contend for the faith," and by "turning many to righteousness, to shine as the stars for ever and ever." In effecting this purpose we must proceed as we would with any other book, or in teaching any of the arts and sciences, namely, begin at the beginning, or with the elements of things. This was the method adopted by the spirit of God in the instruction of the Israelites by Moses. He began His revelations by giving them, and us through them, an account of the creation of the heaven and the earth, of animals and of man. This then would seem to be the proper place for us to start from, and as we have the system completely revealed, which they had not, we may extend our enquiries into the reason, or philosophy, of things farther than they. Be this then our commencement, and may the Lord Himself prosper our endeavours to decipher and understand His will and testament, and to disentangle them from the crude traditions and dogmatisms of contemporary theologies, useful in their beginning as oppositions to the "mystery of iniquity," but now waxed old and ready to vanish away with the thing they have antagonised; but which, though consumptive of the civil and ecclesiastical tyranny of the "image of the beast," have by their glosses in effect taken from the people "the Key of knowledge" and thus shut up the Kingdom of Heaven against men. Our endeavour will be to restore this Key that they may understand "the mysteries of the Kingdom and "have right to the tree of life, and enter in through the gates into the city" (Rev 22:14). And this we will do if God permit.