John Frith on the Sabbath

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John Frith may not be a name which leaps to mind when contemplating the English Reformation, and yet he was one of the earliest lights of truth in England. Frith was a student first of Stephen Gardiner, then of Thomas Wolsey, but was ultimately condemned by both after his open conversion to the doctrines of Protestantism. A close companion to William Tyndale, Frith was eventually martyred – burned at the stake – his arrest warrant issued by Sir Thomas More himself.

In 1533, the year of his martyrdom, Frith published a treatise on baptism, A Mirror, or Looking Glass, wherein you may behold the sacrament of baptism described. The work is a polemic against various Roman Catholic errors regarding baptism, especially baptismal regeneration and ex opere operato. His consideration of superstition in baptism leads him to discuss the issue of religious ceremonies, and their dangers. During this discussion, he raises the issue of the Sabbath as an example of how the early church handled ceremonies.

His statements reveal a view of the Sabbath and Sabbath law that would draw accusations of antinomianism from many of our modern ‘Reformed’, and would bar him from ministry and membership in most Reformed churches. Indeed, this martyr of the English Reformation would be declared un-Reformed, and dangerous! His final conclusion – how to regard those who insist that working on Sunday is a sin even after patient instruction to the contrary – pulls no punches.

And as concerning the abrogation, or alteration of ceremonies, we have a godly example of the Sabbath. The Sabbath was instituted and commanded of God to be kept of the children of Israel. Notwithstanding, because it was a sign or a ceremony, and did signify unto them that it was God which sanctified them with his Spirit, and not themselves with their holy works; and because, also, that all ceremonies and shadows ceased when Christ came, so that they might be done or left undone indifferently; our forefathers, which were in the beginning of the church, did abrogate the Sabbath, to the intent that men might have an example of Christ’s liberty, and that they might know that neither the keeping of the Sabbath, nor of any other day, is necessary, according to Paul, Ye observe days, times, and months, I am afraid of you that I have laboured in vain towards you. Howbeit, because it was necessary that a day should be reserved, in the which the people might come together to hear the word of God, they ordained in the stead of the Sabbath, which was Saturday, the next day following, which is Sunday. And although they might have kept the Saturday with the Jews, as a thing indifferent, yet did they much better to overset the day, to be a perpetual memory that we are free and not bound to any day, but that we may do all lawful works to the pleasure of God, and profit of our neighbour. We are in manner as superstitious in the Sunday as they were in the Saturday, yea, and we are much madder. For the Jews have the word of God for their Saturday, since it is the seventh day, and they were commanded to keep the seventh day solemn; and we have not the word of God for us, but rather against us, for we keep not the seventh day as the Jews do, but the first, which is not commanded by God’s law. But Paul addeth, That no man judge us as concerning holy days, meats, and such other exterior things; yea, and in no wise will he that we observe them, counting them more holy than other days. For they were institute that the people should come together to hear God’s word, receive the sacraments, and give God thanks. That done, they may return unto their houses, and do their business as well as any other day. He that thinketh that a man sinneth which worketh on the holy day, if he be weak or ignorant, ought better to be instructed, and so to leave his hold. But if he be obstinate, and persevere in his sentence, he is not of God, but of the devil, for he maketh sin in such as God leaveth free.

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William Tyndale on the Sabbath

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Thomas More (the Roman Catholic apologist eventually executed by Henry VIII, in his 1529 work Dialogue Concerning Heresies, argues against the principle of sola scriptura, a doctrine which he calls “the foundation and ground of all his [i.e., Martin Luther‘s] great heresies”. Part of his argument focuses on the the religious observance of the first day of the week, which he asserts is grounded only in church tradition, and not written revelation, and therefore must be abandoned by one who holds to sola scriptura. More writes,

Now must he by that means condemn the church of Christ for that they sanctify not the Saturday, which was the sabaoth day institute by God among the Jews, commanding the sabaoth day to be kept holy. And albeit the matter of the precept is moral and the day legal, so that it may be changed, yet will there, I wene, no man think that ever the church would take upon them to change it without special ordinance of God, whereof we find no remembrance at all in holy scripture….Many things are there like, which as holy doctors agree, were taught the apostles by Christ, and the church by the apostles, and so comen down to our days by continual succession from theirs.

William Tyndale, the first generation English Reformer, Bible translator, and ultimately martyr for Christ, responded to More in his 1531 book, An Answer unto Sir Thomas More’s Dialogue. Regarding the Sabbath-Sunday change, Tyndale does not assert an exegetical argument for the change of day. In fact, he adopts a position so radical it would bar him from ministry and even membership in many modern day “confessional” Reformed congregations. Tyndale writes,

And as for the Saboth, a great matter, we be lords over the Saboth; and may yet change it into the Monday, or any other day, as we see need; or may make every tenth day holy day only, if we see a cause why. We may make two every week, if it were expedient, and one not enough to teach the people. Neither was there any cause to change it from the Saturday, than to put difference between us and the Jews; and lest we should become servants unto the day, after their superstition. Neither needed we any holy day at all, if the people might be taught without it.

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Catechism (on the 11th Commandment)

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Catechism (on the 11th Commandment), by John Leland, is undated, and collected in The Writings of the Late Elder John Leland. Based on placement in the collection, and internal references to events which took place during the War of 1812, it would seem to have been originally published in 1815 or 1816.

Leland’s writing here reminds this author of the incisive wit of Mark Twain. He aims directly at a deep hypocrisy surrounding “Sabbath” observance and law in colonial America, revealing a corrupt state of affairs which should serve as a caution and antidote to those today who are promoting utopian descriptions of colonial religion, and promising national blessings for government Sabbath-enforcement.

Q. Which is the eleventh commandment?

A. The eleventh commandment is, “Remember the first day of the week, and keep it hypocritically: the six following days may labor, laughter, lying, cheating, drinking, gaming, revelling and oppression, be done, by day or by night, according to the inclination of the individuals; but, on the first day of the week, shall no labor or recreation be done, save only that men may salt their cows in the morning, sleep in time of service, talk about politics, fashions and prices, at noontime; read newspapers after service, and pay their addresses at night. To redeem time, however, a traveller, on a journey, may continue his travel until Saturday midnight, and resume it on Sunday at the going down of the sun, losing but eighteen hours in a week; but recreation must cease on Saturday at sun down, and not commence again until Sunday midnight, losing thirty-six hours each week. The law, moreover, commands towns, precincts, and parishes to have teachers of morality, piety and religion, at least six months in a year, on the penalty of from thirty to one hundred dollars. It also enjoins it on the people to attend on the instruction of said teachers, if they conveniently and conscientiously can.”

This is the eleventh and great command ; on the observance of which hang all religion and good order.

Q. Is there any precedent in the New Testament for all this?

A. Christ’s kingdom was not of this world: he claimed no civil prerogative; consequently, he could not make any law of state, with pecuniary or corporeal penalties to sanction it; nor did he give any divine orders to the rulers of this world to make such laws. But Constantine loved the Christians, who supported his imperial dignity, so much, that he made a law to enforce the observance of the first day of the week, and pay the teachers of Christianity. And, as every generation grows wiser, by experience of former generations, when our virtuous ancestors fled from Europe, and came to America, Mr. Cotton, in Massachusetts, and Mr. Davenport, in New Haven, like Haggai and Zechariah, instructed the rulers how to proceed. Mr. Davenport, in particular, and his company, had high notions of a Christian commonwealth; that government should be administered in an ecclesiastico-political mode. When the assembly met at New Haven, they took up the subject; but, as the season was busy, they adjourned, with the resolution that they would take the laws of God for their rule until the winter session, when they should have leisure to amend them;—and, consequently, at their leisure session, they culled those parts of Moses’s law they chose to preserve, and Christianized them; and, by little and little, have made the law as perfect as the state of society will admit of. In Massachusetts, they progressed in the same manner; in Connecticut, they begin their holy-day at the sun’s setting, and end it at the same time; and, also, the Connecticut laws are blue, while some of Massachusetts’ were red.

Q. Does not the New Testament forbid Christians to judge, and set at nought, those who differ with them about the observance of days? If so, are not all penal laws, on that subject, cruel persecution?

A. Christians, as members of churches, are not to judge them that are without; nor judge, and set at nought, those who differ with themselves, respecting meats and days ; but every man is to be fully persuaded in his own mind. Every man must give an account of himself to his Maker, and, of course, ought to be free to act as conscience dictates. Nor should Christians, as citizens or magistrates, ever quit the weapon of fair reasoning, and assume legal force, to coerce and reform others from what they suppose to be religious errors. All laws, therefore, that describe the God—the day—or the mode of worship, are usurpative and oppressive—contrary to the genius of the gospel, the dictates of grace, and the kingdom of Christ; which laws have done incalculable evil among men. But times are altered so much—New Testament, meek and humble religion, grown so unpopular—and men have become so much wiser, (especially in the New England states,) that laws to force people to keep the first day of the week holy, and oblige them to have teachers, and pay them, are absolutely necessary. Without such laws, Sabbaths would be neglected and forgotten, the sanctuary forsaken, the priesthood disgraced, and Christianity demolished. Leave religion as unguarded by law as the New Testament leaves it, and the New England states would soon fall into the same licentiousness of manners, and error in politics, that many of the states are now involved in.

Q. If such laws are necessary, what is the best mode to carry them into effect?

A. The path is plain, but requires a little disguise. Let a society be formed with all pharisaic pomp, for the ostensible purpose of promoting good morals; let this society have a president, vice-president, and executive officers; and let as many auxiliary societies be likewise self-created as is necessary with their presidents and company. By this method, there will be a number of presidents, who, otherwise, would live in obscurity. Let all these societies, by their executive committees, make a bold stand against vice; but let them be cautious not to criminate covetous and fraud among the aged, nor balls and revelling among the youth, for that would be unpopular; but let them bend their whole force to prevent travelling on the first day of the week. This will make people believe that the whole of good morals consists in keeping the day abstemiously. Let the executive committees call on justices, sheriffs and tything-men, to aid them in the laudable work. Let the justices fill their writs, and sheriffs pursue and arrest the traveller, and bring him to trial till he pays seven dollars, and then let him travel on. Half of the money will be for the prosecutors; and here the society will get money, as well as presidents. Indeed, this course of proceeding will give the society boldness in the faith—many honorary officers, and a quantum of that which answers all things, and all gained by the pure motive of suppressing vice, and promoting good morals. And, by making the day more sacred, it will make a better market for the sons of these officers, if any of them choose to be teachers of piety, morality and religion. One thing must be carefully attended to, viz., in rare instances, the fines must be relinquished after they are awarded; and these acts of generosity must be published abroad, otherwise, the people will judge that the society acts for filthy lucre’s sake; whereas nothing is sought for but the good of the souls of the poor deluded travellers. Another advantage arises from this method of procedure; should arrests and law suits attend it, which is highly probable, it will be a harvest to the attorneys, who fatten on the glorious uncertainties of the law, and the distresses of their fellow creatures.

Q. Is the law, which sanctifies the first day of the week, made for all of the community, or for a part only? If binding on all, can it be executed in the mode just described, without defeating itself?

A. On a superficial glance, the answer is no. Lying in wait to detect others—watching houses, roads and fields—gazing around in the meetinghouse—filling writs—pursuing travellers, and arresting them—holding courts of trial, and awarding fines, are as radical infringements on holy time, as labor, travelling or recreation. But, when justices, sheriffs, and others, through great self-denial, undertake the holy and meritorious work of promoting good morals, by preventing disorder on the first day of the week, they receive another heart, like Saul; old things are done away, and all things are become new; so that, like a goose, they can have one eye to heaven, and the other to earth; they can keep their hearts with all diligence; pray, love and forgive; esteem others better than themselves, and follow every good work, while they are prosecuting profligate and abandoned men. If this is not altogether the case, yet the end is so laudable, that it would justify the worst means that could be used. And, further, if the very bulwark of religion would lead on to battle, on Lake Champlain, and at New Orleans, on Sunday, to overthrow Democracy, who can hesitate to attack Democrats for sabbath-breaking? Likewise, Procrustes made an iron bedstead to measure his subjects by: those who were too long he would lop off, and those who were too short he would stretch, so that all might be of a length; just so we must lop and stretch the opinions and consciences of others, for we know that we are right.

Q. With all submission, I will state a certain case, and ask a question upon it. Some years past, a certain Indian was arrested and carried before a justice for sabbath-breaking, as it was called, and was fined a quarter of a dollar for his crime. The Indian very peaceably paid the fine to his honor, and then requested a certificate. “Why would you have a certificate?” said his honor.” Because,” said the Indian, “bye and bye I die, and go before the Great Spirit for breaking the law, and, if I have no certificate to show that I mended the law, I shall have to go all the way down to hell for you, Mr. Justice, to come as a witness for me that I have mended the law.” From this stated case, I ask the question, What will be the future destiny of justices, sheriffs, tything-men and others, who take their own judgments (perhaps their interest) for a test of orthodoxy and good morals, and must stop, keep in custody, and fine others, as good men as themselves, because they do not believe what they cannot believe, and are too honest to be hypocritical?

A. The prospect is gloomy. When they are asked by him who judgeth righteously, “who hath required this at your hands?” their mouths will be shut. The hope and the prayer of the pious is, that they may repent of the evil of their way, and be saved.

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Remarks on the Standard of Divine Truth

Isaac Newton in old age in 1712. Portrait by S...
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Remarks on the Standard of Divine Truth, by the Irish Baptist pastor and theologian Alexander Carson (1776-1844), was originally collected in The Works of Alexander Carson, Volume 1.

Before any important advances can be made in any science, the foundations of it must be ascertained and accurately discerned by those employed in rearing the superstructure. Whatever rests on any other grounds, though it may add to the apparent size of the building, diminishes its strength and beauty. For more than two thousand years, the inquiries of philosophers concerning the works of God, were carried on by hypotheses invented by ingenious men, for explaining the phenomena of nature, and during all that time, few real discoveries were made with respect either to matter or mind. Lord Bacon was the first who clearly pointed out the proper method of philosophising; Sir Isaac Newton on natural philosophy, and Doctor Reid on the science of the mind, were the first to put it in practice. In both of these departments of knowledge, one theory succeeded another till the time of these illustrious philosophers; but since that period, their respective sciences rest upon a foundation from which they can never be moved. And what has produced this remarkable difference between their systems, and those of all preceding philosophers? It is solely to the standard of truth which they ascertained, and to which in all their enquiries they appealed. Had he invented a theory, and proceeded by conjecture, Newton, with all his vast abilities, would have reared only a temporary fabric, to be blown away by the next innovator. The philosophy of Aristotle reigned in the schools without a rival, till the time of Descartes. That great man completely overturned the theories of the Stagyrite, but instead of building on more stable ground, he set himself to invent a theory of his own. By the contrivance of an immense whirlpool of subtle matter, he carried round the heavenly bodies in their evolutions, like straws and chaff in a tub of water; and this wild conjecture satisfied a great part of the learned of Europe for a considerable time, and with many, prevented the reception, even of the discoveries of Newton, for half a century. Despising vain conjectures, and being guided in his experiments and observations by those self-evident rules of philosophising which he had laid down, Newton ascertained those laws of nature that must for ever give satisfaction to the mind of man.

The revolution effected by Doctor Reid in the philosophy of the mind, is not less wonderful than that effected by Sir Isaac Newton, in that of matter. By taking for granted principles that are false, and rejecting the authority of others that are self-evident, philosophy, till his time, had established the most monstrous and incredible absurdities. The principles adopted by philosophers had rejected the testimony of the senses, and left no evidence even that there is an external world. By the most conclusive reasoning from these principles, Berkley had proved that there is no matter in the universe, and with equal validity Hume advanced a step farther, and boldly annihilated both matter and mind. According to this great philosopher, there is neither matter nor mind, neither God nor devil, nor angel nor spirit, nothing in the universe but impressions and ideas. And all these monstrous absurdities flowed regularly from the principles acknowledged by all philosophers till the time of Doctor Reid. And how did Reid restore us the world, from the united grasp of all the wise men of the world? By settling the standard of philosophical truth, by vindicating the authority of the testimony of our senses, and rejecting that of the figments of philosophers. In ascertaining the powers and faculties of the human mind, he admitted no appeal but to the mind itself by observation and experiment; and every fair result of such an appeal he received with avidity, however opposite to the established sentiments of philosophers. By this process he has done more to ascertain the principles of the human constitution, than all the philosophers who preceded him; and it is only by following in his track, that this science can be perfected.

It would not be without interest for a Christian to read the observations of this philosopher on hypotheses, as almost without exception, they apply to the theories of men with respect to the contents of the Scriptures. If hypotheses have led men to misinterpret the works of God, hypotheses have led them to misinterpret his word. The analogy is singularly striking.

And if human conjecture has ever failed with respect to the works of creation, shall it succeed with respect to the depths of the divine counsels in the redemption of sinners? Vain theologians, will ye not learn from this, that the way to discover the mind of God, is not to form hypotheses, but to examine the Scriptures? What is it produces your infinite diversities? How is it ye deduce from Scripture your innumerable errors? Ye form theories, and then wrest the Scriptures to agree with these. With the arrogance of Satan, ye determine, by your own views, what must be the divine conduct and plans, and with satanic ingenuity and effrontery, ye torture his word to speak your sentiments. While in words ye acknowledge the Scriptures to be a standard, ye take the liberty of erecting a standard of paramount authority in your own understandings, and of interpreting the oracles of God, by the delusions of your own fancies. Though ye call the Scriptures a standard, ye do not allow them to be the sole standard of divine truth. Some things, ye say, God has left to be planned by the wisdom of man. How, then, can ye escape error? How can ye agree with each other? Christians, have ye no errors, have ye no differences? Believe it, they are mostly owing to the same cause. Strange as on first view it may appear, Christians do not all agree in the source of religious sentiments. Do not some, even till this moment, contend that some things are left to human institution? What common principle have we then to reason with such? With them the Scriptures are not the sole standard. Others by distinctions and difference of times, and various inventions, have considerably abridged this standard, so that almost the half of its testimony is not heard in evidence, but rejected as irrelevant. The testimony of the Holy Spirit is treated like that of an old honest but doting man, who speaks now and then to the purpose, but is perpetually subject to mental wanderings. Even among those who acknowledge the Scriptures as the sole standard, I find there are vain controvertists, who steadily and uniformly act up to their avowed principles. When the interest of a favorite dogma is at stake, every artifice is employed to make the witness prevaricate. With all their deference for the authority of the divine word, how do they grapple with it, when it seems to enjoin any disagreeable practice? Christians, in ascertaining the mind of God, let us banish all the prejudices and prepossessions of our own minds. Let us listen to the Scriptures as the rule, as the perfect standard. Let nothing be received, because it commends itself to our wisdom; let nothing be rejected for want of this sanction. Let us remember that, in all things, the wisdom of God is not like the wisdom of man.

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The Sabbath Examined by John Leland

The Sabbath Examined by John Leland is now available as a PDF download.

The Sabbath Examined

Excerpt from the Introduction:

Leland was an unabashed defender of religious freedom, liberty of conscience, and separation of church and state, but he also represents an important dissenting voice regarding the doctrine of the perpetuity of the Sabbath, especially among Calvinistic Baptists. Modern publications surrounding this issue tend to leave the impression that there has been little to no historic debate amongst ‘orthodoxy’ regarding the perpetuity of the Sabbath; that anyone who questions the Scriptural support for the doctrine is little more than an antinomian or libertine seeking to undermine all religion and clear the weekend for sports and games; that virtually everyone from Calvin onward has held to a Puritan-style observance of the first day. The rejection of the doctrine has even become a point of fellowship and sharp division, especially amongst ‘Reformed‘ Baptists.

A fair question is whether the historic balance of opinion on this question is being fairly represented in today’s polemic, especially when the modern republishing ministries which promote Calvinistic doctrine are almost completely dominated by one view of the matter. The result has been a wealth of treatises defending the Sabbath or giving directions for its care and observance, with virtually no evidence of a contrary stream of thought.

Leland provides something of an antidote to this view, and a strong one. He espouses a radical New Testament theology: consigning the entire Sabbath institution to the Mosaic period; rejecting any distinction of days under the New Covenant; and advocating a liberty of the church to meet on any or every day of the week, while yet respecting the right of every man to keep a religious day as he feels compelled by conscience.

Nimrod, Moses, Christ, and the United States

Nimrod, Moses, Christ, and the United States, by John Leland, is excerpted from Miscellaneous Essays in Prose and Verse, published around 1810.

As Nimrod was the great grandson of Noah, he founded his government not far from the beginning of the nineteenth century, A.M. His government is called a kingdom, and yet it speaks the language of a commonwealth.They said, go to, let us make brick—let us build us a city, and let us make us a name. [Gen 11:4]” These expressions do not accord with the language of an absolute monarch. It is probable that, in the first founding of this government, there was a general consent—that a majority, if not of numbers, yet of affluence, agreed to the measure; for fancy itself cannot invent how government could take rise against the consent of the people. After the government was formed, Nimrod, by his exploits and deception, gained an ascendency over the rest.

In the twenty-fifth century, the twelve tribes of Israel were formed into a government, at Mount Sinai. This people received all their laws, both civil and religious, from Jehovah; consequently, they had neither legislature nor executive in their institutions. The judiciary was established among them. Judges over thousands—over hundreds—over fifties and over tens, were appointed; but no salaries were provided for them; the expense, therefore, of the civil list was nothing. The term in which the judges ruled (from the inauguration of Moses to the death of Samuel) was about four hundred and fifty years. While the stationary judges performed their work, a number of extraordinary judges was raised up, who judged and ruled the whole nation. Of this last description, there were sixteen. During this period, they had no king, “but every man did that which was right in his own eyes. [Jdg 21:25]” That they sometimes did wrong, is certain; but they did worse after they became a kingdom.

There were intervals, of forty years each, in which there was no war, while the judges ruled, and one interval of eighty years, which was never the case after their regal modification. Religion, in all its forms, was established among this people—the line of the priests was fixed—and their salaries appointed, which consisted of a tenth part of the products of the people. This, I say, was appointed—God commanded it; but, if men did not obey, they were accountable to God alone—the judges had no orders to take cognizance of it.

This people, at length, (to get clear of wicked judges, and have a general stated among them to fight their battles,) changed their government into a qualified monarchy. A king they would have—a king God gave them in His anger. The king, however, was to make no laws; but rule according to the laws given by Moses. The theocracy, therefore, still existed. Four kings reigned over the twelve tribes; and then ten of the tribes separated, and formed a distinct kingdom. Over these ten tribes, reigned nineteen kings in succession; and over the two tribes, on the throne of Judah, reigned twenty. The ten tribes were, at length, captivated by the Assyrians; and, some tome after, the two tribes shared the same fate by the Chaldeans. The length of time, from the royal modification of the tribes, unto the close of the dynasties of the two lines of kings, was about four hundred and seventy years. Over the two tribes, the crown was hereditary in the house of David; but over the ten tribes, he who was most ambitious and fortunate wore the crown. In short, all the qualifications of many of those kings were comprised in killing the one who reigned before them.

About the middle of the fifth millennium, the kingdom of Christ was set up. Jesus said he was a king, born to bear witness unto the truth—that his kingdom was righteousness and peace, but not of this world; of course his servants were not to fight for it with carnal weapons. The cause of Christ, without coercion by law or sword; by appealing to the reason and judgment of men, gained so much evidence of its divinity, that in three hundred years, it overturned the empire, which claimed universal sway. Let it carefully be observed, that Jesus claimed no civil prerogatives among men—has set no example—given no code of laws for the government of state; but left all such affairs to have their course in Providence, while he pursued his object, the eternal salvation of men. It should here be noticed, that when Christianity overturned empire, as mentioned before, in a great measure, it overturned itself. Government, which before had opposed it, now flattered it. Learning, which till then had used all its force against it, now sought to support it by the aid of reasoning, and by the court and the college, Christianity was disrobed of her native beauty, and prostituted to the basest purposes. Christianity being established in the empire, it opened a large door for Christian officers: to fill the civil offices, the ambitious would be Christians; and to get a fat living, many would be called to preach.

Strange to relate! It was left for the United States of North America, to give the example to the world; to draw the proper line between church and state, religion and politics. Yes, from the beginning of Christianity, down to the close of the eighteenth century, A.D. it never prevailed among a people, of any considerable consequence, but they would either punish or pamper it almost to death: either to proscribe it, or make it a principle of state policy. To say that the government of the United States is perfect would be arrogant; but I have no hesitancy in saying, that the Constitution has left religion infallibly where it should be left in all government, viz: in the hands of its author, as a matter between God and individuals; leaving an open door for Pagans, Turks, Jews, or Christians, to fill any office in the government, without any religious test, to make them hypocrites: securing to every man his right of argument and free debate: not considering religious opinions objects of civil government, or any ways under its control: duly appreciating that Christianity is not a scheme of coercion; but only calls for a patient hearing, a dispassionate examination and a rational faith.

Facts and Questions

Facts and Questions, by John Leland, is excerpted from Miscellaneous Essays in Prose and Verse, published around 1810.

Jews, Christians, and Deists, all believe in the unity of God. Jews have Jehovah, Christians have Immanuel, and Deists have their Deity. The Jews believe in Jehovah, and receive the Old Testament as a revelation from God; but do not believe that Christ was the promised Messiah, nor that the New Testament is of divine inspiration. The Christians believe in Jehovah, and in the divinity of the Old Testament; they also believe in Immanuel, as Jehovah incarnate, and receive the New Testament as divinely authentic. The Deists believe neither in the God of Moses, nor in the God of Christians; but (borrowing language from the Bible, a book which they detest,) speak very sublimely of Deity.

Query. Is there a man on Earth, (where the gospel of Christ is known,) who gives any evidence, by the temper of his mind and his external conduct, that he loves the Supreme Deity and rejoices in his government; who, at the same time will satirize the Christians’ God, and reprobate the New Testament? I believe not. And if my faith is well founded, infidelity takes its rise in the baseness of the heart.

Again. If a company of men had a vast and valuable inheritance, secured to them by a writing as well authenticated as the Bible, would they not feel well satisfied with their charter? The inheritance of pardon of sin and a resurrection to eternal life, is chartered in the scriptures, and no where else. The light of nature and the laws of nations—philosophy and state policy—have no concern in it.

Many Men of Many Minds

Many Men of Many Minds, by John Leland, is excerpted from the pamphlet A Budget of Scraps, first published in 1810.

How various are the opinions of men respecting the mode of supporting gospel ministers.

A thinks that preachers of the gospel should be qualified, inducted, and supported, in a mode to be proscribed by statute laws.

B is of the opinion that that a preacher is not entitled to any compensation for his services, unless he is poor and shiftless, and cannot live without the alms of the people.

C says, that it takes him as long to go to meeting, and hear the preacher, as it does for the preacher to go and preach, and their obligations are therefore reciprocal.

D believes a rich preacher is as much entitled to a reward for his labor as if he was poor.

E believes that a preacher should give the whole of his time to reading, meditating, preaching, praying, and visiting, and therefore he ought to be liberally supported; not in the light of alms, but in that of a gospel debt.

F joins with E, with this proviso, that the liberal support be averaged on all the members of the church, according to property and privilege.

G also agrees with E, provided the liberal support be raised by a free, public contribution, without any knowledge or examination what each individual does.

H chooses to tax himself, and constable his own money to his preacher, without consulting any other.

I loves the preachers, and pays them with blessings, but the sound of money drives all good feelings from his heart.

When J hears a man preach that he does not believe is sent of God, he feels under no obligation to give him anything; and when he hears a preacher that gives him evidence, that he is in the service of the Lord, and devoted to the work, he forms the conclusion, that the Lord pays the preacher well for his work as he goes along.

K likes preachers very well, but preaching rather better; he feels, therefore, best pleased, when the preacher fails coming, and a gap opens for himself; for he had rather work his passage, and take his turn at the helm, than pay a pilot.

L argues like a man, that the preacher ought to receive something handsome for his services, and laments that himself is in debt, and cannot communicate any thing, without defrauding his creditors. At the same time, he takes special care to keep always in debt for cheap farms, wild land, or some other articles of an increasing nature.

M is a man of a thousand. He argues that the mode of supporting ministers is left blank in the New Testament; because no one mode would be economical in all places; but that the deed itself is enjoined on all who are taught by an ordinance of heaven. If, therefore, a contribution is recommended, M will be foremost to the box. When a subscription is judged most advisable, his name will be first on the list. If averaging is considered most equitable, he will add a little to his bill, lest others should fail. And if no mode at all is agreed upon, still M, as an individual, will contribute by himself; for he reasons, that if others are remiss, it is neither precedent nor excuse for him. He does not give to be seen of men, but because his heart is in it; and these gospel debts (as he calls them) he pays with as much devotion, as he spreads his hands in prayer to God. The creed of his faith, which seems to be written on his heart, is “That, although all the money in the world cannot purchase pardon of sin, or the smiles of a reconciled God; yet religion always has cost money or worth, from Abel’s lamb to the present day. And that the man who will not part with a little money, for the sake of him who parted with his blood for sinners, is a wicked disciple.”

N approves of the faith and profession of M, in every particular, but reduces nothing of it to practice.

O, like his make, believes nothing, does nothing, and is as near nothing as anything can be.

Why I Left Scofieldism by William E. Cox

Why I Left Scofieldism by William E. Cox is now available as a PDF download.

Some readers may not be familiar with the term Scofieldism. Cyrus Scofield is perhaps the individual most responsible for popularizing the dispensationalist teachings of John Nelson Darby through his now ubiquitous Scofield Reference Bible. As a consequence, dispensational doctrine was often labeled Scofieldism.

Why I Left Scofieldism

Old Mr. Well’s You Can

Old Mr. Well’s You Can, by John Leland, is excerpted from Miscellaneous Essays in Prose and Verse, published around 1810.

In my travels, and among my acquaintance, I have heard much said about a Saviour, by the name of Well’s you can; but have never yet seen him – the house where he lives, nor the man who entertains him: and am almost in despair of ever finding him below the sun. The accounts of him are these: “If I do as well as I can, I believe the Lord will accept of me, and if you do as well as you can, you will be saved.” If the salvation of the soul depends upon our doing as well as we can, who then can be saved? If a man faulters once in his life from doing as well as he can, the chance is over with him; and where is the man to be found, who can lay his hand upon his breast and conscientiously declare, that he has at all times, and in all cases done as well as he could? If such a man cannot be found, it follows that well as you can is only an ideal, not a real Saviour.

It is a saying replete with truth, that those men, who place the greatest hope for heaven on doing as well as they can, are more negligent in good works, than those who detest themselves as the vilest of the vile, and trust alone in the mercy of God, through the blood of the cross. Pharisees may boast of good works, but humble penitents perform them. Men, who are taught of God, instead of doing one good work to make atonement for a bad deed, see so much pollution in their best works, that they implore the pardoning blood of Christ to wash their works as well as their souls. There cannot be anything meritorious in the performance of the dependent creatures: the righteous law of God requires, of all rational creatures, the unceasing exertion of all their powers in loving and obeying their Maker. If any part of their time is otherwise employed, sin is committed, and guilt is contracted. If, after the failure, creatures could do more than the law requires, by this extra work (which would be meritorious) they might make amends for former deficiencies; but this extra work cannot be done, because the law requires the constant exercise of all their powers in his service. If, therefore, perfect and perpetual obedience is due to God, neither the whole, nor any parts of obedience, can be meritorious. And, as no after obedience can make satisfaction for a former failure, so, likewise, repentance for sin committed will not atone for guilt contracted. The conclusion of the whole is, that, when creatures have sinned, neither after obedience nor repentance will save their souls.