BAPTIST THOROUGH REFORMERS
THE RECEPTION WHICH SHOULD
BE GIVEN TO
THE RELIGIOUS REFORMER.
"These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so." ACTS xvii. 11.
and error have always delighted to taunt the disciples of Christ and the friends of truth
with ignorant credulity, and the reception of unfounded and absurd dogmas, without due
forethought and investigation. They have arrogated to themselves all the freedom of
thought and independence of mind there is in the world, and profess to have calmly
investigated the truths which they reject. The taunt on the one hand, and the assumption
on the other, are both false; for it is a significant fact, that a pure Christianity has
advanced just in proportion as the right of free and independent investigation has been
enjoyed and exercised; and moreover, it is the glory of Christianity, that it courts the
test of candid examination, and commends such a course whenever adopted.
We have a striking illustration of this in the text and its connection. The apostle Paul, having been driven from Thessalonica by an infuriated mob, excited to deeds of violence by bigoted and interested partisans, fled to Berea. Here he pursued a course similar to that which he had adopted in Thessalonica. He entered the Jewish synagogue and taught in the name of Jesus. The community in this place was composed of men of more independent minds, and nobler spirit than the Thessalonians; and, consequently, they gave the apostle a far different reception from that which he experienced in their city. They were not afraid to discuss, examine, and fairly investigate the new doctrine which he introduced to them, and after bringing it to the proper test, to let it stand or fall on its own merits. This conduct was truly noble; and as such, it is endorsed by the Holy Spirit in the inspired words of the text: "These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so." Though the apostle appeared among them as a reformer, they did not consider him an intruder, or treat him as an innovator; but they acted like rational, intelligent beings; they acted like men; they acted as all should act under like circumstances. Our theme on the present occasion will be,
THE RECEPTION THAT SHOULD BE GIVEN TO THE RELIGIOUS REFORMER.
illustrating this theme, I shall invite your attention to the conduct of the Bereans, and
their treatment of Paul and Silas, as the divinely approved example. This example will
appear to better advantage, if we follow the phraseology of the text, and notice,
I. THE COMPARISON INSTITUTED. "More noble than those in Thessalonica." The Thessalonian Jews had exhibited a spirit of gross intolerance. They were destitute of that spirit which truly ennobles man. They had power and influence, and they used these to crush the weak. They were filled with envy and jealousy, and they gave vent to their feelings in acts of violence and oppression. Refusing to be convinced themselves, they determined to prevent all others from being convinced. They appealed to passion, and prejudice, rather than to judgment and reason. They made old opinions, and popular usages, the standard and test by which they tried the apostles' teaching, instead of the Word of God. They falsely accused them of disturbing the peace of society; and, by a willful misconstruction of their words, they even charged them with treasonable designs against the government: "These," said they, "all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus." They drove them entirely away from their city, and then took security of those who had hospitably entertained them. Nor was this all. They followed them to Berea, and stirred up the people there, so that Paul was compelled to leave that place. Now, in contrast with this course, notice,
II. THE RECEPTION OF THE APOSTLES BY THE BEREANS. "They received the word with all readiness of mind." They were wedded to the same rites as were the Jews in Thessalonica. Their prejudices were in favor of Judaism and arrayed against Christianity. Hence, the teaching of the apostle was as much opposed to their views, as to those of the Thessalonians; but notwithstanding all this, they "received the word with all readiness of mind." This implies that they received it,
1. Respectfully. It is too frequently the case, that when the truth is presented to those who have long cherished religions error, they treat it with ridicule, especially where it comes in contact with their preconceived opinions. Thus the Athenians treated Paul, when he broached the doctrine of the resurrection, "And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked; and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter." (Acts xvii. 89.) Thus it is, often, in our day. The curling lip, and the sneer of contempt, and the expression of ridicule, are seen and heard as soon as a favorite dogma is touched, no matter how kindly. Not so with the Bereans. However novel the doctrines of the apostle appeared, however opposite to what they had been taught, or however different from their previously formed opinions, they listened to what he presented with respect. They received the word,
2. With candor. They were disposed to be frank and fair. They were open to conviction honest and ingenuous in their conclusions. They kept their minds free from an undue bias, and let every argument have its full weight. They were disposed to think and judge according to truth and justice. They were willing to admit every reasonable and logical conclusion. They banished prejudice, and examined the subject impartially. This is the proper way to arrive at the truth. God gave us our reason to be exercised in religious matters, as well as in worldly affairs. These Bereans neither exhibited bigotry on the one hand, nor credulity on the other. They were willing to hear, and then they judged for themselves, and formed their own conclusions. This is all that can be demanded. This course was honorable to themselves, and would make even those respect them who differed from them. And this is true of any man, or body of men. let them be candid, fair and frank, and they will win the respect of those who arrive at, a different conclusion from them. They received the word,
3. Patiently. They did not get in an ill-humor with the apostle, or exhibit signs of irritation, or. cherish feelings of malice toward him, because he sought to convert them from Judaism. Though it was the religion of their fathers though they had been brought up in it though their prejudices were strongly wedded to its rites and ceremonies still, they calmly listened to the reasons urged by the apostle why they should abandon it, and connect themselves with that sect which was "everywhere spoken against." They were not offended at his zeal; their minds were unruffled, and day after day they came to patiently hear him through. How different is this from the conduct of most persons. Just touch their peculiar doctrines, or hint that the rites which they observe are unscriptural, and without waiting to hear the reasons for such an opinion, they at once become agitated, and impatiently desire to leave the place and inwardly determine that they will not again enter it. So did not the noble Bereans. They wished to find the truth, though it might lie in a different direction from that in which they had been accustomed to seek it. They desired to follow the truth, though it might lead to the abandonment of time-honored customs and the breaking up of old and pleasant associations. Therefore, "they received the word with all readiness of mind." Such a course might offend interested partisans, but God commends it as noble. We notice,
III. THE TEST BY WHICH THEY TRIED THE TEACHING OF THE APOSTLES. "They searched the Scriptures daily, whether these things were so." This is the divine standard of appeal. God gave it as our guide, and we are commanded to search it. It is to be the test of all religious teaching; and the conduct of the Bereans in making it the test of Paul's preaching is honored by its divine Author; for let it not be forgotten that it is Jehovah who speaks in the text.
They did not appeal to Tradition. They might have done this. Rumor said that Christ was an impostor; Paul affirmed that He was the Messiah. How were they to decide? Simply by appealing to the Scriptures. They did not appeal to their priests and rabbis. They had told them to oppose Christianity, and seek to exterminate it. But they knew their priests were fallible men, and that if they obeyed them, they might possibly be "found fighting against God." They did not appeal to their own preference, and interest, and convenience. These would have prompted them to reject the investigation of the doctrine. and decide at once in accordance with tradition and popular customs.
Abandoning all these false and uncertain standards, they appealed to the Scriptures, to settle the differences between their views and those of their reformers. They "searched" the Scriptures; as one who seeks for something that is lost. Many persons read the Bible only to find support for what they already believe, and search the Scriptures to prove that what is new to them is not so. But these Bereans exhibited the same candor in testing the word, that they did in its reception. If the Scriptures sustained the apostle, they adopted his views; if not, they rejected them. Thus they honored God, and exempted themselves from the charge of willful ignorance, intolerance, and superstition.
This is the reception that should always be given to those who aim to reform a community, whether that reformation be universal, or whether it have reference only to a single doctrine or ordinance. Such a reception is all we ask for these Lectures. Such a reception is all Baptists ask anywhere. Those who hold the truth have nothing to fear from such a course. Respectful, candid, and patient attention, will enable them the more readily to detect sophistry and specious reasoning, and the study of the Bible will always expose what is unscriptural and erroneous. Moreover, this course has the sanction of Jehovah, however much it may offend men. The Bible should he the test of all preaching. That man who desires to make himself the umpire and final standard of appeal to his congregation, involves himself in a fearful responsibility, and virtually claims for himself infallibility. Yet some ministers appear offended if their authority is questioned, or if their preaching is tested by the Word of God. So did not Paul. Though inspired, he commended the course of those, who, instead of taking his say so for it, examined the Scriptures for themselves, to see whether those things which he told them were so. To adopt a contrary course, and blindly follow a minister or priest, is downright Romanism; and, if pursued universally, would arrest the progress of' the Gospel, and clog the wheels of truth, and stamp error with immutability.
What if the Hindoo, the Burman, and the Chinese follow their priests, and universally determine never to examine Christianity? What if the Mohammedan, Romanist and Greek, follow their teachers? What if the Universalist, Infidel, and Atheist, follow their champions! And yet these have as much war rant to do this, as the Presbyterian, Methodist, or Baptist. No, my brethren, your minister is not to be the umpire or standard. There is but one who could say, "Follow Me!" and that was Christ. We point you to Him. We direct you to His Word as the standard of your duty, and to His example as the pattern of your lives. If, in these Lectures, we say anything that conflicts with these, reject it; but if you God, on examination, that these things which we preach are so, remember, the whole responsibility of rejecting, not us, but the Word of' God, and the meek and lowly Saviuor, rests at your own door.
If the conduct of the Bereans were universally imitated, what happy events would follow. How soon would infidelity, and error, and superstition vanish before the influence of sound reason and Scripture truth. What courtesy, and forbearance, and love, wou1d be manifested among brethren who differ. How much more diligently would the Bible be studied, and how soon would the multitude of sects and parties disappear, and the Saviour's prayer that they all might be one would be answered.
The contrary course can benefit no one. If a man is in an error, no matter how trivial, it can do him no good to continue in that error. Especially, it can do him no good to dwarf his mind, and stunt his intellectual powers, in order that he may continue in it unmolested. Yet this is the effect of refusing a candid investigation of the truth. Further, if a man has the truth, he will not fear investigation, but rather court it,. "He that doeth the truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God."
If a pretended reformer appears, there is no surer way of exposing the imposition, than the adoption of the example of the Bereans. But if a, contrary course is pursued, it frequently leads to the exercise of a morbid sympathy toward those who hold injurious error. Now Baptists appear before the world as those who aim at a complete reform. They, appeal not to the sympathies, but to the consciences of men; not to prejudice, but to reason; not to tradition but to the Scriptures. They simply ask for the reception which the Bereans gave to those who sought to convert them from Judaism to Christianity.
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