[Table of Contents]
|Benjamin Lyon Smith
The Millennial Harbinger Abridged (1902)
THE GOSPEL--ITS CREDIBILITY.
All revealed religion is based upon facts. Testimony has respect to facts only; that the testimony be credible, it must be confirmed. These points are of so much importance as to deserve some illustration, and much consideration. By facts we always mean something said or done. The works of God and the words of God, or the things done and spoken by God, are those facts which are laid down and exhibited in the Bible as the foundation of all faith, hope, love, piety, and humanity. All true and useful knowledge is an acquaintance with  facts. And all true science is acquired from the observation and comparison of facts. But he that made the heart of man and gave him an intelligent spirit knows that facts alone can move the affections, and command the passions of man. Hence the scheme of mercy which he has discovered to the world, is all contained in, and developed by, the works of mercy which he has wrought.
Facts have a meaning which the understanding apprehends and the heart feels. According to the meaning or nature of the fact, is its effect upon us. If a friend have risked his life, or sacrificed his reputation or fortune to relieve us, we can not but confide in him and love him. If an enemy have attempted our life, invaded our property, or attacked our reputation, we can not, naturally, but hate him. Nothing but the command of a benefactor, or the will of some dear friend who has laid us under obligation to himself, can prevent us from hating our enemies. If a beloved relative have sustained some great misfortune, we must feel sorry; or if he have been rescued from some impending calamity, we must feel glad. Our joy in the latter case, and our sorrow in the former, arise from the meaning or nature of the fact. The feelings corresponding with the nature of the fact, are excited or called into existence the moment the fact is known or believed. It is known when we have witnessed it ourselves, and it is believed when reported to us by credible persons who have witnessed it. This is the chief difference between faith and knowledge.
As existences or beings must precede knowledge, so facts must precede either knowledge or belief. An event must happen before it can be known by man--it must be known by some before it can be reported to others--it must be reported before it can be believed, and the testimony must be confirmed, or made credible, before it can be relied on.
Something must be done before it can be known, reported, or believed. Hence, in the order of nature, there is first the fact, then the testimony, and then the belief. A was drowned before B reported it--B reported it before C believed it, and C believed it before he was grieved at it. This is the unchangeable and universal order of things as respects belief. In this example when we reason from effect to cause, it is grief, belief, testimony, fact--and from cause to effect it is fact, testimony, belief, grief. We ascend from grief to belief--from belief to testimony--from testimony to fact. We descend from fact to testimony--from testimony to belief, and from belief to grief. To this there is no exception, more than against the universality of the laws of gravity. If, then, there was nothing said or done, there could be no testimony, and so no faith. Religious affections spring from faith; and, therefore, it is of importance that this subject should be disintricated from the mysticism of the schools. 
Laws call for obedience, and testimony for belief. Where there is no law, there can be no obedience; and where there is no testimony, there can be no faith. As obedience can not transcend law, so faith can not transcend testimony. John's testimony went to so many facts. On his testimony we can believe only as far as he has testified. And so of all the other witnesses. The certainty of faith depends upon the certainty or credibility of the witnesses. But not so its effects. The effects depend upon the facts believed--the certainty upon the evidence. I may be equally certain that John was beheaded--that Jesus was crucified. Nay, I may be as certain of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, as I am of his death on Calvary. The testimony may be equally credible, and the faith equally strong; but the effects produced are not the same. The facts believed have not the same meaning, are not of the 'same nature, and do not produce the same feelings or effects. I may be as certain of the assassination of Cesar in the Senate House, as I am of the crucifixion of Jesus on Calvary: but as the facts believed are as diverse in the nature, meaning, and bearings upon me as the East and the West; so the effects or fruits of my faith are as different as Julius Cesar and Jesus Christ.
The more ordinary the fact, the more ordinary the testimony necessary to establish it. That A B, aged 90, and confined for some time with sickness, died last night, requires only the most ordinary testimony to render it credible. But that C D lived to 140, enjoying unabated vigor of mind and body, requires stronger testimony. But still all facts happening in accordance with the ordinary and natural laws of things, require but good human testimony to make them worthy of credence. 'Tis only extraordinary and supernatural facts which require supernatural testimony, or testimony supernaturally confirmed. This is the point to which we have been looking in this essay. And now that we have arrived at it, I would ask, How has the testimony of the Apostles and Evangelists been confirmed?
To confirm a testimony is neither more nor less than to make it credible to those to whom it is tendered; or, to express the same idea in other words, it is to give men power to believe it. Now it will not require the same amount of evidence to persuade an astronomer that the earth's shadow struck the moon last eclypse, as it would to convince an Indian; or it would not require the same amount of evidence to convince a chemist that combustion was effected by pouring water on a certain composition of mineral substances, as it would an unlettered swain. To make any testimony credible to any order of beings, regard must therefore be had to the capacity, attainments, and habits of those beings. To confirm the testimony of the Apostles concerning the Messiah's death, resurrection, ascension into heaven, and coronation as the Lord and King of the Universe, imports no more nor  less than that it should be rendered every way credible to such beings as we are, or that we should be made able to believe it. A testimony confirmed, and yet incredible to those to whom it is tendered, is a contradiction in terms. But why emphasize on the word confirmed? Because the holy Apostles have emphasized upon it. It is therefore necessary that we should pay a due regard to the confirmation of the testimony. The testimony is one thing, and the confirmation is another. It is necessary, in all important occasions in human affairs, that the testimony which is received between man and man should be confirmed by some sanction. Hence an oath for confirmation of testimony is an end of all strife. The highest confirmation which men require in all questions of fact, is a solemn oath or affirmation that the things affirmed are true.
But supernatural facts require supernatural confirmations. Hence when the confirmation of the gospel is spoken of in the apostolic writings, it is resolved into the doings or works of the Holy Spirit. "Demonstrations of the Holy Spirit" are the confirmatory proofs of the gospel. When Paul delivered the testimony of God, or the testimony concerning Jesus, to the Corinthians, he says, "It was confirmed among them." And if we examine into the confirmation of the testimony as Paul explained it, we shall find that he makes the spiritual gifts, or those extraordinary and miraculous powers which the Apostles themselves displayed, and which so many of their converts also possessed, an assurance or confirmation of what he promulged.
To those desirous to understand this subject, an examination of this first letter to the Corinthians can not fail to be most instructive; for it most clearly and unequivocally teaches us that the visible, audible, sensible demonstration of the Spirit and of power was that supernatural attestation of the testimony of Christ which made it credible, so that no man could have acknowledged Jesus of Nazareth to be the Almighty Lord but by this demonstration of the Holy Spirit. Thus was the testimony confirmed--thus was Jesus demonstrated to be the only begotten Son of God--and thus, and thus only, are men enabled to believe in him.
Some mystics in ancient times, and some of the moderns yet affirm that the infusion of the Holy Spirit into the hearts of disciples as the spirit of adoption--as the Spirit of Christ--is that demonstration of the Spirit which enables men to believe. But this is as unreasonable as it is unscriptural: unreasonable because no such inspiration, no invisible, inaudible, or insensible operation or effect can be called a demonstration of the Spirit on which faith rests--none of the terms used by the Apostle can bear such an exposition. And it is unscriptural, for none of the converts to Christianity in the New Testament  are represented as converted but by what they saw and heard; and the Spirit of Holiness was a gift promised to them, find to them only who believe.
A demonstration that can not be seen or heard, is, in our mother tongue, no demonstration at all; and a faith that rests upon anything called demonstrations of the Spirit and of power which are only felt in the heart, is a faith resting upon itself. The testimony and the confirmation must be alike extrinsic, else it is no confirmation at all. No feeling in the heart can be called a demonstration. The eye or the ear, and strictly the former, but figuratively the latter, are the senses to which demonstrations are submitted. None but mystics could draw a demonstration in confirmation of a fact or a testimony from the effect produced in the heart. What would a person of common sense say to a mother who labored to prove that the tidings she had heard of the death of her only son were true, because she felt sorry to hear and believe them? In vain would she call her grief, her agony, her tears, a demonstration that the testimony was true. These might be proofs that she believed the tidings, but never can they prove the tidings to be true. But why labor to tediousness in support of that which is almost self-evident?
The narrative of the labors and success of the Apostles, which Luke gives, corroborates, by the examples it adduces, the above statements. Take Peter's labors for examples. His testimony on Pentecost was confirmed by a sound from heaven, by tongues of fire; and when they heard his testimony, and saw the signs accompanying it, thousands believed the testimony. When they saw him cure the cripple, and heard him announce the glad tidings at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple, multitudes believed. When he cured Eneas, the paralytic of Lydda, "all the inhabitants of Lydda and Saron saw him and turned to the Lord." When he raised to life again Tabitha of Joppa, "this was known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord." Such was the order of that day. And thus was the testimony confirmed, and men and women enabled to believe.
From all that has been said, the following conclusions are apparent, and of much practical importance, at least to all who labor in the word and teaching:--
1. The testimony which God has given, or the testimony which the Apostles gave concerning Jesus, as the Messiah, the Son of God, and the all-sufficient Saviour of the World, is a credible testimony, a well confirmed testimony; and as confirmed by the demonstrations of the Spirit and power of God, worthy of all acceptation; and by it men, otherwise without strength, are made able to believe. Hence all who wait for the testimony to be specially confirmed to them, wait for what they have no promise nor right to receive, and which God  can not bestow without implying that the testimony is otherwise unworthy of belief; or, what we commonly call incredible.
2. Every one who says he can not believe, says that the testimony is incredible; that God has not confirmed it; and in so doing expressly contradicts the Apostle, who says, "The report is credible, or true, and worthy of all reception; that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners;" or else he means, that he will not believe, and therefore will not hear the testimony lest he should believe it. He that believeth not, makes God a liar, because he says that his testimony is not true.
3. The ancients were enabled to call Jesus Lord of All, the King eternal, immortal, and invisible, from the demonstrations of the Holy Spirit confirming the testimony, without any other aid than the power of God exhibited in attestation of the testimony. So are we when the testimony is fairly and ably laid before us. Hence in producing faith in the minds of men, all that is necessary is, to do justice to the whole testimony of God--to do what Paul said he did, without the persuasive words of human philosophy, declare the testimony of God. Hence all men who believe and preach Christ, should be able to give a reason of the hope which they entertain, by adducing the evidences of the gospel--not by telling their experience, which will never convince anybody but an enthusiast; any more than Mary's testimony concerning her grief will be a demonstration that the report of her son's death is true. Peter never commanded any man to narrate his own feelings as a reason of the hope which he had in the Messiah, in preference to, or in competition with, the confirmed testimony. No, the best reason of faith is a well authenticated testimony, or confirmed evidences. Our experience may be a, consolation to ourselves, as our behavior will be a corroboration to others; but the demonstrations which the Spirit has afforded alone can enable any man to say that Jesus is the Lord.
4. As the first Christians were convinced by the Holy Spirit and enabled to believe by the attestations which he gave; so, after they believed and obeyed the gospel, they had the Holy Spirit infused into their hearts; and were then, because they were sons--(for to as many as received him to them he gave power to become the sons of God,) enabled by the spirit imparted to them to say, Our Father--so will it be with them who now believe and obey the same gospel upon the same evidences and for the same reasons.
5. As Jesus, when on earth, finished the work of redemption, but in heaven he is our High Priest; so the Holy Spirit on earth, after his ascension, finished the confirmation of the testimony: but now, in addition to that work which makes redemption credible, he sheds his influences in the hearts of them who obey. If any man can make himself happy, from any supposed change of heart, before he has  obeyed the gospel, he deludes himself. 'Tis only by obeying the truth that any man can be sanctified and comforted by it. The story told by some of their happiness before obedience, is to me as wild and incredible as the story of the Phœnix clapping his wings over dried sticks until it sets them on fire. If, then, all who undertake to preach Christ, would, instead of preaching their own dreams, or even their real experiences, exhibit the evidences; and instead of telling men to wait or pray for good signs, or for power to believe, persuade them to obey the gospel, the gospel would run and be glorified, and sectarianism would wither as the grass. To effect this is the leading object of this paper; and if it fail to produce this conviction in any attentive reader, if he will furnish me with his objections, I will do them justice.
Alexander Campbell. Extracts from "The Confirmation of the Testimony."
The Millennial Harbinger 1 |
[Table of Contents]
|Benjamin Lyon Smith
The Millennial Harbinger Abridged (1902)