Walter Scott On Experimental Religion (1827)


C H R I S T I A N   B A P T I S T.


      Style no man on earth your Father; for he alone is your Father who is in heaven: and all ye are brethren. Assume not the title of Rabbi; for ye have only One Teacher; neither assume the title of Leader; for ye have only One Leader--The Messiah.

On Experimental Religion.--No. I.

      THERE are a few topics in our religion to which the writers of the New Testament have paid very particular regard. They are, 1st. The Messiahship of Jesus. 2d. The history of the Apostles. 3d. The right ordering of the primitive churches; and 4th. The history of the church general, or whole body of christians.

      In making a selection of the sacred books, it was, therefore, with great propriety that the first place was assigned to that order of them which particularly respected the founder of our religion--Jesus.

      With equal propriety the second place has been given to those books which speak of the second order of religious character, viz. the immediate followers of Jesus, or the twelve apostles, a general history of whose labors has been delivered to us by Luke in the Acts or Actions of the Apostles.

      The epistles addressed to particular churches occupy the third place, and discourse generally upon the various relations subsisting between them and the Messiah, whose mission they had recognized; their obedience to him; their worship, discipline, order, &c.

      While the Revelations, which furnish us with a prophetic account of christianity in the aggregate, from the days of the apostles till the end of the world, occupy the fourth place.

      That the mission of Jesus, the history of his twelve apostles, the constitution of the primitive churches, and finally the fortunes of christianity in the aggregate, are therefore subjects of great and popular importance, cannot, I think, be reasonably doubted.

      But after all, what would it profit me to understand all that the Revelations have said of the church general, what happiness should I derive from the most perfect acquaintance with what is written of the primitive institutions, or of the twelve apostles, or even of Jesus himself, in all the scriptures generally, and in the four gospels in partcular, unless at the same time I knew that I myself were individually and personally interested in the great salvation. This brings us precisely to what is vulgarly called "experimental religion;" a phrase which, by the way, means nothing more than those personal proofs and evidences of our individual adoption into the family of God, which are to be found in the character of every genuine christian. Other topics may be great and of general importance; but if I have rightly defined the expression experimental religion, then it stands for something of more vital importance to my present happiness than all other matters--it stands for the personal evidences of my own individual election to eternal life. Beings of a different order may possess great knowledge or Jesus, of the twelve apostles, the primitive churches, and also of the body of Christ in general; but they can have no experimental religion, no personal proofs that they are individually interested in this salvation; therefore they can derive no happiness from the belief and contemplation of those subjects. The devil possibly has a more extensive acquaintance with those topics than the most enlightened christian; yet his knowledge must inevitably result in trembling. He has no experimental religion.

      Will any man assert, then, that it is of small importance to he convinced that I am individually interested in the salvation of God? I presume that no christian would willingly be guilty of such temerity; and I hesitate not to aver that it is of supreme importance to me to be well informed on this grand point; therefore, it has pleased the Holy Spirit, besides those books written concerning Christ, his apostles, the particular churches, and the body general, to give us also another order of books written on this very topic. The epistles general, and especially the first of John's, are devoted to this subject, and detail to us the various evidences by which we may know that we are "in him that is true;" that we are "now the sons of God," and "have eternal life." In fact, I fear not to hazard the opinion that the New Testament had been incomplete without something on the topic indicated by the unsound phrase "experimental religion." Something on this point, indeed, was necessary to keep a man from being imposed upon in regard to his own character, while on the other hand, something seemed necessary to be said about the infidel or apostate to keep a man from being imposed on in regard to the character of others. This has actually been done by Peter and Jude, who, in their general epistles, have spoken both of unbelievers and apostates. This topic, I presume, we must, by way of analogy, style experimental infidelity!

      Thus we have in the New Testament, books which inform us of Jesus Christ, the apostles, the first churches, the church general, the character of the unbeliever, and finally the character of the true believer, or of the personal proofs of a man's adoption into the family of the Most High.

      Experimental religion, then, (for I scorn to fight about the sound when we have agreed upon the sense)--experimental religion, I say, is one of those subjects which the Holy Spirit has shown to be of importance, inasmuch as he has condescended to discourse upon the christian graces and gifts which constitute what we call by this rotten phrase, "experimental religion." In another paper, I may, perhaps, enumerate some of those particular evidences by which the christian may know that he is a son of God, though I may just add here, that the scriptures inform us that, 1st, Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is begotten by God. 2d, Whosoever loves, has been begotten by God. 3d, That whosoever has the hope of the gospel in him, is an heir of God; and, finally, that all christians know that they have been begotten by God by the spirit which he has given them. Thus the faith, love, and hope of the gospel, with the gift of the Holy Spirit, are all proofs of our individual personal adoption.

PHILIP, alias W. SCOTT.      

[CB 309]


C H R I S T I A N   B A P T I S T.


      Style no man on earth your Father; for he alone is your Father who is in heaven: and all ye are brethren. Assume not the title of Rabbi; for ye have only One Teacher; neither assume the title of Leader; for ye have only One Leader--The Messiah.

On Experimental Religion.--No. II.

      IN my last paper it was observed that a knowledge of general christianity, the primitive churches, the apostles, and even of Christ himself, as written of in the New Testament, was of too popular, too remote a nature to consummate personal happiness; and that while those high matters concerned mankind universally, our individual comfort terminated ultimately upon a knowledge of ourselves, viz. whether we were or were not personally possessed of those graces of faith in Christ, hope of eternal life, love of God and man; and the gift of a holy spirit, which, as was observed, go to define the unsound phrase "experimental religion." Of the four particular evidences of personal adoption, viz. faith, hope, love and a holy spirit, I shall select the last for the subject of this essay--the gift of a holy spirit.

      Well, then, by way of premises, let it be observed that the visible universe, the law of Moses, and the gospel are to be regarded as so many oracles by Jesus Christ concerning the divine character, which it is his high office to reveal. These oracles set the divinity in the several attitudes of creating, commanding, redeeming; consequently in the universe we behold his physical grandeur--in the law we hear his moral authority--in the gospel we perceive him sympathizing. "Jesus wept." The universe, then, is God manifest in works--the law is God manifest in words--the gospel is God manifest in flesh; and thus Jesus Christ in these revelations causes the divine character to approach mankind gradually by three successive advances--from mere physical power to moral supremacy, and from that again to the intensest and most unparalleled sympathy and sensibility, sweating blood, and weeping tears and uttering shrieks at the painful idea of being shamefully hung on a cross, naked, in the presence of three millions of people. His feelings broke his heart--"Reproach has broken my heart." Ps. So much for the developement of the divine character in these three dispensations of nature, law and the gospel. But now in regard to the comparative advantages brought to the worshippers by the successive introduction of these economies, it will appear obvious from what has been stated that an increased degree of light respecting the divine existence and character, the origin of the universe, the creation and destiny of man, the causes of death and of immortality, and the federal relations by which we are made partakers of these, are the chief. But this is not all; it is but the one half, for as in each of these dispensations there is a primary revelation of God round which all others are made to play, so in each of them these is a fresh advantage bestowed upon the worshipper, round which his increased responsibility is made to turn. In nature, then, heathens see God's physical greatness; in the law Jews hear Iris moral authority; in the gospel christians experience his spiritual power.

      In the first dispensation men sinned against the invisible power and godhead by changing his glory into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds and four footed beasts, and creeping things.

      In the law Jews sin against his moral authority, expressed on tables; but in the gospel, in which God has substituted spirit for literal sounds and natural symbols, the worshippers sin against the Holy Spirit, they grieve or quench the Holy Spirit, for the gospel is the ministration of Spirit. In the first dispensation, we see; in the second, we hear; in the last we enjoy God.--But how the uncreated Spirit dwells in a created spirit, filling it with joy, we know not; but certain it is that this fellowship is set forth in the following words: "Behold I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him and he with me." Again--"If a man love me he will keep my commandments, and my Father will love him, and we will come in to him and make our abode with him!" Supping with Christ means joy in a holy spirit. In a word, some men are condemned because they believe not in the Son of God; and secondly, others are condemned because, believing in him, they "turn away," "love the present world," "mind earthly things," "deny the Lord who bought them," "trample under foot the blood of the Son of God, and do despite to the Spirit of Grace;" and to me it is evident that the present race of christians are to be censured not so much for their informality as their carnality and contempt of the Spirit of our God.

      But now if any should ask why Jesus Christ made us to see the divine grandeur, and hear his moral authority, before he let us taste his spiritual power, my answer is this, That it was necessary that the law of God should be written on stone; first, in order that fallen nature might by experiment (and we are altogether creatures of experiment) discover its inadequacy to keep it; and second, that this same written law might be for a book of reference in the days of the Spirit; in the days or economy in which power to fulfil the law is fully and freely given by God to those who believe that whensoever men sin against the Spirit which they have of God, they may be reproved, corrected, instructed. The scriptures are therefore said to be profitable for all these ends.

      Let us, then, christian reader, walk in the Spirit, and we shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh; "for if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his." If we live after the flesh, we shall die; but if we through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, we shall live; and if the Spirit of God dwell in us, he that raised up Jesus Christ from the dead will quicken our mortal bodies also by his Spirit which dwells in us. Concerning the written law as a rule of life, I should think that "Book of Reference" were a better title for it, inasmuch as the Holy Spirit is both the christian's life and the rule of it; but by the present commercial, trading race of professors, our religion is transformed into a written law, a letter, a commandment; and by men so guilty of the spirit of gain, christianity, which is godliness, will never be experimentally understood to mean any thing else than a written instrument; nevertheless to some it is the "power of God."

      But some will say, When is this gift of the Holy Spirit given--before or after belief? In reference to this good gift of God, I heard it observed a few nights ago that we had turned the gospel wrong end foremost--the modern gospel reading thus: "Unless you receive the Spirit you cannot believe!" the ancient gospel reading; thus: Unless you believe you cannot receive the [340] Holy Spirit; or to give it in the terms of Peter, Believe and be baptized, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, for the promise (i. e. of the Holy Spirit) is to you," &c. &c. Indeed it must be confessed that if we say to sinners, When you receive the Holy Spirit you will believe; and the apostles say, When you believe you will receive the Holy Spirit, that there is manifestly an inversion of the apostolic annunciation concerning the heavenly gift, the question in the primitive age being, "Have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed?" But without being caustical, i. e. jesuitical in this matter, we shall drop it; and without striving about the time when the gift is bestowed, let us thank God that it is bestowed at all, and glorify him by walking in it, living in it, praying in it, and rejoicing in it; for "to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace."

      Again--Some will say, What does the expression Holy Spirit mean? Well, in scripture it stands first for God the Holy Spirit, and secondly for the holy mind or spirit of a believer--for illustration, take Peter's words to Ananias, "Why has Satan tempted you to lie to the Holy Spirit; you have not lied to men, but to God," (the Holy Spirit.) And the Saviour says, How much more will your heavenly Father give a holy spirit (as it should be translated) to those that ask him. Again--Praying in a holy spirit. Again--Paul says he approved himself God's servant "by knowledge, by long sufferings, by kindness, by a holy spirit'" i. e. by a mind innocent of the love of gain, or commerce, or sensuality.

      Now then the expression stands for both God the Holy Spirit, and for a believer's spirit made holy by him.

      I shall now answer, from scripture, the following questions.--When do we know that we are born of the Spirit? I answer, when we know that our spirits are holy. But it will be asked again, when do we know this? I reply, when we behold our minds producing the fruits of a holy spirit. But what are the fruits of a holy spirit? Paul says they are joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, fidelity, meekness, temperance, against such there is no (written) law. Now how many unholy Baptists are there? how many unholy Presbyterians, how many unholy Methodists, Episcopalians, Independents, and schismatics of every name? Well may the editor say we are still in Babylon! Ah me! when shall we return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked: between him that serves God and him that serves him not? Ah apostatizing christians, grievers and quenchers of the Spirit of our God, are we not ashamed?

      Now, reader, let us return to God and holiness, for without it no one shall see his face--and believe me that a disputatious mind is not holy mind--an intemperate, unmeek, or unfaithful spirit is not a holy spirit--neither is one that does not practise goodness, and gentleness, end long suffering, and peace--neither the mind that does not love, or does not rejoice in Jesus. Ye cavillers, ye conceited: few, who boast of your scriptural knowledge; but whose spirits, nevertheless, cannot move even the elements of the heavenly oracles, let me whisper to you a secret, that the kingdom of heaven is not so much in an abundant knowledge, as in an abundant spirit of righteousness, peace and holy joy.


[CB 340-341]


      Walter Scott's two-part essay "On Experimental Religion" was first published in The Christian Baptist, Vol. IV, No. 7, February 5, 1827; No. 11, June 4, 1827. The electronic version of the essay has been transcribed from the College Press (1983) reprint of The Christian Baptist, ed. Alexander Campbell (Cincinnati: D. S. Burnet, 1835), pp. 309, 340-341.

      Pagination has been represented by placing the page number in brackets following the last complete word on the printed page. I have let stand variations and inconsistencies of the author's (or editor's) use of italics, capitalization, punctuation, and spelling in the essay.

      Addenda and corrigenda are earnestly solicited.

Ernie Stefanik
373 Wilson Street
Derry, PA 15627-9770

Created 12 September 1997.

Walter Scott On Experimental Religion (1827)

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