CHAPTER 9 - ON BEING PILGRIMS - "The Way" by Sir Robert Anderson

 

THE rich man in the parable "made merry sumptuously every day." His counterpart in real life pretends to this; but unless he be sunk so low as to have no thought beyond the present, his merrymaking is always marred by some "writing on the wall."
Words, like coins, become defaced by being put to base uses; and this fine old word "merry" is now scarcely recognisable. "Be merry in God," Sir Thomas More wrote to his household when trouble came on them. And the degradation of the word has almost robbed us of the exhortation, so precious to the Christian, "Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works."
Christians should eat and drink to the glory of God. But some take their food as if it were physic; others, as though their enjoyment of God's gifts were a godless pleasure. The disciples of Pentecostal days, we are told, "did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart." But the "vile body" heresy leads us to mistake asceticism for sanctity. Using the word "merry" in its good old sense, the Christian should have "a merry heart." And "he that is of a merry heart hath a continual feast." Festival keeping, based on redemption, is the Divine description of the Christian life, as it was the great characteristic of the sacred calendar of the Divine religion of Judaism. In the beginning of the year was the Feast which immediately followed the Passover, and borrowed its name. And so we read, "Our Passover has been sacrificed, even Christ; therefore let us keep festival." Gladness should mark the life of the redeemed. David's words in one of the darkest hours of his troubled life, when he was a fugitive in Absolem's rebellion, ought to be the experience of the Christian -
"Thou hast put gladness into my heart
More than they have when their corn and wine are increasd
In peace will I both lay me down and sleep
For Thou, Lord, alone maketh me dwell in safety"

"But," some spiritual dyspeptic will demand, "does not the Bible enjoin upon Christians to become pilgrims?" The answer is an emphatic NO. That is what human religion teaches; for the effort of religion is always to become something we are not, whereas the true aim of the Christian life is to realise what, by God's grace, we are. The Christian is a pilgrim, and it behoves him to live as a pilgrim.
But who and what is a pilgrim? Here is the answer the Dictionary gives: "(1) One who slowly and heavily treads his way; (2) Especially one who travels to a distance from his own country to visit a holy place." But we must not read dictionary meanings into Biblical words. The Parepidemos of the New Testament is one who is living away from his own country or people. Our relatives in India, for example, are pilgrims. No matter how prolonged their exile, they never forget that England is their home. It is a fact in their lives, not a theory for one day in the week when the English mail arrives. There may be nothing of the conventional pilgrim about them; but in this true sense they are pilgrims.
And how fitly this describes those who are born from above, and whose citizenship is in heaven! Abraham left the home of his family, not to become a pilgrim, but because his faith-vision was filled by "the city which hath foundations," and the "better country," and his coming out was a confession that he was a stranger and a pilgrim upon earth. The First Epistle of Peter is addressed to "the elect who are pilgrims of the Dispersion." And to such the appeal is addressed, "I beseech you as sojourners and pilgrims, to abstain from fleshly lusts."
And here we have exhausted the passages in which the word occurs. But though it is used but three times in the New Testament, the truth which it connotes abounds. And, strange to say, it is precisely in the sphere to which the truth is specially applicable that the votaries of the religious-pilgrim cult are false to it. As Abraham was looking for the city which hath foundations, so the Christian is "come to the Church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven." It is this indeed that makes him a pilgrim. But when the .Jewish religionist had built a city for himself, he forgot the city "whose builder and maker is God." And the Christian religionist has as definitely given up his pilgrimhood by substituting the Church of professing Christians registered on earth for "the Church of the firstborn ones enrolled in heaven."
That Christ founded a new religion is a figment of theology. Using "religion" in its popular sense as a synonym for piety, the suggestion is obviously absurd. And in the classical and Scriptural acceptation of the word, the statement is absolutely false. He came, not as the founder of a new religion, but as the realisation and fulfilment of the only true religion the world has ever known. For though the temple of Jerusalem was God's house in a wholly peculiar sense, it was a type and shadow of heavenly and eternal realities; and it is with these realities that the Christian has to do. No building upon earth to-day can hold the place which that temple held. "For Christianity has no special sanctuaries."' Our "places of worship" are but "synagogues."
That Christ founded a visible Church is true in a sense, but not in the sense in which the term is usually understood. Christ was "a minister of the Circumcision for the truth of God"; but when "the Circumcision" finally rejected Him, His Apostles, under Divine guidance, "separated the disciples"; and thus the earthly Church of this dispensation was constituted.
A treatise on the Church would be quite outside the scope of these pages; but not a warning against certain errors by which Christians are betrayed into an un-Christian position. People talk of "the Church" as they talk of "Science," as though it were an abstraction. But in the Greek language a Church must be a company of people. And according to the Divine ideal, the Church on earth is "the blessed company of all faithful people," or, in other words, of the people of God. And God's people seek to fulfil God's will, which is the exaltation of the Lord Jesus Christ. When therefore the Church itself is made an oracle or an object of veneration, it takes the place of Christ and becomes anti-Christian. "The company of all faithful people," mark. For another popular error, quite as ignorant and mischievous, is the supposition that "the Church" is a special class within the company of the faithful "For cornmunicating instruction and for preserving public order, for conducting religious worship and for dispensing social charities, it became necessary to appoint special officers.
But the priestly functions and privileges of the Christian people are never regarded as transferred or even delegated to these officers. They are called stewards or messengers of God, servants or ministers of the Church, and the like; but the sacerdotal title is never once conferred upon them. The only priests under the Gospel, designated as such in the New Testament, are the saints, the members of the Christian brotherhood. As individuals, all Christians are priests alike.
Our forefathers seceded from the Church of Rome, not because there was error in that Church—for all Churches are leavened with error—but because its errors were deemed so vital as to clash with loyalty to Christ. According to the Reformers, "the visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached and the Sacraments duly administered according to Christ's ordinance." Finding therefore that in the historic Church of Western Christendom the sacraments had become "dangerous deceits," and the pure Word of God was not preached, they left it and organised the National Church as "a congregation of faithful men." They recognised that a Church may apostatise, and that "faithful men" should separate themselves from an apostasy. That "the Church" is a mystical entity, the continuity of which is unaffected by its actual condition, is one of the most evil and silly of the superstitions of what calls itself "the Christian religion."
A generation ago, when the principles of the Reformation were still paramount, we used to hear that our various churches were the scaffolding for building the true Church. In building operations a scaffolding is needed; but if a man made a fetich of his scaffolding, and lavished words of veneration upon it, he might well be commended to the care of his friends!
In a passage of striking solemnity and force, Dean Alford shows how definitely and how soon "the Christian Church" followed the course of Israel's apostasy, and how certainly it is now drifting to its predicted doom. And in the same spirit another Anglican theologian writes:
"While the Apostle wrote, the actual state and the visible tendencies of things showed too plainly what Church history would be." And again, "I know not how any man, in closing the Epistles, could expect to find the subsequent history of the Church essentially different from what it is." The later Epistles "breathe the language of a time in which the tendencies of that history had distinctly shown themselves; and in this respect these writings form a prelude and a passage to the Apocalypse."
But even in its pristine unity and purity the Church on earth never held the place claimed for it in its apostasy. The care of "the oracles of God" was the highest privilege of the Jewish Church and no greater dignity can be claimed for "the Christian Church" than to be "a witness and a keeper of Holy Writ." For in the Scriptures of the New Testament God spoke to the Church, not the Church to the world. They were the fulfilment of the Lord's promise that He would send the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth - truth which they were unable to receive during the ministry of His humiliation. But in these days of unbounded intellectual conceit combined with pitiable superstition and credulity, this promise is wrested into a place for- setting the Church above the Scriptures. And the rationalistic crusade now so popular dismisses the plainest teaching, not only of the inspired Apostles, but of the Lord Himself, as merely "current Jewish notions."
Devout men whose hearts still feel the power of lost truth, shrink back from the goal to which this evil system inevitably leads. But in the next generation, when "the assured results of modern criticism" have fructified in minds uninfluenced by the Divine Spirit, and unclouded by the superstitions of religion, the Deity of Christ and the Divine authority of Holy Scripture will be jettisoned by "all people of culture." And then the way will be prepared for the realisation of what now seems but a foolish dream - the reunion of Christendom.
For faith will then have given place to "opinions"; and no one but a boor would wish to force mere opinions upon others.
Herod and Pontius Pilate became friends through agreeing to give up Christ to His enemies, and on this ground alone will the Church ever be reunited. And then, abandoning the distinctive truths of the Divine revelation - including, of course, "the degrading dogmas" of man's guilt and ruin, and the atonement of Calvary - and teaching the universal Fatherhood of God and the pure and beautiful ethics of "Jesus," the Church will win the homage and command the admiration of the world. And then shall be heard "another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins and that ye receive not of her plagues." (Footnote - "Who cares anything for any church save as an instrument of Christian good?" (Chalmers).)
Meanwhile the Christian may use his particular Church as an instrument of Christian good. But let it not be for gotten that all our churches form part of that professing Church which, as a whole, is stained with the blood of the martyrs - that Church whose awful doom is so plainly foretold in Scripture. In its apostasy it is no longer "the household of God," but a part of the world that crucified His Son. in no sphere does the Christian need to be so specially reminded that he is a "pilgrim," and that he is to "use the world as not using it to the full."
This is no new experience with the people of God. When during His earthly ministry the Lord Jesus warned His disciples against the world, His fears were not lest they should take to the theatre, or their wives to "balls and parties," but lest they should be ensnared by the religion which surrounded them. They were associated with it, for in its origin it was the Divine religion; but it had rejected Him, and therefore, though in it, they were in a real sense not to be of it. Their attitude toward it was to be that of pilgrims.
And in keeping with this is the exhortation to us in this present dispensation, "Let us go forth therefore unto Him with out the camp." This figurative language is derived from Israel's history. After the apostasy of the golden calf, "Moses took the tabernacle and pitched it without the camp." And "every one which sought the Lord went out unto the tabernacle." He had his place in the camp, but he dissociated himself from the historic con tinuity of evil. He no longer looked to Israel for blessing, but only to the God of Israel. He did not cease to be an Israelite, but, like the patriarchs, he declared himself a pilgrim. And in this sense it is that the Christian is enjoined to go forth unto Christ, without the camp.