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Friday, August 18, 2017
Date Posted:

Ask For The Old Paths! Seven-Fold Principle Of Protestant Witness

Sermon by Dr F. B. Meyer At the United Protestant Congress - London 1922
Dr F. B. Meyer

“They said unto the woman, Now we believe, not because of thy saying; for  we have heard Him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.” - John iv. 42.

The Protestant faith, as we are all aware, existed some centuries before the name itself was coined.  We may speak of St. Paul the Apostle as the chief Protestant, but fifteen centuries passed, until the 19th of April, 1629, when the Elector of Saxony headed a great deputation into the great hall of Spires in order to protest against the Emperor's decision to limit the rights of free liberty and religion.


These were called Protestants, and their followers derived the same title. The central thought in “protest” comes from the word testis, which, as you know, stands in the English for “witness”; so that every time we read the word “witness” in our Bible the Roman Catholic reads testis in his Latin Vulgate. The prefix pro reminds us of how in the war with the Boers the word “Pro‑Boer” was constantly in use, standing for “in behalf of,” or “on account of”. Therefore when we use the word Protestant we really mean that we are bearing witness to something that is eternal, Divine, and that we stand for it, or on behalf of it, to propagate and maintain it.

And surely the sentences that we have already cited as our text and the story out of which they come prove to us the immense power of witness - bearing - not argument, nothing destructive, but everything constructive. And it was the positive affirmation, the emphatic and positive affirmation on the part of this woman which really brought the whole of Sychar to the feet of Christ, though ultimately they did not rely on her witness, because it had brought them likewise into face‑to‑face fellowship with Himself, and the whole city, after Jesus had retired, congratulated themselves that they now knew Him not simply from the testimony of the woman ‑ who must have bean a soul of great power, or she never could have influenced a whole city as she did - but because they had been brought into personal and living contact with One whom they recognised as the Messiah.

We therefore are here to‑day to bear our witness; and I want simply to enumerate some of those great outstanding features of our witness‑bearing which are probably familiar to us all, but which need to be reiterated on such an occasion as this.


In the first place, we bear our witness as Protestants to the fact that the soul of man may come into right relationship with God through the private study of the Word of God beneath the illuminating teaching, of the Spirit of God.  We hold that the Word of God, therefore, will commend itself to every faithful and earnest soul who shall feel that God speaks to it through its pages.          You can no more doubt that than when you stand upon the sea‑beach you are breathing in the ozone, you are face to face with the far horizon and with the heaven above. The Bible bears its own witness to the earnest and devout mind. I stand there and listen to the Saviour speak. I hear Him talking to Nicodemus. I am wooed and deeply touched as He calls the sinners to His side and ascribes to them the lost sheep, and lost money piece and the lost        son. I come presently to stand before His Cross: I see Him dying, dying for me. The Spirit of God brooding over the story touches my heart, and I come into face‑to‑face fellowship with the Redeemer and His redemption.


Presently I listen to great teachers, to Augustine, to Chrysostom, to Luther, and to others. They are holier and wiser than I, and I gladly receive the further light they may shed upon the sacred page; but directly they begin to constrain my faith, to dictate to me what I am to believe or disbelieve, my whole soul revolts. I have received by direct illumination from the Spirit of God beating upon the text of Scripture the eternal words of Life. They may help me along the line in which I am already thinking, but they have no authority to command this or the other interpretation to which they may have arrived. The essential principle of our faith is that the Holy Spirit in His illumination is not given simply to pundits or priests, but to every humble soul of man or woman who pores over the sacred page and desires the teaching of God Himself.  We have the two authorities ‑ the external authority, the Word of God, and the internal working of the Spirit of God who gives us the intuition which is more accurate in its decisions than even the findings of intellect.

And when in this double way we have been brought into union with the eternal, there pervades our minds at once a distinct certainty. A friend of mine, going into the room of an earnest Roman Catholic, found Mr. Spurgeon's sermons on his shelves. Expressing surprise, he received the answer, “He often helps me”.  Then in further talk he discovered that his friend, who was obeying the decisions of the Church so far as he knew them, was not at all certain as to the ultimate result. How different was Blaise Pascal, who, when he was emerging from the Roman Catholic Church into the clearer light in which he stands, wrote on a piece of paper discovered in his doublet after his death, 1654, “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God not of philosophers and savants, but of those who seek Him. Certitude! Certitude! Joy! Faith! Floods of tears!”  How little we understand the emotion of that hour ‑ unless, indeed, we have passed through it; only we feel this, that we stand here and face the eternal future, the infinite horizon that lies before each one of us, and that with the light of the Word of God on the one hand and the light of the Spirit of God on the other, we have a certitude, a certainty, which enables us to face the future unabashed. 


(2) But then secondly we surely stand and witness as Protestants that the Church is composed of all those who are directly united to our Lord, and that she is based not upon an Apostle, but upon the great statement that the Apostle made. On the first of those two propositions I do not need to stay. We all here surely hold that directly a soul unites itself by living faith to the Saviour, if that soul has passed through the rite of baptism or not, is highly taught or the contrary, is that of a little child or an old man, union with Jesus Christ, apart from all ceremony and rite and teaching else, makes him part of that Holy Catholic Church which is His body, the fulness of Him who fills all in all.

And as to the second point, we should have thought that the scholarship of others would have saved them from the great mistake of thinking that the Church is founded upon the Apostle. Most of us know suffcient of the Greek language to distinguish between Petros, Peter, a pebble, and petra, the bedrock from which the pebble is hewn. When our Lord had received from Peter that great confession, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” He turned to him and said, with a great care choosing His words, “Thou art a pebble, but upon this bedrock, upon the statement of My union as Son with the eternal God, upon that I will build My Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”

That Peter took it in that sense is clear, because in his own epistle he says, “To Him as to a living stone, disallowed indeed by men, but chosen of God and precious, ye also are built up a living and spiritual structure.”  And therefore we dare to affirm that the dying thief, who in his last hours clung to Christ amid much ignorance, that he equally with the Apostle Paul or the greatest saint who has ever adorned Christianity, that these are together component parts as we are by faith, in the Church of the living God, which is built not upon Peter, but upon the fact of the eternal sonship of the Son of God.


(3) But then, thirdly, just as I pass will you note that also the power to bind and loose, and indeed the power of the keys, is not confined to the Apostle merely.  We are witnesses to this, that it is the function of the whole Church.  It is a remarkable thing that in Matt. xviii. 18 this power to bind and loose is attributed to the Church as such meeting in the name of Christ. It is a very remarkable statement: it is not a coincidence. I believe the power to bind and loose refers to the Church's influence over the power of evil. I believe that when the Church by her prayer saved Peter from execution she was binding, she was restraining the power of evil; and when presently the Church sent forth Paul and the rest of them to preach the Gospel, she was loosing them as against the powers of evil for their evangel.

It surely is an interesting matter to find that the power to bind and loose therefore was not confined wholly to an Apostle, or if because of his faith he was able to exercise it, and he as a man was able to bind and loose, to bind evil and loose good, yet the Church in her union with Christ and in herself is able to exert that same power. And as to the keys, St. Peter opened the door of faith to the Jew at Pentecost, and to the Gentile in the home of Cornelius.  Do you not believe that Brainerd opened the door of faith to the Indians, and Judson to the Burmese, and Carey to India? And do you not think that even the teacher who bends over her infant class is endeavouring to unlock to them the mysteries of the Kingdom of God?  Every holy man, every group of people who are living in union with the Holy Spirit, has power to restrain evil and to promote good, and to unlock to the yearning, humble soul the treasures of God's grace.


(4) But then, as we advance, we bear witness to the fact that we need no intermediary between our souls and the Eternal. The idea of the priest seems to be indigenous to the thought of man. You remember how Micah in the days of the Judges, when all men did as they would, invited a priest to come to his home, and said, “Now God will do me good, seeing I have a Levite to my priest.”   Man has always felt, in the hurry and turmoil of his life, amid sin, conscious sin and evil, the desire for some holy man who would stand as his priest between him and the eternal purity. “Come here,” says a man to his fellow, “be free from the care and fret of life: live pure and holy in the sight of the Eternal, and then help me: intercede for me, uplift and comfort me.”  The priest is called in to baptize the child and to administer Extreme Unction to the dying. The priest listens to the confession, and pronounces the words of absolution. The priest must take the bread and wine and make them the Body and Blood of Christ. From all that we turn, believing that the soul through the Spirit has direct contact with the great Spirit.

None of us knows the wonders of his nature. We sometimes have glimpses into our own selves; or in literature, or poetry, or music, or art, we seem to see the wonders of that extraordinary nature with which we are endowed, and on the surface of which, for the most part, we are content to live. We forget that we have the endowment of the Spirit, which is our aptitude towards the Eternal, as we have our body, which is our aptitude toward the material and transient. As I understand it, the Ego, the soul of man, stands between two worlds, the eternal and the material, the spiritual and the natural, and either he can descend from the soul to the body or he can ascend from the soul to the spirit; and when he ascends by that spiral staircase into the upper layer of his nature, the spiritual, the windows may be cleaned so that he sees into the eternal, and the whole nature becomes uncovered, and the throne and the furniture of the spirit appear. Then it is that spirit touches Spirit: then it is that we reach out our arms to the Eternal and feel almost the finger tips of the Christ as He touches our grasp. And when we enter thus into that spiritual fellowship with God, we say to the priest, “Begone, we need you not; God has stooped to us and we have risen to Him, and our High Priest has entered into the Holiest and has constituted us also priests and kings to God.”



(5) We bear witness also to the great doctrine of justification by Faith. Luther was perfectly justified when he said that this is the crucial, the acid test; justified when he said that this decided whether a Church should rise or fall. You and I are aware that this has been the central battleground between ourselves and the Roman Catholic Church ever since that moment when Luther's eye caught the words, “The just shall live by faith.”  When the soul has been convicted of sin, when it is in an agony, when it is awake to the holiness and purity of God, when it looks around for help, promises for amendment are not availing. All seems mysterious, dark, and hopeless, until presently the transcendent thought breaks upon the soul that in the eternal purpose and by the grace of the infinite God, Jesus was the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world, that the death of the Cross mirrored in the time sphere the eternal redeeming fact in the nature of God, and that we are saved not by our works, but by accepting the extraordinary outreaching of the free mercy and grace of God. We hold and believe that directly a man by repentance and faith avails himself of the pardoning love of God, he enters into a correlation with the eternal world and with God Himself that needs nothing from him to amend or improve it. Such a faith leads to works, but the works are not co‑ordinate with the faith, and he knows that he is accepted, forgiven, beloved, that he enters into communion with God. He believes, therefore, that though he works up, he works down from the Cross ‑ he does not work up to it. He is crucified with Christ, and from the crucifixion of the soul with Christ new life bursts out like a river, to make beautiful and glad his life.


(6) But there is again this fact, that we bear witness that the Holy Spirit is the alone Vicar of Christ. This is all‑important. To misapprehend this is to misapprehend Christianity, as I feel. We believe that when Jesus Christ our Lord ascended to sit at the right hand of God to be our Advocate, He sent the Holy Spirit of God to be our Paraclete, sitting on the throne of the Church. That is indeed fundamental. And directly the Saviour sat yonder the Holy Spirit in Pentecost sat here and became the Vicegerent, the administrator and representative of the Eternal Saviour. Therefore we believe it to be one of the signs of the Apostasy, one of the indications of the great last age, when we find the Pope or any man sitting in the Temple of God giving out that he himself is the Vicar of God. We hold there is no Vicar of God, no administrator for God, but that the Holy Spirit, brooding over the Church, working in the Church the will of God, pressing the Church to missionary enterprise, lifting the Church to worship, is the true Vicar of Christ, and that no one must dare to intrude.


(7) Then lastly we come to realise this, that our great testimony to the world after all is not to the death of Christ so much as to the Christ that died, yea, rather, that is risen again.  Is not this crucial in your life?  We all of us thank God that we stand on Redemption ground. We thank God that the Saviour by His most precious death has put away sin for ever. We realise that in the nature of God, reflected in the act of Christ, something has been done for us men and for our salvation that was not wrought for angels.  He laid not hold of angels, but of human nature, and in that human nature made an expiation for the sins of the world. We can never forget that our whole religion is based upon that. But when that is granted, we hear Him saying ‑ it comes floating over the waters as they ripple around the Isle of Patmos -  “I am He that liveth, and was dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore.”  We go into the Roman Catholic Church; we find everywhere the effigy, the dead Christ, the memorials of Calvary.  We are constantly bidden to take the steps of the Cross and to bend our whole thought on that which He did for us ‑ and, mind you, if we are going to use all that as Paul used it when he said, “I am crucified with Christ,”  I agree; but surely we cannot always be looking back on the Cross, but up to the living Saviour, who day by day is bending over the Church, the Bridegroom over His Bride.


And when we come to the Table of our Lord, are we not almost in the same position as the Apostles were on that night of the Last Supper? He said, “This is My body,” but He was sitting there, and gave them to eat. He said, “This is My blood, shed for many for the remission of sins,” but He was there to drink the wine and pass it round.  And when you and I sit at the Table of our Lord it is not simply that we go back in our thought to the long past, but we realise that He is there in our midst, that He is breaking the bread for us, that He is pouring out the wine, that we have fellowship with Him over His death, and in His death, and through His death.  But it is with Him that we have fellowship; it is not looking back over the centuries, but looking up into the face of Him who is ever present.

I say to my soul what I say to you : You and I have to live in the Word, soaking in it, and knowing as we read that God Himself is living in its pages and speaking through them. We have to believe in the daily illumination of the Spirit of God brooding over the Church, in our own lives, and working with the letter of the Word. But in addition to all that, there is the thought of the living Christ Who says,  “I am Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.”

This is our witness. I am not here to destroy. I am not here to say an unkind word of men who, though greatly misled, as I think, are seeking after holiness and purity. This would not add to our argument. We stand here to witness those principles for which our fathers died not far from this very spot. We cannot forget that; and there are men and women amongst us who would die again for our own sake, for our children's sake, for our land's sake. When we compare Britain and other Protestant lands with Spain or Spanish South America, or Ireland, how much we have to thank God for, how we need to stand with all our might against the encroachments of Rome, whether outside or inside the Church of England. As we do so, may we not hope that people may say, as the Samaritans said to this woman,  “We have heard your witness, but we have seen Him for ourselves, and know that this is the Christ, the Saviour of the world”?

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