THE Rev. D. M. Talmage, pastor of the Reformed Church of Westwood, N. J., recently drew upon himself severe denunciation from Christian Endeavor workers connected with his congregation, by a criticism of the Society pledge. He compared it with the Saviour’s last commission to his disciples, with the ten commandments, and with the Lord’s prayer, and said that the pledge was too weak.
The particular points of his criticism were, that the Christian Endeavor pledge puts striving in the place of doing, sets up the human conscience instead of God’s holy law as the standard of duty, and rests upon human promises. “God’s promises to us are important,” he said, “not our promises to Him. God does not ask me to promise Him anything.”
In this Mr. Talmage touches the vital weakness of the whole Christian Endeavor movement. His criticism is true. The pledge is weak—as weak as are all merely human promises. There are many places in which a human promise is proper and necessary; but as a means of righteousness it is weak indeed. It is true that God does not ask man to promise Him anything. He knows that man’s promises are altogether too weak to serve His purposes. What God does ask is that men shall have implicit faith in His promises to them.
The Christian Endeavor hosts must face this truth, disagreeable though it be. Their whole movement is vitally, fatally weak—not weak as regards politics, or the changing of the structure of government or of society—but weak as regards the righteousness of God. Like some of the Jews of old, who went about “to establish their own righteousness,” those embraced in this movement “have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.” If they have done so before, they cease to do so when they adopt the Christian Endeavor methods, for such methods cannot work out that righteousness. The only Book which tells us anything about that righteousness declares plainly that it “is revealed through faith.” It cannot be revealed by any amount of electioneering, balloting, legislation, or other manner of political procedure.
FREEDOM OR BONDAGE—WHICH?
Faith is belief of God’s word. The Scriptures cite us to the faith of Abraham. “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted unto him for righteousness.” His belief was not a mere intellectual assent to the truth of God’s word; it was an “Amen!” to that word. Abraham believed that God would perform what He had promised. God had promised that his seed should be as the sand of the seashore. As Abraham waited for the fulfillment of this promise, and continued childless, he finally engaged in what doubtless seemed to him a truly Christian endeavor to fulfill the promise. The result was Ishmael, the child born “after the flesh.” But Isaac, not Ishmael, was the child contemplated in the purpose of God. Ishmael was the child of works; Isaac the child of faith. Through faith, and not through the works of man, the divine purposes are to be fulfilled.
Abraham did all that any man can do to carry out the purposes of God. But he accomplished absolutely nothing toward the realization of that which he so earnestly desired. His execution of God’s promise did nothing at all to advance the cause of righteousness in the earth. His attempt was the most flat and dismal failure that could be imagined. It only placed an obstacle in the way which had to be set aside in the real fulfillment of the promise. “Cast out the bond woman and her son; for the son of the bond woman shall not be heir with the son of the free woman.” Just so must it be with every attempt to fulfill God’s purposes through the works and the wisdom of man.
It is the purpose of God that righteousness shall fill the earth. He has promised that it shall be so. His prophets have prophesied of the establishment of His kingdom, and the subduing of the forces of evil that dominate the earth to-day. But how will all this be done? Will man now work out the purposes of God, by the power and methods which he has learned to use? or will those purposes be wrought out now, as of old, through faith? Shall we account that God is able to do and will do what He has promised, or shall we set our own puny, fallible hands to fulfill His promises? These are questions the Christian Endeavor forces would do well to consider before proceeding further in the work of gaining control of political power to “enthrone Christ on Capitol Hill.”
The commission of Christ to his followers is, to go into all the earth and preach the gospel to every creature. These are the marching orders for all who would engage in true Christian work. Not to do this, is to proceed contrary to Christ’s word; and this is to proceed without faith. The Christian Endeavor forces, in their schemes to take possession of civil governments and wield political power, are proceeding without faith, and therefore without divine power. The Word of God authorizes no such endeavors.
All such efforts can only work against the righteousness which is of faith, which is God’s righteousness, and the righteousness that will be manifested in His kingdom.