My Days and My Ways
CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO: Break with “Dowieism”.
It was a real trouble of mind to me to have to break with the professors of the truth in Edinburgh. A number of circumstances had combined to given them a large place in my affections. It was in connection with them that I had made my first acquaintance with active life; and association in such a case is always powerful. It was from their midst that I obtained the best of God’s mortal gifts to man –an excellent wife. Among them I got my first lessons in ecclesial and literary work. Themselves, one and all, I esteemed and loved as a company of excellent people. The very city, with historical associations that fascinated youthful rawness, and with a topography and architecture that charmed youthful eyes unaccustomed to beauty, and with learned men and institutions of European reputation that invested the place with a lustre of glory in the view of one who had just broken the shell of aboriginal darkness, exerted a powerful spell.
It was no weak influence that broke through all these attractions; and the process was a painful one, and protracted. The chief disintergrator lay in the animus shown towards Dr. Thomas, whom I venerated with an ardour that time has not diminished; and next, in the little interest taken in the truth which he had been instrumental in recovering from sectarian darkness, and which formed the ground, and the sole ground, of my enthusiastic attachment: and next in the various oppositions to both points of truth advocated by him, and to a hearty policy in such part of the truth as they admitted. Slowly, these influences produced an alienation which grew to an unbridgeable gap, when a debate was published which they had among themselves on the question of the doctrine of immortality as affecting the question of fellowship.
This question arose from the circumstance of one of their number advocating the doctrine of eternal torments: some objected to his continuance in fellowship, while others advocated his retention. A series of meetings was held to consider the whole question of the bearing of the doctrine of natural immortality on the profession of the truth. As showing the need for deliberation and decision in the case, a letter was read from one of their fellowship in another town (one David Watson, of Dundee), in which the said, “I had never heard or had paid no attention to the fact that men do not possess immortal souls until I had been a considerable time in the church, and now I think that I have been engaged either more or less at the immersion of everyone in Dundee since I cast in my lot amongst them, and never has their opinion been asked on this subject …. We allow great liberty of conscience in such matters, which are not essentials.”
The discussion lasted three Sundays, and ended in a resolution which did not really touch the issue in dispute, and which even in its apparent meaning was inconsistent with the sentiments uttered by the leading members of the meeting during the progress of the debate. The whole debate was of the most uncertain and foggy character. Mr. George Dowie refused to say whether he would receive into fellowship persons who at the time of their immersion believed in the immortality of the soul and eternal torments. He refused to admit that the holding of the immortality of the soul was inconsistent with the holding of the faith of Christ. At a subsequent interview with me he said, “The difference between you and me is this; you believe the dead are annihilated and require to be made over again, and I do not. I don’t believe in re-creation.” He further said he believed in the resurrection of all heathens, Hottentots, Esquimaux, and he did not deny that his belief was that the devil was a supernatural being in heaven.
It was impossible to ignore a state of sentiment like this in men claiming our fellowship and standing before the brotherhood in a representative character, in a yearly fraternal gathering, through the publication of a monthly magazine, the Messenger of the Churches. I therefore brought the question before the Birmingham ecclesia, which passed the following resolution: --
“That the ecclesia, having heard read to them, and having considered the report of a discussion on the bearing of the immortality of the soul on the one faith, which took place on Sunday, April 8th; Sunday, April 15th; and Sunday, May 6th (1866), among those in Edinburgh, styling themselves ‘Baptised believers in the Kingdom of God,’ and meeting in Union Hall, 98, Southbridge, the ecclesia considers it their duty, as witnesses of the truth, to disavow, and does hereby disavow and refuse all connection with the said so-called ‘Baptised believers in the Kingdom of God.’; and requests the Secretary to write to George Dowie, the Secretary of the community in question, apprising him for the information of himself and the said community of this their solemn decision.”
This was the first of a series of cataclysms in the little world of the truth which caused me more distress of mind towards God and man than would be believed by any but the closest intimates. The distress arose from the struggle between the fear of doing wrong to man and the fear of acting unfaithfully by the truth. The recovery of the truth in an age of universal worldliness and superstition was an event of such unutterable consequence, in my estimation, and the having been allowed to become acquainted with it after the horrors of sectarian theology, was a privilege of such incomputable magnitude, to my judgment, that the duty of resisting the corruption and slack handling of it seemed self-evident. Yet those precepts of Christ that prescribe care as to stumbling blocks in the path of the little ones believing in him, and that enjoin abstention from judgment and condemnation of others lest we ourselves be judged, exercised a deterrent effect, which almost paralysed decision.
At last, the manifest opposition to Bible truth, and the counsels of elders, prevailed over all scruples, and led me to see that the only path of light and safety was to disregard mere persons, to “know no man after the flesh,” and to make the truth of God the rule of friendship and communion. The course of events has since justified the soundness of this policy. Our Ddowieite friends have drifted into a state of lifelessness and uncertainty, hardly distinguishable from the absolute ignorance and unbelief of the sectarian bodies around them, while the truth, delivered from their suffocating embraces, has gone on in an unfettered course, generating a class of men and women in whom enligtenment, decision and fervour combine to identify them with the saintship of the first century.
Afterwards, the subjects of the devil and of the judgment came into prominent controversy. The friends we had left contended, some of them for the existence of a personal supernatural devil of some kind, and others denied that the Lord would dispense life or death to his people in judgment at his coming, maintaining that all of them would come forth from the grave immortal and enter into life eternal, and that the only question to be settled between the Lord and them would be the question of their rank and position in the kingdom. A strong issue was also taken on the subject of requiring the rejection of error as a condition of fellowship. Our Dowieite friends thought it sufficient that truth in its positive elements should be admitted.
Our contention against them was expressed in the following terms at the time: --
“At first sight, it might appear superfluous, and even unwarrantable, to set forth points on non-belief as a basis of faith, but a moment’s reflection will dissipate this impression, and reveal the negative side of faith to be of equal value with the positive.
“Every affirmative proposition has a converse. Every yes has a no; and if a man is not prepared to accept that ‘no’ it shows his ‘yes’ is not worth much. For instance, if a man profess to believe in the God of Israel, he is bound to be able to say that he does not believe in the gods of the heathen. If he were to be timorous about affirming the latter, would it not show that his belief in the God of Israel was no belief in the real sense, but merely a fragment of ancient polytheism, which recognised different god for different nations? Is it not part of a true profession of faith in Jehovah to be able to say boldly that we do not believe in any of the deities of heathen imagination? Would any even ‘Christian’ community recognise the faith of a man who hesitated to commit himself to this negative? Does not the acceptance of any truth involve the repudiation of everything opposite to it? And would not hesitancy to repudiate the opposites, show uncertainty and indecision with regard to the positives? There is but one rational answer to these questions, and that answer falls in with Paul’s exhortation, that in maintaining the truth we must “refuse” profane and old wives’ fables.
“Now, in the present day, there are many profane and old wives’ fables abroad in the earth in the name of the gospel. Paul predicted that such would be the case –that the time would come when men professing the name of Christ would turn away their ears from the truth and be turned aside unto fables (II Tim. 4:3,4). Now, is it not of the first importance that these fables should be repudiated? Can anyone hold the truth without rejecting them? Is it not a part of a true profession of faith in our time to reject the traditions that make the Word of God of none effect? Common sense will supply the answer.
“There is a negative as well as a positive side to the faith in our day, for the simple reason that there is a spurious faith to be destroyed before the true faith can enter the mind. In the Apostles’ days the work was more simple. There was no counterfeit Christianity to obstruct the operation of the truth. The Apostles had only to propound their doctrines constructively. There was no necessity to go out of the way and deal with the dogmas of Paganism. Paganism was Paganism, and the gospel was the gospel. They did not stand on the same ground. There was no competition between them. If Christ was received, Paganism was rejected as a matter of course. But it is a different thing now. We have to deal with Paganism in the garb of Christianity. We had to deal with another gospel preached in the name of Christ and his Apostles; and it therefore forms one of the first duties of intelligent and faithful testimony to protest against and expose the imposture.
“One of the first acts of a valid profession of the truth is to repudiate ‘the profane and old wives’ fables’ which abound in the disguise of truth. In fact, in times like these the repudiation of false doctrine is almost a criterion of the reception of the truth. If a man shrink from the rejection of the fictions of so-called Christendom, it is a sure sign that his apprehension of the verities of the gospel is very weak, if it is not altogether non est, Positive belief (that is full assurance of faith) on one side necessitates and produces positive dis-belief on the other. A man heartily believing the truth will heartily reject error; and if he does not heartily do the latter it is proof that he is incapable of heartily do the latter it is proof that he is incapable of heartily doing the former….”
On another point:
“If any professing the truth are not prepared to contend earnestly for the uncorrupted faith as the seed of eternal life, they are unfaithful to the truth they profess. Nay, more, they are traitors to it. They wound it in its tenderest part; they rob if of its principal glory; they deny its chief testimony of itself, viz., that without it a man cannot be saved. They insult it by saying in effect, ‘Yes, these things are true, but they are of no particular consequence; a many may be saved without them.’ It is here that Dowieism is most hateful. It makes a profession of the truth, but covertly gives it the lie. It kisses it with the mouth, and with the hand stabs it to death. In words it protests friendship and agreement, but in actual working it makes greater havoc than the adversary ….
“Dowieism says it ‘most surely believes’ that man is absolutely mortal, and that this is ‘embraced in the gospel.’ If this is a genuine profession, or course it ‘most surely believes’ that the immortality of the soul is a lie, and upsets a part of the gospel. If so, why does it ‘hesitate to accept the conclusion’ that a man must reject the immortality of the soul before he can accept the truth? (See James Cameron’s speech, Ambassador for December, 1866, p. 269), and why does it lay down a ‘kind of postulate’ with the object of discountenancing all condemnation of the immortality of the soul in the proclamation of the truth? (G. Dowie on p. 265 ditto). If this statement of faith means what it says, why did its framers refuse to append a declaration to the effect that it was necessary to reject the immortality of the soul before the truth of the matter could be received?
“When the ‘statement’ was submitted to the Dowieites for adoption, W. Norrie proposed the addition of a clause affirming that it involved a repudiation of the doctrine of natural immortality, AND THEY REFUSED TO ADD SUCH A DECLARATION, although the very object of the statement being drawn up was to rebut the accusations in circulation as to the unfaithfulness of the Dowieites on this point.
“Dowieism professes to recongise some merit in ‘most surely believing’ in the ‘absolute mortality of man!’ If so, what objections can it have to saying to people who most surely believe the contrary, that they are believing a lie, which they must reject before they can believe the truth? Why ‘decline to answer’ the plain question, whether a person believing the immortality of the soul can hold the faith which is unto salvation? (See G. Dowie’s statements, p. 258, December Ambassador). Can a man believe in the immortality of the soul and believe in the ‘absolute mortality of man’? Of course not. Then can a man believe in the immortality of the soul and believe the truth? Dowieism is not sure, and declines to answer. Does this not show that Dowieism’s profession of belief in the ‘absolute mortality’ of man is not a profession of the one faith at all, but a mere statement of abstract conviction to which it attaches no importance whatever? The mortality of man is a part of the truth or not. If it is a part of the truth which Dowieism professes to believe, it must be upheld without compromise. Dowieism must not only believe in the mortality of man; it must be able to say, that no man believing in the immortality of man can believe the truth. Then it will cease, on this particular question, to be Dowieism, and put on a new and more worthy name, and take its stand side by side with the truth, in its uncompromising warfare against the lies and fables everywhere abounding in the outward garb and profession of the gospel.
“Such a change would gladden the hearts of men and angels, and give a new and a joyous impetus in the labours which are here and there in weakness, but in love, progressing against the strongholds of Satan. Till then Dowieism must stand off, and leave the King’s friends alone, and bring not upon itself a severer condemnation by obstructing the path of the truth’s triumph. It must not pretend to be at war with the ‘imaginations and high thoughts that exalt themselves against the knowledge of God’, while all the while it gives them quarter and encouragement, by refusing to say ‘Begone.’ It must not pretend to ‘most surely believe’ in human mortality, while afraid to declare against the most sure belief in human immortality. So long as it does so, its profession will be scouted by all honest men as a mere accommodation, a blind and a delusion.
“It is found as a matter of words professing a belief in the ‘absolute mortality of man,’ but as a matter of practice tolerating immortal soulism by refusing to proclaim the imperative necessity of its rejection. It is found confessing a belief in judgment as a matter of phraseology, but in point of actual fact denying it, by excluding the resurrection of the unfaithful at the appearing of Christ. It is found in the words saying that the wages of sin is death; that sin is disobedience instigated by rebellious promptings of the flesh; that Christ came to take away sin, by enduring the consequence, but in absolute principle, it reduces the whole to a nullity by admitting the existence of a separate personal super-natural Being, who has the power of death in his hands, and whom in the same way it is Christ’s mission to destroy. In many other respects, it stultifies its professions by its principles, and land everything in obscurity, trying all the while to hide itself under Scripture forms of speech, which it cannot trust itself to grasp or explain.
“Farewell to Dowieism. The master of the household will soon be here to set things in order. Meanwhile, ‘tis ours to abide by the truth, measuring all men and things by it, and accepting every issue to which it guides us. Division and bitterness, eve to fire, were foretold long ago as the result of the truth’s working among men, we therefore need not be discouraged at realising them in an unexpected form now. Heat and conflict is what we have to expect on the field of battle. In due time the fight will be over, and the crown conferred in peace and glory, where the strife is nobly and heroically sustained.”
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