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Grace and Law:
Legalism and Liberalism Part II

By G. C. Brewer

religion, articles, christianity

In a former article we have seen that the arguments made by those who have espoused, or at least been influenced by, the neo-orthodox views, are not new. The whole thing is a recrudescence of arguments that have been made through the history of Protestantism but repudiated in the last fifty years completely by modernism.

The basic difference between Protestantism and Catholicism, as is well known, is a question of authority. Martin Luther rejected the authority of tradition and decrees and appealed to the word of God as a standard. This then became the basic claim of all Protestants. They accept the Bible as the revealed will of God and as a rule of life and as a standard of measurement in all matters of faith and morals.

The next principle announced by Luther, which became a fundamental difference between Protestantism and Catholicism, is the right of private interpretation. The Catholics could not deny that the Bible is the word of God, but they insist that it is not our sole standard of faith and morals. They think it must be supplemented by tradition and the voice of the Church. Protestantism, however, stood agreed in refuting this claim of the Catholics and in contending that the Bible is our lone and all-sufficient standard. They also have stood agreed in the contention that each individual should have the right to read, to understand, to believe, and to obey the word of the Lord for himself

Now when we came to an application of these two sacred rights and principles, differences arose among Protestants, and it has been nothing unusual at all for Protestants to claim that differences about things taught in the scriptures are only the result of a different interpretation of the scriptures, and when some Protestant controversialist wanted to evade the force of a divine command, his plea has always been "That is just your interpretation."

Then the charge would come later that "I have as much right to my interpretation of the scriptures as you have to yours." This contention is now heard again by the men who are claiming "liberty." They are abusing the right to understand the scriptures for themselves by denying that the scriptures teach what the words mean or what is the import of the clear statement of inspiration; and again the cause of this obstinacy is that those who are making the contention are not trying to justify a personal view, but they are trying to stand by some denominational view.

Here again we find that men are not satisfied to allow the word of the Lord to be the end of controversy, but they want to "teach for doctrines the commandments of men." Denominational views have been written into creeds and crystallized into formulas and preserved by practices until men are not willing to go behind established doctrine and seek the truth in the matter. In this very spirit and because of this very situation, some of our own men, who feel that they have outgrown a narrow denominational view, are laboring "might and main" to excuse and defend certain popular denominational views, and they are using all the fallacies and the quibbles and even the blasphemies that have ever been used in such an unworthy cause.

Despite the heroic efforts made by Martin Luther to break away from an authoritarian Church and to establish the claim that all controversy must be settled by the word of God, he himself did not see the full import of his victory. He was impelled by a spirit of honesty and sacrifice in his effort to make men free, but after obtaining this freedom to come to the Lord Jesus Christ as a personal Savior, he was not then as zealous in finding how that the one who had thus surrendered to Christ should regulate his acts of worship and service in the cause of Christ. His view seemed to be that the word of God is all-sufficient as a basis of saving faith, that the message is effective for converting the soul, but that the scriptures leave the converted soul free to adopt and use his own methods and devices in serving Christ; that men could organize and operate in the work of the Lord according to their own rules and wisdom.

The idea of Luther in this respect contrasted with the idea of another reformer is forcefully expressed in these words:

Luther was desirous of retaining in the church all that was not expressly contradicted by the scriptures, while Zwingli was intent on abolishing all that could not be proved by scripture. The German reformer wished to remain united to the church of all preceding ages (that is, the Roman Catholic Church), and sought only to purify it from everything that was repugnant to the word of God. The reformer of Zurich passed back over every intervening age till he reached the times of the apostles; and subjecting the church to an entire transformation, labored to restore it to its primitive condition (D'Augbigue's History of the Reformation.)

The principle announced by Zwingli is definitely the principle followed by the Restoration pioneers, and it is the principle that those of us who still believe that the word of God thoroughly furnishes us unto every good work contend for. Our views and contentions are still expressed accurately and unequivocally by the following scriptures:

What saith the Scripture? (Rom. 4:3).
What is written in the law? how readest thou? (Luke 10:26).
The secret things belong unto the Lord our God; but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law (Deut. 29:29).
To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them (Isa. 8:20).
If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God (I Pet. 4:11).
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15).

G. C Brewer, deceased

(Editor's note: We propose in future editions of the Firm Foundation to print additional articles from brother Brewer's pen on the evil of liberalism. It is marvelous to see how the words of Brewer, written 40 years ago, deal so aptly with present day problems. Liberalism is old hat, and modernism is not very modern. How strange it is to hear contemporary false prophets exhorting us to be up-to-date, while at the same time reaching back to ancient fallacy and offering us warmed-over error - H. A. (Buster) Dobbs.)

Published October 1992