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Grace and Law:
Legalism and Liberalism - Part IV

By G. C. Brewer

religion, articles, christianity

It has been shown in former articles that those who are today pleading for neo-orthodoxy profess to accept the Bible as the inspired word of God and as our standard of faith and morals, and yet when it comes to applying the word of God to any particular teaching, they again resort to the same argument of the modernists. They do not believe in a literal interpretation of the scriptures; they think we should not make a rigid application of the word of God, especially to minor matters. To do this is legalism. So, after all, neo-orthodoxy is not orthodoxy at all, and it is no better than modernism in actual application of principles to our lives. It leaves us without a standard. If the Bible is still the standard, how is one to change from the announced policy of following accurately the teaching of the Bible? Would not such a change mean either the repudiation of the standard or else a decision that it is no longer necessary to follow the teaching of the standard? And that would be within itself repudiation.

These neo-orthodox men, however, profess to follow the Bible, but they have an ability to see a deeper meaning than anybody else can see. They can, because of their spiritual superiority, interpret the scriptures, whereas the average man is not able to interpret the scriptures properly. This, however, is the same claim that the modernists make. They have superior enlightenment and they, because of their advanced knowledge, must go forward and not look back to the claims that were made by people who lived a hundred years ago.

William P. Reedy, who departed from the faith and joined the Congregationalists, was told that his brethren who were criticizing him for unsoundness would all cease such criticisms and receive him with joy and support him, both morally and materially, if he would return to the ground upon which he stood twenty-five years prior to the time of this conversation and preach the gospel as he had preached it then, hold meetings, convert people, baptizing them into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Brother Reedy replied that necessarily he could not do this, although he stoutly contended that he had not in any way departed from the faith and that he had not left the church in the New Testament sense of the word church. He had only gone into a different group of Christ's followers! Why could he not return and preach the gospel as he had once preached it? His answer was very frank; he had learned so much more about the gospel than he had known twenty-five years prior to this time that he could not return and preach it as once he preached it.

It may be hard for some of us to understand a man's mental processes who can justify himself in his departure from the faith and at the same time admit that he had departed to the extent that he could no longer tell the simple story of Christ and the cross and show sinners the simple conditions of salvation as announced by the Holy Spirit and the apostles. But there is no doubt that the man honestly thought he had reached a more elevated understanding and spiritual station than the rest of us have.

Just so, our neo-orthodox contenders may argue plausibly that they are still loyal to the Lord and that they are only wanting to advocate great piety, to attain a broader spiritual vision, and to fellowship others who are not loyal to the word of God in their teaching and practice. In all of their arguments against the application of God's word they are paradoxical and, otherwise, illogical. One of their main fallacies is that they draw a general conclusion from a particular premise. They will try to imagine a case or suppose an example of where the word of the Lord could not in justice be applied, where some person wanted to obey Christ and could not; somebody cried out for salvation on his death bed but could not be baptized, etc. These brethren think anyone would be heartless to say that the Lord would not save such a person. However, it is not the province of any person to judge in such cases and endeavor to dispose of such souls, but even a man who would express the opinion that such a person is lost is not nearly so great a violator of God's word or as bad a logician as the man who draws the conclusion that because such a man is saved without baptism, therefore, baptism is not a condition of salvation to anybody. Any man who has any respect for sound reasoning knows that any such conclusion as this is not justified, and yet that is the strength of all the arguments made by those who hope to justify people in neglecting or refusing to take the word of the Lord for what it says and to believe and practice it every day.

It has been pointed out that such arguments as we are dealing with are not made by men who are endeavoring to find satisfaction in reference to their own connection with Christ and to have their hearts perfectly assured before him. These men, probably without an exception, have complied with the terms of the gospel and would not dare to risk their own salvation without submitting to gospel terms. But they are controlled in their thinking now entirely by a desire to fellowship somebody who has neglected or refused to obey the gospel of Christ. Thus, it can be seen that they are out of place in their whole thinking. They are trying to assume the responsibility that belongs only to God and trying to reach a conclusion that will offer the promises of God to persons who do not accept the terms upon which the promises are made. Also, they are desiring to avoid the accusation of drawing a circle and leaving somebody out, therefore, of being narrow and legalistic and sectarian in their behavior. All of us fall under this condemnation, and yet many of us have clearly seen that the accusation was unjust, and we have been able to remain true to the Lord without trying to assume the position of the Lord and of doing that which the Lord alone can do.

Years ago, John B. Cowden, in an exchange of articles with me, charged that I and the Gospel Advocate and the brethren in general have made laws of fellowship and have made them narrow and exclusive. He thinks we should not exclude instrumental music from our worship, that we should not disfellowship those who use such music and in his charge against us, he quoted these lines:

He drew a circle and left me out,
Heretic, rebel, and tiling to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win,
We drew a circle and took him in.

In answer to this quatrain, I wrote the following lines,

We draw no circles or religious rings
To exclude men and include things,
But earnestly try with hearts that are pure
To make our calling and election sure,
By doing the things our Lord commands
And leave circle-drawing to other hands.

It seems strange that other men cannot find satisfaction and joy in doing simply what the Lord teaches and in seeing men under their preaching turn from darkness to light, from sin to the Savior and of finding with such children of God peace and joy in simple, soulful New Testament worship. I, personally, can testify to a full life of such service and to complete satisfaction and peace in doing just this. If I could be convinced that some other way would be approved of the Lord and that some things used in worship by men that are not used by New Testament Christians would be acceptable, I would have no desire whatever to adopt their practices or to preach their messages! The only desire that I have ever found in my soul is to do better the things that we are doing and to enjoy a fuller fruition of our hopes and aims. The old principle preached by the pioneers and one that I have myself preached for a half century is to me still an unanswerable argument. It is this: "Why accept that which may be right or may be wrong when you can do that which we know is right and can't be wrong?"

I have been fortunate in knowing men of unfaltering faith, of deep and abounding peace and joy, men of confident hope and serene souls. How Christianity could do more for anyone than it did for these men, I would be unable to see. Among these men I always name James A. Harding, David Lipscomb, E. G. Sewell, and T. B. Larimore. The following words of Brother Larimore set forth that way which is right and cannot be wrong:

They claim and charge that I preach against certain things, but never name them. I simply 'preach the word,' 'unlearned questions avoid,' meddle not with other men's matters, and exhort all to 'walk in the light,' to simply take God at his word - that is, believe what he says, do as lie directs, and trust him for what lie promises. That's all there is in that - absolutely all. My preaching is Bible preaching. I never try to prove any point in preaching, save by the Bible. I just simply tell them what the Bible says, and then tell them that settles that.

G. C. Brewer, deceased

(Editor's note: This article first appeared in the Gospel Advocate in 1955 and is reprinted in honor of brother Brewer and because much of what he wrote applies to problems confronted by present day believers as men "from among yourselves arise to draw away the disciples after them.")

Published December 1992