Editor's note: M. T. Martin was the father of T. T. Martin.
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The times in which we live are fraught with potency for good or evil. The energies and activities in every department of life, in every channel of thought, are momentous, and involve issues vital to the well being of the race. Everything is in a whirl, and there are many whirlpools as the result. Thought in the domain of religion has caught the inspiration of the hour, and the religious world is like a heaving, restless sea. There is an idea, and it has deluded many, that religion must progress with the age. Many and gigantic are the efforts to relegate to the background the simplicity of the religion of Jesus Christ as revealed in the word of God and practiced by his followers. If the plain teachings of the Scriptures do not accord with the demands of the distempered fancies of men, they must be so changed and distorted as to do so, or be discarded altogether. The Scriptures are recognized as a rule of faith and practice only so far are they in harmony with the prejudices of men.
The forces that oppose Christianity in their onward sweep, it has been feared, were leaving the religion of Jesus behind in the struggle. The cry has been, "We must keep pace with the enemy," "We must advance with the advancing age." - all with good intent and with a jealous care for the well-being of Christ's cause. If these admonitions and exhortations had been understood and heeded as meaning that we should be more active and energetic in contending for the same old truths, we will say, in the same old ways, it would have been well; but they have led to the adoption of means which in their tendency conform the church to the world; they have led to a looseness of doctrine and discipline which seems to be almost obliterating the lines between the church and the world. In this matter of progress it is to be feared that we have a zeal without knowledge. While there seems to be progress in many lines of Christian work, there is manifestly a spiritual dearth. What we have gained in activity and zeal, in certain lines, may be more than counter-balanced by a loss of spirituality. We need not deny facts that stare us in the face.
We have some settled opinions as to the mistakes which have led to the present spiritual dearth, and, without itemizing just now, we state that they all grow out of departing from the plain teachings of the word of God as to the objects to be aimed at and the means to be used in advancing the cause of Christ. The increased activities and zeal, unguided by wisdom and a proper regard for God's appointed means, have led to a reaction, until now it is hard to promote zeal and activity, except that spasmodic and worldly kind which leaves in its wake a worse state of spiritual inactivity We are to-day reaping the fruits of misguided zeal in the past, and we will never cure the disease by continuing to give, in larger measure, the dose that produced it. As a proof that we are not wild in our reckonings, we ask you, reader, to consider the spiritual condition of your own church.
The following conversation, which is no fable, but which took place recently between a preacher and the clerk of a church, shows up the spiritual life and general Christian activity of that church which, we fear, is about an average church:
Preacher - "How many members has your church?"If these members of our churches who cannot be interested in their worship and spiritual life are Christians, then the Lord has failed to accomplish in them his revealed purpose. Can it be that the religion of Jesus Christ has no more power than is manifest in the lives of that class of our membership represented by the one hundred and fifty of the church above referred to? You can interest them in anything connected with the church except the religion of the church. They are full of the spirit of the age, but seem to be utterly void of the spirit of true Christianity. You can interest them in church fairs, Christmas trees, suppers, picnics, etc.; they will give of their means, or at least subscribe largely, attend popular religious meetings, and even teach in the Sunday-school, in that light-hearted, frivolous way that leaves no impression behind - in short, they will take part in anything except religion itself. It would be hard to get one of these into an experience meeting - generally for the best of reasons: he has no experience to tell.
Clerk - "About one hundred and seventy-five."
Preacher - "How many attend prayer meeting?"
Clerk - "About twenty-five."
Preacher - "How many attend conference?"
Clerk - "About the same number."
Preacher - "The same persons that attend prayer-meeting?"
Clerk - "Well, yes, generally."
Preacher - "How many can you rely on to help in the church work generally."
Clerk - "About the same number and the same persons."
Preacher - "Then you mean to say that out of one hundred and seventy-five, you have twenty-five Christians."
- A smile.
A prominent pastor, a few years ago, stated that the worldly minded, world-worshiping element of his church had such a power that it was impossible to discipline a member for immoral conduct. An effort to do so would call in a full meeting, and then they would have the reins in their own hands. He said that the real Christian in the church had to "sing low" lest the unconverted would exclude them. This, however, was an extreme case.
Before leaving this subject we wish to mention one of the causes which has brought about this state of things: A desire to increase numbers, leading to unscriptural methods in revival meetings. Abraham was promised a son; this son was to be born in a legitimate way. Sarah grew restless on account of her barrenness and suggested an illegitimate way of having a child born unto them. But when he was born he was Ishmael, and not Isaac. So God has promised that sons and daughters shall be born unto him through instrumentalities of his own appointment. We may become restless over the barrenness of Zion, and, in our zeal for the increase of the Lord's house, adopt means other than God's appointed means, but the result is a crop of Ishmaelites. Hagar, you know, represents the law, and, in keeping with Paul's reference to this allegory, we find that these machine-made Christians (?) are all in bondage, and know nothing of the freedom and inheritance of the saints. Not having learned Christ as the propitiation for their sins, the love of God is not perfected in them, and hence their service is one of bondage, and they are void of that spiritual life which characterizes the true work of grace.
Now, God's way of saving sinners is through preaching the gospel. "It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe." "How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?" "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." This is God's way, and if he has any other way he has not revealed it unto us. Jesus commanded the apostles to PREACH the gospel, and baptize those who believed; so the preparation for baptism comes through preaching on the part of the preacher, and believing on the part of the sinner. Of course the power is of God, but this is the way through which God has been pleased to exercise his power. Take the cases of conversions as given in the New Testament and outside of those which came through the direct call of Christ, they all came through preaching. Not a bit of modern machinery in any of them.
Before this modern revival machinery was introduced, while in many lines of activity, especially in increase of membership, the churches were behind compared with the present; were they not in advance in the matter of spirituality and soundness of faith? Some of us can remember when it meant something to be a Baptist. But God's ways were too slow for this fast age. Others adopted the use of altar services, and the mourners' benches; excitement took the place of reason; sinners were taught to look to their prayers and penance instead of the blood of Jesus; they were taught to pray to God for the forgiveness of sins, and conclude when they had found a change of feeling that their sins were forgiven, instead of looking to Jesus as a sacrifice for sin and being justified by faith; - all these which turned the sinner's eye to his own exercises and feelings as the object of his faith, rather than to the blood of Jesus Christ which cleanses from all sin, seemed to work well and swell the ranks of other churches, and Baptists, not wishing to fall behind in the work, have gradually drifted into the same channels.
Many of our churches are to-day embarrassed because of an ingathering under the influence of a high-pressure revival service in which this machinery was used. Sometimes it takes months, even years, to get over the evil effects of such a meeting. If any pastor will take it upon himself to look into the original personal experience of his members and examine them critically, he will find that the greater part of those who manifest no spiritual life made their professions in revival meetings of the type mentioned, and that they have no clear understanding of Christ as a Saviour. God's way is not only the best way, it is the only way, and any other way is a failure.
No objection is urged against revivals; nor are those members of our churches who have been brought in through the instrumentality of the gospel preached in revival meetings underrated. We believe in revivals, but in revivals which come through God's appointments. Brother, if you have never tried simply preaching the gospel as a means of bringing sinners to Christ, try it, and note the lasting effects, and be convinced. "But suppose that this fails, what other means must be resorted to?" NONE. If God's plan fails, the failure is far better than any success that may come by adopting any extra means. We are to fish with gospel bait. The Lord has not sent us out gigging.
[From M. T. Martin, Theological and Doctrinal Views of M. T. Martin: Editorials in the Gospel Standard and Standard Expositor, printed about 1892, pp. 13-16. Document provided by Cecil Fayard, Elliot, MS. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]