Topic - Apostolic Faith Sermon 14. The Fellowship of the Apostles Seasons - Easter

"And John answered Him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in Thy Name, and he followeth not us; and we forbad him, because he followeth not us. But Jesus said, Forbid him not; for there is no man which shall do a miracle in My Name, that can lightly speak evil of Me." Mark ix. 38, 39.

[Note] {190} PERSONS who choose their religion for themselves, or who wander about from one communion of Christians to another at their will, often urge upon us who wish to be disciples of the One Faith, which was once delivered to the saints, this passage of Scripture. They say that Christians may follow strange teachers, who come in their way, because our Saviour did not allow St. John to hinder the stranger mentioned in the text from casting out devils in our Saviour's Name. St. John came to Christ, and told Him that he and the other Apostles had fallen in with a man who, though he wrought miracles, yet did not follow the Apostles, and that they in consequence had forbidden him. To {191} which our Lord answered, "Forbid him not." Therefore they argue, as the Apostles were not allowed to forbid this stranger, neither may the Church forbid strange teachers and preachers; that all have a right to preach, whether they follow the Church or no, so that they do but preach in the Name of Jesus, without any molestation. Such is the objection, and I propose now to consider it.

Now I deny that the case in the text is at all parallel to that which it is brought to justify, as a few remarks will show.

1. First, then, this man was not preaching; he was casting out devils. This is a great difference—he was doing a miracle. Our Saviour says so expressly; "There is no man which shall do a miracle in My Name, that can lightly speak evil of Me." Now any one can preach; not every one can cast out devils. Very few can cast out devils; nay, at first sight, it would seem that none but a servant of God can cast out devils. Man cannot overcome the devil, Christ only overcomes him. If a man cast out a devil, he has power from Christ; and if he has power from Christ, he must have a commission from Christ; and who shall forbid one, to whom God gives commission to do miracles, from doing them? That would be fighting against God. But, on the other hand, many a man may preach without being sent from God and having power from Him; for Christ expressly warns us against false prophets, and He says that "many shall come in His Name, saying, I am Christ, and shall deceive many." It does not follow, then, because we must not prohibit {192} those who come with a Divine commission from working miracles, that therefore we may not prohibit those who do not come with a commission from preaching.

2. But it may be said, "The effects of preaching are a miracle. A good preacher converts persons, that is, he casts out devils from the hearts of those whom he changes from sin to holiness; and this is a miracle. This he could not do without power from God. Therefore he is sent from God, and therefore he ought not to be forbidden. The question turns on this, whether his preaching is with power or not, whether he is influential, whether he touches the hearts of his hearers. If he does, no matter whether he follows the Apostles or not. For the Apostles were but messengers from God, and he is a messenger from God because he is able to do God's work, and one messenger need not follow another messenger? What is Paul? or what is Apollos? He is as little bound to follow the Apostles, as the Apostles to follow him: he has just as much right to forbid the Church to preach, as the Church to forbid him. And since we may not forbid him, we may follow him." This is what is said.

I answer, that though such a person's preaching were all that it is said to be, though it did work what looks like a miracle, this would not prove that he came from God; for the false prophets against whom our Saviour warns us, are to do "signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect." [Mark xiii. 22.] I do not suppose that they will work miracles such as God's servants work, but what seem to be such, what are sufficiently like {193} miracles to perplex those who see them; yet these prophets, of course, are not to be listened to. And, therefore, if a preacher, who kept apart from the Church, were said to do much good to the souls of others, I should very much rejoice to hear the report of it, but I should pause and require many things to be decided first, before I could be sure that good really was done; or, if so, that it was his doing. What seems good, is often not good. Persons who hear preaching often take up a serious life for a time, and then get tired of it. Or they profess a great deal more than they feel, and think themselves more in earnest than they are; or they take that to be true religion which is not; or they change one bad state of mind for another, and account certain feelings, or tempers, or opinions, or doings to be pleasing to God, which are not so. For all these reasons it is not at all an easy matter to determine that the self-appointed preachers in question do really convert the hearts of men, that is, do cast out devils, do work miracles, as they say they do.

3. But again; even if sinners are converted upon such a one's preaching, this would not show that he did the work, or, at least, that he had more than a share in it. The miracle after all might belong to the Church, not to him. If sinners are converted, it is partly in consequence of their having been baptized, and perhaps not owing to the preacher in question more than to any other accident. Men are touched, and roused to think of religion continually, by a variety of striking accidents, which God uses indeed, which He overrules for good, but which do not therefore necessarily come from {194} Him. Supposing a man falls into sin, and that rouses his conscience, fills him with remorse, makes him fly to God for pardon, leads him to repentance and newness of life; all this comes from his having committed this particular sin, whatever it is; but who would say that the sin came from God? God forbid; the sin came from the man's own self-will, and God mercifully overruled it to him for good; and, in like manner, God may condescend to overrule the preaching of those who preach at their own will, and not from Him, without countenancing them thereby in so preaching. They are but the occasion of the miracle, not the instrument of it.

And let it be observed, that persons who take up with new religions, and leave the Church to follow preachers, often grant that they gained their first impression in the Church. Well, if so, the Church, as they themselves say, has a share in the work wrought in them. The Church did part of the miracle. How many a man, who thinks he is converted by this or that preacher, gains the benefit after all from the parents or the clergymen who have taught him when young, and trained him up in holiness, though he did not profit by their instructions at the time, and who, now that he lives more religiously, ungratefully forgets them, and refers it all to some strange preacher, who, at the very farthest, did but put the finishing stroke to the work,—who led him to profit by what he had been already taught, who rekindled what once before was lighted, and who, perhaps, in rekindling hurts the flame, so that instead of being pure, serene, and heavenly, it smoulders, and is full of smoke, or blazes and sinks {195} by fits and starts, or flares wildly and lights a conflagration!

For all these reasons, then, it would seem as if the instance in the text did not apply to persons who teach new religions now: we may forbid them, first, because they do not work miracles, as the man in the text did; and next, even though they seemed in particular cases to convert the souls of their hearers, which would be a miracle, it would be very difficult to prove that they really have done this, both because what seems conversion often is not real conversion in spirit and truth; and, again, because though it be real conversion, yet, perhaps, they are not the doers of it, but the Church itself before them. To proceed;—

1. It should be observed, then, that if our Savionr says on this occasion, "He that is not against us is on our part," yet elsewhere He says, "He that is not with Me is against Me." [Matt. xii. 30.] The truth is, while a system is making way against an existing state of things, help of any kind advances it; but when it is established, the same kind of professed help tells against it. Before the Gospel was received, those who did not oppose the Apostles actually aided them; when it was received, the very same parties interfered with them. Let us consider when it was that our Saviour spoke the words in the text. It was at a time when there was no Church, when He had not yet set up His Church; we have no warrant, then, for saying, that because men might work in Christ's name, without following the Apostles, before {196} He had built up His Church, and had made them the foundations of it, therefore such persons may do so lawfully since. He did not set up His Church, and the Apostles in it, till after His resurrection. When He spoke to St. John in the text, He had not given to St. John and the rest their commission; even though the man who cast out devils had no commission, still the Apostles had none either. In this respect he was not inferior to St. John, who, though nearer to Christ, was not as yet His representative. Our Lord had said to St. Peter, "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church," [Matt. xvi. 18.] it was still future; but after His resurrection He founded it. Then He said to him, "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me? feed My lambs, feed My sheep." [John xxi. 15-17.] In like manner He had said to all the Apostles before His resurrection, "Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven;" the time was not yet come; but after it, He said, "As My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you." [Matt. xviii. 18. John xx. 21.] Then He did, what before He promised; henceforth all men must join themselves to the Apostles, which they were not told to do before. Accordingly, we read in the second chapter of the Acts, that those who were converted and baptized, "continued stedfastly in the Apostles' doctrine,"—but not only doctrine, it was not enough to preach and hold the same doctrine as they, but it is added, in the Apostles' "fellowship,"—they "continued stedfastly in the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship." [Acts ii. 42.] {197} That is, they followed the Apostles; and if they had wished to depart from that fellowship, the Apostles would have forbidden it, nor would our Lord have said to them then, "Forbid them not."

Accordingly, when the Christians of Corinth went into parties, and set up forms of doctrine of their own, and neglected St. Paul their Apostle, what did he say? did he forbear to forbid them? no, he forbade them. And he gave this reason; "What?" he said, "came the word of God out from you?" [1 Cor. xiv. 36.] that is, did the word of God originate with you? And in like manner we may say to those who set up a distinct sect or communion for themselves, Where did you get your knowledge of the truth? You may think the word of God came out from you, but really it came to you from us; nor have you received what you teach, as far as it is true, except through that Church which you oppose. That Church made you what you are, as far as you are Christian; and the Church that made you has a right to rule you, and to protest against you when you will not be ruled; she has a right to bid you follow her, and to claim jurisdiction over you, for you are hers; whereas the man in the text who cast out devils had not received the power through the Apostles, and therefore the Apostles had no claim on him to submit to them.

Afterwards, however, the Apostles were the sole channels of grace; and as they were the sole grace-givers under Christ, so they were the sole governors, {198} under Him, of all Christian people; and as they transmitted life, so they claimed obedience. For instance, St. John the Baptist's disciples were believers, religious men, and in God's favour; but, when once the Church was set up, they were obliged to submit to the Church, and to leave the sect, though divinely founded, to which they belonged. We read, in the Acts of the Apostles, of Apollos, "an eloquent man, and mighty in the Scriptures," who was "instructed in the way of the Lord, and being fervent in the spirit, spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John." [Acts xviii. 24, 25.] All this availed, and was accepted with God, till He had set up His Church; but when once it was set up, it availed Apollos nothing, though eloquent, though scriptural, nay, mighty in the Scriptures, though instructed in the Lord's way, though fervent in spirit, though diligent in speaking and teaching, and that boldly, though belonging to the sect and baptized with the baptism of him than whom, among those born of women, no prophet was greater. The Baptist had taught him true doctrine, had taught him that Christ was the Son of God, the Lamb of God, our Atoning Sacrifice; and this Apollos doubtless taught in turn. What did he not teach which persons now teach who call themselves especially Gospel preachers? But as the Baptist submitted to Christ, so must the Baptist's followers submit to Christ's followers, Apollos to the Church. Apollos must not stand apart and so preach Him who {199} taketh away the sin of the world; but he must come to those servants of His, who alone could convey the Spirit; he must come for Christian Baptism, in spite of his knowledge of the Gospel. So Aquila and Priscilla "took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly."

Another instance is given us directly after, in the beginning of the nineteenth chapter. St. Paul found certain disciples who had been baptized into John's baptism. He told them this was not enough, and accordingly they were baptized in the Name of the Lord Jesus; and were next confirmed, and received the Holy Ghost, even His miraculous gifts. And here I would observe that, for what we know, the very man in the text was one of St. John's disciples, or, if not, one who had received his religious impressions from John; who might lawfully remain as he was, and cast out devils in the Name of Jesus, without joining the Apostles, till the Apostles received the gift of the Holy Ghost, and then he was bound to join them.

2. And here too we have light thrown upon an expression in the text which I have just used, and which at first sight may seem to need no explanation: "In My Name." Our Lord speaks of those who do miracles "in His Name." Now what is implied in this? At first sight we might think that every one who uses the Name of Jesus, and professes to work in and by it, does do what he does in His Name. But this is not so; as is plain from another part of the chapter already quoted, where we read of certain vagabond Jews, "who took upon them to call over {200} them which had evil spirits the Name of the Lord Jesus." Here, then, were persons who did not follow the Apostles, using the Lord's Name; but could they in consequence he said really to speak in His Name? No; for what happened? The evil spirit whom they were attempting to expel, cast it in their teeth, that they did not follow the Apostles. He answered, "Jesus I know, and Paul I know" (I know the Apostle Paul); "but who are ye?" And now, in like manner, the hosts of evil may say to those who preach without being sent, "Jesus I know, and the Church I know; but who are ye?"

Merely, then, to use the Name of Jesus is not enough to constitute what Scripture means by speaking in the Name of the Lord; we must took for that sacred Name, and use that sacred Name, where He has lodged it. His Name is a Name of power; we must seek where He has lodged His power, if we would speak with power. He has not left His Name at large in the world, but He has lodged His Name in a secure dwelling-place; and we have that Name engraven on us only when we are in that dwelling-place. For instance, you recollect the account of the Angel who led the Israelites out of Egypt into the land of promise, how God Almighty speaks of him. "Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared. Beware of him, and obey his voice, and provoke him not, for he will not pardon your transgressions, for My Name is in him." [Exod. xxiii. 20, 21.] {201} The Israelites were to go forward in the Name of the Lord; but it was not enough to use His Name, it was necessary to seek it where He had put that awful Name. He had lodged it with the Angel; and to be under the Name's protection, it was necessary to follow the Angel, and obey him. Again, when they came into the promised land, we find still that they might not take up any religion they chose, and use it in God's Name, but that they must seek and use the Name of God where He placed it; for Moses speaks thus to them, "Unto the place which the Lord your God shall choose out of all your tribes to put His Name there, even unto His habitation shall ye seek, and thither thou shalt come ... Ye shall not do after all the things that we do here this day," that is, in the wilderness; "every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes. For ye are not as yet come to the rest and to the inheritance which the Lord your God giveth you." [Deut. xii. 5, 8, 9.] The Israelites in the wilderness were somewhat in the condition of Christ's followers before Christ had set up His Church, and put His Name there. Men might use His Name without following His Apostles then; but when once He had put His Name in the Church, then they were bound "unto His habitation to seek, and thither to come." And, that His Name, which was once placed in Shiloh and in Jerusalem, is now named upon the Church, is plain from the prophet Jeremiah, who first says, speaking of Christ, "This is His Name, whereby He shall be called," that is, under the Gospel, "The Lord our {202} Righteousness;" [Jer. xxiii. 6; xxxiii. 16.] and next applies this special title to the Church, thus,—in his thirty-third chapter, "This is the Name whereby she shall be called, The Lord our Righteousness." His Name is upon her; His Name is her Name. And hence the prophet Malachi, speaking of the Church Catholic, and its perpetual feast of bread and wine in Holy Communion, says, "From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same, My Name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto My Name, and a pure offering, for My Name shall be great among the heathen, saith the Lord of Hosts." [Mal. i. 11.] His Name is there, where is the predicted "pure offering."

On the whole, then, it would appear that the stranger in the text might use the Name of Jesus without following the Apostles, because they, though Christ's Apostles, had not yet had the Name of Christ named upon them, in order to their forming together His Church; but that ever since His resurrection that Church has existed, and has borne His Name; and to use His Name except in and under the Church, is to treat His sacred Name irreverently, which whoso does, God will not hold him guiltless, unless he does it in ignorance; and then, though his work will perish, he will be saved, yet so as by fire.

And hence such earnest exhortations are given us by St. Paul against division and disobedience; for instance, "Mark them who cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned, and avoid {203} them;" [Rom. xvi. 17.] "Whereas there is among you envying and strife and divisions; are ye not carnal?" [1 Cor. iii. 3.] "We command you that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us;" "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves." [2 Thess. iii. 6. Heb. xiii. 17.]

I have but one point more to dwell upon before I conclude. I have been showing what the text must not be taken to mean at this day. I have shown that it must not and cannot rightly be applied to countenance those who now set up against the Church; but the question arises, to what does it now apply? Every word of Christ has a meaning for all times; it is not enough to expose the wrong meaning, unless we expound the right also. This is just the reason why so much of Scripture is taken in a wrong sense, because orthodox men have been satisfied merely with refuting the wrong, instead of giving the right sense. The way to refute error is to preach truth: till we apply this text rightly, it will continue, in spite of all our refutations, to be applied wrongly. I proceed, then, to say a few words by way of showing the right explanation; and, in doing so, you will see, I shall be enforcing from the text this very principle.

Let it be observed, then, who it was who was not to be forbidden to use the Name of Jesus, though he did not follow the Apostles. Not one who preached false doctrine, not one who opposed the Apostles, or interfered with them, or had separated from them. Nothing then {204} can be inferred from the text,—though we take it ever so literally, or apply it ever so exactly to the present times,—nothing, I repeat it, can be inferred in favour of those who separate from the Church, who set up against the Church, or who interfere with it, and trouble it. But there are a number of persons to whom the text does more or less apply, and whom we ought to treat according to its spirit. There are a number of persons not members of the Church, who neither have themselves separated from it, nor oppose it, nor usurp its place, but who are more or less in the condition of the man in the text, "not following us," yet using the Name of Jesus. Many sects and parties in this country are of long standing; many men are born in them; many men have had no opportunities of knowing the truth. Again, it may so happen they are exerting themselves for the cause of Christ in places where the Church is unknown, or where it does not extend itself. And, moreover, it may so be that they have upon them many consolatory proofs of seriousness and earnestness, of a true love for Christ, and desire to obey Him and not to magnify themselves. Here, then, our Lord seems to say, "Forbid them not in their preaching."

The greater part of the world is in heathen darkness; sectaries of various descriptions will be found sending out missions for the conversion of souls to Christ, into places whither the Church has not sent missionaries. Now we are not bound to support them, for this reason, because they do not hold the whole truth of the Gospel. But we are not to behave towards them in a hostile way; rather we ought to bless God for whatever they {205} mean well in doing, and pray Him that they may mean and act still better.

Or, again, even in a country into which the Church is sending missions, it seems the duty of those whom she sends thither to be kind and tolerant towards all Christian bodies who are labouring there in the same cause, as far as these latter do not actively interfere with her, or oppose her doctrine, which, alas! will too often be the case. We are not bound to join them, were their doctrine ever so like ours, any more than the Apostles were bound to follow the stranger who did not follow them, which no one will say; but we are to suffer them to go their way, while we go ours.

And again; even at home there are many parts of the country into which the Church has not duly come, and which perhaps owe what they have of the Gospel to the labours of sectaries. Here, too, as is evident, we are bound to act very differently from what would be our duty in places where they had established themselves in the face of the Church, and against the Church; and, without going into details, it is evident that there is a sense in which our Lord's words in the text apply to them.

On the whole, then, I would say this; when strangers to the Church preach great Christian truths, and do not oppose the Church, then, though we may not follow them, though we may not join them, yet we are not allowed to forbid them; but in proportion as they preach what is in itself untrue, and do actively oppose God's great Ordinance, so far they are not like the man whom our Lord told His Apostles not to forbid. {206}

But in all cases, whether they preach true doctrine or not, or whether they oppose us or not, so much we may learn, viz. that we must overcome them, not so much by refuting them, as by preaching the truth. As we are told to overcome evil with good, so must we overcome falsehood with truth; and as in baptism the curse of Adam is removed by the in-coming of Divine grace, so in like manner the reign of heresy is put to flight, not by merely attacking it, but by the manifestation of the pure Gospel instead. Let us be far more bent on preaching our own doctrine than on refuting another's. Let us be far more set upon alluring souls into the right way than on forbidding them the wrong. Let us be like racers in a course, who do not impede, but try to outstrip each other. Let us outstrip others in our lives and conversation, "by pureness, by knowledge, by long-suffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report." Let us conquer by meekness, gentleness, forbearance, and perseverance. When the voice of error and strife is loud, let us keep silence; let us not be unwilling to be triumphed over as blind and prejudiced persons, as bigots, or as fanatics, or as zealots, or to be called any other hard names by the world. Let us forbid them not. God will avenge us in His own way and at His own time. The weak shall be strong, and the despised shall become honourable. "He shall make our righteousness as clear as the light, and our just dealing as the noon-day. Leave off wrath and let go displeasure; {207} fret not thyself, else shalt thou be moved to do evil. Hope thou in the Lord and keep His way, and He shall promote thee, that thou shalt possess the land. Keep innocency, and take heed unto the thing that is right, for that shall bring a man peace at the last." [Ps. xxxvii. 6, 8, 35, 38.]

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