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Rahab: byer faith and her falschood.
A REVIEW OF MR. JAMES WELLS' SERMON ON "THE FAITH OF RAHAB
[We had not intended to take any public notice of the fearful error lately uttered by Mr. WELLS,
for we do not think it wise to give unnecessary publicity to any man's false doctrine ; but when the protest of the Strict Baptist ministers was sent to us, with a request that it might appear in the Sword and Trowel, we could not refuse it insertion, and an explanatory article seemed needful to make it intelligible to our readers, who, for the most part, know nothing either of Mr. WELLS or his utterances. We are glad that our Strict brethren have so distinctly cleared themselves of all complicity in the error. The article which we have placed before the Protest is written by our friend Mr. Gracey, Classical Tutor in our College.]-ED.
by through all time. Jews, by their learned Rabbins, and Christians, by their inspired Apcstles, have joined in concert to bind the wreath of glory around her brow. And lest the honour of her life of faith should in any way be tainted with the shame of her life of sin—or, rather, lest one numbered among the ancestry of the Messiah should be branded with such a title of guilt, some have strained every nerve to rescue her from the appellation of “harlot." Whiston, Calmet, and Clarke, deriving the Hebrew word from a root with which it has no connection, translate it “innkeeper." Gesenius*, however, who traces it to its proper root, proves incontestably, in harmony with the Vulgate, the Septuagint, and the New Testament, that Rahab must still be called ý topun, the harlot. In mistaking the meaning of the word, these critics have also mistaken the praise of grace and faith ; and since she has been proved to have been once an abandoned woman, that faith loses nothing of its glories, but shines forth the more conspicuously, like a solitary star in a night of gloom. Why should not divine grace visit the den of vice as well as the abode of morality ?
But lo! in our days, a Christian preacher, popular among his own sect, discovers new excellencies in the character of Rahab. Virtues which slept in silence for centuries, and escaped the notice of the apostles and fathers of the Church, are brought forth to be admired and applauded by all lovers of truth. The infamy of the former part of her life is by no means extenuated. Nothing is detracted from the triumph of free grace, but the laurels of faith are not so secure. Hitherto her faith has carried off the palm, and her falsehood has been passed by in perplexity, or covered with the mantle of charity. But now we are regaled with a new reading of the victory of the heroine of Jericho. A formidable rival, in the person of falsehood, now challenges the honour of her faith ; for the lies which she told are asserted to be “ the best part of her con
uct,” and consequently worthy of the greater share of praise. Give place, then, O faith of Rahab, to Rahab's more excellent falsehood !
To come to a more minute examination of this subject as handled in the sermon under consideration. After a needful exhortation to pious hypocrites to get their piety ready, Mr. Wells asks, “ Was Rahab justified in these falsehoods ?” and replies, “ Certainly she was.” Now, this "justification in falsehoods," if it have any meaning whatever, has exactly the same meaning as "justification by falsehoods,” since it is repeatedly asserted that “this part of her conduct was the best part of her conduct." Hence the works which the apostle commends are interpreted to be the falsehoods which she told. For the explanation of the manner in which the spies were preserved, is thus given" How did she do that? Why, by saying they were not there, and by saying they were gone. The apostle makes that the best part of her conduct." But if this be the mind of the Spirit in the passage, and if the untruths which she told were of such transcendent merit, they must necessarily be specially mentioned
* See his proofs, Gen. xxxviii. 15, Deut. xxiii. 19, Lev. xxi. 7, in which cases, the same Hebrew
word, zonah, cannot possibly be ambiguous.
in the eulogies pronounced upon her. Joshua must highly extol them. Let us hearken: “ Joshua saved Rahab the harlot alive, and her father's household, and all that she had, and she dwelleth in Israel unto this day, because she hid the messengers which Joshua sent to spy out Jericho." Why have the falsehoods slipped from his memory, seeing they are so worthy to be commemorated ? Paul, who declared the whole counsel of God in other matters, in speaking of this, cannot keep anything back. What does he say? By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.” Why is he so silent about the falsehoods ? But surely James, the patron of all good works, and upon whom the author of this sermon principally relies, cannot pass by this without an honourable mention. He says, “ Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers and sent them out another way." Why does he omit the colloquy with the officer of the king of Jericho? Why is this “ best
part of her conduct" forgotten? Why are not the falsehoods mentioned ? Simply because they were failings, yea, more, sins; and the New Testament, according to its invariable custom while praising the virtues o Old Testament saints, and holding them up as examples to us, points not the finger to one of their shortcomings. Besides, the inspired writers are very particular in mentioning the exact acts which were meritorious, are ever careful to separate the clay from the fine gold. Hence the reception and dispatch of the spies are mentioned and praised, while not a word is said in commendation of the lies told for their preservation, plainly intimating that in them no faith existed.
It may be asked, how could the faith of Rahab be praised consistently, without at the same time praising her falsehood? Now it is in looking at the matter from this point of view that even the pious Matthew Henry flounders in such uncertainties; and the author of the present sermon propounds such “horrible divinity.” It must be admitted that the faith and the falsehood stand very closely together; indeed, so closely, that they are very liable to be confounded, unless the first principles of the doctrine of Christ be kept clearly before the mind. Mr. Wells soars so high above these first principles, as to disregard the wide difference between the nature of “faith towards God," and the nature of falsehood towards man; and to confound these two opposites together, or, what is as grave an error, to regard the latter as the offspring of the former. This is a parentage of falsehood disowned and discredited by the whole of Revelation. What sacred penman has ever numbered this among the fruits of the Spirit? Where is there the most slender authority, in all the doctrines of the gospel, for metamorphosing the ugly distortions of this "dreadful vice” into the comely features of a Christian virtue ? If Rahab's faith were true, and we know it was, falsehood could never have sprung from it, for " lie is of the truth.” We, therefore, fearlessly affirm that these falsehoods had no more connection with the faith of Rahab, than had the equivocations of Abraham in Egypt and Gerar, with the faith of Abraham on Mount Moriah. The faith of Rahab and Abraham had a common origin—the distinguishing grace of God: the falsehood of both had a common source—the weakness and depravity of their old nature. And we know that “quae et a falsis initiis profecta, vera esse non possunt”--things which are false in their beginning cannot be true in their end. They both failed in that for which they were distinguished, and the reason of their failure is given by Isaiah—“Of whom hast thou been afraid, or feared, that thou hast lied, and hast not remembered me?" Rahab lied because of her fear, not because of her faith. Her falsehood, therefore, had no connection with her faith, and merits as little commendation as the failings of other saints. Nor is it any objection to this conclusion, that her fear was manifested in denying that she sheltered them, immediately after the exercise of her faith, in the reception of the spies—because the same sudden alternation of strong faith and cowardly fear was displayed by Peter on the night of the Lord's betrayal. Again, it is said, “ She must either have uttered these falsehoods, or else betray
the spies, and their lives would have been lost.”. At the sight of this assertion, we are inclined to ask, how can this come from the lips of one who believes that all things shall work together for good to the people of God's choice? How can a disciple of the high doctrines of grace, consistently become a “prophet of ills” to the redeemed of the Lord? But are we bound to believe, as here taught, that truthfulness would have sacrificed the lives of the messengers, and that falsehood alone could preserve them? From the circumstances in which they were placed, we must grant that they would have been endangered by truth on Rahab's part; but from a consideration of the seasonable deliverances accomplished by God for his people from the most extreme peril, we are compelled to believe that these men could not have been destroyed. They had come, by God's command, to perform a work of vast importance to Israel, and can we therefore accept the doctrine which tells us they were left to be shielded or sacrificed by the word of a woman? Their own folly might have brought them into this jeopardy, but the work of God never. Let us suppose, for a moment, that Rahab had told the truth, and that the spies had been dragged before the tribunal of their enemies, would their danger have been greater than that of Moses, exposed on the Nile to the cruel Egyptians ?-of Jonathan and his armour-bearer discovered to the whole garrison of the Philistines ?-of the Hebrew youths in the fiery furnace, or of Peter in the condemned cell, the night before his appointed execution ? Nay, for the danger in each of these cases had gone beyond the limit of all human aid, but not beyond the realm of divine deliverance. Would it not have been presumption to have expected miraculous interposition ? No: first, because faith's natural sphere is the supernatural. Secondly, because these men had a right to expect it above all others. They were on a duty imposed by God. In their success were bound up vast interests of a people whom God had by miracles called into national existence, by miracles sustained, and still the same wonder-working Jehovah was theirs by covenant. We cannot, therefore, agree with Mr. Wells, that the lives of these two "godly men” would have been destroyed by Rahab's telling the truth, but are forced to conclude that though the truth had been told a thousand times, their safety would still have been divinely secure.
Moreover, we cannot see how very far beyond the reach of harm their lives would have been, as Mr. Wells supposes, protected only by Rahab's “refuge of lies.” If the king and officers of the city had exercised the penetration natural to men in their situation, would they have been so credulous as to believe the word, or even oath, of a harlot, relative to persons in her house ? And if the house had been searched, of what avail would the falsehoods have been? This very want of discernment and mental activity showed that the men of Jericho were doomed men, and under a strong delusion, that they should believe a lie. If it be said that the spies were actually preserved by the untruths, we reply, God permitted it to be so, and the permission and overruling of evil is a very different thing from sanctioning it, or changing its character. If the truth had been told, all that was necessary for the preservation of the spies, was the divine aid, which, when the falsehoods were told, was still needed.
Let us now review the conclusions to which we have come. We have seen that Rahab's falsehood sprung not from Rahab's faith ; that it had no connection with it; that it was not praiseworthy, but deplorable; that if truth had been told the spies would not necessarily have been destroyed, and that the falsehood did not
necessarily secure their safety.
What bearing have these conclusions upon Mr. Wells' teaching? Mr. Wells states that though Rahab “ told two falsehoods, there was no sin in them, no crime in them.” It has been proved that Rabab's falsehood sprung not from Rabab's faith, and that it had no connection with that faith, consequently it must have been sinful, for “Whatsoever is not of faith, is sin.” Mr. Wells declares that necessity demanded the suspension of “the usual law of truth," and the permission of “the law of falsehood.” It has been shown that truth could not neces
cessarily have ruined, and that falsehood did not necessarily protect,
the spies. There was therefore no necessity for the suspension of the law of truth' in favour of the law of falsehood. And if no necessity for it, there is no reason to believe it ever did take place, while there is abundant evidence to the contrary. For no nece
ecessity could exist that would require the setting aside the moral law—which means acting contrary to God's nature-since for all the wants of his people and the universe, God has made ample provision ; but for this he has made none, for he is “ God that cannot lie.”
Thus, then, the two main pillars of Mr. Wells' argument-viz., the necessity ef Rahab's falsehood, and its sinlessness—have been
demolished, and the whole fabric of his thesis falls in a common ruin.
Having thus shown how utterly groundless Mr. Wells' theories are, I cannot close without expressing my intense horror at the wildness of these theories. That the physical and ceremonial laws may be suspended, affects nothing absolutely vital; but the mere suspicion that the principles of eternal truth could for a moment be stayed, drives one to the very brink of blasphemy. If the doctrine of Mr. Wells, that God grants a plenary indulgence to lie, could be true in any circumstance, I do not hesitate to say that my inmost soul should recoil from his allegiance and worship, since I could only adore unsullied purity and immutable truth. I could not obey the Church of Rome, I could not reverence the Hermes of Greece; but it is my joy to believe that the fountain of that Deity whom my whole spiritual being willingly worships, can never flow forth to man or angel, otherwise than in the crystal streams of truth.
PROTEST OF THE LONDON STRICT BAPTIST PASTORS' CON
FERENCE, AGAINST CERTAIN DOCTRINES PROPAGATED
TABERNACLE, IN THE BOROUGH OF SOUTHWARK. WHEREAS certain unscriptural principles, subversive of the purity of the gospel and the foundation of Christian morals, have been set forth in a Sermon called “The Faith of Rahab the Harlot,” preached on Sunday morning, June 18th, 1865, by Mr. James Wells: we, whose names are attached to this document, being desirous of maintaining the purity and harmony of divine truth, do earnestly protest against the following passages in the aforesaid sermon :
“I hold this doctrine: that in the physical, in the moral, and in the spiritual world, the great God can suspend for a time any law he chooses." 6 Göd here suspended the law of falsehood, and by suspending that law did hereby take away the criminality of Rahab's falsehoods ; that though she told two falsehoods, there was no sin in them, no crime in them; necessity demanded it: God here suspended the usual law of truth, and made that morally true which was literally false.” “ There are some la he (God) not suspend not because he cannot-be careful how
you attribute cannots to the great God. God cannot lie, because he will not:"p. 199. “ Was Rahab justified in those falsehoods ? Certainly she was. Say you, would you have told them ? Yes, sir; I would tell ten thousand, if I were placed in the same circumstances, and had the same divine authority for it that she had.” “We must be placed in analagous circumstances to tell an untruth with divine sanction: "p. 198. “I look back with pleasure upon some of the favours I have done some of the people of God, and would again, and will to-morrow too, if I am so placed." "I told you to get your piety ready, you hypocrites, for that I was going to shock it. The apostle James makes
that the best part of her conduct: » p. 199. Against the doctrine contained in these statements we openly revolt, and judge it an incumbent duty publicly to protest against a creed which refers all moral qualities to the sovereign determinations of God's will, and ignores the essential rights of Jehovah, as the only ground of his legislative and judicial functions.
We deny that it is possible for God to suspend his moral law; that it is
possible for God to lie; that he can justify falsehood, or any other sin, by an interruption of his moral law; or that he can take away sin by any method whatever, otherwise than by the satisfaction to Divine Justice, through the meritorious death of Jesus Christ.
Furthermore, we protest against the notion that sin can become sinless under any circumstances; or that Rahab's falsehoods were the best part of her conduct; or that in commending her faith the apostle commended her falsehoods ; or that her falsehoods sprung from her faith in God, and not from her fear in man; or that there are “analagous” circumstances to those of Rahab, under which men may be justified in lying, or in sin of any
kind. Finally, we believe the universal justice or rectitude of God to be essential to the perfection of his existence, and necessary to it; that punitive justice, on account of sin, is a necessary branch of immutable justice; that divine moral law being founded on the essential rights of God's eternal justice, must necessarily be the just expression of those rights, and the ground and rule of God's authority over accountable beings; that such law can no more be suspended, altered, or abrogated, than the perfections of his nature, or the throne of his majesty ; that a God without holiness, justice, or rectitude, is not an object of joyous worship, affection, or trust; and that the sentiment we protest against is a reproach to God's character, a slur upon his government, and inimical to the moral and social interests of mankind.
Under the influence of these convictions, respect for ourselves as ministers of Christ, and a concern for Christian Churches, especially those of Strict Communion Principles, both in town and country, we heartily unite in subscribing to this protest.
PHILIP DICKERSON, Chairman. WILLIAM ALDERSON.
Signs of better days for Baptist Churches. WITH
TITH unmingled pleasure the editor of "The Sword and Trowel,” took
part in the general assembly of the Baptist Churches at Bradford. A holy, heavenly spirit was poured out upon the brethren ; there seemed to be one undivided vehement longing for more manifest unity, and each man appeared to be closing in towards his fellow. This has been the daily prayer of some among us, and the answer is now at our doors. Our body, shattered and divided, rent with differences, and torn with jealousies, is now, through God's grace, likely to be united, happy, and consequently powerful. The days of solema meeting held among our generous Yorkshire brethren will be the date from which to mark the commencement of a blessed era if we all remained true to the spirit which ruled the hour. Suspicions and mistrust are now given to the winds, and we look each other in the face with mutual confidence. Our own heart was brimming with love to all the brethren, we took the most public opportunity of expressing it, and we feel constrained again to say that if we have in any measure been an impediment to the forming of our Churches into a compact phalanx, it has not been our intention, and it shall not be the case in the future. Without pledging ourselves to any line of action, without laying aside any peculiarity or point of difference, nay, even testifying that there is much to be amended and something to be destroyed, we do most cordially cast in our soul and strength