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Written by J.H. Oliphant   

The Primitive Monitor-November 1907

I received a clipping from a recent number of Elder Pence's paper, in which he criticizes an article from me in a recent number of the Primitive Baptist.  I will write concerning the matter again.

Milner, in his "History of the Religions of the World," says, "Clement and many of the fathers believed that God raised up great men among the heathen," and "Maintained the action of divine grace on the souls of heathens independent of christian instruction," page 45k9  "Others held that there could be no salvation without believing the doctrine of the church, which led to the dogma of the damnation of the pagans."  Augustine favored this view.  There was something among the heathen that was good--a recognition of the being of God, and evidences of love for God were manifest among the heathen people.  Also a love for their fellow-beings was manifest in many of them, and even a wisdom and understanding of God and his will, and such excellent understanding of the duties of men to each other, all of which could not be accounted for unless we admit that God's spirit is with them and teaches them. 

Many have held, as Elder Pence, seems to hold, that there can be no salvation where there is no bible.  I think the Missionaries usually make this plea.  Alexander Campbell strongly maintained that there could be no salvation without the bible.  He says, "No living man has ever been heard of, and none can now be found, possessed of a single conception of Christianity, of one spiritual thought, feeling or emotion where the bible has not been sent. Where the bible has not been sent, or its traditions developed, there is not one single spiritual idea, word or action; it is all midnight, a gloom profound, utter darkness."  Clement and many of the fathers" thought there were persons among the heathen that had some correct thought, some "feeling and emotion."  I would yield to Elder Pence's view of this matter if I were convinced that there is no "spiritual thought or feeling" among the heathen, but I find reason for believing that there is something good among them--reasons convincing to me.  I indulge no unkindness for Elder Pence for thinking otherwise.

Campbell says, "A spiritual, or moral, or creative power without the word of God is a phantom, a mere delusion." If one must believe the delusion of the church in order to be saved, then what is the doctrine? Elder Pence seems to regard me as heathen, or about so.  From his point of view none could be saved who believe as I do; but I think Elder Pence has a better opinion of me than his article indicates. Whose doctrine must be believed?  Scores of sects claim the doctrine, each for itself and must we believe it all unreservedly, or how much must we believe?  These are important questions. Campbell says, "seven tenths of the world" is in midnight darkness, a gloom profound."  How much truth must be understood and known in the remaining tenths in order to be saved?  Christianity is divided in regard to Christ and every feature of truth.  Arians, Socvinians, Unitarians, Trinitarians, Calvinists, Arminians, baptism, church government, etc.  In how much of this can one be wrong and yet be saved?  Which of all these possesses the jewel, without which one must be lost?  How much better is Catholicism and its history than Paganism?  How much Catholicism must we believe, if any?  Does the bible teach that there is no salvation for any of the heather?  If so, I am ready to confess my wrong and believe that seven tenths of the nations are wholly lost and consigned to endless ruin without one ray of hope for any.  But I do not so understand the Bible to teach.  I think it supports the view I contend for, and I think too, that history abounds with instances where men among the heathen did have "spiritual thought, feeling or emotion."

Elder Pence complains that I find among the heathen the highest ideas of God and purest moral maxims, and that I think any of their writings worth quoting. Paul quoted from a heathen poet at Athens.  He thought it true, and deserved to be preserved in our scriptures. He recognized that a ray of light had reached that heathen, so I have good example for quoting what I find that is good, even in heathen writings.

Paul said, "In him we live and move and have our being," and then showed that their own poets had said as much, "For we are also his offspring." Paul quoted from the heathen words of instruction for Christianity. Paul spoke of their inscription "To the unknown God, whom therefore ye ignorantly worship." He recognized a spirit of devotion among them, something commendable, and quoted from their author words of wisdom. There are some texts that indicate that heathen nations are interested in salvation. "In thee shall all the families of the earth be blest." And all the nations of the earth shall be blest in him." "And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blest." Here is a blessing for "all the nations" and "all the families of the earth." But how can this be if "seven tenths of the nation are swept away without one ray of light among them?"  "For thou wast slain and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred and tongue and people under heaven." How could this be if the work on grace is wholly excluded from seven-tenths of the nations of the earth? or if it be restricted to those who have bible advantages?

John saw a great multitude that no man can number "of all kindreds and people and tongues who stood before the throne and before the lamb clothed in white robes," etc.

Such statements as this better agree with the idea that God's method of salvation is not limited to human efforts, especially when we remembered that only about one fourth of the race has ever been favored with Bible advantages. There was no Bible, not even the ten commandments or the golden rule, for the first fifteen hundred years of the world, and yet we read of men and women that knew God, the true God, and the right worship. Josephus tells us that Abraham argued from the vastness of creation and the beauty and order of it that there is but one God. Tillotson argued, I think rightly, that we learn of the being of God from the works of his hands, and "There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard." Jacob and all the Patriarchs had lived and died before the first line of the Bible was written. Enoch had walked with God; Noah had built the ark, and Abel had made acceptable sacrifice to God without the aid of the Bible. All these are referred to in the New Testament as the true servants of God. Though Abraham was surrounded with error in the midst of the Chaldees yet he knew the true God and obeyed him and became the father of the faithful in all ages, and all this without a Bible or a preacher. Job lived before Abraham in the land of Uz, supposed to be Arabia. He knew the true God and the true worship with none of the advantages Elder Pence seems to think indispensable to the knowledge and worship of God.

After Moses' time centuries passed with but a small part of the Bible written as we now have it.  Christ was known in it only in types and shadows. Forty centuries went by, and all that train of nations had been swept away before a line of the New Testament was written. Yet we see a succession of the true worshippers from Abel to the coming of Christ. "All thy children shall be taught of God," and God found a way to teach and make himself and his will known to the children of men in the various nations of earth throughout all those centuries.

How much of the Bible is indispensable to salvation? Twenty-five hundred years went by before one line of it was written, and near three thousand years were gone before one half the Old Testament was written, and four thousand years were gone before one line of the New Testament was written.  These are all important facts as I see the subject. God's mercy was applied to multitudes before a line of the Bible was written.  The redeemed shall come from every kindred tongue, and nation under heaven--a multitude that no man can number of all the families of the earth.

Paul speaks of a mystery among the gentiles, which "hath been hid from ages and from generations, but is now made manifest to his saints, to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the gentiles," "which is Christ in you the hope of glory." Abraham's behavior was a mystery to the Chaldees, and Job's to the people of Uz, and Noah's to the Antediluvians. Elijah and Elisha were a mystery to the world, and Samuel was a wonderful youth.

Moses' behavior was a mystery to the men of his times. Counting the reproaches of Christ greater riches than their treasures of Egypt." Christ was then, and Moses thought his reproaches the greatest wealth. Abraham knew of Christ and all the ancient worthies saw Christ by faith. The behavior and faithfulness of Abel, Enoch, Noah, and all the cloud of worthies who lived before a line of the Bible was written were all a mystery to the world, and do doubt, often a mystery to themselves. "It was Christ in them the hope of glory." We do not intend salvation without Christ. Christ is eternal. "Before Abraham was I am" one with God, was made flesh, became what he was not but ceased not to be what he was. 

Christ was in Job and Noah and all the ancient worthies. The mystery that led Abraham to go out, not knowing whither he went and to look for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God--that mystery still works in men, both in christian and heathen lands. “When the gentiles, which have no law, do by nature the things contained in the law, it shows the work of the law written in their hearts.” Paul believed there were Gentiles that had the work of the law written in their hearts, which is the new covenant of grace. Rom. ii. 8, 9 teach the same. When Peter went to the house of Cornelius he said, “I perceive of a truth that God is no respecter of persons, but in every nation he that feareth him and worketh righteousness is accepted with him.” Peter learned that God’s mercy was operative in “every nation.” “He that feareth him and worketh righteousness;” such people are in every nation and “are accepted with him.” To say that we find some of the highest ideas of God and the purest maxims of morality among the heathens is not to endorse heathenism as a whole as Elder Pence intimates, and the fact that Seneca was Nero’s tutor is not evidence that Nero’s badness was from Seneca any more than to say the badness of Judas was from Christ. There are some of the highest ideas of God among the heathens, because they agree with the Scriptures concerning God, and there are some of the purest expressions of human duty found in their writings. Socrates taught a future state of happiness for the just, and of punishment for the wicked. He was put to death as a martyr and died full of hope and in a sweet anticipation of bliss. His death was as calm, peaceful, and hopeful as I hope to be favored with when I come to the crossing. Among his sayings we find “The divinity is so great that he both sees and bears all things; is everywhere present and attends to all things at once." "He who arranges and holds together the whole universe, in which are all things beautiful and good, and preserves it always undissolved and undisordered, is manifested only in his works, but is invisible to us while he regulates them.” These are scriptural ideas of God, and the highest ideas of God. We could give scores and even hundreds of sentences like the above. “It is evident that God stands in need of nothing.” Here is a higher idea of God than is entertained by many Arminians who read the Bible. ‘‘God is the Creator of the universe.” Compare this with the first verse in the Old Testament. “The world is perfectly beautiful, for it is the work of God.” Whence hath this man this wisdom? A heathen writer said, “Speak not ill of your friend, nor curse your enemy.” “We must treat our friend kindly that he may still be more a friend, and make our enemies our friends.”

Plato said, “We must conclude that there is hope that death is a blessing.” Plato also said, “Neither ought a man to return evil for evil, since at no time ought we to do an injury to our neighbor.” Compare this with Rom. xii. 17. “For nothing else but the body and its desires cause wars, seditious and fightings.” Compare this with James iv. 1. These are certainly pure and scriptural ideas. Plato taught that there is a future bliss for the just and of punishment for the evil. The following sentences would be in place in the Old Baptist pulpit, written by Plato: “The virtue that is in us comes not from nature, nor is it taught, but is put in, us by the divinity;” “God is good and no other must be assigned as the cause of our blessing, whereas of our sorrows we must seek some other cause.” A good motto is,

“Accept the truth wherever found,
On Christian or on heathen ground.”

Hundreds of sentences like the above of the purest and sweetest truth can be found in heathen writings. When we find such in the Bible we think it the wisdom of God, and I know of no better reason for such wisdom when found in any other book. Again Plato said, “God is simple and true in word and deed; never changes, never deceives any one by word or deed, or suggestion of vision by day or night.” Compare this with James i. 17.

“The earth, sun and stars, all these, and the arrangement of the season divided into years and months proves that there is a God.” Such wisdom is evident that those men did have some “spiritual thought, feeling or emotion.” In the face of these facts how can Mr. Campbell say “not one spiritual thought, feeling or emotion” can be found in seven-tenths of the world. Paul says, “The invisible of him from the creation are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made even his eternal power and God-head.” Agreeably to this we find Abraham, Job, Noah and others who read out the being of God in the great volume of creation. We find, too, scores of heathens reasoning as Paul said, advocating the purest ideas of God, and of moral conduct among men. I hope Elder Pence did not understand me to embrace heathenism. I could not do so. There is immense ignorance and contradiction in heathenism, and it would be impossible to receive, it as a whole. Christianity, when we consider all that is said by those who claim to understand it, presents a great bundle of ignorance, contradiction and corruption, but it is not all corruption. A learned Hindu said, ‘‘we have our faults, but mark this; they are never cowards cutting the throats of our neighbors. If the Hindu burns himself he never kindles the fires of the inquisition.” The excesses he referred to here are not chargeable to true Christianity, yet Christianity, as seen from the heathen standpoint, is held responsible for these excesses.

A learned heathen at the World’s Fair said, “It has proved to the world that holiness, purity and charity are not the exclusive possession of any church in the world, and that every system has produced men and women of the most exalted character.” I am far from believing that heathenism as a whole is true, but I think there has been something good in every nation. I do not think all the good is in lands known as the “Christian” and none of the bad. I do not agree that “not one spiritual thought, feeling or emotion” is found in “seven-tenths of the earth.” I do not so understand the Bible. I do not understand this to be the teaching of true Christianity. To me it is not a thing incredible that he who taught Abraham of the Chaldees to go right and know God, and taught Job in Arabia to love God, should yet teach others in heathenism to know God. God is the same now he was in Noah’s time, and is as able to reach the understanding as he was then. He made man and knows the way to his heart and understanding. He is able to open the eyes of his understanding and enable him to see God either In the book or in the great volume of creation that is spread out h the universe before all men day and night. David cried out, “Day unto day uttereth speech, night unto night sheweth knowledge; the heavens declare the glory of God, and the earth is full of his handiwork. Their line is gone out into all the earth, and there is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard.” Plato, Socrates, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius and many others have discoursed upon the glory of God as seen in his creation.

Centuries before Christ the Buddhists had their ten commandments. Some were what were given by Moses, “Not to kill, not to steal, not to commit adultery, not to speak evil of others, not to be greedy.” There is something good in these commandments. Also in Confucianism we find the golden rule, “Whatsoever ye would not that men should do to you do you not then unto them.” Here is the purest rule for our conduct. Elder Pence will not deny this, and he should not regard me as a heathen because I see good in the golden rule. Whence came these exalted and correct ideas of God, and these beautiful rules for our behavior one toward another? Christ is omnipresent and eternal. His love and mercy are not bounded by oceans or natural boundary lines, for yet entirely fenced out by the corruption found in heathen nations. At last he will receive a tribute of praise from all the ages, from all nations and kindreds, tongues and people under heaven.

We find men in all ages and nations “feeling after him” (if haply they might feel after him and find him). I think some in all ages and nations do “feel after” him and find him. We find feelers after God and duties both among the heathen. We find feelers after God here, and Satan, too, everywhere opposing. It is sad to think of the sin and vile wickedness practiced in the name of Christianity, of the wolves in sheep’s clothing, of the millions of martyrs who died at the hands of professed Christians, of the strife in churches, wars and hate among Christians. If all the good and pure is in Christendom it is little enough. But I am persuaded that a little of the good is in other nations. There are some who fear God and work righteousness, and they are accepted with him. There are some who “call upon the name of the Lord,” and there is a promise to them, Acts x. 1-4, also Acts ii. 21-3; Joel ii. 2. These have ever been my views. They are scriptural, as I understand the Bible. I am not so foolish as to despise those who see it otherwise, and I would not betray an intolerant or overbearing spirit in maintaining these views. We ought to speak the truth in love. We may honor Christianity by a gentle spirit and brotherly love to those who oppose themselves.” Whit is man that God should be mindful of him? We are but worms and vanity.

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 27 September 2006 )
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