God’s Word Made of None Effect by Man’s Tradition – Advent 1868

SECOND SUNDAY IN ADVENT, 1868.

god’s word made of none effect by man’s tradition.

St. Mark VII, 13.

•’ Making the word of God of none effect through your traditions.”

The Saviour’s rebuke to the Pharisees, which this text
contains, arose from the fact that Avhile Almighty God, by
the mouth of His servant Moses, had distinctly commanded
His people to honour their parents, a traditional explanation
of this law made it without effect, by leading the people to
suppose that they were complying with the Divine Will,
at the very moment when they were openly disobeying the
plain letter of the word of God. Now on this Sunday, the
Church, by her services, leads us to consider the Holy
Scriptures as a means of preparing for the second advent of
our Lord — and doubtless one great reason why there is so
little readiness for that event is, that though pro.
fessing a great regard for Scripture, we do really to a
very fearful extent make it of no effect by our traditions.
The Bible speaks with great distinctness of a coming day.
when the last fearful struggle shall take place between faith
and unbelief, between Christ and Anti-Christ, and it seems
to me, hardly possible to doubt, that this last strife is rapidly

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IS so

approacliing. It is clear from Holy Scripture that Anti-Christ
is to be a great infidel power, and not any form of Christianity
however corrupt we may esteem it to be. It may be thought
strange that an injldel Anti-Christ should arise in a Christian
country, or stranger still, that if he should do iso he should
find the multitudes to follow him which Scripture predicts.
But we must bear in mind that the ultimate development of
this great infidel power, will be only the completion of a
system of unbelief, for which there has been a long preparation.
That preparation is going on now. It is making great pro-
gress not only among those who are consciously laboring for
this «^nd, but among those who would be utterly shocked at
the idea of infidelity. Now one of the most alarming signs of
this state of things is apparent in the way in which Holy
Scripture is treated by many of the educated and intellectual
classes, and the manner in which it is made of none effect by
corrupt traditions prevailing among the masses of the people.
The tendencies of the former class have of late years become
very definite and pronounced. They have found their most
distinct utterances in the heretical publications of the deposed
Bishop c^ Natal, Dr. Colenso, who pronounces the Old
Testamc > be ” unhistorical,” i. e. unworthy of belief,
and who eliminates from, or drops out of the New Testa-
ment, those special doctrines of grace, which form the only
hope and comfort of sinful men like ourselves.

He finds a large amount of sympathy and support among
men. of that school of thought, who are known as Broad
Churchmen; men who in the celebrated “Essays andReviews”
gave such a specimen of what they called ^\free handling^” oi
the Word of God as shocked every one who devoutly believes
the Bible to be a revelation from heaven. It is much to be
lamented, that the opinions of these persons are more or
less adopted by many of the scientific men of the day, and
by many of the younger members of the educated classes.

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But the same evil tendency is manifesting itself every-
where, and (though in a more latent and insidious form) is
making itself apparent among people who profess the most
unbounded regard for the Bible, and claim to be distinctively
and specially religious. The peculiar form in which this
unbelieving spirit shews itself in the latter class, is in making
the Word of God of none effect, becausb they do not take
it just as it stands, but insist on understanding it, not ac-
cording to its plain literal meaning, but according to
tradition, i. e. to some erroneous explanation devised by
some individual or party, and handed down as the true inter-
pretation. Pert,ons who accept these traditions,can sometimes
be forced to acknowledge that Scripture does say things
which are very contrary to their opinions, but they at once
get out of the difficulty by falling back on their tradition
which proves, (to them at least) that it does not mean what
it says. Thus the authority of the Holy Scripture is being
rapidly undermined, the force of its teachings is neutralized
and the way prepared for the denial of its inspiration. Now
the secret ot this strong tendency, to make the Bible speak,
not according to its own tenor, but in conformity with
what we think it ought to say, is owing to weakness of faith,
to a spirit of latent unbelief, and to the strong inclination,
everywhere apparent, to judge of the credibility of its state-
njents by the test of our reason. Prompted by these
influences, we adopt a tradition or devise an explanation,
which relieves us from the difficulties which we find in
Holy Scriptures by explaining them away, and this applies
both to doctrines and duties.

Take for example, the fact, that the Bible speaks constantly
of something which it calls, ” the Kingdom of Heaven”^ and
” the Kingdom of God.”” Now what can this expression
mean? It cannot (in a multitude of places) mean the King-
dom of Glory on High, for this simple reason that it is des-

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cribed as being made” up of good and bad. We are therefore
forced to the conclusion that it must mean the Church of
Christ on Earth. N’ow what does Holy Scripture say about
this Kingdom. It says that it is like a net in which there
are good fi,:h and bad — like a field in which there are wheat
and tares — like a vine with dead branches and living ones —
like a company of ten virgins of ^\ horn five were wise and five
were foolish — like a threshimx floor whereon is Iving wheat
and chaff” — it it> a body, of which our Lord is the Head — a
bride of whom lie is the Sponse — a Kingdom of which he
is the King, and this Kingdom was built up upon the foun-
dation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ himself,
being the head corner stone. Therefore as the foundations
of a building are its beginning, so this Kingdom must have
had its commencement with those who were its founders, and
it could not possibly have had any subsequent beginning —
and the Kingdom thus begun was to have no End, but was
to last for ever.

1^0 w from these statements of Holy Scripture what in-
ferences can be drawn but that the Church is one. Why
Because our Lord likens it to things that are one. He says
it is like a field — a net — a threshing floor — a vine &c., &c.
Kext we must infer that it must be visible : why ? because
He says that it is lihe things which can be seen. Again it
is clear that it must be made up of good and evil, for He says
it is like a field with wheat and tares — a net with good fish
and bad. It is further manifest that this one visible
kingdom was begun by our Lord, in Judea, 1800 years ago,
and the express promise of Holy Scriptures is that it should
never be destroyed but that He should be with it always
even unto the end of the world. Now as you all know, this
is what Holy Scriptures says, but do the bulk of the people
among us, who profess to prize the Scriptures, believe it ?
By no ineans. They scoff at it — they denounce it — they are

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bitterly set against it: why? because they, unconsciously,
make the Word of God of none effect by a most untenable
tradition. They are indeed compelled by the force of Scrip-
ture to admit, though, in a sense altogether different from
that of Holy Scripture that the kingdom of heaven, i. e. the
Church of Christ on earth is one, but instead of being, as our
Lord says it is, like something that can be seen, they hold it
to be invisible. Instead of being made up of good and bad —
wheat and tares, as our Lord calls them ; they teach that
this invisible church of their own devising, is made up of the
good only ; that its outward form is left to the mere will and
inclination of men, that it may be rent into a thousand sepa-
rate and complicating atoms, which may take their rise at any
time or place, and through the instrumentality of any person,
and then may pass away, to be reproduced again in some
other form. The great doctrine of the unity of the Church,
which is the Body of Christ, of which the Scripture em-
phatically says, that there is but “one body,” is made utterly
without effect, by this most preposterous tradition. The
practical result is, that we have multitudes of what are called
” Churches” which were not founded by Christ, which did
not originate in Judea, and which instead of dating back for
more than 1800 years are but of yesterday. The consequence
is that the Saviour’s dying prayer is not fulfilled. We are
not one^ and therefore the world does not believe that He
came to be its Redeemer.

The very same thing can be conclusively proved witli
reference to the doctrines of Holy Baptism, Holy Com-
munion and many others. The Scriptures speak clearly,
positively, distinctly, but men stumble at its hard sayings and
make them of none effect, through their corrupt traditions.

As it is with doctrines so it is with duties, but time will
not allow me to dwell upon them. I shall refer only to one.
M!any able and earnest men have shown, as I believe, con-

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clusively that Holy Scripture demands from Christians the
tenth of all their increase for the honor ot God, and I am
aware of only one work in which this view of the subject has
been attempted, to be formally disproved. That work has
been answered over aiul over again ; but do the bulk of
those V ho are ever lauding the Holy Scriptures, believe
what they say on this subject, and endeavour to practice
the pr3cepts which tliey confessedly contain ? On the con-
trary, the notion of such obedience rather tends to excite
the merriment of those who are exhorted to it and the “Word
of God, in this, as so in many other points, is made of none
effect through human tradition. And as with doctrines and
duties, so with sins. For example, though the Bible says
that there should be no division amongst us, that there should
be no schism in the Body of Christ, that we should be perfect-
ly joined together in the same mind and in the same judg-
ment, that divisions are a great sin, the sign 6f a weak, carnal,
sensual state and that those who cause them should be avoid-
ed ; though the Bible says this and much more than this, do
people really believe it ? Not at all my Brethren, they laugh
at or resent as bigotry the idea of regarding schism as a
sin, and thus they make the Word of God of none effect
by their tradition.

Now, my Christian Brethren, let me impress upon you
that this is not only a great but it is a growing evil. These
are not the only doctrines which are being undermined and
denied in consequence of corrupt tradition. The doctrines
of the Eternity of punishment, of the ever blessed Trinity,
of the Atonement and Divinity of our Lord are being ex-
posed to the same influences, and those who are trying to
lead the popular mind in this direction will not be satisfied
until they banish from the minds of their followers the
idea that there is anything supernatural in Christianity,
and if that be the case it is not worth contending for.

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Take away the truth of the Bible, either by direct atisault or
by corrupt tradition, and you leave us upon the dark and
stormy sea of this life without compass to steer by, or rudder
to direct us. We cannot then be ready for the judgment
for we know not whether there is to be a judgment at all,
nor can wo be sure even of the existence of another life.
I’here caa be no hope for us amidst our sins, no comfort in
our sorrow^, no peace amid the manifold perturbations ot
this uneasy life, because all assurance of future pardon, and
rest and glory would then be taken away. As then we
value all the inestimable blessings which our Holy Faith
confei*s, as we hope for calmness on the bed of death and
a holy boldness on the day of judgment, let us hold fast
to every tittle of the Word of God. Let us beware how
we venture to explain away its explicit language under the
influence of popular and erroneous tradition, and when
doubt, — real, honest, anxious doubt as to what our Lord’s
will is, arises in our mind, let us remember that the Church
of Christ is the keeper of Holy Writ and the witness as to
Hs true meaning, and that she is of authority in controver-
sies of faith. How it is that she gives her decision on con-
troverted points, and the reasonableness and safety of
yielding to her authority may perhaps engage our attention
upon Sunday evening next.