A Testimony Its Use and Importance

A Testimony–Its Use and Importance

A Testimony–Its Use and Importance

The question is sometimes asked, what is the use of a testimony, and what is its proper place in the standards of the church? The inquiry is by no means an unimportant one, and a correct understanding of the subject to which it relates, is necessary, in order to witness faithfully and intelligently for the truth. A very common distribution of the word of God, is into “the law and the testimony.” Ps. 78:5; Is. 8:16 and 20. These evidently refer to divine revelation, as containing both the duties which we are to perform, and the truths we are to believe, constituting a perfect system of practice and of faith. The law is the rule of our obedience—the testimony the matter of our belief.

In some respects, though not fully, the counterpart of this is the duty of the church to confess Christ, and to bear witness for him. God’s people are both confessors and witnesses. Luke 12: 8; Is. 43:10. And these two designations were applied to them with specific meaning, in the primitive ages of the Christian church, particularly when suffering persecution. Those were called confessors, who acknowledged that they were Christians, and refused to renounce their religion. Those were called witnesses or martyrs, who laid down their life for their religion; and hence the term martyr, of precisely the same import with witness, came to be the distinctive and honorable appellation of those who died for their fidelity to Christ. And the highest authority warrants this use of the term. “Antipas, my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.” Rev. 2:13.

It is evident, then, that in addition to the duty of confessing Christ, that of bearing witness for him, devolves on his people. They are required not only to declare that they belong to Christ, but also to evince that they are at enmity with the world. The former they do in their confession, creed, or summary of divine truth, by whatever name they may call it. The latter they do by their testimony, in which they show that while they are united among themselves, they are in a state of separation from, and opposition to, all who deny the truth. The confession is the bond of union by which they are held firmly together; the testimony is the exertion of this combined strength put forth in an aggressive form against error and wickedness.

The very word testimony, conveys an idea specifically different from that conveyed by the word confession. The latter means no more than a declaration of belief, without respect to the evidence on which it rests. The former declares not only what is believed, but furnishes the proof of it, and is designed to convince by its truth, or to silence by its authority. The martyrs of Jesus showed that their death was not that of fools, but as while living they furnished the testimony of scripture to the principles which they professed, and for which they contended, so their refusing to preserve their lives by denying the truth, was the strongest human testimony which they could give to it. For it is very doubtful if any ever suffered death deliberately for a false system, when a denial of an equivocal kind, such as was sometimes proposed to the martyrs, would have saved their lives; and it is certain that in those cases in which heretics have been punished with death, they approached their end with a sullenness and stoicism that shows their want of confidence in their system; while the sufferers for truth, by the sincerity of spirit and holy joy with which they laid down their lives, demonstrated the preciousness and reality of the doctrines in which they believed.

A testimony, as a distinct part of the church’s standards, has become quite unfashionable and unpopular. This undoubtedly arises from the abundance of a spurious charity that would avoid everything that might offend any who bear the Christian name. That the prevalence of such liberality is any evidence that we are wiser, holier, or more faithful than our fathers, few will have the boldness to affirm. It is to be ascribed to a very different cause. The perceptions of this age, of the excellence of truth, are much fainter than those of the ages which are past; and that judicial visitation which, in scripture language, is described as a “spirit of slumber—eyes, that they should not see, and ears, that they should not hear”—seems now to be inflicted. It very naturally follows, from the want of a due appreciation of the truth, that the evil of contrary errors will be greatly underrated; and the consequence is, that a faithful testimony is looked on as a useless and cumbersome part of the church’s dress, which she would do well to lay aside.

The arguments against a testimony are plausible and imposing. It is alleged, that while a party seceding from a corrupt church are required to give the reasons of their separation, and to testify against the errors which caused it, there is still no necessity for witnessing against similar evils in other churches. The argument assumes that error in a parent church is worse than in sister churches; that the latter may and should not condemn in each other, principles and practices which would furnish a legitimate cause for separation from the former. To state the argument thus, is to show its fallacy. Again, we are told that a testimony is an obstacle to the union of the churches. We admit that where there is no doctrinal distinction, no contrariety of practice, churches should not testify against one another; nay more, they should be one. But they should still testify against the errors of those with whom they cannot unite. A testimony is indeed an obstacle to union on any other basis than truth; and the friends of latitudinarianism show their sagacity in endeavoring to have this obstacle removed. On the other hand, the friends of truth should strenuously exert themselves to retain a testimony as the breakwater to check the floods of error which threaten to overwhelm the church.

It is asserted that the church of Scotland, in her purest days, had no testimony, and to urge its necessity now, is a reflection on her faithfulness. We greatly wish that this professed respect for the church of Scotland was real, and that she was taken for a pattern by her degenerate descendants. The church of Scotland had no testimony!! Either ignorance or dishonesty makes the assertion. Her confession and catechisms contain in them one of the elements of a testimony, the proof of the doctrines in which she declared her belief. But she had more. She had her covenants, those impregnable fortresses by which the successive attacks of popery and prelacy had been effectually resisted. And it is a fact significant and suggestive, that opposition to a testimony and to the covenants, comes from the same quarter. Her testimony was, as every testimony should be, adapted to her condition and circumstances. Her armor was directed offensively against every form of error and immorality with which she had to conflict. It was “the armor of truth on the right hand and on the left.” And those who claim to be her children, and yet lay aside a testimony. show that they are incapable of appreciating those of her acts, that confer on her the highest distinction, that of a faithful church, and made her an example worthy of imitation in succeeding ages.

But it may be said she had no testimony against other churches. And why had she not? Simply because, in those days of purity and peace, there were no other churches holding error, to be testified against. When afterwards, owing to the withdrawal of salutary civil restraints, errors sprang up, and sectarian organizations were formed, the church, broken as she was by the crushing oppression of a perjured tyrant, still turned the weapons of her warfare against the foes of truth, and by her faithful declarations seasonably emitted, “tormented the men that dwelt on the earth.” The policy of no testimony would doubtless have been a very prudent one. But while by silence she might have escaped suffering, she would have incurred what is incalculably worse, withering and desolating spiritual judgments.

The church of Christ has an important work assigned her, and she is amply endowed by her Head to accomplish it. As the light of the world, she is to dispel the darkness which is the stronghold of Satan’s kingdom. Truth and error have been in conflict ever since enmity was put between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. Deception and falsehood are employed by the “prince of this world” to retain the power which by their means he acquired. By beguiling our first parents, he made them and their posterity his captives, and in the same way he labors to perpetuate his dominion. The announcement of the mission of the Son of God, to dispossess the usurper and recover the revolted province, filled the kingdom of darkness with dismay. And this precious truth, in all its vast comprehensiveness, is the agency divinely appointed to pull down the strong holds of sin.

Of this truth the church is the depository. She is required to hold it fast, and to hold it forth. It is her crown, that she must suffer no one to take from her. Every doctrine taught in divine revelation, is a necessary part of the armor, both defensive and offensive, with which the Christian soldier is to be arrayed. It is to be both the girdle of his loins and the sword in his hand. Eph. 6:14, 17. He employs this part of his panoply offensively, when as a witness for Christ, he stands forth before the world testifying for the whole truth. The burden of his testimony is, that the Lord Jesus Christ is the only Saviour, and that all men should believe on him, and submit to his authority. The church, the affianced bride of the Lamb of God, is under special obligations to see that the honor of her Head and husband be carefully guarded. Can she be silent when error, that has its origin in the kingdom of darkness, is imposed on the world as an emanation from the source of light? How can she be faithful, and refuse to expose the fatal deceptions of him who was a “murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him?”

And it is not the least dangerous of his artifices, to persuade the friends of truth to lay aside any part of their armor, or to employ it in a way less effectual to advance the cause of Christ. And this we are confident is done when a testimony for truth is laid down, or its directness and force are in any way impaired.—”Peace, peace,” is a delusive cry, uttered by the enemy when he perceives his kingdom to be in danger from the aggressive attacks of truth. The “roaring lion” can readily conceal the suspicious indications of his natural ferocity, under the garb of “an angel of light;” and like the fabled sirens that by their song wiled to his destruction the deluded mariner, soothe and flatter to imbecility those whom he could not overcome by violence.

With what unblushing effrontery does he put forth the peace and prosperity of the church, as an unanswerable reason why, among her different, and in some respects opposing families, there should be no controversy. Having accomplished all that he can reasonably expect by dividing the church, he is now quite willing that the divisions be healed, provided it be on the terms that the friends of truth ground their arms. The unity of the church was violated, and the truth which gave her strength and symmetry was abandoned in the schisms which have placed her members in the unseemly position of separate ecclesiastical households. It is evident that while the enemy hates the visible unity of the church, he hates the truth more; and he can lend a helping hand to promote and perpetuate the former, if truth the meanwhile lies bleeding, and error and delusion are strengthened and cherished. Of this, the boasted unity of the “mother of harlots and abominations in the earth,” is clear demonstration.

The church is an aggressive institution. “I am come,” says her Lord, “to send fire in the earth.” “The Word of the Lord is like as a fire;” and “all the proud, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble.” The preaching of the word is the divinely instituted means of overturning the kingdom of Satan, and bringing sinners into the kingdom of Christ. By her faithful ministers who “shun not to declare all the counsel of God,” the church utters aloud her testimony for truth; and by publishing to the world the errors by which it is opposed, with their refutation, she gives efficacy and force to her testimony. It is thus that doctrines and practices are subjected to the ordeal by which their character is with certainty determined. “He that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest that they are wrought in God.”

The present would be a time peculiarly inauspicious for relinquishing, or even for relaxing a testimony. The “war of opinions” foreseen by a sagacious statesman of the last century, has begun. Systems of wrong that have long been maintained by the sword, are beginning to be examined, as it regards their foundation and claims. However reluctant, their advocates must meet the friends of right on the arena of rational discussion, and either maintain their cause by argument, or abandon it. The value of truth, of the whole truth, and that too presented in its most potent form, cannot in such circumstances be over-estimated. The minds of the multitude require to be convinced that religion, and truth, and liberty, and right, are all on the one side, and that the world can be put in possession of these invaluable blessings by the process which the Bible alone reveals. Those who have realized the value of these blessings should be active in showing them to others, and at the same time demonstrate the danger of a compromise in the smallest particular, with any sentiment opposed to the principles of which they are the legitimate results.

We wish to be understood as giving special importance to that part of the church’s testimony which relates to the duty of nations. It is unpopular, we admit, and there are strong inducements held out to give it a less prominent place than in times past. It is in this quarter that the friends of a covenanted testimony have most to fear. There is a spirit of neutrality in all the churches, and we cannot expect to escape. Let the watchmen be vigilant, and active, and faithful. Let them cry aloud and not spare. There is a warfare to be waged, and a victory to be won. The promise is to him that overcometh. The trial will be severe—the conflict fierce, and the sufferings great, but the result is certain, and the reward glorious. To animate us to faithfulness—to prepare us to endure all things for Christ, we have the recorded declaration of our great Leader, the Captain of the Lord’s hosts, respecting the victors and the means by which they were successful in the terrible struggle. “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of the testimony, and they loved not their lives unto the death.” Rev. 12:11. “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”

From the Reformed Presbyterian Vol XVI No. VII September 1852. pp. 193-198.


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