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Sixth Edition, 1915
By Dr. John Thomas (first edition written 1861)



Chapter 3


2. They are Worthy




Belief of the gospel of the kingdom and immersion, while they are indispensable to worthiness, do not alone constitute men "worthy." The constituents of the Angel-Presbytery had all believed the gospel and been immersed, yet they were pronounced by the Spirit "dead." This faith and obedience gave them an orthodox standing among contemporary Christians, who supposed that they were enjoying spiritual life; but the Spirit, who sees not as men see, declared that they were unworthy of his favour, because "their works were not perfected in the sight of the Deity." They were in the case of a man who says "he hath faith, but hath not works." This is the reason why the Spirit testified that they were "dead;" for he had said by James, that "faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone." The Angel in Sardis said they had faith; while "the few" in the same city "had works." They all claimed to have faith; they had all believed the gospel and been immersed; for in the time of the apostles none were recognized as Christians who had not thus consented to "the wholesome words of the Lord Jesus." But how were the "worthy" to be distinguished from the unworthy? By their professions? No the "dead" undertook to "show their faith without works;" but the Spirit rejected their claim, and gave his approbation to "the few," who showed their faith by their works," as Abraham their father did, "whose faith" in the promises of the Deity "was perfected by works," whereby he obtained the honourable and exalted title of "The Friend of the Deity."

Contemporary with the apostles was one named Clement, who for nine years was a member of "the Angel" of the ecclesia in Rome. He wrote an epistle to the ecclesia in Corinth for the purpose of healing schisms that had arisen there after Paul's death; and which he terms a quarrel with their pastors from a weak partiality for one or two persons. There is a paragraph in this epistle, much approved by "the evangelists" of our day, which, if taken in the sense they put upon it, places him in fellowship with the class in Sardis, termed by the Spirit "dead." His words are these:

"All these," he is speaking of the Old Testament worthies, "were magnified and honoured, not through themselves, not through their own works, not through the righteous deeds which they performed, but through HIS WILL. And we also by his will being called in Christ Jesus, are JUSTIFIED not by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or by the works which we have wrought in holiness of heart, but by FAITH; by which the Almighty hath justified all, who are or have been justified from the beginning."

Milner, the ecclesiastical historian, introduces this passage by saying that "the distinguishing doctrine of Christianity, without which indeed the Gospel is a mere name, and incapable of consoling sinners, is doubtless justification by the grace of Christ THROUGH FAITH ALONE. See the testimony of this in Clement. It deserves to be distinctly remembered, as an unequivocal proof of the faith of the primitive church" (Vol. 1. p. 79.)

From certain passages in this epistle, we apprehend that Clement was one of those "pious pastors" living at the close of the first century, who passed current for "ministers of righteousness," like the many in Sardis; but was in reality "dead," having to a considerable extent acknowledged "the depths of the Satan as they taught." Speaking of Peter, he says, "having suffered martyrdom, he departed to the due

place of glory;" and of Paul, he says, "having suffered martyrdom from princes, he left the world, and reached the shore of a blessed immortality." This is Platonism, and stamps the faith of Clement with reprobation. If anything had gone to "the due place of glory" after Peter's death, it must have been, in Clement's opinion, what the heathen term his "immortal soul;" and if "the due place of glory" and "the shore of a blessed immortality" be somewhere arrived at before resurrection, the promises covenanted to Abraham and David are nullified as superfluous. A man holding such unscriptural notions is a very unfit exponent of "the faith of the primitive church."

But in relation to justification, we rather think that "the evangelists" have misunderstood Clement. What he says above is true enough of the justification of sinners. These are justified by faith in baptism If they believe the gospel of the kingdom in its mystery, their faith without regard to their previous works, good, bad, or indifferent, is counted to them for justification, at the time when they are in the act of obeying the truth, in being immersed. This is not the clerical idea of justification by faith alone. This consists in a sinner attaining to a persuasion that Jesus died for him; and that in having reached this conviction, the blood of Jesus is thereby applied to his immortal soul, and he is justified. This may be an instantaneous operation, and totally independent of all knowledge of the scriptures, as evinced by "conversions" every day. We do not believe that even Clement, who believed in the resurrection of the fabled Phoenix from its own ashes, had any idea of such a justification by faith alone as this; and we are sure there is no such justification taught in the Bible from one end of it to the other. Clement was treating of the justification of sinners; not of the justification of saints. Sinners are justified from all their past sins in the way stated, and so become saints. As saints, "faith alone" will not save them. James teaches this clearly. "By works a man is justified, and not by faith only." He is writing of a man, who, like Abraham, had already become a saint. The saints are justified by works, but the saint who seeks to be justified by, or to be pronounced "worthy," by faith alone, is like his faith, "dead;" for "faith without works is dead" -- dead as that of the many in Sardis.

But, however heathenish some of his creed evidently was, Clement cannot be classed with the dead faiths in Sardis, upon the ground of denying the necessity of good works to the perfecting of a previous faith. He evidently believed it necessary for all saints, who would "be accounted worthy" by the Spirit, to be rich in good works. "Shall we," says he, "neglect good works? Does it hence follow that we should leave the law of loving obedience? God forbid; let us rather hasten with all earnestness of mind to every good work; for the Lord himself rejoices in his works. Having such a pattern how strenuously should we follow his will, and work the works of righteousness with all our might."

They who pursued this course were pronounced "worthy." They "received" the gospel, and "heard" it by obeying it and thenceforth, "patiently continuing in well-doing," sought thereby "glory, honour, incorruptibility and life" in the Aion (Rom. ii. 7). Thus, their faith was perfected by their works; and, as Jesus taught, "they were accounted worthy to obtain that Aion, and the resurrection from among the dead," after which "they can die no more; for they are equal to the angels; and are the Sons of the Deity being the children of the resurrection" (Luke xx. 36). In this way they are "clothed in white garments," and "walk with the Spirit in white robes; for they are worthy."




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