Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Gospel, first, always

Jean P. Purcell 

Noah Webster (1758 – 1843 ) is a well-known American historical figure remembered for his significant contributions to American letters - including spelling books and his word dictionary, as well as literary criticism, political writings, journalism, and reviews. 

 He is rarely, however, mentioned as a deep-thinking Christian believer. I wonder how many people have heard that he was. I recently realized his Christian calling when I read a letter he wrote to a friend in Boston, dated 1809. It has gripped my attention for many days. It is called "The Peculiar Doctrines of the Gospel, Explained and Defended." It is about the preeminence of the Gospel.

Noah Webster was troubled by the first place churches were giving to the doing of good works. The Gospel had, if you read his text, almost been laid aside. The same mistake causes concern among some of us today.

Webster provided a convincing case for us who are of churches, to urge re-assessment today, and in strong, unapologetic words. Webster described a creed based on good works as "...a rock on which perhaps more intelligent men are shipwrecked than on any other." 

Such a creed, he stated, is overturned by this one defect: "that no man destitute of a principle of holiness, or a supreme love and regard to his Maker, can perform the moral duties, in the manner which the laws of God require."

He explained why man's motives if "destitute of a principle of holiness, or a supreme love and regard to his Maker cannot be pure; they cannot spring from the right source; nor will any man, without a higher principle than a mere regard to social happiness, ever be able to perform all the moral duties with steadiness and uniformity." 

Those words immediately remind of Jesus' answer to what is the greatest commandment: 

"...The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment."

He continued, "And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.

The Lord answered (Mark 12: 29-31; also Matthew 22, Luke 10) as it is written in the Torah (Deuteronomy 6:5), which a scribe or lawyer of the day would have known, "love the Lord thy God." 

The Christian's chief aim is to follow and obey that command, to love the Lord our God fully, with all that we are. We set our eyes firmly on this goal of love for the Lord. His love for His world, as shown in its utmost in the fullness of time in Jesus, the Son, gives all that is good for this world and for its people, who are created by God. All that is good follows from such love. The Source of the spark and the fire of love and life never changes. He is love. 

Also by Noah Webster, The Value of the Bible and excellence of the Christian religion

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