Uzziah was a very powerful king of Judah; he reigned fifty-two years, the longest reign of any king in Israel. He was raised under the tutelage of Zechariah the prophet. He conquered the Philistines and the Arabians; the Ammonites brought him gifts. He built towers and dug wells and constructed vineyards. He commanded an elite fighting force of 307,500 men. He supported this army with an armory that constructed coats of mail, helmets, shields, bows, spears, and slings. And as the great mathematician Archimedes did for Carthage, Uzziah built for Jerusalem great engines of war–catapults and cranes–to defend the city against attack. Uzziah was of a good heritage, powerful, intelligent, and blessed of God, and he let this go to his head. For although we read from 2 Chronicles 26:3-15 of all these tremendous accomplishments under his hand, we also read in verses 16-21 of his great downfall–his pride.
There was among the priests in Jerusalem a spirit of valiance at this time. The priests respected the authority of God and subsequently the silence of the scriptures. They understood that God’s priests were the only ones authorized to enter into the holy place and worship there and that only Aaron and his sons were to burn the incense. Moreover, they were willing to uphold these ordinances even if the king himself purposed to transgress them. They had read in Exodus 30:7,8 the law of the altar, “And Aaron shall burn thereon sweet incense every morning: when he dresseth the lamps, he shall burn incense upon it. And when Aaron lighteth the lamps at even, he shall burn incense upon it, a perpetual incense before the LORD throughout your generations.” And they knew of the pride that had come against the altar in the days of the rebellious Korah; Numbers 16:39, 40 reminded them: “And Eleazar the priest took the brazen censers, wherewith they that were burnt had offered; and they were made broad plates for a covering of the altar: To be a memorial unto the children of Israel, that no stranger, which is not of the seed of Aaron, come near to offer incense before the LORD; that he be not as Korah, and as his company: as the LORD said to him by the hand of Moses.”
We have then set before us in the history of Israel an incident with two lessons: one in regard to great pride, the other in regard to great valiance. Solomon in the Proverbs wrote, “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). We read in Psalm 10:4, “The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts.” (We add, as a contrast to this verse, that the humble person will always put God in all of his thoughts!) Pride is listed in Mark 7:22 among the sins that will corrupt the heart from within. “And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man” (Mark 7:20-23).
In contrast to pride, a boldness that exerts itself beyond its abilities, valor, on the other hand, is a boldness that comes as a result of humility; it is a boldness that knows its limits and is content to remain within them; it is boldness for the truth! Jehovah would criticize the Israelites for their lack of valor; he says through Jeremiah, “. . . they bend their tongues like their bow for lies: but they are not valiant for the truth upon the earth; for they proceed from evil to evil, and they know not me, saith the LORD” (Jeremiah 9:3). David was considered a valiant man as well as a man after God’s own heart. The latter was, in fact, the secret of his valiance. In 1 Samuel 16:18 we read of this connection: “Then answered one of the servants, and said, Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, that is cunning in playing, and a mighty valiant man, and a man of war, and prudent in matters, and a comely person, and the LORD is with him.” David recognized this connection and speaks of it twice in the Psalms, “Through God we shall do valiantly: for he it is that shall tread down our enemies” (Psalms 60:12; 108:13). The source of true valiance is Jehovah God!
The great contrast between these two attributes is laid forth to us in the sin of King Uzziah. The King’s pride caused him to go beyond that which God had written; the priests valiance caused them to expose and oppose the error. We read, “But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction: for he transgressed against the LORD his God, and went into the temple of the LORD to burn incense upon the altar of incense. And Azariah the priest went in after him, and with him fourscore priests of the LORD, that were valiant men: And they withstood Uzziah the king, and said unto him, It appertaineth not unto thee, Uzziah, to burn incense unto the LORD, but to the priests the sons of Aaron, that are consecrated to burn incense: go out of the sanctuary; for thou hast trespassed; neither shall it be for thine honor from the LORD God. Then Uzziah was wroth, and had a censer in his hand to burn incense: and while he was wroth with the priests, the leprosy even rose up in his forehead before the priests in the house of the LORD, from beside the incense altar. And Azariah the chief priest, and all the priests, looked upon him, and, behold, he was leprous in his forehead, and they thrust him out from thence; yea, himself hasted also to go out, because the LORD had smitten him” (2 Chronicles 26:16-20). It is important that we realize the difference between pride and valiance. The one seeks self beyond God’s limits; the other seeks God beyond self’s limits. The difference is subtle, but extremely consequential.
As many well know, history has a way of repeating itself. The sin of Uzziah is not unique. Travel with me, if you will, through time from c.750 B.C. to c.1850 A.D. and notice some similarities between King Uzziah and yesteryear’s champion of liberalism, Isaac Errett. Much like king Uzziah, Isaac Errett had a notable background. He was brought up in a strict religious Scottish sect and was taught to respect the “letter of the law.” Elder Robert McLaren eventually baptized him in 1833. He became a printing apprentice and learned to write articles that evinced his remarkable talent in writing. By June 18, 1840, Errett, at only twenty years of age, having been strongly encouraged by the older brethren, was “set apart” as an evangelist by the church as was their custom at that time. Errett was young when he started; he was talented and he was “reared” at the church at Pittsburgh on sermons by men such as Alexander Campbell, Thomas Campbell, Walter Scott, and Samuel Church. Errett preached faithfully until he moved to the church in Detroit, Michigan in 1863. It was here that his liberal tendencies began to manifest themselves.
One of the first signs of his pride came when he put a nameplate on his office door which read, “Rev. I. Errett.” He also published what was entitled “A Synopsis of The Faith And Practice of The Church of Christ.” Many brethren felt that what Errett had, in essence done, was establish a creed. Needless to say, these brethren were opposed to Errett’s “Synopsis.” Moreover, Errett established the Christian Standard on April 7, 1866, and it is the conclusion of at least one historian that this periodical was initiated at least in part, to hurt the influence of Ben Franklin and the American Christian Review. J. S. Lamar’s biography of Errett seemed to confirm this in the mind of David Lipscomb; he writes:
In one word, Brother Lamar’s theory as to the origin of the Christian Standard is, that the whole enterprise was projected by the “leading minds among the brotherhood” and that those “leading minds” were “wiser, sweeter, better” than the unlovely and earth-born spirit” which dominated such papers as the American Christian Review, Lard’s Quarterly, and the Gospel Advocate, and inspired such men as Benjamin Franklin, Tolbert Fanning, Moses E. Lard, David Lipscomb, E. G. Sewell, and Phillip S. Fall. Such is Brother Lamar’s theory.
Errett not only used his influence to undermine these men, but also advanced an agenda of “progressive” thought that would eventually result in the ultimate 1906 division between the churches of Christ and the Christian Church/Disciples of Christ. In regard to the mechanical instrument of music in an article entitled, “Instrumental Music in Our Churches,” he said:
“Before proceeding to give our reasons against instrumental music in public worship, we desire to elaborate more fully that thought presented in our last article on the subject, namely, that the real difference among us is a difference of opinion as to the expediency of instrumental music in public worship, and therefore, it is wrong to make this difference a test of fellowship, on one hand, or an occasion of stumbling on the other.”
Franklin, Lard, and others were not long in challenging Errett’s characterization of the instrument arguing that in no way could the use of the instrument be opinion or an expedient because it was not aboriginally authorized. This division continues today.
There is one more area of interest that we would like to notice in relationship to Errett’s “progressive” spirit. This regards the question of whether or not there are true Christians in the denominations. In the month of August 1861, Errett responded to a query from R. Hawley; the subject as recorded in the Millennial Harbinger was “Communion with the ‘Sects.'” Errett’s key point lies in the third and fourth points of his letter. We reproduce the letter in full for your consideration:
Muir, Mich., August 20, 1861.
Dear Bro. Hawley:–Yours of the 15th is to hand, and deserves a much more complete reply than I at present can give it. it is a hurrying time, and I can only take a few minutes to answer your inquiries. As to the admission of unimmersed persons to the Lord’s Table our view is,
1. That in primitive times there is no doubt that all who came to the Lord’s table, as well as all who participated in prayer, singing, &c., were immersed believers: and we are trying to bring back that state of things.
2. But the corruptions of Popery, out of which the church has not yet half recovered, have made the people of God an erring, scattered and divided people.
3. We are pleading for further reformation: our plea proceeds on the integrity of previous pleas–it is a plea for the re-union of the scattered people of God. It does not recognize sects, on human bases, as divine–but it recognizes a people of God among these sects, and seeks to call them out.
4. We are compelled, therefore, to recognize as Christians many who have been in error on baptism, but who in the spirit of obedience are Christians indeed. (See Romans2.28,29.) I confess, for my own part, did I understand the position of the brethren to deny this, I would recoil from my position among them with utter disgust. It will never do to unchristianize those on whose shoulders we are standing, and because of whose previous labors we are enabled to see some truths more clearly than they. Yet, while fully according to them the piety and Christian standing which they deserve, it is clear that they are in great error on the question of baptism–and we must be careful not to compromise the truth. Our practice, therefore is neither to invite nor reject particular classes of persons, but to spread the table in the name of the Lord, for the Lord’s people, and allow all to come who will, each on his own responsibility. It is very common for Methodists, Presbyterians, &c, to sit down with us. We do not fail to teach them on all these questions, and very often we immerse them.
As to our practice generally, my impression is, that fully two-thirds of our churches in the United States occupy this position; those churches which originally were Baptists, are rather more unyielding.
For myself, while fully devoted to our plea, I have no wish to limit and fetter my sympathies and affections to our own people.
Truly your Bro.,
Although Errett is addressing the question of open communion, he candidly makes assertions concerning the existence of bonifide Christians in the “sects.” Such would seem to invalidate the need to teach them concerning the true way of Baptism if they were truly Christians. What need would they have for the forgiveness of their sins? They are Christians, and a Christian is one who has had his sins forgiven. Baptism becomes ineffectual, non-productive, and impotent. It does not have the power that it was designed to have–to bring men into contact with the blood of the cross and wash man’s sins away. His arguments that we cannot reject those upon whom we stand fall short for he has indicated in point two that Catholicism does not contain any Christians, yet the church “stands” upon some of the work that institution did, even as corrupt as it was. We are compelled to ask, “Are men made Christians because they support, at least in regard to the plan of salvation, some truth? Or is it the whole plan that makes a person a Christian?” Many today, which assert similar influences as Errett, must answer these questions. It is in this spirit then, that we come to our own time and see similar problems and ask similar questions from similar men in similar circumstances as was King Uzziah, and Isaac Errett.
We have in mind a certain fellow, who, like King Uzziah and Isaac Errett, took it upon himself to impose his opinions upon God’s authority. And, the similarities are striking indeed when we compare the background, actions and writings of this individual to those who have gone before whether it is in history sacred or profane. We begin, as we did with the other two, with the gentleman’s background. He was a promising youth, or so we are told, both eloquent and mighty in the scriptures. His articles were of tremendous value in defense of the truth and are still occasionally used to show the extent of his departure. No doubt, like King Uzziah and Isaac Errett, his education and background resulted in his undoing. For when he was “strong” he was overcome with pride and sought to do that which was beyond the boundaries of God’s authority. And so, men rose up–valiant men–men who themselves were accused of being prideful as were David Lipscomb, Moses E. Lard, Benjamin Franklin, and Azariah and his priests. “Who are you,” asks Uzziah, Errett, and our modern day friend, “to challenge the will of the king.” “You are a lowly priest;” or “you are a dogmatic sectarian;” or “you do not have a PhD.” Such is the ad hominem arguments wielded against those who would confront error with truth.
Our modern day friend follows Errett in another matter. He has started in recent years a new publication that has the goal of bringing about “change” in the churches of Christ. And much like Errett’s paper which attacked and belittled faithful brethren such as Moses E. Lard, David Lipscomb, and Benjamin Franklin, this publication, by and large, attacks faithful brethren today who are endeavoring to hold to the pattern of sound doctrine as did their spiritual ancestors before them. In fact, the paper ridicules the idea that the New Testament is a Pattern for Christian theology today; it holds up to scorn the very plan of salvation; it mocks the church–the beautiful bride of Christ–as some sort of freak in today’s modern world; and it holds up for ridicule the precious mother of Jesus Christ our Lord as a woman of questionable reputation.
Moreover, our modern day friend’s words are very similar to those of yesteryear’s Isaac Errett. Please read them carefully, and compare them to what was written just a little over 100 years ago. Concerning instrumental music as a test of fellowship he writes:
I don’t draw the line at the instrument. I don’t think the Lord died over that. I’m not going to make that a test of fellowship with you in Christ . . . I don’t want to be divisive over it. I refuse to be divisive over it. If I were in a congregation where the will of that congregation, the decision of the elders, was that the instrument was going to be used next week, I wouldn’t mount the pulpit and condemn them and divide the church. I’d have a conscience question whether I could stay and worship with that church, but I would not stand up and say, “Let the faithful of God step across the line and stand with me.”
Here, Errett and our friend are right in line. Errett did not make the instrument a test of fellowship to the chagrin of Lipscomb, Lard, Franklin and others, and so also, our friend does not make the instrument a test of fellowship to the chagrin of many faithful brethren today. The red letter question is, of course, is the instrument an innovation or isn’t it? If it is, then its insertion is no less a sin than the innovation of King Uzziah’s offering of incense in the temple and is sin and must be dealt with accordingly by severing fellowship with those who continue to insert such innovations into God’s worship. If our friend can prove otherwise–that the instrument is not an innovation in the worship–then we will be happy to join hands with him in fellowship and have no conscientious problems with the instrument–for having proven that it is not an innovation, it must of necessity be that which God has included in his worship. The challenge stands before him, just as it did in the days of yesteryear.
Concerning whether or not there are bonifide Christians in the denominations he writes:
Surely there are individuals in practically all the denominations known today who’ve learned of Jesus, looked to him in sincere faith, turned away from their conscience rebellion against his will and embraced him as savior through immersion in his name. And their unfortunate entanglement in some denominational error or some other in no way alters the fact that they are Christians.
There are sincere, knowledgeable, devout Christians scattered among all the various denominations. Yet, they are separated from one another by credal formulations, human names, cumbersome organization structures.
Our friend does not make the same mistakes as Errett does in regard to baptism. He claims it is required before one can become a Christian. Errett did not necessarily make this claim. However, he does claim that there are Christians, sincere Christians, knowledgeable Christians, devout Christians, scattered among the denominations. However, if they are so devout, then why have they not realized that denominational Christianity is inherently divisive and therefore contrary to the Lord’s will as found in 1 Corinthians1:10? If they are so knowledgeable then why do they fail to realize that efficacious baptism is only based upon a realization that one is in sin and needs the blood of Christ to remove those sins (Ephesians1:7); that baptism is the way in which he comes into contact with the blood of Christ; that the blood of Christ purchased the church of Christ; and that when one comes in contact with that blood he is added to the church of Christ? (And if he can find a knowledgeable person who believes these things in a denomination, then I will show him an apostate–one who refuses to come out of sectarian fellowship.) If they are so sincere, then how can they live with their own consciences knowing that they are continuing in vain worship so long as they are remaining amongst the denominations? In fact, the very notion of sincere, devout, and knowledgeable Christians who are abiding in denominations is antithetical to the pleas of Christ in John 17 concerning true Christian unity–“Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 17:20, 21). Our friend–Rubel Shelly–is no different than King Uzziah, or Isaac Errett.
Often times, liberals will accuse conservatives of pride because they dare to hold a liberal against the standard of truth. On the contrary, it is liberal’s such as Errett and Shelly who displays the kind of pride that King Uzziah displayed, for they seek to go beyond the limits which God has set. And when valiant individuals point out the truth to them, they confuse the valiance for pride. When one stands up for the truth in defense of God’s word, let it never be said that that person is prideful; however, those who raise their heads against that which God has bound will ultimately fall because they have gone beyond God’s limits in search of self gratification–the epitome of pride!
David Lipscomb,”Concerning the Width and Sweetness of Things,” Gospel Advocate, Vol.XXXIV, No.24 (June 16, 1892), p.370.
Isaac Errett, “Instrumental Music in Our Churches, ” Christian Standard, Vol. V. No. 20 (May 14, 1870), p.156.
Isaac Errett, “Letter from I Errett,” Millennial Harbinger, Fifth Series Vol.IV, No.12 (December, 1861) p 711.
Behold the Pattern, pg. 279