Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
July 25, 1957


Robert Richardson

(Note: This article in "Consistency" which was written by Robert Richardson over a hundred years ago has great current significance. One of the most amazing things observable in current affairs in the church is the tenacity with which some of our prominent brethren cling to the idea that their attitude toward the authority of the scriptures is unchanged. Observe the lip-service given to the proposition of "speaking where the Bible speaks and remaining silent where the Bible is silent" in contrast to the efforts on the part of the same ones to justify and promote human schemes and ideas which find no sanction in the Bible. There is an utter lack of consistency between their avowed standard and their conduct, yet, because of the universal approval in which "consistency" is held, they seek to maintain before the public a reputation for consistency by asserting that they have not changed, and that they still believe we must have a "thus saith the Lord" for all that we believe and practice in religion! This article deals with the whole subject of consistency fully and plainly. I commend it to the careful consideration of all. — Robert H. Parish.)

"0, house of Israel! are not my ways equal ?" (Ezek. 17:29.)

There is no attribute of character more highly or universally esteemed than consistency. It is this quality which gives power and dignity to virtue; and which, when possessed by the vicious, extorts even for them an unwilling tribute of respect. At the present period of the world, whether in politics, or religion, or in any of the various pursuits or relations in which character is involved, or by which it is impressed, a want of consistency is regarded as the highest mark of weakness and imbecility. The ancients, on the other hand, have forcibly expressed their regard for it by the pretty fable concerning the island of Delos, which is said to have floated upon the surface of the Aegean sea, the sport of the winds and waves, until, as a reward for having given refuge to Latona, Jupiter promised to give its inhabitants whatever they should desire: "Grant us," said they, "a permanent location and a fixed abiding-place, so that we may no longer move about."

Consistency, however, is not, any more than strength or courage, or any other attribute of body, mind, or character, to be loved for its own sake, irrespective of the way in which it is employed, or the principles by which it is directed. The atheist, the sensualist, and the traitor may act in perfect conformity with their characters, and with the false reasoning by which, in seeking to justify, they deceive themselves; as strength and bravery may in like manner be displayed by the robber or the assassin. The serpent is not to be admired because his bite is ever deadly, nor is the lion to be caressed on account of his courage and his power.

On the contrary, firmness of purpose is valuable only when the purpose itself is so; and perseverance is to be commended only when the pursuit is worthy of commendation. It is by the standard which constitutes the rule of action, that the merits of consistency can alone be measured; for there can be no conformity where there is no model, and, this being defective, there can be no praise in being wrong according to a fixed rule, and consistent only with imperfection. The first step, therefore, in order to attain elevation of character, is to adopt just and elevated principles: the second is, to seek a perfect conformity to the standard thus selected.

To apply these remarks to morality and religion: We would say, that as the Divine Being is himself the true standard of excellence, the Bible, in which alone is contained an authentic record of his character and will, becomes the only rule of rectitude and duty to the Christian; and that he is the most perfect Christian who is the most conformed to the principles and precepts of this Divine revelation. All other standards in religion, whether styled traditions, decrees, bulls, creeds, catechisms, confessions, or formularies, are therefore rejected, since, being of human origin, they are liable to be imperfect or erroneous, and must of necessity be inferior. No one whose lips have not been hallowed by the sacred fire of inspiration, is adequate to exhibit the divine character as it is presented by the Bible in its history of the world, its comparisons, its contrasts, its pencilings of celestial excellence, and its inimitable descriptions; nor is any one competent to express the requirements of the divine law in other and better language than that of the Holy Spirit. "Which things," says Paul, "we speak not in words taught by human wisdom, but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things in spiritual words."

It is the unhappy consequence of employing other religious standards than the Bible, that an assimilation to the character of the Divine Being and an entire submission to his will arc thereby prevented. For it is obvious that these systems of divinity, supposing even that they contained no error, can present only that amount of knowledge which was possessed by the men who compiled them. No sooner, therefore, is this information received, than improvement ceases: the pupil has become as wise as his teachers, yet perhaps neither the teachers nor the taught have learned a tithe of what is revealed in the sacred Record. "Growth in knowledge and in favor" ceases therefore, not because there is nothing to learn, but because, whether intentionally or not, an imperfect system has been substituted for a perfect one, and a human for a Divine standard. It need not be urged here that such an effect will be prevented by the use of both the Bible and the standard. As this formulary is for the express purpose of presenting the important and fundamental truths of religion, and detecting erroneous sentiments, if anything not therein contained be learned from the Bible, consistency regards it as not essential: and should any thing be discovered in the Bible contrary to the standard, it will be rejected by the rime consistency which makes this standard the criterion of both truth and error; — the touch is one as well of the Bible as of heresy.

The Christian, therefore, who desires to "stand perfect and complete in all the will of God," is careful to allow no encroachments upon his liberties; and permits no opinions or traditions of man, whether written or unwritten, to restrict his investigations, or set bounds to his improvement. He not only, in taking the Bible alone, receives truth, and rejects every thing except the truth, but is determined to know and to enjoy the whole truth. We may then remark respecting the consistency of the Christian, that it is of inestimable value, since the standard he has selected for knowledge, duty, and character, is of the most exalted nature, being even the revealed truth, will, and character of God. And in the second place we may observe that his consistency involves constant alteration and improvement. The steps which he ascends reach even to the heavens, where alone he can be permitted to repose.

It is a great mistake to suppose that the Christian should possess immutability. This is to imagine either that he has attained perfection, or that he has ceased to advance towards it. God is infinitely perfect; he is therefore unchangeable; "without variableness or shadow of turning" — "the same, yesterday, today, and forever." But man, who is so imperfect, can be immutable only while imperfection is his standard; and the religionist who boasts of being always the same, glories in a human model. It is the Bible which like the other works of God, ever reveals new beauties the more minutely it is studied; and that Christian is inconsistent with his principles who has ceased to improve either in knowledge, or in character. Increase of knowledge involves a corresponding change of conduct, and though he may be inconsistent with himself (so to speak) at different periods of his course, it is his glory and his honor, if, in being thus inconsistent with himself, he has become more consistent with the Sacred Standard. He steers for a celestial port, and though he may often be obliged to tack, he still pursues his course; nor does he ever think of stopping at the barren rock in the midst of the ocean, which, though immoveable, can afford no secure harbor; but, on account of its very immobility, may wreck his vessel.

Consistency, however, has been after all a rare virtue among men, and is difficult of attainment. Where are the men who have steadily adhered to their first principles! Where is the institution which has not been corrupted! Where is the economy human or divine, social, religious, or political, which has not perished! Though they may have been perfect in their origin as the new-born infant, they have been infected by vicious maladies ere the dawn of youth, and tottering with the infirmities and decrepitude of age even before maturity, they ceased to exist, and are either buried in oblivion, or perchance preserved, like an Egyptian mummy, as a memorial of past ages. The history of the world is but the history of republics overcome by despotism, and freedom conquered by oppression; of truth corrupted by error, and religion converted into superstition. And shall new attempts to elevate and restore mankind be more successful? Shall the day which has now dawned be more healthful and serene, or the returning spring which now blossoms be followed by a better harvest? Certainly not, unless the noxious exhalations from the earth are dissipated; and unless, taught by experience, we carefully eradicate those luxuriant weeds by which the highest hopes have been heretofore disappointed.

The difficulties which attend consistency arise from various sources. The love of change and variety is often the sole cause of the abandonment of objects and designs fraught with the greatest ultimate benefits. That which has grown familiar has become equally tiresome, and hasty impatience cannot brook the delay which is absolutely necessary to fruition. Human pride is another obstacle. Men are so enamored of themselves that they cannot endure to acknowledge imperfection. If they have once departed from the standard which they have chosen, and committed themselves before the public by a certain course of conduct, they are prone to justify and persevere in it, in despite of the principles which they at first professed; for which principles indeed, they insensibly substitute their own conduct, and thus make themselves the standard of their own consistency. They prefer consistency with themselves to consistency with truth, and would rather be upbraided with error than unsteadiness. (bold print mine, R.H.F.) The same reason indeed will often induce men to adhere to an imperfect standard, even when convinced of its defects, lest it should be supposed that it were possible for them ever to have been mistaken in their choice.

A third hindrance of consistency is, that it often requires a degree of self-denial and of laborious and persevering effort wholly at variance with that love of ease which is so congenial to human nature. To will is easy — to execute is difficult. A single exertion may be made with facility, but perseverance induces exhaustion and fatigue. A child can readily elevate his arm to a horizontal position; but the full grown man cannot keep his arm in that position for ten minutes. It requires no great effort to take a single step in ascending the Mountain, whose top reaches to the skies; but the dangers and ruggedness of the road increase as the traveler proceeds; his wary limbs refuse their office; his feet are lacerated by the pointed rocks, and his heart is chilled in the regions of perpetual snow.

It is evident that the latter of these difficulties will be increased in proportion as the standard of perfection is elevated, as it is easier to surmount the Cheviot hills than the Alps or Andes: and it is this which renders most difficult the consistency of the Christian. Were it not, indeed, that he is cheered by the glorious prospects which open to his view as he leaves the plain and ascends towards heaven: were it not that he is guided by Infinite Wisdom, and sustained by the hand of Omnipotence, his enterprise would be vain. Thus supported, however, he will attain the lofty elevation which he seeks. Meanwhile, he rejoices that if his labors are great, so will be his rewards: if his hopes are high, so are his destinies: and that He 'whose ways are equal,' and who renders to every man according to his works, will provide him with a habitation adapted to his character, in that happy region where Pleasure teaches knowledge, and Joy alone exacts obedience.