Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 26, 1955

"A Principle Eternal" (2)

Luther W. Martin, St. James, Missouri

The study of this subject, i.e., 'a principle eternal' is the direct result of the following quotation from Brother E. R. Harper's second speech of the first night of the Tant-Harper Debate, recently held in Lufkin, Texas, and which is, the Lord willing, scheduled to be repeated at Fifth and Highland church building in Abilene, Texas, between June 20th and 23rd.

Brother Harper stated: "There are four ways to teach a thing: one is by command; the other is by an example; the other is by necessary inference; and, the other is by a principle eternal."

That there are THREE ways to teach a thing, has long been accepted by Bible readers, but to ADD a FOURTH way, means or method of teaching God's will, is certainly 'something new under the sun.' We take no issue whatsoever with the first THREE ways listed by Brother Harper, but the FOURTH way, we cannot accept.

Compare The Following With Quotations In The Preceding Article On This Subject

"Now, I repeat that this body of Christ, or the church, in this general sense, cannot act in carrying out this commission, as a whole, that is, the whole church, everybody cannot arise and go to preach the gospel. Well, now, how is it to be done then? And just here I lay down this principle (Emphasis mine, L.W.M.), and it is to constitute the foundation of nearly my whole argument upon this question. I read as follows: 'When a thing is commanded to be done, and the method of doing it is not prescribed, those commanded are at liberty to use their best judgment in devising ways and means to carry out the command, and they are to act under the principle laid down by Paul in 1 Cor. 14:39-40: "Wherefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongue. Let all things be done decently and in order.' Now, that embraces and presents the great general principle that is to control the children of God or the church of God in carrying on this great and world-wide work.

".... I do not suppose that anyone would be ready to say then nay, or to meet them with the accusation that they are sinning in devising and putting into operation this plan of aiding the church in the accomplishment of its great work. We have organizations of this kind all over the country, and throughout the brotherhood, and I do not know that I have ever known a voice to be raised or a pen to be employed in opposition to such an enterprise." (Preceding quotations taken from rages 163 and 164, original edition of the Otey-Briney Debate, on the Missionary Society.)

Please compare Mr. Briney's arguments with Brother Harper's arguments presented in part one of this series. If these quotations truly represent Brother Harper's reasoning, quotations from Brother Harper, not from Briney, then Brother Harper becomes helpless in scripturally and logically opposing sectarianism. If not, why not?

Another Quotation On The Subject

"But now, my friends, there are a great many congregations that cannot do this individually. There is a congregation over there, poor in this world's goods but rich in faith. They are not endowed with bank stocks. They carry no heavy bank accounts, and yet their hearts are on fire with the love of God, and they desire sincerely to be at work for the Master. That congregation is able to contribute $10 per annum for the accomplishment of this work. There is another congregation able to do the same thing, and on and on this way until there is a hundred, and if two may do this, then no limit can be put upon the number that may combine for the purpose of carrying on the same work. Now these hundred or five hundred (or 1,000, L.W.M.) congregations cannot act as a whole. Hence, they select people and authorize them, in their name, to take up this work and carry it on decently and in order . . . " (Page 167, Otey-Briney Debate.)

In making these quotations, we are NOT charging that the Herald of Truth, and/or the 'sponsoring church' practice HAVE BECOME a missionary society YET .... but we are saying that Brother Harper's arguments in support of the 'eternal principle' by which such practices as the Herald of Truth and/or 'sponsoring church' methods are allegedly authorized, ARE STRANGELY PARALLEL WITH BRINEY'S ARGUMENTS IN SUPPORT OF THE MISSIONARY SOCIETY!

Biblical Usage Of The Word 'Principle'

The word 'principles' is used twice in the King James Version, i.e., in Hebrews 5:12 and Hebrews 6:1. The first one reads: "For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God ...."

The second usage in Hebrews 6:1, reads: "Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection ...." The New Testament is as silent as the tomb, relative to any so-called 'principle eternal' which is co-equal with (1) command, (2) approved example, and (3) necessary inference, as ways of teaching the will of God.

Testimony Of Thayer On 'Principles'

In Hebrews 6:1, the Greek word arche is translated 'principles.' Concerning this Thayer states: ". . . . the instruction concerning Christ such as it was at the very outset." (Page 77, Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon.)

In Hebrews 5:12, the word stoicheion is translated 'principles.' Concerning this Thayer also says: "tes arches is added for greater explicitness, as in Latin rudimenta prima, and prima elementa."

Thus, as we have always known, it is safe to state that the 'principles' of the Christian religion are based upon the elements, or rudiments of the teaching, instruction, or doctrine of Christ. If Brother Harper's 'eternal' principle is older than the doctrine of Christ, then it's too old for us. And, further, if this so-called 'eternal principle' is any younger than the doctrine of Christ, then it's too young for us. And, still further, if this 'eternal principle's contained within the doctrine of Christ, then let's have book, chapter and verse, that sets it forth.


For several weeks before the Lufkin debate, this writer had noticed that the Gospel Guardian writers, at least several of them, had indicated that the same ground would be covered in the Lufkin Tant-Harper Debate, and later in the Abilene Tant-Harper Debate, that had previously been covered in the Otey-Briney Debate, which was held almost fifty years ago in Louisville, Kentucky, when Brother Otey opposed the use of mechanical instruments and also opposed the missionary society. At the time, yours truly thought that this was just a good opportunity for the Gospel Guardian to sell additional copies of the newly republished Otey-Briney Debate. However, since attending the Lufkin debate, and since giving further attention to the recordings of that discussion, this writer wishes to take back all those thoughts he entertained, when he suspected the Guardian 'boys' of wanting to make a fast buck. MUCH OF THE SAME GROUND WAS COVERED! Not all, of course, but MUCH!

(More later)