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R.H. Boll as a Writer and Editor

by Alex V. Wilson

INSTALLMENT #4 in this Word and Work Series

F. Conversion

While Boll emphasized the grace of God as much or more than anything else, he did not at all believe in “cheap grace”–or as it is sometimes called, “easy believism.” And he certainly did not believe in universalism–that due to God’s grace everyone will be saved in the end. Paul said, “God commands all men everywhere to repent,” and that settled the matter for RHB. He wrote a leaflet, “True Repentance.” (It was a sermon originally.) He also wrote a pamphlet, “Real Repentance.” He stressed that there is no remission of sins without repentance from sin.

But he believed we must not preach repentance as though it is a work earning God’s favor. “Real” repentance is not self-reliant reformation. So we must stress that it is a fruit of faith. Though he was misunderstood for it, Boll did not shy away from saying, “We are saved by grace only,” and, “We are saved only by faith” (his emphasis). He went on to explain,

There may be (and indeed there is) something we must do to apprehend that grace. It is impossible to bestow a free gift upon a man unless he takes it; and if there is a God-appointed way to take it, thus must it be taken. But that is merely the acceptance, and contributes nothing toward the gift, nor does it pay for it or produce it.
The reason God demands [faith]…is that faith is the one, only thing that is non-meritorious. “Therefore it is of faith that it may be by grace” (Rom. 4:16). Faith affords no grounds for boasting. For faith is reliance upon another. It is in very nature a giving up, a surrender and submission, a looking to another for help.

The natural tendency of our perverted minds is to glory in works and to trust in what we have done….We are nothing–only lost souls, dead in trespasses and sins. We can do nothing–only flee to Jesus and rely helplessly on Him. As for baptism–it is in no sense a work: it can barely be called an act. God would not let man baptize himself, lest he might think he had done something. Another must baptize him; he can but yield himself to be buried and raised. It is not by the sacramental virtue of a rite or ceremony, but purely as His appointed expression of faith that baptism is at all valid with God. But this is valid and indispensable.

In Truth and Grace Boll wrote a perceptive article entitled “Present Needs.” There he revealed valuable historical perspective about preaching the gospel and preaching the sinner’s response to the gospel:

Some of these days we will realize that we have not exactly the same class of people to deal with [that] the pioneer preachers had, and we will try to meet the needs of actual prevailing conditions….The bulk of the hearers now is composed of men who need to be convicted of sin, whose consciences need awakening; men hardened, indifferent, or conceited, or entirely ignorant of all that pertains to God…. Instead of detailed and polemical discussions of the “plan of salvation,” these need to be taught of God; made to realize their individual responsibility to him and their personal relation to him. Christ needs to be held up before them….

There is too much taken for granted. Men hear of, get interested in, dis-pute about, items in the scheme of salvation, who have no conception of God, or of the Christ that stands behind the “scheme” and gives it meaning and power. Some of the preaching is hardly calculated to bring these sinners face to face with God, or to awaken humility, contrition, and true repentance, and loving trust toward him, and fear of his holiness and reverence and awe. Now if instead of that these hearers get a rattling of dry precepts and empty directions that have no motive back of them, Christianity tends to become a “process,” a dead wheel-work of regulations, a philosophy that busies itself with abstract arguments … while God is left out of view, Christ taken for granted, life and love and power lacking. Lord, deliver us!

If preachers in Churches of Christ had heeded those wise words, our history during the 20th century would have been far different–and better.

G. Christian Living

We have already seen what Boll taught about the source of our power for obedient, fruitful living. It is the indwelling Holy Spirit. But to benefit from His presence we must keep trusting and obeying.

Boll was careful to balance God’s part and ours in this matter. Like Paul, he taught both that God is at work in us and that we must work out our own salvation (Phil. 2:12-13). Either fact without the other would be inadequate. In an article entitled “Achieving Comes After Receiving,” he compared Christian living to Israel’s conquering the Promised Land. Israel’s armies had to march in and fight the enemies. Without that they would not have gained even an acre. More important than that, however, was the fact that the Lord told them beforehand, “I am giving you this land.” Apart from that promise, and the faith and courage it inspired, they would never have dared to enter. They would have wimped out, like their fathers.

So Israel fought the battles, but God gave them the victories–by defeating their enemies who were much stronger than they. In the same way, we must obey by faith in order to win the victory over the world, the flesh and the Devil. But we should focus on the fact that we can obey — by faith — for we can do all things through Him who strengthens us.

H. The Church:

Richard Hughes’ Reviving the Ancient Faith is an impressive work of scholarship in many ways, though I join several historians in demurring on a few important points. I appreciate Brother Hughes’ presentation of Boll and the premill movement — it is thorough, accurate and much more favorable than other historians’ coverage. But I must strongly disagree with his glossary’s definition of “dispensational premillennialism,” especially the part that says, “…God sought to set up his kingdom or universal reign through the ministry of Christ, but when human beings rejected Christ, God settled for the church as second best” (my emphasis). Though I myself take the historic premill view, fairness requires me to say that I believe 99% of dispensationalists would consider the wording of that definition a gross caricature of their belief.

Boll would. For instance, here is part of his comment on Eph. 3:6. “The Church was not (‘as we are slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say’) an after-thought on the part of God (much less ‘an accident’).” And in a later note he speaks of “the high calling of the church” with these words:

In the nature of the case no class of the redeemed can ever stand so high, or be so near to Christ (and therefore to the Father) as the church. As Christ’s Bride and Wife, she is one with him, in the closest of all bonds. As His Body over which He is the Head she is part of Him. (1 Cor.12:12; Gal.3:28.)

Again, in an interview Boll was asked, “The impression has gotten out, in the minds of some, that you teach that the church…is a mere ‘happen-so.’ Is that what you teach?” He replied, “I believe and teach that the church is the outcome of God’s eternal purpose, and was planned of God from eternity.” He then quoted Eph. 3:8-11, where Paul says, “Unto me…was this grace given, to preach unto the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ…to the intent that now…might be made known through the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus.”

The interviewer then asked, “…Didn’t you write an article in which you referred to the church as a ‘contingent.’ Doesn’t ‘contingent’ mean ‘accident’?” RHB answered,

Years ago in an article I spoke of the church as “a new spiritual contin-gent.” Some one who apparently did not know his English very well concluded that a “contingent” was the same thing as a “contingency,” or something doubtful or accidental. But the word “contingent,” when used…as a noun, of a class of human beings, means simply people of a certain kind, as, for instance, we speak of the democratic contingent in our neighborhood…. The idea of accident does not enter into the meaning of the noun “contingent.”

Despite all his disclaimers, such accusations continued throughout his life.

I. God’s Purposes and Plans for Israel

The existence of the modern state of Israel is no surprise to us today. There it is, and has been for [over] fifty years now–despite powerful opposition from without, and struggles and mistakes from within. But anyone merely observing world affairs sixty or eighty years ago, or more, would have found it laughably incredible if someone had predicted what has happened.

When the modern state of Israel was born in 1948, Boll wrote the following:
The new State of Israel is an accomplished fact….So after almost 2000 years the Jews take their place again as an autonomous nation in the old “land of Israel”!….

When the Lord brought the people out of Egypt He gave them possession of the land and they were permitted to dwell in it, on condition that they keep His covenant and obey His commandments. But God strictly gave them to understand that the land belonged to Him, and that they were but tenants…in it. (Lev.25:23; 18:24-28). But it was also promised them that in those latter days, when after much bitter experience they shall have returned to the Lord, that He would plant them in their own land, and they should possess it, and be moved no more for ever. (2 Sam.7:10; Jer. 30:3; Amos 9:15.)….

The prophetic scriptures make it clear that, preliminary to their final repentance and restoration, Israel will re-gather to their land in unbelief and in defiance of God….In Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones, two steps are seen in the revival of the nation–the first, the great stirring when bone is gathered to its bone, and the skeletons are clothed with sinews, flesh and skin; but as yet no life is in them; the second, when the breath of life enters them, and they stand up, a great living host before Jehovah (Ezek. 37). The former appears to be coming to pass now. The people of Israel are going back in un-belief, dead in their trespasses and sins. They go back for trouble–such trouble as never they experienced before and never shall see again; but the nation–a remnant–shall be saved out of it (Jer. 30:7).

Mark that he said that Scripture taught that Israel would regather to their land, but in unbelief–not trusting in Jesus as Messiah, nor even rightly believing in the God of their fathers. (The majority of Israelis today are either agnostics or atheists, by the way.) Notice carefully two points about his statements. First, he did not say these things merely because they had just occurred. Rather, this had been his teaching for decades, long before they took place. In his written debate with Leo Boles during 1927, Boll declared,

We have seen from the testimony of the Scriptures:
1. That the nation of Israel scattered by God’s hand shall by his hand be regathered and restored to their own land.
2. That they shall accept their Messiah, be converted and saved.
3. That all the blessing and promises shall come unto that people just as surely and as literally as their predicted punishments have come upon them.
4. That once so restored, they shall never again fall away or be removed from their land.
5. That their national conversion and restoration will be a blessing to all the world.

The second point to notice is that Boll was not at all the originator of this view-point. In the Stone-Campbell movement alone, we can mention examples of others who long before him taught more or less similar views: J. W. McGarvey as early as 1881, J. T. Barclay in 1861, Alexander Campbell in 1849 and earlier, and Barton Stone in 1844. Boll may have emphasized it more than the others (except Barclay — with McGarvey not far behind), but they all believed in Israel’s spiritual and geographic restoration.

Another matter deserves clarifying, for many even in the premill churches do not realize this fact. In the Boles-Boll debate, RHB complained that Brother Boles falsely and without evidence accused him of teaching that during the millennium the law of Moses would be restored — carried out by the Aaronic priesthood and including animal sacrifices in a temple rebuilt by God’s order. Boll asked, “Where is his proof…that I teach such things? I invite him to present one iota of evidence….” Boll did believe that the Jews, once restored to their land, would build a temple again and carry on Judaism’s rituals there–as some Israelis currently wish and are preparing to do, by the way. But their doing so would not be by God’s ordaining nor with faith in Jesus as Messiah. And these events would not be during the millennium but before Christ’s return in power and glory, which precedes the millennium in his interpretation. Boll’s presenting the beliefs just mentioned is doubtless what led Boles to think that he believed in a restored, God-ordained Judaistic worship during the 1000 years. Some dispensationalists (e.g., John Walvoord, and Hal Lindsey) do hold this latter belief, but Boll did not.

However, he felt deeply that God’s purposes for Israel and His dealings with them were pregnant with lessons for Christians. Once when concluding a sermon on this topic, he proclaimed,

Behold the Jew–and believe: God’s covenant is sure!
Behold the Jew–and tremble: God’s judgment is sure!
Behold the Jew–and rejoice: God’s promise is sure!

J. Christ’s 2nd Coming

When it came to eschatology, Boll’s opponents often called him a “speculator” and other such terms. But his deep-seated desire in teaching Biblical prophecy was always to promote practical trust and obedience. He constantly emphasized that Bible doctrines, all of them, serve as motivation for duties –for faithfulness in conduct, in service and amid suffering. He wrote,

Doing one’s duty is a first necessity, to be sure; but who can work and keep on working without constant motive and inspiration, without assurance that it will count in God’s plans, and that our labor is not in vain in the Lord?….There is, furthermore, a world of warning and encouragement in these unfulfilled prophecies, which would enable us to meet the changes…of the times.

Again he wrote, “Unless what we learn of prophecy, of the Lord’s coming, of the age to come, as well as any other truth, makes us more humble, more obedient, more loving and Christlike, we have indeed learned in vain.” This was his approach from his early years as a teacher. Hans Rollman concludes from his research,

I…think that Boll’s premillennialism originally arose from pastoral and practical concerns….He felt that a living eschatology was necessary for the religious life of the Christian. Here is an interesting early quote from his column in The Leader and the Way of 20 Sept. 1904, p.5. Boll writes: “Our steadfastness and perseverance depend on perpetual expectation of our Lord’s return.”

RHB expanded these thoughts in the Gospel Advocate of Jan. 20, 1910. He claimed, “One of the marks of the apostolic churches, in every way as essential as any other characteristic of worship or doctrine, was their constant expectation of the Lord’s return.” To support that statement he quoted or alluded to eleven passages from various epistles, and then said:

“This much is evident: that much mention is made of the coming again of our Lord; that great weight was placed on it; that it furnished the basis and motive of all faithful Christian life…and that all [those] churches…were in an attitude of constant expectation of the Savior from heaven. No church or Christian that has lost view of, or ignores, this doctrine, fills the true pattern left to us in the New Testament….It is high time to study and preach and teach this… neglected portion of God’s holy truth.

He continued, in that long article, to admit that the prophecies are at times diffi- cult to harmonize. But this need not strip them of moral value.

“We may not be able to combine all the statements concerning this vast matter into one harmonious, coherent, systematic arrangement–likely not. But we are not obliged to. Two things only are absolutely needful: first, to believe just what God has told us, without twisting or quibbling; and second, to seize upon the practical import of this teaching and carry it out in the power of a living faith. Nothing [else] will so change our conduct and life….”

Then Boll discusses a second essential attitude toward prophecy–the freedom to disagree agreeably. “As for a connected theory of the things pertaining to the coming, I may have one, but I place no weight on it; and I will not quarrel with my brother for having a different idea of the sequence of events.” But he immediately goes on to mention an exception to that statement he just made. There is something he will quarrel over, because it robs the believer of that important moral stimulus. Listen to what he writes next:

What we want is the great truth…and the practical lesson of the doctrine ….But any theory which would…frustrate the practical end God had in view, ought to abolished. If there is one such practical aim in this doctrine, it is to put us on guard to be constantly ready, constantly waiting, watching, since we know not the day nor the hour…. I would thank no man for putting the coming to the other side of a millennium, so that in any case one thousand years must intervene before the Lord comes. For this takes the point out of the doctrine.

On this ground Boll goes on to oppose the postmill view which was very widely held in the Restoration Movement churches at that time.

As time went on, controversy waxed hotter and hotter. Then, for accuracy’s sake, Boll often had to defend himself against false accusations. So, for the sake of clarity (and charity), he sometimes listed what he did not believe or teach:

…May the editor of Word and Work say on his own behalf, that regardless of whatever readers may see or hear to the contrary, it is not true:
That he believes or teaches “second chance doctrine”;
That he denies the existence of the kingdom [of God] now;
That he denies that Jesus Christ is now enthroned on God’s right hand, having all power in heaven and on earth;….
Or that he has ever taught orally or in writing that Jewish sacrifices are to be brought back;
Or that he has ever made any of the disputed prophetic teachings a test of fellowship, or has ever disfellowshiped anyone for differing with him in any of the disputed matters.

[To be concluded]




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The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

John 10:10