by Glenn Conjurske
Controversy can be one of the most profitable exercises in which men
can engage. It often serves to elicit and settle the truth as nothing
else can do. Much of the New Testament is in fact controversy. It was
written to refute error and establish the truth. And profitable or not,
controversy is a plain necessity. So long as men of corrupt minds exist,
so long, indeed, as ignorance exists, so long as doctrinal, practical,
and factual errors claim recognition as truth, thus long will it be a
simple necessity to defend and settle the truth by controversy. The prophets
of God, the apostles of Christ, and the Son of God himself have set us
the example in this matter. Men of God of all ages have followed that
example, and it is our business to do the same. And those who have no
call to engage in controversy themselves surely have a responsibility
to judge of the performances of others. A few only of prophets and apostles
were called to write the controversial matter which the Scriptures contain,
but all the saints are called upon to read it, and weigh it, and form
a judgement of the matters treated.
But having said this much, I must affirm at the outset that I deplore
that spirit of contention which has possessed certain small minds in all
ages. This spirit does not engage in necessary or weighty controversy,
but in petty nit-picking. It is never happy except when contending
for the faith
----contending, that is, for its own peculiar
way of dotting every i and crossing every t. It
judges everything and everybody on the basis of the minutiae of its own
small notions, and can never rise to the spirit of anything. It cannot
recognize spirituality or moral worth in anyone who disagrees with its
own tenets, and it enters the lists against them not reluctantly (as good
and great men do), but glibly and greedily. Scripture has but one word
for such folks, and that is, Only by pride cometh contention.
(Prov. 13:10). Once more, Only by pride cometh contention.
Contention is of the flesh. Though it can find a hundred issues over which
to contend, seldom are any of them the real issue. Search those contentions
to the bottom, and you will find petty jealousies, wounded feelings, carnal
resentment, sectarian conceit, personal self-importance, and numerous
other manifestations of fleshly pride.
But on the other side, those who shun and avoid controversy are no more
to be commended. While those err on the right, these err on the left.
While those claim that they contend for the sake of truth, these claim
that they refrain from contending for the sake of love. But most of such
love will boil down after all to love of self. They wish to keep the peace
avoid giving offense, to keep on good terms with everybody ----and
on the altar of professed love they sacrifice the love of the truth. This
is not spirituality, but apathy, and I frankly have a good deal more hope
for the contentious than I do for the apathetic. On this theme J. C. Ryle
To tell us, as others do, that clergymen ought never to handle controversial
subjects, and never to warn their people against erroneous views, is senseless
and unreasonable. At this rate we might neglect not a little of the New
Testament. Surely the dumb dog and the sleeping shepherd are the best
allies of the wolf, the thief, and the robber.
Again, Controversy in religion is a hateful thing. It is hard enough
to fight the devil, the world and the flesh, without private differences
in our own camp. But there is one thing which is even worse than controversy,
and that is false doctrine tolerated, allowed, and permitted without protest
We ought to engage in controversy
----those who are called to preach,
in their preaching, and those who are called to write, in their writing.
I take this as an axiom, and suppose few of my readers will disagree with
me. But then there is a proper manner in which to engage in controversy,
and even the best and greatest of men often fail in this. As necessary
and profitable as controversy is, it is a dangerous thing in the wrong
hands. It can do great damage. Even though it establish the truth, it
may at the same time establish a whole host of fleshly emotions, from
pride to bitterness. It may destroy men's walk with God, banish love,
and divide the church of God beyond repair. And it has often destroyed
truth as well as love, and set up subtle sophistry in its place. As necessary
and profitable as controversy is, it is a solemn matter. This is not the
business of every jack-in-the-box, who is possessed with an inherent and
irresistible inclination to pop into the public eye as soon as his trigger
is sprung. Controversy does not belong to such men, but to men of weight
and wisdom and experience and spirituality. And when we see so many even
of them failing in the manner in which they conduct their controversies,
it behooves lesser men to enter the field of battle with the greatest
of caution, or to stay away from it.
Now there are two things which ought to be maintained in every controversy.
Those two are truth and love. Speaking the truth in love,
says Paul in Eph. 4:15. This is simple enough, and yet it is a simple
matter of historical fact that many of the best and greatest of men have
failed on both sides in the field of controversy.
The most common failure, of course, is on the side of love. Where love
is not strong and true, it is much too easy to fall to abusing our opponent,
instead of refuting his errors or answering his arguments. When we see
a man propagating doctrines which actually damage the souls of men, how
easy it is to regard him as an enemy of the truth, and to treat him as
one. More especially, if a man's preaching tends to break down the work
which we ourselves have built up, how easy it is for jealousy and resentment
to control our spirits, rather than love.
Martin Luther was very sensible of his failures in this regard, and often
expressed his regret over them. He wrote in 1520, I cannot deny
that I am often more violent than is absolutely necessary, but the fault
is mainly in those, who, knowing the irritability of the dog, persist
in teasing him. You yourself know how difficult it is to moderate one's
energy, to keep one's pen in check, on a subject in which one is wholly
And it is not only men of Luther's stamp who have had occasion to express
such regrets. Even the mildest of men have been obliged at times to lament
their sharpness. Thus J. C. Ryle, in the preface to a new edition of Knots
Untied, says, I frankly admit, after careful examination of 'Knots
Untied,' that I observe in its pages occasional sharp and strong expressions
which perhaps I should not use if I wrote the book over again in the present
year. And John Fletcher, I do not doubt, but if I had health
and strength to revise my Checks, I should find some things which might
have been said in a more guarded, humble, serious, and loving manner.
But mark, I do not say that an opponent in controversy ought never to
be blamed. The fact is, doctrinal error is seldom wholly excusable. Some
men are enemies of the truth, and the apostles of Christ did not hesitate
to call them such. Even good men may be led away into false doctrine by
unworthy motives, and it is nothing uncommon for them to use the most
foolish and hypocritical arguments in order to sustain their doctrines.
This is blameworthy, and it is as much the part of a defender of the truth
to expose their sophistry and hypocrisy as it is to expose their errors.
But all of this can be done with love. We may dip our pens in tears as
well as gall. We may expose a man's unworthy motives and arguments as
a friend and a brother, rather than as an enemy. We need not hold him
up as an object of scorn and contempt to refute his errors. Paul blamed
Peter, charged him with hypocrisy (so the Greek, Gal. 2:13), and wrote
of it afterwards, but he did not treat him with contempt, but related
the matter in a simple matter-of-fact way. Honour all men
is just as binding upon us as love the brotherhood or fear
God, (I Pet. 2:17), and we do not honor a man by ridiculing him,
calling him bad names, making derogatory puns upon his name or position,
or holding him up to scorn and contempt. None of this has anything to
do with speaking the truth, much less with speaking it in
We ought by all means to do unto others as we would have them to do unto
ourselves, and if there is any sphere in which men are likely to forget
this first principle of love, it is in the field of controversy. The most
excellent thing I have ever seen in print on this theme comes from the
pen of John Wesley. When he first entered the field of controversy in
1740, he wrote,
I now tread an untried path `with fear and trembling:' fear, not
of my adversary, but of myself. I fear my own spirit, lest I `fall where
many mightier have been slain.' I never knew one man (or but one) write
controversy, with what I thought a right spirit. Every disputant seems
to think (as every soldier) that he may hurt his opponent as much as he
can; nay, that he ought to do his worst to him, or he cannot make the
best of his own cause; that, so he do not belie or wilfully misrepresent
him, he must expose him as far as he is able. It is enough, we suppose,
if we do not show heat or passion against our adversary. But, not to despise
him, or endeavour to make others do so, is quite a work of supererogation.
But ought these things to be so? (I speak on the Christian scheme.)
Ought we not to love our neighbour as ourselves? And does a man cease
to be our neighbour, because he is of a different opinion; nay, and declares
himself so to be? Ought we not, for all this, to do to him as we would
he should do to us? But do we ourselves love to be exposed, or set in
the worst light? Would we willingly be treated with contempt? If not,
why do we treat others thus? And yet who scruples it? Who does not hit
every blow he can, however foreign to the merits of the cause? Who, in
controversy, casts the mantle of love over the nakedness of his brother?
Who keeps steadily and uniformly to the question, without ever striking
at the person? Who shows, in every sentence, that he loves his brother
only less than the truth?
I have made a little faint essay toward this. I have a brother who
is as my own soul. My desire is, in every word I say, to look upon Mr.
Tucker as in his place; and to speak no tittle concerning the one in any
other spirit than I would speak concerning the other.
All of this is most excellent, though we would not pretend that Wesley
always attained the noble aim. He himself immediately proceeds to say,
But whether I have attained this or no, I know not. For my
own part, I must lament that I have not. I read this statement of Wesley's
many years ago, thought it excellent then, and endeavored to make it my
own. But alas, I have not always been mindful of it. It is easy to fail
in love when standing for the truth. So determined we become to expose
error and establish truth, that while we may be wise as serpents, we forget
to be harmless as doves.
For this cause it is often best to engage principles and doctrines in
battle, and leave persons alone. Yet men who enter the pulpit or appear
in print have no right to complain if they are held responsible for their
errors. We ought indeed to make men ashamed of their errors, as we ought
to make them ashamed of their sins. To that end the native deformity and
absurdity of those errors ought to be exposed. But oh, what a delicate
business is this! How extremely difficult it is to expose the absurdity
of a man's doctrine, without bringing contempt upon the author of it.
Yet if we expose a man to contempt, we are almost sure to lose him. If
we may humble a man, we may win him. If we humiliate him, we shall lose
----unless he himself is a man of the most extraordinary humility.
We must aim, therefore, to humble men without humiliating them, and this
is a delicate business indeed. Love can accomplish it, but it will be
done no other way. Love will maintain a man's dignity, while it convicts
and shames him for his wrongs. But who is sufficient for these things?
This is a task for men of the highest wisdom and the deepest spirituality.
Blustering blunderers have no business here.
The reader must pardon me if I often quote John Fletcher in this article,
but I believe him (directly contrary to Spurgeon's opinion) to be one
of the very best of controversialists. On this point he says, Before
the Searcher of hearts I once more protest, that I make a great difference
between the persons of good men, and their opinions, be these ever so
pernicious. The God who loves me,
----the God whom I love, ----the
God of love and truth teaches me to give error no quarter, and to confirm
my love toward the good men who propagate it; not knowing what they do,
or believing that they do God service. And I humbly hope that their good
intentions will, in some degree, excuse the mischief done by their bad
tenets. But, in the meantime, mischief, unspeakable mischief is done,
and the spreading plague must be stopped. If in trying to do it as soon
and as effectually as possible, I press hard upon Zelotes and Honestus,
and without ceremony drive them to a corner, I protest, it is only to
But I would not contend that all adversaries ought to be treated alike.
Some are beloved brethren, right in their hearts if wrong in their heads.
Others are enemies of the truth. It is not so much as possible to love
them all alike, nor do they all deserve to be treated alike. It is more
important to establish the truth and deliver souls from error than it
is to spare the feelings or the reputations of those who oppose it. The
latter we ought to do if we can. The former we must do at all hazards.
The Lord surely did not spare the feelings of the Scribes and Pharisees,
when he repeatedly called them fools, blind guides, and hypocrites, in
a public discourse before the multitude. Yet even when we confute the
enemies of the truth, we have no right to paint them blacker than they
are, nor to hurt them any more than the case requires. Absalom might have
been both defeated, and spared also, and no doubt would have been if Joab
had had anything of David's love. Not that Absalom deserved any mercy,
for his course was one of unmitigated criminality, and that of the worst
sort. Yet Michael the archangel, when engaged in a controversy
with the very devil
----for he disputed about the body of
Moses ----yet durst not bring against him a railing
accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee. (Jude 9). The great
and pure Michael, whose very name is who is like God, in controversy
with the most wicked fiend, would yet bring no railing accusation against
him. The devil was no doubt unfair and unprincipled in the conflict ----hence
The Lord rebuke thee ----yet Michael remained meek and
courteous, and would bring no railing accusation against him. What a pattern
is this for poor sinners, who are so quick to bring virulent and vitriolic
accusations against their fellow sinners. We who have sin enough of our
own to account for ----and knowing that with what measure we mete
it shall be measured to us again ----ought to be meek and merciful
even in dealing with the inexcusable.
When we deal, however, with the bad doctrines of good men, we must regard
them as at least partly excusable. They think indeed that they do God
service with their bad doctrines. As violent as Luther was in controversy,
he yet made it his principle to distinguish between the mistaken and the
incorrigible, and wrote to Erasmus, For myself, I am, I admit, irritable,
and often led away, under the impulse of indignation, to write with greater
bitterness than I myself approve of upon reflection, but I have never
yielded to such intemperance, except in the case of persons whom I deemed
perversely obstinate. Gentleness and kindness towards all others, however
wicked and foolish they might be, it has always been my care to observe.
Yet with such a principle, Luther must often acknowledge that he failed
to carry it out. How much greater will be our failure if we enter the
lists with no such restraining principle to temper our pens.
And as a simple matter of wisdom, aside altogether from the question of
right, it is a very great tactical error to depart from love in order
to defend the truth. If it is actually the truth which engages our zeal,
if the literary battles which we fight are actually to establish the truth,
then the more love we show, the better. The truth itself is likely to
give offense enough, but any harshness or asperity in our spirit will
multiply that offense. Tears will soften men's hearts to receive the truth.
Sneers will harden them in error. Let the Billingsgate, Fishwife, and
Bear Garden be left to the preachers of error. Such language is the fit
vehicle for lies and deception. Let the truth be defended with the language
of love. I am aware, and will contend for it, that we ought to season
our speech with salt. Salt is biting and pungent, yet it very much adds
to the pleasure of eating
---- -----unless we use too much
of it. Then it becomes intolerable. Salt is good, and so is
wit and irony, but only if it is used carefully and sparingly. Beware
of the concision, says Paul, for we are the circumcision.
This is wit and irony, but Paul does not often speak so. When he says
Forgive me this wrong to those who had wronged him, this was
deep irony, but it was no asperity, for he wrote out of deep anguish of
heart, with many tears. Ridicule and sarcasm may be very effective tools
with which to expose error and establish truth, but they are better reserved
for principles than persons.
We need scarcely hope to find a man more mild and courteous in controversy
than John Fletcher, yet he used salt, and defended it also. Says he, I
have sprinkled with the salt of irony your favorite doctrine, and
in a footnote, If I make use of irony in my Checks, I can assure
thee, reader, it is not from `spleen,' but reason. It appears to me that
the subject requires it; and that ridiculous error is to be turned out
of the temple of truth, not only with Scriptural argument, which is `the
sword of the Spirit,' but also with mild irony, which is a proper scourge
for a glaring and obstinate mistake.
And again, A polemical writer ought to be a champion for the truth;
and a champion for the truth who draws only a wooden sword, or is afraid
lovingly to use a steel one, should, I think, be hissed out of the field
of controversy, as well as the disputant who goes to Billingsgate for
dust, mud, and a dirty knife, and the wretch who purposely misses his
opponent's arguments that he may basely stab his character. I beg, therefore,
that the reader would not impute to a `bad spirit,' the keenness which
I indulge for conscience' sake; assuring him that, severe as I am sometimes
upon the errors of my antagonists, I not only love, but also truly esteem
It is not the province of love to deter us from speaking the truth,
though the truth may hurt, but only to temper the manner in which we speak
it. When I write controversy, I write to convict and convince. I use no
wooden sword, and I suppose my readers are aware that I am not fencing,
but fighting in good earnest. Yet all of this may be done in love. Speaking
the truth in love, says Paul. This may look uncharitable, especially
to those who are wounded by it. Paul himself could not escape this imputation,
but must write to his beloved Galatians, Am I therefore become your
enemy, because I tell you the truth? (Gal 4:16). Yet who loved them
as Paul did? We can hardly expect the whole world to judge objectively
of our performances, and nothing is more common than for folks who cannot
answer a man's arguments to charge him with a bad spirit. That is a reproach
which every debater must bear, whether he deserves it or not. It remains
our business to make sure in our own conscience before God that we do
not deserve it.
That many who engage in controversy do deserve that reproach is an unquestionable
fact, and alas, it often happens that the man who has the most of truth
in his position, shows the least of love in his performance. When George
Travis fought for the genuineness of I John 5:7, and Richard Porson opposed
it, there was little enough to admire in the performance of either one
of them. Travis is all sophistry, failing altogether on the side of truth,
while Porson is all vitriol, failing altogether on the side of love.
F. H. A. Scrivener says of this controversy, I side with Porson
against Travis on every important point at issue between them, and yet
I must say that if the former lost a legacy (as has been reported) by
publishing his `Letters,' he was entitled to but slender sympathy. The
prejudices of good men (especially when a passage is concerned which they
have long held to be a genuine portion of Scripture, clearly teaching
pure and right doctrine) should be dealt with gently: not that the truth
should be dissembled or withheld, but when told it ought to be in a spirit
of tenderness and love. These are very seasonable words, to the
spirit of which we ought all to take earnest heed
----though I am
conscious that I have not always sufficiently done so.
But I turn to the other side of the question. It is to be taken for granted
that men are contending for the truth when they enter the field of controversy,
and yet controversy is often as devoid of speaking the truth
as it is of speaking it in love. I do not refer merely to those who think
to defend the truth when they have no notion as to what the truth is.
That there are thousands of such we all know
----though we may not
agree as to who they are. But I do not speak of these, but of those who
actually know the truth ----who stand on the right side of the questions
which they debate ----and yet miserably fail to speak the
truth in their battles for the truth.
It too often happens that those who defend the actual truth have ulterior
and unworthy motives. They lack the single eye. The triumph of the truth
they desire indeed, but this is not their sole desire. Mixed with this
is a desire of party victory, or of personal victory, or even of personal
revenge. Such motives often lead them to sacrifice the truth at every
point, while they claim to defend it.
In the first place it leads them to conceal or ignore the strongest points
on their opponents' side of the question, whereas a sincere love of the
truth would lead them at least to call attention to those points, and
acknowledge their inability to answer them. On this head John Fletcher
writes, I take the Searcher of hearts, and my judicious, unprejudiced
readers to witness, that through the whole of this controversy, far from
concealing the most plausible objections, or avoiding the strongest arguments
which are, or may be advanced against our reconciling doctrine, I have
carefully searched them out, and endeavoured to encounter them as openly
as David did Goliah. Had our opponents followed this method, I doubt not
but the controversy would have ended long ago in the destruction of our
prejudices, and in the rectifying of our mistakes. O, if we preferred
the unspeakable pleasure of finding out the truth to the pitiful honour
of pleasing a party, or of vindicating our own mistakes, how soon would
the useful fan of Scriptural, logical, and brotherly controversy `purge
the floor' of the Church!
This is speaking the truth indeed, and such a manner argues
not only the author's actual love of the truth, but also the strength
of his cause.
But the thirst for victory not only moves men to conceal the strongest
points of their opponents, but also often to speak that which they know
to be false, or at any rate, which they do not know to be true. Those
who are bent upon personal or party victory, rather than simply and sincerely
to establish the truth, often become unscrupulous in argument. They will
use any argument which seems to make for their end, though some of those
arguments are absurd, and carry their refutation on their own face. They
will affirm things in the heat of controversy which they do
not believe themselves, and then defend those things afterwards, because
they have too much pride to retract them.
In 1889 D. M. Canright wrote Seventh-Day Adventism Renounced. He had left
the Adventists and joined the Baptists. The book was not answered for
over forty years, but in 1933 William H. Branson answered it in a volume
entitled In Defense of the Faith. His first chapter is entitled What
Did Mr. Canright Renounce? In this he says, Mr. Canright says
he renounced `Seventh-day Adventism.' His book indicates that he rejected
it in toto. . . . If, therefore, we can ascertain what Seventh-day Adventists
really believe, we shall understand clearly what it was that Mr. Canright
renounced. He then follows with a doctrinal statement more than
five pages in length, beginning with the Scriptures as the only rule of
faith and practice, the doctrine of the Trinity, the Deity of Christ,
the necessity of the new birth, the baptism of believers by immersion,
etc., etc., followed by This is, in brief, what Seventh-day Adventists
believe, and this is, therefore, what Mr. Canright renounced and endeavored
to refute. Now this is sophistry, and it is dishonest. It is writing
what the author himself certainly knew to be false. He certainly knew
very well that to renounce Seventh-day Adventism means to renounce its
distinctives, not to renounce everything which Adventists believe. Adventists
believe that the sky is blue, and Branson certainly knew that Canright
did not renounce that.
But it is not only cultists who use such unworthy shifts, but the orthodox
and evangelical also. Such arguments may
----and often do ----carry
the day with the prejudiced, the shallow, and the bigoted, but what satisfaction
do men find in standing at the head of such a crew? The men who will use
such tactics do but prove that it is not the pure love of the truth which
moves them. How much begging of the question, how much wresting of the
Scriptures from their plain and obvious sense, how much obscuring of the
real issue, how much fallacy in the place of reason, how much sophistry
in the place of argument, how many conclusions which have nothing to do
with the premises, do we see in the doctrinal controversies of the church!
None of this is speaking the truth, and none of it is excusable,
except perhaps for those whose powers of reason are so weak as to be actually
incapable of anything better ----and these have no business on the
battlefield. For the sake of the truth, such controversialists ought to
be exposed and driven from the field. And when such arguments are used
(as they often are) to defend the very truth itself, those who love the
truth ought by all means to have the candor to expose and repudiate them,
for they do not strengthen the cause of truth, but weaken it.
But speaking the truth implies more than abstaining from falsehood.
One of the most common shifts of disputants, especially of those whose
cause is weak, is to display a great host of facts and considerations,
which may be true enough, but which are nothing to the purpose. This is
little better than speaking falsehoods. Here is a man who sets himself
to prove that Humpty Dumpty never fell from the wall. His first round
of argument consists of the assertion the Humpty Dumpty was afraid of
heights, and to prove this he has fourteen incidents, and numerous statements
of fact and opinion from both friend and foe. All of this is set forth
with great vehemence, and we are of course to conclude from it all that
Humpty Dumpty never sat on the wall in the first place. The second line
of argument is that it was not the king's habit to allow folks to loiter
about the wall, and this is set forth in the same manner, at great length,
complete with official documents and royal proclamations. And so the controversy
runs on, through several folio volumes. All of these arguments may in
fact be true, but what are they worth? The facts remain that Humpty
Dumpty sat on the wall and Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
there he lies, in more pieces than his apologist has arguments.
To speak the truth must mean to speak not only that which is true, but
that which is relevant
----and not only relevant, but pertinent,
and determinate. It is uncharitable to require folks to waste their time
groping through a cloud of dust to no purpose, when a few telling arguments
might convince them of something. And it is as unwise as it is uncharitable,
for the intelligent and thoughtful, the judicious and dispassionate, will
soon conclude that your cause must be as empty as your arguments ----that
if you possessed any pertinent arguments you would not resort to a cloud
of dust ----and thus while you think to defend the truth, you do
it a great disservice. And while you are at it, you lose the judicious
and the wise, while you gain the shallow and the bigoted ----and
again, what satisfaction is it to stand at the head of such a crew?
I see many a sacred doctrine, says Adam Clarke, suffering
through the bad judgment of its friends every day. . . . When truth is
assailed by all kinds of weapons, handled by the most powerful foes, injudicious
defenders may be ranked among its enemies. To such we may innocently say
`Keep your cabins; you do assist the storm.'
Finally, to speak the truth means to set forth the Scriptures. There is
a great deal of controversial writing which consists of almost everything
but that. Many seem to mistake assertion for argument. They thus in reality
establish themselves as the authority, rather than the Scriptures. Others
continually bring forth their favorite doctrines as arguments. They tell
us that this thing or that is false and dangerous because it overthrows
the sovereignty of God, or breaks down the distinction between Israel
and the church, or undermines salvation by faith, or militates against
positional truth, or weakens the doctrine of eternal security. And to
all of that I reply, What of it? It is no concern of mine. It is a most
pernicious practice to set aside Scripture in order to maintain doctrine,
and I will have nothing to do with it. I will get my doctrine from Scripture,
not from my doctrine
----and much less from my neighbor's doctrine.
Doctrine is indeed an argument, and a good argument too, if that doctrine
is true ----but that is to be proved, not assumed, and to make void
the Scriptures is hardly the way to prove it. I have been obliged to give
up or modify my doctrines in the past, in order to conform to the Scriptures,
and I am ready to do so again if Scripture compels me.
One of the greatest evils in the church is basing doctrine upon doctrine,
instead of upon Scripture. The Scriptures have thus been practically displaced,
and every man's doctrine has become his final authority. This is a very
subtle thing, for every man flatters himself that his own doctrine is
the truth, and it goes without saying that Scripture cannot contradict
the truth. But even though your doctrine may be true in the main, it is
no infallible standard, as the Scriptures are. To those and to those alone
our appeal must be. Doctrine is one step from Scripture, and if it happens
to be an erring step, everything built upon it will be false. And as a
general rule, the man who actually stands for the truth has no need to
appeal to doctrine. If it is the truth, it will stand upon Scripture.
The man who argues from doctrine instead of from Scripture usually proves
only the weakness of his cause, and instead of speaking the truth
he may be unwittingly contending for that which is false.
To conclude: our whole business in controversy is to speak the truth,
and our whole spirit to speak it in love. Yet I am persuaded that a good
deal of the controversy which agitates the church consists of neither
the one nor the other. This is as great a misfortune as it is a shame,
for controversy managed on the lines of love and truth would be as great
a benefit to the church as the contrary kind is a detriment.
---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ----
Hyperspirituality & The Nature of Scripture
by Glenn Conjurske
I believe without the slightest question in the all-sufficiency of Scripture,
but I have often seen statements which I believe establish a false view
of the Bible, while endeavoring to establish its sufficiency. Scripture
stands supreme and alone as the living word of the living God, and is
certainly all-sufficient for the purposes for which God gave it. But hyperspirituality,
after its usual manner, seeks to give to the Scriptures a place which
God never intended. With the intent of exalting the Scriptures, it thrusts
out other gifts of God from their places, and seeks to replace them with
the Bible. It seeks to put the Bible in the place of the preacher or teacher,
exalting the Bible as divine, and depreciating the teacher as human. Yet
those teachers are among the gifts which Christ gave to his church, and
if the Bible alone, without the teacher, is all-sufficient, why did Christ
give such gifts as teachers? Are his gifts worthless, or needless? It
is true enough that there are false teachers
----yes, and incompetent
teachers too, neither called, nor gifted, nor sent of God ----and
the Bible is the only and all-sufficient standard by which every teacher
is to be judged, yet the Bible is certainly ineffectual for such a purpose,
except it be in the hands of an experienced and spiritual man. Babes,
with the Bible in their hands, will yet be carried about by every
wind of doctrine, except they have a human teacher to expose the
false and establish the true. It is not the Bible alone which will keep
them from error, but that which every joint supplieth. (Eph.
4:16). Paul does not establish the word itself as the safeguard, but the
ministry of the word. It is the preached word which is effectual.
The Bible may be sufficient, but our poor heads and hearts are very insufficient,
and with the very word of God in our hands, when asked, Understandest
thou what thou readest? we must reply, How can I, except some
man should guide me? (Acts 8:31). Such, at any rate, certainly has
been the case with every one of us, and for our benefit the Lord gives
to us, as the gift of his love, human teachers. These are men who by long
acquaintance with the Holy Book, by long acquaintance with the God who
gave it, and by long acquaintance with the hearts of men
long observation, meditation, and experience ----have gained an
understanding of the book, and so an ability to open its contents to others.
Any doctrine which replaces God-given teachers with the Bible is hyperspiritual,
and false. It may be true enough that the Bible is its own best expositor,
but this is true only when the Book is in the hands of an experienced
and spiritual man. For the rest, the man who reads the Bible alone will
go astray as quickly as the man who seeks to understand it with the aid
of human books and teachers ----and probably more quickly, for there
is a price to be paid for despising the gifts of God. Yet the man who
has read the Bible alone is likely to have a good deal more confidence
in his false interpretations, for hyperspirituality is almost invariably
associated with pride.
But again, there are also hyperspiritual spirits who would replace human
authorities with the Bible, directly against the testimony of the Bible
itself. They want no elders ruling in the church, no man in authority
over them, to require anything of them, but wish to leave every man to
be ruled by the Bible alone. Such spirits are almost certain to be trouble-makers,
and the authorities which God has placed in the church ought to be very
careful to require of them, as the condition of their remaining in the
church, a determination to obey them that have the rule over you,
and submit yourselves, according to the plain commandment of God
(Heb. 13:17). Was God mistaken, to lay such requirements upon his people?
Did God not understand the all-sufficiency of Holy Scripture?
It is altogether proper that the church should take the Bible as our
only rule of faith and practice, but every man is not competent
to understand its principles, nor even its precepts. It is the Bible which
says, 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.
(Hebrews 5:12). Ye have need. Ye are not competent in yourselves
to understand even the first principles of the Bible. Left, therefore,
to yourselves, you are very likely to be wandering in weary mazes of error,
even with the Bible in your hands. Ye have need of teachers
and elders, to open to you the contents of the Scriptures, and to keep
your feet in the narrow path
----even using the rod to do so, if
Not that we would for one moment suggest that we put the teacher or the
ruler in the place of the Bible. God forbid. This is Romanism, Mormonism,
cultism, and is surely a much greater evil than putting the Bible in the
place of the teacher, or the elder. Yet the latter is an evil also, and
an evil which the Bible itself forbids. I realize that it is the Bible
which says, Ye need not that any man teach you, but...the same anointing
teacheth you of all things (I John 2:27), but this was not written
to make void the other Scriptures, nor to render the gifts of God useless.
The same chapter says (in verse 20), Ye have an unction from the
Holy One, and ye know all things. From this we might argue that
we have no need of the Bible itself, for it is the Spirit who teaches
us all things. Yet the Bible itself forbids such a notion. The Spirit
alone will no more teach us without the Bible, than he will without the
aid of human teachers. God can do both, and has done both in certain exceptional
cases, but that this is not his ordinary way the Bible itself makes plain.
But hyperspirituality has a penchant for setting aside the ordinary ways
of God in favor of the exceptional. Isaac is made the standard for courtship,
while Jacob is ignored. John the Baptist is made the standard for the
acquisition of the truth, while Timothy is ignored. Hyperspirituality
can almost always quote Scripture for its views, and quote it very plausibly
too, but it always does so at the expense of other Scripture.
But to proceed. Hyperspiritual notions almost invariably endeavor to put
the Bible in the place of human wisdom, human observation, and human experience.
If it isn't in the Bible, we don't need to know it. This may
sound spiritual, but it is in fact the quintessence of hyperspirituality,
and no man can consistently observe such a maxim. The Bible will not teach
you how to tie your shoes, nor how to bake your beans, nor how to make
a canoe, nor how to paddle it. When the missionary stands upon the bank
of the river, the Bible will not solve for him what missionary Dan Crawford
calls the eternal problem
----how to cross. The Bible
will not tell us what kind of mushrooms we may eat, and what kind will
kill us ----though experience and observation will. Experience,
of course, in such a matter, will prove a rather costly teacher, and will
doubtless benefit our heirs more than it does ourselves. It will benefit
them, that is, if they are not too hyperspiritual to appropriate the human
wisdom which has been gained by the experience of those who ate the wrong
mushrooms. There are a thousand things which are necessary to our health
and well-being, and things innumerable which are necessary to our very
being, which the Bible will not teach us. The Bible does not teach us
to take quinine for malaria, though thousands have died for lack of it.
The Bible will never teach us not to walk on thin ice, though experience
will teach us so in a hurry. Yet it is only fools who have need even of
experience to learn such a thing. All such matters may be learned from
the common stock of common wisdom which the experience of the ages has
accumulated. There the wise will learn it. Those who are too spiritual
to learn it there must learn it in the school of hard knocks, for it is
certain they will not gain much of it from the Bible. The Bible was not
given to teach us what we may learn elsewhere.
The Bible will not teach us how to tan leather, nor how to make a shoe.
The Bible will not teach us how to smelt the ore to make the iron, nor
how to turn the iron into an axe or saw, nor how to fell a tree
for lack of that knowledge some men have died, and others crushed the
roofs of cars and houses. I know an old man who calls improperly felled
trees ----half up, half down, and caught in the middle ----by
the very descriptive name of widow-makers. Yet the Bible will
not teach us how to drop the tree where we want it, though we may learn
a good deal about it from watching the beavers. They know by nature how
to fell the tree. We must learn it by observation or experience, and we
certainly cannot learn it from the Bible.
Hyperspirituality may quote Scripture, of course, as every error can,
and very plausibly, too. The Bible says that God has given us ALL
THINGS which pertain unto life and godliness through the knowledge of
(II Pet. 1:3), but the fact remains that the Bible will not teach us how
to kindle a fire, though a fire is a virtual necessity to man's existence
in most climates. Common sense dictates that life in this
text must refer to spiritual or eternal life. The Greek will not settle
the point. The word life ( v in the Greek) is used at least
a dozen times in the New Testament to denote this present life, as in
James 4:14, What is your life? It is even a vapour. Yet the
word is very often used of spiritual and eternal life also, as Matthew
19:17, If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.
And I John 5:12, He that hath the Son hath life. The Greek
determines nothing. But common sense (not to say common honesty) dictates
that the life spoken of in II Peter 1:3 is spiritual and eternal
life. If it is taken to refer to this present life, the statement is simply
The maxim, If it isn't in the Bible, we don't need to know it,
is held by folks who have obviously done very little thinking, and it
must of plain necessity be applied only in the most inconsistent manner.
It is used to set aside certain branches of wisdom, against which its
adherents have some kind of prejudice, and the rest of the time the maxim
is ignored. The true maxim is, The Bible is all-sufficient for the purposes
for which God gave it, but the Bible was never given to teach us what
we may learn without it. It was not given to teach us how to add or subtract,
nor how to cook, nor which tea to take for the tummy-ache. The Bible was
not given to teach us how to make eye-glasses, though millions have suffered
for the lack of them. The Bible was not given to teach us how to trap
a skunk, nor how to make a kettle or bucket
----though life might
be inconvenient enough without the knowledge. All of such knowledge is
learned by the experience and observation of the human race, and contributed
to the common stock for the benefit of all. The saints of God must learn
it the same way the rest of the race does, and if they will not learn
it thus, they must suffer for it. The Bible has nothing to do here.
But more. The Bible does have something to say concerning many things
purely temporal and earthly, but it usually says them in such a way as
to leave us yet with the necessity of learning them by experience and
observation. Those scriptures will confirm the truth of our observation
and experience, but will hardly lead us to that truth in the absence of
that experience. The Bible speaks of the way of a man with a maid
as a thing inspiring great wonder (Prov. 30:19), but without stopping
to define or describe it. There is no need to describe it, since it belongs
to the common experience of the human race. Not that every man knows it,
but every man may learn it, as much as he may learn the way of an
eagle in the air. The Bible gives us, in the Song of Solomon, a
most beautiful exhibition of the way of a man with a maid,
and yet thousands have read and studied that book without learning it.
Ah! but when a man falls in love, then the book comes alive, and confirms
his experience at every point. I once spoke to a married man concerning
the nature of marital love, basing my remarks upon the Song of Solomon.
His response was, I cannot relate to that, which showed me
plainly enough that he had never experienced it
----that he was
not in love, and never had been. He was no doubt in love with
femininity, as every normal man is, but he was not in love with his wife.
And without the experience of it, he could not appreciate the portrayal
of it in the Bible.
It is true indeed that by means of the Bible the man of God may
be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto every good work
this is true only in its own sphere. The Bible will not teach the carpenter
how to build a house, nor the Eskimo how to build his igloo. It will not
teach the fisherman how to catch fish, nor the tailor how to make a pair
of pants. This is human wisdom, to be learned by experience and observation.
It cannot be learned from the Bible, yet it is folly to spurn it ----folly
to deny that it is profitable or necessary. On the basis of this scripture,
however, the hyperspiritual have formed another false maxim, namely, If
the Bible doesn't teach us how to do it, it isn't a good work. Perhaps
these mistaken souls would grant that it is a good work to read the Bible,
yet the Bible will not teach us how to read.
But I proceed to another very detrimental manifestation of these hyperspiritual
views. There are some who, in order to establish what they conceive to
be the sufficiency of Scripture, set aside human reason. Carnal
reason they call it, and it is evident enough that they have never
employed much of it, for it is evident that they have entirely mistaken
the nature of Scripture. The Bible is a book which absolutely requires
the exercise of human reason, in order to make any use of it at all.
It is not uncommon to hear protests against what is called someone's interpretation
of the Scriptures, as though it were wrong to interpret them. We
must have a plain `Thus saith the Lord,' and we will not accept any man's
interpretation in the place of this. But hold. I very much fear
that such statements are usually nothing more than sophistry, designed
only to evade the force of truth. But even where such statements are sincere,
they embody a fundamental falsehood. While seeking to guard the sufficiency
of Scripture, they serve actually to obscure the issue. The question is
not whether it is your interpretation, or my interpretation, or an interpretation,
but whether it is the true interpretation. We cannot use the Bible at
all without interpreting it. Every doctrine of Christianity
mean every true doctrine ----is in fact founded upon the interpretation
of Scripture. The Bible is not a creed. It is not a system of doctrine.
It contains rather the materials out of which we are obliged to construct
our doctrines. Those who claim the Bible alone as their creed have another
creed also, and usually a very rigid one, though they may not put it on
paper. The Plymouth Brethren have no creed but the Bible, yet they forbade
F. W. Grant to teach contrary to their recognized doctrines.
The Scriptures are not our creed, and God never designed that they should
be. Set up a church with the Bible only as your creed, and every Neo-evangelical,
every compromiser, and every heretic on the earth will subscribe to it.
Take the Bible as a creed, and it settles absolutely nothing. It must
be interpreted to settle anything. The Bible is not a creed, and cannot
----but it is the all-sufficient quarry from which to build
An illustration is not an argument, but it may nevertheless throw a flood
of light upon the subject, and I offer the following as an illustration.
The Bible may be likened to a large jigsaw puzzle in the box
a type, there a precept, yonder an example, here a statement of fact,
there a principle ----all scattered through the book without the
shadow of system, and with scarcely a clue as to how we are to put them
together. Perhaps better, the Bible may be likened to the pieces of a
dozen or a hundred jigsaw puzzles, all mixed together in one box.
What safeguard is there, then, that we shall put the pieces together properly,
or ever produce a sound and Scriptural system of doctrine? Very simply,
the safeguard lies in the pieces themselves. The pieces of a puzzle may
be forced together in such combinations as manifest only falsehood and
confusion, but the safeguard against this lies in the pieces themselves
their shape, and in the pattern imprinted upon them. It is not possible
to put them together in a wrong pattern without forcing and wresting them.
Nevertheless, such false combinations of the pieces may be passed off
as true upon those whose eyesight is dim. And so exactly it is with Scripture.
When the spiritual sight is dim, a thousand false combinations may appear
to be true. But when the spiritual senses are exercised to discern good
and evil, when pride and self-sufficiency are purged away, when the eye
is single and the fear of the Lord controls the heart, the spiritual sight
is then sharpened to detect those false interpretations. He that
is spiritual judges all things, and the spiritual man may detect
in an instant the false interpretations and false doctrines which to others
appear most plausible.
But though I would vigorously insist that none but the spiritual man can
interpret the Scriptures aright, he does not by his interpretation add
one jot or tittle to the Scriptures themselves
----no more than
his eyesight adds anything to the shape or the pattern of the pieces of
the puzzle. His sight but apprehends what was there before. The contents
of the Scriptures themselves are all-sufficient to detect every misuse
and every false interpretation of them. Their sufficiency is of exactly
the same sort as the sufficiency of the box of puzzle pieces. The box
contains every piece required to construct a perfect picture, and every
piece contains within itself the properties to detect at once any attempt
at a false combination of them. But those properties go for nothing with
those whose eyes are dim, or with those who are determined to force the
pieces into a pattern suited to their own notions.
If every man had sharp spiritual sight, and if every man were honest in
his interpretation of the Scriptures, how very soon all doctrinal controversy
would be at an end, and the whole church of God established in the whole
truth! If only every man who engaged in teaching, or in controversy, had
both the ability and the purpose to simply exhibit every piece of the
puzzle as it actually is, there could remain but little question as to
how to put them together. But alas, much of the teaching and contending
which goes on in the church is aimed precisely at obscuring or altering
the true nature of the component parts of Scripture. A thousand voices
cry up a thousand different doctrines, every one of them citing Scripture
to prove it. What resource have we, what security, what hope, in the midst
of such confusion?
Ah! here we fall back precisely upon THE ALL-SUFFICIENCY OF THE SCRIPTURES.
From them we have everything to hope, and nothing to fear. They are sufficient.
They are not a creed, nor a system of doctrine, nor even a handbook of
morals, any more than a box of puzzle pieces is a picture, but they are
sufficient not only to supply us with the true picture of divine truth,
but also to secure that we shall never reach any result but the true one,
provided that our eye is single and our mind spiritual.
Not that I would dare to suppose that any man has ever completed the picture
of divine truth. We know in part, and the part which we know
is doubtless small enough. Nevertheless, we may certainly know the general
pattern of truth, howsoever ignorant we may be of a myriad of details.
We may surely have a sufficient view of the truth to keep our feet from
every false way, and to serve the Lord effectually and acceptably. It
was of Old Testament saints, under the old economy, without a completed
Bible, and without the indwelling Holy Ghost, that it was said, Blessed
are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord. Blessed
are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart.
They also do no iniquity; they walk in his ways (Psalm 119:1-3).
Who will deny that we may have what they had?
The Scriptures are surely sufficient to secure this
that the man of God should be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto every
good work. But they are certainly not sufficient to secure it without
a good deal of labor, meditation, and experience on our part. This is
true in spiritual matters, as well as earthly and temporal. We are dealing
here with the actual nature of Scripture.
Now when once the actual nature of Scripture is understood, this will
immediately expose two notions which seem to possess the minds of most
of the church today. On the one side it is held that we must have a perfect
translation, or we can have no security for the truth. On the other side
it is held that we must have a translation which can be easily understood.
Both of these notions fail to apprehend the actual nature of Scripture.
If God himself were to place this moment a perfect translation in the
hands of his church, and command every saint to use that version only,
upon pain of death, this would not solve a single practical or theological
question which now unsettles the church. It would not make the Calvinists
Arminians, nor the amillennialists premillennialists. It would not move
the women to give up their jewelry, nor the men their ball games. It would,
in fact, leave us just exactly where we are today. Many today of course
believe that the King James Version is perfect, but if they are honest
they must candidly acknowledge that the advent of the King James Version
never solved a single doctrinal or practical difficulty in the church.
I cannot here enter more largely into this, but perhaps may devote a separate
article to it in the future.
Just as shallow is the notion that we must have a translation which can
be easily understood. When the nature of Scripture is understood, it plainly
appears that such a thing is not possible. Those who labor the hardest
to produce translations which can be understood by anybody, generally
depart the farthest from the actual meaning of Scripture. They resort
----paraphrase, that is ----in the place of
translation, and so give us in essence a commentary instead of a Bible.
The fact is, the Bible cannot be easily understood. God never designed
that it should be. God never wrote a Bible that could be easily understood.
God never gave a Bible that could be understood without long and deep
meditation and experience. He never gave a Bible that a babe could understand
without the aid of a teacher. To attempt to produce such a Bible generally
leads men directly to alter the nature of the Bible. Of course we ought
to translate the Bible as clearly as we can ----to introduce no
needless obscurity or ambiguity ----but if we translate faithfully,
the result will not be a book which is easy to understand. The original
is not easy to understand. There is plenty of ambiguity and obscurity
in the original, besides a myriad of things which by their nature will
not be readily understood. It was the original which Nehemiah read in
the ears of the people, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand
the reading. (Neh. 8:8). The sense, then, was not obvious, and the
only way to make a translation which is easy to understand, or which may
be understood without study, meditation, experience, and human teachers,
is to depart from the nature of the original.
The Strength of Sin
by Glenn Conjurske
The strength of sin is the law. So says Paul in I Cor. 15:56,
but he gives us no indication as to how the law is the strength of sin.
He drops the remark incidentally, in a discussion of the resurrection,
and never pauses to drop a hint as to wherein the law is the strength
of sin. We are left to wrestle with that ourselves, by means of meditation,
observation, and experience. No doubt we may all have the illumination
of the Holy Spirit, but that is given us upon conditions, and not apart
from our own study, experience, and meditation. Very probably there are
other statements, elsewhere in the Scriptures, which will aid in the elucidation
of this one, but we are given no hint as to what or where those statements
are. All of this is typical of the nature of Scripture. There are a myriad
of such statements in the Bible, and we are left to wrestle with all of
them, by means of prayer, meditation, and spiritual experience.
Hence it is that good men often differ very widely in the explanation
of the statements of Scripture. If the Bible were everywhere clear, explicit,
and easy of apprehension, the case might be far otherwise, but God for
his own wise reasons has given us a book which is not everywhere clear
----a book which absolutely requires deep meditation
and deep spiritual experience in order to understand some of its simplest
statements. We surely believe that it is possible to understand the Scriptures,
and to understand them without erring too, but we absolutely repudiate
the notion that they are easy to understand.
The strength of sin is the law is at first sight a very simple
statement. There is not the slightest difficulty in apprehending what
it says, but wherein the strength of the law may lie is another question.
I fear that many false explanations of the matter have been taught in
the church. I enter upon the subject with diffidence, conscious enough
of my own insufficiency to give an adequate explanation of it. Yet at
least one facet of the theme seems clear enough to me, and of that I will
venture to speak.
The law sets us to labor for that which is unattainable. Its necessary
result is therefore to discourage us, and in the end to drive us to despair.
----and says it strictly concerning eternal life, as the
preceding verse establishes beyond cavil ----And let us not
be weary in well doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.
(Gal. 6:9). To faint is to give up. It is to quit. And this is precisely
what the law, if taken seriously, will bring us to. It will discourage
us to despair, and cause us to give up.
Allow me to illustrate this. It is the natural endeavor of every wife
to please her husband. She is driven to this by her nature. Her desire
is toward him, and it is one of the deepest needs of her nature to be
approved and appreciated in his eyes. So she labors to please him. But
if she labors at it with her whole heart, day after day, and yet finds
that she can never please him
----finds that her performances are
never good enough ----finds that she is never approved, no matter
how earnestly and diligently she labors for it ----there can be
but one result. She will very soon be very discouraged ----very
soon lose heart and spirit ----very soon despair of pleasing him,
and so cease to try.
Now all of this exactly illustrates the relationship of the awakened sinner
to God. He is determined to please God, to be acceptable to him. But the
more he labors at it, the more he perceives that such acceptance is unattainable.
He cannot please God. What is left him but to faint
up, and cease trying. It is thus that the law is the strength of sin.
But the law does not stop here. By driving men to despair, it actually
excites the opposition of their hearts to God. Let me illustrate again.
A child labors to please its father
----labors heartily and with
a good will ----and yet its father is never pleased. The father
only finds fault ----puts his finger immediately upon every deficiency.
The child will not only give up, but soon entertain hard and bitter thoughts
of its father ----regard him not as a loving father, but as an exacting
Now this is exactly the province of the law. It is holy, just, and good,
and it requires us to be so also. It sets us upon an impossible task,
and calls attention to our every failure. This drives us naturally to
despair. It drives us to hard thoughts of the God who requires impossibilities
of us, and in the end takes away any will which we may have had to please
him. Thus the law is the strength of sin. It strengthens sin's hold upon
us, rather than delivering us from it.
On the other side, Sin shall not have dominion over you, for ye
are not under law, but under grace. (Rom. 6:14
Greek). This is commonly explained to refer to the fact that the law cannot
give us the enablement which grace gives, and that is no doubt a part
of it, but not all. The first thing we need in order to gain the victory
over sin is acceptance with God, and not merely the fact of acceptance,
but the knowledge of it. But that acceptance is the one thing of which
the law everywhere deprives us. It sets us to labor to gain acceptance,
but work as we will, the acceptance remains forever beyond our reach.
This leads us naturally to lose spirit and faint, as explained above,
and thus the dominion of sin is strengthened.
Under grace, on the other hand, we begin with acceptance with God. We
walk our whole pilgrimage accepted in the Beloved. We walk
under the eye of a loving father, not a demanding tyrant. Though fully
conscious of our failures, we know that if our heart is right with God,
those failures do not affect our acceptance with him. We labor indeed
to be acceptable to God, but we labor as the beloved child or the darling
wife, basking all the while in the love of our Lord. That the law can
never give us.
Here it is that I believe lies the greatest practical difference between
law and grace. It is not the province of grace to release us from the
obligation of holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.
Those who do not follow after holiness shall never see the Lord, whether
they belong to conscience, law, grace, or kingdom. Those who employ grace
to release us from the obligation of holiness turn the grace of God into
lasciviousness, and pervert the gospel of Christ. But it is just as possible
to pervert the gospel of Christ on the other side, by turning it into
another law. This is done whenever the claims of Christ and the requirements
of the gospel are placed upon the principle of law. When the sincere repentance
and holiness which the gospel certainly requires of us are enforced with
the rigor of Mount Sinai, depriving us of our acceptance with God for
every failure, then we have turned the gospel into another law, and so
made the gospel the strength of sin. This is a serious error, and may
serve to damn souls as effectually as turning the grace of God into lasciviousness.
Here is a man laboring under the yoke of the law, discouraged to the point
of despair, and about to faint
----or perhaps he fainted already
ten years ago, and lives now with a defiled conscience, with hard thoughts
of God, and with no heart to make another attempt to serve him. What does
he need? Ah! the grand catholicon, the sovereign remedy for such a state
is HOPE! Convince such a man there is hope for him, not in his own performances,
but in the grace of God and the blood of Christ, and how eagerly does
he embrace that hope. This is the genius of the gospel, to give hope.
The law can never give it. The more we have to do with law, the more thoroughly
does it deprive us of hope. Thus the principle of law remains the
strength of sin.
Now there is great danger among those who repudiate the unholy gospel
of the modern church, and preach the claims of Christ and the mandates
of holiness, of turning the gospel of grace into another law. I am often
accused of this, but I believe it is by those who understand neither law
nor gospel. I am well aware of the deficiencies of my own understanding.
I do not know how to answer all of the questions concerning the relationship
of law and grace. Yet I do not believe I turn the gospel into a law. Nay,
I have always opposed this tendency wherever I have seen it. Nearly twenty
years ago I went to a meeting which was advertised as a gospel meeting.
I had no opportunity to preach at that time, though I longed to do so,
and before I went I prayed that God would give me an opportunity to preach.
I had fond visions of a meeting in which the preacher would fail to appear,
and I would stand up to address the people. My fond dream was not fulfilled,
for the preacher arrived in good order
----a female preacher, but
not a preacher of the gospel. As we left the building, she stood at the
door to greet the people, and said to me, We are glad you came,
and hope you'll be back. I replied bluntly enough, I won't
be back. Oh? she said, you disagree with us?
Said I, You advertised this as a gospel meeting, but there is no
I said no more, but left the building
----followed, however, by
a small crowd who had listened to my remarks to the preacher. They gathered
around me, and for half an hour I refreshed my own soul, if not theirs,
by preaching the gospel of acceptance with God, acceptance by grace, acceptance
now, and not when I have earned it by the works of the law. I took the
occasion to rather roundly impugn the gospel which they knew, saying,
You work, and work, and work, and work, and never know if you are
saved. You never attain to acceptance with God. This is no gospel.
To be sure I preach, as Paul did throughout his ministry, that they
should repent, and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.
(Acts 26:20). I preach with Paul that the unrighteous shall not
inherit the kingdom of God. (I Cor. 6:9). I preach holiness,
without which no man shall see the Lord. (Heb. 12:14). But all of
this belongs to Paul's gospel. The gospel gives hope and life to the weak,
but it is no shelter for the filthy, the profane, and the rebellious.
It gives salvation to Jacobs, weak and failing as they are, but no hope
It remains a fact, however, that it is possible to make another law of
the gospel. Some who preach perfection have practically done so. Wesley
was certainly not guilty of this, but the low Arminianism to which some
of the more recent Wesleyans have descended does just that. I have known
some who think they lose their acceptance with God, and are lost, every
time they fail
----some who must get saved every day.
Others preach holiness or hell, meaning of course, perfection
or hell. Now perfection is precisely the requirement of the law.
It is perfectly legitimate to preach holiness or hell, if
we mean the right thing by holiness, for it is the Bible which
says no man shall see the Lord without it. But if we mean perfect holiness,
we have turned the gospel exactly into the law. Nor is the matter altered
if we preach perfection by faith. If we preach anything unattainable as
the condition of our acceptance with God, our gospel is nothing different
from the law.
Charles G. Finney, who also preached perfection, had tendencies in the
same direction. The law was impotent through the weakness of the flesh,
but Finney's theology could make no allowance for the weakness of the
flesh, for in fact it made no allowance for the existence of the flesh.
All sin, he held, was voluntary. Now a theology which makes sin
that dwells in me to be voluntary, in fact makes that which I cannot
help to be my fault
----and if my acceptance with God is made to
hang upon this, I am under the law indeed.
The gospel has terms as well as the law, and they are not easy terms,
but they are attainable. Those who preach easy salvation pervert the gospel.
It is under the gospel that the righteous shall scarcely
be saved. (I Pet. 4:18). Modern Evangelicals, determined to empty
this text of its sense if they can, would alter scarcely to
with difficulty, but they gain little by the change. If the
righteous are saved with difficulty, then the terms of the
gospel are not easy. It is not easy to repent and believe the gospel.
It is not easy to cut off the right hand and pluck out the right eye,
but it is possible. Acceptance with God is attainable under the gospel,
where it was not under the law.
Yet again, there have been many who have so defined the terms of the gospel
as to make another law of them. Repentance has been defined by many as
to hate sin. Yet every sinner who is honest with his own heart knows very
well that he cannot hate sin. He can forsake it, but he cannot hate it.
Any sinner, therefore, who believes he must hate his sin in order to gain
acceptance with God is under the law. He is laboring to make bricks not
only without straw, but without clay, and the longer he labors to hate
his sin, the more thorough will be his despair, and the more likely will
he be to hate God instead of sin. Thus the gospel which is preached to
him becomes the strength of sin.
And any law, gospel, or theology which bases our acceptance with God upon
anything which is unattainable, or virtually unattainable, must prove
to be the strength of sin. Every such doctrine puts us precisely
in the place of the servant who labors to please a master whom he cannot
please. Such a servant will soon cease to try, and resent his master also.
It matters little whether the fault lies in the master or the servant.
Whether the servant cannot please, or the master will not be pleased,
the result is all the same. The servant will fault the master as much
as the master faults the servant. This is the plight in which the law
places us, and though the fault is entirely our own, the result is that
the law is made the strength of sin.
---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- --
Ï Stray Notes on the English Bible Ï
by the Editor
---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- --
Accepted with Him
In every nation he that feareth him and worketh righteousness is
ACCEPTED with him. (Acts 10:35). Thus we have read in the English
Bible ever since William Tyndale. This is sound doctrine, and perfectly
consistent with the gospel of the apostles, and of all the great evangelists
of history. Yet the New American Standard Version alters this to welcome
to him. Why?
I believe they were misled by two things, by bad doctrine, and by a bad
lexicon. Accepted with him in this verse does not suit modern
theology. They must therefore fish for something which will put acceptance
with God out of the question. They found what they wanted (as they often
do) in the modern Arndt and Gingrich lexicon, in the word welcome.
By thrusting out accepted for welcome, they doubtless
thought to thrust out Peter's legal doctrine. But they failed to look
to think ----before they leaped, and instead of making the matter
better, they made it worse. Welcome to him can only be taken ----as
it was probably meant to be taken ----to mean welcome to come
to him. But this will certainly make for theology more legal
than that of the apostle Peter, or the King James Version. The vilest
sinner is welcome to him, though certainly not accepted
with him ----nor acceptable to him, either. Some
versions have softened accepted to acceptable,
and this is legitimate purely from the standpoint of Greek, but it in
fact changes little. He that fears God and works righteous is accepted
with God precisely because he is acceptable to him ----on
gospel terms, not law ----and because of the very obvious relationship
between acceptable and accepted, the Greek word
employed very naturally bears both meanings. Still, we must insist that
nothing less than accepted is the proper sense here. The Greek
v was a common term for acceptance with God in the Septuagint, and there
is no way it could be rendered welcome there. Thus:
----But whatsoever hath a blemish, that shall ye
not offer, for it shall not be accepted for you. (KJV has acceptable
----And he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord,
to be accepted for you.
----And he shall pray to the Lord, and it shall
be accepted with him.
----False balances are an abomination before the
Lord, but a just weight is acceptable to him.
----Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord,
but he that does faithfully is accepted with him.
----Their sacrifices shall be accepted upon my altar.
----Your burnt offerings are not acceptable.
This is its undoubted meaning in Acts 10:35.
Luther's Solemn Plea Disregarded
by the editor
I have pointed out before that Martin Luther never included I John 5:7
in his German New Testament. Though he revised his New Testament numerous
times, publishing upwards of thirty editions during his lifetime, he never
inserted that verse. Printers or editors began to insert it within forty
years after his death, and the insertion has apparently been universal
for nearly four centuries. But that insertion has been made over the solemn,
very explicit, and often repeated proscription of Luther himself. Luther's
plea was prefixed to his translation from 1530 onwards, yet it was both
omitted and ignored after his death. I give it below in facsimile from
his last edition, 1546, with the English adjacent.
Dr. Martin Luther.
I entreat all my friends and foes, my masters, printers,
and readers, that they would let this New Testament be mine. If,
however, they find a deficiency therein, that they make their own
for themselves. I know well what I make; I also see well what others
make. But this Testament shall be Luther's German Testament. For
of playing the master and of criticizing there is now neither measure
And let every man be warned against other copies, for hitherto I
have well experienced how carelessly and falsely others reprint
If any wish to suppose that Luther omitted I John 5:7 inadvertently,
the thing is simply beyond possibility. He did not carefully revise his
New Testament numerous times, and inadvertently omit this verse every
time. That he had fully considered the matter, and acted deliberately,
is proved by the fact that he added the words auff Erden (on earth)
to the editions after 1541, though they had been absent from all the preceding
editions, from 1522 onwards. Why he added these two words only of the
interpolation, and omitted the rest, it may not be in our power to divine,
yet the fact proves that he acted deliberately.
More on Baptists and Doctor's Degrees
by the editor
When I published my article on Baptists on Doctor's Degrees,
in January of the present year, I overlooked the following, which appears
on page 122 of The American Baptist Magazine, vol. IX, 1829. The Columbian
Star I have not seen.
THE TITLE D. D.
I was peculiarly gratified to discover in the last number of the
Magazine, a communication from our Missionary, the Rev. Adoniram Judson,
declining the title, Doctor of Divinity. And I was not less pleased, at
seeing previously in the Columbian Star, a request from the President
of our General Convention, the Rev. Robert B. Semple, that his brethren
would never attach the same title to his name.
As they have voluntarily relinquished the title, and prefer to be
addressed in some other manner more consistent with their views of Christian
humility, and ministerial equality, it is to be hoped that their wishes
may be gratified.
It is very possible that several others, who have had this degree
inflicted upon them without their desire or consent, may not think this
an unfit opportunity for them to follow the example of two such men as
Judson and Semple. Some, I am confident, would have so refused at first,
had they not been fearful of displeasing their friends, or of incurring
the imputation of a `voluntary humility.'
It would be truly a delightful spectacle to see all those servants
of Christ, in the United States, who have received this degree, come forward,
like these brethren, and signify their wish that the title may never again,
in any way, be prefixed or affixed to their names.
Matthew 23:8 says, But be not ye called Rabbi, for one is your Master,
even Christ, and all ye are brethren. Rabbi is the equivalent
of the English Doctor, both of them being titles of distinction,
and both of them meaning teacher. Yet observe the inconsistency
of the author of this note, who refuses the title of Doctor,
while he uses that of Reverend, which is no more Scriptural.
I observe also that Semple's request was no more honored than was Judson's,
for his name appears in Cathcart's Baptist Encyclopædia (1881) as
Semple, Robert B., D.D.
----though the article upon
him informs us that he felt constrained respectfully to decline
the degrees conferred upon him.
OP&AL is a testimony, not a forum. Old articles are printed without
alteration (except for correction of misprints) unless stated otherwise,
and are inserted if the editor judges them profitable for instruction
or historical information, without endorsing everything in them. The editor's
own views are to be taken from his own writings.