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Vol. 5, No. 7
July, 1996


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----to 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 well says,

“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 or molestation.”

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 interested.”

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 love.

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 him----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 disarm them.”

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 them.”

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”----and 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----by 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 need be.

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----though 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 him”
(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 not true.

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”----but 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----I 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 be one----but it is the all-sufficient quarry from which to build one.

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----here 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----in 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----to secure 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 to explanation----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 and explicit----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. Paul says----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----to give 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 tyrant.

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----so the 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 gospel here.”

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 to Esaus.

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----or 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:

Lev. 22:20----“But whatsoever hath a blemish, that shall ye not offer, for it shall not be accepted for you.” (KJV has “acceptable” here.)

Lev. 23:11----“And he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted for you.”

Job 33:26----“And he shall pray to the Lord, and it shall be accepted with him.”

Prov. 11:1----“False balances are an abomination before the Lord, but a just weight is acceptable to him.”

Prov. 12:22----“Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but he that does faithfully is accepted with him.”

Is. 56:7----“Their sacrifices shall be accepted upon my altar.”

Jer. 6:20----“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 nor end.

And let every man be warned against other copies, for hitherto I have well experienced how carelessly and falsely others reprint us.

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.


“Messrs Editors,

“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.

Yours truly,

“MATTHEW xxiii.8.”

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.

Editorial Policies

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.