Creeds and Confessions of Faith
By B. H. Carroll
In harmony with the announcement this morning, I take the same text, a part of the third verse of the letter of Jude: "It was needful for me to write unto you and to exhort you, that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints."
Before addressing myself to the practical side of the body of the faith delivered to the saints, I want to close up a little more clearly and definitely some things that there was not time to present this morning. The first is, I recall your attention to the adverb, "once for all," and the signification of it that this body of Christian truth was delivered by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself to the apostles and through the apostles to the saints, and that it was to be once for all. Any fair consideration of that adverb would lead us to conclude that the body of faith was concluded, that there was no more to be added to it, and that is the very clear teaching of this writer and all the apostles. For example, in the second letter of John he uses this language, referring to the doctrines: "Whosoever goeth on and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ hath not God." He had in mind progressive people -- people who after a while would get tired of the body of doctrine that had been presented and who would want to advance. The Apostle Paul presents the same thought when he says, "If any man, or even an angel from heaven, preach any other Gospel than this Gospel which has been preached, let him be accursed." And the words which close the book of Revelation and which may be limited to that book are in harmony with the teaching concerning every other book: "If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book. And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the Book of Life and out of the Holy City."
In other words, more than once in the New Testament this body of truth is called a deposit. And those who receive it receive it as stewards and they are charged to faithfully keep that deposit of truth committed to them. Hence we hear the Apostle Paul rejoicing when the time came for him to die that he could say this: "I have kept the faith." Through all of the years of his life after he met the Lord Jesus Christ and spent three years in seclusion in Arabia, most probably at Mount Sinai, in receiving from Jesus Christ directly, and not through any human intervention and
instrumentality at all, the Gospel which he was to preach, from that time until his lips were closed in death, he never varied a hair's breadth in his preaching. He added nothing in any respect; neither did he take away from what had been originally presented to him.
But he felt that he had been selected and highly honored in being made the custodian of a well-rounded body of truth which constituted the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and that it was more to him than life to hold that truth just as he got it and to preach it just as he got it and that he had no authority in any way to modify it. We find him also saying to Timothy, unto whom he committed this same deposit of faith, "That which I have committed unto you, do you also commit to faithful men who shall come after you." That Scripture shows that a provision is made for the transmission of this truth unimpaired in its entirety and in all of its significance, which should be handed down to the last syllable of time just as our Lord Jesus Christ delivered it.
Then all of the apostles prophesy and tell us a time is coming when some one of these doctrines will be called in question. For instance, Peter says, "I want to remind you now that in the last days there will be scoffers who will say, 'where is the promise of that second coming of Christ?'" and who will deny that doctrine and base their denial upon an observation of the regularity of the court of nature-that since the fathers fell asleep all things have continued from the foundation of the world — there will be no interruption, no great catastrophe that will wind up the affairs of this world. Peter saw that was coming and warned them beforehand.
In the same way the Apostle Paul took up the several elemental doctrines and showed how in future ages there would be teachers having itching ears who would turn aside from this deposit of truth and who would preach instead the doctrines of demons just exactly like a professor in the University of Chicago has stated recently in setting forth as the substance of his teaching in his classes that instead of the Bible idea of marriage we should have probationary marriage; that people should marry and take each other on trial. That, Paul calls a doctrine of the devil, or a doctrine of a demon. Now they foresaw all of this and they guarded and hedged in every possible way.
Not a very great while ago there were two very distinguished men in England, and England never produced men of more subtle and cultivated minds. They were both educated as priests. The one has become the leading infidel of the age and has written the most plausible book against the Bible that has ever come from the pen of a skeptic. The other, John Henry Newman, a cardinal, became the champion of Romanism, and when his attention was called to the fact that that church is now teaching a number of things that the New Testament does not teach, he admitted it.
Examples were cited, first, that the Virgin Mary had an immaculate birth herself; second, that the body of the Virgin Mary was taken up to heaven; third, that Mary became the queen of heaven; fourth, the doctrine of indulgences, and a number of others which I haven't time to enumerate.
He admitted that these were not taught, and that sprinkling was substituted for immersion or baptism. Whereupon he wrote one of the most remarkable essays that Christian polemics have ever called forth, entitled, "The Development of Doctrines." A part you would understand to mean that man's comprehension of the doctrines delivered by our Lord Jesus Christ may be developed and increased, but he adds to that, "Not only must there be time for the full comprehension of the body of Scriptural truth, but for the perfecting of that truth;" then since God lodged this perfecting power in the church, he very logically deduced the doctrine of the infallibility of the church and the Pope. For if some change was to be made in some element of the truth and something else substituted, there must be authority to authenticate it, and he there erected the necessity for the doctrine of the infallibility of the Pope from the fact that it devolved upon the church to make such changes in the doctrines as the years rolled on.
A very shrewd man said to me, "If there ever arises a necessity for a change in what God's inspiration has given us, a necessity for adding to or taking from that inspiration, why not admit that in the enlightenment of advancing ages we may get beyond the whole thing?" Precisely that position was taken by a great German professor, that the doctrines of Christianity served a good purpose for quite a long while, but that we had gotten beyond them and that nobody believed them now; that a more enlightened age had brought about different conditions and with the change of conditions there had come a necessity for the change of the faith.
One of the commonest things you can hear in public conversation or read in newspapers and magazines by those who raise a hue and cry against creeds and confessions of faith, is that people two thousand years ago could not tell what the people of this age would need, and that this is an age of general advancement and therefore the change which characterizes everything else confronts truth.
It was to guard against that very thing that our Lord Jesus Christ who, in His omniscience, looked to the end of time and understood every future complication and every necessity of the race that might be developed with the changes of human conditions, delivered a Gospel once for all, a complete Gospel that would meet every need that God had in view in dealing justly with mankind.
From these statements you will readily understand how I have never had the slightest sympathy for the views of any man who claimed to be a Christian and yet who
would lightly disregard any teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I have believed and still believe with an unwavering conviction that whoever stands up in a pulpit and assumes a wisdom greater than the Son of God, and who affirms his freedom from the restraints imposed upon him by the teaching of our Lord, should in that very hour, by a decisive action of the church, be deposed from the ministry and even from church membership. These are some of the things I wanted to say in addition to what was set forth this morning.
"Contend earnestly," is a rendering of one Greek word. The original word is "agonize" and that word is intensified with a prefix ep. It is a word that applies to the kind of earnestness and energy and force that is put forth in wrestling, in foot racing, in the combats on the arena and in the Greek and Roman amphitheatres. To contend earnestly is a word of such intense power that you cannot add to it. It is just about as emphatic as language can make it. It means that you must, as Christian people, to the greatest possible extent of your power, insist upon the maintenance of the proof of salvation as given through our Lord Jesus Christ, without any modification whatever. It had been in Jude's mind to write a letter to them concerning the common salvation, a salvation for all men, but he was constrained by an emergency that arose to turn aside from this desire in his heart and write upon the pressing theme that the emergency of the hour called for. The occasion was that certain men, teachers or preachers, had crept in privily. How forcible the language "crept in privily"! They crept in without much attention being called to the manner of their entrance, when there was no vigilance exercised by the church, in some moment of idleness when the wakefulness of the Christian had been succeeded by spiritual stupor.
These men got in and proceeded to depart from the doctrine of Jesus Christ in two particulars. One of the particulars is doctrinal: to deny the Lord Jesus Christ who bought them. The other is intensely practical turning the grace of God into lasciviousness. It is easy enough for one who has studied the teaching of the New Testament to see how one who was disposed to do it, whose heart was evil, could misrepresent the teaching of Jesus Christ and of the Apostles.
To illustrate some of the points presented this morning: "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?"
How easy for an evil man to say, "That being true, I will live after my carnal appetite. Since my salvation cannot be disturbed and once in grace always in grace, since no
charge can be laid to God's elect, then if I can gain an advantage by lying, I will do it. If I can gratify my appetite by departing from all the commandments given to man, I will do that." He would turn the grace of God into lasciviousness.
Now that was the practical side of the denial of the body of faith. Our Lord Jesus Christ met that in His time by this illustration: "Whosoever heareth these sayings of mine and doeth them not is like a man that built his house upon the sand, and the rain descended and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell."
James, the half-brother of Jesus Christ, meets it by saying, "Do you not know, O vain man, that faith apart from works is barren?" In other words, when it is said we are justified by faith and not works, it means the faith that will legitimately produce the good works and the good works shall be its fruit and its evidence.
Take another statement from Jesus bearing upon that point. Abraham was justified that night when God led him out of the tent and showed him the stars of heaven and said, "Fear not, Abraham; I am thy shield and thy exceedingly great reward." Abraham believed on Jehovah and it was imputed unto him for righteousness. There he was justified, and about forty years after that, this justified man was commanded to offer up his only son and he obeyed. James, referring to that incident forty years after justification, uses an expression that teaches that the justification fruited again. He says, "Then was the Scripture fulfilled that Abraham believed God and it was imputed unto him for righteousness."
While we are justified without the deeds of the law and solely through the grace of God, yet every time, after we are justified, that we follow out obediently the line of that new life, there is, as James puts it, a fruiting or fulfilling of that justification which we had back yonder.
The Scripture is again fulfilled in that we were justified by a faith that was alive, that would take steps, that would not be merely an empty belief. And he illustrates it this way: "Thou believest there is one God. Thou doest well; the demons also believe and shudder." If you have what is meant by that faith, it is dead. It is turning the grace of God into lasciviousness to claim such a conception of the view of the doctrine of grace, that allows a man in his heart to take advantage of what he considers his security in grace to indulge in sin that grace might the more abound. Paul combats it as earnestly as James combats it.
Now let us see how history repeats itself. Jude saw these men with their empty faith, with their mere intellectual perception of and reception of a truth where there had been no moral renovation, no regenerating change of nature. He saw these men
creep into the church and then from within the church do things that were a disgrace to the name of Jesus Christ, and so he writes this letter.
He points out three remarkable examples. He seems to deal in threes. He says, "The angels which kept not their first estate God hath kept under bonds of darkness to wait the judgment of the great day." The angels, it is true, were under a different law from the law which governs redeemed man. The angel is under the law of works, but he wanted to impress this fact that the justice of God, the holiness of God, does not stop to consider a person, nor his dignity, nor his high position, and that if an angel from heaven transgresses the Divine law, he must perish.
He then takes up the case of the Israelites who were led out of Egypt, these men of nominal faith, whose hearts were ever turning back to Egypt. God's grace led them out of that land, but they were all the time rebelling against His authority and His grace and He says, "They every one perished in the wilderness and they perished because of unbelief," because they did not have the fruit-producing faith, because they did not have the living faith in God. Now, one of these Israelites, who had witnessed the displays of Divine power in sending the plagues upon Pharaoh and his people, who had passed the Red Sea, who had eaten of the manna that fell from heaven and who had seen the water coming from the smitten rock to quench his thirst, might have said, as some did, “We are the favorites of heaven. God has undertaken to transport us from yonder to the Promised Land and we will do as we please." Jude says that every one of them perished by the way. That kind of faith is not the faith of the grace of God.
Then he takes the case of Sodom and Gomorrah, who are now suffering the vengeance of eternal fire, and with these three great examples before him he now analyzes the evils of his day and shows there is a correspondence of old errors. After all, there are no new things under the sun; a man cannot be original in his sinning. He is following the tracks of some sinner before him.
He divides these sins that these men committed who came in privily, into three classes. First, they have gone in the way of Cain. Cain's sin was doctrinal and practical. It was doctrinal because he denied the necessity for sacrificial atonement. Then he turned away from God to commit murder and then to live a life of crime. Now there was a large class of the people who caused this good man, whose heart was prompting him to write a loving, cheering letter concerning the common salvation, to turn aside and write this letter about certain men in the church who were going in the way of Cain, who were denying the necessity of a vicarious expiation and whose life conformed to their creed.
It is utterly impossible to separate creed of the right kind from morals, and belief of the right kind from morals. Morals arise from the recognition of and obedience to law. There can be no morals where there is no law. There may be customs, but there cannot be morals. Now these Cainites lived in his day, men just like the descendants of Cain, whose iniquities brought upon the world the deluge; men who invented musical instruments, who were skillful as artificers in metals, men who might claim to represent the inventive genius and the philosophy of their day. But they denied that they needed to offer blood, the blood of a sacrifice, for their atonement, and following that denial came the life that they lived.
The next clause is this: "Who have run greedily into the error of Balaam for hire." You remember the case of Balaam. Here was a man who had very clear perceptions of duty. He did not need enlightenment, for he knew what was right. He was himself a subject of the supernatural power of God in seeing visions and prophesying, but not a subject of the grace of God that regenerates the heart so that the light shines very clearly upon that man's path. But there was in his heart a love of money. It took possession of him. Greedily he looked out for hire and he argued that a man has a right to hire himself, the use of his talent, to make a living. And Balak was there ready to offer him an enormous compensation if he would just curse these people of Israel. He could not curse them and told Balak so, but there was that money, that enormous fee. We can almost hear him say, "Now, isn't there some way to win that fee? I cannot curse whom God does not curse, that is clear. Can't I earn that money by making a suggestion to Balak, by causing these people to sin? If they sin, God will be against them." He invented a plan by which the wrath of God should be turned upon the Israelites.
Now, says Jude, some of these teachers that have crept in, run greedily into the error of Balaam for hire. They say that their talents are worth something, that they must be paid for the exercise of those talents. It may be a lawyer who is taking a fee; it may be a farmer; it may be a preacher — sometimes it is. The element of hire comes in; the amount of money blinds the eyes to the morality of a question, blunts the moral perception, that causes him to do things in a business capacity that he would count as horrible in his private home capacity.
The other class were men like Korah. Korah raised this question: "Who are Moses and Aaron that they should monopolize the leadership in the camp of God? I am as good as either of them. I will be a leader." That might have been pretty fair argument if Moses had constituted himself the leader of the people and if Aaron had taken his honor upon himself. But these were God's appointed men; they represented His authority. And now this man organizes a very formidable conspiracy to break down God's authority as expressed in the employment of these two men as leaders. And
he perished in his gainsaying. Now Jude says that these new teachers that have crept in are going in the way of Korah.
So you see that the paths of violation of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ are old paths, well trodden indeed. And that you can depart from the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ in life just as you can depart from it in creed, and it is a notable fact that NO MAN EVER DID DEPART FROM IT IN CREED WITHOUT MAKING SOME DEPARTURE FROM IT PRACTICALLY, because what a man thinks, that he is. All heresy is an evil fruit. Any deviation, however slight, from the straightforward path of truth marked out and made so clear by our Lord Jesus Christ brings some kind of evil life with the attendant evil consequence, and he sums up the case with this illustration. He felt that these cases demanded to be put before the people in some very striking and impressive way, and what an adept he is in illustration. He says "Wandering stars, meteors without fixed orbits; they are clouds without rain; they are wells without water; they are autumn trees dying before fruitage, therefore twice dead: dead in themselves and dead in that their death has defeated the fruit crop. They are hidden rocks in your love feasts. They are waves of the restless sea, foaming out their own shame."
Whoever before employed such a series of illustrations to indicate the character of the men that departed from the fixed line of doctrine in life described by our Lord Jesus Christ?
I have felt constrained to call your attention to this subject, the same constraint that may have moved the mind of Jude. I have been afraid that in many places there gets to be a kind of pleasing ministerial service that loses sight of the paramount fact that the preacher has a deposit of God's truth committed to him and that he must preach that.
It often happens in towns and cities that a new generation grows up that knows nothing about the vital and fundamental doctrines of the Gospel. Whenever you want to startle yourself a little, make some inquiries on that subject of the young people. The old time Presbyterians guarded against that by their catechisms. The home teacher grounded the young people in the fundamental principles of the Christian religion. But it has become exceedingly fashionable, in cities particularly, to lose sight of the real mission of the pulpit and the real mission of the church, and grown young men and women can be found that could not state the elements of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that could not give one of Paul's summaries of the great saving truths that he preached to men.
I heard Dr. Broadus say once, looking, it seemed to me, more solemn than I ever saw him at any other time: "Brethren, we must preach the doctrines; we must emphasize the doctrines; we must go back to the doctrines. I fear," said the old man, "that the new generation does not know the doctrines as our fathers knew them." It made a marvelous impression upon my mind.
Such is my presentation of this subject to you. You called for it. You have a right to go to your preacher, if things are getting hazy, and say, "Brother Pastor, preach us a series of sermons on this subject, or on that subject," and if you see that his mind is not on them as it should be, it won’t hurt him to jostle him up a little and let him know that THE ONLY THING THAT FEEDS PEOPLE IS THE WORD OF GOD. Other things may entertain, but that alone feeds, nourishes and makes stalwart men and women in Christ Jesus.
I would like to see a revival sweep over this land from ocean boundary to ocean boundary, a revival of preachers, Sunday after Sunday preaching the doctrines of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Mr. Spurgeon preached them. He preached them all the time. Now, if a man wants to compare the effect, take the life of Spurgeon and study the effect of the kind of preaching he preached on the lives of his audience and he will see a sight that never can be seen in connection with the light and trashy preaching of things irrelevant to Christian truth. He became a burning and a shining light and the power of his influence permeated every section of the empire of Great Britain and on missionary wings flew across mountain tops and over oceans and carried the same power of Divine truth to other lands.
It demonstrates this, too: What is the most attractive preaching in the world? It may not seem so, right at the start, but you just watch the crowd that used to gather around Moody, who was an intensely Biblical preacher. Just notice the thousands that crowded around that man and looked right in his eye as he opened his Bible and turned from threat to promise, line upon line and precept upon precept of that Word of God which is sharper than a two-edged sword, which is a discerner of the thought and intents of the heart, which is the means by which regeneration is effected and which, when left out, makes our services as sounding brass and tinkling cymbals in the house of God. ============
[From B. H. Carroll, The Faith That Saves, pp. 102-110. — jrd]]
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