Faith in the Person or the Plan of Christ?

By Larry Ray Hafley

As our readers may know, we have been in controversy with those who declare that they see a danger among us. The danger, they say, is this; we have put our faith in the Bible, in the word, and not in him who is “the Word.” While they agree that we must believe the Bible, they argue that we are trusting in the plan of Scripture more than in “the man” of Scripture. On the liberal fringe of the faith, men like Bill Love and C. Leonard Allen, have made this charge out loud, in print. At least, they have couched their concerns and concepts in an academic robe. Others, like Rubel Shelly, spout out and spit up these charges wherever they go.

Affected and infected by this concept, some among us have picked up the charge, saying that first century disciples did not submit or surrender to a pattern, but to a person. Our judgment is that some who have made similar statements are well meaning. They think they have a thought that will indeed draw us back, closer, to Christ. Of course, everyone is for that. Our fear is that even some good men do not recognize or perceive the dangers inherent in echoing this view (that trust in Christ can be separated from trust in his word). As it is twisted and tortured by liberals, this theme is used as a weapon by those who are bent on making havoc of the church by privily bringing in damnable heresies under the guise of “Christ, not commands; the Savior, not the system; the Person, not the pattern.”

As Solomon said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Accordingly, I recently found this article from the pen of Benjamin Franklin. This myth, this so called crisis, this imaginary bogey-man (that we are emphasizing the Bible rather than the Lord), was explored, exposed, and exploded by brother Franklin nearly 140 years ago. Hear him.

Franklin: The Spirit, The Word, The Christ It appears more difficult at the present time to induce men to be content with simple Christianity, in spirit and practice, without any mixture of humanisms, than at any former period. The people have become so accustomed to leaning upon the human that they can scarcely conceive of the possibility of trusting wholly in the Divine. We, as a body of people, have made wonderful strides in showing our neighbors of the sects the schismatical tendency of all their creeds, the necessity of abandoning the whole of them and of committing ourselves wholly to Christ as our leader and instructor. But some of the controversies now going on show a wandering disposition, dissatisfied with the simple belief and practice of Christianity, as inconsistent with the unity of the Spirit and bond of peace as the adoption and maintenance of a human creed.

After preaching the plain gospel of Christ, as the Disciples have done for more than thirty years, gathering some three hundred thousand souls to the fold of Christ, many of them from the contending parties around us, and uniting them in the bond of peace and union, thus making ourselves felt as no other people have done in this century, a brother perceives where a slight mistake may have occurred. He becomes alarmed, looks upon all that has been done as nothing, and declares that nothing great and good will be accomplished till the evil is corrected. He just now perceives that there is danger of men resting their faith in the word, and not in the Divine and glorious per-son revealed through the word. He thinks many are deceived in relying simply upon the word in the place of relying upon Him who gave the word. He now perceives the secret of there not being devotion, piety and zeal. It is found in the stupid mistake of believing the truth, in the place of believing in Him who is revealed through the truth.

This pretty little distinction is elaborated in many sermons, upon many pages, and upon a thousand tongues. The whole phalanx of word-alone men are now called to an account, and shown at great length, with profound learning and philosophy, that their stupid mistake has been that they have believed the word, trusted in the word, relied upon the word, and preached the word, but lost sight of the glorious person of Christ revealed through the word. . . But no change follows all this wonderful discovery and very profound distinction. No increase of piety, zeal, love or good works follow. No conversion of sinners follow any more than before, nor anything different, except contention, strife and confusion.

On the other hand, here come the word-alone men, accusing the former class with infidelity, or at least teaching doctrines tending to a rejection of the word, looking for something beyond and above the word, thus ignoring the word. These, too, now stand in defense of the faith, and suffer for the truth, and sound the warning voice of dangerous doctrine! Some of the Disciples are on one side and some on the other, but the greater portion do not know what the controversy is about, but think there are good brethren on both sides. The only wonder with them is that the parties should manifest so much irritability, use such severe and harsh language and appear so much alarmed. They can perceive no occasion for all this.

Questions To Consider

Where is the necessity of all this? When did an attorney ever find it necessary to inform the jury that the testimony was not the thing to be believed, but that that which was revealed through the testimony was what was to be believed. In what, except in religion, did any man ever think it necessary to caution the people that the truth itself is not what is to be believed, but that which is made known through the truth? . . . Did any man ever believe the truth of the gospel and not believe in him whom the truth of the gospel sets forth? Can any man believe the word and not believe him who uttered it? Can any man have confidence in the word and not have confidence in him who spoke the word? Is there such a thing as trusting in the word and not trusting in the author of the word? Can any man believe the word and not believe that which is revealed in the word? If you believe the testimony of a witness, do you not at the same time believe the witness and that which is communicated through the testimony of the witness?

Can any man receive the word the Father gave Jesus, the word Jesus gave to the apostles, and the word which the apostles by the Holy Spirit preached to us, and not believe the Father who gave the word to the Son? not believe the Son, who gave the word to the apostles? not believe the apostles who gave the word to us? Can a man confide in the word the Father gave the Son, which the Son gave the apostles and which the apostles have given to us, and not confide in the Father, the Son and the apostles?

Can a man confide in Jesus and not confide in his word? or confide in his word and not confide in him? Can a man confide in the Holy Spirit and not confide in his word? or confide in his word and not confide in him? Can a man receive the word of Jesus and not receive Jesus? Can any person believe the word of the Holy Spirit and not receive the Holy Spirit? Can anyone obey the word and not obey him who uttered the word? Can a man follow the word spoken by the Spirit and not follow the Spirit? Can a man be led by the word spoken by the Spirit and not be led by the Spirit? Are not all those led by the teachings of the Spirit inscribed upon the pages of the Bible, led by the Spirit?

We put it to all those brethren engaged in this controversy, to produce an instance of one human being led by the teachings of the Spirit in the Bible, and not led by the Spirit; or, one led by the Spirit not led by his teachings in the Bible. “These things,” says the Spirit . . . “are written that you might believe.” Believe what? “That Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” They are not written that you may have a peculiar view of spiritual influence, but that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, we Son of God. What are we to believe for? “That you might have life through his name.” Here is t h e straight-forward work  no … speculations, but the plain truth to be believed and the object of believing it  that the believer might have life.

The Holy Spirit comes not asking you to believe on himself, or some peculiar mode of his operation; but as a witness bearing testimony of Jesus. Hence Paul says, “The Holy Spirit also is a witness,” and that no man can “call Jesus Lord, but by the Holy Spirit.” At the Jordan, when the Lord was baptized and introduced to Israel, the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form and rested upon him, thus indicating that all attention should be directed to him. When the Lord ascended to heaven, he sent the Spirit to the apostles, to bring all things to their remembrance, guide them into all truth, . . . and thus through them spread out his entire testimonies upon the sacred pages as left us from the hands of the four evangelists, that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing we might have life through his name. All this the Holy Spirit has done that we might believe, or to enable us to believe.

Can we receive his testimony and not receive the glorious person of whom he testifies? or can we reject his testimony without rejecting the glorious person of whom he testifies? Certainly not.

Shall we, then, confide in these Divine testimonies of the Spirit, spread upon the sacred pages of the New Testament, that we might believe, and set them before the world as sufficient to enable all men to believe, or shall we declare these testimonies of the Spirit insufficient, too weak and imperfect to enable the sinner to believe, and maintain that the Spirit must come to the sinner and give him further evidence that his testimony, . . . is true, and thus enable him to believe?

Let any man who wishes to fall, question the all-sufficiency of the testimonies of the Spirit set forth in the New Testament  testimony which we affirm to be complete and perfect  to which the Spirit himself forbids any-thing added or taken from. He who undertakes to depreciate this testimony, whether ignorantly or in unbelief  we care not what his design  weakens the gospel argument precisely to the amount of his influence, apologizes for the unbeliever, excuses him in his infidelity and strength-ens his hands in sin. In the place of his being himself a believer in the testimony of the Spirit, he is trifling with it, creating distrust in the minds of others, and subverting that which all admit to be the testimony of the Spirit of God.

The One Safe Course

There is but one safe course, and that is to follow the apostles, preach the same truth preached by them, relying upon the same testimony upon which they rested as all-sufficient, and maintaining the self-evident truth, that all men can believe it, when it is preached, and that they will be lost if they do not believe it. This we are authorized to do, and this is all we can do. Even this can only be done by believers. Skeptics cannot do it effectually. But men who believe in Jesus with the heart can preach Jesus to others, with full confidence that they can believe in him also. They can bring all the testimony furnished by the Holy Spirit in the New Testament before the mind of the unbeliever. But if these are not sufficient to enable a man to believe, they can do no more.

The preacher may turn and preach to the sinner that these testimonies are not sufficient, and (that) he must have assistance from some other source; but he cannot give that assistance, and preaching does not make it come. If it does not come, who is to blame? Not the sinner; for he could not bring it. Not the preacher; for he could not bring it. Where lies the blame, then? The testimony the Spirit has given is not sufficient to enable the sinner to believe. He cannot obtain power to believe. The preacher has preached Christ and presented the testimonies of the Spirit as found in the Scripture. But the sinner cannot believe till the Spirit comes and gives his testimony efficiency. The Spirit does not come. The man not only does not believe, but he can-not believe. Who is to blame? The Spirit, according to this very pious and spiritual theory, is to blame, because he did not come and do what he left undone when he gave his testimony, what neither the preacher nor the sinner could do was give his testimony efficiency.

The difficulty in these times is not that the testimony of the Spirit, inscribed upon the pages of the New Testament, lacks efficiency, nor does the Spirit himself lack efficiency, nor does the Lord lack efficiency. The Lord, the Spirit and the testimony are efficient, and do their work.

The lack of efficiency is on the part of weak-minded and unbelieving, or skeptical preachers and church members. Let them become efficient, strong in faith, giving glory to God, and preach Jesus with great power, present the Divine testimonies with full assurance of faith, and the work will go on. The Lord will do his work. The Spirit will do his work, and do it right. The testimony will do its work, and sinners will be saved. The trouble is to get the preachers to do their work, do it right, and thus operate rightly upon the world. Let us turn our attention more especially to men, and try and induce them to operate right, and all the balance will operate infallibly right. (Paragraphs, subheadings inserted. Biographical Sketch And Writings of Elder Benjamin Franklin, 338-343.)

Guardian of Truth XL: 2 p. 11-12
January 18, 1996