By Edward O. Bragwell, Sr.
The truth makes one free (John 8:32), but the truth is not free. It must be bought, often at a great price (Prov. 23:23). The price may be high in terms of searching, sacrificing, and suffering. When one forgets the price paid by himself and others so that he may have the truth, he often forgets the truth itself.
The writer of Hebrews warns against drifting away from the truth (2:1). He tells his readers to “hold fast the confession of (their) hope without wavering” (10:23*). He reinforces it all by reminding of “the former days in which, after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings: partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated; for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and enduring possession for yourselves in heaven. Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward” (10:31-35).
By the end of the first century all spiritual truth was revealed. The faith was delivered once for all time (Jude 3). The Scriptures were completed. They give us everything we need for “doctrine, for reproof, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16,17).
While the revelation of truth ended, the struggle so that “the truth of the gospel might continue with (us)” was just beginning (cf. Gal. 1:8, 9; 2:1-5). That struggle continues even as we write. Each new Christian needs all the help he can get with buying the truth and selling it not. Being reminded of past struggles for truth and sacrifices on its behalf is useful to that end.
Our understanding of the truth is greatly aided by our understanding of the past struggles between truth and error. Such struggles, though precipitated by Satan, are used by the Lord to advance the truth. In this way the Lord makes Satan’s best efforts backfire on him.
We must pray to be spared temptation in any form (cf. Matt. 6:13). Yet, when trial and tribulation come because of truth, the wise will profit from them (Rom. 5:3-5; Jas. 1:2). They can be disciplinary learning experiences, if we will allow them to be (Heb. 12:11).
Brethren must avoid schism, division, or faction (heresy – KJV). The church must firmly correct or reject any who cause such (cf. Tit. 3:10; Rom. 16:17,18). Yet, factions (heresies – KJV) are trials that serve a useful purpose. They often separate the genuine (approved) from the superficial among brethren (1 Cor. 11:19). During such controversies, our studying to “exhort and convict those who contradict” (Tit. 1:9) often forces us to me tune our own views. We may be forced to abandon indefensible positions borrowed from the world around us. After the present crisis passes, the knowledge gained can help avoid similar troubles in the future. The sacrifices and sufferings that often accompany a controversy, rather than defeat us, can I strengthen our resolve to press on to a better country. They can also cause us to be careful in the future, lest we have suffered in vain (Gal. 3:14).
The value of past struggles, separations, and sacrifices depends on how vividly we remember them. There is no value in remembering them with bitterness, resentment, or hatred. There is great value in remembering the reasons behind the sacrifices, and the issues that caused the struggles, and the lessons learned at the time. We need to remember these things often, though we “already know them, and are established in the present truth” (cf. 2 Pet. 1:12). Like Israel of old, we need to be told:
You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take anything from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you. Your eyes have seen what the Lord did at Baal Peor; for the Lord your God has destroyed from among you all the men who followed Baal of Peor. But you who held fast to the Lord your God are alive today, everyone of you. . . . Only take heed to yourself, and diligently keep yourself, lest you forget the things your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. And teach them to your children and your grandchildren (Deut. 9:2,3,4,9).
Many of the Israelites who) had been at Baal Peor were still alive. Their eyes had seen what happened when their brethren accepted the invitation of the Moabite women to join them in idolatry:
They invited the people to sacrifice to their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel was joined to Baal of Peor, and the anger of the Lord was aroused against Israel. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Take all the leaders of the people and hang the offenders before the Lord, out in the sun, that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel.” So Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Every one of you kill his men who were joined to Baal of Peor” (Num. 25:2-5).
They were to be careful “lest you forget the things your eyes have seen.” They were to remember them all the days of their lives. They were to teach them to their children and grandchildren lest they forget them. They simply could not let what happened at Baal Peor become a “dead issue” in their minds. There was always the danger that history could repeat.
Many of the problems of later 1900s might have been prevented if brethren had remembered the lessons from the problems of the later 1800s. Those of us who lived through confrontations with error must not forget them as long as we live. We must tell our children and grandchildren what happened. They need to know what happened, why it happened and what they can learn from it.
The church as been troubled by a number of major issues during the past 100 or so years. There have been open divisions because some joined themselves to the traditions of men. Consequently, there have been periods of unusually high levels of controversy. Many are alive today who have vivid memories of the sacrifices, sufferings and struggles during these periods so that “the truth of the gospel might continue with you.” When they tell their children and grandchildren of these things they are not asking for sympathy for what they had to endure. They “joyfully accepted the plundering of (their) goods.” They do not want this and future generations to have to repeat the same struggle, make the same sacrifices, and endure the same sufferings that they did. Nor do they want them to make the same mistakes they made. They want them to know the things their eyes have seen. They want them to know “the truth of the gospel.” They want them to appreciate the sacrificing, suffering, struggling, and studying that has made it possible for them to have it.
Satan has not retired from the mischief business. He will be looking for different avenues to make mischief for this and future generations as long as the world stands. Old issues seldom die, they just become dormant waiting for another opportunity to become active. Each generation must fight its own battles for truth. We hope that by keeping alive an awareness and understanding of past battles that our children will be prepared for present and future battles.
So, the articles on these pages are being written about some of the issues that have disturbed, divided and even destroyed congregations in the recent past. Some of this is still going on. Some of the writers lived through the thick of the fight about which they write and know firsthand the struggles. Some have had the opportunity to have known older brethren who were directly involved in the matters of which they write. Others know about their subject by having read things written during the height of the controversy of which they write. We will let you decide which one writes from which perspective. Each writes hoping to help all to see the “truth of the gospel” about his assigned subject lest we forget.
*Scripture quotations from New King James, unless otherwise indicated.
Guardian of Truth XXX: 1, pp. 1, 31
January 2, 1986