By Robert L. Love
“Raccoon” John Smith, a pioneer preacher in the 1800s was once asked by a denominational preacher, “If your doctrine be true, Mr. Smith, why has the sword so little power on this audience tonight?” “Because,” promptly replied Smith, “You teachers of human systems have so long hacked it against traditions, wrapped it about with your creeds and disciplines, and blunted it so against your anxious seats and mourning-benches, that sinners can feel neither edge nor point. “
The denominational preacher then asked, “I’d like to know the difference between your baptism and our mourningbench?” “Difference?” said Smith “one is from heaven – the other, from the saw-mill.”
On another occasion “Raccoon” John Smith was asked, “if the gospel is so very plain, as you say it is, why do you have to labor so hard to get the people to understand it?”
“I have often prepared ground in the wilderness for a turnip patch,” replied Smith, “And though I had the kindliest soil, and the best of seed, and the sowing was easy, I never got top or root till I first took my axe, and hoe, and briar knife, and went in and whacked and grubbed, and cleared away the ground. The Lord knows I do not esteem it hard work to preach the simple gospel to those who are prepared to receive it; but it is labor indeed to root out prejudice, and cut down systems, and clean away the sectarian trash that cumbers the minds and hearts of the people.”
Do we not need the same attitude as this great pioneer today in preaching and teaching? There is much being said today in many places concerning positive and negative preaching. It is popular to be positive and very unpopular to be negative. Preachers are often dismissed by a congregation because of a stand for the truth which is labeled as negative. One of most insidious inroads to error and compromise is a failure to rebuke false doctrine and teachers (2 Tim. 4:14).
In the book of 2 John we learn that we must not bid God’s blessing upon those who fail to teach the doctrine of Christ. To fail to preach against error (negative) is by silence to bid such God’s speed. Is this positive? Many seem to feel that opposition to false teaching demonstrates a lack of love. But God “hates every false way” (Psa. 119:104), and so must we. Jesus said, “The truth shall make you free” (Jn. 8:32), and nothing else will do it. As we study and learn God’s teaching, we must also be able to identify what is not God’s teaching and we must have the courage to oppose it. Paul wrote about some who would “pervert the gospel of Christ” (Gal. 1:7) and others who “by their smooth and fair speech beguile the hearts of the innocent” (Rom. 16:18). God’s people then were expected to identify and oppose false teaching; does he expect less of us today?
The Lord warns, “Believe not every spirit, but prove the spirits, whether they be of God, for many false prophets are gone out into the world” (I Jn. 4:1). If we are going to contend earnestly for the faith, we must know the teaching of the word of God, and measure every teaching we hear by what God says in his blessed word. And we must be willing to expose and oppose every false teaching in and out of the church by what God says. Acting out of love for God and man, we are told, “Mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them” (Rom. 16:17). The next verse then shows why: such false teachers will lead people away from Christ. If, through lack of courage or a perverted sense of love, we do not oppose the false teacher, we become partaker in his works (Ezek. 33:8-9; 2 Jn. 9-11). Opposition to the false teaching is designed to destroy its influence, minimize the damage done and enable us to establish the truth of Christ which sets men free.
It costs to “stand fast in the faith” (1 Cor. 16:13) and “contend for the faith” (Jude 3). But when a soldier fires at the enemy, he must expect some retaliation. Let us never suppose that when we oppose false teaching that Satan and his ministers (2 Cor. 11:13-15) will leave us alone! But “the faith” is worth living and dying for. Therefore, it is worth fighting for. Let us, then, ever study God’s word that we may know what “the faith” is, and what it is not. The idea is growing to “just look for the good in everyone and thus you won’t have time to be critical and if one is critical he is negative, weak and narrow-minded.” We should be careful for this is one of most effective ways to build a system of error and apostasy. One of the most effective ways I know to bid God speed to error is to criticize those who are faithfully preaching the gospel – a part of which is to rebuke error.
Let us recognize that the faith is “once for all delivered,” thus that anything differing from what the apostles gave is not from God. And once we have identified that faith, let us have the conviction and the courage to contend earnestly for it. I am afraid of one when asked where he stands wants “to straddle the fence.” This reminds us of the preacher who would preach on neither heaven or hell, and said it was just because he had friends in both places. God forbid!
Guardian of Truth XXXII: 14, p. 431
July 21, 1988