Contending Earnestly for the Faith
By Benjamin Franklin
(The following piece was written by one of the great preachers of a former generation. A man who lived and died late in the nineteenth century and who made a valuable contribution to the growth and spiritual prosperity of the church. He was the founder and editor of The American Christian Review. The militant attitude of this man was characteristic of his peers and the reason for a growing and triumphant church. He laid a foundation and built upon it. He knew what he believed, why he believed it, and would not hesitate to tell others about it - and defend it. When the church generally returns to this unashamed commitment to the saving gospel, she will grow again. In the meantime there are still a few who can sincerely sing, "I'm not ashamed to own my Lord, Nor to defend his cause: Maintain the honor of his word. The glory of his cross.")
An apostle has thought it needful to enjoin upon us, "Earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints." An old soldier of the cross, when about to put off his armor, rejoiced that he had fought a good fight, kept the faith, and finished his course. In the course of his warfare, we are informed that he disputed two whole years in a certain school, or contended for the faith. This warfare, disputing, or contending, is an advocacy, a defense and a maintenance of the faith once delivered to the saints. The first thing, in order to this advocacy, is to ascertain what the faith once delivered to the saints is, and the next thing is to advocate it, maintain and defend it with every power. The faith exists in two forms:
1. In its concentrated embodied or constitutional form, as it is presented for the confession of the new convert, in a single proposition, that it may be received or rejected by either an affirmative or a negative answer.
2. In its fully developed or detailed form, as we find it spread upon the pages of the Christian scriptures. This is the creed of the church, by which she is governed and guided in all her journey through this world.
The whole of the detailed or fully developed creed, so far as its truth or authority is concerned, is in the concentrated, embodied or constitutional creed. Indeed, the whole system of Christianity was in purpose of God, which he purposed in Christ before the world in the promise to Abraham, in the good news borne by the angels to the shepherds of Bethlehem, in the last commission, was in the announcement, "This is My Son, the beloved, in whom I am well pleased," in the confession of Peter, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God," the same that John testified that we might believe, when he said, "These things are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God," or that God uttered in the mountain when he gave him honor and glory, or the same is contained in any one of these that is contained in the gospel. Any one of these expressions, and many others that could be maintained, contain Christianity in its concentrated, embodied, or constitutional form. These all embrace Christ. All Christianity centers in him, comes from him, and is authorized by him. Through the holy witnesses of Jesus men are made acquainted with Christ, convinced that he is a divine person, the Son of God and the Savior of the world; and, in the confession, receive him as their only leader. This is simply receiving Christianity in its constitutional form, without having examined its details, or knowing what they are. We do not, therefore, read Christianity through, sitting in judgment, as we do merely human composition, noticing every expression to see whether it is true. When we become acquainted with the author, and find him sent from God, declared his Son in his resurrection from the dead, divine and infallible, we place ourselves under him, and receive his holy instructions implicitly, only wishing to know that they are from him.
Christianity, therefore, in its embodied, or constitutional form, embraces Christianity in its details. The faith once delivered to the saints is simply Christianity, the complete system as the Lord gave it. All who have confessed Christ intelligently have received Christianity and committed themselves to it. This is the faith, that which is to be advocated, maintained, and defended. The man who has received it with the whole heart, practices it, and enjoys it, is a Christian. The requirement of heaven resting upon him is to earnestly contend for the faith, advocate it, maintain and defend it. This the adversary has tried to defeat by a thousand stratagems. We beg leave to notice a few of these:
1. One plan is to stop the defense of the faith, or at least to check the force of him who defends it, is to call his preaching controversial preaching, or the preacher a controversialist, and then add, that "I do not like controversial preaching." Any man who will discriminate in his preaching what Christianity is, and what it is not, the way to heaven and the way that leads not there, that which is for God and not for him, for the law of God and not for it, is called a controversialist, and the pitiful and childish complaint comes up that he has hurt my feelings! What is the object of such a whining complaint? Simply to induce some weak brethren to hold back the preacher, and beg him not to preach doctrinal preaching today, for some of our friends, the sects, are present. The preacher is duly informed, and if he happens to be a coward, he shrinks, decides to preach a pretty little sermon that will touch no place, have nothing in it and maintain nothing. The audience walks away quietly. Someone inquires cautiously, "How do you like our preacher?" "Very much indeed; he is just such a man as I love to hear," is the reply. The enemy has gained his point. He has sealed the lips of the preacher, or what is the same thing, forbidden the preaching of anything that has any force in it, or that will do any good.
2. Another method of the enemy to avoid maintaining the faith is to preach philosophy bound off into the fog, into mysticism, where the people can not understand what it is. In that case they will not be offended, for they cannot tell whether it is right or wrong. They cannot understand it, but think it is deep, as they cannot see into it. Muddy water always looks deep. They spend their time in nice distinctions, splitting hairs, which never was of any profit, only to try a razor to see how sharp it is. These puzzle people to determine which side they are on, whether they are for the faith or against it. What an advocacy this! What a defense of the faith! What teaching this! What an advocacy that, which contains nothing, amounts to nothing, and cannot be understood! If there is anything to be deprecated, it is a professed advocacy of Christianity that never states it, never sets it forth, and never shows what it is. No man can advocate Christianity who does not describe it, discriminate between it and everything else, and defend it in its native purity as the Lord gave it. We have listened to whole discourses that contained scarcely a quotation from Jesus or the apostles, all beautiful fine and elegant, possibly all true; but no man could tell whether the preacher was a Jew or a Christian, a Mohammedan or a Mormon, an infidel or a Greek, so far as anything of a distinguishing character contained in it. It has no Jesus in it, no God in it, no Holy Spirit, no blood of Christ, no Bible, no church, nor anything that could possibly make a man think of turning to God, repenting of sin, or respecting divine authority. Still, the people were pleased, praised the preacher and loved to hear him! These men do not intend to bear the cross, to endure hardness as good soldiers, not to despise the shame. They shrink from the defense of the faith, and cater to a vitiated, popular taste and public sentiment. They are determined to please man at the hazard of displeasing God. These are of no consequence any place. They look not into the Bible to know what should be taught, but are simply looking to the popular caprice of the people.
Some men want a paper of this kind: one that would circulate palatably any place, touch no place, defend nothing, and amount to nothing. We know a few poor, unhealthy, feeble creatures, who would have us send forth a kind of milk water concern, that a man might read half a year without knowing where we stand. This, however, we shall not do. We are not trying to please man, but God. We shall, to the extent of our ability, describe Christianity, discriminate between it and everything else, and defend it. We shall at the same time try to do this in the utmost kindness, the most respectful terms, but as plainly as it can possibly be done. Christianity never was maintained, manfully and nobly advocated, without a struggle. It will never be. We, as a religious body, have fought many hard battles. We have won a glorious victory, established ourselves in defiance of all opposition. The field is now open before us, and if we push the conquest forward, we can do more in one year than we have ever done in five. There is not a place where the cause is advocated, in kindness, affectionately, and with power, without success. On the other hand, no success attends sermonizing or theorizing, that does not define, illustrate, and advocate pure Christianity as it was in the beginning. A man who merely talks, but does not advocate anything, as a matter of course, does not promote the cause of Christ. Christianity must be maintained, as the Lord gave it, against all encroachments, subversions, and attacks of every description. It has its enemies, opposers, and corrupters, aiming to defeat it. It is our duty to maintain the ground we have gained, hold fast our begun confidence steadfast to the end, and see that none turn back to the weak and beggarly elements of the world. We are right in aim, and what remains for us is to push on, illustrate, unfold, and maintain the cause. We hope the brethren will keep their eye upon every man who shrinks from a defense of the faith, preaches sermons that have nothing in them, and brings not the Lord before the people. The Lord will be ashamed of them when he comes in power and great glory. They would have forsaken the Lord and his apostles in the midst of their persecutions.