Truth & Error
by J. C. Philpot
There are two things which every child of God has the
greatest reason to dread—the one is evil—the other is error.
Both are originally from Satan; both have a congenial home in the human
mind; both are in their nature deadly and destructive; both have slain their
thousands and tens of thousands; and under one or the other, or under both
combined, all everlastingly perish but the redeemed family of God.
Evil—by which we mean sin in its more open and gross
form, is, in some respects, less to be dreaded than error, that is, error on
vital, fundamental points; and for the following reasons—The unmistakable
voice of conscience, the universal testimony of God's children, the
expressed reprobation of the world itself—all bear a loud witness against
gross acts of immorality. Thus, though the carnal mind is ever lusting after
evil, thorns and briers much hedge up the road toward its actual commission;
and, if by the power of sin and temptation, they be unhappily broken
through, the return into the narrow way, though difficult, is not wholly
shut out. David, Peter, and the incestuous Corinthian fell into open evil,
but they never fell into deadly error, and were not only recoverable, but,
by superabounding grace, were recovered.
But error upon the grand, fundamental doctrines of
our most holy faith is not only in its nature destructive, but usually
destroys all who embrace it.
As, however, we wish to move cautiously upon this tender
ground, let us carefully distinguish between what we may perhaps call
voluntary and involuntary error. To explain our meaning more distinctly,
take the two following cases of involuntary error by way of
illustration. A person may be born of Socinian parents, and may have imbibed
their views from the force of birth and education. Is this person
irrecoverable? Certainly not. The grace of God may reach his heart, and
deliver him from his errors, just as much as it may touch the conscience of
a man living in all manner of iniquity, and save him from his sins. Or a
child of God, one manifestly so by regenerating grace, may be tempted by the
seducing spirit of error breathed into his carnal mind by a heretic or by an
erroneous book, and may for a time be so stupefied by the smoke of the
bottomless pit as to reel and stagger on the very brink and yet not fall in.
Most of us have known something of these blasts of hell, so that we could
say with Asaph, "My feet were almost gone, my steps had well near slipped;"
but they have only rooted us more firmly in the truth. These are cases of
what we may call involuntary error.
But there is voluntary error when a man wilfully
and deliberately turns away from truth to embrace falsehood; when he is
given up to strong delusions to believe a lie; when he gives heed to
seducing spirits and doctrines of devils, and seeks to spread and propagate
them with all his power. These cases are usually irrecoverable, for such men
generally wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived; error so blinds
their eyes and hardens their hearts that they cannot or will not see
anything but what seems to favor their views, and at last they either sink
into a general state of unbelief and infidelity, or die confirmed in their
deceptions. It is scarcely possible to read the Epistles of the New
Testament, especially those of Paul to Timothy and Titus, and those of
Peter, John, and Jude, without being struck by the strong denunciations
which those inspired men of God launched, as so many burning thunderbolts,
against error and erroneous men. Any approach to their strong language, even
in opposing the most deadly error, would in our day be considered positively
unbearable, and the grossest lack of charity. It is, with most, an
unpardonable offence to draw any strong and marked lines between sinner and
saint, professor and possessor, error and truth. The ancient landmarks which
the word of truth has laid down have, almost by common consent, been
removed, and a kind of right of common has become established, by means of
which truth and error have been thrown together into one wide field, where
any may roam and feed at will, and still be considered as sheep of Christ.
It was not so in the days of Luther, of John Knox, and of Rutherford; but in
our day there is such a general laxity of principle as regards truth and
falsehood that the corruption of the world seems to have tainted the church.
There was a time in this country when, if there was
roguery in the market, it was not tolerated in the counting-house; if there
was blasphemy in the street, it was not allowed in the senate; if there was
infidelity in the debating-room, it was not allowed in the pulpit. But now
bankers and merchants cheat and lie like costermongers; Jew, Papist, and
infidel sit side by side in the House of Commons; and erroneous theology and
German divinity are enthroned in Independent chapels. It would almost seem
that Paul, Peter, John, and Jude were needlessly harsh and severe in their
denunciations of errors and erroneous men, that Luther, John Knox, and
Rutherford were narrow-minded bigots, and that it matters little what a man
believes if he be "a truly pious" man, a member of a church, a preacher, or
a professor. Old Mrs. Bigotry is dead and buried; her funeral sermon has
been preached to a crowded congregation; and this is the inscription put, by
general consent, upon her tombstone:
"For modes of faith let graceless bigots fight;
He can't be wrong whose life is in the right."
But if to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered
to the saints be bigotry, let us be bigots still; and if it be a bad spirit
to condemn error, let us bear the reproach rather than call evil good and
good evil, put darkness for light and light for darkness, bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter.
Here, then, we resume our subject, hoping, with God's
help and blessing, while we contend faithfully for the truth as it is in
Jesus, to advance nothing that may be in the least inconsistent with his
sacred word, and desiring his glory and the good of his people. But as
Abraham, when he went up the mount with Isaac, left the young men and the
donkey at the foot; as Moses put off his shoes, at God's command, when he
stood on holy ground; so must we leave carnal reasoning at the foot of the
mount where the Lord is seen, (Gen. 22:14,) and lay aside the shoes of sense
and nature when we look at the bush burning with fire and not consumed.
Four things are absolutely necessary to be experimentally
known and felt before we can arrive at any saving or sanctifying knowledge
of the truth as it is in Jesus—
1. Divine light in the understanding.
2. Spiritual faith in the heart.
3. Godly fear in the conscience.
4. Heavenly love in the affections.
Without light we cannot see; without faith
we cannot believe; without godly fear we cannot reverentially adore;
without love we cannot embrace him who is "the truth," as well as
"the way and the life."
Here all heretics and erroneous men stumble and fall. The
mysteries of our most holy faith are not to be apprehended by carnal men.
Spiritual truths are for spiritual men; as the Apostle beautifully says,
"Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of
man, the things which God has prepared for them that love him. But God has
revealed them unto us by his Spirit—for the Spirit searches all things, yes,
the deep things of God." (1 Cor. 2:9-10.) It is, therefore, utterly
impossible for men who are "sensual, having not the Spirit," to understand
any branch of saving truth, much more the deep mysteries of godliness. We
must be taught of God and receive the kingdom of heaven as a little child,
or we shall never enter therein; and it is for those who have been so led
and taught that we mainly write.
Whether we set forth truth or whether we expose error—and
we can scarcely do the one without at the same time performing the other—the
word of God must ever be the grand armory whence we take the weapons of our
spiritual warfare. This is both apostolic precept and apostolic practice.
"Take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." (Eph. 6:17.) "If
any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God." (1 Pet. 4:11.) "The
weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling
down of strongholds." (2 Cor. 10:4.)
We have little hope of convincing those who have drunk
deeply into the spirit of error. The poison is already in their veins,
vitiating in them all that once seemed like truth and simplicity. As
infidelity, when once it has got full possession of the mind, rejects the
clearest evidences from positive inability to credit them—so error,
when once it has poisoned the heart, renders it forever afterwards, in the
great majority of instances, utterly incapable of receiving the truth.
Against every text that may be brought forward in support of truth an
objection is started, a false interpretation offered, a counter statement
made, an opposing passage quoted—the object evidently being not to bow down
to truth, but to make truth bow down to error; not to submit the heart to
the word of God, but to make the word of God itself bend and yield to the
determined obstinacy of a mind prejudiced to its lowest depths.
O what a state of mind to be in! How careful, then,
should we be, how watchful, how prayerful, lest we also, "being led away
with the error of the wicked, fall from our own steadfastness." (2 Peter
3:17.) A tender conscience, a believing heart, a prayerful spirit, a
watchful eye, a wary ear, a guarded tongue, and a cautious foot, will, with
God's blessing, be great preservatives against error of every kind. But to
see light in God's light, to feel life in his life, to have sweet fellowship
and sacred communion with the Father and the Son, to walk before God in the
beams of his favor, to find his word our food and drink, and to be ever
approaching him through the Son of his love, pleading with him for his
promised teaching—this is the true and only way to learn his truth, to
believe it, to love it, and to live it.
No heretic, no erroneous man, no unbeliever ever stood on
this holy ground. That childlike spirit without which there is no entering
into the kingdom of heaven; that godly jealousy for the Lord's honor which
makes error abhorred and truth beloved; that tender fear of his great and
glorious name which leads the soul to desire his approbation and to dread
his displeasure; that holy liberty which an experimental knowledge of the
truth communicates to a citizen of Zion; that enlargement of heart, which
draws up the affections to those things which are above, where Jesus sits at
God's right hand—these, and all such similar fruits of divine teaching as
specially distinguish the living saint of God, are not to be found in that
bosom where error has erected its throne of darkness and death.
On the contrary, a vain—confident, self-righteous,
contentious, quarrelsome spirit, breathing enmity and hatred against all who
oppose their favorite dogmas, and thrust down their darling idols, are
usually marks stamped upon all who are deeply imbued with heresy and error.
They may be very confident in the soundness of their views, or in the
firmness of their own standing, but God rejects their confidences, and they
shall not prosper in them. (Jer. 2:37.)