Jude 3 “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.”
In his book defending the principle that nations should support the true religion, Thomas M’Crie makes several instructive points about religious controversy.
1. The danger of becoming prejudiced against all contending for the truth. Even people who seem to be devoted Christians, M’Crie says, may indiscriminately condemn or disregard all controversy, as if it were unprofitable and harmful. This often arises as an overreaction against a sinful delight in controversy. He notes that such an overreaction is contrary to Jude 3, and is often “a symptom of indifference and lukewarmness in religion.” The lukewarm dislike the trouble of distinguishing truth from error, and the labour involved in searching out the path of duty. In short, it is an excuse for “ignorance and indolence.”
2. The opposite danger of an unhealthy delight in controversy. M’Crie acknowledges that men may raise frivolous and speculative questions, or engage in lawful controversy in a harmful manner. This arises when men do not aim at the glory of God and the edification of the Church. They become “more eager about their own reputation than the credit of a good cause.” William Plumer quotes an old saying that captures the balance: “Dost thou love controversy? Suspect thy charity. Dost thou abhor controversy? Suspect thy Christianity.”
3. Every truth of Scripture either has, or may, become the subject of controversy. M’Crie observes, “Divisions are among the offences which our Lord hath said ‘must needs come’ and on account of which a woe is pronounced upon the world, as well as on those who are the sinful cause of them (Matthew 18:7). They have been eminently the trial of Christians, and are particularly so in the present times. But there are necessary purposes to be effected by them; and ‘blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in Christ’ on their account (Matthew 12:6). They give a loud call to everyone in his station, and according to his opportunity, to endeavour to have his judgment informed, impartially to weigh the merits of every public and interesting question, that he may be ready to take his side, and act such a part as duty and integrity require.”
“Though none should ‘go forth hastily to strive’ either privately or publicly, or delight in wrangling and contention, yet there are times and situations in which the most [peace-loving Christians] may be unavoidably involved in contests, which they are not at liberty nor dare to shun.”
4. When Christians become lukewarm, or absorbed in the business of this world, they lose interest in contending for the truth. They become incapable of “proving all things” by Scripture. “He that is spiritual judgeth all things” (1 Corinthians 2:15). The Saviour was so far from lukewarmness concerning irregularities in the Church that He could say, “The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.” For example, while the Church in Thyatira abounded in charity and good works, Christ nonetheless rebuked them for “a few things” that were amiss (Revelation 2:20). Even the Church in Pergamos, which had been courageous in persecution, did not escape His loving reproof (Revelation 2:13-14).
5. People may be convinced about the principle being contended for, but be unwilling to stand for it. M’Crie says that this unfaithfulness renders all knowledge of truth and duty to be fruitless. “They will sometimes pay a just compliment to [truth] in speech, while in practice they desert and dishonour it…They will sometimes condemn and lament many evils which yet they support, or concur with those who do so.”
“This is even something worse than sinful ignorance or indifference; it is plain dishonesty. It flows not from defect of light, but from [lack] of conscience and religion. ‘To him that knoweth to do good, and doth it not, to him it is sin’ (James 4:17). Many persons of this description have been found in all corrupt churches, and in degenerate times.” M’Crie warns that this unfaithfulness, even in small things, is “an alarming symptom, as it indicates a [lack] of conscience and integrity, which would operate in things of the greatest magnitude.”
6. No truth in Scripture can be given up for the sake of peace. “Whatever belongs to the system of religion and morality has its own place, importance, and use,” M’Crie says. The duty of testifying and contending for a truth does not depend on the comparative importance of that truth. “For whosoever shall break one of these least commandments, he shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19). He that is unfaithful in that which is least, is unfaithful also in much (see Luke 16:10).
Further, it is easy to undervalue certain principles or duties. They may seem not worth contending for. But we often do not see the many problems that will arise by refusing to defend them. Only a little leaven will leaven the whole lump.
7. Professing Christians do not choose which truths they will contend for. Providence calls them to pay particular attention to the issues that arise in their daily life. This may include errors and sins that are spreading throughout society. But we should focus especially on the ones which are arising closer to home. For instance, our society is madly attempting to redefine marriage and gender, but a more pressing issue at home may be poor attendance at prayer meetings, or declining standards of Sabbath keeping. M’Crie says that dealing with these problems that arise locally become “a more distinguished and immediate test of faithfulness” than dealing with issues that arise far away.
Rev C J Hembd