Advancing the Truth

Given a lifetime of going to school--first as a student and then as a teacher--it should not be surprising that I view the autumn, not the new year in January, as the time of fresh beginnings. All across this continent seminary students and professors stand on the threshold of a new year. The best of them have come together to spend time reading and meditating on Holy Scripture, studying theology and the history of the church, learning Greek and Hebrew, worshipping and praying together, and learning how to serve the church. These schools do so in the hope that their communities would be two things: places of truth and Christian integrity and places of Christian love and genuine community. The eighteenth-century Baptist theologian Andrew Fuller once brought both of these things together in a beautiful passage when he observed that it is not by “converting the pulpit into a stage of strife…that truth is promoted.” Rather, it is “by reading, by calm and serious reflection, by humble prayer, and by a free and friendly communication of our thoughts to one another in private conversation, that truth makes progress.”[1]

Of course there is a time for clear proclamation that does not shrink from controversy--Fuller knew this better than anyone of his day. But it is noteworthy the means he cited for the advance of the truth. Truth advances by:

· reading · reflection/meditation on what has been read · prayer · fellowship.

Where did Fuller learn about the importance of truth? From Scripture. For example, one of the results of the outpouring of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost was the fact that those who were converted on that day “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42). The teaching and preaching of the Apostles became food for their souls and a light for their path.

And many years later, when the Apostle Paul came to write what was his final letter to Timothy, he urged his close friend to guard jealously the treasure of apostolic doctrine that had been committed to his care, and to do this in reliance upon the Holy Spirit who indwelt him (2 Timothy 1:13-14). After a lifetime of ministry Paul well knew that the faithful transmission of orthodox doctrine from one generation to another cannot be done without the keeping power of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, in urging Timothy to rely upon the Spirit for help in this regard, Paul is obviously convinced that doctrine matters to the Spirit of God and that when he comes to indwell a man or a woman he gives that person a concern for truth and doctrine.

Finally, it is not at all fortuitous that our Lord calls the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of truth” (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13). He is the One who imparts the truth in the Scriptures to the people of God, illumines it for them, and enables them to put it into practice.

Looking at this from the perspective of subjective experience, we can say that the New Testament bears eloquent witness to the fact that solid doctrine is essential to sound spirituality. In the words of Charles Haddon Spurgeon: the coals of orthodoxy are ever necessary for the fire of spirituality.[2] Where orthodox doctrine is regarded as unimportant, the fire of Christian piety will inevitably be quenched.

[1] “Remarks on Two Sermons by W.W. Horne” (Complete Works, III, 582).

[2] This phrase is attribted to Spurgeon by David Kingdon, “C H Spurgeon and the Downgrade Controversy” in his et al., A Marvelous Ministry. How the All-round Ministry of C H Spurgeon Speaks to Us Today (Ligonier, Pennsylvania: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1993), 128. See also the remarks of Robert M. Bowman, Jr., Orthodoxy & Heresy. A Biblical Guide to Doctrinal Discernment (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1992), 18-20.