Our sacred trust: Part 2
By John M. Brentnall
What is our duty, then, in the present crisis? It is to urge both ourselves and others, whenever we have the opportunity, to live and act in accordance with the glorious treasure of God’s Word that that has been entrusted to us.
What does this involve?
1. First of all, we must receive our sacred trust out of the hands of God. If only we realised what a privilege is ours: to have the very Word of God in our care! At the Reformation a certain poor English Christian gave a load of bay for one page of the Bible! So we must receive “all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27) with profound and humble gratitude for so great a gift.
This entails the work of faith, the kind of faith that corresponds to the revelation given.
(i) We must sincerely assent to its truths, without exception or reservation. There must be no picking and choosing. One modem scholar coolly tells us that we can discard the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy yet still worship our Lord Jesus Christ. This is impossible. The Christ of Holy Scripture – of Genesis 3 as well as of Revelation 22 – is the only Christ there is. Unless we believe the whole of God’s testimony to His Son, we believe in the wrong Christ. One dear minister in Scotland once prayed: “Lord, give us a right grip of the right Christ.” That Christ is the Christ of Holy Scripture, and no other. We are not free to accept or reject God’s testimony as we please. Election and reprobation, law and Gospel, depravity and holiness, justification and sanctification, heaven and hell, are all part of our sacred trust.
(ii) We must cordially embrace the spiritual realities that its truths reveal to us. It is not enough to hold for true all that God has said in Scripture because He has said it. We must also lay hold by faith of the living and true God, revealed in Christ the only Redeemer of God’s elect. We must ourselves be born again. We must ourselves be justified by grace and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. We must be infallibly convinced that we too must enter the eternal world of disembodied spirits and leave our bodies in their graves till the resurrection. True faith makes all these things substantial to us, so that they are more real to us than any earthly scene. See how Paul reminds the Thessalonian Christians of this: “our Gospel,” he says, “came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance” (1 Thessalonians 1:5). That is, they were thoroughly convinced, absolutely sure, by the Holy Spirit working in conjunction with the preached Word, of the reality of the things they heard. Is it so with us?
2. The second duty of the Church is to faithfully preserve and safeguard the sacred deposit of truth that God has committed to her.
“Buy the truth, and sell it not” (Proverbs 23:23). “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). “I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession, that thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Timothy 6:13-14). “These things teach and exhort” (1 Timothy 6:2). “The things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2) “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Colossians 3:16). “Watch ye; stand fast in the faith” (1 Corinthians 16:11). “Hold fast the form of sound words” (2 Timothy 1:11). @Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering (for He is faithful that promised)” (Hebrews 10:21). (See also Deuteronomy 4:2 and Revelation 22:18-19).
Thus we are to preserve our sacred trust entire and inviolate, in all its integrity, free from all innovation, contamination, addition or subtraction.
3. Thirdly, it is our solemn duty to identify, refute and expel every error that threatens these truths that God has so graciously revealed to us. This is the “apologetic” work of the Church – of every believer, but especially of every divinely-called and accredited teacher in the Church. Observe how Jude urges us to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). The Puritan Thomas Manton’s comments are even more relevant today than when he wrote them. Two motives, he claims, should drive us to obey this exhortation:
“(1) The preciousness of truth…. (2) The trust that is reposed in us for the next age.” He continues: “Well then let us perform the faithful part of trustees … We live in a frozen age, and cursed indifferency bath done a great deal of mischief. Christians! Is error grown less dangerous, or the truth of religion more doubtful? Is there nothing certain and worth contention, or are we afraid to meddle with such as shroud themselves under the glorious name of saints? [He is referring to the false teachers and hypocrites who have crept in unawares] … Oh! my brethren, Paul withstood Peter to the face when truth was like(ly) to suffer, (Galatians 2:11). So should we withstand them to the face … What is become of our zeal? “There is none valiant for the truth upon the earth” (Jeremiah 9:3) … We have been railing at one another for lesser differences, and now we begin to be ashamed of it … Ah! my brethren, it is time to awake out of sleep.”
May we lay Manton’s stirring remarks to heart, lest we are found sleeping on the mast in the storm that threatens to sink the Church of our day. [Perhaps it would be more appropriate to speak of the doldrums which threaten to lull us into the sleep of death, leaving the ship of the Church to drift aimlessly on the tide of time.)
4. Finally, the Church has the further duty of explaining Holy Scripture according to its true sense and educating its members and children in all its truths. What a wonderful picture we are shown in Nehemiah 8 of the covenant people of God requesting their religious teachers to read and explain the Word of their God to them! How attentive they were when the Holy Scriptures were opened to them! And how overwhelmed with grief they were when the full extent of their failure to keep God’s standards was brought home to them! There in the great street before the Water Gate they were thoroughly instructed and cleansed by the refreshing power of God’s Holy Word. “And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground” (Nehemiah 8:6). Little wonder that such a powerful application of the law of God by the Holy Spirit was accompanied by deeply-felt confession of sin, a renewal of their covenant with God, and the putting away of their idolatrous relationships and practices. “Reading, hearing, believing, obeying the Word always brings spiritual revival with humiliation, self-judgment, confession and true worship” (Merrill F Unger).
We hear much about “revival” today. Conference papers are devoted to it; prayer meetings concentrate on it; books are published describing it. But where do the people of God listen communally, reverently, believingly, obediently to the reading and interpreting of the Word of God? Indeed, when have the people of God shown such hunger for His Word, even to hear the worst about themselves, that they have requested their teachers to explain and apply its truths “from morning till mid-day” both “the men and the women, and those that could understand”? And when have the people of God been prepared to stand every day for seven days while “the book of the law of God” has been read to them? The old Scottish communion seasons were the nearest approach to such devotion to God and His demands. When shall we see their like again?
And where do we stand in relation to our duty to our children, who are not primarily ours, but are God’s covenant children? [For proof of this, consider that when the Jews had sold themselves to paganism to such an extent that they sacrificed their own sons and daughters to pagan idols, God complains: “Thou hast slain my children.” He calls them those “whom thou hast borne unto me” (Ezekiel 16:20-21)]. Also, everything that God has revealed to us, especially His holy law of love, must not only be laid up in our own heart, but must be spoken of in the home and taught to our children. “Hear, 0 Israel, the LORD our God is one LORD: and thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart, and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up” (Deuteronomy 6:4-7).
Does not the apostle John single out the little children within the Church to teach and encourage as distinct from the young men and fathers? (1 John 2:12-13). Does not the apostle Paul address them particularly concerning their duty to parents as members of the household of faith? (Ephesians 6.1-3). Does he not remind Timothy of his great privilege in having known the Holy Scriptures since childhood? (2 Timothy 3:15). And are we not enjoined to hand down our priceless heritage to our children, trusting God’s promise to make them true heirs with us? (Psalm 90:16; 103:17; 102:18). There is a precious promise to praying believers in Psalm 102. It is particularly beautiful in the Scottish metrical version:
God in His glory shall appear,
When Zion He builds and repairs.
He shall regard and lend His ear
Unto the needy’s humble prayers.
Th’afflicted’s prayer He will not scorn.
All times this shall be on record:
And generations yet unborn
Shall praise and magnify the Lord.
May we take heart from its light and comfort, and press on in endeavouring to fulfil our sacred trust.