Often maligned and under suspicion, “but” can fall on hard times. Some of it justified. Heretics use “but” to obscure error. We use it to excuse sin. And both practices are due to sin against the first “but”—“But thou shalt not eat of the tree” (Gen. 2:17). The fact is, “but” is essential to the Word of God, which came not by the will of man, but by the Holy Ghost (II Pet. 1:21). And without “but,” there is no gospel antithesis between God and man, sin and grace, law and gospel, truth and lie, salvation and damnation, heaven and hell, or life and death.
But God. Men make idols, but God made the heavens (Ps. 96:5). Idols are dead, but God lives (Hab. 2:20). With men salvation is impossible, but with God all things are possible (Matt. 19:26). Not many wise men are called, but God has chosen the foolish (I Cor. 1:26-27). Men plant, but God gives the increase (I Cor. 3:6). Men thought evil, but God meant it for good (Gen. 50:20). Men slew Jesus, but God raised Him from the dead (Acts 13:29-30). We were dead in sin, but God has quickened us with Christ (Eph. 2:1-5). We are tempted, but God is faithful (I Cor. 10:13). So faith confesses: We die like sheep, but God will redeem me from the grave; my heart fails, but God is the strength of my heart and portion forever (Ps. 49:15; 73:26).
But Jesus. He said: I came not to be ministered unto, but to minister; I came not to send peace, but a sword; I came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it (Matt. 20:28; 10:34; 5:17); I came not to destroy men’s lives, but to save them; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (Luke 9:56; 5:32); you have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you; he that follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life; and no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me (John 15:16; 8:12; 14:6). Jesus taught: We live not by bread, but by the Word of God (Matt. 4:4); many are called, but few are chosen (Matt. 20:16); the harvest is plenteous, but laborers are few (Matt. 9:37); the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matt. 26:41).
The gospel but. God said, “I will destroy man, but Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord” (Gen. 6:8). The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life (Rom. 6:23). Faith is counted for righteousness to him that works not, but believes on Him that justifies the ungodly (Rom. 4:5). Salvation is not of him that wills nor runs, but of God that showeth mercy (Rom. 9:16). He saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done, but according to His mercy by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost (Tit. 3:5). God saved us and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace given us in Christ Jesus before the world began (II Tim. 1:9). There is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit (Rom. 8:1). You have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption (Rom. 8:15). You are born again, not of corruptible seed, but incorruptible seed by the living Word (I Pet. 1:23). Reckon yourselves to be dead unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ (Rom. 6:11). Sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under the law but under grace (Rom. 6:14). For you were as sheep going astray, but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls (I Pet. 2:25).
But still more. He that despises holiness, despises not man but God, who hath also given unto us His Holy Spirit (I Thess. 4:8). He that doeth good is of God, but he that doeth evil hath not seen God (III John 1:11). Let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth (I John 3:18). He that loves his brother abides in the light, but he that hates his brother is in darkness (I John 2:10-11). But if you have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth: this wisdom descends not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish (James 3:14-15). Here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come (Heb. 13:14). And God be thanked that you were the servants of sin, but have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine delivered to you (Rom. 6:17).