“. . .and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” Jude 1:3
A small house stood at the outskirts of one of our Midwestern cities. The steps to the back porch were well worn; the planks of the porch creaked at every step. It was customary to knock on the solid wooden door and then walk in. As I entered, my eye fell first on the cook stove at the far end of the room, with the coffee pot and tea kettle moved back from the fire. Next to the stove was a square table covered with a red and white checkered table cloth. As I took my seat between the stove and the table, I greeted the aged mother sitting across from me. Her skirt, neatly protected by a long apron, reached to the floor. Her black blouse was trimmed with white lace around the collar and the sleeves, and her hair was drawn back from her kind, wrinkled face in a tight knot. With the aid of her small, oval glasses she had been reading a religious periodical which she received at regular intervals from the Netherlands.* This daughter of the Afscheiding (The Secession of 1834 from the Hervormde, or State Church) still cherished in her heart the truth that had cost tears and goods back in the fatherland. She knew the pain and anguish involved in living through a reformation in the church. She had experienced the scorn and reproach of being a “secessionist.” She appreciated the contact with her fellow saints across the sea, but she also felt a strong obligation to support the cause for which they had fought so bitterly. She could become quite vehement and loquacious whenever she was called upon to contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.
In 1924 a small group of men met together to discuss ways and means of publishing a periodical that would serve as a banner of truth in the church world that was departing from the faith of the fathers as taught in our church Standards. This was not because of a dearth of Christian literature, for even then there were many and various church papers. Among them was a periodical that was called “Religion and Culture.” As its name suggests this paper strove to bridge the gap between the church and the world, between Jerusalem and Athens, between the philosophies of men and the truth of the Scriptures. The writers reasoned that as a fruit of God’s “common grace” the world with its science and philosophies could contribute toward a better understanding of the Word of God. Already then the six twenty-four hour days of Genesis 1 were brought into question. Already then the miracles of Scripture, such as the plagues of Egypt, the passing through the Red Sea and the falling of the walls of Jericho, were explained as natural phenomena. Besides, God’s favor to the wicked accounted for a general, well-meant offer of salvation, whereby God desires that all men should be saved. It was exactly to counteract these heresies then running rampant in the churches, and to defend the sound doctrine of God’s Word that the Standard Bearer was brought into existence. Once more emphasis was laid upon the antithesis between light and darkness, between the church and the world, as well as upon God’s sovereign predestination and salvation solely by grace. The chief purpose of this magazine was and is exactly to contend for the faith once delivered unto the saints, that to God may be the glory forever.
Many more instances could be cited wherein God called men to contend for the faith of which Jude speaks in his epistle. The apostle Peter had warned in his second epistle that evil days were coming, in which scoffers would walk in their own lusts and ungodly men would turn the grace of God into lasciviousness, denying our only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ. Peter had spoken before of false teachers who bring in damnable heresies, making merchandise of the souls of the saints and deceiving many within the church with their false doctrines. Jude now writes to alert the church to the fact that these deceivers were already working within the church. He finds it needful to write to those who are sanctified by the Father and preserved in Jesus Christ, in order to urge them to contend for the faith entrusted to them. This same admonition comes with equal, if not with greater force today!
As more often in Scripture, Jude speaks of faith in the objective sense, just as Paul speaks of “the faith of the gospel,” that is, the faith that is taught in the gospel. This is the truth as it is revealed to us in the Scriptures, as we know it, cherish it, and confess it. In that sense we also speak of the Christian faith that still lives on, in spite of fire, dungeon, and sword. To this truth we vow to be true till death.
This implies for us that the Scriptures are the infallible, inerrant, authoritative Word of God. The Scriptures were “inbreathed” by the Holy Spirit into the hearts and minds of holy writers. These writers did not follow old wives’ tales, nor did they present their own theories or ideas, but they were moved, guided by the Spirit of Christ, to write the revelation of the God of our salvation in Jesus Christ as sure promises to His people.
It is our abiding comfort that this is the truth once delivered unto the saints. Jude could speak of that revelation as it came to the early church particularly through the Old Testament Scriptures. Today we have the complete revelation of God in the sixty-six books of the Bible. After the Canon of Scripture was complete there is no further revelation, not by an inner voice, not by speaking in tongues, nor by any other means. Anyone who ventures to add or detract from that full revelation must experience God’s anathema (Rev. 22:18, 19). All that is necessary for us to know for our salvation and to live to God’s glory is contained in the Bible (Netherlands Confession, article 2).
We share that truth with the church of all ages. Objectively, God tells us of His very Being, His eternal perfections, His own intimate covenant life within the Trinity. He reveals to us the secrets of His heart, His eternal thoughts, plans, and purposes. He unfolds before our eyes the history of His covenant from paradise to Paradise. He bestows on the heirs of salvation His immutable promises, which cannot fail. Subjectively, God works through His Word and by His Spirit in our hearts, whereby we become new creatures, sons and daughters of the living God, so that by faith we embrace God as our Father, are assured of His promises and experience the wonder of grace that we are heirs of His kingdom, sons in His House, to devote ourselves in love to Him, dwell with Him and adore Him forever!
This faith, as it lives in the hearts of God’s saints and is formulated in our Confessions, is passed on from father to son, from generation to generation. In that common faith we experience the oneness of the body of Christ, give testimony of the hope that is within us, pass the sound doctrine of God’s Word on to the generations following, and stand ready to defend the truth over against all the onslaughts of the powers of darkness that seek to undermine and destroy it. Doctrine and life go hand in hand. Confession and walk are inseparably one.
Therefore Scripture exhorts us, even encourages us to contend for the faith that was once delivered unto the saints.
The fact is, that this faith is constantly being attacked by all the powers of darkness in this present evil world. The devil still goes about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Especially because he knows that his time is running out, he is the more determined to devise every devious plot and to resort to any fiendish tactics, often coming as an angel of light, as a preacher of the gospel, in order to undermine the truth and to destroy the church of Jesus Christ. Never before in all of history has he been so bold, so blatant in his attacks. He rallies about his cohorts within and outside of the church to question and deny those doctrines that have always had absolute certainty among us, such as, the infallibility of God’s Word, the miracles, the virgin birth, the atoning death of our Savior, His resurrection and the signs of His return. Anyone who defends those doctrines is considered “old school,” or branded a “heresy hunter.” The antithesis between church and world is wiped out in an attempt to establish a universal kingdom of Christ here on earth, in a world that stands antithetically opposed to God and His Christ.
This is the battle of the ages, in which Satan wars against God and His Christ. As Jude points out, the enemy asserted himself already before the flood, was evident in the sins of Sodom, manifested himself in the enticements of Balaam and the rebellion of Korah. The early church suffered bitter persecution under the Roman emperors. The church of the Reformation experienced untold afflictions at the hands of the Romish Church. That battle which has characterized all of history becomes evident in an increasing measure as the end approaches.
As church of Jesus Christ in this present age we have the unique privilege and calling to defend the truth as God has entrusted it to us, as we love and cherish it in our hearts. To do so we must know and maintain our Confessions, the Three Forms of Unity. We must be able to get excited about the truth as it is part and parcel of our souls. The pulpit and the printed page must never grow weary of sounding the trumpet, arousing the church to battle, and warning her of the foes within and outside the gates. The future of the church and of our sons and daughters depends on our constant watchfulness.
This is as much the calling of the individual believer as of the church in general. Jude speaks of this contending as a hand to hand combat, either on the battle field or as a wrestling match. The enemy lurks all around us, wherever we turn. He walks into our homes through our daily papers and other propaganda. He stands in the corner of our family room waiting for us to invite him in by turning the knob of the TV or radio. He seeks access into our hearts by his whisperings within, for he knows that we are our own worst enemies. He creates a false complacency, so that all the watching virgins begin to doze and fall asleep (Matt. 25:5).
Therefore God spurs us on to contend earnestly, with might and main, day and night, as long as we live. No athlete, who is out to win, will waste his body with liquor and drugs or fail to exercise strenuously. No watchman on the walls of Sion may take a nap during the night watches. God preserve you and me from dead orthodoxy, from cold indifference or complacency, lest as churches we become a stagnant pool, or as individuals lose our crown. Let us with renewed determination take up the shield of faith in our left hand, and manipulate with our right hand the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Only in doing that are we a real part of the church militant here on earth. Only in that way can we be assured that we are more than conquerors through our Lord Jesus Christ!
* This was the great, great grandmother of our present seminarian Barry Gritters, who comes from our Redlands congregation.