Charles Hodge: Nothing but truth can really do good

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Charles Hodge, in his commentary on Romans 14, makes a point that Christians do well to consider in apologetics and other forms of conversation and discussion, especially in the age of social media.

It is, therefore, of great importance to keep the conscience free; under no subjection but to truth and God. This is necessary, not only on account of its influence on our own moral feelings, but also because nothing but truth can really do good. To advocate even a good cause with bad arguments does great harm, by exciting unnecessary opposition; by making good men, who oppose the arguments, appear to oppose the truth; by introducing a false standard of duty; by failing to enlist the support of an enlightened conscience, and by the necessary forfeiture of the confidence of the intelligent and well informed. The cause of benevolence, therefore, instead of being promoted, is injured by all exaggerations, erroneous statements, and false principles, on the part of its advocates.

According to Hodge, therefore, it matters not just what we say, but how we say it. The Lord, of course, can bring good out of evil, but as the Scripture teaches elsewhere, we are not just called to “speak the truth,” but to do so “in love” (Eph. 4:15). Hodge makes note of this in his commentary on Ephesians:

…the apostle, while condemning all instability with regard to faith, and while denouncing the craft of false teachers, immediately adds the injunction to adhere to the truth in love. It is not mere stability in sound doctrine, but faith as combined with love that he requires.

To truth, then, must be added that which is good. The presentation of truth must be done in love. In this way, Christians glorify God after the most excellent way (1 Cor. 12:31). Love “rejoiceth in the truth” (1 Cor. 13:6). Love, therefore, is the motive for “speaking the truth,” and as such, we must remember not only how to declare to others that which is true, but also to do in a manner consistent with the gospel of God’s grace. As Hodge also notes (again, in his commentary on Ephesians):

It is possible "to hold the truth in unrighteousness;" to have speculative faith without love. The character most offensive to God and man is that of a malignant zealot for the truth.

Hodge, then, emphasizes in these commentaries the unity of purpose in speaking truth in the right manner, and so glorifying God both in what we say, and in how we say it. May such a unity of purpose be the aim of all Christians who desire to exemplify that “more excellent way.”

Archibald Alexander on "an indissoluble connexion"

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We all have need of nourishment from the Word of God, and edification and encouragement from godly books. Some points to consider today from Archibald Alexander’s Thoughts on Religious Experience, p. 44 (1850 ed.):

It is a lamentable fact that in this land of churches and of Bibles, there are many who know little more of the doctrines of Christianity, than the pagans themselves. The proper inference from the fact stated is, that they are egregiously in error, who think that the religious education of children, is useless, or even injurious; and their opinion is also condemned who maintain that it matters little what men believe provided their lives are upright. All good conduct must proceed from good principles; but good principles cannot exist without a knowledge of the truth. "Truth is in order to holiness;" and between truth and holiness there is an indissoluble connexion. It would be as reasonable to expect a child born into an atmosphere corrupted with pestilential vapour, to grow and be healthy, as that spiritual life should flourish without the nutriment of the pure milk of the word, and without breathing in the wholesome atmosphere of truth. The new man often remains in a dwarfish state, because he is fed upon husks; or, he grows into a distorted shape by means of the errors which are inculcated upon him. It is of unspeakable importance that the young disciple have sound, instructive, and practical preaching to attend on. It is also of consequence that the religious people, with whom he converses, should be discreet, evangelical, and intelligent Christians; and that the books put into his hands should be of the right kind.

How to Contend Earnestly for the Faith Once Delivered to the Saints

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Book 7 of Samuel Baird’s Digest (formally titled A Collection of the Acts, Deliverances, and Testimonies of the Supreme Judicatory of the Presbyterian Church From Its Origin in America to the Present Time, published in 1856) is entitled “Heresies and Schisms.” It is filled with details about the controversies in the Presbyterian Church in the 18th and 19th century. Baird opens Book 7 with a quote from the 1806 General Assembly Minutes (one of these days we hope to have all the 18th and 19th century GA Minutes available on our site) that is both time-bound and timeless. May the Lord enable us to hold to and contend for the truth in holiness and love.

We live at a time when it become a duty peculiarly incumbent, to “contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints.” It will however be remembered , that the sacred cause of truth can never be promoted by angry controversy or railing accusation. It is therefore recommended to the churches to vindicate the truth, not only by sound and temperate discussion, but also and especially by the manifestation of its sanctifying and transforming power over the life and conversation; and by evincing that “the like mind is in us which was in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

It should ever be recollected, that error in doctrine has a native tendency to produce immorality in practice; and therefore, that we should not be carried about by every wind of doctrine. Let us prove all things, and hold fast that which is good. This caution, it is hoped, will be received with attention and solemnity, inasmuch as the Church has been of late invaded by errors which strike at the very foundation of our faith and hope; such as the denial of the Godhead and atonement of the blessed Redeemer, the subjection of the Holy Scripture to the most extravagant impulses of the heart of man. These, and other errors of a dangerous nature, have been industriously, and, alas! that the Assembly should be constrained to add, in some portions of our country, too successfully disseminated.