Our Lord associates His teaching with Himself. It is to challenge us in the light of this that He says, ‘Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words … of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed’, Mark 8. 38. We are to be faithful to Him and to His words. The Bible is the only inspired source of information about Christ. In the New Testament God’s last word has been spoken and recorded. There has been no fresh revelation given since nor is there one to be expected. Through the apostolic writings there was produced for us, once for all, our final, infallible seat of authority, the ‘commandments of the Lord’. ‘From the time that the voice of the apostles was hushed, the religion of the Church became the religion of the Book’.
And so the earnest exhortation runs
‘continue thou in the things which thou hast learned
and hast been assured of’. The influences of the Spirit of God accompany the trenchant theology of the New Testament; philosophy and mere ethics are useless as a rope of sand to bind ‘the strong man’ or to strangle sin. It is the old Gospel alone that is the remedy for man’s sin and need, as 1900 years of experience have proved.
Our inspired Text-Book abounds in exhortations to steadfastness. The church in busy, rationalistic Corinth is encouraged to ‘stand fast in the faith’, 1 Cor. 16. 13. The devoted Thessalonians are to stand their ground and maintain a firm grip on the teachings of the apostle, 2 Thess. 2. 15. In Titus, elders are charged to hold tenaciously ‘the faithful word’, 1. 9. Timothy, in his spiritual father’s last message to him, is bidden to ‘hold fast the form of sound words’, 2 Tim. 1. 13.
To remain truly conservative it is vital that we should submit to the supreme authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, and should ever acknowledge the paramount importance of the spiritual. The Holy Spirit is the Preserver of divine truth in every age.
‘let us go on’
urges the Holy Spirit in the Epistle of progress. Christian progress is not restricted to the young in the faith; growth should be life-long. There can be life without health, and movement without progress. Even the greatest of the apostles had to confess that he had not ‘already attained’. God’s children are not to remain in spiritual babyhood but are to press on to spiritual maturity. ‘He who ceases becoming better will soon cease to be good’.
If we grow, we change – at least in some respects. ‘I don’t change’, said one proudly. Was he meaning that there was no progress? Was it that there was nothing to repent of, nothing to change the mind about, nothing to do better? Since the New Testament was completed there has been no progress in the communication of divine truth; but there should be progress, constant progress in our apprehension of it.
Our ideas of progress are coloured of course by our own special emphases, by our special conception of Christian privilege and duty, by our temperament, our education, our surroundings, and by the special work to which the grace of God has called us. As we grow we gain a firmer assurance of salvation; our motives become purer; we act more from principle and less from impulse; we know more of true humility; we become more truly broadminded, that is, more ready to receive all the truth; our love for God and men deepens; we have less relish for the things of the world; we have more abiding peace in the midst of the things that happen; and the whole of life becomes more and more organised around God and His will.
As we grow, fear tends to be displaced by higher motives. A child needs ‘sanctions’, such as the threat of punishment and the desire for reward, the thrill and incentive of competition, to help him learn his lessons. But spiritual progress means advance from these elemental motives, and the cramping authority of rigid rules, to the freedom of godly principles. It is God’s wish that we should exchange the bondage of the schoolmaster for the holy liberty of the sons and daughters of God.
Full deliverance from the time-state must await until we reach our home in heaven. But as we advance, we increasingly follow what is recorded for our learning and warning instead of following our natural heart’s desire. True liberty is freedom to do the will of God.
Steadfastness and progress are
not contradictory but supplementary
Each is the complement of the other. Together they express full-orbed Christian privilege and duty.
There can be no change in ‘the faith which was once delivered unto the saints’. Here we must be staunchly conservative. Yet there is to be the change that always accompanies growth in knowledge and obedience. We are to keep on the lines; but we are to keep moving along those lines. The giant oak is the same tree as the tiny sapling; it is rooted in the same spot and possesses the same life. But what a difference in stature between the giant and the child! Again, the foundation of the building must be as firm as granite; but upon this unshakable basis can be erected the superstructure, storey upon storey, detail after detail. If one leg of a pair of compasses is firmly fixed in the paper, the other leg can safely be moved to the utmost limit, and whatever the distance between the two limbs, a perfect circle will always be described. But if the first leg is unstable and shifts, the result is confusion and failure. There must be firmness at the centre to ensure an ordered freedom at the extremities.
Peter’s closing word is an exhortation to be both conservative and progressive. He says, ‘beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness. But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’.