J. W. Porter, D. D.
Editor, “The Western Recorder”
Editorial note: We are in the midst of a series of posts from the messages delivered at the Pre-Convention Conference of the Northern Baptist Convention, 1920. From the Conference the Fundamental Fellowship was formed which is today known as the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International. The messages from the conference were published in a book called Baptist Fundamentals. The book has been digitized by Maranatha Baptist University and is available as part of the Roger Williams Heritage Archives collection in Logos format, available here. Links to previous posts will appear at the end of this post.
Mr. President and Brethren, with all my heart I wish to thank you for your cordial invitation to address this distinguished body of Baptists. In my judgment, there is nothing better than Baptists, but more Baptists and better Baptists. I desire also to assure you, that I never have, and never expect to feel more “at home,” no, not even when I go home to heaven, than among you, who are contending for the like precious faith.
I shall choose, as a basis for my remarks, the words that have made The Western Recorder perhaps the most loved and hated religious paper in all the world. Yet its shame is its glory and its glory is to put to flight the enemies of the once delivered faith. It tries to thank God for its friends and its foes, and has the reputation of usually meeting the expectations of both. Let me, then, for a few minutes, exhort you to “earnestly contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.”
Contention is the law of life, from the cradle to the grave. Apparently, God has not always permitted the survival of the fittest, but in all ages and with all people, he has decreed the struggle for existence. Life begins with a gasp, and goes out with a groan, and ceaseless contention marks each step of the way. Only in the religious realm do men deny the necessity for constant contention. Alas, we have fallen upon times, when many seem to believe that one faith is as good as another, and that no faith is good enough to contend for. The man who believes one doctrine is as good as another, is doctrinally good for nothing. Practically the entire civilized world has been contending on the bloody battle-field. Millions have not counted their lives dear, that victory might come in the battle for universal freedom. Oh, that something of this same earnestness and deathless determination might characterize the soldiers of the Cross!
Sure I must fight, if I would reign;
Increase my courage, Lord;
I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain,
Supported by thy word.
Conviction and contention have the same relation as cause and effect. One will contend for that which he believes in and loves. A man must, and will, contend for his honor and for the sanctity of his home. Yea, he will lay down his life for his loved ones. Should occasion demand, I trust I too should have the loyalty to lay down my life for those I hold dearer than life; yet should God require me to choose between my family and my faith, I should unhesitatingly choose the faith once for all delivered to the saints. With a heart bursting with a boundless love, I would turn from them, sustained by the everlasting consolation that he who would not forsake father and mother, and houses and lands for “My sake,” is unworthy of the Cross and the Crown.
I am not unmindful, that owing to my contention, I am frequently referred to as “a Baptist and a half.” Surely my unconscious friends do me too much honor, though I rejoice, and will rejoice in their words of splendid praise. The man who buys bank-stock at one hundred cents on the dollar, and it becomes worth one hundred and fifty cents, surely has cause for congratulation. Among our many acquaintances we cannot now recall one, who would prefer his bank-stock being fifty per cent below par, rather than fifty per cent above. There may be such, but we have not met them.
We should bear in mind that contending for the faith is not a matter of choice, but of positive command. It is impossible to obey Christ and please God without contending for the faith. The man who will not contend for the faith is not apt to contend for the Christ. Surely we can afford to contend for him who contended with death and hell for us.
Mark you, we are not commanded to contend for faith, or a faith, but “the” faith. Saving faith is a subjective proposition; but the faith is objective. It is a correlated system of New Testament doctrines, that is subject to neither addition, nor subtraction. Many have faith in Christ, and are therefore saved, and yet do not hold, or contend for the once delivered faith.
It will not suffice to say, “My faith is all right, though there is a little error in it.” With equal propriety, we might say of a glass of water, that “It is good drinking water, though it has a little poison in it.” A pie is not acceptable to the average man, or woman, though it contain only one fly. One fly is quite enough to make saint, or sinner, say “good-bye” to an otherwise excellent pie.
The churches are on the Mountain of Temptation. Only recently they have been offered the kingdoms of this world and the glory of them, if they would substitute social service for a blood-bought redemption. If they would only open their doors to the unregenerate and the unbaptized, they were promised untold wealth, and suitable salaries for preachers. With all the earnestness of our soul we believe the success of the Interchurch Movement would mean the recrucifixion of Christ, and that too, at the hands of his professed friends. Millions of noble men and women followed in its train, and yet its attack was more deadly than any ever launched by its enemies. The rattlesnake before he strikes, gives his deadly rattle; the viper, before he vomits his venom in the veins of his victim, glares his hiss; the tiger, before he rends his prey, gives his growl; and the wild eagle, before he seizes his victim, gives his scream of warning; but this ecclesiastical Goliath, in the guise of a friend, without warning, sought the destruction of doctrines and denominations. Should it succeed, we will virtually have two popes — one on the Tiber, the other on the Hudson.
The fact that this faith was delivered to us, is quite sufficient to cause us to contend for it. We are trustees for the truth, and well may we sing “A charge to keep I have.”
We are stewards not only of dollars, but also of doctrines. Sound dollars without sound doctrines are as sounding brass and tinkling cymbals. It would prove a good investment, for time and eternity, if some of our churches would exchange all that they have for a New Testament faith. When some of our brethren become as liberal with their dollars as they are with the doctrines committed to their keeping, they will have as much, or more money, than the Interchurch Movement promised them. Personally, I would rather misappropriate entrusted funds, than the entrusted faith. As a denomination, we dare not become defaulters; we must, and by the grace of God, will not violate a sacred obligation.
Just here I am reminded that, even concerning saving faith, Baptists have all the best of it. For example, if, as some insist, we are saved by works, certainly Baptists have their share. If we are saved by baptism, Baptists have the only one that is universally esteemed scriptural. Should it finally appear to us all, as it now does to not a few, that salvation is by grace, Baptists will be more than conquerors; but what about others?
My friends, the enemy will not permit me to forget, that to those who earnestly contend for the faith, there will be applied some more or less endearing epithets. For instance, some of my somnambulistic friends occasionally refer to me as “hidebound.” Wise or otherwise, the charge is literally and figuratively true. My hide is bound to my body, and will be, I trust, till the “skin-worms” begin their task. If a “skinning” is needed, I prefer to be the skinner, rather than the “skunt.” Of course, if one’s hide was not bound to the body, he might exchange it with the same facility that characterizes the exchange of ecclesiastical cuticle by some. Should a number of our friends, who are not “hidebound,” lay off their hides, for a season, we would suggest a thorough tanning before they are returned to cover their tenements of clay, or sand, as the case may be.
Those who are set for the defense of the gospel are quite commonly termed “narrow.” For all such I must plead “guilty” to the impeachment. Truth is, and evermore must be, narrow. You may relate an incident in a thousand different ways, but it happened in only one way. We may tell many falsehoods concerning a matter, but the truth in only one way. The truth is narrow, and marked by metes and bounds. To broaden the bounds of truth is to enter the domain of falsehood. It is impossible to broaden a body of water without reducing the depth. Intellectual shallowness usually comes with spiritual broadness. We have yet to hear of a husband who compliments his wife upon her broad ideas of virtue. Social broadness concerns itself with affinities and frequently terminates in the divorce court. Political broadness often ends in the Federal penitentiary; while spiritual broadness quite frequently contents itself with “thirty pieces of silver,” without the sequel of the potter’s field. At all events, the New Testament gives us some specific information concerning two well-known ways: “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” So we see that we have a “broad” way for broad people, and a “narrow” way for narrow people. One is broad and beautiful, but its terminal conditions are not all that could be desired.
This faith is a finality, since it “was once for all” delivered to the saints. It is just as complete as is the atonement. It cannot in the very nature of the case be “progressive,” but is a fixed and unchanging quantity. The fact of the late war did not, and could not, in any way change one jot or tittle of this faith. “Time writes no wrinkles on its brow,” and it is immutable amid countless mutations. It is as divinely adapted to the needs of the twentieth century as to the first, in which it was given. There is no such thing as a new truth in theology, if that theology is built upon the New Testament. Some years ago an editor of The Recorder offered one hundred dollars for a new truth. The reward is still unclaimed.
The destructive critic, or any other agency of Satan, cannot change this faith. Hear the words of the Lord: “If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” Let us beware, lest we bring this consuming curse upon us.
Let us, then, brethren, in spite of the “perilous times” in which we live, continue to contend earnestly for the faith, until He comes and consummates our contention in millennial glory. May the God of all grace hasten the coming of the day, when obedience to the one Lord, one faith, and one baptism shall cover the world as the waters cover the sea; for then, and not till then, can Baptists cease their Christ-commanded contention for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
NOTE: Doctor Porter is editor of The Western Recorder, Louisville, Ky. He was reporting the Conference for his paper. He was called for by the Conference in response to his most generous offer to finance and publish in book form the Conference addresses. This offer was gratefully acknowledged by the Committee, but declined, as the chairman said, because Doctor Porter hailed from the land where they still believe that “only hot biscuit are fit food for Christians.” Doctor Porter is also pastor of the First Baptist Church at Lexington, Ky., and made many friends by this visit to our Convention.
Link to Baptist Fundamentals and other works available in Logos format as part of the Roger Williams Heritage Archives, produced by Maranatha Baptist University.
Baptist Fundamentals series: