The Stewardship of the Faith.
The following address was delivered at the B. Y. P. U. Encampment, at Estill Springs, Tennessee, June 25, 1907. As many of the brethren expressed a desire to see it in print, I hereby comply, after having given it to my Bible Class.
On occasions like this, with limited time and a great subject, it is necessary to boil down to the last degree. Yet too much boiling boils dry or boils away. As I want to say something, and don’t want that to be dry, I must not boil too much. I could not cry if I try, yet if my eyes are dry, I hope my mouth will not be, nor your ears. Often the dryness is charged to the speaker’s mouth, when it is altogether in the hearer’s ears. I don’t believe in dry doctrines, not even in dry grace; for the grace that bringeth salvation is a bloody grace, while the body washed in pure water is the dedication that grace has ordained for service.
Christ Took to Water Before He Took to Service. And that was for our example. And then, by all authority in heaven and upon earth, he gave us his commanding precept as well as example. "Make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them all things whatsoever I have commanded." The baptizing and teaching are in the process of discipling. Disciple first to Christ for salvation, then disciple into His doctrine for service, and baptism stands between as the solemn profession of the first and the solemn dedication to the other.
So the gospel order for all men in all the age is Salvation, Baptism, Service. As sure as faith comes before baptism, and as sure as salvation and its blessings are predicted of faith, and there is nothing surer, so sure is salvation before baptism. On this all Baptists are agreed. Now, just as sure as salvation is before baptism, that sure must baptism come after salvation. Who said so? The all authority in heaven and earth. And who is he that says that yon may stop at salvation? Who is he? Where is he? What is he? Never will I excuse one from baptism. Now, another step. Listen, preachers! Just so sure as salvation and baptism come before service, just so sure must service come after baptism. And who is he that marks his Master’s sheep and turns them loose, to starve and waste their wool? The unfaithful shepherd. And who is he that would turn the sheep loose without even a mark? Who? The traitor. The child should be clothed, and the soldier should be uniformed. Not clothed to become a child, nor uniformed to become a soldier, but because they are. As many as have been baptized unto Christ have put on Christ. The most shameful nakedness in this world is that found in the service of Christ. O, that they were clothed upon so as not to be found naked. Those not having this wedding garment will be found speechless. A patch on the forehead is neither uniform, nor clothing. Thomas Aquinas said: If there is not water enough for the body, let the head be dipped. If a man is going to serve Christ only with his head, let that be first baptized, or he will think wrong and wrongly. If only with his month, let that be baptized also, or it will talk wrongly. If his hands are also for service, let them be baptized, or they will work wrongly. And if his feet are also for service, let them, too, be baptized, or they will walk wrongly. A defect in the foundation makes the whole superstructure defective. This may be in bad taste, but it is not tasteless or dry, for "there is much water there." A bad taste is better than no taste, and often better than a sweet taste. I don’t want you to sing, when I am through, "How tedious and tasteless the hour."
This is my prelude; now watch my interlude, and see how I conclude. I must first emphasize Stewardship—the Stewardship of the faith. Then faith—the steward of the Faith. Then the two definite articles—the stewardship of the faith. The last may seem narrow, but definite articles are narrow, and the truth is narrow, and so is the way. Let us walk today in the narrow way.
A steward is a servant, hired to manage a fund or trust,, according to instructions. Hence, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. They must have an abiding consciousness, that what they have they received as a trust, to be guarded and used and distributed according to the will of the owner. The fund or trust was his before it was theirs; his, while it seems to be theirs; and his, by the same right when they give it out for him, or back to him. Stewardship requires careful deliberation, intelligent consideration and diligent administration of what belongs to another. In the case assigned me, and which we are to consider, the interest is so great as to require a co-stewardship, or brotherhood of stewards, and this requires a personal fellowship and active co-operation that recognizes that it and each and all belong to the owner. Whether goods, or faculties of mind or heart, or spiritual gifts—all were given and received that they might be wisely used and imparted.
Let several Scriptures settle the Principle involved. Then the Scriptures that contain the terms; then it will be easy to draw reasonable and right conclusions.
First then, the Scriptures containing the Principles involved; then those containing the terms. I have taken Jude, verse 3, as a firm foundation on which to build my argument:
3 Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints.
The Stewardship is in the "earnestly contending;" the Trust is here called "The Faith;" and the Stewards are "The Saints." Jude begun with all diligence to write of the common salvation, but the Holy Spirit impressed him that it was more needful for him to write and exhort, that these Stewards should be earnest in their Stewardship of this great Trust, which was once for all delivered to the saints. And as the Trust was to be perpetuated "once for all," so there must be a perpetuity of faithful Stewards, with an earnestness of Stewardship adequate to all emergencies. It is of the utmost importance to know who the Stewards are, what Stewardship involves, and what the Trust is. What is this called here "The Faith?" And who are these called "The Saints?" I am sure we will .all agree on the first answer to be given, but I fear we will not all agree on the second. I shall earnestly contend for a baptized and organized Christianity, called "the church," and not the saints unorganized, though baptized. The gospel is to be preached not only to the lost for salvation, but also to the saved for service.
"Saved to Serve."
Let us go first to the last part of the commission—Matthew 28:20. "Teaching them" (all the baptized disciples) "to keep safely" (the same as contend earnestly); and the "all things whatsoever commanded" is the same as "the faith once for all delivered." That this trust or commission was given to the church, a pattern of which he had built once for all, is evident from the sets of the Apostles, where the Lord added to the church those disciples, made and baptized, and that "every day." Unorganized Christianity has no trust or commission, as unorganized anything is incompetent to do anything. Persecution was made "against the church;" the gates of Hades tried to "prevail against the church," for unorganized Christianity never did offend anybody or defend anything. Material for a building is of no account until it is fitted into its place in the building. The loose, left-over pieces, go to the scrap-pile for waste or for fuel. An unorganized saint that cares not to be baptized, or to join a church, would not care for the rest of the "like precious faith." He that is unfaithful in that which is least, would be unfaithful also in the much, and is unworthy and unfit to be a steward of anything for Christ.
My next Scripture is taken from John, 14:15-17:
15 If ye love me, keep my commandments. 16 And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever. 17 Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him;. for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.
As in the commission, the individuals, whether members, preachers, or apostles, were not to continue by reason of death, and as the divine presence was to continue through all the days to the end of the age with the "Ye," "You" and "Them," therefore Christ viewed them, not as individuals, or officers, but as an organization, which was to continue throughout the ages according to the hell-defying fiat of the all-authority in heaven and on earth. "The science of omission" here is the nescience of infidelity. So in the above. The "Keep" is the same word mistranslated "Observe" in the commission; and the "Ye" are the Stewards, with whom the Spirit was to abide forever; while the "Commandments" answer to "The Faith;" and by "earnestly contending for the faith once for all delivered," the Stewards are "to keep safely the all things whatsoever commanded." In 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, we see this Spirit of Truth was to dwell or abide in the church. Hence, the "Ye" and "You" must be as abiding as the abiding Spirit.
See the same Principle in John 15:13, 14 and 19.
13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. 14 Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. (Not those who keep the essentials, but the all things whatsoever.) 19 If ye were of the world, the world would love his own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.
He chose them out of the world and called them together, and these two make the ecclesia or church, a chosen-out and called-together body. He taught about his church in Matthew 16th and 18th chapters nearly a year before this. These personal pronouns must not hide the church. We will see about this further on. Here his "friends" are the Stewards, the "whatsoever I command" is the Trust, and, the "Do" is a part of the stewardizing. The verb is used in Luke 16:2. The Principle of the Stewardship of the Faith is here clearly set forth, and the Stewards will be shown to be, not promiscuous persons, but saints, walking in the light and life and love and law of their Lord. The all things whatsoever include baptism and church membership. "To the church of God at Corinth, called saints." I say again, saints not in the church are unworthy of Stewardship, even in things that are least. See this Principle again set forth in Acts, 20:17, 28-31.
17 And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church, and said to them. . . 28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, in the which the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. (This flock or church of God was the one at Ephesus.) 29 For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. 31 Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.
These elders or bishops were "in the church." He has no offices out of the church. The Lord has provided for the edification and perfecting of the church by giving them officers; but unbaptized and non-church saints he has made no de. posit with as long as they are out of the church. The all-authority in heaven and on earth calls for their baptism in water and then addition to the church. Till then nothing is required at their hands and nothing committed to their trust-in a word, unbaptized and non-church Christians are not the Stewards of The Faith. The Holy Spirit never wasted ink on nondescript Christians. This church of God at Ephesus was a flock, to be flocked and fed, fattened and fleeced, to be watched over and warned of false apostles and elders, both outside and inside, who wanted to corrupt The Faith. These grievous wolves were trying to get in among them, that is, in the church at Ephesus, and their object was, by false doctrine, "to draw away disciples after them," "not sparing the flock." Christ commended this church for proving these false fellows liars. The elders or bishops were the leading Stewards, ‘so that if the church should be destroyed by these wolves, their office would cease, as the offices are in the church. "The saints, bishops and deacons" constitute the church, so that the no-church saints can have no officers for their upbuilding in disobedience. That the churches are the Stewards of the Faith, see Romans 16:17:
17 Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.
The "Ye" and "You" and "Brethren," who were to do the judging, marking and avoiding, were the Stewards of the Faith, and their Stewardship consisted in keeping and earnestly contending for it, as once for all delivered. This letter was addressed to "All that be in Rome, be-loved of God, called saints;" yet the whole world is agreed that these saints constituted the church of God at Rome, and that they had been baptized. The word church does not occur in this Epistle till the last chapter, and there it occurs five times very instructively. Phebe was a servant of the church. If there were saints at Cenchrea out 6f the church, they sent no one, anywhere, to do anything, that the Lord requires. Such saints are often captured by the devil, and become exceeding zealous for error, and "transformed as the ministers of righteousness," ever preaching Christ of envy and strife," supposing they are adding afflictions to those who are set for the defense of the gospel. Such are the agents of the gates of Hades, and they are zealous to prevail against the church. All the Gentile churches thanked God for the faithful lives of Priscilla and Aquila, but if there were Gentile saints out of the churches, of course they cared for none of those things. We find also that house-hold saints constituted themselves into house-hold churches. The Lord wants all saints added to His church, without delay, though few in number as a household.
The saints must do nothing without the consultation, counsel and consent of the brethren of the church. The next two letters were addressed to "The Church of God at Corinth," sanctified in Christ Jesus, called saints. Both letters extended the addresses to others of like character, and some suppose to unorganized saints. But it is an unreasonable supposition. All the saints at Corinth were baptized. "Many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized." That was the divine order, and no exception was allowed Paul thanked God that he did not baptize all, but he never thought of thanking God that any or all were not baptized. Unspeakable evil has come from the recognition, and encouragement to the so-called, but miss-called "Stewards of God," who were and are unfaithful in the first and greatest commandment to the unbaptized saint. Saved they may be, thanks to divine grace, but not fit, ceremonially and mentally at least, to serve as Stewards of the faith once for all delivered. I repeat: the only duty of the unbaptized saint is to be baptized; to be baptized and the next duty of the baptized saint is to be added to the church, to the church of which Christ is the author and builder and finisher and defender, and which has never been destroyed. So Jude’s "Once for all delivery of the faith" is seen in the commission given by Matthew, which was to the baptized disciples or saints. And so of all the rest, then, now and forever.
The next letter was addressed to the churches of Galatia, the Stewards of the manifold, grace of God. They were instructed how to manage the trust committed to them. If there were saints in Galatia not in the churches, they were left out, as all such will be when Christ comes to gather his jewels. The Bride will be made up of the elect and select, who were the faithful collect. The Galatian churches were clearly recognized as the Stewards of the Faith. The letter to the Ephesians is supposed by some to justify the belief that Christ has a universal church, visible or invisible. I don’t see how this can possibly be. Acts 20:17 and 28, just noticed, with Ephesians 2:17-19; and 3:15, as read in the Revision; with the whole of chapter four, make it impossible for me to interpret 5:23-33 in any different way. It is common to speak of a wife or husband, father or mother, horse or lion, jury or Sunday-school, as the church is there spoken of; that is, generically, one of a species, comprehending all in the species. The church at Ephesus is so spoken of in Acts 20:28. A universal church, visible or invisible, must have organization and officers and doctrine and government, or it can do nothing.
Such a church could not be a steward of anything. It never meets to consult about anything and has no officers to execute anything. This senseless error about a universal church has deceived more people and wasted more energy and begot more bigotry than perhaps any other deceitful device of the devil. I don’t want everybody scattered over the whole creation, living, dead, and yet unborn, to administer on my estate.
What is everybody’s business is nobody’s business. Everybody’s responsibility destroys individual responsibility. individual obligation to the church and church responsibility to Christ constitute the head and heart and hands and heels of my subject. The Stewardship of the Faith is in the church; each church, every church; and as Christ is the head of every man, so is he the head of every church. Not denominational, sectional, state or universal church, for Christ has none such, and I am sure he would not have. They are not worth having. All the good that can be done must be done by individual, or cooperative, i.e., congregational effort. "The Church of God" is a congregation. The expression "Church of God" occurs twelve times, and any man, though blind in one eye and purblind in the other, can see it so in every case. The lion is a ferocious beast; every lion is a ferocious beast; but all lions are not a ferocious beast. That is an inconceivable conception; an unsupposable supposition and an unspeakable superstition. The executive ability is in the real beast and not in the unreal buster. So of the horse, man, jury, church, etc.
An individual father may rule well his own house and his own children, but a universal father, with universal wife and children, whether visible or invisible, would be as great a travesty as a universal bishop over a universal church. "The house of God, which is the church of the living God, is the pillar and ground of the truth." That means the church is the Stewardship of the Faith.
Ephesians 2:19-22—Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; 20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; 21 In whom every building fitly framed together groweth unto a holy temple in the Lord: 22 In whom ye also are builded together for a habitation of God through the Spirit.
All buildings can’t be conceived of as one building, nor all churches as one church. This applies to the church at Ephesus and to every other church. Christ built just such a church, "to the intent that unto principalities and authorities in heavenly places might be made known through the church the manifold wisdom of God." This is again Church-Stewardship of the Faith. The church is offensive as well as defensive. The keeping or guarding or defending and earnestly contending implies danger and opposition and persecution, and the church is what has been persecuted, and what the gates of Hades have tried to prevail against." The dragon was wroth with the woman and went to make war with the remnant of her seed (left from previous persecutions) and which keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ" (Rev. 12:17). "Here is the patience of the saints; here are they that keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus" (Rev. 14:1-2). Thus we see that where the Principle of Stewardship is taught, that the churches are the stewards, and the members and officers, each in his part, being dutiful to the church, enables the church to fulfill its responsibility to Christ. Now for some scriptures containing the terms.
Matthew 20:1-16 is very instructive—the householder hiring laborers for his vineyard. The middle verse, the 8th, shows the work of the Steward and all the rest the work of the householder or owner of the vineyard. We see the Steward must do what he is told, no more, no less, and that the responsibility for results was with the master. The laborers did not murmur against the Steward who settled with them, but against "the good man of the house." That is a fine lesson. Study it.
In Luke 16:1-12, we see where and how the responsibility of the Steward comes in. The first one, in Matthew 20, was faithful in doing what he was told to do; in this we see the "Unfaithful Steward" and the stewardship taken from him. And are not Christ’s Stewards playing a like game today? Having all the commandments of Christ committed to them for safe keeping, are they not failing or refusing to contend earnestly for all the faith once for all delivered to them? Are they not saying to their Lord’s debtors: How much owest thou my Lord?" And in order to be popular, and to be received into their houses, are they not compromising by proposing to let them off with one-half or two-thirds? And think you that the churches of Christ, for failing or refusing to keep safely all things whatsoever Christ had commanded, that the Stewardship will not be taken from them, so that they will have to retreat and take shelter with those whom they excused from a full and faithful settlement with their Lord? When Christ said "all things whatsoever I have commanded," did he not use the perfect tense, and does not that mean that he would not give any other instructions to the end of the age? Had not the faith once for all been delivered when Jude wrote? Did not Jude use the past tense, which implied that the fill deliverance had been made before he wrote? Are we not giving full credit to doctrines much later than these? Will something else do as well? Will other and later founded, formed and fashioned churches do as well? Are not many discounting the old and putting a premium on the new? Is not the church question a part of the trust? Are not modern bishops head and shoulders above the old Bible kind? Is all this and much more like it faithful Stewardship of the Faith once for all delivered. Can an unscriptural bishop be blameless as the Steward of God? Does not 1 Peter, 4:10-11 require all members, as well as the bishop, to be good Stewards of the manifold grace of God, and to speak as the oracles of God?
A bishop must be blameless as the steward of God, . . . "Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers. For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, whose mouths must be stopped; who subvert whole houses, teaching things they ought not for filthy lucre’s sake. . . . Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith; not giving heed to Jewish fables and commandments of men, that turn from the truth." That was the way to contend for the faith; to keep the all things and to fulfill the Stewardship; but, of course, Paul wrote and Christ lived in the olden time, before men begun to conceive of catching flies with molasses, as their high calling in Christ Jesus. Vinegar catches many flies, but molasses is better. If flies were what we had to deal with, I should insist on molasses. But instead of flies, we, in our Stewardship, have to contend with "Foxes," "Hogs," "Dogs," "wolves," Serpents," "Vipers," "Ministers of Satan," yea, and Satan himself; so that is a poor steward who arms himself only with molasses. What may be fatal to flies might fatten the foxes, etc. Flies are more fatal to our molasses than the molasses to the flies. It draws and fattens and causes to multiply and drowns only a few. This Stewardship of the Faith requires the whole armor of God, even a sharp, two-edged sword; and if you have two swords better take both. That is, if you live out West where the church is yet militant. This holy war is not over with us, so we have to keep a regular standing army of real soldiers, armed and uniformed and in regular training and in constant fighting, or we could not keep the faith, as every article is constantly assailed.
The Bishop is the general, the deacons are the colonels, the teachers the captains, and the saints constitute the great army of God, so that "saints, bishops and deacons" must "stand fast in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel, and in nothing terrified by their adversaries ;" and this spirit of unterrified faithfulness is a token of perdition to the adversaries, but of salvation to the Stewards. This conflict, begun by Paul, was to continue. If the war is over in the East, it is not in the West. Or, the East may have gone into a truce or a trust; but in the West every victory yet requires a battle. Our God is a God of war, and he is still calling for stout and stalwart soldiers. We may cry peace, peace, but there is no peace. Stand, means to stand against, and contend, means to contend against We are not beating the air out West. The gainsayers are there. We have not yet stopped their months. They won’t quit, so we have "to quit ourselves," but like men, i.e., after conquering a peace. They attack every part of the faith, and especially the Stewardship of the Faith. They sometimes propose to merge, but that means submerge. They want the wolf and the lamb to lie down together, but that means the lamb on the inside of the wolf, and that is too close. But I beg pardon for that and I beg permission for this. The universal church has been assumed, asserted and insisted on to the irrevocable damage of the faith for which we should contend. I don’t believe in it. If there could be such a thing it could not do anything. It never has met, it has no doctrines, no officers, no government, no commission. You can’t tell who is in it or how they got there. It is an invisible, impracticable, impeachable, impossible, impecunious imp, spread out into shallowness, enlarged into littleness and increased into nothingness. It makes a man feel too large for a contemptible little congregation that Christ organized for work. They think they are in the big church by reason of saving faith, and they don’t see the need of being added to another church—a little, local, limited church, too small for their little finger. Let me magnify this minified and crucified church, which is the church of the living God. I have heard you magnify the other; now hear me magnify this, and be patient and sweet, that you may hear.
Paul made converts and then organized them into churches and afterwards visited these churches to establish them in the faith. He wrote nine letters to these churches. He wrote four personal letters to Timothy, Titus and Philemon, but they were all about the churches; how to officer them and to set them in order. But you say there are also catholic epistles. I don’t believe it. Why should the Holy Spirit waste ink on unorganized Christianity? What account is it? The letter to the Hebrews was to organized Christians (See chap. 10: 21-25).
James wrote to the Twelve Tribes Scattered Abroad; but in chapter 5:14 he says: Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church. The universal church has no elders, and if it had, you could not call them.
Peter wrote to "the Strangers Scattered Abroad;" but in the 5th chapter he tells the elders about feeding the flock or church, etc. He says: the church at Babylon, elected together with them, greeted them. He also spoke of baptism saving them in a figure. Peter never wrote to unbaptized and non-church Christians. Nor did John. How John did insist on keeping his commandments and walking in personal and doctrinal fellowship, and about some "going out from us to show they were not all of us." How could they go out of the universal church? Where could they go to? The Elect Lady had a church in her house, and he insisted that she nor we should give admittance or encourage any other doctrine than that received. His letter to Gaius was of the same sort. This son of Thunder hurled his lightning at the episcopal Diotrephes, who loved the pre-eminence and who exercised his assumed episcopacy by casting some out of the church.
And Jude speaks of certain men creeping in unawares. Creeping into what? Not the universal church. He calls them spots in their feasts of charity, feeding themselves without fear. They were those who separated themselves, yet would come to eat with them. Such were open communionists. Then Christ, in Revelation, addressed not a holy catholic church, nor the church of Asia, but the Seven Churches of Asia. There was no Church of Asia, for if so, it was beneath Christ’s notice. These seven churches he urged to hold fast till he come. Ephesus was praised for exposing the false apostles and for hating the deeds of the Nicolaitans. Good stewards in doctrine and practice, yet bad in spiritual religion. Those of the synagogue of Satan were to try the church at Smyrna with tribulations and persecutions, and they were exhorted to be faithful unto death in their Stewardship of the Faith, and they would receive a crown of life. The church at Pergamos held fast His name and did not deny the faith, even in the days when Antipas, the faithful martyr, was slain among them. Yet they had those who held the doctrine of Balaam, and also those who held the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which doctrine Christ hated. They were defensive, but not offensive. Thyatira suffered that woman Jezebel, who called herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce the saints. Faulty again in aggressiveness. Sardis had only a few who had not defiled their garments with false doctrines or heresies. Philadelphia had the door of persecution closed on her and the door of missions opened, so she could preach the gospel to all the world. The Laodiceans, of which we are, were lukewarm—neither cold nor hot. We are saying, it makes no difference what a man believes, or what church he belongs to, or whether he be-longs to any, or what he thinks of church or doctrine, just so he thinks very lightly. Lukewarmness hates straight-jacket orthodoxy and loves mother-hubbard liberality. This makes any church feel rich while it is miserable and poor and blind and naked. Laodicea was poor with its riches, while Smyrna was rich in her poverty. Now listen and hearken at this:
Revelation 2:7—HE that Hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
Revelation 2:11—HE that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
Revelation 2:17—HE that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
Revelation 2:29—HE that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
Revelation 3:16—HE that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
Revelation 3:13—HE that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
Revelation 3:22—HE that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
Christ spoke to his churches. The Spirit spoke to the churches. And if Christ or the Spirit were to speak again, it would be to the churches. Seven times repeated, yet men having ears will not hear. They think He has been speaking modernly to individuals, to men and even to women, telling them to change what He had spoken of old to His churches. Since Jude wrote, there have been many deliverances of doctrines to newly-invented churches of the denominational kind, which men are furiously contending for.
"I, Jesus, have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches." These churches are named only 111 times, but referred to more than a thousand and eleven times. The word does not occur in the 5th chap. of 1 Corinthians, for example, yet there are 27 places for it in those 13 verses. We hide it behind pronouns and signs and figures. Read 1 Corinthians l:4-14, 10:14, and put church in the places of the pronouns and other substitutes. Try it on 8:16-17: "Know ye not that the church is the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in the church? If any man defile the church of God, him will God destroy. For the church of God is holy, which church ye are." We should not let these pronouns and other kinds of nouns destroy the church of God. In letters addressed to churches, pronouns mostly stand for the churches. In Matthew 16:19, Peter stands for the church, as these "angels" do in the churches of Asia.
Now a word about "The Faith." The King James Version let in the definite article 32 times before Faith, forced it in 11 times and forced it out 42 times—32 times right, according to the Greek, and 53 times wrong. Those saved by grace through faith are saints, and to these church saints a solemn trust is committed, called "The Faith Once For All Delivered To The Saints." Take a few examples. "A great company of priests were obedient to The Faith." First, faith in Christ, then obedience to Christ, called here "The Faith." This obedience begins with profession and baptism. "God be thanked, that having been the servants of sin, ye obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine delivered to you" (Rom. 6:17). Paul preached The faith he once destroyed. He never destroyed faith in Christ. The devil tried that on Peter, but failed. He wrecked Peter’s courage, but his faith and love abided. Hymeneus and Alexander made shipwreck of The faith of some. They erred concerning the truth, saying the resurrection is past already, and thus they overthrew The faith of some. Not the faith that had saved them, but the faith they were to save from such destruction. "Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in The Faith; not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men that turn from The Truth. (See also 2 Thess. 2:16; 8:6, 14; etc).
It is not the duty of any man to contend for any system of doctrine delivered since Jude wrote, or since Matthew 28:20 was spoken. Yet multiplied millions of professing Christians have furiously done this very thing. "Once for all" means for all time and for all saints. All the rest are doctrines of men which turn from the truth. They first say, the new will do as well; then the new is better; then they insist that the old will not do at all; then they make the stewards say: It makes no difference, just so you are sincere, as we are all going by different ways to the same place, although "The Faith" says there is but one way.
Now a word about the Stewardizing, or contending, or keeping. This must be with an agonizing earnestness and a faithfulness unto death. As the word used in Matthew 28:20, plucked up Episcopacy by the roots, by putting the responsibility and custodian care, or stewardship, with all the baptized disciples, therefore the translators translate it "observe." They did this about three times out of some 80 occurrences. This word does not apply to the unbaptized— never—but to the baptized. It is rightly translated "keep" in the following places, and every time addressed to the baptized, and means to guard or keep safely. If ye love me keep (guard) my commandments. Addressed to the baptized: He that hath my commandments and keepeth (guardeth) them, he it is that loveth me. If a man love me he will keep (guard) my words, and he that loveth me not keepeth (guardeth) not my sayings. If ye keep (guard) my commandments ye shall abide in my love.
Hereby we know that we know him if we keep (guard) his commandments. He that saith he knows him and keepeth (guardeth) not his commandments is a liar and the truth is not in him. Whoso keepeth (guardeth) his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected. He that keepeth (guardeth) his commandments, dwelleth in him, and he in him. By this we know we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep (guard) his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep (guard) his commandments. Every time to stewards or baptized disciples.
This word does not mean to obey, or to do, but to guard from attacks, and perversion. "Whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep (guard) his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight—keeping, doing and obeying are different things (See also Rev. 2:26; 12:17 and 14:12). Here is the patience of the saints; here are they that keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus Christ." That is, guard and protect both the moral law and the doctrines of Christ. The keeping has to be done by earnestly contending. Contention for the right, in this wrong world, was the spirit of Christ, and is the spirit of the gospel. (See Matthew 10:21-28; 34-39; Luke 12:49-53; John 7:7; 15:18-20; and all of the Acts). 1 Thessalonians 2:2 says, that after shameful treatment at Philippi, Paul was bold in God to speak the gospel of God in much contention. "Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus." Paul’s closing words were: "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept (or guarded) the faith." And it takes a good fight to keep the faith yet, and it will be so to the end. As the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, arms, feet, lungs, liver and heart perform their functions in and for the body, and as the body thus acts, so let the members of the body of Christ act as members of the body, each doing his best to extend, hold and preserve the faith; each responsible to the church, which is his body, and to which has been committed the Stewardship of the Faith. What is taken from the members is taken from the body, and what is given to the body is given to the members. Let us not become robbers of the churches by the isolation of its members, and by crediting the members with the honors and responsibilities that are due to the churches. "Despise ye the church," was addressed to those who were making the supper a social, or class meal instead of a church feast. Let all come together in one place, and tarry one for another, and eat it as a church. Members despise the church of God when they isolate themselves and divert their mission and other benevolent contributions from church channels. The Stewardship was given to the churches, and its members should help and honor the church with their services and contributions. Tell it to the church. Not to the preacher or presbytery, I close with Ephesians 2:19-21:
19 Now therefore ye (Church at Ephesus) are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God: 20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone: 21 In whom every building fitly framed together groweth unto a holy temple in the Lord: 22 In whom ye are also builded together (into a church) for a habitation of God through the Spirit.