On Getting As Little Truth As Possible
For several years now I have tried to find a statement, made by J. Gresham Machen, that I read as a young Christian about the importance of growing deeply in our study of Scripture and theology. Machen sought to challenge the common attitude of men who, “devote most of their energies to the task of seeing just how little of Christian truth they can get along with.” In his book What is Faith? Machen observed:
Some men seem to devote most of their energies to the task of seeing just how little of Christian truth they can get along with. For our part, we regard it as a perilous business; we prefer, instead of seeing how little of Christian truth we can get along with, to see just how much of Christian truth we can obtain. We ought to search the Scriptures reverently and thoughtfully and pray God that he may lead us into an ever fuller understanding of the truth that can make us wise unto salvation. There is no virtue whatever in ignorance, but much virtue in a knowledge of what God has revealed.1
In the same work Machen interacted with the faulty, yet common, charge that knowledge is an enemy of faith. He wrote:
What mars the simplicity of the childlike faith which Jesus commends is not and admixture of knowledge, but an admixture of self-trust. To receive the kingdom as a little child is to receive it as a free gift without seeking in the slightest measure to earn it for one’s self. There is a rebuke here for any attempt to earn salvation by ones character, by one’s own obedience to God’s commands, by one’s own establishment in one’s life of “the principles of Jesus”; but there is no rebuke whatever for an intelligent faith that is founded upon the facts. The childlike simplicity of faith is marred sometimes by ignorance, but never by knowledge; it will never be marred—and never has been marred in the lives of the great theologians—by the blessed knowledge of God and of the Saviour Jesus Christ which is contained in the Word of God. Without that knowledge we might be tempted to trust partly in ourselves; but with it we trust wholly to God. The more we know of God, the more unreservedly we trust Him; the greater be our progress in theology, the simpler and more childlike will be our faith.2
The difference between those who have a hunger of the knowledge of God and the things of Scripture and those who do not ultimately lies, not in the mind but in the heart. William Still once put it so well when he said, “the heart is the key to the mind.” An unwilling mind is driven by an unwilling heart. A willing mind is fueled by an eager heart. We must cry out to God for an enlarged heart, and know that when He gives us a heart of wisdom He gives us a mind that wants to “see just how much of Christian truth we can obtain.”
I recently preached a sermon at New Covenant on what is arguably the passage of Scripture that most strongly supports Machen’s observations. You can listen to it here. You can read a short Tabletalk article I wrote on the same passage here.
1. J. Gresham Machen What is Faith? pp. 159-160
2. Ibid., p. 95
. . . the common attitude of men who, “devote most of their energies to the task of seeing just how little of Christian truth they can get along with.”
How sadly true.