In this postmodern age, there is a desperate need for churches to state unequivocally what they believe the Bible teaches. We live in a truth-starved post-truth world. The Church is the one place where truth should be true – true for everyone not just for you. It should be counter-cultural rather than blending in with the norm. If we give the impression that truth is changeable, elastic and customised to our needs we are robbing our culture of what it needs. We fail to be salt and light and a city set on a hill. It’s possible to do this by omission, simply failing to articulate and teach the truth clearly and unambiguously. We can still believe the truth and have it written down somewhere. Yet by not actively holding it forth but giving all our emphasis to the practical, we don’t display a full-orbed love for the truth. But this is a biblical priority as well as an urgent necessity as we will find it out in this article.
In 2 Timothy 1:13 Paul instructs us to “hold fast the form of sound words”, he even tells us how to do this (“in faith and love”). As Carl Trueman points out, the word for form or pattern “describes a model, form, or standard that is intended to function as a trustworthy or reliable guide.” It is not simply the content of the message but the actual form of words the particular precise vocabulary by which the truth is defined. We have benefited from vocabulary over the years that help us define the truth, words such as trinity and infallibility. Thomas Case was a member of the Westminster Assembly who spent many years helping define the truth in precise language. In this updated extract he shows why comprehensively loving and embracing the truth means comprehensively defining it.
1. The Importance of a Comprehensive statement of truth
In the Greek “form” means a frame of words or things, methodically arranged. Just as printers set and compose their “types” or letters, in a table. By “words” we are to understand “doctrine, evangelical truths, the principles of the Christian religion.” They are called “sound words,” from their intrinsic nature when they are purely taught without mixture. They are then the principles of religion in their purity and simplicity; the truth and nothing but the truth.
Timothy heard this from Paul, probably a collection of some principal points of religion, which the apostle had methodically summarised and either preached in Timothy’s hearing or drawn up in writing. It was committed to Timothy as a trust and treasure, not only for his own help and direction in preaching, but to transmit to others. It was for the use and benefit of succeeding generations in the church of Christ. In the next verse it is called “that good thing which was committed” to Timothy (verse 14; 1 Timothy 6:20). He was to commit this form of sound words to faithful men who would be able to teach others (2 Timothy 2:2).
To hold fast means both to have and to hold. He must have this form of sound words and also hold it fast. He must not swerve from it in the course of his ministry; but tenaciously adhere to it. He must no allow it to be corrupted by men who believe error. He must not part with it for anything but stand by it, and own it, against all opposition and persecution of any kind. The word “keep” in the next verse explains it. Keep the form of sound words as in safe custody, as under lock and key. The purpose of having is keeping, and the purpose of keeping is using. We cannot use, unless we keep ; and we cannot keep, unless we have.
It is of great use and advantage therefore both for ministers and individual Christians to have the main, fundamental truths of the gospel collected and summarised into certain forms of words. Such forms are very carefully and faithfully to be kept. Faith and love are, as it were, the two hands by which we may “hold fast” gospel truth.
2. The Benefit of a Comprehensive Statement of Truth
(a) It beautifies the truth
Every truth single is very precious, and indeed of infinite value, as purchased with, and ratified in, the blood of Christ ; but to see the truths of the gospel linked together in their proper union, is very glorious. In the creation of the world, it is said of every single day’s work, “God saw that it was good”. But when the whole structure of heaven and earth was set together into one entire fabric and creation, “God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31) Thus gospel-truths have a rare beauty in their variety and uniformity when seen together. They are no less glorious and admirable than heaven and earth, sun, moon and stars, in all their order and ornament.
(b) It helps the understanding
As a constellation of stars gives greater light, so it is in the understanding. A constellation of gospel-principles shining together into the understanding, fills it with distinct and excellent knowledge. It “gives us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6). One truth irradiates and expounds another.
We know redemption by Jesus Christ aright, when we know the guilt and power of sin, and man’s total inability to save himself from either. We know salvation aright, when we know it in the extent and power of all Christ’s offices: king, priest, and prophet. Saving us from the reign of sin as a king, from our ignorance and blindness as a prophet and from hell and wrath as a priest.
(c) It helps the memory
It is easier to remember things when they are summarised in a more orderly way. The reason why people do not generally remember more of the sermons they hear, is for lack of catechising. Order is the very glue of memory.
(d) It defends against error
People would not be so easily drawn into heresy, if they were acquainted with how the chain of gospel-doctrines interconnects. When a chain of pearls is broken, a single jewel is easily lost; divine truths mutually preserve one another.
(e) It helps us grow in grace
Lack of distinct knowledge in the mysteries of religion is a great obstruction to growth in grace. The great cause of the believing Hebrews lack of proficiency was their defect in the foundation, the “first principles of the oracles of God” (Hebrews 5:12). “Unskilfulness in the word of righteousness” made them mere “babes in grace.” (Hebrews 5:12)
3. Holding Fast a Comprehensive Statement of Truth
Ministers are to “hold fast this form of sound words;” for they are God’s witnesses to the present age, and trustees for the future (1 Timothy 1:11; 1 Timothy 6:20). They are to keep it, by catechising and instilling these principles into the hearts of young ones. They also keep it by assiduous preaching. They explain and apply these principles and maintain the remembrance of them in the church. God has appointed pastors and teachers to explain and apply the Scriptures (2 Timothy 2:2). They do this by solid explanation without novel content and expressions; strange words make way for strange doctrines. They also counter false teaching (Philippians 1:17; Titus 1:9).
Christians of all kinds are to hold fast the form of sound words in their understanding, memory, practice, and in contending for the truth.
Hold Fast the Form of Sound Words In the Understanding.
Every Christian should have a firm basis of sound doctrine; not only some scraps and fragments of knowledge, but a distinct and clear delineation of gospel-truth. This will mean that they may know things, not merely randomly, but in an orderly way; how they depend on and relate to one another. Too often Christians are content with warm affections without knowledge. So they are like a blind horse, full of energy, but always stumbling. Or they may be content with loose notions, without seeing the truths of God in an orderly and accurate way. They are never stable and rooted in the faith. Christians should seek to have the “riches of the full assurance of understanding” in the mysteries of godliness. (Colossians 2:2)
Hold Fast the Form of Sound Words In the Memory.
Christians are also to remember the form of sound words. The Spirit of Christ Jesus is given, not only to “teach us all things,” but to “bring all things to our remembrance: ” (John 14:26). Scripture is written to maintain old truths in our memory (2 Peter 3:1; Philippians 3:1). We are slow to understand and believe and apt to forget so we must take extra effort to retain these things (Hebrews 2:1; 2 John 8).
Hold Fast the Form of Sound Words In Practice.
We are also to hold fast the form of sound words in practice. To live the truths which we know, is the best way to hold them fast. Unholy Christians live against the faith, whilst heretical Christians dispute against the faith. Whilst others live error, you must live the truth; whilst others deny the gospel, you must live the gospel (Colossians 2:6; 1:10.) Without this, a man forsakes the truth, while he professes it (Titus 1:16).
Hold Fast the Form of Sound Words To Others.
“Holding forth the word of life” (Philippians 2:16; see Matthew 5:14) like a lighthouse in the dark. It is a blessed thing, when the lives of Christians are practical models of gospel truths, walking Bibles (1 Peter 2:9)
Hold Fast the Form of Sound Words By Contending for It.
Contend for and publicly own the truth, whatever it costs you. By the flames of the martyrs, future generations were able to see the truths of the gospel more clearly.
4. Believing a Comprehensive Statement of Truth
Faith gives reality to spiritual things. Knowledge gives lustre, but faith gives being; knowledge irradiates, but faith makes real. Knowledge gives light, but faith adds life and power (2 Timothy 1:12). Faith obtains strength from Jesus Christ, to do, to suffer, to live, to die for Jesus Christ, and the truths which He has purchased and ratified by his own blood. Faith “can do all things through Christ” and His strength (Philippians 4:13). The verse says hold fast “in faith and love” and “in Christ Jesus”. Jesus Christ is a fountain of strength and that strength is drawn out by faith (Psalm 71:16).
5. Loving a Comprehensive Statement of Truth
If you desire to hold fast the truth, love it. Those who did not receive the love of the truth were ready to believe a lie (2 Thessalonians 2:10 and 11-12). Receive the truth in the power of the truth, in the impressions of the truth on your hearts, in the love of the truth. Love the truth, even when the truth does not seem to love you, when it is against your interests.
We live in a frozen age, in which men have learned to hold fast everything (possessions, superstitions, errors). Everything except the truth. No doubt this is true as much now as when Thomas Case made that observation. He spent much time along with others to produce in the Westminster Confession and Catechisms a form of sound words that was accurate to Scripture. They did the heavy lifting. But unless we take up a form of sound words and make use of it, we will not hold it fast for ourselves or for others. Transmitting the truth to future generations requires holding it fast in order to hold it for them. We have produced two volumes Our Faith and Bible Truth Explored to make it as simple as possible to hold fast the form of sound words today in the current generation.
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