The danger of wavering on gospel basics
George Gillespie (1613 – 1648) ministered in Fife and Edinburgh and was one of the main Scottish theologians at the Westminster Assembly. He wrote several important publications in support of Presbyterian church government.
14 Mar, 2024

New ideas and teachings are constantly cropping up in and around the church. Although believers, and the church as a whole, are meant to grow in knowledge, it has to be knowledge of the truth. The truth of the gospel is what we stake our souls on for eternity, and we cannot afford to be enticed into wavering on the gospel basics and swallowing false teachings. George Gillespie was particularly earnest in emphasising the duty of remaining loyal to the truths which God has plainly revealed in Scripture. In the following updated excerpt, he provides several reasons why instability is so dangerous.

Fluctuating and wavering over those things which God has revealed for us either to believe or do, is a sin, while to be firm, fixed and established in the truth (to “hold fast the profession of it,” to “stand fast in the faith”) is a duty commanded. It is good theology to maintain this.

The value of being committed to the truth

We see the value of steadfastness from the very light of nature. “Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods?” (Jer. 2:11). The heathen Greeks used to say that he who goes wrong in his religion is drinking out of a cup that is full of holes. How firm and constant the heathen philosophers were in maintaining their opinions! They could not only displease their friends, but suffer the heaviest things for their opinions.

But set aside the light of nature. Every one of the earliest churches, to which the apostles wrote epistles, was expressly warned, either to stand fast in the faith, and to hold fast their profession, or to beware of and to avoid false teachers, and not to be carried about with diverse and strange doctrines.

It must be not only a truth, but a most special and necessary truth, when the apostles thought fit to impress it on the churches in all their epistles (see Rom. 16:17-18; 1 Cor. 16:13; 2 Cor. 11:3-4; Gal. 1:6-8; Eph. 4:14; Phil. 3:2, 18; Col. 2:6-8; 2 Thess. 2:2-3; Heb. 10:23; 13:9; Jam. 5:19-20; 2 Pet. 2:1-3; 3:16-18; 1 Jn. 4:1; Jud. 3-4). All these verses are full and plain on this point, and most worthy of our frequent thoughts and observations, especially at a time when this corner of the world is so full of new and strange doctrines.

The dangers of wavering on the truth

Thwarting Scripture

If we are not steadfast and unmoveable in the profession of our faith, we frustrate (as far as we are concerned) the reason why the Scriptures were written. Luke gives this reason to Theophilus, why he wrote the story of Christ’s birth, life and death, “That thou mightest know the certainty of those things wherein thou hast been instructed” (Luke 1:4). When Peter hath mentioned the voice which came from heaven concerning Christ, he adds the certainty of the Scripture as a greater certainty. “We have also a more sure word of prophecy, whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place” (2 Pet. 1:19). A voice from heaven is more likely to deceive us, than the written word of God.

Looking like a false church

Maintaining and professing the true faith is one — indeed, the principal — mark of a true visible church. Christ Himself gives us this mark of His sheep (John 10:4-5).

Embarking on worse errors

If once we forsake the way of truth, and go into an erroneous way, we shall not know where to find our paths. We shall wander from mountain to hill, and forget our resting place. As one wave comes after another, so one error comes after another. Error spreads like a canker (2 Tim. 2:17). “Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3:13). This has already made some (and I hope will make more), who were at first too susceptible to the new doctrines and practices of false teachers, now move away from them, seeing they increase to more ungodliness and more error, endlessly. One error breeds a hundred, and a hundred will breed ten thousand.

Missing out on gospel promises

If we waver, and are led about with diverse and strange doctrine, then the prophesies which have gone before of the true church shall not be made good in us. It was promised of the church and kingdom of Christ, “The heart also of the rash shall understand knowledge …” (Isa. 32:4-5). Those who were simply and rashly led about with every wind of doctrine shall (according to the promise) be so wise and knowing as to distinguish between truth and error, and between virtue and vice (see also Isa. 33:6).

Losing what we have gained

Instability and forsaking the way of truth makes us lose much that we had gained (2 John 8). All the comfort we enjoyed, all the good our souls ever received of such a truth, such a cause, such a ministry, and all that ever we did or spoke or suffered for the truth, we lose when we turn aside into an erroneous way.

Reducing gospel comfort

Wavering greatly hinders our spiritual comfort and contentment. To be “knit together in love” is one means, and to “have all riches of the full assurance of understanding to the acknowledgement of gospel truths,” is another means, by which the apostle wishes the hearts of Christians to be comforted. It adds much to Paul’s comfort that he could say, “I have kept the faith…” (2 Tim. 4:7-8).

Risking our souls

We put our souls and our salvation greatly in jeopardy when we turn aside from truth to error. It is said of the unstable that they wrest the Scriptures “unto their own destruction” (2 Pet. 3:16), like a man who has fallen into quicksand, and the more he wrestles to get out, the more he sinks. When the apostle has spoken of Christ purchasing our reconciliation, justification and sanctification, he adds an “if” (Col. 1:23): “If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel which ye have heard.” Not that our persevering in the faith is a condition in Christ purchasing these blessings, but it is a condition without which we cannot possess and enjoy what Christ has purchased. He who falls away from the true doctrine of the gospel proves himself to have no part in the benefits of Christ.

Some errors are in their own nature damnable, and inconsistent with the state of grace, or fellowship with God (2 Pet. 2:1). “Whosoever transgresseth and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God” (2 John 9). Surely it may be said of Arians, Socinians, Romanists, Libertines, “they have not God,” because they do not abide in the doctrine of Christ (Gal 5:4).

There are also other errors, which may comparatively be lesser, yet impenitency, and continuing in them, condemns those who hold them. This is why the Apostle James reckons the one who errs from the truth to be in a way of death and danger of damnation (James 5:19-20).

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