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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15

Contending for the Ancient Faith

Jabez Burns

From The Pulpit Cyclopedia, 1851

"Ye should earnestly contend foil the faith, which was once delivered to the saints." (Jude 3)

In the introduction of our discourse we cannot do better than define the terms of which the text is composed. By faith, it is clear we are to understand the doctrines of the gospel, the great principles of Christian belief. By "contending" is meant a firm maintenance of those doctrines and principles against opposers and adulteration.

By "saints" are meant the sincere and holy disciples of Jesus Christ. Now the duty specified is that of the church earnestly upholding and maintaining the great doctrines and principles of the gospel. This was necessary in Jude's time, see ver. 4; and it has been necessary in all ages of the world. The truth has never been long unassailed; it is the very design of Satan and crafty men to deceive, mislead, and then destroy. Let us then consider more fully:


1. Has respect to the faith. That gospel system which is the object of every Christian's faith. Now the gospel system includes facts detailed by evangelists. These form the very basis of the Christian structure. The life, miracles, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Doctrines which relate to the fall and depravity of mankind, their utter helplessness, their recovery by the mission and death of Christ. Salvation through grace by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The sanctification of the heart by the Spirit and blood of Christ. The doctrine of the supreme Godhead of the Saviour and of the Holy Ghost. Now each of these is essential to the very vitality of the Christian religion. The commandments of the gospel system are of two classes moral and positive; the moral includes all our duties to God, to the church, and to the world. The practical, obedience of faith. The positive includes attention to the ordinances of the gospel. Now these facts, doctrines, and ordinances are evidently implied in the faith or gospel system. Observe,

2. This faith has been committed to the saints. Especially in two respects. Heb. 1:1, 2; 1 Cor. 15:1. Also by the teaching and epistles of the apostles, who were inspired to teach and write infallibly, for the instruction, edification, and comfort of the first churches, and whose writings are contained in the New Testament scriptures. In being committed to the saints, is meant their being deposited to the vigilant care and guardianship of the first churches, and by them handed down to the generations fallowing. We remark,

3. That this faith is to be contended for by us. The word contend, is literally to agonize for it; the same word is employed in reference to the Saviour's agony, or as the wrestlers and racers agonize for the prize. Now this signifies much more than extreme care to possess the faith, highly to esteem it ; it is to be solicitous for its purity, to live and labor extensively for this ; to employ all our powers, and influence, and energies, in its defence, and, if necessary, to suffer and die for it. Observe,


1. That it be the faith once delivered to the saints. Not a faith professing to be it, but the identical faith. Not some learned man's definition or system of the faith, but the faith itself. Not our notions and opinions, but the faith. Not respecting this conjecture or that having to do with it, and therefore we must have and bold, as sacred and essential to this, the very words of the faith as when delivered, the very Scriptures which contain them. To these we must appeal, and for these we must contend always,—"to the law and to the testimony." Always, what saith the Scripture?

2. The contending for the faith must be in the spirit of faith. Not in the spirit of proud and vaunting .bigotry, but with enlightened candor. Not in the spirit of personal uncharitableness, but in the spirit of love to the mistaken,—compassion for them. Not in the spirit of wrathful denunciation, but in the spirit of affectionate prayer. Not in the employment of carnal weapons, as acts of parliament and the sword of state, but clad only in the armor of righteousness. Not in anger, calumny, and wrath, but in the spirit of tenderness and love. See an example presented in the 9th verse. Yet we notice,

3. The contending for the faith must be firm and unyielding. We must conflict for it, and not be indifferent, cold, and careless. We must be earnest and ardent, devoted and persevering. We must confess the faith, hold it fast, witness for it, buy it at any price, and never, never sell it. And this contending must respect the whole faith, there is nothing valueless or indifferent. Its author, its originator, bespeaks its value and excellence. Indifference to minor parts has ever opened the floodgate of error.


1. For the faith's sake. This is the mystery of heaven, the plan of salvation, the system of eternal benevolent truth. Who would not be anxious for pure light, pure air, pure water? This is the light of the soul, the atmosphere of the Spirit, the water of life.

2. For our own sake. There is an obligation, it is a duty, and therefore connected with conscience, with peace of conscience, with the smile of God, with the enjoyments of religion. We are to war for this, "fight the good fight of faith." "I have kept the faith."

3. For the church's sake. Purity and prosperity connected. Love, truth, and peace. "I have no greater joy," &c. Be valiant for the truth. Our forefathers did this for us. We are to do it for the present and the next generation. Remember too, the prosperity of the church and the salvation of the world are necessarily linked together. This is therefore united with the conquering car of the Saviour. "Ride on gloriously because of righteousness and truth."