by Edgar Andrews
A vigorous debate was in progress (I can’t be sure but I believe it was at one of the early Puritan conferences). The chairman, Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, recognising the misconceptions of the antagonists, gave an illustration that I have never forgotten.
Biblical truth, he said, is like a complete circle. It doesn’t matter where you start on the circle because as long as you follow round the circle you will eventually encounter every aspect of revealed truth.
Preaching recently on 1 John 1:5, I came across a good example of what he meant. John writes, ‘This is the message that we have heard from [Christ] and declare to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all’.
Yet in John’s Gospel the message Christ brings is presented in a quite different way – ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life’ (John 3:16).
So, which is ‘the message’ that Christ came to deliver – the message of light or the message of love? Doesn’t John need to make up his mind and stop confusing us?
Of course, both are true. They are simply different entry points on the circle of truth. I took the liberty of updating the Doctor’s illustration.
Ring-road of truth
The M25 is a ring-road motorway around London – making a complete ‘circle’ some 30 miles in diameter around the capital. When it was first completed, not a few enthusiastic motorists drove around the whole circuit without stopping, just for the fun of it. They wanted to see every mile of a novel feat of engineering.
But most of us are content to use it according to our needs, entering at one junction and leaving at another (my map shows 31 different entry and exit points). That makes sense if you are a driver on the M25 but it can be positively hazardous if you are a preacher or a believer negotiating the circle of Bible truth.
It is possible so to concentrate on certain doctrines and emphases that we neglect others. We join the motorway at junction 20 and leave it at junction 29. Meanwhile others join at junction 10 and leave at junction 19. The result is the theological equivalent of motorway madness.
The junction 20-29 party accuse the junction 10-19 party of ignorance of the motorway and of misrepresenting its entire geography. The 10-19 party react with mystified unbelief as the 20-29 group describe what is to them the ‘non-existent’ scenery around the motorway.
Tempers flair. Dark accusations fly to and fro. The cry of heresy goes up. Derogatory labels are attached. Articles are published. Conferences are held. Books are banned, if not actually burned. And the few who actually take the trouble to traverse the whole circle (and are willing to say so) are branded ‘compromisers’ and viewed with deep suspicion by both parties.
Of course there are some who claim to know the motorway but have never actually travelled it at all. Their false claims and ignorance need to be exposed. But all who do strive humbly and diligently to divide the word of truth rightly, and so magnify Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, should be regarded, treated and prayed for as brethren – not dismissed as heretics.