The ignorance among Christians regarding the fundamental doctrines of their faith is surprisingly great, wide-spread and alarming. Definite knowledge and instruction in other and far less important spheres of life is being insisted upon, why not, then, in the highest realm-that of a man's religion? Ignorance in any sphere of life is calamitous; in religion it is fatal. "My people perish for lack of knowledge." How disastrous it would be to human life, safety and happiness if the doctor were as ignorant of his materia medica, the druggist of his pharmacopeia, or the lawyer and judge of his statutes, as the average Christian is of the great and fundamental doctrines of his faith.
Not to know God is to fail of eternal life (Joh_17:3). To be ignorant of those great truths which have to do with spiritual and eternal verities is to miss life's greatest quest: to be at last "forever with the Lord" in "joy unspeakable and full of glory."
Much of the failure in Christian experience comes from ignorance of the great facts of redemption. Romans, chapters six to eight, describe the struggle of the soul to gain the mastery over sinful heredity and adverse environment. That ignorance of the great facts of redemption lies at the basis of such failure is evident from the recurring phrase found in this connection as used by the apostle: "Know ye not?" or, "Are ye ignorant?" (Rom_6:3; Rom_6:16; Rom_7:1; Rom_11:2; cf. 1Co_3:16; 1Co_5:6; 1Co_6:2-3; 1Co_6:9; 1Co_6:15-16; 1Co_6:19; 1Co_9:13; 1Co_9:24). Certain great Christian truths have to be reckoned on Rom_6:11 in order that a victorious life may be achieved. But they must be first known before they can be thus reckoned (cf. Rom_10:14-17). When a Christian distinctly appreciates his standing in Christ it is going to make a great deal of difference in his spiritual state and condition while a pilgrim here on earth.
Ignorance of the great truths of our Christian religion has brought gloom, despair, and even suicide to many. A lady, accompanied by her sister, called on a minister for spiritual aid. The sister was about to be committed to an asylum for the insane. She had already attempted to take her own life. Her gloom and despondence was attributed to spiritual depression. She had decided that she had committed "the sin against the Holy Ghost," that she was "guilty of the unpardonable sin," and that, consequently, there was "no forgiveness" for her, that she was therefore eternally lost. This conclusion had been reached on the basis of her interpretation (rather misinterpretation) of certain parts of the Bible (e.g., Heb_6:4-6; Heb_10:26-27; Mat_12:31-32). The minister carefully instructed this lady, removed the misinterpretations, and caused her to rightly understand the Scriptures. Within a few weeks the clouded brain became again clear, the gloom passed away, and she was her real self. In a real sense this woman was perishing for lack of knowledge of the great facts of her salvation.
With greater knowledge in spiritual matters would come correspondingly greater results in Christian service. One is amazed at the great increase in farm products brought about by scientific instruction in the cultivation of the soil. In like manner, greater "fruit of the Spirit" would undoubtedly follow a better and deeper knowledge of the "law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" (Rom_8:2; 1Co_12:1; Gal_5:22-23).
Far too many Christians, while spiritually minded, are not scripturally instructed. This fact constitutes the reason why so many are led away from the truth into the false "isms" by every wind of strange doctrine that blows about them, by "the cunning sleight and craftiness of men," and by "the wiles of error" (Eph_4:14) as represented by such erroneous sects as Christian Science, Spiritualism, Millennial Dawn and Mormonism. And, is it not a fact that the reason why it is so hard to win such people back to the truth is because they become so soon indoctrinated in the erroneous beliefs they have accepted?
See with what avidity the Scientist devours Mrs. Eddy's book, Science and Health; the Millennial Dawnist, The Plan of the Ages! Would that every Christian devoured his Bible in like manner! When such Bible study takes place, when Christians become thus thoroughly indoctrinated in the tenets of their faith, then false cults will die for lack of uninstructed professing Christian material on which they feed and grow.
It is as incumbent upon the Christian to grow in the knowledge of God as in divine grace (2Pe_3:18). There should be no conflict between the growth in knowledge and faith; in reality there is none. The Scriptures do not make the invidious distinction between believing with the head and the heart so often made nowadays. "How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?
Increase in spiritual knowledge and faith should go together (Rom_10:9-10). "They that know thee shall put their trust in thee." Too often our faith is limited by our ignorance (Rom_10:14; 1Co_2:8; Act_3:17). If we knew more we would doubtless believe more (Joh_4:10; Joh_17:3). We trust God as far as we have come to know Him. Unfortunately He is still to many "an unknown God" (Act_17:23).
There is a crying need today of a more intelligent and better understood faith on the part of the followers of Jesus Christ. We do not know God, Christ, the Bible, the Holy Spirit and the great doctrines of our faith as we should. The early Christian Church had men of rare scholarship and goodness to devote their entire time to the definite instruction in Christian doctrine of those who offered themselves for membership in the church (cf. 2Ti_3:15). The great pity is that such catechetical instruction has been allowed so largely to pass out of the domain of the church, and that so many of the youth of our churches have been deprived of so great a boon.
Knowledge as the true basis of practice.
It is a "false and pernicious reasoning that would make belief nothing, and practice everything. No exhortation to a strong, virtuous and holy life will be able effectually to grip the heart and conscience that does not have behind it the conviction of a great truth. We should remember what the Presbyterian Standards have for centuries affirmed, 'That truth is in order to goodness.'" What a man believes or does not believe affects, and very seriously too, his whole conduct. Back of all the exhortations of the Apostle Paul to a holy life, a good conscience, and pure living there will be found a call for a knowledge of and faith in "sound doctrine" (cf. 1Ti_1:13; 2Ti_3:14; Tit_1:9).
The needs of the age demand men with a definite and clearly stated faith, particularly with regard to the fundamentals of Christian belief. It was such a knowledge and persuasion that gave apostolic preaching an authority and power that staggers us and shames our faintly-expressed and compromising presentation of the truth. The apostles spoke with authority; today many have lost that high accentuation and positive note which gave those first preachers such wonderful audacity and positiveness in their proclamation of the truths of the gospel.
Some things in "the faith once for all delivered to the saints" are definitely and clearly settled. We ought to know what they are, and declare them unhesitatingly, fearless as to consequences. We should hew to the line, let the chips fall where they will. The apostle's words: "Prove all things" have been greatly misunderstood. Some things in the Christian faith have been settled once for all. They are not in need of any proof save that of experience.
They have passed beyond the experimental stage, they now have their place in the realm of certainty. Such certainties formed "the form (or outline) of sound doctrine" of which the apostle speaks in the Pastoral Epistles, and to which he so uncompromisingly demands adherence. Just as in science certain things are assumed and used as a working hypothesis, without which there could be no experimental progress, so is it with the Christian faith: there are certain fundamental doctrines "which are fully established among us" (Luk_1:1-3, R. V.), and which were "once for all delivered to the saints" (Jud_1:3) without the knowledge of which there can not very well be any advancement in Christian faith, practice or service.
Every Christian, be he a leader or a follower, will find his faith challenged again and again. It is incumbent upon him, therefore, to be able to give to every man that asketh him a reason for the hope that is within him. He must be able to say, "Credo!" (I believe), and state what he believes, and why he believes it. To aid in this needy and worthy purpose is the aim of this book.