| Truth and Heresy:
Of Stability and Firmness in the Truth
by George Gillespie
It is good divinity to maintain that skepticism, fluctuation and
wavering, concerning those things which God has revealed to be
believed or done by us, is a sin; and to be firm, fixed and
established in the faith, is a duty commanded. I shall first prove
it to be so; then give reasons for it; and, thirdly, some helps to
this duty, and preservatives against this sin.
For proof of the thing, somewhat might be said from the very light
of nature; for "hath a nation changed their gods?" Jer. 2:11.
Religion has the very name of it, a religando [binding fast], so far
it is a relaxando [loosening]. The heathen Greeks called a
lubricious and inconstant man, [Gk.] Antropos Euripos [a tidal man].
They said also that he who errs or miscarries in his religion does
[Gk.] ek tetrimmenas kulikos piein, drink out of a bored or
foraminous cup [a leaking cup]. How firm and constant have heathen
philosophers been in maintaining their opinions! They could not only
displease their friends, amicus [friend] Plato, etc., but suffer the
heaviest things for their opinions. And shall not we much more hold
fast the profession of the true faith? Zonarus (Annals, tom. 3), in
the reign of Michael the Emperor, the son of Theophilus, tells us,
that when the sister of the Prince of Bulgaria became a Christian,
and the Prince also, by her means, converted, the Bulgarians
conspired against him for this change of religion. This diabolical
steadfastness of theirs provoked him to a true Christian
steadfastness, till, by God's assistance and blessing, they were
made to turn to him, but he turned not again to them. The Athenians
impeached Socrates, upon his life, for going about to innovate and
change their religion.
But, to set aside nature's light, there is not any of the primitive
churches to which the apostles wrote epistles, but they were
expressly warned, either positively, to stand fast in the faith, to
hold their profession; or, negatively, to beware of, and to avoid
false teachers, and not to be carried about with diverse and strange
doctrines. Now it must be not only a truth, but a most special and
necessary truth, which the apostles thought fit to press upon the
churches in all their epistles written to them. 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; James 5:19-20; 2 Pet.
2:1-3; 3:16-18; 1 John 4:1; Jude 3-4. All of these texts are full
and plain as to this point which I speak to, and in that respect
most worthy of our frequent thoughts and observation, especially at
such a time when this corner of the world is so full of new and
As for the reasons, take these: 1. If we be not steadfast and
immovable in the profession of our faith, we frustrate (as to us)
the end for which the scriptures were written. Luke gives us this
reason to his 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 had
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 might sooner deceive us than the written word of
2. To maintain and profess the true doctrine, and the true faith,
is, by all Protestant orthodox writers, made one, yea, the principal
mark of a true visible church. Christ himself, John 10:4-5 gives us
this mark of his sheep, The sheep "follow him (their shepherd), for
they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will
flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers."
3. If we once 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 does one error come after another. As a canker
spreads, so does error, 2 Tim. 2:17; "Evil men and seducers shall
wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived," 2 Tim. 3:13;
which has made some, and I hope will make more, who were too
inclined to the new doctrine and practices of sectaries at first,
now to fall off from them, when "they increase unto more
ungodliness," and unto more error. And there is no end; one error
breeds a hundred, and a hundred will breed ten thousand. What was it
that made so many fall from the prelates who once joined with them?
Was it not because they were growing from the old ceremonies to many
new ones, and each year, almost, brought in some new superstition,
and from Popish rites they grew to Popish doctrines?
4. If we waver and be led about with diverse and strange doctrines,
then the prophecies which have gone before of the true church shall
not be made good in us. It was promised concerning the church and
kingdom of Christ, Isa. 32:4-5: "The heart also of the rash shall
understand knowledge, and the tongue of stammerers shall be ready to
speak plainly. The vile person shall no more be called liberal,"
etc., that is, those who simply and rashly were led about with every
wind of doctrine shall be so wise and knowing as to distinguish
between truth and error, between virtue and vice, and call each
thing by its right name. So Isa. 33:6, "And wisdom and knowledge
shall be the stability of your times, and strength of salvation."
5. 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 that ever our souls received of such a truth, such a cause,
such a ministry, all that ever we did, or spoke, or suffered for the
truth, all this we lose when we turn aside after an erroneous way.
6. It greatly hinders our spiritual comfort and contentment. Col.
2:2, to be knit together in love is one mean, and to have all riches
of the full assurance of understanding to the acknowledgment of
gospel truths, is another mean by which the apostle wishes the
hearts of Christians to be comforted. It added much to Paul's
comfort that he could say, "I have kept the faith; henceforth there
is laid up for me a crown," etc., 2 Tim. 4:7-8.
7. We run a great hazard of our souls and our salvation 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 fallen into quicksands, the more he wrestles out the more he
sinks. When the apostle has spoken of Christ's purchasing of 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 true faith was a condition in
Christ's purchasing of these blessings, but it is a condition
without which we cannot possess and enjoy what Christ has purchased;
that is, he that falls away from the true doctrine of the gospel
proves himself to have no part of the benefits of Christ.
Some errors are, in their own nature, damnable and inconsistent with
the state of grace or fellowship with God, 2 Peter 2:9; so 2 John 9,
"Whosoever transgresseth and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ,
hath not God." Sure it may be said of Arians, Socinians, Papists,
Libertines, they have not God, because they abide not in the
doctrine of Christ; so Gal. 5:4. Other errors there are, of which I
may say, whatsoever they are comparatively, impenitency, and
continuing in them, does condemn, whence it is that the apostle
James reckons him who errs from the truth to be in a way of death
and danger of damnation, James 5:19-20.
Now, the preservatives against wavering, and helps to steadfastness
in the faith, are these: 1. Grow in knowledge and circumspection; be
not simple as children in understanding. There is "sleight of men,
and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;" so
speaks the apostle of those that spread diverse and strange
doctrines, Eph. 4:14; and Rom. 16:18, he warns us that they do "by
good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple." You
have, therefore, need of the wisdom of the serpent, that you be not
deceived, as well as of the simplicity of the dove, that you be not
a deceiver, Phil. 1:9-10. Do not rashly engage into any new opinion,
much less into the spreading of it. With the well-advised is wisdom.
Pythagoras would have his scholars only to hear, and not to speak
for five years. Be swift to hear, but not to speak or engage: "Prove
all things," and when you have proved, be sure to "hold fast to that
which is good," 1 Thess. 5:21; Matt. 7:15, 17. There was never a
heresy yet broached, but under some fair plausible pretence:
"beguiling unstable souls," as Peter speaks, 2 Peter 2:14. "The
simple believeth every word," Prov. 14:15. Be not like the two
hundred that went in the "simplicity" of their hearts after Absalom
in his rebellion, not knowing anything, but that he was to pay his
vow in Hebron, 2 Sam. 15:11.
2. Grow in grace and holiness, and the love of the truth; for the
stability of the mind in the truth, and the stability of the heart
in grace, go hand in hand together, Heb. 13:9. David's rule is good:
Ps. 25:12, "What man is he that fears the Lord? him shall you teach
in the way that he shall choose;" which is also Christ's rule, John
7:17, "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine,
whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself;" see also Deut.
11:13,16. Elisha healed the unwholesome waters of Jericho by casting
salt into the fountain, 2 Kings 2:21. So must the bitter streams of
pernicious errors be healed by getting the salt of mortification and
true sanctifying grace in the fountain.
3. Be sure to cleave to your faithful and sound teachers. The sheep
that follow the shepherd are best kept from the wolf. I find the
exhortation to stability in the faith joined with the fruitful
labours of faithful teachers, Phil. 3:16-17; Heb. 13:7,9. So the
apostle, Eph. 4:11-14, from the work of the ministry draws this
consequence, "That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and
fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine." The Galatians
were easily seduced, as soon as they were made to disgust Paul.
4. Watch and be vigilant against the first beginnings of declining,
against the first seeds of error, Gal. 5:9. It was "while men slept"
that the enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and when he had
done, went his way, Matt. 13:25. Therefore "watch ye, stand fast in
the faith," 1 Cor. 16:13; go hand in hand together.
5. Avoid and withdraw from the authors and spreaders of heresies and
dangerous errors, Rom. 16:17; 1 Tim. 6:5; 2 John 10, 11; Phil. 3:2.
He that would be godly should not use ungodly company, and he that
would be orthodox should not use heretical company, unless he has
some good hopes to convert some who have erred from the truth, and
comes into their company for that end, James 5:19-20. I remember
Chrysostom, in diverse places, warns his hearers how much they
endangered their souls by going into the Jewish synagogues, and
there was a great zeal in the ancient church to keep Christians that
were orthodox from the assemblies and company of heretics.
6. Get church discipline established and duly exercised, which is
ordained to purge the church from false doctrine, Rev. 2:14, 20.
7. "Lean not unto thine own understanding," and "be not wise in
thine own eyes," Prov. 3:5, 7. Let reason be brought into captivity
to the obedience of Christ, 2 Cor. 10:5. That which made the
Antitrinitarians and Socinians fall away from the belief of the
trinity of persons in the Godhead, and of the union of the two
natures of God and man in the person of Christ, was because their
reason could not comprehend these articles, which is the ground of
their opinion professed by themselves. When I speak of captivating
reason, I do not mean implicit faith. The eyes of my understanding
must be so far opened by the Holy Ghost, that I may know such an
article is held forth in scripture to be believed, and therefore I
do believe that it is, though my reason cannot comprehend how it is.
8. Count your cost, and be well resolved beforehand what it will
cost you to be a disciple of Christ, to be a constant professor of
the truth, Luke 14:26-34; Acts 14:22, "Confirming the souls of the
disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we
must through much tribulation enter the kingdom of God." This is
surer than to confirm ourselves with the hopes of a golden age of
prosperity, in which we shall feel no affliction.
9. "Search the scriptures," John 5:39; Acts 17:11. Do not take upon
trust new lights from any man, be he never so eminent for parts or
for grace, but to the law and the testimony.
The upshot of all is that we ought to hold fast the profession of
our faith without wavering, and be steadfast, and even immovable in
the truth, and not to give place to the adversaries, no, not for an
hour, Gal. 2:4-5. I do not mean pertinacity in the least error, nor
a vain presumptuous overweening conceit of our knowledge, to make us
despise any light which others may give us from scripture.
Pertinacity is an evil upon the one hand, and to be too tenacious of
our own opinions; but that [Gk.] kenotas [emptiness] and [Gk.]
kouphotas [lightness], that levity, inconstancy, wavering,
skepticism, is an evil upon the other hand. "Be not soon shaken in
mind," etc., 2 Thess. 2:2.
And this is the epidemical disease of the sectaries of this time,
which I have now been labouring to cure. Their word is yea and nay,
and not unlike to that which Sallust objected to Cicero, that he
said one thing sitting, another thing standing. Yet it may be
sometimes observed, that those who are the greatest skeptics and
Pyrrhonians in reference to the common and received tenets are the
most pertinacious and tenacious in tenets invented by themselves. I
have read it observed of Socinus, that as he set at nought fathers,
councils, and the whole current of ancient and modern interpreters
of scripture, so vain glory made him to maintain stiffly and
tenaciously any opinion or invention of his own, as if he had been
Men are sooner drawn from the truth than from error. Some are
unstable in the truth, and unstable in error too; you may find among
them annuas atque menstruas fides [yearly and monthly faiths] (to
use Hilary's phrase); they are of a new faith and a new religion
every year, if not every month. Remember Reuben's reproach, Gen.
49:4, "Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel."
One sort of sectaries there is, indeed which will not engage to hold
anything, but are known to believe nothing. These now pass under the
name Seekers. Yet if one of the ancient fathers, or of the Reformers
themselves who lived a hundred years ago, were now alive, they could
tell us that these Seekers were, in their days, called Atheists;
and, indeed, what other name is due to these nullisidians who are of