by Alan Burns

IN THE progress of the seeker after truth three stages, at least, may be discerned. First comes the knowledge of ignorance. Then the recognition that truth may be, and it is, known at least in part. Lastly comes the knowledge that we can never, at least on earth, know all the truth. Nor is the first stage or condition of the truth-seeker merely temporary, for the knowledge of our ignorance will enlarge and grow as the consciousness of our knowledge increases.

      Dogmatism has its genesis in that unhappy attitude of mind which mistakes partial for completed truth, and the dim light of dawn for the radiant glory of the midday sun. Half-truths are errors. The missing, or unknown half, may contain a necessary corrective against a misuse of the known half. The truth of the believer's heavenly standing in Christ by itself might develop a form of Antinomianism. The truth concerning the believer's responsibility as to his earthly walk by itself would produce legalism. We need both and we need them together.

      In the realm of science there are two things between which we must draw a necessary distinction--the fact and its interpretation. Between biblical facts and theological theories we must draw an equally broad distinction. In the facts of both nature and Scripture we may dogmatize. A truth in either of these spheres can never become either more or less true, for facts are unchangeable verities. Our interpretation of the laws and phenomena of both are however but possibly true, and are ever subject to alteration and revision. When we dogmatise on our interpretations we virtually elevate our theories to the same rank as facts, and obliterate the necessary distinction between the two. The dogma of fact, self-evident, obvious and unquestionable, needs no proof. The dogma of theory, flimsy and ethereal, in "proof" of its dogmatic claims must needs point to the opinions and ideas of the dogmatists who fathered it.

      What our God has said is the form and substance of true dogma. What men think God meant is the foundation of those evil dogmas which have damned theology through the ages. When God explains in one part of Scripture an obscure saying in another part, faith will accept God's explanation as being as much a fact as it is that fire burns or water drowns. Between God's interpretations and man's there is however, an infinite difference, the former being the interpretation of the One Who knows, and the latter being the interpretation of the one who hazards a guess. When the chance opinions of men are make authoritative and dogmatic, it means that merely human utterance is elevated to the rank of the divine.

      There is in Scripture an obvious "framework" of truth. The facts of the Word are so presented, and the interpretations of these facts are so clear and unmistakable, that no room is left for disputation. There is, however, a large area of the Word, the relations or connections of which are not so obvious, and passages the meaning of which may appear to be ambiguous, or open to more than one interpretation. In such cases faith does not dare to dogmatise, for being "wise above that which is written" is the abomination of true Christian simplicity.

      A creed may represent either an assemblage of divine facts, or else of human interpretations and explanations of these facts. If a creed be of the former class, merely assembling together truths indisputable and self-evident, we should still remember that, no matter how Biblical it may be in substance, it is still unbiblical in form, God having chosen to present His truth in anything but creeds. The creed which embodies the opinions of a past age, the guesses of a bye-gone generation, in general reveals its unbiblical substance by its use of unbiblical expressions and terms. The manufacture of new phrases and the coinage of new terms to express what may be in the end nothing more than theological conceits is the hall-mark of false dogmatism.

      Modern Romanism and modern Protestantism have this in common that both alike are Creedal rather than Biblical, and are dogmatic as to their own particular interpretations of Biblical facts, rather than the facts them selves in all their splendid sufficiencies. Their creedal attempts can only be illustrated by one who, in order to beautify and enhance the value of a large nugget of precious gold, covers the shining metal with dirty clay. As long as a creed is written, and subscribed to, as being but a temporary expression of partial truth, subject to future correction, alteration, and revision, as clearer light is received, then it may remain comparatively harmless; but when the ideas of an age with a limited amount of information are made the fixed, unalterable standards for an age which has more, then the creeds become so many barriers and hindrances in the pathway of truth. These molds of the church's mentality have too often shown themselves to be, in bitter experience, the tombs of its spirituality. Earnestly do we pray for a resurrection of the precious truths which have been interred in the graveyards of Creedom. It will be borne in mind, of course, that we are speaking of the creeds only so far as interpretations are the subject matter of their dogmatism. Facts, in themselves, must ever be the most dogmatic things in the universe; but the interpretation of each and every fact within the bounds of creation must ever be tentative at best, for even in relation to the (at present) best known fact we cannot be positive that we have all that may be known concerning it, and the little we do know must therefore be held subject to the influence of that truth of which we at present are in ignorance.

      However evil the dogma is that rests on the prestige of centuries, it is nothing compared with the dogmas of recent origin. The dogmas of Rome have at least the strength of years behind them, but the dogmas of the sects of yesterday should be shamed by the very callowness of their youth. The local pope in the village assembly, with the decretals of his predecessors of a decade reposing on his bookshelf, is but an amateur in the ways of Catholicism. The germ of Popery lies hidden in strange places. It may be found in the assemblies of such as confuse the opinions of Luther on divine facts with the facts themselves, or the interpretations of Darby with the truths which that beloved one sought to explain. The Reformation is not half completed when it merely exchanges one Pope for many, and the Revival is not truly successful which destroys one man-made creed to replace it by another in unwritten form.

      True dogmatism will be intensely Biblical in substance and terminology; using Biblical words according to Biblical usage; rejecting other terms however synonymous they may appear to be; respecting the silences of the Word; and drawing a clear-cut line of demarcation between what God says and man thinks. It is man's new words expressing man's new ideas which have created the false orthodoxy which rules today in Churchdom, and which has fathered the erroneous dogmas so current in Creedom.

      The "immortal soul" is not to be found in the language of inspiration. The phrase has been supplied by human wiseacres to correct a "deficiency" in the Word. "Endless punishment" in fact and phrase is foreign to the pages of Holy Writ. The "endless ages of eternity" are ages of which the sacred writers were in ignorance supreme. How conclusively these phrases, if Biblical, would settle the controversy regarding human destiny! Indeed they do help to decide it -- by their absence!

      The "second death from which there is no resurrection" so often quoted from Mission and Gospel Hall platforms, may only be found in part in the Book from which the phrase is supposedly taken. The human addition is one more attempt on man's part to remedy a supposed defect in the Word of God. Painting the lily, and gilding gold refined, may be merely wasteful and ridiculous in secular life, but when it intrudes into matters of faith, and lays profane hands on "words which holy men of old spake borne onwards by holy spirit" with the idea of "improving" them, then it becomes sacrilegious as well.

      We must therefore beware of that dogma which consists in most of human interpretation. It is only by testing human language by the divine, and by rejecting all that savors of addition to the Book in its completeness, that we may be preserved from accepting the old dogmas which others have created, and from following them by creating new ones ourselves.

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