RPM, Volume 14, Number 50, December 9 to December 15, 2012

Stubborn or Strong Convictions?

By John G. Reisinger

Other people are stubborn, but I have strong convictions. 'You may not be prepared to admit the truth of the above, but it is often our attitude when someone differs from us. I am sure you have met some stubborn people, and I hope you have been fortunate enough to meet some good men of strong convictions. The obvious problem is 'How do I know when I am being stubborn or when I am being strong in a right conviction?' How does one know the difference? When should we 'give in' for the sake of peace and when would it be the sin of compromise? When does standing firm violate the law of love, and when is it essential to the cause of truth? These are difficult questions that every true Christian must face. We who hold the Doctrines of Grace are going to be more and more faced with them.

I am sure we all despise the argumentative dogmatist who wants to argue about every jot and tittle. Every "i" must be dotted just so and every 't' must be crossed in a precise manner or else there is cause for a major war. However, we must never think that every person who refuses to conform to the majority is of this temperament. We must not think it a virtue to accept everything from everybody without question. Many 'pious' souls have caused more trouble than the worst of the dogmatists, even if they have never been blamed by others or felt guilty themselves.

The man who will not face problems is the church's biggest enemy. Vance Havner is right when he says, 'The appeaser does more harm than the opposer.' J. C. Ryle is also right when he blames the appeaser for running the church and losing the truth. The appeaser will not attempt to discern the difference between stubbornness and conviction. Why? He thinks it is because he loves God and his fellow men, but such is not really the case. Either he does not care which is right or else he does not have the courage to side with true conviction when he does see it. He loves peace more than anything, but actually his love of peace is fear of getting hurt in a battle. The 'peace at any price' gentlemen (and he is almost always the nicest of all gentlemen) will do anything and sacrifice everything to keep from getting involved in a situation that requires choosing a side, defending a position, and making enemies of those who disagree. He is neither stubborn nor a man of strong convictions.

As I write these lines, I think of two different men that I learned to know in very intimate relationships. One was more feared than he was 'liked.' He had few, if any, enemies who hated him, but he also had few real friends. Those who really knew him loved him. He was an extremely gentle man, but as firm as steel when it came to the truth of God's Word. He cared for no man's applause or approval, but ordered his entire life by the law and gospel. Many professing Christians ridiculed his 'narrow' view. He often had the charge of 'bigot' come down on his head. He was excluded and shunned by the generation of 'open minded' Christians. However, I never once knew him to knowingly violate his conscience or what he believed was his duty in the light of God's Word in order to be 'accepted.'

"How do I know when I am being stubborn or when I am being strong in a right conviction?"

The second fellow was just the opposite. He was 'liked' by all but feared by none. His personal life was beyond reproach as far as 'worldliness' was concerned. He loved and cared for his family. He was respected by neighbors and friends. He was also a gentle man, but not in the same sense as the other man. The second man was not directly concerned about man's approval, but he was afraid of man's disapproval. He lived by one rule, PEACE AT ANY PRICE. He would willingly endure any hardship or abuse without a word. Under no circumstance would he take another person to task or force an issue that might cause hard feelings. He was not excluded and shunned by others, nor was he called narrow-minded and bigoted. It is with sadness that I must say that this man did violate conscience and truth. He sinned, not by doing what he believed was wrong, but by refusing to do what he knew was his duty if he knew such a course of action would cause trouble of any kind.

I remember how I used to pity both of these men. I pitied the first one because he did not seem to enjoy a lot of the 'good times' that other people did. He would refuse to participate in anything that was questionable. He felt it wiser to 'give God and his personal testimony the benefit of any doubt' than to accept the easy answer that 'all Christians do this.' Other things were skipped, not because they were questionable, but simply because there were far more profitable ways to spend either the time or money that would be involved. I think I pitied him most when, knowing his actions would bring him under the scorn of many he loved, he would nonetheless wholeheartedly pursue his duty. But you know, I could never conscientiously try to talk him into changing. Oh, I tried to 'reason' with him about some things, but I did not expect him to change. In fact, if I would have been honest, I know I would have been forced to admit that I really hoped he would not listen to me. Looking back I realized I was glad to know that God had some men who would not bend to or for anyone except Himself. I even admired him for things which I did not have the courage to follow myself.

I also pitied the second fellow but not in the same way or for the same reason. I pitied him for the way people took advantage of him. He was such a nice guy that no sacrifice was too great for him to make in order to please people. I think I pitied him far more when, knowing his clear duty in a given situation would force him to take a stand against another person, he would run away from the whole problem. I pitied him when I thought of him looking in the mirror as he shaved, and as he felt the hurt and ache inside that always comes when we betray the truth by silence.

If anyone asks me if I know these two men and what I think of them, the same thing always comes into my mind. I always think of the second man as a nice guy, a real swell fellow. He is one of the nicest fellows I know. I never once thought of the first man as a nice guy. I always think of him as a Godly Christian, a man whose fear and love of God forced you to think about God and His holiness.

I often pray for courage to be like the first man. I have no trouble at all being a 'nice guy', but nice guys don't move men toward God. Nice guys don't leave behind them a trail of men and women who testify to have seen and felt the power of another world because they saw a living example. No, nice guys leave behind a lot of people who gladly acknowledge, 'He was a swell fellow.' I think we should be so wedded to the truth of God's Word that people will not remember our niceness but our God and truth. Let them even call us stubborn if they want to, but let us so cleave to the truth in doctrine and practice that they are forced to think about God and eternity.

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