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Paul Melton

In 1833, “Raccoon” John Smith was speaking on the plainness and simplicity of the gospel in contrast to the complex, convoluted systems of men, and someone in the audience passed him a note with this question:

“If the gospel is so very plain, as you say it is, why do you have to labor so hard to get the people to understand it?”

Smith replied, “I have often prepared ground in the wilderness for a turnip patch, and though I had the kindliest soil, and the best of seed, and the sowing was easy, I never got top or root till I first took my ax and hoe and brier knife, and went in and whacked and grubbed, and cleared away the ground. The Lord knows I do not esteem it hard work to preach the simple gospel to those who are prepared to receive it; but it is labor indeed to root out prejudice, and cut down systems, and clean away the sectarian trash that cumbers the minds and hearts of the people.” (from The Life of Elder John Smith by John Augustus Williams)

The apostle Paul faced the same challenge that John Smith describes above.  Repeatedly the Scriptures declare that Paul “reasoned with them out of the Scriptures” (Acts 17:2).  In Athens, Greece, “disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews and devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him” (Acts 17:17). In Ephesus, Paul “spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God” (Acts 19:8).  He disputed with them daily (Acts 19:9).  The word translated “reasoned” or “disputed” in these verses means to “converse, discourse with one, argue, discuss…drawing arguments from the Scriptures…with the idea of disputing prominent” (Thayer, p.139).  Hence, converting the sinner involves a struggle to bring about understanding in that person.  The struggle is not because the gospel lacks clarity, for God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Ti.2:4).  God’s will for us revealed in the Scriptures is very understandable (Eph.5:17).  However, people often build strongholds within their hearts, that is, “arguments” and “high things” that exalt themselves against the knowledge of God (2 Co.10:4,5). The Christian soldier must take up his mighty, spiritual weapons and cast down these arguments and prideful thoughts, and bring them into subjection to the obedience of Christ.  As John Smith stated it, “clean away the sectarian trash that cumbers the minds and hearts of the people.”

Those prejudiced against the truth stop their ears and close their eyes, and no persuasion in the world will convince them. Some will never understand even though they hear clearly; they will never perceive although they “see” the truth (Acts 26:26,27). The cluttering of their minds with preconceived notions prevent the word of God from profiting them, “not being mixed with faith in those who heard it” (Hebrews 4:2).  Although we must never be contentious, we must “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).  We must never grow weary in well doing.  The Lord explains in clear terms the duty of every servant of the Lord:

“And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:24-26). 

May this desire and disposition abide within us all.

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The Ancient Faith website is a thematic collection of scholarly yet simple Bible essays and sermons, many of which were composed by Restoration preachers such as J.W. McGarvey, Moses Lard, Benjamin Franklin, and Alexander Campbell. These courageous men of faith through hours of Bible investigation studied themselves out of denominationalism, asking for “the old paths” (Jer. 6:16) and seeking to return to “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). We hope you will join with these men in their fervent plea to restore “the ancient order,” “the ancient gospel” or, as it was sometimes called, “the ancient faith.”