The Once-For-All Faith
July 29th, 1973 @ 10:50 AM
THE ONCE-FOR-ALL FAITH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-29-73 10:50 a.m.
On the radio, on television, you are rejoicing with us over Christ our Savior in the First Baptist Church of Dallas, this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Once- for-All Faith, and it is an exposition of the third verse of the epistle written by Jude.
We begin, "Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James" [Jude 1:1]. He is humble in the way that he addresses us, because he is the half-brother of the Lord, but he does not say that he is the brother of our Lord; he says he is the brother of James. There were four of those children that are named in the gospel: Simon and Joseph, James and Jude. And James, who wrote the epistle in the New Testament, was the pastor of the church at Jerusalem, and Jude is his brother. So in humility he refers to himself as the brother of James, not as the half-brother of our Lord.
To them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called, elect:
Mercy unto you, and peace, and love, be multiplied.
Now, the text:
Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that you should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.
Now, could I read that in a very literal translation? "That you agonize, that you agonize for the once-for-all-delivered-to-the-saints faith." That is the way it is literally. And do you notice he says "the, the once-for-all-delivered-to-the-saints faith." It is not "a" faith. It is not any faith; it is "the" faith [Jude 1:3].
There were as many religions in Jude’s day as there are in our day. But "the faith," the faith that is delivered from God to the saints is unique. It is alone; it is separate; it is apart; it has no equal; it has no peer; it has no substitute. It is the truth of God, the once-for-all-delivered-to-the-saints faith.
Now when you use the word "faith" as he uses it here, he does not refer to our personal trust in the Lord. When you speak of Abraham’s faith, you refer to his commitment of life to God, his personal trust in Jehovah. But when you say it as Jude does here, the once-for-all-delivered-to-the-saints faith, you are talking about a system; you are talking about a deposit of truth; you are talking about a theology; you are talking about a revelation of truth from God. It is not metaphysical; it is not philosophical; it is not human speculation; it is not the groping of men after God; nor is it the substance, the accumulation, the summary of what men suppose or think about deity. When Jude refers to the faith, he is referring to a revelation, a body of truth that came from God Himself. It was delivered to us, handed to us from the Lord.
You have a good idea of that from the writings of the apostle Paul. For example, in the fifteenth chapter of the first Corinthian letter, Paul is describing and defining and delineating the gospel: "My brethren," he says, "I make known unto you the gospel,wherein ye stand; Whereby ye are saved…For" – now listen to him – "I delivered unto you that which I also received, how that," [1 Corinthians 15:1-3] Then he defines the gospel [1 Corinthians 15:3-4]. It is not something that the apostle invented; it is not a speculation on his part. It is something he received, a deposit, a summary, a system, a body of truth that came down from God.
Now, I turn again to the eleventh chapter of 1 Corinthians in the institution of the Lord’s Supper. On the first Sunday of each month we have the Lord’s Supper here, and always I will read this passage in the eleventh chapter of 1 Corinthians, verse 23, "For I received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you" [1 Corinthians 11:23]. It is not something that he heard from another man – he did not even receive it from another apostle. It is not his own speculation; it is something he declares, "that I received from God, and I delivered it to you" [1 Corinthians 11:23], faithfully, trustfully.
Look again; the apostle will write in the letter to Timothy, the second letter, in the first chapter, he says to his young son in the ministry, "Hold fast the form of sound words" [2 Timothy 1:13]. Hupotupōsis, translated here "form"; the pattern, the harmonious while. "Hold fast the system, the doctrine, the summary of the revelation of God." The truth of God has substance; it has pattern; it has form; it has a delineation. It is a whole, and all of it fits together beautifully, harmoniously.
"Hold fast the form" – the body of the truth of God – "the same which thou hast heard of me, in faith,that good thing" [2 Timothy 1:13-14]. Now, isn’t that not an unusual word – as I look at it – "thing"! Do you know the word translated "thing"? In the Greek, it is parathēkē, and they translated it in the King James Version, "thing." "That good thing, parathēkē." It literally means a deposit, a substance, a body of truth, translated here, "thing."
Now, let me translate parathēkē actually: "that wonderful truth of God," "that body of doctrine," "that summary of the revelation from heaven," "that good thing which was committed unto thee keep by the Holy Spirit which dwelleth in us". [2 Timothy 1:13-14] Now may I pick out one other passage from the apostle? In his one song to his son in the ministry, just before he was martyred, he says:
I am now ready to be offered, offered up like a sacrifice, I am ready to be slain; and the time of my departure is at hand.
I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.
[2 Timothy 4:6-7]
He is not referring there to his personal trust in Jesus; he is talking about the great body of truth that was revealed to him from God Himself [Ephesians 3:3-11]. "I have kept the faith," the truth of God as it is revealed to us in Jesus Christ.
I do not know of a better way to define what Paul meant by that than to compare it to modern, liberal theologians as they express themselves in a modern, liberal, theological journal. What Paul says here is that, "When I was saved, when I saw Christ on the road to Damascus [Acts 9:1-5], when I went into Arabia for three years" [Ga;atians 1:15-18], he came back, and he preached the gospel at Damascus, then at Jerusalem, then at Cilicia, then at Antioch and around the civilized world [Acts 9:20-22, 13:1-28:31]. And when he writes here at the end of his life, the same gospel that he received, that he believed, that he preached as from the hands of Christ at the beginning of his ministry, he was preaching at the end of his ministry; "I have kept the faith" [2 Timothy 4:6-7].
Now in contrast to that, for about twenty years – I do not take it any longer, it became trash to me – but for about twenty years, I subscribed to a world-famous liberal, religious, theological journal. And I remember they ran a series of articles in the journal entitled "How My Mind Has Changed; How My Faith Has Changed; How My Religion Has Changed in the Last Ten Years." And these great, liberal theologians of the world wrote those articles saying how they had changed in the last ten years, how they changed their belief about God, changed their belief about Christ, changed their belief about the gospel, changed their belief about the Bible, changed their belief about the church, changed their belief about everything.
After I had read through all of that long series, I, as everyone else who would read it, had the very distinct persuasion that the men lived in some kind of a limbo. It had no actual substance, it had no actual authority. There was no revelation from God; it was sheer human metaphysics. They were speculators; consequently, they changed with the changing tides. In contrast to that, the apostle Paul says, "I fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith" [2 Timothy 4:7]. Just as in the beginning, so as at the end; it does not change; it is God.
I remember reading from Spurgeon one time, at the end of his thirty year ministry, pastorate – one of the greatest in the Christendom, in London – Spurgeon said, "What I believed when I began, I believe today. What I preached to begin with, I preached through the years"; the generation, the faith, that deposit of truth that comes from God.
In another passage Paul defines it. You could call it a creed; that is, something believed. Or you could call it a confession; that is, a declaration of what we believe. For you see, the revelation of God is not inarticulate, nor is it ephemeral, nor is it metaphysical, nor is it difficult to grasp; it is very substantive, it has actuality, it can be said, it can be experienced. And what the apostles believed and delivered to their successors, the saints through all of the ages have received and do believe. The faith of God, the revelation of God, is not something unsubstantial, incapable of verbalization. It is a great system; it is a great theology; it is a great body of truth, and it can be said and experienced. It is not nebulous or inarticulate like a spray of stardust in the sky, or like the changing form of the clouds, or like the pathway of a serpent on the rock that could not be followed, or like the pathway of an eagle flying through the sky. But the faith is something very substantial, verbalized, articulate.
And you find it here in 1 Timothy, chapter 3, the last verse, "Without controversy great is the mustērion of godliness: one, God was manifest in the flesh – seen, felt, heard – God was manifest in the flesh" [1 Timothy 16]. "The Word was God [John 1:1],and the Word was made flesh, and we beheld His glory (the glory as of the only begotten of God,) full of grace and truth" [John 1:14]. Or, as Paul said it in second Philippians, "He, being in the morphos [morphē] of God, the form of God" [Philippians 2:6]. What kind of a morphos is God in? What kind of a form does God have? I don’t know. But He has a form, He has a morphos, and Jesus was that.
Who, being in the morphos, the form, of God, thought it not a thing to be seized, to be grasped, to be held onto, to be equal with God:
But poured Himself out, made Himself of no reputation,was found in the likeness of a man:
And being,a man, He humbled Himself, and became subject, even to the death of the cross.
"God was manifest in the flesh" [1 Timothy 3:16]. He was seen. God became man.
Second, "He was justified, vindicated, in the Spirit" [1 Timothy 3:16]. He was born, conceived in the Spirit. The Holy Spirit came upon Him at His baptism, preparing Him for His messianic ministry [Matthew 3:16-17; Mark 1:9-11]. Paul says in Romans 1 and 4, horizō, Jesus our Lord was horizō – "horizon" comes from that – "horizō, marked out, declared, delineated, pointed out as the Son of God,by the resurrection from the dead" [Romans 1:4]. The Holy Spirit pointed Him out, justified Him, vindicated Him [1 Timothy 3:16].
Third, "He was seen of angels," known of angels [1 Timothy 3:16]. The flesh, somehow to many, covered His deity, hid His deity. But the angels knew Him; they recognized Him when He came back to glory; they welcomed Him back home.
"Preached unto the nations" [1 Timothy 3:16]; the great floodtide of the blessed hope of Christ has been heard by the peoples of the world.
Five, "believed on in the world" [1 Timothy 3:16]. Is that not a glorious promise for a preacher? If you will preach the message, God has promised He will give you souls – "believed on in the world."
This last week there came a sweet family. They are going to join our church, the whole family; they are going to join tonight by baptism. They live away and away, they belong to another communion. And they were telling me that as they came here by visiting one time and listened to the gospel, they said – and this is in nowise a castigation or anything pointed in critical judgment against anyone else – but they said, "We just had not heard it before. It was somehow a new thing to us."
And in the conversation I replied, I had the assurance in my heart when thirty years ago almost, I began preaching here in this downtown church, I had the persuasion in my heart that if I would be faithful to the gospel message, that God would send us these He had chosen for our congregation. We do not live close to anybody. There is nobody here in divine presence, but to live miles and miles away. Why do we come down here to the heart of this city? Why? The answer is very plain: the Lord is lifted up! The gospel is believed and preached! Somehow when you hear it, you have the conviction in your heart, "This is the truth of God" – "believed on in the world.’"
And last, "received up into glory" [1 Timothy 3:16], from which we "look for Him to come again, the second time apart from sin unto salvation" [Hebrews 9:28].
This, Paul says, is the deposit of truth, the body, the system of revelation that came from God Himself. And it is articulate, it is verbal, it is substantive, it is real. It is not something that the man imagines, that he imagines. It is not like reading a fairy tale; this is the direct intervention of God in human history.
Now do you notice? In my text he says, "Earnestly contend for the faith which was once,."[Jude 1:3] The word is hapax, "once for all," never to be added to, never to be taken away from, never to be diluted or compromised. It is a forever revelation.
Will there be something added to it? No!
Will there be another book? No!
Will there be another revelation? No!
It is absolutely final and complete! The apostle Paul wrote in the first chapter of that letter to the churches of Galatia – you read the last part of the second chapter – in the first chapter Paul said, verse 8, "Though I, though I or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that you have received, let him be anathema, let him be accursed" [Galatians 1:8].
Then in the next verse, verse 9, he repeats the same thing, "Though I, I say, though I or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that you have received, let him be accursed" [Galatians 1:9].
There is none other; it is hapax, once-for-all-delivered-unto-the-saints faith. The Epistle to the Hebrews starts like that:
God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake,unto our fathers by the prophets,
Hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son, whom He hath made heir of all things…
Who, is the express image of His invisible glory.
It is a forever and final revelation. The whole Book closes – the Apocalypse, the Revelation closes:let no man,
If any man add to the words of this prophecy, God will add to him the plagues that are written in it;
And if any man take away from the words of this prophecy, God will take his name out of the book of life, and his place out of the new heavenly Jerusalem.
– which is sad for those who love Him.
It is a complete and final revelation; there is none other, this is it. It is the "once-for-all-delivered-to-the-saints" faith.
A very shrewd critic, one time, said,
If the necessity ever arises whereby we outgrow this revelation and we must add to it or take away from it, then – said that critic – why may we not also believe that in this age of enlightenment the day may come when we outgrow it all? If some parts of it we outgrow now, how do we know, but give us time and advancement and enlightenment, we finally go beyond it all, outgrow it all?
Another critic said, he said:
How is it possible that two thousand years ago men could write a final revelation, expecting none other, and that it apply to us today and to the end of time?
The answer to that is very plain and clear: the Lord Jesus Christ spoke in the light of eternity; He saw the end from the beginning. The same apostles who followed Him and the apostle Paul to whom He appeared personally, when they wrote, they wrote with the ages in mind. And the apostle John described in minute form the consummation of eternity itself. The revelation is not just for this generation, or just for that, or just for us today, but it is forever and forever. It is for all time, hapax – the once-for-all-given-to-the-saints faith. We must hasten. Look at the passage:
Beloved, I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for you that I so write, but I exhort you now that ye earnestly contend for the once-for-all-delivered-to-the-saints faith.
"Earnestly contend." The Greek word there is agōnizō, agōnia. Agōnia is the Greek word for "strive, agony"; agōnia, "strive," agōnizomai. And in order to intensify, the author, this man Jude put an epi, epagōnizomai, epagōnizomai, which is the most intense verb that he could form in the language. "Earnestly contend, strive, agonize for the faith once for all delivered to the saints" [Jude 1:3].
That word agōnizomai is the word they used to describe the runner in the Olympic Greek races who strives for the gold. It is the word used to describe the wrestler as he wrestles. It is the word used to describe the gladiatorial combats; down there in the arena, as the men fought wild beasts, and fought for their life, they agōnizō, they strove! That is the word that the apostle uses here, that we are to agonize, we are to strive for the once-for-all-delivered-to-the-saints faith.
Well, why the striving? Because, the apostle says that the day is coming and already is, when men shall deny the faith, they will deny the revelation of God [2 Timothy 3:1-8]. Jesus spoke of that. He said, when the Lord cometh, "when the Son of Man cometh, will He find faith in the earth?" [Luke 18:8]. Will anybody believe? Will they?
The apostle Paul said, "In the last days perilous times come…For men shall heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears" [2 Timothy 3:1, 4:3-4]. They do not want to hear the gospel, the message of Christ. They want to hear things,and I could delineate the things that they want to hear and do hear.
The apostle Peter wrote in the third chapter of his second epistle, he said,
"For in the last days shall come scoffers," scoffers who shall mock at the promise of His coming, for say they, "Since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they are from the beginning" [2 Peter 3:3-4]. They look at it scientifically, and they say, "There is no such thing as a judgment of God, as a consummation of an age, as the intervention of heaven. There is no coming again of the Lord!" And that is why apostle Jude writes. He says, "I wanted to write you of the common salvation, but I do not have that opportunity, for it is necessary that I speak to you about agonizing for the faith once-for-all delivered to the saints" [Jude 1:3].
May I show you how, even in that time, there were those who were denying the gospel and denying the faith? The apostle John wrote in the second epistle in verse seven, "For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist" [2 John 1:7].
What were they denying? They were denying that Jesus Christ erchomai, translated here, "is come" in the flesh. Now, I want you to look at that word erchomai. Erchomai means "coming"; it means coming, and it is in the present tense, "coming." Most of your translators, most of your expositors and commentators, when they write about that verse, they will say it refers back to the manifestation of God in human form, in the flesh. They don’t believe that God became a man and that He walked in human flesh. They refer to His incarnation; that word could also refer to His coming in the flesh again. Either way, it is just the same; and either way, the denial is a denial of the faith itself. For the faith is that God was manifest in the flesh [1 Timothy 3:16]: He had bones, and He had flesh.
The Lord said to His disciples when they were affrighted, after He was raised from the dead and appeared to them suddenly, they were affrighted, supposing they had seen a spirit, an apparition, a ghost, a spirit [Luke 24:36-37]. And the Lord said, "Why,
Look at Me; handle Me and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and blood, flesh and bones, such as you see Me have . . .
And when they could not believe for joy . . . He said, Do you have anything to eat?
And they gave Him a piece of an honeycomb, and of a fish.
And He did eat before them.
He was real! He was real; God manifest in the flesh with bones and body. The disciples speak of that. John, when he begins his first epistle, says, "That which we have seen, which our ears have heard, which our hands have handled" [1 John 1:1].
Like a chemist will recognize salt, like a geologist will handle rocks, like an astronomer will examine and survey the stars, the disciples said, "We handled the Lord Jesus in the flesh" [1 John 1:1]. That is the same faith here in this passage [Jude 1:3]. Erchomai, He is coming again in the flesh; it will be the actual Lord Jesus whom we seek to come descending from the sky [Revelation 1:7]. It will be He Himself! The Lord God that sits on the throne of this universe is a man. He has human form; He has body, flesh and bone.
Just as there is no such thing as a Jesus who was not born of a virgin [Matthew 1:23-25], just as there is no such thing as a Jesus who did not rise again from the dead [Matthew 28:5-7], so is there no such thing as a Jesus who is not coming again in glory [Acts 1:11]. That is the faith! It is not a human speculation; it is not a metaphysic; it is not a groping of men in the dark. It is a revelation from God!
Tomorrow I have two memorial services, one for my fellow minister whom I asked to help me in this church twenty-some-odd years ago. We lay him to rest. Tomorrow also I bury one of our faithful deacons, one of God’s sweet servants. How do I come before the people and stand in the memorial hour? I do so with the Word of God in my hand, in my heart, and on my lips. It is the faith and it never changes. And the same Lord God that was raised from the dead [Matthew 28:5-7] shall raise us from the dead at His glorious appearing [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. As He died once for all for sinners [1 Corinthians 15:3], so shall He come once for all, apart from sin unto salvation [Hebrews 9:28]. This is the faith.
Oh! what a triumph and what a glory, thus to give ourselves to the word and promise and revelation of God that never passes away [Psalm 119:89; Isaiah 40:8]. The heavens may pass away; the earth may pass away; not the faith, the revelation [Matthew 24:35]. God bless us as we give ourselves to it.
In a moment we stand to sing our hymn of appeal; and while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, or just somebody one you, "Today I decide for God and here I come. This hour I make the decision, and here I am." As the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, come, make it now. On the first note of the first stanza, down that stairway, down this aisle, "Pastor, I give you my hand, I have given my heart to God, and here I come, here I am." Make it now, do it now, come now, while we stand and while we sing.
THE ONCE FOR ALL FAITH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. The once-for-all-delivered-to-the-saints faith
A. Not merely a faith, but thefaith
B. Refers to a system, a deposit of truth, a theology
1. Not from philosophizing, speculating, but from God Himself(1 Corinthians 11:23, 15:1-4, 2 Timothy 1:12, 4:6-7)
C. The faith is substantial, verbalized, articulate(1 Timothy 3:16)
1. Manifest in the flesh(Philippians 2:6-8)
2. Justified in the Spirit(Romans 1:4)
3. Recognized by angels
4. Preached unto the nations
5. Believed on in the world
6. Received up into glory
II. Hapax – once for all
A. Never to be added to, taken away from, diluted, compromised
B. It is final and complete revelation (Galatians 1:8-9, Hebrews 1:1-3, Revelation 22:19, 1 Corinthians 2:9)
C. Shrewd critic – how is it possible a final revelation written two thousand years ago?
1. The Lord spoke in the light of eternity, seeing end from beginning
III. Epagonizomai – contend earnestly
A. Word applies to the energy, force put forth in wrestling, running a race, combat in the arena
B. Striving because time is coming when men will deny the faith(Luke 18:8, 2 Timothy 3:1, 4:3-4, 2 Peter 3:3-4)
1. Even in that time there were those denying the gospel(2 John 7)
a. Denying the manifestation of God in the flesh
b. To deny God in the flesh is to deny the faith itself (Luke 24:38-43)