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The Dogmatic Spirit

firm grasp upon determining principles;


its vivid apprehension of the logical and
ultimately the inevitable practical
feels of this and that apparently unim-
portant modification of truth; its conse-
quent zeal to preserve the truth from
corruption and its devotion to its
propagation: these are the elements of
the true dogmatic spirit. It is,
ly, as Malan's biographer forcibly
points out, the true missionary spirit--
the spirit of the Apostle Paul.
by Benjamin B. Warfield
What is called the dogmatic spirit is
not popular among men. It is
ized by an authoritative method of
presenting truth; by an unwillingness
to modify truth to fit it to current con-
ceptions; by an insistence on what
seem to many minor points; and above
all by (what lies at the root of most of
its other peculiarities) a habit of .think-
ing in a system, and a consequent habit
of estimating the relative importance of
the separate items of truth by their logi-
cal relation to the body of truth, rather
than by their apparent independent
value. Such a habit of mind seems to
be the only appropriate attitude toward a
body of truth given by revelation, and
committed to men only to embrace,
cherish, preserve, and propagate. It
seems to be, moreover, the attitude
toward the body of revealed truth com-
mended to those who were to be its
"ministers" and not its masters, by the
Lord and his apostles, when they placed
it as a rich treasure in the keeping of
stewards of the mysteries of God, but it
is irritating to men. They would discuss
rather than receive truth. And, if they
must receive it, they would fain modify
it here and there to fit preconceived
opinions or permit cherished practices.
Especially in a busy age in which
Pilate's careless question, "what is
truth 7" represents the prevailing attitude
of men's minds, the dogmatic habit is
apt to fare somewhat badly.
An illustration of what is meant by
the dogmatic spirit may be found in a
passage in the biography of that great
servant of Christ, Caesar Malan, who is
B.B. Warfield, wu, by
any llandanl, one or
the
glln1 In the history of
America. He taught at
PrinCeton Theological
Semlraary for
decade., unlll Ills
death In Ull. He
WTole a Vll&l aumber
of fine utlc:lel and
book.c.
The Counsel of Chalcedon, April, 1989
forgotten already in the land which he
served so nobly in the gospel of Christ,
but to whom, under God, along with
. his compeers, Merle D'Aubigne and
Louis Gaussen, Switzerland owes her
awakening to the light of truth in this
century. It is, perhaps, none the worse
as an illustration that it presents the
dogmatic habit in an extreme form, and,
in the opinion of the biographer at
least, in perverted action. The bio-
grapher is pointing out what he be-
lieved to be Malan's greater fitness for
the missionary than for the paStoral
office. He thinks his habit of mind,
We may observe its working in Paul,
in the Epistle to the Galatians. Here
burns the purest zeal for that gospel
which he had been sent to preach.
Doubtless the preaching of the Judaizers
appeared to the Galatians as but a slight
modification of that of Paul--a modifica-
tion which did not affect the essence of
the gospel, and which presented many
"o o it is not a matter of small importance
whether we preserve the purity of the gospel."
flring him with zeal for the whole
truth, eminently fitted him for the one
function and somewhat unsuited him
for the other. "Called to be a witness, a
confessor, an apostle," he says, "we
may say of him what the chief of the
apostles scrupled not to say of himself,
that 'he was not sent to baptize, but to
preach the gospel.' . . . . Looking at
everything from the most serious point
of view, tracing each offense not to its
secondary or accidental source, but to
those abstract principles which his
spirit so rapidly divined, and the issues
of which he so vividly apprehended, it
was too probable that with him every
act of heedlessness would be a crime,
every unenlightened sentiment a here-
sy," [the spirit by] which the dogmatic
habit is exposed It may be misled into
harsh judgments of individuals by its
own clear view of the consistency of
truth, and its own vivid realization of
the significance and issue of special er-
rors and shortcomings. But its essential
virtue is also here presented before us.
Its clear insight into truth as a body and
in its parts; its rapid perception of and,
advantages. The Judaizers also preached
Christ. They preached Christ as the
mised Messiah of Israel, only through
the acceptance of whom could entrance
be had into the messianic salvation. To
them. too, therefore, the promised re-
demption was unattainable save through
the promised Messiah. But though they
preached that only in his name could
salvation be had, they denied that it
could be had in his name alone.
thing else was requisite. Men must
accept the Messiah; but men must also
be circumcised--men must keep the
men must enter into life by the gate of
Judaism. It was this teaching--not the
proclamation of an entirely anti-Chris-
tian system-which Paul brands as a
different kind of gospel or rather no
gospel at all, but only a troubling of
Zion by those who would pervert the
gospel of Christ
Was Paul narrow-minded and over-
severe in this? Evidently there were
many Galatians who thought so. Why
harshly pronounce those" accursed" who
taught fundamentally the same doctrine
of the Messiah; and only differed in
------------------------------------------------------Pagell
this, certainly very minor, point of
whether the keeping of the law was not
necessary too? How can the violence of
asserting that if circumci$ion be re-
ceived Christ will profit nothirig, be
possibly excused? Is not this the very
embodiment of narrow-minded fanati-
cism yielding to the odium theologi-
cum? There are apparently many today
who would sympathize with the Gala-
tians in so arguing. Paul, however,
thought in a system; traced apparently
small differences back to their princi-
ples; perceived clearly the issues to
which they tended; and condemned ac-
cording to fact and not according to ap-
pearance. He is the type of the dogmatic
spirit. And we who would be followers
of Paul, even as he was of Christ, may
learn some very valuable lessons from
him.
Primarily, we may learn this lesson:
that it is not a matter of small impor-
tance whether we preserve the purity of
the gospel. The chief dangers to Chris-
tianity do not come from the anti-
Christian systems. Mohammedanism
Dr. D. Jantes Kennedy said:
"After a fight of nearJy_ two years defending
herself against the NEA's attack on free
speech, Suzanne Clark surely deserved
to withdraw and devote herself fuilj' to her
family. Instead, she wrote Blackboard
Blackmilil, a powerful book that documents
the totalitarian schemes of the NEA and
calls on Christians to rebuild American
education according to the Word of God."
has never made in>ads. upon Christen-
dom save. by the sword. Nobody fears
. that Christianity will be swallowed up
by Buddhism .. It is corrupt forms of
Christianity itself which menace from
time to time the life of
Why make much of minor points of
difference among those who serve the
one Christ? Because a pure gospel is
worth preserving; and is not only worth
preserving, but is logically (and logic
will always work itself ultimately out
into history) the only saving goSpel.
Those who overlay the gospel with
man-made additions, no less than those
who subtract from it God-given ele-
ments, are not preaching "the gospel"
in another fonn, but are offering a dif-
ferent kind of gospel, which is
ly no gospel at all. They are troublers
of Israel, who are perverting the gospel
of Christ.
Then, we may leain this lesson: that
it is not a matter of small importance
for the servant of Christ to begin to
seek to please men in the gospel which
he offers them. Doing so, he ceases to
be. Christ's servant, performing his
will; and becomes the slave of men,
veering hither and thither according to
theit beck and call. So doing, he is no
l()nger the teacher of . the truth to :rilen,
but the Ieamer of falsehood from men.
It doubtless seemed to the J udaizers
very proper to adapt the mode in which
they presented Christ to man, to the
views. of the community on which they
had to depend for their first hearing in
every fresh city. Paul says that in so
doing they won not the blessing of God
but his curse. Mter all, what is required
of stewards is that they be found
ful.
And then we may learn this supreme
lesson above all: that it is of the very
gravest importance to keep clearly be-
fore our and others' minds and hearts the
great fact that in Christ alone is there
salvation. In Christ alone; and that in
both senses of the word "alone." Not
only can there be no salvation except in
him; but in him is all that can be
needed for saivation. Jesus only! Paul
determined to know nothing in Corinth
but Jesus Christ and him as crucified.

The only saving gospel is to find in
him all. There needs no supplement to
his work. . His work admits of no
supplement. To depend on aught else--
aught else, however small it may seem--
along with him is as truly to lose him
as to depend on aught else instead of
him. The solemn words of Paul,
"Behold I, Paul, say unto you that if
you receive circumcision, Christ will
profit you nothing," have therr multi-
form application in these modem times.
And it behooves us so to live and so to
preach, today, that we can say now, as
he said then, that our only trust and our
only glory is in the cross of Jesus
Christ; and that we fmd in him and his
work alone the beginning and the
middle and the end of salvation. He is
not only the author but also the finisher
of our faith.
A C.fuistless cross no refuge is for me;
A Crossless Christ my Savior may not be;
But, 0 Christ crucified! I rest in lhee.
[fhis article is reprinted, by
from Selected Shorter Writmgs
B. Warfield - II, edited by John
Presbyferiail and Reformed
Company, Nutley, New Jersey,
theory is most defective at
thi$ point, concerning itself entirely
with feeling. Cf. Chapter VI.
7In Romans 1:26 homosexuality is
declared to be para phusin ("against
nature"), and in vs. 27, it is called an
"error." In all of Scripture there is only
one God-given solution to the problem
of sexual desire: "it is better to marry
than to burn" (I Corinthians 7:9). Mar-
riage is God's answer to immorality:
"because of immoralities, let each man
have his own wife, and let each woman
have her own husband." The old sinful
pattern must be broken and replaced by
the new godly one. The basic goals,
ways and means for counseling homo-
sexuals are found in I Corinthians 7.
Cf. also Gen. 19:1-10; Lev. 18:22;
Judges 19:22-26; 20:13; I Cor. 6:9; I
Tim. 1:10.
[This article is reprinted, by J>ennis-
sion, from Competent to Counsel,
Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing
Company, Nutley, N.J., 1970] D
The Counsel of Cbalcedon, April, 1989