The Way Made Plain

By James H. Brookes

Chapter 3



"For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge."—Romans x. 2.

It is a common opinion that it matters little what a man's religious views may be, provided he is sincere in his belief. This opinion is sometimes advanced with all the assurance of conscious truth, sometimes with all the arrogance of conscious error, and at all times with a confidence in its soundness that surprises the thoughtful mind. It is not only received as an axiom by the world, lulling the dead soul into a profounder slumber, but it is held to a lamentable extent by the Church, crippling her energies and nullifying her testimony for Jesus.

"We often hear Christians apply the term "good" to those who embrace and propagate fatal heresies, simply because they appear to be honest in their convictions and labor for the advancement of various humanitarian and philanthropic schemes. Nay, in some of the most popular pulpits of the day preachers are found sneering at "creeds," and journals professedly conducted in the interest of Christ's suffering cause pour contempt through their columns upon what they are pleased to call "a dry orthodoxy." It seems to be taken for granted that the time has come to do away with "doctrinal differences," as belonging to a former and darker age, and to substitute a polite education, a benevolent disposition, and refined manners, in place of regeneration by the Holy Ghost, faith in the Son of God, and holiness of life.

Public speakers and writers of distinction boldly avow that man is no more responsible for his belief than he is for the color of his eyes or the height of his stature; and they assume that it is the narrowest bigotry to make him an offender not only for his words, but for his very thoughts. It must be confessed that their position, viewed from an earthly instead of a heavenly standpoint, is guarded by strong defences, and it is useless to attack it except with "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."1 I do not assert that it is impregnable to the assaults of human reason, for, no doubt, arguments can be constructed which would sweep it from its very foundations; but, after all, it is only the testimony of the Sacred Scriptures, accompanied with Divine energy, that can convince the intellect, conquer the heart, and control the conduct. Some of these arguments may be briefly noticed in their proper place; but I frankly say I do not expect my readers to receive any real good from the discussion of this important subject unless they bow with implicit submission to the authority of the Bible.

The question, then, is simply this, Does God hold man responsible for his belief as well as for his conduct, or will mere sincerity, although we may sincerely believe an error, entitle us to His favor? The former I affirm, the latter I deny; and I appeal at once to the inspired Book which contains the authentic decision of " the Lord of all the earth."


We gather from the words of the apostle which introduce the present chapter that the Jews were not only sincere in their religious convictions, but zealous, and zealous for God; and yet they were lost, for he writes: "Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved." They had zeal, but it was not according to knowledge; and therefore it could not commend them to the regard of Him who, though abundant in love and mercy, yet desireth "truth in the inward parts."2 The Holy Ghost informs us that they were ignorant of God's righteousness, and that they were held accountable for this ignorance; for all their efforts to establish their own righteousness were unavailing, and they were finally rejected, and sent as wanderers through the earth under the visible marks of Jehovah's displeasure, "I bear them record," says the apostle, "that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge;" and hence their sincerity did not save them.

The Saviour tells us that in the ardor of their zeal they compassed "sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he is made," He adds, "ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves."3 Here we see that the most intense sincerity in maintaining their religious opinions, and the most fervent devotion in seeking to spread them abroad, could not deliver them from the fearful charge of being the children of hell, and of involving all whom they persuaded to receive their views in a common ruin. Again, our Lord wept over Jerusalem, exclaiming, "If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes."4 According to this solemn testimony, their crushing doom came upon them just because they knew not the things which belonged to their peace, and their overthrow as a nation was the result of their ignorance. Again, He said to them, " Now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God. . . . Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not."5 They were called the children of the devil, not because they were insincere, irreligious, or indifferent to the claims of God upon their worship, but because they believed not the truth when it was made known by Him who is Truth itself.

So the apostle Peter, after boldly telling the people that they had "killed the Prince of life,"6 says: "And, now, brethren, I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers."7 But did their ignorance of Christ's true character as the anointed One, or their sincere belief that He was an impious blasphemer, atone for their stupendous crime in putting Him to death? Not at all; for the same apostle earnestly exhorts them to repent of that crime, declaring that with wicked hands they had crucified and slain Him. The apostle Paul, also referring to the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the world unto our glory, writes, "Which none of the princes of this world knew; for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory,"8 but their want of knowledge did not release them from responsibility, however sincere their convictions; because God has again and again announced that He will bring them into judgment for the murder of His Son.

By the mouth of the prophet Hosea, He said, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee";9 and the same principle holds good under the dispensation of grace. He " will have all men to be saved," we are told, " and to come unto the knowledge of the truth";10 and again: " For this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness."11 "For some," says the apostle, "have not the knowledge of God; I speak this to your shame."12 "Why," asked the disciples of our Lord, "speakest thou unto them in parables? He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that which he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand."13

But without quoting additional statements of the same import from the inspired word, enough has been said to prove that according to the unerring testimony of God it is not a thing of small moment whether a man does or does not believe the truth. If in His infinite grace and condescension He has given us a revelation, He justly requires us to accept it as true; and our disbelief of it He justly regards and treats as a sin demanding the severest punishment. Christ is the centre and circumference of that revelation; for in its symbols and songs, in its prophecies and parables, in its doctrines and duties, it all revolves around His Divine person and atoning work on the cross, and hence our reception or rejection of the Saviour is made the turning-point in the destiny of the soul. "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned."14 "He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God."15 And to the same effect. He declares, "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him."16

It is a remarkable fact, deserving the serious attention of my reader, that while so many are saying, It is of no consequence what a man believes, provided he is sincere, the "Lord God of truth"17 is solemnly saying, "He that believeth not the Son shall not see life." The opinion which I am here opposing confidently asserts that it is not necessary to believe the very doctrine which our Maker declares to be essential to the deliverance of the soul from endless death! One says, He that believeth not shall be saved, if he is sincere in his unbelief; the other says, He that believeth not shall be damned. Judge ye which of these two witnesses is entitled to our confidence. "Let God be true, but every man a liar."18 "Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ?"19 "He that believeth not God hath made him a liar."20 It comes, then, to this: either the common notion that man is not responsible for his belief is false, or the eternal Creator of heaven and earth has not spoken the truth in the Bible; for the former is a flat contradiction of the latter. The word of the Lord, the work of Christ and the way of redemption from first to last, all hold forth the necessity not only of a sincere belief, but of a belief according to knowledge: and there is no meaning nor reality in anything that is written in the Sacred Scriptures if a sinner can be saved by believing an error, although he may believe it with all his heart. Of the saved our Lord says in His prayer to the Father, "This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent."21 Of the lost it is said, they have "the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart";22 and " the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ."23

Even the heathen who walk or stumble in the dim starlight of nature are accountable for their belief; and hence it is written, "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath showed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse."24 Again: ''As many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law; (for not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified: for when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another;) in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel."25 If then those who have no revelation in the written word are responsible according to the measure of their opportunity for knowing God, surely we who live in the unclouded glory of His grace will be called to a strict account for the manner in which we treat the messages of His love. If we reject them, the plea that we sincerely believed they were not worthy of credit will not avail to justify us at His bar; for unbelief is the result, as He declares, of unwillingness to believe; it is the crowning sin of our race; and our belief or disbelief cannot alter the nature of eternal truth. " This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil." We are compelled, therefore, to surrender the vain conceit that sincerity will save us, or to yield our pretended faith in God's revealed word and take our proper place in the ranks of scoffers and sceptics.


The denial that man is responsible for his religious belief leads legitimately and logically to the conclusion that he is not responsible for his conduct: because the two sustain an intimate and indissoluble relation to each other. One is the fountain, the other is the stream; one is the foundation, the other is the superstructure; one is the root, the other is the tree which springs from it and bears good or evil fruit. "Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them."26 Human actions of a moral character are always the result of certain opinions or principles; and they can neither rise higher than the source from which they spring, nor fail to partake of its nature. Good actions cannot proceed from evil principles, nor can evil actions proceed from good principles. A person's principles are himself: and surely it is a shallow philosophy which would not only divide him in twain, but array the separated portions of his being in direct opposition, pronouncing one part of him virtuous and the other vicious.

If a man sincerely believes that there is no God, he will be an atheist practically; if he believes that prayer is a vain and useless ceremony, he will never bow the knee in supplication to the throne of grace; if he believes that it is unnecessary to confess Christ before men, he will refuse to be enrolled among the number of the Saviour's disciples; if he believes that the gratification of his appetites is the highest end of life, he will be a sensualist; if he believes that the acquisition of wealth in any manner is the supreme good, he will be a thief or swindler whenever he can feed the passion of his soul without danger of detection and punishment; and so of every other belief that is connected with our conduct as accountable beings in the unavoidable relations we sustain to our Creator and our fellow creatures. We may or may not believe the assertions of human science, the testimony of uninspired history, and the narratives of travellers in new and unknown countries, without damage to our eternal interests, because these matters do not necessarily carry our faith into the high region of morals: but the moment we invade that loftier sphere, our belief is clothed with the dread responsibility of personal action, because it is sure to express itself in outward manifestations that exhibit its character as righteous or sinful in the sight of God. If the belief is wrong, the life must be wrong; and, on the other hand, if the life is wrong, the belief must be wrong. We may say reverently, therefore, that it is impossible for the "Judge of all the earth,"27 "which searcheth the reins and hearts,"28 to take notice of the life without also taking notice of the belief which gives shape to the deeds, and tone to the speech, and direction to the behavior, of His creatures. Hence, the more sincerely an error is believed, the more surely it will receive a righteous retribution, because the more certainly it leads to open disregard of His truth or defiance of His authority.



1) Eph. vi. 17.

2) Ps. li. 6.

3) Matt. xxiii. 15.

4) Luke xix. 42.

5) John viii. 40, 44, 45.

6) Acts iii. 15.

7) Acts iii. 17.

8) 1 Cor. ii. 8.

9) Hos. iv. 6.9

10) 1 Tim. ii. 4.

11) 2 Thess. ii. 11, 12.

12) 1 Cor. xv. 34.

13) Matt. xiii. 11-13.

14) Mark xvi. 16.

15) John iii. 18.

16) John iii. 36.

17) Ps. xxxi. 5.

18) Rom. iii. 4.

19) 1 John ii. 22.

20) 1 John v. 10,

21) John xvii. 3.

22) Eph. iv. 18.

23) 2 Thess. i. 7, 8.

24) Rom. i. 18-20,

25) Rom. ii. 12-16.

26) Matt. vii. 16-20.

27) Gen. xviii. 25.

28) Rev. ii. 23.