Judging By One Issue

by Glenn Conjurske

No man is to be judged by one issue. No movement is to be judged by one issue. Yet there is scarcely anything so common in the church of God as to judge of men and movements on the basis of a single issue—-and scarcely anything so far from truth and righteousness. This judging by one issue is not confined to the church, but is common in political and other realms also. And by this means some of the best of men are condemned by some of the worst. In the church of God, the most spiritual are condemned by the least spiritual, on the basis of a single issue.

Now it must be plain to all that any time that any man condemns a man better than himself—-or despises a man better than himself—-in reality he only condemns himself. His judgement but proves the ill state of his own heart. And whenever we judge any man on the basis of one issue, and form an opinion of him other than that which would be dictated by his entire life and ministry, our judgement reveals nothing except our own bigotry.

The Bible says, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” “Fruits” is plural, and the only meaning which this can have is that we are to know a man’s character by his fruits in general, and not by a single piece. A single bad apple on a tree does not prove the tree bad, nor does a single good one prove the tree good. The tree is known by its fruit in general. A single flaw in a man’s character does not prove him a bad man—-much less does a single flaw in his doctrine.

Yet bigots of every description are accustomed to judge everything and everybody by one issue, and I may as well be bold to say at the outset that it is only bigots who judge so. And it matters nothing what that single issue is. Some of the single issues by which men judge their fellows are the very truth of God. Others of them—-and this quite commonly—-are only falsehood and superstition. But it matters nothing what the particular issue is. Unless we are speaking such fundamental errors as idolatry, atheism, or the rejection of Christ, to judge another man on the basis of any single issue, be it true or be it false, is the mark of pride, ignorance, and bigotry.

It is a grand certainty that God does not judge so. He does not reject a man even for a moral defect. When God speaks of the character of David, he calls him “my servant David, who kept my commandments, and who followed me with all his heart, to do that only which was right in my eyes.” (I Kings 14:8). David, we all know, was guilty of “David’s great sin.” He had committed adultery and murder. If David were a Fundamental preacher, his brethren would regard it as a virtual certainty that he never was converted, and would certainly debar him from any further public ministry. Yet God did not remove David from being king, and when he came to speak of him afterwards, he gave it as his judgement of David’s character that he had “followed me with all his heart, to do that only which was right in my eyes.”

Not that God was unaware of David’s sin, or that it mattered nothing to him. He was well aware of it, and it was a great matter to him, but still it nothing altered his favorable judgement of David’s character. In another place he says that “David did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord, and turned not aside from any thing that he commanded him all the days of his life, save only in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.” (I Kings 15:5). Here the Lord mentions David’s great sin, but was nothing altered in his judgement because of it. He judged David’s character by all that he did “all the days of his life,” and not by his one failure.

But more. David’s great sin was certainly not his only failure. We know from explicit statements of Scripture that he failed to discipline his sons, but that failure the Lord does not so much as mention when giving his judgement of David’s character. We know also that David was a polygamist. He had a great many concubines besides his numerous wives. This was against God’s explicit commandment to kings, not to multiply to themselves wives (Deut. 17:17), yet God overlooks that also in judging of David’s character. Perhaps David was ignorant of the commandment, though there could be little excuse for it if he was, for he was also commanded to write him a copy of the law and read it (Deut. 17:18). Perhaps he rationalized the commandment away, contending that he did not multiply to himself wives, for most of them were concubines. Whatever the case, it was an evil, and yet God passes it by when he pronounces his judgement upon David, saying that he “turned not aside from any thing that he commanded him all the days of his life, save only in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.” He judged him by his whole-hearted (though certainly not perfect) obedience “all the days of his life,” and neither his few moral failures, nor his one great sin, could alter that judgement.

The Lord’s judgement of Abraham was of exactly the same character. Abraham, we know, was guilty of lying—-that is, of purposely deceiving men by telling a half-truth. This he did not once or twice in isolated cases, but made it his principle to do so. He made a covenant with Sarah before they left the land of their nativity, that they would speak this lie wherever they went. Scripture records two instances in which he actually did so, and yet in one of them (recorded in Genesis 20) God honored Abraham as a prophet, giving it to him to pray for the life of the man who, on the ground of Abraham’s lie, had innocently taken his wife. God called Abraham his friend, and said, “I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord.” (Gen. 18:19).

Now it is clear that the faults of David and Abraham were moral faults, and not mere doctrinal deficiencies, yet they nothing altered God’s favorable judgement of his servants.

But bigots can never rise to this. They cannot judge favorably of a man unless he can pass the test of the one issue by which they judge. They may profit indeed from the ministry of a man so long as they never perceive that he will not pass the test of their particular issue. They admire his zeal and devotedness. They learn from him. They are built up by his ministry. They are led into green pastures. Their conscience is exercised, and they are led forward in the paths of righteousness. But then somehow—-and this is inevitable, for men are very sharp-sighted in everything which relates to their own pet doctrine or tradition—-they discover that he will not pass the test. He cannot pronounce “Shibboleth.” He does not take the right stand on the five points of Calvinism, or Scofield dispensationalism, or head coverings, or baptism, or plurality of elders, or the Textus Receptus, or the King James Bible. Suddenly he is looked upon with grave suspicions. He is evidently not so spiritual as we thought. His eye is evidently not single, or he would see the plain truth. He apparently does not really wish to know the truth. Such suspicions are a necessary part of bigotry, for zealots for any pet theme—-whether Calvinism, the head covering, the second blessing, or ultra-dispensationalism—-have a way of weaving that point into the whole fabric of Scripture, so that it becomes all-pervasive in their thinking and their theology. To such thinking the man who is wrong here is wrong everywhere, some way deficient in everything, some way tainted in everything. But the bigot goes to work to teach his teacher the truth, only to find that he cannot do so. The teacher cannot see it, or will not receive it. Now all of his worst suspicions are confirmed, and he knows this man to be tainted, self-willed, unspiritual. He turns away from him, and in some cases may even give up the truth he has learned and the ground he has gained under his ministry. This is bigotry.

I myself have often enough been judged so, and on the basis of as many different issues as there are judges. Years ago I met a couple of men shopping for books at Kregel’s in Grand Rapids. They were devoted and godly—-not preachers, but paper mill workers. We began a correspondence, and they were much devoted to my ministry. They were King-James-Only men, and probably assumed that I was—-for how could a man not be whose ministry was so profitable? I very carefully avoided the issue, suspecting they would abandon me as soon as they learned where I stood, and determined to do them all the good I could in the mean time. They bought many copies of my book on Good Preaching, and gave them to their friends. When I published Ministerial Education, they bought copies for themselves, and a large supply to give to their friends. Such was their confidence in my ministry that they knew without reading the book that they wanted their friends to have it. One of these men later told me that when he read the book himself, he was shouting “Amen” all the way through it—-until he came to page 89, and then—-—-—-–POISON!! I quoted from the American Standard Version! Now he was in a dilemma indeed. He had bought these books for his friends, and indeed wanted his friends to have them, but how could he give them poison? He soon determined what to do. He blotted out the words from the ASV with a heavy black marker, and gave the books to his friends thus mutilated. The next step, of course, was to convince me of my error, and he set about that (of course) with zeal and vigor. But he soon found he could not change me, and that was the last I heard from him.

This is bigotry. All the worse, no doubt, because he was the one in error on the issue over which he rejected me, but it is just as much bigotry to reject a good man over an issue which is the truth. No man is perfect, and if we must judge every man deficient or unspiritual who does not perfectly understand the truth—-or perfectly understand that what we suppose to be the truth is the truth—-we shall have few left whom we can esteem.

I once made favorable mention of John Wesley to a younger brother, who seemed surprised that I would esteem him, and responded with, “He wasn’t even a dispensationalist.” “No,” I said, “but he knew how to suffer for Christ.” A friend made favorable mention of Wesley to another, who responded, “But he had long hair.” And thousands, of course, despise him because he was an Arminian. On another occasion I mentioned D. L. Moody to a Baptist pastor, who responded rather smugly, “He was never even Scripturally baptized.” Well, frankly, I can find greater matters than these against both Wesley and Moody, but they were men of God for all that. Those who despise them over such issues as these only condemn themselves. And here I must remark that it is just as wrong to judge a man on the basis of several issues as it is to judge him on the basis of one. I can see several rather serious deficiencies in Wesley’s doctrine. He belonged to, and defended, the Church of England. He preached perfection. To this the Calvinists may add that he was an Arminian. But for all that he was one of the greatest men of God this earth has ever seen, and every way above his detractors. Whether it be on the basis of one issue or several, whenever I form a judgement of any man different from that which his entire life and ministry would dictate, my judgement is false, and manifests only my own bigotry.

But more. When we judge good men on the basis of one issue, we not only condemn ourselves, but also deprive ourselves. By this means we deprive ourselves of some of the best of God’s gifts. And this, I have no doubt, is a manifestation of the righteous judgement of God. Those who reject the ministry of a servant of the Lord, because of some real or imagined deficiency in his doctrine—-yea, because of some fault in his character—-thereby deprive themselves of their own profit. This is the price which they pay for their pride and bigotry, and it may be a high price indeed. When God sends his people a prophet for their good, and they esteem him lightly for some supposed deficiency which they find in him, God has no obligation to send them another. If he sends leanness to their soul, this will be righteous enough, for it is no light thing to despise the gifts of God.

And the fact is, those who either esteem or despise men on the basis of a single issue are in peculiar danger here. This judging by one issue works in both directions, and the bigots who judge so will as readily esteem a bad man who can pass their test, as they will despise a good one who cannot. They judge by one issue. If that issue is Calvinism, they will esteem and follow an unspiritual man if he is a Calvinist, and despise and reject a spiritual man who is an Arminian. They, of course, will not believe that an Arminian teacher can be spiritual, but this is both ignorance and bigotry, and there is a price to pay even for ignorance, and much more for bigotry. Their judgement would be just reversed if they would judge of men by their whole life and ministry. “By their fruits ye shall know them,” and this is the only safe way, as well as the only righteous way.

Glenn Conjurske