The Cross Can Do What Arguments Cannot

William Barclay speaks sagely on the weakness of human argumentation to produce faith in his commentary on John 1:46:

“Not very many people have ever been argued into Christianity. Often our arguments do more harm than good. The only way to convince a man of the supremacy of Christ is to confront him with Christ. On the whole it is true to say that it is not argumentative and philosophical preaching and teaching which have won men for Christ; it is the presentation of the story of the cross…The best argument is to say to people: ‘Come and see!’”


11 Responses

  1. J. C. Ryle with more of the same:

    “Few are ever moved by reasoning and argument. Still fewer are frightened into repentance. The man who does most good to souls, is often the simple believer who says to his friends, ‘I have found a Saviour; come and see Him.’” (John, I, 79)

  2. One more, this time by a commentator named Adam:

    “Little good comes by disputing. Pride is generally at the bottom of it, and not charity or love of truth; and it is seldom managed with decency or candour enough to produce any good effect. Let fall a word in season, and wait in patience till the rain drops on it from heaven.” (quoted by Ryle, John, I, 82)

  3. I think we have to be careful to distinguish between arguments that are carnal weaponry and the true arguments of Scripture that are “mighty through God.”

    The Lord allowed me to preach expositionally through Acts over the last three years. From that I can say that certainly one sees a lot of “disputing and persuading” from Paul. He did this in the synagogues, on Mars Hill, and the book closes with him doing this in “his own hired house.” However, his arguments were not from his intellect but from the Scriptures as he sought to persuade men that Jesus is the Christ.

    The Lord commanded Titus (through Paul) that the elders were to be able to dispute to “convince the gainsayers.”

    Other examples could be given, but I’m sure these suffice. I hope this is something to think about.

  4. Hey, Bobby. I don’t disagree with you, and recently noted the same thing from the book of Acts. It’s a difficult balance to maintain, I think. Thanks for the comment.

  5. I recently read in a Baptist publication: “We are called to be witnesses. Not attorneys. Attorneys argue the case while witnesses just state the facts.” Apparently, the author had not read the book of Acts (or at least paid attention)!

    Yes, it is a difficult balance to maintain.

  6. What a great discussion.

    Recently, a missionary friend of mine mentioned a statement from D. Edmond Heibert –

    “Aggressive evangelism and believing intercession, supported by the holy lives of His saints, are divinely appointed means of furthering God’s purpose and program.”

    The “holy lives of His saints” part really slapped me in the face. Even if I could win every “argument” it wouldn’t do me any good if I was not separated to God. Could it be that Barclay had seen “the flesh” rise up in others and even himself when they attempted to argue the case and thus shied away from presenting the Gospel in an argument format?
    I am all about “agressive evangelism” and contending for the faith, but I think we have to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves in this area and have a little discernment about when to do what.
    Some situations require an argument. Some do not.

  7. Well, Barclay was a flaming liberal, so I am not sure his ideas on evangelism would really be all that legit. Check out his thoughts on miracles. Since you are reading John, check out Jn 6 and the feeding of the 5000. I seem to recall he has a very naturalistic approach.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  8. I understand that Barclay was a liberal. I think he made a very truthful statement here (essentially repeated by Ryle). People (including Barclay) don’t disbelieve because they lack compelling evidence.

  9. You’re not the first to mention Barclay’s position to me, Don. I agree with the quote, but probably should have put a disclaimer or something if using it in such a public setting. Or just pretended I came up with it. Or said, “One man has said…” (That’s my personal favorite.)

  10. Chris, I thought about mentioning it when you first made the post, but didn’t think it was necessary. I thought you would think I was just picking nits again.

    But I offered the comment in light of things being said by others, since it appeared some of them might not be aware of Barclay’s positions.

    FWIW, Barclay is very good on Greek words and their development. He just is blind to the supernatural in the Scripture. It is possible that he was not really a Christian.

    As far as this quote is concerned, it might be better to find someone else who said something similar, eh?

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  11. Well I guess I won’t say anything about anybody until I have checked out their doctrine.

    (Quietly bowing my head in shame)

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