There are few truths about the human condition more profound than what we read in Ecclesiastes 1:9, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun.”
The longer I’m a Christian, the older I get, the more books I read, the more I realize just how true this really is. There is nothing new under the sun. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, it reminds us we don’t need to lament Hollywood’s banality, its infatuation with remakes and reboots over developing new films (though we probably should be a little annoyed about this). It means we don’t necessarily need to be frustrated every time we realize the book we just read said the same thing as a book we read six months or a year prior (though this might be more of a problem for book reviewers than the general public). And though we should earnestly contend against them, we don’t need to get in a panic when we see certain heresies rear their ugly heads.
I was reminded of this recently while working on my latest library purge, and read the following passage:
The old landmarks are disappearing or at least are being considerably shifted. The Bible is passing through the ordeal of a remorseless and revolutionary criticism, and the singular fact is that conclusions which decades ago would have been condemned as subversive of all faith in its authority are now naturalized in large sections of the Church as the last and surest results of scholarship, to question which is well-nigh to put one’s self beyond the pale of consideration—almost as if one denied the Copernican theory of the universe.[1. The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, volume 1 (1915).]
Now, when do you think this was written? There are undoubtedly a few clues in the text, but take a stab: somewhere in the 1960s or ’70s maybe? Or how about this:
Evangelicals do not wish to turn the clock back to the days before scientific study began. What they desire is that modern Bible study should be genuinely scientific—that is to say, fully biblical in its method; and their chief complaint against modern criticism is that it so often fails here. It is true that Evangelicals call for a return to principles of Bible study which have a long history in the Christian Church, and for some revision of modern critical methods in light of them. But that is not because these principles are traditional; it is because they are biblical.[2. J.I. Packer, “Fundamentalism” and the Word of God, 20 (1958).]
Reading these, you might think you’re looking at something out of a fairly recent book. Indeed, they very well could be. But they’re not. The first appeared in a Bible Encyclopedia which was published in 1915. The second in a book by J.I. Packer in 1958. Nearly 50 years between the two, and no less than that between the latter’s writing and our own day—yet, they could have just as easily been published in 2016.
What this reminds me of—beyond the astounding unoriginality of false teaching and deceitful thinking—is that while “there is nothing new under the sun” is true of our error and folly, the the good news about the good news also remains the same. And it never fades away.
Times, fashions, and vocabularies all change. What is false seems to gain an upper hand for a time. And yet the truth always, eventually, overcomes. The errors we fight today are the same as the errors our forebearers fought against 90, 900, and 19000 years ago. So we do not need to lose heart. Instead, we can be encouraged as we remember the truth. And we can join in celebrating the good news with Charles Spurgeon, who, as he fought against a significant challenge to biblical fidelity in his own day, offered these words:
Sceptics may seem to take the truth, and bind it, and scourge it, and crucify it, and say that it is dead; and they may endeavour to bury it in scorn, but the Lord has many a Joseph and a Nicodemus who will see that all due honour is done even to the body of truth, and will wrap the despised creed in sweet spices, and hide it away in their hearts. They may, perhaps, be half afraid that it is really dead, as the wise men assert; yet it is precious to their souls, and they will come forth right gladly to espouse its cause, and to confess that they are its disciples. We will sit down in sorrow, but not in despair; and watch until the stone is rolled away, and Christ in His truth shall live again, and be openly triumphant. We shall see a Divine interposition, and shall cease to fear; while they who stand armed to prevent the resurrection of the grand old doctrine shall quake and become as dead men, because the gospel’s everlasting life has been vindicated, and they are made to quail before the brightness of its glory.[3. C. H. Spurgeon, C. H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography, Compiled from His Diary, Letters, and Records, by His Wife and His Private Secretary, 1878–1892, vol. 4 (Chicago; New York; Toronto: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1900), 253.]