James Gunn

Out of his extensive experience in the service of Christ, Mr. James Gunn of Toronto, Canada, and our esteemed Associate Editor, shares some sobering thoughts on a subject which pertains to all of us.

“Materialism has a baneful influence on our spiritual life and church fellowship.” This was said so dogmatically and harshly that the import of the statement was at the first lost on me. Notwithstanding, it did stimulate considerable thinking in regard to the specific teaching of Holy Scripture. With the Word of God as the background, a little careful observation and one or two potent examples, the truth of the statement was finally confirmed.

Perhaps the apostolic words of caution were prophetic in some cases: “They that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition” (1 Tim. 6:9).

Was the little note that had been given me a mistake? Perhaps! But this palatial house with its beautiful setting was the address at which it asked that I call.

Through the pulling of the brass knob, from within came the pleasing music of the chimes. In answer, the door was opened by a maid. In response to her smile, I explained that probably a mistake had been made, and extending the note to her I told her how it had been given to me by an usher at a Christian convention in the city, given probably in error.

“Of course,” she replied, “I know nothing about the note, I shall call my mistress.”

The face of the lady who returned with the maid seemed strangely familiar to me. We must have had a previous acquaintanceship, somewhere, somehow, at some time. My bewilderment increased, when, addressing me she said, “I am so pleased that you are here, James, George will be delighted. Do come in.”

Who was George? What was her name?

Someone was coming down the hallway toward the room where we were seated. The shuffling seemed to indicate a person only partially recovered from a stroke. When at last he stood in the open doorway, I was astonished to see a former Sunday School teacher. As a little boy, a full 45 years before, I had been a member of his class. He was a magnetic personality and a good teacher. As boys we all liked him.

“We have other company this afternoon,” he said. “Let us go into the solarium; we shall be alone there. I do want to talk to you.”

When we were comfortably seated amidst the tropical beauty and the sweet fragrance of growing plants and flowers, he related to me his actual life story, a story of material prosperity and of spiritual decadence.

“Your name appeared in the evening paper as a speaker at the Christian Easter convention,” he began. “That news penetrated my already striken conscience like an arrow. An inner voice seemed to say, that former little boy is now a servant of the Lord Jesus, ministering God’s Word to His people, but in contrast you have long since lost your Christian joy and testimony.”

His voice broke and he cried; yes, and in his weakened condition he sobbed out his remorse and repentance. For a little while all else was quiet except for our weeping. There was nothing that I could do but weep along with him.

“I got into the oil industry almost at its beginning,” he continued, “and I have made it. You can see that for yourself, but, James, I would give it all up to be the happy Christian that I was in those early days, when as a little child you sat in my Sunday School class. I have been out of fellowship with the Lord for many years.”

There were more tears of regret as he confessed, “They were miserable years. You have to fight your way to the top. To advance you have to surpass others, even at times gain mastery over them. Once you have succumbed to the temptations of materialism, covetousness increases and you become proud and arrogant, and needless to say, the indwelling Spirit is deeply grieved.”

In a pensive mood we sat silent for a short time.

“Help me, do help me, back into fellowship with the Lord and into the fellowship of other believers. Oh, that I could enjoy church fellowship once more and again participate in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.” These words came as a cry from the depths of his heart.

By this time we both were exhausted, but for direction and comfort we turned to the Holy Scriptures: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrightousness … My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 1:8-2:1). We then prayed together. The remembrance of that penitential confessional prayer will ever remain; indelibly it is written on my heart.

All possible help was sought, and arrangements were made, but such was his physical condition that before he could again join with the saints gathered in the church, the Lord took his wayward, yet forgiven child home.

“The love of money is the root of all evil,” avers the apostolic admonition. “Which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Tim. 6:10). Frequently attention has been drawn to the fact that it is not money in itself that is the root of evil, but the love of it. There are some wealthy Christians which do not particularly love it; they simply hold it in trust, and from their means they have contributed generously to the work of the Lord. Nevertheless, to all such, Paul commanded Timothy, “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17).

Others go on coveting after the goods of this world. Alas, they deviate from the truth and bring upon themselves pain, sorrow and anguish: “Supposing that gain is godliness … but godliness with contentment is great gain (1 Tim. 6:5-6).