“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” (Prov. 25:11)
The combination of golden apples in a setting of silver is pleasingly appropriate. The two go together well. It is the same with a golden word spoken at just the proper time. “A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth: and a word spoken in due season, how good is it!” (Prov. 15:23).
A veteran missionary lady is dying in the cancer ward, still conscious but too weak to talk. A godly elder goes to her bedside just as the evening visiting hours are closing. Leaning over her bed, he quotes Song of Solomon 8:5, “Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved?” She opens her eyes and smiles. That is her last contact with this sobbing, suffering world. Before dawn breaks, she has left this wilderness, leaning on her Beloved. It was just the right word!
A family is numb with grief over the loss of a loved one. Friends crowd around with messages of condolence, but none seem to assuage the heartache. Then a letter comes from Dr. H. A. Ironside, quoting Psalm 30:5, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” That proves to be the right word from the Lord to snap the chain of sorrow.
As a group of young Christians are on a long trip, one starts to share some doubts concerning the Scriptures which he has picked up in one of his college courses. After listening for a while, one of the quieter, more forgettable passengers startles the group by quoting Proverbs 19:27 from memory: “Cease, my son, to hear the instruction that causeth to err from the words of knowledge.” It was an apple of gold in a setting of silver!
Then there is the familiar story of how Ingersoll, standing before a large audience, defied God to strike him dead in five minutes—if there was a God. The five minutes passed, heavy with suspense. The fact that Ingersoll was still alive was supposed to demonstrate that no God exists. Just then a nondescript Christian arose in the audience and asked, “Mr. Ingersoll, do you think you can exhaust the mercy of God in five minutes?” It was a word on target.
The proper word, spoken at the proper time, is truly a gift from God. We might well covet the gift so that the Spirit of God can use us to speak the appropriate word of comfort, encouragement, warning or rebuke.
“…they feared as they entered into the cloud.” (Lu. 9:34)
Peter, James and John were on the mount with Jesus. Sensing that this was a significant moment in history and desiring to somehow preserve its glory, Peter proposed erecting three booths—one each for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. This, of course, would have put the Lord on the same level as the two Old Testament saints. God thwarted the project by enveloping them in a cloud. Luke tells us that “they feared as they entered into the cloud.”
They shouldn’t have feared. It was a cloud of glory, not of judgment. It was a temporary phenomenon, not a permanent fact of life. God was in the cloud, even though He was not visible.
Oftentimes clouds come into our lives and, like the apostles, we fear as we enter into one of these clouds. When God calls us to a new sphere of service, for instance, there is often the fear of the unknown. We imagine the worst in the way of dangers, discomforts and disagreeable situations. Actually we are just being afraid of a blessing. When the cloud lifts, we find that God’s will is good and acceptable and perfect.
We fear as we enter the cloud of sickness. Our minds run wild with alarm. We interpret every word and facial movement of the doctor as an omen of doom. We diagnose every symptom as pointing to a terminal disease. But when the illness passes, we find ourselves saying with the psalmist, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted” (Psa. 119:71). God was in the cloud and we did not know it.
We fear when we enter the cloud of sorrow. What good, we ask, could ever come out of such tears, anguish and bereavement. Our whole world seems to collapse in ruins around us. But there is instruction in the cloud. We learn how to comfort others with the comfort with which the Lord comforts us. We come to understand the tears of the Son of God in a way we could never have known otherwise.
We needn’t fear as we enter the clouds of life. They are educative. They are temporary. They are not destructive. They may hide the Lord’s face but not His love and power. So we should take to heart the words of William Cowper:
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.
“He taketh not pleasure in the legs of a man.” (Psalm 147:10)
What an interesting insight! The great, transcendent God doesn’t take pleasure in the legs of a man!
We can think of this in connection with the world of athletics. The track star, lithe and swift, crossing the finish line with hands flung high in victory. The basketball player, streaking down the court to sink the winning basket. The football hero, muscular and strong, irresistibly plunging through the line.
The crowd goes wild. They are jumping, shouting, cheering (or alternately booing and catcalling). They are fanatics, emotionally involved in every play. You might say that they take pleasure in the legs of a man—that is, in his ability to play the game.
Our verse is not intended to prohibit an interest in athletics. The Bible elsewhere speaks well of the value of bodily exercise. But God’s disinterest in the legs of a man should remind us to keep our priorities in balance.
It is easy for a young believer to become so engrossed in some sport that it becomes the passion of his life. All his best efforts are aimed toward achieving excellence. He disciplines his time, his food intake, his sleep. He practices endlessly, perfecting skill in every conceivable play. He maintains an exercise regimen, designed to keep him in top physical condition. He thinks and talks about this sport as if it were his life. Perhaps it actually is.
Sometimes a young Christian like this is brought up short when he realizes that God doesn’t take pleasure in the legs of a man. If he wants to walk in fellowship with God, he must adopt God’s perspective.
What, then, does God take pleasure in? The eleventh verse of Psalm 147 tells us: “The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy.” In other words, God is more interested in the spiritual than in the physical. The Apostle Paul mirrors this same value system when he says that “bodily exercise profiteth (a) little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.” (1 Tim. 4:8).
One hundred years from today, when the cheers have died away, when the stadium is empty, and the score is forgotten, the thing that will really count is a life that first sought the kingdom of God and His righteousness.
“The righteous Lord loveth righteousness.” (Psalm 11:7)
The Lord Himself is righteous and loves to see His people acting in a righteous manner. He is pleased when believers instinctively make choices that are consistent with divine or moral law.
But it is not always easy in a world such as ours. We are constantly tempted to compromise in the areas of morals and ethics. Some or the temptations are blatant; others are insidious. It takes both discernment and backbone to walk a straight line.
It would not be possible to catalog all the problem areas, but perhaps a selective list will provide a base for future decision-making.
Bribes and kickbacks are forms of unrighteousness. So are gifts made to a purchasing agent in order to prejudice his judgment— It is wrong to kite checks, that is, to issue them without sufficient funds in the account in the hope that you can deposit enough money before the checks are collected… It’s illegal to mail a package of merchandise with writing enclosed and not pay the extra postage for the letter… A form of deceit is to tell a caller that the boss is not in when, in fact, he is sitting in the adjacent office…Any misuse of company time or expense account with personal expenditures that are not related to the business… And then of course there is the widespread practice of falsifying income tax returns, either by understating income or padding contributions and expenses… The filing of fraudulent insurance claims has reached epidemic proportions… Work slowdowns and work that is below standard are wrong… And perhaps one of the most frequent abuses is the unauthorized use of an employer’s time to transact personal business.
It is not right to stand up for relatives or friends when they are clearly in the wrong. This is misguided affection and false loyalty. The cause of righteousness is served when we stand for truth against sin, no matter who the guilty person is.
Similarly, it is wrong to side in with an excommunicated person on the sentimental notion that someone has to befriend the offender. This only succeeds in creating division in the church and hardening the offender in his wickedness.
Finally, it is never right for someone to shoulder the blame for something he hasn’t done. There are some peace-loving souls who are willing to take the blame when the guilty refuses to come forward and confess. Peace cannot be won by the sacrifice of truth.
Courage, brother! do not stumble,
Though thy path is dark as night;
There’s a star to guide the humble:
“Trust in God, and do the Right.”
“The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.”
Games 1:20) The picture is not an unfamiliar one. A church business meeting is in progress. A decision must be made. It is not about some great doctrine of the faith, but perhaps about building an addition, or painting the kitchen, or distributing some funds. A disagreement develops, anger rises, tempers flare and shouting erupts. A few strongminded vocal individuals finally prevail, then leave with the delusion that they have forwarded the work of God. Whatever else they have forwarded, they have not advanced God’s work or accomplished His will. Man’s wrath does not work the righteousness of God.
The story is told that Emerson rushed out of some committee meeting where there had been a lot of argument and mental strife. While he was still seething with anger, he seemed to hear the stars say to him, “Why so hot, little man?” To which Leslie Weatherhead comments: “How wonderfully the silent stars in their majesty and remote beauty, hush our spirits, as if they were really saying, ‘God is great enough to take care of you’, and ‘Nothing troubling you is as important as it seems.’”
We know, of course, that there is a time for righteous anger. That time is when the honor of God is at stake. But James is not thinking of that when he speaks of the wrath of man. He is thinking of the man who insists on having his own way, and who, when blocked, explodes in anger. He is thinking of the proud person who considers his own judgment infallible and who is therefore intolerant of dissent.
To the man of this world, an explosive temper is a sign of strength. To him it is a badge of leadership, a means of commanding respect. He thinks that meekness is weakness.
But the Christian knows better. He knows that when he loses his temper, he loses respect. Every outburst of temper is a failure. It is the work of the flesh, not the fruit of the Spirit.
Christ has taught him a better way. It is the way of self-control, of giving place to God’s wrath, of showing all meekness to all men. It is the way of patiently enduring wrong, of turning the other cheek. The Christian knows that he hinders the work of God by displays of temper, he obscures any visible difference between himself and the unconverted, and he seals his lips as far as testimony is concerned.
“Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the Lord hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger.” (Lam. 1:12).
Sometimes as I sit at the Lord’s Supper, I have to ask myself, “What is the matter with me? How can I sit here and contemplate the passion of the Savior and not be melted in tears?”
An unknown poet faced the same questions; he wrote: “Am I a stone, and not a man, that I can stand,/ O Christ, beneath Thy cross,/ and number, drop by drop,/ Thy blood’s slow loss,/ and yet not weep?/ Not so the sun and moon,/ which hid their faces in a midnight sky,/ while earth convulsed and groaned —yet only I / can look, unmoved, unwooed./ Great God, I must not be,/ or I shall know the anger that He bore./ Oh Lord, I pray Thee, turn and look once more,/ and smite this rock, my heart.”
Another wrote in a similar spirit: “O wonder to myself I am,/ Thou loving, bleeding, dying Lamb,/ that I can scan the mystery o’er,/ and not be moved to love Thee more.”
I admire those sensitive souls who are so moved by the sufferings of the dying Redeemer that they break down and cry. I think of my Christian barber, Ralph Ruocco. Often as he stood over me, he would talk about the agonies which the Savior endured. Then with his tears falling on the cloth cover, he would say, “I don’t know why He was willing to die for me. I am such a wretch. Yet He bore the penalty of my sins in His body on the Cross.”
I think of the sinful woman who washed the Savior’s feet with her tears, and wiped them with her hair, and kissed His feet, and anointed them with ointment (Lu. 7:38). Although living on the other side of the Cross, she was more attuned emotionally than I with all my superior knowledge and privilege.
Why am I such a block of ice? Is it that I have been brought up in a culture where it is considered unmanly to weep? If so, then I wish I had never known that culture. It is not a disgrace to weep in the shadow of Calvary; the disgrace lies in not weeping.
Borrowing Jeremiah’s words, I must henceforth pray, “Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night” (Jer. 9:1); weep, that is, over the sufferings and death which my sins brought on the sinless Savior. And I take as my own the immortal words of Isaac Watts: Well might I hide my blushing face, while His dear cross appears; Dissolve my heart in thankfulness, and melt my eyes to tears.
Lord, deliver me from the curse of a dry-eyed Christianity!
“…to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” (Isa. 61:3)
In this exalted passage, the Messiah is describing some of the marvelous exchanges which He brings to those who receive Him. He gives beauty for ashes, joy for mourning, praise for heaviness.
We bring Him the ashes of a life burned out with pleasure, the ashes of a body ruined by liquor or drugs. We bring Him the ashes of wasted years in the wilderness, or the ashes of frustrated hopes and shattered dreams. And what do we get? He gives us beauty, the beauty of a dazzling bridal diadem. What an exchange! “The poor wearied drudge of sin is honored by becoming the consort of the holy God” (J.H. Jowett). Mary Magdalene, controlled by seven demons, is not only delivered but becomes a daughter of the King. The Corinthians come to Him in all their degradation and are washed, sanctified and justified.
We bring Him the tears of mourning. These are tears brought on by sin, defeat and failure. Tears caused by tragedy and loss. Tears over shattered marriages and wayward children. Can He do anything with these briny, scalding tears? Yes, He can wipe them away and give us the oil of joy in their place. He gives us the joy of forgiveness, the joy of acceptance, the joy of His family, the joy of finding the reason for our existence. In short, He gives us “the joy of the bridal feast for heavy-footed woe.”
Finally, He takes from us the spirit of heaviness. We all know what this spirit is like—the burden of guilt, remorse, shame and humiliation. The spirit of loneliness, of rejection, of betrayal. The spirit of fear and anxiety. He takes them all away and gives us the garment of praise. He puts a new song in our mouth, even praise to our God (Psa. 40:3). The grumbler is filled with thanksgiving, the blasphemer with worship.
Something beautiful, something good,
All my confusion He understood.
All I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife
And He made something beautiful of my life.
“…do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great.” (Lu. 6:35.)
These commandments of our Lord refer to our behavior toward all men, converted and unconverted, but we shall be thinking of them particularly in regard to financial dealings among individual Christians. It is sadly true that some of the most serious conflicts among believers arise over money matters. It shouldn’t be so, but unfortunately the old adage still holds: when money comes in the door, love goes out the window.
A simple solution might be to forbid all financial dealings among the saints, but we cannot do this as long as the Bible says, “Give to every man that asketh of thee” and “…lend, hoping for nothing again” (Lu. 6:30, 35). So we must adopt various guidelines that enable us to obey the Word and yet avoid strife and broken friendships.
We should give to any genuine case of need. The gift should be unconditional. It should not obligate the other person in any way either to vote with us in a church meeting or to defend us when we are wrong. We must not try to “buy” people with our kindnesses.
The commandment to give to every man who asks has certain exceptions. We should not give to anyone to finance gambling, drinking, or smoking. We should not give to underwrite some foolish, get-rich scheme that caters to man’s covetousness.
When we lend for a worthy cause, we should do so with the attitude that we don’t care if the money is never returned. Nonpayment will not affect our friendship. And we should not charge interest on the loan. If a Jew, living under law, could not collect interest from a fellow-Jew (Lev. 25:35-37), how much less should a Christian, living under grace, collect interest from a fellow-believer.
If a case arises where we are not quite sure whether the need is genuine, it is generally better to seek to meet the need. If we must err, it is better to do so on the side of grace.
In giving to others, we must face the fact that recipients of charity often feel resentment toward the donor. This is a price we must be willing to pay. When Disraeli was once reminded that a certain man hated him, he said, “I don’t know why. I haven’t done anything for him lately.”
“And he left all, rose up, and followed him.” (Lu. 5:28).
Picture Levi sitting at a table beside the highway, collecting taxes from those who passed by. If he was a typical tax-collector, he pocketed considerable sums of money instead of turning them in to the despised Roman government.
On this particular day Jesus passed by and said, “Follow me.” A tremendous spiritual awakening took place in Levi’s life. He saw his sins exposed. He realized the emptiness of his life. He heard the promise of better things. His response was immediate. “He left all, rose up, and followed him.” In doing so he anticipated Amy Carmichael’s pregnant lines: “I heard His call, ‘Come, follow!’/ That was all./ My earthly gold grew dim,/ My soul went after Him,/ I rose and followed:/ That was all./ Who would not follow/ If they heard Him call?”
But Levi, or Matthew as he is better known, little realized on that day when he answered the call of Christ the great things that would flow from his obedience.
First of all, of course, he experienced the priceless blessing of salvation. From then on he wore out his sandals on the toes instead of on the heels. From then on he had more joy even when he was sad than he formerly had when he was glad. From then on he could say in the words of George Wade Robinson, “something lives in every hue, Christless eyes have never seen.”
Then too, Matthew became one of the Twelve Apostles. He lived with the Lord Jesus, heard His incomparable teachings, became a witness of His resurrection, went forth with the message glorious, and finally laid down His life for the Savior.
To Matthew was given the unspeakable privilege of writing the first gospel. We said that he left all, but the Lord allowed him to keep his pen. That pen was used to portray the Lord Jesus as the true King of the Jews.
Yes, Matthew left all, but in doing so, he gained all, and found the real reason for his existence.
There is a sense in which the call of Christ comes to every man, woman, boy and girl. We can answer or we can refuse. If we respond, He blesses us beyond our wildest dreams. If we refuse, He finds others to follow Him. But we can never find a better Christ to follow.
“The people said that it thundered.” (John 12:29).
God had just spoken from heaven in clear, articulate tones. Some said that it thundered. They gave a naturalistic explanation for what was divine and miraculous.
That is one attitude we can take toward miracles today. We can try to explain them away as nothing more than natural occurrences.
Or we can say flatly that the age of miracles has passed. We can conveniently relegate them to a dispensational pigeonhole.
A third attitude is to go to the other extreme and claim to experience miracles which, in fact, are nothing but the product of a vivid imagination.
The proper approach is to acknowledge that God can and does perform miracles in our day. As the Sovereign Lord, He can do as He pleases. There is no scriptural reason why He should have abandoned miracles as a means of revealing Himself.
A miracle occurs every time someone is born again. It is a mighty demonstration of divine power, delivering that person from the kingdom of darkness and translating him into the kingdom of the Son of God’s love.
There are miracles of healing when medical science has given up and all human hope is gone. Then, in answer to believing prayer, God sometimes chooses to touch the body and restore the person to health.
There are miracles of provision, when the wallet is all but empty. And miracles of guidance, when we stand at the crossroads and don’t know which way to go.
There are miracles of preservation when, for example, someone walks away without a scratch from a tangled mass of steel that used to be an automobile.
Yes, God still works miracles, but not necessarily the same ones. He has never chosen to repeat the ten plagues which He sent on Egypt. Though Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever, it does not follow that His methods are the same. The fact that He raised the dead when He was on earth does not mean that He raises the dead today.
One final word! Not all miracles are divine. The devil and his agents can perform miracles. In a coming day, the second beast of Revelation 13 will deceive the earthdwellers by the miracles he will perform. Even today we must test all purported miracles by the Word of God and by the direction in which they lead people.
“Whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God.” (2 Cor. 5:13).
God has irregulars in His army, and very often these are the ones who win the greatest victories. In their zeal for the Lord they seem eccentric. They use original methods instead of sticking to the traditional ones. They are always saying and doing the unexpected. They can murder the English language and violate every known rule of preaching and teaching, yet see great gains for God’s kingdom. Often they are dramatic, even electrifying. People are shocked, but they never forget them.
These irregulars are a constant source of embarrassment to the staid and conventional, to those who shudder at the thought of violating cultural norms. Other Christians try to change them, to make them more normal, to put out the fire. But fortunately for the Church, their efforts are usually in vain.
It is hard for us to believe that our Lord seemed peculiar to His contemporaries. “So zealous was He in His work that often He had no time even to eat, and His mother and brothers wanted to take Him home because they thought He was going ‘off his head’. They said, ‘He is beside himself.’ But it was Jesus who was the sane man, not his brothers” (W. Mackintosh Mackay).
It is apparent that people accused the Apostle Paul of being strange. His answer to the charge was: “Whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God” (2 Cor. 5:13.)
We have all heard of one of God’s irregulars who wore a sandwich board with writing on the front and back. On the front it said, “I’m a fool for Christ’s sake.” Then on the back it read, “Whose fool are you?”
The trouble with most of us is that we are too much like the ordinary to create any stir for God in society. As someone has said, “We leave the average where it is. We are like Peter, standing outside the judgment hall where Christ was on trial, just ‘warming himself.’”
Rowland Hill, the great London preacher, was eccentric. So was C.T. Studd. And Billy Bray. And W.P. Nicholson, the Irish evangelist. Would we want them to have been any different? No, when we consider how God used them, we only wish we were more like them. “Better a thousand times effective peculiarity than ineffective ordinariness. First love may sometimes be peculiar, but, thank God, it is effective; and some of us have lost it” (Fred Mitchell).
“A man that is a heretic, after the first and-second admonition, reject; knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.” (Titus 3:10, 11.)
When we think of a heretic, we usually think of someone who holds and propagates views that are contrary to the great fundamental truths of the faith. We think of men like Arius, Montanus, Marcion and Pelagius who lived in the second and third centuries AD.
I do not propose to reject that definition of heretic but to broaden it. A heretic, in the New Testament sense, also includes anyone who obstinately promotes a teaching, even of secondary importance; that causes division in the church. He may be true to the fundamentals and yet push some other teaching that causes strife because it differs from the accepted belief of the fellowship he is in.
Most modern translations read “factious man” instead of “heretic.” A factious man is stubbornly determined to ride his doctrinal hobbyhorse even if it will cause a split in the church. His conversation inevitably reverts to this pet subject. No matter where he turns in the Bible, he thinks he finds support for his view. He cannot minister the Word publicly without introducing it. He is a Johnny-one-note. He has only one string on his violin, and plays only one note on that string.
His behavior is utterly perverse. He completely disregards the thousand and one teachings in the Bible that would build up the saints in their faith, and majors on one or two deviant doctrines that serve only to create a schism. It may be that he harps on some particular aspect of prophecy. Or he may overemphasize a gift of the Spirit. Or his obsession may be with the five points of Calvinism.
When the church leaders warn him against pursuing his selfwilled crusade, he is unrepentant. He insists that he would not be faithful to the Lord if he did not teach these things. He will not be silenced. He has a “super-spiritual” answer for every argument that is used against him. The fact that he is creating strife and division in the church does not deter him in the least. He seems unmoved by the divine decree, “If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him” (1 Cor. 3:17 NASB).
The Scripture says that this person is subverted, is sinning, and is self-condemned. He is subverted in the sense that he has a “moral twist” (Phillips), a “distorted mind” (NEB), is “warped” (NIV). He is sinning because the Bible condemns such behavior. And he knows it, in spite of his pious protestations. After two warnings the fellowship should shun him, hoping by this social ostracism to cause him to abandon his factiousness.
“Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst.” (Matt. 18:20)
When Jesus spoke these words, He was referring to a meeting of the church convened to deal with a sinning member who refuses to repent. Other efforts to handle the offender have failed and now he is brought before the church. If he still refuses to repent; he must be disfellowshipped. The Lord Jesus promises His presence at such a meeting called to deal with a matter of church discipline.
But the verse surely has a wider application. It is true wherever and whenever two or three are gathered in His Name. To gather in His Name means to meet as a Christian assembly. It means to gather together by His authority, acting on His behalf. It means to gather with Him as the attraction. It means to gather in accordance with the practice of the early Christians for “the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts. 2:42). It means to gather with Christ as the center, to gather to Him (Gen. 49:10; Psa. 50:5).
Wherever believers are thus gathered to the Person of the Lord Jesus, He promises to be present. But someone may ask, “Isn’t He present everywhere? As the omnipresent One, is He not in all places at one and the same time?” The answer is, of course, that He is. But He promises to be present in a special way when saints gather in His Name.
“…there am I in the midst.” That is, in itself, the strongest single reason why we should be faithful in attending all the meetings of the local assembly. The Lord Jesus is there in a special way. Many times we may not be conscious of His promised presence. At those times we accept the fact by faith, based upon His promise. But there are other times when He manifests Himself to us in an unusual way. Times when heaven seems to bend very low. Times when all hearts are bowed beneath the influence of the Word. Times when the glory of the Lord so fills the place that a deep sense of reverential awe grips the people and tears flow freely. Times when our hearts burn within us.
We never know the times of these sacred visitations. They come unannounced and unexpectedly. If we are not present, we miss them. Then we share a loss similar to that of Thomas. He was not present when the risen, glorified Lord Jesus appeared to the disciples on the evening of His resurrection (John 20:24). It was a moment of glory that could never be recaptured.
If we really believe Christ is present when His people gather in His Name, we will be much more determined to attend than if the President were going to be there. Nothing short of death or terminal illness would hinder our presence.
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” (Psa. 51:17)
There is nothing more beautiful in God’s spiritual creation than a believer who demonstrates a true spirit of brokenness. Even God Himself finds such a person irresistible; He can resist the proud and haughty (Jas. 4:6), but He can’t resist the broken and humble.
In our natural condition, none of us is broken. We are like a wild donkey’s colt—rebellious, stubborn, impetuous. We resist the bit, the bridle and the saddle of God’s will. We refuse to be harnessed, wanting only our own way. As long as we are unbroken, we are unfit for service.
Conversion is like the beginning of the breaking process. The penitent sinner can say, “The proudest heart that ever beat,/ Has been subdued in me;/ The wildest will that ever rose/ To scorn Thy cause or aid Thy foes/ Is quelled, my God, by Thee!” In conversion, we take the yoke of Christ upon us.
But it is possible to be a believer and still behave very much like an unbroken colt that wants to roam the range as it pleases. We must learn to turn over the reins of life to the Lord Jesus. We must submit to His dealings in our life without kicking, bucking or jumping. We must be able to say:
His way is best
We cease from needless scheming
And leave the ruling of our life to Him.
We need to practice brokenness not only toward God but toward our fellow men as well. This means that we will not be proud, assertive, arrogant. We will not feel compelled to stand up for our rights or to defend ourselves when accused unjustly. When we are insulted, ridiculed, abused or slandered, we will not fight back. Broken people are quick to apologize when they have said or done something wrong. They don’t carry grudges or keep a count of wrongs against them. They look upon others as better than themselves. When they encounter delays, interruptions, breakdowns, accidents, schedule changes and disappointments, they do not respond with frenzy, panic, hysteria or ruffled feathers. They display poise and equanimity in the crises of life.
If a married couple is truly broken, they will never need to go to the divorce court. Broken parents and children never experience a generation gap. Broken neighbors never need to erect fences. Churches with people who have learned the way of brokenness experience continual revival.
When we come to the Lord’s Supper and hear the Savior say, “This is my body, broken for you,” the only proper response is, “This is my life, Lord Jesus, broken for you.”
“Take heed, and beware of covetousness.” (Lu. 12:15)
Covetousness is the excessive desire for wealth or possessions. It is a mania that grips people, causing them to grasp for more and more. It is a fever that drives them to crave things they don’t actually need.
We see covetousness in the business man who is never satisfied. He says he will stop when he has accumulated a certain amount, but when that time comes, he is greedy for more.
We see it in the housewife whose life is one unending shopping spree. She squirrels away tons of miscellany till her attic, garage and storage area bulge with the loot.
We see it in the tradition of Christmas gifts and birthday gifts. Young and old alike judge the success of the occasion by the amount of booty they are able to accumulate.
We see it in the disposition of an estate. When someone dies, his relatives and friends shed a ritual tear, then descend like vultures to divide the prey, often starting a civil war in the process.
Covetousness is idolatry (Eph. 5:5; Col. 3:5). It puts self-will in the place of God’s will. It expresses dissatisfaction with what God has given, and is determined to get more, no matter what the cost may be.
Covetousness is a lie, creating the impression that happiness is found in the possession of material things. The story is told of a man who could have anything he wanted by merely wishing for it. He wished for a mansion, servants, a Cadillac, a yacht and presto! they were there instantly. At first it was exhilarating, but then as he began to run out of new ideas, he became dissatisfied. Finally he said, “I want to get out of here. I want to create something, to suffer something. I’d rather be in hell than here.” The attendant answered, “Where do you think you are?”
Covetousness tempts people to compromise, to cheat, to sin in order to get what they want.
It unfits a man for leadership in the church (1 Tim. 3:3). Ronald Sider asks, “Would it not be more biblical to apply church discipline to people whose greedy acquisitiveness has led to ‘financial success’ than to elect them to the board of elders?”
When greed leads to embezzlement, extortion or other public scandals, it calls for excommunication (1 Cor. 5:11).
And if covetousness is not confessed and forsaken, it leads to exclusion from the Kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:10).
“And having food and raiment, let us be therewith content.” (1 Tim. 6:8)
Few Christians take these words seriously, yet they are as truly the Word of God as John 3:16. They tell us to be satisfied with food and covering. That word “covering” includes a roof over our heads as well as the clothes we wear. In other words, we should be content with the minimum essentials and put everything above that into the work of the Lord.
The man who has contentment has something that money cannot buy. E. Stanley Jones said, “Everything belongs to the man who wants nothing. Having nothing, he possesses all things in life, including life itself… He is rich in the fewness of his wants rather than in the abundance of his possessions.”
Years ago when Rudyard Kipling spoke to a graduating class at McGill University, he warned the students against putting a great premium on material wealth. He said, “Some day you’ll meet a man who cares for none of these things and then you’ll realize how poor you are.”
“The happiest state of a Christian on earth seems to be that he should have few wants. If a man has Christ in his heart, heaven before his eyes, and only as much of temporal blessings as is just needful to carry him safely through life, then pain and sorrow have little to shoot at; such a man has little to lose” (William C. Burns).
This spirit of contentment seems to have characterized many of God’s giants. David Livingston said, “I am determined not to look upon anything that I possess except as in relation to the Kingdom of God.” Watchman Nee wrote, “I want nothing for myself; I want everything for the Lord.” And Hudson Taylor said that he enjoyed “the luxury of having few things to care for.”
To some, the idea of contentment means the lack of drive and ambition. They picture the contented person as a drone or a freeloader. But that is not godly contentment. The contented Christian has plenty of drive and ambition, but they are directed toward the spiritual, not the material. Rather than being a freeloader, he works so that he can give to those who are in need. In Jim Elliot’s words, the contented person is the one for whom God has “loosed the tension of the grasping hand.”
“…them that honor me I will honor…” (1 Sam. 2:30)
One of the many ways in which we can honor the Lord is by standing true to divine principles and by steadfastly refusing to compromise.
During his early years Adam Clarke worked for a silk merchant. One day his boss showed him how he should stretch the silk when measuring it out for a customer. Adam said, “Sir, your silk may stretch but my conscience won’t.” Years later God honored that honest clerk by enabling him to write the Bible commentary that bears his name.
Eric Liddell was scheduled to run in the 100 meters event in the Olympic Games. But when he found that the heats for this event were scheduled for Sunday, he told the manager that he wouldn’t run. He felt that by dishonoring the Lord’s Day, he would be dishonoring the Lord Himself. A great storm of criticism broke. He was accused of being a spoilsport, of letting his country down, of being a straightlaced religious fanatic. But he would not go back on his decision.
When he noticed that the heats for the 220 meters were scheduled for a weekday, he asked his manager for permission to run, even if that wasn’t his distance. He won the first heat, the second heat, then the semi-finals. On the day of the finals, as he strode to the starting place, someone pressed a small piece of paper in his hand. He glanced down and saw the words, “…them that honor me I will honor.” That day he not only won the race but set a new world’s record.
The Lord gave him the greater honor of serving as one of His ambassadors in the Far East. During World War II, he was interned by the Japanese and died in a concentration camp, thus winning the martyr’s crown.
Adam Clarke and Eric Liddell followed in the illustrious line of men like Joseph who honored God by his sterling character and was honored by God by becoming the savior of his people in a time of famine. Men like Moses whose loyalty to his God was honored by his leading the nation of Israel out of Egyptian bondage. Men like Daniel whose refusal to compromise brought him a place of distinction in the Persian Kingdom. And—greatest of all—the Lord Jesus who honored His Father as no one else, and has been given the Name above every name.
“Let not him who girds on his armor boast like him who takes it off.” (1 Ki. 20:11 NASB)
Although these words were spoken by a wicked king, Ahab, they are words of truth. Even ungodly men sometimes lapse into truth.
The king of Syria had made insulting, degrading demands of Ahab, threatening military disaster if he did not obey. But in the battle that followed, the Syrians were forced to retreat and their king had to flee for his life. His performance didn’t match his boast.
Today’s text would have been good advice for Goliath also. When he saw David approaching, he said, “Come to me, and I will give thy flesh unto the fowls of the air, and to the beasts of the field” (1 Sam. 17:44). But David easily felled him with a single stone from his sling. The giant had boasted too soon.
When we are young Christians, it is easy for us to overestimate our own ability. We act as if we could take on the world, the flesh and the devil single-handed. We might even reproach older Christians for their failure to evangelize the world. We will show them how to do it! But our boasting is premature. The battle has only started and we are acting as if it were all over.
In an informal gathering of believers one evening, the spotlight was shining on a brilliant young preacher who was present. He found it quite satisfying to be the center of interest. Also in the group was a Sunday School teacher who had had a profound influence on his life. Someone said to this teacher, “You must be quite proud of your former student.” His reply was, “Yes, if he goes on well to the end.” At the time, the young preacher thought that that was a rather sour note to inject into an otherwise pleasurable evening. But later, given the perspective of years, he realized that his old teacher was right. It isn’t how you put on your armor that counts. It’s how you finish the battle.
Actually the battle is never over in this life. It will not be over until we stand before our great Captain in heaven. Then we will hear His appraisal of our service—the only appraisal that really counts. And no matter what His appraisal might be, we will have no grounds for boasting. We will say with heartfelt humility, “We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do” (Lu. 17:10).
“Thou shalt not revile the gods, nor curse the ruler of thy people.” (Ex.22:28)
When God gave the Law to Moses, He included a specific prohibition against speaking reproachfully or disrespectfully of those who hold positions of authority. The reason for this is clear. These rulers and leaders are representatives of God. “There is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God” (Rom. 13:1). The ruler is a “minister of God to thee for good” (Rom. 13:4). Even though the leader may not know the Lord personally, still he is the Lord’s man officially.
The link between God and human rulers is so close that He sometimes refers to them as gods. Thus in today’s verse we read, “Thou shalt not revile the gods,” which may mean governmental authorities. And in Psalm 82:1, 6 the Lord refers to judges as gods—not meaning that they are deities but simply that they are agents of God.
In spite of King Saul’s murderous attacks on David, the latter would not allow his men to harm the king in any way because he was the Lord’s anointed (1 Sam. 24:6).
When the Apostle Paul unknowingly reproached the high priest, he quickly repented and apologized, saying, “I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people” (Acts 23:5).
Respect for authorities applies even in the spirit realm. This explains why Michael, the archangel, did not dare to bring a railing accusation against Satan, but simply said, “The Lord rebuke thee” (Jude 9).
One of the marks of latter-day apostates is that they despise governments and are not afraid to speak evil of dignities (2 Pet. 2:10).
The lesson for us is clear. We are to respect our rulers as official servants of God even though we might not agree with their policies or approve of their personal character. Under no circumstances should we ever say what one Christian said in the heat of a political campaign, “The president is a lowdown scoundrel.”
Further we are to pray “for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” (1 Tim. 2:2).
“If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?” (Heb. 12:7)
The words chastening, chasteneth, chastisement and chastened occur seven times in the first 11 verses of Hebrews 12. As a result it is easy for the casual reader to get a wrong impression. He might easily picture God as an angry Father who is forever whipping His children. This misconception arises from thinking of chastening as nothing but punishment.
It is a great relief to learn that chastening in the New Testament has a much broader meaning than that. It really means child-training, and includes all parental activity that is involved in raising a child. Kittel defines it as “the upbringing and handling of the child which is growing up to maturity and which needs direction, teaching, instruction and a certain measure of compulsion in the form of discipline or even chastisement.”
The Christians to whom the book of Hebrews was written were suffering persecution. The writer speaks of this persecution as part of the chastening of the Lord. Does this mean that God had sent the persecution? Certainly not! It was inspired by enemies of the gospel. Was God punishing the Christians because of their sins? No, the persecution was probably brought on because of their faithful witness for Him. In what sense then could persecution be said to be the chastening of the Lord? In the sense that God allowed it to take place, and then used it as part of His educative program in the lives of His people. In other words, He used the persecution to refine, mature and conform His children to the image of His Son.
It goes without saying that this type of chastening is not pleasant at the time. The chisel deals roughly with the marble. The furnace subjects the gold to intense heat. But it is all worthwhile when the face of the man appears in the marble and when the gold is purified from dross.
It is self-defeating to despise the chastening of the Lord or to faint under it. The only proper attitude is to remember that God is using it as a training device, then to try to get the maximum benefit from it. That is what the writer means when he says that “it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby” (Heb. 12:11b).
“…I would rather speak five words that can be understood, in order to teach others, than speak thousands of words in strange tongues.” (1 Cor. 14:19 TEV)
The subject here, of course, is the use of tongues without interpretation in the meetings of the church. Paul is opposed to the practice. He insists that what is spoken must be intelligible, otherwise no one is edified.
But the verse can be applied in a broader sense. When we speak, we should speak loudly enough for everyone to hear, otherwise we might just as well be speaking in a foreign language. In almost every audience there are people who are hard of hearing. It is a great trial to them when a speaker’s voice is so soft that they miss the train of thought. Because love thinks of others, not self, it speaks with sufficient volume for all to hear.
Love also uses words that are simple enough for the average person to understand. We have a great message—the greatest message in all the world. It is important that people hear and understand the message. If we use involved, obscure, technical jargon, we defeat our own purpose.
A preacher went to the Far East to minister to the people, using an interpreter, of course. The first sentence of his message was, “All thought may be divided into two categories—concrete and abstract.” Looking down at the audience of toothless grandmothers and restless children, the interpreter translated it as, “I have come all the way from America to tell you about the Lord Jesus/’ From that point on, it is said, the message was firmly in the hands of the angels.
In a recent issue of a Christian magazine, I came across such expressions as: normative datum of a trans-historical category; work that is not eclectic but that has existential relevance; a vertical continuum of consciousness; the canonical language of affirmation; classical causality at the extreme limits of measurement. Pity the poor people who are asked to wade through such religious gobbledegook! Spare us all from those who have a ponderous way of saying nothing in infinite sentences!
We hear that the average TV or radio program is beamed at those with a third-grade education. That should be a cue to Christians who want to reach the world with the message of redemption. We should “make the message clear and plain: CHRIST RECEIVETH SINFUL MEN.” Better to speak five words and be understood than 10,000 words in a language no one can understand.
“Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father.” (John 20:17)
One of the much-loved hymns for children says, “I think when I read that sweet story of old,/ When Jesus was here among men,/ How He called little children as lambs to His fold,/ I should like to have been with Him then.” Probably most of us have shared that sentimental desire at one time or another. We think how nice it would have been to enjoy the personal companionship of the Son of God during His earthly ministry.
But what we should realize is that it is better to know Him today, as He is revealed by the Spirit through the Word. Instead of being at a disadvantage, we are actually more privileged than the disciples. Look at it this way: Matthew saw Jesus through Matthew’s eyes, Mark through Mark’s eyes, Luke through Luke’s eyes, and John through John’s eyes. But we see Him through the eyes of all four Evangelists. And, to carry the thought a step farther, we have a fuller revelation of the Lord Jesus in the entire New Testament than any of the disciples had when they were on earth.
There is an additional sense in which we are more privileged than the contemporaries of Jesus. When He was mingling with the crowd in Nazareth or Capernaum, He was necessarily closer to some than to others. In the upper room, John leaned on His bosom, whereas the other disciples reclined at varying distances. But all that is changed now. The Savior is equally close to all believers. He is not only with us; He is in us.
When Mary met the resurrected Lord, she wanted to cling to Him in the same way she had previously known Him. She did not want to lose His physical, bodily presence. But Jesus said to her, “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father…” (John 20:17). He was saying, in effect, “Mary, don’t cling to me in an earthly, physical sense. When I ascend to my Father, the Holy Spirit will be sent to the earth. Through His ministry you will know me in a fuller, clearer, more intimate way than you have ever known me before.”
So the conclusion is this: Instead of wishing we had been with Jesus when He was on earth, we should realize, rejoicingly, that it is better to be with Him now.
“For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” (Jer. 2:13)
It is a bad bargain to exchange a fountain for cisterns, and especially for broken cisterns. A fountain is a spring of cool, pure, refreshing water, gushing forth from the earth. A cistern is an artificial reservoir for storing water. The water in it may become stagnant and foul. When the cistern is broken, the water leaks out and pollution seeps in.
The Lord is a Fountain of living waters. His people can find lasting satisfaction in Him. The world is a cistern, and a broken cistern at that. It offers the hope of pleasure and happiness, but those who seek satisfaction in it are inevitably disappointed.
Mary was brought up in a Christian home where the Word of God was read and memorized. But she rebelled against her parents’ lifestyle and left home, determined to live it up. Dancing became the passion of her life. Trying to repress all memories of her Christian background, she lived from one dance to the next.
One night while gliding across the dance floor with her partner, she was arrested by a verse of Scripture which she had learned as a girl: “For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” In the middle of the dance, she was convicted of her sin. Realizing the emptiness of her life, she turned to the Lord and was converted. She excused herself from continuing the dance, left the hall and never returned.
From that moment she could identify with the poet who wrote: “I tried the broken cisterns, Lord,/ But ah! the waters failed!/ E’en as I stooped to drink they’d fled,/ And mocked me as I wailed./ Now none but Christ can satisfy,/ None other name for me;/ There’s love, and life, and lasting joy,/ Lord Jesus, found in Thee.”
Mary experienced the truth of the Savior’s words, “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:13, 14).
“Thus saith the Lord; Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the Lord; and they shall come again from the land of the enemy.” (Jer. 31:16)
Stephen had been brought up on the mission field. He professed faith in Christ at an early age and had been the means of leading several to the Lord. When he first came back to the States to attend college, he maintained a good testimony. But then he began to drift. Coldness set in. He compromised with sin. Soon he began to dabble in Eastern religions.
When his parents came home on furlough, they were heartsick. They pled, reasoned, and entreated, but he was adamant. Finally they went to visit him where he lived with three others. What they saw there utterly crushed them. They went home and wept bitterly.
They went to bed and tried to sleep but it was useless. Finally at 4 a.m. they decided to get up and have their morning devotions. Ordinarily they would have been reading Jeremiah 31 on that day, but the husband said, “Not Jeremiah!” thinking that the weeping prophet would have no comfort for them. But the Lord overruled and they turned to Jeremiah 31. When they got to the 16th verse, they read, “Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the Lord; and they shall come again from the land of the enemy.”
Thousands of Christian parents today are brokenhearted, mourning over rebel sons and daughters. When they pray, the heavens seem like brass. They begin to wonder if God ever can or will restore the backslider.
They should remember that no case is too hard for the Lord. They should continue in prayer, watching in the same with thanksgiving. They should plead the promises of God’s Word.
When the mother referred to above wondered if she had been justified in claiming Jeremiah 31:16, she read in Isaiah 49:25, “I will contend with him that contendeth with thee, and I will save thy children.”
“But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead.” (2 Cor. 1:9)
Paul had a narrow scrape with death in the province of Asia. We cannot be sure exactly what happened, but it was so serious that if we had asked him, “Is it going to be life or death?” he would have said, “Death.”
Most people whom God uses have had a similar experience at one time or another in their lives. Biographies of great men of God record marvelous deliverances from disease, from accidents, from personal attacks.
Sometimes God uses this kind of experience to get a man’s attention. Perhaps he is riding the crest of the wave as far as material prosperity is concerned. Everything is going his way. Then suddenly he is laid low with illness. The surgeon removes yards of cancerous intestines. This causes him to reevaluate his life and to rethink his priorities. Realizing how short and uncertain life is, he determines to give the rest of it to the Lord. God raises him up and gives him many additional years of fruitful service.
It was different in Paul’s case. He had already yielded his life to the Lord for service. But there was the dangerous possibility that he might try to serve in his own strength, and by his own cleverness. So the Lord brought him to the brink of the grave in order that he might not trust in himself but in the God of resurrection. There would be many times in his tumultuous career when he would face predicaments beyond human solution. Having already proved the sufficiency of the God of the impossible, he would not be daunted.
These close encounters with death are blessings in disguise. They show us how frail we are. They remind us of the folly of this world’s values. They teach us that life is a short story that can end very unexpectedly. When we face death, we realize that we must work the works of Him that sent us while it is day, for the night is coming when no man can work. In a sense we all have the sentence of death in ourselves—a healthy reminder to put Christ’s interests first and to depend upon His power and wisdom.
“Establish thou the work of our hands upon us.” (Psa. 90:17)
The margin of the New American Standard Bible reads “…give permanence to the work of our hands.” Now that is a thought worth pondering and a request worth praying! We should make it our ambition to spend our lives doing that which will last.
This finds an echo in the New Testament when the Lord Jesus said, “I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain” (John 15:16).
F. W. Boreham said that each of us should provide himself with some honorable occupation that he can do while his body is lying in the grave. But we should advance the thought beyond the grave and say that each of us should be building for eternity.
So much of modern activity is of transient importance and of fleeting value. The other day I heard of a man who was devoting his life to a chemical analysis of fifty volatile chemicals in the skin of a Bartlett pear. Even Christians can fall into the trap of building castles in the sand, of chasing bubbles, and of becoming experts in trivia. As someone has said, we can be guilty of spending our lives straightening pictures in a burning house.
There are many types of work that are of eternal significance, and we should concentrate on these. First is the development of Christian character. Our character is one of the few things we will take to heaven. It needs cultivating now.
Souls won to Christ are of abiding importance. They will be worshipers of the Lamb of God forever and ever.
Those who teach the Word of Truth, who disciple young believers, who feed the sheep of Christ are making a deposit in lives that will last indefinitely.
Parents who raise their sons and daughters for the service of the Kingdom are assured that their work will endure.
Faithful stewards who invest their money for Christ and His cause are engaged in a ministry that cannot fail.
Those who devote themselves to the work of prayer will see some day how every prayer was answered in God’s own time and way.
Anyone who serves God’s people is engaged in a work for eternity. The humblest servant of Christ has superior vision to the wisest men of the world. His work will last while theirs will go up in a mushroom cloud.
“Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in thy holy hill?…He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not.” (Psa. 15:1, 4)
In Psalm 15, David is describing the person who is qualified to be a companion of the Great God. One of the aspects of this man’s character is that he stands by his word, even at great personal cost to himself. If he makes a promise or a commitment, he remains faithful to it.
Here, for example, is a Christian who is selling his house. A buyer comes along and agrees to pay the asking price. The seller agrees to the deal. Before any papers are signed, someone else offers $5,000 more for the house. Legally, perhaps, the seller can reject the first offer and thus make $5,000 more on the transaction. But morally he is obligated to be true to his spoken word. His testimony as a dependable Christian is at stake.
Or here is a believer who has an infected wisdom tooth. His dentist refers him to an oral surgeon who treats the tooth with an antibiotic, then makes an appointment for the extraction. After witnessing to the surgeon, the Christian leaves the office. On the way home he meets a friend who tells him where he can get the extraction done for half the amount. No doubt he could pay the surgeon for the work already done, then go to the other dentist. But should he?
Sue has just accepted a supper invitation from an older couple. Then the phone rings and she is invited to a pot-luck supper with a group of young people her own age. She is between a rock and a hard place. She doesn’t want to disappoint the older couple, yet she desperately wants to be with the young people.
The decision is often most difficult when large amounts of money are at stake. But no amount of money should induce us to break a promise, to go back on a commitment, to discredit our Christian testimony and to bring dishonor on the Name of the Lord. No matter what the cost may be, we must disprove Voltaire’s snide remark that “when it comes to money, all men are of the same religion.”
The man of God “always does what he promises, no matter how much it may cost” (TEV); he “keeps a promise even if it ruins him” (LB).
“Be sure your sin will find you out.” (Num. 32:23)
God has built certain unalterable principles into this world of ours, and not all man’s ingenuity can escape the outworking of these principles. One of them is that you can’t sin and get away with it.
Some of us learned this early when we swiped jam or other foods which left their tell-tale marks which mother easily discovered. But the truth applies to all of life, and is attested by every newspaper.
The poem “The Dream of Eugene Aram” is a remarkable illustration of the point. Thinking he could commit a “perfect crime/’ Aram murdered a man and threw his body into the river—“a sluggish water, black as ink, the depth was so extreme.” The next morning he went down to the riverbank where he had committed the crime
And sought the black accursed pool,
With a wild misgiving eye;
And he saw the dead in the riverbed
For the faithless stream was dry.
He tried to cover the body with a huge pile of leaves, but that night a great wind blew through the area, leaving the corpse plainly visible.
Then down I cast me on my face,
And first began to weep,
For I knew my secret then was one
That earth refused to keep,
On land or sea, though it should be
Ten thousand fathoms deep.
Finally he buried his victim in a remote cave, but years later the skeleton was discovered; he was tried for the crime, and executed. His sin had found him put.
But there is another way in which sin catches up with us. E. Stanley Jones reminds us that “it registers itself in inner deterioration, in the inner hell of not being able to respect yourself, in compelling you to live underground in blind labyrinths.”
And even if a man’s sin could somehow remain undetected in this life, it will surely overtake him in the next. Unless that sin has been cleansed through the blood of Jesus, it will be brought to light in the Day of Judgment. Whether it be acts, thoughts, motives or intents; it will be charged against him and the penalty announced. That penalty, of course, is eternal death.
“Christ is all.” (Col. 3:11)
There is a tendency for us Christians to spend a great deal of our time looking for new spiritual experiences that will somehow guarantee permanent victory or freedom from the ups and downs of daily living. We rush around to conventions, conferences, seminars and workshops in search of the elusive magic formula that will smooth out the rough places of life. Glossy brochures assure us that Dr. So-and-So will share a great new breakthrough that will make us radioactive with the Spirit. Or some zealous neighbor insists on dragging us to the Municipal Auditorium to hear about a recently discovered shortcut to the abundant life.
The lures are legion. One preacher offers the royal road to fulfillment. Another advertises the threefold secret of victory. Now we go to a seminar on keys to the deeper life. The next week there is a convention on five easy steps to holiness. We surge forward for an altarcall experience by which we will receive the filling of the Spirit. Or we become obsessed with healing of the body as if that were the most important thing in life. One minute we are off on a Christian psychology kick, the next on healing of the memories. We compass land and sea for some new spiritual high.
There is no doubt that many of these speakers are sincere and that there is value in some of the things that they say. But we return to the nitty-gritty of life to find that there is no short cut to holiness, that the problems are still there, and that we must live day by day in dependence on the Lord.
Eventually we should learn that it is better to be occupied with the Lord Jesus than with experiences. There is no disappointment in Him. We have all we need in Him. He is the all-sufficient One.
A. B. Simpson spent the early part of his life in the quest for experiences, but he found that they didn’t satisfy. Then he wrote the lovely hymn entitled “Himself,” the first verse and chorus of which are as follows:
Once it was the blessing, now it is the Lord;
Once it was the feeling, now it is His Word;
Once His gifts I wanted, now the Giver own;
Once I sought for healing, now Himself alone.
All in all forever, Jesus will I sing;
Everything in Jesus, And Jesus everything.
“Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine.” (1 Tim. 4:16)
One of the many noteworthy features of the Word of God is that it never isolates doctrine from duty. Take Philippians 2:1-13, for example. It is one of the classic passages in the New Testament on the doctrine of Christ. We learn there of His equality with God the Father, His self-emptying, His incarnation, His servanthood, His death and His subsequent glorification. But this is introduced, not as a doctrinal treatise, but as an appeal to the Philippians and to us to have the mind of Christ. If we live for others as He did, this will eliminate strife and vainglory. If we take the low place as He did, God will exalt us in due time. The passage is intensely practical.
I often think of this when I read books on systematic theology. In these books the authors seek to gather together all that the Bible teaches on the doctrines of the faith, whether of God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, angels, man, sin, redemption, etc. While this has definite value, it can be very cold when isolated from godly living. A person can be intellectually proficient in the great doctrines and yet be sadly deficient as to his Christian character. If we study the Bible as God has given it to us, we never get a dichotomy between doctrine and duty. The two are always beautifully balanced and woven together.
Perhaps the doctrinal subject that has been most divorced from our personal responsibility is prophecy. Too often it has been presented in such a way as to cater to curiosity. Sensational speculations concerning the identity of the Antichrist may draw the crowds but they don’t develop holiness. Prophecy was never intended to tickle itching ears but rather to shape Christian character. George Peters lists 65 ways in which the Second Advent is calculated to affect our doctrine, duty and character; and I don’t doubt that there are many more than that.
The lesson for us is that we should never divorce theology from practical godliness. In our own personal study and in teaching the Word to others, we should emphasize Paul’s exhortation to Timothy, “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine…”
“What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.” (Phil. 3:7, 8)
It is always eminently fine when a believer makes great renunciations for Jesus’ sake. Here is a man whose talents have brought him wealth and fame, yet in obedience to the divine call, he lays them at the Saviors feet. Or a woman whose voice has opened doors to the world’s great concert halls. But now she feels she must live for another world, so she gives up her career to follow Christ. After all, what are reputation or fortune or earthly distinctions when compared to the incomparable gain of winning Christ?
Ian MacPherson asks, “Is there anywhere a sight more deeply moving than that of a man laden with gifts, laying them all numbly and adoringly at the Redeemer’s feet? And that, after all is where they were meant to be. In the words of a wise old Welsh divine, ‘Hebrew, Greek and Latin are all very well in their place; but their place is not where Pilate put them, over Jesus’ head, but rather at His feet.’”
The Apostle Paul renounced wealth, culture, and ecclesiastical status and counted them loss for Christ. Jowett comments that “when the Apostle Paul regarded his aristocratic possessions as great gains, he had never seen the Lord; but when ‘the glory of the Lord’ blazed upon his wondering eyes these things faded away into shadow and even eclipse. And it was not only that the Apostle’s former gains were cheapened in the effulgence of the Lord, and stood revealed as contemptible nothings m his hands; it was that he ceased to think of them at all. They vanished entirely from the mind where they had been treated as supreme and sacred deposits.”
It is strange, then, that when a man forsakes all to follow Christ, some think that he has lost his mind. Some are shocked and uncomprehending. Some weep and offer alternate routes. Some argue on the basis of logic and common sense. A few approve and are stirred to their depths. But when a person walks y faith, he is able to appraise the opinions of others properly.
C. T. Studd forsook a private fortune and fine prospects at home to devote his life to missionary service. John Nelson Darby turned his back on a brilliant career to become an unctionized evangelist, teacher and prophet of God. The five martyrs of Ecuador renounced the comforts and materialism of the United States to bring Christ to the Auca tribe.
People call it a great sacrifice but it is no sacrifice. When someone tried to commend Hudson Taylor for the sacrifices he had made for Christ, he said, “Man, I never made a sacrifice in my life.” And Darby said, “It is no great sacrifice to give up refuse.”