The Trend of Life
There seems to be a consciousness of a deficiency in the life of the Christian Church. Consequently, an important question has come to the fore. It comes from different sources. The question is this: “What is the greatest need in the Church today?”
Jay Adams in his First Book on shepherding in the local church says that the greatest need is that of strong and efficient leadership.
Another, under slightly different circumstances, gives an answer to the effect that more loving and adequate shepherding is sorely needed.
In the office of a Christian business man one morning, he asked the very same question: “What is the greatest need in the Church of Christ today?” The short period of silence which resulted from his question was broken by himself. “I believe,” he said, “that the Church of God today needs more genuine godliness and more sincere piety in the lives of all her members.” One felt that he could agree more readily with this reply.
Piety and godliness would, of course, express themselves, first of all, before the Lord. A good testimony is really a byproduct of all that a believer is before the Lord.
Godliness would express itself in worship, in intimate fellowship with the Lord, in confidence in God, in submission to the Lord, and in a special joy in divine companionship. It would express itself in a strong hope in a glorious future. There are also other spiritual qualities which would empower one to be more godly in this present evil age.
There are several Old Testament worthies who provide excellent illustrations of all these spiritual elements. We shall look at some of these personalities, but from the New Testament perspective. They are to be found in Hebrews 11.
From the opening verses of this wonderful chapter, we learn that faith is the accepting of what is unseen and distant as real and possessed. Faith may be considered as the title deed which gives claim to properties one has never seen. All the worthies mentioned in this chapter expressed that type of faith in God. There are also other characteristics in their lives which certainly provide very significant lessons.
Abel (v. 4)
Abel’s attitude was that of faith in God; notwithstanding, there were other features which indicated the constant tenor of his short life. We read that God “testified of his gifts (offerings).” In the Levitical economy there were “both gifts and sacrifices for sins” (Heb. 5:1) . The sacrifice that Abel offered to the Lord in Genesis 4:4 was not the only one that he gave. His whole life was one of seeking after God in continuous worship.
Let us notice some of the details in Abel’s many sacrifices; they suggest his contemplative nature. Even in his pastoral work there was a love and a reverence for the Lord.
All the sacrifices mentioned in the book of Genesis were burnt offerings, all sweet savours ascending to the delight of God. There were no sin offerings nor trespass offerings until after the giving of the law at Sinai. What we understand from this is that his whole life was to please God in constant love, surrender and reverence.
The Lord’s response was very positive; “God testifying of his gifts.” Just how God responded to Abel’s gifts and offerings is not stated, but perhaps the Lord showed this as He did at the offering of the first burnt offering offered on the brazen altar when the tabernacle was first set up in the wilderness —fire from God kindled the fuel on the altar, and the sacrifice ascended up to God as a sweet smelling savour (Lev. 9:24). It could have been that the Lord similarly acknowledged Abel’s offerings. He thus approved of Elijah’s sacrifice (1 Kings 18:38-39). He in like manner acknowledged David’s offering (1 Chron. 21:26). As the Lord did to David, so He did to David’s son Solomon at the dedication of the temple ( 2 Chron. 7:1) .
The more Abel was approved of God, the more he was hated by Cain. This is what motivated the first murder.
The examination of a life so wholly given over to God might lead us to examine the trend of our lives in the presence of our Lord.
Enoch (vv. 5-6)
Alexander Whyte, a popular Scottish Divine of a past generation, tells of an experience he had in his early Christian life. He heard of a volume entitled, The Book of Enock. Thinking that this book had been written by Enoch, the seventh from Adam, as soon as possible he purchased a copy. He thought that in this book Enoch would tell just how he walked with God during 300 years.
As he read about cherubs, seraphs, angels, demons, seven holy men, four holy men, three holy men, behemoth, leviathan, wild camels, wild boars, eagles, elephants, giants and siren women, he discovered his mistake and turned away from that apocryphal work to seek help from the Word of God and from expositions upon passages of the Word of God.
Enock never wrote a book to tell us how he walked with God, but the Lord has recorded that fact. There are experiences in life which are so intimate that we cannot talk about them. Such was Enoch’s walking with God. In the Genesis account we read that he “walked with God”; in the Hebrews account it says that “he pleased God.” The Lord found joy and delight in walking with Enoch of the line of Seth.
Apparently, Enoch was 65 years old before this intimacy with God began. The 300 years of sweet and blessed intimacy with God began with a crisis and ended with a miracle.
The birth of a little child in his family has changed many a man; whether or not that was the case with Enoch, we cannot tell, but we do know that between that crisis and the miracle of his rapture to glory, God took him into His secrets. They not only walked together, they talked together. They talked of apostasy, about the Second Advent of Christ to the earth, about judgment, about ungodly men and ungodly deeds. As the Lord and Enoch spent the days in each other’s fellowship, their conversation was full and pertinent.
Proximity and intimacy are in no wise similar. One may walk on a busy street in close proximity with a total stranger and not ever a greeting pass between them. Intimacy is reciprocal; there is an exchange of thought and language. Oh, for such experiences with God.
Abel’s life was one of constant worship, while Enoch’s was one of intimacy. Dr. Stuart Holden used to say, “Live a moment at a time, and live that moment with God.”
When we turn to the New Testament to find the man who walked the more closely with the Lord, it seems that our choice would be John. The lesson we may derive from all this is that intimacy with the Lord is conditional, and that it may be continual. May we comply with the condition; may the whole tenor of our lives be to enjoy deep daily fellowship with our God.
Noah (v. 7)
“By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house.” Strange elements may motivate some men to perform and to accomplish. In some cases it takes forceful stimulants to impel action.
The elements which impelled Noah to build the ark were actually contradictory: “faith” and “fear.” We may conclude that fear mentioned in the narrative was reverential fear, but are we correct in this deduction? We might agree that a man who is afraid is lacking in faith; and that a man of faith has no fear. It is easy to philosophize.
It must be remembered that Noah had never watched the rain falling, had never heard the thunder, or had never seen the lightning flash. The unknown that was to destroy depraved humanity might easily have caused apprehensions. Like Noah, all would have feared a predicted catastrophy.
Perhaps Psalm 29 might provide us with an explanation of why he was afraid in spite of his faith. Psalms 19 and 29 should be read together. In the first we see the majesty and power of God in a beautiful serene day. Psalm 29 reveals the same majesty and power in a terrific electrical storm. Stalwart hearts have been known to quake during such a severe storm.
Verse 10 in Psalm 29 has been translated, “The Lord sitteth enthroned above the deluge. Yea, the Lord sitteth King forever.” If the fury of the storm made the heart to fear, the knowledge of God in His transcendency over the deluge would certainly develop faith.
In Paul’s experience (Acts 27) the same elements that cause fear and faith were present. There was the furious storm that resulted in the total loss of the ship and its cargo. This would naturally fill the heart with dread. In the midst of it all, Paul testified, “There stood by me this night an angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve saying, ‘Fear not, Paul, thou must be brought before Caesar; and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee’” (Acts 27:23-24). Such divine intervention would surely deepen faith.
Abel’s life was one of continuous sweet fragrance. Enoch’s life was one of intimacy in fellowship with God. Noah’s life was one with complete confidence in God. How far short of all this do we come? These features were seen by all those who were all around them.