Some Needed Corrections
Some years ago it was prophesied that there would come a day when we would hear the preaching of "religion without the Holy Spirit, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration and heaven without hell.''
We have arrived. I would like to change some of these terms and suggest some points on which we seriously need to correct our thinking, our preaching and our living.
To begin with, there is the very common misplaced emphasis on evangelism without revival. In the South evangelistic meetings are frequently called ''revivals'' when often they are anything else but that. Evangelism is the proclamation of the Gospel with the purpose of winning the lost to Christ. Revival is a fresh work of the Holy Spirit among Christians to bring them to confession of sin, renewed dedication and loving zeal for service. God's order is the winning of the lost through believers who themselves have first been made right with God, as David illustrated by his prayer, ''Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.'' Many a so-called revival is only a drive for church members, which adds more unsaved sinners,
starched and ironed but not washed, to a fellowship where even the true believers have not been aroused for years. Many an evangelistic campaign finds the evangelist preaching to non-believers who are not even present, while a congregation of comfortable Christians sit untouched in their sins and not interested enough to bring one sinner to hear the Gospel.
The church must first repent. God begins His work with His own people. Our Lord's last message to the churches was not the Great Commission but a call to repentance. The average church needs to restore the mourner's bench, and the first mourners should be the members.When God's people humble themselves and pray and seek God's face and turn from their wicked ways, God will send showers of blessing and a harvest of souls. It is better to wake up five hundred Christians than to convert five hundred sinners, for if five hundred Christians really wake up, they will win more than five hundred sinners.
Another weakness that needs to be corrected is the present-day accent on conversion without repentance. Do not misunderstand me here. I know that eternal life is the gift of God and that there is nothing meritorious in our tears.
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.
What I do mean is that we have made it easy for hundreds superficially to ''accept Christ'' without ever having faced sin and with no sense of need. We are healing slightly the hurt of this generation, trying to treat patients who do not even know they are sick. We used
to sing ''Amazing Grace'' with a fervor that is sadly lacking nowadays because we knew the meaning of that line, ''Twas grace that taught my heart to fear.''
There is no fear of God before the eyes of men these days, and, consequently, they know not the joy of having those fears relieved. Is it any wonder, then, that grace does not appear as precious as it did the hour they first believed?
The Scriptures speak of those who hear the Word and anon with joy receive it but have no root in themselves, but endure for a while, but when tribulation or persecution arise because of the Word, by and by they are offended. We need to beware of conversions that begin too gaily. Conversion does indeed bring joy, but usually it begins with sorrow. Said the Guide in Pilgrim's Progress: ''I care not at all for that profession that begins not with heaviness of mind. The first string that the musician usually touches is the base when he intends to put all in tune. God also plays upon this string first when He sets the soul in tune for Himself.''
Alas, we have today a dry-eyed generation, pure in its own eyes but not washed from its filthiness. Sin has been minimized until it is nothing to cry about. Of course, we do not mean that every genuine conversion must be accompanied with great bitterness and tears, but we have gone to the other extreme, and men join churches with heads erect and wills unbroken with stiff necks and proud looks and hard hearts, lugging their sins along. Neither before nor after such professions of faith is there any burden over the plague of one's heart. It all springs from the modern attitude toward sin and hell and judgment and our new version of the Christian life as a glorified good time.
Repentance is almost a lost note in our preaching and experience and the lack of it is filling churches with baptized sinners who have never felt the guilt of sin or the need of a Saviour.
In the third place, we are hearing much these days of dedication without separation. Men and women, young people in particular, are invited to present their bodies a living sacrifice, but little is said about the verse that follows that exhortation: ''And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.''
Of course, there is a false and Pharisaic separation that renounces things but never self. A church full of such people would be remarkable: they would go to church, read the Bible, pray in public, give a tithe, be strict in conductand go to hell. Such separatists make much of not dancing, smoking, or going to the theater, but know nothing of real spirituality.
Yet there is a real separation from the world and the things of the world. If we love the world, the love of the Father is not in us. We are to turn to God from idols and we are to turn from vanities to the living God. The Scriptures are explicit that ''whosoever will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.'' If the latter part of the sixth chapter of Second Corinthians does not mean separation from the paganism of this age, what else can it possibly mean? We are to have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness but rather are we to reprove them. I think it was Billy Sunday who used to say that a worldly Christian was an anomaly, although he didn't use that word. He said one might as well speak of a heavenly devil.
The Christian soldier is not to entangle himself with the affairs of this life. We have lost our pilgrim character today. Negative preaching has been discouraged and we have accentuated the positive, forgetting that we are not only to put on the Lord Jesus Christ but also to make no provision for the flesh to fulfil the lusts thereof. The Lord knoweth them that are His, but everyone that nameth the Name of Christ should depart from iniquity. Much is said about visiting the fatherless and widows in their afflictionand well we maybut there is strange silence about keeping ourselves unspotted of the world.
We have poked plenty of fun at the doctrine of separation for years. For fear of being Pharisees, many have ended up worldlings. Others seem to enjoy seeing how near the world they can live without being of it. Our Lord made it plain that the world hated Him and would hate us because we are not of the world but have been chosen out of it. We are not true New Testament Christians if we are acceptable to this age.
Again, we are seeing much today of service without the spirit. There is an appalling ignorance of the Person and work of the Holy Spirit in our great church bodies. Says Dr. Mullins:
It is a strange and very significant fact that Christians for nearly two thousand years have so generally neglected the New Testament teaching as to the Holy Spirit. The creeds of Christendom have done scant justice to the doctrine and some of the greatest of them have scarcely done more than barely mention His office work. The Philadelphia Confession of Faith used by so many Baptists, and the New Hampshire Confession also quite generally used, are without separate articles on the Holy
Spirit, although both of them make reference to His work in connection with other doctrines. The Westminster Confession, the Presbyterian standard, is also lacking in any adequate setting forth of the work of the Holy Spirit . . . The doctrine of the Holy Spirit is so interwoven and intertwined with the whole of the Old and New Testaments that it is one of the strangest oversights that Christians should have neglected it so long.'' From ''Baptist Beliefs.''
As a consequence of all this, we are witnessing a lot of church activity that reminds us of Samson shaking himself when he wist not that the Spirit of the Lord was departed from him.
It is not what is done for God that counts, but rather what is done by Him, the work of His Spirit through our yielded wills. Programs, propaganda, pep, personnel, these are not enough. There must be power. God's work must be done by God's people God's way.
Let me suggest one other inadequacy that needs to be corrected. With regard to our Lord's return, we emphasize preparation without expectation. Of course, all too generally nothing is said of His return at all. Bringing in the Kingdom is preached, but not bringing back the King. One wonders how many today love his appearing (II Tim. 4:8). The precious doctrine is like an unwanted stepchild, ignored as though it were beneath the dignity of some even to mention it.
Many who do sometimes speak of it would give the impression that readiness for His return is enough. But the New Testament Christians were not only ready, they were expectant. It is one thing to be ready for a visitor, another thing joyfully to anticipate his coming. When I did pastoral visiting, some of my flock
were ready for my call but showed little evidence of eager expectancy.
This note of hilarious anticipation is a rare thing among us today. There is interest in Bible prophecy in some quarters, a delving into all the mysteries of Daniel and Revelation. That is important but that can exist without an expectant heart. Militant premillenialism is not enough.
The early believers were not looking for something to happen, they were looking for Someone to come. Looking for the train to arrive is one thing, but looking for someone we love to come on that train is another matter. I fail to find in all our vast religious activities, our plans and projects to build a better world, our complicated machinery with wheels within wheels in all this I fail to find much of that simple warm-hearted longing for the personal return of our Lord. That He will come back suddenly and set things right is ridiculed in favor of the long-range program we have substituted. But the heart does not warm up to plans and programs, it warms up to a person. We are so in love with our arrangements that we do not love His appearing. If it be objected that such expectancy dulls evangelistic zeal and missionary enterprise, all that is necessary to refute that ridiculous charge is to call the roll of God-blessed evangelists and missionaries. And back of them stands the New Testament example. Those believers lived soberly, righteously and godly in this present world, but while they so lived, they were looking for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.
Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
Chapter 8 || Table of Contents