Our Saviour Himself could do no mighty works in Nazareth because of the people's unbelief. Some of us are concerned these days over the ineffectiveness of so much of our religious activity. For all our churches, schools, conferences, campaigns, movements, where are the greater works of our Lord promised that we should do? The mountain labors and brings forth a mouse. What is it that limits the Holy One of Israel? How have we grieved the Holy Spirit?
Evan Roberts used to say that there were three spirits in any meeting, God's Spirit, man's spirit, and the evil spirit. There was an evil spirit at Nazareth. I venture to name three evil spirits among us today, among even Bible Christians, that make our meetings mediocre when they could be miraculous.
There is the fighting spirit. Now, there is a fighting spirit that is fitting and proper. We are to endure hardness as good as soldiers of Jesus Christ, fighting the good fight of faith with spiritual weapons, clad in the whole armor of God. We need an aroused holy indignation against the devil and all his works. Some of our churches are peaceful because they do not believe anything good enough to contend for, and are too ignorant of,
or too indifferent to, the things of God to get into a conflict.
I have heard of a soldier in the Civil War who was asked, ''How many of the enemy did you count for?'' ''None,'' he replied, ''but then I got as many of them as they did of me!'' Too many soldiers of the Lord are just about as effective. They need a fighting spirit. But most of the saints are fighting each other these days. The greatest danger to the church is not from without but from within. Most of our conflict these days is not over doctrine and principles. It is over a Christmas tree, maybe, or the color of the new church carpet or who shall be the third vice-president of the Sons and Daughters of I Will Rise.
When our Lord was on earth ''there was a division of the people because of him.'' There always is such a division for he is the Great Divider. But most of our fusses and divisions come under another verse: ''Mark them which cause divisions. . . and avoid them'' (Rom. 16:17). We like to justify our pugnacity by calling it zeal for the truth, but we generally fight over personalities, not principles.
The Scriptures warn constantly against biting and devouring one another, against wars and fightings, against schisms and strife and clamor and bitterness and debates and contentions and swellings and tumults. Almost every suitable word in the vocabulary is used to describe sins of the fighting spirit. It leads to numberless isms and schisms, cliques and clans, super-separationism to the nth degree. Pity the man who tries to shepherd a flock of malcontents who mistake love of a fight for love of the truth!
And what shall we say of the way we fight back when
we are wronged? If the Bible teaches anything it certainly sets before us a Saviour who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; Christians who took joyfully the spoiling of their goods, and constant advice to be patient under persecution. But how often we hear Bible Christians publicly express bitterness over wrongs, either fancied or real? What becomes of leaving vengeance to the Lord? Are we not told to take wrong and even suffer ourselves to be defrauded?
Any Christian has only to read his New Testament to see how grievous to the Spirit of God are these manifestations of the fighting spirit. What seething resentment and hidden anger lie buried beneath the pious faces of a lot of fundamentalists! We would be a picnic for any psychiatrist. While we declaim on the need and causes of revival, we could get a lot nearer to such an awakening if we confessed our gripes and grouches and became reconciled to our brethren.
Again, our Saviour cannot do many mighty works among us because of a frivolous spirit. We are in favor of good humor and have been accused sometimes of using it too freely. There are those who imagine that to be all out for God they must look ''all in.'' We are to beware of hypocrites of a sad countenance appearing to fast. But it is very easy to cross over from humor to levity, to foolish talking and jesting. ''Good fellowship'' among God's people is a precious thing, and God does not expect us to talk about spiritual matters all the time we are engaging in such fellowship. But there is an inherent seriousness in our message and mission and our manner should befit both. Besides, the days are evil, the time is short, and we are in the midst of a world emergency which requires that our conduct
should match the crisis. The men of God in the Scriptures do not suggest the present-day back-slapping, uproarious variety of sanctified morons cracking jokes sometimes doubtful, and making puns on sacred Scripture.
For all this we shall doubtless only bring another laugh from this superficial generation. But the mood of the age is one of frivolity and not a few have fancied that the cause of Christ can best be advanced by being jolly good fellows after the pattern of this world. It is true that the Pharisees probably had no sense of humor, and we are familiar with their raised eyebrows at the joyous message and behavior of the Saviour and His disciples. But neither can we imagine the Man of Sorrows in the role of whooper-upper, nor ''see'' Peter and Paul making clowns of themselves to attract a generation of buffoons.
There is no evidence that the church has had any influence on Hollywood, but there is plenty to prove that Hollywood has influenced the church. It is impossible for human nature to accept the philosophy of the first two chapters of First Corinthians, and Christians themselves simply can't get over the notion that we help the Gospel along by aping the fashion of this age, appealing to its culture, its tastes and fashions. God never meant that His revelation, which is, and always will be, foolishness to them that perish, should be revamped and streamlined to make it acceptable to the natural man. Men must square with the Gospel to be saved, must see themselves lost, repent and be born again. To cater to their pride and tickle their ears in order to make them favorably disposed to hear our message is to defeat the purpose of the Gospel.
We have all failed along this line and would do well to check up on our frivolity. What starts out as innocent fun grows rapidly and easily runs away with the best of us. It is not easy to draw the line, but it were better to err on the side of seriousness. Happy Christians are indeed a testimony but what the world calls happiness is not what God calls joy. The natural man has no appreciation for the joy of the Lord any more than he has for anything else of grace, and will never have any taste for it until he is converted. Christians' brand of happiness is not his, and when we act funny to try to impress him that one can be a Christian and have a good time we generally succeed only in making ourselves ridiculous and belittling the cause we represent. We forget that the life in Christ springs from an entirely different source and runs counter to this age from beginning to end.
The Scriptures are not geared to frivolity, and the tone of the Gospel, while it is indeed Good News, is Good News of a feast, not a frolic. No great revival ever started in fun-making nor ran on such fuel. There is joy aplenty, but it is the heavenly joy of the Spirit of God and not the silly antics of human clowning under religious auspices.
Another spirit that hinders the work of our Lord today I would call, for lack of a better term, the fed-up spirit. His own words, ''Woe unto you that are full,'' could be applied today to a surfeited generation stuffed with carnal satisfactions, having exhausted all the thrills and sensations that the world, the flesh and the devil can offer. But I am thinking just now of an entirely different application. While millions have never heard the Gospel and while multitudes even in our
own land are pagans, with no knowledge of the Truth, we have the strange spectacle of thousands of Christians who have heard so much and read so much that they have reached the saturation point. Stuffed with Bible knowledge, they have become spiritual dyspeptics, rich and increased with goods and having need of nothing.
''The ill of all ills is the lack of desire,'' says Faber. When I was a boy I heard only two sermons a month. Good preaching was scarce in those parts, and we appreciated a real sermon. But the years have passed and now it is easy to hear sound preaching in our Bible conferences and churches and by radio. But when the rare becomes commonplace, familiarity may breed contempt or at least smug indifference. Children who have too many toys soon thrill to none. I can remember how rare a thing ice cream was in the boyhood days on the farm. A sundae or a soda was an event. Now they are common, but I am sure I do not enjoy them as once I did. I wonder if something like this has not happened to us Christians with regard to Divine Truth. There was a day when I had never heard a great Gospel singer. I remember the tremendous thrill when I listened to Charlie Alexander for the first time and heard Charlie Butler move a great convention. The years have passed and I have heard the best in singing and in preaching, and now I fear that I may join those who have become full. I am afraid that precious truths that ought to stir us and bring tears to our eyes and hallelujahs to our lips now leave us cold. We sit like spiritual connoisseurs, glorified critics, inwardly sizing up what we hear, putting the truth into mental cubbyholes. This we give to the Jew and that to the Gentile and the other
to the Church of God and receive none of it ourselves. We compare preacher with preacher, classify him in our private catalogue, and go out discussing Paul, Cephas, and Apollos.
There was a time in my life when I knew nothing of many precious truths taught in our sound churches and schools and conferences today. I remember the day when I first tasted of these things and reveled in such blessed draughts for my thirst. But for years I have lived day by day in the midst of this feast, have read and heard and taught these glorious teachings, and I am sure that my greatest peril is satiety. The edge of our appetite becomes dulled. What once almost made us leap in the aisle now almost puts us to sleep in the pew.
I do not think any evil spirit hinders our Lord more than this. Do not forget, you who so lightly regard these stupendous truths you have heard so much, you who can sit half-sleep and yawn at what once made men gladly face prisons and torture and deathdo not forget that there are multitudes in total darkness who if they could hear a little of what you hear so much would shout for joy to know that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.
I have preached to various types of congregations. I have ministered to listeners in some of our churches who are what we call worldly: they know next to nothing of the Bible; they make smoke or play bridge or go to the movies. I have preached to others who were outright sinners, making no profession to know Christ. I find it easier any day to awaken these people than to arouse to action smug saints comfortably reposing in
their orthodoxy, neither cold nor hot and having need of nothing.
The fed-up spirit is a deadly spirit, and all the more dangerous because those most infected with it are least responsive to any challenge about it. We have become wise and prudent but God has revealed His secrets to babes. I am not pleading for gullibility. There is much error abroad and we must try the spirits, but we easily overdo things and sometimes sit with our guard up when we might relax and become receptive. We must remember that it is the age of the racketeer, religious as well as otherwise, and somebody is forever trying to peddle something at our elbow or over the air, until we have built up an unconscious resistance to any form of persuasion. But if we believers do not somehow manage to become humble and childlike and receptive and rejoice and weep together in our meetings instead of sitting like a flock of stenographers collecting epigrams for our notebooks, we are going to turn out to be the driest generation of saints in all church history.
You will observe that I have spoken to myself as well as to you. I think I can say that I am conscious of these perils and concerned about them. There is hope for a gracious awakening among us if we will honestly face up to these hindering spirits and see what hold they have on us. It was unbelief that hindered our Lord at Nazareth. Wherever humble souls simply believed, He always worked His miracles. Religious Pharisees, taught in Scriptures, separated from the world, stood critically by and missed the blessing, while the plainest of people felt the power of God. If we can renounce our childishness and sit at His feet in childlikeness, He will do His mighty works again.
Chapter 9 || Table of Contents