A higher type of piety is the great demand of our day.
Whatever may be thought of modern church life as compared with that of the apostolic era, all must agree that the exigencies of the times imperatively call for a greatly exalted standard of holy living...
A candid survey of the exact state of the church and the world will show that intemperance and immorality, irreligion and infidelity are alarmingly prevalent; that a godless learning and an atheistic science have never in modern times, had so many and so distinguished disciples. Even within the nominal church we recognize the subtle and seductive charm of a worldly religiousness, which does away with the straight gate and narrow way, while it yet promises life. So terrible are the inroads of unbelief and disbelief, that the church might lose its evangelical character, but for the evangelistic effort put forth for home and foreign missions. To know the whole truth will neither discourage nor depress, but rather rouse and inspire a true disciple who is in league with God; a fair and faithful exposure of real risks which imperil not only the prosperity, but the piety, of the church of Christ cannot do harm, for it is in the interest of truth.
Modern church life is almost undermined by worldliness. To exaggerate the extent of the evil and the danger is scarcely possible. Between the church, as a body, and the world, what clear line of definition and of separation exists, except in the fact of church membership? Holy Scripture bids us keep ourselves "unspotted from the world," and hate even "the garment spotted from the flesh," plainly hinting that close contact, not to say conformity, risks contagion and infection: the worldly spirit, caught by the church, infests the whole church life and is fatal both to spiritual progress and power. We must not be conformed; but this is not enough; we must be transformed, transfigured into Christ’s likeness; a negative non-conformity, a positive transformity: these are the conditions of holy living.
In how many disciples are these features found? In how few cases do we discover discipleship save by church-rolls? Within the church how many, like Diotrephes, love to have the preeminence; like Simon the sorcerer, estimate, spiritual gifts on a money basis; like Demas, forsake Christ for the love of this present world; or like Ananias defraud the Lord of His dues! Our Lord, even at a marriage festivity, did not lose His character as the Holy One, but so "manifested forth His glory" as to win disciples to believe on Him. Church members, in these days, drop their character, as Christians and witnesses for Christ, at the door of the gayeties of the world, as easily as an oriental guest shuffles off his sandals, and mix and mingle indiscriminately with the devotees of fashion and frivolity.
The god of this world takes careless feet in the subtlest of his snares, when he secures even from the Lord’s disciples the recognition and sanction of his favorite forms of beguilement. There are certain institutions which, as institutions, Satan has long used to ruin souls; for example, the theatre, opera, card-table, horse-race and dance. Many pure minded people, fond of the drama, defend the theatre, because as they say "it appeals to a normal, histrionic appetite," and so put the seal of their sanction upon an institution, which, on the whole, caters to the lower propensities, and cannot be sustained without ministering to vice. Booth himself, the great tragedian, in New York city, sunk $150,000 in an honest effort to establish a dramatic school for good morals! If the theatre is not a putrid carcass, why is it that about it such vultures gather as the drinking saloon, gambling house and brothel? And why has the "green-room" of the actors so often reeked with the same pollution as the third circle that, in some theatres, has been known to open into the house of shame? The opera appeals to those who love music, but how often it robes the shameless ballet-dance with the fig-leaves of music and motion, and insults first principles of modesty! A game of cards is in itself innocent, yet the defiling touch of gamblers and pick-pockets has, for centuries, made the game leprous, and "euchre" is made filthy with the lucre, set up as the snare to latch the unwary. The horse-race is defended as a simple exhibition of the beauty and speed of the noblest of animals, but as an institution, it is another open door to hell. There may be "nothing inherently wrong in the dance"—simply the "poetry of motion"—and it may be conducted by men and maids of stainless virtue; but, as the dance exists in society, it deserves the name, with which a modern writer boldly brands it, "lascivious."
Notwithstanding all this Satan, by his wiles, secures, even from intelligent disciples, a sanction, if not an apology, for social institutions, which, for thousands of years, have been his gilded gateways to perdition; and he even persuades some ministers of the truth to lend a careless sanction to his traps for the feet of the young!
As in tones of thunder the Lord insists upon separation from the world. Roman soldiers, after a night of riotous revel, at day dawn, became sober, and put on a soldier’s armor. So, from the moment of conversion soldiers of Christ are to "cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light," never again to take it off: the course of this world being accounted forever a thing of the past! Like Daniel, in Babylon, they are to present a perpetual contrast to their surroundings, and be spiritually isolated and insulated, in order to be filled and charged with the life of God. By their fruits disciples must be known; and, as the chestnut oak, though having bark and leaf like the chestnut, is still an oak, because it bears acorns, so the true disciple is be distinguished as such, but by outward resemblances, but by fruit.
Throughout the whole Bible God puts the most weighty emphasis upon an unworldly life. Yet, in the church, there are but few decided lovers of God. while there are thousands of decided lovers of the world, and thousands more, who vainly seek to serve both God and mammon, to compromise between two principles and courses of life, as utterly at war as light and darkness. The bulk of professing Christians are not thoroughly consecrated: they belong to the "worldly holy," or the "wholly worldly." Out of the hundred and sixty-six millions of so-called "Protestants" vast numbers are mere ritualists, or formalists, entering into the church by "confirmation" as they would go into the army, at a given age! Out of all nominal Christians on earth today, Mr. George Muller, after wide travel in forty countries, thought there might be TEN MILLIONS, who give evidence of actual regeneration. Millions are vainly depending on dead works, or dead faith, a lifeless creed—instead of the righteousness of God, by faith in the Lord Jesus, wrought in them by the Holy Spirit.
Need of Boldness
Let us have done with a temporizing policy. Where would have been the Great Reformation had Luther and other reformers been kept from the blows at church corruption? Where had been the host of heroes that have swept like pioneers to the frontiers of Christendom, had not John Wesley, even at risk of life, dared to set up a new standard of piety, demanding of his followers separation from worldly fashions and follies of the nominal church?
Surely the great need of this day is a higher type of piety. Does the blessed Christ hold the shrine and throne in our hearts? Are we living wholly and only unto God; are we who have been judicially "crucified with Christ," actually and practically mortified as to the flesh sanctified by the Spirit?
How often we are fettered and hampered also by our denominationalism! Brought up to exalt sectarian standards of doctrine and policy, we sometimes degenerate into religious politicians and partisans: we espouse our sect because it is our sect; we stand by our colors, without asking whether the blood is the color conspicuous on our banners. We preach and teach as we have been taught, not always ready to give every man who asks us, a reason for the faith that is in us, an intelligent and scriptural answer.
If a candid, careful searching of the Word should compel the conviction that a previous position had been unscriptural and unspiritual, how few would be ready simply to follow the light God gives, without compromise with conscience or consent to silence?
How few have the boldness and bravery to face opposition and ridicule for the sake of the truth!
A Word to Ministers
These words may be read by many brethren in the sacred calling. My profound conviction is that we need more than ever to magnify our office. In the reaction from sacerdotalism, the papal idea of priesthood, we have swung to the other extreme, until the ministry is degraded from a divine vocation to a mere profession.
In the eyes of many, a congregation hires a man to preach; he is simply a hireling—a higher order of paid servant, to be directed and dismissed at will; the temporal and spiritual officers are his board of directors to counsel and control him in his official capacity. Many a minister of Christ is consequently hampered and hindered, in preaching the Word and feeding the flock of God, by motives of policy. Deep convictions, born of great spiritual travail, constrain him to urge a more spiritual administration of the church, a more spiritual type of life; and, when gospel truth pierces to the quick, it is hinted to him that he must either change his style of preaching or resign; and so pulpit after pulpit is emptied of its occupant, at the demand even of ungodly hearers! We need a return in these lax days to that sublime scriptural conception of the minister, as the ambassador of Christ, steward of the mysteries of God, accountable only to his Master, and bound to declare the whole counsel of God whether men will hear or forbear!
The responsibility for a low state of piety in the church lies largely at the door of the ministry. Preaching is not what it ought to be as to either matter or manner. Do we preach Christ or self; poetry, philosophy, science, history, politics, or the simple precious gospel? Can we say as Paul said to the Ephesian elders, "I have kept back nothing that is profitable to you: I have not shunned to declare unto you the whole counsel of God?" Have we ever modified or qualified our message from motives of fear or favor, or have we been as bold as a lion, like John the Baptist at the court of Herod?
When the whole truth has been spoken, has it been in a godly manner, beseeching men by the meekness and gentleness of Christ? with that mysterious chrism, holy unction, making the whole man, fragrant; imparting a divine manner of preaching that fitly accompanies divine matter, and gilds even the most terrible truths of God with a celestial lustre and glory!
Brethren of the ministry, we all need a new spirit. We need to be rid of that worldly ambition that hunts places and seeks salaries, rather than souls. The lust of applause is Satan's tempting bait and blinding bribe; as John Angell James wrote to his brother: "With many of the Lord's ministers Vox populi is the secret spring of their endeavor. We are constantly tempted to build God's altars of the hewn and polished stone of wisdom of words and unsanctified rhetoric, which He has forbidden; and so the people admire the polished altar, but no fire of God comes down to consume the sacrifice and compel the shout, "Jehovah, He is the God!" It is possible to hold up the Cross and yet get in front of it, rather than behind it, and interpose one's self between Christ and dying souls. Where literary ambition becomes an idol, the preacher, even upon the foundation of Christ, builds only wood, hay and stubble. A carnal desire and determination to be a scholar, theologian, eloquent orator, famous preacher, may lead to diligent study and untiring effort, and have more to do with abundant activity than the love of the truth of Christ, and of souls! If God will but show us the selfishness of our hearts and help us to nail to the Cross our idols; if first emptied of self we may lie filled with grace, what chosen vessels we might be!
The fact is we limit God by our unbelief and our unconsecration! And right among preachers and pastors must begin the quickened life of the churches. Seldom indeed does the spiritual life of any church rise higher than that of the minister: "Like people, like priest." No permanent revival can come to a community that does not first kindle on the pastor's heart: from his altars must the sacred coals be borne! What a responsibility therefore rests on the ministry, so to live that they may humbly but boldly say to the people, "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ!" "Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblamably we behaved ourselves among you that believe." It was said of Fenelon, that no one could be two hours in his company without desiring to be a Christian; and of Arnot, that his preaching was good, his writing better, but his life best of all. The pure preaching of the gospel is a great power, but the very basis of power in the pulpit is godliness in the man in whom, as in Lord Chathain, there must be something finer than in anything he ever says.
It will not do for any of us to live afar from God: we must abide in His very presence—in His very pavilion, until the beauty of holiness gilds and glorifies our very faces! We must know our own saved state, or how can we lift others into assurance; we must know the bliss of God, or how can we help others to peace? All conformities to the world, and compromises with worldliness must cease. If need be, let us rather imitate the grandeur of John the Baptist's asceticism, and in raiment of camel's hair, with a desert diet, intrepidly cut loose from dependence on ungodly pewholders, that we may intrepidly rebuke their sins, and in ourselves present a standing protest against the worldliness, extravagance and frivolity about us.
The greatest need of the church today is a consecrated ministry! Let but a few know but one aim, live wholly and only for God, empty themselves of every desire save to promote His glory, ask only the opportunity and privilege of spreading the good tidings and winning souls for Christ, and no limits can be fixed to their possible usefulness! God's ambassadors must make a new and complete surrender. Every new choice that fixes the soul more entirely and securely on God, is the signal for a new unfolding and unveiling of God to the soul; it opens a new door through which stream into us the light and bliss of God till our earthly experience is one not of transformation only, but of transfiguration.
What is to hinder one mighty movement of the whole soul toward God, which, with the help of God and the full consent of our own will, shall carry us forward and upward into the very light and love and life of God, to abide in the very blaze and focus of God's glory till we burn with red heat and glow with white heat; till our coarse, gross elements are refined away, and we warm into intense ardor and fervor for God, and our very faces shine as the sun — till we live under that sense of that power of the world to come which is the supreme secret of reviving saints and converting sinners. Let there be self-surrender and self-dedication, and a new era of spiritual life and power would begin for the whole church of God. Every one who comes near us would feel the thrill of new light and warmth; we should burn our way through obstacles; mountains would be removed and sycamine trees plucked up at the command of our faith; our prayers would open the very floodgates of heaven: we should be like thunderbolts hurled from the hand of God to shiver and shatter the strongholds of Satan. Before men made mighty by yoking with God, nothing can stand. O for a holy enthusiasm for God to melt through these icebergs which encase the church! For one great revival to lift the whole race of man as on a resistless tidal wave!
Such a revival may begin with those who read these words. Take a new stand for God! Whatever be the cost personally, dare to live absolutely unto God! Part company with the world, cleanse even the outer courts of the temple of the Holy Ghost, and prove God whether He is not, in mighty power, with those who are with Him in the undivided choice of a consecrated life! As in the tabernacle of old, those who sanctify themselves TO His glory, He will sanctify BY His glory. There shall be once more a coming down of God to dwell with men. In human souls the Shekinah will shine, till they are fired, and filled and flooded with the glory of the Lord!
From Grace and Truth, vol. 5 (Sept., Oct., Nov., 1927). Published by Institute Publishing Company, Denver, Colorado.
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