What is God trying to do with His believing people?-the Bible calls us a remnant according to grace, believers taken out of the great, teeming swarm of so-called religious people in today’s world. I am inclined to join others in wondering if the Lord is postponing His coming because He is trying to get His Bride ready? For years it has been the popular idea in evangelical Christianity that the whole body of believers in Christ would rise like a flock of frightened birds when the Lord comes. But A.B. Simpson and William MacArthur and others in the past generation said, “Oh no! The Lord will take with Him those who are prepared and ready for His coming!” I do not presume to give an answer satisfying to everyone in our churches. But I know that many Christians are too smug about this, saying in effect: “I am converted to Christ through grace, so I can live as I please!” Of some things we cannot be dogmatic; but we know this for sure-God has no halfway house between heaven and hell where He takes us to fumigate us!
Should anyone doubt that Christians, even Bible Christians, habitually ignore the teachings of Christ, let him rise in a business meeting of his church or denomination and quote a passage from the sayings of our Lord as the final authority on a question before the house. He will soon learn how little the words of Christ influence the thinking of the average delegate.
Christians today have developed the perilous habit of accepting the authority of the New Testament on matters that do not concern them and rejecting it on matters that do. And so with too many churches also Jesus is popular but impotent. Surely another reformation is indicated.
A great preacher, now deceased, to whom I used often to listen with profit and delight, would sometimes shout dramatically, “God never classifies sin.”
His words were intended as a protest against a careless attitude toward certain forms of sin, and in their context I agree with them. Nevertheless God does classify sin and so does the law of the land, and so does the conscience of every man.
As various serpents differ from each other in their power to kill, so various sins carry different kinds of venom, all bad, but not all equally bad, their power to injure depending upon the high or low concentration of iniquity they carry in them.
Within the precincts of religion are sometimes found certain sins which I want here to mention. These may be classified under three heads: Sins committed out of weakness, respectable sins more or less allowed by everyone, and sins that have been woven into the religious fabric until they have become a necessary part of it.
No sin is to be excused. Every sin carries its own penalty. But the sin committed on impulse or the sin committed out of weakness over the protests of the heart surely does not carry the same deadly charge as those done with brazen deliberation. From such a sin there is complete deliverance by the power of Christ; and from such there is more likely to be, since it is a grief to those who commit it.
To anyone who bothers to think a bit it should be evident that there is in the universe no such thing as absolute freedom. Only God is free. It is inherent in creaturehood that its freedom must be limited by the will of the Creator and the nature of the thing created. The glory of heaven lies in the character of the freedom enjoyed by those who dwell therein. That innumerable company of angels, the general assembly and church of the Firstborn and the spirits of just men made perfect are at liberty to fulfill all the broad purposes of God, and this liberty secures for them an infinitely greater degree of happiness than unqualified freedom could do.
Unqualified freedom in any area of human life is deadly. In government it is anarchy, in domestic life free love, and in religion antinomianism. The freest cells in the body are cancer cells, but they kill the organism where they grow. A healthy society requires that its members accept a limited freedom. Each must curtail his own liberty that all may be free, and this law runs throughout all the created universe, including the kingdom of God.
Too much liberty weakens whatever it touches. The corn of wheat can bring forth fruit only as it waives its freedom and surrenders itself to the laws of nature. The robin may fly about all summer enjoying her freedom, but if she wants a nest full of fledglings she must sit for weeks a voluntary captive while the mystery of life gestates beneath her soft feathers. She has her choice: be free and barren or curtail her freedom and bring forth young.
Freedom is priceless and where it is present almost any kind of life is enjoyable. When it is absent life can never be enjoyed; it can only be endured.
Though millions have died in freedom’s defense and though her praise is in everyone’s mouth, yet she has been tragically misunderstood by her advocates and sorely wounded in the house of her friends. I think the difficulty lies with our failure to distinguish freedom from liberty, which are indeed sisters but not identical twins.
Freedom is liberty within bounds: liberty to obey holy laws, liberty to keep the commandments of Christ, to serve mankind, to develop to the full all the latent possibilities within our redeemed natures. True Christian liberty never sets us free to indulge our lusts or to follow our fallen impulses.
The desire for unqualified freedom caused the fall of Lucifer and wrought the destruction of the angels that sinned. These sought freedom to do as they willed, and to get it they threw away the beautiful liberty that meant freedom to do the will of God. And the human race followed them in their tragic moral blunder.
It would appear logical that a subnormal, powerless church would not engage in missionary activity, but again the facts contradict the theory. Christian groups that have long ago lost every trace of moral fire nevertheless continue to grow at home and reproduce themselves in other lands. Indeed there is scarcely a fringe sect or heretical cult these days but is enjoying amazing success among the backward peoples of the world.
The evangelical wing of the church has in recent years become world-regarding to a remarkable degree. Within the last 20 years evangelical missionary activity on foreign fields has been stepped up tremendously. But there is in the whole thing one dangerous weakness. That weakness is the naive assumption that we have only to reach the last tribe with our brand of Christianity and the world has been evangelized. This is an assumption that we dare not make.
Evangelical Christianity, at least in the United States, is now tragically below the New Testament standard. Worldliness is an accepted part of our way of life. Our religious mood is social instead of spiritual. We have lost the art of worship. We are not producing saints. Our models are successful businessmen, celebrated athletes and theatrical personalities. We carry on our religious activities after the methods of the modern advertiser. Our homes have been turned into theaters. Our literature is shallow and our hymnody borders on sacrilege. And scarcely anyone appears to care.
We must have a better kind of Christian soon or within another half century we may have no true Christianity at all. Increased numbers of demi-Christians is not enough. We must have a reformation.
“Things have come to a pretty pass,” said a famous Englishman testily, “when religion is permitted to interfere with our private lives.”
To which we may reply that things have come to a worse pass when an intelligent man living in a Protestant country could make such a remark. Had this man never read the New Testament? Had he never heard of Stephen? or Paul? or Peter? Had he never thought about the millions who followed Christ cheerfully to violent death, sudden or lingering, because they did allow their religion to interfere with their private lives?
But we must leave this man to his conscience and his Judge and look into our own hearts. Maybe he but expressed openly what some of us feel secretly. Just how radically has our religion interfered with the neat pattern of our own lives? Perhaps we had better answer that question first.