Grace And Good Sense
And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; that ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ (Philippians 1:9, 10)
A doctor was giving expert testimony in a New York court. The case involved mental responsibility, and the doctor finally said that in order for a man to be really sane he had to possess good health, be in easy circumstances as regarding income and expenditures, and be a man of clean moral and spiritual affections. Pressed by attorneys, he admitted that on such a basis there are probably not more than five person out of a hundred who should be classified as truly sane.
We all know there is an inclination to justify whatever we have a desire to do, and from this we know that it is necessary to be good if we would be wise. If a man’s heart is right, so that he loves only what is pure and good, he has already passed the first test in the school of sound doctrine. The conduct of men is affected by what they believe, but what they believe is affected by what they love, and since it is the specific work of the Holy Spirit to purify the affections, the Spirit-filled man will be a wise man and a good man. If men would make progress in education there is nothing that will help them more than to become possessed of purified and exalted motives, and this makes the prayer for an increase of love as a means for promoting good sense a very fitting thing. Lord, give us more grace that we may have better judgment. Sometimes men speak of “common sense” as though it were indeed a common thing. But the very fact that we remark upon it is proof that it is the exception, rather than the rule. We speak of one who is not noted as a specialist of any kind and say of him, “But he has a large amount of just good, old-fashioned common sense.”
Now this kind of common sense is an eclectic thing composed of choice selections from the judgment of all. The person we have credited as having common sense has himself the sense that ordinarily it would require the whole community to furnish. There is practically no one that is not remarkable for sense of one kind or another. But the trouble is he compensates his good judgment with bad judgment until we are uncertain whether to trust his ideas or not. Now if the man of common sense has the quick discernment of one, the patient mental process of another, the dependable conclusion of a third, and that practical application of still another he has built himself up to the place where we are bound to respect him almost as a paragon, and yet he does not show a single factor that is exactly unusual. It is our compensating follies that keep the most of us from making high marks in the school of wisdom. Solomon said,
“Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth . a stinking savour, so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honour.”
There are two things which stand in the way of good moral judgment, and love is the remedy for both:
1. Men err in judgment and practice for want of courage to do what they should.
2. Men err in moral judgment because of stubbornness and unwillingness to surrender their own way. They hold out for their preference even when they have become convinced that they are wrong.
Love, perfect love, cures the first disease by casting out slavish fear, and inspiring courage that dares to take the consequences of righteousness, whatever they are, for perfect love involves moral conviction that right is might and that victory in the final sense will come to one who does right. I speak of this as moral conviction, for I am sure it is something more intuitive than the conclusions of intellectual reasoning.
But love also cures stubbornness. Backbone has two provinces. One is to give the body a reasonable rigidity, and the other is to give it a certain amount of flexibility. If the backbone becomes altogether rigid, the victim is henceforth unable to walk anywhere except on perfectly level surfaces, for it is necessary to lean forward when going uphill, and backward when going downhill. And this is as applicable to the moral as to the physical realm. Unfortunate indeed is the man who thinks that man was made for the Sabbath, and who must keep rules, even if it costs lives to do so. The legalist is no more Christian than the materialist or the formalist. St. Paul suggested that love is “easy to be entreated.”
The Bible deals with the principles of holy conduct, not very largely with rules of thumb. It exhorts us to pray, but it does not settle for us the question of the attitude of prayer — whether it should be kneeling, standing, sitting or lying prone on the ground. And yet we need direction in the details, as well as in the principles of life.
When Israel was en route to the promised land they were shown the general direction they were to take by the pillar of cloud and fire. But they also accepted the services of Hobab who was able to direct them to the water holes in the desert and act as eyes for them in setting the distance they were to go day by day. The pillar gave them the principles, but Hobab filled in with details. Likewise, the Bible gives us the principles, but we need the Holy Spirit to give us detailed direction. And this is the promise of Jesus. He said, “When he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth.”
The heart of Christianity is not its doctrines, true and dependable though these be. It is not in its sacraments, beautiful and important though these are. It is not even in its ethics, although the standards of conduct are faultless. Rather, the heart of Christianity is in having Christ crowned within the heart. It is to be filled with the love of God. It is to be baptized and filled with the Holy Ghost.
We do not like the word mysticism on account of its association with philosophy in which connection it involves dreamy contemplation and long dwelling upon practical unrealities. But we do not have another word to describe what we mean, so we call what we have in mind “true mysticism.” God is real, and the indwelling of His Holy Spirit is a conscious fact with those who have it. And there is promise of help for our intellects in the scope of the Spirit-filled life.
It is distasteful to speak frequently of the Lord’s leadings, just as it is distasteful to spread family secrets abroad. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him, and he will show unto them his covenant,” so that when a Christian majors on saying, “The Lord told me to do this,” or ” I felt led to say that” there is a deserved resentment on the part of the listeners. Nevertheless, God does have a way of directing His people, and those who are delicate and instant in “minding the checks” will have growing satisfaction in the discovery that in them is fulfilled the promise that a good man’s steps are ordered by the Lord.
Unfortunately men have a tendency to base conclusions on too few specimens. They have known one or heard of one who was deeply religious and was unbalanced. They conclude, therefore, that one who goes in for religion is mentally inadequate. But they have observed the “sports,” and not the normal examples. Even those whom they have observed might easily have been worse if they had not been religious. But the large majority of those who have found grace in Christ have found wisdom in Him also.
Sometimes it is charged against the Church that it is reactionary, and that it is the last unit of society to accept a reform or to acclaim a new idea in the social order. And there are no doubt instances in which the Church has been too slow. But the general testimony is that the Church is slow to accept that which is new because it has found a larger portion in that which is old than others have found. Take intellectual concepts: at the close of the French Revolution the French Academy listed more than eighty “scientific facts” that were inconsistent with the Bible, and which therefore proved that the Bible is not dependable. But before a hundred years had passed every single one of those supposed scientific facts were abandoned by the scientists themselves. Men anchored to no rock at all are likely to drift lightly, but that does not prove that their drifting is in the right direction. Christians do have something substantial in their Bible and their vital inner experience, and they are not ready to abandon all their gains to follow every will-o’-the-wisp that shallow thinkers offer as guide to the unwary.
But we must not generalize. The prayer of Paul is a prayer for individuals. His desire was for improved discernment on the part of everyday Christians. He wanted their intuitions as relating to things that differ to be keener and more dependable. He wanted them to know intuitively when they should shun certain companions, and when they should join in for the purpose of doing good. He wanted them to have that inner “feel” which would enable them to stop or go according to the interests of Christ’s kingdom and their own influence. He wanted them to get to where they would not be asking, “Is there any harm in this?” He wanted them to come to where they would emphasize the positive qualities of a good life which would make them worthy of their Christian profession in thought, word and deed. He wanted them to become outstanding for good and wise choosing and holy living. But how could all these things be accomplished by prayer? Surely so many requirements would demand prayer for seminary training and the gift of intellectual capacities of spectacular sort. No, nothing so complicated as all that is involved. The prayer is just a petition for more spiritual grace — more inwrought love. “I pray that your love may abound more and more,” that your judgment may improve and your conduct be worthy of commendation. Do such by-products come from such a source? They certainly do. Let us do not more than refer to our own experiences. Is it not a fact with you and me that we are wisest when we are best? Do we not seem to be masters of sociology when we are overflowing with love for our fellow men? Do we not exceed our teachers in matters relating to God when our souls are aflame with His holy fire ? Do we not excel in that wisdom that is characteristic of the soul winner when we are melted with holy passion for bringing men to God? Do not our tongues become as the pens of ready writers when we are truly moved by the Spirit?
Before this time I have listened to a “reformer” while he told of the evils of the dictators and of the general tendency of men to be bad, and the indications that the world is incurably sick. I have listened and been convinced by what he said. But when I have gone away I have said to myself, “This is a bad situation, and something should be done about it. But what can I do about it?” And I have not been much helped by any answer I was able to give. But when I come to a proposition so simple as the one before us, I am encouraged. I can do something about this. I can open my heart to a fuller incoming of the divine Spirit. I can lay myself liable to an increase of love. I can love God and God’s people and a lost world more than hitherto, and since I have found that this will do just about all I need to see done, I am encouraged.
I pray for myself as Paul prayed for us all Lord grant me an increase of love. Take out of my heart everything that is contrary to Thy love. Fill me till I want no more. Purge me until there is nothing unlike Thee left. Saturate me until there is no room for self. Make me so fully like Thyself that when men see me they will think of Thee. Do this for me that I may be wise to choose, courageous to act, even when the course required is unpopular; willing to yield, even when my strong personal preferences are violated, and patient to believe and bear when there is nothing active I can do to better matters. All these things Thou canst accomplish in me by an increase of Thy love, and for this I ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.