Vigilance The Price Of Safety
Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and “am deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ (Colossians 2:8)
It would seem from a study of the methods of John Wesley, that he first thought that once a Christian had come into the enjoyment of the grace of heart purity or perfect love there would henceforth be no personal problems, or any problems as relating to a society of believers who had come into the fullness of the blessings of the gospel. But there arose division among Wesley’s own followers, and some of them drifted into great extremes of faith and temper, and it became necessary for Wesley to reprove them. Then after considering the matter more maturely, Wesley saw that the blessings of God are offered upon condition, and that this is true of the keeping of God’s grace, as well as upon its reception to begin with. He therefore wrote a tract and distributed it among his followers, calling attention to the dangers which he believed beset the pathway of people who set out to live for God in this world. The content of the tract was largely negative, but by contrast the positive virtues were intimated. It has now been a long time since this tract of Wesley’s had general distribution and it is likely that many Christians of today have never read it. Also those who read it years ago have probably become rusty regarding the things which it contains. It therefore seems proper to bring to our attention the outline of the words of this wonderful Christian leader.
I do not have Wesley’s tract before me, and I do not propose to follow his discussion of his points. But the points themselves are so fitting that it would be folly for me to try to state them in my own words, and the general trend of his discussion doubtless has influenced my own thinking, although I make no effort to either remember or forget what he said. Wesley’s message appeared under the general theme of “Beware,” and his points were: (1) Beware of pride. (2) Beware of the daughter of pride, enthusiasm. (3) Beware of Antinomianism. (4) Beware of sins of omission. (5) Beware of desiring anything but God. (6) Beware of making a rent in the church. (7) Be exemplary in all things, especially in little things like dress, laying out your money, and in serious and useful conversation.
1. Beware of pride. Paul exhorted all not to think of themselves more highly than they ought to think. There is an assumed self-abasement that savors of unreality, and which is injurious to sincerity. One cannot actually account himself as dishonest and vile, when he knows that his full desire is to please God and live a good, unselfish life. Henry Ward Beecher suggested that it is not necessary for anyone to belittle himself. All he need do is let his shadow fall upon someone who is really good and great. After that he will not need any help to bring his estimates of himself down to sizable proportions.
Wesley allowed that there are a hundred different kinds of pride, and suggested that one may even become proud of his meekness, in which case his meekness becomes but a shadow and a pretense. There is pride of race, which is the temptation of those of noble pedigree or of supposed noble pedigree. Then there is the pride of face to which the comely are exposed, and the pride of grace which is the bane of the religious.
Pride is a temper of the heart, and does not necessarily appear on the outside. But we know its opposites as meekness, humility and patience. Paul observed that tribulation worketh patience, and we know that tribulation crucifies pride. Tribulation shows us what others think of us, and when we discover that others have appraised us at a lower figure than we have named as our value, it humiliates us. But when we find that others hold us in higher esteem than we hold ourselves the discovery lifts us up. That is why Jesus said, “He that humbleth himself shall be exalted and he that exalteth himself shall be abased.”
But pride is personal inflation. We hear a great deal in political circles these days about “inflation of the currency.” Practically everyone dreads inflation, but all seem more or less afraid that it will be forced upon us. Brought right down to its simple analysis, inflation as the politicians think of it, means appearing to be worth more as a nation than either our fixed assets or national income can justify. And they tell us that when such inflation comes there will be a temporary boom in prosperity, but this will be followed by financial disaster, nullification of debts and depression such as will entirely consume all the apparent advantages of the inflation. And that is what comes to the individual when he gives way to pride. Solomon said, “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”
There is a state in God’s grace wherein we live so consciously in God’s presence that we do continually “pour contempt on all my pride.” Isaiah found this in the temple. There he saw the Lord high and lifted up, and he himself fell upon his face crying, “I am undone.” He was just as good and just as worthy that day in the temple as he had been previously, but when he saw himself in the presence of a holy God he suddenly became aware of the limitations he had possessed all the time. This is our hope and God’s way for us. As we see more of God, we care less for self, and the way to self-abasement is the way of divine exaltation, until we can say, “To me to live is Christ.” “Beware of pride,” and of depending upon your own good works and upon the arm of human strength.
2. Beware of the daughter of pride, enthusiasm. Wesley used this word enthusiasm with the same meaning as we now use the word fanaticism. The meaning, as Wesley gave it, is expecting results without giving due attention to conditions. If we expect to receive without asking, if we hope to be spiritual without time spent in Bible reading and prayer, if we expect to wield a good influence without living consistently, if we expect people to come to church without being invited, if we expect to speak well without study, if we think God will send a revival without travail of spirit on the part of His people, if we think the work of God will find support without our tithe and offerings, we are enthusiasts, fanatics, and expect results without attention to adequate causes.
Wesley concluded that it is important for us to make way for receiving God’s blessings by passing on the things He gives us. He said of himself that as soon as he received money he passed it on as quickly as possible, lest money should get hold of him. And his philosophy of economic life was (1) Make all you can, (2) save all you can, (3) so as to be able to give all you can. And in private devotion and public service he was careful to make way for singing and thanksgiving, as necessary to further reception from God and spiritual growth on the part of the Christian.
It is not always given us to know the exact connection between cause and effect, but we know there is such a connection, and that we get things when we pray that are denied us when we do not pray, and that God’s faithfulness to us is conditioned upon our faithfulness to Him. This is not so much that God is unwilling to bless the unworthy, as that our own hearts condemn us and our own faith will not work when we do not bring our best to God when we come to ask His best for us. There are mysteries in the Christian life, just as there are mysteries to the human mind in all worthwhile things, but there is no magic. We get out of the service of God according as we put into the service of God, and better conditions on our part bring fuller blessings on God’s part.
Once a preacher excused himself from grinding study on the theory that he would simply open his mouth and God would fill it. But a more logical Christian replied, “He will fill it, indeed. He will fill it with air.” But if we would learn, we must study. If we would grow in grace, we must give attention to the “means of grace.” If we would have friends, we must show ourselves friendly. If we would accomplish good, we must give ourselves to doing good.
Feelings in the Christian experience are results and not causes. We should not seek to feel good, but to be good and do good. We should not strive to be happy, but to be useful, and when we are useful, happiness will come as a byproduct.
3. Beware of Antinomianism. This is a big word which was, I think, invented by Luther, and adopted by Wesley. The import of the word is “against law.” Applied practically it means the divorcement of experience from practice. It means that you can be right and yet not do right. That you can be holy and not righteous. That you can stand well with God and yet be in disgrace with men for your own folly and wickedness. Of such error, Wesley said, beware. The word sounds old-fashioned, but the idea is as new as today. People profess to be Christians, and yet indulge in wine, gambling, tobacco, worldly amusements and tricky business methods, and they would be deeply hurt if you suggested they are not Christians, and they would be unaffected if you insisted that they depart from iniquity to warrant their naming themselves after Christ.
In some communities in India, where the Mohammedans are consistent in abstaining from alcohol, and the Hindus likewise are true to their law of prohibition of liquor, and where every man is known by his color and his religion, rather than by his nationality, when a white man is seen drunk, the people remark, “He is a Christian.” But in our own land, where Christian enlightenment has made men wise, a man is required to prove his profession by his life. But we do not seek to pass this on to others, we want to face the issue ourselves. Beware of excusing yourself in matters of practical Christianity. Remember that faith is based upon faithfulness, that while we are not saved by good works, we are saved to good works. If we claim the blessings of the gospel, we must comply with the requirements of the gospel. Law does not include grace, but grace includes law. To be saved from the law means to be saved from the rigors of the law by being made to love the things the law demands. It never means license to break the law. I am, for example, not under the law which forbids murder, for I am under the grace that enables me to love all my fellow men. Therefore the love of Christ constrains me before the law against murder has any opportunity to restrain me. In the divine order we are made right before we are expected to do right, but we keep right by doing right. Beware of Antinomianism, of making void the law.
4. Beware of sins of omission. There are many passive graces in the Christian galaxy, like patience, and self-control, and for their exercise we have need of many prudential maxims. We need to “bridle the tongue.” We need to “rule our spirit.” We need to literally close our eyes to seeing blood, and shut our ears to the hearing of blood. We need to shake our hands from the holding of bribes, and refuse to go with the multitudes to do evil. What everybody does is not necessarily wise or right. There is a never-ending demand for keeping ourselves in hand and allowing no wild thoughts or unwise and hasty actions to mar our reputation for sanity and consistency.
But passivity can carry us too far. It can take us on to where we conclude we are not our brother’s keeper, and that it is required of us only that we be good, and not that we do good. There is danger that we shall become harmless, but not militant. We may decide that if others will leave us alone, we will not trouble them. We may conclude that making and saving are the end of the law, and that giving is neither necessary nor desirable. We may neglect opportunity for testifying, thinking it enough to just live inoffensively. We may fall into that error of which James speaks, “He that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” What did this man do? No, that is not it. He just did not do anything. He was not guilty of an evil deed. He just passed an opportunity for doing a good deed or saying a kind and helpful word. Negative goodness is not enough. If we would be genuine Christians, we must also possess and practice positive righteousness. Beware of being so good that you are just “goody-goody.” Beware of being good for nothing.
The true Christian not only has a shield, he also has a sword. He does not stop with warding off attack. He attacks evil with a militant spirit. He does not hold to the fallacy of “peace at any price.” He knows that in this world we are born unto conflict, and that we must fight, if we would win. The Christian who is at peace with a world that is at war with God has difficulty in explaining his allegiance. Beware of omitting the Christian duties, and of passing over the Christian opportunities. We are here to do good, as well as to be good, and we are challenged to active service, as well as to passive suffering for Christ.
5. Beware of desiring anything but God. Coveting that which is rightly another’s is condemned by the Ten Commandments, and the possession of worldly goods is the snare of many. But it is likely that Wesley was not thinking in quite such an elementary sphere. He was writing to Christian people, and it is likely that he was warning against seeking to be like others, seeking for religious happiness, seeking for “power” to do miracles, seeking for manifestations that will cause others to wonder. And knowing how treacherous and transient such things are, he would say, beware of seeking anything but God.
There is a difference between manifestation and demonstration. Manifestation is on the inside, demonstration on the outside. Manifestation is what God does for us as we meet conditions for His favor. Demonstration is what men see in us as we work out what God has worked in. This is not discounting demonstration altogether, but it is suggesting that it be given only passing attention.
Sometimes in the presence of an effective preacher of the gospel, or in the company of a saintly soul we may be tempted to pray, “Lord, give me what that man has.” But what we may see and think we want is not the pure grace of God, but is the grace of God shining through a special human personality, and it is the human features that especially impress us. If God were to give us what man has, He would have to give us that man’s personality, and that is not what we want at all.
We may ask God to make us demonstrate like someone else whose zeal and fervor have impressed us. But this too is irrelevant. We are not adapted to the form of demonstration which is another’s, and enforced uniformity is a hindrance to personal enlargement. The little verse in the old schoolbook that made the robin conclude “I would rather be my honest self than any made-up daisy,” is full of thought for us. It has been suggested that if we could all place our bag of troubles in a common mart, and then if it were given us to know all that is connected with the troubles of others, and then with this enlightenment we were asked to take our choice, we would go right back and pick up our own burden in preference to the lot of any other. A change of environment is not our solution. An exchange of personalities is both impossible and undesirable. Transformation of temperament will not help, for any temperament has its limitations and drawbacks, as well as its advantages. God is our only solution, and He has made provision in His grace for exactly what we each one need. Therefore let us not frustrate His grace. Let us not become entangled with incidentals. Let us desire God. Let us seek to be perfected in His grace. But let us close our ears to all who would set us on the track of tricks and trappings and spiritual alchemy. “Now the end of the commandment is love out of a pure heart, a good conscience and faith unfeigned.” All else is gratuitous and incidental. Not all of God’s gifts will meet the need. It is God himself my spirit craves. But when He comes into my life to reign in the fullness of His grace and glory, there is no craving left unappeased, and I am enabled to look on all there is in the world, and all there is in the transient and incidental of even the Christian life, and still say, “There is none on earth or in heaven I desire but Thee.”
6. Beware of making a rent in the church. Wesley’s challenge was stated in dual form, “Beware of schism — of making a rent in the church.” We know that in the past great fundamentals have divided the professed followers of the true God. Such a separation came when a portion of the faithful in Israel proclaimed Jesus . of Nazareth as the promised Messiah, and when the others would not hear and heed the message. There was then a sharp and permanent separation. There was such a separation in the visible church when Martin Luther proclaimed the apostolic doctrine of justification by faith, and all would not hear. Even Wesley himself led off a separate group composed of those who had themselves become partakers of vital things in Christian experience and life. And there are other instances of separation over fundamentals in which the separatists were “pushed-outers,” more than “come-outers,” and other such instances may yet occur in the history of the Christian Church. To such cases Wesley evidently had no reference.
Rather his thought was turned to the instances in which within a group of worshipers ambitious people who have real or imagined qualities for leadership make themselves or their own pet notions nuclei for clans and inner circles” which minister to pride and personal preferences, rather than to the glory of God and the advantage of His cause in this world.
Questions relating to general church union are beyond the sphere of interest for the most of us, and if we are interested, in the most cases there is nothing we can .do about it. But within our own group there is responsibility, and here we are enjoined not to contribute to divisive tendencies, but to work for peace and co-operation in service.
It is a serious thing to break fellowship with other worshipers of God. And the sad part of it is that Christians are so serious in their religion, that they usually do not go far until they begin to impugn each other’s motives and become divided in spirit, even when circumstances work for keeping them united in form. Solomon gave the man who sows discord among brethren a low place in bad company, but David commended as good and pleasant the dwelling together of brethren in unity.
Our present purpose does not warrant our branching out into questions of wisdom about church joining, church union, advantages and disadvantages of denominationalism and such like. We are thinking in terms of the personal unit in God’s work. How shall I go about it to develop and maintain unity among God’s people? Well, Christ is the gathering place of His disciples, and the way to get close to all of them is to get close up to Him. I would perhaps waste my time if I went about preaching “let us get together.” But when I get up close to Christ all those who are close to Him seem immediately to recognize me as a brother. But when I get off and warm my hands around the enemy’s fire, I need someone to identify me in the crowd, for few will know me as one who companies with His people. After all, then, the call for unity among Christians is a call to each one of us to a closer walk with Christ. Not simply a conversion of doctrines, or even a broadening of nominal and official fellowship, but a “drawing nigh to God.” Our oneness is in Christ, not in external vows and formalities.
7. Be exemplary in all things, especially in little things like dress, laying out your money, and in serious and useful conversation. In this last instance Wesley forsook his negative form and gave a comprehensive and positive precept. Perhaps we all love hero stories, and perhaps we have dreamed of a red letter day in our own lives when with one bold act we would justify our whole existence upon the earth. But most of us have lived long enough now to know that usually we miss the big opportunities.
We were too young when one war came, and too old when the next appeared. We were at the place just before and just after the accident occurred, but we were not on the spot at the big moment. We could be at the wonder spot only one time, and on that day it was raining, so the beauty that some describe escaped us. The night of the big eclipse it was cloudy in our part of the country. The great man did not move into our circle when he was a boy, so we narrowly missed being his chum. And it is the same way with deeds. We are not called upon to do one heroic act and be through with it. We do not have a challenge that we can answer and prove once and for all that we are what we claim to be. No, our lives are made up of little things. Just as the “little drops of water and little grains of sand make the mighty ocean and the pleasant land,” so we must content ourselves with an accumulation of minor deeds and mediocre speeches.
Wesley mentions dress as one of the little things in which we should be exemplary. By being exemplary is not meant that we shall be models of the latest fashions, nor that we shall be companions of outmoded styles. On this matter the Scriptures stick, as they usually do, to principles, rather than to rules of thumb. There are at least two reasons for human dress, one is necessity and the other is modesty, and the exemplary person regards both these demands. We must wear clothing in the winter to keep us warm, and we must wear it in the summer to protect us from the heat, and our clothing should be adapted to this utilitarian purpose in disregard of the styles which would have women wear furs in the summer and light and unadapted garments in the winter. And dress must have respect to modesty. Clothing was given our foreparents the day they fell into sin in substitution for the halo of innocency which was taken from them, that their shame should not appear. And in spite of the faddists, let us not forget that clothing is the handmaiden of modesty, and that its style, texture and fullness should pay tribute to this fact. And, again disregarding the faddists, the well dressed person is the modestly dressed person, whose dress does not call for remark for either comeliness or homeliness.
Laying out your money is also listed among the little things. Money is just stored up labor, and labor is but the material form of time, and time is the commodity of which life is made. Therefore the careless spender of money is involved in many serious complications. Laying up money is condemned as the sin of the miser. Laying out money too lavishly is the sin of the prodigal. But in between these two extremes is the place for Christian economical life. Industry and frugality are virtues. Laziness and prodigality are vices. The Christian must give thought to earning, saving, spending, and giving, with giving as the guiding motive. And yet not indiscriminate giving, but thoughtful and religious giving, such as will, in the judgment of the Christian, honor Christ and change the gift, by processes of divine alchemy, into the kind of gold that can stand the fire and be at par when the gold of earth has perished.
Serious and useful conversation. These “little things” begin to loom large. It has been remarked that the diagnostician does not go far until he asks to see the patient’s tongue, that from it he may judge the state of the general health. And I think it is the same in spiritual matters. The tongue, the lips, the mouth, the words, how frequent the appeal of inspired prophets to these indices of inner condition! How earnestly did David pray, “Let the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.”
Wesley thought few people could talk for more than an hour at one time without saying something they should not say, and on this account he recommended frequent withdrawal from social communication, and thought that work, even exacting work, is more friendly to godliness than leisure. Most people think they could do well if they but had more time to pray and to meditate and to do good works. But the temptations that come to the idle are more subtle, and have better opportunity than those which come to the busy, so we are perhaps more fortunate than we think, who find ourselves too busy to be much affected by incidentals about us. When sin first entered the world God, in mercy, prescribed work as a remedy to allay the worst effects of the fallen state.
Careless talk, the use of bywords, the habit of speaking evil of others, the tendency to spread evil surmises which have not been authenticated, make jokes of religion, of matrimony and of death are bad for both the spirituality of the speaker and the good manners of the hearers. The Christian should be a lady or gentleman of the first class. For while good manners do not always embrace Christian graces, Christian graces should always embrace good manners.
When about to tell something uncomplimentary of another, if we would always stop and ask, “Is this true? Is it necessary to tell it? Is it kind to tell it?” we would probably leave off many things that we spread all too readily. But even conversation dealing with good things, religion, the church and God can run shallow by reason of excess, so that it is not enough to judge that conversation is serious, it must also pass the test of being useful.
But a complete summary of Wesley’s seven points pretty well covers the scope of commended Christian life. To avoid pride, fanaticism, lawlessness, sins of omission, seeking things that are outside the will of God for us, . making factions in the church and giving our attention to the matter of being a good example in all things, including such little things as dress, laying out money and engagement in serious and useful conversation is to just about assure ourselves that we shall be approved of both God and men, and that we shall be able to do good and not evil all the days of our lives. And in our pursuit of such a life, we ask for divine grace and wisdom.