Olde Paths &
Ancient Lndmrks

Christian Issues

Book Room

Tape Corner

Contact us


Vol. 10, No. 7
July, 2001

Self-Denial and Virtue

Abstract of a Sermon Preached on April 1, 2001

by Glenn Conjurske

Yesterday I was asked the question, If I do what is right, when my heart isn't in it, is there any virtue in this? My first response would be to say that there must be more virtue in this than there is in doing what is right when I want to do it. But I am not sure of this, and I leave the question unanswered, Which is more virtuous, whether to do right because we want to, or in spite of the fact that we don't want to? But this I am sure of, that there is virtue in both of them.

Now as to the question of whether there is any virtue in doing what is right, though our heart is not in it, this may be answered in one word. Self-denial. This is the prime virtue. This is the first thing. “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself.” Let him do those things which he doesn't want to do. Let him abstain from doing those things which he does want to do. This is self-denial, both negative and positive. This is the first thing God requires of us. This is the first fruit of faith. This is the essence and foundation of all true religion, without which there is no holiness and no salvation. So long as man is a sinner, with a heart full of sinful propensities and desires, self-denial must be the essence of true religion. If God came down and expressed his will to man in a hundred and ten commandments, no man would say, “Ah! this is just exactly what I have always wanted to do!” No sinner would say this, and no saint either. Our hearts are full of sinful inclinations. We do not desire to do the things we ought, nor to abstain from the things we ought not. All those sinful inclinations must be denied. We must act against our hearts, in a thousand and one instances. God requires this of us, as the first demand of the gospel. “And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself.” (Mark 8:34.) So long as man is sinful he will never do right without denying himself, and acting against the inclinations of his heart. Those hyperspiritual and antinomian notions taught by men like Lewis Sperry Chafer, that Christian liberty consists in always doing exactly what we most want to do, may perhaps be applied in heaven, but it is as pernicious as it is foolish to try to apply them to sinners on the earth. Sinners must deny themselves, or they can have no virtue at all. They must act against the inclinations of their hearts, or they have no holiness and no religion.

But I must go farther than this. Even though we were free ourselves from the first breath or taint of sin, yet we must deny ourselves so long as others are sinners. Because we are sinners ourselves, we must often go against emotions which are wrong, in order to choose what is right. But though we were no sinners ourselves, so long as sin exists in others, we must often deny our emotions which are either innocent or virtuous, in order to do what is right. Christ was entirely free from any taint of sin. His feelings and desires were all pure and holy. Yet Christ denied himself when he went to the cross. He went to the cross directly against his own desires. He denied himself in a thousand other things also, but I pass those by, and speak only of the cross, for on this the Scriptures are too plain to be mistaken. We read in Matthew 26:37-39, “And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.”

Does this look as though he was doing what he wanted to do? Do you become sorrowful and very heavy when you are about to do what you want to do? Did you go to your wedding sorrowful and very heavy? Did you stand at the altar, and turn to your mate and say, “Now is my soul exceeding sorrowful, even unto death”? Perhaps you might have, if you had possessed prophetic foresight, but at the time you were doing what you wanted to do. Your heart was in it, and there was no heaviness, or sorrowing unto death. These expressions prove beyond doubt that when Christ went to the cross, he was going directly against the inclinations of his heart.

Again, in Luke 22:41 & 42, “And he was withdrawn from them about a stone's cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done.” Did you stand at the marriage altar praying, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me”? When your mother took you out for a treat, or gave you something you had always wanted, did you pray, “Father, remove this cup from me”? This praying is the proof that Christ went to the cross against his heart----against his desires. He went there as a matter of self-denial, not of self-indulgence.

Again, in verse 44, “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” Have you ever been “in an agony” over doing what your heart desired to do? Such language makes it perfectly plain that his heart was not in this thing, but directly against it. But more. It may be when you were required to do something which harrowed up all your feelings, something which violated your dearest and strongest desires, you may have broken out in a cold sweat, but have you ever sweat blood? It may be that our own emotions are too weak and fickle to enable us even to understand this, but here is the fact: the Lord sweat blood in viewing the ordeal which was before him, and certainly this teaches us in the most unmistakable manner that his soul felt the strongest possible aversion to the thing which he was about to do. He prayed repeatedly that he might be spared----prayed repeatedly that God might take that cup from him. And all this conspires together to teach us in the most unequivocal fashion that his heart was not in it. His heart was directly against it, and most strongly against it.

But he also prayed repeatedly, “Nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done.” Here lies the virtue. His own will was strongly opposed to the thing, yet he gave up his own will----his own desires and inclinations----and chose to do the will of his Father. The virtue of all this lay not in his feelings or inclinations, but in his choice, and we can hardly help but think that it was more virtuous thus to choose against such strong emotions, than it would have been if his feelings had been all on the other side.

But here we must turn aside to clarify one point. We speak of both inclination and choice----both emotion and volition----under the common term “will.” This is true in both Greek and English. It is quite possible, then, according to common usage, to will against our will, that is, to choose against our inclinations. The choice is in the spirit, the inclinations in the soul, and here it is that the soul and spirit are divided asunder. We are no doubt most happy----and perhaps not less virtuous----when the soul and the spirit may flow together, and we think they always could but for the existence of sin. It is sin which requires us often to proceed directly against our inclinations, either our own sin, or the sin of others. Where the sin is our own, it is most often wrong inclinations which we must deny. Where the sin is in another, we must deny right inclinations, and proceed directly against them. We have no delight in spanking our dear child. Our heart cannot be in this. Our heart is all the other way. All our desires are to kiss and caress and cuddle and comfort, yet sin makes it necessary to spank, and in order to do so, we must choose to proceed directly against those emotions which are right.

And in this we are nothing different from God. He is entirely sinless, and yet he denies himself. He denies his feelings, in order to do what must be done. “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” (Ezek. 33:11). To judge and punish the wicked, he must deny himself. He must set aside his feelings, and all the inclinations of his heart. You understand that “God is light” and “God is love.” These are the two sides of his nature, and these two might co-exist in the utmost harmony, world without end, except for the presence of sin. The presence of sin demands that sometimes the one side must give way before the other. Now love is an emotion, whereas holiness is a choice, and where these two draw us in opposite directions, it is the holiness which must be maintained. God is by all means the happiest----as are we who are made in his image----when he can maintain both love and holiness, when his choices may flow in perfect concert with his emotions. But sin renders this sometimes impossible, and when that is the case, it is always the emotions which must be given up. God has no pleasure in the destruction of the wicked, yet destroy them he will, though to do so he must proceed directly in the teeth of his inclinations and emotions. We have shown already that Christ did the same when he went to the cross, and we may be certain that God did so also when he poured out his wrath upon his well-beloved Son. In such things God himself chooses to act directly contrary to his pure and holy inclinations. This is right, and how much more so for us to act contrary to our unholy emotions.

To speak once more of Christ's going to the cross, we read in Hebrews 12:2 that he “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.” We do not endure those things in which our emotions are engaged. Here is a young lady who gets married, and goes off for a honeymoon trip. Two weeks later she comes back, and all her girl friends gather around her and ask her how it was. “Oh,” she says, “I endured it.” No, not if her heart was in it. We do not endure those things which our heart is in, but those which are contrary to all our desires and inclinations. Yet mark, we are told that Christ endured the cross. He acted against his desires.

And this he did by faith. He endured the cross for the joy set before him. He denied himself the present pleasure in order to secure the future good. This is the invariable way of faith, and thus it is that faith and self-denial are intimately bound together. They are Siamese twins. Those who wish to exclude self-denial, in order that they may maintain salvation by faith, understand nothing of the most rudimentary elements of the matter. The same desires and inclinations reside in all of us. These belong to the soul. To the spirit belongs the choice of what we shall do about those desires. There are only two options before us. These are the way of faith and self-denial, and the way of unbelief and self-indulgence. It is faith which denies itself the present pleasure in order to secure the future good, whether in spanking your child or in abstaining from fornication. This self-denial God commands, and of course this is the virtuous thing to do. From the outset of our Christian course, all of our worthy and righteous actions consist of denying our feelings and desires, and proceeding directly contrary to them.

But here I must clarify another matter. There is no doubt that in a remote sense the Lord did desire to go to the cross. He did desire to do the Father's will, and surely he did desire to save us from eternal destruction. Yet in spite of that, he surely did not wish to go to the cross. The end he surely desired, but not the means. The end he desired, the means he could not. And here lies the cause why we must in a thousand cases choose to act contrary to our feelings. You want your child to be godly, yes, but you have no inclination to spank him. Your emotions and inclinations draw you one way, while right and reason and necessity draw you the other. The emotions must be denied. Those who yield to their emotions in such a case will ruin the child, and those who yield to their emotions in general will destroy their own souls. We all wish to go to heaven, but no sinner desires to do what he must in order to get there. Christ commands him, therefore, at the very outset, as the first thing, to deny himself----to choose and to act contrary to what he feels and desires.

Thus we read in Matthew 5:27-29, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: but I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.” This is the way of faith and self-denial, the narrow way that leads to life. Now there is no man that can desire to cut off his hand and cast it from him. No man can desire to pluck out his eye and cast it from him. Neither can he desire to deny and mortify many of those lusts which dwell in his bosom. No, but he can choose to do so. He can desire the end to be gained by it, but he cannot desire the means by which he must gain it. In every such choice he must act directly against his heart. It hardly needs to be said that such choices are right and worthy and virtuous. The man who does not choose to act against his heart has no virtue, and no holiness, and no religion. Whatever he may be, he is not a Christian.

But suppose we have the notion that no choice can be truly virtuous unless it corresponds with our feelings, that no action is worthy unless our heart is in it. See where this will take us. Practically, it must either make us legalists or libertines. If consistently applied, such a principle must either put us under the law, and oblige us continually to condemn ourselves for what we cannot help, or else make us libertines, and excuse us for what we certainly can help. If there is no virtue in acting contrary to our hearts, then there was no virtue in Joseph's resisting the enticements of Potiphar's wife. This cuts up all holiness by the roots. Can there be as much virtue in lying late in a warm bed, because I don't want to get up, as there is in rising early and getting to work, though I would rather stay in bed? If “the desire is as bad as the deed,” as some foolishly maintain, if “the thought is as bad as the act,” what purpose could there have been for David to resist the charms of Bath-sheba? If he desired her and denied himself, he was nothing the better. If he desired her and indulged himself, he was nothing the worse. Such doctrine is likely to make us legalists and libertines both, and David might condemn himself indeed for the desire, and yet commit the act nevertheless, supposing the deed added nothing to the sin of the desire. The desire he couldn't help, but the deed he could. But these notions turn morality upside down, condemning us for what we cannot help, and yet giving us ground to excuse what we can help.

I recall being in a similar plight to David's many years ago, and saying to God while I wrestled with the same temptation, “Of what use is it to turn my eyes this way, when my heart goes that way?” If I had then understood what I know now, I could have answered that question. Do you ask, Of what use is it? Much every way. It is our members----our eyes and hands and other organs----which God requires us to yield to righteousness, though the desires which dwell in our hearts may draw us directly the other way. This is virtue. This is religion. This is holiness. No, not the perfect holiness which the law demands, but it is such holiness as sinners are capable of, and such holiness as the gospel requires of them. It is that holiness without which no man shall see the Lord. “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die, but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” So speaks Paul in Romans 8:13. And if the desire is as bad as the deed, why does the Lord advise us to pluck out our eye and cut off our hand, when the lust dwells in the heart? Plucking out the eye and cutting off the hand will not touch the heart. It will not change the desire, and what have I gained then, by cutting off the members which might be used to carry out the desire? There is no gain at all, if the desire is as bad as the deed. Yet this is “profitable for thee, that one of thy members should perish,” though the heart is not touched by it. This is “profitable for thee,” to cut off “occasion for the flesh,” though the flesh remains just what it was. This is “profitable for thee,” to deny thyself the act, though the desire for it burns yet in the heart. This is the way that leadeth unto life, according to the explicit doctrine of both Christ and Paul.

But one more point, and I have done. Those who put religion in the soul instead of the spirit, making it to consist of feelings instead of choices, not only turn the doctrine of salvation awry, but wreak havoc also in the doctrine of assurance. The Bible is very plain here. As our holiness lies in the realm of the choices and actions, so also does our assurance. “Hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.” This is the solid Bible basis of assurance. In place of this men put two false foundations of their own. On the antinomian side we are told to look entirely outside of ourselves, to the work of Christ for us. On the legal side, we are told to examine our frames and feelings, our desires and inclinations. The antinomian doctrine requires nothing of us, and the legal requires virtual sinlessness, or perfection. The Bible lies between them, requiring holiness, but not perfection. The antinomian doctrine gives assurance of salvation to a great host of men who do not possess the salvation itself. On the other side, the founding of our assurance on our frames and feelings will deprive all but the most advanced in holiness of any assurance at all, and even those are likely to have their assurance only by fits and starts. Our emotions may vary, while our choices remain fixed. And it is not necessarily anything spiritual which causes the fluctuation of our feelings. This may be from eating too much sugar. My feelings are somewhere near the bottom right now, and I suppose this is because I ate too much ice cream yesterday. Our assurance does not stand on our feelings, any more than our holiness does. We may make right choices, in spite of wrong emotions. Our assurance stands on those choices. The antinomian says, “Look entirely outside of yourself, to Christ and his work,” and so gives assurance to the whole host of the ungodly. Paul says, “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith,” but those who set men to examine their frames and feelings deprive the godly of their assurance. Paul does not mean to examine your inclinations and emotions, but your choices and deeds. “Hereby do we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.” Thus, while the antinomian foundation, outside of ourselves, gives assurance to the ungodly, and the foundation of frames and feelings, within ourselves, deprives the godly of their assurance, the Bible foundation gives that assurance to all the godly, and to none but the godly.

To conclude, religion does not lie in the feelings, yet surely we ought to have some feeling in our religion. But where will we get it? Precisely by choosing and acting contrary to the feelings we have, or by going forward with what is right, in spite of the dullness and deadness of our feelings. We have no direct control over our feelings, but we do have an indirect control. We cannot turn our emotions on or off at will, but we can strengthen or weaken them, slowly but surely. Indulging desires and emotions strengthens them. Denying them weakens them. And though this is a long and arduous process, it does bear fruit in the end. Meanwhile it is the business of every one of us to deny ourselves the pleasures of yielding to our emotions, in order that we may do as we ought.

The soul is the seat of all our desires, inclinations, and enjoyments, and it is certain that, whatever we may have been by creation, in our present condition the soul is much more intimately linked to the body than to the spirit----entwined as it were in a close embrace with the body, while it only shakes hands with the spirit. Every physical pleasure we desire naturally and most strongly, while our desires for spiritual pleasures are languid or non-existent. Nay, in many cases we have a positive aversion to spiritual delights. We all love savory meat, but have no taste for the meat that endureth unto everlasting life. Our souls must be transformed, by a long and arduous process of self-denial, and while this is doing, all our virtue must consist in acting contrary to our hearts----in denying ourselves those pleasures to which our souls are strongly attached or addicted, and in laboring for that meat which endureth unto life everlasting, in spite of desires which at best are dull and cold and weak and languid. We must choose such a course, not because we have any inclination towards it, but because it is right, and because it is necessary, if we would escape eternal damnation. We must act as the wolf who leaves off killing calves, and takes to eating hay----and this while our craving for the calves' blood remains as strong as ever, and our appetite for the hay as weak as ever. We must “Cease to do evil, and learn to do well,” directly in the face of all our inclinations and cravings. Without this there is no godliness, and no virtue.

First Love and First Works

Absract of a Sermon Preached on April 8, 2001

by Glenn Conjurske

I preached to you a week ago on whether there is any virtue in doing as we ought to do, in spite of the fact that our heart is not in it. I answered that, of course, in the affirmative. Religion does not consist of feeling. But then we ought to have some feeling in our religion, and the more feeling we have, the better.

In Revelation 2, in the Lord's letter to the church at Ephesus, he finds many works for which to commend them, but censures them for their flagging emotions. “I know thy works,” he says, “and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars; and hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.” All this is commendation, and he commends their works in spite of the fact that he must immediately add, “Nevertheless, I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.” They did not have the love they ought to have had----did not have the love they once had. Their works were done without the same heart with which they had once done them, yet the works were still good, still commendable, still acceptable to God.

But some, on the basis of the statement that they had left their first love, or forsaken it, have labored to prove that “love is a decision,” and not an emotion. You can't forsake an emotion. It is not said they had lost their first love, but left it. For this they are held responsible. They might have helped it. They might have chosen otherwise. Love, therefore, is a matter of choice, and not of feeling.

Such is the argument, but we deny its validity. Before we leap to any such conclusion, we must consider the manner in which they had left their first love. Do you imagine they woke up one morning, and said, “I will not henceforth love the Lord as I have done heretofore. This is my choice. I choose to forsake my first love for him.” Such an idea is really too absurd for serious consideration. Whatever the manner of their leaving their first love, it was certainly not this. The fact is, no man can leave love in such a manner. Ask some lover if she can decide one day to love her fellow less today than she did before. If she says she can, you can tell her she is no lover at all. These Ephesians did not thus decide to leave their first love. Love is an emotion, and is not subject to such decisions. But let us clarify one point before we proceed. Though I insist that love is an emotion, I do not mean to imply that there is nothing of commitment in it. I only affirm that it is primarily an emotion, and as such it is not subject to any decision, either to begin or end it, either to augment or diminish it.

How then did they leave their first love? No doubt gradually, imperceptibly, and in a manner involuntarily. “The love of many,” the Bible says, “will wax cold,” and this is no doubt exactly what happened at Ephesus. It waxed cold through neglect, or through giving the heart to other things. Not as the result of a single decision to diminish their love, but rather as the effect of numerous smaller decisions, and those not directly related to their love for the Lord. For those decisions they were responsible. They failed to maintain their first love. They too much valued other things. They were like Martha, exemplary in much service, all good and valuable in its place, but they too little valued the part which Mary chose, of nearness to the Lord himself. For all those choices they were responsible, and so were said to leave their first love. They left it little by little, doubtless more through neglect than by any deliberate choice.

Meanwhile, their works were good, as Martha's serving also was. We cannot doubt their works would have been better if their first love had remained, but still they were good. The Lord commends them, both before and after his censure for their lack of love. And though he censures them for having left their first love, he does not tell them to repent, and feel as they did before. He tells them to do as they had done before. “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works.” No doubt when they left their first love, they left off some of their first works also. The remedy is to do those first works again, with or without their first feelings.

The best illustration on earth of all these things is seen in the all too common experience of marriage. A young couple gets married, and in their first love they can hardly bear to be out of each other's sight. They want nothing but to look into each other's eyes, to whisper sweet nothings to each other, to kiss and caress, but little by little their love grows cold. Not by any deliberate choice, but by neglect, or even by necessary attention to other things. She used to walk to the car with him and embrace him when he left for work. Now she yells her “good bye” from the back porch. She used to put sweet love notes in his lunch box, but she doesn't do that any more. He used to stop at the store and buy her some little treat, but he doesn't do that any more. She used to labor to make him his favorite dish, and if she still does the same now, it isn't with the same feelings of delight with which she once did it. He used to get up from supper and do the dishes with her, but now he sits in his chair, and lets her do them herself.

Now if you come to such a couple and tell them to get back their first feelings, they will only look bewildered, and ask, “How?” If you tell them, “Love is a decision,” you only add to the confusion. You set them to work impossibilities. How do you decide to love more than you do? Ah, but move them to do the first works, and you have gained something. That they can do.

But at this point some will step in and say, “Yes, they can do the first works, but why should they? What does it signify, to act a love which is not there? Who would want it?”

To begin with the last question, I tell you, you would want it. Every woman would rather have her man help her with the dishes, than to neglect and ignore her. Every man would rather have his favorite dish than something out of a box or can. Every woman would rather have a treat than none. Every man would rather have his wife snuggle up to him and say, “Love me”----or say nothing, for that matter----than to turn her back to him, and say, “Leave me alone: I'm tired.” You gain something by doing the first works, and gain it even in the emotional realm, where you cannot gain it by a mere decision. Do the first works, and the first love may be rekindled. It is certain it never will be if you neglect the first works. And rekindled or not, we have a responsibility to do the first works.

The text says, “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works.” Remember the way it was. Remember how you used to act, what you used to do, and do the first works. Of course you want to get back your first feelings, but there is no way on earth you will do it, but by doing the first works. The emotions follow the choices, though it may be they will follow at a great distance. You may not like spinach, but you can learn to like it, by choosing to eat it, directly against your inclinations. Here lies the whole course of godliness. “Cease to do evil, and learn to do well.” Cease to do the evil which you love, and learn to do the good, for which you have little or no inclination. All this we do by choice, and much of it directly against our feelings, or in spite of feelings which are weak and languid.

Suppose the contrary. Suppose our determinations and actions ought to follow our feelings. Suppose there is no virtue in our choices and acts, if they flow not spontaneously from proper emotions. On this plan we ought to cease to act, while we seek or wait for right emotions. We ought, in other words, to do just what we feel like doing, no more and no less. Who cannot see that this is the direct road to the neglect of every good thing----yes, and the direct road to the indulgence in every evil thing. To be perfectly plain, consistently followed, this is the direct route to hell. It puts a premium upon self-indulgence, and discourages self-denial. This is the devil's way, and the direct opposite of God's.


Soul & Spirit Religion Illustrated

in the Conversion of W. S. Jacoby

[Jacoby was assistant pastor to R. A. Torrey in Chicago. Since preaching the two sermons which appear above, I have procured and read Jacoby's life. After a long course of reckless wickedness, drinking, gambling, stealing, and fighting, he was induced to go to a Methodist meeting. He went because he had heard that one of his enemies had said he was afraid to go. Having gone once, he thought that would end the matter, but the next day he was restless and uneasy, and returned to the meeting at night. At the invitation he went forward to the old Methodist altar, where the following ensued. ----editor.]

Walking to the front, Jacoby knelt at the altar. The gentleman who spoke to him must have been inexperienced in dealing with souls, for, after a little while, he said to this anxious enquirer: “Don't you feel any different?” Having such a question as this put to him, Jacoby began to look for some kind of feeling. It did not come, and he felt dissatisfied. For six nights in succession, in his great desire to find God and peace of conscience, he knelt at the altar, but still the looked-for feeling did not come. Its absence troubled him greatly.

At last, when the closing night of the Mission had been reached, the presiding elder said to him, “You had better get up and join the Church.” Still thinking of the feeling that he so earnestly desired, Jacoby rose to his feet and said, “I have served the devil for forty-five years; I will now serve God for the rest of my life, if I never get any feeling.”
----Under Two Masters: The Story of Jacoby, Dr. Torrey's Assistant, by J. Kennedy Maclean. London: Marshall Brothers, n.d., pp. 63-64.

[Here, reader, is real religion. This is serving God in the spirit. Jacoby had plenty of feeling in later days, but if he had waited for it before resolving to serve the Lord, he may never have served him. ----editor.]


The Healing of the Man Born Blind

by Glenn Conjurske

It has been the common practice of the church to use the physical healings of Christ as illustrations of the salvation of the soul. Such interpretation has been well nigh universal among the spiritual, and we suppose few would object to it, aside from the modernists. It would seem too obvious to require proof that many of the physical miracles of Scripture, as well as other physical acts and historical events, are divinely intended as illustrations of higher things. In speaking of the cursing of the barren fig tree, Bishop Hall writes, “I have learned that thou, O Saviour, wert wont not to speak only, but to work in parables,” and we suppose all spiritual minds have learned the same. The nature of the works of the Lord compels such a belief. The very words spoken by Christ on the occasion of some of his physical works plainly imply that the works themselves are to be taken as types or parables. To find the salvation of the soul in the physical healings of the Bible is not only perfectly natural, but really unavoidable. The Lord himself thus employs the physical healings of the Israelites in the wilderness, by means of the brasen serpent, and this is justification enough for the practice. We have no objection at all to making such a use of the miracles of Scripture, but then we insist that if this is to be done, it ought to be done honestly and intelligently. This is essentially typology, the use of historical events and persons to illustrate spiritual realities, and no form of interpretation is so easily abused as this. Men commonly find what they please in types, but this is to abuse them. It is not the province of types to establish doctrine, but to illustrate it. We grant that some of the types of Scripture are so apt and so convincing----so obviously divinely intended----as to provide strong confirmation of the doctrines which they illustrate, yet we contend that there must first be something outside the type to be confirmed. Though perhaps we ought not to say never, yet it is certain that types are not ordinarily to be used to mark out new doctrine, independent of the plain teaching of the Bible----much less to set it at defiance.

Yet it is evident enough that the miracles of Christ are often misused, and that in two manners. Some will employ the various miracles in a way which is hardly upright, ignoring the actual facts of the case, in order to find therein something to confirm their own false and antinomian notions of grace. Others love to dwell on certain of Christ's miracles, which seem to lend a hand to their own false notions, while they steer clear of others of his miracles, which would upset their apple cart in a moment. It may be that various aspects of the various miracles of Christ illustrate different facets of the work of grace and salvation, while it may be a mistake to force any of them to go on all fours. A sound system of doctrine, based upon the broad tenor and the explicit statements of Scripture, must precede any use of types, and if the types must be wrested in order to maintain the doctrine, this ought to give us a pause concerning the doctrine itself.

In the present instance I desire only to employ one such type, to demonstrate how naturally it confirms the truth, and overturns popular false notions. The miracle is thus related in John 9:6-7: “When he had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay, and said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam, (which is by interpretation, Sent). He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing.”

It is often said by those who have false notions of grace that if we have anything to do in the matter of our own salvation, this robs Christ of his glory as our Saviour. This makes us all boasters. Then we shall enter heaven saying, “I thank the Lord for the help he gave me, but in fact I saved myself.” It is a favorite tactic of certain Calvinists, such as C. H. Spurgeon, to press this argument for all it is worth----and for a good deal more than it is worth, too, for it is really worth a good deal less than nothing. This is only fallacy and sophistry. Here are the plain facts of the case. The blind man was given something to do in order to receive his sight, nor was it a particularly easy task, nor something which could be performed in a moment, without moving hand or foot. Much less was it to cease doing anything, but precisely to begin to do something, where he had done nothing before. It was no little task for a blind man to walk to the pool of Siloam. Yet this was required of him. If he had declined to do it, on the plea of natural inability, or moral inability, or any other plea whatsoever, he certainly would not have been healed. He must go to the pool of Siloam, and wash there, or remain as blind as ever.

I observe in the next place that he must go ere he could wash, and wash ere he could see. Those who would reverse this order must deny the obvious. To contend that his going and his washing were the effects of having received his sight, which enabled him to go and wash, sets the plain facts of the case at defiance. So also do all those notions which make repentance and faith the results of our regeneration, rather than the conditions of it.

But observe in the next place, there was nothing in his going and washing which properly merited the benefit which he received by it. It is shallow sophistry to contend that if we must do anything to receive our salvation, then it is no more of grace. It is quite true that if we must properly merit it by the works of law----that is, by perfect and uninterrupted obedience----then it is no more of grace. But what the gospel requires of us has nothing to do with the terms of the law. This man's sight remained a gift of grace, regardless of the fact that he must go to Siloam and wash in order to receive it, and regardless of the fact that he certainly would not have received it if he had declined to perform the conditions. It were nothing short of ridiculous to maintain that this was not grace, because he must do something to obtain it. No more does the sinner's repentance or faith properly merit his salvation. It does, certainly, distinguish him from those who refuse to repent and believe, and distinguishes him by a certain moral worthiness which is inherent in repentance, but that worthiness cannot properly merit his forgiveness. That must come to him by grace, regardless of the merit of his repentance. Does the killer's resolve to kill no more cancel his guilt for the ten men he has murdered already? Not an iota of it. If he is pardoned, that pardon comes to him by grace. His repentance has earned nothing of the sort. Yet it would be folly to contend that there was no moral worth at all in his repentance, or to maintain that there was no moral difference between the penitent murderer, and the man who is determined to go on killing still. And frankly, all of this is so elementary, so obvious, so self-evident, that there ought to be no need to state it at all, but false notions concerning grace and salvation have obscured the simplest truths of Scripture in the modern church.

And as for that boasting which we are so often told must be inevitable if we have anything to do in the work of our own salvation, this is simply a bugbear, employed to frighten men off from the plain truth of the gospel.
I take this bull by the horns, and lay it prostrate. The man born blind without question had conditions imposed upon him, in order to receive his sight. He must perform those conditions, or remain as blind as he was born. He did perform those conditions, and “came seeing.” But did he therefore “come boasting”? According to certain perverters of the Bible doctrines of grace, the necessary effect of the man's performing of these conditions must have been to rob Christ of his glory, and to make the healed man a proud boaster. “I performed this miracle of healing upon myself. When Christ anointed my eyes with clay, it was to no purpose whatever. I remained as blind as I was born. But when I washed off the clay, I received my sight. When the hands of Christ were upon me, nothing happened. The actual miracle was performed by my own hands.”

If this was the language of the healed man, then there is some legitimacy in the common argument that the performing of conditions must make us boasters. But if it is ridiculous to impute such boasting to the blind man, it is equally so to make it the necessary consequence of our obtaining our pardon through our universal repentance and unconditional submission to Christ. How was the glory of Christ obscured----how was his grace made void----by requiring something of the blind man? Besides, the glory of Christ is not the only end of our salvation. The first and most obvious end is our own moral renovation, and how does the securing of the one derogate from the other? It is high time that men lay aside false doctrines, false emphases, and shallow sophistry, and return to those simple truths which are as obvious as they are Scriptural.

The Woman which was a Sinner

by Glenn Conjurske

“And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, and stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.”

She “was a sinner.” Not an ordinary sinner. All women are sinners, but here was a woman who was distinguished and notorious as a sinner. She had a common reputation as a sinner. Her name was a byword. She was no stranger to this Pharisee, into whose house she came unbidden, and he said within himself, “This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner”----a woman whose touch the Pharisee would have avoided at all cost. Not, surely, of every sinner would he thus think. Here was a flagrant sinner, a woman about the town, whose wanton affairs were matters of public knowledge and common report. This is acknowledged by nearly all to be the import of the word “sinner.” Some would soften it, and suppose the term merely to designate a Gentile, as these were commonly so called by the self-righteous Jews, but we cannot allow this. It is not the Pharisee only who calls her a sinner, but Luke also, and that by the Spirit of God. She is the only individual in all the Bible who is thus singled out and labelled “a sinner.” She was a sinner of the deepest dye, and “a woman which was a sinner,” a wanton and promiscuous woman, fallen beneath the level of her sinful sisters, having abandoned the goodness and virtue which are natural to women even in their sinful state. This was her life, and this her reputation.

But if every man knew her to be a sinner, she doubtless knew it also, and felt it too. How often had she envied the respectable ladies, who were loved and cared for by one man, while she was used and abandoned by many. She was not happy----could not be in such a life. But her passions were too strong, her habits too settled, her associations too entangling, her will too weak. We suppose she had often longed for a better life----
longed, and resolved also----perhaps as often as she was abandoned by one of her lovers, but still she remained where she was. I preached the gospel once to such a woman as this, and the immediate effect of it was that she broke off the “relationship” in which she was then involved. Alas, ere the week was out she was approached by another, and she knew not how to refuse. He was a policeman. Perhaps here would be love and honor both. But no, whatever he was, she “was a sinner,” and he knew it. Men who sought love and honor did not seek it from such as she was. He was but one more chapter in a long history of sin.

Such, no doubt, was this woman, and as sin followed sin, hope would depart, and resolutions diminish and dwindle and die. Here is the plight of many a woman who is a sinner, living in pleasure, but “dead while she liveth,” dead to God and hope, dead to reputation and respectability, shunned by the good and used by the evil, tossed as a fallen leaf on the billows, driven by passions too strong for her, and scarcely daring to think what the end will be.

A hard case, you think? Nay, not nearly so hard as that of the Pharisees. Such a woman cannot help but feel herself unclean, cannot help but remember the days of her innocence, cannot help but long for better things. What stands in her way is the apparent hopelessness of her condition. She cannot break the cords in which she has entwined herself. The good cannot love her, will not accept her. Hope is the great need of her heart, and it is the first glory of the gospel to give hope to such souls as hers. She learns of Jesus. She hears, perhaps as a reproach from his enemies, that “this man receiveth sinners.” Many men she had known who would receive her----base men with base designs----but here was a man of God who received sinners. She sought him out. She heard his preaching. She listened to the words of grace which fell from his lips. “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink.” She heard, and hope sprang up in her soul, and with hope resolve. She would turn away her lovers. She would resist their charms. She would cut off the right hand and pluck out the right eye.

And oh! she would love the blessed messenger of God whose words of grace had thus inspired her with hope and strength. She has attended upon his preaching, and drunk in the soul-refreshing waters of life. Her heart follows his steps, and “she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee's house.” “The Pharisee's house”! What place on earth so forbidding to such a one as she! But her heart is full. She has formed a purpose. She has somewhat to say to him----somewhat to do to him. She must see him.

Her every action now bespeaks repentance. She comes here for one purpose, to bestow her love upon a man, but oh! how changed from her former ways. Now she seeks no secret place for clandestine loves, but will bestow her affections freely before the eyes of the world. There was nothing impure here, nothing which shame taught her to hide. Where formerly she had bestowed her favors on men of Belial, now she comes to bless a man of God. Where she had faced many men with amorous looks and intents, she stands behind this man, whom she certainly knew to be a man of God, and the messenger of God to her soul. Those eyelids which she had used to take the hearts of men are now cast down in shame. Those eyes which had so often been full of illicit love are now suffused with tears. That hair upon which she had bestowed so much time and pains, which was her glory and her vanity, which had taken the hearts and received the caresses of so many worthless men, that hair shall now be made a common towel, to wipe the dust from the feet of the man of God, and the highest ornament of womanhood be made a servant of the lowest servants of the servant of God. Those lips which had long been “smoother than oil” for wanton ends are now abased to the feet of her benefactor. Above all, that alabaster box of ointment, which she had doubtless procured at great expense----for those were not the days in which she might find shelves lined with bottles of it in any dime store----ointment too precious to be kept in a common vessel, ointment which she had prized for no noble purpose, for she had doubtless used it to enhance her charms for her lovers------- How often has she daubed it on as the final touch, when hair and dress and nails and lips and eyes have all been meticulously prepared, all to make herself pleasing to men as sinful as she was. And how often has her soul been intoxicated with the thrill of being desired and acceptable with men. This has been her passion. But the arrows of conviction have stuck fast in her sinful soul. She is ashamed of all her wanton ways, and seeks now to be accepted with God. And behold what carefulness this has wrought in her, yea, what clearing of herself. She will not be told that her perfume is innocent enough, that she might use it to better purpose than she has done. No, as she has been a thorough sinner, so she will be a thorough penitent----a “legalist,” according to modern notions----and the ointment must go. How full a fragrance is of unhallowed memories!----how full, therefore, of renewed temptations----and she will be done with it, once for all. Whatever her own specific thoughts may have been, it is certain that it was no small matter for such a woman, whose whole existence has been wrapped up in making herself pleasing to men, to give up her ointment, and this is the irrefragable proof of the reality and depth of her repentance. Her thoughts certainly may have been, “What fruit had I in those things whereof now I am ashamed?” Not only did she have no fruit unto God and heaven, but no happiness for this life either----for pleasure is not happiness, and the constant pursuit of pleasure is the surest proof of the absence of happiness.

She comes, therefore, to the house of this Pharisee with the alabaster box in her hand. And in this we see that her coming was of purpose. It was no sudden impulse which took her through the door of Simon. We suppose that the shower of her tears, the profusion of kisses with which she covered the feet of the Lord, her wiping of those feet with the hairs of her head, were all spontaneous, but the box of ointment in her hand was there of purpose and premeditation. This it was that brought her to the Pharisee's house. Men who are much occupied with supposed Jewish customs commonly pay too little attention to the text of Scripture----too often make the text no more than a vehicle for the display of their ancient customs, real or imagined----and Alfred Edersheim thinks the alabaster box was one ordinarily worn about her person. But no: the text says she brought it----brought it of purpose, for we are not said to bring our ordinary apparel or habiliments. She had determined to part with this pleasing auxiliary to her sin, and she had determined how she would dispose of it. What she had formerly devoted to the pleasures of sin would now be consecrated to the Saviour of sinners.

We cannot but remark the boldness with which she entered unbidden the house of a Pharisee. This would require some audacity in any case, but most of all in hers. She must have known that she would be despised and scorned by a Pharisee if she met him on the street: how much more if she entered his own house uninvited. Only one thing could move her to such a deed. The Lord was there, and his power to draw her was greater than the Pharisee's to repel. How she knew of the Lord's presence in a private house we need not inquire. He was a public man, whose movements were watched by friend and foe alike, and while it was possible to know where he was, she made it her business to do so. She knew where he was, and his presence drew her there, perhaps as the best place in which to carry out her purpose for her ointment, away from the jostling crowd with which he was usually beset. She did not trouble herself about her reception in so uncongenial a place. The Lord was there, the man that received sinners. He would receive her, and answer for her, too. It was not devotedness to him only which took her to the Pharisee's house, but a high degree of faith in him also.

She enters with a heart welling up with the deepest of feeling, and, oblivious to the presence of all but one, proceeds to lavish out the affections of her heart upon him. Yet though she was oblivious to their presence, surely they were not so to hers. Every eye was fixed upon her. It may be that the boldness of her entrance failed to excite their curiosity. Perhaps she had slipped in with the invited guests, for the Lord says, “This woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet.” But once inside, her actions were such as must have riveted the attention of all. If she came in with the guests, it was not to take her place at the table, for there was no place prepared for her. When the guests take their places at the table, she remains on her feet, standing behind the Lord. Not long, however, but the next posture she assumes is more remarkable still. She stoops to the floor to wash his feet with her tears, and wipe them with her hair. The obvious depth of her feeling and the thoroughly unexampled character of her proceedings must certainly have drawn all eyes to herself.

We gaze with the rest, and observe in the first place that all her actions were peculiarly feminine. We can scarcely conceive of a man doing as she did. If a man's heart was fashioned for strength, a woman's was framed for affection, and in all her actions we see such a free flowing of affection as men are rarely capable of. “She loved much,” and not the fervency of that love only, but the manner also in which she poured it forth, were all feminine. It was a woman's love, yet the Lord does not reject it on that account. It was not tainted or impure because it came from the heart of a woman, nor because it was bestowed upon a man, nor because it flowed forth in a woman's way. We quite endorse a prudent caution of closeness between the sexes, but this is another thing from that prudish distance which regards any familiarity at all between them as improper. All that the Lord received from her was directly against “the greatness of Jewish prejudice against any conversation with woman, however lofty her character,” but he received it all nevertheless.

But there is something more. There is something in the manner of this woman which marks her as “a woman which was a sinner.” She lacks the modesty and shamefacedness of a bashful maiden. She seems too free with her kisses, for she êáôåößëåé his feet----kissed them intensely, passionately, repeatedly. However the term is to be understood, “The êáôá is intensive,” as Bloomfield affirms, and she “ceased not” this intensive kissing from the time that he came in. Mary of Bethany----moved, perhaps, by the report of what this woman had done----anointed the Lord's feet with her ointment, and wiped them with the hair of her head also, but with her there was none of this intensive kissing. This, it would seem, marks a woman who has too little of the reserve which naturally belongs to her sex. Hers is not the way of “a garden inclosed, a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.” The gates of her soul have long been open, and the charms of her femininity bestowed upon every man who would have them. For all that she repents and weeps, but her soul will not be altered in a day. Her penitence appears in that she will now bestow on the feet of this man, behind him, what she has given to the embraces of many others. Still, it would seem she gives more freely than is meet. There remains a trace of her wantonness even in her penitence. She must learn again the modesty which she has long since abandoned. But again, the holy Lord does not reject her love on that account----no, nor censure her, either. He accepts her as she is, weeping out her repentance, determined indeed against her sin, but not yet altogether free from its manners. We have read of a man accustomed to swearing, who was converted with an oath. It had long been his way to swear when he meant to express himself with decision and forcefulness, and when with the mouth confession was made unto salvation, his determined commitment to Christ came forth after his usual manner. And so it was with this “woman which was a sinner.” She would no doubt learn better than this----no doubt regain that feminine reserve and modesty which once she knew, but which she had long forgotten. We dare say the man who was converted swearing would one day look back on this with embarrassment, and so, we suppose, did this woman. Meanwhile, we are much more disposed to admire them both, than to censure either. Here was whole-souled reality, flowing forth freely----spontaneously and instinctively----though in a manner which lacked something in propriety.

And here it is that we see the true application of that matchless but often abused hymn, “Just As I Am.” Not “just as I am,” settled and comfortable in my sins, but “just as I am,” determined indeed against my sins, but yet marred and scarred by them, my sinful passions too strong, and my desires for holiness but weak, with a soul, and it may be a countenance, hardened by long continuance in evil, with a mind darkened and dull, scarcely knowing what I ought to do, or how to go about it, lacking all the refinements which a life of purity and godliness would have wrought in me, speaking still in the accents of the world, nor knowing how to do otherwise----”just as I am,” I come.

None who thus come to Christ, in sworn and eternal renunciation of their sins, will ever be turned away, no matter how much of the trappings of their sins yet cleave to them. Not one crumb from the Father's table could the prodigal ever taste, not one word of affection could he hear from his Father's lips, so long as he remained among the swine and the harlots in the far country. He must come home, leaving the far country and all its ways forever behind him. If he had approached his Father's house leading a harlot on his arm, the door would surely have been barred against him. But when he had left all, and returned in good earnest, he was received just as he was, still in his rags, and it may be with the smell of the hog pen still upon him, and the accent of the far country yet in his speech. How many come to Christ who are opinionated, talkative, self-important, and unwittingly conformed to the world in numerous ways. If they are Christ's indeed, they have crucified the flesh. They have repented of sin as such, and so of course renounced and forsaken all known sin, but this has not brought them to perfection. They are but new-born babes, and babes in Christ, Paul affirms, are carnal. They could hardly be otherwise. The deeper and more humbling their convictions of sin have been, the better the start they have in the heavenly race, but they all stand in need of being gradually transformed, by the renewing of their minds. There is nothing deep or mysterious here. This is truth of the most elementary sort, known of all men before it was obscured by the present flood of antinomianism.

The Pharisee looks on with something akin to disdain----and not so much for the woman as for the Lord. “Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner.” But like ten thousand others who know nothing and think they know all, the Pharisee assumes too much. He assumes that the Lord knew nothing of the character of this woman, and assumes too that if he had known it, he would have repelled her touch. Thus the holy Pharisee shows himself to know less of the Lord than did the unclean sinner. He supposed a holy man must repel the touch of such a sinner. She knew that “This man receiveth sinners,” or she had certainly never come to him. And having come, she has received as it were the first installment of her reception, for he received all her outpouring of love without shrinking from it, and without a word or a look of reproof. By this she cannot but be greatly encouraged, but he will give her yet more.

“And Jesus answering”----answering the unspoken thoughts of the Pharisee's heart, as only a prophet could do----”said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee.” And first, by a parable, after the manner of Nathan's speech to David, setting forth the principles involved, divorced from the persons, he gains the judgement of Simon on the side of the truth. That being done, “he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven.”

This is all she needs. For this she came. This is the acceptance of her actions and her person.

And here the account ends. We know no more. Least of all do we know the woman's name. “Tradition” (of a late date) makes her out to be Mary Magdalene, but this is monkish fiction. The Lord knows her name, and he has concealed it, that we might all see the workings of the “sinful, now contrite heart” of “a woman which was a sinner,” without adding anything to her shame. For such sins as hers cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience, but all his dealings with the penitent are tenderness.

Ministry and Authority

by Glenn Conjurske

God has joined ministry and authority together. But we live in an age which is impatient of authority as such----an age of democracy and independence and pride and self-importance. Many there are who are content that their elders should feed them, so long as they do not endeavor to rule them. We know some who wander about here and there, refusing to join any church, for the simple reason that they are not willing to be accountable to anybody, or to allow anybody to require anything of them. I know some also who have left our church primarily or exclusively because of our doctrine of authority----though I am mild to a fault in my use of that authority. But mildness is no consolation to the proud and independent. They can brook nobody over them. If the Bible says, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves,” this must evidently apply to the dark ages, or to popery. It has never entered their heads to apply it to themselves. They are like the refractory child, who says to his parents, “I will eat your food, sleep under your roof, soak up the warmth of your stove, come to you for a hug and a bandage when I fall and skin my knee, ask you for a little spending money----but don't require anything of me.” They want privilege without responsibility, and this is nothing other than worldliness. Privilege without responsibility is the common doctrine of the world, in this its most degenerate age, ripening for the unsparing judgement of God, and these independent spirits, who think themselves too advanced or too spiritual to submit to anybody, are in reality only conformed to the world.

The Bible teaches no such doctrine, but unequivocally links ministry and authority together. Those who feed the flock are to rule the flock. “Feed my lambs”----”Shepherd my sheep”----”Feed my sheep.” Such is the Lord's commission, and it is not the business of the shepherd merely to feed the sheep, but to tend or shepherd them also. Nor can this ruling be supposed to be for the sole good of the individual sheep. It must be to maintain the rights and interests of the Lord, who is the owner of the sheep, and also to secure the good of the whole flock. All this is to be accomplished by the use of authority.

Paul joins ministry and authority also, saying, “I beseech you, brethren, (ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints,) that ye submit yourselves unto such, and to every one that helpeth with us, and laboureth.” (I Cor. 16:15-16). Here are men who evidently have no official position of authority. Their ministry gives them their authority. They have addicted themselves to the ministry to the saints (as the Greek says). To all “such” the saints are to submit.

Yet further, in Hebrews 13:7, “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.” They have the rule, in the present tense, by virtue of the fact that in the previous days, in the past tense, they have spoken to you the word of God. Their ministry has given them their authority.

Once more, “And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; and to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake.” (I Thes. 5:12-13). This also evidently refers to men who have no official position, or why does Paul exhort us to know them? We are to know them by their work. And as before, those who labor among you are also over you in the Lord. Their labor gives them their authority.

We see the same again when Paul forbids the public ministry of women. “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” (I Tim. 2:11-12). In Paul's mind to teach is to exercise authority. God has linked these two together. The two are not the same thing, but they belong to the same persons.

But all this requires to be guarded. Many there are who desire some official place of ministry, who have little desire to labor therein. They are addicted to shining in the eyes of men, but not to ministry, which is another word for service. They want a ready-made platform from which to preach and teach, but they care not to rise to such a place, or create one, by dint of their labor or their merit. Others there are who addict themselves to labors indeed, but they have no gift of God for it. They preach many sermons, or what is worse, write many pages, and all of it shallow or unsound----nay, unspiritual and worldly and secular. Others there are who may preach some sound doctrine, but it is dead, and dry, and dull. They preach and pray with neither fire nor tears, as an arid intellectual exercise. They are not sent of God. They are not gifted of God. They do not belong in the ministry, and so of course not in authority. The scriptures which we have quoted really have nothing to do with such. “Such” as Paul describes have gained their place of authority by their ministry, but then this must be understood to be a ministry which is of God. Every novice and worldly-minded man who sets up to minister in the church of God, without the gifts and calling of God, cannot be supposed thereby to gain the right to rule. The angels of the churches are stars in the right hand of Christ. How did they get there? Certainly Christ does not take up in his right hand every proud, self-important, officious, shallow, worldly, blundering tyro who thinks himself fit to preach. Men gain their right to rule by their ministry, but they gain their right to minister by the gift of Christ. “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth.” (I Peter 4:10-11). We have no doubt whatsoever that if this scripture were seriously considered in the present day, the majority of the pastors of churches, as well as the popular radio preachers and conductors of national seminars, would take their seats and hold their tongues, while ten thousand authors and editors would put up their pens.

Neither is there anything arbitrary in the gifts of Christ. Paul says, in I Timothy 1:12, “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry.” We could point to a number of the most unfaithful of men, who yet aspire to the ministry, or actually occupy ministerial positions, while they shamefully compromise to please men, fail to keep their engagements or meet their responsibilities, and are as unstable as water. The Lord never intended that the saints should submit to such men, nor did he ever count them faithful, nor put them into the ministry.

Here, then, is the Bible sequence. First, faithfulness on our own part. Then, the Lord's gifts and enablements, and those open doors which put us into the ministry. Finally, the exercise of the authority which our ministry gives to us. Of all this Paul speaks in Acts 20:28, when he says, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” They have not taken this place of themselves. The Holy Ghost has moved them to it. Neither have they been made shepherds by any call or ordination or other act of the people. The Holy Ghost has made them overseers, and as such they are as bound to oversee the flock as the flock is to submit to them. The word “feed” is here again “shepherd” in the Greek. This is not merely to provide food, but to tend and lead the flock, to use whatever means are necessary to keep the sheep in the right way. This implies authority and discipline as well as instruction and advice.

And yet it appears that many of those who occupy the places of ministry are as deficient in the exercise of their authority as the sheep are delinquent in submitting to it. A wife cannot submit to her husband if he gives her nothing to submit to----if he tamely follows her as a puppy dog, or shows himself as passive as the teddy bear which she kept on her pillow in her girlhood. Neither can the flock of God follow a shepherd who will not lead them, nor submit to a general who will not command them. Preachers suppose it is none of their business to require anything of anybody. That they leave to God, supposing it were presumption to do it themselves. They only advise and instruct and persuade, and hope the people will conform. It is the Spirit of God who must give to every man his convictions, and move every man to embrace the truth, and to walk in conformity to it. We have known some souls----inexperienced, ignorant of the Scriptures, and misled by false notions----who would have no standards in the church, no requirements for membership----indeed, no membership at all. They would have every individual responsible directly to God. But this is very shallow thinking. They might just as well omit to preach, and leave the instruction to God also, as to omit to exercise authority. If God has made men ministers of the word, he has made them overseers also, and the business of an overseer----or bishop, as the same term is translated elsewhere----is precisely to rule. “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account.” (Heb. 13:17). It were preposterous of the Lord to require the rulers to give account of the state of the people, if they have no right nor power actually to rule over them. If the rulers are responsible for the people, then the people must be responsible to the rulers. He must be a great fool who would accept the responsibility for the state of the people, if the people were free from any responsibility to him. No sane man would accept the responsibility for the state of his neighbor's children, whom he may neither command nor discipline. He cannot secure their righteousness merely by advising them, nor can any man secure the holiness of the church merely by preaching. The preaching of Christ himself would not move all men. For some he must employ a scourge of small cords.

Yet the Lord does actually hold the rulers responsible for the state of the church. In Revelation 2:14 he says, “But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam.” He does not blame the church, but the ruler. It is to the angel that he says, “I have a few things against thee,” and this “because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam.” “So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.” The angel has them there, in the church, and the Lord holds him responsible to change them or put them out. There is nothing here of “the action of the Holy Ghost in the assembly”----nothing, that is, of modern democracy under a pious name, but a responsibility laid upon the ruler actually to rule.

The same again in Rev. 2:20. “Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.” He suffers her----allows her----and this he has no business to do, any more than the county sheriff has to allow robbery or murder. It is not the sheriff's business to advise and persuade, but to enforce, and this is the business of every one that has the rule in every sphere. If the Holy Ghost has made a man a ruler over the flock of God, that man must rule, and give an account of it also.

We know, of course, that authority is often abused. We read in Third John of a Diotrephes, whose very name is odious as an abuser of authority. “I wrote unto the church,” says the apostle, “but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the pre-eminence among them, receiveth us not.” Yet observe the remedy. “Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church.” The modern ideas of democracy had evidently never entered his head, and John does not advise the church to deal with him. That may not have been possible, for he may have had too much power. John will deal with the man himself, employing his own authority to protect the flock, and set matters right. “If I come” may seem almost preposterous in this day of rush and hurry, but doubtless there was no alternative. Certain evils at Corinth must wait also till Paul could come. Independent spirits in our own day have objected to a man exercising authority over a church from a distance, yet it is certain the apostles did so, and that without telephones or automobiles or airplanes.

Paul takes just the same ground, saying in I Corinthians 4:19 & 21, “But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will, and will know, not the speech of them which are puffed up, but the power. ... What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?” The rod is authority, and here we see the unspeakable benefit of the authority of a man of God to the congregations under his care. The authority of John Wesley over the English Methodists, and of Francis Asbury over the American Methodists, was a benefit of inconceivable value to those people, though the authority itself was a heavy burden to the men who bore it.

Now as to the connection of this authority with ministry, this is plain in all those scriptures which we have rehearsed above. Yet it may be beneficial to speak a little of the reason and congruity of all this. The fact is, the true minister of God imparts not only the truth of God, but his own soul also. And in so doing he wins the people not only to his Lord, but to himself also. He is no distant official, but a respected counsellor, and a beloved father over his own children. It is as such that Paul writes to Philemon, saying, “Wherefore, though I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin thee that which is convenient, yet for love's sake I rather beseech thee.” He claims the right to command, but refrains from using it, and it is thus that the best of rulers always govern, reserving the use of bare authority for the refractory and belligerent. “What will ye?” says Paul, shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?” He would not use the rod----would not use his powers to command and enforce----unless they compelled him to it by their own wrong spirit. But whence comes Paul's right to command? How is it that he may enjoin Philemon if he so choose? “Albeit I do not say to thee,” he writes, “how thou owest unto me even thine own self besides.” Though he was an apostle of Christ, it was his ministry which confirmed his place of authority, for to be of any use authority must be not only possessed by the one, but recognized by the many also. That authority which is founded upon ministry is not recognized only, but even prized by those whose hearts are right. It is the authority of a father over his children, the further exercise of the care of a man who cares for his subjects in all things else besides.

The authority which John Wesley exercised over the Methodists was broad and sweeping, yet all but a few self-important souls gladly submitted to it. He was not only a prophet of God, but their father, to whom, directly or indirectly, they owed their own selves, or at any rate their spiritual prosperity. When he died, “The funeral service was read by the late Rev. Mr. Richardson, who had served him as a Son in the Gospel for near thirty years, and who now lies with him in the same vault. When Mr. Richardson came to that part of the service, 'For as much as it hath pleased Almighty God to take unto himself the soul of our dear Brother, &c,' he substituted, with the most tender emphasis, the epithet Father instead of Brother; which had so powerful an effect on the congregation, that from silent tears, they seemed universally to burst out into loud weeping.” It was his ministry which gave him that place in the hearts of his people, and not his preaching merely, but his fatherly care for their souls.

It is thus that the ministry of a faithful, self-denying prophet of God gives to him his place of authority. This may be doubly difficult in the present day, when pride and self-importance reign everywhere, when ungodly principles prevail even in the church, and when authority as such is questioned and despised. But the plain fact is, all the ways of godliness are more difficult in the present day than ever they have been before. The world is more refined and sophisticated and powerful than ever it has been before, and has more influence over the church than ever it had before. If this makes all the ways of godliness doubly difficult, the remedy is to redouble all our endeavors. Let the prophets of God be more faithful, more holy, more self-denying, more consistent, more loving, more gentle, more firm, and they shall find that the ways of God will work still.

Editorial Policies

OP&AL is a testimony, not a forum. Old articles are printed without alteration (except for correction of misprints) unless stated otherwise, and are inserted if the editor judges them profitable for instruction or historical information, without endorsing everything in them. The editor's own position is to be learned from his own writings.